Once more, we stand in front of our bulging book cases and wonder what it was that made this life wonderful. And since 10, it would seem, is the magic number, here are ten books that really made my year.
The Spirit by David Hines and Moritat, et al. (DC Comics) – This is the most recent reinvention of Will Eisner’s classic character, and in my opinion, it’s one of the best. I was quite enamoured with Darwyn Cooke’s slick version, but this book manages to take Central City’s grittier aspects, and make them work for today. The homeless children acting like a Greek chorus are a stroke of genius, and the black and white back up stories showcase masters young and older.
X’ed Out by Charles Burns (Fantagraphics) – I guess this is one of the titles that will make all lists this year. It’s a masterful mix of the classic adventures of the Tintin kind and a perfected version of the teenage angst and weirdness that Burns trademarked in Black Hole, all mixed up in that most modernist of techniques, the cut-up. I’ve read this book about 6 times now, and it does not tire.
Beasts Of Burden : Animal Rights by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson (Dark Horse). This very handsome book collects the Beasts of Burden miniseries, and all other short stories that were published since 2003. I’d never expected Dorkin to live up to the task of creating a quite thrilling horror story featuring only pets as heroes, but here it is. Also thanks to Jill Thompson’s masterfully painted artwork, the animals never become humans-with-fur, but keep their own characteristics, all the while exhibiting at times hilarious personalities. These animals aren’t cute, and nature can be harsh and cruel, but, as Dorkin and Thompson show, only man is cruel out of sheer egotism.
Culture Corner by Basil Wolverton (Fantagraphics). I’m not really a fan of Basil Wolverton’s art. Even tough I can understand its historical importance in comics history, most off the time I’m just too grossed-out to enjoy it for its own sake. This book, however, I liked very much. It collects the complete series of filler strips that Wolverton created in the second half of the 1940′s as a parody of the popular how-to strips. His tips refer to the most inane aspects of life, and are never less than side-splitting. As an added bonus, the book also collects the sketches of nearly all the strips, and the drafts for the strips that never got published. This book got me laughing out loud across the decades.
Le Fils d’Hitler by Pieter De Poortere (Glénat). Even though his Boerke strips had started to verge on the perfect at an alarming rate, De Poortere managed to up the ante just one more notch with this hilarious tale of Adolf Hitler’s lost son, who bungles his way through every tried World War II theme and cliché, including collaboration, concentration camps and the flight to South-America after Germany’s defeat. The story is told in short, silent vignettes, which are joint together by highly satirical and dead-pan “Where’s Wally” type spreads. You’ll probably have to be a Belgian to fully appreciate it, but as the book is almost wordless, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try.
Les Plumes, Volume 1 by Anne Baraou and François Ayroles. I first got to know Ayroles with his fiendish denouement of friendship, Les Amis. This book, a collaboration with Baraou, essentially continues upon that theme, chronicling the endless discussions, egomaniacal extulsions and gossip of a number of writers in modern-day Paris. As they stroll around town, have their coffees in a bar or meet their public in bookstores, these people never stop talking and taking themselves too seriously. Ayroles’ style is remorseless and still appropriately understated – even when they are extremely agitated, his characters look as if they’d just had a fresh Botox injection. This only confirms the total lack of meaning and importance these people think they can claim.
Lydie by Jordi Lavebre and Zidrou (Dargaud). I wrote about this book before, and indeed, it is one of the best I’ve read this year (or any year for that matter). It’s a beautiful tale about people living in a dead-end street, who decide that, when one of them loses a baby, life has been harsh enough as it is. They create their own reality, in which the little girl survives and grows up among them. And before you know, this collective consciousness starts playing strange tricks with what could be called reality. A wonderful story, full of kindness and compassion, and illustrated in a moving and endearing way, with people who are never beautiful, but which truly show beauty of the heart.
Nietzsche by Michel Onfray and Maximilien Le Roy (Dargaud). Biography is a problematic genre in comics – if it’s not done exactly right, you end up with pictures-with-captions that rarely make for exciting reading. This book tries to sketch the biographical roots of the ideas of one of the most important philosophers of our times, and barely contains any caption. In fact, quite a number of pages are simply made up of Le Roy’s wonderfully expressive art. Through conversations, you see ideas and philosophies in the making, which then are contrasted with Nietzsches own demons and dreads. It’s not complete, but it invites you to read more, and as a comic, it is a rare and victorious feat.
The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke (IDW). I am a great fan of Darwyn Cooke’s, and I’d simply add this book just because it’s there. But even beyond that, this is the best mobster book I’ve read this year (and I’ve been going through Ellroy’s American trilogy as well). After last year’s The Hunter, Cooke picks up pace with this books, and tells his story of revenge with a masterful sense of pace and rhythm. In the art, which is rendered in a quite fashionably retro two-tone of blue and black, Cooke shows himself as the chameleon that he is, switching to sixties illustrative styles or cartoony graphics as the story requires. The book looks and feels half a century old in any way, but it is nevertheless very much now, and an example for everyone who’s interested in graphic storytelling.
Birchfield Close by Jon McNaught (Nobrow books). The final book in my list is the smallest, but by no means the least important. In fact, I wouldn’t mind saying that this was the most pleasing, most surprising and most endearing book I’ve laid my eyes on this year. McNaught expresses the boredom and frustration that suburbia, with its endless calm and sleepiness, can generate in young people, while at the same time showing the almost dreamy, zen-like beauty of the place. By simply observing from a distance, he has created a book that is as poignant as they come. And it is also a very beautifully produced little tome. This is by far the most beautiful little book that crossed my way in a long, long time.