So, we’ve had all of our guest posts for the Best of 2012 here on the FPI blog (you can see them all here) which means it’s time for those of us who contribute to get involved.
We shall start with our continental correspondent: Wim Lockefeer:
2012 was a good year for comics, I think. It was the year that I tried superhero comics again, after having ignored them since the whole DC overhaul, and what I read (Batman, Swamp Thing, Dial H) I quite liked. Still, the most interesting comics are often to be found outside your average 32 pamphlet (paper or otherwise). Which is why these ten titles more often than not have hard covers :
1. Les Ignorants by Etienne Davodeau (Futuropolis)
Davodeau is one of the best and most original voices in current French comics. He is among the very few who dare to tackle non-fashionable social issues, or write about ordinary people. Les Ignorants is in a way a continuation of his oeuvre, but also a sincere detour. The book is the journal of one year of Davodeau’s life, when he worked in the vinyards of his friend, Richard Leroy. He doesn’t know anything about wine, and Leroy doesn’t read comics. Together they talk, drink (wine, naturally), read and try to show why they chose to dedicate their life to that one thing. Les Ignorants is a very warm-hearted book, steering miles away from sensation and action, but leaving you with a sense of accomplishment. And a thirst for wine.
2. Cartoon Monarch by Otto Soglow (ed. by Dean Mullaney, IDW)
Otto Soglow’s The Little King is one of the earliest comics I remember. It ran in the newspaper that my grandparents bought and its cartoony, almost schematic style together with an almost complete lack of dialogue won me over at a very, very young age. I’d been looking for a comprehensive Little King collection for a while, and this edition really delivered. The book contains about 400 pages of strips, from the early 1930′s until 1975, from The Little King and its predecessor, the Ambassador, painstakingly reproduced. I still thoroughly enjoy the often absurd and childish, but never silly ideas of the cartoon monarch, who is often wiser than you’d think.
3. Swarte Comics by Joost Swarte (Oog & Blik)
Early in the year the long-awaited collected comics by Dutch Clear Line king Joost Swarte finally was published (in English, as Is This All There Is by Fantagraphics). That title was quite ominous, as indeed, the collection was far from complete and, sadly, seemed aimed at confirming the (totally wrong) impression that Swarte is an illustrator first, and a cartoonist second (or even third…). Thanks to the two tiny Swarte Comics volumes that Oog en Blik published when Swarte won the Marten Toonder Award, we know differently. The books contain strips by Swarte for Hollands Diep and The New Yorker, and show him as keen a satirist as when he did Passi Messa. Highly recommended!
4. La Douce by François Schuiten (Casterman)
Even though I’m a great admirer of François Schuiten’s art (especially in the Cités Obscures series), he has always been a very imaginative and creative architect to me – it always seemed as if his characters were nothing more than a pretext for him to be able to draw extreme buildings from extreme angles. And again, in La Douce, the main character is not a person, but rather a Type 12 steam locomotive that Schuiten fell in love with while working on the design for the future Belgian Rail Museum. The result is nothing less than a poem, an ode to streamlined speed and yesteryear technology, but at the same time to the love between the most unlikely of partners.
5. Goliath by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)
It takes a special kind of genius to retell a story that’s known by all and turn it into the lost episode of the Office. In Tom Gauld’s Goliath, the Philistine giant is not so much the champion of the enemies of the jews, but rather a lowly administrative assistent, who happens to be bigger than everybody else. Solely based on his extraordinary size, and without any additional character or talent assessment, he is picked to act as his army’s champion. Goliath flees the army, but is bullied and shamed into his role. Like so many office temps, goes beyond the call of duty, and dies in the process. Once more, Gauld tells much more than his sparce drawings would suggest, and once more he does it masterfully.
6. When David Lost His Voice by Judith Vanistendael (SelfMadeHero)
Earlier, with her debut Dance By The Light Of The Moon, Flemish cartoonist Judith Vanistendael showed herself a most sensitive and observant writer, full of empathy for all her characters. In her new book she has shed almost all references to her great examples and morphed that early promise in a very moving, poetic story about human suffering, loss and the inevitable finality of life. The story in itself is heartwrenching, but the art simply takes your breath away. Vanistendael has completely freed herself from the shackles of any “style”, and uses lines and colors, backgrounds and frames as they fit her purpose. Truly a a great book that deserves wider recognition.
7. La Foire Aux Gangsters by Franquin and Jidéhem (Dupuis)
Dupuis has been spoiling us off late, with quality integrales (reprints of entire BD runs, often with extensive notes) and special editions of classic books. With this, La Foire Aux Gangsters (The Gangsters’ Funfair), a second filler story in the Spirou Et Fantasio series is giving the attention it deserves : next to the completely recoloured story, the book features quite a considerate comments section and the original art for each page. And a classic it is : it’s got suspense, great action and even a cameo by that most favourite of anti-heroes : Gaston! The book even has the original ending to the story, until now deemed to controversial for the album run. Even if you don’t read French, you’ll simply fall in love with these books.
8. Young Albert by Yves Chaland (Humanoids)
It’s a little strange, reading a book that is basically a celebration of a fictionalized Belgium-in-the-1930′s, published in an oversized, larger-than-life deluxe edition by an American publisher. Young Albert was a series in the French comics magazine Métal Hurlant, chronicling the life and opinions of a young Brussels ketje who may well have been the neighbor to Hergé’s Quick and Flupke. He’s unapologetically selfish, celebrates the traditional mores of the day and is never afraid to pick on the weak. Chaland used this character to satirize the “good old days” of the mid-20th century, while at the same time not shying away from the graphical melancholy that is so typically of his fellow ligne claire artists. With a print run of only 550, you may want to hurry here.
9. Before Watchmen: Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke (DC)
I’m not a great fan of spin-offs, prequels, sequels and similar attempts to artificially continue something finite that was great in and of itself, and I was very weary of DC’s decision to do a whole shelf of prequels to that canonised volume that is Watchmen. Still, I’m a fan, and you can’t hold a fan down, so I tried Cooke’s take on the Minutemen story, and I liked it. It showed the same broad stroke that Cooke applied to the JLA mythos in The New Frontier, whilst at the same time sticking very close to the story in the original graphic novel. Cooke indeed tends to get wordier every year, but with splendid art like that, who’s to complain?
10. Nobrow 7 (Nobrow)
And finally, my favorite anthology for the moment. Part comics compendium, part annual of fine illustrative art, Nobrow amazes me with each issue. Not only because of the production value, but also because of the lineup these guys manage to get together every time. They are all here : Joost Swarte, Tom Gauld, Luke Pearson; Anders Nilsen, Joseph Lambert and many more. The chauvinist in me is also very pleased in the continuous presence of Flemish new graphical talent in these volumes, and more particularly Sam Vanallemeersch’s simply dazzling cover. There are two kinds of people : those who dig Nobrow, and those who don’t. Choose your side, but do it carefully.