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March 23, 2008


CR Sunday Feature: Best Of 2007

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Cartoonist of the Year
Gilbert Hernandez
Book of the Year
ACME Novelty Datebook Vol. 2, Chris Ware
Publishing Project of the Year
The New Love and Rockets Books
Most Promising Major Debut
Percy Gloom, Cathy Malkasian
Most Interesting Step Forward
Sammy the Mouse, Zak Sally
Mini-Comic Of The Year
Bluefuzz the Hero, Jesse Reklaw

Future Greatest Living Cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez had a stupendous 2007, contributing to the best alt-comics single issue of the year (Love and Rockets Vol. 2 #20), producing an exquisite Ignatz book (New Tales of Old Palomar #3), launched a quality stand-alone book (Chance In Hell) and began an interesting series (Speak of the Devil). Chris Ware had a remarkable year as well, with two terrific books, a guest editing stint on the Best American Comics anthology and a major portfolio release.

I thought about Jon Vermilyea's Princes of Time in the Most Promising Major Debut category -- I love it when people I don't know walk up and hand me awesome work at cons -- and thought for a long while about fudging on Malkasian's debut status and giving it to Tom Neely's lovely The Blot. I considered both K. Thor Jensen's Red Eye, Black Eye and Nick Bertozzi's The Salon in the Most Interesting Step Forward category. Admittedly, I didn't read a whole lot of mini-comics in 2007, but Reklaw's was a good one.

Finally, the Love and Rockets Vol. 1 reprints may be my favorite publishing project of the last five years, and there are a lot of fine projects going on -- what's amazing is that I remember my first reaction was "not again." But the smaller, bargain-priced volumes turned out to be the perfect vehicle for that material, the best comics series of all time.

*****

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Top Dozen Comics, New (Or In English For The First Time)
12. Sammy The Mouse Vol. 1, Zak Sally
11. Powr Mastrs Vol. 1, CF
10. Town Boy, Lat
9. Percy Gloom, Cathy Malkasian
8. Down Up! You're In The Army Now, Harper's Magazine, Joe Sacco
7. Elvis Road, Xavier Robel, Helge Reumann
6. Brodo di Niente, Andrea Bruno (pictured)
5. Times of Botchan Vol. 3, Jiro Taniguchi
4. Cul De Sac, Richard Thompson
3. Maggots, Brian Chippendale
2. How To Be Everywhere, Warren Craghead
1. ACME Novelty Date Book 2, Chris Ware

My list doesn't have Exit Wounds or The Arrival on it, and it gives a maybe lower than expected position to Town Boy, considered by many to be a better book to last year's #1 book (Kampung Boy, for which it serves as a sequel). I thought Exit Wounds was a fine book, but I also thought there were better ones. In fact, I even thought a similar type of effort from the same publisher, Aya, was a more impressive comic. The Arrival was the most striking book to hit shelves this year (although there was some super-pretty work from artists like Andrea Bruno, Nicholas Robel, Jaime Hernandez and Emmanuel Guibert on the stands this year, and Tony Fitzpatrick is currently serializing a series of painted images). Additionally, I'm distrustful of a lot of the criticism that hit Shaun Tan's book. Still, at the end of the day, there were books I liked better. Town Boy I found to be more visually accomplished but largely bereft of the uniquely terrifying and intimate observations of Lat's initial autobiographical work. While of a very high quality, it felt more like a very good art house film than its own uniquely observed story.

Cul De Sac is a miracle comic strip debut, and it's amazing to me that Thompson had done all this work over the years while most of comics has paid him practically no attention. I can understand why no one read the Craghead book, but I'm not sure why no one seemed to read that Joe Sacco feature in Harper's. For that matter, I can't figure why more people aren't flipping out over how great ACME Datebook 2 was. The strips Ware published in there were worth the price of admission alone, funny and lacerating, while his stand alone-drawings proved lovely and were easily absorbed as a window into the artist's life and world. Elvis Road and Maggots are about as fun as comics get in terms of looking at them, at least since Rowland Emett and Steinberg passed away. Percy Gloom was by far this year's biggest surprise.

*****

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Top Dozen Comics (Reprinting Previous Publication or Archival)
12. Silverstein Around The World, Shel Silverstein
11. I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets, Fletcher Hanks
10. Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine
9. James Sturm's America, James Sturm
8. Just When You Thought Things Couldn't Get Any Worse, Ed Sorel
7. Will and Abe's Guide to the Universe, Matt Groening
6. Alias the Cat, Kim Deitch
5. King-Cat Classix, John Porcellino
4. Storeyville, Frank Santoro
3. Tamara Drewe, Posy Simmonds
2. Krazy & Ignatz: The Kat Who Walked in Beauty, George Herriman
1. The Complete Peanuts Boxed Set, 1963-1966, Charles Schulz

That pair of Peanuts books (gathered together under one ISBN by the publisher for my list-making benefit, surely) collects work that's about as good as that all-time top five comic ever got, I think. Schulz was working at the outer edge of his craft skills -- it's thrilling to note the subtle visual effects he gets in there that don't stick with you until you see them again and they come rushing back -- and was able to draw on what was already a modern strip's lifetime worth of material for rich, deep, funny, near-perfect characters. Seriously, wouldn't Schroeder or Linus or even Sally be the best character in like 99.5 percent of all strips ever? That Ed Sorel book stayed with me far longer than almost any collection this year, although sometimes I get the sense I was the only person who read it. On some days I would put that Matt Groening book at the top of my list; it's sort of freakishly adorable, and its take on Groening's two sons and their developing worldview makes me smile every time I look through it. I'm not sure if Tamara Drewe will always stay at the top of my list, but I loved my first reading of it.

I know that I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets placed higher on other folks' list. I really loved the comics, which are beautiful and thrilling and terrifying and should not be laughed at by anyone, but as much as I like Paul Karasik and admire his work I didn't care all that much for the way this book was presented, nor did I find a lot of value in the comic that he did in conjunction with Hanks'. I feel like a dick for even bringing that up as much as I loved the collected comics. Luckily, I'm the only person who thought this, and if this year gets remembered as Fletcher Hanks' year, I'm totally fine with that.

(this is one category where I'm short and know exactly where: I have yet to catch up with the Jack Kirby Fourth World or the Amazing Spider-Man omnibus editions, both of which would stand a good chance of making this list.)

*****

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Five Undervalued Books From 2007
5. Super Spy, Matt Kindt
4. Asthma, John Hankiewicz (pictured)
3. Utility Sketchbook, Keith McCulloch
2. 365 Days, Julie Doucet
1. nEuROTIC, John Cuneo

It may be pushing it a bit to include the Julie Doucet book among these volumes, it was certainly well-reviewed and brought to the attention of a wide readership. According to a lot of folks, Doucet is her generation's greatest female cartoonist and one of the best cartoonists in the world, period. A major work from her should be celebrated and a stop-everything event on the readership's part. 365 Days was a very good book, and I don't really get why more people didn't take to it with as great a passion as it deserves. The John Cuneo book nEuROTIC was seen by almost no one, and was sort of a brave book besides. Utility Sketchbook was printed at a disappointing size, but it still made me laugh.

Super Spy also might not belong on this list. Matt Kindt's elaborate spy saga, more Graham Greene than Ian Fleming, received a lot of positive attention and made several year-end lists, but I don't think it's received the broad consideration I'd like to see it get. It received a lot of focused praise. I have a selfish reason for wanting to bring more people to the conversation on Super Spy: I think the book is good, but I can't figure out how good, and I'd love to see a range of writers and thinkers muse on it in public to help me along. It's the most confusing book of 2007 to me, and for that one of the most compelling.

*****

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Five Features Even The Most Ardent Internet-Hater Would Find Worth Reading On-Line
5. Hutch Owen Daily, Tom Hart
4. Laura Park's Flickr/Sketchbook Comics (pictured)
3. Achewood, Chris Onstad
2. Perry Bible Fellowship, Nicholas Gurewitch
1. George Sprott, 1895-1975, Seth

Is anyone at all reading that Hutch Owen strip? I feel like it and the Seth work could go on the previous list, no problem. The work I read first on-line is Lewis Trondheim's Les Petits Riens, but since that's moved into a translated iteration in print, I don't think it's necessary to keep pushing the virtual version.

*****

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Five American Mainstream Comics That Were Totally Worth Picking Up In Serial Comic Book Form
5. Immortal Iron Fist, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja
4. Casanova, Matt Faction, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon
3. Criminal, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips
2. The Spirit, Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone
1. Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, Jeff Smith

These are all well-crafted, clever, and generally well-designed books. If there were twice their number being published right now, I'd start ordering my comics through an on-line service just to get a weekly dose of pulp. As it is, The Spirit has already changed creators away from Cooke and Bone (I haven't caught up with the new one yet), Monster Society of Evil was a limited series meaning DC can soon go back to mass murderer Black Adam and pervy Mary Marvel or whatever it is they're doing, and Casanova will apparently go on informal hiatus with the end of the second arc at issue #14.

That leaves Criminal, which I'm always thinking could go away at the end of every arc, and Iron Fist. Iron Fist is by far the least ambitious comic on this entire page save for maybe Fletcher Hanks' -- "Kung Fu Billionaire" really does sum it up -- but it works as an adventure comic because there's none of the pernicious, so deep people don't even realize how much anymore fan service based on an existing, popular iteration or tributes to the character's place in the world based on that kind of popularity, no matter how differently a random Misty Knight or Rafe Scarfe fan might see things. One well-reviewed series I didn't include here was All-Star Superman; I didn't think the books released in 2007 were as good as previous issues in the series, mostly because the Bizarros as conceived by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely seemed to me a far less interesting version of the various doppelgangers that Superman has faced in the series thus far (for that matter, I prefer the classic Bizarros, too).

*****

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Five Pieces of Writing About Comics I Liked In 2007
5. (Tie) "Why I Hate Anthony," Shaenon Garrity; Interview With Eleanor Davis by Gary Groth in MOME Vol. 8 (pictured)
4. Comics Comics, Dan Nadel, Tim Hodler, Frank Santoro
3. Reading Comics, Douglas Wolk
2. Meanwhile... A Biography of Milton Caniff, RC Harvey
1. Comic Art 9, Todd Hignite

I hate ties, but it's early Sunday morning and I'm tired. I thought Groth's interview with Davis was the best he's done for MOME and an engaging and generous introduction to a potentially great cartoonist. That Garrity essay was funny, unapologetically fannish, and by exploiting both of those qualities made a solid case why Lynn Johnston's generally well-regarded For Better or For Worse has been disappointing to a lot of its female readers who if they didn't identify with characters like Ellie and Elizabeth saw them as same-generation, potential fellow travelers.

*****
*****
 
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