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Best of 1999
posted December 31, 1999

This was a year of a lot of pretty good comics and very few great ones.

1. "And the Trumpets they Played..." Al Columbia, Blab! #10. Despite its short story status, this was the comic I'll remember most from this past calendar year. Al's artwork here is gorgeous to the point where I'm not sure how he achieves his effects -- how much is computer, or how much he paints by hand. And the choice of using the Fleischer Studio characters and general look of those cartoons to depict the apocalypse is an effective one. Al's armageddon is less an End of Now than an End of All Time, including our cumulative past and all of its cultural dead-ends and false starts. It was one of the few "Wows" I experienced all year. Hail Columbia.

2. ACME Novelty Library #13, Chris Ware. This was the other jaw-dropper I read in 1999. I know some people I talked to refused to vote for this comic because it's a portion of the larger Jimmy Corrigan work. But after re-reading it, I think the story very much stands alone. The usual attractive graphic elements are present here, and the period buildings and dress seem authentic without distracting from the narrative thrust of Ware's work. But what stands out here is the sympathetic voice of the story's narrator, so surprisingly effective it changes the way I look at every work Ware has ever done. It reminded me of one of those gear-shifts Dan Clowes makes every fourth year or so, where the work surprises you by adding necessary elements you never felt were missing. It's a great little book.

Okay, at this point I have to start hedging, because the individual works were less extraordinary and more "solid but flawed" or "necessary but minor."

3. From Maus to Now, Art Spiegelman. I for one am glad to finally have all this work in one place. There are a lot of interesting stories, even if none of them overwhelm, and the overall effect is pretty remarkable. Also good were the well-conceived Dori Seda collection from Last Gasp Dori Stories and the Dr. Seuss editorial cartoon retrospective Dr. Seuss Goes to War. I didn't read the Patrick McDonnell-edited Peanuts book, although I'd like to.

4. Cave-In, Brian Ralph. I really enjoy Ralph's approach to comics, and love the way his stories move. This is a pretty book, too -- the art direction is very attractive. My only problem is that I find so much of Ralph's mini-comics work more formally interesting than the story presented here. The same thing can be said for Craig Thompson's Goodbye, Chunky Rice which was really well-drawn but so sweet-natured and nice it lost some of the edge and dark undercurrents present in Thompson's minis.

5. The Magic Whistle Blows, Sam Henderson. There wasn't a whole lot of laugh-out-loud work in comics this year, and Henderson is always funny. Tony Millionaire's Sock Monkey comics were humorous and really nice to look at, besides. And I've written elsewhere how much I liked the second half of the last Evan Dorkin comic. A lot of solid peformers didn't do much in comics this year (Brunetti) or didn't do comics that entertained me the way their previous work did (Bagge). I haven't warmed up to any of the new kids, like Johnny Ryan or Peter Sickman-Garner, although occasionally a gag or two in their comics will make me laugh. And where did Up All Night! go?