Monday, January 26, 2009


We're stretching even further into 2008, so here is the second in my series of YEAR-IN-REVIEW 2008 posts. I'm splitting things (perhaps unduly, so sue me) to the following categories: BEST MANGA! BEST COMICS! BEST BLOGS! and MOST ANTICIPATED IN 09! This is similar to what I did last year, except I smooshed all my best of 2007 lists into one post.

Click here for the BEST MANGA! 2008 list.

Compared to the manga list, for folks keeping score, my best of comics list is not quite as widely spread in terms of genres; It also probably contains a greater share of self-published minis than most of other lists too. That said, I tried to read broadly, but was most taken by personal and experimental works (along with a few mainstream gems). I look forward to hearing recommendations and outrage in the comments!

12. SnooPee by Ken Kagami

I picked this comic up from the PictureBox booth at MoCCA in New York. PictureBox and a few other cartoonist groups have published a number of comics on newsprint, which makes them easy to carry and cheap to buy. Ken Kagami is best known (by me) for doing the packaging design for Bay Area band Deefhoof, but in this series of sultry vignettes we get all types of Snoopy-on-Charlie Brown action. Hilarious and repulsive, I need to snag a bunch of copies as Valentine's Day presents. [link]

11. BodyWorld by Dash Shaw

I think I'm in the minority here, but I thought Dash's ambitious and huge debut graphic novel, Bottomless Belly Button, was a good book but not a great one. I admire the care and effort in the book, but it didn't quite click with me when I finally sat down to digest it. Not content to simply make a huge debut with Fantagraphics, Dash moved quickly to begin another ambitious project: BodyWorld, a space and drugs and teenage comedy IN THE FUTURE, which he serializes on his site. The use of color, messing with visualizing web space and lusty spectacles in BodyWorld make it a super-compelling and satisfying read. I hear it will be getting a print publication (from Pantheon?) next year as well. Badass. [link]

10. Stay Away From Other People by Lisa Hanawalt

This mini from cartoonist and artist Lisa Hanwalt was strongly recommended to me by Hellen Jo and Calvin Wong, and I always make a point to follow those two's suggestions. Lisa's book doesn't carry any strict narrative panels/comics, but is more like a minizine. It features hilarious lists that struck close to home (like, "12 Things to Do When You Are Stuck in Traffic" and "Ideal Wedding Plans") along with her intricate, creepy and beautiful drawings of a cornucopia of animal-headed dudes and gals in various hip attire and/or legwarmers and farming gear. I absolutely love Lisa's line work, and this mini made me LOL more than a few times. [link]

9. Ramble On! / Millie & Hattie by Calvin Wong

I've said it before, but I think Calvin Wong is a bit of a hidden gems within the indie comics scene. Full disclosure, Calvin is good buddy of mine, but I have been a fan of his comics since before I met him. 2008 saw him release two fantastic minis; Millie & Hattie is a newly-printed collection of his flapper detective strips, following the eponymous duo's sharp tongued defeat of opera vampires and other villains. Ramble On! is an entirely new book featuring a woodland creature guitar battle and the humdrum life a warlock fate-wrangler. In another word, fantastic shit! Calvin's comics (in addition to his organic and detailed linework) feature comedic timing nearing perfection... like the first volumes of Jeff Smith's Bone or Dungeon's funniest moments. He is a dude to watch, and his books need to be sought out and read!! [link]

8. Omega the Unknown #10 by Jonathan Lethem/Farel Darlympe

Before getting into the book itself, I would say this was one of my favorite covers of any comic this year. It's creepy and melty and deeply weird, but also secretly uplifting. Just how I dig it. The book itself is the final installment of a strange and sprawling "superhero" tale by SF-turned-"indie mainstream" novelist Jonathan Lethem. Strictly speaking, this series is Lethem's reboot of the 70s Steve Gerber superhero, but it does a lot more heavy lifting behind the scenes. The story stands up over multiple reads, and worked for me as arch-metaphor for whatever I was feeling... teenage idleness, the comics industry, etc. In addition, Farel Dalrymple's art is lovely and they got Mr. Paul Hornschemeier to do the coloring. Not too shabby. [link]

7. Crickets 2 by Sammy Harkham

Until this last year, I knew and respected Sammy solely as the curator and editor of the Kramers Ergot book series. At MoCCA, I finally picked up the two issues of Sammy's current comic book. Since MoCCA, I've sat and re-read Crickets 1-2 from start to finish 5 or 6 times and keep coming back. The second issue was funnier and featured more wild strands, while continuing the main Black Death story from the first installment. To me, Crickets 2 is a lover of cartooning showing he walks the walk like he talks the talk (whatever that means). A refreshingly excellent floppy. [link]

6. Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware

I don't have too much to say about this book, except it's basically impossible to fight the artistry of this thing. I am not a fan of Ware, and have only read enough of his work to know it's deeply talented but very unfamiliar to the things I want to get out of narratives and art and story. He just never like... speaks to me? But I read this latest edition to see what the fuss was about, and found a book chock full of smartly-woven threads that hit just the right combo of interests, pathos, speculation and focus. Other people that have been following the dude for longer have better reviews, but I was really drawn into this one. [link]

5. Tales Designed To Thrizzle #4 by Michael Kupperman

Another fantastic piece of work from America's funniest cartoonist. If you're a Same Hat reader (and get down with Yoshida Sensha, Johnny Ryan, Enomoto, Koji Aihara and the other kings of gag manga), then I'm sure you're already on top of Kupperman's work. The latest book of his biannual(?) series hit all the right notes, and delivered on a slightly different conceit this time (24 hours of cartooning fun for the whole family!). The first 4 issues will be collected by Fantagraphics in 2009, I hear. [link]

4. All-Star Superman #10 by Grant Morrison/Frank Quietly

I was so fucking dubious about this series, and it ended up really getting to me. And I think Superman is aB-O-R-I-N-G character. So how the hell did Morrison and Quietly pull this shit off? One of the best single issues of the best mainstream miniseries in many, many years. [link]

3. Jin & Jam #1 by Hellen Jo

We've made it to the top three, and like the manga list these represent the cream of the fucking crop, right here. Another full disclosure, Hellen is one of my best buds and some of her original art hangs in my apartment. After her excellent one-shot Paralysis and aborted (but badass) series Blister, Jin & Jam #1 marks Hellen's first "officially published book." In it, Hellen has perfected and distilled her elegant but wet & wild uber-detailed style into a cohesive (but still surreal) form that just flat out WORKS in serial form. Aside from being beautiful, the book harkens back to a raw emotion of adolescence and summons up all the evil obstacles you used to fight off on Sunday afternoons: church, lamewads, the cops, siamese twins, and the future. Fuggin' awesome sheeeit. BUY IT! [link]

2. Dungeon Monstres vol.2: The Dark Lord by Sfar/Trondheim/Blanquet/Andreas

Despite a crumbling world economy, war, and environmental degredation, 2008 was an alright year. That's a logical truism for any year where we get more of Dungeon in English (HEY-O). As stated, all Dungeon is good Dungeon, but the newest installment of Monsters was the most exciting installment since we first peaked into the end of days in Twilight Volume 1. I loved how both stories played off each other (Rashomon-stylies), but the real gem is Stéphane Blanquet's stunning and surreal colors in the second half of this book. I say it in every year's BEST OF list, but Dungeon is probably my all-time favorite series, ever. Start it soon (with Zenith 1: Duckheart) so you can work your way back to this excellent book! [link]

1. What It Is by Lynda Barry

Dude, what isn't it? I can imagine folks not really needing this entire book, which mixes autobiographical and Raw Power narrative strips with Barry's own insights and open questions in dozens of free-form and lovely ink & collage pages. Like with her novel Cruddy, I was feeling this book in a sentimental and unshielded way that is usually pretty rare for me with comics. For whatever kind of "comic" this thing is, it was definitely the single biggest achievement (in my eyes) in comicdom during 2008. I also had the distinct pleasure to meet her twice at events in 2008 and dudes, she's a wonderful creature. [link]

New Character Parade by Johhny Ryan

NCP was another fantastic collection of the weekly strips Johnny has been putting up on his site. Featuring a hand-screened cover and unhinged mania, I placed this book on the top of the hallowed coffee table of "cool shit you just gotta see!" in my apartment. More about Johnny in the most anticipated in 2009 list tomorrow! [link]

The Would-Be Bridegrooms by Shawn Cheng

I wasn't very familiar with Shawn's stuff, but had the chance to meet him and get this mini at APE a few months ago. Featuring a Sword in the Stone-esque magical transmogoration battle between two suitors, this short comic had me laughing my ass off. On top of that, Shawn has an arresting visual style- check out the daily(?) sketches posts of his work on the art group site, PARTYKA: [link]

Bullshit Frank & Gorilla Joe by Mickey Zacchilli

Previously-mentioned here for her Kazuo Umezu and Go Nagai fan art, Mickey went berserk this year with her raw and borderline experimental art brut series BF & GJ. I just got the third issue a few weeks ago, and her existential meets batshit gag strips continue to deliver. Each issue also features hand-screened covers (inside & out) and other goodies. Mickey is a comics-creating dynamo... check it out! [link]

Empire Park by Jason Shiga

After Knock Knock's massive and multi-hubbed sprawl, and Bookhunter's noirish ode to dusty pages, Shiga's latest self-published comic is a longish narrative about love and devotion. True life Sleepless in Seattle shit with some real talk honesty that struck a great note. I think it's still a bit hard to find, but you should buy it from the man at cons this year and marvel at his genre-jumping mastery. [link]

RASL by Jeff Smith

The first three books of RASL don't add up to much actually happening, but I am hooked on this book. Following up after BONE is a hell of a task that Jeff Smith has made for himself, so I was excited to see the science fictional, boobs and blood and weirdo noir direction he is taking. Now if more shit happened and the books came out faster! [link]

COMING SHORTLY: Best Blogs! and Most Anticipated Books 2009!


Brendan said...

Man, 2009 is going to be the 'year of catching up on 2008' for me

zack soto said...

we have pretty similar tastes..

Ryan S said...

@brendan: got a lotta good things on sale!

@zack: Yes definitely, I totally was on board with your list :) I also am down with anyone that shares my undying love for Dungeon.

Cal said...

My love of Dungeon is unconditional too, well maybe except if Rob Liefeld guest drew a book. Oh wait, that would actually be sort of awesome.

Ryan S said...

@cal: DUDE! Dungeon: Monsters Volume 3, MARVYNBLOOD VS. HERBW.O.L.F.ERT

I like it!

Zanucki said...

Dungeon for sure!
Now, from recent years (not 2008) I have to mention Boucq with his Jérôme Moucherot.