Comic Books? They Still Make Those?

I don’t know what happened in 2006, but I didn’t get wowed by nearly as many comics as I did in previous years. There were some old standbys: I enjoyed new volumes of Hikaru No Go and Eden, I bought anything Kevin Huizenga did, and I liked the Hellboy-less adventures of the B.P.R.D. But in general, it was a downturn for me. Here, however, are some of the standouts.

American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang) – New publisher First Second exploded onto the scene this year with an impressive stable of offerings. Eddie Campbell’s Fate of the Artist, and J.P. Stassen’s Deogratias also got my money, but this was the one I really enjoyed the most out of three great books. I may not buy or like everything that Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, or Drawn and Quarterly put out, but I pay close attention to see what they are. First Second quickly joined their ranks.

Berlin: City of Stones, vol 1 (Jason Lutes) – Most of the time when I get a graphic novel from the library I’m content with reading and returning it. Not so with this one. I’ve got to have my own copy. I liked the story, loved the art, and can’t wait for there to be a second volume (there will be, won’t there?)

Cromartie High School (Eiji Nonaka) – Man, I haven’t LOLed so much reading a comic book! Absolutely daffy “adventures” of a bunch of tough-talking “badasses” in the worst school in Japan. Every volume is like a bite of delicious candy wrapped in even more delicious candy!

Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man (John Porcellino) – I bought this based on the solicitation copy in Previews, and I have to admit, when I finally had it in my hands and saw the crude artwork, I was kind of wishing I hadn’t. But I was very wrong. Not only does the crude artwork provide the chance to see someone working to improve his technique, it gave these stories of a lackluster job even more poignancy. Autobiographical comics often lack soul, ironically enough, but this is one of the most “human” ones I’ve ever read.

Dinosaur Comics (Ryan North) – One of the most consistently funny comics on the web, Dinosaur Comics makes nearly every weekday a joy unto itself. For those people who claim it doesn’t count because it’s a webcomic and not a book-book comic, BEHOLD!

Dragon Head (Minetaro Mochizuki) – Another manga I got into this year, this spooky story of a class trip gone horribly wrong just keeps getting more and more interesting. Tokyopop seemed intent on killing off what interest there is in it earlier this year, but thankfully saner heads prevailed. If you like ongoing drama TV like Lost or Heroes, but prefer it when things actually happen, you might want to check this out.

Emma vol 1 (Kaoru Mori) – Similarly, if you’d like to read a romance comic that isn’t about teenagers, superheroes, or wispy boys, you could do far worse than this charming book about a maid in Victorian England being wooed by a man above her station.

Marvel Comics – Growing up, I was never much of a Marvel fan. I went through the customary X-books for a while before dumping them, and I tried Spider-Man in the 90s for a bit, but I never had much interest in them. Thanks to Marvel’s Milestones and Essentials books (and Barnes and Noble’s deep clearances on such), I discovered the joy of early issues of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Doctor Strange. I’m gradually catching up on the stuff I should already be over with by now.

Showcase Presents – Likewise with these books from DC. Excellent value and almost always a treat, though reading a bunch of Jimmy Olson stories in a row is about as good an idea as the all-Skittles dinner. It’s so nice to read superhero comics that aren’t mired in all the glum trappings of modern books.

The Spirit (Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone) – This book, however, goes a long way towards addressing that in the modern era. Well done, guys!

Teaching Baby Paranoia (Bryant Paul Johnson) – Another webcomic (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but I first came across the printed collection at my comic store. Highly recommended.

Wasteland (Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten) – I once again recommend this comic, and lucky you, there’s a trade coming out soon!

So there you have it. If I were going to pick a Comic of the Year it would probably go to the Showcase Presents volumes. They were the ones I consistently looked forward to and enjoyed. But that fact is…well, it’s kind of sad.

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