The Best Damned Comics of 2008 Chosen By The Artists

Categories:  Features, Interviews

batbaby

In many respects, 2008 will no doubt go down as one of the most disastrous  years in modern publishing history. Fewer people are reading, and when they are, they’re largely forgoing print in favor of Web-based content. These issues, combined with a year-long global recession, have lead to an unprecedented shake up in the industry.  Still, despite the seemingly endless parade of bad news for publishing, the underground comics renaissance has continued to outdo itself, producing some of the strongest works of sequential art that we’ve seen in the past decade.

2008 will perhaps be known as the year that smaller publishers like Sparkplug and Secret Acres really came into their own, or maybe the moment that Top Shelf truly asserted itself as a publishing house on par with the likes of Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, thanks to scheduled that include many of the year’s best titles. It will be regarded as confirmation that those who have weathered the storm with self-published titles are truly in it for the love of the medium and the creation of art.

Above all, of course, it will be remembered for the books. Whereas last year few titles emerged as true contenders for the book of the year, these past 12 months have seen plenty, like Bottomless Belly Button, What it Is, Swallow Me Whole, Skyscrapers of the Midwest, Skim, Freddie & Me, Kramer’s Ergot–we could go on, of course.

Once again we put the question to some of the industry’s luminaries, asking top creators, journalists, publishers, editors, and scholars to send in their top books of the year. Once again the response was overwhelming. We received more than 50 lists, all of which we’ve included below, from the serious, to the overzealous, to the hilarious (including the artist who opted to fill his ballot out with classic Prince singles). We’ve also tossed in links to reviews of featured books that have run in the Cross Hatch this past year.

Thanks to all who participated, and, as ever, thanks to you, the readers who have been incredibly supportive these past 12 months. This has been an amazing year for the site, and we’re incredibly excited to start 2009 off with a bang.

–BH

Featured Books

The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel
What it Is by Lynda Barry
Lucky Volume 2 #2 by Gabrielle Bell
Little Things by Jeffrey Brown
Reich by Elijah Brubaker
Misery Loves Comedy [2nd Edition] by Ivan Brunetti
Powr Mastrs by CF
Fishtown by Kevin Colden
Skyscrapers of the Midwest by Joshua Cotter
Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody by Mike Dawson
Burma Chronicles by Guy Delise
Capacity by Theo Ellsworth
Wormdye by Eamon Espey
Brawl by Dean Haspiel, Michel Fiffe
Fatal Faux-Pas by Samuel C. Gaskin
Johnny Boo by James Kochalka
Essex County by Jeff Lemire
PS Comics #4 by Minty Lewis
Ochre Ellipse by Jonas Madden-Conner
Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa
Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story by Fredrick Peeters
Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell
Slow Wave by Jesse Reklaw
Too Cool to be Forgotten by Alex Robinson
Rabbi’s Cat Volume 2 by Joann Sfar
Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw
Army@Love by Rick Veitch

Jimmy Aquino–Comic News Insider

1. Joker by Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo–Taking The Joker back to his murderous roots as seen through the eyes of a henchman. It’s brutal and entertaining.
2. Local by Brian Wood, Ryan Kelly–An amazing slice of life/find yourself journey that takes us all over the place geographically and manages to capture each location intimately.
3. Chumble Spuzz Vol. 1: Kill the Devil & Vol. 2: Pigeon Man & Death Sings the Blues by Ethan Nicolle/Isaiah Nicolle–(Yes, it’s two books, but they were both released in 08.) Think Ren & Stimpy if Jhonen Vasquez had something to do with it. Follow Gunther and Klem on their crazy adventures with Satan possessed pigs, a foul-mouthed preacher monkey, Death, zombies, Keebler Elves, Cookie Monster and more that will make your brain warp from the laughter.
4. Freddie & Me by Mike Dawson–Dawson’s beautiful coming of age story/metaphor to the music of Queen. It reads like a Queen song and leaves you just as satisfied.
5. Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm by Percy Carey/Ronald Wimberly–M.F. Grimm’s tale of survival on the streets, his time in prison, the drug dealing days, rap career and the triumph over tragedy.

Honorable Mentions:

Too Cool To Be Forgotten by Alex Robinson–A hypnotic story of that takes you on a journey to highschool with a surprising and moving confrontation at the end.
The Alcoholic Jonathan Ames, Dean Haspiel–Part autobiography/Part poetic license, Ames takes us on a journey through alcohol and how it has affected his life. All the while keeping you wondering what is true and what is embellished or flat out made up.
Essex County Vol. 3: The Country Nurse by Jeff Lemire–The final volume in the Essex County trilogy. Still heartwarming, heartbreaking and heartfelt.

Thomas BaehrPole

1. Fishtown by Kevin Colden–It’s cruel, it’s true, it’s well done. It’s just perfect.
2. Echo Moonlake by Terry Moore–Terry Moore knows how to tell a story. He maybe needs some practice with explosions, but he is a master of the human figure.
3. Bourbon Island 1730 by Apollo, Lewis Trondheim–The latest Trondheim. How could he not be on this list?!
4. The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames & Dean Haspiel–A sad story, but funnily told. A big thank you to Dean Haspiel to bring Jonathan Ames into comics.
5. Die Sache mit Sorge by Isabel Kreitz–This German artist did her masterpiece with this 244 page historic spy thriller. To date, it’s only available in a German version, but the art in itself is worth looking at it.

Kyle Baker--The Bakers, Nat Turner

Special Forces #3 by Kyle Baker
How to Draw Stupid by Kyle Baker
Nat Turner: Collected Edition by Kyle Baker
Classics Illustrated: Through the Looking Glass by Kyle Baker
TOR by Joe Kubert–Because I could only think of four books I did this year, and I enjoy TOR.

Ivan BrandonCross Bronx, 24Seven

Berlin 2 by Jason Lutes–This was my chance to revisit the world of one of the best written comics i’ve ever read.  Berlin is a comic i will recommend to anyone without reservation, regardless of their interest in comics.
100 Bullets by Eduardo Risso–The last year of this book is on-par with the best its ever been. Doesn’t get as much attention as it used to, but it’s still one of the best comics on the market, and Eduardo Risso is probably the single best and most consistent comic artist in the American comics business.
Omega the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem, Farel Dalrymple–It was a completely welcome surprise and exactly my flavor of weird.
Casanova Volume 2 by  Matt Fraction, Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá–There are a bunch of people discovering Matt Fraction, Fábio Moon and his twin brother Gabriel Bá this year, but there’s no better outlet for their work than Casanova.
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin–The collection is a massive undertaking and as a writer it’s as important to me as Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns.

Box BrownBellen

1. Bottomless Bellybutton by Dash Shaw–This’ll surely top a lot of best of lists this year.  I think it’s appeal is not necessarily in the plot itself but in the innovative style of graphic storytelling.
2. Skyscrapers of the Midwest by Josh Cotter–Loved Josh Cotter’s Jimmy Corrigan-esque cats.
3. Ganges #2 by Kevin Huizenga–Features my personal favorite of the Glenn Ganges stories, “Pulverize,” which ruminates on the Dotcom Boom and first person shooters.
4. Pictures for Sad Children 2008 by John Campbell–Famous Person hits every single one of his strips out of the park.  He’s simultaneously poignant and hilarious all wrapped up in a delicate and lovely minimalist package.
5. This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow–It was a great year for TMW and I would wager all other political comics.

Jeffrey Brown--A.E.I.O.U, Clumsy

1. Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware–I’d read much of this volume when it was running in the weekly Chicago papers, and had forgotten about it. The classic sc-ifi tale that starts off this book draw you in so deeply that when you realize you’re reading fiction within the fiction it gives you a jolt. Perhaps the densest and most philosophical volume yet.
2. Too cool to be Forgotten by Alex Robinson–Alex’s best book, a novella that reads longer than its page count and delivers humor and emotion together.
3. Kramers Ergot 7–Okay, I haven’t actually even seen this book yet, but I’m really excited about it, it’s by far the best book I haven’t seen this year, undoubtedly. It would have to be really, really spectacularly horrible for it to not be on my list.
4. Sublife #1 by John Pham–My only complaint for Sublife is that it’s not ten times as long. Beautiful and keeps you reading and wondering what’s going to happen.
5. Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream #1-2 by Laura Park–Laura has been doodling away for years but is only just now sharing more of her work with the world, with contributions to Papercutter and the Project:Superior showcase, and these mini’s, which are amazing yet give only a small glimpse into the wonders of Laura’s sketchbooks.

Paul BuhleJews and American Comics

What it Is by Lynda Barry–The most unusual of her highly unusual work, so different in layout that it is hard for me to describe, but essentially an effort to explain what kind of art teaching pulled her young self back from despair (and into genius), and how that teaching can be offered on a wider basis, to kids especially.  The mixture of drawing and collage is simply fabulous.
Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds–Hardly anybody, certainly not me, follows the British press regularly and would have seen the ongoing work of Posy Simmonds in The Guardian, these past 30(!) years. Anyway, Tamara Drewe is a British novel-style saga, but set in modern times, about an artists’ colony of sorts, including hipsters, adulterers, teens, crime and so on. Neatly tinted.
Tales of  Little Rebels, Edited by Julia L. Mickenberg and Philip Nel–Perhaps I shouldn’t be trying to sneak in here with a big tall book that is only about a quarter drawings, but these are rare and fascinating. Essentially, they are children’s educational materials prepared by left-wing organizations since English language socialists began in the first years of the twentieth century. Obviously and intentionally didactic, they are mostly quite charming, often multi-racial and I sure wish I had been given these books in 1950!
Breakdowns by Art Spiegelman–Breakdowns is a reprint of a hopelessly obscure 1977 volume, but with twenty-some new pages.  Another of his huge-size books, with the full flow of his postmodernism on display but also a careful, wildly imaginative recounting of his childhood discovery of comics, his parents’ resistance, and all that.
Wordless Books, Edited by David Berona–If you haven’t heard about this and can’t get the $35 together, find it at your library, ­if you are serious about non-dialogue graphic novels. It anthologies and analyzes Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward and Milt Gross, familiar folks, but also a handful of more obscure Europeans, and several Americans, including Laurence Hyde and Giacomo Patri, who had entirely escaped my notice.

Molly Crabapple–Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School

A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge by Josh Neufeld–That’s coming out in print around now, no?
High Moon by Steve Ellis and Dave Gallagher–A Webcomic granted, but oh so good.

Michael DeForgeCave Adventures

1. “Another Lonely Christmas” B-Side off I Would Die 4 U single by Prince
2. “When You Were Mine” from Dirty Mind by Prince
3. “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” from Sign O’ the Times by Prince
4. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” from 1999 by Prince
5. “It” from Sign O’ The Times by Prince

Oliver EastTrains…Are Mint, The Daily Cross Hatch

What It Is by Lynda Barry–This is just a beautiful object before you’ve even gotten inside. The production on it is fantastic. You really want to be able to see the original pages and feel them in your hands, then shake Barry’s hand before throwing caution to the wind and just giving here a massive great bear hug for giving us this book. Plus it’ll pad out lazy art lecturers’ workshops for years to come. Book of the year hands down.
Jennfer’s Story by Jenffer–A Jay kicked up some stink here and there with some people objecting to people enjoying a strip supposedly created by someone with obvious learning difficulties, but I read and enjoyed it with a clear conscious and have a new favourite strip. The stilted language reminds me of the ‘cut up’ style of writing done by William Burroughs and worked for this dyslexic reader. The misuse of language is coupled with some bizarre characters and some naive but suitable cartooning. It could all be made up by a non-trans gender cheeky funster, but I bought into it.
The Heroic Mosh Of Marys Son by Malcy Duff–Malcy Duff deserves to be massive and then some and The Heroic Mosh Of Marys Son was very good this year. He hypnotizes you by focusing on a single action for 12-paneled page after 12-paneled page. Plus some of his detail is beautifully grotesque. I haven’t a clue what’s going on half the time.
Travel by Yokiyama–My publisher leant me Travel and he won’t be getting it back for a while. And it’s not because it’s got a train in nearly every panel. I’m usually reluctant to jump on any bandwagon, but this book deserves all the plaudits it’s getting. Plus it’s got a commentary at the back! How cool’s that? Expect to see about half this book in my next book.
How To Be Everywhere by Warren Craghead–I really like the look of this Warren Craghead bloke as well. The downloading of pdfs to make your own copies is pretty cool and the comics are beautifully done.

Austin EnglishWindy Corner

1. Sammy the Mouse #2 by  Zak Sally–This is my favorite comic being drawn today. Some people mentioned to me that they were initially put  off by Zak Sally switching his drawing style. And, it’s true, it’s hard not to miss that ultra precise style. But there’s just something about this series…aesthetically I love Sally’s older drawing style and I’m not sure what  to make of this new one either. But this is the comic that proves the “drawing in comics is writing” idea better then anything else. There’s a certain sacrifice of visual aesthetics for storytelling’s sake…but the storytelling is so good and the story is so rich (one of the richest in ideas comic I’ve ever read) that the aesthetic of the drawing becomes beautiful. It’s really something. Sometimes I can’t get over characters in novels…I really love certain literary creations. Rarely can I say that about a comic…except this one.
2. Lucky Vol. 2 #2 by Gabrielle Bell–One thing I’ve really been thinking about recently with Gabrielle’s work is how there are hardly any histrionic displays of emotion: very little shouting, crying or kissing. Yet the melodrama in Gabrielle’s work is palpable. Which means it’s all done through cartooning instead of cheap devices that the rest of us employ…her work doesn’t fall back on anything but itself.
Gabrielle Bell only puts out good comics. Every time you see a Bell comic on the stands, you can count on it being beautifully crafted and balanced. There’s simply no filler in Bell’s published output (who else can that be said of?). This work in particular is a beautiful little package of balance. There isn’t one page that hasn’t been labored over until it’s fits perfectly with everything else. This is a short comic that will hopefully tide everyone over until next years release of the career spanning collection Cecil and Jordan in New York which should be on most everyone’s best of 2009 list.
3. World Best Cookie by Jonathan Petersen–Don’t let the fey title fool you. Jonathan Petersen is anything but. Petersen seems to get unfairly lumped in with other cartoonists published in the Marc Bell edited Nog a Dod collection. Actually, “lumped in” would be wonderful…his work actually seems to get zero recognition.. it’s too bad, because I think he’s the best artist in that group (and that’s a talented bunch to begin with). Petersen’s work perhaps doesn’t have the hip feeling of some of his peers…the writing can be odd and off putting. But I think Petersen’s writing functions as kernels to produce images off of. And the images he produces are so strong…his figures are broad shouldered and built with thick lines, yet they also have a sophisticated roundness to them (roundness seems to be the hardest thing for most cartoonists  to achieve). Comics seems to be accepting of a lot of “weird” work these days…but there’s obviously work to be done when an artist like Petersen still seems too difficult.
4. Dorado Park by Lilli Carre–This is a strong follow up to Carre’s The Thing About Madeline. With both works, Carre suddenly looks like the unchallenged heavyweight of short comics fiction. The 90s saw many  cartoonists mining this field, with some high highs and some low lows. Dorado Park is different because it’s such an overwhelmingly focused work of art. there’s something quietly stunning in how forcefully all the parts of this mini add up. Earlier “literary” comics have a decidedly rough-around the edges quality to them. They almost say, “real fiction in comics! We’re actually doing it!” Dorado Park doesn’t have any of that naivety. It’s not about the idea of telling a serious story…it’s about the two sisters in the story, and about the tone Carre chooses to render them in.
5. Jin and Jam #1 by Hellen Jo–This was the most fun i had reading a comic this year. And (to state the obvious): Hellen Jo sure can draw! The characters in here are tough and foul mouthed, but of course I like the parts we’re they’re sweet and nice. That mix doesn’t seem forced: Jo knows when to hit the profane pedal at just the right times, but she also knows when to ease up. I like these characters a lot and Jo’s amazing artwork becomes kind of like icing on the cake once you actually read this thing. I don’t understand why this isn’t the kind of comic Marvel publishes…it seems like it would be instantly appealing to everyone alive on the planet.

Honorable Mentions

I haven’t read Kramer’s 7 yet but I’ve seen it around. Just leafing through it proves that anyone complaining about the price is pretty silly. it looks so good and everyone should do themselves a favor and stop complaining!
Everything I bought from CCC (not to be confused with CCS!) contributor Molly O’Connel this year at MOCCA and SPX
The amazing mini comic Panpipes #3 that Kramers 7 contributor (and my roommate) Jesse Mcmanus draws
Department of Art by Dunja Jancovic
Swell #2 by JULIACKS
A period of madness by Luc Leplae
BFF by Nate Beatty
Welcome to the Dahl House by Ken Dahl
Wormdye by Eamon Espey
Travel by Yokiyama
Scorchy Smith And The Art Of Noel Sickles by Noel Sickles This is technically #1 on my lis, but I feel like it’s unfair to put old timey guys like this head to head with the young cavaliers of modern comics
Laura parks minis/Flickr account
The comics Blaise Larmee posts on his blog.

Robin EnricoJam in the Band

Jin and Jan by Hellen Jo–It seems like every time someone interviews me  I am always talking how Hellen is the best unnoticed cartoonist out there today. I would hope this book does a lot to change that. Jin and Jan is an awesome blending of Taiyo Matsumoto style art and punk rock attitude and humor.
Empire Park by Jason Shiga–Jason once again moves mountains with minimal gestures. Using his crisp, clean, simple style Jason tells the story of cross country heart break with out being cloying or sentimental and presents deeply real characters in an overly cartoonish style.
Solanin by Asano Inio–Usually I balk at reading manga as I often find it to be written for an audience far younger than myself. Solanin portrays the lives of drifting 20 somethings that is neither sugar-coated, nor insulting to the intelligence, and is at the same time both wistful and whimsical.
Octopus Pie Vol. 1/ 2 by Meredith Gran–I doubt Meredith needs more press as her work has garnered much of the attention it deserves. But Octopus Pie still stands as among the handful of web comics that escape the “sub-culture re-validation” mold and presents a story with flawed, relatable and wacky characters.
Hattie et Millie by Calvin Wong–Action girl flappers from the 20s, check. A zombie opera where all the arias are just Smiths songs, check. Tightly drawn energetic line work, check. It’s as if Calvin knew everything ever I wanted in a comic, and then made this book.

Michel FiffeBrawl, Panorama

Love and Rockets by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez–L&R is now in book form and it comes out less frequently, but it’s completely worth it. A small price to pay for the work of genius, if you ask me. Best comic of all time. If you disagree then I’m afraid you are wrong.
Scalped by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera–Month in, month out, this series is one of the best written new comics out there. I look forward to anything by this team.
A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld–The amount of personal time, research and effort spent on the creation of this strip is worth the price of admission alone. That Neufeld has handsomely crafted it makes it great. I can’t wait for the expanded collection.
The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel–Ames’ first foray into comix territory is just as funny as his other books. I’m sure Dean’s art made the transition for Ames as easy as it could’ve been, which is why I think the combination is effortless and complimentary.
The Goddess of War by Lauren Weinstein–This may be a slight departure from what Lauren’s done recently (mostly autobio), but it still has her sensibilities: hilarious and beautifully drawn and very inviting. This, though, is surreal and kinda seedy, which I love!

Bob FingermanBeg the Question, Recess Pieces

Le Chasseur Deprime by Moebius–Moebius is my all-time hero and Major Grubert is my favorite character of his, so an all-new adventure in the universe of The Airtight Garage is manna for me. Moebius turned 70 this year and shows no signs of slowing down. And brother, is this stuff is trippy. Really mind-blowing in every regard. He also released two volumes of his whacked-out epic bout of navel-gazing, Inside Moebius (volumes 4 & 5), which are gorgeous, full-color hardcovers. Le Chasseur Deprime is breathtaking black and white pen and ink and each page is an inspiration.
Petey & Pussy by John Kerschbaum–That said, Kerschbaum’s Petey & Pussy is my favorite domestic GN of the year. Maybe of the decade, thus far. I’ve done my mission work on its behalf, going so far as to offer one friend a money-back-guarantee if he bought it and didn’t like it. It’s bar none, the funniest book of the year, a beautiful presentation, a handsome, hilarious, essential part of any comics library worth a damn. Okay, that’s three (or four? Or two and  half?).
The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel–A cocktail of Kirby, Bukowski, bukkake, Philip Roth, the confessional, and more. Angst, puke, sexual exploration, sadness, and poop propel this pathetic but compulsively readable yarn. A real page-turner.
The Zombies that Ate the World (Les Zombies Qui Ont Mange le Monde; Tome 4: La Guerre des Papes) by Jerry Frissen and domestic art god Guy Davis–Hilarity, zombie popes, pompadours and muttonchops. It’s great stuff and some American publisher should release this already in English!

As a sidebar I’d also throw love and props to the ongoing epic that is B.P.R.D. by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Guy Davis. Great, fun, dark comics yarns brilliantly brought to life by comicdom’s  second most underrated (I’m the first, natch) artists, Guy Davis, whose art is a wonder to behold. That’s sort of five, if you can’t count.

Simon FraserNikolai Dante

Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle–This has been out in French for a few years, but Drawn & Quarterly have done an English version now.) The author follows his wife to Burma with their small child and makes a comics journal of his experiences. Delisle has a sharp eye and an open mind, he makes us aware of the tragedy of Burma but with wit, sympathy and a keen sense of irony. All told with masterful storytelling economy.
Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa–This is such a powerful piece of storytelling, it’s a story about loss , love and grief, but Pedrosa makes it beautiful. I’m not entirely sure that the last third of the story works, but by that time I’m so in the thrall of the artist that I’ll accept just about anything.
Buddy Does Jersey by Peter Bagge–Ok this is old, but it’s a new collection and I haven’t read it in 20 years. Apart from the lack of cellphones,, Xboxes and the Internet, it’s still as sharp a satire of suburban America as I’ve read.
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely–I’ve been a Superman fan since I was a kid, but it’s often been difficult to explain to all the Batman and X-men-heads out there why. Now I don’t need to. This is the real Superman, this is 2 superb creators bringing their A-game to the Superhero.
Parade with Fireworks by Mike Cavallaro–Full Disclosure: I share a studio with Mike and he’s a fellow member of Act-i-vate ). A real Italian family story of how ideology builds divisions and lends spurious nobility to hateful acts. Cavallaro gives the story an epic scale and a lush romantic beauty. All it’s missing is an Ennio Morricone score.

Honourable Mention

The Alcoholic by Johnathan Ames, Dean Haspie– I also share a studio with Dean. Haspiels’ dynamic art gives Ames’ pseudo-memoir a real spiky charismatic energy. The ‘loser’ central character fights his demons with a kind of off-beat heroism and there is real pathos in the struggle. This is Ames’ first comic, but it doesn’t show.

Dan GoldmanShooting War, Kelly

Skyscrapers of the Midwest by Joshua Cotter–I’ve loved this with the first issue and “got” it with the second, waiting only for the joyful day I could sit on my couch and devour this novel as intended.  Skyscrapers is both childlike and “ugly-American”… true and sweet and utterly heart-breaking.
The Cream of Tank Girl by Alan Martin, Jamie Hewlitt–Deadline Mag was one of my highwater marks of comics+culture I’ve seen in my lifetime, and this reproduces many of those moments in full pill-twisted color.  We don’t get comics (or drugs) like this anymore, and the world is grayer for it.  I didn’t even know this volume was coming out and nearly peed when I snagged it in NY; it’s blasphemy that Tank Girl isn’t considered essential reading for cartoonists.
Freddie & Me by Mike Dawson–I fell in love with this story when I read a chunk of it on Dawson’s site, and the final product is just a thousand times tighter; my copy never even met a bookmark.  Freddie delivers everything what I want from a work of art: I want to ache and cringe and soar, and Dawson delivers all of those moments in a tightly-controlled narrative whose apologies get it the pass to be less than fiction but more than memoir.
Rabbi’s Cat Volume 2 by Joann Sfar–I know this material’s a few years on already, but Joann Sfar makes me take long, hard looks in the mirror about the sort of work I’m producing myself… to say nothing of the crackling intelligence of his laugh-aloud dialogue and effortlessness of his storytelling.  I really want to be like him when I grow up.
Reich by Elijah Brubaker–A well-researched bio-in-minicomic format about Wilhelm Reich’s life? I would’ve subscribed to the whole thing before  even opening it.  Elijah Brubaker paints a less-than-flattering portrait of one of my most-underappreciated heroes with an ear for the period and virtuoso storytelling carried in his warm and etchy style.

Shaenon GarrityNarbonic

1. The Great Outdoor Fight, by Chris Onstad–By now everybody’s said their piece on Achewood and its general greatness, but it’s still true.  Whenever I’m reading other comics, I’m a little bit sad that they aren’t Achewood.  And the Great Outdoor Fight hardcover provides both a fond look back at the strip’s most popular storyline and an excellent jumping-on point for new readers, complete with the bonus material, recipes and blogs that are part of the total Achewood experience.

2. Cat Eyed Boy, by Kazuo Umezu.–How crazy do you have to be before people start calling you the craziest manga artist?  The answer is extremely crazy.  All of Umezu’s horror manga are both nutty as a fruitcake and, by Western standards, wildly inappropriate for the grade-school audience for which they were created (this shit ran in Shonen Sunday, yo).  Cat Eyed Boy, a series of short stories loosely linked by the mischievous, demonic title character, represents some of Umezu’s earlier, pulpier work, and it contains some of my favorite batshit Umezu moments to date.  Robert Crumb totally ripped off the Meatball Monster.
3. Willie and Joe: The WWII Years, by Bill Mauldin–One of the loveliest reprint projects in a while, collecting Mauldin’s classic war cartoons in hardcover with a handsome footlocker-type slipcover.  Some of the best cartooning, ever.
4. Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio–The Foglios have clearly found their niche online, because Girl Genius is far and away the best thing they’ve ever done, and it just keeps getting better.  Comedy, adventure, and sexy girls: see, doing great comics doesn’t have to be complicated.
5. Family Man, by Dylan Meconis–Or you could swing it like Dylan, and painstakingly craft each historically-accurate page of your webcomic from blood, sweat, and sepia-toned tears.  This is one damned good-looking comic, plus I’m learning a lot about 18th-century Bavarian theological debates.  Also there are sexy girls.
P.S. I came up with a completely different top-five list for the year-end edition of The Comics Journal.  Compare and contrast!
Joe Gordon–The Forbidden Planet Blog

Stickleback by Ian Edgington and D’Israeli-–I’m old school 2000 AD fan; it came out when I was ten and I’ve loved it ever since, even though admittedly I don’t normally read the weekly these days but wait for the trade collections. This was one I was eager to read in graphic novel form as I’d been enjoying the art Matt Brooker was posting up on his blog and I have a love of Steampunk. And this is steampunk meets Dickens meets Lovecraft meets…well, that something indefinable but wonderful that happens when Edgington and D’Israeli get together. And it’s crammed with references to films, books and other sources from Dickens to Carry On Screaming, clever writing, intriguing story and fabulous art. What more can you ask for?
That Salty Air by Tim Sievert–-The deceptively simple artwork here draws you into what seems at first like a pretty open tale of a fisherman happy with his lot before going into a very emotional spot dealing with loss and how the anger and grief can easily consume us and the consequences it can have for us and those around us when we become so wrapped up in our own pain.
Too Cool to be Forgotten by Alex Robinson–I’ve been a big fan of Alex for years and really looked forward to this, so was really delighted when Leigh at TS sneaked me a copy. Trying hypno therapy to stop smoking our hero finds himself back in his high school days-–like the BBC’s brilliant Life on Mars, you’re never quite sure if he has really time travelled or if it is all in his head as he observes the successes and mistakes of his teen life (throwing in a nice Star Trek gag about not corrupting the time line as he goes), before a change of gears for the final act hits the reader with a very heavy emotional scene between father and son which will resonate with anyone who’s lost someone who they loved.
Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell–Yes, another Top Shelf pick from me. I seemed to read a number of their books this year and reckon it was a damned good year for them (and for readers) and all power to them for continuing to put out interesting material like this. Oddly, the second comic dealing with mental illness I read this year (the other was part two of the manga With the Light). Nate’s artwork uses a lot of black and scratchy lines which perfectly suit the atmosphere of two siblings with various conditions which colour how they perceive the world and themselves (and who is to say their vision of the world is wrong and ‘normal’ people’s right?).
Absolute Sandman Volume 3 by Neil Gaiman–I know it is a reprint, but what a reprint. Oversized pages showing off fully restored artwork, including the fiftieth issue special, Ramadan, with simply glorious artwork by P. Craig Russell and superb, flowing script by letterer Todd Klein compliments a beautiful Arabian Nights fantasy. And that final reveal that the tale is being told by an old beggar to a young boy in the ruins of bombed out Baghdad still gets me every time. For everyone who fell in love with The Thief of Baghdad and endless Sinbad films as a kid. Drink it in.
Paul GravettGraphic Novels, Manga
1. Skim by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki–The strictly confidential journal of Skim, a wannabe teen-witch at a private girls’ school in 1993 by the Canadian Tamaki cousins. Skim‘s first love blossoms with her English teacher, their secret kiss in the woods set within one glorious silent spread of lush nature.
2. Rumble Strip by Woodrow Phoenix–The killing of his young sister aged 11 in a car accident inspired Phoenix to reassess the impact automobiles have on our lives. A driver himself, he drops all dialogue and balloons for an ascerbic, discomforting commentary, accompanied by subjective views of roads and their painted signs, directions and abstract figures, eerily devoid of any cars or real people.
3. Alan’s War by Emmanuel Guibert–Guibert illuminates in tender outlines and lustrous washes the World War Two reminiscences of an American G.I., Alan Cope, whom he first met in 1994 when Alan was 69. Reading this remarkable graphic biography you feel Cope becoming your own friend.
4. Britten & Brülightly by Hannah Berry–Nothing is black and white in Hannah Berry’s watercoloured noir, her murky, moody watercolours echoing the moral shades of grey of Britten, her downtrodden detective from Ecuador and his surreal partner, a cynical teabag: “Look, I’m sorry: I infused in your waistcoat!”
5. Travel by Yuichi Yokoyama–This speechless, soundless 195-page art-manga evokes that transitory state and detached, wary observation between all-male rail passengers. Yokoyama thrusts them through a marvel of a smooth-running integrated transport system, recreating a heightened sense of presence while in motion.
Dean HaspielThe Alcoholic

1. All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely–An awesome utopia of superhero mythology that entertains while concurrently teaches how to write and draw classic comix with omniscient stealth.
2. Scalped by Jason Aaron, R.M. Guera–Heartbreaking noir where no character is left unscathed and you care deeply for each and every one of them. If Sergio Leone were alive and producing comix today, they’d look and read something like this.
3. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Charles Adlard–It’s not about zombies, folks. It’s about people living in extreme circumstances while under extreme duress and how fucked we all really are.
4. Jonah Hex by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray–Any franchise that employs Jordi Bernet and furnishes, mostly, done-in-one stories [albeit, hit or miss] is a monthly coup in today’s trend of stretching 22pp story arcs into six-issue mini-series. We need more monthly comix like this.

5. OMAC by Jack Kirby–Originally slated to be Kirby’s future take on Captain America, One Man Army Corps is a cacophony of far fetched concepts and profound camp that still resonates. One of my favorite series of all time finally collected.

Webcomics:

1. Loviathan by Mike Cavallaro–Equal parts old school Aquaman and The Mighty Thor, Cavallaro revisits the hyperbole of ’60s Marvel while mixing Shakespearean romance with the ravages of war.
2. The Transmigration of Ultra-Lad by Joe Infurnari–A dastardly dissertation on youth, heroism, and dual identity, Infurnari grabs the baton C.C. Beck started with Captain Marvel and runs with it down a macabre yet spiritual maze of cause and effect.
3. Lilly MacKenzie by Simon Fraser–Sexy smart science fiction highlighted by Fraser’s compelling characterization and intelligent art.
4. AD: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld. Suspenseful and soul-wrenching yet sensitive and elegant, Neufeld is my generations comix journalist of the truth.
5. Panorama by Michel Fiffe–Every cartoonist must start with their first 100-pages and Fiffe made an Olympic leap right out of the proverbial gate! Laced with psychedelic twists, turns, and torture [literal, emotional, and metaphysical], Fiffe made something new out of identity crisis and the crisis of love. It was Fiffe’s profound denouement, “Elegy,” that made a good story into a great one.

Brian Heater–The Daily Cross Hatch

1. Skyscrapers of the Midwest by Joshua Cotter
2. Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell
3. Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story by Frederik Peeters
4. Capacity by Theo Ellsworth
5. Ochre Ellipse #2 by Jonas Madden-Conner

Laura HudsonComic Foundry

1. Too Cool to Be Forgotten by Alex Robinson
2. Capacity by Theo Ellsworth
3. Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
4. Alan’s War by Emmanuel Guibert
5. What It Is by Lynda Barry

Joe InfurnariThe Transmigration of Ultra-Lad

1. Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa–A powerful, mythic and surprising story told with beautiful art. Three Shadows had me held in wonder throughout. Everybody should read this.
2. The Alcoholic by Johathan Ames and Dean Haspiel–Literature that happens to be told in a graphic novel medium. Funny, tragic, touching and honest.
3. Army@Love: Generation Pwned by Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine–Is there any other mainstream comic that is as daring, hilarious and relevant as this!?
4. Jessica Farm by Josh Simmons–A very interesting experiment in storytelling. Each page created over one month and this book collects eight years of this bizarre, rambling, horrific and hilarious project.
5. Petey and Pussy by John Kerschbaum–From start to finish, the funniest comic I’ve read in a very long while. Grotesque details reward a slower reading and make this book worthy of multiple readings.
Damien JayThe Natural World, The Tinderbox

P.S. Comics #4 by Minty Lewis–Extra-dry wit wrapped in a plush, white, cross-eyed, and knock-kneed package. Is it just me or is this kind of humor rare in comics these days?
Curio Cabinet #4 by John Brodowski–I had a similar experience reading John Brodowski’s comics for the first time as I did when I first read Minty Lewis’ comics: I got more and more excited as I flipped through the pages thinking, “Whoa, this is really weird and great. Where did it come from?” It’s like there’s a chattering frequency heard only by John’s characters that commands them to get up! And act now! I don’t always understand, but I hope there are always new Curio Cabinets. I don’t want to go back.
Wild For Adventure by John Broadley–This is the one that I don’t want to tell anyone about out of fear that there won’t be any more the next time I go to find it. Sort of like if my Ideal Comic materialized all ready to be read instead of slowly rotating inside my brain bathed in an abstract glow. There is no story, but the the drawings really are compelling enough to conjure up daydreams.
Ochre Ellipse #2 by Jonas Madden-Conner–Jonas puts a lot of thought into his comics. The personal takes you to the philosophical and back again. A very rewarding read.
Jin & Jam #1 by Hellen Jo–I guess technically this is a “floppy comic” and not a “mini-comic”, but it’s got that mini-comic don’t-give-a-fuck-about-shit attitude in spades.

Bill Kartalopoulos–SPX Programming Coordinator

Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! byArt Spiegelman
Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware
Windy Corner #2, Edited by Austin English
Ganges #2 and Fight or Run: Shadow of the Chopper by Kevin Huizenga
Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby by Takashi Nemoto

Honorable Mention:

Mome, Edited by Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds

Anticipatory Bonus Entry:

Kramers Ergot 7 by Sammy Harkham, ed.

Joe KeatingePop Gun

1. Madman Atomic Comics by Mike Allred–The combination of Allred’s new singles and the recent collection, Madman Atomic Comics Vol. 1, show a master cartoonist pushing and setting new boundaries for the comics medium. Allred’s not out to illustrate movies on paper, but rather build upon what came before, utilizing interest in other medium and creating a work that can only best work on the four-color page.
2. Bat-Manga by Jiro Kuwata, Chip Kidd, Saul Ferris–While a fascinating showcase of Japan’s forgotten Bat-mania, the star of the show is Jiro Kuwata’s remixing and revamping of an American comics legend. His version of Batman takes the surface elements he found attractive and takes them into an entirely different direction, to the point we’re left with a different character altogether. It breaks every rule of a nigh-century old icon in the best ways possible.
3. Black Jack Vol. 1 by Osamu Tezuka–Tezuka’s rebel surgeon represents short burst fiction at it’s finest. His ability to tell self-contained stories while building up a larger world for his titular character to live in is perhaps unparalled.
4. Ditko, Etc… by Steve Ditko–If there was ever a window into mad genius, it’s this. While a crazy mess, I  cannot help but reread Ditko’s fascinating foray into mini-comics. The subject matter may be the same previously gone over in Mr. A or other Ditko tracts, but it contains a relentless insanity not seen since Fletcher Hanks.
5. Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen–Had it not been for the first half of 2008‘s horrendous release schedule, this series may have been number one on my list. Like Madman, Erik is purely after creating comic books, not something to be collected later. Each issue is formulated to exist in 20-page, serialized increments, something of a rare form these days. Besides this utilization of the single issue, Larsen provides perhaps the only pure superhero book going on for almost twenty years that continues to surprise me–both in form and content–on a regular basis.

Matt KindtSuper Spy

1. Gus and His Gang by Chris Blain–I bought this for the great cartooning and then was completely surprised that the story had real weight. Very few comics make me feel any kind of emotion but this one caught me unawares. Happy and sad and cartoon cowboys. I never would have guessed.

2. Dungeon by Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar–Each book in this series is all over the places — sometimes funny, sometimes moving and always crazy hijinx. Makes me feel like I’m a kid again reading Groo — but instead of 1 joke, there’s a thousand.

3. Essex County by Jeff Lemire–Again, maybe I’m just more emotional this year but another book that really plucks the ol’ heart strings. The second book in this series perfectly captures the relationship between brothers. Beautiful.

4. Skyscrapers of the Midwest by Joshua Cotter–Great book title and great illustrations and a nice/horrible/sad/funny story about growing up and loving toys. It treads into some ground that Chris Ware covers but does it in a really nice and different way.

5. Willie and Joe by Bill Mauldin–What a great life this guy led and a huge incredible body of work. You can really get a great glimpse of what it was like to be a grunt on the front lines with deceptively simple 1 panel gag cartoons. So much more than that. Plus the annotations in the back make for a great easy lesson in World War II history. And great illustrations–scratchy and expressive–like Sgt. Rock…but for REAL.

Keith Knight–The K Chronicles

Beards of our Forefathers: a Wondermark Collection by David Malki–Beautiful hardcover book.  Malki samples old school illos for his funnies like a rapper samples old music.  Plus Malki is a former Borat impersonator.  You gotta love that.
Postage Stamp Funnies by Shannon Wheeler–Shannon shares The Onion‘s Comics page with Malki, creating tiny little funnies that rock my world.
True Stories Swear to God Omnibus by Tom Beland- Tom was my apprentice in the autobio comic genre.  But he has become more powerful than I could’ve possibly imagined.  Great, touching romance comics.
Tales to Suffice #1 by Kenny Keil–This La. to L.A. kid came outta nowhere with some funny-ass stuff.  A great debut.
Pamplemousse: A Bob the Angry Flower Collection by Stephen Notley–The most unique voice you’ll ever read in comics.  All things geeky. Notley is the funniest human being in the universe.  Hands-down.
Skin Horse by Shaenon Garrity, Jeffrey Wells–Shaenon is one of the hardest working cartoonists in the biz.  Read her new stuff and love it.
The Death of Black Mane by Mike LaRiccia–Here’s another great artist with some deep autobio stuff about identity.  Great work.

Jeff LemireEssex County

The Lagoon by Lilli Carre
Little Things by Jeffrey Brown
Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell
Joker by Brian Azzerello and Lee Bermejo
Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Minty Lewis–P.S. Comics

Curio Cabinet #3 by JB–JB’s detailed pencil drawings are at once tactile and ethereal, while the content is horrifying and disturbing. The best of both worlds in one spectacular comic!
Fatal Faux-Pas by Sam Gaskin–Reading Sam Gaskin’s comics is like hanging out with the funny friend who was good at creating interesting page layouts that I never had.
The Natural World by Damien Jay–Another lushly-drawn and super creepy story that provides the best of both worlds in one spectacular comic! I’m looking forward to the continuation.
Bottomless Bellybutton by Dash Shaw–Every reviewer has already said how great this book is, and I don’t really have anything to add.
Empire Park by Jason Shiga–The shofter shide of Shiga is a delightful and heartbreaking read.

Larry MarderTales of the Beanworld

Johnny Boo: The Best Little Ghost In the World by James Kochalka–I’m a big fan of James Kochalka’s work. Johnny Boo is the first in a series of children’s books told in the language of comics. This is a book aimed at very young children and so Johnny Boo‘s simple plot is offered up the charming repetitive rhythms of children’s entertainment. The artwork is clean, simple, and beautifully colored in tones that are totally appropriate to the artwork. But also hidden underneath the children’s tale I discovered a wonderful contemplation of the characters that inhabited the Harvey Comics universe of my childhood. It’s hard to read Johnny Boo and not feel strong echoes of Casper, Spooky, Hot Stuff, Wendy, and the Ghostly Trio. Fortunately Dark Hose Comics is getting those classic tales back into print.
Fantastic Comics #24 by Various–Only someone who loves comic books as much as my old boss, Erik Larsen, could have come up with a project as lovably goofy as Image Comics’ Next Issue series. The mission is to create a “next issue” of a golden age comic numbered in sequence after the actual last issue was published and using the same characters and features as the “previous” issue of the original series. Everything in this issue is, well, quite “fantastic.” But I was particularly taken by Larsen’s Sampson and Joe Keatinge/Mike Allred’s Stardust.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch–Barry gave me a copy of his self published comic at Stumptown last spring. I was thoroughly blown away by Hereville. The book chronicles the adventures of an 11 year old girl living in an orthodox Jewish community. The book is so close in tone and spirit to the traditional shtetl stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholem Aleichem that I thought the book was taking place in the old country in the 19th century until on page 15 I saw an electric stove in the kitchen. Because I’m uncertain how many orthodox Jewish communities there actually are in idyllic, wooded, suburbs in America, Hereville feels like it is taking place in a slightly alternate universe to the one I live in. But I can’t wait to visit there again. Barry Deutsch is a talent to keep and eye on.
The Night of Your Life by Jesse Reklaw–I’ve been intrigued by dreams all my life. I’ve greatly enjoyed following Rick Veitch’s Rarebit dream projects over the years. Rick does an incredible job of documenting his own dreams. Jesse Recklaw’s dream work has a different spin. He documents dream fragments submitted by his readers. So what one reads in this book is a wide array of dreams from all corners of the population. All the strips are drawn by the same hand so an amazing transformation starts to take place in the reader’s mind. The many pages of dream shards begin to fit together into a big mosaic picture insides the reader’s head in a way that wasn’t anticipated by the either the dreamer or the dreamer’s chronicler. That’s cool!
Chiggers by Hope Larson–I know that this wasn’t intended for someone like me. Chiggers is intended for a Young Adult reader. So what? Hey, I went to summer camp once too. I spent my summers in the ’60s at Camp Thunderbird in Bemidji, MN. Hope Larsen’s engrossing tale of a girl’s summer camp in NC shows that the experiences, rituals, and traditions of overnight camps change very little regardless of time, gender, and geographic locale. Hope is a breathtaking young cartoonist who is a master of communicating a tremendous amount of emotion with a very small number of brushstrokes. Plus, she has a unique ability to make her lettering an integral part of the way the reader’s eye floats over her pages.

Joe MattSpent

1. Little Orphan Annie, Volume 1 by Harold Gray–This book, collecting the first three years of this classic comic strip, tops my list for a number of reasons: a) It was long overdo. b) Much of this material hasn’t seen print since it first appeared in newspapers over 80 years ago. c) Unbelievably, the majority of the artwork was shot from original art archived at Boston University. d) The large size of the book beautifully showcases the art. e) One gets the feeling that this project will not only continue but will be brought to completion. Biting off three years per volume was a very wise move.

2. Popeye Volume 3 by E.C. Segar–Like its previous two volumes, this one is lovingly produced and beautifully designed. Popeye may very well be the funniest strip of all time. Also, the full-color Sundays, as well as rare, supplemental material, forced me to purchase these new Popeye books despite the fact that I already owned the previous, complete, b&w volumes of this wonderful strip. I coughed up $30 for all 12 volumes, in hardcover!! And yet, when this new series began, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation on my part to get on board.

3. The Explainers by Jules Feiffer–This reprinting of virtually all of Feiffer’s Village Voice strips, 1955-1966, seems to have gone unnoticed by many people. As a rule of thumb, I’d say you can judge a comic shop’s worth by either its inclusion or abscence of this book on their shelves. Feiffer rules!!!

4. Kirby Reprints by Jack Kirby–This past year was a great for Kirby reprint projects!! The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, Fourth World Omnibus, OMAC, and The Demon!!! All came out in beautiful hardcover editions. And although the read’s are always a bit lacking from an adult viewpoint, Kirby’s fantastic, idiosyncratic artwork more than make up for it.

5. Good-Bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi–This third volume of Tatsumi’s stories ranks, at least in my mind, as a pinnacle of Japanese comics…at least ones that’ve been translated into English. Tatsumi’s so good; he’s in a class by himself.

Alright…that’s it for me!! Sure, I could’ve mentioned Chris Ware, The Hernandez Brothers, Jason, Jeffrey Brown, and a million other “alternative” cartoonists….but what’s the point? We all know how great they are.
One new book that I will single out though is: Paul Goes Fishing by Michel Rabagliati. (published by D&Q) Like all of his previous books, the quality of Rabagliati’s work is always outstanding. My gut feeling is that he’s underappreciated and so I urge everyone to check his stuff out.

Tony MillionaireMaakies, Sock Monkey

Klassic Komix Klub by Johnny Ryan
Comics Are For Idiots by Johnny Ryan
Angry Youth Comics #14 by Johnny Ryan
The New Character Parade by Johnny Ryan
Misery Loves Comedy [2nd Edition] by Ivan Brunetti–Because Ivan Brunetti is funnier, better and more miserable than Johnny Ryan.

Sarah MoreanCity/City, The Daily Cross Hatch

1. Far Arden by Kevin Cannon
2. Only Skin #3 (continuing series) by Sean Ford
3. Children and God #2 (continuing series) by Kelly Clancy
4. Lutefisk Sushi Volume C by Various Minnesota Cartoonists
5. Nurse Nurse #2 (continuing series) by Katie Skelly

Mari NaomiEstrus Comics

The Bottomless Bellybutton by Dash Shaw–The story was kind of magical, and every detail seemed really well-thought out. I’m reading this a second time now and am amazed at how much I missed on the first go-round.
The Wuvable Oaf by Ed Luce–When, at APE this year, I found this comic about a bearish man, his myriad cats and his search for love, I was blown away. It had me laughing out loud and shoving it into anyone’s face who would look.
Jin & Jam # 1 by Hellen Jo–Hellen’s art is so cool I want to kill myself. And her characters are so awesome, I want to be them. Especially the mentally-challenged Siamese twin who can kick anybody’s ass. Brilliant.
PS Comics 4 by Minty Lewis–A short story about con-culture and artistic egos. Minty’s wit is subtle and hilarious. And I think I have a crush on her cat.
Lulu & Mitzy Best Laid Plans by S. Eddy Bell–Who knew that a story about prostitutes in SF’s Tenderloin could be told in such a touching, funny, chick-buddy way?

Tom NeelyThe Blot

1. Inkweed by Chris Wright–By far, my favorite book of the year.  I could get lost in his cross-hatching.  And the stories are so well written- Heady and funny and honest all at the same time.  Who knew “art comics” could be so good?2. Capacity by Theo Ellsworth–I’m simply amazed at this book.  I don’t know what else to say.

3. Danny Dutch by David King–This might be the most perfect comic strip… ever? Or at least the best in a long time.  It has everything I look for in a good piece of art: thoughtfully surreal storytelling; incredible drawings; emotionally resonant but also totally hilarious.

4. Sammy the Mouse by Zack Sally–So simple and perfect. I can’t get over Zack’s comics.  He’s gotta be one of my top thee favorite contemporary cartoonists.  Everything he does is immensely inspiring and makes me wanna give up trying.

5. Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody by Mike Dawson–A really great memoir and an original approach to auto-bio comics with solid story-telling and good drawing.  A very satisfying book.


Josh NeufeldA.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge

Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody by Mike Dawson–One of the few autobio graphic novels that justifies being labeled a “memoir.” Dawson uses the British rock group Queen as a vehicle for discussing different periods of his unique personal history of growing up in England and moving to the States as a boy. He tells an episodic story in a way that still has the flow of a continuous narrative. Dawson’s portrayal of his family dynamics expertly sketches in a sense of everybody’s personality — and the warmth they all feel for each other — without ever once getting sentimental. The section “Guitar Solo,” on the way memory works, is an absolute tour-de-force; it’s a textbook example of the singular narrative power of comics.
Too Cool to be Forgotten by Alex Robinson–The story of a man’s journey back in time to relive high school, Too Cool is more than just a Back to the Future story. Issues of gender, morality, and family are expertly woven in, and nothing can prepare you for the poignant ending.
The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel–Ames’s first foray into comics is perfectly augmented by Haspiel’s dynamic, muscular art. By turns thoughtful, bawdy, hilarious, and heartbreaking, I found it b a real page-turner.
Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! by Art Spiegelman–Spiegelman’s career retrospective (mostly pre-Maus), with an amazing new introduction in comix form.
Billy Dogma: Fear My Dear by Dean Haspiel–What can I tell you? I went to high school with the guy and he’s one of my oldest friends. I love his stuff.

Jeff NeweltHeeb Magazine

Heavy Liquid by Paul Pope
Army@Love by Rick Veitch
Next-Door Neighbor, Edited by Dean Haspiel
Testament by Doug Rushkoff, Liam Sharp
The Naked Artist by Brian Talbot

Shannon O’LearyPet Noir

1. Bottomless Bellybutton by Dash Shaw–Best book of the year.  Moved me to screeching about how damn good it was to my step-cat as I read it.  The story is top notch and Shaw’s cartooning skills are an extraordinary use of the medium.
2. Kramer’s Ergot 7, Edited by Sammy Harkam–A meticulously well-edited collection in fan-fucking-tastic packaging. Buenaventura is doing THE best book packaging all around right now, elevating books to works of art and this is their crown jewel coup de graze royale with cheese.
3. Mini-comics Tie:
Ochre Eclipse by Jonas Madden Connor–This book is so good that I dreamt about Jonas Madden Connor comforting me after I read it. It was the only pleasant dream I’ve had in years.  I have really unpleasant dreams all the time.  The other night I dreamt about burning babies.
Swell #2 by Juliacks–This book is innovative in all ways–production, layout, and on top of all that, her unique storytelling is creepily intimate, unbridled in creative expression, and yet totally tight at the same time.
4. Capacity by Theo Ellsworth–This book charmed me from the get go.  First, the intricacy of Theo’s drawing breaks your heart and draws you in, then the other worldliness of the storytelling and panel composition does a total WWF-style smackdown on you and carries you along through the artist’s exploration of his own creative process and with it a near philosophical overview of consciousness itself along with some weird ass trippy mind blowing stories!
5. What It Is by Lynda Barry–Man, so many more people who are so much more smarter than me have waxxed eloquent about this book and I don’t know if I could say much more about it other than it’s a really good autobiographical comic combined with instructions on how to free yourself up creatively. It’s moving, groundbreaking and pretty much the first of it’s kind.

Kristen Overstreet–Dark Horse Comics

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba–Gerard and Gabriel have managed to produce a book that can be adored by both Comic Book Guy and Emily the Strange alike–a rare and commendable feat indeed!
The Great Outdoor Fight by Chris Onstad–If Itchy and Scratchy had a love child with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia we’d have The Great Outdoor Fight.
MySpace: Dark Horse Presents by Various–A little something for every mood I’m in–which can be many on any given day!
Abe Sapien Volume 1: The Drowning by Mike Mignola, Jason Sean Alexander–If I dreamed in the imagery of Jason Shawn Alexander I would have no reason to wake up.
Star Wars: Luke Skywalker, Last Hope for the Galaxy by Various–By far the best Star Wars collection ever published featuring one of the most beloved characters in the galaxy

Nate PowellSwallow Me Whole

1. Interiorae #3 by Gabriella Giandelli–The world being woven in this series stands alone. Its peculiar logic is entrancing. A comic about the forces behind strangers’ dreams that reads like a glimpse into someone else’s dream narrative. This isn’t just right up my alley–I live here.
2. Don’t Cry for Me, I’m Already Dead by Rebecca Sugar–Holy Shit! Rebecca expertly conveys sublte, crushing, arcane twists of consciousness in conversations with a loved one in a hospital bed. Let the narrative lead us. Trust the storyteller! Oh, and beautiful layout sensibilities and great linework.
3. The Lagoon by Lilli Carre–I feel a strong kindred spirit between Lilli’s newest book and my own. A haunting meditation on those things we just can’t leave behind us, and on our tendencies to make choices ruining our own lives– but it feels so wonderful to embrace those choices! This book is tied together through the context of song and sound– eternal, cryptic, forbidden. Actually, this book feels a lot like the first half of Dracula. You kinda feel like swooning as you read. Yes!
4. Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw–Damn, Fantagraphics is mopping up the floor. Dash has, for five years or so, been doing things with his comics that no one’s really done before–he has some wonderful and natural semiotic and narrative innovations, and loads his pages with information in the most efficient manner possible. This book is a brutally emotional tale of family reckoning that, like a great David Byrne work, does so without sentimentality, and with proper distance. Days remain gray, and there are no answers. Nothing will ever be clean again, but that’s okay. Near-perfect.
5. Monsters # 3 by Ken Dahl–Gabby/Ken’s comics are the ONLY things I’ve read in years that have actually almost made me shit my pants laughing. Bitter, feverish, sickly humorous paths through the vanquished, the rotten ex-idealists, the lover scorned, the political dissident, the innocent bystander. Anybody’s life could be totally screwed at any moment. Enjoy your days and nights, your good hot meals, your cuddling, your dreams not interrupted by cold sweat.

MK ReedCat Fight, Papercutter

Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly
Skyscrapers of the Midwest by Josh Cotter
Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell
Fluffy by Simone Lia

Jesse ReklawSlow Wave

1. Welcome to the Dahl House by Ken Dahl
2. Ganges #2 by Kevin Huizenga
3. Manhole #3 by Mardou
4. Capacity by Theo Ellsworth
5. Mome Vol 10-12 by various

Jamie S. Rich–Confessions of a Pop Fan

Most of the books that stayed with me this year weren’t stories of the fantastic or the impossible, but instead were personal stories that told us more about ourselves by letting us glimpse into the lives of others. I think it’s significant, too, that the bulk of these were comics by women, maybe because unlike most guys who work in comics, the ladies aren’t trying to simply recreate what they read as kids but are instead telling stories that they are passionate about. The one exception on this list is The Umbrella Academy, which is by a couple of dudes who are recreating all sorts of great comics from when they were kids, and they are doing it with panache and joy. I had more fun reading that comic, and was more surprised by the fun I was having, than anything else in 2008.

Local by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelley

Skim by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki
Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds

Token by Alisa Kwitney & Joëlle Jones
The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba

Johnny RyanAngry Youth Comix, Blecky Yuckerella

Tokyo Zombie by Yusaku Hanakuma
Powr Mastrs by CF
Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby by Takashi Nemoto
Berserk by Kentarō Miura
Boy’s Club by Matt Furie

Dash ShawBottomless Belly Button, Body World

Disclaimer: I didn’t think about this list for very long, also I did not read many comics this year.  Comics are more fun to make than they are to read.  These are not in any order.
Travel by Yuichi Yokoyama–Don’t let anyone tell you this is cold and mechanical.  Like Chris Ware, Travel is about the beauty of the natural world.  When the raindrops rolled down the window I wanted to cry like a wimp.  Also, Yokoyama is now officially tied with Chester Gould and Chester Brown as best character designer in comics.
Million Year Boom by Tom Kaczynski (from Mome 11)–Shit man, Kaczynski knocked this one out of the park!  This is the best comics short story I’ve read in a long time.  This is dense, “literary comics” in a good way, finally.  It has a lot of words but it’s told through both the words and the images.  I didn’t feel like one was illustrating the other.  That ending was off the hook!  I’m annoyed Tom isn’t doing a Webcomic.
Wet Moon 4 by Ross Campbell–Campbell knows who he is and what he likes and his comics are born out of his personality and obsessions.  His work is unique and untouchable.  This man is at peace with himself.  That is an enviable life.  If Optic Nerve was awesome it would look like this.  The Abandoned 2 was going to be his masterwork but I’m okay with more Wet Moon instead.  Fuck Tokyopop.
Powr Mastrs 2 by CF–CF made a personal artistic breakthrough here.  His work “opened up” in a major way.  Less dense.  He’s not trying to draw like a child anymore.  It changed a lot but it’s still uniquely CF with his “humanist” (really) pencil work.  That’s an amazing thing.  The story feels like it’s there solely to generate images but, hey, I’m cool with that.  I am a believer.
Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware This is a predictable pick, but Ware is the greatest living cartoonist.  It says that he drew this four years ago.  What the hell?  The comics he drew this week are the best comics of 2012 and 2013.  I’m calling it now.

Arthur Smid–The Daily Cross Hatch

1. Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw
2. Bodyworld by Dash Shaw
3. Best American Comics 2008 Edited by Lynda Barry
5.  Slowwave by Jesse Reklaw

Runners Up:

The Great Outdoor Fight by Chris Onstad
Capacity by Theo Ellsworth

Jeff Smith–Bone, RASL

Slow Storm by Danica Novgorodoff  from First Second–Loosely drawn in black inks and watercolor, Danica weaves a slow burning story of frustration, fear and trust – - all against the backdrop of a threatening storm.
Hamlet (No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels) by Neil Babra–This is no Classics Illustrated; Babra has drawn Hamlet out as a real comic. Amazing.
Echo by Terry Moore–A fascinating tale of fringe sci-fi with more surprises, trials, and heartache than any heroine should have to suffer; from the creator of Strangers in Paradise.
Too Cool to be Forgotten by Alex Robinson–A wish fulfillment story about a 40-year-old who gets hypnotized in order to quit smoking but finds himself back in his fifteen year old body reliving high school. Alex weaves in and out of the wonders and horrors of teenage existence without being maudlin and always being truthful. My favorite comic of the year.
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi–An imaginative all-ages tale that will grab you by the collar on page 4 and hold you to the very end. The art work is gorgeous.

Bonus Book

The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers by Sarnath Banerjee–Released in paperback in 2008, I discovered this book while in India recently. The story of a young man in search of this heritage, the author moves backward and forward in time, allowing echoes of his beloved city of Calcutta, from the 18th century to the present,  lead his protagonist forward in a mystery inspired by the legend of The Wandering Jew.

Frank StackThe New Adventures of Jesus

1. The Shiniest Jewel by Marian Henley
2. What it Is by Lynda Barry
3. Popeye Vol. 3 by E.C. Segar

Jeremy TinderCry Myself to Sleep, Black Ghost Apple Factory

1. Ganges #2 by Kevin Huizenga–I’ve never seen a better-written comic about playing videogames. The way Kevin illustrates characters mentally entering the digital space of first-person shooters is spot-on.  I know I can also define certain eras of my life by the videogames I was playing, and the people I played them with.  This is my favorite story by Kevin Huizenga, and my favorite comic book of the year.
2. Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware–What an amazing book.  I always pick up Acme thinking I know exactly what to expect, and I’m always proven wrong.  Acme 19 is depressing in the best possible way, and inventive in ways that aren’t obtrusive to the reader’s understanding of the story.  Or maybe I just like sci-fi.
3. Kramers Ergot #7 by Various–I’ve just started reading this one, but it is one of the most delightful books I’ve ever seen.  I have to cradle it in my lap to read it properly, which makes me feel like a little kid.  The whole book is beautiful, and there’s some crazy-inventive storytelling in there.  Somehow, by making the book larger and more ostentatious, they’ve yielded a more intimate experience than usual.
4. Spaniel Rage by Vanessa Davis–This new mini comic, as well as the rest of Vanessa’s work, has been the topic of much discussion with other cartoonists here in Chicago lately.  Her work is so much more readable and enjoyable than other “diary” comics.  I really like the way she draws Trevor Alixopolous.  In the comic the two of them have a conversation identical to one that Trevor and I had when he was in Chicago for a signing.  That made me laugh.
5. Fine Tooth Comics by Onsmith and John Hankiewicz–I’m not sure when these comics were made, but I read them this fall, so it is indeed one of my favorite comics of this year.  Half by Onsmith and half by John Hankiewicz, it’s a great comic to cringe at for anyone with dental phobias.  It also sports a very nice lithograph cover.

Leigh Walton–Top Shelf

1. Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw
2. Fluffy by Simone Lia
3. Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
4. Sam & Max: Surfin’ the Highway by Steve Purcell
5. Aqua Leung by Mark Andrew Smith and Paul Maybury

Honorable Mentions

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra–For being the best archival presentation of a contemporary comic book series (where are Sandman, Preacher, Fables, and Transmet in editions this nice? Why does Ex Machina look lame in comparison?)
Freakangels by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield–For letting me enjoy
Warren Ellis again, despite the ripoff of Gaiman’s Delirium (and props
to Avatar for supporting a project in the webcomic format).
Local by Brian Wood, Ryan Kelly–For excellence in presentation

Dylan Williams—Publisher Sparkplug

Eschew #1 by Robert Sergel
I Cut My Hair #1 by Lisa Eisenberg
Wormdye by Eamon Espey
You Don’t Get There From Here #6-9 by Carrie McNinch
In the Tall Grass # 3 by Tessa Brunton

I chose Eschew #1 because it is perhaps the most complete comic package I’ve seen in years, it works as an object and as a read. I Cut My Hair #1 is a debut book by somebody who should already have drawn a series for a big publisher or a book by some notable New York hardbound publisher, I’m selling her books through Sparkplug. Wormdye, Eamon and Secret Acres have managed to produce my favorite luxury paperback book of the year, pure beauty.You Don’t Get There From Here has the best storytelling there is in comics, Carrie is a saint and a master of the medium. In the Tall Grass is basically genius and really readable. Tessa is so funny but also such a good artist.

Douglas WolkReading Comics

Just for the sake of doing things a little differently (since I’m doing a top-ten-books list for the Publishers Weekly poll), here are my top five single issues of 2008

1. Fight or Run: Shadow of the Chopper by Kevin Huizenga–Kevin Huizenga’s brilliant, hilarious little “open source comics game”–not the most ambitious comic of the year, maybe, but the most perfectly executed. If I didn’t want to get as many different creators on here as I could, Ganges #2 would probably have been right under it on the list.
2. All-Star Superman #10 by Grant Morrison, Frank Quietly–From a Q&A at New York Comic-Con:
Audience member: Does that mean Superman is… God?
Grant Morrison: Yeh! Superman loves you! Doesn’t that make you feel good?
3. Mome #12 by Various–On the strength of that amazing David B. story; bonus points for the Olivier Schrauwen and a lot of the other stuff included here. I don’t know why this feels like a “single issue” and Kramers Ergot 7 feels like a “book,” but they just do.
4. Big Questions #11 by Anders Nilsen–The weirder and bleaker and more invested in its own private storytelling dialect Anders Nilsen’s epic about birds and death and stuff gets, the more I love it.
5. Omega the Unknown #10 by Jonathan Lethem, Farel Dalrymple–A little tour de force capping off this remarkably fresh, resonant project–and Jonathan Lethem grabs the prose-writers-doing-comics crown by getting out of the way: the issue has exactly eight words of dialogue.

Alexander Zalben–Host, Comic Book Club

1. Blue Beetle #25 by by John Rogers, Raphael Albuquerque–Bringing an end to John Rogers run, not only is this issue excellent, but the first 25 issues of this series deserved to be placed in annals classic superhero runs.
2. Monster Vol. 17 by Naoki Urasawa–I’m writing this before Volume 18, the final entry in the series, is released in America, but I can confidently say this is one of the best Manga series ever produced, and given the consistency of all volumes, eclipses my previous favorite, Death Note.
3. All-Star Superman #10 by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely–The best single issue from the best book DC used to publish. This made me cry.
4. Hack/Slash #15-17 by David Baxter. Tim Seeley, Barry Keating, Brian Yuzna, Emily Stone, Mark Englert–Kudos to Tim Seeley for making a generic tie-in to generic Horror baddie The Reanimator the most important arc in the series. Double kudos for releasing it outside of Diamond after a rights dispute.
5. Amazing Spider-ManSpider-Man is fun? And has top name writers, and interesting artists working on the book? Forget continuity whores who won’t forget a stupid plot point (Spidey’s marriage); this is consistently the most enjoyable book on the stands, week after week.

22 Comments to “The Best Damned Comics of 2008 Chosen By The Artists”

  1. Josh Neufeld | December 22nd, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    1.) “Purple Rain,” from the album Purple Rain
    2.) “The Beautiful Ones,” from the album Purple Rain
    3.) “Old Friends 4 Sale,” an unreleased track
    4.) “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” from the album Sign O’ The Times
    4.) “God,” a B-side from the Parade album

  2. bheater | December 22nd, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Seriously, no “Little Red Corvette?” Nobody?

  3. Firefly | December 22nd, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    1) Sarah Silverman
    2) Brian Posehn
    3)Lisa Lampanelli
    4) Andy Dick
    5) Patton Oswalt

  4. Erik de Graaf | December 22nd, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Dear visitors,
    My votes from Holland:

    Outstanding for me in 2008:
    -Acme Novelty (again)- Chris Ware
    -Essex Country stories- Jeff Lemire
    -American Widow- Torres/Choi
    -Berlin “City of smoke”- Jason Lutes
    -Alan’s war- Guibert

  5. Michael DeForge | December 22nd, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Nice list, Josh! Old Friends 4 Sale is pretty amazing.

    These are good lists, guys!

  6. Dean Haspiel | December 22nd, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    Prince’s BEST SONG is “Adore.”

  7. Dean Haspiel | December 22nd, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    Somebody give Kyle Baker and Molly Crabapple some comix to read!

  8. Kyle Baker | December 26th, 2008 at 6:42 am

    DEAN! TOR is AWESOME! He fights dinosaurs! With his FISTS, dude! Tor kicked a Velociraptor’s ASS! YOU CAN’T BEAT THAT! He kills dinosaurs and rescues hot naked chicks! I have 3-d TOR comics from the ’50′s! And the new TOR comics are better than the old ones! Speaking of monsters, I’m halfway through reading Doug TenNapel’s MONSTER ZOO! IT’S GREAT! Monsters ROCK! I’m making a new monster now with TENTACLES! GRRRR! Happy Christmas!

  9. Dean Haspiel | December 26th, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Kyle — I dug TOR, too but it didn’t make my Top 5.

  10. Simon Fraser | December 28th, 2008 at 11:06 am

    TOR was awesome. If just for the fact that Joe Kubert just seems to get better and BETTER….which is very comforting

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