The Best Damned Comics of 2009 Chosen by the Artists

Categories:  Features

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As 2009 winds to an end, it’s time once again to reflect on the year that was, by culling together a list of the year’s top books. Rather than generating a site-wide “definitive” list, however, we opted once again to survey a wide cross-section of the industry’s movers and shakers, including artists, writers, publishers, podcasters, scholars, and even lowly comic journalists.

It’s a testament, I think, to the medium’s so-called “golden age” that nearly ever respondent complained that it was just too damned hard to whittle their list down to five choices. In some cases, people bit the bullet and stopped at five—in others, there are all sorts of “honorable mentions.” We kept everything in. We felt their pain.

Also interesting is that, with a few exceptions, there aren’t really any universal choices across lists. Asterios Polyp, not surprisingly, made plenty of lists. The Book of Genesis, Pim & Francie, A Drifting Life, AD, George Sprott, and Ken Dahl’s Monsters all fared pretty well, too. And, while there were certainly some reprints on a number of lists, the number seems to have taken a dip since last year–a promising sign for new content, I suppose.

Thanks everyone who contributed to the list. If you’re an artist who would like to contribute your top five, drop us a line at dailycrosshatch@gmail.com. We’ll be adding to the list for the rest of the year.

With that in mind, we proudly present The Best Damned Comics of 2009.

–BH

Reviews of Books Featured in This Story:

’08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge

A Mess of Everything

Asterios Polyp

Blammo

The Bun Field

Cecil and Jordan in New York

Danny Dutch

Essex County

The Eternal Smile

Far Arden

George Sprott (1894-1975)

Jin & Jam #1

Just So You Know #1

MOME

Nine Gallon

Nine Ways to Disappear

Ochre Ellipse #3

Pim & Francie

Prison Pit

Strange Suspense

Ten Thousand Things to Do

Why I Killed Peter

World War 3 Illustrated

Ellen Abramowitz (President, MoCCA)

You’ll Never Know by C. Tyler
A.D. New Orleans after the Deluge by Josh Neufeld
Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-creator  Joe Shuster by Craig Yoe
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit

Thomas Baehr (The End is Here)

1. Ball Peen Hammer by Adam Rapp and George O’Connor–The cover says “Not for gentle readers.” So true.
2. Northlanders # 21 The Plague Widow Part 1 by Brian Wood and Leandro Fernandez
The best Northlanders so far!
3. Mouse Guard: Winter: 1152 by David Peterson–I love his art.
4. Fahrenheit 451 by Tim Hamilton–Perfect adaptation. The art fits perfect this classic story.
5. The Scorpion #2 The Devil in the Vatican by Stephen Desberg and Enrico Marini–If you don’t know this, you’ve really missed something.

Box Brown (Bellen)

1. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli–Mazzucchelli totally broke new ground.
2. George Sprott (1894-1975) by Seth–Seth takes the storytelling style we first saw in Wimbledon Green to the Nth degree.
3. The Gigantic Robot by Tom Gauld–This book can be read in a few minutes, but is still astonishing.  We need a full length work from this man, post-haste!
4. Funny Misshapen Body by Jeffrey Brown–In my opinion it was Brown’s best work, believe it or not.  Pretty straightforward interesting storytelling.
5. Tales Designed to Thrizzle: Volume 1 by Michael Kupperman–The shit-yourself funniest book I’ve ever read.

Jeffrey Brown (Sulk, Funny Misshapen Body)

1. Binky Brown by Justin Green–One of the classic autobiographical comics of all time, the new McSweeney’s edition adds new levels of complexity by showing the original artwork in new light.
2. Monsters by Ken Dahl–Excellent cartooning, entertaining and informative.
3. Alec: The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell–I haven’t read this yet, but I’ve read a lot of what’s in it, and will be well worth re-reading.
4. Nicolas by Pascal Girard–Girard’s touching book is a poetic tribute to loss.
5. Pim & Francie by Al Columbia–The most visually complex and interesting book to come out this year, if a little disturbing.

Paul Buhle (Senior Lecturer, Brown)

Genesis by Crumb–This is almost too obvious to state. A genius work that will be read for centuries.
You’ll Never Know by C. Tyler–A remarkable autobiographical account of the WW2 generation and how little they wanted to pass along memories
Science Fiction Classics #17 (and the flood of Classics Illustrated reprints)–Because the revival of the “Classics” sensibility restores something important in comic art history, and terribly important to me. Mad explained the way the world worked, Classics introduced…the Canon.
World War 3 Illustrated #39–Another stunning anthology of familiar and unfamiliar comic talent
The Wolverton Bible by Basil Wolverton–Again almost too obvious to mention.

Susie Cagle (Nine Gallons)

Footnotes from Gaza by Joe Sacco–Can I put this on here, since it’s not actually out yet? I’ve only seen previews but that’s enough for me… I don’t know if it’s because he doesn’t write enough about his own sex life, but I think Joe Sacco is vastly underrated.
Monsters by Ken Dahl–It starts off strong, and builds to a devastating crescendo; I always enjoy a book where you can see the cartoonist improve over the course. I’m looking forward to whatever’s next from Dahl.
Just So You Know #1 by Joey Sayers–The spare slice-of-life style really lends itself to the content, and plays off Sayers’ strength as an unmatched humorist. I can’t wait for the next issue.
Mourning Star #2 by Kazimir Strzepek–Adorable character design, rich world-building, fun action and perfect sound effects. This shit is epic. I can only hope #3 doesn’t take another three years.
Ochre Ellipse #3 by Jonas Madden-Connor–Jonas just gets better each time, and I really feel like he hit his stride with this one. OE#3 is lovely, heartbreaking, and highly recommended.

Honorable Mentions:

Ten Thousand Things to Do by Jesse Reklaw. I normally don’t enjoy diary comics but TTTTD kept me checking Flickr every day for a year.
P.S. Comics by Minty Lewis. I think Lewis might be my favorite comics writer right now. She has some of the driest humor out there and an ear for dialogue that is woefully rare.
Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga. This would’ve made my top five except it’s always sold out and I can’t buy it anywhere and I don’t want to pay internet S&H.

Lilli Carre (Woodsman Pete, Nine Ways to Disappear)

1. The Complete Jack Survives by Jerry Moriarty
2. The Bun Field by Amanda Vähämäki
3. Cecil and Jordan in New York by Gabrielle Bell
4. Evil Dress by Emelie Östergren
5. The Natural World mini comics by Damien Jay

Joshua Cotter (Skyscrapers of the Midwest)

1. Pim & Francie by Al Columbia–I want to read this and pour gasoline on it simultaneously. For some of us, nightmares and reality are divided only by gasping, gelatinous four-fingered shadows…
2. Monsters by Ken Dahl–Ken Dahl is quickly becoming one of my favorite cartoonists.
3. PR3 by James Jean–I hate James Jean. I love James Jean. I hate James Jean. Put out by AdHouse, another beautiful production that turned to a lump of gold the moment it hit the shelves.
4. The Mourning Star #2 by Kazimir Strzepek–Kaz’s Mourning Star series is the first in a long time to keep me looking forward to future issues. Beautifully illustrated and an engaging storyline…
5. George Sprott by Seth–I just recently started reading Seth for the first time. Even though his work doesn’t affect me as it seems to do others, George Sprott was a solid read with excellent production qualities.
(6. Afrodisiac by Brian Maruca & Jim Rugg–I haven’t seen the final product yet, and it’s coming out so late it probably won’t make many ‘Top’ lists, but judging from the pre-press samples I’ve seen and Maruca and Rugg’s past efforts, this should be Number One. No arguments, dammit.)

Molly Crabapple (Scarlett Takes Manhattan, Dr. Sketchy’s)

AD by Josh Neufeld
Bayou by Jeremy Love
High Moon by Steve Ellis and Dave Gallagher
and… its not a comic but it is sold at comics stores…
Who Killed Amanda Palmer by Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman

Athena Currier (The Daily Cross Hatch)

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli–This is one of the best uses of the comics medium I have ever seen. Mazzuchelli builds his arguments using an unstoppable combination of words, pictures, and symbols. Every single letter and brushstroke has purpose.
Locas II by Jaime Hernandez–The second volume of Jaime Hernandez’s epic series, “Locas II” is perhaps more somber and reflective than the first, but it never loses the wry, subtly humor of everyday life that is at its heart. Hernandez’s ability to write complicated, deeply human characters is without rival.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe by Bryan Lee O’Malley–The penultimate book in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s six-part series does not disappoint. Scott Pilgrim & Co. are as bizarre and funny as ever. And nobody can make narrative text boxes as funny as Lee O’Malley can.
The Book of Genesis by R. Crumb–Who better than R. Crumb to illustrate Genesis? Seriously: R. Crumb & God was a collaboration just waiting to happen. I recommend reading this while listening to some tunes by R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders.
George Sprott by Seth–Like all of Seth’s work, “George Sprott” is an elegant, finely crafted book—even though this one began as just a light-hearted sketchbook project. But “Sprott” becomes so much bigger than that. It’s title protagonist is by turns amusing, depressing, boring, and irritating—but he kept me reading.

Ken Dahl (Monsters)

1. Kramers Ergot #7 edited by Sammy Harkham
2. Pim & Francie by Al Colmbia
3. Mourning Star #2 by Kaz Strzepek
4. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli
5. Jin & Jam #1 by Hellen Jo

Austin English (Windy Corner)

Mijeong by Byun Byung-Jun–My favorite book of the year. Not all of it is perfect (some of it is very uneven). But stories like “202, Vill Sinil” are so great and funny and interesting and just spilling over with energy and that I can’t resist this book.
Monday Wednesday by John Hankiewicz–One of the best things I’ve ever read about making art and looking at other peoples work. Hankiewicz can draw as good as anyone else in the world and yet he has one of the most open eyes for looking at art—seems to be able to embrace all kinds of styles. I think that’s pretty important and the idea gets expressed particularly well in this comic.
Cecil and Jordan by Gabrielle Bell and Like a Dog by Zak Sally–Two retrospective collections by two of my favorite cartoonist. I think everything in both of these books is perfect comics and it’s nice to have them in very beautiful volumes that show off the work in a way that emphasizes how strong and worthwhile it is.
Exploding Head Man by Jason Overby– Overby was easily the “most talked about new artist” of the year. This is a really thick mini full of inspiring drawing on every page.
I Still Live by Annie Murphy–Very well done and impressive mini. Wonderful inky drawing.
Lilli Carre’s work in MOME. Every story she did this year was better than the last, with her storytelling ideas getting more and more ambitious. A lucky year for people who like perfect short stories.
John Romita Jr’s 2009 output. This was the year I couldn’t ignore JR JR anymore. The best mainstream comics artist around, by a mile. he’s been at it so long and it seems like hes just hitting his stride right now. You know he has fun drawing Spider-man over and over, which is part of his appeal, but there’s also a real artistry to it—one of the few mainstream guys with his own lexicon of images, his own personal way of translating figures into cartoony images. I’m so glad that he has a genuine hit on his hands with the (unfortunately titled) Kick Ass…although Mark Millars “writing” I could take or leave.
You turn my, Lights In. To. Rays by Sakura Maku–Sakura did this comic for my magazine Windy Corner so I guess I can’t really pick it for the list. But I will anyway because I think it’s easily one of the best comics of the year.
Sausage Hand by Andrew Smith–A perfect comic: impeccably written an drawn. Smith is very inspiring to me because, on his blog, he’ll post very stripped down images that are the opposite of this very refined work. He’s really working at being an artist and not simply honing what he already does well.
King City by Brandon Graham–This comic is so cool…I love the drawing in it so much…It’s like Krazy Kat, if that makes any sense. Little details drawing in at the last second for thrilling effect. It seems really dashed off in this great way…the kind of comic you would make if you were 12 and could really draw and somehow had the ability to put out a monthly comic.

Michel Fiffe (Zegas)

1. Mister Wonderful by Dan Clowes–Personal, hilarious, and beautifully drawn, Clowes’ Webcomic is the best thing I’ve read all year. Who cares if it’s on a computer screen? It’s some of the best stuff he’s done.
2. “…And Call My Lover MODOK!” by Nick Bertozzi (Strange Tales #1)–His contribution to the entire run has been great, but this story in particular is perfect. They should’ve just let Bertozzi do the whole damn book.
3. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld–Neufeld’s masterful cartooning is sobering and to the point. I hope the book is reaching and convincing all sorts of audiences of the power that comics carry. It’s too big a work for it not to.
4. “Unscheduled Stop” by Mark Waid and Marcos Martin (Amazing Spider-Man #578 & 579)–Solid work through and through. Not only do they make Spidey’s world seem relevant while remaining unique, but they do it beautifully in two issues.
5. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli–If you’re usually skeptical of something receiving the kind of acclaim and praise this book has been receiving, get over it and read it NOW. You’ll discover that the praise isn’t high enough.
Honorable Mention:
Prison Pit by Johnny Ryan–Recently picked it up. It may be one of the best comics ever. It actually makes me want to stop drawing comics, as if I’ve been going about it all wrong. I haven’t felt that way since reading Westone Page.

Bob Fingerman (From the Ashes, Beg the Question)

1. Humbug by Harvey Kurtzman, Bill Elder, Jack Davis, Arnold Roth & Al Jaffee
2. Double Fine Action Comics by Scott Campbell
3. The Act-I-Vate Primer by Dean Haspiel, et al
4. Everybody is Stupid Except for Me by Peter Bagge
5. BPRD byMike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis

Not to be an egotistical dick, but my own From the Ashes was pretty fab, too.

Chuck Forsman (Snake Oil)
1. Sugarcube by Sam Gaskin–Gaskin’s psuedo-memoir about having diabetes as a young man stayed in my head for weeks after I read it. This was waaaaaay too overlooked this year. Doctors should give this to young diabetes patients.
2. Follow Me by Jesse Moynihan–I was waiting for the 3 issue of the backwards folding mirror for a long time. And then this popped up out of nowhere. To me, Moynihan takes the best of what is being done in comics and turns it into a challenge for his readers. And it made me laugh out loud.
3. The Natural World #2 by Damien Jay–The second issue to what will most-likely be the best comic ever. He is building a world. It’s fun to watch.
4. Monsters by Ken Dahl
Finally.
5. Lose by Michael Deforge–I just got this a few days ago so I haven’t lived with it long but it reminds me of schizo #1. This is a comic for comic-readers but don’t let that stop you. The Dogs in College gags are worth the price alone. I can’t wait to see what this dude does next.

Shaenon Garrity (Narbonic)

1. Long Tail Kitty by Lark Pien–Lark’s been doing minicomics and fine art for years (check out her video installation project, “Small Destructions,” next time you’re at the Cartoon Art Museum), and this children’s book starring her longrunning character Long Tail Kitty (he’s, um, a kitty with a long tail) represents the next step in her adorable conquest of comics. She’s got a graphic novel in the works too. Don’t miss this; it’s the good stuff.
2. The Eternal Smile by Gene Yang and Derek Kirk Kim–Gene “American Born Chinese” Yang teaming up with Derek Kirk “Same Difference” Kim is a hell of a dream team. The last story in this collection is sublime, plus there’s a nice reprint of the duo’s early miniseries Duncan’s Kingdom, fully colored by Kim and Elena Diaz.
3. The Muppet Show by Roger Langridge–Speaking of dream teams, it’s hard to beat Roger Langridge, one of the best pure cartoonists alive, drawing Muppet comics. He gets the Muppet Show dynamic down pat: the lovable characters, the terrible puns, the English music hall numbers. And he draws the world’s best Animal. Look, I just really like Muppets, okay?
4. The John Stanley Library by John Stanley–Drawn & Quarterly is putting out a hell of a cute series of books here, what with the bright single-color hardcover binding and the Sethed-up book design. John Stanley, patron saint of work-for-hire cartoonists, deserves no less. Melvin Monster and Nancy are both charming, and I’m looking forward to Thirteen Going on Eighteen. Also great is the bio D&Q provides for Stanley: “He left comics bitterly sometime in the late 1960s, never to return.” We should all be so wise.
5. A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Ōoku by Fumi Yoshinaga–A tie! I couldn’t decide between these two amazing manga. Neither could the folks who give out the annual Tezuka Cultural Prize for best manga of the year; legendary gekiga pioneer Tatsumi and yaoi-scene superstar Yoshinaga shared the 2009 prize. The two works couldn’t be more different: A Drifting Life is an autobiographical history of the manga industry, while Ōoku is set in an alternate medieval Japan ruled by women. They’re both awesome, and both, happily, available in English translation.

Cat Garza (Year of the Rat)

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi–Reminded me why I love comics.
Monsters by Ken Dahl–Is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever had the privilege to witness a peer create.
Second Thoughts by Niklas Asker–Is an amazing read that kinda stayed with me way after I’d put it down for the second time.
The Mourning Star #2 by Kaz Strzepek–Makes me smile inside and inspires the shit out of me.
Woman King by Colleen Frakes–Is a really great book that should be printed bigger (and maybe even in color) and be in bookstores.

Jim Gibbons (Dark Horse)

As a new member of the Dark Horse stable, it’s hard not to focus on the books from DH that got me really excited over this past year. Here were the best, in my humble opinion…
Conan Volume 7: Cimmeria by Richard Corben—Rejuvenating the classic Robert E. Howard character’s adventures with frosty tales of Conan’s homeland and epic exploits of his grandfather (drawn by Richard Corben!), this volume reinforced Conan’s claim as champion of the sword and sorcery comic!
The Dylan Dog Case Files by Tizlano Sclavi, Mike Mignola, Angelo Stano, Andrea Venturi—Filled with nearly 700 pages of quirky, clever and compelling horror mysteries, there are few collections as engrossing as this compendium of tales about nightmare investigator Dylan Dog.
Kull: The Shadow Kingdom and Solomon Kane: The Castle of The Devil—As a Conan enthusiast, it was great to see such well-done revamps/relaunches of two other signature REH characters. Both are really great reads, and Villarubia’s colors on Kull are outstanding.
Pixu by Gabriel Bá, Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos and Fábio Moon—Gabriel Bá, Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos and Fábio Moon together and collaborating on one exceptionally eerie horror comic. Need I even say “‘Nuff said?!”
Umbrella Academy: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá—Add an extra helping of kooky and compulsive craziness to one of 2008’s best new titles, and you’ve got another must read from Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.
That all said, Incredible Hercules: Love and War, House of Mystery Vol. 2: Love Stories For Dead People, Tales Designed to Thrizzle: Volume 1, and Goats: Infinite Typewriters were all wonderful as well!

Dustin Harbin (Dharbin)

1. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, the Author And Finisher Of My Faith
In Comics–Smarter and better writers than me have talked at length about what makes
this book so great, and I’ll leave you to their charms, leaving me more time
to talk about:
2. The Mourning Star Volume 2 by Kaz Strzepek– I can’t express in regular ole words how blown away by this book I was. I am endlessly, thoroughly influenced by Kaz Strzepek and how he approaches comics, from his staging to his choices to his dialogue to his character design to everything. The Mourning Star is such an enjoyable book, it was pure pleasure to read it as slowly as I could (not very slowly), and utterly devastating to finish it and realize that it would be a year AT LEAST before I could read volume 3. Bonus secret: I love the format of Mourning Star so much, that I’ve adopted it for the autobio comics I’ve been doing lately. Bonus secret #2–how in the heck does Kaz draw that small? Super challenging.
3. Popeye Volume 4: Plunder Island by E.C. Segar–Honestly, I haven’t read this yet, it just came in and I haven’t been by the store, but the previous three were all my faves, and supposedly this one is like the Second Coming of newspaper comics, so yeah. I say it must be great.
4. Pluto by Naoki Urasawa–This was the first thing I ever read by Naoki Urasawa. Frankly I wasn’t very interested in his work–I’m not into horror stuff really, and I’d heard that his big hit Monster was all about serial killers and so forth. I’m also not into Astro Boy, so I’m not even sure why I picked this up, but HOLY MACKEREL, it’s so good. Just incredibly well-told, well written, well paced comics. And while Urasawa doesn’t seem like a particularly flashy artist, I found myself gazing and gazing at his pen line, so expressive, so much personality in it. Pluto is the kind of book you hand to someone who’s never read comics. Just amazing.
5. Double Fine Action Comics by Scott Campbell–I am possibly influenced in that Scott C. is a friend of mine, but then again I had already read every single comic in this book before buying it, and STILL was blown away by the book. Besides the strange, very singular, and totally awesome qualities of the comic itself, the book is kind of shockingly well-made, with spot varnishes, deep 4-color black inks, great layout–it’s just an enjoyable book to hold, to flip through, to read. It does not hurt at all that the comics themselves are so good. If Scott did newspaper comics, newspapers would be the Internet.

CAVEAT: There is a ton of stuff I haven’t read yet, which I suspect would be serious contenders for this list, including Driven By Lemons, A Drifting Life, Luba, and those sweet new Tardi books. I kind of want to sit down and pay attention to them, but who has the time? Stupid ole comics.

Tom Hart (Hutch Owen)

The Photographer by Emmaunel Guibert

Brian Heater (The Daily Cross Hatch)

1. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
2. The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit
3. George Sprott by Seth
4. Why I Killed Peter by by Alfred and Olivier Ka
5. Monsters by Ken Dahl

John Isaacson (Do-it-Yourself Screenprinting)

Monsters by Ken Dahl–The gruesome, spongy drawings bespeak the mortal rot and decay we are all destined for.  Dahl’s mix of merciless self-examination, research, drawing skills, and penchant for allegory make for some of the best and most-informative autobiographical comics to date.  Monsters plays an important role in recognizing sickness in a society that is all too quick to sweep it under the rug.
Asterios Polyp by David Mazuchelli–No cartoonist has externalized the internal world of a character the way Mazuchelli does.  Each character speaks in his or her own hand-designed font, and exists in their own universe of caricature.  Each emotion and mood is highlighted by the sparse full-color printing.
I Still Live: A Biography of a Spiritualist by Annie Murphy–Annie Murphy tells both the story of 18th century spiritualist Acsha Sprague’s life and that of Murphy’s own obsession with Sprague’s life. In doing so, she uses two different drawing and lettering styles which start out separately but ultimately weave together at the end. For Sprague’s voice, Murphy uses cursive hand-writing and a mystifying ink wash technique. When Murphy is narrating she uses block lettering and simple black-and-white. At the end, Acsha Sprague’s writing speaks directly to Annie Murphy and it literally sends chills down my spine when I read the words at the end, “The nearer thou dost come to us, the nearer we shall come to thee.” I Still Live offers historical context and political meaning for both the Second Great Awakening and Modern Spiritualism in the United States. It’s a great book to use in history classroom, and any other classroom. I’ve had my high school student read excerpts and they seem pretty into it. It was also funded by a Xeric grant, printed by Eberhardt Press, and Murphy worked on it at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont.
Nine Gallons by Susie Cagle–This is an entertaining study of the characters that make up a typical cast of servers and customers at Food Not Bombs. Susie Cagle not only tells the reader what a typical day of serving at Food Not Bombs is like, but also exposes the sometimes self-serving agendas driven by server’s egos and appetites. She includes history, recipes, and ways to get involved.
Prison Pit by Johnny Ryan–Just pure bloody mayhem and fun.
Bottomless Bellybutton by Dash Shaw–I haven’t read this yet but I know it’s good

Dean Haspiel (Fear, My Dear, The Alcoholic)

The Life and Times of Savior 28 by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Cavallaro
From the Ashes by Bob Fingerman
A.D. by Josh Neufeld
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
Scalped by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera

Webcomics:

Zegas by Michel Fiffe
Lilly MacKenzie and the Mines of Charybdis by Simon Fraser
Loviathan by Mike Cavallaro
Underwire by Jennifer Hayden
The Streets of San Diablo by Darryl Cunningham

Joe Keatinge (Popgun)

1. Asterios Polypby David Mazzuchelli–I have no doubt this will be topping many Best of 2009 lists, but no comic is more deserving of such respect. In his first graphic novel, Mazzuchelli reminded the industry he’s an artistic force to be reckoned with by using everything from character design to panel placement to lettering and everything in between in ways our century old medium has never realized. It’s also the only comic of the year to cause me actually feel dizzy upon completion as my mind raced to catch up with it. I’ve never been more excited to see the results of a new generation reading this book and the work they’ll eventually be inspired to create.
2. Image United by Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino–On the exact opposite end of the spectrum comes the greatest action blockbuster since the early 1990s. Its received an extremely mixed reception, but I hold firm most people who dismiss it as a mindless fight scene aren’t reading it close enough. Furthermore, the artistic achievement by all six illustrators is unparalleled by anything in the last century, let alone decade. It’s a celebration of the comics they revolutionized the industry with and the precursor for what they’ll be creating over the next decade. Plus, lets face it; it’s just plain fun. Comics can always do with more fun.
3. Pim & Francie by Al Columbia–It’s not surprising my personally most anticipated comic of the last decade ended up being a favorite. Columbia’s fever dream of demented siblings in a nightmarish world resembles more found object than coherent graphic novel and that’s far from a negative. I’ve read this close to a dozen times over the weeks since its debut and show no signs of letting up. Like Asterios Polyp, I cannot wait to see what a new generation makes of this and what they’ll do with the inspiration.
4. TIE: Afrodisasic by Jim Rugg and One Model Nation by C. Allbritton Taylor and illustrated by Jim Rugg–The full disclosure here is I actually co-edited One Model Nation along with Mike Allred, but truth be told I do feel Jim’s work alone on this graphic novel deserves such praise. This along with the collection of his Afrodisasic stories – due in stores shortly after I write this – proves he will no doubt be recognized as one of the best cartoonists of his time. He respects the past without being lost in nostalgia and constantly more forward to what’s next instead of what was. There’s no one of his age who respects the history of comics while equally recognizing the limitless potential and future of the medium.
5. Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka by Naoki Urasawa–I’m usually against adaptations or revamps of classic material and would rather any creator, much less someone of Naoki Urasawa’s talent, focus on creating entirely new material. However, Urasawa proved there’s exceptions to any rule, as his reinterpretation of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy: The Greatest Robot on Earth is a gripping thriller I wish was released daily. The combination of classic noir with hard science fiction is a testament to his skills.

John Kerschbaum (Petey & Pussy)

From the Ashes by Bob Fingerman–Funny, whacked-out weirdness from a comics master.
Ganges #3  by Kevin Huizenga–One of the best cartoonists working today if not the best.
BPRD by Mignola, Arcudi and Davis–Great stories with really, really incredible art.
T-Minus by Jim Ottaviani, Kevin Cannon, and Zander Cannon–Talented writer and artists telling a real-life adventure.  Comics makes learning fun!
A Kidnapped Santa Claus by Alex Robinson–A soon-to-be Christmas classic.

Neil Kleid (The Big Kahn)

Unknown Soldier: Haunted House by Josh Dysart–I held off reading this gripping tale of African child soldiers for the longest time, mostly because, well, I didn’t think I would understand it. Josh Dysart presents this chilling look at a doctor losing his borders in the middle of a bloody, ongoing revolution in such a way that it hooks you in and clearly explains why it’s one of the most important books of the year.
Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke–Darwyn Cooke doesn’t let Stark’s lead, Parker, say a word for the first 20 or so pages of this book, letting mood and movement drag us in to an era where I’d sorely love to live despite the gunplay and obvious danger. I wanna live in a better designed world, and I wanna call legs “gams”, and this book beautifully lets me do that for the length of time it takes to read the tale… without the gunplay and obvious danger to myself.
The Collected Essex County by Jeff Lemire–Hockey, brothers, small town life and intensely private inner conflict are what have made Jeff Lemire the stand out cartoonist of 2009. This collection of his three Top Shelf graphic novels exploring the interconnected lives within Essex County is picture perfect, haunting and all too familiar.
MODOK: Reign Delay by Ryan Dunlavey–Yes. I said freaking MODOK. MODOKMODOKMODOK. Yes, this is a Dark Reign tie in… but not really. It’s actually a love letter to the glory that is A.I.M’s Scientist Supreme and the hilarity that ensues when he finally goes home. The first page of this comic, masterfully crafted by Ryan Dunlavey, featuring MODOK’s Swingers-level, desperate answering machine messages to Norman Osborn, should be enough to swear your allegiance to MODOK. MODOK!
Green Lantern #43–The creepiest origin story you’ll read all year, this prelude to DC’s Blackest Night event elevates small-time villain Black Hand not only to a genuine threat, but injects a dramatic back story worthy of Showtime’s Dexter or any other misunderstood would-be serial killer. This issue made me a Black Hand fan for life, Geoff Johns.

Seth Kushner (Graphic NYC)
The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert–French cartoonist Guibert tells the story of his friend, photojournalist Didier Lefèvre through a unique melding of his elegant art and Lefèvre’s actual photos and words. The tale of a young photojournalist’s journey through Afghanistan in 1986 is compelling and human, and wonderfully complimented by Didier Lefèvre’s photographs, in moments that feel meditative. The Photographer is a beautiful book, both in its design and it’s content.
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli–Much has already been said about Mazzuccelli’s long awaited graphic novel, so I doubt I would have anything new to add. The book represents a master cartoonist working at the top of his game, using and inventing techniques for maximum emotional resonance. Asterios Polyp deserves and rewards repeated readings and study.
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 by Tim Hamilton–Tim Hamilton takes a classic and much beloved work and masterfully adapts it into a new form. 451’s retro future where books are outlawed, feels fresh and topical and Hamilton, a chameleon of art styles, employees one here that allows the story to flow in a natural way. His use of color is particularly effective, sticking to cool muted tones throughout, providing a contrast to the scenes with red and yellow blazing fires. His artful page design, dramatic, edgy art and inventive use of color vividly bring Bradbury’s tale to life
Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke–Darwyn Cooke adapts Richard Stark’s book to great hardboiled and cruel effect. Parker’s opening twenty page, wordless journey into 1960s era New York City is cue to the reader that this is a tour d’ force. Cooke pulls no punches with his characterization of Parker, as sonuvabitch an antihero as one could find. But, it’s Cooke’s storytelling and retro-cool art, stripped bare to only necessary lines, which are the star of the show here. Parker: The Hunter is a terrific work from an artist whose work seems to continue to grow and improve and surprise, even when you thing he’s already gone as far as he possibly could.
A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld–A.D. is one of those books that are impossible to put down. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina was vividly covered by the media, to the point where one might feel they’ve “seen it all,” but reading only the first few pages of A.D., you’ll realize you haven’t. Neufuld tells the stories of several real life survivors, bringing the reader to New Orleans on those faithful days. Neufeld’s clean art and concise dialogue perfectly compliment each other to tell a truly human story. Most remarkable here, is the pacing. Neufeld builds to the beats and when they hit, they have real resonance and power. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge serves as a reminder of what the medium of comics can be capable of.

Honorable Mention

G.I. Joe: Cobra by Christos Gage, Mike Costa and Antonio Fuso–This is G.I. Joe for adults, as if written by John LaCarre. Cobra, is a hardcore espionage tale that bears little resemblance to the G.I. Joe of our youths. The book follows spy Chuckles, as he attempts to unravel the mysteries of the terrorist organization that will eventually be Cobra. But most of all, it’s a strong character piece and a real page-turner.
Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven–The best mainstream superhero book this year. Millar seemingly throws every insane idea to the wall, and for me, and they all stick, with much credit going to the expert storytelling and art of Steve McNiven. What begins as a nod to Unforgiven, but starring an aged, pacifist Wolverine, takes us through a violent and imaginative take of a future Marvel Universe where the villains long ago defeated the heroes. The gloves are off and the claws are out and more superhero comics should take the risks that Wolverine: Old Man Logan does.
The ACT-I-VATE Primer–A handsomely produced anthology by a mixture of top creators and newcomers, all showcasing their creations from the webcomix site in new stories. Just flipping through one can’t help but notice the variety of work and styles contained between it’s well designed covers. If you can’t find something that appeals to you in The ACT-I-VATE Primer, you probably don’t like comics.

Jonas Madden-Connor (Ochre Ellipse)

Low Moon by Jason
Asterios Polyp David Mazzucchelli–Mainly for the formal elements, rather than the story itself.
Papercutter #10–All three stories were great.
Ten Thousand Things to Do by Jesse Reklaw
Covered in Confusion by Will Dinski

Charlito LaGreca (Indie Spinner Rack)
1. 3 Story by Matt Kindt
2. Driven by Lemons by Josh Cotter
3. Monsters by Ken Dahl
4. Far Arden by Kevin Cannon
5. Only Skin # 3 and 4 by Sean Ford

Jeff Lemire (Essex County)

3 Story by Matt Kindt
Asterios Polyp by Davis Mazzuchelli
The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke
Incognito by Ed Brubaker annd Sean Phillips
Stitches by David Smalls
George Sprott by Seth
Scalped by Jason Arron R.M Guera

Minty Lewis (P.S. Comics)

Minicomics:
Sugarcube by Sam Gaskin
The Natural World #2 by Damien Jay
Just So You Know by Joey Sayers
Ochre Ellipse #3 by Jonas Madden-Connor
Laterborn #7 by Jason Martin

Non-minicomics:
Nine Ways to Disappear by Lilli Carré
Monsters by Ken Dahl
I Want You by Lisa Hanawalt
Tales Designed to Thrizzle: Vol. 1 by Michael Kupperman
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

Robin McConnell (Inkstuds)

Pim and Francie by Al Columbia–This book shows what happens when you allow a cartoonist to do the work that they want to do, with out interference. I really think the world of Al’s work. Some of his Mome stuff has been amazing and he show’s no sign of slowing down or letting up.
A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi–Meeting Tatsumi at TCAF was a highlight of the year. The man was getting some well deserved attention and in turn, he was extremely generous with the folks there. My sketched in copy is a prize of the collection.
Spot 12: The Story of a Birth by Jenny Jaeckel–This is probably removed from everyones radar. I bought this off a friend that was selling it for her at a small comic convention in Vancouver. This Xeric grant winning book is an autobio story in the tradition of amphromphsizing the story to really boiled it down to the basic properties. I had no idea this comic even came from Vancouver!
You Are There by Jacques Tardi–I have been a fan of Tardi’s for a very long time and when I heard that Fantagraphics was going to start reprinting work, I was was pretty stoked. Both You Are There and West Coast Blues are fantastic. West Coast Blues serves a great purpose of showing all those guys doing cheesy crime comics, how it’s really done. You Are There on the other hand, really stands out to me even more, because of the way that he is able to play with the medium and push the comics to a point of no return.
Complete Jack Survives by Jerry Moriarty–A fine work that could have been lost to obscurity but thanks to the devotion of Alvin Buenaventura and Chris Ware, Jerry Moriarty’s masterpiece sees the light day for a new generation of cartoonists to learn from. This book works on a couple of different levels. First of, it’s cartooning or as Jerry refers to himself, paintooning at its best. Secondly is to understand how Jerry is able to  break comics down into a way that hearkens to Bushmiller’s Nancy. Jerry is able to express so much with minimal activity, providing a snapshot of a point in time and a visceral experience at the same time. Buy this book!

Sarah Morean (The Daily Cross Hatch)

1. Ochre Ellipse #3 by Jonas Madden-Connor
2. Danny Dutch by David King
3. The Aviatrix by Eric Haven
4. Just So You Know #1 by Joey Alison Sayers
5. Delphine #1-4 by Richard Sala

Josh Neufeld (A.D.)

Masterpiece Comics by R. Sikoryak—I’ve loved Sikoryak’s comics for years, and this beautiful volume collects all his “mash-ups” of high and low, merging the look of classic strips and comics with stories from the Western literary canon. Bob Kane’s Batman vs. Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment! Blondie & Dagwood vs Adam & Eve! Siegel & Shuster;s Superman vs. Camus’ The Stranger! Hilarious, clever, and yet designed to make you think…
The Book of Genesis by R. Crumb—A formidable work, filled with respect for the material yet still pulsing with the earthy, pungent humanity that Crumb defines. And the man has lost nothing in the cross-hatching department!
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli—A true work of literature by one of my all-time favorite cartoonists. If only we didn’t have to wait a decade for each new book of his!
ACT-I-VATE Primer—Beautifully produced anthology featuring some of my favorite cartoonists: Dean Haspiel, Michel Fiffe, Mike Dawson, Nick Bertozzi, Tim Hamilton, Leland Purvis, Joe Infurnari, and Simon Fraser, just to name a few. Cleverly, each of the stories in the book is a print-only example of the ongoing free stories on the ACT-I-VATE website.
Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays, edited by Brendan Burford—I know, I shouldn’t be allowed to nominate this because I’m a contributor, but my piece is entirely forgettable, while the rest of this anthology is top-notch. Syncopated features 16 nonfiction stories ranging from from the history of vintage postcards to the glory days of old Coney Island, from the secret world of graffiti artists to the chess champs of Greenwich Village, from the Tulsa race riots of 1921 to the interrogation of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Contributors include editor Burford, Nick Bertozzi, Alex Holden, Greg Cook, Jim Campbell, and Paul Karasik.

Honorable Mention
A Mess of Everything by Miss Lasko-Gross
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation by Tim Hamilton
Some New Kind of Slaughter: Lost in The Flood (and How We Found Home Again) by A. David Lewis And mpMann
Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
The Imposter’s Daughter: A True Memoir by Laurie Sandell
’08: A Graphic Diary Of the Campaign Trail by Michael Crowley and Dan Goldman

Tom Neely (The Blot)

Prince Valiant by Hal Foster
Strange Suspense: the Steve Ditko Archives
In Tongues Illustrated by J. T. Dockery
Vertigo by Lynd Ward
Like a Dog by Zak Sally

Jeff Newelt (Smith, Heeb)
Little Nothings Vol 2. by Lewis Trondheim
A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Brat Pack by Rick Veitch
Allstar Superman Vol 2 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Beanworld Vol. 3: Remember Here When You are There by Larry Marder

John Porcellino (King-Cat Comics)

1. OMAC: One Man Army Corps by Jack Kirby–Single-handedly rekindled my LOVE of comics, after a long period of self-doubt and disarray.
2. A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi–As a cartoonist, this is utterly fascinating, and was my gateway to exploring the overwhelming world of Japanese comics.
3. Cecil and Jordan in New York by Gabrielle Bell–The best work yet by my favorite contemporary cartoonist.
4. Sammy the Mouse #2 by Zak Sally–A pitch-perfect comic book.
5. Little Orphan Annie Vol. 1 by Harold Gray–After years of hearing the accolades, I was a bit surprised to see that it completely lives up to them.

David Press (Freelance Journalist)
The Hunterby Darwyn Cooke–I love hard boiled crime noir, so when it was announced last summer that Darwyn Cooke would be adapting the Parker novels I just about hit the roof. Taking a massive departure from his superhero fare that came in the form of the Spirit and New Frontier, Cooke experiments with silence, color, and format in this book that is as delicious as a chocolate milk shake. (No, I didn’t eat it).
The Wonderful World of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower, and Skottie Young–Young brought me to this book, his artwork is explosive and this adaptation makes me feel like this is how Baum originally envisioned his classic work in his mind’s eye.
Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine by Damon Lindelof and Leinil Francis Yu–I’m sorry, this is probably the wrong crowd, but in an industry where books both Big Two and Indy are increasingly serious with events and characters and adult situations there are very few books that are just pure fun. This lively, though not for the timid mini-series, was exactly that: fun.
Wednesday Comics–What a concept! Comics in newspaper form! As they were originally intended! Let’s bring that back. Forgive me, but the people putting together this series together was delicious. Dave Gibbons, and Ryan Sook doing Kamandi, Paul Pope on Strange Adventures, and, hell, Dan DiDio turns out a strip that is actually quite enjoyable. A delicious fun loving read for everyone.
Viking–by Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein–The amount of work that must go into putting this book together month in and month out is probably enough to blow my brains out the back of my head. Klein’s work is shocking to see on a comic page, it’s almost impossible to imagine, and Ivan’s dialogue and research blows me away. Probably the best book of the year if not the most daring.

Joseph Remnant (The Pekar Project)
1. George Sprott by Seth- Seth perfectly captures the not so extraordinary life of a local television quasi celebrity. The best thing about this book is how beautifully Seth captures the sad reality of how easily people and places are forgotten as each new generation replaces the last.
2. The Book of Genesis by R. Crumb- Over 200 pages of new Crumb illustrations would make my top 5 list anytime. His drawings are like visual crack to me.
3. Everybody is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations by Peter Bagge- This book is filled with hilarious Libertarian rants on subjects ranging from the war on drugs to the stupidity of both mindless war mongers and anti-war protestors . I’m not a Libertarian, but the way that Bagge hates on the absurdities of our society is always enjoyable and entertaining.
4. Blammo by Noah Van Sciver–Blammo is my favorite ongoing comic since Daniel Clowes stopped making Eightball. It’s one of the few comics that actually makes me laugh out loud. Noah lets it all out and hilariously documents the harsh and often depressing realities of trying to become a “successful” underground cartoonist.
5. Funny Misshapen Body by Jeffrey Brown- A great story that captures what it’s like to want to be an artist and how an artist struggles to find his own voice. Jeffrey Brown’s drawings are scratchy and loose but have a certain charm that makes it seem like you’re reading someone’s personal diary.

Julia Wertz (The Fart Party)

Lulu Eightball Volume 2 by Emily Flake
You’ll Never Know: A Good and Decent Man by Carol Tyler
Dharbin #2 by Dustin Harbin
I Want You by Lisa Hanawalt
Monsters by Ken Dahl

Dylan Williams (Sparkplug)

Ditko Etc. by Steve Ditko- New superhero stuff by Steve Ditko, with a character called “the Hero”. I’m a big fan of all the new comics Ditko has been doing but this one is a favorite. Straightforward and no-bullshit. A is A.
Swords and Balance (episode 9/10 by George Mensah)–Guy I ran into at APE. George does the most intense and psychedelic action comics I’ve seen in years. Can’t and won’t stop thinking about this comic. I’m looking forward to anything else by Mensah.
Asbestos Wick by Eamon Espey- This comic burns my eyes and my brain. Eamon is amazing but this non narrative comic is something I keep coming back to over and over again. Basically anything he does is going to make my top 5. I don’t know if I can pick a top 10 of the decade but if I did Wormdye would be on it.
How Dry I Am by Amy Kutabe- Amy is Portland, OR’s best kept secret of 2009. She is one of my favorite artists working today. She rarely publishes big runs and does a ton of beautiful paintings for local art shows. This comic is a work of art.
Crooked Teeth #4 by Nate Doyle–Nate is a personal favorite of mine. This new issue really pushed it up a notch and shows off all of his considerable skills. I keep on waiting for his Hellboy comic. Nate’s writing and art and the combination of the two is totally unique. Real punk rawk comix.
Another Glorious Day at the Nothing Factory by Eroyn Franklin- Self published with a Xeric grant, the luxury hardback book is a combination of words and pictures that blow me away. Eroyn’s stuff is pretty intense. Her skills are immense. I rarely recommend big books like this but this one has earned a place in my heart forever.

Alex Zalben (Comic Book Club)

1. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli: I’m just trying to look cool, everyone knows it
totally sucked.
2. Stitches by David Small–In reality, its a toss-up for me between this book and Polyp, and Mazzucchelli’s work only eeks a win for bringing the emotion as well as the total complete package, form and function. On the other hand, you have David Small’s book, which ripped my guts out. It’s probably one of the best graphic memoirs of all time.
3. Mysterius The Unfathomable by Jeff Parker–My favorite mini-series of the year,
Jeff Parker made me like a comic about magic by setting up rules, and
then actually following them. Plus, it was funny, extremely well
plotted, and perfectly complimented by Tom Fowler’s art.
4. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz + Ultimate Comics Spider-Man + Batwoman: Detective Comics–A three way tie for the best looking big 2 comics on the stands today, Skottie Young, David LaFuente, and J.H. Williams III are making comic books fun to look at again.
5. The Incredible Hercules by Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak–The most intelligent super-hero comic currently being published, Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak bring strong emotion, big humor, and make this one of the best titles, month after month. This summer’s experiment, alternating stories about Amadeus Cho and Hercules created two classic tales at the same time.
5 1/2. Hulk Team-Up–I loved the second story in this issue featuring Hulk and Dazzler, written by newcomer Alex Zalben! Really amazing stuff! He sure is one to watch, I’ll tell you what!

14 Comments to “The Best Damned Comics of 2009 Chosen by the Artists”

  1. cat | December 15th, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    I didn’t get my list done in time to make this but I’m really really glad to see my buddy Ken Dahl’s MONSTERS made so many peoples’ lists. It was definitely at the top of mine!

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