Best of 2009: A Survey of Comics Readers!
A few weeks ago, we sent out a request to writers, teachers, librarians, pros, and more to tell us the graphic novels they’d recommend as the best of the year. We keep getting their responses in, and we plan to unveil a more complete list in December. But just to give you a taste of the big books (and just in case you want to get a head start on your holiday shopping), we’re starting the list early. Here’s a sample of some of the responses we’ve gotten. Keep checking back to see more picks added for the best comics, manga, and graphic novels of the year!
Cartoon Art Museum, San Francisco
I’m always terrible at compiling these year-end lists for a variety of reasons, including the fact that I always miss some great books upon their initial release, overlook a favorite book that I read much earlier in the year, or otherwise drop the ball. That being said, here are five books from the past year that will stay on my bookshelf for years to come.
The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics
by Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle
A great biography loaded with beautiful artwork, including many reproductions from Kurtzman’s original art. Harvey Kurtzman changed American comics—and American humor itself—forever, and Kitchen and Buhle have written his definitive biography.
The John Stanley Library
Drawn & Quarterly
The recent Melvin Monster and Nancy collections are terrific, and Drawn & Quarterly has some other fun books coming up in this series soon, including Thirteen Going on Eighteen. I’m sorry I wasn’t a kid when these comics were originally published, and I’m kind of sorry that I’m not a kid now that so many great comics from the past are available again, but I’m really thankful that I get to read them now, at any rate.
The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics
edited by Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman
Same as above, I’m sorry this collection wasn’t around when I was a kid, but I’m glad that all of this great material is seeing the light of day again. Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman have assembled the best comics anthology since The Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Comics 30 years ago.
A Drifting Life
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn & Quarterly
Once I started reading this, I couldn’t put it down. A Drifting Life is epic, tracing Tatsumi’s life as it intertwines with the rise of the manga industry in Japan. I’ve read similar books (graphic novels and otherwise) on the rise of the American comics industry, but this was the first time I’d read a similar examination of the history of Japanese comics.
20th Century Boys; Pluto
And I’m picking these two books from Urosawa just because I’m having such a great time reading them (along with his previous Viz series, Monster). Viz has a really strong track record in publishing quality manga for older audiences, and these are some of my favorite ongoing series at the moment.
Lecturer at Cal State East Bay and adjunct professor at Diablo Valley College
1. Nevermore: A Graphic Adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories (Sterling)
2. Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiandis and Christos H. Papadimitriou—a very close second
3. Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim (First Second)
“America’s most beloved comic-book writer and columnist”
In alphabetical order, my five top GNs of 2009 are:
A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld
The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude by Carol Lay (not technically a graphic novel, but well worth recognizing)
The Color of Earth by Dong Hwa Kim
The Impostor’s Daughter: A True Memoir by Laurie Sandell
Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
Bestselling author of Identity Crisis and The Book of Lies
1. Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan
2. Secret Origins by Geoff Johns
3. Spider Woman by Brian Bendis
4. Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley
5. Old Man Logan by Mark Millar
Cathy A. Campers
Librarian, Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, and author of Bugs Before Time
My top graphic novel of the year would be Asterio Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. It gave me chills it was so good!
I thought The Photographer by Emmanuel Guilbert was an exquisite use of the graphic novel format for conveying information. This would be a great one to show to people who don’t usually read graphic novels, say they “can’t stand them,” etc.
I’m also loving Citizen Rex by the Hernadez Bros.
Dr. Katie Monnin
Assistant Professor of Literacy
University of North Florida
My No. 1 choice would be Brian Fies’ Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?
Lisa N. Elliott
Young Adult Librarian
Tigard Public Library
- Stitches by David Small is definitely buzz-worthy. I agree with those who protest that it does not belong in the Young People’s Literature category for the National Book Award, but I would not hesitate to recommend it to an avid teen reader. Small managed to capture perfectly the deep pout of childhood, and the confusion and anger that comes with the realization that your parents have treated you unjustly. Small’s folks are up there with the all-time worst parents in the world, yet he still respects them and maintains his integrity as a storyteller by stating clearly that he is telling his story from his perspective. His parents may have another story to tell, but that is a different book.
- A Mess of Everything by Miss Lasko-Gross is a fantastic follow up to Escape from Special. Lasko-Gross depicts herself emerging as an artist during her high-school years, dealing with drugs, sex, self-destructive thoughts, and her anorexic best friend. She begins to question the lessons she is supposedly learning in high school and finds that when she steps out on her own that she can draw her own destiny. I love reading comix artist who draw women with real faces, voluptuous curves, and powerful thighs, but without the archetypical mother/demon fear of R. Crumb. Lasko-Gross’ words and pictures felt incredibly authentic.
- Orange by Benjamin. In this short story, a teen girl contends with dark thoughts of suicide when she meets an enigmatic young man who somehow changes her life. Her connection to him is unclear, but his influence on her is profound. Benjamin’s bright and vibrant city do not conflict with the book’s moody tone but helps to convey a feeling of pervasive and eminent clash. Clash between Orange’s depth and her shallow friends, clashes with parents, school, alcohol, and boyfriends who insist on pushing her sexual boundaries. This is a story of the intensity and ambivalence of being young.
- 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urosawa. I was excited to see this new (in English, anyway) series by the author of Monster, one of my faves, arrive at the library. Though I’m not too far into it, I love what I’ve read so far. As in Monster, Urosawa combines exceptional art with a great story. I hope to recommend this one as a doorway into the manga world for fans of dystopic fiction. Plus, I can’t help but love a series that references the T.Rex song.
Writer, editor, comics educator and consultant, and writer for GNR
Here are my top 5 faves off the top of my head, and in no particular order:
- Leave It to PET (VIZ)
- Monsters (Secret Acres)
- Adventures in Cartooning (First Second)
- Eerie Archives (Dark Horse)
- Yokaiden (Del Rey)
James Bucky Carter, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English Education
UTEP English Department
- Asterios Polyp
- Bayou, Volume 1
- A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
Director, The Center for Cartoon Studies
I give you this list with the caveat that it is not a best of! I don’t pretend to have read even a fraction of what’s out there. I can say, however. that the following six books were fantastic and recommend them wholeheartedly.
In alphabetical order:
- Another Glorious Day at the Nothing FactorybyEroyn Franklin
This Xeric Award-winning book documents the dissolution of a marriage. The illustrations on each page are white paper cutouts and their intricately sliced shapes, all empty inside, look as if they are in danger of being swallowed up by the black page. The technique is brilliantly suited to the subject matter. Very unique and moving book.
- George Sprottby Seth
This book is stunning on every level. Seth possesses the literary gifts of our finest novelists along with unparalleled cartooning chops. As a book designer, he brings it all together.
- The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comicsedited by Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman
Captures the thrill of comics for all ages. I wrote a more comprehensive review of this here.
- Masterpiece Comics by R. Sikoryak
A mash-up of highbrow literature and lowbrow comics that is executed to sublime perfection.
- Monsters by Ken Dahl
This is a semiautobiographical tale of one man and his struggle with herpes. Jason Lutes’s blurb on the back of the book says it best: “Ken Dahl is one of the great unsung talents in American comics.” Dahl (a.k.a. Gabby Schulz) is a natural cartoonist.
- The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre and Frédéric Lemercier
Very powerful story that also takes graphic novels to a new place with its seamless integration of photos and drawings.