NPR Best Comics of 2010 Roundup Features Make Me a Woman and Wild Kingdom

The Most Memorable Comics and Graphic Novels of 2010, With Caveats

NPR    |    Glen Weldon    |    December 29, 2010

I know, I know. Still yet another list, this one appearing during the last week of the year, a time when the national incidence of list-fatigue reaches its annual zenith.

Look, I’ll make you deal. I’ll keep this short. Ish.

If I’ve already written about a book, I’ll just link to it. If I haven’t, I’ll say a few words and link to someone who has.

The usual caveats apply, here: This list is not meant to be definitive – I haven’t read everything. And it’s not even intended as a "best of" list, as my personal reaction to a given comic's style and subject will likely have little to do with yours.

Because the metric I'm using is one of indelibility: The books below are the ones that I found myself thinking about for days, weeks and (on several occasions) months after I finished them. Several very good books that will surely turn up on other "Best of 2010" lists – Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Outfit; Greg Rucka and JH Williams’ Batwoman: Elegy; Marvel’s Strange Tales, Volume II; Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft and many more – didn’t quite make the final cut because, for whatever reason, they didn’t linger in my memory after I closed their covers. (I liked the first chapter of Charles Burns' X'ed Out, but its frustrating slimness (just 50 or so pages) prevented it from making a lasting impression.)

So: Here are the books that got their hooks into me this year; I'm reasonably certain they'll do the same for you.

New Work from Old … er, Experienced Hands

Market Day, by James Sturm. I loved this quiet, wistful, elegaic tale of a turn-of-the-century rugmaker finding himself, and his craft, suddenly obsolete.

Not Love but Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! by Fumi Yoshinaga. I devoured the Oishinbo books, which turn Japanese cuisine into hugely entertaining narratives full of high-stakes culinary showdowns. This slim, delightfully manic book by the creator of the gender-flipped samurai series Ooku filled the hole those book left. Johanna Draper Carlson, over at Manga Worth Reading, praised the author's expressive style and recommended that food lovers pick it up.

Werewolves of Montpelier, by Jason. The deadest of deadpan cartoonists returns with a meditation on relationships, burglary and lycanthropy. In France. Rob Clough of The Comics Journal called it "a pitch-perfect, expertly-crafted story by an artist who is clearly working in his comfort zone."

Acme Novelty Library No. 20, by Chris Ware. I agree with critic Douglas Wolk: this latest edition finds Ware stretching himself further than he as in some time. It's exciting to see a master like Ware, known for his exacting, precise technique, loosening himself up, even if he does so with his characteristic deliberateness.

Special Exits, by Joyce Farmer. Yeah, this one got to me.

Wilson, by Daniel Clowes. A portrait of the artist as a middle-aged jerkface. Mordant, darkly funny, with a deliberately fractured approach that keeps Clowes' tone gratifyingly varied and surprising.

Heartening Debuts

Temperance, by Cathy Malkasian. I've said my piece on this ambitious, wonderfully unpredictable fantasy epic grounded in very real, and not altogether pleasant, emotions.

Make Me a Woman, by Vanessa Davis. Davis is my favorite discovery of the year, though I'm a bit ashamed to say that, as I should have known about her before. You'll see the influence of Lynda Barry and Roz Chast, but Davis' voice has a satisfyingly spiky, take-no-prisoners wryness that's all her own.

Set to Sea, by Drew Weing. Weing's largely wordless pages of maritime adventure are gorgeous things, and the tale they tell unfolds with the lulling, implacable rhythm of the sea.

Artichoke Tales, by Megan Kelso. Kelso sets up an intriguing tension between the cartooniness of her art and the serious, adult themes of war and racism that fuel her thoughtful story.

Drinking at the Movies, by Julia Wertz. A funny, smart, self-lacerating book about the kind of growing up that happens after you've told yourself your a grown-up. In the LA Times, David Ulin summed it up nicely: "...a quiet triumph, a portrait of the artist in the act of becoming, a story with heart and soul."

The Troll King, by Kolbeinn Karlsson. You haven't seen anything like this. Trust me.

Axe Cop, by Malachi Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle. "Axe ... Cop?" Yes. Axe Cop. For reminding us of comics' enormous, all-too-often untapped potential for Big Craziness.

Neko Ramen, by Kenji Sonishi. There's this cat, see. He's surly, scheming. Also, he's a cook. That runs a noodle shop. Critic Deb Aoki, who should know, dubs it "a kooky but likeable comic snack for cat-lovers (and maybe cat haters too)." Sonishi doesn't really deviate from a simple, light set-up/punchline formula, but it worked on me.

Write These Names Down: Creators You Should Know

Body World, by Dash Shaw. Shaw produces hugely inventive, very funny and thought-provoking work, whether it's this webcomic-turned-book about a small town caught in the grip of a mysterious drug, or the slightly less accessible weirdness of the Unclothed Man in the 35th Century and, especially, Bottomless Belly Button.

Blammo, by Noah Van Sciver. Inside Van Sciver's anything-for-a-laugh approach lies a smart and sometimes suprisingly poignant writer. I'll let The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater tell you more.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle, by Michael Kupperman. I attempted to verbalize my deep, abiding love for Kupperman's series on one of the first episodes of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Not sure I did it justice, so let me take another whack at it: PICK UP THIS BOOK. VOLUME ONE IS ONCE AGAIN IN PRINT. IT IS FUNNY. BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT.

Wild Kingdom, by Kevin Huizenga. This is some high-wire, risky storytelling, the kind that leaves you convinced another reading will deepen your experience. NOT UNRELATED: In terms of sheer number of times I've returned to a given book this year, Wild Kingdom is the winner, hands down.

You’ll Never Know, Volume II, by C. Tyler. Volume I of Tyler's comics memoir was one of the books I singled out for praise last year at this time, and the next volume only deepens and enriches the work she did in that book. What's more, volume II sees her opening up her scrapbook-style approach, pushing at its boundaries in small, satisfying ways.

Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga. Man, I loved this book, a dizzying, recursive cross between Choose Your Own Adventure and a Richard Feynman lecture.

Ax Volume I: A Collection of Alternative Manga, by various artists. What's "alternative manga," you ask? Damned if I can say. I can, however, point you to this huge, sprawling, dynamic anthology, full of distinctive voices, art that bleeds off the page, and new ideas. The Manga Curmudgeon and several other mangaphiles held a lively and thoughtful discussion of the book on Twitter earlier this year — you can check a transcript on his site.

Revolver, by Matt Kindt. Kindt's story of a man shifting between parallel realities is an exquisitely constructed, ruminative piece of work with something to say about how tragedy changes us — or doesn't.

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