Okay, I’m not saying I support hierarchies, or that all art needs to be graded and ranked, but I LOVE top ten lists. So here’s my totally biased and completely personal list of the best comics of 2008.
Omega the UnknownJonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple
Surreal, strange and beautiful, Dalrymple and Lethem’s series takes a couple of reads to fully comprehend. Lethem is a novelist and Dalrymple known for his indie comics, so teaming up these two to revive a classic Marvel character seems pretty bananas. The result is a superhero comic that breaks every mainstream comic convention and questions just what it means to be a superhero.
The Essential Dykes To Watch Out ForAlison Bechdel
This anthology collects the essential stories from Alison Bechdel’s epic comic strip. I love anthologies where you can watch an artist develop - Bechdel’s work evolves from charmingly scrappy, to absolutely perfect. In the fifteen years worth of strips, just about every issue affecting queer women is addressed. And unlike most comic strips, the characters grow and evolve over the years. Bechdel’s dykes and their friends are so three-dimensional, that it’s easy to see a bit of yourself in all of them.
Runaways: Dead End KidsJoss Whedon and Michael Ryan
One of my favourite writers, Whedon (who has been impressing the hell out of me with Buffy season 8), on my favourite series about super-powered teenage runaways. How could I not love it? Well, perpetual lateness of the monthly series made me start to lose interest in the complex time-travel plot. But rereading the collected series turned it around. Whedon does a great job with an already awesome series, adding further layers and complexities to the characters. Ryan’s art is fantastic, with great attention to detail (i.e. the kids have good outfits). Plus, the Punisher gets punched in the stomach by a twelve year old girl.
Janes in LoveCecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
I absolutely loved almost every book that came from DC’s now-defunct Minx line of graphic novels for young women. Janes in Love is the sequel to The Plain Janes, about a group of girls, and one gay-boy, who do “art attacks”- guerrilla style street art around their suburban neighbourhood. The P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art In Neighbourhoods) Janes are a diverse crew of kids and the books amazingly show radical art as a unifying force for all different people. This book focuses on the kids’ relationships, and emphasizes diversity in the ways you can be with someone. This is an awesome young adult read that’s fun, complex, and inspiring.
The War At EllsmereFaith Erin Hicks
Hicks’ second graphic novel totally blew me away. It follows a poor girl at a rich kids’ boarding school, and the intense battle she gets into with the meanest girl in school. It’s Shakespearean, in a Julia Stiles film kinda way. Totally real, but totally magical, funny but heart breaking. Hicks’ art is amazing - brilliant facial expressions and great character design.
Only three issues in and I’m already losing my mind over this series. Jeff Smith, who is best known for his awesome all-ages epic, Bone, is doing a more grown-up book this time. It’s about an inter-dimensional art thief, Rasl, who will steal art from one world and sell it in another. But mysteries abound - a creepy, threatening, Joe Camel-looking dude is following Rasl through dimensions, some worlds are weirder than others, and Rasl’s lady-friends are getting harmed. Smith’s books tend to get crazier as they continue, so I can’t wait to read more of this.
SkimMariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
This brilliant graphic novel about a gothy teen girl, and her confusing first romance should be required reading for everyone. It reminded me of the total awesomeness and awfulness of love and friendship in high school. The Tamakis are quickly becoming comic superstars, and with good reason. Too bad that some of the recognition this amazing book is getting, is tainted by the fact that comics are still a hugely misunderstood medium.
All Star SupermanGrant Morrison and Frank Quitely
This is, without question, the best Superman comic ever. This series ended this year with an issue that made me tear up, for real. Morrison and Quitely’s story is reminiscent of old, 60’s Superman comics, when hilarious, wacky plots abounded. All the best Superman stuff is there - Lois being awesome, Lex Luthor being awful, Bizarro being weird. It’s rare that a Superman comic is able to stay true to its iconic roots, but still be new and exciting. But Morrison and Quitely put so much emotion into this book that every issue is beautiful.
Swallow Me WholeNate Powell
A beautiful and unsettling graphic novel about two teenage siblings who are dealing with mental illness, their dying grandmother, and their parents, who are trying to hold the family together. The teenagers are at the forefront of the story, and we see the world through their perspective. Are their eerie hallucinations the result of their illnesses, or is something supernatural happening? Does it matter? Powell is a unique storyteller and his book is unlike any others.
Emiko SuperstarMariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston
My second Tamaki pick of the year, and another Minx book. Emiko is an awkward young girl, bored with summer vacation, and with her suburban life in general. Her mind is blown when she meets Poppy, an uninhibited punk girl who does performance art, along with other “freaks” at a space called the Factory. Emi struggles to find her voice and her place in this subversive community. And she learns the hard way that art requires responsibility and integrity. Rolston’s art is adorable, yet his characters look like people - interesting and unique, with a diversity of features and body types. Emiko Superstar is an amazing young adult read about performance, punks and how it’s okay to be weird.