Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mike's Picks for Best Graphic Novels of 2010

2010 was a bumper crop year for graphic novels, so I've highlighted five below that I think are standouts in the field. I hope you enjoy the list, and please let me know in the comments section what graphic novels you think should be on the list!

Chris Ware: Acme Novelty Library, vol. 20

Chris Ware is most famous for his brilliant and meticulous artwork detailing his stories of people, trapped in a socially awkward landscape resulting from normal personality quirks magnified on a grand scale—the comic book hoarder, the kid bullied in the playground, etc. Enter installment 20: the life of Jordan Lint who had appeared briefly in previous volumes as the tormentor of Rusty Brown. Ware designs the book brilliantly, with each page represents a year in his 72 year-long life, during which Lint suffers the hard knocks of life and poor decision-making.

Kurt Busiek: Astro City The Dark Age, vols. 1 & 2

Kurt Busiek may be the best writer in comics working currently, with a unique postmodern perspective of superheroes. His Astro City series takes a keen look at the tension that builds in the world of superheroes—both among their own ranks and with the ordinary people suffering the fallout from living in a city overpopulated by them. The Dark Ages series is Busiek at his best, focusing on the ordinary vs. superhero conundrum with heart-rending effect as two brothers whose young lives were impacted by the murder of their parents follow very different lives as a consequence.

Joyce Farmer: Special Exits

Joyce Farmer, a revered underground comics cartoonist, has written her first full-length graphic novel and it may be the most powerful publication of the year. Chronicling the last four years of the lives of Lars and Rachel, Special Exits is a humorous, insightful, and ultimately heartbreaking story that’s based on Joyce Farmer’s own experiences with the death of her father and stepmother. It’s a difficult story to read, where old age and fears keep the elderly couple from venturing beyond the doorstep of their South Los Angeles home, but it also creates a profound appreciation in the reader for being able to share in their experiences and lives.

Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris: Ex Machina, vols. 1-10

Two powerhouses of modern comics, Brian K. Vaughan from Y: The Last Man fame and Tony Harris, illustrator of Starman, joined forces on a thrilling postmodern superhero story that wrapped up this year. Like all good superheroes Mitchell Hundred received his powers via a freak accident with a piece of alien technology and found that he could communicate with machines. Dubbing himself the “Great Machine,” Hundred blundered his way through his childhood fantasy of saving the world—until he saved the second tower of the World Trade Center during the September 11th attacks. What happens after is when the series really gets rolling, however, because he gives up life as a superhero and becomes a servant to the public as the mayor of NYC.

Mike Carey & Peter Gross: The Unwritten, vols. 1 & 2

Imagine if the last book of Harry Potter went unwritten because the author mysteriously vanished; and imagine that the son of said author is, being the person the book’s hero was patterned on, cashing in on the legacy his absent father created. Enter the mystery: the son doesn’t seem to exist at all, there having been no record of his birth, school records, etc. What ensues is a literary thriller that’s sure to interest fans of other high-art Vertigo titles like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Bill Willingham’s Fables.

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