“Best Of”s are always a problem for me; I get plagued by the knowledge that I know that I’m going to forget something really important – The list of important things that I’ve forgotten in my life is both embarrassingly long and just plain embarrassing, trust me – as well as the fact that I’ve just not managed to read all the good stuff released this year. How can I claim that something is one of the Best 10 Whatevers of the year if there’s another something I suspect may be even better, if only I could finally get around to making time for it?
And yet… ’tis the season, isn’t it? With 2011 just days from crawling out the backdoor, ashamed at its behavior and hoping that no-one will think too ill of it in future, this is the point where everyone looks back and picks their favorite things of the past twelve months. “Favorites” is a far more accurate term; less definitive, true, and less likely to get hits because of that, but it’s more true to say “I liked these the most” than “These are objectively the greatest,” isn’t it? And so, in no particular order and with the warning that I will inevitably have forgotten something important and wonderful, five of my favorite books of 2011:
It’s possible that you overlooked this amazing OGN back when it first appeared, perhaps put off my the hardcover format (and accompanying price tag) or the idea of reading a book about a plot to murder Rasputin, the Mad Monk of legend (and, of course, Russia’s greatest love machine), but if that’s the case, you need to turn around and march back to the comic store to pick this up. Tense, smart writing from Philip Gelatt is paired with just downright spectacular art by Tyler Crook for something that you really, really should read. If you need further convincing, there’re 28 pages of it to preview right here.
Hark! A Vagrant!
Surprisingly, I’ve never really written about my complete and utter adoration of Kate Beaton’s work (Not so surprisingly, perhaps; I’ve generally stayed away from webcomics in this column), but this collection of her strips from Drawn & Quarterly was the kind of book that you want to buy and give to everyone who appreciates funny things, no matter what else their interests may be. It’s not enough that Beaton is one of the funniest writers in comics, she’s also one of the most underrated artists, and hopefully the Hark! collection will convince more than a few people that she should be as lauded for his visuals as she (deservedly) is for her words.
Way back at the end of last year, I called this the best graphic novel of 2011, and if I’m now a little more reticent to make that claim, it has more to do with the high quality of a lot of other releases this year than anything else because this is still a masterpiece that, were I some kind of unlikely comics czar, I’d make compulsory reading for everyone interested in the medium. Just a breathtaking book.
Another book that I raved about earlier this year, and another one that I’m still raving about as strongly months later. A tour-de-force of cartooning from a creator who just continually improves, and pushes at the medium in almost everything he does.
This is a book that I’ve continually been meaning to write about, and continually forgetting to – I told you about my terrible memory, didn’t I? – but Dave McKean’s new graphic novel, his first solo graphic novel (as opposed to Cages, which was serialized, or Pictures That Tick, which was an anthology of shorts), is the kind of book that makes easy categorization difficult. It’s a silent story about sex, but there’s something about its use of voyeurism and voyeuristic imagery that takes it beyond the lazy porn that it could have been, or the awkward “Look, we’re so okay with sex it’s untrue!” posturing of something like Lost Girls. It’s a disturbing book in many ways – Questions about exploitation and power are very present in the text – but also a beautiful, seductive one. It’s a book that sticks with you for a long time afterwards, and for that alone, it’s one I’ve returned to many times since first reading it.