It happens every year. Amidst all the hullaballoo of the big-name releases and show-stopping events and sleeper hits there are those titles that, for whatever reason, fail to generate any reviews, discussion or sales (or in some cases all three) whatsoever. 2010 was no exception. In fact, the wealth of stellar material that was released this year made it seem like there were an extraordinary number of great comics that garnered not even a peep from the blogosphere and press.
After the jump are six books that I think got nowhere near the amount of attention they deserved. There are lots more that I could include if I had the time. And I'm sure there are books that you read that you don't think got enough praise as well. Be sure to let me know what they are in the comments section.
1) Captain Easy Vol. 1 by Roy Crane. CBR rules (no reprints allowed) prevented me from including this in their breakdown of the best 100 comics of the year, which seems like a crime as I consider this to be one of the big publishing events of 2010. I seem to be alone in that regard, though, as few folks managed to put this on their "best of" list except for a noble few. Despite his comparatively crude art style, Crane laid the groundwork for adventure strips that everyone from Milton Caniff to Alex Raymond to Hal Foster would follow. Aside from the obvious historical importance, however, Crane was just a great cartoonist. The Sunday pages in this book are full of high energy, action and slapstick. Crane was one of Schulz's favorite cartoonists and one of his biggest influences. Reading this book this book, it's not hard to see why.
2) Denys Wortman's New York, edited by James Sturm and Brandon Elston. The other big reprint project of the year and a complete surprise to me. Like (I suspect) most people, I had never heard of Wortman before this collection of his gag cartoons about everyday New York folks circa the 30s and 40s came out, but I was absolutely floored by his craftsmanship and ability to portray that era as richly as he did. I don't think I've ever come across a cartoonist who has been able to capture their environment and culture as well as Wortman does in these pages. He's that good.
3) Whirlwind Wonderland by Rina Ayuyang. Apart from an interview with Tom Spurgeon, I don't think anyone paid attention to Ayuyang's graphic novel debut this year. That's a shame as it's easily one of the most notable debuts of 2010. Her art style can come off as crude at times (her Brad Pitt needs work) but she chronicles her family's foibles, her obsessions with pop culture and her Filipino heritage with love, warmth and humor. Sparkplug published a lot of great books this year, but this one might have been my favorite.
4) The High Soft Lisp by Gilbert Hernandez. Everyone went gaga over Xaime Hernandez's contributions to the third volume of Love and Rockets: New Stories this year, myself included, and rightfully so -- it was arguably the best thing he's ever done. Less fanfare, however, seemed to come with this collection from Beto of stories concerning Luba's sister Fritz. Part of that may be due to the fact these stories were originally serialized in the second run of Love and Rockets years ago and fans are already familiar with them. Another part may have to do with just how raw and emotionally devastating these tales are. Those who feel that Hernandez's work relies too much on female objectification and fetishization need to read this book to understand how self-aware he is of that fact and its real-world consequences.
5) Harvey by Herve Bouchard and Janice Nadeau. This is a rather touching tale about a young boy who unexpectedly loses his father that I found at my local library. Bouchard narrates the tale from the boy's first-person perspective, getting the confusion and insecurity just right while Nadeau's lovely off-kilter, watercolor drawings capture the rural milieu perfectly. A really lovely, sad little book that I don't think anyone was aware of outside of certain children's book publishing circles.
6) Dungeon Monstres Vol. 3: Heartbreaker by Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, Carlos Nine and Killoffer. The Dungeon series in general doesn't get the attention I think it deserves, but this new collection, combining two separate stories about two very different female characters -- one set in the past, the other in the future -- was especially noteworthy and in some ways seemed like a decided demarcation point to me. The first tale focuses on a cast member who up till now seemed not only dangerous but rather crazed. "Heartbreaker" gives us her back story and in turn makes one of the most sympathetic characters in the series so far. "The Depths" meanwhile portrays an innocent girl who transforms herself into a deadly and heartless warrior who turns against her people in order to survive. Each tale is uncompromising and unsentimental. Taken together, the pair mark a decisive movement away from the light humor and wisecracking of the previous volumes and into darker, more emotionally resonant material.