Friday, December 11, 2009

2009 and Then Some

As we near the end of 2009, it seems the appropriate time to reflect on some favorite graphic reads over the last year. This is my top five for 2009, with the caveat that they're all books I read over the last year, not that they were necessarily published in the last year (though, actually, only number three was published in 2008).

1. The Storm in the Barn (by Phelan). An absolute masterpiece, a true work of graphic literature that is not only the best of the year, but among my top five graphic novels EVER. I’m not going to labor the point, as two Guys Lit wordsmiths have already gushed about it (here and here), but this story of a boy growing up in the Dust Bowl during the 1930s and the dark mystery he uncovers in a nearby barn, is a grand adventure, an eerie weird tale, an archetypal coming of age story and a powerful homage to the art of storytelling itself.

2. Tales From Outer Suburbia (by Tan). Not actually a graphic novel, but a collection of illustrated short stories by the author of The Arrival (another one for the top five graphic novels of all time list). This is a collection of strange stories with a startling emotional depth. I’ve never come by a story-teller in any medium who could weave a sense of melancholy with the playful and the downright weird the way Tan does. The highlight: a tale of unfathomable stick figures that pop up in a small town, waiting behind bus stops, in doorways, at the tops of hills, feared and despised, but never understood. Shelf Elf discussed it at length here.

3. Captain America: The Chosen (by Morrell and Breitweiser). Something of a post-modern super-hero tale, a dying Captain America bequeaths a most unusual legacy of courage and heroism to a young solider fighting in Iraq. Would you expect a certain perspective on war, knowing this was written by the man who created Rambo? Well, this is a complex consideration of what it takes to be a hero and how, maybe, all of us are capable of it sometimes. That Mitch Breitweiser's art is dynamic, hyper-detailed, realistic and gritty doesn’t hurt either.

4. Wonder Woman: The Circle (by Simone and Dodson). I’ve already talked about this one here. An action-packed Wonder Woman story built on elements of mythology and family, thoughtfully considering the complex and self-destructive motivation of revenge. And it’s a story that finally lives up to the potential of the character, portraying her as an actual Wonder Woman, rather than a standard super-hero who happens to be female.

5. Adventures in Cartooning (by Sturm, Arnold and Frederick-Frost). A bit younger than we usually go on Guys Lit Wire, but a hell of a lot of fun. A classic fairy tale adventure of a young knight, a sweet-toothed horse and a magical elf on the trail of a bubble gum-chewing dragon intertwined with lessons on the language of sequential art. It covers all the major areas of the form, elucidating its structures and codes within the adventure and in bonus features, and the story itself has some great surprises as well.

It’s actually been a fantastic year for the graphic novel. I’ve seen some of what’s coming in 2010, too, and I’m happy to say things aren't going to slow down. Top of the list has got to be Zeus: King of the Gods (by O’Connor), the first of the new Olympians series, telling scrupulously researched mythological tales with art that makes the Gods look like the most dynamic super-heroes ever. And that’s only in January!

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