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*'Best Of' lists are total horseshit, of course, which is why I don’t feel all that bad about posting mine on the entirely arbitrary date of December 31, 2006, which isn’t even really the date this is being written on. I mean, Christ - what is it about the last day of the year that makes any of this so important? Why don’t I just wait until mid-February or something, when I’ll actually have finished reading things like Ode to Kirihito (just to name a totally random example), and I’ll be equipped to comment on its relative worth in comparison with other books?

I suppose it boils down to my knowing that I’ll get to the book soon enough. Best Of lists are a fun exercise (I like horseshit, you see), and they’re a nice vehicle for self-reflection, and pursuing a type of external critical summary, a chance for reexamining the gaps as much as what’s there before you, but in the back of my head I know the books I didn’t get to will be waiting for me. No list of this type is ever entirely comprehensive, as I know all of you are aware, and I feel I ought to have some moment where I stop and flip the switch.

So, now is switch time. Comments are open for questions about anything. No, I did not finish Lost Girls or Shadowland yet. C’mon, here we go. C’mon, c’mon.


#10. Seven Soldiers #1: I am nothing if not bloody predictable, eh? That’s another thing - if you happen to have been following a particular critic’s writing long enough that you’re actually looking forward to reading their Best Of list, there’s a really good chance you already know what’s going to show up. I mean, it’s a simple matter of extrapolation and numbering, right? So yes, here’s Seven Soldiers #1, and yes I’m specifying issue #1, because I think it ably encapsulates the stormy, silvery makeup of writer Grant Morrison’s sprawling megaproject, furiously throwing together dangling plot ends while spewing forth loud and vivid thoughts on heroic reinvention, personality mutation, and the vainglory of the author’s hand in as flexy and mutation-prone an environment as the DC superhero universe. It’s no total success -- and neither is the megaproject -- but its hammering, all-for-everything pace has a momentum so ferocious it’s downright romantic, and I shudder to think of anyone less able than J.H. Williams III handling the necessary visual juggling act. The best superhero mess of the year, bar-none. Original review here.

#9. The Drifting Classroom Vols. 1-3: Speaking of loud and fast, here’s a lost soul from the misty shores of early ’70s manga, here to tell us what a great fellow writer/artist Kazuo Umezu can be, and how utterly staid supposedly ‘modern’ manga can seem next to as hyperactive a work as one well should expect from something aimed at spooking and subverting the minds of Japan’s young. The adults and the authority figures are worthless, kids. They’ll flake out and try to kill you. Your friends can be spineless. Society itself is prone to self-destruction, and should you and the rest of your school happen to be warped off to a hazy hell dimension, well, don’t be shocked if everyone wets their pants and you get left to the tender mercies of giant monsters. It’s vintage survival horror, drafted with often marvelously alive style, but the real suspense comes in seeing if any of society’s sacred cows -- the love of a mother, the security of the group -- will be left standing as the curtain closes, or if we’ll all be jumping off the school roof hoping we’ll magically change to birds and fly away, our peers really believing we did as the ground mercifully crushes our faces. Original review of Vol. 1 here.

#8. Billy Hazelnuts: Just total delight from Tony Millionaire, that’s all. An original graphic novel from Fantagraphics, evoking the brawling comedy spirit of classic newspaper adventure strips with seemingly effortless grace. Some of the most fun dialogue of the year, typically gorgeous art, disarming modulations of Millionaire’s varied tones from Maakies to Sock Monkey, intense love and affection. Who couldn’t go for that? Original review here.

#7. Fun Home: Oh dear, I think we’ve all heard a lot about this one, and there’s only more to come in the future I’m sure. You’ll get no scalding dissent out of me - Alison Bechdel’s patchwork bonanza of memories and anecdotes and mental notes and location references is all the more impressive to me for how its rueful emotional kick lands so firmly through such a thick cushion of intellectual distance and wordy self-summary. It’s one of a set of works I enjoyed this year that act as hyperlinked constructs of their authors' interior states and subconscious brooding, but Fun Home also provides the brisk pacing and canny mainstream genre appeal that a comic probably needs to succeed as grandly as this one has in the market. And there’s no arguing with its beauty with me. Original review here.

#6. Solo #12: Of course, I mean structural beauty in that context. The elegance of construct. There are some books out there that also offered more dazzling surface pleasures, even as their linked interests drifted elsewhere. No offense to Sergio Aragones, whose issue #11 was also a treat, but Brendan McCarthy’s issue of DC’s late, lamented artist showcase series was the best of its run, a tornado tour of personal iconography and outstanding, shifting visuals. It’s hardly a one-man show -- McCarthy recruits a whole slew of writers and art assistants to help out -- but it’s as intimate a three-dimensional portrait of an artist’s pop-addled brain as one can hope for, drifting in and out of corporate characters, some familiar and some radically re-imagined, everything spattered with glitter and glue. It’s a bunch of random stories, it’s one story, it’s an artist dreaming of being dreamed of by beautiful fiction, it’s short and sweet and will kick you good. Original review here.

#5. Ninja: A very large book, but still seemingly not big enough to hold Brian Chippendale’s saga of countless conversations and interactions relating to (or entirely separate from) the looming specter of bleaching and superficial renewal. Stunning enough a comics object that everyone who’s seen it since it’s been in my possession has asked to flip through it. I talked a bunch about this the other day, so original review here.

#4. The Ticking: As simple a story as one can imagine: a young person journeys from home and overcomes a discomfort with their own skin, transmuting seeming ugliness to art through their gifts. The grace of Renee French’s own art is what seals this work as superior, her innate sense of the grotesque delicately molded into a creepy externalization of self-esteem foibles. You’ll feel all the queasiness young Edison Steelhead does, but by the end you’ll appreciate his quietly-delivered perspective on aesthetic grace. Fine, fine book. Original review from an advance copy provided in 2005 here, though you’ll have to scroll through some bullshit about apples.

#3. Or Else #4: Being Kevin Huizenga’s “100-page procession of events and intrusions, naturalistic observations gradually crowded out by noise and information overload - the saturation of organic and psychic nonsense into the natural world, and thus the comic itself.” In my own words. But words don’t really do this one justice; it’s Huizenga’s knowingly futile attempt to catalogue the natural world and the way the chaotic nature of humankind and technology work to interrupt any hope of harmony, or even simple observation. Words get mixed, advertisement besieges lyricism, and the book gleefully breaks apart right in front of your eyes as we plunge farther down the road to annihilation. Many funny jokes along the way to the gallows, and the comics form is stretched in the way that only Huizenga can quite manage. Original review here. For the record, the artist’s short story collection Curses would probably be somewhere in here too if I hadn’t already read nearly everything in it prior to this year.

#2. Japan As Viewed by 17 Creators: As Tom Spurgeon mentioned the other day, Fanfare/Ponent Mon “might as well be dropping their books from planes” their US distribution is so spotty, but it’s totally worth digging this little specimen out of its crater. Superb stories from a wide variety of artists, many of whom rarely if ever have work presented in English, shot through with curious commonalities, myriad opportunities for cross-cultural comparison and contrast, and a muscular sense of purpose, a mission that’s lacking from many anthologies. If we’re in the midst of manga pollination, here’s a vital stock-taking of what might grow out of the process, and there’s no more thrilling a vision of what might be available in 2007, 8, 9, etc. Original review here.

#1. The Fate of the Artist: And we’re back to the grand mazes of the self; maybe this little list says more about me than anything else? Oh well. The book I enjoyed most this year is Eddie Campbell’s whirligig contraption of a graphic novel, hell-bent on exploring all the permutations of the art it can in the hopes of locating its own missing author. Yes, Campbell is lost in sequential art and stylized prose and fotofunnies and newspaper strip homage, and ironically found only in the land of a comics adaptation of an entirely different work, and all throughout he and we are stalked by the phantom of futility, and faced with the prospect that the artist’s life is maybe not worth all the sacrifice that putting order to imperceptible things entails. Several comics this year (some of which are on this list) sought to give form to the vastness of the artist’s interior; Campbell’s command of the form is so great that he can do so while simultaneously striving to embody the million possibilities that comics itself can offer us, and his wit is so bold that he can drop it all and declare himself dead, with unassailable authority, while never once losing sight of the tiny things that make life and art worth slogging about in. The best thing he’s ever done, and the best of the year. Original review complete with stupid Marvel joke title here.

Ok, that's enough for one year. Since I'm also back to work, my usual morning blogging schedule resumes tomorrow. Don't worry if you miss this; it's going right on the sidebar.