From Our Continental Correspondent – Best of the Year
Ah yes, it is that time of the year when we look back on the past 12 months and reminisce what went and stayed. We put another log on the fire, pour another glass, and start compiling our lists. Because that’s what we men are good at, compiling lists (I’m sure many women make lists too, they might not be as obsessive about it as men can be though! – Joe). Mine’s a little different, as I don’t have a best book (well, I do have a best book, but I don’t have an argumented order in which to present the others). And for that reason, and without further ado, twelve books that made my year:
First up , Paul Goes Fishing (Drawn & Quarterly), the third episode (not counting the odd comic) of Michel Rabagliati’s semi-autobiographical series. This time, it all revolves around the choices you make in life : getting married, having kids (or not), etcetera. It’s the best of the series yet, a lot less anecdotal than the previous ones. In fact, it reads as if it was a lot more thought over, perhaps to some people even contrived, but I like it.
On a similar autobiographical note, The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel (Vertigo). Besides being a beautifully designed book (I am really thinking of chucking the dust cover), it’s also one of the best stories about alcoholism (or addiction in general), where it comes from and what it does to you. I’m too much of a scaredypants (or, rather, make that “responsible father”) to even come close to getting addicted to anything but sugar and caffeine (and comics! – Joe), and this book proved me right.
Slaapkoppen by Randall C (Oogachtend) has not been translated into English yet, but if things go well, you too will be able to savour this long poem of a comic book somewhere in 2009 from Blank Slate Books. Randall creates his stories in a very intuitive way, starting from scraps and gradually creating a more or less consistent narrative. Consistent, as in your dreams, that is. The book has dinosaurs, pirates, sleeping blue whales, and reads like the trip you take every night, when you close your eyes. It won the award for best first book in Flanders this year. You will hear more of this one.
I wrote about Bienvenue A Boboland by Dupuy Et Berbérian (Fluide Glacial) before (see here), and I still stick by it. It’s one of the best satires of modern city life I have ever read. It’s like the creators have freed themselves of their usual characters (most particularly, Monsieur Jean), and just let loose. This is what people will read when they want to know what Paris in the Naughties was like, just as they read Brétécher for the seventies. In fact, Dupuy and Berbérian have proven that they and they alone are the true inheritors of the late Lauzier’s throne.
Good-bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly) may have a similar role to play. This is the third volume of Tatsumi’s short stories of the seedier side of Japan’s urban life. People in these stories are destined for failure, disappointment and despair, and Tatsumi tells their stories in a merciless way, putting them right in the spotlight. The dichotomy between the cartoon-like art and the very harsh reality that he writes about, is very compelling. I really needed to read this in very short portions.
The same goes for Le Promeneur by Jirô Taniguchi and Masayuki Kusumi (Casterman). At first I thought this handsome hardback was another reissue of Taniguchi’s L’homme qui marche, but it turned out to be a second variation of its theme: the idea that walking around is a liberating experience that brings you closer to life. The stories in this collection are a bit more conventional, and less poetic than in the older book, but Taniguchi’s art is gorgeous as always. I would have liked more cityscapes, though, and less text.
More short stories now, albeit with a twist. Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly (Oni) is the collection of the comics series by the same name that Oni published in 2006 and 2007. In a year that was full of albums that needed listening to in one setting (Glasvegas ! Fleet Foxes ! Coldplay !), this book was the closest I’ve ever gotten to reading a concept album. All stories center around the struggle of one girl to find herself, corny though it may sound, and they need to be read in one setting. Similarly, they are just nice anecdotes – together they are a world of their own.
Coeurs D’acier – Hearts of Steel – (Champaka) collects the unfinished Spirou Et Fantasia story by Atom Style god Yves Challand in a gorgeous, oblong format. This story, which is set in a mythical post-war world, is at once a melancholic exercice in calling up the coolness of the fifties and a parody on all the mainstays of the adventure novels of that time (robots, time travel, exotic locations, what have you). Challand’s art is hyper-cool as ever, and this is especially true for the full-page spreads in the second half of the book, which finishes the comic in a story-book style.
It would seem that no year is now complete without a book by the inimitable Eddie Campbell. Campbell is more productive than ever and The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard (written by Dan Best, First Second) is one of his best books ever. It’s a whimsical tale about truths and lies, about circus performances as a metaphor for life, and, of course, about a bear that is also a man. The fact that the main character only impersonates the Monsieur Leotard from the title, says it all. This is indeed an astounding book about following your dreams, whatever they are.
Fire In The Hole (Dark Horse) is Chris Grine’s second book about Chickenhare, the son of a chicken and, indeed, a hare. In true fantasy fashion, it takes up the story where the previous one left off, and serves up a roller coaster featuring Shromphs, devils, a Rastafarian turtle, and a talking goat. The action is very fast, the dialogue is totally irreverent and wickedly witty and Grine knows how to develop a back story while he’s telling his main tale. This is the real New Bone, if ever there was need for one.
La Sainte Trinité (Futuropolis) by Franck Bourgeron is one of those very rare examples of a philosophical comic. Bourgeron throws representatives from every Abrahamic religion (a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim) in the desert and let’s them discuss who has the best God. The book reads like an eighteenth-century satirical treatise, and is living proof that you don’t need that much action to get a very compelling story.
And finally, the book of the year: Wormdye by Eamon Espey (Secret Acres), a plunge into the subconscious of contemporary America. It’s a portrait of life in a merciless world, with every perversion you can imagine (sadism, cannibalism, drug abuse and lactating grandfathers). It is about everything and nothing; it’s an orgy of primitive imagery, an appeal to your primal senses and most basal thoughts. Espey manages to combine Mike Diana’s scandalousness with Crumb’s obsessions, and lifts it all up to incredible heights. Wormdye is nothing less than the Howl of comics. I cannot find any higher praise.
Oh, and before you ask – I didn’t read Bottomless Bellybutton; I only got it the other week, and quite frankly, it scares me. It’s a brick of a book, and I fear I’ll lose myself in it. So maybe it’s on next year’s list.
Wim Lockefeer lives in Belgium where the inhabitants often have to wrestle Smurfs to protect their Waffle crop; you can read more of his work on his own Ephemerist blog.