10 best of 11
As is customary, our beloved editor inquired about what we thought were the best books of the past year. “Just pick your top three or something”, he said. I picked 10. It’s been that kind of year, so sue me. For good reference, I divided them into neat little departments.
The Dept of Epic Awesomeness
A Best Of The Year list for 2011 is not complete without Craig Thompson’s magnum opus Habibi (Pantheon/Faber & Faber). Not because it’s such a hefty tome (it is), not even because it’s a gripping story (it is not), but predominantly because it’s one of those books that don’t leave you when you read them. You find yourself coming back to it, thumbing through the pages of delightful art and rereading passages that did not make sense at first, but that are now full of hidden meaning. This is, in all sense of the words, a major work.
Rarely have I seen the horrors and absurdity of war depicted in such a harsh and hard-hitting manner than in Onward Towards our Noble Deaths (Drawn & Quarterly) by manga god Shigeru Mizuki. It’s a loosely autobiographical tale of Mizuki’s involvement in the battle on one of the tiny islands in the Pacific during World War II. The baffling lack of realism on the part of the commanding officers, the sheer disdain by everybody for conscripts (who were “worth less than horse” and the senselessness of these lives lost for no reason at all – it leaves you breathless. Literally (and I mean, literally)
Life’s a Bitch Dept.
Life With Mr Dangerous (Villard) confirmed my eerie suspicion : Paul Hornschemeier is just so much better than Chris Ware in depicting the drudge of daily life, the misgivings and self-doubt of your average 21th Century human, and the impossibility of real relationships, and doing so in a style that is at once daring and experimental, and more than pleasing to the eye. It’s not as good as his masterpiece, The Three Paradoxes, but it’s dangerously close.
One of the very few pamphlets I bought this year (and yes, I know that contributes to the total annihilation of the industry), is Optic Nerve 12 by the very slow Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly). Every time I think I’m over him, he brings up this kind of work that is simply amazing. The book is only 42 pages, and largely consists of a really deterministic tale on how delusions of grandeur are bound to fail, and one about what happens is you happen to look exactly like a porn star. Tomine storytelling at its best.
Read Up On Your References dept.
2011 was also the year that witnessed the publication of the complete edition of Brian Walker’s The Comics (Abrams) at the incredibly affordable price of $ 24.99. This book gives an overview of the history and evolution of American newspaper comics from the Yellow Kid all the way to the Boondocks. It’s littered with concise but comprehensive profiles of all the great creators, but the best part is the artwork, which is abundantly present and lavisly reproduced. No library should go without it !
Another great book “about comics” is Art Spiegelman’s MetaMaus (Pantheon/Penguin), the extensive companion volume to his graphic novel, Maus. In this book, Spiegelman presents the back story of the comic, how it came to be, what the hurdles were, the influences of the people around him, etc. The real gem of this edition, however, is the bonus DVD containing the complete Maus, along with audio commentary, linked reference texts and preliminary versions of nearly every page. A real gem.
Dept. of music to my ears
I wrote earlier about La Maison de Pain d’Epice (Dupuis) by the French cartoonist and musician Cleet Boris (see here – begging to be translated and published in English, publishers that is a hint), and there’s not really a lot to add to that. I simply fell in love with this book – its format, the artwork, the honesty of the stories, the humor that accompanied really painful passages, and the large dose of healthy nostalgia that it exhudes. And, let’s not forget, the fact that Boris is one of the few artists that can draw a believable guitar.
Not really about music, but closer to jazz than I have ever seen a comic go, is Daytripper (Vertigo), by the Brazilian wonder duo Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. The book reads like a series of variations on an age-old theme (“If I die tonight, what will my life have been ?”). Moon and Bá take you on board for what can only be described as a series of every-evolving and accelerating sax solos, only to end in a climax that leaves you stunned and deeply moved at the same time.
Close To Home dept.
To round off, two books from my neck of the woods. If Boerke In Hollywood, Pieter De Poortere‘s latest collection of strips about his anti-hero, Boerke (Oog En Blik / De Bezige Bij) doesn’t finally get him noticed across the pond, I don’t know what will. The book contains 53 silent parodies on famous movies – sometimes hilarious, sometimes zany, quite often totally over the top, but never not funny. And always meticulously drawn in De Poortere’s signature style, combining filth with picture book like innocence.
When I was a kid, my parents used to read Knack, a weekly news magazine that also contained a very strange strip, called Iamboree. It basically features a number of ancient greeks discussing philosophical conundrums and mundane problems with the same profundity and relentless logic, always ending in totally absurd situations. I was intrigued by these stories, most of which I didn’t quite understand. To coincide with this year’s festival, Strip Turnhout asked venerable creator Gommaer Timmermans to make a selection of ten years worth of strips. And to my great delight, they are still as great as ever.