Thursday, December 17, 2009

Graphically Speaking: Seth's Top Books of 2009

Words: Seth Kushner

Fellow comics journalist, Brian Heater of The Daily Cross Hatch recently asked over forty comics folks (including me!) to list their top five books of the year. See my picks below and everyone else's at The Daily Cross Hatch's The Best Damned Comics of 2009 Chosen by the Artists.

The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert

French cartoonist Guibert tells the story of his friend, photojournalist Didier Lefèvre through a unique melding of his elegant art and Lefèvre’s actual photos and words. The tale of a young photojournalist’s journey through Afghanistan in 1986 is compelling and human, and wonderfully complimented by Didier Lefèvre’s photographs, in moments that feel meditative. The Photographer is a beautiful book, both in its design and it’s content.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

Much has already been said about Mazzuccelli’s long awaited graphic novel, so I doubt I would have anything new to add. The book represents a master cartoonist working at the top of his game, using and inventing techniques for maximum emotional resonance. Asterios Polyp deserves and rewards repeated readings and study.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 by Tim Hamilton

adapts it into a new form. 451’s retro future where books are outlawed, feels fresh and topical and Hamilton, a chameleon of art styles, employees one here that allows the story to flow in a natural way. His use of color is particularly effective, sticking to cool muted tones throughout, providing a contrast to the scenes with red and yellow blazing fires. His artful page design, dramatic, edgy art and inventive use of color vividly bring Bradbury’s tale to life.

Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke

Darwyn Cooke adapts Richard Stark’s book to great hardboiled and cruel effect. Parker’s opening twenty page, wordless journey into 1960s era New York City is cue to the reader that this is a tour d’ force. Cooke pulls no punches with his characterization of Parker, as sonuvabitch an antihero as one could find. But, it’s Cooke’s storytelling and retro-cool art, stripped bare to only necessary lines, which are the star of the show here. Parker: The Hunter is a terrific work from an artist whose work seems to continue to grow and improve and surprise, even when you thing he’s already gone as far as he possibly could.

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld

A.D. is one of those books that are impossible to put down. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina was vividly covered by the media, to the point where one might feel they’ve “seen it all,” but reading only the first few pages of A.D., you’ll realize you haven’t. Neufeld tells the stories of several real life survivors, bringing the reader to New Orleans on those faithful days. Neufeld’s clean art and concise dialogue perfectly compliment each other to tell a truly human story. Most remarkable here, is the pacing. Neufeld builds to the beats and when they hit, they have real resonance and power. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge serves as a reminder of what the medium of comics can be capable of.

Honorable Mention

G.I. Joe: Cobra by Christos Gage, Mike Costa and Antonio Fuso

This is G.I. Joe for adults, as if written by John LaCarre. Cobra, is a hardcore espionage tale that bears little resemblance to the G.I. Joe of our youths. The book follows spy Chuckles, as he attempts to unravel the mysteries of the terrorist organization that will eventually be Cobra. But most of all, it’s a strong character piece and a real page-turner.

Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven

The best mainstream superhero book this year. Millar seemingly throws every insane idea to the wall, and for me, and they all stick, with much credit going to the expert storytelling and art of Steve McNiven. What begins as a nod to Unforgiven, but starring an aged, pacifist Wolverine, takes us through a violent and imaginative take of a future Marvel Universe where the villains long ago defeated the heroes. The gloves are off and the claws are out and more superhero comics should take the risks that Wolverine: Old Man Logan does.

The ACT-I-VATE Primer by Haspiel, Bertozzi, Cavallaro, Fraser, etc.

A handsomely produced anthology by a mixture of top creators and newcomers, all showcasing their creations from the webcomix site in new stories. Just flipping through one can’t help but notice the variety of work and styles contained between it’s well designed covers. If you can’t find something that appeals to you in The ACT-I-VATE Primer, you probably don’t like comics.