Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2011 | Steve Higgins

The tragedies and triumphs of the two lead characters really resonate with its readers to create a powerful thematic exploration of love set against an ever-evolving landscape.






10. Mister Wonderful and The Death-Ray (W / A: Daniel Clowes, Pantheon and Drawn and Quarterly)
These two books by Daniel Clowes saw print before this year in other ways, Mister Wonderful in New York Times Magazine and The Death-Ray as Eightball #23. In the former, some additional material is available in the hardcover collection, but in The Death-Ray nothing has changed from the original edition to this reprint. In the end, it might seem odd that two books full of material that largely saw print before 2011 would be on a best of 2011 list, but if you haven’t read them yet, you should. These books are great character studies and the best works Clowes has done since Ghost World.
9. Vietnamerica (W / A: G.B. Tran; Villard)
A really good book about the author’s parents and their journey to America, and about how he learns gradually to appreciate his history. It can prove difficult to keep certain characters straight sometimes because of the way the narrative jumps between time periods and locations. But the book rewards those who put in the extra effort to understand it.
8. Scalped Vol. 7 and 8 (W: Jason Aaron, A: R.M. Guéra; Vertigo)
If ever a comic cried out to be made into an HBO series, it’s this one. It is as gripping as it ever was, one of the most brilliantly realized crime comics of all time. The good guys are pretty nasty and the bad guys have heart, and in the end everyone is left in the shades of gray between. This series pretty much demands to be read in large chunks, though. I can’t imagine waiting for a month between issues; the suspense would be too unbearable.
7. Anya’s Ghost (W / A: Vera Brosgol; First Second)
This is a wonderful all-ages book about a girl struggling to fit in and how she starts to realize that the life of the popular crowd is not all it’s cracked up to be. Of course, all of that thematic exploration is wrapped up in a supernatural story that takes some pretty interesting twists by the end, and the transition might be a bit jarring for some. But I found however that there was an appropriate balance.
6. One Soul (W / A: Ray Fawkes; Oni)
This book is truly innovative in technique, telling the story of 18 individual lives through two-page spreads of nine panel grids each. The settings of each story range from caveman times to the modern day, but each character shares a common thread in his/her life that unites all the stories into one narrative focusing on what it means to be human. A truly awe-inspiring book worth a read… and then several re-reads.
5. Joe the Barbarian (W: Grant Morrison, A: Sean Murphy; Vertigo)
I’m not a Grant Morrison fan by any means, so for a work of his to end up on my ten best of the year list, it has to be good. Joe the Barbarian is easily my favorite work of his in a number of years, reading like a modern Neverending Story as the main character Joe travels back and forth between his real life and a fantasy world populated by creatures and beings that seem to be shadows born out of reality.
4. Salt Water Taffy Vol. 4 and 5 (W / A: Matthew Loux; Oni)
Salt Water Taffy by Matthew Loux is one of the best all-ages series being published. It’s got something for kids with its youthful protagonists, but the sense of humor in the books really is for the kid in all of us. Each book is also packed with action, usually of the seafaring variety, to make a book that is just plain fun overall. The two volumes published this year tell one coherent story, “Caldera’s Revenge,” featuring a talking squid, a giant killer whale, and a ghost ship. How can you not love that?
3. Batman: The Black Mirror (W: Scott Snyder, A: Jock; DC)
The Black Mirror is a great Batman story that features the return of a supporting character long forgotten in the Batman universe. Jock did a wonderful job with the art, and Scott Snyder put some shocking twists into this story as well.
2. Finder: Voice (W / A: Carla Speed McNeil; Dark Horse)
Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder series is the best science-fiction comic currently published, due to its rich foreign landscape and rounded out characters facing real-life problems, and the most recent installment of the series continues the high level of quality McNeil has established in earlier volumes. The book might be a bit inaccessible to new readers due to its established character interactions, but then why would you want to jump into this series nine books in anyway? Go back and start at the beginning to learn the background of the relationships hinted at in this book. You won’t be disappointed.
1. Habibi (W / A: Craig Thompson; Pantheon)
Habibi is a richly layered story with stunning artwork and amazing character development. The tragedies and triumphs of the two lead characters really resonate with its readers to create a powerful thematic exploration of love set against an ever-evolving landscape. Is it Thompson’s best work? No, very few works could quite reach the level of Blankets, but that doesn’t mean Habibi isn’t an awesome book in its own right. | Steve Higgins


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