Graphic Novels | Steve Higgins

incognegro-header.jpg1. Incognegro



Just as with my list of the ten best comics of 2008, I threw objectivity out the window here and chose to list the works I felt were best and resonated with me most. Therefore, this list should be taken with a grain of salt, as it is wholly subjective and consists entirely of books I would call my favorites rather than the "best" of the year.



1. Incognegro (DC/Vertigo)

(W: Mat Johnson; A: Warren Pleece)

When I reviewed this graphic novel back in May, I said then that the book was "an insightful look at the themes of identity and prejudice wrapped within a gripping story of murder and wrongful accusation," and I stand by that statement now. I also said then that it was easily one of the best graphic novels of 2008 to date, and for me it turned out that it was indeed the best of the best.



2. Too Cool to be Forgotten (Top Shelf)

(W / A: Alex Robinson)

Alex Robinson’s last book, Tricked, was my favorite graphic novel the year it was released, so I’m naturally a bit biased towards him. But this book, which focuses on a man who is given the chance to relive his high school years thanks to a hypnosis session gone wrong, deserves its spot on my list. It is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, and I’m not ashamed to admit that the book had me on the verge of tears by the end. It’s also incredibly funny too in its look back at the angst of youth through the lens of adulthood.



3. Berlin: City of Smoke (Drawn and Quarterly)

(W / A: Jason Lutes)

In my book Jason Lutes can do no wrong, and this second volume of his opus Berlin proves that statement to be fact. Berlin seamlessly mixes fact with fiction in its look at Germany in 1930, and the meticulous research Lutes has done can be seen in every line of the expansive cityscapes he recreates. It is amazing to think the first pages collected in this graphic novel were done in 2002, for there is no change in style and the characters resonate as real throughout.



4. Burma Chronicles (Drawn and Quarterly)

(W / A: Guy Delisle)

Delisle’s past travelogues Shenzhen and Pyongyang were both insightful analyses of cultures foreign to most of his readers, and he continues his tradition of enlightening the west on the ways of the east in this new book as well. It’s got great respect for the people and culture of Burma while at the same time throwing in a dose of comedy as well.



5. Tonoharu (Top Shelf/Pliant Press)

(W / A: Lars Martinson)

The framework of this story is such that it begins with the main character leaving his job as an assistant English teacher in Japan and moving back home. Then we are instantly thrown into a flashback in which we start with his first day on the job. It’s an interesting way of getting the readers involved in the story, because we want to see how things progressed to the point where they ended up. Tonoharu then is a book that makes you want more, and I cannot wait for the next installment.



6. Flight Vol. 5 (Villard)

(W / A: various, ed. Kazu Kibuishi)

The premier comics anthology did not lose steam with its latest installment. Every story is delightful and it still maintains its all-ages appeal even if a few of the stories here skew toward adult subject matter. There is nothing more to say about it than it is delightful.



7. Jamilti and Other Stories (Drawn and Quarterly)

(W / A: Rutu Modan)

Modan’s Exit Wounds deserved to be near the top of my top ten list last year, but I overlooked it. To make up for that oversight, I include the "new" book by Modan (actually a collection of short stories from the artist’s early days) on the list this year. The book illustrates very well Modan’s growth as a storyteller and as an artist, and many of the stories in this book stand on their own as fantastic works.



8. Midnight Sun (SLG Publishing)

(W / A: Ben Towle)

Technically this book was published in December of 2007, but since I reviewed it during 2008, I’m putting it on my list this year anyway. It’s a great piece of historical fiction, adeptly weaving factual details around characters that the reader can identify with. Its artwork is also absolutely stunning in its seeming simplicity.



9. The New York Four (DC/Minx)

(W: Brian Wood; A: Ryan Kelly)

It’s a sad thing that DC shut down the Minx line, because almost every book the line produced was absolutely great. The New York Four was one of the best efforts of this publishing branch in 2008, featuring the fantastic writing of Brian Wood and the beautiful line work of Ryan Kelly. (These two creators had previously paired up on Oni’s delightful book Local, which is also worth seeking out as it was finally collected in hardcover this year).



10. The Alcoholic (DC/Vertigo)

(W: Jonathan Ames; A: Dean Haspiel)

Vertigo has released a few different autobiographical graphic novels in hardcover in the past two or three years, to varying degrees of success, but this one is the cream of the crop. Ames is obviously a master storyteller, and his sense of humor has been translated well into the comic medium with the able help of Dean Haspiel.

As for the worst graphic novels I read this year, there are two that stand out. One of these I reviewed for Playback back in September, Funeral of the Heart by Leah Hayes. I was very even-handed in my review of it at that time, because I wanted to maintain my objectivity. Thus I did not say what I really felt about it, which is that it is a truly awful and pointless bit of pretentious crap that has so little artwork in it that it should never have been published as a graphic novel.

The other work that stands out as the worst GN I came across this year is American Widow. I have not reviewed it yet for the site, and in fact I have been supposed to review it for several months now. It has proven a very difficult book to write about critically given that I have such a strong emotional resentment towards it, but the review is finally nearly complete and you can keep your eye on the front page of the website for its imminent publication. | Steve Higgins



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