Best of ’06
It seems every comics-related site or blog is checking in with their “Best of 2006” lists. Not to be left out of the fun, here is mine, slipping in right under the buzzer (depending on your location on the planet).
My list takes a bit of a different angle, though. While the quality of the story and art, as well as entertainment value, are certainly taken into consideration, I’m approaching this with an eye toward historic significance. The list includes entries that made a significant impact on the industry or the art form for the past year. I’m sure there’s something really obvious that I missed. And I’ll be kicking myself for it. But here it is…my Top 5 list of 2006. Let me know what you think.
1. 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon (Hill & Wang) – Over-looked by a surprising number of industry observers, this publication significantly moved comics back into the realm of serious potential. A graphic adaptation of The 9/11 Report was an inspired idea, and the execution proved how effective the sequential medium can be at communicating a lot of information without losing the data.
2. Lost Girls by Allan Moore and Melinda Gebbie (Top Shelf) – One of the industry’s best writers and a highly underrated illustrator finally released their adult look at fantasy literature and sexual discovery. This trilogy works on several levels. It’s a fascinating exploration of moving out of childhood. But the book will probably be most remembered for the controversy it generated… and didn’t generate. A debate over how the rights of Peter Pan, owned by a children’s hospital, put publisher Top Shelf in an awkward position. But fears of nation-wide bannings never manifested. Perhaps freedom of speech still exists…
3. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin) – And yet, sometimes it doesn’t. This graphic memoir by cartoonist Bechdel, previously best known for the long-running comic strip “Dykes To Watch Out For,” was barely noticed at the time of its release until a local library in Marshall, Missouri, received demands from a resident to ban the book along with the celebrated graphic novel Blankets by Craig Thompson, originally released in 2003. The library’s board elected to form a board to review material, and removing the books from the library until the process is complete. Fun House then finished the year winning a nearly unprecedented number of accolades from Time (best book of the year), Entertainment Weekly (best non-fiction book of the year), Publisher’s Weekly (best comic of the year), New York Times, Salon, and others. It’s just too bad residents of Marshall aren’t able to check the book out through their local library.
4. Mouse Guard by David Petersen (Archaia) – The surprise small press hit of the year was easily this lushly illustrated and charming narrative. The quality of the book has been trumpeted elsewhere, and that is without question. But there’s an aspect of the single issues that makes it stand out further. The dimensions of the book break the traditional 6 1/2″ x 10″ that the vast majority of comic books have been printed at for decades. Printed as an 8″ x 8″ square, it alters the reader’s experience of the story and Peterson’s paneling choices. Like 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, the book attempts to expand what can be expected from comics, and at the same time expanding what they can accomplish.
5. Fell by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith (Image) – The comic industry was expanded in yet another way in 2006. British writer Warren Ellis directed his resources from the success of past comics to create an affordable and entertaining comic book series. The majority of modern comic book issues consist of about 22 pages of story and art for $2.99 with about 10 pages of ads, letter pages, and editorial content. Each page of story typically has anywhere from one to six panels of art. Typically each issue is one part of a four- to six-part story. Fell breaks that model by creating a comic book with 16 pages of story and art for $1.99 with six pages of “back matter” by Ellis and no ads. The story pages use a seldom used 9-panel grid layout to make up for the lesser page count. Each story is self-contained. The “back matter” consists of Ellis’ notes, commentary, and other content reminiscent of DVD extra content. The moody story, expertly illustrated by Ben Templesmith, has an episodic feel that seems to make it a natural for a television adaptation. And yet, it is uniquely a story most effective in the comic book form. And best of all, it’s attempting to make comics affordable again. It’s proven to be a success, with another Image Comics series, Casanova by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba, in the same format.
Castle Waiting by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)
Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly)
Abadazad: The Road to Inconceivable by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog (Hyperion)
Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon (Vertigo/DC)
The Other Side by Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart (Vertigo/DC)