best of 2009
It was one of the best comics you never read last year. Available only in Robin Bougie’s extreme-smut anthology Sleazy Slice #3 (link is NSFW) or as a minicomic with a wrinkled and grease-stained brown paper bag for a cover and the title hand-scrawled on it in pencil, cartoonist Josh Simmons’s horror opus Cockbone nevertheless came in at #53 on Comic Book Resources’ list of the best comics of 2009. Many critics –Tom Spurgeon, Joe “Jog the Blog” McCulloch, Tucker Stone, yours truly — ranked it even higher. Once read, this story of a simple-minded oaf, the grotesque family that exploits him, and the horrifying fate that awaits them all was simply impossible to shake.
And now — for our sins — Simmons has posted Cockbone online in its entirety. Please note: This is perhaps the most disturbing comic I have ever read, and it’s way, way beyond NOT SAFE FOR WORK. I’m serious — this nightmarish cocktail of sexual violence and depravity will upset you. Badly. But if you think you can take it, you’ll find that it takes the themes and imagery Simmons has been developing in his more accessible horror work — his stories in Mome and Kramers Ergot, his graphic novels House and Jessica Farm — and takes them to a masterful, unforgettable extreme. Just remember: You’ve been warned.
I’d say “better late than never,” but in my experience, like Gandalf, The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon is never late, nor is he early — he posts his Best Comics of 2009 list precisely when he means to. And it’s a good one, divided into sections on reprints, overlooked gems, books about comics, and your basic best books of the year. Joe Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza, R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated, and Al Columbia’s Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days comprise his top three.
I come away from the list thinking two things. First, from about his #7 choice up to Number One, that’s a pretty brain-crushing line-up of major works; it’s not difficult to picture a stretch of five years not yielding that kind of harvest. I mean, Josh Cotter’s astonishing Driven by Lemons ranks only at #15 — I ranked that book a lot higher on my own list, but that you can make reasonable arguments for that kind of placement given what else is out there speaks to the richness of the field right now.
Second and relatedly, Spurge wraps things up with a few paragraphs on books that didn’t make the cut for whatever reason, one of them being simply not remembering them all. “It’s a fantastic time for an art form when you can just forget about some of its quality works,” he says, and I would agree.
The hive mind has spoken! Taking a page from retired comics blogger Dick Hyacinth, Sandy Bilus has compiled a “meta-list” of the 100 Best Comics of 2009. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli took the top spot by a landslide, followed by Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke, George Sprott by Seth, Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka by Naoki Urasawa, and A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi.
The list was drawn from fully 130 individual best-of lists — including those of Comic Book Resources and Robot 6, independent bloggers, online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, media outlets like NPR, USA Today and Publishers Weekly. Each selection on the individual lists was assigned points through a system devised by Chad Nevett that Bilus explains at length. The point totals were tabulated, and voila — a picture of collective comics criticism conventional wisdom.
Click here to see the whole list, as well as to read Bilus’s breakdowns of how various kinds of comics — superheroes, manga, ongoing series, non-fiction, anthologies, reprints, webcomics and more — all fared.
One quick thought of my own: I wonder if all the punditry we’ve seen recently to the effect that superhero comics weren’t gettin’ it done for many critics this year helps to explain the higher-than-ever rankings of manga on the meta-list. I mean, I’m not sure if A Drifting Life is necessarily the next logical step for folks who aren’t enjoying Dark Reign or Blackest Night, but Pluto, aka “Watchmen for Astro Boy”? That makes some sense. Plus, in any given year, a limited number of manga titles break wide among the comics blogosphere — see whatever I’m reading for the conventional wisdom about manga in action, yeah, I admit it. So for critics looking for something interesting from the East, it’s usually pretty easy to find worthwhile titles, since they’re the kinds of titles other critics will be talking about.
Anyway, enough of my yappin’ — go read! There’s enough to chew on to last till next year’s meta-list.
Did the year we just left behind fail comics fans? That’s been arguably the hottest topic among comics bloggers and critics over the past month or so. Faced with the task of assembling their thoughts about the best and worst the medium brought us in the final year of the millennium’s first decade, a great many writers say that something just wasn’t right with what they read. Others, however, say the fault may not lie with comics overall, but just with the comics the first group was reading. And ground zero for the debate is the Savage Critic(s) group blog (to which I am an all too occasional contributor).
Perhaps the strongest — and certainly the strangest — articulation of the “something went wrong in ’09″ point of view was made by the inimitable critic Abhay Khosla. In a piece titled “So, Why Do Nerdy Things Work?”, Khosla took an essay ostensibly concluding a series on the pros and cons of John Rogers’s <i>Blue Beetle</i> run and used it as a springboard for discussing the year of his discontent. He kicked it off by assembling a round-up of similar skepticism:
I wasn’t very happy in 2009 anyways.
Apparently, I’m not completely alone: Messrs. Tim Callahan (“something’s missing”), Chad Nevett (“I think people are just tired… I can’t really defend things.”), David Brothers (“I’m bored to death”), Dr. Geoff Klock(“It’s diminishing returns… it is time to stop showing up on Wednesdays…”), Alan David Doane (“I have to admit that I have not been reading a lot of comic books lately”), and well… me in my last essay, according to some of you (“I’m pretty sure whoever wrote this comic is the Green River Killer, guys. I’ve been spending time in the crime lab, and I think I just cracked this mother wide open.”).
How did you spend your New Year’s holiday weekend? Gorging on football? Partying with family and friends? Sleeping off a wicked hangover? We here at Robot 6 celebrated in our own special way. You see, while January 1st marked the start of a new year and a new decade, January 2nd was our first anniversary. And thanks to all our friends in the comics industry — not to mention Comic Book Resources head honcho Jonah Weiland, who handed us the reins to the CBR homepage on Saturday — we rang it in in style.
Just in case you were out gallivanting for the last few days, here’s a round-up of all the fresh content we posted during the long holiday weekend. Consider it our way of saying thank you to you, the Robot 6 readers, without whom none of this would be possible!
* In a two-part series, we crowned The 30 Most Important Comics of the Decade. Here’s part one; here’s part two. The list includes superheroes, manga, webcomics, classics, alternative comics, Eurocomics, autobio, political cartoons — the whole gamut of our art form in this momentous decade. And judging from our Robot-to-Robot transmissions, these are the R6 crew’s favorite posts in a long long time. Click to see what made the cut and why.
I’m not sure whether the quality of art and design has gotten better or if I’m simply growing softer in my old age — let’s go with the former — but what last year was a list of 25 has doubled this year.
The 50 best covers represent the work of 42 different artists (plus designers), from 15 publishers. Brian Bolland, John Cassaday, Marko Djurdjevic, Dave Johnson, Dustin Nguyen and Skottie Young all make multiple appearances.
I don’t know that there’s a recurring theme to this year’s entries. However, blood appears on a dozen covers, skeletons on four and vampires on three, so make of that what you will.
As with the 2008 edition, I’ve tried to the best of my ability to explain what makes the cover so successful, at least in my eyes. With some entries I succeed while with others … well, judge for yourselves.
With that out of the way, I present, in alphabetical order, the 50 best covers of 2009:
It’s probably not a shock that the first few days of January brings a lot of looking back over the year before. Of course, the fans with their comic blogs are doing it too.
Anj of the Comic Box Commentary gives us a very Supergirl-centric look at his favorite moments over the past year:
So when I was reading Cosmic Adventures #6 and saw the hand emerging from that swirl, I knew just what Landry Walker and Eric Jones were referencing. I knew this was ‘the hand that Krona saw’, the hand of creation. And then we see that the hand belongs to Supergirl!! It was the best mix of DC history and Supergirl that this DC history/Supergirl fan could ask for. Perfect! Readers who don’t know the Krona connection probably did not get as big a bang for this scene as I did. But I had a silly grin on my face for a while after reading it.
Happy New Year, everyone! Typically the first day of the new year is a time for reflection, for looking forward and looking back. And you might think that I would be tempted to do that very thing, especially since we just wrapped up our first full year here at Robot 6.
But I’m not gonna do that. Y’see, Robot 6 officially kicked off on Jan. 2, 2009. And tomorrow we plan to celebrate our first anniversary by bringing you a lot of really, really cool stuff — interviews, exclusive previews, countdowns and much more — as we take over the home page of Comic Book Resources for the day. It should be a lot of fun, so be sure to stop by in between football games and TV marathons.
In the meantime, after the jump you’ll find some links to other bloggers looking at 2009 and 2010. Enjoy, and we’ll be back in full force tomorrow. See you then!
As you’ll see when you get to my section, it’s really a battle for me to narrow down my favorite comics of the year to just a few stand-outs. I do have to admit, though, that it’s been kind of fun over the last few days to revisit what came out over the past year, maybe pick some of them up again, and figure out what it was about the story or art or whatever that appealed to me when I first read it.
And the great thing about these kind of topics is that while I’ve been blogging with several of the folks here at Robot 6 for a number of years now, I always tend to find something surprising or that wasn’t even on my radar when I read their lists. For instance, I really need to check out this Pluto book.
So, without further ado, here are our favorite books of 2009, as detailed by several contributors to Robot 6. If we missed something good, please point it out in our comments section … I’ve still got a gift card to spend at Amazon.
In (mostly) alphabetical order…
Agents Of Atlas (written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by various artists) was sort-of canceled in 2009, but it will live on in various miniseries and backup features. In fact, the more I look at Marvel in 2010, the more I am convinced that AOA will be bigger than ever. This can’t help but be a good thing, because AOA in 2009 continued successfully to mix 21st-century world-weariness with jet-age optimism. Although steeped in Marvel history, you didn’t need Wikipedia to appreciate the characters, and the book’s bullpen of artists (including Carlo Pagulayan and Gabriel Hardman) gave it looks which were both distinctive and complementary.
Speaking of distinctive looks, June’s big Batman relaunch produced a couple of titles which stood out from virtually everything else on the superhero stands: Batman And Robin (written by Grant Morrison, drawn initially by Frank Quitely) and Detective Comics (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by J.H. Williams III and Cully Hamner). Under Morrison and Quitely, B&R set the tone for a next-gen, post-grit Dynamic Duo, where Batman was the happy warrior and Robin the tormented avenger. Quitely especially broke everything down into finely-choreographed sequences and sleek, effective designs. Meanwhile, Williams turned ’Tec’s “Batwoman” lead into a masterclass on storytelling styles, switching from one to another like a composer manipulating motifs. Moreover, Rucka’s scripts met the challenge of introducing a new Bat-headliner, with 2006′s fading hype adding a degree of difficulty. The “new” Batwoman has earned her spot in the starting lineup, and Rucka and Hamner’s solid “Question” co-feature makes DC’s namesake book one of its best.
Are you like LL Cool J in that you can’t live without your radio — but nor can you live without your comics? I know the feeling. That’s why I was so excited to be a part of the annual best-of episode of Inkstuds, the venerable comics podcast hosted by Robin McConnell. My fellow Robot 6-er Chris Mautner and I were joined by Comics Comics’ Tim Hodler to discuss Asterios Polyp, George Sprott, 20th Century Boys, Pluto, You Are There, You’ll Never Know, Multiforce, and The Photographer, and we even found the time to debate whether or not we’re in a comics Golden Age. Give it a listen!
Book-trade magazine Publishers Weekly is among the first outlets out of the gate with a Best of 2009 list.
In addition to David Small’s National Book Award-nominated memoir Stitches, announced last week as one of the magazine’s Top 10 books of the year, the PW list includes a comics category:
• Parker: The Hunter, by Darwyn Cooke and Richard Starking (IDW Publishing)
• Driven by Lemons, by Josh Cotter (AdHouse Books)
• Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou, and Alecos Papdatos and Annie Di Donna (Bloomsbury)
• The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders, by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefèvre (First Second)
• Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzucchelli (Pantheon)
• Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe, by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni Press)
• Footnotes in Gaza, by Joe Sacco (Metropolitan)
• A Drifting Life, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly)
• You’ll Never Know: A Good and Decent Man, by Carol Tyler (Fantagraphics)
• Pluto, by Naoki Urasawa (Viz Media)