Best Comics of 2006

December 28, 2007

I am a columnist for The Comics Journal, the oft-cranky, oft-praised magazine of record for comics criticism. My Best of 2007 will appear in an early 2008 issue, thanks to the vagaries of print publishing.

So I figured I’d share my best from the last year, originally published in the March 2007 TCJ.

What a great year. For the first time I can recall, keeping up with the best North American comics seems daunting, and I gladly welcome the challenge. Reprints of classic and rediscovered work, whether Popeye or Art Out of Time, could fill this list, so I’ve omitted them in favor of new work and collections, with one important exception. So, my favorites:

TRAVEL by Yuiichi YokoyamaMy choice for best manga. To the shame of US publishers, this mostly wordless book is out in just Japan and France. You’re missing out: Yokoyama’s a singularly fascinating artist, and his abstract parodies of the near future would stand out in any country, not just for his stylish sense of design. (2007 Update: Thanks, Picturebox.)

NINJA by Brian Chippendale
Chippendale’s inane premise (“Ninja!”) is underscored by the fact that he includes pages of his childhood comics. Rather than an annoying self-indulgence, it shows how he delves into the fundamentals of fantasy and creation even as he reinvents comics, both with innovative storytelling and remarkable drawing.

ASTHMA by John Hankiewicz
I’m torn between Hankiewicz’s clammy, despairing vision of America and his contemporary Kevin Huizenga’s welcoming, equally American inquiry into suburban philosophy in Curses and Or Else #4. I’ll let Asthma’s disturbing core of mystery tip the scales. He’s been at it so long, so unrelentingly, that he deserves praise for mining it without pause.

KRAMERS ERGOT 6 edited by Sammy Harkham
Harkham continues his work as an editor, transcending the limitations of the traditional anthology in favor of mapping out the future of comics. Even with my reservations about certain pieces, it works as a whole with earlier Kramers, continuing the most exciting body of collective work since RAW.

And in a great year for imports, the best of them all must be the first American edition of Lat’s timeless classic. While Ode to Kirihito and the Yoshihiro Tatsumi collections fill gaping holes, they’re also time capsules. Somehow, Kampung Boy seems more important now than ten or twenty-five years ago, and Lat’s artistic reach stretches as far as the elegant simplicity of his line. He’ll be read when many others have been forgotten.

And one other work, singled out:

In making his spare travel memoir of going to Michigan and France with his fiancée and then watching her go to the grave alone, Nilsen has shown great courage, but that’s not why I single it deserves special mention. Rather, it’s because he’s taken the leftovers of a life together—photos, letters, a comic or two—and arranged them with the sensibility of a comics artist, using all the means of our medium, from drawing to the gaps between images. And the gaps are many, but easily filled with our own experiences and emotions. So this book is both particular and universal; having read it, I do not feel like I know him, but I think I know something of his loss. At least, I can see my own losses. And by commemorating what he lost through this work, he’s made something that is fundamentally art, if not always “comics,” as though that matters. It’s a book that can help you live.

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