Best of 2007, part II (Nov & Dec)

January 8, 2008

My list of the Best Five Comics of 2007 should be at the printer for issue 288 of TCJ. I sent it off in October, but proceeded to play catch up in the interim. Looking at other lists online– especially Time‘s, which seems to have been compiled by algorithm– I rather like mine (cough cough). But I am reminded that I read some fantastic books only after the deadline passed.Had I written at year’s end, I would change not a thing about the five I selected. Except perhaps lobbying for a Best Ten, which might also contain:

Acme Novelty Datebook Volume Two
In the article, I take an unfair swipe at Ware’s stunning comics because I’m used to their stunnings. But his sketchbooks stun differently, like downed power line to his comics’ Taser. He draws as well as Crumb, simply put.

Pan-Ray by Panayiotis Terzis & Raymond Sohn
Thanks, Frank Santoro. I got lucky through Printed Matter when everyone else had sold out. A gorgeous book of stunning prints, Santoro explains well how it works as comics. Cartoony icons make narrative just by showing up.

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan
AYA by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie

Persepolis, while quite remarkable, would have been hailed a masterpiece in the West regardless because a woman from Iran drew it. “I thought Iranian women were all locked up. What? They have movies, too? Can they do that?” So it goes when art confounds our media-fed prejudices. We like it even more when the cheap knowledge we get from such art gives us an air of authority at cocktail parties.

Both these books put the lie to all that. Their authors’ homes have seen war, but they know abstraction is dangerous, just like politics. Aya, for its part, defiantly shows normal people living normal lives. It contradicts the West’s standard media image of Africa: NGO porn, nameless Africans as props in a generic refugee story. Instead, Abouet offers a rich milieu with funny, endearing youths getting themselves into trouble with their parents. Some are smart, some fools, underscored by Oubrerie’s art. He draws them using both outright cartooning for the goofs and subtler caricature for the more complex. The story of randy youth could take place anywhere, except that it doesn’t. This is Côte d’Ivoire before things fell apart. The details show us why we could love it like Abouet does. Had my own teenage indiscretions likewise unfolded on a table under the stars, then I am sure I would, and fight to preserve it as she has done here.

Likewise, Exit Wounds tells of a few shaky relationships, keeping its country’s shaky politics visible in the background. The story digs into two young people looking for one’s father, who is the other’s boyfriend. It is never predictable and always keenly observed. Impressive as a character piece, it surprises as a work by an Actus Tragicus artist. That Israeli collective made its name with formal play, but Modan’s tells the story straight. Her use of color, both visually vibrant and narratively subtle, marks a level of technical achievement rarely seen in the mostly monochrome world of art comics. I do wonder if the characters ultimately made a rash decision, but a happy ending is knowing when to stop. (The book design is great, too.)

After reading both books, I don’t really know much about Israel or Côte d’Ivoire. But since they’re about life touched by politics, not politics overwhelming life, I do feel a sense of connection to their people. Cheap knowledge, maybe, but not cheapened.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Beautiful, touching, can’t overstate it. Look for my full review in TCJ.

Were the pound not murdering the dollar, I expect Posey Simmonds’ latest would appear too. Is anyone out there paying in Euros?

Finally, had I broken my rule of not including reprints, Storeyville would have been at the top. James Sturm’s America, as “The Revival” looks better than ever. And maybe I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets, if I’d actually seen the thing. I love Hanks, but some cat at the library’s always faster than me. Gotta place a “hold.”

And manga? Well…

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