What a year 2012 was for comics. It became readily apparent as we were prepping these lists that yeah, this was one hell of a year, and it was impressive if only because the incredible diversity. We saw more titles showing up in all of the categories than ever before, which just speaks to the breadth of genres and types of comics everyone can experience if they just look in the right places these days.
Today, we’re looking at the best in the world of graphic novels. For this category, they’re all original books created for long-form storytelling. You know, the way GN’s are supposed to be. Check out our list below, and let us know your favorites of the year in the comments.
5 (tie). The Hive
Why it ranks (Mike Romeo): In his latest work, The Hive, cartoonist Charles Burns approaches the passage of time like a gunshot echoing through the woods. At it’s root the sound is crisp, loud and shocking, but as time passes it rapidly becomes distorted and soft, ultimately unrecognizable. The book follows Doug, or you can call him Nit Nit, through various developmental stages of his life. Meeting his first true love, finding his voice though performance art, losing the love, and the woman who comes next. We’re also shown Doug making the same mistakes his father made and later died regretting. As the story unfolds Doug’s life is presented to us in three distinct narratives: the real world, a dream world rich with symbolism, and in the pages of 1950’s DC romance comics (the first installment of this series, X’ed Out, used Tin Tin in place of romance comics.) Burns gives us chunks of story non-sequentially, leaving huge holes in time that are filled with nagging questions. He knows it, too. One of our main characters voices her frustration with missing two issues of a comic series, the gap leaving characters broken without explanation as to why. When you combine the story’s fractured timeline with it’s bizzare dream sequences and masterful cartooning, you’re left with a creepy, Hitchcockian voyage through some of the best work of Burns’ career. This book is a must read.
5 (tie). League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume III: Century: 2009
Why it ranks (Matt Meylikhov): Whenever Moore puts out a new edition of his seminal series with O’Neill, it’s always an event to be celebrated – and the finale of the third volume is certainly no exception. Pulling together the Century story in a way too awesome to even attempt to discuss appropriately within the confines of a paragraph in a Year In Review article, it should not be a surprise that two fantastic talents who have proven time and time again to work well together would end their latest story with so much more than a bang. Perhaps it’s that the story taking place in 2009 made it easier for so many current readers to pick up on the references, but there was definitely something in this particular book that resonated stronger with its audience — and as the Century ended and the final page was turned, it proved one single thing — no matter what RandomCommentGuy37 says in some throwaway remark under another article attempting to shame Moore’s opinion on modern comics, the man still knows excellent storytelling, and with O’Neill at his side can essentially do no wrong.
4. A Tale of Sand
Why it ranks (Brian Salvatore): As a huge fan of just about everything Jim Henson, “Tale of Sand” was one of those projects I thought I’d never see materialized. But much to my amazement and satisfaction, Archaia released an absolutely amazing graphic novel of Henson’s unmade screenplay, illustrated by the amazing Ramon Perez. The surrealistic tale of a man set off on a journey he has no clue about has fun with movie cliches, heat-stroke induced hallucinations, the trademark Henson humor, and some disturbing, and, at times even erotic, imagery. Not at all a traditional screenplay gets a not at all traditional adaptation.
3. Wild Children
Why it ranks (Nathaniel Perkins): A group of anarchistic high school students take over their high school with guns, bombs and LSD, and broadcast the entire event live on the internet. If that was all there was to it, it’d still be an interesting book, but “Wild Children” by Ales Kot and Riley Rossmo is something much bigger than that. Not content with telling an excellent story, they launch in to a mind-blowing assault on our preconceived notions of what comics are, and the result is so profound it’s hard to believe it’s only 64 pages long. “Wild Children” is a story that knows it’s a comic (it even makes a cameo appearance within itself). The guns aren’t real, the acid is just a placebo, and the bomb was never meant to go off–but the effects it has on our mind is more explosive than the bombs ever could have been. “Wild Children” isn’t just a book, it’s an experience that every fan of the comics medium needs to have.
2. Building Stories
Why it ranks (Vince Ostrowski): Much has been made of the design of Chris Ware’s latest comic book storytelling venture. Over a dozen separate pieces of varying sizes come inside a box that tell stories about adult life. The variety of the reading material serves as a comment on the nature of your day-to-day exploits. These are not unbelievable tales of fantasy, mystery, or science. This is a box full of life. And life can be tragic, life can be funny, life can be sad, and life can be oh so mundane. All of that is present here, and that content actually manages to overshadow its one-of-a-kind structure. With his familiar and simple cartooning and a script that possesses quiet, almost muted brilliance with regard to growing up, growing old, and telling stories, Ware accomplishes more than most of the flashiest comic books on the stands could.
Chris Ware’s “Building Stories” isn’t just a graphic novel. It’s a comic book care package. Give this to someone you love, who isn’t completely afraid of sequential art, and enjoy watching them explore that package for the first time.
1. Underwater Welder
Why it ranks (Brandon Burpee): Jeff Lemire’s story of a father struggling to deal with his inadequacies as a result of his own lack of fatherly consistency is something to behold. The way the main character lives so deeply in the past is so understandable to an extent as a parent and knowing that you’ve reached a new stage of life and nothing will ever be the same. While this takes it to the extreme of this feeling it still resonates as real. It feels so relatable even if you aren’t a parent. It’s just plain and simply well written. This is all without mentioning Lemire’s art which is at peak performance.The art shines when it needs to and feels dark, unknown and restricting in it’s physical portrayal of a very emotional dissection. For me this is quite possibly the best thing I read in comics in 2012.