We'll kick things off with graphic novels, and then cover the rest of comicdom in Part 2. Let's go!
(Because that's really hard to do)
WILSON by Daniel Clowes
I was so excited about this one that I pre-ordered it so far in advance that by the time it arrived on my doorstep, I'd forgotten all about it. I read it that night and haven't forgotten about it since. This book just fires on all cylinders. Amazing art (each page rendered in a rotating variety of styles), a good story (each page functioning as a stand alone comic strip while adding to a larger, cohesive narrative), and possibly the most fascinating misanthrope Clowes has ever penned (think Larry David, only replace all the success with desperation). Possibly his funniest and best looking book yet. And that's saying something.
THE OUTFIT by Darwyn Cooke
Watching Darywn Cooke adapt Richard Starks' Parker novels goes beyond the realm of good comics. Cooke is a master and this feels like the story he was born to draw. And he's actually stripped his work of many of the qualities that made me fall in love with his stuff in the first place. Yet somehow, it's even better now. Spare, visceral, and just plain badass. Much like Parker himself. Not a line goes to waste and every element works in service to the story. Which, if I haven't already mentioned, is amazing. If you're looking for a good heist, then brace yourself because this one has like, five. At least.
AFRODISIAC by Brian Maruca & Jim Rugg
I'm not exactly an expert when it comes to Blaxpoloitation movies or Bronze Age comics, but I'm familiar enough with their respective aesthetics that I was able to get what Afrodisiac was all about. And even if I wasn't, I don't think I would have had any problem getting on board with this one. First of all, it's hilarious. Second of all, the art is mind blowing. Finally, the structure of the book is kind of amazing. Rather than one long story, the narrative is told through a scrapbook of sorts. Afrodisiac is treated as a character that's somehow existed for decades, and this book is a collection of the only remnants that are still around. Visually it works because Rugg has an immense visual vocabulary and the equally impressive skills to pull off a variety of homages. In terms of storytelling, I was impressed with how we got a slightly different Afrodisiac with every turn, yet the core of the character stayed intact. Sometimes the humor is silly, sometimes it's political, and most of the time it's just plain dirty. There's something about the ending that I really liked that I can't quite put my finger on, but it gave the book some added depth and cohesion for me.
DUNCAN THE WONDER DOG by Adam Hines
Stop me if you've heard this one before: What if animals could talk? Yeah, I thought I'd heard that one before, too. Then, on something of a hunch, I picked up Duncan the Wonder Dog. I didn't really know what to expect, but I sure as hell wasn't expecting this. Hines doesn't just give animals speech. He gives them hopes, fears, philosophies, and even their own terrorist organization. And that last one serves as sort of the driving force of the main storyline, I think... But then again maybe not. It's a difficult book to describe. One minute you're reading a perfectly straight forward police procedural, the next minute you're flashing over to a seemingly unrelated scene with two chimpanzees talking about the sun burning out someday, followed immediately by a mixed media assault on the senses that, besides being gorgeous, I couldn't really tell you what purpose it serves. The story isn't linear, I'll put it that way. It might not even be circular. It's probably some shape that humans can't even see. Perhaps I'll go ask a duck. Anyway - definitely the most ambitious and challenging graphic novel I read all year, and one I'd highly recommend to anyone curious to see what the medium can do when it really flexes its muscles.
REVOLVER by Matt Kindt
The premise feels like something you might encounter in the Twilight Zone. At night a run of the mill loser living a run of the mill existence goes to bed, and wakes up in an apocalyptic nightmare version of the world. Same place, same people, but completely different circumstances. Circumstances so profound in their fucked-upedness, that they serve as just the kick in the pants he needs to stop being such a schmuck. He becomes more courageous, decisive, and everything else he's not in the real world. And next thing you know, he starts to prefer the nightmare. Some fantastic artwork from Kindt as always, and some great ideas that perhaps would have benefited from a little fleshing out. I left wanting more, but sometimes that's a good thing.
And there you have it. My (Sort of) Top 5 Graphic Novels of 2010. And that's just the tip of the iceberg! Well, more like the top half of the iceberg, really. What I'm trying to say here is that there's more iceberg. Stay tuned for Part 2!