The first Online Commentary & Diversions post of the year might very well end up being the longest:
• List: Humorist and television personality John Hodgman, asked to name his 5 favorite comics in an open Q&A session on his Tumblr blog, says "Love and Rockets: I don’t like to choose between brothers, but Jaime Hernandez is one of the greatest drawers of human faces and human want on the planet."
• List:Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man by Carl Barks is #39 on The A.V. Club 's list of "most anticipated entertainments of 2012": "Only a Poor Old Man will bring Scrooge McDuck, possibly Barks’ greatest creation, into the spotlight. The bespectacled miser will dive around in his money bin and burrow through it like a gopher, and his timeless adventures will get the treatment they deserve."
• List: Tucker Stone, whose Best of 2011 previously appeared at comiXology, presents a slightly modified list for Flavorwire's "10 of the Year's Most Buzzed-About Comic Releases":
"Last year’s Love and Rockets was a huge deal, but this year’s installment is arguably even better.... Comics has yet to provide Love and Rockets with anything approximating 'competition,' but it doesn’t appear that the Hernandez brothers have any reason to be concerned about that quite yet. They’re still way better at this than everybody else on the planet."
"The big thing this year was watching all the great young cartoonists of the early 2000s carving out their places in the pantheon. Huizenga’s a perfect example — he’s been regularly turning out excellent comics for years now, and yet Ganges #4 still reads like a revelation.... It’s a fascinating experience reading these comics, and they’re gorgeous to boot."
"The continuing adventures of Johnny Ryan’s most violent fantasies run amuck, [Prison Pit] is rapidly becoming the comic that I look forward to the way a fat kid looks forward to syrup-encrusted cake. There’s no getting around the hoary old cliche — 'these aren’t for everybody' — so God help you if you can’t figure out a way to enjoy these books."
• List: The prolific Sean T. Collins, after having contributed to CBR's Top 100, runs down his personal 20 Best Comics of 2011 on his Attentiondeficitdisorderly blog AND at Robot 6, withGanges #4 by Kevin Huizenga at #15...
"Huizenga wrings a second great book out of his everyman character’s insomnia. It’s quite simple how, really: He makes comics about things you’d never thought comics could be about, by doing things you never thought comics could do to show you them. Best of all, there’s still the sense that his best work is ahead of him, waiting like dawn in the distance."
"...[T]he payoff... feels like a weight has been lifted from Woodring’s strange world, while the route he takes to get there is illustrated so beautifully it’s almost superhuman. It’s the happy ending he’s spent most of his career earning."
"Religious fundamentalism... has worn a thousand faces in a millennia-long carnevale procession of war and weirdness, and David B. paints portraits of three of its masks with bloody brilliance. Focusing on long-forgotten heresies and treating the most outlandish legends about them as fact, B.’s high-contrast linework sets them all alight with their own incandescent madness."
"I picture Gilbert Hernandez approaching his drawing board these days like Lawrence of Arabia approaching a Turkish convoy: 'NO PRISONERS! NO PRISONERS!' In a year suffused with comics funneling pitch-black darkness through a combination of sex and horror, none were blacker, sexier, or more horrific than this gender-bending exploitation flick from Beto's 'Fritz-verse.'"
"...[L]et's add to the chorus praising Jaime's 'The Love Bunglers' as one of the greatest comics of all time, the point to which one of the greatest comics series of all time has been hurtling toward for thirty years.... You can count the number of cartoonists able to wed style to substance, form to function, this seamlessly on one hand with fingers to spare. A masterpiece."
"The hype and acclaim surrounding Xaime Hernandez’s conclusion to his 'Love Bunglers' saga has been overwhelming, and every ounce of it is deserved. This is simply a phenomenal achievement in comics. A moving, thoughtful story of missed opportunities, loss and eventual reconciliation that provides in many ways a fitting conclusion to all of Xaime’s 'Locas' stories. I’d be hard pressed to think of a better comic that came out this year."
"More than the new Carl Barks collection, more than the return of Pogo, the resurrected, re-appreciated comic strip I found myself falling in love the most with this year was Gottfredson’s plunky, adventure-loving mouse, a scrappier version of Disney’s iconic creation. More to the point, I was completely taken with the stunning packaging and background information Fantagraphics and the books editor put together for this series. It’s new benchmark for reprint projects."
"Three volumes into this grand guginol series and it continues to surprise and delight, this time introducing a new character and suggesting via an end sequence that Ryan has been reading a lot of Fort Thunder comics."
"Incredibly inventive, Schrauwen, like Yokoyama, seems intent on pushing the comics medium into new and interesting directions. But where Yokoyama is concerned mainly with motion and exploration, Schrauwen is concerned mainly with perception and the interior world of the mind. This is great, mind-blowing work."
• List: Also on Robot 6's roundup of best-of lists from its writers, Tim O'Shea ranks Pogo Vol. 1 at #9: "Damn if this was not worth the wait... Volume 1 of the complete syndicated daily strips of Pogo would be enough to put this book on my list. But the fact that Fantagraphics has a foreword by Jimmy Breslin; an introduction by Steve Thompson; a piece on the Pogo Sunday Funnies by Mark Evanier; and Swamp Talk (R.H. Harvey annotations on the strips) is just icing on the cake."
• List: David McKean's Celluloid gets a "See Also" shout-out on Cyriaque Lamar's list of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Comics of 2011 at io9: "A decidedly adult erotica graphic novel with no dialogue, this is the famed Sandman cover artist going at page after page of a sexy hallucination, whipped up by a magic porno movie projector. Dreamscapes with boners."
"After 'Browntown' in last year’s installment of New Stories, there was a worry that Jaime might have peaked — how on earth was he going to top that story? The achingly beautiful conclusion to 'The Love Bunglers' in this volume was the answer. Pulling together strands from Maggie’s entire 30-year history in two pages was nothing short of stunning, with his art as cooly confident as ever, making it a real emotional sucker punch. Gilbert’s work developing Fritz’s movie back-catalogue is a real mind-bender, too, weaving inter- and meta-textual strands together that lets his characters say so much, while saying so little. It is terrifying how talented these guys are."
"Forget Pogo and Carl Barks — we already knew they were classics — the real reprint revelation of 2011 was good ole' Mickey Mouse.... To read these strips is to rediscover a love for Mickey and marvel at Gottfredson's amazing grasp of storytelling and humour, as well as his flawless artwork. Naturally, with Fantagraphics overseeing the reprints, the design, packaging and presentation is gorgeous — a real worthy successor to their Peanuts series."
• Plug: "I’m a little mortified to admit that Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes is my first exposure to Carl Barks (after decades of being interested in finally seeing why he’s so revered as a comic creator), but it definitely won’t be my last. Fantagraphics’ first volume of Barks material is a great place to start; a mixture of epic quests, short stories, and gag strips that are all impressively funny and awesome." – Greg McElhatton, Robot 6
• List: On his Domino Books blog, Austin English explains why Joyce Farmer's Special Exits is his favorite comic of 2011: "Farmer's cartooning allows for her characters to act out their illness and struggles in front of the reader. Farmer's drawing of her aging father is something to behold — it's not Farmer saying 'here is what my sick father went through.' Instead we see a drawing age and wither in front of us, and speak to us with both intelligence and dementia. I’ve never seen anything in comics done with such skill — let alone see a graphic novel (often the territory of poorly conceived topical heart wrenchers) speak about tragedy with so much depth and clarity."
• List: Comics writer Vito Delsante declares Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 the Best Single Issue of 2011 on his Best of 2011 blog post: "The Hernandez Brothers, since New Stories 3, have really created the most important mythology in comics since Stan and Jack (and Steve).... Jaime Hernandez should win every single award in comics in 2012."
• List: We rank 4 entries on Renee Lott's Top 10 Comics of 2011 at her Blogwithfeet
• Review: "I've been digging the new Fantagraphics release Jason Conquers America which commemorates ten years of the venerable publisher's relationship with the Norewegian artist.... My favorite story in the collection revolves around a crow who naps in a bed in a field and wakes up obliviously in an entirely new life. (Telling any more would spoil the revelation.) In 23 short wordless panels, Jason creates a powerful and compelling commentary that proves how powerfully expressive comics can be." – Stray Riffs
• Review: "A new comic from the top humorist in comics is always welcome. This issue [of Tales Designed to Thrizzle] is the usual combination of dada and surprisingly tightly-wrapped narrative gags surrounding the sort of cultural detritus mined by Drew Friedman & Mark Newgarden.... 'Quincy, M.E.'... is one of Kupperman's best strips because he keeps adding new layers of plot to an already-ridiculous story.... I still miss the sheer density of detail in Kupperman's older work that made reading it almost exhausting, but the avalanche of ideas remains intact, as does his ability to elicit laughs." – Rob Clough, High-Low
• Review: "...Prison Pit... [is] a marriage of pro wrestling, manga, bromance and filth.... Johnny Ryan has an almost Kirbyesque level of character design, but with obviously more genitalia, and it can at times be a joy just to see what is going to come on the next page.... Johnny Ryan is a cartoonist at the top of his game right now and he may just be the closest thing the comic world has to marmite." – Taylor Pithers, The Weekly Crisis
• Interview:The Comics Reporter's Tom Spurgeon talks with Todd DePastino, biographer of Bill Mauldin and editor of our Willie & Joe books. Spurgeon says Willie & Joe: Back Home is "one of my three favorite comics-related books from 2011, and, I think, one of the year's best." From DePastino: "When I look at these cartoons, I think of literary critic Dominic LaCapra's claim that some books are good to think about and a very few are good to think with. Mauldin's postwar cartoons are good to think with. They not only provide a window to the times, like, say, good photographs or reporting might, but they also raise fundamental questions and issues that are with us still."
• Review: "These comics are beautiful. Each single-panel comic is blown up to a full page, so that Mauldin’s artistry can truly (and easily) be admired without squinting. The sentiments expressed are astonishing and bravely progressive for the time.... I’d never thought or heard about the poor reception combat vets received after WWII. (I mistakenly thought that only happened to our soldiers after the Vietnam War.) I wish I knew what they experienced. I’ll settle for giving [Willie & Joe: Back Home] to the next WWII vet I meet and hope that it sparks a conversation." – Gene Ambaum, The Unshelved Book Club
• List:Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 is ComicsAlliance's Best Comic of 2011, with Jason Michelitch saying "The final 15 pages of 'The Love Bunglers' isn't just the end of a great new issue of a Bros. Hernanadez comic book. It isn't just the sixth part of a fantastic serialized graphic novel that's run since last year. It is the culmination of nearly thirty years worth of nuance, gesture, shading, pacing and dialogue — of angst, mania, fear, friendship, anger, and love. It is the finale to an epic of human scale feeling and drama. It is heart-stopping."
• List: Matthew Price of The Oklahoman names Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 the Best Graphic Novel of 2011: "The Brothers Hernandez are some of the best cartoonists in comics' history, and Jamie Hernandez has one of the high points of his career in Vol. 4 of 'New Stories.'... Gilbert's visceral tale satirizes a societal obsession with vampires by showing their messy, unforgiving side."
• List:The A.V. Club's Noel Murray names The Best Comics of 2011: Graphic Novels & Art Comics in several subcategories. In Original Graphic Novels Mark Kalesniko's Freeway comes in at #4...
"Kalesniko’s animation-influenced style makes Freeway a fluid read, as he emphasizes motion, in striking compositions that guide the eye across the page smoothly. The plot moves just as freely, as Kalesniko renders both the exterior and interior spaces of his protagonist with a mix of loving care and impassioned disgust."
"Farmer jumps between matter-of-fact details and amusing anecdotes about the grind of end-of-life care, while turning the book into a celebration of two people: her father, a cheerful man so determined not to complain that he let serious health problems slide for months; and her stepmother, a steadfast woman whose pragmatism warred with her vanity. The book depicts old age as a wild, lurching ride: from medical crises to euphoric nostalgia to an eerie calm as the end draws near."
"Anyone who’s alive in the world should be moved by this story’s depiction of life as a series of accidents, miscommunications, and embarrassments, which sometimes work out okay regardless. 'The Love Bunglers' is rich with hidden meanings, complicated ideas and superior artistry."
...and Kevin Huizenga's Ganges #4 in the #2 spot...
"The fourth issue of Kevin Huizenga’s Gangescontinues the artist’s increasingly masterful hybrid of direct storytelling and experimental abstraction... The story suits Huizenga’s style, because he can both document the familiar minutiae of daily life and the sense of unreality that takes hold whenever someone is up half the night. Huizenga works in visual motifs of endlessly branching possibilities and spiraling shapes, showing how becoming 'lost in thought' can be terrifying."
"...Lost in the Andes encourages both fannish and intellectual approaches to the material. There are scholarly analyses and bibliographies, but also more than 200 pages of some of the best-written comics ever published, full of square eggs, rubber bricks, golden Christmas trees, and races around the world."
"The early Pogos aren’t as topical as what would come later, when Kelly would become a hero to the counterculture for taking on McCarthyism and promoting ecology. Mostly, these strips establish the world of the Okefenokee Swamp and the animals who dwell there, with Pogo the possum standing as the calm center of a cast that includes the dim Albert Alligator, the not-as-bright-as-he-thinks Howland Owl and the misanthropic, hilariously humorless Porkypine."
"The cartoons in Willie & Joe: Back Home capture Mauldin at a low ebb personally, but ferociously inspired professionally. Over the objections of his editors, Mauldin drew cartoons about estranged wives, limited employment opportunities, heartless fatcats, and an America more petty, materialistic, and xenophobic than the one they’d left behind... Today they’re a blistering reminder that life after WWII wasn’t all suburban bliss and baby boom."
"The highlight of the volumes are the strips themselves which are a lot of fun and show an adventurous side to Mickey that may come as a surprise to those who only know the modern Mickey. It’s also fun watching Gottfredson develop as an artist and storyteller as the strips progress. In addition to the comics there are essays examining the stories, the creators involved (the comics were often inked and scripted by others), and the characters themselves. This series is a long overdue look at one of comics legendary creators and their work."
"...[T]his book is so great and contains all the things you would want from a career retrospective from Jack Davis. Jack Davis is one of America's great illustrators whose career started in the late 1930s and continues to this day. That's fucking insane to think about.... Like I said, this book delivers the goods in a big way. It's 13 inches tall so you can really sink your eyeballs' teeth into the images."
"This issue of Tales Designed to Thrizzle starts out with stories based around the idea that bathtubs are evil or haunted, possibly based on childhood fears of getting sucked down the drain or something. Doesn't matter, it's hilarious even if it's based in absurdity. After that there are comics with funny dialogue about Quincy and St. Peter and Reservior Dogs II that all keep referencing back to the previous comics and have a dreamy feel, but if your dreams were hilarious.... A bunch of stuff is thrown your way in this issue and when it's over you think, 'I liked that. I feel satisfied. Mmm-MM!'"
• Review: "[Wandering Son] has a very well-thought, carefully paced narrative that allows us to explore what goes on inside each character’s head and to watch them develop as people. It’s much more a quiet slice of life affair than it is an over-the-top comedy and/or drama, which might be something you’d expect from a manga featuring cross-dressing... [T]his hardcover book... represents a sophisticated side of literary manga. Translated with rare skill and sensitivity by veteran translator and comics scholar Matt Thorn, much of the story’s original flavour remains intact. Shimura Takako’s gender-bending story has a very quiet, introspective touch to it, and her artwork – with its clean lines, minimal backgrounds and sparse dialogue – beautifully reflects this." – Sean A. Noordin, The Star (Malaysia)
• Review: "Fantagraphics here in the states once again has begun to unearth [Tardi's] body of work into the North American light, the first volume of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec being another fine edition produced in the best quality possible.... Does it sound a little crazy, imaginative, and probably addicting to read? Yes, yes it is. Which is why you need to read this series." – Drew McCabe, Comic Attack
• Plug: "You can’t start the new year without the end of times. Sala’s new book [The Hidden] features his recognizable palette and quirky, gothic font in an adult tale... The post-apocalyptic tale starts with a man waking up to find that everything has gone wrong; sorta a Rip Van Screwed. Great for those who enjoy zombie movies and dystopian books like 1984 or The Hunger Games." – Jen Vaughn, CCS Schulz Library Blog
"Through war, animal make-out sessions and film writing, Kupperman takes Twain through the ringer in a hilariously catastrophic epic that the real-life 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' author would surely have appreciated. Although reading it won't score you any points on a history-class term paper, the book will certainly open your eyes to one of the funniest writers working in comics right now." – Brian Warmoth
"The excessive violence is still here, more refined, more imaginative, more disturbing. Ryan pushes himself artistically in the second half of the book, delivering a stunning sequence that still haunts me." – Chad Nevett
"I picture Gilbert Hernandez approaching his drawing board these days like Lawrence of Arabia approaching a Turkish convoy: 'NO PRISONERS! NO PRISONERS!' In a year suffused with comics funneling pitch-black darkness through a combination of sex and horror, none were blacker, sexier, or more horrific than this gender-bending exploitation flick from Beto's 'Fritz-verse.'" – Sean T. Collins
"Leslie Stein burst onto the comics scene this year when Fantagraphics published the collection of four of her self-published comics... The comic is both surreal and mundane, the story of a young woman who moves to a New York complete with humanoid animals and talking musical instruments. ...Stein [is] one of the best independent creators to emerge in recent years." – Alex Dueben
• List:Robot 6's Graeme McMillan picks his 5 favorite books of 2011, including Stigmata by Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti...
"Way back at the end of last year, I called this the best graphic novel of 2011, and if I’m now a little more reticent to make that claim, it has more to do with the high quality of a lot of other releases this year than anything else because this is still a masterpiece that, were I some kind of unlikely comics czar, I’d make compulsory reading for everyone interested in the medium. Just a breathtaking book."
"Another book that I raved about earlier this year, and another one that I’m still raving about as strongly months later. A tour-de-force of cartooning from a creator who just continually improves, and pushes at the medium in almost everything he does."
"It’s a disturbing book in many ways – questions about exploitation and power are very present in the text – but also a beautiful, seductive one. It’s a book that sticks with you for a long time afterwards, and for that alone, it’s one I’ve returned to many times since first reading it."
• List:Panel Patter's Rob McMonigal names his Best of 2011: Manga Edition, with Wandering Son Vol. 1 by Shimura Takako in the #5 spot: "This is one of the most serious manga series I've ever read, and I finished it unable to come to grips with the best way to review it. Dealing with two children who come to realize they are trapped in the wrong gender, it's a story of secrets, revelations, understandings, and occasional cruelty. The book handles the topic with care and respect, however, which is part of why it is so good."
• List: Another top-10 from Panel Patter's Rob McMonigal, whose Best of 2011: Indie Comics, is topped by 3 of our titles: Jason & Fabien Vehlmann's Isle of 100,000 Graves...
"Isle of 100,000 Graves has Jason's trademark deadpan humor, resolute protagonist, and ending that leaves the reader thinking."
"At first, The Hidden feels like a typical apocalyptic story, albeit one painted amazingly well by Sala. But as things progress, the tale morphs and twists into one of the best horror comics I've read, with a twist towards the end that I never saw coming. That's what makes a comic stand out, and puts it near the top of my best of list."
• Review: "I found myself turning back and re-examining the pages often, digging through the many details that the words and images delivered. The story unfolds in earth tone – sepia illustrations, not gaudy, in keeping with the artist’s respect for the story and the subject. Clemente’s early life is here and one gets a real feel for his family and friends, and not without humor.... [21: The Story of Roberto Clemente] should appeal to graphic novel fans, baseball fans, anyone who likes a great 'bigger then fiction' story, and many others." – Mark Hodgens, Skyscraper Magazine
• Review: "Fantagraphics is now giving Barks’ Duck comics a whirl, and based off this first volume alone if there’s any justice in the comics world, fame should finally (belatedly) be coming for the late, great Barks.... The reproduction on these strips are beautiful; Fantagraphics hired cartoonist Rich Tommaso to re-color the works, and Tommaso wisely uses gentle flat tones to keep with the overall feel of Barks’ crisp, classic art. I also appreciated the essays about the different stories in the back of the book.... Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes is a handsome looking book, and trust me when I say it’s just the first of many I plan on reading by Barks." – Greg McElhatton, Read About Comics
• Review: "So cue the squeals, and scan the racks at your friendly neighborhood comics retailer for writer/artist Michael Kupperman’s Tales Designed to Thrizzle #7. Beyond a cover whose hilarity strangely if successfully depends on its all-day-sucker coloring — tangerine, lemon, lime — this dadaistic offering opens with a six-page excerpt from Scary Bathtub Stories, a faux-Golden Age comic, and thereafter spirals further and further into neo-psychedelic weirdness." – Bryan Hollerbach, PLAYBACK:stl
• Review: "I like to imagine [Michael Kupperman] sitting in some tiny hellhole of a studio apartment packed deep into the bowels of New York -- these noble creatures lose their mystique when they own homes -- doing mutant Thrizzle pages until they stop paying him or until he gets a gig in the back pages of Vice. Some feminine if not female voice of reason hovers next to his desk, thumbing through the newest set as he leans back in his chair, wondering if Fantagraphics paid him enough to afford blowing the budget on a beer, wiping entirely imaginary sweat from his brow." – Patrick Tobin, Multiversity Comics
• Interview:The Comics Reporter's Tom Spurgeon talks to Oil and Water writer Steve Duin: "I'm too new to all of this to fully grasp how the perfect union of writer and artist is formed... and there were times when Shannon [Wheeler] and I struggled to find common ground. But a great deal of my understanding of what we were dealing with in the Gulf owes to Shannon's perceptions and his sketchbook. He was refreshingly aggressive in dealing with the BP clean-up teams disinclined to give us access. His original poster for the group -- a naked woman starring incredulously at the oil derrick in her bed, and saying 'What do you mean, it broke?' -- is brilliant."
• Interview:Bookforum's John Madeira, who says "...Alexander Theroux’s writing... is grandiloquently lyrical, dizzyingly erudite, and often acerbic," talks with Theroux about The Strange Case of Edward Gorey ("a smart, engaging, and insightful monograph asking as many questions about the quirky artist as attempts at answers") and other topics: "Edward Gorey was very ornate — Corinthian! — in his love of language, and when he was in a chatty mood his conversation, crackling with allusions, was rich and often rare, exaggerated, campy to a degree, invariably tinctured with lots of movie-love, sarcasm, irony. Mind you, it was not that the man was trying to be something, contriving, say, to appear a cavalcade of wit, merely that, rather like Dr. Samuel Johnson, he happened to have sharp, remarkable 'views' on all sorts of subjects, almost all worthy of note."
• List: Tucker Stone counts down The Best of 2011 at comiXology. and we sure like the looks of his top 5:
At #5, Jim Woodring's Congress of the Animals: "Deftly exploring the individual's relationship with labor, consequence and love, Congress of the Animals might be Woodring's least nightmarish work yet. (Although there's still a decent portion of it involving face-robbed humanoids that you shouldn't leave lying open if you have junkies visiting.)"
At #4, Prison Pit Book 3 by Johnny Ryan: "Back in 2009, when Ryan began Prison Pit, it was a revelation; a bone-crushing giant, born fully clothed.... Make no mistake: if Jack Kirby was born today, these are the kinds of comics he'd be drawing."
At #2, Ganges #4 by Kevin Huizenga: "While it has been two years since the release of Ganges #3, the only thing that could possibly have dulled would be the audience's memory of how extraordinary the series can be.... As with Yokoyama's Color Engineering, the audience becomes participatory witness, buried head to toe alongside Glenn, living and dying by his attempts to conquer. The shaggy dog ending -- weirder than the last one -- only seems cruel for the length of time it takes you to remember: being broken out of a trance is supposed to hurt."
And in the #1 spot, Love and Rockets: New Stories #4: "...Love and Rockets 4 saw Jaime Hernandez making good on the promise of decades. Resolving with as much finality as one could ask the question of 'how's this gonna end,' the final passage of this issue's Maggie story was without comparison. There was absolutely nothing else like reading those pages for the first time -- the gasp held tight in your throat, the 8 panel grids giving way only once, for a two page silent recap of the last 30 years of a life only we seem to know was well-lived."
• Review: "...[The Armed Garden] is absolutely marvelous, a gorgeous and searing series of comics from an artist who earns the description 'freakishly talented' as completely as anyone this side of his trans-Atlantic fellow in crafting dreamy/nightmarish parables of violent spirituality, Jim Woodring. These comics are just as lovely and just as frightening, and just as singularly the work of their creator and no other." – Sean T. Collins, Attentiondeficitdisorderly
• List:USA Today's pop culture maven Whitney Matheson starts counting down her People of the Year at Pop Candy, with Jim Woodring kicking things off at #100 ("This year the artist constructed a seven-foot-long fountain pen that even Lloyd Dobler would be proud to own") and Leslie Stein coming in at #78 ("She had me at the talking guitar: The Brooklyn-based cartoonist's Eye of the Majestic Creatureprovided a joyous reading experience")
• List (Audio): Jim Woodring's Congress of the Animals and Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit Book 3 are among the books discussed by Inkstuds host Robin McConnell and his guests Tim Hodler, Joe McCulloch and Matt Seneca for his "Best of 2011 with the Critics" episode
• List: Librairie Drawn & Quarterly's Jade names her Top 5 Books of 2011 on the 211 Bernard blog: "Thirty years after the first Love and Rockets issue, the Hernandez Brothers continue to impress with some of their best work to date in Love and Rockets: New Stories #4. Both brothers produce storylines that are absolutely amazing... I can’t even begin to imagine what these guys will come up with next."
• Review:The Seattle Times' Mary Ann Gwinn looks at Pogo Vol. 1 and the "Playing Possum" exhibit at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery: "Kelly had an uneasy relationship with the newspapers that ran the strip. Though Pogo was hilarious, it could also be extremely pointed. Fantagraphics curator Larry Reid says the Hoover strips, featuring a bulldog with an uncanny resemblance to the FBI director, aggravated Hoover no end. 'He was driven to distraction' by the notion that the strips had hidden messages embedded in them, says Reid. 'He had cryptographers trying to decipher swamp talk.'"
• Review: At Artdish, Gary Faigin also looks at "Playing Possum": "Kelly was both famous and honored in his lifetime (over 50 collections of Pogo were published, and the strip appeared in most major newspapers), but just enough time has passed since his demise in 1973 that many people, younger ones especially, are not familiar with his work. While that’s a good reason to celebrate the Pogo show and book launch at the Fantagraphics Gallery this month, an even better reason is the opportunity to be reminded how fresh, lively, and relevant his work is, decades after it first appeared."
• Review: "These are deeply strange short stories [in The Man Who Grew His Beard], centered on ideas and effects I’m not sure I’d have come up with even with the proverbial infinite number of monkeys at my disposal; even in this short-story-saturated alternative comics climate, there’s nothing else like his gestalt of finely calibrated nonsense. It’s good to see that comics can do things you’d never think to ask of them in the first place." – Sean T. Collins, Attentiondeficitdisorderly
• Review: "Although Barks didn’t create Donald Duck, it is his interpretation that probably resides in most people’s memories.... Donald in the animated shorts was a hot-headed buffoon. Barks’ Donald was an actor called upon to play whatever role Barks needed: from exasperated parent to worldly adventurer. It was Barks’ duck comics that spurred my early interest in sequential storytelling, and probably my love of reading in general." Norman Cook, Axolotlburg News
• Review: "Love & Rockets is the only series that I don't mind purchasing and repurchasing in multiple editions... I like the way that Jaime Hernandez's stories read in different configurations. Approaching his little slices of life through flashback or in different sequences lets little details, the sort of which most readers probably miss the first time around, take new shapes and new levels of importance. I really love these paperback editions... As ever, there's just a tiny hint of extra-normal fantasy at work in the stories [in Penny Century], just enough for readers to accept that there's something very strange over the horizon or in Izzy's psyche, but never enough to overwhelm the wonderful, human reality of these beloved characters. Highly recommended for older readers." – Grant Goggans, The Hipster Dad's Bookshelf (via The Comics Reporter)
• List:FEARnet's Joseph McCabe names Richard Sala's The Hidden to their Best of 2011: Books and Comics: "Sala's unique brand of creepy quirk combines Edward Gorey, Chester Gould, and Charles Adams with his own unclassifiable magic. The Hidden, from Fantagraphics Books, is his most ambitious work -- an intimate apocalypse."
• List:The SF Site's Rick Klaw ranks 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente at #4 on his top graphic novels of 2011: "In this emotionally moving biography, the Puerto Rican Wilfred Santiago magnificently chronicles the often tragic life of this icon.... Santiago expertly traverses Clemente's tribulations, losses, and success with ease and skill. His portrayal of the baseball games rank among the finest ever attempted in this medium. Under the masterful hands of Santiago, 21 evolves into far more than just a biography of a sports figure. It showcases a life worth emulating."
• Review: "I’ve been eagerly anticipating Wilfred Santiago’s graphic biography 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente since I first heard it was the works... Santiago uses black and white and some yellow-orange fill-ins, but really that’s all he needs. His style is clean, ranging in depiction of Clemente throughout the years to religious leaders to baseball action scenes, which he often depicts in a seemingly photo-realistic style with ballplayers drawn against what appears to be a collaged photo background of a baseball setting but is instead a note perfect drawing. ...Santiago does Clemente proud with 21." – David A. Kirschenbaum, Boog City (PDF download)
• Review: "Looking for someone to turn lemons into lemonade? In his own distinctive way, Alexander Theroux might be your man.... In Estonia: A Ramble Through the Periphery, he mines his disappointment and catalogs his discontents to impressively crotchety effect. ...[L]ike the country's many invaders—Russians and Germans, and, before them, Swedes and Danes—Mr. Theroux largely uses Estonia as a space for his own purposes, transforming this admirable country into a grotesque but clever caricature perfect for use as... a stage for Mr. Theroux's verbal pyrotechnics and some fine jokes... I laughed a lot, but guiltily." – Andrew Stuttaford, The Wall Street Journal
• Review: "After years and years and years, Fantagraphics has finally started their deluxe reprint series of Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo. The first volume is available right now, and it's absolutely beautiful, a big comic book with real heft and majesty.... Pogo always felt, to me, like a strip you should read like a novel, a continuing sitcom about the personality-heavy critters who live in a swamp. This collection proves that I was right. This isn't a book you read so much as sink into: Kelly's brilliant ear for dialect and voice lulls you along, and then you're lost in his beautiful artwork.... The whole book is... a series of packed — but crystal clear — panels that grow together to establish a world of curious characters whose misunderstandings lead to great adventures. If I had to make one complaint about this Pogo collection, it'd be that it ends too soon.... If you like comics, or if you know any kids who read comic strip collections, this is the Christmas book for you." – Paul Constant, The Stranger
• Review: "[My] gripes are minor in relation to the beauty and quality of this book presentation, as well as the stories themselves.... The stories, of course, are outstanding. Most of the long adventure tales are classics in their own right.... Plus, Barks comes up with some of the most brilliant schemes and swindles — most perpetrated against Donald for comedic effect. The super-compressed plotting makes everything more frenetic — and more funny! Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes is an excellent start to Fantagraphics’ Carl Barks Library." – K.C. Carlson, Comics Worth Reading
• Review: "It was the best of Momes, it was the worst of Momes. Alright, that’s not quite accurate, and not quite fair, either. But this unwittingly penultimate issue of Fantagraphics’ long-running alternative-comics anthology — page for page the longest-running such enterprise in American history! — is a hit-or-miss affair in the mighty Mome manner. ...[T]he hits... are strong enough to make the book worth checking out.... You gotta take the rough to find the diamonds." – Sean T. Collins, Attentiondeficitdisorderly
• Review: "The ability to make me cry is not generally something I praise in a book.... But in Special Exits Joyce Farmer pulls off something much more difficult — she takes a true story and plays it straight without any overly dramatic embellishment. Her frank honesty lays bare the emotional core of the story.... Farmer’s black and white line drawings are detailed and expressive, but never flashy. Her art is straightforward, as befits the story.... The end product is as honest and unembellished as a personal journal and we’re lucky Farmer’s chosen to share it with us." – Andrew Fuerste-Henry, No Flying No Tights
• Review: "Despite [Taking Punk to the Masses'] coffee table book appearance, McMurray tries to keep the punk rock do-it-yourself ethic by letting the artifacts and punk denizens speak for themselves.... The quotes from the publisher/artists who created them and musicians who were featured weave together nicely to give a sense of moment. And sometimes the creator and object merge, such as the Nirvana show posters hand-drawn by Kurt Cobain." – Ian S. Wilder, Boog City (PDF download)
• Interview: At Heeb, Eli Valley chats with Drew Friedman about old Jewish comedians and Old Jewish Comedians: "A lot of these guys, they get to a point where they’re angry they’re not getting the attention they used to get. I guess that’s true for anybody getting old who used to be in the limelight. I wanted to capture that. 'Pay attention to me, I’m old but I’m still funny and I want you to pay attention to me.' These guys are still in your face, they never slow down, but basically it’s over. There’s no more work. A lot of them would just be happy to receive an award for their work. You just don’t want to be forgotten."
• List: Esteemed Washington, DC bookstore Politics & Prose has posted their list of "Favorite Graphic Literature of 2011":
"It seems sort of cruel to celebrate the final issue of Mome, Fantagraphics’ premier anthology of comics. But one can hardly resist such a celebratory finale. As to be expected, Mome Volume 22 packs a wallop, throwing in a mind-bending array of cartoonists, some Mome regulars, some first-time contributors. Some favorites: Joe Kimball’s 'Secret Hand,' Tim Lane’s 'Belly Gunner,' Eleanor Davis’ 'Nita Go Home' and 'Loving Bin Laden' by James Romberger. As always, this is a refreshing and eye-opening anthology. So thank you, Mome, and goodbye."
"Jacques Tardi’s wildly inventive The Arctic Marauder follows Jerome Plumier as he tries to uncover the mystery of why ships keep sinking in the arctic. Written to parody a Victorian and Jules Verne-esque style, Tardi’s illustrations look as if they’re out of a much older book; his seascapes and townscapes are scenic and highly detailed; his creative paneling is fresh and interesting; and the abundance of machinery and wild inventions makes this book a real wonder to read. Ending on a strangely ominous, ironic, and humorous note, this is yet another masterpiece by the French master, finally brought to American audiences."
"Jim Woodring’s little anthropomorph, Frank, has been around for quite some time, and his silent, life altering, universe confusing, epic comics finally get collected into one nice book. Frank has graced the comics page for decades now, and his curiosity, foolishness, but utter innocence leaves one always wishing for more, and to have it collected into one volume is an absolute treasure. There is much to say about The Frank Book, but really, you should just pick it up and wander with Frank and his friends and enemies, into a world that is so different, and yet, so similar to our own."
"Stigmata is one of the greatest virtuoso displays of pen-and-ink work in the history of graphic novels. Illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti’s 'raging fury of intense linework' is mesmerizing on every single page, and drives the novel-length story by Claudio Piersanti set in the hellish world of bars and traveling carnivals (with a final redemptive chapter). Stigmata is a recognized classic in the comics world, and was published in Europe in 1998. It has finally been translated and published here."
"Pogo Possum and the bunch of characters that make up Walt Kelly’s colorful, smart, and witty comic finally get the sort of treatment they deserve. It has taken Fantagraphics a long, long time to find perfect copies of all these fantastic strips, and to make sure Pogo was given its due in the best possible way. So here it is: the first of twelve volumes, complete with dailies and Sunday pages (with absolutely gorgeous color). This is quite possibly one of the best things to come out this year, and one of the best books for any library."
"Hot on the heels of popular Mickey Mouse hardcover comics collections, Fantagraphics puts forth a second Disney classic, Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes. While some readers may have been surprised by Mickey’s exploits in the early days, Donald is exactly as you remember and expect him to be: perpetually frustrated with a heart of gold. What is also not surprising is the level of skill behind the cartooning of Carl Barks, whose knack for expressive figures and attention to detail makes this collection an endlessly entertaining read. So well-loved were these stories, that none other than the great Steven Spielberg paid tribute to them in the famous scene of Indiana Jones versus the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sure to please any fan of good-humored Golden Age comics."
"I’ve never quite liked Mickey Mouse. He was always a little too tame, too good. And while he was always the hero, he never seemed to earn it. Fantagraphics recent release of the classic 1930’s comic strips has completely changed my mind. While Mickey’s essential character hasn’t changed, he is certainly more bold, more willing to throw a punch or rush into a haunted house, or even into a brawl with Pegleg Pete and his gang. Floyd Gottfredson’s artwork bears the trademark Disney look (given that it is clear and at times inventive), but the limit on panels and the daily format of the strip forced Gottfredson to tell his stories in intriguing, and always brilliant ways. These comic strips are full of adventure and clever satire. With the usual Fantagraphics treatment, there are over 50 pages of supplemental material, so these books provide a wealth of information on the series and on Gottfredson’s life. Also available in a slipcased set!"
"For those who still think that Prince Valiant is simply an illustrated version of your boring high school history textbook, it is time to take heed. Fantagraphics continues to release these gorgeous remastered editions of one of America’s most beloved and enduring comics. This is a story steeped in family and tradition, with a dash of fantasy. Hal Foster’s professionalism shines in every painstakingly-researched and well-composed page of Prince Valiant Volumes 3and4. Each panel’s composition immediately draws you in and invites you to linger in a world of romance and adventure, in which you may spend many Sunday afternoons. Previously released editions were high-contrast, lurid affairs that seemed determined to destroy the good name of the original color artist; however, the impeccable restoration of the comic’s original colors makes it enjoyable for the modern audiences and almost a brand new experience for fans lucky enough to have read it in their youth."
• List/Review: "Finally starting to be collected, Gottfredson's masterful first year was released by Fantagraphics, publisher of all good things, in a wonderful hardbound... Aside from the subject matter, the most striking thing about this volume is Gottfredson's art. He demonstrates a supernatural knack for detail and fluidity that remains largely unchallenged in his representation of Mickey, as well as in animation/ cartooning/ sequential art.... As a longtime appreciator of Gottfredson and proponent for his legacy, Race to Death Valley was the best comic release of 2011 — a feat, considering the material is 70 years old. Take that, modern literature!" – Rafael Gaitan, Spectrum Culture "Best Books of the Year"
• Review: "The fact is that Paul Nelson was one of the handful of people who have scribbled about rock-and-roll over the years who might be described as a genuinely important writer, regardless of the (some would say) transience of much of his subject matter. In that regard, while re-reading Everything [Is an Afterthought] I was struck by how little any of it has dated; the various reviews and think pieces Avery has anthologized are as passionate, perceptive and hilarious as they seemed back in the day, and given that most of them have been out of print since forever (in fact, almost all the work collected here has never been between hardcovers) this is a major piece of cultural exhumation at the very least." – Steve Simels, PowerPop
• Review: "The gender orientations of eleven-year-olds just isn’t the stuff of stories here. In fact, it is the stuff of reality. Shimura balances a full plate in this story, all the while offering it with the kind of easy grace that makes the balance appear to be almost magical.... In Shimura’s sympathetic hands, this manga is neither gag nor message heavy: both main characters, their peers, and their family members are credible and developed with enough depth that readers can think about them beyond the bounds of the book. ...[Wandering Son Vol. 1] belongs in every high school library, as well as in public collections that are accessible to both youth and adults." – Francisca Goldsmith, School Library Journal
• Review: "But upon reflection, I wonder if these terrible people’s wholly alien way of interacting with the world isn’t just the writing equivalent of Tardi’s nimble, scribbled line and sooty blacks — a heightened reality in which things are rendered at their loosest, darkest, ugliest, and weirdest at all times. God knows both creators can rigorously focus when they want... Tardi’s backgrounds and lighting effects are a realist’s dream and his action sequences and set-pieces are choreographed tighter than a drum. The absurdist demeanors may prevent everything from gelling as well as they might have done, but overall [Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot] delivers a fastball to your face so hard that you barely have time to notice that some of the stitches need straightening." – Sean T. Collins, Attentiondeficitdisorderly
• List: Moto Hagio's The Heart of Thomas tops Deb Aoki's list of the Most-Anticipated New Manga of 2012 at About.com Manga: "This 3-volume story from 1974 has been on many manga connoisseur's wish lists for years, so it's a real joy to see that Fantagraphics will be publishing the entire saga in English in one volume."
• List/Review:Manga Worth Reading's Johanna Draper Carlson ranks Wandering Son the #2 Best New Manga of 2011 and recommends Volume 2 in her review: "Shimura Takako’s young figures are adorable. They look unspoiled, with their future ahead of them, which puts their struggles into greater relief.... Translator Matt Thorn’s essay at the back of this volume addresses the issue of being 'Transgendered in Japan' directly, providing valuable information on cultural context, as well as warning us that the children’s lives may be very difficult in years (and stories) to come. There is no more handsome manga than Fantagraphics’ presentation of Wandering Son."
• List:Forbidden Planet International asks comics creator Martin Eden his 3 favorite comics of 2011: "My attention had been waning a bit with the Love and Rockets comics, and then 2010′s Love and Rockets [New Stories] 3 came out and it blew my mind – it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever read. So much so, that I found myself re-reading the entire series and tracking down all the issues I’d missed. This year’s Love and Rockets[New Stories] 4... was still utterly mind-blowing, and Jaime Hernandez is producing the best work he’s ever done, in my opinion."
• Review: "One of comics revered masters gets a fresh new reprinting [Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes ] worthy of his work and accessible to kids.... This volume finds [Barks] at a creative peak, combining the bold adventuring of Tintin with the wisely cynical view of human weakness of John Stanley.... Donald is an everyman of frustration whose life is one big Chinese finger trap—the harder he fights, the harder the world fights back.... Despite the dark undertones, the comic expressions and dialogue is still laugh-out-loud funny. A wonderful project that should put Barks’s name in front of new generations of admirers." – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
• Review: "This exceptional first volume of the collected adventures of Pogo Possum should remind readers of the substantial legacy left behind by Kelly.... The volume is beautifully put together, including excellent insights into Kelly and his work... One only needs to get a short way into the adventures of Pogo and his pals in Okefenokee Swamp to recognize the impact Pogo has had on so many cartoonists... With Pogo Possum and [his] supporting characters..., Kelly was able to blend hilarious humor, exceptional storytelling, keen political satire, and brilliant wordplay into a strip that could be appreciated both by children and adults. The more one reads this volume, the clearer picture one has of Kelly as comics’ answer to Lewis Carroll, with Alice having changed into a possum and left Wonderland behind for a swamp." – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
• Review: "The Art of Joe Kubert contains extensive commentary by Bill Schelly that contextualizes Kubert's work with the development of comics as a medium. ...[I]t's an informative and briskly engaging essay. In reviewing the vast panorama of Kubert's eight-decade career, The Art of Joe Kubert allows readers previously unfamiliar with the artist to share an appreciation of his abiding interest in human nature (as opposed to just superhero theatrics) through a surprising variety of storytelling styles and subject matter. Kubert's great influence on other cartoonists came from the way he embraced the comics medium as a whole, instead of just a particular niche or character type." – Casey Burchby, SF Weekly
• Interview:The A.V. Club's Sam Adams chats with Jack Davis: "I’ve said this many a time; I’ll tell it again. When I was going to kindergarten, and that’s a very young age, my mother used to walk me to school. I would go up past a chain gang — that was the old days when the prisoners wore stripes and everything — and I saw that. I would go to kindergarten, and they’d put a piece of construction paper in front of me, and crayons, and I did, probably, a stick figure, but I put stripes on him. And from that, they thought I had talent. My mother thought I was great. And from then, I’ve always drawn. Drawn pictures. I love to draw cartoons."
• Interview:Nerve gets sex advice from a trio of cartoonists including Rick Altergott — "If you want to talk about inking brushes or pens or what kind of paper or even something as broad as 'who's your favorite cartoonist?' 'Do you know Robert Crumb?' 'Do you know the Hernandez brothers?' Once you get the answer, you can fine-tune it from there. Before you know it, you're probably going to end up in bed." — and Anders Nilsen
• Plugs: The fine folks at L.A.'s Secret Headquarters are posting their staff gift suggestions: Julie recommends Leslie Stein's Eye of the Majestic Creature ("Good for: Anyone with an overactive imagination; fans of whimsy and good times") and Malachi suggests The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí ("A European (and comically sordid) take on the American crime genre") and Walt Kelly's Pogo Vol. 1 ("The essential collection of Pogo – A comic that expertly integrates social satire into the daily newspaper format")
• List:Multiversity Comics' David Harper counts down the Best Graphic Novels of 2011, with Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010 by Michael Kupperman — "Part prose, part two color comic, this beautiful hardcover is a fanciful romp through history the way I wish it really was. I can hardly wait for the next hundred years to pass so we ca get the next installment" — and Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit Book 3 — "If it doesn't make you sick, you shouldn't be allowed to walk among the public in the first place. If it doesn't make you giddy for the next one, you don't deserve comics" — tied for 5th place
• List:ComicsAttack ranks Gil Jordan, Private Detective: Murder by High Tide by M. Tillieux at #6 on their Top 15 All-Ages Titles of 2011: "Fantagraphics has put out some amazing work this year... Gil Jordan sticks out to us in all of its splendor. Yes, it can be compared to a gritty version of Tintin, but at the same time is so much more and its world so much deeper in crime. The adult tones make adults pick it up, and the colors and action give it an appeal to kids, making it an all-ages gem for anyone who picks it up."
• Review: "Barks' duck stories have been reprinted several times over the years, in different formats of varying quality. Now, Fantagraphics has published the first volume of its new series of hardcover reprints (Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes), and there's much to be heartened by.... Even the silliest premise, when executed by an artist in perfect control of his gifts, can land with deftness and grace — that's something that strikes you again and again as you read Barks' work. And it's a lesson that won't get lost on any kid with whom you might choose to share it, which is convenient, as this collection makes a perfect introduction to one of the greatest all-ages comics artists of all time." – Glen Weldon, NPR - Monkey See
• Plug: "Though I have many contemporary cartoonists and comics writers whose work I admire, there is one artist whose work defies my critical ability to write about it intelligently. This artist is Kevin Huizenga. Mixing a disarmingly simple style with narrative complexity rarely achieved in comics, Huizenga has consistently turned out some of the most interesting and perplexing works of the early 21st century." – Rob Vollmar, LitStack
• Plug: "A definite contender for music book of the year, Kevin Avery's Everything Is an Afterthought is the biography of pioneering rock critic Paul Nelson... It's a fascinating story of an important writer and recommended to anyone who has an interest in sixties and seventies rock 'n roll and music writing in general." – 211 Bernard (Librairie Drawn & Quarterly)
I don't think anything I can say could quite do this justice: the Hey Oscar Wilde! Tumblr dug up this holiday greeting card sent from the great manga creator Osamu Tezuka to the great Carl Barks with a sketch by Tezuka showing his best-known character Astro Boy greeting Barks's Donald Duck. When giants collide — and hug adorably! (Originally posted at comicartfans.com. Via a Twitter trail of Forbidden Planet International retweeting Eric Orchard.)