• List:Publishers Weekly announces the results of their 2011 Comics World Critics Poll, with these titles garnering 2 votes each...
"Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 4, Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez: Jaime Hernandez tops his 30 years of peerless storytelling with the conclusion to 'The Love Bunglers' in which two characters we’ve watched stumble through life make a final lurch — that may bring happiness or doom. Heartbreaking yet without a trace of manipulation." – Heidi MacDonald
"The Man Who Grew His Beard, Olivier Schrauwen: This graphic novel is exceptionally inventive, with each story being so very different from the one before." – Glen Downey
...and the following books receiving an Honorable Mention with one vote each:
• Review: "As [Wandering Son] volume 2 closes, the idyllic childhood Shuichi and Nitori have shared thus far, surrounded by exceptionally supportive family and friends, is showing signs of being breached by thoughtless outsiders.... In the insightful, not-to-be-skipped final essay, 'Transgendered in Japan,' translator (and manga scholar) Matt Thorn writes, 'Shuichi and Yoshino are coming of age, not in an idealized fantasy world, but in a contemporary Japan that poses unique challenges to children such as these.' Indeed, to quote a popular film, 'reality bites,' but in creator Shimura Takako's sensitive world, Shuichi and Nitori have better than a fighting chance at becoming strong, confident adults." – Terry Hong, BookDragon (Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program)
• Review: "In spite of its depressive mood (you know, with it being about the end of the world and such), The Hidden exemplifies the effectiveness of Sala's application of a 'less is more' visual style to broad, complex stories.... I can't recommend Sala's books enough, and The Hidden is one of his best works to date. Be sure to pick up a copy if you're looking for something more than global plagues and cannibalistic zombies in your world-ending entertainment." – Tim Mitchell, Titans Terrors & Toys
• List/Plugs: Andy Mansell of Heroes Aren't Hard to Find names a handful of "creme de la creme," "must-have" classic comic strip collections from 2011: "Do yourself a favor – next time you are in the store take a few moments and pick up a copy of Lost in the Andes or Pogo, either Mickey Mouse collection, ...[and] flip through it. Read a few strips.... These are rich, beautiful books and they deserve to be read by everyone."
• Plug:The A.V. Club's Oliver Sava provides a guide to "What makes a good all-ages comic," saying "Animation-inspired art remains the most popular choice for an all-ages series... Carl Barks’ work with Disney’s duck characters is the pinnacle of this school: Barks’ experience as a Disney animator honed his talent for creating sprawling environments and distinct characters that are instantly charming and incredibly rich. Fantagraphics just published its first hardcover collection of Barks’ classic stories, Donald Duck: Lost In The Andes, a beautiful package collecting some of Barks’ most memorable duck tales."
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
• List: The National Post's David Berry names The Best Graphic Novels of 2011, saying of his #3 choice "This does feel somewhat like cheating, since there’s only a few sequences of proper graphic work here, but why quibble about format: Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010 is, quite simply, one of the funniest things you’ll read in any genre. Kupperman has a child’s free-ranging imagination and an aging intellectual’s dry wit... This supposed telling of Mark Twain’s 20th-century life... would be an awe-inspiring work of imagination if it wasn’t so absurdly hilarious. Somewhere between John Hodgman and Graham Roumieu, Kupperman has found stark comic brilliance."
• List:Comic Book Resources continues their Top 100 comics of 2011 countdown, with Ganges #4 by Kevin Huizenga coming in at #48 and Brian Cronin calling it "mind-boggling" and "remarkable. Absolute top notch sequential work."
• List:Comic Book Resources columnist Sonia Harris lists "My Top 10 Comics (for ANY Year)" with Love and Rockets taking the #2 spot: "Read Love & Rockets, all of them, both brothers, everything you can find. Your life will be richer."
• List:Bookgasm's J.T. Lindroos, running down the Best Euro Comics as part of the Best Books of 2011, writes "Fantagraphics continued its Jacques Tardi lineup, and I was particularly delighted by the proto-steampunk The Arctic Marauder, although I think one should own every single book in the series. I was also happy to see some less well-known artists get their chance, and both Sibyl-Anne Vs. Ratticus by R. Macherot and Murder by High Tide by Maurice Tilleux were wonderful surprises in the classic Franco-Belgian 'bigfoot' style. Fantagraphics is quickly becoming the Criterion Collection of comics publishing."
• List: Richmond VA comic shop Velocity Comics counts down their top ten Best Graphic Novels 2011, with Jim Woodring's Congress of the Animals at #9: "There are few artists’ work I can endlessly stare at with as much feverish perplexitude as Jim Woodring’s. Yes, I just made that word up."
• List: Vancouver BC culture site The Snipe surveys local comics industry folks for their favorite comics of the year. The Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse series by Floyd Gottfredson is named Best Collected Edition or Reprint by cartoonist Steve LeCouiliard...
"Floyd Gottfredson is one of the overlooked masters of the comic strip. Like Carl Barks, his work was always signed 'Walt Disney' but his craft and storytelling brilliance shone through. Comic strips really don’t provide much more pure joy than Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse."
...and by VanCAF organizer Shannon Campbell...
"The two-volume collection of Floyd Gottfredson’s run of Mickey Mouse, hands down! These books chronicle the glory days of the old-school Mickey Mouse comics when Gottfredson did both art and story (from 1930-1934)."
...while the staff of Lucky's Comics can't pick just one:
"This has been a boon year reprint editions, but take your pick from Fantagraphics Books’ amazing editions of Pogo by Walt Kelly, Donald Duck by Carl Barks, Mickey Mouse by Floyd Gottfredson, and Prince Valiant by Hal Foster. Fantagraphics has done such an incredible job on book designs, colors, paper… all of the details that make these editions glow."
"It’s not just the subject matter that’s a winner here. Santiago has a knack for simplicity in his storytelling approach, and in a medium that’s often beset by needless complexity, that’s a rare gift."
"...[P]robably the best pure horror comic I read this year... and one that quite frankly shocked the hell out of me. Sala’s expressionist art style might not be the most obvious choice for telling blood-curdling horror stories, but its innocent cartoony quality somehow makes a perfect (and terrible) fit with the horrible, almost nihilistic story that Sala is telling."
• Review: "Swarte’s visuals are always gorgeous and distinctive, with a strong influence from Hergé but an even more rigidly mapped out structure. The more you look at them, especially the large ones, the more you see, as in a one-panel, one-pager that lays out a parodic vision of comics production as if it resulted from a Roger Corman-esque movie studio. His eye is careful and his line even more so. ...[Is That All There Is?] is a real pleasure to read and to look at, and it makes a case for Swarte as a real comics guy, not just an illustrator." – Hillary Brown, Paste
• Profile: At City Journal, an essay by Stefan Kanfer with a history of Walt Kelly and Pogo: "He frequently quoted a line that he had written for Porky Pine: 'Don’t take life so serious, it ain’t nohow permanent.' No, it ain’t. But art — even comic art — can be, in the hands of a master. Every book, every comic, every panel verifies the claims of Kelly’s fervent cheering squad: after 63 ever-lovin’ blue-eyed years, Pogo is still incomparabobble." (Via The Comics Reporter)
• Plug:Seattlest's Heather Logue spotlights Tony Millionaire's upcoming appearance and art show at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery: "Aside from the fact that he has an amazing superhero name, Tony Millionaire also has the extraordinary talent to back it up. The cartoonist will be at Fantagraphics with his latest book 500 Portraits-- a collection of portraits (duh) of everything from the very famous face, to the very small bug. All meticulously crafted in his beautiful, yet grotesque way -- you're not going to want to miss Tony's take on portraiture."
• Scene:At his blog, Drew Friedman recounts his experience as keynote speaker at the International Society of Caricature Artists' annual convention last month, with lots of photos, a couple video clips and a transcription of a Q&A session
"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:Oil and Water by Steve Duin & Shannon Wheeler is #5 on Comics Bulletin's Top Ten Best Graphic Novels of 2011, with Jason Sacks saying "This book is very much about misconceptions and preconceptions, about how we all can feel inadequate when facing enormous problems and how little we often feel we can do in when facing even the small incidents in our lives -- let alone the large ones."
• Review:Booklist's starred review of Nuts by Gahan Wilson (previously reported here) is now featured online: "The scenarios include summer camp, going to horror movies, being sick and obsessing about it, making models, eating too much, not knowing the answer (or even the subject) in school, selecting comics in the local cigar store, and other normal-enough stuff that holds the potential for humiliation, failure, and maybe worse. In Nuts, that potential is always realized and, as memory colors it, so uproariously that you just about choke with laughter. For sheer hilarity, this is Wilson’s masterpiece." – Ray Olson
• Plugs:Comics Alliance's Andy Khouri runs down their Holiday Gift Guide to Deluxe Edition Comics and Art Books, including:
"You've read our effusive praise for the incredible cartooning and hilariously grim Mickey Mouse stories of Floyd Gottfredson, and this excellent two-volume set leaves you with few excuses for not reading these classic comics for yourself.... It's hard to go wrong with this as a gift for your comics fan friends (or yourself), as it's a superlative example of the form from one of its greatest masters."
"I can tell you from personal experience that even one of these books makes a fantastic present, but to give the gift of the complete Love and Rockets is to provide your friend or loved one with a reading experience richer than virtually any other."
"Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang are often associated with the holiday season (also with Halloween, and that counts), so there's no better time to give to yourself or your loved ones one or all of Fantagraphics' hardcover collections of Charles Schultz's beloved cartoon strip. Reprinted in chronological order with the highest production values, any one of these books would make an auspicious addition to any bookshelf."
• Plug: "Reading cartoons is a good way to relax and the latest volume of The Complete Peanuts covers the years 1979 and 1980.... The strips with Woodstock and Snoopy are particularly funny. This latest collection of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts cartoons would make a nice gift." – Glenn Perrett, Simcoe.com
• List:Lou Reed's work in his collaborative Poe adaptation with Lorenzo Mattotti, The Raven, helps him rank #64 on Whitney Matheson's 100 People of 2011 list at USA Today Pop Candy
• List: Comics Worth Reading's Johanna Draper Carlson names her top 10 Best Graphic Novels of 2011, with Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 1: Race to Death Valley by Floyd Gottfredson in the #5 slot: "I was astounded to discover that once upon a time, Mickey Mouse comics were really good! And exciting!... Plenty of good background material puts it all in context for the new reader, previously unaware of this strip or Gottfredson’s skill. I haven’t had a better adventure read this year, in sheer 'I don’t want to put this down!' desire to find out what comes next."
• Review: "The connective thread [in Mome] has long been 'stuff Eric Reynolds likes,' and since he likes a lot of stuff, chances are good he’s included a lot of material that falls well outside the Venn-diagram overlap between your taste and his. That makes reading this final issue of Mome an unusual experience even in these anthology-saturated times: Its editorial focus is its lack of focus. To paraphrase Singles, its thing is not having a thing. What it does have is 240 pages, making it fatter than any single anthology listed above, and fatter than many of them put together. And with Mome, quantity is something of a guarantor of quality.... Yes, you have to sit through some stuff you won’t dig. And no, none of it has much to do with any of the rest of it. But independent of any scene or wave or vibe or goal beyond publishing a lot of interesting short new comics, Mome soldiered on. That’s the hill it died on, and this is a fine flag to plant on its grave." – Sean T. Collins, The Comics Journal
• Review/Plug: "Over the past few months, [Fantagraphics] have been putting out collections of Floyd Gottfredson's work on the Mickey Mouse newspaper strip, and they're some of the best comics ever put out. Even though they were published all the way back in 1932... Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse stories are still fresh and frequently pretty hilarious today. They've got everything anyone would want out of a comic: Adventure, romance, danger, lost pirate treasure, fighter jets battling against sinister zeppelins, and even a gang of mad scientists out to destroy the world with a ray-gun that makes you evil.... It's incredible stuff, and when you throw in the consistently beautiful design that Fantagraphics gives to their projects, it's something that makes a pretty great gift. It's even decked out in Christmas colors!" – Chris Sims, ComicsAlliance
• Interview: You'll want to read the autotranslation of Adriana Terra's wide-ranging Q&A with Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez at Brazilian site Soma for some good tidbits about what their next projects are (and, you know, the rest of it is good too)
• 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."