• List:Comics Bulletin names Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes the Best Archival Reprint of 2011, with Jason Sacks saying "Universally acclaimed as one of the finest reprints of Barks's works by even the most exacting Duckophiles, Lost in the Andes finally presents an English-language collection of Duck stores behind two hard covers and with the typical exacting standards for which Fantagraphics is justifiably famous. The good people at Fantagraphics outdid themselves with this reprint, which will undoubtedly be a treasure enjoyed by fans for many years."
...and they also name Dave McKean's Celluloid the Best Erotic Graphic Novel of 2011, with Daniel Elkin saying "Dave McKean is a tremendous artist. He creates work of enormous emotional impact with a deftness and subtlety that is so often missing in modern art. McKean can tell an entire novel's story in a single picture. He's that good.... Celluloid is beautiful and it is powerful and it is mysterious and engaging. It is art as defined by every iteration of the word. It is also another example of what comics can do that no other form of media can match."
• List:Forbidden Planet International's Joe Gordon names The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Vol. 2 one of his Best of the Year: "For my money Jacques Tardi is one of Europe’s great comics creators, a true maestro... This second helping collects two of the original French albums and serves up a heady cocktail of conspiracies, secret societies, black magic practicioners, mad scientists (and boy does Tardi do a great, cackling mad scientist – he even brings in some from his brilliant The Arctic Maruader into this) and all set against a beautifully realised backdrop of Belle Epoque, pre-war Paris. Fantagraphics are translating a huge swathe of Tardi’s work and in fact I’d recommend and and everything they have so far translated and republished, but for the sake of this piece I’ll go with the wonderful Adèle."
• List: One more Best of the Year list at Forbidden Planet International, with festival organizer Clark Burscough putting Joe Daly's Dungeon Quest Book 2 at the top of his Graphic Novels list: "Childish, purile, hilarious, brilliant. I am completely in love with Joe Daly’s series at this point, and the second volume continues in the same vein as the first; namely, silly stoner-esque humour, with a love for RPGs at its heart."
• Review: "...[Young Romance] is a real treat, an inexpensive way to read a nice sampling of some Kirby comics that any Kirby fanatic has to be curious about. Michael Gagne did a great job assembling a fun cross-section of stories, and noted romance comics historian Michelle Nolan provides an insightful introduction. These might not be the first classic Kirby comics that you would choose to pick up, but they are a lot of fun to read. Rating: ★★★★★" – Jason Sacks, Comics Bulletin
• Review: "The art is evocative and detailed, still in a very Ub Iwerks-ian rubber-hose style... The character of Mickey [Mouse] -- and the simple fact that he has a character, and isn't just the waving silent mascot of the last couple of decades of Disney -- will be surprising to most readers, but this mouse was a tough little guy, ready for both adventures and fun at any minute, and he's deeply enjoyable to read about." – Andrew Wheeler, The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.
• Profile:The Portland Mercury's Matt Stangel catches up with Tony Millionaire on working the illustrator's beat (as documented in 500 Portraits): "'Making a living off comics is almost impossible,' says Millionaire, musing on the illustration work that's kept him fed through the years."
• 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
• 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: 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: At the Forbidden Planet International blog, comics creator Nick Abadzis names Jaime Hernandez's "The Love Bunglers" from Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 as one of his three favorite comics of the year: "Hernandez just keeps delivering stories of the highest calibre. There are no pyrotechnics or fancy-ass page layouts, just a slow burn of emotion and expression, presented in calmly immaculate style. The moments of his characters’ lives that Hernandez chooses to show in the telling of his tales are picked and deployed with such precision it betrays a wisdom and clarity very few storytellers possess, in comics or any other media. Just beautiful."
• Review: "Everything Is an Afterthought is as much a eulogy for the life and work of this influential critic and writer as it is a reflection of how otherworldly the entertainment industry of the 1960s and '70s appears from a contemporary perspective of online bloggers and digital music.... Avery's narrative is bookended by a morbid fascination with Nelson's lonely end, living poorly and finally dying in his apartment in 2006 at age 70. But the dual nature of his book is fantastic, because after reading about Nelson's life we desire and deserve to read his work." – Thomas Conner, Chicago Sun-Times
• Review: "What is central to this magnificent book [Everything Is an Afterthought] is that Avery, a fabulous writer in his own regard, is also clearly a big Paul Nelson fan. As such, he presents a critical, yet caring, picture of Nelson's professional and personal life, the latter a bit sad and wistful, pulling out all the stops in a moving tribute, warts and all. And since he is such a good writer in his own regard, Avery's introduction to the book is almost like a second book in itself, and worth the price of admission alone. [Rating] 5 stars" – Sound Waves
• Review: "With this new book, I feel like Gottfredson’s take on the characters is blossoming into something strong enough that I wish I’d encountered it much earlier in life.... The Mickey Mouse books from Fantagraphics are full of tons of bonus material; advertising art, essays, sketches, even examples of how the stories got re-purposed down the line. These feel like the Criterion Collection DVDs translated into comic strip compilations, a prime example of how to give the readers more than their money’s worth.... With Mickey Mouse: Trapped on Treasure Island, I’m already eager to see what Gottfredson did next. I’m in for the long haul." – Greg McElhatton, Read About Comics
• Review: "If men dressed as bears are stealing your homework or you can't find that mysterious fortune teller because you have a lousy sense of direction, Tales Designed to Thrizzle can help you. Just be aware that this book is as rapid-fire a comic as I've ever read and is an almost overwhelming experience. If you can hang on to enjoy the ride, and are a fan of the humor of webcomics like Wondermark or the prose stylings of John Hodgman, then you really need to find someone who already owns a copy of this book and kill them for it. Or, you know, buy one for yourself. Either way, I'm good. And so is Tales Designed to Thrizzle." – Rob McMonigal, Panel Patter
• Plug: "Pogo Vol. 1: Through The Wild Blue Wonder – ... Kelly’s illustrations are masterful, with expressive characters who are warm and friendly. Pogo‘s deft social satire makes this collection about Pogo Possum and friends a must own for humor comics fans and people who just like good things in general." – Robot 6 guest contributors Geoffrey Golden & Amanda Meadows
• Reviews: Author and comics scholar Michael Barrier examines several of our recent classic comics reprints in detail
• Plug: At The Huffington Post, Dave Scheidt's "2011 Holiday Gift Guide Comic Books" include Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol. 1 by Michael Kupperman: "The funniest comic you've never read. Laugh out loud funny. Spastic, bizarre and gut busting. Fans of Saturday Night Live, Mad Magazine and just anyone who likes to laugh will love this book. A fair warning, if you read this book in public, you will laugh like a mad man and most likely frighten people like I did."
"Kelly's Pogo is a masterclass in wordsmithing, satire, and relatable art. Although this collection apparently doesn't get to the more overtly political satire that made Pogo so famous, it does promise to be a great look at the start of an important and quintessential comic strip. The statements Kelly makes in these early stories are about character relationships, design, and humor as well as use of the English language in surprising and touching ways. This is the surely the ground floor of what looks to be the next great collection series in comics literature."
"Charles M. Schulz's relatable characters are literally part of the fabric of my being. Peanuts helped forge my earliest appreciation for sequential art and, funny as it seems, philosophy. I can't wait until the day I have a shelf filled with every strip ever starring Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Pig-Pen and the rest of the Peanuts gang."
• Plugs:iFanboy's "2011 Holiday Gift Guide: Lost Treasures," written by Paul Montgomery, includes:
"Mickey’s grown soft in his old age, but back in the day he was my kind of bastard. Dude’s a straight up rascal, and launches headlong into danger, starting with the seminal 'Race to Death Valley.' Floyd Gottfredson’s wily take on the character is revered by the best cartoonists, and Fantagraphics has packaged these earliest serial strips from the 30s in some truly handsome volumes. Take advantage of the two volume slipcover edition for a great value and the publisher’s now signature excellence in presentation."
"Every year, the top item on my own Christmas list is the annual box-set collecting Fantagraphics’ latest volumes of Charles Schulz’s Complete Peanuts.... Watching Chuck and Snoopy evolve from their original designs of the early 50s to the more familiar iterations I grew up with in the Funnies is an incredible experience."
"Turns out it wasn’t that easy navigating the Arctic Ocean from Russian to France at the turn of the 20th century. If you dig on Poe and Verne and antique diving helmets, this woodcut melodrama is just for you."
"Years in the making, this new collection of Walt Kelly’s Pogo dailies and weekend strips does due justice to a comic that ought to be as much a household name as Peanuts or Doonesbury.... Mix in Kelly’s whimsical, lyrical 'Swamp speak' and you’ve got some real poetry on your hands."
"This is as beautiful a book as I’ve purchased this year, and the stories within have much to offer both children and adult fans of visual storytelling and even comedy. Barks knew how to contract a joke, and this is a masterclass."
• Plug:Robot 6's Michael May makes an unexpected choice when spotlighting upcoming titles listed in the current issue of Previews: "The Big Town- Charles Schulz’ son wrote this novel (the last in his jazz-age trilogy) about the end of the Roaring Twenties and 'the role of business, crime, morality, and love in our lives.' It’s not comics, but it sounds ambitious and transporting."