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Welcome to the Comics Waiting Room!


10 ESSENTIALS FOR 2006

Each year I offer ten “essential” comics or graphic novels; not a “ten best list”, mind you, but ten things that would make your comics or graphic novel experience the best it can be. This year, I’m altering the format even a bit more, dropping my choices into ten different categories. In no particular order…

ESSENTIAL 80S RETURN: THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS VOL.1. The best news of the holiday season was Lester Girls’ return to the shelves, in a nifty new trade paperback from Checker BPG. This humor classic, which once famously promised “All the sex and twice the violence” on its cover, has lost none of its humor, zest, and satiric edge over the past twenty years, and the first seven issues show a series just beginning to find its greatness. Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones never did better work.

ESSENTIAL FOR THE YOUNGER SET: POLLY AND THE PIRATES. Ted Naifeh’s ingenious tale of a proper young girl thrust into the world of scalawags is pitch perfect from start to finish, and will captivate young and old, as well as girl or boy. Fantastic characters, terrific settings, and a ton of action and adventure made this the absolute best book for the teen set to hit shelves in 2006, manga included. If more creators put the amount of care into making their work appealing to all demos the way Naifeh does, we could finally get back to making “comics are for children” actually true. From Oni Press.

ESSENTIAL LONG-LOST CLASSIC REPRINT: POPEYE VOL.1. Fantagraphics delivered another reprint stunner this year with their first go-around with the spinach-eating sailor. From the amazing hardcover design to the strength of the actual material, this was a winner from page one. The lesson you learn from this book almost immediately is that the cartoon and subsequent versions of the character were abominations; E.C. Segar’s work is dark, edgy, black comedy, and Popeye is no buffoon. He’s also not the only star of the book, as Segar’s universe contained a multitude of wondrous characters. This was perhaps the most revelatory book of 2006.
 

ESSENTIAL EUROPEAN SERIES: DUNGEON from NBM. Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim have found a groove and keep delivering one brilliant entry in this series after another. Marvin and the rest of the cast are such well-rounded characters that you’re sucked into their lives, no matter which era of the DUNGEON saga the creators are telling stories in. 2006 saw the Twilight Era find a resolution, but 2007 promises a new entry from a different part of the timeline. Barring the book turning out to be 96 pages of gibberish drawn in crayon, I can guarantee you it will be great.

ESSENTIAL MARVEL ESSENTIAL: Behind manga, the “Essential” format has become my favorite type of book to read. I’ve averaged buying at least one a month over the past year or better, and no question, this year’s printings of the OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE has been the cream of the crop. I can remember sitting with my friend Billy when we were kids, and we poured through the original issues, picking over every word, and memorizing insanely stupid amounts of data. Not to mention my unhealthy attraction to Walt Simonson’s depiction of Karnilla, Queen of the Norns… But the most important thing about these books is that it represents another piece of the great Mark Gruenwald’s legacy put into print for more to see. God bless you, Mark, and I hope your rest continues to be a peaceful one. Some of us will never forget.

ESSENTIAL CLASSIC IN THE MAKING:
SCOTT PILGRIM VOL.3 from Oni Press. The latest installment of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s seven volume saga arrived rather late but made up for it by being every bit as good as the first two volumes, if not better. The book combines manga pacing and action with a soft romantic heart and characters you really care about. Scott may be kind of an idiot, but you’re so invested in his plight, having to defeat Ramona’s seven evil ex-boyfriends, that it doesn’t matter. By the time the series is complete, it should take its place among the all-time greats; it would take an epic quality collapse (think DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN) to make it otherwise.

ESSENTIAL MANGA: NODAME CANTABILE from Del Rey. This quiet series, which follows a group of university students and their trials and travails playing in the school’s orchestras, won the award for “Best Manga” during its original run in Japan, and this year’s volumes showed why. Captivating characters that you completely invest in, situations that strike directly at the human heart, art that takes the traditional manga “look” and moves it towards realism… there’s so much to love about Noda Megumi and company. If you wonder why manga continues to grow in popularity, look no further than this book, which is easily the equivalent of a good novel that appeals across all demographic lines. NODAME is as good as manga gets, period.

ESSENTIAL COMIC BOOK: DORK #11 from Slave Labor. Evan Dorkin took his sweet time getting this book out; four years to be exact. But every bit of that time was worth it. With over 200 gags squeezed into these pages, and an extraordinary number of them turning out to be excessively funny or clever, you can read it and not have a problem saying that another four-year wait would be fine. If that’s what it takes to make DORK #12 this good, I’m happy to roll with it. I mentioned above that I wasn’t quantifying anything about this list, but I will make one thing clear: this was the single best comic book of 2006 and nothing else even came close.

ESSENTIAL GRAPHIC NOVEL: LOST GIRLS, by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie. Top Shelf honcho Chris Staros bet the company’s future on Moore and Gebbie’s rumination on Victorian Era pornography and sexual mores, and he drew blackjack. Already in multiple prints, the $75 hardcover got tongues to wagging and readers to debating; you couldn’t hit a comics website this fall without seeing an interview with Staros or one of the creators, a review of the book’s merits, or an impassioned discussion amongst readers about the content. I thought that the book’s revelation was the gorgeous work turned in by Gebbie, yet another close friend who is also a reviewer thoroughly hated her work. Whether or not LOST GIRLS was the best graphic novel of 2006 could be debated until 2016; no matter how you feel about it, though, it was certainly the most vital and important thing to hit the medium this year, and nothing drew more attention.

ESSENTIAL PUBLISHER:NBM. What a year they had: DUNGEON, BONEYARD, BLUESMAN, WAR FIX, UNHOLY KINSHIP, BROWNSVILLE, the continuing TREASURY OF VICTORIAN MURDER series, the conclusion to LUCIFER’S GARDEN OF VERSES, a new art book from Luis Royo, the continuing volumes of COMPLETE OMAHA… seeing their logo on the outside of a package that comes in the mail is the closest thing that a comics critic can get to feeling like Santa has delivered. No other publisher produces more high quality original books that belong in your local library. Their secret is that they don’t lose focus on producing populist material while putting together arthouse masterpieces, which is where many other publishers can stumble. Truly a brilliant year of books from Terry Nantier and company.

That’s it: ten essentials for 2006. Think I’m crazy or have an addition to make? Write me from the link below. Thanks for reading, and thanks for being a part of this inaugural period for the Comics Waiting Room. I look forward to serving you more of the best that comics have to offer in 2007.

Marc Mason


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