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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:


Another year has passed us by, and as I look back on the comics portion of it… well, in the grander sense, it wasn’t exactly brilliant. Yet if there wasn’t something that kept drawing me to the medium, I’d have shuttered this site a long time ago. What does keep me going is that feeling I get when I read a comic or graphic novel that really grabs me by the throat and engages me on a level beyond the surface. So with the exception of the book at the bottom, which I am naming my Best of 2009, here in no particular order are the Ten Books That Made Me Glad I Read Comics in 2009:

THE MUPPET SHOW from Boom Studios. I grew up on The Muppets. I think that THE MUPPET MOVIE is the greatest movie musical ever made. But the flip side to that is that it is very easy to get these characters wrong. Roger Langridge gets them right. Perfect, really. The other Muppet fairy tale projects have been solid as well. Whenever I’ve needed a smile from a comic in 2009, I have headed straight for THE MUPPET SHOW.

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, VOL1 from Vertigo. Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli combine to deliver one of the darkest, grimmest graphic novels to ever hit shelves in this tale of Ugandan horror. And while in another book it might feel like exploitation, in this one… well, Uganda was just looking to create a law to force the death penalty on gays. UNKNOWN SOLDIER feels so real and so raw that it’s almost painful to read. I was devastated by the time I finished volume one, shuddering from the tragedy contained on page after page. Stunning work.

BATTLEFIELDS from Dynamite Entertainment. No one in the history of comics has written better stories about World War Two than Garth Ennis. And turned loose with his BATTLEFIELDS line, he showed once again why he is the master. The first arc, NIGHT WITCHES was a brutal gut punch, following the story of Russian women pilots and their flights over German lines. But it was arc two, DEAR BILLY, that reached into your chest and ripped your heart out. No comic in ’09 had a more heartbreaking conclusion.

LITTLE NOTHINGS VOL.2 from NBM. The second collection of Lewis Trondheim’s art blog was just as amazing as the first, and just as vital to have on your shelves. I consider Trondheim to be the best living comics creator in the world right now, and this is him working at his purest form. Free-wheeling, off-the-cuff, and brutally honest about his life and the things he sees around him. There is no better look into the mind of an artist available right now.

CHEW from Image Comics. I realize that the inclusion of this book may seem a little self-serving; writer John Layman is a friend of mine, and artist Rob Guillory is not a stranger to me, either. But there were plenty of other books by friends this year that aren’t on this list. CHEW is here because it’s just that good. It has one of the most creative and innovative premises you’ll find in comics. It has witty and unpredictable scripts. Great characters. Art that sets it apart from everything else on the stands. I began losing my interest in monthly comics a long time ago, and I no longer go out of my way to pick up more than a couple. But CHEW is so good, I avoid learning too much about it in advance. I love the surprise it delivers with each issue. That’s something to treasure.

WAR OF KINGS from Marvel. I had a falling out with Marvel a couple of years ago and find their regular line of superhero books to be almost completely unreadable. But very quietly, across the line and into the reach of space, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been doing tremendous work in the cosmic books line. This hardcover collection delivered a scintillating war between the Inhumans/Kree and the Shiar. They even snuck in a couple of Skrulls along the way. Add some fine artists along the way like Paul Pellitier, and the pages fairly pop with life and excitement. WAR OF KINGS was a reminder of the Marvel I loved as a kid; exciting, intense, filled with characters I could understand and empathize with. Plus: a heroic talking raccoon. That’s just good comics.

JOHNNY HIRO from AdHouse. Fred Chao’s masterful comics got collected into one volume and we got two new tales to boot. Brilliantly drawn, hilarious scripted, and ingeniously conceived, JOHNNY HIRO mixes giant monsters, martial arts flicks, performance arts, cooking, and more to create one of the most unique works of the past few years. I fell in love with this book from the moment I read the first issue in pamphlet form, and by the time I was done reading the graphic novel, I was pretty much a Chao devotee for life. If you want something different, something fun, something lacking angst and pain… well, you should buy this immediately.

THE COLOR OF EARTH/WATER/HEAVEN from First Second. Kim Dong Hwa’s trilogy of graphic novels based on his mother’s adolescent life had all the earmarks of something that should have held no interest for me. Relationship drama based on a young Korean girl? Pastoral setting? Takes place decades ago? Yawn. But that’s why you read the books: to be proven dead wrong. Instead, these books were incredibly captivating; full of lively and interesting characters, relationships that held my interest and forced me to care, a setting that I knew nothing about but wanted to learn more about immediately. Never has something so simple felt so complex and fully realized. Dong Hwa is an immense talent, and his work affected me on an emotional and visceral level. Every page in these books is an incredible work of art. The COLOR trilogy is truly a gift.

STARMAN OMNIBUS from DC Comics. As with Marvel, DC became completely unreadable for me a couple of years ago, their main “universe” becoming so complex as to shut me out. But these stunning collections of James Robinson and Tony Harris’ legendary series keep me coming back for more. STARMAN was the best book that the company produced in the 90s, and really the best superhero book of the 90s no matter what company you’re talking about. In these thick hardcovers, we’re finally getting the series collected in pure chronological fashion, on fantastic paper, and with informative behind-the-scenes material from the creators. These are the kinds of books that will always stand the test of time. I eagerly await the next one.

And finally, my pick for Best of 2009…

THE PHOTOGRAPHER from First Second. Emmanuel Guibert strikes again, delivering one of the most unique and satisfying graphic novel experiences of the decade, really. Working with photographer Didier Lefevre, he has created the ultimate travelogue graphic novel. Lefevre undertook a journey into war-torn Afghanistan alongside a cadre of Doctors Without Borders in 1986, using his camera to document that treacherous expedition in ways never seen before. Guibert took Lefevre’s picture and interspersed them with his own sequential art to tell Lefevre’s story in a way that comics have never been effectively used before. As we prepare to send another surge of troops into Afghanistan, THE PHOTOGRAPHER feels more relevant as each day passes. If I could only hand you one book from this list, I’d hand you this one without thinking twice. It’s just that good.

Marc Mason  

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