How do you find the best graphic novels? It's a new-ish genre so bookstore staff aren't always up to speed. Many authors are new to the scene so they have no track record. Finally, the art's just as important as the words, and in my opinion, it's hard to make a quick judgement on the art — you really need to get into the story to see how the words and art work together.
With these challenges in mind, I consulted the experts: I asked some of the best graphic novel and manga bloggers for their picks from this year's new titles. That of all their submissions, only one title was suggested twice speaks to what a great year 2010 was for graphic novels.
by Vanessa Davis
Vanessa Davis's Make Me A Woman is the kind of book that makes you wish you were able to relive its events with the author. Davis's candid, relaxed storytelling invites you in on a variety of subjects, from fat camp to visits with her mother, and they're always both entertaining and educational. Add in a beautiful art style that plays with structure and form, while still being easy to follow and is remarkably expressive, and you'll find yourself unable to put it down. People who say books can't be friends have never read Make Me A Woman.
by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross
If that "vol 1" is making you groan and think "not another series", please think again. Carey and Gross's The Unwritten is unlike anything else out there, and yet it's almost sure to appeal to fans of series like The Sandman or Fables. It's a clever meditation on storytelling wrapped in a mystery and sprinkled with plenty of literacy references, and it's pretty much impossible not to read in a single sitting.
by Moto Hagio, translated by Matt Thorn
Moto Hagio is to shojo manga what Will Eisner is to American comics, a seminal creator whose distinctive style and sensibility profoundly changed the medium. Though Hagio has been actively publishing stories since the late 1960s, very little of her work has been translated into English. A Drunken Dream, published by Fantagraphics, is an excellent corrective — a handsomely produced, meticulously edited collection of Hagio's short stories that span her career from 1970 to 2007. Readers new to Hagio's work will appreciate the inclusion of two contextual essays by manga scholar Matt Thorn, one an introduction to Hagio and her peers, the other an interview with Hagio. What emerges is a portrait of a gifted artist who draws inspiration from many sources: Osamu Tezuka and Shotaro Ishimonori, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, Frances Hodgson Burnett and L.M. Montgomery.
by Barry Deutsch
This is a truly all-ages graphic novel, with plenty to hold the interest of teenagers and adults alike. Mirka is an 11-year-old girl who is comfortable in her life in an Orthodox Jewish community except for one thing: She wants to slay dragons someday. An encounter with a belligerent pig and a witch lead her to a final showdown with a troll in a surrealistic duel for a magic sword. At the same time she is negotiating these perils, she must contend with the usual stresses of friends and family—and a stepmother who is determined to teach her to knit, no matter how much she resists. Deutsch blends elements of folklore and modern life with a deft touch, and his creative use of panels to show what Mirka is thinking and doing brings this story beyond mere narrative into the realm of literature.
by Jacques Tardi
Truly the most welcome English translation of the year, this collection of aching vignettes from the mud and blood of WWI forms a unique human patchwork, fitting for a time and place where bodies and souls went to pieces. Tardi is a skilled artist, placing his soft, eminently fragile human forms against natural scenes so dense and thick (and buildings so heavy and broken) you'd swear that the entire Earthly organism has been put to bed by war's viral infection, but the true power here comes from his accumulation of carefully detailed narratives, ringing sadly as the greater accumulation of corpses remains painfully implicit.
by Aaron Renier
Aaron Renier brings a sort of European comics sensibility to this excellent children's book, which quickly builds an exciting world of pirates, magic, weird sea creatures, nifty inventions, and high-seas adventure, then populates it with a well-realized cast, headed up by children that seem like real kids who get scared and sad rather than the same old fearless adventurers. It's a gorgeous world to behold too, full of life and color, scenes packed with activity and detail, and some beautiful coloring ranging from the warm oranges and browns of seaside towns to deep ocean blues and eerie ghostly greens. As the first entry in a continuing series, it's an exciting beginning for what will hopefully be a long-lasting trip through Renier's imagination.
edited by Eric Reynolds
It's easy to take MOME for granted. After five years, Fantagraphics has managed to keep the anthology coming out on a schedule just frequent enough for it to never truly vacate one's memory. That consistency is itself a feat, one that, more often than not, can overshadow the actual content within its covers. And while there was a period in 2009 when that content seemed to slide a bit, to lose a bit of the necessity the series initially carried as promise, MOME never truly went bad — it just went to sleep. And that's when volume 19 arrived. Surrounded by rock-solid entries from prominent darlings like Josh Simmons, Tim Lane and Olivier Schrauwen, buttressed by the legendary Gilbert Hernandez, MOME 19 served as a prestigious launch for DJ Bryant, whose explicitly cruel (and deliciously sexual) riff on Steve Dikto crime comics made for one of the most visceral experiences of the year. Packed to the gills, surprising, and unabashedly ambitious, MOME 19 isn't just the best volume the series has seen, it's a shot across the bow to a format that's been ceded to fans and friends-only collectives. Anthologies, said Fantagraphics. They're still at their best when there's an adult behind the wheel.
by Yumi Unita
When Daikichi heads home for his grandfather's funeral, he and his family are in for a surprise — it seems his grandfather had a love child! Unfortunately, his family hems and haws over who should take custody with nobody ultimately claiming responsibility. In a moment of impulsivity, Daikichi takes the young girl, named Rin, home with him. Now, the 30-something, workaholic bachelor must navigate his sudden fatherhood. With sparks of humor, sweet moments of sentimentality and glimpses of grief, Bunny Drop hits all the right notes. It's a slice-of-life story that doesn't dwell so much on Rin's solitude (an all-too-easy route), and instead explores her burgeoning relationship with her nephew and guardian, Daikichi, with a depth that is both refreshing and entertaining in its simplicity.
by Fumi Yoshinaga
This graceful meditation on the relationships between mothers and daughters, friends and lovers, has all of the elements you'd expect from Fumi Yoshinaga: wit that can be either biting or warm, art that can be both graceful and goofy, and memorable and complicated characters offering unexpected takes on familiar circumstances. Any new-to-us work from Yoshinaga is always welcome, and the fact that this book covers topics often neglected in comics makes it even more appreciated.
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