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 a dozen great graphic novel and manga bloggers for their picks from this year's new titles. Below are their choices for the best graphic novels of 2009.
by Kevin Cannon
Kevin Cannon's Far Arden is a rollicking and seemingly lighthearted adventure through a somewhat fantastical version of the Canadian Arctic that turns out to be much deeper and more emotional than one would expect at the start. With a fast-moving plot, plenty of funny jokes, hilariously literal sound effects (like "Angry orphan punch!" or "Mid-air groin grinder!"), and a large cast of well-defined characters all searching for the mythical paradise of the title, Cannon has crafted a satisfying, beautifully-illustrated story that aims straight for the funny bone and happens to hit the heart along the way.
designed by Adrian Tomine, written by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
A Drifting Life is more than just manga creator Yoshihiro Tatsumi's autobiography. It's a chronicle of life during post-World War II Japan. It's a primer into the backstabbing, Machiavellian nature of the publishing industry. It's a manifesto of how to break out of the expected and create your own genre. At just over 850 pages in length, what may look daunting seems to almost fly by as you read it; Tatsumi's struggles to find his artistic voice are enthralling and easy to empathize with. Be warned, though, by the end you'll want to re-read it all over again.
by Richard Stark, illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter, about a betrayed man on a mission of revenge, is an artistic tour-de-force. Parker is a captivating character — you won't be able to take your eyes off of him — and the plot successfully weaves together action, drama, and some nice black comedy. But it is the art that is truly exceptional. Author Darwyn Cooke's drawings are so fluid and the storytelling is so strong that you might zip through this book at a frenetic pace. I'd recommend forcing yourself to slow down, however, and really look at these images. There's such style and grace on display, and Cooke's line is so confident that it feels like he drew the entire thing without once picking up an eraser. This book is a blast.
by Junko Mizuno
Junko Mizuno's Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu is a bizarre, inter-dimensional odyssey about the search for love and identity told through Mizuno's utterly distinct prism as a cartoonist. Her complete mastery of the conventions of graphic storytelling allows her to turn even the simplest scenes on their head, and her twisted imagination and fearlessness guarantee a surprise on every page. Adorable, upsetting, psychedelic and scathing, Pelu is unlike any other book published this year.
by Joshua Cotter
Presented as a facsimile sketchbook, Cotter's follow-up to his popular Skyscrapers of the Midwest is the kind of dense, inventive, idea-rich thingamajig that'd knot your belly with intimidated awe if he showed it to you — though its philosophical musings and cartoon iconography are personal enough that it's more like you broke into his bedroom and pulled it out of a drawer. The tale of a li'l rabbit's personal journey (more or less, kinda), this is the kind of comic that sees a new visual style pop up on every third or fifth page... yet images recur, anxieties solidify, and even the endpapers have something to add. These pages are so worked-over with spew of the soul and skull. A must for funnybook adventurers.
by Jeremy Love
Mississippi. The 1930's. Lee Wagstaff lives with her father, and her best friend is Lily, a girl whose mother disapproves of her friendship with a black child. One day, when Lily goes missing in the bayou, Lee's father is accused of raping and murdering her. Lee knows that her only chance of saving him is to go find Lily. And to do so, she must enter the bayou and find the dark magical world that hides behind it. The first volume of this three part series is a Southern Gothic tale of courage and adventure, with a smart, resourceful young heroine who must fight to save those she loves from the injustices of racism.
by Kiminori Wakasugi
Main character Soichi is a sweet-as-pie boy from the country with dreams of starting a pop band. Instead, he becomes the lead singer of death metal band Detroit Metal City, where he sports KISS-inspired make-up as Krauser II. This is not a graphic novel for the faint of heart, but if you like awkward humor and irony — and know when to not take a book too seriously — this is the book for you!
by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim
The Eternal Smile tells three different stories, yet they all have a uniting theme: searching for an answer, looking for a better way of life, hoping for a way to cure life’s woes. All of these tales are wonderfully told with the help of Derek Kirk Kim's eye-catching art. Each story has its own distinct art style and I truly LOVED the art in "Urgent Request," the story of a young girl who gets lost in her own dream world when responding to one of those dreaded spam emails from a prince in Nigeria while searching for a way out of her mundane life. I thought this book was a wonderful follow up to Yang's amazing American Born Chinese. I can’t wait to see the rest of the world discover this treasure of a book. I smell Printz possibilities again!
by Tatsuya Ishida
Sinfest collects the first 560 strips of the online comic of the same name, the best webcomic out there. Beautiful cartooning by Tatsuya Ishida comments directly on the foibles of modern life, including beliefs, politics, and gender. The cast successfully combines a regular guy, a dog, and a cat with God, the devil, and the occasional living calligraphy symbol. I've never seen such humor and insight drawn so well.
written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa
In a future world, robots have moved beyond mere machines to have personalities and lives of their own — and now, something is killing the greatest robots in the world. Naoki Urasawa brings each character, human or robot, to life, and his story goes expands beyond the genre to become a prolonged meditation on the self and the other.
by David Small
Peter from Flashlight Worthy here — I took the liberty of adding this title to the list. Stitches has appeared on so many "Top 10 Books of 2009" lists that it seems wrong to exclude it here. (I expect that many of the bloggers above didn't choose it because they assumed someone else would submit it for this list.)
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