Best of 2005, It’s Unavoidable

(Edited 1/2/06 with review links)

Shawn has a list of 365 Things he enjoyed in comics this year (this site is number 259), which is a wealth of new discoveries to explore. Chris and Alan just put up their Best of 2005 at CBG. Reminded me that I was working on a list too.

I’m going to take a different tactic than most of these types of list. As I tend to read a lot of older publications, I really can’t do my “best of” list without including books published in previous years (or decades), so this will be a mix of the old and the new. As I’ve mostly read comics this year, that will be the focus, but I’ll throw in TV shows too (that’s an easy list for me to make as it is short and sweet).

Comics (in no particular order, and I’m sure I forgot something) (links are to reviews I wrote):

1. La Vie comme elle vient, Lewis Trondheim (Dargaud): Trondheim’s anthropomorphic animals are cartoony and often silly, but this volume of his Lapinot series really hits hard on the emotions. No English translations of this book, and the others in the series that were translated (by Fantagraphics) are not as great as this one.

2. Buddha, Osamu Tezuka (Vertical): This series continues to impress and delight. Also Tezuka’s Phoenix (Viz) which had one volume out this year and the next one coming soon. There’s a reason Tezuka is called the “god” of manga.

3. Saikano, Shin Takahashi (Viz): This manga’s seventh and final volume is coming out in the next month. I experimented with a few manga titles this year, and this is one series that I came to follow as new volumes arrived. Its rather clich├ęd, for manga at least, concept of girl as super-army-weapon is told in such a way as to make it very human. A war rages throughout this manga yet we see very little of the fighting or the enemy, instead we see the lives of people dealing with their mortality.

4. Yokohama Kidaishi Kikou, Ashinano Hitoshi (scanlation): If I could recommend one manga to a non-manga or non-comics reader it would be this one. Beautifully drawn and carefully constructed, this ongoing series moves with the rhythm of real life, sometimes moments take forever and sometimes years pass in the blink of an eye.

5. Arf! The Life and Times of Little Orphan Annie, Harold Grey (Arlington House, 1970): I never would have guessed, but I devoured this book of Annie newspaper strips. Gray is a master of pacing and his crudely expressionist art is deceptively perfect for the stories he tells.

6. 99 Ways to Tell a Story, Matt Madden (Chamberlian Brothers, 2005): It’s no surprise seeing this on my list, I love Madden’s formally inventive comic recreation of Queneau’s Exercises in Style. An encyclopedia of techniques and styles that is never dull.

7. Couch Tag 2, Jesse Reklaw (mini): A family history organized through the succession of pet cats. Wonderful.

8. Or Else, Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly, 2004-): This series was a surprising and brilliant new addition to comics. Issue 2 in particularly is wonderfully fantastic and scientific at the same time. Formally exciting, too.

9. Gemma Bovary, Posy Simmonds (Pantheon, 2005): The formal text/image arrangement of this book is very interesting, unique almost, and works amazingly well.

10. Krazy Kat by George Herriman (Fantagraphics): I finally discovered Krazy Kat this year. This series of reprints is beautifully done and worth picking up at least one volume.

11. Ordinary Victories, Manu Larcenet (NBM, 2005): This book never got much attention but it is a wonderful example of the current “new wave” of French comics. I’ll be reviewing it soon.

12. The Walking Man by Jiro Taniguchi (Fanfare/Ponent Mon): A manga about a man who walks around his new neighborhood. Filled with tiny moments and the joy in observation and everyday discovery.

13. Maximum Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, edition concept by Walter Mosley (Marvel): What might at first sound like a joke (enlarge Fantastic Four #1 panel by panel into a coffee table book) is actually a great lesson in reading comics.

14. Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond (Checker): If it weren’t for Raymond’s beautiful art (which really deserves full remastering, recoloring, etc etc) this would never make the list, but with the art, this is a great thing to behold. The most recent two volumes (4 and 5) are quite impressive, and even the story becomes less problematic and silly.

15. Masters of American Comics, edited by John Carlin, Paul Karasik, and Brian Walker (Yale): A catalog to accompany the exhibit (currently in California, coming to the east coast in September 2006) of 13 American comic artists. It’s a high quality production filled with impressive reproductions of great comic art. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

16. Promethea, Alan Moore and JH Williams III (DC/America’s Best): The ending issue of Promethea (my favorite of Moore’s series) is a visual and verbal explosion of unequalled achievement. This year I’ll be rereading the whole series.

17. King-Cat, John Porcellino: Numbers 64 and 65 came out this year and both are some of Porcellino’s best work I’ve seen (2 collections and a few issues).

18. 676 Apparitions of Killoffer, Killoffer (Typocrat): Just read this once yesterday, but… wow. More later.

Continuing Series of Continuing Interest: Finder, Love and Rockets Vol. 2, Strangehaven, Berlin, Following Cerebus.

Disappointments/Overhyped: Astonishing X-Men, Serenity.

Hopes for the New Year: Huizenga’s Ganges, Harkham’s Crickets, Moore and Gibbie’s Lost Girls (finally?!), First Second’s launch, more high quality reprints of old comic strips (and continuing volumes in Peanuts, Krazy Kat, Flash Gordon, and Gasoline Alley), more of Tezuka’s Buddha and Phoenix, more from Typocrat, more from Pantheon (I’ve not seen anything about what their next releases are).

A few things don’t make the list because I haven’t read them yet. I still haven’t gotten the Black Hole collection, and my collection of the issues is missing part 1, which always made me feel like I was missing something important. I haven’t read Walt and Skeezix yet, though it is sitting on my shelf waiting. A few I did not find as worth of high praise as others (I’m still on the fence with The Push Man).

TV and TV on DVD (one thing I always find it easy to rank):

1. Deadwood (HBO) (more review here): The best show on television, hands down. HBO needs to get off its ass and release a season 2 DVD.

2. Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi): I cautiously checked this show out on DVD and was shocked to find it to be one of the most interesting and intelligent shows on. A science fiction tv show that not only tells an exciting story filled with dynamic characters, but it is also filled with policial and religious exploration that is relevant to the contemporary times. This is light years away from the original series.

3. Veronica Mars (UPN): With the new (second) season this show keeps getting better: the old characters grow, interesting new characters are added, and the stories are more tightly wound than last season. The writers mix weekly small mysteries with season-ranging large mysteries in a suspenseful and interesting way.

4. Wonderfalls (FOX/DVD): Another one that was cancelled far too soon. Funny, thoughtful, engaging, and inventive. Get the DVD, watch it.

5. Lost (ABC): The writers are managing to walk a fine line with this show between mystery and revelation. After a rocky first two episodes (moved really slow and quite repetitive), they’ve kept me interested in the old and the new without leaving me feeling that the story is not progressing. My one wish: more of Locke (he’s my favorite).

6. The West Wing (DVD): Who knew this would be the year I watch 4 seasons of West Wing in rapid succession. The show has a tendency to show bits and pieces in interesting ways. Often we see a struggle for some piece of legislation and never see the victory or lose. It has a true “slice of life” structuring. I do get annoyed that the characters seem to have no personal lives, but I guess they can only show us so much. I’m extremely impressed by Aaron Sorkin having written or co-written 20 of the 22 episodes in Season 4. Damn!