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Best Comics I Read in 2012

It’s the end of the year, which means it’s “best of” time. I tried real hard to keep track of every book/comic I read this year, though, as usual, I neglected to take any notes about web/digital comics. I’m also not so good about keeping track of short stories, single page comics, or anthology pieces that I really liked. So, this list comes with caveats about those forms. I had these in categories at first, but that’s pointless, so it’s just a list in alphabetical order of as many comics as I felt like including along with some brief and inadequate attempts to explain why (most of these rely too much on visual effect to be easily summarized). All of these are comics I read for the first time in 2012 (so not counting rereads), and most were published in 2012 (with a few minor exceptions for foreign works which I’m usually a little behind on).

Hic Sunt Leones by Frederic Coché (Frémok, 2008) – If you’ve seen some of Coché’s other works, you might know that they tend to be etchings, for this book he switched to painting, and it’s beautiful. Often abstract (visually and narratively), it reads like a poem with images that veer between abstract color fields to expressively painted representations (figures, landscapes, objects). It’s published from Belgium, but the comic itself is multi-lingual (English, French, German, and some Latin I believe).

seed toss, nameroughquena 1-3 by Warren Craghead (2012) – More of Warren’s tiny, print-out-and-fold-em books, there were supposed to be 6 of these that are sort of tracing the history of Arlington, Virginia, but so far only 3 have appeared. Like a lot of my favorite comics, these move between narrative and abstraction. The first issue has a lot of plants and seeds, then we find natives and colonials in issues 2 and 3 with all these great little drawings of people and tools.

Lenin Kino by Olivier Deprez (Fremok, 2009) – Most of the panels in this comic are blurry abstract field paintings in a dark, murky color. I haven’t the slightest clue what this comic is about. I love it. This is a comic that two of my friends, who are painters and don’t read comics, really fell for. Deprez seems to mostly do wood/linocut work for his comics, so, like the Coché above this is a bit of a departure.

Rolling Stock #1 by Oliver East (2012) – Again with the narrative/abstraction, this time in the form of Oliver’s walking/landscape comics. He seemed to really level up this year with this series. They are more sparse/subdued than his other work and with a cleaner design to the pages/panels, often breaking into what seems like complete abstraction but, in context, is pared down representation from his observations.

Le Wagon Engourdi by Vincent Giard (Colosse, 2012) – This little comic is like an explosion of bright colors and crazy lines which, if you’ve seen Vincent’s work, will be no surprise. Each page is beautiful. It’s pretty much wordless so don’t worry about the French title. It’s kind of got a story about a woman reading on the train. There are explosions and comics within the comic and fantasy and… well you should just get this and read it. You can even read it (slightly different version, I think) online.

RL #1 by Tom Hart (2012) – This is probably one of the most painful comics you will ever read (well maybe until #2 appears) telling the story of Tom’s young daughter’s death. You can see Tom really stretching himself to do justice to the work. He succeeds admirably well (visually I think this is the best I’ve seen from him) for what must have been a very difficult creative process.

Q by Aidan Koch (Floating World, 2012) and/or After Nothing Comes by Aidan Koch (2012) (out of print I guess) – Aidan is so damn prolific I had to list two of her comics here. Q is a large tabloid comic in color and After Nothing Comes is in a smaller b+w zine format. Seeing Aidan work large and in color for Q is really something especially when she takes advantage of the space offered by the dimensions. After Nothing Comes is, I think, more successful as a kind of poetic narrative, but you can tell it was created in color and then printed in greyscale, and I can feel that loss of effect after looking at Q.

The Shape of the World by Jason Overby (2012) (out of print I guess) – A strange little minicomic/zine from Jason that I kept thinking was hand drawn (that is, some parts don’t look like they were copied/printed). There are ripped drawings taped onto the pages, and a smaller register of pages stapled into the middle. Many of the pages have no images at all just text, most have a abbreviated sketch or just small black squares. The text addresses Jason’s frequent theme of memory, reality, and perception. In comparison to a lot of Jason’s denser work (of which there has been some great examples this year too) this is very sparse.

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton (Blue Rider, 2012) – This isn’t exactly a comic. It’s a memoir about Shapton’s experiences with swimming (she swam competitively), but interspersed with the textual sections are quite a few sequences of images that are really lovely: beautiful blue watercolors of a swimmer swimming, a series of blue watercolors of swimming pools, a series of bright colored landscapes(?). The memoir was also quite enjoyable and well written with an interesting attention to the sense of smell.

Kamui-Den by Sanpei Shirato (4 vol., Kana, 2010-2012) – This is a French edition of the manga from the late 60s in the form of 4 ~1500 page volumes. It’s a huge epic about class struggle in medieval Japan mixed with almost incongruous ninja stories. There are so many plotlines and characters it is often hard to keep track, and Shirato himself seems to drop plotlines at will when he loses interest or they stray too far from the main thrust of the narrative. There are, especially early on, long side stories that overwhelm the narrative (like a long tale about a wolf). It’s a huge baggy monster, but easily ranks with Lone Wolf & Cub as a masterful work of manga about Edo period Japan (LW&C’s Goseki Kojima was an assistant to Shirato on Kamui-Den). It’s a shame there’s no English edition as I think it could attract the classic manga and the samurai manga fans; I could see Dark Horse putting this out.

Stopping at ten seems to make sense here. Though there are other works I read this year that could have also made the list depending on the circumstances:

Les Hommes-Loups by Dominique Goblet (Frémok, 2010)
Building Stories by Chris Ware (Pantheon, 2012)
-Dro 1-3 by Pascal Tessier (2012) (issue one online)
-One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Hiroshige (Taschen)
Infomaniacs by Matthew Thurber
Smoo 5 by Simon Moreton
Koan by Allan Haverholm
Corporeal Breach by Chris Day (2011)
-“Samuel Lipinski” by Daniel Blancou in Lapin 37-40 (2009)
-“The Great” by Alyssa Berg (2012) (starts here)