Favorite reads of the year, this is all the comics that are books unto themselves (well, kind of) (see webcomics, minicomics/short stories, and manga lists). As usual for my lists this is not just works that were published (or republished) in 2011, but it covers anything I happened to have read in 2011. This turned out to be the hardest of my lists to put together. I ended up being a lot less excited about longer comics/books this year, especially new works in English, with half the list being French language publications. Some of these selections may not have made the list in a stronger year.
Not 2011, but damn you should read this, because it was my favorite self-contained comic of the year:
Par Les Sillons by Vincent Fortemps (Fremok, 2009): I’m not sure how I stumbled upon this book, maybe it was just from browsing the publisher’s website and looking at the samples, but I am sure glad I did find it. This is an amazing work, one of my favorite comics ever, let alone, this year. A beautiful, silent narrative told in images that look to be part etching, part monoprint, smeared and scratched with a wonderful gray glow to them (check out the samples at the link above). I’ll write a full post on this, one of these days.
New editions/printings for 2011:
Journal v.1-4 by Fabrice Neaud (Ego Comme X, 1996-2002, new editions/printing (in 3 books) 2011): I don’t think I could overhype this as one of the (the?) best autobiographical comics ever made. Neaud is a superb draughtsmen who can move from near photorealist figures and settings into expressive and metaphorical images that add a powerful depth to the work. As a writer of his own life, he is fairly brutal and incisive. This is not the autobiography of current/historical events (a la Maus/Persepolis), of the miniscule day (American Elf), nor of the “relationship comics” variety (Brown’s trilogy, Blankets). Rather Neaud takes on love, friendship, art, and perhaps most importantly the life of a gay man in a heterosexual society. It’s a depressing sign for comics in English that this still hasn’t been translated/published, but it’s also not totally surprising, as Neaud does not shy away from graphic images of his own sexual activity and fantasy. And while the graphic heterosexuality (focused on women’s bodies, of course) of many previous/contemporary cartoonists is printed and praised, the same attention to homosexual male sexuality seems to be the province of ghettoized comics (including yaoi manga). According to a recent interview with Loic Néhou of Ego Comme X there are some interested publishers for an English edition, but if those deals fail to come to fruition Ego Comme X will do a print-on-demand English version.
Actually New in 2011:
Unspent Love, or Things I Wish I Told You by Shannon Gerard (Conundrum, 2011): This came out late in the year to, so far, little fanfare, but I really enjoyed rereading the pieces collected here (most (all?) of which appeared online at Top Shelf 2.0). Each section in the book is a textual monologue accompanied by images of a figure or two over short stretches of time. The connection between the text and the figures (characters) is often ambiguous, but the interaction of the two makes for some fine comics.
Color Engineering by Yuichi Yokoyama (Picturebox, 2011): This is a wonderful, if occasionally frustrating, read. Way stronger and more visually dynamic book than Yokoyama’s Garden, also released this year (but which I found a little dull). Color Engineering is often closer to an abstract comic than to anything else. It’s one of the few comics I’ve read where almost every page seemed to be part of a two-page spread rather than just its own page.
New parts of ongoing serials… also those artists that make the list almost every year:
“Love Bunglers” by Jaime Hernandez in Love & Rockets: New Stories #4 (Fantagraphics, 2011): Assuming this will be one place where my list will cross-over with a lot of other people’s (and it has, as of this writing, ditto for my next selection). A really powerful entry (one of the best) in Hernandez’s ongoing serial. You probably don’t need me to say anything about this, either you already read it or you don’t care. This one kind of breaks the list’s rule, since I’m really only a fan of the Jaime portion of the volume, but it feels weird to but this in the short story section since it doesn’t really stand alone.
Ganges #4 by Kevin Huizenga (Fantagraphics, 2011): No one does insomnia like Kevin Huizenga. He makes the everyday into a formal adventure of comics, and the way he plays with time is amazing. This is another strong issue of what appears to be the last of the Ignatz line. (Not really a book, but too high-end to be considered a minicomic.)
Not new, but both pretty striking works:
Vent Frais Vent du Matin by Nadia Raviscioni (Atrabile, 2010): This comic is a bit oblique at times, with some repeating motifs that I’m not sure what to make of them, but it is an expressive, non-linear work that is quite unique. I can’t say it better than Matthias Wivel did at TCJ last year (where I heard of the book).
World Trade Angels by Fabrice Colin and Laurent Cilluffo (Denoel, 2006): I heard of this book a long time ago from a Bart Beaty post at The Comics Reporter (sadly all the images appear to have disappeared from that post), and this year I finally tracked down a copy. I can only echo what Beaty said in that post, and marvel that no one has picked this up for English translation.