Don’t worry, folks, this is the last year-end top ten from the Flavorpill books department — for 2011, at least — but we promise, it’s a doozy. Though we’ve given our opinions on some of the best memoirs and debuts of the year, not to mention the coolest book covers, we realized we were sorely lacking in covering one important genre: comics. Accordingly, we asked Tucker Stone of super-awesome Brooklyn comic spot Bergen Street Comics, to share a list of his favorite new releases from the year in comics — and this is a guy who knows what he’s talking about. In addition to his job at the bookstore, he runs a very fine comics and culture blog, Factual Opinion, that is absolutely not to be missed, whether you’re a fan of serious graphic novels, pulpy one-off comics, or anything in between. Click through to read what Tucker has to say about his choices, and then be sure to stop by the store to swoop up all of his picks — or let us know which releases of the year you liked better.
Love and Rockets New Stories: Vol 4 by Los Bros Hernandez
Last year’s Love and Rockets was a huge deal, but this year’s installment is arguably even better. Providing the conclusion for what is, essentially, a 30-year story, Jaime Hernandez reminded everybody that the massive gaping hole at the heart of today’s narrative comics is their inability to do anything serious with romantic relationships, while at the same time, his brother Gilbert strip mined contemporary pop culture’s current exhaustion for any sign of meaning or importance. Comics has yet to provide Love and Rockets with anything approximating “competition,” but it doesn’t appear that the Hernandez brothers have any reason to be concerned about that quite yet. They’re still way better at this than everybody else on the planet.
Ganges 4 by Kevin Huizenga
The big thing this year was watching all the great young cartoonists of the early 2000s carving out their places in the pantheon. Huizenga’s a perfect example — he’s been regularly turning out excellent comics for years now, and yet Ganges #4 still reads like a revelation. The continuing saga of one sleepless night in the life of a guy named Glenn Ganges, this issue saw Huizenga going even deeper into his examination of the way our brains work when we’re trying to watch them do so. It’s a fascinating experience reading these comics, and they’re gorgeous to boot.
Prison Pit 3 by Johnny Ryan
The continuing adventures of Johnny Ryan’s most violent fantasies run amuck, this is rapidly becoming the comic that I look forward to the way a fat kid looks forward to syrup-encrusted cake. There’s no getting around the hoary old cliche — “these aren’t for everybody” — so God help you if you can’t figure out a way to enjoy these books. At this point in the story, Prison Pit is still (hilariously) plot-less, and this chapter sees Ryan just throwing another character into the mix. Connected in an unexplained (so far) way to the story’s main protagonist, most of this volume consists of the new guy in one fluid-spilling battle after another. If that doesn’t sound like your thing…well. Sorry?
Hellboy: The Fury by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo
Hellboy comics are the secret nobody should be keeping, the kind of straight-up good comics that hit every button that genre comics are capable of. The Fury was the conclusion of a story that creator Mike Mignola had been working towards for years, and the experience of its apocalyptic insanity as each chapter came out, unspoiled — that had to be some of the most fun comics had to offer. The Fury was also the last work we’ll see on the character by Duncan Fegredo (for now, at least) and he couldn’t have gone out on a better, or more ambitious, note. Also, they were able to make the sight of Hellboy falling in love with a pretty girl seem way less creepy than it was in that Ron Perlman movie.
Pinocchio by Winshluss
Originally released in 2009, Pinocchio was finally translated into English and published by Last Gasp earlier this year. Already an award winner overseas, Pinocchio hasn’t seemed to make much of an impact in America, but hopefully that’ll change. It’s a dark book, a thoroughly adult take on the Pinocchio story (with a really nasty glance at Snow White mixed in for good measure), but if you can tolerate a certain level of horror, you’re in for a visual tour de force. Based off of this book, Winshluss seems like a guy who is capable of anything.
The Incal Classic Collection by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius
Although it’s been officially released in America twice before — once by Marvel, once by DC — this one-volume edition of The Incal is the first time since the late ’80s that the work has been seen uncensored and in its original coloring. One of the best (and most passionately felt) science fiction comics ever published, The Incal‘s appeal shows no signs of diminishing.
Onward to Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki
Originally published in 1973, Noble Deaths is the first comic by Japanese cartoonist Shigeru Mizuki to see an English translation. It’s a brutal introduction. Following a doomed platoon of Japanese soldiers in World War II and using moments from his own wartime experience, Mizuki mixes terror and gallows humor so well that a single panel can operate as a delivery device for both. This is a painful comic, an upsetting one, but it’s also very, very funny. It shouldn’t be ignored.
Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
Kate Beaton’s gotten exponentially more popular over the last few years, and there’s no easier explanation than just pointing at her comics and saying “that’s why.” In a lot of ways, she’s almost impossible to pin down. Her influences range all over the place; it’s not a surprise to see her shift from a belligerent, chain-smoking Wonder Woman over to a hyper-literate takedown of the Brontë sisters. She’s a master of emotion, with the most expressive faces you’ll find outside of a Jaime Hernandez comic. In terms of humor, Beaton is setting the bar for everybody else right now. She’s amazing.
Lose 3 by Michael Deforge
Deforge is this young Canadian cartoonist who’s been consistently putting out an awesome single issue comic every few months, and Lose #3 is no exception. It’s his own one-man anthology of one-off comics, gag strips and shorts, with the majority of the issue dedicated to a story called “Dog 2070.” That one is tough, but hilarious — it’s basically a send-up of the classic alternative “loser” comic, following a self-involved sad sack who irritates everyone around him. The title reflects the fact that all the characters are animals, ugly ones at that. It’s unfair to hang the future of comics on an artist who is still finding his way, but when the artist in question is all talented as Deforge, it’s also really hard not to.
Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke and Key is this odd horror series that plays the same game that books like Walking Dead do — cliffhanger tension, oh-my-God-that’s-gross violence — but it does it couched within the clichés of a sitcom family, albeit one with more likeable characters than most sitcoms have to offer. Besides the constant fear that people are going to get horribly murdered, you also get to worry about whether they’re going to find a decent boyfriend or not. It is way more compelling than that might sound.