I like to take my time with things. I like to consider as much as I can before making certain kinds of decisions. I put off the production of this list until I could read everything I thought I might be inclined to include. Which is why it's March and I'm just now getting around to posting a Top 25 Comics from 2012 list.
Either that or I'm lazy. Which is also plausible. (A friend did get me Mists of Panderia for Christmas...)
Certainly there are still a large pile of books I was unable to get to. Things that might even be good enough to make my list if I had been able to get my hands on them. I heard scattered applause for Tom Gauld's Goliath but was not able to find a copy. I heard tremendous things about Scalped but my local library system lost volume 7, so I stalled out after volume 6 because I hadn't been enough in love with the series to track it down another way. And there were any number of ongoing series that budget just doesn't allow me to pursue in a timely fashion: for instance, I very much enjoy The Sixth Gun and Chew but just can't keep up (though after completing a side illustration job I did just place an order for vol 3). And after the list I'll mention some of the works that didn't make the list even though they won accolades in a lot of other venues.
There were a handful of truly great comics released in 2012 and The Nao of Brown sits at the top of them, I think, by a large margin. Near around the halfway point, I was pretty sure Sailor Twain would take my top honours. In the tenth hour, Building Stories inserted itself as the book that I didn't believe could be beaten. In January, a single reading of The Nao of Brown left me so blown away that Building Stories didn't have a chance.
Now the only question is whether The Nao of Brown is the best comic I've ever read. It's tight. I think I may still prefer Duncan the Wonder Dog, but sometimes I don't know. In either case though, Dillon's book is astounding for what it means to the medium. There are always going to be people who point to Watchmen or Maus when asked about the greatness of the medium. For me though, even those works are amateur hour by the comparison. The Nao is that powerful and accomplished and well-put-together. I have no complaints about this book at all.
Even though Building Stories hits at #2 on the present list, it still lands (in my current estimation) as the third best comic I've ever read. Its power, for all its mundanity, lies in its inability to be read the same way by two people. It's a book about how to experience a life vicariously and how that experience will be entirely different depending on one's perspective.
Building Stories is experimental comics and it's through his gimmicks and conceits that Ware forces artificially each reader to take a different perspective than the others. In my review, I do the math and discover that there are 87 billion different ways to read the book. That's 12 times the population of the earth. That's a lot and that says something important about the way we should approach the work.
Sailor Twain's one of those books that gets pegged as "haunting" and "beautiful" and even, I'm going off imagination here, "lyrical." The great thing is that in addition to that, it's also really good. Mark Siegel has created something wholly worth your time, a narrative that functions both as compelling yarn and critique of the contemporary sexuality (of both the libertine and the prude). Pretty good for a story about mermaids and riverboats.
144 pages • ISBN: 1607065606
When I first heard of Steven T. Seagle's adaptation (?) of Teddy Kristiansen's graphic novel, it sounded like an amusing experiment and little better than a gimmick. And it may be those things. But the strength of the end product justifies whatever experimentation and gimmickry were involved. Both Kristiansen's original and Seagle's re-mix are completely worthy comics, even if they tell entirely different stories.
Cross Game began its American publication a couple years ago and finally concluded with the eighth volume last Autumn. The story proved itself solidly paced and thrilling throughout. Adachi's ability to propel Cross Game through subtle moments and his non-stop trust in his readers' ability to pay attention renders his story of love, loss, family, and baseball a truly indelible part of the landscape of comics history. For my money, this is the best of his oeuvre—though a couple other of his works come close.
RASL • by Jeff Smith • 4 vols • ISBN: 1888963204
His first major work after completing the epic fantasy, Bone, Jeff Smith's RASL almost slipped the radar completely. I'd barely heard anyone talk about it at all and was surprised to find the fourth volume wrapped in 2012. Smith proves himself an able storyteller, even when he isn't doing darkly comic fantasy epics.
5 Centimeters per Second
by Yukiko Seike after Makoto Shinkai
566 pages • ISBN: 1932234969
I've never been one for adaptations, but Seike's reworking of Makoto Shinkai's exploration of how love evolves as one grows older is such an improvement over its source that I happily read it twice in the span of a couple weeks. And my wife is on record saying that she would happily read it again despite the fact that she has absolutely no interest in seeing the movie again.
20th Century Boys • by Naoki Urusawa
24 volumes • ISBN: 1591169224
While technically wrapping in the first quarter of 2013 with the publication of vol. 2 of 21st Century Boys, I'm happy to include Urusawa's thriller about a bizarro cult that tries to take over the world and the small collection of childhood friends that work to stop it. Urusawa is really one of the most talented men working in comics today and 20th Century Boys is in some ways better than Pluto, even if more meandering.
Everything We Miss • by Luke Pearson
38 pages • ISBN: 1907704175
While I love Luke Pearson for his Hilda stories, Everything We Miss is the one that caught me off-guard. It's short and, theoretically, light. But Pearson packs in a delicate display of wonder in the mundane and the everyday by highlighting the fantastic and unbelievable. It's a well-balanced work that you could finish in a single visit to the bathroom—if you like to take your time while getting it done.
Sharaz-De • by Sergio Toppi
216 pages • ISBN: 1936393484
Even though its story is only ever alright, Sharaz-De is the #1 most beautifully illustrated book on this list. Which is saying something since The Nao of Brown features the best comics art ever. Woo, paradox! This is coffee table dressing for sure. Completely lovely.
by JT Petty and Hilary Florido
153 pages • ISBN: 1596431008
Does this feature cowboys and mining towns and awkward romance and hangover pukins and a zombie plague? Maybe. Maybe it does. But what it does contain is a pretty righteous little story about a young man named Chester who rides a horse named Chester.
Prophet • by Brandon Graham et al
136 pages • ISBN: 1607066114
A reboot of an old Rob Liefeld property, Brandon Graham's vision for Prophet turns it into an old-school balls-to-the-wall nutso sci-fi extravaganza. I didn't think I would like it but then I proved to just be a great big baby because this thing was awesome. Can't wait to see where it goes.
The Moon Moth
by Humayoun Ibrahim aft. Jack Vance
128 pages • ISBN: 1596433671
Moon Moth may win for best use of the comics medium to depict something abstract in a manner impossible in other communicative forms. While Prophet is lunatic sci-fi gone bazonkers, The Moon Moth is thoughtful and features the delicate, intricate, intelligent world-building of Jack Vance.
Blue • by Pat Grant
96 pages • ISBN: 160309153X
Using the visual conceits of surf comics to tell a fable about race and localism, Pat Grant charmed me right out of my pants and into a pair of magical trunks, so now I get all the waves at my favourite break. You should read it so you can too.
King City • by Brandon Graham
424 pages • ISBN: 160706510X
It's probably not fair that Graham should have two books on this list. After all, he's no [insert awesome prolific creator who is not Brandon Graham here]. Still, though puns may be the lowest form of humour, Graham's consistent scorched-earth policy when it comes to their constant and continued deployment is really actually delectable.
BPRD: Hell on Earth
by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Continuing series • ISBN: 1595827072
The BPRD just keeps on keepin' on, doesn't it? Even though they should all be killed off any day now and the world be given over to the Ogdru Jahad. Or at least to its minions. Fantastic stuff.
Twin Spica • by Kou Yaginuma
12 volumes • ISBN: 1934287849
In prior years Twin Spica would have ranked higher on this list, but in its final volumes the book seemed to lose a little bit of its fire. I mean, it's still fantastic (and you'd be a fool not to read it). Just maybe not quite so fantastic.
Yotsuba&! • by Kiyohiko Azuma
11 volumes + • ISBN: 0316225398
Still the funniest comic being published. Yotsuba&! is essentially a tv sitcom about a little girl learning about the world—if tv sitcoms didn't suck and were actually funny.
Hilda and the Midnight Giant
by Luke Pearson • 40 pages
Luke Pearson keeps making these whimsical books about a little girl living in the mountains with ogres and faeries and giants and what have you that you have to go buy right this very moment because they're that good.
Saturn Apartments • by Hisae Iwaoka
7 volumes • ISBN: 1421533642
Saturn Apartments continues to be a breath of fresh air in the American manga scene, and superflat artist Hisae Iwaoka continues to draw this thing beautifully. I believe the series wraps in 2013 and I look forward to seeing how the series pans out.
Sumo • by Thien Pham
112 pages • ISBN: 159643581X
Patiently and meticulously planned, Sumo is a nice short story of love and endurance. Cute and sweet and good.
DMZ • by Brian Wood et al
12 volumes • ISBN: 1401210627
Brian Wood's story of the next American Civil War had a lot of problems. For all that, it was still a pretty ambitious work with moments of grandeur.
Friends with Boys • by Faith Erin Hicks
224 pages • ISBN: 1596435569
Solid YA fiction. Homeschooling, twins, theatre, and ghosts: What could possibly go wrong?
Baby's in Black • by Arne Bellstorf
208 pages • ISBN: 1596437715
I really enjoyed this often meditative reccountment of the too-short life of Stu Sutcliffe, one of the original Beatles.
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers
by Fumi Yoshinaga
12 volumes • ISBN: 1421527472
Yoshinaga keeps plugging away at her epic reimagining of Japanese history. This year's volume catches the reader up to the events described in vol.1.
Alright, that's it for 2012. If you've got any recommendations for books that I entirely missed (either in the list above or in the closing comments below), please let me know via the Facebook page. In all likelihood I haven't had a chance to read the book you're talking about. There's just too much coming out every year for me to reasonably keep up with. I mean, I didn't even read the wonderful Barefoot Serpent until 2012! And how silly is that? So then, here's a couple few items that didn't make the cut—and why.
It killed me not to include A Bride's Story in this year's round-up because it's one of my favourite books. I love Kaoru Mori's vision for the thing and her power for illustration basically knocks the socks off everybody. Still, while the book is pretty solid, with volume 3 and 4 staying far away from the first two volumes' principal couple, Amir and Karluk, I have a hard time reading and not thinking, Okay, this is cool and all but where are Amir and Karluk??
Lauded but Excluded
There were a lot of other books that were shoe-ins for other people's Top 10 lists that I just couldn't appreciate in the way that others seem to have. I figured I'd mention them so you could know that I at least considered them.
Underwater Welder (Jeff Lemire) was beautifully drawn but ultimately felt hollow to me.
Are You My Mother? laboured too hard to pursue the phantasm of psychoanalysis for my taste.
Wizzywig was sometimes pretty good and sometimes just slapstick nonsense.
Drama was just too soapy and melodramatic for me to take as seriously as I did Telgemeier's much better Smile.
A Wrinkle in Time (Hope Larson) started out wonderfully and then followed its source into a boring kind of sci-fi fantasy that just couldn't interest me.
And Dotter of Her Father's Eyes was very good, but just not as good as some of these other works. Or maybe it was. Danggit. Now I'm second guessing the whole thing.
And this is why it takes me so long to do these round-ups.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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