Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, January 01, 2006
      ( 1/01/2006 09:35:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"VE GO BACK TO MY VAGUN FOR JEEPZY VEAST!" – If you're not a year-end list fiend, this time of the Bloggish Year can definitely be a bring-down since it's just about all we anal retentive writers seem to be able to come up with. The desire to tie the year into a neat bundle of Significant Events is as old as using the artificial starting point of January One as the First Day I Really Start to Get My Life Together, but if you accept its artificiality, they both can be an instructive game. Here, then, are my Ten Favorite Comics releases of the last year, a list that most right-thinking readers should immediately declare null and void as my already over-discussed financial straits put me considerably behind on getting several releases that I've been eagerly anticipating reading (Black Hole and Epileptic immediately spring to mind – I loved the first half of the latter when it came out two years ago). So with that caveat noted, let's dive into my personal list, mmm-kay?

Top Five:
  • Cromartie High School (ADV): One of two new manga addictions I acquired this year, Eiji Nonaka's Cromartie tells the ongoing story of the biggest dolts in a school notorious through the land for dunderheaded antics. The stories are nonsensical and aimless (for these goons, just the act of gettin' across town strains their brain cells) – like an old movie short where the comics were given a simple set-up and told by the director to just wing it – and also made me laff a lot. Best funnybook collection in a year that also saw a trade of Scurvy Dogs.

  • Death Note (Tokyopop): My second new manga obsession is a whole different creature: a dark and violent story about a bright high schooler who stumbles upon a notebook that gives him the power to kill from a distance; at first, our hero dreams of using it to dispose of untouchable Evil People, but before Volume One is finished, you already know he's a-headed for the Dark Side. One of Shonen Jump's new "Advanced" manga, this is a creepily pulpish (I keep seeing elements of Fritz Lang in the storytelling) rumination on the poisonous nature of the By Any Means Necessary mindset.

  • Demo (AiT/Planet Lar): As I recently noted in my review of this collection, this reads even better as a trade than it did a series of individual booklets. Brian Wood & Becky Cloony's stylish recreations of big choices not always wisely made is the kind of plain and truthful storytelling Will Eisner was striving for when he began his flawed-but-wonderful Dropsie Avenue graphic collections – and we still don't see enough of today. . .

  • Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires (Fantagraphics): Not that there isn't room for impure flights of dark whimsy, of course. One of the best news this year has been the appearance of a batch of Richard Sala collections from Fantagraphics, but this title (officially the thirteenth issue of Evil Eye, Sala's long-running comic booklet) edged ahead of the pack by featuring a sprightly original full-length tale starring Sala's bare-legged damsel-in-distress Peculia and a family of menacingly kinky vampiresses. Some of my favorite single-panel images came from this book (the full pager of a gnarly vampire hovering over our heroine, f'rinstance), a testament both to the pleasures of a simple beautifully composed image and to my warped sense of fun.

  • True Story Swear to God: This One Goes to Eleven (AiT/Planet Lar): Autobiographical romance cleanly and breezily told: the bloody-minded pulp lover in me sez I shouldn't keep falling for Tom Belland's sweet series, but with this book I'm like Scrooge insincerely berating himself for feeling happy. Just a nifty comic.
Almost As Good:
  • All-Star Superman (DC): I’ve recently praised this comic – and perhaps it's too soon to making with the hosannas considering the fact that we've only seen its premiere issue. But that opener did such a strong job establishing scripter Morrison's knack for wonderment that he's gonna have to really mess things up to blow this series. And even then we'll hopefully have Frank Quitely's jaw-inspiring artwork to keep us reading.

  • Colonia – On Into the Great Lands (AiT/Planet Lar): At first, I wasn't too sure about Jeff Nicholson's "All Ages" New New World fantasia – the art (all those over-sized 2-D heads) kept putting me off. But as I read and become involved in the depths of his witty alternate universe, I was won over by the cartoonist's willingness to let his characters lead him where they may. It reminded me of many of the non-Cerebus comics that Aardvark-Vanaheim released with happy frequency back in the eighties – and got me wondering why today's publishers don't do more of this stuff . . .

  • Hero Squared (Boom! Studios): Arguably the most traditional – at least in storytelling approach – current superhero title on my list, Giffen & DeMatteis' multiversal romp may've flagged a bit as it bopped from single-issue preview to mini-series to Coming-to-A-Comics-Shop-Soon! extended series, but it still provided beaucoup smart-alecky po-mo pleasure.

  • Planetes (Tokyopop): In America at least, this is the year that Makota Yukimura's wonderfully old-fashioned and poetically meditative space exploration series concluded. I'll miss it.

  • Scurvy Dogs (AiT/Planet Lar): Okay, I give up. Pirates are the New Monkeys. Sure hope that Boyd & Yount are getting money from Capital One for swiping their jokes . . .
And that's my list for this year: no room for Superf*ckers since I haven't read it yet either. Aside from the Big Releases (ongoing Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, Little Lulu, Fantastic Four Omnibus), the one reissue that I've gotten the most fresh pleasure out of is Sam Henderson’s Humor Can Be Funny, which reads and looks like something a young Virgil Partch might've scrawled on a napkin while thoroughly plastered. Good disreputable fun – and on what better note to end this consideration of '05 comics, eh?
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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