Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 Graphic Novels of the Year

2012 was an epic year of comics reading for me.  In what was probably my most voracious year of reading ever, I managed to read a grand total of sixty-three graphic novels!  Definitely the most comics I've ever read in my life, and there was lots of quality too.  Picking out the titles for list was pretty tough, and there's a lot of great stuff that I read that won't get mentioned.  As always, there's a mix of the new and the not so new on the list here, that's just how I do it here at Battle Hymns.


#5. Orc Stain: Take some incredibly detailed art, a crazy cast of characters, a hilarious plot, and a fantasy world where orc penis is the main currency, and you not only get the genius wonder-comic that is Orc Stain, but you also get the fifth best comic I read all year.

One glimpse of this comic which was written, illustrated, colored, lettered, and all that good stuff by the one-man comic machine that is James Stokoe and it's easy to see that you are holding something perfectly unique, and wonderfully creative.  There simply isn't anything else like Orc Stain.  Stokoe's art is stunning in it's level of detail, and it's beauty.  He just draws awesome stuff.  Orc Stain is also a hell of a lot of fun to read, as it is hilarious, and creative, and well written. Stokoe pretty much hit this one out of the park. This is an all around gem that will make your life more awesome.  Read it.

#4. King City: A couple years back I came across a couple single issues of King City and instantly fell in love with the art.  All twelve single issues were more or less impossible to track down at that point, so I resigned myself to waiting for the trade to come out.  And boy did it ever come out. When Image released King City, they collected all twelve issues in one thick volume and priced it at the bargain price of $20.

That's by far the best fucking deal you'll find on any shelf.

King City is another work of comics genius.  Brandon Graham, who is pretty much my comic creating hero of 2012, delivers the goods here as writer and artist. His story follows a "catmaster" who can do a number of amazing feats with his cat.  As per usual with Brandon Graham material, the story flows organically, the characters seem like people you know, and there's a heavy dose of puns.  Additionally, Graham makes this one of the more beautiful comics on the shelves with breathtaking art, pages you want to stare at for hours, and mini-games included right on the pages; a recipe for one phenomenal comic.  Just writing about King City makes me want to go grab it off my shelf again and read it.

#3. By This Shall You Know Him: It was the cosmic, geometrical, swirly, floaty art that initially drew me towards this comic, but it was the story and that drew me in.  Becoming fully engaged with both the art and the story of By This Shall You Know Him is a true pleasure and an experience that has stuck with me since I read it back in mid-October.

I've never read something quite like By This Shall You Know Him, and I sort of hope that I don't, as this comic felt like a wholly original piece of art.  I've never seen such layerd or textured illustration like this. Not to mention, the combination of art and writing evoked this really interesting cosmic feeling that you probably can't get without the use of drugs. This was one of my first indie-somewhat-underground-comic reads and I feel like I've been opened up a whole new world of wonder.  This is an absolutely unforgettable comic, an instant classic in my book.

#2. Skyscrapers of the Midwest: There's so much to love about this comic.  Like any top five graphic novel of the year, it has great art, and great writing.  That's a given, but the emotions artist/writer Joshua Cotter was able to evoke is what really impressed me with this graphic novel.

The highlights of such emotional evocation came when Joshua Cotter managed to perfectly capture so much of the experiences, emotions, and wild imaginings of childhood.  I was blown away with the numerous times where he perfectly captured and articulated complex childhood feelings; feelings that in some shape or form everyone experiences.  On top of that Cotter captures the awkward, the bizarre, the sad, the tradgic, the embarrassing, and also the hilariousness that comes with moving from childhood into adolescence.  This is flat out on impressive work of art, one that has stuck with me, and one that I've been recommending to anyone who's willing to listen.  I laughed, I cried, and I even wrote a fan e-mail to the writer/artist. (That should say something!) This is a comic I treasure.

#1. The Underwater Welder: If you know me, and know my comics tastes, then this probably won't come as much of a surprise.  Much like my Comics of the Year post, my most anticipated graphic novel became my most favorite graphic novel.

Jeff Lemire told me a year prior to this release that The Underwater Welder was shaping up to be the comics work of which he was most proud and I can see why.  Though he's responsible for some absolutely great comics, this one stands out as his best both in terms of art, and writing.  Lemire utilizes two distinct art styles here, which help to add to the emotional impact of the story.  As a monthly reader of his comic Sweet Tooth it was cool to see how Lemire adapted his art to a different story.

As usual with Lemire's work, his story is one that packs an emotional wallop, and I can definitely see that this is a story that I'll come back to at various stages of my life and gain new insights and experience different emotions each time I read it.  Any story that can be read over and over and offer new things each time is a treasure and Lemire has created one of my all-time favorite comics with The Underwater Welder.  Lemire is one of the very best writers of our generation and The Underwater Welder is his finest work yet.

Most Honorable Mention:

Batman Snow: Despite Batman Year 100 coming onto the scene later in the year, I gotta give the nod to Batman Snow as my favorite "mainstream" read of the year.  This one gets the edge because the story packed more of an emotional punch.  A great Mr. Freeze story, coupled with some ridiculously fun art.

Ghost World: This comic impressed me with it's cross-generational appeal and with the fact that it's a work that is a cultural touchstone.  It was also a great gateway drug for me towards reading more indie-comics.  It also provided a great look at how to masterfully intertwine art and writing so that the two seem indistinguishable from one another once into the flow of the narrative.

So there you go, my 2012 Graphic Novels of the Year.  A pretty amazing list of work.  There's some heavy hitters on there, and a couple of pleasant surprises.  All told, I had an awesome year of comics reading.  There's lots more good stuff unread on my shelves too, so next year should be equally great.

So, how about some outside input? What stuff did Battle Hymns readers read this year that you loved? Anything you'd like to see me cover? Chime in with comments!

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