Okay, here's an alphabetical list of all the comics I can think of that I will seriously consider when I get around to making my best of 2008 list in a few weeks. It's a pretty big list, but it's been a pretty good year for comics: beautiful archival reprints of important works; reprints celebrating lesser-known cartoonists; incredible anthologies; stunning debuts; great pamphlet series; tremendously diverse manga; more great European comics; and continued excellence from established creators.
Since this is such a long list, I guess it can also serve as sort of a holiday shopping list, if you're in the market for yet another one, and the person you're shopping for has very similar tastes to my own, yet has not managed to acquire any of the major comics works of the last 12 months. Or you can consider it a checklist for 2008 reading, though again it's a checklist from my perspective. For instance, Skyscrapers of the Midwest isn't on here because I bought it in pamphlets, and thus consider it more of a 2005-07 title.
Abandoned Cars by Tim Lane: Haven't read, but my copy should arrive before the end of the year.
Achewood by Chris Onstad: I think the latest storyline with Cornelius' May-November relationship with Polly (rhymes with "Molly"...hmm...) has injected some life into the strip, which I thought was kind of sagging after the exhausting marriage storyline. Also: have not so much as looked at a copy of The Great Outdoor Fight. Haven't seen a copy on any store shelves, even at Powell's a couple of weeks ago. Probably just missed it, but still: you couldn't escape that Perry Bible Fellowship collection last year. Or even today. Could very well just be chance that I'm not encountering it in my trips to bookstores.
Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware: Another one I'll be getting by the time I make my list. Honestly, I've been very skeptical of the whole Rusty Brown thing from the beginning. I hated the early Rusty Brown strips; I thought they were totally cynical in going after such an easy target, with the added bonus of some queasy self-flagellation from Ware, since he self-identifies as a collector. And I don't even have much sympathy with the obsessive fanboy type or anything. But what I've read of Ware's NYT work (mostly limited to flipping through Acme Novelty Library #18) seemed much more promising. And I'm sure that what Ware has done since then has transcended the weak initial premise of Rusty Brown, as Jog's review suggests.
All that aside: I've read a few comments suggesting that any list failing to include Acme Novelty Library #19 are substantially flawed in some way. Aside from aggravating my deep-seated sense of cultural relativism (I don't think I'd say something like that about anything I've ever read), I think this also misses another point. A lot of these lists are made by non-obsessive types. This particular issue of Acme Novelty Library is a single chapter of a longer, ongoing story. I think it's entirely reasonable that some reviewers would hesitate to include on their list a fragment of a larger work, even if the fragment stands reasonably well on its own. This is not a universal approach to list-making, of course; my own top-rated comic from last year was Sammy the Mouse #1, the first chapter of a longer, still-incomplete work. But I think there is a substantial portion of the list-making public which does think that way.
Alan's War by Emmanuel Guibert: Should be reading it in the next couple of weeks.
Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best: Another one I'll be getting soon. I know it sounds like I'm woefully behind on my reading for 2008, but there's a disproportionate number of books beginning with "A" that I haven't read for some reason.
Aqua Leung by Mark Andrew Smith and Paul Maybury: I think this comic would have worked better after future volumes fleshed out the story, but unfortunately that's not going to happen. Because of its incompleteness, I think this mostly stands as a showcase for Paul Maybury's art.
Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie: Wow, this is in full-out soap opera mode now, huh? I guess that makes it the most lushly produced soap opera on the stands--like the first Aya volume, this is a beautifully-produced hardcover. And Oubrerie's colors are even better here. Where one would normally expect delicate watercolors for this style of art, Oubrerie works in intensely vibrant opaques. And if you're going to read a soap opera, it might as well be a well-written one that will teach you about an unfamiliar place and time. What would we be saying about the Minx line if DC had managed to acquire the Aya series? We'd probably still be talking about its demise, but undoubtedly with a great deal more regret.
Bat-Manga by Jiro Kuwata: Review here.
Black Jack vol. 1-2 by Osamu Tezuka: I've only read the first volume so far. Good stuff, as one always expects from Tezuka. I think I liked the darker material towards the end the best. I expect the weirdness quotient to be a bit higher in the second volume, if I understand correctly.
Body World by Dash Shaw: I read the first chapter or so, and then started having problems getting the updates on Google Reader. The RSS feed is working for me again, but I haven't managed to catch up yet.
Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw: Short thoughts here. Haven't thought too much about this book since then.
Bourbon Island 1730 by Apollo and Lewis Trondheim: Tom Spurgeon's review was very insightful. Man, there have been a lot of Trondheim comics this year. Anyway, this starts out kind of slow--some of the least inspired-looking Trondheim art I can recall--but picks up steam about 20 or 30 pages in. Definitely turns into something worthwhile by the end, but it doesn't really compare with Trondheim's best work.
Breakdowns: Long review here.
Core of Caligula #1 by CF: This is a new mini from Picturebox, possibly compiling one-pagers CF did somewhere else? Maybe not? Anyway, I liked it almost as much as Powr Mastrs, which is to say I liked it a whole bunch. And it's really not the same thing as Powr Mastrs at all. Probably not one of the best 10 comics of 2008, but definitely one of the 30 or so best comics.
Cowa! by Akira Toriyama: Review here.
Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: I haven't read the last two issues (vol. 2, #6-7). The first three issues of the current volume were probably the best thing Marvel has published this decade, and probably the best thing Brubaker has ever written. Not as crazy about the current arc, but as I said above, I'm only halfway through it.
Crickets #2 by Sammy Harkham: Almost forgot about this! Major improvement over the first issue, which is really saying something. Sammy Harkham doesn't get nearly the attention he deserves--he's probably equal to or not far behind Kevin Huizenga in terms of talent, but gets only a fraction of the press. Maybe people think of him primarily as an editor?
Deitch's Pictorama by Kim Deitch, Simon Deitch, and Seth Kallen Deitch: Haven't read much about this, perhaps because it falls too much outside the realm of "comics" for some people. (BTW, Kim Deitch's introduction includes a broad definition of "graphic novel" that may or may not induce apoplexy in Eddie Campbell.) As I write this, I've read about 80% of it. Kim's first story is about what you'd expect from him, which is to say very good. I also liked the Seth's "Unlikely Hours," which seemed pretty harmonious with Kim's illustrations. In general, the stories I've liked the best are the ones with copious Kim Deitch illustrations, which is about what I expected going into this. Good stuff, but I'm not sure that it really accomplishes the formal breakthrough Kim seems to be angling for in the introduction. The first story probably would have filled up a 150+ page graphic novel if Deitch had completed it in a more conventional comics style; you kind of wonder if he liked this format because he's got so many ideas for stories and only so much time to complete them. If that's the case, then I'd rather have a bunch of stories in the Pictorama form than a few in a more conventional comics form.
Delphine #3 by Richard Sala: Thoughts here.
Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma: Review is here. I'm looking forward to reading this again. It's been a really good year for art/literary manga.
Fight Or Run #1 by Kevin Huizenga: My favorite of all Huizenga's work this year, and I quite enjoyed Or Else #5 and (to a lesser extent) Ganges #2. Really, highly recommended. You'll probably see this on a lot of best of 2008 lists.
Ganges #2 by Kevin Huizenga: It's funny how I just mentally skipped past all the Fight or Run material in this issue; now it seems likely that it's the best stuff in this issue of Ganges. I really need to re-read this issue, which I never really felt like I entirely got the first time around.
Goddess of War #1 by Lauren Weinstein: This was a lot of fun, but it felt more like an appetizer than the main course, you know? Like, I'm really looking forward to future issues of this series. Slightly more detailed version of these thoughts here.
Good-Bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi: More of the inner turmoil and timeless antisocial behavior we've come to expect from Tatsumi, but this volume seemed a bit more linked to specific historical events (most notably the end of WWII, as seen in a couple of stories). Not really any better or worse than the previous volume in D&Q's reprint series (Abandon the Old in Tokyo), but the subject matter has changed enough to make these stories seem fresh, even though they're working in the same thematic and emotional territory as before. It's also a bit racier than I remember the previous volumes being, which again makes it stand out maybe a bit more. Still bleak as hell, though. That all sounds more negative than I mean to be, so let me make it perfectly clear: this is probably one of the most essential books of 2008.
Grotesque #2 by Sergio Ponchionne: Maybe the most underrated of all the Ignatz books. Brief thoughts here.
Gus and His Gang by Christophe Blain: This was on my radar, but not a very high priority until I saw Dustin Harbin's best of 2008 list. I like what I've read by Blain (pretty much limited to Isaac the Pirate, though I do have The Speed Abater checked out from the library right now), but this seemed like an "I'll get it eventually" type of book. Don't know if I'll get to read it by the time I make my list, but hopefully I'll at least get to flip through it.
Haunted by Philippe Dupuy: Short review here. I'm interested in re-reading this, but my memory is that it's a solid step down from the best comics on this list.
Injury #2 by Ted May, Jeff Wilson, and Jason Robards: Probably the biggest gap between amount of buzz and likely popular appeal among all worthwhile comics I've read this year. In other words, you probably want to read this comic if you haven't already. Three major features, all winners: a funny series of gags about Heracles and his clones; a totally awesome series about teenage hessians in the early-mid 80s; and an equally awesome urban SF comedy thing called "Your Bleeding Face." That last one sounds like the sort of strip I'd usually hate, which is really a testament to how good May and Robards are (Wilson collaborates on the 80s metalhead strip). Look: the first pages of "Your Bleeding Face" feature a brother and sister playing a Slade-themed pinball machine that plays "Gudbuy T'Jane" when the player loses a ball. That alone makes this worth your time; fortunately for us, there are many, many other things in this issue also worth your time. Make sure to track down the Injury #1 as well, though, since all three stories are continued from that issue.
Jessica Farm vol. 1 by Josh Simmons: Probably Simmons' most accomplished work to date. I'm really eager to see what he does next (which presumably won't be Jessica Farm vol. 2 in 2016). More thoughts here.
Kaput and Zosky by Lewis Trondheim with Eric Cartier: These two were never my favorite Lewis Trondheim characters, but this is an amusing enough stuff. Essential for a Trondheim completist* like myself; not so sure about everyone else.
*Well, a translated Trondheim completist. And even then, I'm missing some stuff.
Kramers Ergot v. 7 by various; edited by Sammy Harkham: Don't have a copy yet, hopefully getting it for Christmas. I picked up the Gasoline Alley Sunday collection just to get an idea of how this thing is going to feel in my hands. Where am I going to put it when I'm done reading it? Should I screw around with the height of the shelves on my bookcase, or what?
Little Nothings vol. 1 by Lewis Trondheim: Number one on my mid-year list. You folks know there's a second volume out in January, right?
Little Vampire by Johann Sfar: I really liked these stories, which may have been available in English in a different format prior to this First Second edition. Adults might find it especially bittersweet if read in conjunction with Sfar's Vampire Loves, which follows these characters into adulthood. Sort of. On its own, these are excellent cute-scary stories. If you liked Cowa!, you should definitely read this book (and vice versa, of course).
Love and Rockets v. 3 #1 by Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez: Well, yes, that Jaime story is totally awesome, and pretty much buries any other superhero comic in recent memory. Jaime Hernandez is such an incredible cartoonist that this is liable to be the case whenever he dips into these waters (as he will again for part two of this story next year, presumably). But there are moments while I was reading this where I sat awestruck and realized: Jaime Hernandez would probably be considered the greatest superhero cartoonist of all time if he had chosen to work in that sub-genre full-time. Like, maybe even if he were forced to bend his style to meet the needs of the vile philistines who run Marvel and DC. There are cartoonists whose work I value more than Jaime Hernandez--not many, but a few--and I don't think I could say that about them. He's just so keyed into the visual language of the superhero comic, yet his work is so much better than practically any superhero comic I've ever laid eyes on.
And that's not even to mention the work by Gilbert (alone and with brother Mario), which compares very favorably to last year's/early this year's excellent output. Obviously a contender for a best of the year list.
Mome by various; edited by Eric Reynolds: Okay, now we're talking. It's not like Mome hasn't been improving steadily since its launch, but the last couple of volumes (we're talking 11 and 12 here) have upped the ante considerably. Part of my enthusiasm stems from my deep love for European comics, which are a cornerstone of the anthology at this point. Maybe the cornerstone. How can you go wrong with vol. 12, which features excellent work by Killoffer, Oliver Schrauwen, and greatest living cartoonist candidate David B? And the North American contributor list, strong enough already (loved the John Vermilyea story in volume 12), will only get better in 2009. This is no longer I'll-get-around-to-it-when-I-have-the-time/money fare; it's must-read-immediately material.
Never Been by Stuart Kolakovic: I genuinely hope people seriously consider this web comic when making their best of 2008 lists. I thought this blew away all other web comics I read this year on a number of levels (bearing in mind that I haven't kept up with Body World).
Nocturnal Conspiracies by David B: Not out yet, I don't think. Hope this makes it to press in the next few weeks!
Or Else #5 by Kevin Huizenga: I liked this issue quite a bit, though not quite as much as Ganges #2 or Fight or Run #1. Huizenga kind of branched out beyond his comfort zone a little this year, didn't he?
Paul Goes Fishing by Michael Rabagliati: Thoughts here. Gotta say, this the book I'm probably feeling the most doubt about with regards to its ranking on my halfway point best-of list.
Rabbi's Cat vol. 2 by Johann Sfar: A few very brief thoughts here. Seems like there was less Sfar out last year after a deluge the last couple of years, but I might be remembering that wrong. What came out this year was very, very, good, though.
Rasl #1-3 by Jeff Smith: Still haven't read the last issue. The one thing that keeps bugging me about this is how weird the protagonist looked--big head and short limbs. I kept expecting him to unzip himself and reveal that he was Fone Bone wearing a human costume. Which isn't to say I didn't like Rasl, but that's the lasting impression from two issues I haven't read in many months.
Real vol. 1-2 by Takehiko Inoue: Still my preferred Inoue basketball manga. Thoughts on volume 1 here. I've since had the chance to read volume 2, which doesn't substantially alter my initial impression of Real. If anything, it deepens my appreciation for what Inoue is doing. I know lots of comics readers break out into a rash whenever they encounter anything related to sports, but give this a try.
Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi: Okay, this is the first thing on the list which I own but didn't finish before making this list. I'll try it again soon, but I just didn't have the patience to press onward the other day when I made my first attempt. I'll try to read it again before the list is made. In the meantime, I liked Eddie Campbell's review.
Sammy the Mouse #2 by Zak Sally: Didn't quite blow me away like the first issue, but that's partly because the novelty wasn't there. That sounds shallow, but bear with me: Sammy the Mouse #1 was fascinating in large part because its uniqueness took my breath away. The second issue was also good, but good in many of the same ways that the first issue was. Also, it's the second chapter in a larger work; not every chapter is going to work equally well as stand-alone books. I'm still convinced that this will end up being a really great and important book when viewed as a whole, and as such I recommend this issue as heartily as the first.
Slam Dunk vol. 1 by Takehiko Inoue: Thoughts here. Really looking forward to the second issue. You have to love Viz' shonen line. At that price (a mere $8 retail!), is there any better entertainment bargain in North American comics?
Sublife vol. 1 by John Pham: I really dug this first issue of what I assume is an ongoing series. This is the sort of one-man anthology Tom Spurgeon frequently bemoans losing due to the ascendence of the graphic novel. Of course, this is packaged as a graphic novel, with square binding and a high page count, so maybe that's the way to bridge the gap for future cartoonists.* As for Sublife itself, it's quite good. Pham's work here reminds me quite a bit of Chris Ware's, except it didn't seem as bleak. That's more of a tonal thing, since Pham's characters are every bit as pitiful as Ware's underdeveloped man-children. There's a sort of timelessness to Ware's work (even the period pieces) which makes his characters' suffering seem more oppressive to me.** This is very much a contemporary book, taking place in a vibrantly urban, multicultural, multiracial setting. So while the Ware influence is clear, Pham is very much doing his own thing with Sublife. Ware's characters are burdened by the mundane horror of their daily lives, while Pham's are struggling tooth and nail to survive.
And it's also funny in a completely different way than Acme Novelty Library. I haven't seen a lot of press for this book, which is really a shame because it's very good.
*Though it's kind of hard to picture Injury in the same format as Sublife; maybe this is more of an opportunity for the more literary-oriented young cartoonist?
**Not a criticism, just an observation/interpretation.
Tales Designed to Thrizzle #4 by Michael Kupperman: I'm really not sure that there's ever been a funnier cartoonist than Michael Kupperman. Maybe Chris Onstad or Matt Groening? Possibly Eiji Nonaka? Bill Watterson? At this point in my life, I'd take Kupperman over all of them. And yet I'm not sure if that puts Tales Designed to Thrizzle #4 on my best of 2008 list or not. Am I just (severely) undervaluing comedy?
BONUS PSA: I had no idea, but Snake'n'Bacon's Cartoon Cabaret is apparently available on Amazon! Holy shit, you have no idea how badly you need this book, unless you already have a copy (in which case you don't really need a copy of this book--paradox~!). Brave soldiers died to bring you the Cartoon Cabaret!
Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa: Thoughts here.
Travel by Yuichi Yokoyama: A few preliminary thoughts here. I liked it better than New Engineering, which I liked a whole lot.
Typhon vol. 1 by various; edited by Danny Hellman: Haven't read it yet (hopefully I'll get a copy before the end of the year), but I did flip through it a couple of weeks ago. Looked very promising. Typhon appears to inhabit ground not covered by Mome or Kramers Ergot, so hopefully we'll see more volumes in the future.
What It Is by Lynda Barry: Look, guys, I'm sorry, but I still haven't got up the gumption to finish this. My brother and I discussed it, and I think it comes down to this for both of us: we don't like the collages. I know that's a big draw for a lot of people, but for me it's just something I've got to wade through before I get to the comics, the lima beans prelude to a much more appetizing dessert. I'm not sure if this is a general anti-collage sentiment or specific to Barry's work; I've never felt strongly about collage one way or another before now, so it's probably the latter. Again, probably a minority opinion, but that's really the way I feel. I'll finish this book by the time I make my list, collage antipathy be damned.
Where Demented Wented by Rory Hayes: Thoughts here.
Various comic strip reprint projects: Haven't read any this year; the only series I'm caught up on is Popeye, which I strongly suspect is the best of them all in terms of both production values (Jacob Covey is a beast-GET IT?) and the quality of the material being reproduced. Yes, I prefer Popeye to Peanuts, Krazy Kat, and Terry and the Pirates.
Of the major new projects, I haven't done much besides flip through the Little Orphan Annie series from IDW, but it looks as good as their other reprint series (which is to say, very). I've got a copy of the Scorchy Smith reprint coming my way soon, and I'm very much looking forward to that particular visual feast. Am I missing anything? Why do we have to wait so long for the Pogo reprints, anyway? I WANT THEM NOW.