For those who remember (and who were reading) I was going through things I liked in the year. It wasn't a list that was isolated to things published this year, but rather things I found. That left me open to list the things that I really enjoyed, without any 'well, if this had been published...' parts. The lists have been a mix, I guess, and I suppose that this one will be the same. It's about graphic novels.
It's interesting to note that I no longer make my purchases of graphic novels in comic stores. Now, I still go into comic stores, because there are a few monthly titles I read, and I like the fresh connection with them; but the bulk of my purchases are now done outside those stores, purely based on economic decisions. I either buy online, or in the huge Japanese bookstore, Kinokunyia, which has the cheapest selection of graphic novels in Sydney. If you're not going there, you're missing out.
Anyhow, the list.
As with all the lists, there's no order of preference, and the only guide is that I read it this year.
The Ultimates, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. Well. Fuck, but this was fun. It was a purchase done on a whim, the hardcover edition being actually cheaper than the two trades combined, and after an initial flip, decided that even if it was complete and utter shit, it'd be very pretty shit. That said, it wasn't a question of creator that caused me pause, but rather the characters. Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk... all these characters are about as interesting as sucking warm water through a sponge. I cannot express to you the zero factor of my caring. But, Millar and Hitch have, for the Ultimates, left the original characters behind and filled them with some interesting spins (Thor as a pacifist hippy without ye olde Thor speech) and then used those characters to drive a series that is, essentially, about Nazi space aliens coming to get everyone. It shouldn't work, but there's just so much energy in it. It is, essentially, a big, summer blockbuster of a superhero comic, with lavish action scenes, fine dialogue, neat character conflicts (my favourite is Captain America and Giant Man), plenty of male and female nudity, and Freddy Prince Jnr being chased by the Hulk. Could you ask for more?
Stray Bullets, David Lapham. Volume eight of Stray Bullets has just been released, and I read volume seven during the year, but the truth is, neither of these volumes is the place to start if you've read the series. You've just got to begin at volume one, or, I suspect, it's impenetrable. The slowly burning crime series, Stray Bullets is structured in disconnected chapters which feature a series of low life criminals, or characters caught up in the world of the criminals, and with each living their lives out, with each event touching on one in the past or the future. Time jumps from issue to issue, though in later chapters, Lapham has focused on a certain series of events that, one feels, is building up to the climatic end of the very first issue, and the question of who is the dead girl in the trunk of the car that causes Joey to finally snap? I'm always impressed by how much Lapham can convey in the simple panel lay outs he uses and the black and white art he uses--but more than that, the characters are rich and textured and there are twists that you don't see coming and a slow, sad, tragic end awaiting the majority of the cast as they try and live their lives out, living it loud and harsh and hot and steamy in Lapham's dark little world. Nothing short of excellent.
And there, that was it.
I bet you were expecting more, weren't you? The truth is, a lot of what I read I liked, I enjoyed, but it didn't reach beyond that point. I considered putting Warren Ellis' series Global Frequency on, because I really liked the conceit of a network of one thousand and one people existing to solve world crisis' on a regular basis. But while I liked the series, the characterisation was skint, a natural fault in the work that would occur in trying to introduce new characters each issue. I have finally picked up a copy of Grant Morrison and Chris Weston's the Filth after much searching, but haven't read it yet, as I read Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert's 1602, which was largely disappointing due to its sequel priming end. I also found a few bits of manga that I enjoyed. Battle Royale, I think, would be my favourite, but I have to admit that my enjoyment comes from the fact that it's so over the top that it's a good bit of fun--but this doesn't make it good. (In fact, that sort of sums up my manga reading, though I didn't mind Planetes.) The only other work that I read that considered really listing was from Scott Morse, but I think it was more a combination of the various graphic novels of his I read, rather than any particular work. They're all fine pieces, but none stand out in the way that the two listed do.
My aim for the next year is to read the collected Bone and work through Dave Sim's Cerebus. Guess I'll see how that goes.