Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic topped the first ever PW Comics Week critics poll. Regular PW writers and reviewers were polled for up to ten of their favorite graphic novels. The results came in as follows with a listing in descending order of the books that received the most votes, followed by selected comments from the critics.
Participating in this year's poll were Chris Arrant, Chris Barsanti, Ian Brill, Steve Bunche, Johanna Draper Carlson, Kai-Ming Cha, Sunyoung Lee, Heidi MacDonald, Dan Nadel, Jason Persse, Calvin Reid and Douglas Wolk.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin)
"An extraordinary story about family, literature and self-understanding presented in a deeply original way. Riveting, hilarious, heartrending, pretty much perfect."
Ghost of Hoppers by Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
"A middle aged woman looks back on her life, but because this is comics' great humanist, the look is tender, funny and profoundly wistful."
Castle Waiting by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)
"Medley brings together a new-wave sleeping beauty, a horse-head knight and a pack of bearded nuns in this delightful update of a classic fairy tale epic."
Curses by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly)
"Huizenga's stories feature spare but architectonic drawings that slyly explore philosophic quandaries, often through the eyes of Glenn Ganges, an everyman protagonist who offers an engaging and thoughtful wonder at life's complexities."
Making Comics by Scott McCloud (HarperCollins)
"McCloud, guru of comics theory, completes his analytical trilogy, taking an in-depth look at comics storytelling, offering advice, how-tos and exercises."
Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni Press)
"O'Malley continues to find the sweet spot in the juxtaposition of comics, manga, video games emo music and the timeless soap opera romance, all accompanied by a hail of quotable lines."
Absolute DC: New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke (DC Comics)
"An expanded collected edition of last year's DC New Frontier Vol. 1 & 2, this volume frames the work with annotations, new story pages and behind-the-scenes artwork. Having it all in one hardbound volume makes it truly a collector's item."
American Born Chinese by Gene Yang (First Second)
"Yang explores cultural identity and assimilation with a complex, multi-leveled story that brings the Asian-American experience into sharp focus."
The Fate of the Artist by Eddie Campbell (First Second)
Campbell has pulled off the unthinkable: combining experimental storytelling techniques and domestic comedy.
Lost Girls by Allan Moore and Melinda Gebbie (Top Shelf Productions)
"What's more surprising? That Moore and Gebbie decided to explore the decidedly 'adult' exploits of some of literature's favorite young ladies, or that the result is as elegant and thought provoking as it is titillating?"
Billy Hazelnuts by Tony Millionaire (Fantagraphics)
"Inspired by classic children books, Tony Millionaire's savage fantasy limns a world of amazing wonders teetering on the edge of a dark and threatening chaos."
Dragon Head Vol. 1 by Minetaro Mochizuki (Tokyopop)
"A nuanced survivor's tale of conflicting personalities brought on by the paranoia of being trapped in a collapsed subway tunnel. Relentless compelling for both its emotive illustrations and the one-upsmanship-like storytelling.
Finder: Five Crazy Women by Carla Speed McNeil (Lightspeed Press)
"The first time I read this, I didn't like it much--McNeil doing misogyny? Bizarre! The second time, I realized what was really going on, and fell helplessly in love with it."
I Love Led Zeppelin by Ellen Forney (Fantagraphics)
"This collection of irreverent comic strips and collaborations with other 'alternative' luminaries like Dan Savage and Margaret Cho highlights Forney's left-of-the-dial genius."
La Perdida by Jessica Abel (Pantheon)
"Set in a beautifully realized Mexico City, Abel has produced an inventive and moving tale of personal and cultural introspection, driven by a powerful story of crime and betrayal."
Lucky by Gabrielle Bell (Drawn and Quarterly)
"Bell is has a wicked ear for dialogue and draws some of the most nuanced body language in comics. Her first book of mature work displays her talents to great effect. Despite the familiarity of the subject matter--20-something ennui--Bell makes it all new again with her eye for detail."
Marvel Zombies by Robert Kirkman & Sean Phillips (Marvel)
"What could have been a mindlessly disgusting exercise in gore and depravity ended up an utterly hilarious exercise in gore and depravity. A high point in America's recent outbreak of "'zombie fever.'"
Monster Vol. 1 by Naoki Urasawa (Viz)
"There's medical drama and criminal intrigue in this continuing series but the real strength is reading the psych-outs Dr. Tenma and his supporting cast go through in this modern noir story."
Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Volume 1: This is What They Want by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen (Marvel)
Not only hilarious it's better written and better drawn than "serious" superhero comics.
Ode to Kirihito by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
"What is a human being? Tezuka answers that question with a grand adventure that offers a fearless look into the darkest corners of the human psyche. "
Ohikkoshi: Take It Easy Comics: Complete Works by Hiroaki Samura (Dark Horse)
"A refreshing change of pace from the samurai epic style he's known for, Blade of Immortal's Hiroaki Samura tells three decidedly modern tales revolving around garage bands, aspiring manga creators, and an auto-biographical travelogue."
Sloth by Gilbert Hernandez (DC/Vertigo)
Both Hernandez's imagination and humanism is put to good use in a story of rock 'n' roll and urban legends.
110 Per¢ by Tony Consiglio (Top Shelf)
12 Reasons Why I Love Her by Jamie Rich and Joelle Jones (Oni)
24Seven by various artists (Image)
9/11 Reports: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon (Hill & Wang)
A Last Cry for Help by Dave Kiers (Bodega)
Abandon the Old In Tokyo by Yoshiharu Tatum (Drawn & Quarterly)
Abraxas and the Earthman by Rick Veitch (King Hell Press)
Air Gear by Oh! Great (Del Rey Manga)
Art Out of Time by Dan Nadel (Abrams)
Basilisk by Masaki Segawa, based on the novel by Futaro Yamada (Del Rey Manga)
Blood Alone by Masayuki Takano (Infinity Studios)
Blue by Kiriko Nananan (Ponent Mon/Fanfare)
Boys of Summer by Chuck Austen and Hiroki Otsuka (Tokyopop)
Can't Get No by Rick Vetch (DC/Vertigo)
Chewing Gum in Church by Steven Weissman (Fantagraphics)
Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon)
Crying Freeman by Kazuo Koike and Ryuichi Ikegami (Dark Horse)
Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata (Viz Media)
Desolation Jones: Made In England by Warren Ellis & J.H. Williams 3 (DC/Wildstorm)
Dokebi Bride by Marley (Netcomics)
Dramacon 2 by Svetlana Chmakova (Tokyopop)
Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Umezi (Viz)
Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown (Drawn and Quarterly)
Eden: It's an Endless World! by Hiroki Endo (Dark Horse Manga)
Elmer #1 by Gerry Alanguilan (Komikero)
Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham and various,DC/Vertigo
Girl Stories by Lauren Weinstein (Henry Holt)
Golgo 13 by Takao Saito (Viz)
Gray Horses by Hope Larson (Oni)
John Constantine: Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross (DC/Vertigo)
Late Bloomer by Carol Tyler (Fantagraphics)
Missouri Boy by Leland Myrick (First Second)
Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies (Abrams)
Nextwave by Warren Ellis & Stuart Immonen (Marvel)
Nexus Vol. 2 by Mike Baron and Steve Rude (Dark Horse)
Or Else 3 by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly)
Passionella by Jules Feiffer (Fantagraphics)
Project X: Nissin Cup Noodle by Tadashi Katoh and Akira Imai (DMP)
Punch! by Rie Takada (Viz)
Seven Soldiers of Victory vol. 1-4 by Grant Morrison and various, (DC Comics)
Sorcerers & Secretaries by Amy Kim Ganter (Tokyopop)
Strange Places by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse Comics)
Supermarket by Brian Wood & Kristian Donaldson (IDW)
The Bakers by Kyle Baker (KB Publishing)
The Building Opposite by Vanyda (FanFare/Ponent Mon)
The Judged by Akira Honma (DramaQueen)
The Squirrel Mother by Megan Kelso (Fantagraphics)
The Ticking by Renee French (Top Shelf)
Villains United by various artists (DC)
Voices of a Distant Star by Mizu Sahara and Makoto Shinkai (Tokyopop)
Y The Last Man: Paper Dolls by Brian Vaughan and Pia Guerra (Vertigo)
In addition to giving us their picks, a few critics were offered the chance to comment on the year in comics.
Despite all the interest and activity from major publishers, this year once again demonstrates the virtues of small, brilliant publishers like Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics. Nurturing unique artists, growing with them, and releasing quality work remains the best (and oddly unique to these two companies!) business model. All the hype and money in the world can't beat it.
And, it's been a great year for reprints. I kept them out of my list to somehow make it easier. My favorites are Jeet Heer and Chris Ware's superlative Gasoline Alley series and Dark Horse Comics'edition of Russ Manning's Magnus Robot Fighter. About as far apart on the spectrum as you can go, but why not? Frank King and Russ Manning both understood body language and space extremely well, but put it in service to, um, very different content. Drawn and Quarterly's Moomin book and Tatsumi series are also favorites, as well as Fantagraphics' Popeye book.
No getting around it: this was the best year for English-language comics ever. There's so much good stuff, new and old, coming out, because there's an audience for it like there's never been before, which means that there's an economic scaffolding to support it, and that scaffolding is not going away. My other career is writing about pop music, and not much music this year has impressed me; at one point, I worried that my taste was just ossifying as I got older and nostalgic about the records of my youth. Then I looked at the stack of new graphic novels next to my desk and realized it was just that music in 2006 paled in comparison to comics. The golden age is right now.
The graphic novel has been a "legitimate" art form for a while now. Does that mean we can start calling them comics again? With the average cost of a single comic book at around three dollars, it has become cheaper for collectors and casual readers alike to await the trade paperback of even the most common super-hero stories.So what does this mean for the very definition of "graphic novel?"Do serialized stories count?Is there such a thing as a graphic novel purist?Is there an existing orthodoxy for a medium that is, by its very nature, unorthodox? Well I'll just go ahead and champion the loose-constructionist view and say that, from super heroes to the most iconoclastic "art" comics, the graphic novel is just a longer, more expensive comic book.It's also the most exciting frontier in the publishing industry.