I haven't been posting much this month because I'm working from home part-time and taking some time off to spend with my six-month-old daughter. Plus, we're buried in nearly a foot of snow right now. Earlier this month, a number of comics pundits invited me (along with everyone else in their address books) to contribute to their blogs' "Best of the Year" features, and although I wanted to contribute and prove my good taste — and oh yeah, love — for comics, I blew each and every deadline. But I did attempt to create one and so I thought I'd post it here rather than let it go to waste. This is a hardly comprehensive, fairly stream-of-consciousness list, deprived of any helpful links because I don't have time. But you're all savvy web surfers, I'm sure, should you be inclined to search for any of these. In fact, many are conveniently available on this very website. I tried to limit the number of Fanta titles for obvious reasons, but still included somewhere around ten. I'm a homer, sue me. I could have easily included twice as many. I also know I forgot a slew of things, especially minis, that I'll kick myself for as soon as I remember.
Powr Mastrs 2 by C.F.: The graphic novel Henry Darger never got around to. I like this book/series a lot. It's beautiful.
Most Outrageous by Bob Levin: The most underrated comics-related book of the year. I failed this book in my promo efforts. It's one of the best books about a cartoonist ever written and you probably haven't even heard of it.
Where Demented Wented by Rory Hayes: At least we live in an era where Rory Hayes collections come out. Things aren't all bad.
Night Business by Benjamin Marra: This comic makes me miss the 1980s. That's a mean feat.
Kramer's Ergot 7 edited by Sammy Harkham: What it is, is a really big comic book with a bunch of really great cartoonists. That's all, and it's totally awesome. I put my daughter in her bouncy chair the other day and laid this on the floor in front of her and slowly turned the pages and she was completely mesmerized. That's not why it's good, but it was still awesome.
Love & Rockets New Stories #1 by the Hernandez Brothers: These guys *are* American comic books to me, and their greatness only comes into more stark relief every year. I can't imagine a world without Love & Rockets. Jaime's superhero epic is so sublimely perfect that I have no doubt it will go down as one of the most popular comic stories of all-time.
Omega the Unknown by Lethem, Dalrymple, Panter and Hornschemeier: I don't know if this comic was one of the ten comics I liked more than any other in 2008, per se, but I have to list it just for being the first Marvel or DC comic book series I've gone out of my way to buy in a decade. The Gary Panter issue alone was worth it.
Rasl by Jeff Smith: Same as Omega, except for the Marvel or DC part. Just a good, straight-ahead serial comic, the likes of which are increasingly rare, at least from my vantage point.
Tales Designed to Thrizzle #4 by Michael Kupperman: The most densely funny comic book I've ever read. Dollars to laughs, this is one of the greatest entertainment bargains of a lifetime.
"Mister Wonderful" by Daniel Clowes: Another canonical piece from my favorite living cartoonist. Comic of the year. I have to stop now or I'll write a dissertation.
Wacky Packages by various: If I would have told 9-year-old Eric that one day Wacky Packages would hold such cultural esteem as to warrant a fancy hardcover art book, I would have totally believed it, but by any other measure at the time it would have been an absurd thought.
Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw (along with Shaw's stories in MOME and his webcomic Bodyworld): I knew going in that this could be Dash Shaw's year, because I had read BBB in 2007 before it was published. But what I didn't quite realize was how inevitable it was and exactly how much I would come to appreciate what this young man is doing. He is as much the future of comics as anyone in the business right now, and I know that statement will annoy a lot of people, including probably Dash.
Willie & Joe: The WWII Years by Bill Mauldin: Archival collection of the year, and the only book Fantagraphics has ever published that brought me a little closer to my father and also my grandfather-in-law.
ACME Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware: One of the most artfully constructed comics ever created. A dead heat with Love & Rockets New Stories and "Mister Wonderful" for the most perfectly constructed comics of the year. Bonus points for Ware's Kramer's Ergot piece, which is centered around an illustration of a life-size infant bigger than my six-month-old daughter.
Ganges #2 by Kevin Huizenga: Like Daniel Clowes or Chris Ware before him, Huizenga is so innately well-versed in the language of comics that he can't help but expand the vocabulary of the medium with virtually everything he does, and this was no exception. Comics and cartooning are clearly in his blood. He and Dash Shaw are perhaps the two most exciting formalists to make a name for themselves in recent years. Huizenga's recent work is approaching that impeccable harmony I look for in comics, a harmony of art and craft, story and cartooning, vision and voice. The dude can cartoon, and his Segar-ish cartooning, in the service of a much more internal voice makes for one of the most handsome stylists and compelling voices in comics. I adore comics that read AND look perfect. The writing, the illustrations, the storytelling… it's all perfect. Every drawing is a wonderful illustration but not in a distracting way, because it also must act in the service of a compelling narrative, illuminating and revealing as a small piece of a larger puzzle, playing with and against the words it shares space with. The work becomes something exquisitely and uniquely comics, untranslatable into any other language. This is the fully-realized work of true "graphic novelists". Dan Clowes and Chris Ware are the current masters at this, hands-down. Also works like "Black Hole" or "Frank". Huizenga has it in him to approach that.
Little Orphan Annie Vol. 1 by Harold Gray: One of my three all-time favorite strips along with Peanuts and Thimble Theater, and this collection from IDW features the most gorgeous reproductions of Gray's woefully underrated cartooning that I've ever seen. It's breathtaking.
The Complete Peanuts 1969-1970 by Charles M. Schulz: At its peak, as this series is right now, there's not a better read in the history of strip cartooning, if not comics as a whole. Please don't take this series for granted.
Popeye Vol. 3 by E.C. Segar: Sometimes I read these Segar Popeye volumes and truly think they are the Greatest Thing Ever. What else can I say? I inducted E.C. Segar into the Will Eisner Comics Hall of Fame and it will remain one of the coolest honors of my life forever.
Gary Panter by Gary Panter: Art book of the century, with 92 years to go. This book completely fucked with my head more than any other book this year.
Hall of Best Knowledge by Ray Fenwick: There are great graphic novels every year at this point, but this completely sui generis work of hand-crafted storytelling really fueled my love for comics earlier this year.
Fuzz & Pluck: Splitsville by Ted Stearn: When I started dating my wife, this was (and remains) one of her favorite comics (from their early adventures in Zero Zero). How can I not revere it? But it's so much more than that. Everything I said about what makes a great comic before applies to Ted Stearn's work, and this is his greatest yet. I don't understand people who aren't charmed by Fuzz and Pluck.
Speak of the Devil by Gilbert Hernandez: One of my favorite Gilbert stories of the last decade or more, with bonus points for being one of the few great serial comics of the last couple years. Can you tell I enjoy old-fashioned comic book serials?