AISLE SEAT 2.0.60: 10 FOR 2010

By Marc Mason

I wasn’t going to do a “best of” or “top ten” list this year. I really wasn’t. But my old pal Doc Beechler ran his own list, and when I saw it, I had to challenge it for what I felt was a very incomplete look at this year’s work. Then I realized that I could come up with ten great books (not necessarily the ten best published this year- I didn’t read everything, obviously) that I could easily point to and saw “people of Earth- READ THESE.”

So, people of Earth, if you’re looking for some awesome graphic novels to spend some time with: READ THESE.

The first thing that comes to mind is ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS from Top Shelf. This massive 600+ page omnibus collects almost every single bit of Eddie Campbell’s amazing autobiographical comics under one cover. I can’t think of a more consistently excellent autobiographical work ever produced in the medium- it’s deep and richly thought out without diving too far into its own navel and shows the growth of the man and the artist across a lengthy period of time. As usual, Top Shelf brings superior production values to the table, and that makes this book tough to beat.

If you’re looking for artistic ambition, go no further than RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN from Archaia. Janet Lee’s stunning art illustrates Jim McCann’s modern fable in a way never really seen before in comics. The success of this book demonstrates the strength of the graphic novel to challenge and amaze and succeed in the marketplace, even when it isn’t from Marvel or DC. Produce something that exudes greatness and the people will find you. If you haven’t found this on your shelf yet, get cracking.

Speaking of high sales, Oni Press’ SCOTT PILGRIM VOL. 6 (and the entire series, really) dominated the charts this year, and with good reason. Bryan O’Malley’s series had been growing in popularity with each new release, and having the last part arrive to coincide with the film adaptation was exquisite timing. Of course, it helped that the resolution we got was immensely satisfying. Scott finally pulled himself together, gained some self-awareness, and became a person worthy of love- not just worthy of Ramona. Readers’ patience was rewarded, and that’s a rare thing, indeed.

John Layman and Rob Guillory’s CHEW (Image Comics) is definitely a book that pays off for readers that stick with it and pay close attention. From Layman’s twisting and turning plot mechanics to Guillory’s gift for planting Easter eggs in the backgrounds of his wonderfully detailed pages, CHEW delights with wit both verbal and visual. It walked off with awards at both the Eisners and the Harveys this year, and they were well-deserved. No one else in “mainstream” comics is doing anything as challenging or unfettered. One of the few comics that comes out monthly that is legitimately worth your money.

That said, if I was going to steer you toward another book that came out monthly and was worth your time and effort, it would be the second volume of BATTLEFIELDS from Dynamite Entertainment. This year we got another nine issues of Garth Ennis’ incredible World War II comics, and while they weren’t the equal of volume one, they were still absolutely amazing. No one in the past twenty years has even come close to matching Ennis’ prowess at depicting aspects of that conflict and in finding stories with a rich emotional core that fit within its parameters. One of the gutsiest things an author must do is provide the ending that works and is deserved, not the one the reader wants. This book gives you the endings that are earned.

On the subject of war comics, Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’ LIFE AND TIMES OF MARTHA WASHINGTON (Dark Horse) is full of terrible conflict indeed. This massive omnibus edition includes every story featuring Martha, including some stuff not previously collected. This book initially came out as a hundred dollar hardcover, making it way out of my budget, but we finally got a paperback version this year, a happy occasion indeed. MARTHA was a book that Miller wrote when he was still taking comics seriously, and Gibbons puts just the right amount of softness on the satirical edges. Violent, profane, sexy, and smart, this character’s adventures were always something to appreciate and treasure. I’ll miss her, but having this book around makes that much easier to bear.

Dialing back to material before Martha (who debuted in 1991), IDW delivered the best archival project of the year- of the past few years, really- with THE BLOOM COUNTY LIBRARY. These beautiful hardcover editions of Berke Breathed’s classic cartoon strip send me spiraling back to my teen years, smiling all the way. Using restored versions of the strips, the series lets us see the characters (Opus, Milo, Steve Dallas, Bill the Cat, and friends) in ways we haven’t seen since some of the strips actually appeared in newspapers. Material is uncensored and/or restored from edits made for previous print collections. Breathed pipes in with observations and to explain some story moments and jokes. Background work is reproduced. This series is essential for any serious fan of great strip work.

Few anthology series could ever be considered essential, because they’re usually way too hit-or-miss to merit serious consideration. Not so for FLIGHT VOL.7 (Villard) which continues to be the single best anthology on shelves today. Editor Kazu Kibuishi has a gift for bringing together talent and getting the best from it- and that includes his own work as well. FLIGHT offers amazing storytelling, stunning art, superior production value… no mean feat for a book on its seventh try. But a scan across the series shows that virtually nothing has changed since book one. They’ve all been this good.

Another series that has been good from the start and never wavered in quality is Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s DUNGEON (NBM) which saw a couple of volumes translated for North American audiences. The standout was DUNGEON: MONSTRES VOL. 3; the series turned its eye upon the female characters of the Dungeon world, and the results were powerful and moving. The pair put in the spotlight found challenges that were emotionally unsettling as well as violent and gut-wrenching, showing a darker side of the world that reminded us that it is not a world of light and happiness. These books have their amusements, but they are also full of war and death. I have repeatedly stated that I believe Trondheim is the world’s greatest living comics creator. Check out these books to find out why.

Amusement can be found, though, in massive amounts by looking in the right place. That place would be AFRODISIAC (AdHouse) by Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg. This book is a glorious tribute to many things- the history of comics, blaxploitation filmmaking… but mostly it’s just hilarious. The character, Afrodisiac, is shown in various incarnations, each drawn in the style of different eras in comics production, with multiple changes in name and origin, just as characters have been treated by their publishers across the decades. The results are stunning- few books this funny are this intelligent in their execution. The creative duo were the gents behind STREET ANGEL a few years ago, and this book demonstrates, once again, that together, they make material that is worth its weight in gold.

And there you go. Ten great comics and graphic novels for 2010. Click a link below and go buy a couple. Trust me- you’ll be glad you did! See you in 2011!


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Villard

Couple of new ones from the folks under the Random House banner. Let’s take a look…

Just seeing the words FLIGHT VOL. 6 as I opened the package was enough to make me smile, as FLIGHT has long been my favorite anthology series. But to my surprise, volume six is not only another fine entry in the series; it’s easily the best one since volume two. Editor Kazu Kibuishi has once again assembled some top-notch talent to produce this lovely annual, but what makes this one work so well boils down to two factors. One, there’s less here. Rather than over-stuff the book with material and risk adding duds to the mix, there are only fifteen stories in volume six. That means that the creators are working with more pages at their disposal and doing more long-form material. That breeds better stories. It encourages experimentation and innovation in character and layout. And in this case, it delivers excellent storytelling. As a bonus, you get a couple of wonderful pieces that really give you your money’s worth above and beyond what you might be hoping for, including Kibuishi delivering a new Daisy Kutter short story (DAISY still being my favorite of his solo works) and Michel Gagne’s opening piece, “The Saga of Rex: Soulmates” which is a piece of virtuoso art in both the color and storytelling. Seriously, folks, I don’t know what else to say: you should be buying these every year.

Writer/artist Nicole Chaison’s THE PASSION OF THE HAUSFRAU is an interesting hybrid book. The chapters/essays are written in prose, but each is supplemented by cartoon strips from the author (as well as some wonderfully snarky footnotes). Chaison details her struggles with parenthood and her mother, from the mundane things that drive everyone crazy (trying to get the kids to behave, lack of sleep, etc.) to the bizarrely odd (hiding watching the Colin Farrell sex tape, depressed libido seemingly caused by snowfall, trying to determine if it’s okay to bake cookies after her kid has sneezed into the dough). What works here is Chaison’s prose; she’s a terrific writer, funny, insightful, and bluntly honest (about herself and everything else around her), making PASSION feel like it has some “street cred” you might not get from other books covering the same subject. However, what didn’t work for me was her cartooning. Yes, the way she uses the cartoons is clever, but her artistic skills are kind of weak. I found myself thinking that she could have integrated much of the written material in the strips over into the prose and made it work just fine and just as funny. Still, even if you took the cartoons away altogether, PASSION is a worthy read.

Marc Mason


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by
Villard Books

Strange animals tasked with saving civilizations. An adventuress whose sidekick is a smidge more capable than she realizes. A revolution that requires a hero. A baseball player who salvages one little boy’s faith in the game. Ninjas… lots and lots of ninjas. These stories and many more make up this year’s volume of FLIGHT, and as usual, the book contains over 350 pages of wildly imaginative art and storytelling that combine to make this comics’ premier anthology title.

Why do I pick FLIGHT as the best? A few reasons. One, the amount of imagination on display. FLIGHT’s weakness can be the actual stories themselves, but this time around, the tales are of a better quality than a couple of the recent efforts. There seems to be a developed confidence on the part of some of these creators, that they’re discovering how to be more than just artists, and that comes across here. Also, the variety here is quite remarkable; it isn’t just sci-fi, it’s drama, fantasy, romance… something for everyone. The work in FLIGHT is also accessible; compare it to an anthology like MOME where the cartoonists seem to strive to be as “alt” as possible, and you get a lot of unreadable nonsense. FLIGHT never has that problem. But most of all, it’s the wonderment.

Whether it’s the amazing Michel Gange, editor Kazu Kibuishi, or the steady Dave Roman, the stuff in FLIGHT truly engages the sense of wonder that great comics can provide. I’ve never picked up a volume of FLIGHT that didn’t feel like it delivered on every dollar of the cover price. Volume five is no different.

Marc Mason


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by

The magnificent FLIGHT anthology gives birth to its first “child” with FLIGHT EXPLORER, a shorter anthology from many of the usual FLIGHT creators aimed at the younger audience. Now, that may sound a bit strange, and nothing in the first four FLIGHT volumes actually contained sex, graphic violence, or bad language, so you might be wondering how EXPLORER would be different. I think the easiest way to explain it is that this book contains some simpler storytelling. Some of the bits in the main series can be a little obtuse in their storytelling or require a taste for existentialism. Here, we pare away those stories and come up with ten short tales easy enough for the youth set to follow.

And as per usual for FLIGHT, they’re pretty damned good. Editorial director Kazu Kibuishi contributes a nifty “Copper” tale, Kean Soo drops a new “Jellaby” bit, both which you’d expect to be good, but it’s stuff like Johane Matte’s “Egyptian Cat: Perfect Cat” that really brings the goods to the table, along with Steve Hamaker’s “Fish N Chips.” There were a couple of bits towards the back that didn’t quite work for me, but not the ten stories is an out-and-out dud.

My one concern about FLIGHT EXPLORER is whether or not doing these additional books will spread the “brand” too thin. The annual release of FLIGHT is something that fans eagerly look forward to, and I’d hate to see some of that enthusiasm eroded away. That’s something that Kibuishi and company will have to keep an eye on, but for now, they have another winner on their hands.

Marc Mason