Wednesday, November 12, 2008

best of 2008: graphic novels/manga

It’s that time of year again when I post lists of the things that flipped my skirt in 2008. Granted, the year isn’t quite over yet, but if something comes along between now and December 31st that begs to be included, I’ll update accordingly.

A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first published in 2008, but since I didn’t read them until this year, they belong on this list.
  • Aside from the first title, these aren’t in any particular order.
  • As always, your mileage may vary.

1. Promethea by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, and Mick Gray: For the second year in a row, Alan Moore takes the top spot. In this series, a teenage girl is doing research on a fictional heroine named Promethea…and winds up inheriting the role. Like much of Alan Moore’s work, this gets almost unbelievably dense with subtext and references to everything from Kabbalah to metaphysics. There were several pages that I had to reread because I didn’t understand them the first time…or the second…or the third. But don’t let that put you off, because there’s a handy guide at the end of the final volume. Besides, it’s not just Alan Moore showing off how smart he is. There’s some great humor in here too, like a machine-gun toting Little Red Riding Hood and a parody of the Fantastic Four called The Five Swell Guys. And my god, the art is PHENOMENAL; I’m talking museum worthy at times. So if you don’t mind a little learnin’ with your graphic novels, you really can’t go wrong with this.

2. Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland: More Moore! I swear the guy has a vat of Genius Juice in his basement. I read this in preparation for The Dark Knight’s more sinister depiction of The Joker, and did it ever deliver; it’s chilling. If anyone ever tries to convince you that graphic novels and comic books are just for kids, hand them a copy of this and wait while they read it, then bask in their admission of stupidity.

3. Miracle Dieter Miyuki by Satosumi Takaguchi: This is about a pudgy teenage girl who discovers a magic barbell that makes her skinny and sexy. Her biggest nemesis is an evil chef who tries to break her diet with his tempting desserts. I know it sounds borderline offensive, but it's actually a sly parody of both magical girls and dieting and not to be taken seriously at all. (Note: not commercially available in the US at this time)

4. Cantarella by You Higuri: The infamous Borgia family gets the manga treatment. Granted, the mangaka takes some serious liberties with history---for example, Machiavelli shows up as a strange wizard who can change into a moth---but it didn’t bother me. And for the shonen-ai fan, there’s some major sexual tension between Cesare Borgia and his friend Chiarro, but it’s not graphic. Absolutely stunning art and an engrossing story.

5. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: A memoir in graphic novel form, this is the author’s account of growing up in Iran and how the revolution changed her life forever. There’s some dark stuff in here to be sure, but it’s leavened by humor and sweet familial anecdotes. The art is very simple, but what it lacks in panache, it makes up for in storytelling.

6. After School Nightmare by Setona Mizushiro: Mashiro, the protagonist, is biologically female from the waist down, but identifies as a male. He is recruited to participate in a class after school where he lives out nightmares with other students. In this dream world, the students are revealed at their most vulnerable; for example, Mashiro is wearing a girl's uniform, and a fellow student is dressed in the raincoat and galoshes she was wearing when she was raped as a child. In order to graduate, you must find the key to a mysterious door…and anyone who goes through that door is never seen again. A really twisty mindfuck.

7. Black Hole by Charles Burns: When I wanted to check this out from the library, I had to request it from a special locked case. I thought they were overreacting; um, not so much. I can only imagine the fury a parent would unleash if they discovered their kid reading this! A sexually transmitted disease turns its sufferers into mutants; some people have mild cases, but others are turned into grotesque creatures who are shunned by society and forced to live in the woods. Disturbing, sad stuff that really gets under your skin.

8. Presents by Kanako Inuki: Kurumi is a creepy little girl who never ages because she never received a birthday present. In each story, she visits someone with a present that usually isn’t quite what the receiver expected. It’s like a combination of The Twilight Zone and The Monkey’s Paw, and although the art is, to be perfectly honest, ugly as hell, the stories are gleefully gruesome fun.

9. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman: A cop wakes up after a coma and discovers that the zombie apocalypse happened while he was out. He sets out to find his wife and son, and eventually he discovers them living with a ragtag band of survivors. I don't want to go into too much detail lest I spoil something, but suffice it to say that the zombies are the least of their problems. This is almost unbearably grim at times, but I couldn't stop reading; it's like a gory soap opera. Volume 8 ended on such a jawdropping note that I can't decide whether I'm looking forward to the next one...or dreading it.

10. Black Orchid by Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman: Can you believe this is only the second thing by Neil Gaiman I’ve ever read? Well, it won’t be the last. The title character is an ethereal half-human, half-flower trying to discover the truth about her origins. The writing is beautifully melancholy and complemented perfectly by the artwork. I also enjoyed the cameo appearances by everyone from Batman to Swamp Thing.