Monday, March 01, 2010

comics of the decade, episode li'l uno

Not much in the way of comics news from these parts in the last while. I still read 'em, I just don't read 'em like the coke-bottle-spectacled, cape-wearing, adolescent nerd-bot that I was in my salad days. My tastes have rolled a little to the left since my awkward years and I read fewer fist-fights-in-tights pamphlets and more long-form narratives that are less about power fantasies and more about humanity.

I'm not in the shop every Wednesday, so I imagine I'm missing out on a good bit of reading material. That said, I'm fairly confident that I read, or at least sampled, most of the of the major mainstream comics publications of the past decade; and when I say mainstream, I mean comics embraced by book stores and book reviewers at places like the New York Times, and not what the comics industry considers mainstream, which is Amazonian Princesses through General Zod, not that there's anything inherently wrong with either, I'm just noting that there's a discrepancy between mainstream's mainstream and comics' mainstream.

Also, if anyone has suggestions regarding the best comics since 2000/2001, shout 'em out. I'm curious as to what y'all have been reading comics-wise, and if you've been reading comics at all. I'm sure my list is devoid of a few titles that I either forgot I read or completely missed.

It maybe is a little late for a Comics of the Decade! post, but comics are slow to make... and so is this list.

Notes regarding my picks:
  • This is in no particular order of preference.
  • The list is completely subjective, there were no specific criteria I was looking to fill other than my personal enjoyment and fulfillment in reading the book.
  • Some of these comics were originally published in pamphlet form back in the nineties, but weren't collected into TPBs until the aughts and so therefore were available to people who wouldn't go into a comic shop until this past decade, hence they're eligible for consideration.
First, but not necessarily best or worse...

... well, let's get the obvious one out of the way:

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth (Chris Ware; Pantheon)

OK. So here's the thing with this book: even though it can kind of drag narrative-wise, and the main character is pathetic and unappealing in every way imaginable, it is still MINDBLOWING. There's a reason Chris Ware's art has been gallivanting around the country in various exhibitions at fancy art establishments. It's a maze of delights. The line-art is sparse, obsessively clean and precise, yes, but the page layouts and panel arrangements are dense with information and require a very active reader to fill in all the action between the static images and make connections between non-linear scenes.

The storytelling is what I would call decompressed—there are a lot of small moments depicted, tiny gestures like furrowed brows and scratched noses. These are often unnecessary for the plot, but they have a huge impact on the mood of the story. The events of the page above could have been summed up in two or three panels—woman sits and daydreams; woman gets up; woman opens door—but then we would have missed out on the fidgitiness and the mundanity of the waiting room experience, not to mention the puzzle that is the interpersonal relationships of all the characters.

To cut into the somewhat serious nature of the story of this hapless loner stumbling through various disastrous and painful familial relationships is, thankfully, a great deal of humor, which while dust dry and often morbid, still helps keep the pages turning.

Obviously a lot could be written about this book, and I'm not going into a huge amount of detail (thematically there's a lot going on in this book, both story-wise and art-wise, which I'm sure some overly enthusiastic grad student has or will write their thesis on). Suffice it to say that the art is gorgeous and easy to lose yourself in. And the character of Jimmy Corrigan is hard not to stare at with some sense of awe and horror as you would an albino burn victim. Except the scarring is on the inside.

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