Yeah, okay, I’m late. So shoot me. What can I say? I’m a busy guy.
Based on what I read this year, here are my picks for the top 10 graphic novels of 2009. And let me tell you, this was a great year to be a graphic novel reader.
#10. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower, and Skottie Young.
Thanks to his work on his original Oz graphic novels, I’ll pretty much follow Shanower wherever he goes, but this work from Marvel was an unexpected stroke of genius. Shanower is an accomplished Oz scholar who manages to capture the essence of the original classic, and Young’s art is simply beautiful. If I have any complaint it is just over the price, which at $30 would make it unlikely that this wonderful book will make into the hands of many children.
#9. Stitches by David Small.
This powerful and painful memoir is an amazing feat. The story of Small and his family, who communicate only through slight, sometimes incomprehensible actions, could only have been depicted this way. This is a story that could never have been told as effectively with only words; in fact, to do so would have been a betrayal of what the book is about.
#8. Pluto by Naoki Urasawa.
Naoki Urasawa’s most recent completed series (the artist is currently at work on Billy Bat), this is a love letter to Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, arguably the most influential comic ever published throughout the world. If you’ve read the original Tezuka story on which it was based, then the mysteries are no surprise, but it’s how they Urasawa’s artistry and superlative story-telling ability shine. Not to be missed.
#7. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli.
You’ve been living under a rock if you haven’t heard about this book, and it lives up to the hype. I’ve only read three other works that Mazzucchelli contributed to – Daredevil: Born Again, Batman: Year One and the breathtaking City of Glass – and those were strong enough to make me eager for anything he does. This is a book that rewards multiple readings and it won’t be leaving my shelf any time soon.
#6. Parasyte by Hitoshi Iwaaki.
I’m pretty sure I put this on my list last year as well, but who cares? One of the finest manga I’ve ever read, and certainly one of the books I’m most proud to have published in my career. Equal parts horror, sci-fi and philosophy, I’ve given this series to many people in the industry who told me they didn’t like manga, and they all raved about it.
#5. All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.
The second volume of this came out last year, and it’s one of the best Superman stories – potentially THE best – ever published. I’m more than a little surprised that it’s the only superhero book that made it onto my list, given that I’m an old school superhero nerd. The last time I read a Superman story this strong was 20 years ago, and that was Alan Moore’s and Curt Swan’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? If only we could see this Superman more often.
#4. A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi.
This auto-biographical work would be worth reading for Tatsumi’s deft and sublet skill as a storyteller alone, but the fact that is also takes us through the early days of manga publishing in Japan is an added bonus. I learned a lot by reading this book, and I’m looking forward to cracking it open again in the future. That’s no small feat, however; it’s over 800 pages long.
#3. Bottomless Belly-Button by Dash Shaw.
This book came from out of nowhere to great critical acclaim, and it pushed young Mr. Shaw in the spotlight as one of the most exciting new cartoonists in the field. He’s gone on to do Bodyworld and the stellar “The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D.” for IFC. This haunting story of a dysfunctional family twists and turns and stuck with me long after I read it.
#2. 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa.
Monster was great, Pluto kicks ass and I can’t wait to read Billy Bat. But this is Urasawa’s masterpiece. Like Pluto, it’s another love letter – this one to being a kid and loving sci-fi and monster movies. It’s a thriller, it’s a mystery, and it’s terrifying at times. Ultimately, it’s a grown-up version of the sci-fi stories that we all loved as kids.
#1. Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka.
I first read Black Jack when I worked at Viz, close to ten years ago. Viz published two volumes and had to stop the series due to low sales. I thought long and hard about trying to pick it up at Del Rey, but it ended up at Vertical and I couldn’t be happier. Black Jack is such a seminal manga in Japan that the name is automatically equated with doctors and hospitals. Dr. Black Jack is a renegade surgeon, and Tezuka manages to mix painfully accurate depictions of surgery with a magic realism to rival García Márquez. Add to that Tezuka’s unmatched ability in the graphic arts, and you have my favorite graphic novel for the year. That the whole series is being released is a great joy.