Here it is, the first ever Top 10 Year End Best Of List from the Spinner Rack! When I was younger I bought and read a lot more comics than I do now, so I was more in tune with the latest releases and what was hip and what wasn’t (Plus I had a lot more extra cash to spend). These days I don’t keep up with things as much as I would like to. I try to keep my eye out for the latest classic comic strip and comic book reprints when they are released. There are times when those are released in limited quantities and I don’t want to miss out on them. But I don’t keep up with the new kids like I used to. Most of the artists whose books I still pick up are the guys I loved reading back in the 90’s (lo’ those many years ago!) such as the Hernandez bros., Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Chester Brown, Joe Matt, Charles Burns, ect. I’m telling you this because my list may be a little bias and predictable. Sure, I love reading super-hero comics as much as the next guy, but I wouldn’t place them on my best-of list. I thought Dude Where’s my Car was a funny movie (I’m not kidding) but it wouldn’t be placed side by side with, say, any Preston Sturges or Woody Allen film on any list of mine. So without further ado, I’m gonna do a little boogaloo and a little soft shoe and begin!
In no particular order (click on a title to order):
1) WALT & SKEEZIX written and drawn by Frank King (Drawn & Quarterly)- A collection of daily Gasoline Alley strips by Frank King from the years 1921 and 1922. This is THE book of 2005. Hands down, no contest. You can read my thoughts on the book here.
This particular drawing was done with digital media, using an application that allows me to draw more easily. I use it as much as I use my casino application for iphone.
2) BUZ SAWYER: THE WAR IN THE PACIFIC written and drawn by Roy Crane (Manuscript Press/JAL)- It has been too long since a Roy Crane compilation has graced the shelves. This book collects the start of the strip in 1943 and entirety of 1944. By the time Crane started Buz Sawyer he was a master of the adventure medium and these are rollickin’ good stories combined with beautiful craft-tinted art. His stories move at a fast pace but never at the expense of the story. His facial expressions and figure work always convey the actions and emotions of each character. If I had one bad thing to say about this collection, it would be the reproduction. At times the lines seem thicker than they should be as if they were taken from microfilm or bad copies of the strips themselves. It’s not horrible but it could be better. Forget I said that though and pick up this book asap.
3) LITTLE LULU vol.’s 1-6 written and drawn by John Stanley and Irving Tripp (Dark Horse Comics)- So I listed all 6 books as one. So the first one came out in November 2004. Shut up. It’s my list, go make your own. Anyone who has seen my site (and if you’re reading this you have) knows what a Stanley fan I am. I was delighted when Dark Horse announced their intentions of reprinting LITTLE LULU last year. Each little digest reprints a hardback from the old Another Rainbow Little Lulu slipcase sets for the meager sum of 9.95. How’s that for value? Go. Buy now. Buy ALL.
4) THE COMPLETE CALVIN AND HOBBES written and drawn by Bill Watterson (Andrews McMeel)- Well, there you go.
5) BLACK HOLE written and drawn by Charles Burns (Pantheon)- Ahh, a nice fat book collecting Burn’s magnum opus. I actually haven’t read the collected edition yet, I’ve had it for a while, but other things have taken precedence over it. I DID read all of the issues as they were coming out and loved it. His Al Feldstein influenced brushwork gives this teen plague story a creepy aura that’s both haunting as well as touching at times.
6) THE ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY/THE ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #16 written and drawn by Chris Ware (Pantheon/self-published)- It was a banner year for Chris Ware fans, not one but TWO hardback books were released. As usual, both are beautifully designed with the attention to detail that would drive any sane man crazy. The first book is an oversized collection of Ware’s two Joke Book issues of his regular ACME comic as well as a few other surprises thrown in. My favorite being the newly colored version of “I Guess” reprinted from RAW vol.2 #3. The second book is actually issue 16 of his irregularly published comic. It contains pages from the RUSTY BROWN serialized novel as well as a few pages of BUILDING STORIES. From what I understand this is a one time printing only so act fast.
7) PEANUTS vol.’s 3 & 4 written and drawn by Charles Schulz (Fantagraphics)- I guarantee that as long as Fantagraphics releases these books, they will be on this list every year (Same goes for Walt & Skeezix for that matter).
8) THE CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY written and drawn by Will Eisner (Norton)- I just received this in the mail yesterday so I haven’t had a chance to re-read these stories yet, but there’s no need to in order to include it on this list. This fat hardback collects Eisner’s first book from 1978 A CONTRACT WITH GOD as well as A LIFE FORCE from 1988 (though written and drawn from 1983-1985) and DROPSIE AVENUE: THE NEIGHBORHOOD from 1995. Although his SPIRIT stories will always be my favorite work of his, I love the work he created later in his life. These stories that give us a glimpse into a different world, a different time from someone who saw it as it transpired moves me in a different way than his SPIRIT work. With the SPIRIT he was creating little movies on the page, whereas, starting with A Contract With God, he began staging plays.
9) WINSOR MCCAY: HIS LIFE AND ART by John Canemaker (Abrams)- This is a re-issue and revamped version of Canemakers McCay biography from 1987. It’s an excellent look into the man who created many beautiful comic pages in the early part of the century as well as one of the first to see animation as art. The book contains a lot of RAREBIT FIEND and LITTLE NEMO art printed from the original art pages. Gorgeous.
10) ABSOLUTE WATCHMEN written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons (DC)- I had to include this. I just had to. Except for Calvin and Hobbes, nothing else on this list is from my childhood. I must have been 16 or 17 when I first read this when it came out back in the late eighties. I’m still amazed at Moores storytelling and Dave Gibbons drawings. I can imagine this must have been an exercise in discipline in writing and drawing. The oversized Absolute format is perfect for the art. Gibbons understated art adds that perfect touch of realism/comic book feel to the story Moore was telling. Okay, so I put a super-hero book on the list. At least it was a good one.
As you can see I took a couple of liberties on the list such as lumping the Little Lulu’s together as well as the two Chris Ware books. While Stanley’s Lulu stories are charming and brilliantly written, I can’t say one story is better than the other. It is the series in and of itself that demands to be read and studied not any particular story to be singled out and exclaim, “Yes, that it. That’s the one!” Unlike a story by someone such as Bernie Krigstein whereas his Master Race story for E.C. is one of the pivotal moments in sequential art history, Stanley’s entire Lulu cannon is looked upon as a leap forward in comics. As for the Ware books, I have no excuse. I could say they came from the same mind and the same source (his weekly comic strip), but that’s a cop-out. I just wanted to. There were other books published this past year that almost made it on the list, such as THE FANTASTIC FOUR OMNIBUS which collects the first 30 issues and Annual #1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby or PLASTIC MAN vol.7 by Jack Cole but were passed over in the end by a narrow margin. Anyway, that’s it for the 1st Annual Spinner Rack Year End Best of List. Now start Shopping!