The biggest story in graphic novels this year was the return of Chris Ware, whose Jimmy Corrigan and Building Stories have previously lifted the form to new heights. At the heart of the epically inventive Rusty Brown (Jonathan Cape) is a single day at a Nebraska school in the mid-1970s, from which Ware spins the life stories of a shy nerd, his frustrated father, the privileged class jerk and a thoughtful, banjo-playing teacher. A doll is lost, a space mission charted, a car crashed and cupcakes baked, while snow tumbles, pages turn red with trauma and panels shrink to postage-stamp proportions – this is beauty you have to squint at.
Childhood and the past underpin many of the year’s finest books. In Clyde Fans (Drawn & Quarterly), Canadian graphic novelist cartoonist Seth offers a masterly account of the passing of time. Two brothers inherit their father’s fan business, and struggle with new technologies, relationships and each other as the 20th century rumbles onwards. There’s plenty of quiet desperation, but also a serene beauty in carefully drawn shopfronts, and a warmth to Seth’s slow waltz through fading lives.
The darkness in Jaime Hernandez’s Is This How You See Me? (Fantagraphics) is mixed with friendship, joy and the shared sweat of the moshpit. Hernandez regulars Maggie and Hopey head to a punk gig with their old crew in a book that brilliantly captures the emotional charge of a reunion, and the politics and in-jokes of ageing scenesters. It’s an array of scraped knees, bashed noses, irony and regret.
Hair is centre stage in Ebony Flowers’s debut Hot Comb (Drawn & Quarterly), a sharp-edged, warm-hearted series of strips about black girls growing up in the US. It’s an energetic and often very funny collection that makes serious points about identity and personal space.
Other writers speak directly of their own lives. Sarah Lippett’s childhood troubles started with dropped dishes and headaches. In A Puff of Smoke (Jonathan Cape), she’s soon undergoing scans, being offered pills that make things worse and lying on the couch while her brother and sister tussle. Her memoir shows how serious illness can make a child feel alone in the world, but it’s also about friendships, drawing, boys and listening to the Pixies. Perky colours contrast with worried faces in an affecting warts-and-all love letter to her family and the NHS.
Travis Dandro’s searing, sad and funny King of King Court (Drawn & Quarterly) is another fine childhood memoir. Cute, tousled-haired Travis encounters comic books, toy swords, domestic upheavals and dealers’ apartments on his path to adulthood in Massachusetts as his heroin-addict father moves in and out of his life. Dandro is brilliant at keeping the reader in the moment, but also gives an impressively nuanced account of his troubled family.
Luke Healy leaves his childhood home in Dublin far behind in Americana (Nobrow), a lovely account of how a fascination for the US led an unfit twentysomething to try to walk 2,660 miles. The Pacific Crest Trail runs from the Mexican border to the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and Healy’s pilgrimage through America is also a journey into his own mind, soundtracked by blistered footsteps and breathless huffs, and told with winning honesty.
This year marked the first translation of one of Japan’s most celebrated and reclusive artists, Yoshiharu Tsuge. The semi-autobiographical The Man Without Talent, translated by Ryan Holmberg (New York Review Comics), written in the mid-80s, focuses on an unhappily married man who does things he’s not good at (selling decorative stones and going on holiday) and puts off the thing he is good at (drawing comics). This fascinating collection presents a Japan of scruffy shops and quiet streets in which forgotten men tell strange stories.
Another book about everything and nothing, Kevin Huizenga’s The River at Night (Drawn & Quarterly) follows caffeine-fuelled IT worker Glenn Ganges’s struggle to sleep as his thoughts tumble over, under and into each other. It’s a deeply surreal journey through work, computer games, law enforcement, geology, married life and robots. As the night tightens its grip, Huizenga’s art soars above cities, through wormholes, along rivers and into bizarre mental realms.
Peterloo: Witness to a Massacre (New Internationalist) is a serious book with a passionate message. This excellent retelling of the brutal crushing of the 1819 protest that gave birth to the Guardian is told through the accounts of those who were there. Robert Poole and Eva Schlunke marshal the voices of workers, magistrates, cavalry officers and journalists, with illustrations by Paul “Polyp” Fitzgerald. History rarely feels this immediate.
Alan Moore, the legendary creator of From Hell and Watchmen, has said that The Tempest (Knockabout), the conclusion to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, will be his last comic. He and artist Kevin O’Neill (who is also quitting the industry) have set their motley literary superleague against Moriarty, Martians and a boy-wizard antichrist in previous instalments, and here Bram Stoker’s Mina Murray, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Emma Peel from the (British) Avengers must battle “Jimmy” Bond and a supernatural conspiracy. The digressions long since overtook the main story, but this wild metafictional romp is a fitting goodbye to two singular talents.
There’s another ending from Rob Davis in The Book of Forks (SelfMadeHero), the last volume of his Motherless Oven trilogy. This dazzling, dystopian fairytale series features three teenagers struggling through a nightmarish realm of “death days” and street gangs, in which knives fall like rain. The finale delves deep into the origins of Davis’s world and is packed with strange happenings and original ideas.
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Source: The Guardian