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Graphic Novel Friday: Best of the Year So Far

Best-2011-so-far_120._V158824880_Earlier this week, we unveiled our 2011 Best Books of the Year So Far store, and the editors’ picks cover thirteen subject categories and an overall Top 10. If you are a regular reader of our Graphic Novel Friday column (thanks, Mom!), several of our selections in Comics and Graphic Novels should be familiar--but we still kept a few close to the vest. Our favorites span superhero, indie, young adult, literary, and memoir comics, while a couple picks defy classification. A closer look at all the books follows the jump.

  1. Mr. Wonderful: A Love Story by Daniel Clowes
  2. The Cardboard Valise by Ben Katchor
  3. iZombie Vol. 1: Dead to the World by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred
  4. Thor by Walter Simonson Omnibus by Walter Simonson and Sal Buscema
  5. Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
  6. Strange Tales II by Various
  7. Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon
  8. Life with Mr. Dangerous by Paul Hornschemeier
  9. Vietnamerica: A Family's Journey by GB Tran
  10. Mid-Life by Joe Ollman
Our top choice was also the easiest to select, given how much we gushed over Mr. Wonderful: A Love Story by Daniel Clowes in an earlier Omni post. Clowes turns a not-so-mildly neurotic protagonist into a character who somehow lives up to the book’s title, while the subtitle is both deceptive and true, playing with readers’ expectations as Clowes experiments with panel layouts, shapes, and colors throughout the narrative.

While many eyes were on the latest from Daniel Clowes, Ben Katchor’s The Cardboard Valise is a sleeper hit with critics and readers. The book features obsessed characters in a distorted (sur)reality--one of fiction and whimsy--and not so easily left behind. Similarly, brothers Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon offer half-truths and imagined realities in Daytripper, a look at the life (and deaths) of their protagonist, Brás de Oliva Domingos. The artwork alone makes this a noteworthy selection, enhanced by the Eisner Award-winning colors of Dave Stewart.

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol earned high praise from Neil Gaiman, who dubbed the author/artist’s first full-length graphic novel “[A] masterpiece, of YA literature and comics.” As young Anya suffers adolescent growing pains and insecurities, she befriends a ghost who resides at the bottom of a well. It’s not the only book on our list to feature the undead, as the far more adult iZombie Vol. 1: Dead to the World, by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred, finds female zombie Gwen Dylan struggling to maintain her cool composure while feasting on the brains of the recently deceased. Her addiction comes with a twist: she unwillingly gains brief memories from those she devours and is driven to solve the mysteries they left behind. It’s a sly, hip take on the well-tread (and fed) zombie genre. [See also our interview with Chris Roberson.]

In Vietnamerca: A Family’s Journey, GB Tran chronicles his life as the son of immigrants who fled their homeland during the fall of Saigon. In his graphic memoir he uncovers the secret lives of family members before they reinvented themselves in America. Its fragmented narrative is not for the easily frustrated, but the rewards flourish in the layers of history.

A new graphic novel by Paul Hornschemeier is always worth investigating, and Life with Mr. Dangerous delivers in such high form that it had to make our list. A quarter-life malaise creeps into Amy, and she laments what is within her reach while longing for that which is not: a long-distance friendship. Hornschemeier continues to excel at sparse designs and expressions that grow as the pages turn. Please, nobody hand Amy a copy of Joe Ollman’s Mid-Life, which finds middle-aged John going through his own personal identity crisis as his family life approaches an imminent meltdown. Thank goodness for the dark humor that pervades the unraveling of hard-spoken truths and marital inadequacies.

Before we spiral too far into self-reflection, there is plenty of escapism in our list, too. Case in point: Walter Simonson’s lauded run on The Mighty Thor, collected in its entirety in an oversized, lovingly and faithfully re-colored, almost 1,200 page brick of Norse superheroism. It’s classic Marvel comics, full of puffed up dialogue and fists-in-the-air artwork. Meanwhile, the new school cartoonists take on the classic in Strange Tales II, which gives indie creators like Dash Shaw, Jeffrey Brown, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Benjamin Marra, Gene Luen Yang, and more full control over the Marvel Universe. The result is a frenetic, hysterical, and always clever take on the state of modern superhero storytelling.

This year has already seen an incredible output of quality comics, but some must have escaped our radar.  Please let us know your favorites in the comments below.

--Alex

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