Herbie, Volumes 1-3
Herbie is a "big fat nothing," according to his hothead father. All the boy wants to do is suck on lollipops and stare into space. But Herbie—written by Richard E. Hughes with art from Ogden Whitney—has a secret life. He talks to animals and takes on odd jobs for the government. For a character that debuted in the late '50s, Herbie's dialogue is as hilarious and relatable as ever ("You want I should bop you with this here lollipop?"). And it never gets old seeing a joyless fat kid stumbling through time-traveling adventures.
is the first truly groundbreaking graphic novel I've read in a long time. David Mazzucchelli is a master craftsman who draws his characters (a self-absorbed architect chief among them) with different strokes based on their moods and captures tiny details like a less twee Wes Anderson. It's a beautiful, challenging read that puts its author in a club with a handful of the medium's brightest stars.
I might be kind of a pussy, but I broke down crying reading these books (recommended to me by PDX musician and author Willy Vlautin). The
tales are delivered largely through flashbacks by its elderly characters—heartbreaking because they've got nothing much left to live for but the memories in their heads. Canadian artist Jeff Lemire puts his characters—their bulbous bodies rendered with thick sloshes of black ink—through hell while retaining an incredible empathy for them. Though his work offers few glimmers of hope, Lemire's talent is undeniable.
A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
Though Americans are well acquainted with the damage Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans, our images are largely of the aftereffects.
lets us see the storm's damage in real time. Josh Neufeld's pages move with cinematic pacing, and because he refuses to politicize his book, the devastation (as experienced by five Louisianans) speaks for itself. The result is largely free of melodrama, which is why it's so effective in helping readers to understand what happened.
Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes
Though he's capable of beautiful and detailed cartooning, Anders Nilsen won't blow you away with his near-stick-figure visual style in
The book—more a collection of related sketches than a graphic novel—is largely dependent on dialogue so terrifyingly surreal it forces us to question the author's grip on reality. But that's where Nilsen—whose writing is reminiscent of the paranoid ramblings of Radiohead's Thom Yorke—gets us.
A Drifting Life
Legendary Japanese cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi is known more for sharp, Hitchcockian graphic short stories than decade-sprawling epics, but he's grown long-winded in his old age. Tatsumi regales us with lovingly illustrated tales from his youth in his memoir,
which doubles as a history of manga and film in postwar Japan. The minor details of Tatsumi's life won't be compelling very to readers who aren't comics geeks, but the neurotically detail with which he tells his story is worth turning the book's 800-plus pages for.
Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?
Brian Fies is an incurable optimist. Even his previous book,
(guess what it's about?), clung to strength in the face of adversity.
is a reasonably meta collection of father-son stories that examine, with wide-eyed wonder, technological advances from can-do America's last century. Most comic creators are outsiders by trade, but Fies seems remarkably well-adjusted, a trait a lot of comics readers will find jarring. But that upbeat perspective goes well with the author's clean drawing style, and by the end of the book we just really hope Fies is right in predicting a non-dystopian future.
Didier Lefèvre traveled through Afghanistan in the mid-'80s (where there were plenty of pre-9/11 troubles), and he took enough photos to make a stop-motion film. Instead, he worked with artist Emmanuel Guibert to compile a detailed account of his time in the country in illustrations and photos. Not only does the book shed light on the political history of Afghanistan, it documents the bravery of doctors who volunteered there, and the beauty of the country's mountain landscape. Sadly, Lefèvre died in 2007.
Cecil and Jordan in New York: Stories
The stalest form in comics is the graphic journal, wherein artists document boring day-to-day happenings at art school. Gabrielle Bell's stories may not be purely autobiographical, but they successfully twist that format into something fresh. Her characters are as hard to peg as Bell's own ever-changing drawing style: Vulnerable and brash, they make decisions and say things that won't always make sense to you and me. But they seem very real nonetheless.