There was a depth of well-written and drawn stories in the graphic novel format in 2012. The latest from Chris Ware and the final book from the regarded Harvey Pekar were among the year's best marriages of words and pictures in 2012. The artistic quality of the graphic novel format remained high.
Here are my selections for the best 10 graphic novels of 2012.
Next week, return for the top 10 periodical comics of 2012.
‘Building Stories' by Chris Ware
Chris Ware stretches the boundaries of the graphic novel in “Building Stories,” a box set of sorts containing 14 different storytelling items in a variety of sizes. They all follow the stories of the people living in a three-story Chicago brownstone. Each item takes a different perspective on the stories of the building's occupants. The insightful examination of life and loss marks the best, most innovative graphic novel of the year.
‘Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A “Graphic Memoir”' by Ellen Forney
“Monkey Food” writer-artist Ellen Forney chronicles her life from her diagnosis as bipolar just before turning 30, and her struggle after that towards finding balance. Forney looks at other creative figures who faced similar struggles, and wonders how her mood swings will affect her creative output. It's intimate, engaging and extremely relevant.
‘The Nao of Brown' by Glyn Dillon
Former “Shade the Changing Man” artist Dillon returns to comics in full force with “The Nao of Brown,” an exquisitely detailed graphic novel about artist Nao Brown, a half-Japanese artist living in England, struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The often-underrated Dillon (the younger brother of “Preacher” artist Steve Dillon) is, with this graphic novel, in the stratosphere of artists like Moebius and Hayao Miyazaki — both of which appear to be influences.
‘The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln' by Noah Van Sciver
Coincidentally, in a year where President Abraham Lincoln's story is an Oscar contender at the theaters, an earlier part of his story, explored in “The Hypo,” makes for one of the year's best graphic novels. Van Sciver looks at the future president's early days as a lawyer, and his struggle with a dark depression, which Lincoln called “the hypo.”
‘Sailor Twain, Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson' by Mark Siegel
In Mark Siegel's dense, romantically tragic graphic novel, the reader is drawn into New York in the Gilded Age as a riverboat captain pulls a mermaid from the Hudson River. The charcoal art adds to the feeling of dipping into the mists of history.
‘Harvey Pekar's Cleveland' by Harvey Pekar and Joseph Remnant
Writer Pekar (“American Splendor), who died in 2010, is the writer of this memoir of Cleveland, interspersed with his own personal stories of life in the city. Artist Joseph Remnant brings the stories to life.
‘Underwater Welder' by Jeff Lemire
Jack Joseph welds underwater pipes for an oil rig off the Nova Scotia coast. As he prepares to become a father for the first time, something unusual happens: He's visited by the ghost of his dead father. The story has been compared to “Twilight Zone,” and that's both fair and apt.
‘The Hive' by Charles Burns
In the second part of Charles Burns' trilogy that began with “X'ed Out,” Doug travels into a dark alternate world where he is an employee of the Hive. The surrealistic tale is part “Tintin,” part David Lynch.
‘The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song' by Frank M. Young and David Lasky
“The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song” relates the story of the first superstars of country music, the Carter Family. (Member June Carter Cash later married Johnny Cash, who makes a brief appearance in this book.) The voices behind hit songs like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” have their humble beginnings and rise to fame outlined in a compelling graphic novel.
‘Wizzywig' by Ed Piskor
Piskor tells the story of hacker Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle, an early hacker who starts off getting free phone calls and continues on with more extensive pranks. Eventually, Kevin becomes a fugitive, despite having no particular intent to harm others at any point. Inspired by elements from the stories of noted hackers Kevin Mitnick, Kevin Poulsen and Phiber Optik, among others, “Wizzywig” shines a light on the hacker culture and showcases what it was like when being a geek was still dangerous.