Well regarded graphic novelists Craig Thompson (“Blankets”) and Jaime Hernandez (“Love and Rockets”) released brilliant marriages of words and pictures in 2011, showcasing artists at the top of their creative powers. Despite some market failures, such as the closing of bookstore chain Borders, artistic quality of the graphic novel format remained high.
Here are my selections for the best 10 graphic novels of 2011.
Next week, return for the top 10 periodical comics of 2011.
1. “Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 4”
The Brothers Hernandez are some of the best cartoonists in comics' history, and Jamie Hernandez has one of the high points of his career in Vol. 4 of “New Stories.” Jaime Hernandez follows up on the storylines started in Vol. 3, and provides a possible ending to the saga of Maggie and Ray. Who knows where Jamie goes from here with these characters, but if this is the end of his “Locas” story, it's powerful, well told and emotional.
Jaime also follows up on preteen Maggie's return to Hoppers in a flashback story, told from the point of view of her friend, Letty.
Gilbert Hernandez, meanwhile, shares a teen vampire story with a twist and another Fritz story featuring an in-depth conversation with a boyfriend. Gilbert's visceral tale satirizes a societal obsession with vampires by showing their messy, unforgiving side.
Craig Thompson's long-awaited graphic novel “Habibi” is a timeless, “Arabian Nights”-style tale that follows the lives of two orphaned slaves. Exotic and lush, yet heartbreaking at times, Thompson's book is an exploration of the Islamic culture by one of comics' most deft craftsmen.
3. “Hark! A Vagrant”
Kate Beaton takes a humorous trip through history and literature with witty, absurd humor featuring characters from Napoleon to Nancy Drew in this collection of comic strips.
4. “Return to Perdition”
The former “Ms. Tree” creative team of Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty create the latest volume in Collins' “Perdition” series, the first of which inspired the Tom Hanks-Paul Newman film. In “Return,” Vietnam veteran Michael Satariano Jr. attempts to get revenge for the mob hits on his parents. Satariano doesn't know that his father's real name was Michael O'Sullivan, or that his father was part of the witness protection program. Working with a black ops program, Michael finds himself caught up in intrigue on all sides and becomes even more conflicted once he enters a romance with a mobster's niece.