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.
5. “Big Questions”
Anders Nilsen's existentialist graphic novel follows a flock of birds dealing with a newcomer. Massive, bizarre and thought-provoking.
Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba create the story of the life of Bras de Olivias Dominguez in the graphic novel “Daytripper,” originally released as 10 individual issues. Each issue follows a day in the life of Bras, with each ending the same — he dies. The following story picks up at a different point in Bras' life, unconnected to his previous death. Bras is the son of a famous author, a “miracle child” struggling to find his place and his way, as told through each separate vignette. The beauty of Brazil and the fragility of life play key roles in this highly recommended graphic novel. It's beautiful, challenging and at times heartbreaking.
Writer Jim Ottaviani and artist Leland Myrick recount the life and career of noted physicist Richard P. Feynman in a funny and educational book.
8. “Green River Killer: A True Detective Story”
Jeff Jensen writes a true-crime story of the killer who plagued Oregon. Jensen's father was the lead detective on the case, and the book also looks at the impact the case had on the family. Art by Jonathan Case.
9. “The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists”
The artist/writer known as Seth imagines an alternate history of Canadian cartooning, centered on a fictional cartoon society in the city of Dominion, which served as a gathering place for artists.
10 . “Troop 142 by Mike Dawson”
Dawson (“Freddie and Me”) collects his webcomic story of a summer at a boys' scout camp; it explores the cruelty of difficulty of childhood, and the veneer of civility we paste on top of such conflicts as adults.