More best-of-2008 listmaking mania:
I really didn't read very many comics this year. I didn't read anything from Japan (besides Hanakuma's Tokyo Zombie which was mediocre) or Europe. There were a lot of comics I would have liked to read if money were no issue. The Rory Hayes collection, Where Demented Wented, looked particularly appealing: Outsider horror comics including a porn comic drawn before the cartoonist lost his virginity? Sounds great! On the other side of the coin is Lynda Barry's What It Is, which I am strongly considering buying my mom for Christmas. Then there's Kramers Ergot 7, which is the book I would most want for Christmas.`But there are still some critical standards at work, as there are still a lot of comics I read and didn't like at all, and even more that I know my interests enough to know probably would not crack a list.
For me, the best comics of 2008 were written and drawn by Dash Shaw. His Bottomless Belly Button graphic novel was astounding, mining similar territory as a number of indie movies, but with more technical skill and greater emotional resonance. I don't feel the need to mention Margot At The Wedding on a best films list because of the superiority of The Bottomless Belly Button. If you kind of like comics, but haven't read it, do so. As far as "graphic novels" go, it's the book to beat. The fact that it was produced by someone just out of college is deeply inspiring. Meanwhile, Bodyworld was a webcomic I read every week, as it went online. A new type of serialization for a comics culture where solo-artist anthologies aren't really economically feasible, that also works for a diffuse community: In the absence of talking about comics at a comic book store, to tell my animator friends about how good this comic is over AIM, e-mails, and blogs, is quite fitting. Put them at the number one and two slots of a list. I didn't read his short story contributions to Mome or Meathaus, or his Bottomless zine Picturebox put out. (Actually, I think I read a Mome story or two, but I didn't spend much time with them.) I did read his Cold Heat minicomic, and while it was cool as a display of another format for him to play with, it still didn't display the strengths of Cold Heat that I'm really into that I will have to wait until next year to read and talk about.
Kevin Huizenga put out two of the best comic book pamphlets I read this year. Ganges 2 I talked about when it came out, but Fight Or Run is a really weird and fun little book, about nothing but formalism as fodder for laughs. I am astounded at how much better that stuff reads in a collection than scattered in little segments elsewhere. It almost argues for the death of the single-artist anthology, to have a guy like Huizenga working for a slew of different publishers, putting out books as focused suites of work. I didn't like Or Else 5 very much at all- I thought the pacing of the centerpiece story was really off, and the other material only intermittently worked for me.
The two best superhero comics would be All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely and Omega The Unknown by Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple with Paul Hornschemeier and Gary Panter. All-Star Superman is not really my favorite Morrison comic, but the issues that came out this year were really solid and entertaining, and a lot of the problems of reading a serialized comic with ads has been fixed by subsequent collection. Hey, speaking of which, maybe they actually give Gary Panter a drawing credit in the collection of Omega The Unknown? Just fun comics to read as they come out. (I also liked the issues of Casanova that came out this year, although I had some complaints about the ending, and only three came out.) That Gary Panter cover burned this kind of disposable intensity, and the near-wordless final issue was an amazing coda that felt near-otherworldly to read. Dreamy comics have a certain pull to them.
Taking up a number seven spot, as well as being the best of its format, would be the Core Of Caligula minicomic by CF. What a compelling thing that was, and really dense for its short size, enough to be satisfying. It's odd worldview and seeming spirituality make it not seem slight.
Speaking of Panter and minicomics, I would've liked to read the $15 8-page Jimbo minicomic that came out this year, too, by the way, or the Dal-Tokyo collection that was slated to come out but got delayed either until next year or is off the Fantagraphic schedule completely. That big monograph was pretty cool, although not a comic. The Shary Boyle and Ben Jones artbooks that came out this year are also probably pretty good. None of these comics listed are reprints of older material, but classic comic strips are really interesting to me, and I liked Heavy Liquid and Scud The Disposable Assassin both the last time I read them. (I actually really want that Scud collection. Talk all the shit you want about people making comics to get into Hollywood, but The Sarah Silverman Program rules, and Rob Schrab will never be allowed to actually make movies like those comics, which are such a perfect crystallization of 1990s culture currents that it's a shame he had to wrap it up this year in a supposedly pretty lackluster fashion.)
Top three film of the year, in order, despite appealing to me for completely different reasons: Synecdoche New York, Wall-E, and The Dark Knight. Would've liked to have seen Rachel Getting Married, Wendy And Lucy, Burn After Reading, The Wrestler, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, a half-dozen mainstream comedies, etc. but that's what DVD releases and the last weeks of the year are for. The possibility that any of those films are as ambitious as the films in my top three is so slim that I have no problem saying those were the best of the year. (Although My Winnipeg might be, and I want to see that too.) Synecdoche, New York is pretty much what I want movies and art to be, just a completely moving/devastating experience, a smart person going further and getting near the top of their game, which happens to be the outer reaches of what most people would find pleasurable. Wall-E is amazing filmmaking, with great animation, and is deeply inspiring to me as someone who studied those things in school, as well as something saying so many things I believe in and agree with in a language children can understand. The Dark Knight has an incredibly forceful and tense middle that is magnetic to watch, thinks in ways the comics it's based on never got around to, and is a fascinating document of what a blockbuster action movie in this modern era is.