These are my favorite comics of 2010. It's guided by what came out this year, but alludes to work from years prior, as a rough guide to what feels contemporary. To make this a top ten, please reserve places for Chris Ware's latest Acme Novelty Library and Edie Fake's Gaylord Phoenix, as yet unread. To better imagine a guide to comics I read this year that feel contemporary, please be aware of CF's fondness for Matt Wagner's Grendel comics and Michael Deforge citing his two biggest influences as being Richard Corben and Saul Steinberg.
1. If N Oof/Puke Force by Brian Chippendale. These comics are exhilarating. Reading Ninja in 2005, where each page would be dated with the day of its composition, I would think "He's getting better, steadily. HIs focus is increasing, he's becoming clearer." And now the new stuff arrives, and it's great. The new layout in If N Oof frees up his ability to go back and forth and not just hold its focus on characters animating themselves. The shorter strips in Puke Force move at such a pace that you get a sense of a plot developing itself over the scope of a full city. I also read Mat Brinkman's Multi-Force collection this year, and that's what Puke Force reads like, in its sense of scope and pacing, while If N Oof reads like Taiyo Matsumoto's Black And White in its sense of adventure and emotional resonance. These are some of the best comics ever, filled with some of my favorite drawings. There is a whole world of drawing stories here, a type of energy that signifies "fun" for me but there's a horror underneath it that defines its world and its stakes, to not just signify but to actually be fun, triumphing in the face of death-anxiety.
2. Michael Deforge comics. His most recent publication, Spotting Deer, is this science fiction triumph: I read it thinking "Where is this coming from? Who thinks like this?" What makes this more powerful is not only is that not his debut, but it's the follow-up to a couple of comics that seem to precisely map his psychic territory. Issue 1 of Lose, published last year, gave the reader this sense that they do know where Michael Deforge is coming from, and its a place with a lot of comics. That comic, with its vision of Hell populated by cartoon characters, was really powerful, and the fever dreams that followed possessed an intuitive sense of a polluted inner landscape. Twelve months later it seems like that sense of home has already been moved on from, into streams polluted not by cultural detritus, but by dead bodies.
3. King City by Brandon Graham. I read a lot of Seth Fisher comics this year. Those feel like the closest thing to predecessors to King City, with their manic delineations of architecture, easy flow, and sense of humor. But Brandon Graham isn't drawing other people's scripts, and he's not drawing Batman comics. This distinction is what makes his work feel like the future, which seems important when you're drawing science fiction. It's not hard sf, it's pretty clearly a fantasy, in that there are cats with magic powers, but when I read it I feel the potential for a better tomorrow, not just an escape from the drudgery of today. That potential better tomorrow is all for the world of comics, but comics are a way of processing one's world, and it's the global nature of Brandon Graham's influences that you can see an exciting and open-minded tomorrow.
4. Wally Gropius by Tim Hensley. When I travel, I look for things that appear "foreign," indigenous to the area they originate from and organic to it, but percolating with strangeness. Wally Gropius is that comic, for America. Speaking in a dialect learned from 1960s teen comics, run through the filter of anti-ego to be almost anonymous, talking about this thing of American commerce. Funny and strange and precisely itself, it's hard to imagine how Tim Hensley will follow up a work that feels so channeled from such a coalescing of disparate elements.
5. Love And Rockets Volume 3 by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. The Hernandez brothers do not always work for me, based as it is in serialization and the rhythms of understated daily life. Sometimes they can rip it, though, and a panel or two will make me sit up and take notice, and things can get pretty jarring. Jaime's story here is one of the ones that feels a bit more focused on editing between moments than simply letting the camera run. The other great Jaime comic I read for the first time this year, "Everybody Loves Me Baby," that ran in issue 7 of Penny Century, is up there as well. These are comics of his that feel like endings, climaxes, to whole stories, that bring in fresh elements late in the game to make it feel all the more focused and complete. This comic deals in more uncomfortable subject matter than usual, but it's the ending, after that stuff, that really got to me.
6. 1-800-Mice by Matthew Thurber: Like Michael Deforge, Matthew Thurber seems deeply influenced by Marc Bell. But rather than the polymorphous cartoon composites that people Bell's pages, Matthew sculpts narratives out of this bizarre language-imagery, that move forward and onward. His approach is perfect for discussing this modern world: The weird grammar scans like nonsense, but is easily parsed as you focus in, only for it to remind you of the nonsense that we are drowning in, and taking for granted as understandable. Watching him crack wise about lingo like "apps," an abbreviation for "applications" used in reference to technologically advanced cellular phones, that might not have even been a part of common parlance at the time he began drawing the series, might be one of the great pleasures of our age. Another one would be watching him integrate pages of incredibly well-done action sequences that are still funny even as they are effectively thrilling. If this comic had a taste, it would be honey and moss.
7. Spider-Man: Fever by Brendan McCarthy. The psych-noise cover version of Steve Ditko, who's already pretty psychedelic to begin with. Think of Daily Life's interpretation of Faust's It's A Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl. The collection places them back to back and reduces the passage of time to a feeding into a digital storage unit, like consciousness after the singularity.
8. Mr. Cellar's Attic/Black Color by Noel Freibert. Lighting a room with an oddly-placed lamp suffuses the space with a sinister luminousness, creeping across your face as you go about your business. I was up too early this morning, the lamp on the bathroom radiator lit me before the dawn gazed in. How old is Mr Freibert, exactly? Have we considered the possibility that he might be the reincarnation of Rory Hayes, his soul now scared away from drugs?
I read other good comics this year, but these are the works that hit me the hardest, as I was reading them. The next five would be: Carlos Gonzalez' Steam Walkway, Daniel Clowes' Wilson, Brecht Evens' The Wrong Place, David Hine and Shaky Kane's Bulletproof Coffin, and CF's output.