by Benn Ray
This year saw an amazing array of worthwhile reads. Despite the desperate e-reader hype, more books I want to read came out this year than I was able to find time to get to. And 2013 already seems to be following that trend as the ever-growing stack of books next to my bed can attest to.
As a result, this list is simply the best of the books I was able to read
So regardless of e-book propaganda to the contrary - publishing is very much alive and well and seemingly flourishing.
1. My Friend Dahmer by Derf
Derf's graphic biography of a high school age Jeffrey Dahmer is also as much an autobiography as it is a study in the creepy teen isolation of the suburban '70s. Dahmer was a psychopath - so that means his brain doesn't function like yours or mine. That is unchangeable. But at the same time, it is fascinating how much red-flag type behavior was overlooked by the adults. This is Derf's masterwork. If you liked Charles Burns' Black Hole, you'll like My Friend Dahmer.
2. Lost At Sea by Jon Ronson
This collection of Jon Roson's shorter pieces are everything from wonderfully hilarious to heart-breakingly sad - sometimes at the same time. A bloated Robbie Williams becomes obsessed with alien abductions. Ronson takes a James Bond road trip but just feels embarrassed by the car. But perhaps the most brilliantly poignant is the story where he interviews Artificial Intelligence robots. When Ronson asks one AI if it wishes it has legs it responds, "Why? Where would I go?" Ugh.
3. Barrel Of Monkeys by Florent Ruppert / Jérôme Mulot
This French comic is mean. Mean and vicious. And very, very funny. A couple of photographers behaving badly in a series of situations connected by an interesting narrative device and peppered with fascinating "mechanical" type spherical drawings that, if they could spin would look like animation.
4. Best of Punk by John Holstrom
Collecting the best of the legendary Punk Magazine - the MAD magazine of punk rock - the magazine that gave name to a lasting genre of music. Complete with backstory insider goodness - Best Of Punk belongs on every bookshelf of anyone who claims to love the punk rock.
5. The End Of The Fucking World by Chuck Forsman (comics series)
This series of minis features a young couple on the run, a classic comics-strip illustration style and psychopathia. 14 installments, each for a buck a pop. This title is also the vanguard of a mini-publishing empire of more excellent $1 mini comics than one can keep up with. The End Of The Fucking World makes a great pairing with Derf's My Friend Dahmer.
6. Animal Man by Jeff Lemire / various (comics series)
Lemire is a rare duck - he's one of those comics writers who is not only capable of writing and drawing his own excellent alternative comics (Underwater Welder), but also delivering quality mainstream superhero comics. But Animal Man isn't your typical mainstream character. Years ago, Animal Man was spun off into the then-flourishing Vertigo Universe - a sort of comics for grownups imprint from DC Comics. Back then Grant Morrison was doing interesting and weird things with oddball characters like Doom Patrol. But now, DC seems intent on burying the Vertigo Universe, forcing adult and odd characters awkwardly back into their superhero universe and Lemire is as much up for the challenge as Morrison was. Sure, Lemire might not be a psychedelic mind-fuck like Morrison, but the nightmare of the Rotworld (paired perfectly with Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing) is an intensely surreal horror story that seems to just keep spinning out larger and larger.
7. Batman by Scott Snyder/various (comics series)
When DC rebooted with their "New 52", I dropped all the Batman titles I'd been reading because they'd reshuffled the creative teams and I wasn't much interested anymore. Then I kept hearing about how good Snyder's Batman was, so I picked up an issue to see for myself, and it's true. Snyder's Batman is a quality horrorshow. The "Court of the Owls" storyarc was an interesting tale of a possible Wayne brother, reanimated corpses, a secret society and a villain finally worthy of the Batman. Then, "Death of the Family" follows that. The Joker returns with his decomposing, fly-riddled face, previously removed by another villain, now tied to his head and a new determination to utterly decimate the Bat family. Snyder's Joker clearly conveys all the gravitas that's been given to that character over the years. His is the dismembered face of pure anarchistic horror. Quality Batman!
8. Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder/various (comics series)
Snyder's Swamp Thing continues to be a joy ... well, given the horrible nature of the stories that might not be the best word ... to read. The fact that I am actually interested in a post-Alan Moore Swamp Thing comic (for my money, Swamp Thing is the best of Alan Moore's work) makes me so happy that every month a new issue comes in, I immediately snatch up a copy and tear through it. Really, Swamp Thing needs to be read in conjunction with Animal Man.
9. So Say The Waiters Vol. 1 by Justin Sirois
Sirois' novel is just screaming to be optioned. Developers create an app that allow players to be kidnapped and it takes off like wildfire. There's the thrill of being taken, of surrendering - it's electrifying. Plus So Say The Waiters is one of those rare books where the setting also feels like a character. This is the first installment in a series too, so there's more fun to come.
10. Dial H by China Mieville/various (comic series)
One of the few successes from the second wave of DCs new 52 is sort of an example of what more mainstream comics should be doing. Here's the formula - you take a talented non-comics writer - you give them a character that may seem dated, ridiculous our somehow nonsensical (yes, this could apply to every superhero) and tell them to go to town, In its heyday - that's what made the Vertigo comics line, under the flagship of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, so good. But as I said above, DC seems determined to bury Veritgo, and Dial H remains in the regular superhero universe (with all its limitations). The story is about a dial that each time it's used dials a new hero that the dialer transforms into. The new and constant flow of weirdo heros is funny - and there's also the conspiracy closing in on the dial holders - it's all so much fun. Look, if you can find it, pick up Dial H #6 and see if you don't think that story - of dialing a racially "insensitive" hero - doesn't deserve an Eisner Award.