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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw and Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Kirby: King of Comics
The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics
The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics
Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection
Creepy Archives Volume 1
All-Star Superman Vol. 1
The Alcoholic
Dark Horse Conan page
Rabbi Harvey
NPR's Best Graphic Novels of '08

That Was The Year That Was. Part One.

Hello, dear readers. It's that time of year again -- the existential suspense redolent in the air over whether your uncle will get blindly drunk at Christmas again, whether the country will survive until January 20th, whether you'll get lucky on New Year's Eve.

The usual swirl of late December concerns.

And in that swirl are the year end "ten best" lists as well, compiled by movie, music, book and other critics. Time magazine even has lists for animal stories (personally, I'm waiting for wolves and whales to start striking back!), "campaign gaffes," "gadgets," and more. And more.

The erudite Mr. Klaw and I thought it might behoove us to compile a similar top-tenny sort of rundown for graphic novels and comics. And of course, there are many of those around, as well. Indeed, NPR, for example, has an utterly fascinating list of year's best graphic novels, none of which I've read, all of which might be, indeed, great.

Which brings us to the ground rules for this column. Mr. Klaw & I are restricting ourselves to the "ten best" things -- however they've struck us -- that we've written, talked, or thought about in conjunction with, well, this column. Which means, then, it will be restricted to things we've been sent, have reviewed, etc.

Which also means there might be perfectly great things out there -- you're free to write in and let us know -- we've missed. Sometimes we request things, and companies don't send them along (hello, Marvel?), so the road to 10-best hell is paved with all sorts of good intentions, like the intention to actually read everything that matters, in a given year.

But as it turns out, Mr. Klaw and I are just human, too.

So, this week, we have Rick's and my "first five," -- basically numbers 10–6 of the list. Rick, being more organized than me, actually has them numbered. We converge with at least two entries here, but regardless, my blurb follows in tandem with his.

For year's end, Rick will provide the wrap/context/intro to the column, and our "top half" of the list will follow.

And then we have a whole new year to start reading and writing again! There is bound to be a comfort in such recurring circularity, in such otherwise parlous times.

Meanwhile, the list. Oh... and the most splendid holidays to you and yours!

Kirby: King of Comics Conan: Born on the Battlefield 10. (Rick) Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier (Abrams)
Jack Kirby's works permeate nearly every fantastical creation of the last 40 years from prose novels to the biggest Hollywood blockbuster. Evanier successfully evokes the proper mystique and respect for this creative giant while revealing his human side. Since his death, a handful of books have attempted to showcase or grant insight into Jack Kirby, but none has succeeded quite like Kirby: King of Comics, the perfect tribute to both the artist and the man.

(Mark) Conan: Born on the Battlefield by Kurt Busiek (script) and Greg Ruth (art) (Dark Horse)
I remain surprised that this otherwise solidly done compilation from Dark Horse's reborn Conan franchise struck me the way it did, but perhaps it was because these were the only Conan stories I've read that seemed to truly hint at the possibility of loss, or even the merest -- and I mean "mere" -- hint of wistfulness, or remorse, in Conan's world. No, the sword-wielder hasn't gone soft, fanboys (and gals), but in these stories, he becomes just a tad more identifiably human.

The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics 9. (Rick) The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics edited by Paul Gravett (Running Press)
Long before Frank Miller created Sin City, crime stories infiltrated the graphic form. In this massive (479 pp) collection of 25 stories, The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics re-introduces contemporary readers to the extraordinary talents of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Will Eisner, Dashiell Hammett, Jack Cole, Alex Raymond, and Jordi Bernet. Editor Paul Gravett has compiled one of the greatest anthologies of graphic stories ever produced, regardless of genre or subject. At $17.95 ($19.50 Can), the doorstop beauty is an incredible bargain as well.

(Mark) Here we have "sibling" collections on the list: The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics, edited by Peter Normanton, was my "Running Press" anthology selection, for many of the same reasons Rick gives for liking the Crime compendium (which I haven't read through yet). While this collection also includes 21st century offerings, the book's greatest strength is in its mid-20th century section, especially all the non-EC horror comics from the 40s and 50s represented here. Stories from old issues of Black Cat Mysteries, Journey into Fear, Adventures into Darkness, and more, are all on display in all their pre-code, axe-wielding, flesh-rotting glory.

Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection Rabbi Harvey Rides Again 8. (Rick) Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection by Scott McCloud (Harper)
Before Understanding Comics, writer/artist Scott McCloud created the adventures of Zachary T. Paleozogr (aka Zot), a teenager from an alternate Utopian Earth in the "far-flung future of 1965." Zot discovers a portal to our consensus 80s reality and explores our not-so-perfect existence. He befriends the teen Jenny Weaver and their adventures in both universes serve as the centerpiece for these delightful stories. Initially, the tales primarily revolve around Zot, who is a super-hero in his native land, and the colorful villains he encounters. About two-thirds of the way through this massive 575 page collection, the story focus changes dramatically as Zot gets trapped on our Earth and the stories begin to center around Zot and Jenny's friends. Basically, the series evolves into a high school drama with an exiled super-hero. The Earth Stories, the last sequence title, transforms an entertaining exploration of super hero and science fiction tropes into a superior dramatic comic book. Throughout, McCloud offers explanations and digressions into the individual stories through a series of commentaries and end notes. Perhaps most profoundly, this book grants an insight into the artistic evolution of one of comicdom's greatest ambassadors and educators.

(Mark) Rabbi Harvey Rides Again by Steve Sheinkin (Jewish Lights Press)
In spite of its deliberately 2-D, woodcut-style art, the "trickster" spirit of Rabbi Harvey shines through in all these tales. Sheinkin draws on Jewish folk tales, fables, and other sources -- often combining several in a single adaptation -- as Harvey manages to use drollery, wit and empathy, instead of a six-shooter, to make his way through the Old West.

Creepy Archives Volume 1 7. (Rick) Creepy Archives Volume 1 (Dark Horse)
This hardcover compilation of the first six issues of the legendary horror magazine features amazing work from Frank Frazetta, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, Alex Toth, Gray Morrow, Angelo Torres, and Roy Krenkel. The volume, produced in the same oversized dimensions of the original magazine, includes the original color covers, advertisements, letters pages, and an interesting historical introduction by noted Warren magazine historian Jon B. Cooke. The Creepy Archives Volume 1 provides tantalizing insight into some of the finest horror ever produced.

(Mark) What he said! We both have Creepy on our lists, and it's a terrifically-produced volume, with marvelous artwork which sometimes -- though not always -- outstrips the writing. But one or the other keeps you reading this stuff long after you'd intended to turn the lights out.

All-Star Superman Volume One The Alcoholic 6. (Rick) All-Star Superman Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison (script) and Frank Quitely (art) (DC)
In perhaps the most enjoyable Superman comic ever, the cerebral Morrison, whose prodigious output varies from mediocre to sensational, successfully creates a story full of scientific wonder, multi-reality excitement, and diabolical evil. Quitely's delicate, expressive art perfectly compliments the intricate, intelligent tale. If Warner Brothers has any sense, All-Star Superman would be the basis for the next Superman film.

(Mark) I wish I'd caught up with All-Star Superman. I've heard only good things about it. So here's an example where a book isn't necessarily "not" on my list -- it just never came across my desk! Meanwhile, another "DC" offering -- which is to say Vertigo -- that stuck with me is The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames (script) and Dean Haspiel (art) (Vertigo) . This memoir-as-graphic novel marks Ames' first foray into inked panel territory. It's a world is filled with the staples of East Coast literary sensibility: somewhat louche -- or at least crisis-ridden -- writers, struggling with the eponymous bottle, various shades of sexuality, life on the Atlantic seaboard, death, rare shots at redemption, etc. Or to put it another away, imagine the graphic novel having existed at the time of Cheever and Updike's -- or perhaps Roth's -- zenith.

That's the first half, true believers! Until next time...

Copyright © 2008 Rick Klaw and Mark London WilliamsRick Klaw and Mark London Williams

Rick Klaw produced four years of the popular monthly SF Site column "Geeks With Books", and supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The San Antonio Current, The Austin Chronicle, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century.

Mark London Williams writes the Danger Boy time travel series, and works as a journalist covering both entertainment and politics, for Hollywood trade paper Below the Line. He's also written videogames, comics, and plays, and wonders if the next administration will include another Federal Writers Project in its own "top ten" to-do list.

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