The New York Times names MARKET DAY and WILSON as highlights of the year 2010

“Graphic Books ” / The New York Times / George Gene Gustines / November 12, 2010

It’s been another exciting year for graphic books. It began in January, when Yen Press announced it would print 350,000 copies of its adaptation of the novel “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer. Readers later witnessed the struggles of a Jewish rug maker in “Market Day,” by James Sturm. They were treated to Dash Shaw’s stylized “Bodyworld.” And they met the misanthrope known as “Wilson” in the latest from Daniel Clowes. The year closes with a mix of social issues, superheroes, slackers and Shakespeare.
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The 33 pages of story in THE NIGHT BOOKMOBILE (Abrams ComicArts, $19.95) leave one longing for more. The story, written and illustrated by Audrey Niffenegger, the novelist behind “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” is about a woman who stumbles upon an old Winnebago filled with everything she has ever read. The volumes conjure long-forgotten memories — “Here was ‘A Distant Mirror,’ by Barbara Tuchman, which I remembered reading in a coffee shop while waiting for a blind date that never showed up” — that are sure to be echoed by readers when they ruminate on their own experiences with books. The author plans to explore the world of the bookmobile, and its enigmatic librarian, further in “The Library.”

KILL SHAKESPEARE (IDW, $19.99) Volume 1 brings together the playwright’s heroes, including Hamlet and Juliet, and pits them against a pack of adversaries led by Richard III and Lady Macbeth, all of whom want to find a wizard named William Shakespeare. The story, written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col, with art by Andy Belanger, is gripping, violent and dark fun, even if you’re not fully versed in Shakespearean lore. If you are — as one of my colleagues, Steven McElroy, is — rejoice: “There is the allure of familiarity and the joy of being on the lookout for who might show up next — even Parolles (still a coward) makes an appearance,” he said.

Societal woes are deftly handled in THE ADVENTURES OF UNEMPLOYED MAN (Little, Brown, $14.99) and HEART TRANSPLANT (Dark Horse, $24.99). “Unemployed Man,” written by Erich Origen and Gan Golan, and illustrated by a legion of artists, is a satirical look at politics, the economy and superheroes — though not necessarily in that order. One of the highlights is a parody of the origin of the Incredible Hulk: David Tanner is bombarded with Fox News rays and transforms into White Rage. “Heart Transplant,” written by the crime novelist Andrew Vachss with artwork by Frank Caruso, tells the story of Sean, a boy from a broken home who is bullied at school. His father figure teaches him to fight back. Their relationship is tender and richly conveyed in the words and images.

My experience with manga has largely failed to yield great fruit. However, that was not the case with Moto Hagio’s DRUNKEN DREAM AND OTHER STORIES (Fantagraphics Books, $24.99). This 10-story anthology shifts from young romance to supernatural mystery to kitchen-sink drama, so there will probably be a touchstone tale for everyone. “Iguana Girl” — about two sisters, one human and one reptilian — is oddly appealing and surprisingly bittersweet. And its message about acceptance is subtle, not saccharine. The stories are black and white, save for the science-fiction tale “A Drunken Dream,” which is rendered in muted watercolors.

Superman’s beginnings have been revisited many times, in comics, film and television, so aside from his downtown threads, SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE (DC Comics, $19.99), by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, is not breaking a lot of new ground in showing a younger Clark Kent, unsure of his place in the world. But this adventure does put an aggressive spin on his origin (Krypton’s explosion was intentional, not accidental) that gives Superman new interstellar enemies and a fresh mission: to avenge his home world. What’s best is DC’s commitment to producing an original graphic novel rather than releasing this story in single issues. The Earth One line is introducing a number of DC’s heroes to a new generation, and next year Batman will receive its treatment from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.

RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN (Archaia, $24.95), by Jim McCann and Janet Lee, takes place in a world named Anorev, which is inhabited by robots and children and where the concept of time has been forgotten. Ayden, a boy, and Zoe, a robot, realize their destiny when 314 mysterious Dapper Men descend upon them. Some of the writing is lyrical and reads like a forgotten fairy tale: “Until, one day, there was no tock. With no tock, there could be no tick. And all that was left was no.” The artwork is often stunning, with a texture and depth that, according to a how-to section at the end of the book, reflects Ms. Lee’s use of decoupage, a combination of paper-doll-like cutouts and wood boards.

It is a testament to the writing ability of Scott Snyder that his story in AMERICAN VAMPIRE (Vertigo, $24.99), illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, is more compelling than one in the same volume written by the master of the macabre Stephen King. Thank goodness it’s not a competition. Mr. Snyder is chronicling the life of Pearl Jones in 1920s Los Angeles; she longs to be an actress but finds herself turned into a bloodsucker. The old rules are invalid, because of new vampires who are not put off by sunlight. Mr. King takes on the story of Skinner Sweet, the first of the new breed that causes the evolutionary shift, set in the days of the Wild West. Pearl is an engaging character, and the series, particularly with its ability to peek at different generations, seems like the next franchise possibility for the DC imprint Vertigo.

If you enjoyed the criminally underappreciated film SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, you’ll love the source series. SCOTT PILGRIM’S FINEST HOUR (Oni Press, $11.99), the last of six installments by Bryan Lee O’Malley, finds the title hero mourning his lost love, Ramona, and acting as immature as ever. He tells his other love interest, Knives, who has recently turned 18: “Do you want to have sex? I think we should have sex. Casual sex.” Despite his many flaws, Scott remains a character you want to see succeed. The final volume is filled with the video-game imagery and breaking-the-fourth-wall asides that were evident in the previous tales. During his confrontation with Gideon, his ultimate barrier in reuniting with Ramona, Scott says: “I don’t even want to fight you! The secondary characters made me do it!” The complete series is available in SCOTT PILGRIM’S PRECIOUS LITTLE BOXSET for $72.

Darwyn Cooke revisits Parker, the antihero created by the novelist Richard Stark, in THE OUTFIT (IDW, $24.99). This book has everything the first had: tough guys, capers and a 1960s vibe that feels like an underworld version of “Mad Men.” Among the high points of this installment — Mr. Cooke plans to adapt four Parker novels in all — are the heists arranged against the criminal syndicate Parker despises. The six-page sequence about a heroin operation wonderfully, and incongruously, juxtaposes tense Mamet-like verbal sparring grit with an almost whimsical visual style. The coda promises “Parker will return in 2012.” Let the countdown begin.

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