American-Statesman reviews ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20 as one of the best comics of 2010

“Best comics and graphic novels of 2010” / The Reader / Joe Gross / December 21, 2010

Like 2009, 2010 was a spectacular year if you like art comics, graphic novels and reissues of old newspaper strips. There are more strong books coming out month to month than even the deepest pockets can keep up with.

It was a less good year if your tastes run more toward mainstream, monthly superhero comics, especially from the Big Two (Marvel and DC). Both companies raised their prices from $2.99 per 22 pages of story per issue (13.6 cents/page) to $3.99 (18.1 cents/page), a move that prompted many long-term comic book fans to (often radically) re-evaluate their weekly comics habit. DC Comics rolled back a bit, returning most monthly books to $2.99, but reducing page counts to 20 per issue (14.9 cents/page). Considering that the vast majority of mainstream comics favor multi-issue stories that can be repackaged as trade paperbacks — a trend that shows no sign of slowing down — the story value-for-money problem probably won't favor the consumer any time soon.

Nor was it a great year for those who sell comics. Though graphic novels continue to find new audiences, sales of monthly comics — like all media that can be found for free (legally or not) on the Internet — continued to slide. In toto, the entire comics market (periodical comics, trade paperbacks and graphic novels) will likely be down 5.6 percent from last year, according to comics market researcher John Jackson Miller and his blog Comicchron.com.

Locally, the story was a little different. Comic stores thrive, and Austin used-book stores usually stock a solid array of comics, collections and graphic novels. Austin Books and Comics decided to open its Sidekick Store, an occasionally opened storefront down the street from the main store's 51st Street and North Lamar Boulevard location filled with half-off graphic novels and bins of dollar comics. Austin was also blessed with its first comic convention in a long time when Wizard World Austin launched in November, offering the sorts of bargains from dealers from across the state and the country that hard-core comics fans love.

All of that said, here are 10 outstanding graphic novels and trade paperbacks. The truth is there are easily a dozen more as good. It's flush time out there for the medium; we'll see if the business part is around next year.

1. "Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 3," Los Bros Hernandez (Fantagraphics): About three years ago, the Hernandez brothers switched from a semi-regular comic book-size periodical to these yearly collections. The first two were typically excellent, but the third was jaw-dropping, largely because of "Browntown," a story by Jaime Hernandez. Like his brother Gilbert, Jaime has been so good for so long that it's become very easy to take his obvious genius for granted. "Browntown" brought that skill into brutal relief, a devastating story of a secret left to fester. Expertly paced, with not a line wasted, it was one of the year's best stories in any medium, a stunner from a guy who keeps finding new peaks.

2. "Acme Novelty Library No. 20: Lint," Chris Ware (Drawn and Quarterly): For a few years, Ware's work seemed to fall a little too far into misanthropic pathos. But like No. 19, "Lint" is stellar, a tour de force of compact storytelling and graphic innovation. It's the life story — birth to death — of Jordan W. Lint, who unlike many of Ware's protagonists, isn't an especially pathetic figure. Rather, he's a middle-class striver — his childhood had tragedies, but it wasn't a total disaster. He went to college, joined a frat, got married and started screwing up his life just like everyone else. When you reach Lint's deathbed, you race back to the babyhood, eager to see just how Ware put it all together, again.

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