ONWARDS, HARK!, PAYING FOR IT, on read/RANT's 10 Best Graphic Novels of 2011

“The 10 Best Graphic Novels of 2011” / read/RANT! / Cal C. / January 9, 2012

10: Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, by Shigeru Mizuki

Originally published almost 40 years ago, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths only very recently got its first official publication in English. History buffs, particularly those interested in World War II, will find a lot to love in this semi-autobiographical story of a Japanese soldier fighting in the war. Shigeru himself was a soldier, and this book is based on his experiences fighting under Japanese commanders in a losing battle against American forces. From the non-stop hunger and disease to the sometimes-abusive, sometimes-incompetent commanding officers, Shigeru’s manga Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is dark, weird and realistic, but most of all, it’s unique. From the blend of cartoony character design and ultra-realistic scenery to the point of view that most Americans will never get about World War II, it’s a must-read book. Though flawed and occasionally unfocused, it’s fascinating and, frankly, a blast to read.

7: Hark! A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton

Perhaps the most light-hearted work on my list, Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant has been building on online fanbase for years, but her strips popularity has gone to the next level with the release of its first paperback collection. Having a knowledge of history (or at least an interest) helps, as Beaton’s jokes are often far cleverer for those familiar with the characters and times she’s riffing on, but anyone with a sense of humor will find an awful lot to love here. Beaton’s cartoony art could be seen as simplistic, but it’s a fantastic fit for her witty jokes, often giving her characters ridiculous, exaggerated appearances that only highlight the features she’s lampooning. Anyone in the mood to laugh should grab this book as soon as possible.

2: Paying For It, Chester Brown

Brutally honest, emotionally distant, and at times darkly hilarious, Chester Brown’s autiobiographical Paying For It is an undeniable success. The book is an utterly non-sensual look at the life of a man who, deciding to forego the hassle of romantic love, starts frequenting a variety – a huge variety – of escorts. Brown’s simplistic art and paneling and totally deadpan storytelling take a couple chapters to adjust to, but end up paying off hugely as Brown’s life gets weirder and weirder. Though it periodically devolves into a slightly irritating didacticism, particularly in Brown’s arguments with friends about the morality of prostitution, it is an endlessly readable book with some fascinating ideas and pitch-perfect execution.

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