A Year in Comics and Graphic Novels

Criminal masterminds, shoehorn worshippers, President McCain

But hey, comics were born in newspapers, and All the Rage (Three Rivers Press, 280 pp., $16.95) showcases one of its sharpest practitioners. Before morphing into an Adult Swim cartoon, Aaron McGruder's daily Boondocks strip happily rode America's third rail of race, getting censored and banned along the way. There's no denying the bite in a Sunday strip featuring a perky blond dude in shorts and T-shirt jogging through the snow past a bundled-up black kid, who mutters to his buddy, "White people." What's even funnier is McGruder's annotation: "OK, if you're mad at this you're just a hater."

Seemingly gentler, but pungent in their own right, are Tove Jansson's 1950s Moomin strips, gathered into a beautiful, oversize volume (D&Q, 96 pp., $19.95). The happy family of hippo-like Moomins outwits self-absorbed jocks and uptight neighbors with aplomb; what gives the strip edge are its insouciant figures, expressive areas of rich black, and judicious sweeps of Zip-a-tone. Andy Hartzell's Fox Bunny Funny(Top Shelf, 104 pp., $10) also artfully deploys black and white, in a wordless parable about a fox who, unable to hate his age-old prey, tearfully embraces his inner bunny.

Although there are only the occasional funny animals inside the lavish, two- volume Completely Mad Don Martin (Running Press, 1,200 pp., $150), Martin's famously pliable people satisfied our basest instincts during his tenure at Mad magazine from 1956 to '88. Accidental amputations and knockout B.O. were reliable visual punch lines; as early as 1957, a two-page gag featured a teenage boy, an inflatable woman, and a men's bathroom. Who says our culture is more debased now than back in the good ol' days?

Jamie Hernandez's noir eye-candy: from "Maggie the Mechanic"
image: Courtesy of Fantagraphics Books
Jamie Hernandez's noir eye-candy: from "Maggie the Mechanic"

Alright, so a case can be made that The Perry Bible Fellowship (Dark Horse, 96 pp., $14.95) is some seriously sick shit. Redlining the eclectic meter with drawing styles that include Flash Player bold, Edward Gorey quaint, and treacle pastel, Nicholas Gurewitch's weekly strips fascinatingly manipulate time. Two rabbits are trapped in a pit—in the second panel, one says, "With love, anything is possible"; in the third, they climb out atop a writhing heap of their children. Or a man loudly proclaims his desire to a woman as they sit beneath an overhanging precipice of snow—the final panel reveals flattened skeletons on verdant spring grass. Gurewitch's art wonderfully implies that entire novels lurk in the void between panels.

Economy of form in service to sweeping imagination—the best comics have always let you do your own thinking.

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