Originally posted December 30, 2009
This was a mixed decade for comics. On the one hand, superhero comics rebounded from the “grim and gritty” cliches of the 1990s to newfound creative relevance, thanks largely to the savvy of Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, who recruited writers like Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Robert Kirkman and Warren Ellis from the indie world and let them run wild on the Marvel universe. Bendis proved to have the best ear for dialogue in the history of the word balloon, and Quesada oversaw a series of crossover events that actually managed to deepen rather than exploit the mythos.
At the same time, the indie bubble of the 1990s popped, as the entire American comics infrastructure shrank in response to overspeculation, insularity, and new competition from manga and the internet. A new generation of personal artists never emerged to follow pioneers like Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, the Hernandez Brothers, Chester Brown, Seth, and Joe Matt. Or if they did, they never made it to my comics shop – which these days is a website, since the three stores closest to me all closed down by the middle of the decade.
By the end of the decade, it appears the industry is finally responding to these transformations. Several of my favorite comics, including Freakangels, Bayou, and PVP, are available for free online (although I still prefer to read them in ink). The early attempt to turn Watchmen into a “motion comic” in advance of the movie was a disaster, but the adaptation of Spiderwoman is much more promising. And the widespread recognition for works like Fun House, Epileptic, and Persepolis suggests the space for sequential art outside the comics ghetto may be growing.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the margins. As science fiction began to gain critical respectability in the 1960s and 70s, some SF authors railed, “keep science fiction in the gutter where it belongs!” Similarly, there’s a legitimate danger that the recent superhero boom – capped by Disney’s purchase of Marvel – will dull the critical edge that Quesada, Bendis, and their cohort worked so hard to sharpen. But with great responsibility comes great power. Hopefully, the new creative opportunities opening up for comics artists will give them the room to explore even fresher visions. The recent explosion of work by the astonishing Warren Ellis for indie publisher Avatar demonstrates what can happen when a writer bursting with ideas wins full creative freedom, and finds the collaborators who can bring his visions to life.
Here’s my list of the top 50 comics of the decade. I’ve lumped together spinoffs like New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, and Dark Avengers, as long as they’re from the same writer. I’ve listed the primary artsists who worked with each writer, using front cover credits to decide whether to include inkers and colorists, and skipping fill-in artists. Foreign comics were considered if they were translated into English in this decade.
1 – Epileptic, David B.
2 – The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
3 – Y the Last Man, Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
4 – Planetary, Warren Ellis and John Cassady
5 – Buddha, Osamu Tezuka
6 – Stray Bullets, David Lapham
7 – Alias/The Pulse, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos
8 – Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
9 – Box Office Poison, Alex Robinson
10 – Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven
11 – Freakangels, Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield
12 – Black Hole, Charles Burns
13 – Desolation Jones, Warren Ellis and JH Williams
14 – Promethea, Alan Moore and JH Williams
15 – Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
16 – The Book of Genesis Illustrated, R. Crumb
17 – Daredevil, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
18 – Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel
19 – DC: The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke
20 – Breakfast After Noon, Andi Watson
21 – Top 10, Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon
22 – Powers, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming
23 – New/Mighty/Dark Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis and various artists
24 – Fables, Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha
25 – Fell, Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith
26 – Bayou, Jeremy Love and Patrick Morgan
27 – Hate/Hate Annual, Peter Bagge
28 – Pride of Baghdad, Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon
29 – Kick-Ass, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
30 – 50 Days of Night, Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith
31 – DMZ, Brian Wood and Ricardo Burchielli
32 – Northlanders, Brian Wood and various artists
33 – Parker: The Hunter, Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark
34 – La Perdida, Jessica Abel
35 – Eightball, Daniel Clowes
36 – Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga, Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma
37 – Doktor Sleepless, Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez
38 – Reinventing Comics, Scott McCloud
39 – Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Guy Delisle
40 – Conan, Kurt Busiek, Cary Nord and Robert E. Howard
41 – Marvel Zombies, Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips
42 – Astonishing X-Men, Joss Wheedon and John Cassady
43 – PvP, Scott Kurz
44 – Local, Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly
45 – Mouse Guard, David Petersen
46 – Courtney Crumrin, Ted Naifeh
47 – 100 Bullets, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
48 – Bonndocks, Aaron McGruder
49 – Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, Brian Michael Bendis and various artists
50 – Dork Tower, John Kovalic