Drawing out 2011's best graphic novels

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I certainly didn’t read every comic book or graphic novel published in 2011, and I don’t think I read any at all in which the characters were attired in capes and tights. There’s nothing wrong with superhero stories, but I tend to prefer more personal works in which the hand of the author/artist is evident in every panel. If your tastes in graphic fiction tend toward the literary end of the spectrum, you might enjoy the five listed below as much as I did.

Paying For It (By Chester Brown. Drawn & Quarterly)
Even if you don’t agree with Chester Brown’s sometimes inflammatory rhetoric about the futility of romantic relationships and the practicality of viewing sex as a commodity, you have to admire his audacity for exposing one particular component of his personal life—his visits to prostitutes—in such a blunt and honest way.

Big Questions (By Anders Nilsen. Drawn & Quarterly)
When a military pilot crash-lands his airplane in a meadow, it has profound consequences for the local bird population. Some of the finches develop a vague theology around the pilot and the strange objects that he has brought into their world, forming a sort of avian cargo cult. The finches are indistinguishable from one another, but each has a sharply delineated personality. In this beautifully drawn parable, Anders Nilsen uses subtle gestures and glances to convey worlds of meaning.

The Cardboard Valise (By Ben Katchor. Pantheon)
Part surrealistic travelogue and part satirical treatise on the very notion of culture, The Cardboard Valise is a book about imaginary places with enough heart to make its very real social commentary easily digestible. And it has fold-out handles!

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (By Seth. Drawn & Quarterly)
A great Canadian cartoonist in his own right, Seth imagines a time when those who toiled with pen and ink were central figures in this country’s public life. In this plotless but charming volume, he waxes nostalgic for a few of them, some real (such as Nipper creator Doug Wright) and some not (like Bartley Munn, who drew the Inuit astronaut Kao-Kuk).

Habibi (By Craig Thompson. Pantheon)
Set in a never-named country of the Middle East (or North Africa), Craig Thompson’s dystopian Habibi is an epic love story, a primer on the Koran, and a cautionary tale about human greed and squandered natural resources, all in one exquisitely rendered volume.

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