Rich Kreiner’s Yearlong “Annual Best Of” List

Posted by on December 8th, 2009 at 11:11 AM

When these “best of the year” recaps were collected for print in the magazine proper, we contributors used to have to forward our nominees well before the actual close of the calendar year. Over time, thanks to this Pavlovian routine, I’d be antsy if my roster of worthies wasn’t well begun by Halloween; this’d be followed by hives if I wasn’t finished by Veterans Day. Now, thanks to the wonders of instantaneous electromagnetic transmission, I can allay all cares and worries by getting a jump on a recap of the superlatives of 2009 through this, an ongoing, perpetual “best of ” list. For instance, here are two books, both from NBM/ComicsLit, that have stayed best since their release in early 2009.

Comics are a natural, if arguably way too seductive, medium for the recounting of dreams. In Nocturnal Conspiracies, David B. is aiming for more than transcriptions that satisfy the demands of personal documentation. These 19 dreams (stretching over 26 years) are less recreation of subconscious excursions than consciously realized aesthetic objects of craft, vitality and dramatic mystery. There’s unusual power in the tension generated between the flat recitation of events and the flamboyant spectacle of their graphic manifestation. Without B.’s privileged, evocative visions, our own imaginations would have a hard time giving shape to his matter-of-fact voice-over (“In order to enter this building, I take the exact form of its shadow;” “His face is abstract, difficult to grasp, changing;” “I’m in a bed that’s like one of the lakes”). Freudian, Jungian, Continental, anthropological and shamanistic trappings abound. There are parts here that work, as Einstein feared, like spooky actions at a distance, ones that should ring out like a bell in a seance.

Coming in from an opposite artistic angle, Lewis Trondheim immerses us in an equally personal and no less idiosyncratic realm, that of his waking world in Little Nothings; The Prisoner Syndrome. This is the second annual volume of Trondheim’s cartoon journal, a follow-up to last year’s Little Nothings; The Curse of the Umbrella and no doubt a forerunner to 2010’s Little Nothings; Uneasy Happiness. For the most part, these are grandly fastidious observations on the daily life of a prolific, globe-trotting comics creator blessed with a wry sense of humor and a forgiving sense of self-scrutiny. Done in ink and watercolor, the quick takes are made to appear sketchy to better match the intimacy and immediacy of their depicted moments. As single-paged strips, they are perfectly pitched to the scale of their mortal preoccupations yet they manage to convey an esteem for the sensuous and the beautiful, seen especially clearly in large panels, exotic locales or panoramic views (this is how the Romanian palace of Ceaucescu comes across at once both as a labor of love and as a dashed-off architectural flurry). So it is that the petty, the trivial and the resoundingly individualized are transformed into the incidentally profound. You hardly have to actually lose a pet yourself to appreciate his mood and actions during a trip to — and more tellingly, a return from — Paris.  Only a very select few can know what it’s like to congratulate the new, fêted president of the Angoulême comics festival, then walk down the long stairs and out the door as the formerly fêted president; but you can catch a glimpse here, amid the echoed, distant clapping and the sudden cold of French winter. Uh, I should probably mention about now that Little Nothings is a funny series, that Trondheim depicts himself as an anthropomorphized bird and that despite this sense of a real life into which we’re peeking, there are no loose ends. We are never left hanging, go unfulfilled: At the book’s very end, Trondheim does in fact deliver the punch line for a joke, begun many pages earlier, about the difference between a camel and a majorette.

nothings

Image [©2009  Lewis Trondheim]

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