by BK Munn

The Annual Globe 100, 2014 Edition

TheGlobe100bestbooksof2014l-It’s that time of year again. With the beginning of the holiday shopping season and with the end of the year in mind, everyone is putting together lists of the top books of 2014 and these days everybody, even traditional conservative media like big city papers and magazines, seems to have some space for comics on their lists. (This blog usually does something as well, but we don’t get around to it until January, as seen in last year’s Janus Project.)
-For the last few years I’ve made a point of trying to link to the Globe and Mail’s end-of-year list, usually published at the end of November. I do this because there is usually some Canadian content and because The Globe is still the closest thing we have to “the paper of record” in a national sense, despite its Toronto-centric focus. As such, it has been interesting to chart the evolution of the Globe’s comics coverage over the years and one of the best ways to measure the emphasis the paper gives to comics is to look at this annual list.
-So, “The Globe 100” was published yesterday. I haven’t seen the print version but here are a few thoughts on what I’ve seen online of what is billed as “Globe Books editors and reviewers name their favourite reads of the year, from fiction to poetry to kids’ picks – and everything in between.”
This link takes you to an introductory page that just has what the Globe calls its “bookshelf,” a giant image dump of all the covers of the books supposedly on the list. The one thing that jumps out at me is that the cover for Michael Cho’s Shoplifter graphic novel is shown, but Cho’s book is not on the actual list. Cho did the cover for the young adult novel Outside In by Sarah Ellis (Groundwood), which is actually on the list as well as being shown on the “bookshelf.”
-The Globe has gone through a slow evolution over the years in its comics coverage. Ex-Books editor Martin Levin obviously had comics on his radar and often reviewed some of the bigger releases. He wasn’t quite down in the comics reporting trenches to the extent his opposite number Mark Medley was. Medley, formerly the books editor for the National Post, does a ton of TCAF coverage and interviews, for instance, whereas Levin confined himself to the occasional short review. Both Levin and Medley have been jury members for the Doug Wright Awards. Levin left the Globe in early 2013, after the Books section was shrunk and ceased to be a separate section in the daily print edition, and was eventually replaced by Medley!
-The Globe has been blessed over the years with some very enlightened comics reviewers. Nathalie Atkinson has been covering comics forever for them and although her beat seems to be mainly fashion and design these days, she still does the occasional review. I also see the bylines of Brad MacKay and Jeet Heer quite frequently, but it seems for the last few years Sean Rogers has been doing the bulk of comics reviewing for them, with a semi-regular, seasonal column inherited from Atkinson. These last three gents are also friends of mine who I mostly know through my days with the Wright Awards, so I may be a bit biased here.
-Starting in 2009, I have been fairly critical of the space given to comics in the Globe 100. That year the list included 3 comics which were lumped in with poetry at the end. Those books were Asterios Polyp by Mazzucchelli, the now-mercifully-forgotten Logicomix, and Crumb’s Book of Genesis Illustrated. In a post on Sequential back then I ranted about all the other comics they missed. It was quite ugly.
-In 2010, the list of comics, still lumped under the “Poetry” heading, was reduced to two: Wilson by Dan Clowes and Tangles by the Canadian Sarah Leavitt.
-In 2011, the list (billed as the “Holiday Shopping List”) included only two comics again, this time found in the “Non-Fiction” category: Paying For It by Chester Brown and Metamaus by Art Spiegelman.
-In 2012, the number jumped to three books reviewed by Levin and Heer, still boxed together with poetry: Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant, Chris Ware’s Building Stories, and Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?.
Last year Sean Rogers was given space to list his top 5 comics of 2013 for the Globe 100. he was even nice enough to expand on that list for Sequential, giving us 15 more titles and looking ahead to the rest of 2014 and the comics he was most anticipating.
-So now we come to this year’s list. It’s kind of a record year for comics coverage, and I think we can attribute that to Medley’s influence. By my count, there are eight comics on the 2014 Globe 100 list.
-The list starts off with Medley’s own top 5, which includes This One Summer, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. Medley has no problem pairing the book with his other four (non-comics) picks, noting “There might not be a better partnership in all of Canadian literature than that of these two cousins.” This is really a big difference over five years ago.
-Under the rubric “Surfacing: Our 5 favourite debuts of the year,” come two more comics picks. Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods (Margaret K. McElderry Books) is described as “An old-fashioned collection of illustrated ghost stories that should appeal to both children and adults,” and Sarah Lazarovic’s A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy (Penguin) is “Funny, clever and beautifully illustrated.” This last one is not a traditional graphic novel but closer to the genre of art book or picture book, based on a “visual essay” originally published in The Hairpin. Lazarovic is a multi-talented writer, designer and cartoonist who makes regular comics with word balloons and stuff but this stunt book chronicles a year in her life when she gave up buying new consumer items, instead choosing to draw them and comment about them in her own unique hand-composed style.
-Sean Roger’s list “Visual art: Reviewer Sean Rogers’s 5 favourite comics/graphic novels of the year” has 4 no-brainers and one wild card: Eleanor Davis’ How to Be Happy, by Eleanor Davis, Michael DeForge’s Ant Colony, Jaime Hernandez’s The Love Bunglers, Tove Jansson’s Moomin: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition, and Bastien Vivès’ Polina.
-I think all the comics on this list are great choices, representative of the English-language comics that managed to get coverage this year (well, two are translations). My choices won’t necessarily be the same, but what I said five years ago about The Globe 100 (“like most of the Globe books section, is a deeply-flawed, sinking-ship of a cultural taste-maker.”) is not exactly the way I feel about it today. Maybe I’ve mellowed with age. Maybe, as I suggested above, I’m biased because some of my friends who share my tastes are now responsible for the list. Who knows. While maybe not a giant, canonical “Best Comics of the Year” list like so many attempts, I’m satisfied that almost a tenth of the books on the Globe 100 are comics (there are some borderline kids books on the list as well) and the Globe seems to be taking my own personal hobbyhorse more seriously. Graphic novels are such a dynamic part of the print landscape today and as a category have really helped prop up publishing and book retail during the ongoing apocalypse, bringing in tons of new readers, so from a social and economic perspective this makes sense. As Matthew Thurber noted in his infamous Letter to a Young Cartoonist recently, cartoonists are “the real artistic avant-garde” of our era and for anyone to be taken seriously when talking about books or “art” or cultural capital in general, comics will have to have a more prominent place in that conversation. So, maybe I won’t be ranting about this list for awhile? Check back next year to see!