Pre-amble to the Prelude
At the end of the year, bloggers desperate for holiday content will have some sort of Year End list or lists.
The funny thing is, I’m not desperate. I have a dozen reviews I want to write RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE. I’m backed up in the “content creation” department.
But I did want to do a Best Of list of some sort, since I reviewed 114 Franco-Belgian albums in 2017 on this website.
So, this year, I’m creating The Top 10 Franco-Belgian Comics That I Happened to Read in 2017. It’s more a favorites list than some pompous kind of critical analysis that thinks it knows anything best. Like anyone could read everything in a given year, anyway… (“But it must be good! The publisher sent me an ARC!”)
Timing-wise: As it turns out, a few of the books that landed in the top 10 list actually did get published in 2017. But the majority of my reading is older. I have a lot of catching up to do, and a large library to choose from.
Defining “Comics”; It’s a Bit Wishy-Washy
I came up with a final list of ten titles that are my favorite from 2017. Some of these “titles” are single albums, some are complete stories in two or three or four books, and some are long-form series.
The important thing isn’t the letter of the formatting law here. This is about looking back at the books that excited me. These are the books that made me race to my keyboard to write a review, because the books were just that good.
These are the series, the mini-series, and the standalone novels that I’d happily recommend to the right person. There is, without a doubt, a book on this list that everyone would enjoy. It won’t always be the same one, but you’re going to find something here.
Also, it’s a diverse list: romance, thriller, science fiction, humor, slice of life semi-autobiographical, pirates, more pirates, crime, fantasy, western, and mystery.
This list is in no particular order. As hard as it was to narrow it down to 10, I couldn’t begin to put them in any order. That’s why I’m not counting them as I go along…
(Note: Click the images to go to my original review. Additional review links, where available and appropriate, are provided.)
Tag line: “Honest Is Not Always the Best Policy”
This is where 2017 began for me, and it’s still a standout. I may have reviewed 110 other books since these four, but they still stand out amongst the best. There are two simple reasons for this:
The story from Marcial Toledano is great. It’s a fun thriller that builds up on itself as it goes along. It’s about three friends who are lying to each other about their lives and what happens when the lies are revealed. Some major gunplay follows. And poker. And boxing. It’s fun.
Jose Manuel Robledo’s art is great. This book hits a sweet spot for me in the realm of pure style. There’s the right mix of realism and cartooning (with a manga influence) to pull off an interesting look and feel.
There are four books in total with this series. The first three form the core of the story. Robledo changes his art style for the fourth book. It debuted a few years later, and fills in the gaps with one additional character in the saga.
The pair followed this up with a three part series, “Tebori,” about a tattoo artist Japan. I’ve reviewed Book 1 of the series so far. Book 3 just came out in France, so it’s only a matter of time before Europe Comics translates it…
Long John Silver
I read the four volumes of this series while on vacation over the summer. That’s why I only ever reviewed volume 1. I couldn’t force myself to go back and write separate reviews and keep the story straight across those four books. The book deserved it, but I didn’t have the time.
Xavier Dorison outdoes himself on the story here, adding more layers than you’d expect at first glance. This is about a man’s obsession with finding a lost golden city, and how that eventually brings harm to his wife. She, not exactly being an innocent, fights back with the help of the infamous pirate, Long John Silver, and his crew of questionable men. It’s a desperate fight for everything, and the stakes ramp up continuously throughout the series.
Mathieu Lauffray’s artwork is a revelation here. It’s the first I had seen of it, and I instantly fell in love. Picture Lee Weeks blended with Tom Mandrake and you’ll have a good start in knowing what to expect.
The books are available either digitally or in print through Cinebook.
Back to Basics
Manu Larcenet moved from the city to the countryside and suffered a bit of culture shock in the process. With his friend, Jean-Yves Ferri, he created this series of five books to tell the story of his move and the weird people in his new town. It’s done in half page comic strip format, and it’s very funny.
Larcenet runs with a very cartoony, simplistic style on the book. It’s very expressive, which sells the gags strongly. You’ll like the humor, you’ll fall in love with the crazy and weird townsfolk, and you’ll wind up rooting for Larcenet along the way.
As if that wasn’t enough, Larcenet lands another spot on this list with a more serious bit of work…
This is Manu Larcenet’s masterpiece.
Done all on his own, this four book series — each 250 black and white pages long — is a crime drama of a homeless man who is surrounded by questionable people, many of whom end up dead. The story is told entirely in flashback, which is usually a sure fire way to make for a boring story filled with telling and not showing. But this works. It’s at turns hilarious, scary, creepy, and sad. You’ll run the gamut of emotions, all thanks to an entertaining and unreliable narrator, alongside the police who are picking apart his story as he goes.
Larcenet’s art style brings in elements of Frank Miller and manga storytelling. It’s an amazing series, with an ending that’ll make you think and make you want to immediately go back to the first book for a massive re-read.
Valerian and Laureline
(Sorry, I’m not going to link all 23 books here. There are some highlights linked above, though. Search on “Valerian” for the rest.)
The movie could have been the biggest help Franco-Belgian comics ever had in penetrating the American market. Alas, the movie didn’t get such a strong reception, though I’d defend it strongly. It’s not perfect, but it is fun.
In any case, in 2017 I reviewed the entire Valerian English oeuvre, including the original short story that started it all, the spin-off book, and even the recent reunion book done to tie into the movie. The series is uneven, but features a whole lot of interesting and memorable characters, the great relationship between the two leads, some stunning alien environments, and some Pierre Christin scripts that including sharp points about soviet and humanity along the way.
Even though I’m not a big fan of some of the volumes, the overall work deserves a spot in the top ten. When it’s good, it’s just that good.
Meta Trivia: The most popular Valerian book review is for the book that doesn’t exist in English: Volume 0. It was included in one of the Cinebook omnibi. People crave the origin stories..
Meta Trivia, Part 2: Larcenet isn’t the only artist in this Top 10 list twice. Mathieu Lauffray, the artist on “Long John Silver,” is also the artist of the spin-off book, “Shingouzlooz, Inc.” that just came out a couple months ago.
Pirate retires to raise his two kids after the loss of his wife. A series of events conspire against this game plan.
Alongside “Ken Games,” this might be my favorite book of the year. Jose-Luis Munuera’s art is everything I look for in comics — clear storytelling, great style, and an animation influence that shows itself in gestures and expressions.
“The Campbells” has great comedy, short stories, and a larger epic storyline that spreads across 20 years or more, slowly being revealed at the most interesting times.
You’ll laugh out loud, you’ll cringe when a character makes a bad decision, and you’ll gasp when Munuera drops a big revelation to the series, which he does in just about every book.
There will be a new book in the series in 2018, and I’m very excited for it. The great upside of reading European comics is finding one that has a whole lot of books in the series already. The downside is finding one that’s in the middle of its run and having to wait months between books.
For pure imagination and artistry, this book beats everything else. Alessandro Barbucci’s flights of fancy with an alternate earth that has no electricity gives us flying dragons, lots of candles, a wooden Eiffel Tower, and a comic whose every page is worth stopping to stare at. He fills every page with interesting stuff.
Christopher Arleston’s scripts set that up well, with each volume happening in a new city and Barbucci getting the call to incorporate the new place’s style and colors.
There’s also a Will They or Won’t They storyline between the two leads that’s handled in an interesting way, given the conceit of the series. (A dead person possesses her and looks to right some kind of wrong. They won’t let go of her until someone is satisfied/saved/avenged. This leads to complications for everyone around her.)
The seventh book in the series came out only a couple months ago, but hasn’t been translated to English yet. Six are available in English as of this writing.
If you’re looking for a classic western that’s beautifully drawn, I give you “The Undertaker.” Ralph Meyer’s art is stunning. It looks a little bit like something John Buscema might have drawn, but with the inks of a Tom Palmer or Will Eisner. It has a classic feel to it, but still thoroughly modern.
Xavier Dorison writes the lead character of the Undertaker in an uncomfortable gray area. Yet, he is completely the character you want to root for. You can understand why he’s not such a people person and why he likes to be left alone. You cringe just a little when he is annoyed and rough with people.
The first two books comprise the first storyline. Read them both, because as good as the set-up and action is in the first book, the second book blows it away with a large scale wagon chase and eventual confrontation.
Another book came out this year that centers on an undertaker in the old west. It’s titled “Stern.” It’s also good, but I think “Undertaker” tops it.
Three books are available in the series today, with a fourth due out this year at some time.
Ghost of Gaudi
The story of the unfinished Sagrada Familia church in the middle of Barcelona is fascinating from a historical point of view. I learned much of it from reading about it only after reading this graphic novel.
Here, the works of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi are the sites of several murders. The connection cannot be a coincidence. The investigation into this introduces you to some strange characters, and a fun little murder mystery type of story. It’s Scooby Doo in Spain.
Jesus Alonso Iglesias’ art leans towards the cartoony, like a more animated Denis Bodart. I love the character designs, their body language, and even the colors added on top. It’s all perfectly clear, and great fun.
A print edition of the book is now available from Magnetic Press.
A Love for the Ages
This is just a wonderful romance story, written by Daniel Pennac and drawn by Florence Cestaq, who drew a couple of books I enjoyed this year. This one tells the story of one of the sweetest, most epic romances of all time. It’s just a wonderful story, told well in Cestaq’s classic big nose style.
As an added twist, it gets a little meta. The story is told from the point of view of the authors having a lunch out one day, attracting the attention of other diner-goers as the story moves along.
It’s a sweet and beautiful story unlike anything else on this list, except for the fact that it’s one of the ten best comics I read in 2017.
For another book by Florence Cestaq, see my review of “The Mid-Life Crisis“.
Looking for More?
I have a Runners-Up list! Read about the titles that just missed making this list.
That list includes the likes of Lucky Luke, the 2018 movie release in North American, “The Death of Stalin,” “Alone,” “Harmony,” and more!