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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 01/04/2012

‘BEST’ OF 2011: 12 Books That Made Us Smile

“YOU CAN DO anything with words and pictures.” So the late-great Harvey Pekar famously said, and 2011 was a banner year for the inventive ways in which creative people from many areas of art used words and pictures.

“Best,” of course, is an impossible term, but we can safely say that among the most impressive comics and visual-narrative and comics-prose books in 2011 sprung from the imaginations of Craig Thompson (“Habibi”) and Daniel Clowes (“The Death-Ray” et al.) and Art Spiegelman (“Metamaus”) and Lauren Redniss (“Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout”), to name just a few among the many.

Because “best” is a fool’s errand — and because you are inundated with “best of” lists this time of year — instead Comic Riffs offers you a list that’s a bit different: Here are the 12 Books in 2011 that especially made us smile. To wit:

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The MAD Art of Caricature!: A Serious Guide to Drawing Funny Faces (TOM RICHMOND / Deadline Demon Publishing - .)
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1. TOM RICHMOND has inherited the MAD mantle of winning caricaturist from such greats as Mort Drucker and Angelo Torres. From Hollywood to the White House, this new book collects some of the best of Richmond, reminding that as an artist, he’s at the heights of his satirical powers.

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(STEPHAN PASTIS / Andrews McMeel Publishing - . PEARLS BLOWS UP: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury )
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2. STEPHAN PASTIS had a stellar year that perhaps reached its commercial apex with one of his 2011 collections — “Larry in Wonderland” — topping the New York Times bestseller list. But Pastis first laid claim to a high-octane 2011 earlier in the year with his collection “Pearls Blows Up.” His smart, often sarcastic commentary — ”marginal” but not marginalized — is worth the price of admission.

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(KIRK DEMARAIS with JESS THORN / Insight Editions - . MAIL-ORDER MYSTERIES: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! )
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3. WHEN I WAS ABOUT 10, my brother and I mail-ordered from the back of a comic, eager to receive our new ghost that was guaranteed to scare our friends and family! When it arrived, however, we opened the package only to find a balloon, a white sheet of plastic and a string; needless to say, our hopes were as deflated as that sad little balloon. Now, Kirk DeMarais’s “Mail-Order Mysteries” brilliantly taps the nostaglic magic of those to-good-to-be-true mag ads that — rendered in HYPERBOLIC ADJECTIVES! and TANTALIZINGLY CHEESY CLIP ART! — suckered in many a child and his/her brother. From “monster ghosts” to “mighty muscles” (the Charles Atlas Fitness Program!) to ”bloody fingers” and “the Rachel Welch pillow,” “M.O.M.” cracks a time-capsule on perhaps a more innocent era. (If only the advertised X-Ray Spex had let my brother and I see through the ruse!)

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"STEVE JOBS" by Walter Isaacson (WALTER ISAACSON / Photo by Albert Watson / Simon & Schuster - .)
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4. WALTER ISAACSON’s excellent bio of Steve Jobs has topped many a best-of list, of course, as well as the sales charts. But for fans of animation and satire, the book of Jobs is especially winning for its recounting of the App store battle over political satire (Mark Fiore’s 2010 Pulitzer win would help change the game), as well as the history of Pixar. “Steve Jobs” reminds and illuminates in telling detail how Jobs not only backed and bankrolled the vision of Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, but the degree to which the Apple co-founder believed in how Pixar could change the face of entertainment. His deals and dealings with Disney and Jeffrey Katzenberg (“Toy Story’s” Woody was once a sarcastic cuss?!) are especially telling. Highly recommended.

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HARK! A VAGRANT / Kate Beaton (KATE BEATON / Drawn and Quarterly - .)
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5. IN 1997, I LAUNCHED an oft-satirical syndicated comic about characters from history and literature. In 2007, Kate Beaton launched an oft-satirical webcomic about characters from history and literature. Now, I can say two things with great clarity: (1) This sort of conceptual undertaking works better as a free-range webcomic than as a single-panel newspaper comic; and (2) Beaton does it more deftly than I did. The Canadian cartoonist has developed “Hark! A Vagrant” into weeklong insights and swipes that humanize the likes of a prickly Andrew Jackson and plumb such classics as “Jane Eyre” and “Great Gatsby” for updated laughs. If you haven’t already, get thee to “Hark!” anon — levity is the soul of intelligent wit.

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JOE SIMON: My Life in Comics: The Illustrated Autobiography of Joe Simon (JOSEPH H. SIMON / Titan Books - .)
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6. MONTHS BEFORE HIS DEATH in December, “Captain America” co-creator Joe Simon published his autobiography, and we are much the richer for it. Simon’s “life in comics” spanned ‘20s newspaper illustration through superhero and romance and horror comics, up through 2011’s release of the Captain America feature film. Simon — also the first editor at Marvel’s precursor — told Comic Riffs last year that he was most proud of those romance comics, and how he had helped fight for creators’ rights. Here is not only a biography that not only runs like Forrest Gump through the history of comics, but celebrates one of the underappreciated greats.

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KILL SHAKESPEARE Volume 2 (CONOR McCREERY & ANTHONY DEL COL / IDW Publishing - .)
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7. HAMLET AND JULIET are imperiled. And what will happen to the Bard as his own creations seek to take his life? Volume 2 of “Kill Shakespeare” — from the two gentlemen of Toronto, Anthony del Col and Conor McCreery — wraps up its tapestry of narrative threads but superbly.

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CAT VERSUS HUMAN (YASMINE SUROVEC / Andrews McMeel Publishing - .)
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8. YASMINE SUROVEC began “Cat vs. Human” as a blog comic that deservedly won many fans. This collection humorously reflects how owners are wrapped around the paws of their kitties; how felines affect dating; and why cats aren’t the best rescue animals.

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The Ballad of RANGO (DAVID S. COHEN & GORE VERBINSKI / Insight Editions (UK: Titan) - .)
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9. “RANGO” is our pick not only to get an Oscar nomination later this month, but also to ultimately win the Best Animated Feature Film prize. This coffee-table book provides the visually stunning backstory into how this cinematic Valentine came to “e-motion capture” life, beginning with the gifted minds of John Logan, James Ward Byrkit and “Pirates of the Caribbean” director Gore Verbinski.

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Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown (Peanuts) (Charles M. Schulz, Stephan Pastis and Bob Scott / Peanuts Worldwide & Kaboom!)
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10. THIS “PEANUTS” first-of-its-kind graphic novel blends original content with an artistic style carefully honed from some of the best years of Charles Schulz’s masterpiece.

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"The Art of the Adventures of TINTIN” (CHRIS GUISE & THE WETA WORKSHOP / Harper Design - .)
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11. ANOTHER BEHIND-THE-MOVIE book, “The Art of the Adventures of Tintin” helps reveals why motion-capture technology works so sumptuously in the hands of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

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“KRAZY KAT & the Art of George Herriman: A Celebration" (CRAIG YOE / Abrams ComicArts - .)
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12. CRAIG YOE compiles great art and new appreciations — including from Bill Watterson and Richard Thompson — and adds elegant insights for this fitting tribute book to the genius of “Krazy Kat” and its pioneering creator, George Herriman..

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By  |  10:00 AM ET, 01/04/2012

 
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