“You can do anything with words and pictures.” Those were the immortal words of the late “American Splendor” comics creator Harvey Pekar, who just last month received his own slab of immortality with a Cleveland library sculpture. Some great cartoonists who followed the path blazed by Pekar delivered their own great books this year — from new work by Chris Ware to a Daniel Clowes collection and a retrospective by Pekar’s collaborator R. Crumb. Those are among our top 10 Graphic/Comics Reads of 2012 that show just how much a truly gifted writer-artist can do with words and pictures.
Chris Ware (Pantheon)
A formerly “art curious” amputee florist. A middle-aged couple entombed in a dead romance. Neighbors share walls of deep melancholy in this masterful book-in-a-box of 14 “easily misplaced elements” that are as readily lost as a life. You could call “Stories” a game-changer, except so few besides Ware could ever construct such a retro-aesthetic feat.
Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco (Nation)
Two veteran war-zone correspondents (Hedges shared a 2002 Pulitzer Prize while at the New York Times; artist Sacco is an American Book Award winner) team up to report — in prose and pictures — frontline cautionary tales from new war zones: areas of America strafed by poverty. Personal stories writ powerful.
Raina Telgemeier (Graphix)
The acclaimed author of “Smile” strikes gold again with her kid-lit as young Callie faces middle-school drama both on stage and in class. Telgemeier charms with a true, honest ear.
Aline and R. Crumb (Liveright)
Four decades after they met in San Francisco, the crosshatching legend Crumb and gifted wife, Aline — like opposing tectonic plates — create great comic tension. Their complete collected works are a front-row seat ticket to their spellbinding “freak show.”
Mark Siegel (First Second)
A steamboat captain finds a wounded mermaid in the river. This haunting, Gilded Age nautical epic seductively pairs mystical prose with Siegel’s gauzy charcoal illustrations. Here, in lyrical beauty, are more than 50 shades of gray.
Stephan Pastis (Andrews McMeel)
Bound newspaper-comic collections abound, but few of them offer the cartoonist’s running-in-the-margin commentary that proves equally hilarious — as Pastis pulls back the curtain on his snarky Rat, sweet Pig and “zeeba neighbor” Crocs.
Ellen Forney (Gotham)
The Seattle-based cartoonist who illustrated Sherman Alexie’s National Book Award-winning “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” describes her life with bipolar disorder (diagnosed shortly before she turned 30) and her pharmacologically laced battle with mental illness and artistic aspiration.
Edited by Matt Dembicki (Fulcrum)
For Post readers, a hometown pick: From Colonial-era Georgetown through the Obama-era downtown, more than three dozen contributors weave a richly textured tapestry of Washington. Includes stories of presidents and little-known local figures who played a role in our history.
DC Entertainment stoked a bonfire of controversy when the publisher decided to reboot its entire line of superhero titles. The resulting comics, inevitably, were a mixed bag, but this book — collecting all 52 first issues — puts into high relief the superb work of creators such as Scott Snyder (Batman), Grant Morrison (Action Comics) and “moonlighting” DC execs Geoff Johns and Jim Lee (Justice League).
Edited by Alvin Buenaventura (Abrams ComicArts)
One of the greatest cartoonists of the past several decades finally gets his due, tracking his career through “Eightball” up to “Mister Wonderful” — with a wonderful essay indeed by Chris Ware.