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The Hidden S picks 2008's best books about comics... 2008 has been a great year for books about comics. I have written about some of these titles of late including the Bat-Manga book and the DC and Vertigo Encyclopedias. These works would be appropriate on this list, however, in an attempt to not repeat myself I have mostly avoided plagiarizing myself-So, the rest of the Best Books about Comics 2008 Kirby King of Comics!-(Abrams) 2008 has been the year of Jack Kirby in the comics world as the great artist and man has been the subject of numerous books, re-prints and even academic research. Two books about him make the list here- The best book on comics for this year is Kirby King Of Comics! A celebration of a man who was thought of as a great comics craftsman, but who history has recast as a great visionary. One of the hackneyed cliches of modern culture is the unappreciated genius artist and Kirby's profile fits this to a "T," as Kirby struggled with a surprising number of ups and downs in his long career. In the end, author Mark Evanier makes it clear that Kirby is possibly the most influential comic artist of all time. No other comic artist equal impacts at DC and Marvel and for this, Kirby is first among equals. Kirby 5-0 Celebrating 50 years of the King of Comics (Two Morrows) This has been a boom year for fans of the King and this work is a great, breezy celebration of the comic great's work with fun offerings like the best Kirby story for the 50 years he worked as a comic creator as well as Kirby's 50 best pieces of unused art, his 50 best character designs and the 50 artist Kirby most directly influenced. The Hidden S loves lists and the idea of seeing an artist's work evolve so this is a real treat (as well as the least expensive book on the list). Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko (Fantagraphic Books) Steve Ditko's work has always been the flip side of Kirby's work; Kirby's most notable work had a kind of Blakean fervor that was mystical or quasi-religious (especially with New Gods and some of his work on Thor). Ditko's work was equally mystical, but Ditko's works were darker and often more sinister. This biography takes the reader through the unusual career trajectory of Ditko who started out in horror comics in the late 50s at Marvel and was then segued into the surge in superhero comics that would, in time, be known as the Silver Age of comics. Ditko was a real maverick (an overused word these days, but accurate) and this work really makes it easy to see why. Ditko's work on Spider-Man and Dr. Strange helped distinguish Marvel's comics and establish their great creative run in the 60s. The book explores some of Ditko's political philosophy, which was clearly and directly influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of objectivism. This point of view was the jumping off point for a couple of his creations, such as "Mr A" and the much better known character The Question. The Question has grown in influence and is a cult favorite for some of the major contemporary comic creators. Another later creation, The Creeper, has also had a minor resurgence of late. Ditko's politics were very conservative and author Blake Bell struggles with a degree of ambivalence regarding Ditko's conservative views. These views were often let us say offbeat. For instance, Ditko refused to draw vampires because he felt they conflicted with his Objectivist philosophy. A great book about one of comics' most maddening greats and brilliant eccentrics. Ditko Comics 500 Graphic Novels: The Essential Guide (Collins Design) A flawed, but valuable reference work. 500 Graphic Novels is an interesting mish-mash of opinions, analysis and ranking of graphic novels covering almost every literary genre. The work covers the usual suspects like Watchmen, Sin City, and Ghost World. More interesting to the Hidden S are underrated gems like The Yellow M, Doom Patrol Book 1 and Manhunter: The Special Edition which are profiled here. Author Gene Kannenberg attempts to diffuse some of the predictable kvetching that revolves around a list of the greatest this or that by taking a defensive stance in his introduction. Still, it is hard to figure leaving out Alan Moore's From Hell or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen while including some of his lesser works like Promethea. Some of the works are compilation pieces like the DC Archives series, which to my mind don't really fit the definition of a graphic novel (whatever that is). Worst of all, Mr. Kannenberg left out the Hidden S' favorite character in his favorite graphic novel: Enemy Ace-War Idyll, War in Heaven illustrated by the great George Pratt. Unforgivable. Comics Research Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as s Young @#*&^ (Pantheon) There are a handful of great graphic novels but only Art Spieglemen’s work Maus is a standalone literary work of transcendent greatness when it comes to graphic novels. It was the first and only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, but is often overlooked when the list of the greatest graphic novels are ticked off. Breakdowns is a reprint of a work he had published in 1978 which is part memoir, part confession, part family history. The work functions, as most of Spiegelemen’s work does as a kind of self-therapy. It also points to his later masterwork Maus and shows an artist in the process of maturing emotionally. Best American Comics 2008 (Houghton Mifflin) Promising newcomers take center stage in the latest installment of the Best American Comics series. Works by newish female comic artists like Eleanor Davis and Lilli Carre's headline a very edgy, dark collection assembled by editor and comics artist Lynda Barry. Most of Barry's picks here are unsettling, jagged and even primitive. Works like Davis' "Seven Sacks" are just one of the unforgettable pieces in this challenging collection. Lilli Carre Doing Fine Best American Comics MORESUKINE: Uploaded Weekly From Tokyo (NBM/ComicsLit) German cartoonist Dirk Schweiger's moleskin diary is the source of this offbeat edition which is a visual record of his experiences engaging culture in Tokyo. Among his offbeat experiences are visiting a "love hotel" and eating potentially fatal Japanese cuisine. Tokyoblog Honorable Mention: Absolute Watchmen and Absolute Ronin updated editions (DC) DC has published updated "Absolute" versions of Watchmen and Ronin. There is a bit of overexposure with regard to the Watchmen these days, but this version has 48 extra pages of supplemental materials which will satisfy those who are counting down the days until the film opens in March. Frank Miller's Ronin, one of his lesser works has also been re-released with rarely seen art and promotional materials. This work has aged better than Miller's work on The Dark Knight Returns as Miller's baroque sensibility seems to lend itself to this over the top tale of time traveling samurai. Both of these are predictably handsome and collectible volumes.