Here is my list of the top ten comics of 2011. Per usual, my guidelines are fairly liberal. It could be a new comic, a reprint or trade collection, or a specific creator's work. It just had to be released in 2011.
glamourpuss - Dave Sim has gone a little off-topic this year, it that's possible in a book that defies description. His fashion-magazine parody combined with an examination of comic strip illustration styles has always been a bizarre juxtaposition. This year he's left behind much of the fashion magazine motif in favor of other historical/cultural trips, including a romp through the early '60s with his signature character, Cerebus. Sim also continued his deep, deep dive into the day Alex Raymond died while driving with fellow cartoonist Stan Drake. Sim is examining this on the molecular level, and his conspiracy theories abound and expand. While his conjectures often bust the bonds of credulity, it's fascinating stuff.
Comics Revue Presents - I was originally buying this for the Steve Canyon reprints (dailies and color Sundays, currently in the early 1970s). Then I got hooked on the wealth of other comic strips being reprinted. Many I'd only heard about, while some I knew but never paid attention to. The strips are a who's who of illustrators from different eras - Dan Barry's "Flash Gordon", Bob Lubbers' "Tarzan", Al Williamson's "Secret Agent Corrigan" and Roy Crane's "Buz Sawyer". Not forgotten are the humor strips, represented by Hamlin's "Alley Oop" and "Krazy Kat" dailies by George Herriman. There's a beautiful color Sunday section with Mac Raboy's "Flash Gordon", Lee Falk's "Mandrake" and "Phantom" and Russ Manning's "Tarzan". Falk's dailies are in there, too, with the Phantom strips being straight adventure and something lacking in today's market. Their website is the pitts, so ask you comics dealer about this bi-monthly series.
Ed Brubaker's Captain America: Captain America/Captain America and Bucky/Steve Rogers: Super Soldier - Captain America is my favorite character, and Brubaker's among the best writers he's ever had. This was a big year for the character, finding Bucky Barnes (the new Captain America) out of uniform and imprisoned in a Soviet gulag. After the events of Marvel's big summer event - Fear Itself - Steve Rogers returns to the uniform as the original Captain America. That brought with it a relaunch of the "Captain America" series at #1, with Brubaker taking us on a thrill ride of old foes and new twists. The old series changed it's name to "Captain America and Bucky", but really serves as a Bucky origin/mini-series, which will lead in to his own "Winter Soldier" title in 2012. The "Steve Rogers: Super Soldier" TPB collects Brubaker's 2010 miniseries, in which Rogers, now acting as the U.S.'s top cop, tracks down those trying to duplicate the serum that made him Captain America.
Genius, Isolated: the Life and Art of Alex Toth - The first of three volumes, "Isolated" starts our journey into the career of the irascible, yet divine Toth. The Library of American Comics team of Dean Mullaney (editor), Lorraine Turner (art director) and Bruce Canwell (writer) take us further than anyone has into Toth's history and his resplendent growth as an artist. Toth begins as a major follower of Milton Caniff and Noel Sickles, quickly developing his own style that has been oft imitated, pursued and envied. This is no whitewash of a man who valued integrity and art, equated them, and suffered both professionally and personally to maintain his own high standards. Of particular note is the reprinting of Jon Fury, a weekly strip he did in the Army while stationed in Japan. What Turner has done with restoring those poor mimeographed camp newsletters is a combination of magic and talent.
Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom - I'm always a sucker for good time travel story. Tom must travel back in time to help his younger self thwart the creation of a Nazi utopia at the hands of his bastard son. This is a fun adventure which, while there are serious consequences involved, doesn't take itself too seriously. Kudos to fellow Ohioan Chris Sprouse who, in addition to being a terrific artist, is a heckuva nice guy.
Sergio Aragones Funnies - Sergio Aragones has been doing regular Simpsons work for Bongo since 2009, so I guess it's natural that his latest self-titled series would be here and not Dark Horse Comics, his home for similar work in the past. To me, this is Sergio at his finest, writing and drawing his own stories that are not locked into specific characters (e.g. Groo, the Simpsons) or format (e.g. MAD Looks At..., MAD marginals). Amusing biographical stories from his colorful life interspersed with his peerless pantomime comics. A master at work.
Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol.1: The Race to Death Valley - While this once popular humor/adventure strip of the 1930s has been well-known to strip lovers, it's been more or less forgotten to the general public. Fantagraphics, which also brings us The Complete Peanuts, has launched an ambitious project to reprint the Mickey Mouse strips of Floyd Gottfredson. Gottfredson himself suffers from lack of general name recognition, overshadowed by celebrated Donald Duck artist Carl Barks (whose work is being revived as well). This was the most enjoyment I got out of a book in 2011. I'm surprised how prominent Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow are in the strip, characters little used or known today. Of special interest is a weeklong sequence in which Mickey repeatedly attempts suicide. It's done comedically, but it is jarring to see the world's most beloved character trying to end it all.
Milton Caniff - Caniff: A Visual Biography; Milton Caniff's Male Call - Ok, a self-aggrandizing plug, to be sure, with my role as Contributing Editor on "Caniff." But believe me, no one bought this 'cause I'm mentioned in the front (not even dear mother). It's the Caniff art, much of it seen for the first time, and most of it never before seen with this quality of reproduction. It's also the way Dean Mullaney uses the art to tell the story of the life of Milton Caniff, a man who drew professionally for nearly seven decades. What you get is a comprehensive look at a master and his craft, as well as an effective portrait of a man in love - with his wife, his characters, his alma mater, his hometown and his country.
That love of country comes through in "Male Call", a strip he did during WWII that was distributed to military newspapers. The strips featured Miss Lace, a suggestive coquette who generally flummoxes G.I.'s with her naivete. Caniff, who desired to serve but was 4-F, did the strip for free. The new background piece by Caniff biographer R.C. Harvey makes this book a standout from the earlier (1987) reprint.
Jordi Bernet - Jonah Hex; All-Star Western; American Vampire - A great year for Spanish great Jordi Bernet for those who love the Western genre. He drew three issues of "Jonah Hex" before the relaunch. I was hoping he's be Jonah's regular penciler for the new "All-Star Western" series. That was not to be, but Bernet has drawn the El Diablo backup feature. Mashing up horror and Western, he did a three-issue arc of "American Vampire", with the Native Americans reviving a mythological beast in hopes of driving out the Yankees, spelling disaster for all. A great storyteller in the vein of Toth, hopefully we'll see some of his native work (such as his Tex work) translated into English!
Brian Michael Bendis' Avengers/New Avengers - When the announcement came down that Bendis would be exiting the Avengers in 2012, my first and lasting reaction was "Thanks for the memories." In the past 5 plus years, he has made the Avengers the most successful franchise for Marvel Comics as well as a highly entertaining read. Bendis hurtles his heroes from one earth-shattering cataclysm to the next, without making it boring or tiresome for the reader. Say what you will about Marvel's obsession with "event" comics, Brian Michael Bendis makes it fun to ride along.