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Top 9 of '09: Comic Books and Graphic Novels

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2009 saw horror continue to make its presence felt in the perpetually superhero-centric medium of funny books, thanks to strong original series and how-did-we-live-without-them archival projects. Here are nine of our favorites in alphabetical order.

Cat Burglar Black
Richard Sala is a name that should be revered by horror fans as everywhere. Starting out as a worthy successor to Charles Addams and, at his most grotesque, Chester Gould, Sala has evolved, through books like Peculia and The Chuckling Whatsit, into today's premiere cartoonist of the macabre and strange. His latest graphic novel concerns a silver-haired orphan named K, who, after a difficult upbringing, enrolls at a women's academy and discovers her legacy as a thief as she's pitted against Sala's typically wicked villains. Eschewing the gorgeous pen-and-ink work that's adorned most of his Fantagraphics titles, Sala here employs an equally lovely – and moody – watercolor palette in his first book with publisher First Second. Fans of Sala's painting had additional cause for rejoicing this year, which saw the conclusion of Delphine, his dark, imaginative, four-issue retelling of Snow White, published by Fantagraphics.

Creepy and Eerie Archives
This year saw Dark Horse continue its ambitious task of reprinting Jim Warren's venerable black-and-white comics magazines in deluxe hardcover editions. One look through the pages of these puppies and its clear why the series was nominated for a 2009 Eisner Award for Best Archival Collection/Project. The pen-and-ink and brush work of legendary creators like Steve Ditko, Angelo Torres, Al Williamson, Gene Colan, and, most especially, Reed Crandall singes the eyeballs and warms the soul. The company also launched a new incarnation of Creepy this year. Featuring some of today's top comics talents, it proved that tuxedoes aren't the only thing black and white makes timeless.

Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Death and Dementia
We've covered artist Gris Grimly's work at length here on FEARnet, and with good reason: the man's a whirlwind of creative energy. Fortunately for horror fans, this energy is most often channeled – whether in books, videos, movies or prints – into the most charming depictions of monsters and maniacs on the market. The latter is at the fore of his latest book, adapting some of Poe's best short stories, in this, the author's bicentennial year. Though it will more than likely be found in the children's book section of your local Borders, Grimly's work is so richly illustrated it can be rightly considered a comic, one all ages can appreciate.

Frankenstein Mobster
Comics auteur Mark Wheatley's opus (originally published by Image) received a new jolt of electric life this year thanks to this gorgeous new trade paperback from IDW. Collecting, for the first time, the entire run of Wheatley's contemporary crime-horror classic, Frankenstein Mobster reintroduces the tragic titular character, along with the book's heroine – a feisty cop out to prove herself as she joins the police force of a city teeming with all manner of monster. Fans of classic Universal fright flicks and gangster movies in particular will love the books synthesis of the two genres.

Hack/Slash
It's not for everyone, but Tim Seeley's saga of slasher-hunting "final girl" Cassie Hack and her oversized meat-cleaver-wielding sidekick Vlad continued to delight, well, slasher fans this year, thanks to their ongoing comic from publisher Devil's Due. 2009 also saw Cassie's adventures collected in the essential Hack/Slash Omnibus Volume 2, reprinting issues 1 through 17 of the series (including the non-crossover parts of Hack/Slash 12 and 13) and the first Hack/Slash Annual. Various artists continued to take turns rendering the duo, and word continued to leak of a Hack/Slash movie. Say what you will about the mismarketed Jennifer's Body, I for one am happy to hear that Megan Fox is interested.

Locke and Key: Head Games
Joe Hill's tale of the dysfunctional Locke clan continued in 2009, with Head Games, the second volume of his Eisner award-nominated IDW comic Locke and Key. In this volume of the dark family saga, Locke children Kinsey and Tyler continue to deal with the aftermath of their father's death, as they meet a new friend who harbors a dark secret. Meanwhile, their brother Bode continues to investigate the supernatural, death-defying "head key" of their new New England home. Gabriel Rodriguez's rich, broad-yet-disturbing art perfectly complements Hill's prose, making Locke and Key one of the two best ongoing horror comics of this century.

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Books 1 and 2
The first truly mainstream comic book for grownups – and the first modern horror comic – got its just due this year in the form of a series of hardcover reprint volumes from DC/Vertigo. Though I'd prefer the pages were printed on something other than standard comic pulp paper, the format does allow for master artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben's lush, subtle art to hold its own against the bold coloring. Alan Moore's prose remains as piercing and dreamlike as when these stories were first published by DC back in the ‘80s. The second volume in particular, showcases something of a highwater mark for the series, seeing the Swamp Thing plunge into the very depths of Hell itself in an effort to save his lady love.

Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives (Volume 1)
Decades after his best known work – the first three dozen or so issues of The Amazing Spider-Man – was published, Steve Ditko remains one of comicdom's most fascinating figures. Shunning the spotlight of fans and the press, the artist has chosen instead to let his books speak for themselves. They continue to speak loudly, and with a weird grace lacking in much of his contemporaries' work. Luckily for comics fans, editor Blake Bell (whose Strange and Stranger is the best book available on Ditko's career) and Fantagraphics Books has seen fit to create a hardcover, the first of a series, reprinting his first two years of comics – 1953 and 1954. Luckily for horror fans, these comics – featuring souls enduring torture the likes of which Peter Parker's never known – were created before the advent of the industry-crippling Comics Code Authority.

The Walking Dead
That other great horror title of the 21st century is, of course, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's Walking Dead. Published by Image Comics, the "zombie movie that never ends" grew even more suspenseful this year, as Kirkman continued to take his time in developing his large ensemble cast and introducing new characters, only to let some perish in increasingly horrific ways. That their deaths mean something—in a book that portrays a world devoid of meaning—remains Walking Dead's most impressive feat. Horror fans who aren't reading this title are missing out on one of the cornerstones of the ongoing zombie renaissance; a cornerstone that remains, after six years, alive, fast-paced and vital. The news that director Frank Darabont is developing a TV adaptation of Walking Dead for AMC is really just icing on the cake.

Looking for more? Check out our Top 9 Movies of '09 and our Top 9 Unreleased Films of '09.

Check back in the coming days for our Top 9 games, music, biggest disappointments and more!

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