That all being said, this was a hard list to make. I had a lot of great comics to choose from in 2011, and a few favorites (Jeffrey Brown) just missed getting on the list while a few new favorites appear for what I bet won't be the last time. I leaned heavily on the side of things that really blew me away when making this list, which I think will show in the commentary.
With all that said, let's look at this Best of 2011 for Indie Comics!
10. Boom! Studios' Various Planet of the Apes Books
If you had asked me about where I'd rank Planet of the Apes comics at the beginning of the year, I might have actually laughed at you. I'm not a big fan of licensed comics in general (though my reading this year has changed that), and I have no love for the Planet of the Apes as a movie franchise. (Mom's the Apes fan.) However, having read a few different versions of the series as re-imagined by Boom! Studios, I was blown away by the quality of the storytelling and my interest in what is happening in these various stories. I think the primary reason is that all of the writers involved are working on telling good comics that feature movie characters, rather than trying to shoehorn movie characters into a comic. If you've stayed away from these, I strongly recommend you give them another chance.
9. Elric The Balance Lost
This was another comic, also from Boom! Studios, that really caught me by surprise. I really enjoy many of the people who have worked on Elric comics over time, such as Roy Thomas and P. Craig Russell, but I've never wanted to keep reading about the character--until now. Written in a style that takes a bit of the focus off Elric himself but places the character within a huge, worlds-ending concept, Roberson gives Elric a focus that I feel was lacking previously. There's a battle between the forces of chaos and order, and the balance between the two is completely skewed. I love the world-building and set-up going on here, and Roberson's artist does an amazing job of keeping up with the plot, done in a way that resembles but does not copy Russell. Great stuff that I look forward to continuing to read in 2012.
8. Baltimore Vol 1 The Plague Ships
The world of Hellboy expands again, with the addition of Lord Baltimore, a character who shows up around World War I and must face the horrible nature of war--and those who would profit by it via their unholy nature. It's another fight of good against supernatural evil, with Lord Baltimore serving this time as the person who must try and stop the madness before it infects the world further. Mignola once again creates a solid world for his characters to work in, and manages to keep the premise fresh despite some familiar themes. I've liked just about every Mignola comic I've ever read, and this is no exception.
7. FUBAR Empire of the Rising Dead
Continuing my theme of comics that surprised me is this anthology of zombie stories themed around the Pacific Theater of World War 2. These are better than the average zombie story because they use the theme so well, weaving the narrative of war and sacrifice into the idea of, well, undead legions. Not every story is perfect, but overalll, it's a very solid collection and one of the best anthologies I've read in quite some time. Like the Apes books, mot of these tales put the story first and the concept second.
Roger Langridge is no stranger to my end of year favorites lists, and it's no wonder given his immense comedic talent. While I will miss his Muppet Show terribly, I'm so glad to have Snarked! enter my comic-reading life. Snarked is Langridge's take on some Lewis Carol creations, where a band of good-hearted outcasts must save a kingdom. Filled with great verbal and visual gags, Snarked! is a pleasure to read each month, and comes highly recommended, either as a monthly or in the inevitable collection.
5. Zahra's Paradise
Though I do read mostly comics for entertainment and though most comics are written for entertainment, the medium has such a wide variety of offerings that not all comics feature dramatic stories or comedic stylings. In the case of Zahra's Paradise, Amir and Khalil work to tell a story of the recent uprisings in relation to the Iranian election, where corruption is rife and disappearances are common. This story will anger anyone who reads it and provides so much information in just a short package. It's a great work, and shows just what comics can do as an art form. I was extremely impressed, and you will be, too.
4. Blink So Far
Sometimes the best comics you read are those you find almost by accident. I was loitering around in artist alley and found this, entirely based upon Johanna Draper Carlson having a blurb on the back. (And this time, it was even a positive one.) Blink is the story of three friends who spend time together, living out life and discussing how the world works, from differing perspectives. Drawn in a soft style with gentle humor and a large touch of real-life experiences, Blink is a mature comic for those of us slowly growing up in a 21st Century world. There will be more Blink in 2012, and I simply can't wait.
3. Isle of 100,000 Graves
Jason seems to have roughly a new book every year, and that's just fine with me, as they're always a pleasure to read. This is yet another great book from him, in partnership with a collaborator. Isle of 100,000 graves has Jason's trademark deadpan humor, resolute protagonist, and ending that leaves the reader thinking. It's the first of my trio of Fantagraphics that continues with...
2. The Hidden
...this book, which of all the titles I read in 2011, might have held the biggest surprise for me as a reader. At first, The Hidden feels like a typical apocalyptic story, albeit one painted amazingly well by Sala. But as things progress, the tale morphs and twists into one of the best horror comics I've read, with a twist towards the end that I never saw coming. That's what makes a comic stand out, and puts it near the top of my best of list. In fact, I might have made this number one, except for...
1. Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010
...what was far and way my favorite book of 2011, Michael Kupperman's Mark Twain Autobiography. I had a feeling I was going to like this book from the moment I first heard about it but I had no idea just how much I was going to like it. Kupperman, who might be the best satirist working in comics today, captures the cadence of Twain's authorial voice and blends it with the culture of the 20th Century in a way that many have tried but none have ever come this close to perfecting. I laughed out loud so many times over this mixture of text and illustration. It's a pitch-perfect book with almost no mis-steps, and I hereby call it my Best Indie Comic of 2011.
(Now if you'll excuse me, I have to collect my bribe money from Kupperman. Knowing him, he's trying to skip town in a passel of hobos at the railroad tracks. Stop the guy with the purple Cat in the Hat hat if you see him. I keep telling him it looks out of place but Kupperman insists it was a gift from his great-aunt and he can't bear to part with it.)
That's my best of the best for 2011 in indie comics. Did I miss anything? Did I over-rate something? Let me know in the comments!