This is the first time I’ve done this category, which says more about me being an ignoramus than it does the format itself. However, due to my wife being the greatest wife in wife history and getting me an iPad for my birthday last year, and due to the fact that I’m actually writing one of these now, I now can finally give this sub-medium the attention it deserves. A webcomic is a comic that is a) designed primarily for the internet, and is b) that’s about it. They can be one-shots, cartoons, or serial in nature. Most of the popular webcomics seem to essentially ape the old newsprint funnies format, which is 2-3 panels of set-up, and then punchline. They’re usually comedy based, with loose or non-existent continuity. In my experience, most of the popular examples of that style are pretty weak, and overly rely on a familiarity with the requisite subject matter. The one thing I’ve learned this year is that this truly is the future of comics, and that some of the work being done on the web is equal to (or sometimes better) than what’s happening in print. And best of all? Most of them are completely free.
20. BattlePugs by Mike Norton
Yes, it’s a barbarian riding a gigantic Pug. This REALLY shouldn’t work, and at first glance I thought this was another example of the overly cutesy one-note joke BS that can be found in most webcomics these days. But in truth this is a well-plotted, comedy fantasy series. The gigantic Pug is just an added bonus.
19. Bahrain: Lines In Ink Lines In The Sand by Josh Neufeld
Although relatively new to the limelight, Josh Neufeld has officially joined the ranks of professional cartoonist-journalists like Joe Sacco and Guy DeLisle. Bahrain is the story of two Bahrainian cartoonists caught on opposite sides of the ideological fence, and their differing interpretations of the protests that happened in that country this year. Like Neufeld’s A.D. After The Deluge showed, he focuses more of the effects of large events rather than the causation of said events. In short, he focuses on smaller, more personal stories. This would have been higher in the ranks if not for it only being a one-shot 18 page piece, but it’s an extremely moving piece.
18. Touch Sensitive by Chris Ware
One of the few strips I can’t actually paste a link to, as it was created by Ware exclusively for the McSweeney’s app for the iPad. Look at me being all literary and stuff. This was a 14 page one-shot story, but I included it because a) it’s Chris Ware, and therefore: amazing, and b) it’s the only comic I’ve read so far that has fully utilized tablet technology to its fullest potential, in that each page has swipeable features that add to the context of the story. Although I wouldn’t recommend anybody purchasing this story unless they’re already a fan of Ware’s work, it’s a great example of what’s possible with new digital technology.
17. Freak Angels by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield
Years from now, Freak Angels is going to be heralded as a giant in its medium, not only for it’s relatively high quality, but also for it being the frontrunner of a new business model for comics: Give away good product for free, and people will want to pay for a deluxe version of it. It’s simple, and in the case of Freak Angels, it worked. Although I can’t say I would rank it among my favourite Ellis comics, I think the sheer ballsiness of the concept more than make up for any other issues I may have with the strip. Freak Angels ended this year, but Avatar was happy enough with the success of it that they’ve got several other webcomics planned.
16. The Oatmeal by Matthew Inman
Although other comics might be higher on my list, none make me laugh out loud as much as The Oatmeal. There’s no serial story here, just random charts, graphs, and musings about grammar, air travel, and food. Inman’s sense of comedic timing is stronger than most of his comedic comic competitors, and that, combined with his simple and clear art-style, make The Oatmeal one of the sites I go to the most.
15. Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover
Tobin and Coover have been getting a lot of attention in the superhero world in recent years, but they’re still setting time aside to tell the type of small, quirky stories that they each do so well. Gingerbread Girl is a character study of Annah Billips, a cute bisexual hipster who can’t decide whether or not she likes boys or girls, and in fact can’t even decide whether or not she’s crazy or sane. It’s a cute story, and Coover’s clean, classic art style is a breath of fresh air for those of us sick of overly dense comic storytelling.
14. Godsend by Jesse Bausch and Meg Gaundy
One of the most ambitious strips on the list, Godsend is about what happens when a prophecy fails, even though it’s absolutely essential that the prophecy comes true. That’s the dilemma posed to Jaime and Simon, the heroes of this strange and charming little comic. As with many of these strips, seeing if the creators can capitalize on a brilliant premise is half the fun of going back to it every week. So far so good.
13. Hard Graft by Peter Vine, German Erramouspe, and Jule Rivera
A look at present day Afghanistan, as seen through the eyes of two mercenaries and a photojournalist. This isn’t perhaps as polished as some of the other strips on this list, but it is getting better with every panel, and the commitment to accuracy and quality is obvious with every page. Fans of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country would be well served by this ambitious strip.
12. The Loneliest Astronauts by Kevin Church & Ming Doyle
This is the story of Dan and Steve. They are astronauts. All of the rest of their crew is dead. They are coping. Barely. And hilariously. This strip ended in November, in a depressing and funny way, which pretty much sums up the way I feel about the whole thing. The strip managed to be humorous, poignant, and nihilistic all at the same time.
11. Old City Blues by Giannis Milonogiannis
As a futuristic big city cyberpunk police-thriller, Old City Blues is hardly original in concept (see I Robot, Judge Dredd, Blade Runner). But in execution, its first rate. While the writing and plotting are fairly generic, it’s Milongiannis’ beautiful black and white action art which is the real star of this show. You may find more original webcomics out there right now, but you won’t find many that look this good.
10. Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill
This one is cheating a bit as it’s not available online anymore. However, the web was its first home, and you can now buy it as a paperback from First Second books. It’s the story of Neal Barton, a young boy who wants nothing more than to read the latest installment of his favourite fantasy series: The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde.Unfortunately, Christian fundamentalists, having heard that kids are actually reading for pleasure (GASP!) want the book banned from the library in Americus due to its immoral content and heresy, and so it’s up to Neal to fight back against the forces of censorship and intolerance. Although a little sanctimonious at times, Americus is a story that more than anything glorifies the simple act of reading for pleasure. Highly recommended for kids.
9. Axe Cop by Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle
Axe Cop is the story of well….Axe Cop. He’s a cop that has an axe. He is joined by his partner Flute Cop (spilled dinosaur blood turns him into Dinosaur Soldier, but then an avocado and Uni-Baby’s misplaced horn turn him into Uni-Avocado Soldier. He returns to being Flute Cop, only to become Ghost Cop, Drag-Tri-Ghostacops Rex, and Viking Cop), Uni-Baby (a baby with a unicorn horn), Sockarang (he has socks for arms. They can be thrown like boomerangs), and Wexter (a Tyrannosauraus Rex with Gatling guns for arms) on their mission to fight evil. That’s it. Now, if that sentence didn’t convince you to go out and buy a thousand copies, then I think you’re a communist. On the surface, Axe Cop is the gimmickiest of gimmicks: a comic written by a six-year-old boy. When you dig deeper though, you realize that it’s really the ultimate tribute to pure imagination, unfettered by logic, by rationality, or by the rules of storytelling. Ethan Nicolle should be commended for taking the random musings of his younger brother and turning them into a true work of art.
8. World Of Hurt by Jay Potts
It’s tempting to dismiss World Of Hurt as a simple parody, but it’s anything but. What it really is, is an homage to a genre that gets paid tribute to often, but rarely as lovingly and painstakingly as it is here: Blaxploitation. The strip deals with the continuing adventures of Isaiah “Pastor” Hurt, street-savy hero-for-hire who regularly battles drug-dealers, revolutionaries, and corrupt cops in an effort to keep his streets clean, while trying to make a living by doing so. The dichotomy of Potts using 4 panel techniques used by the likes of Milt Canniff and Alex Raymond in the 1930s and 1940s, while telling stories based on a genre made popular in the 1970′s should be unsettling, but it really works. Potts sense of timing, and his talent at storytelling is improving with every story arc.
7. Cura Te Ipsum by Neal Bailey And Dexter Wee
Imagine that you’re not alone in the universe. Imagine that you discover that there are numerous versions of you, in numerous permutations of what you consider to be reality. Then imagine that one of those versions is the worst villain in the history of the world, and that he wants nothing more than to destroy the very fabric of the universe as we know it, and it’s up to you to stop him. That is the premise of Cura Te Ipsum, and it’s a great one. Intrigued? Of course you are. Ambition is the watchword for this strip. Bailey and Wee have created a large, epic canvas on which to tell their alternate reality-hopping adventure, and it’s one that seems to be only growing in scope with every panel and page. And although I keep expecting the strip to collapse under its own weight one of these days, it only seems to be getting better and bigger. It’s an action-packed sci-fi thriller, in the truest sense.
6. Nathan Sorry by Rich Barrett
On 9-11, Nathan Sorry was supposed to die. He didn’t. This is the story of what he did after, and why he made the choices he did. Ostensibly a 9-11 story, what Nathan Sorry is really about is consequences. It’s a political thriller of sorts, but the thrills come more from the well-developed characters and their small-town dramas than they do any over-arching political message. It’s more Robert Ludlum than Tom Clancy in its approach to highs and lows, but fans of well-crafted comic books would be well-served by this smart, engaging ne0-noir.
5. Lady Sabre And The Pirates Of The Ineffable Aether by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett
Pirates. Steampunk. Pretty girls. I doubt you need more than those three things to create a great comic, but to Lady Sabre Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett also add great characters, smart tension, and some of the best art you’ll see in comics at all this year. We’re starting to see more comic veterans follow Warren Ellis’ Freak Angels business model (give away the webcomic for free, then charge for the collections and merchandise), and Lady Sabre is proving to be an excellent example of what A list talent can do with the burgeoning sub-medium of webcomics. I can honestly say that there isn’t a better looking webcomic out there right now. Burchett seems to be relishing the opportunity to show what can he do to a new audience, and every new page of this strip is a revelation in how to build an evocative fantasy adventure.
4. The Abaddon by Koren Shadmi
The Abaddon starts with a man named Ter. He knocks at the door of an apartment, looking for a new home. He’s welcomed graciously by the residents, but we find out quickly that mystery abounds. Not only do the residents not seem to know anything about the place they are living in, or how they got there, but even Ter himself doesn’t have any recollection of how he arrived, or even what his real name is. To create real mystery, you must create real tension, and Shadmi weaves tension like a spider. Every panel strengthens the characters, and every line of dialogue enhances the mystery. The art is bold and unconventional, and it’s absolutely perfect for setting the tone that Shadmi is going for here. If you love a great mystery, this needs to be a regular stop of yours.
3. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
Rather than a continual serial story, Hark! is a series of unrelated strips, ranging from one panel to several pages. The subject matter ranges from pop culture, to politics, to literary fiction, but the main focus here is on history. Or if you’d like, making fun of history. Kate Beaton’s got a knack for finding the humour in pretty much everything, or to put it more accurately, creating humour out of pretty much everything. Although a lot of the work is slightly absurdist in nature, there’s an intelligent grasp of the inherent silliness in how seriously we take our selves, and how seriously we take our history. What I love most about Beaton’s work is how much it demands of the reader. If you don’t know the historical events she’s lampooning, you won’t get the joke. Same deal if you haven’t read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. There were a lot of great Hark! strips this year, but my personal favourite might be Beaton’s take of what famous books might be about going only by their Edward Gorey covers.
2. The Abonimable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl
Kerschl is Stewart’s studio partner, though the only real similarity between the two of them is a constant commitment to quality. While Sin Titulo is a tight thriller, Charles Christopher is a meandering fantasy, and a beautiful one at that. Charles Christopher is, in fact, a sasquatch. Or a yeti. Kerschl never actually says, and that’s ok. He lives in a forest with a multitude of talking animals, who all have their own dramas and subplots. The strip jumps between the adventures of Charles himself, the denizens of the forest, and flashbacks involving Vivol, a bear that serves as an elder statesman of sorts for the strip. Although Kerschl is taking his time at unraveling some of the comics secrets, the journey he takes you on while getting there is the real reason I love this strip as much as I do.
1. Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart
Stewart is getting a well-deserved reputation in the big leagues for his work on books like Batman & Robin, but Sin Titulo is where his heart is, despite the inconsistent updates. Here’s the plot: When going through his estranged dead grandfather’s personal belongings, a man discovers a picture of his grandfather with a beautiful young woman that he’s never seen before. Intrigued, he goes to his grandfather’s grave, only to see the same woman there. And the mystery begins. What ensues is one of the most compelling, complex, and sometimes convoluted mysteries I’ve read in comics this year. Stewart has said that his prime inspiration here was the TV series Lost. He wanted to create a narrative that had numerous seemingly unsolvable mysteries attached to it. He’s accomplished that, in spades. The only question now is whether or not he can deliver on the promise to actually shed some light on the previous 150 pages of weirdness and strangeness. If he does, he’ll have accomplished no mean feat: The best long form web comic to date.