Ugh. Doing these lists almost killed me this year. This is the last of the comic book “Best Ofs” but there is still my list of the best movies of 2012 to come. Maybe. If you’re lucky. Anyways, here are the web/digital comics.
This category seems to be evolving every year, and I think that next year I’m going to have to revisit how I look at these things. The line between “digital” and “print” seems to be shrinking, but there still seems to be a big gulf between “digital” and “web”. Several comics on this list could have easily come out as print comics (Cow Boy, Saga Of A Doomed Universe, the Monkeybrain titles), but I still included them here, competing for space with true web comics like JL8 & Sin Titulo. While it might be the last time I do this, I decided that for inclusion this year a comic must have seen published for the first time online or in a digital format. Also, I used some of the synopsis I wrote for last year’s version of this list, as a) I am really tired of doing these lists, and b) much of the info remains the same.
20. Moonlighting by Emily Wernet
Moonlighting stars Billy, a normal teenaged girl when she is awake. But in her dreams, she’s a costumed superhero, fighting villains and monsters for the betterment of humanity. When her dreams start to seep into her waking life, she has to juggle monster fighting with the inanities of high school. Werner shows a knack for combing her raw, indie sensibility with the tropes that the superhero genre demands, and making it work.
19. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
I’m not sure why there seems to be so many more strong female leads in web comics compared to their print equivalents, but Nimona is just one of several strips on this years list that features a woman as its star. She’s an aspiring villain, who applies to apprentice with Balister Blackheart, the biggest name in supervillainy. Their unconventional partnership is the heart of this cute, yet meaningful story. Fans of Adventure Time who yearn for something a little more grown up should enjoy this.
18. Cura Te Ipsum by Neal Bailey & 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. It’s an action-packed sci-fi thriller, in the truest sense.
17. Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Osterag
SFP is the story of a super powered young woman who decides one day that her role as a famous costumed hero isn’t fulfilling her anymore. Not only that, but she’s questioning whether or not she has ever done any actual good.
It’s a character study and one that asks some interesting questions. But at its heart SFP is still an entertaining superhero story, with plenty for open-minded fans of that genre to sink their teeth into.
16. You’re All Jealous Of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld
Part Hark! A Vagrant, part The Oatmeal, Gauld’s work for the Guardian makes me laugh, and then makes me feel smart for getting his clever short-form visual jokes about everything from poetry to Tom Waits. And sometimes, both. Plus, Feminist James Bond. Gauld has an impeccable sense of timing for this sort of humour.
15. Darkness by Boulet
Boulet produced a lot of great quality strips this year, but Darkness might have been his very best. And the fact that he was able to put together such a fully realized social commentary in 24 hours is all the more impressive. It’s ostensibly the story of a struggle between roommates. But in actuality it’s about the vagaries of perception, and they way they can influence our lives. Boulet manages to make us laugh & think at the same time.
14. Sarah And The Seed by Ryan Andrews
Sarah And The Seed is a sweet and fun short story about an elderly couple that can’t have children, but there’s an unnerving darkness around it as well. That’s probably not surprising, as the woman herein literally gives birth to a plant. That’s not quite as creepy as it sounds. I think we’re going to see a lot from Ryan Andrews in the future, as he’s proven here that he can both draw and write emotionally evocative comics.
13. The Fox Sister by Christina Strain & Jayd Ait-Kaci
Christina Strain deftly weaves elements of horror, romance, and historical docudrama into this delightful supernatural mystery set in late ’60′s South Korea.There’s a compelling horror story here, albeit one with plenty of character development and depth. I worry that this strip won’t be finished before it’s creators get snapped up by the big leagues. Just a fantastic combo of story and visuals, with Jayd Ait-Kaci on my “going to be a star” list.
12. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
Still the strip that makes me laugh out loud the most. 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, or if you haven’t read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, you won’t get the joke. There were a lot of great Hark! strips this year, but my personal favourite might be Beaton’s take on a typical Canadian’s way of looking at the war of 1812.
11. Max Overacts by Caanan Grall
Calvin and Hobbes is probably the most obvious influence on this fairly traditional strip about a young thespian with an exaggerated imagination. But Max is hardly a copycat, with its lead character being as dynamic and original as any in comics today. Grall is in it for the long haul here, often choosing poignant character moments over easy punch lines.
10. Old City Blues by Giannis Milonogiannis
If you’ve been impressed by Milongiannis’ stint on Prophet this year, Old City Blues is an excellent primer for his work. 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 have definitely improved in the 5 digital issues he released (FOR FREE!) this year, Milongiannis’ beautiful black and white action art is the real star of this show. You may find more original web comics out there right now, but you won’t find many that look this good.
9. The Abaddon by Koren Shadmi
The Abaddon starts with a man named Tea. 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 Tea 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.
8. Lady Sabre & The Pirates Of The Innaefable Aether by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett
Pirates. Steampunk. A beautiful, intelligent lead. 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 web comic 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 web comics. I can honestly say that there isn’t a better looking web comic 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.
7. The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kershl
Part talking animal comic strip, part fantasy epic, Charles Christopher seems destined to be part of these types of lists a long as Kershl keeps making it. Charles Christopher is a meandering fantasy, and a beautiful one at that. The Charles Christopher that we’re talking about here, 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 his secrets, the journey he takes you on while getting there is the real reason I love this strip as much as I do.
6. Bandette by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover
Monkeybrain got a lot of attention this year for their new platform of digital-first comics, and the best of the comics they published was Bandette. It’s a stylish, vibrant thriller by the veteran team of Tobin & Coover (Gingerbread Girl) about a Parisian master thief who actually helps the police when she isn’t busy making them look like idiots. There’s a nice mix of humour and action here, and this is one of those digital comics that I think will be well served by a physical collection. Colleen Coover has really developed into an incredibly well-rounded artist, and I think Bandette is a high point for both her and Tobin.
5. JL8 by Yale Stewart
The best indicator of the current creative state of DC Comics is that the best DC superhero comic currently being produced isn’t actually being done by DC Comics. It’s JL8, a re-imagining of DC’s greatest heroes as 8-year-old children. Children with costumes and superpowers to be sure, but children nonetheless.
And so they have child-size problems: Crushes on their classmates, schoolyard bullies, and of course, Darkseid. Mr. Darkseid, that is. He’s their new gym teacher. But this is far more than gimmicky opportunism.
It’s fun, funny, sad, and sweet. And that’s often in the same strip. In fact, there’s more heart in one average four panel strip by Stewart than in
any every DC comic released this year. Combined.
4. Saga Of A Doomed Universe by Scott Reed
This, my friends, is 170 pages of the best pure superhero comic that you’ve never read. And best of all, this is a superhero comic by someone who LOVES superhero comics. Gone is the snark that embraces much of today’s post-Miller, post-Moore superhero world. There is no false pretense of realism here, and no attempt to turn this into something that it’s not.
It’s also one of the most ambitious comics I read this year, and one that truly deserves more attention. “What if Alan Moore wrote Secret Wars?” was the original tagline for this book, and it’s probably the best way to describe it. If you think 1985 was the highpoint for superhero comics, this really is a must-own.
3. Double Barrel by Zander Cannon & Kevin Cannon
This was probably the most entertaining adventure comic I read in 2012, and at less than 2 bucks for almost a 100 pages, it’s a hell of a deal. Each digital issue contains new chapters of original comics (Heck by Zander Cannon, and Crater XV by Kevin Cannon), as well as shorter comics, extensive letters pages, and how-to articles. And it really is all good. My personal favourite is Heck, a comic starring a former football hero who has a portal to Hell in his attic. Both features are adventure stories of the highest quality, and as a total package Double Barrel really delivers everything I love about comics.
2. Cow Boy by Nate Cosby & Chris Eliopoulos
And believe it or not, it works. Really, really well.
Cow Boy is about a 10-year old bounty hunter, traveling the old west with only one goal: to put his family in jail for their crimes.
Eliopoulous’ colourful yet straightforward approach to pencils belies the utter seriousness of Cosby’s script, which allows for an emotional engagement with its audience that few strips enjoy.
For pure emotional impact, Cow Boy ranks among the very best comics I read in 2012.
1. Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart
One of the greatest serial web comics ever ended in October. 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 who 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. 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 accomplished that, in spades. One of the greats.
Nathan Sorry by Rich Barret, Legends Of The Dark Knight by various writers and artists, Army Of God by David Axe & Tim Hamilton, Masks & Mobsters by Joshua Williamson & Mike Henderson, Monster Of The Week by Shaenon Garrity, Axe Cop by Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle