Best Comics of 2012: Best Web/Digital Comics

Me, finishing this post.

Me, finishing this post.

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

2012-07-30-MoonlightingMoonlighting 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

nimona3_4newI’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

2012-12-28-Page-328Imagine 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-3-6-for-webSFP 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

tumblr_md0e31h97P1rwkrdbo1_500Part 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

EN-Ténébreux11Boulet 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

winter_seed02aSarah 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

4Christina 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

medievalfilmsmStill 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

2012-11-26maxCalvin 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

redesign_ocb2012_01If 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

ab187The 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

2012-12-13-Chapter-08,-Part-Eighteen---Away!-494183d0Pirates. 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

2012-12-12Part 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

prv12862_covMonkeybrain 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

47The 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

SAGAOFADOOMEDUNIVERS_COVER3_SMALLThis, 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

page001_lgThis 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

COWBOY004006_0This is Jonah Hex meets Dennis The Menace.

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

2012-10-16One 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.

Honourable Mention:

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

Best Movies Of 2012

In previous year’s “Best Of” movie lists, I’ve given detailed descriptions as to WHY I liked the movies I picked.

Not this year, but for a very good reason: I’m lazy.

Well, not lazy so much as sleepy. The comic lists took a lot out of me this year, and I also have a wife that I like to spend time with, and a job that requires me to show up to it once in a while. And so I present my “Best Movies of 2012″ list, with no explanations whatsoever. Enjoy.

25. Arbitrage directed by Nicholas Jarecki

24. Cabin In The Woods directed by Drew Goddard

23. Jiro Dreams of Sushi directed by David Gelb

22. The Avengers directed by Joss Whedon

21. Searching For Sugar Man directed by Malik Bendjelloul

20. Les Miserables directed by Tom Hooper

19. Beasts Of The Southern Wild directed by Benh Zeitlin

18. Dredd directed by Pete Travis

17. Beware Of Mr. Baker directed by Jay Bulger

16. Frankenweenie directed by Tim Burton

15. Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino

14. Kinshasa Kids directed by March-Henry Wajnberg

13. Chronicle directed by Josh Trank

12. Skyfall directed by Sam Mendes

11. The Ambassador directed by Mads Brugger

10. Pina directed by Wim Wenders

9. The Deep Blue Sea directed by Terence Davies

8. Amour directed by Michael Haneke

7. Zero Dark Thirty directed by Kathryn Bigelow

6. Raid: Redemption directed by Gareth Evans

5. Seven Psychopaths directed by Martin McDonagh

4. Anna Karenina directed by Joe Wright

3. Moonrise Kingdom directed by Wes Anderson

2. The Master directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

1. Looper directed by Rian Johnson

Honourable Mention:

Queen Of Versailles directed by Lauren GreenfieldParamorman directed by Chris Butler & Sam Fell, Brave directed by Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman, Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott, Argo directed by Ben Afflek, The Imposter directed by Bart Layton, Revelle directed by Kim Nguyen, Safety Not Guaranteed directed by Colin Trevorrow

Best Comic Books of 2012: Best Original Graphic Novels

To qualify for this category a book would have to be printed for the first time, and should stand alone. It could be a 25 page single issue, or a 5oo page graphic novel. Individual issues of series are ok, though I usually deal with those in other categories (with a few exceptions).

20. Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank (DC)

BME1_HC_CaseBatman: Earth One was the best superhero story that DC published in 2012, though saying that is a little like picking your favourite type of cancer. Earth One is the latest re-imagining of the Batman origin, something that’s hard to get excited about considering those seem like a weekly event these days. But Johns & Frank breathe some new life into the stagnant murky waters of mainstream superheroics here, and add enough new baubles to get even the most jaded of reader interested in Batman again. Johns & Frank are easily the strongest writer/artist pairing working at DC right now.

19. Love & Rockets: The New Stories Vol. 5 by The Hernandez Brothers (Fantagraphics)

lovne5The sheer volume of work turned out by the Hernandez Brothers is staggering, not to mention the fact that the quality of their work remains strong. There’s really nothing “new” here, with this latest collection containing the same slice of life stories that all of the Hernandez clan have become famous for. But that familiarity is what makes L&R work so well. These are characters and situations that we have been following on and off for decades, but the Hernandez brothers always manage to keep them fresh.

18. Empowered Vol. 7 by Adam Warren (Dark Horse)

Empowered-Vol_-7-1Empowered is both feminist and exploitationist, both superhero comic and superhero parody, and both thought-provoking and a hell of a lot of fun, all at the same time. It’s the story of Empowered, a superheroine whose power source is a skin-tight uniform that seems prone to tearing. The more torn the suit is, the weaker she becomes. And so we get page after page of Emp in various shades of undress, which seems par for the course in superhero comics these days.

But Empowered is a lot more than that. It’s a meditation on the silliness of superhero comics, as crafted by someone who obviously still loves them. Warren’s manga-infused art style has a sexuality about it that’s impossible to ignore, even on the pages where there is no sex. Entertaining as hell, by a hell of an artist.

17. Goliath by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)

44_goliathcoverThis re-imagining of one of literature’s greatest villains as a grunt soldier that just wants to be left alone might be one of the most inspired ideas of the year. Gauld’s minimalist style is perfect for this send up of bureaucracy and waste, and his portrayal of Goliath as a tragic forgotten hero is one of my favourite characters of 2012. I’d ask for a sequel, but as we know, things (spoiler alert) don’t turn out too well for the star of this show.

16. The Lovely Horrible Stuff by Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf)

COVER_LovelyHorribleBest known among mainstream audiences for his work on Alan Moore’s From Hell, Eddie Campbell is actually a legend in the work of autobiographical comics. In Stuff, Campbell has produced a comic essay of sorts, pontificating at length about money, and our constant need for more of it.  I found the autobiographical parts of the book engrossing, specifically Campbell’s detailed descriptions of the financial wranglings he has to endure just to get paid for his work on DC’s Batman character. His history of the economy of Micronesia wasn’t quite as thrilling, but all in all Campbell’s treatise on the filthy lucre shows him to be as wryly perceptive as ever.

15. Not My Bag by Sina Grace (Image)

IMG120420Not My Bag introduces Sina Grace as a powerful voice in the biographical comics scene. Recounting his adventures in the world of high-end women’s fashion retail, Not My Bag possesses both the honesty, and the storytelling faculty necessary to succeed in this genre. As someone who can’t tell his Michael Kors from his Eileen Fisher (Everything I know about fashion I learned from ads in the New Yorker), I found Not My Bag to be an interesting portrayal of a young man struggling to discover his true calling in life.

14. The Coldest City by Antony Johnson & Sam Hart (Oni Press)

thecoldestcity_coverThis is an exceptional tale of the dying days of the Cold War that really deserved more attention than it received. The year is 1989, and a British secret agent is found dead in Berlin. The problem is that he was carrying a list that contained the name of every spy working there at the time…and the list is nowhere to be found. This is the kind of story that Antony Johnson tells so well, one that makes use of character development as much as it does of plot points. I hope this isn’t the last we see from Sam Hart either, as his moody pencils evoked a hopeful gloominess perfect for the setting of this book.

13. Guerillas Vol. 2 by Brahm Revel (Oni Press)

4fd0ca2ccaadb_tnRemember when the US government sent highly intelligent super gorillas into Vietnam to help them win their war there? No? Brahm Revel does, and he does a fantastic job of making us believe that this far-fetched scenario actually happened. What I love about this is that it’s a war comic first, straight from the influences of Joe Kubert & Harvey Kurtzman. The fact that there are also monkeys is an added bonus. Revel has shown that he has both the penciling and writing skills to be working on pretty much any comic he could think of, so the fact that he’s sticking with this bizarre tale of the Vietnam war is commendable.

12. Crogan’s Loyalty by Chris Schweizer (Oni Press)

4f4e7e079e044_tnSchweizer’s Crogan books are a must for lovers of all-ages adventure comics, and this volume promises an emotional complexity that we haven’t seen in the series until now. Our story is about two brothers on opposing sides of the American Revolutionary War. They’re both trying to do the right thing, but one mistake might tear their family, and a country, apart. Schweizer really is at the top of his game here, showing just how important the storytelling part of sequential storytelling is. Although there is a simplicity in his work that is probably appealing for younger readers, the sheer intensity of his action sequences ensure that adults will be enthralled as well.

11. Pope Hats #3 by Ethan Rilly (Adhouse Books)

AD.PopeHats3.CVR72Probably my only critique of Rilly’s Pope Hats is that  new volumes only seem to come out about once a year. In the third issue of Pope Hats, Rilly continues to explore the sometimes competing themes of office politics & youthful ambition. Serious topics to be sure, but Rilly’s breezy style of cartooning (seemingly influenced by both Bill Keane & Adrian Tomine equally) is a perfect complement  for this entertaining look into the life of Canadian 20-somethings. Bonus points for the Spalding Grey feature!

10. Parker: The Score by Darwyn Cooke (IDW)

score-coverA rare misstep in Cooke’s Parker adaptations, but one that has more to do with its source material than with Cooke himself. Part of the appeal of Donald Westlake’s Parker stories is the chaos the human element brings to the story. No matter how careful Parker is, no matter how dispassionate he is about his work, his colleagues and their foibles always threaten to bring him down.

But in The Score that never happens. A group of people lay out a plan for a heist. They execute that heist. The end. There is very little dramatic tension, as we never feel like our hero is in any danger. Again, this isn’t Cooke’s fault, as his thick line work and storytelling chops seem to be improving with age. An amazing adaptation of a less-than-amazing story.

9. League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009 by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neal (Top Shelf)

CENTURY-2009Despite his reputation as an inspiration to crotchety old coots everywhere, I suspect that Alan Moore will find his way into lists like this as long as he dabbles in comics. LOEG is Moore’s passion project, a perfect canvas for his blend of literary allusion, humanistic pathos, and emotional melodrama. In Century, Moore focusses a little less on obscure literary reference, and a little more on actually wrapping up some of the many plot points he has been building towards in the 5 years since Black Dossier was published.

An unkind reviewer might point out that the reason Moore  didn’t make too many contemporary literary references in this volume is because he probably doesn’t know many.  There’s some allusion to things like Harry Potter and Lost, but one is never entirely sure if Moore has actually read or watched any of things he’s referring to, as there is a perfunctoriness here that is unique to this volume.  Still, Kevin O’Neal manages to make sense of it all, proving once again why he’s considered one of the great living British comic artists. Probably the most entertaining LOEG read since Volume 2.

8. The Hive by Charles Burns (Pantheon)

thumbnail.phpCharles Burns is one of the most influential artists in comics today, with his unique, expressive art style being almost a genre in its own right. The Hive is the second in a series of euro-style graphic novels that started with X’ed Out, and that will finish with Sugar Skull.

Burns is utterly fearless here, with a bizarre, but poignant, story that combines elements of meta textualism, horror, and even Tintin comics. There’s also an element of improvisation in this book here that seems to be missing from comics right now, even in the indie world. Burns didn’t sit down and write a script to follow from; he wrote & drew each page as they came, building from each preceding panel the way a jazz musician would. As a result, we get a loose, almost hallucinatory story that would have ended up dull & lifeless in the hands of most others.

7. Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf)

underwaterwelder72dpi_lgIt’s probably a minor miracle that Jeff Lemire was able to put out a 224 page graphic novel in the same year that he wrote and drew a bi-monthly comic book, and also happened to be one of DCs top writers. Part Twilight Zone episode, part deep dive into the pressures of everyday life, Underwater Welder combines supernatural intrigue & character study like only Lemire can.

Lemire has been gaining fans as of late for his superhero work, but one hopes that he will always find time to put out beautiful works of art like this.

6. Economix: How Our Economy Works & Doesn’t Work by Michael Goodwin & Dan E. Burr (Abrams Comic Arts)

EconomixCoverFans of the educational comics of Scott McLeod & Larry Gonick will find much to enjoy here from a visual standpoint. But this book is so much more than a knock-off of what others have done.  It’s quite simply, the most entertaining book about economics I’ve ever read, graphic or otherwise.

Goodwin’s approach is to treat this as a history of economics, specifically as it pertains to the United States. And so we get a de facto history of America, as seen through the prism of one of the most important aspects of any society. This is a must read for anyone interested in the current state of  American politics as it applies to the world economy, but also for anyone interested in learning how comics can be used as an educational tool.

5. Grandville: Bête Noire by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)

Grandville_Bete_NoireBryan Talbot’s Grandville graphic novels are set in an alternate history in which England was supplanted by France in the 19th century as the western world’s dominant power. And there are robots. And dirigibles. And almost everyone is a talking animal.

And if that’s not enough to get you to read this book, you’re reading the wrong blog. Despite the anthropomorphic trappings, what Grandville is really about is high adventure. Fans of everything from Indiana Jones, to Sherlock Holmes, to Jules Verne’s Nemo books will find something to love here. And if I was picking just on art alone, this might have been my top choice.

4. Silence Of Our Friends By Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, & Nate Powell (First Second)

SilenceofOurFriendsSilence is the story of Long’s childhood experiences in Houston, TX. His father was a journalist, covering racial issues in the city. He befriends a local black professor, and their two families make cautious headway towards friendship.

This is a sometimes uncomfortable snap-shot of 1960’s American race relations, and one that Nate Powell’s vibrant, angular pencils are perfectly suitable for. One of the most emotionally impactful graphic novels I read this year.

3. Jerusalem by Guy Deslisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

Cover_of_Jerusalem,_by_Guy_DelisleWith Jerusalem, Guy Deslise is back with the latest in his series of engrossing travelogues. His last book (Burma Chronicles) showed that Delisle is at best when he has a story to tell. Not much happened to him in Burma, and so there wasn’t much to tell.

The same can’t be said for his time in Israel, and so Jerusalem is his longest book to date, full of stories from his family’s year there.

Although its easy to get passionate about many of Israel’s current policies, Delisle’s objective eye helps moderate this peek into the current situation there. This isn’t a book about Israel, this is a book about Delisle’s experiences in Israel, all told with Deslile’s confidence as a master cartoonist who never lets his serious subject matter take itself too seriously.

2. Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland by Harvey Pekar & Joseph Remnant (Zip/Top Shelf)/ Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar & JT Waldman (Hill & Wang)

Israel_cover-cropThe last 2 graphic novels that Harvey Pekar wrote before his death in 2010 were published this year, and both helped cement  the fact (as if there was much doubt at this point) that Pekar was one of the best storytellers the medium has ever seen.

Although Israel got more attention, it’s the book about Pekar’s beloved Cleveland that feels like the more personal work. It’s a historical review of the city, both the good and the bad. And because it’s Pekar, there’s also a healthy dollop of his own personal connection to the city, and how both he and the city have evolved over the years.

cleveland_lgIsrael is the flashier book however, and timeliness is a big part of that. How you feel about Pekar’s take on the history of Israel probably has a lot with how you feel about Israel itself, specifically in regards to its treatment of the Palestinians living inside its borders.

Any casual reader of Pekar probably knows where his sympathies lie. But this isn’t a propaganda piece, or at least not strictly so. It’s really a story of Pekar’s understanding of that country, and how he got to the viewpoints he espouses. Combined, these two graphic novels are a worthy coda to the story of one of the most interesting characters in comic history.

1. Building Stories by Chris Ware (Pantheon)

building-stories-collectionThis wasn’t even close. No offense to the other great books on this list, but Building Stories is such a unique work, and one that’s so staggering in its scope, that it really was the only serious contender for graphic novel of the year.

It’s 14 separate graphic stories, with Ware using comics, graphic novels, posters, and pamphlets as his canvas. There are thematic consistencies between the different stories, as well some storytelling ones. But each stands on its own, as a readable work in its own right.

Ware has raised the bar yet again, not surprising in a career essentially built on bar raising. What he’s done for the medium of the comics can’t be overstated, and Building Stories has to be considered a career high.

Honourable Mention: 

Blue by Pat Grant (Top Shelf), Batman: Death By Design by Chipp Kidd & Dave Taylor (DC), Dotter Of Her Fathers Eyes by Mary Talbot & Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse),  Sunset by Christos Gage & Jorge Lucas (Minotaur/Image), Best Of Enemies: A History Of US & Middle East Relations, Part One: 1783-1953 by Jean-Pierre Filliu & David B. (Harry N. Abrams), Lover’s Lane by Rick Geary (NBM), Athos In America by Jason (Fantagraphics), Marathon by Boaz Yankin & Joe Infumari (First Second), Are You My Mother by Allison Bechdel (Mariner Books), Lincoln Washington: Free Man #1 by Ben Marra (Traditional Comics)

Best Comics Of 2012: Best Ongoing Comics

To qualify a book must have produced at least 5 issues in 2012. That is all.

20. Chew by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)

1234285Chew still manages to entertain AND surprise each month, no mean feat for an indie book that just surpassed 30 issues.

With its rotating cast of mutant super tasters, bisexual cyborgs, and gladiator chickens, Chew still remains one of the most eclectic books on the stands, while never sacrificing it’s commitment to character and storytelling. And we still have 30 issues to go, with no evidence of a drop in quality in sight.

19. Peter Panzerfaust by Kurtis Wiebe & Tyler Jenkins (Image)

Peter-Panzerfaust_4Peter Pan as seen through the eyes of WW2 French war resisters may not have been an obvious pitch, but it sure as hell was an an effective one.

Kurtis Wiebe is really on to something here, with a WW2 adventure tale that’s just slightly familiar to those of us who grew up on the Disney version of Pan. Peter Pan is the ultimate anarchist, and so putting him in the role of French resistance leader is nothing short of brilliant. Looking forward to seeing if this can maintain its quality and intensity.

18. Rachel Rising by Terry Moore (Abstract Studios)

Rachel Rising 11I’m not entirely convinced that this horror tale isn’t going to collapse under the weight of Terry Moore’s storytelling hubris. Every issue seems to be expanding Moore’s epic about a small town gone wrong exponentially, and only time will tell before we know if Moore can start solving some of the puzzles he’s posed.

In the meantime, Moore’s expressive pencils make a gorgeous pairing with the horror genre, and Rachel Rising still happens to be a far more enjoyable read than most of the monthly “horror” books on the stands.

17. Near Death by Jay Faeber & Simone Guglielmini (Image)

Near-Death_6_FullIt’s a shame that Near Death wasn’t able to get more of a readership before its untimely demise, as I think that it’s the best comic work Jay Faerber has produced to date.

I’m going to really miss this love letter to 80s TV crime staples like Rockford Files and The Equalizer, as Near Death really captured their tone perfectly. Just the right mix of episodic adventure, and big picture motivation, with some nice work by up & comer Simone Guglielmini

16. The Unwritten by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (Vertigo)

Unwritten_Vol_1_34_TextlessThe Unwritten dropped any pretense of being anything but a full blown fantasy title this year, with talking unicorns and other fantasy tropes on almost every page.

Plus, the books usual literary references expanded to things like superhero comics, noir novels, and everything in between. If unbridled ambition in storytelling gets you off, then The Unwritten should be your fetish of choice. With Sweet Tooth, Scalped, and Northlanders wrapping up this year, The Unwritten might be the last great Vertigo book left.

15. Hawkeye by Matt Fraction & David Aja (Marvel)

hwky 2Probably the title I was most surprised to find on this list, as the words “Hawkeye” and “Great Comics” don’t usually end up in the same sentence together. That my friends, has changed. What’s also changed is Matt Fraction’s seeming inability to launch a great superhero title at Marvel, despite numerous opportunities to do so.

The big difference here is David Aja. In Aja, Fraction has an artist that is able to capture a fraction (ha!) of the energy & inventiveness that Fraction brings to his creator-owned titles like Casanova, but rarely seems able to carry over into his Marvel work. These are simple “chase & grab” stories, thus far. But Aja & Fraction use the medium to it’s fullest, and bring a visual complexity to these stories that is a welcome addition to superhero comics right now.

14. Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Bendis and various (Marvel)

UltSpid1201The popularity of Spider-Man has always been as much about Peter Parker as it is about the cool costume and the web-slinging. So the fact that Miles Morales is really the only Spider-Man I really care about these days is a bit of a surprise. It’s also a compliment to Brian Bendis’ careful shepherding of the character he created.

Despite the man’s professionalism, you can always tell which comics Bendis truly cares about, and his obvious love for Miles Morales is pretty easy to spot. This really is a simple coming of age story, with some superheroics thrown in for good measure. Bendis has had some very capable artist partners on this title thus far, with Sarah Pichelli being probably the most notable.

13. Fury Max: My Years Gone By Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov (Marvel)

fury-max-6This is a trip through the 20th Century, as seen through the eyes of the greatest soldier in comic book history, and as told by the best war storyteller in comics today. It’s Ennis at his very best, with the blend of crucial character development amidst big world-defining battles that he can be so good at, when he puts his mind to it.

Goran Parlov is the secret weapon here, I think. There’s some Joe Kubert, some Carmine Infantino, and some Gil Kane in his work, but he brings a modern intensity to his action sequences that really makes him an up and coming star in his own right.

12. Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt (Dark Horse)

250px-Mind_MGMT_cover_1Matt Kindt has been one of the greatest unrecognized talents in comics for several yeara now, but Mind MGMT is his first monthly (ish) book as a writer/artist. It’s well worth the wait, as Kindt’s expressive combo of paints and pencils are an interesting backdrop for this truly unique espionage epic. It’s still early days, and so it’s too soon to tell if Kindt can deliver on the many plot points that he’s started. But for now this book’s slow boil of questions and answers brings me back every month.

11. Glory by Joe Keatinge & Ross Campbell (Image)

IMG111091This might be the greatest Wonder Woman story of all time. Its not being marketed that way, for obvious reasons. But it’s what its turning out to be, and if DC was smart they’d sign Keatinge and Campbell right quick.

Glory has just the right mix of superhero smashery, emotional pathos, and epic storytelling, with Ross Campbell really stretching his wings out and showing a different side of his artistic sensibilities. Glory didn’t get as much critical attention as some of the other books on this list, and I’m not really sure why.

10. Conan The Barbarian by Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan, others (Dark Horse)

conan1The pairing of indie darlings Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan initially seemed to be an unconventional choice to spearhead the adventures of one of fictions premier action heroes.

But it ended up breathing new life into Conan, adding new dimensions of intrigue and sexuality to an already multi-faceted character. Wood & Cloonan were responsible for some of the very best pure adventure stories the comics medium saw this year.

9. Scalped by Jason Aaron & RM Guera (Vertigo)

Scalped_60_Full-671x1024It never seemed to get the acclaim of contemporaries like 100 Bullets or Criminal, but Scalped more than proved that it should be thought of in the same way that those books are.

Although the end of the series seemed a little drawn out, and possibly even forced, there is very little doubt that Scalped should now be considered one of the great crime comics of all time.

8. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee (Marvel)

daredevil_18_coverAn early exit from the vaunted art team of Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin may have knocked some wind out of the sails of this book a little earlier than Mark Waid might have hoped. But Chris Samnee is proving to be a worthy replacement, and Daredevil continues to be something that’s apparently almost impossible to produce these days: an entertaining superhero comic.

If you find yourself complaining about how superhero comics “just aren’t as good as they used to be”, this might be the book you need to try. Not that it’s stuck in the past, however. It’s a thoroughly modern book, but one that’s not afraid to look back at a slightly simpler time in comics, where superheroes weren’t ashamed to look like superheroes, and writers weren’t afraid to treat them as such.

7. The Goon by Eric Powell (Dark Horse)

goon42After a years-long hiatus, Eric Powell’s Goon is back, with new stories that showcase Powell’s ever-evolving commitment to character and story.

Since its return, The Goon has focused much more on smaller, character driven pieces than the “chock full o’ monsters” epics that it had become known for. The gorgeous art and expressive humor has stayed the same, but there’s a poignancy surrounding Powell’s creation that may not have been there before. If you’ve always heard about The Goon but weren’t sure where to start, this year’s issues would have a good jumping on point.

6. The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra (Image)

The-Manhattan-Projects_7-455x700Feynman. Einstein. Oppenheimer. Names that shaped a century, at least scientifically. But what if they weren’t quite as altruistic as we thought they were?

What if instead, the US government funded a shadowy cabal of mad scientists with motives so twisted they’d make Dr. Doom blush? And worst of all, what if there were no Reed Richards to combat them?

Those are the dark questions posed by The Manhattan Projects, a much welcome return to the world of creator owned comics for Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra.

Although lacking a sympathetic lead character, Manhattan Projects more than makes up for it with its premise of science gone terribly wrong. Pitarra’s Quitely-ish thick lines are the perfect foil for Hickman’s dense script.

5. BPRD: Hell On Earth by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Tyler Crook, and various artists (Dark Horse)

17968B.P.R.D. moved to an ongoing format this year, which is a testament to the most consistently excellent shared world in comics today.

While the term “post-apocalyptic”gets used a lot in genre fiction (so much so that it’s morphed into a genre of its own) these days, B.P.R.D. is a unique beast in that’s its actually the tale of an ongoing apocalypse. This, quite literally, is the story of how a world ends. That its a world very similar to our own, makes it all the more terrifying.

4. Prophet by Brandon Graham and various artists (Image)

Prophet_29Prophet was originally a character created by Rob Liefeld in the 1990’s. I’ve never read any comics starring him since he’s a character created by Rob Liefeld in the 1990’s. Enter Brandon Graham. Whomever came up with the idea of putting one of indie comics hottest artist/writers in charge of a failed never-was character from the ’90’s that absolutely no-one wanted to see again, deserves a raise.

Graham has put together a massive, galaxy-spanning story here, with different versions of the same character starring in each issue, with each of those characters being drawn a different artist (all of whom are absolutely fantastic).

The thing I love about Graham’s approach to this is that he never forgets that it’s a comic. This is big sci-fi…so big that Larry Niven would be jealous. But it’s a comic first, and Graham’s “Medium Is Just As Important As Message” approach to storytelling serves this bold and ambitious book well.

3. Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)

Saga8CoverProbably the most surprising thing about Brian Vaughn’s much anticipated return to comics is that it’s exactly as good as we hoped it would be.

It’s the story of Hazel, a baby born to a couple on opposing sides of an intergalactic civil war. And of her parents. And of the people who are trying to kill her parents. And so on.

Vaughan kept mentioning Star Wars as a major influence in the press build up to this series. That’s’ a fair comparison, especially since Vaughan realizes that huge battles and crazy aliens don’t matter much if you don’t have a character arc that the audience cares about. Theres’s also a major Romeo & Juliet influence, as this book takes the term term “star crossed lovers” to a literal level.

Fiona Staples’ work is astounding here, both in her brilliant monster designs, and her ability to convey a wide range of character emotions.

Saga is the most aptly titled book in comic shops right now. Every issue feels like an epic in its own right, and it’s embraced the serial nature of the art form whole heartedly. If you’re judging on pure entertainment, this might take the cake.

2. The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni Press)

SIXTH-GUN-21-COVERThis comic doesn’t get that much attention these days. It should, just for the fact that its an indie book that’s made it past 25 issues. It also happens to be the best adventure comic on the stands.

Sixth Gun is a horror comic. Its also a fantasy story. It’s also a western, written by a writer that pays as much attention to character development as he does to cool concepts. This book literally has it all, put together by a fantastic artist who really could be cutting his teeth on much bigger books.

P.S. Issue 21 might be the best single silent action comic ever produced.

1. Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)

nycc-brubaker-gets-fatale-20111014024818983-000A brilliant mash up of horror and noir, Fatale is the product of two masters at the height of their powers.

It’s also the story of Josephine, a beautiful femme fatale that doesn’t seem to age, and seems to be able to get men to do almost anything she can imagine.

Part L.A. Noir a la Ellroy, part horror epic a la Stephenson, Fatale might be the most carefully crafted book on the stands. Brubaker and Phillips work together so well by now, that’s it’s easy to forget that they’re two different people. The plotting is tightly crafted and precise. The art is moody, yet descriptive.

Best of all, I still have no idea where this book is taking me. This, my friends, is an old fashioned mystery. The trappings might be unconventional, but it’s a mystery just the same. And I’m hooked.

Honourable Mention:

Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo), Batman by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo (DC), Lil’ Depressed Boy by Stephen Struble & Sina Grace (Image), The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard (Image), Mudman by Paul Grist (Image), Mind The Gap by Jim McCann & Rodin Esquejo; (Image), Snarked by Roger Landridge (Boom),Wasteland by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten; (Oni), Courtney Crumrin by Ted Naifeh (Oni), Batgirl by Gail Simone & Adrian Syaf (DC), I Vampire by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Andrea Sorrentino (DC) , Animal Man by Jeff Lemire & Travis Foreman (DC)

Series that would have been considered if they had put out more issues in 2012:

Northlanders by Brian Wood & various artists (Vertigo), Secret by Jonathan Hickman & Ryan Bodenheim (Image), Punisher Max by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon (Marvel), Rasl by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books), Powers by Brian Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Icon), Reed Gunther by Shane Houghton & Mike Houghton (Image), Godland by Joe Casey & Tom Scioli (Image)

Best Comics Of 2012: Best Mini-Series

There are but two rules for this category, and they’re important: To qualify a series had to 1) be 2-8 issues long ( though I was flexible with that one), and 2) it had to END in 2012 (though not necessarily start in 2012). And so unfinished series like Brandon Graham’s Multiple Warheads, Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss Vol. 2, and Grant Morrison’s Happy weren’t considered for this year’s list, but some comics that started in 2011 (or earlier), but ended in 2012, were.

20. Locke & Key: Clockworks by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)

locke__key_clockworks_3_covR1This is the 6th Locke & Key mini-series, and one suspects that Joe Hill didn’t really think this one through before he pitched this to IDW so many years ago. While this remains one of the most ambitious projects on the stands, its close to collapsing under the weight of its own hubris. There are only so many references to magic keys and teen angst that one can stand, and Hill seems to be packing more and more non-essential story into each successive chapter. While I’m still enjoying it as a whole (Rodriguez’ elaborate spreads in particular seem to get better with every mini-series), I’m just hoping for an ending that makes me think that Hill knew what he was doing all along. Cough…Lost….Cough.

19. The Shade by James Robinson, Various (DC)

The-Shade_12_Full-665x1024It’s getting harder to remember just how many great comics DC produced in the late 90’s-early 2000’s. From Kingdom Come, to New Frontier, to Mark Waid’s work on Justice League, to Gail Simone’s on Birds of Prey, DC seemed to be in a bit of a golden period for the company, at least creatively. That’s all over now of course, and so this throwback to the DC that was, is a welcome relief.

James Robinson is at his most James Robinson-y here, with both the good and the bad that comes with that. There’s a commitment to high drama that I love about his work. You never know if his characters are going to fight or fuck, especially with an anti-hero like Shade as his protagonist of choice. But there’s also a haphazard approach to plotting that comes with any Robinson comic, and this series is no different. Still, with artists as diverse as Gene Ha, Darwyn Cooke, Javier Pulido, and Jill Thompson helping Robinson with the heavy lifting, this rambling journey through a DCU that doesn’t really exist any more, was a lot of fun.

18. Spider-Men by Brian Bendis & Sarah Pichelli (Marvel)

Spider-Men_4-674x1024What in the bowels of Stan Lee is a mainstream superhero comic doing on this list? As a fan of Brian Bendis’ work on Ultimate Spider-Man for the past decade, I just couldn’t resist this team-up between the Spider-Men of alternate universes. The fact that it ended up being pretty good was a bonus. What I liked about it is that it didn’t feel forced. This was a team-up between two fully realized versions of the same character, and one that needed years of set-up to execute properly, even if Bendis didn’t know he was setting those things up at this time. It’s also notable for having some of the most effective character moments to be found in any superhero comic this year. Sarah Pichelli is probably the best young superhero artist on the planet right now.

17. Reset by Peter Bagge (Dark Horse)

Reset-3Guy Krause is a washed up movie star who has lost his career, his wife, and his fortune. But he has one last chance to make some money as a guinea pig for a secret government project designed to test radical interrogation techniques. And so Krause is put through endless variations of events from his life that are designed to test his stress levels, with the government hoping that one day he’ll crack.

Peter Bagge’s work is always eminently entertaining, and his nigh sci-fi premise adds some sizzle to with what could have been a fairly drab character study. Although I didn’t find it quite as engaging as Bagge’s work on Hate, or for Reason, it’s still a more than worthwhile addition to his bibliography.

16. The Rocketeer: Cargo Of Doom by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee (IDW)

The-Rocketeer_Cargo-of-Doom_1-665x1024If you like your pulp heroes with a little more Indiana Jones, & a little less The Shadow, you might want to try IDW’s recent Rocketeer revival over darker fare such as Lobster Johnson. Waid & Samnee have been racking up awards on their run on Daredevil as of late, and the light-hearted touch that makes that book such an enjoyable read can be found here as well. I’m not sure the Rocketeer is an interesting enough character to really deserve all of these apocryphal stories, but it’s an entertaining romp nonetheless. Cargo adds some fantastical elements to the Rocketeer mythos that might be disconcerting to fans of Dave Stevens’ original work on the character, but Samnee’s art deco take on a Los Angeles dinosaur invasion should put any reservations to rest.

15. Resident Alien by Peter Hogan & Steve Parkhouse (Dark Horse)

00223333_mediumIt’s Quincy meets Starman in this interesting little slice of small-town America. The alien in the title is Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle,  a stranded extraterrestrial disguising himself as a retired doctor. He’s trying to keep a low profile, until the small town that he lives near find its sole doctor murdered. And so Harry is roped in, both as the town’s physician and as an amateur sleuth. It’s not an overly ambitious concept, and Hogan & Parkhouse really do a nice job of keeping it simple. This is more small town murder mystery than sci-fi epic, but fans of 2000AD will still find much to enjoy here. A mini-series in desperate need of a follow-up.

13. The Zaucer Of Zilk by Al Ewing & Brendan McCarthy (Rebellion/IDW)

The-Zaucer-of-Zilk_2-665x1024Although I technically covered this already in the 2000AD entry in my “Best Anthologies” post, IDW saw it upon themselves to reprint this as a two issue mini-series. And so I had a great reason to write about it on its own. Well, two great reasons. The first one being that it’s one of the most visually striking comics of the year.

But it’s Brendan McCarthy, so you knew that already. He put the batshit in batshit crazy comics, and we love him for it. But McCarthy was smart enough to engage Al Ewing to handle the script here, and it’s really a complementary pairing. I can’t think of another writer that could turn the psychedelic stream of fantastical consciousness that McCarthy’s art evokes into a readable adventure story quite as well as Ewing does here. Zaucer is best described as Mr. Mxytptlyk meets Alice In Wonderland, and as such you know going in that this isn’t going to reach 100 Bullets levels of plotting complexity. This is fantasy unmoderated.

12. The Cape by Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella, & Zach Howard (IDW)

thumbnail.phpThis was originally a short story by Joe Hill that IDW had the brilliance to adapt into a single issue comic. It worked FAR better than these things usually do, and ended up being one of the best single issues of 2010. And so we now have a fleshed out mini series, exploring the adventures of a world’s only super villain.

And it’s quite good. We’ve seen villains motivated by base emotions in mainstream superhero comics before, but it’s rare to see them actually achieve their goals. Eric just wants revenge for his perceived slights, and is prepared to do anything he can to get it. And if that means dropping a live bear onto the car of his brother, so be it.  Ah siblings…Amirite?

This was an well-executed, and often disturbing peek into the mind of a super powered psychopath. A sequel recently wrapped up this year as well, though it isn’t nearly as engaging.

11. Choker by Ben McCool & Ben Templesmith (Image)

6816105518_f58517e4eeIt took almost 4 years for this bizarre little superhero/ crime mini to finish up, and I’m happy to report that it was worth the wait. Choker is about a failed police detective trying to make it as a non powered PI In a town where all the cops have super powers.

There is more than a little sensationalism in McCool’s script, and at times it feels as if he is trying just a little too hard to shock us with the macabre fatalism of this world. He has grown as a writer since the early issue of this series, but the some of the first issues come across as overly raw. Templesmith’s pencils more than make up for any subjective shortfall in the script however, with maturity that isn’t usually associated with his work. Fun series.

 10. Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre by Darwyn Cooke & Amanda Conner (DC)

bwsilk-spectre1cvrjpg-2f69da_800wLet’s put aside the discussion about whether or not this comic should actually exist. It does, so suck it up, whiners. Lets discuss it on its own terms, which are those of a second generation costumed heroine struggling to find her own way in the turbulent 1960s.

On those terms, this is a fantastic comic, and to my mind, officially the moment that Amanda Conner became known as an A list mainstream comics artist.

This is a simple coming of age story, But it’s one that’s told with a narrative inventiveness that’s non-existent in anything else with the initials D or C on it these days. Highly recommended, despite what Alan Moore says.

9. Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, & Tonci Zonic (Dark Horse)

lobsterIt’s a good time to be reading comics if you like pulpy adventure heroes, and Mike Mignola’s Lobster Johnson might be the greatest of them all. What started as a throw away character in a Hellboy story over 10 years ago has grown into a strong leading character in his own right, with John Arcudi developing him into a credible 1930’s adventurer that fans of Wagner’s Sandman Mystery Theatre, or Motter’s Mr. X, would enjoy.

Super villains and mindless cannibals set the tone here, but the strip never delves into parody, and always takes its subject matter very seriously. In short, it’s a bit of rollicking pulp. Tonci Zonic was born to illustrate Lobster Johnson.

8. The Secret History Of D. B. Cooper by Brian Churilla (Oni)

127473_s0The premise of one of Americas most celebrated criminals secretly being a telepathic assassin for the CIA isn’t just sound, it’s brilliant. And Churilla’s artwork here is almost kinetically stunning. There is so much energy in his pencil that it almost leaps from every page. But from a storytelling perspective this mini series never gets much past the initial concept, and I have to say that getting a more seasoned writer to help with some of the heavy lifting might have been considered.

Still, it’s one of the best looking, and one of the most inventive comics of the year, with better action sequences than any book being produced by either of the big 2 publishers. Visually speaking, Churilla is at the top of his game.

7. Spaceman by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso (Vertigo)

Spaceman_9-682x1024Another of 2012’s strong sci-fi offerings, brought to us by the team that gave us 100 Bullets. So the bar was pretty high for this, and I would say that for the most part, Azzarello and Risso delivered.

The Spaceman we are talking about it is Orson, part of a group of genetically engineered post-humans specifically designed to survive a trip to Mars. It’s years later, and Orson is struggling to find his way in this post apocalyptic world. And he does, until the young star of the most popular reality show on television literally drops into his lap. Through Orson, we explore this interesting future that doesn’t take too much creativity to imagine as our own.

But accessible it ain’t. Azzarello literally creates a future slang from scratch for this series, and I would say that it’s a large part of the reason why it didn’t do better on the market. Azzarello forces you to actually READ his comic book in order to understand what’s going on, and that seems to be an unforgivable offence these days. That’s a shame, since Spaceman is a thoroughly engrossing comic that deserved a wider audience.

6. The New Deadwardians by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard (Vertigo)

New-Deadwardians-8-CvDan Abnett is playing in a different sandbox here than the epic sci-fi adventure genre that I usually associate him with. Vampires Vs. Zombies as a metaphor for post-Victorian class struggle is an original spin on a tired concept, and it’s a welcome one. And so we have the “Restless” (Lower class citizens who are victims of a zombie infection), and “The Young”, (upper class citizens who have turned themselves into vampires to escape the virus). Added to the mix is a murder mystery that Chief Inspector George Suttle is tasked to solve. No easy feat in a world where almost everybody is already dead.

But this series isn’t all clever metaphor. Suttle is a fascinating leading man, glad to be still technically alive, but desperately missing the desires and needs he had before he was turned. Basically, he wants a reason to keep going. It’s what drives all of us really, but even more so when you’re an immortal super being, I suppose. Entertaining as hell.

 5. Mondo by Ted McKeever (Image)

76_297461_0_Mondo2Mondo is about a man who gets superpowers from a radioactive chicken, which tells you all you need to know about Mondo, and all you need to know about Ted McKeever as well.

How he manages to both be so creatively unconventional while still managing to stay (relatively) commercially viable, is beyond me. Mondo is easily one of the most visually stimulating comics I read this year, and what it lacks in convoluted plot or character development it more than makes up with sheer frenetic comic joy.

4. Ragemoor by Jan Strnad & Richard Corben (Dark Horse)

20482Mike Mignola calls Jan Strnad and Richard Corben the Kirby and Lee of horror comics. If that is true, than Ragemoor might be their Fantastic Four.

It’s also a gothic purist’s wet dream, though one that is also terrifying and blood soaked. At it’s heart, Ragemoor is essentially a haunted castle story. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Ragemoor is THE haunted castle story, as it effortlessly encapsulates every other version of that ageless trope you’ve ever heard or read.

Ragemoor isn’t scary so much as its legitimately horrific. If Shirley Jackson and HP Lovecraft had ever met and had a Cthulhu baby that made comics, that baby might have made Ragemoor. And then destroyed Rhode Island. But first, Ragemoor. This, my friends, is a truly disturbing horror comic.

3. The Creep by John Arcudi & Jonathan Case (Dark Horse)

19024I don’t think it took me more than a few pages for me to fall in love with this unconventional murder mystery when I first saw it in the pages of DHP. And after a four issue run my appreciation has only grown. First of all, I don’t think there is a more economically effective writer in comics today than John Arcudi. There isn’t a single word in 5 issues that didn’t absolutely have to be there. The man knows when to stay out of the way of his artist. Especially when it’s an artist on the level of a Jonathan Case.

The Creep features Oxel Karnhus, a private detective suffering from a rare degenerative condition called acromegaly. He’s holding it together though; or at least he was until asked by an old flame to investigate the death of her son.

Character development is the name of Arcudi’s game here, with Karnhus being an effective foil. Oxel isn’t just down on his luck, he’s at the end of his rope, with this case representing a way back to a life Karnhus abandoned a long time ago. He also happens to be my favourite character in comics this year.

I know it’s too much to ask for these two just to do more Creep stories for the rest of their careers….but one can hope.

2. Casanova: Avaritia by Matt Fraction & Gabriel Ba (Icon)

Casanova-Avaritia-2Part Jerry Cornelius, part James Bond, Casanova Quinn might be the greatest hero in contemporary adventure comics. Matt Fraction seems to have his finger on the pulse of cutting edge science fiction comics right now, and that’s saying something in a year that’s been as strong for sci-fi as 2012 has.

Avaritia is a change of pace from Casanova’s last volume, but change is the very point of Casanova. It’s sci-fi, sure. But it’s also sex. And death. And time travel. Sometimes in that order. Although possibly a smidge less emotionally impactful than volume 2, Avaritia is still a hell of a thrill ride, with some stunning work from Gabriel Ba.

1. The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred by David Hine & Shaky Kane (Image)

sepbk12Bulletproof-Coffin_Disinterred_Vol2_TPFor me, there really aren’t many series out there that really shows just how creative and unconventional comics can be. This, the second BPC mini series by Hine & Kane, is a powerful exception, and one that I get more out every time I read it.

What’s it about? In a word, comics. In a few words, silver age comics. In a sentence, it’s about the seamy underbelly of silver age comics…those horror, romance and crime books that deserve just as much attention as your copy of Fantastic Four #51, though they never seem to get it. These 6 issues are only loosely connected to one another, as it’s tone rather than story that brings this mini series together. And so an anthology EC tribute issue like “Tales From The Haunted Jazz Club” leads quite nicely into “84”, a non linear story that would have to be among the top contenders for best single issues of the year.

Honorable Mention:

Legion Of Monsters by Dennis Hopeless & Juan Doe (Marvel), Dorothy Of Oz by Eric Shanower & Skottie Young (Marvel), Atomic Robo: The Ghost Of Station X/The Flying She-Devils Of The Pacific (Red6), Fatima: The Blood Spinners by Gilbert Hernandez (Dark Horse), Stumptown: The Case Of The Baby In The Velvet Case by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth (Oni)

Next up: Best Ongoing Series!

 

 

Best Comics Of 2012: Best Collections/Translations/Reprints

There is really only one rule that really matters for this category: It has to have been printed before, either digitally or physically. This could be a collection of previously printed comics, a translation of work that’s been available in other countries, or a compilation of work that’s been previously only available on the web.

10.  Torpedo Vol. 4 & 5 by Enrique Sanchez Abduli & Jordi Bernet (IDW)

Torpedo_Vol5One of the better translation attempts in recent years has been IDWs beautiful hardcover collections of these striking Italian crime comics by Enrique Sanchez and Jordi Bernet. On the surface, these are short black and white pieces about a tough immigrant hood trying to claw his way up the criminal ladder in 1930′s New York, but in actuality these are really slice of life stories, and they cover everything from crime, to the immigrant experience, to sex, and everything in between. In some ways this is a companion piece to Will Eisner’s Spirit character, just told from the viewpoint of the villain.

P.S. If what you just read feels a little familiar, it’s because it’s word for word what I wrote about Torpedo Vol. 3 last year. I regret nothing.

9. American Barbarian by Tom Scioli (Adhouse)

AmericanBarbarian-620x911Adhouse reaffirms their commitment to quality bookmaking with this beautiful hardcover collection of Tom Scioli’s bizarre adventure web comic. Although not the most accessible comic on this list, Sciollis love letter to the Kamandi era of Jack Kirbys’ resume has plenty to recommend about it. It’s post apocalyptic madness masked in a blanket of four colour craziness. Now that Godland is wrapping up I’d love to see Scioli play in this sandbox again.

8. Hellboy Library Edition Volume 5 by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)

18149I keep saying that as long as Dark Horse keeps producing these oversized collections of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics, I’ll keep putting them on my Best Of Lists. Well, next year’s Volume 6 might be the last time we see one for a while, as for the first time in Hellboy history there won’t be enough material in the can to produce the next volume.  There is plenty in this volume to keep us occupied until Mignola catches up, with Mignola and Fegredo’s The Wild Hunt & Darkness Calls being the centerpiece of the whole thing. It’s a little ironic that Fegredo’s last work on Hellboy for the foreseeable future ended up being the best work of his career to date.

7. Creepy Presents: Richard Corben by Richard Corben, various. (Dark Horse)

20025Collections like this are usually saved for artists at the end of their careers. But judging by Corben’s prodigious output in 2012 he’s just getting started. This book collects much of Corben’s early work for seminal 70s horror anthologies like Creepy and Eerie. As such, some of it is pretty raw, without the discipline that would be become a hallmark of his later art. But it’s that very roughness that drew people to his work in the first place. Much of this work still retains its creepy, gothic power even now, 30 years later.

6. Flex Mentallo: Man Of Muscle Mystery – The Deluxe Edition by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (Vertigo)

flexmentalloAlthough this is one of the most incomprehensible pieces of gobbledygook in Grant Morrison’s career (and that, my friends, is saying something), it also happens to be one of the best pieces of gobbledygook in Frank Quitely’s career, which is also saying something. I’m not sure why these two seem to be able to bring such memorable work out of each other, but I’m not complaining. Mentallo has been out of print in english for over 15 years, and so this beautifully put together deluxe hardcover was a welcome addition to  my library this year. It’s a dazzling piece of comic art that still holds up after all these years.

5. Blacksad: A Silent Hell by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse)

18839It was a toss-up as to which category this would go under, but ultimately I chose reprints since it was published in Europe last year. There is always been a smell of gimmick around the Blacksad books, and  I don’t actually believe that there would be much interest in these generic noir detective tales if a talking animal wasn’t the star of them. But it’s that anthropomorphic sensibility that makes Blacksad work as well as it does. A Silent Hell lacks some of the emotional weight that previous Blacksad books have, but Guarnido’s lush artwork more than makes up for it.

4. King City by Brandon Graham (Image)

kingcity_tp_web72In a world where everything seems to be available all of the time, it’s a little odd that finding physical copies of Brandon Graham’s King City has been almost impossible up until now. After years of wrangling with King City’s original publisher, Graham finally was able to put out a soft cover collection of all 12 issues of this indie epic this year. Graham is really in a league of his own here, with a unique blend of dystopian sci-fi & indie hipness that you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

3.  MonsterMen & Other Scary Stories by Gary Gianni (Dark Horse)

18939Before the current crop of mediocre “monster hunter” comics stank up the stands on a regular basis, there was MonsterMen, a gothic masterpiece by one of the most underrated artists in comic history. This comprehensive collection of the entire MonsterMen oeuvre is long overdue, and to Gianni’s credit doesn’t feel dated at all. What the book lacks in plotting complexity it more than makes up for with Gianni’s detailed, meticulous line work, and experienced storytelling sensibilities. They literally don’t make them like this anymore, and the industry is worse off as a result.

2. Journalism by Joe Sacco (Metropolitan Books)

Journalism cover001By this point, Joe Sacco is considered to be  the father of comics journalism as we know it. He got that title by the strength of longer themed landmark books like Palestine, and Safe Area Gorazde. And so something like Journalism, a collection of shorter pieces he’s done for various publications over the years, comes as a bit of a departure. It shouldn’t though, as shorter works of journalism is something Sacco has been doing for years. What Sacco represents for me is the flexibility and possibility of comic books. It’s in many ways the ultimate storytelling medium. The fact that Sacco was one of the first to figure out that it could be used to capture realism for the purpose of journalism as well should be lauded more than it is. If I had to pick a favorite of Sacco’s pieces here, it would be “The Unwanted” , a 2009 piece about the recent influx of African refugees into Malta.

1. David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil Born Again Artist’s Edition by David Mazzucchelli & Frank Miller  (IDW/Marvel)

david-mazzucchelli-daredevil-born-againAlthough “deluxe versions” of previously published material have been on the market for some time, I don’t think there’s a better showcase of the medium than IDWs absolutely stunning Artists Editions.  These over-sized collections are essentially the closest we can get to comics in their original form, and as close to “straight off the drawing board” as we can get in a commercially viable format. They remind us that comics, despite their storytelling potential, are ultimately a visual medium.  IDW released several of these this year, but to me their shiniest jewel to date has to be David Mazzuchelli’s Daredevil – Born Again. It’s one of the greatest superhero stories of all time, and this oversized black and white edition really showcases just how important Mazzuchelli was to the critical and commercial success of this book.

P.S. Yes, that’s actual raised Braille you see on the cover. This, my friends, is a cool fucking book.

Best Comics Of 2012: Best Anthologies

And so it begins. Every year I do a series of (somewhat) comprehensive “Best Comics of the Year” posts. Rather than just limiting myself to one list, I do several, separated into 6 different categories. They take a long time to do, and no one reads them. But I like doing them, and they help organize my cluttered brain.

First category is anthologies. There aren’t that many rules for this one. To qualify a comic has to feature various comic creators doing different stories. It can be one issue, several issues, or a graphic novel. There aren’t that many books that qualified this year, as anthologies don’t exactly fly off the shelves these days.

10. The Graphic Canon Vol. 1 & 2, edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories Press)

Kick_GCv2_150dpi-234x300In theory it seems like a fairly simple concept: The world’s greatest literary stories, translated into comic book form. In practice, it proved to be almost impossible to pull off. Although Russ Kick’s idea seemed like a strong one at first blush, the reality of the project proved too unwieldy. Although both volumes (there’s a third on its way) are interesting from a historical perspective, there is very little in the way of actual great comic book making here. And the stories that Kick is attempting to adapt are often so huge, and so important, that condensing them into abbreviated snippets seems disrespectful, and often doesn’t do the source material justice. These aren’t comic books, they’re text books. And while they might be perfectly fine for someone trying to make these important works accessible to modern audiences, the scope of the project is too big for any comic fan to really sink their teeth into.

9. Creepy, edited by Shawna Gore (Dark Horse)

20303It doesn’t get as much attention as some of Dark Horse’s other horror books, but this black & white horror anthology is in many ways the corner-stone of DH’s entire horror line. It provides DH stalwarts like  John Arcudi, Steve Niles, and Eric Powell somewhere to cut their teeth between larger projects, while giving horror comic fans an opportunity to relive the comics of the 1960s and 1970s horror heyday that they love so much. Besides, Richard Corben seems to be producing more comics than Dark Horse can actually put out these days, and any chance to see more Corben horror should be immediately seized.

8. The CBLDF Presents Liberty Annual 2012, edited by Eric Stephenson (Image)

IMG120599If your idea of fun is to be yelled at about the evils of censorship for almost 50 pages, than CBLDF’s annual anthology is the comic for you. Although a little preachier than 2011’s installment, this years volume was still a hell of a lot of comic. Although the Walking Dead short story is what garnered all the attention, because zombies, it was James Robinson’s & J Bone’s sneak peek into their Hunter series that really got me excited. That, plus work by the likes of Brandon Graham, Roger Langridge, Terry Moore, Sina Grace, and Ben Templesmith, made this a worthy addition to CBLDF’s fight to protect the rights of comic creators.

7. Rocketeer Adventures Vol. 2 #1-4, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW)

2012-06-02-rocketeer03Although IDW could be accused of milking The Rocketeer cow to death, I would say that they can be forgiven their opportunism considering that the quality of their Dave Stevens tributes has remained somewhat high. The creative talent here tends towards the B+ list more than the A list like Vol. 1, but there’s still enough pulpy fun to warrant a third installment. Although not much more than a fun adventure anthology, Rocketeer Adventures remains a VERY fun adventure anthology. And we can never have enough of those.

6. Once Upon A Time Machine, edited by Andrew Carl and Chris Stevens (Dark Horse)

21564A bizarre mix of sci-fi & children’s fantasy, as seen through the eyes of people like Brandon Graham, Jason Copeland, Carey Nord, Khoi Pham, and Jill Thompson, Once Upon A Time Machine ended up being almost as great as the sum of its parts. That’s a pretty rare achievement for an anthology as massive & ambitious as this one, but OUATM delivers, for the most part. There really is a cumulative effect here, as the strong editorial vision of Andrew Carl really keeps this thing from flying off a cliff.

5. Creator Owned Heroes #1-7, edited by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray (Image)

Creator Owned Heroes_5For those of us thinking that a glorious new reality of creator owned comics was upon us this year, the cancellation of Creator Owned Heroes after only 7 issues was a stark wake up call. In some ways an appeal to a more populist audience than Dark Horse Presents, COH featured some fairly high-profile creators like Steve Niles, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Darwyn Cooke.

But the book was never quite as editorially as consistent as something like DHP or 2000AD, and as a result I found that the quality of the book veered considerably from one issue to the next. That being said, there were some solid adventure stories here, and I’m very much hoping that we haven’t seen the last of concepts like Meatbag or Black Sparrow.

4. Joe Kubert Presents #1-2, edited by Joe Kubert & Bobby Chase (DC Comics)

JKP01_covercropThere isn’t any better indicator of the current state of DC Comics than the fact that the best book they have on the stands right now was created by a dead man. Although the word “Legend” gets used a lot in this industry, Joe Kubert deserved the label more than most, and this anthology series might be the greatest tribute someone of his stature might hope for. Although only 2 issues in so far, it’s notable in how much it reminds me of what DC used to be: Creative, colourful, and above all, fun. And despite the strong sales figures, one can’t really argue that “fun” has anything to do with DC’s current slate of dour sourpusses.

There is lots of Kubert here of course, but he’s not the only creator involved. The work of Kubert, Brian Buniak. and Sam Glanzman is featured in every issue, with each installment containing both original stories, and adventures featuring DC characters such as Angel & The Ape and Hawkman. If you’re one of those complaining about how the “New 52″ ruined the DC that you love so much, then this really needs to be on your pull list.

3. Ghosts / Mystery In Space, edited by Karen Berger, Shelley Bond, Gregory Lockhard, others (Vertigo)

ghostsAlthough I’m trying to be optimistic, it’s hard to imagine that Vertigo will put out another anthology at the same level of quality as either of these again. As of this writing, Karen Berger “resigned” from Vertigo a few days ago. While some are calling this the death of Vertigo, for me it’s more like the headshot to the zombie that Vertigo’s rotting corpse has been for several years now. They haven’t been the standard-bearer of good comics that they used to be for quite a while, and I find that true quality projects like Mystery In Space are really the exception there these days, rather than the rule.

I’m not sure there is anyone in the business other than Berger that could put together such a diverse collection of talent like this and still make it be accessible to populist audiences, and that’s really a shame. Although Mystery In Space is definitely readable, it’s Ghosts that’s the real star here, with a wide range of fantastic horror tales by the likes of Joe Kubert, Al Ewing, Phil Jimenez, Paul Pope, Gibert Hernandez, & Paul Pope. Almost every story is a winner, but the real standout might be “Ghost For Hire”, by Geoff Johns & Jeff Lemire.

2. 2000 AD/Judge Dredd Megazine, edited by Tharg (Rebellion)

1812Although my friends at the 2000AD forums will be undoubtedly livid with me for dropping their beloved Prog a notch this year, I feel it’s justified. There were just one too many clunkers in the pages of England’s greatest comic for me to give it the top spot this year. There were obviously more great stories than not, but it seemed that for every fantastic Day Of Chaos or Lowlife strip, there were a dozen near-misses like Brass Sun, or even outright stinkers like Cry Of The Werewolf or ABC Warriors.   But when it hit, it hit very hard indeed.

I’m not sure that people on this side of the pond really appreciate exactly what 2000AD is. We’re talking 32 pages. Every single week. With four stories in each issue. Featuring a myriad of artists and writers that are at least the equal (and in many cases a little more equal) than those we see in the pages of DC or Marvel comics each month. With adventure stories that always seem to just a little fresher, just a little more exciting, and just a little bit better, than the fare that the Big 2 seems to be forcing down our eyeballs these days. Highlights this year for me were the most ambitious Judge Dredd strip of all time (and that’s saying something), Brendan McCarthy’s Zaucer of Zilk (more on that later), and a new Simping Detective strip by Simon Spurrier.

1. Dark Horse Presents, edited by Mike Richardson (Dark Horse)

17997At less than 10 cents a page, this is easily the best value for the money on the stands right now. The fact that it’s one of the most enjoyable monthly reads I can think of is gravy. And with creators like Paul Chadwick, Mike Mignola, Brandon Graham, Evan Dorkin, Paul Pope, Carla Speed McNeil,Richard Corben, Jill Thompson, Peter Hogan, Geof Darrow, Steve Niles, Eric Powell, Stan Sakai, Duncan Fegredo, Sam Kieth, & Harlan Ellison contributing regularly, it’s mighty tasty gravy indeed.

This is pretty much everything you could ever want in an anthology comic. It’s got action, romance, horror, funny animals, and those are just in McNeil’s Finder stories. Does everything work? Of course not. But it’s rare misses were far outweighed by hits like The Creep, Resident Alien, and everything that Richard Corben did. For me, every issue feels like an event. There is no theme that’s obvious, no agenda that’s on display, other than to make great, well-rounded comics. And these are great, well-rounded comics indeed. If I had to pick a favourite from this year’s crop of stories, it would be John Arcudi’s The Creep (more on that later), but for me it’s really the total experience of this book that I love.

Once a month I can flip through 80+ pages of creative, exciting comics for less than $8. If that’s not the recipe for incredible comic book making, I don’t know what is.

Next up: Best Collections, Translations, and Reprints