Best Comics Of 2011: Best Web/Digital Comics Of The Year

This is the first time I’ve done this category, which says more about me being an ignoramus than it does the format itself. However, due to my wife being the greatest wife in wife history and getting me an iPad for my birthday last year, and due to the fact that I’m actually writing one of these now, I now  can finally give this sub-medium the attention it deserves. A webcomic is a comic that is a) designed primarily for the internet, and is b) that’s about it. They can be one-shots, cartoons, or serial in nature. Most of the popular webcomics seem to essentially ape the old newsprint funnies format, which is 2-3 panels of set-up, and then punchline. They’re usually comedy based, with loose or non-existent continuity. In my experience, most of the popular examples of that style are pretty weak, and overly rely on a familiarity with the requisite subject matter. The one thing I’ve learned this year is that this truly is the future of comics, and that some of the work being done on the web is equal to (or sometimes better) than what’s happening in print. And best of all? Most of them are completely free.

20. BattlePugs by Mike Norton

Yes, it’s a barbarian riding a gigantic Pug. This REALLY shouldn’t work, and at first glance I thought this was another example of the overly cutesy one-note joke BS that can be found in most webcomics these days. But in truth this is a well-plotted, comedy fantasy series. The gigantic Pug is just an added bonus.


19. Bahrain: Lines In Ink Lines In The Sand by Josh Neufeld

Although relatively new to the limelight, Josh Neufeld has officially joined the ranks of professional cartoonist-journalists like Joe Sacco and Guy DeLisle. Bahrain is the story of two Bahrainian cartoonists caught on opposite sides of the ideological fence, and their  differing interpretations of the protests that happened in that country this year. Like Neufeld’s A.D. After The Deluge showed, he focuses more of the effects of large events rather than the causation of said events. In short, he focuses on smaller, more personal stories. This would have been higher in the ranks if not for it only being a one-shot 18 page piece, but it’s an extremely moving piece.

18. Touch Sensitive by Chris Ware

One of the few strips I can’t actually paste a link to, as it was created by Ware exclusively for the McSweeney’s app for the iPad. Look at me being all literary and stuff. This was a 14 page one-shot story, but I included it because a) it’s Chris Ware, and therefore: amazing, and b) it’s the only comic I’ve read so far that has fully utilized tablet technology to its fullest potential, in that each page has swipeable features that add to the context of the story. Although I wouldn’t recommend anybody purchasing this story unless they’re already a fan of Ware’s work, it’s a great example of what’s possible with new digital technology.

17. Freak Angels by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield

Years from now, Freak Angels is going to be heralded as a giant in its medium, not only for it’s relatively high quality, but also for it being the frontrunner of a new business model for comics: Give away good product for free, and people will want to pay for a deluxe version of it. It’s simple, and in the case of Freak Angels, it worked. Although I can’t say I would rank it among my favourite Ellis comics, I think the sheer ballsiness of the concept more than make up for any other issues I may have with the strip. Freak Angels ended this year, but Avatar was happy enough with the success of it that they’ve got several other webcomics planned.

16. The Oatmeal by Matthew Inman

Although other comics might be higher on my list, none make me laugh out loud as much as The Oatmeal. There’s no serial story here, just random charts, graphs, and musings about grammar, air travel, and food. Inman’s sense of comedic timing is stronger than most of his comedic comic competitors, and that, combined with his simple and clear art-style, make The Oatmeal one of the sites I go to the most.

15. Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover

Tobin and Coover have been getting a lot of attention in the superhero world in recent years, but they’re still setting time aside to tell the type of small, quirky stories that they each do so well. Gingerbread Girl is a character study of Annah Billips, a cute bisexual hipster who can’t decide whether or not she likes boys or girls, and in fact can’t even decide whether or not she’s crazy or sane. It’s a cute story, and Coover’s clean, classic art style is a breath of fresh air for those of us sick of overly dense comic storytelling.

14. Godsend by Jesse Bausch and Meg Gaundy

One of the most ambitious strips on the list, Godsend is about what happens when a prophecy fails, even though it’s absolutely essential that the prophecy comes true. That’s the dilemma posed to Jaime and Simon, the heroes of this strange and charming little comic. As with many of these strips, seeing if the creators can capitalize on a brilliant premise is half the fun of going back to it every week. So far so good.

13. Hard Graft by Peter Vine, German Erramouspe, and Jule Rivera

A look at present day Afghanistan, as seen through the eyes of two mercenaries and a photojournalist. This isn’t perhaps as polished as some of the other strips on this list, but it is getting better with every panel, and the commitment to accuracy and quality is obvious with every page. Fans of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country would be well served by this ambitious strip.

12.  The Loneliest Astronauts by Kevin Church & Ming Doyle

This is the story of Dan and Steve. They are astronauts. All of the rest of their crew is dead. They are coping. Barely. And hilariously. This strip ended in November, in a depressing and funny way, which pretty much sums up the way I feel about the whole thing. The strip managed to be humorous, poignant, and nihilistic all at the same time.

11. Old City Blues by Giannis Milonogiannis

As a futuristic big city cyberpunk police-thriller, Old City Blues is hardly original in concept (see I Robot, Judge Dredd, Blade Runner). But in execution, its first rate. While the writing and plotting are fairly generic, it’s Milongiannis’ beautiful black and white action art which is the real star of this show. You may find more original webcomics out there right now, but you won’t find many that look this good.

10. Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill

This one is cheating a bit as it’s not available online anymore. However, the web was its first home, and you can now buy it as a paperback from First Second books. It’s the story of Neal Barton, a young boy who wants nothing more than to read the latest installment of his favourite fantasy series: The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde.Unfortunately, Christian fundamentalists, having heard that kids are actually reading for pleasure (GASP!) want the book banned from the library in Americus due to its immoral content and heresy, and so it’s up to Neal to fight back against the forces of censorship and intolerance. Although a little sanctimonious at times, Americus is a story that more than anything glorifies the simple act of reading for pleasure. Highly recommended for kids.

9. Axe Cop by Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle

Axe Cop is the story of well….Axe Cop. He’s a cop that has an axe. He is joined by his partner Flute Cop (spilled dinosaur blood turns him into Dinosaur Soldier, but then an avocado and Uni-Baby’s misplaced horn turn him into Uni-Avocado Soldier. He returns to being Flute Cop, only to become Ghost Cop, Drag-Tri-Ghostacops Rex, and Viking Cop), Uni-Baby (a baby with a unicorn horn), Sockarang (he has socks for arms. They can be thrown like boomerangs), and Wexter (a Tyrannosauraus Rex with Gatling guns for arms) on their mission to fight evil. That’s it. Now, if that sentence didn’t convince you to go out and buy a thousand copies, then I think you’re a communist. On the surface, Axe Cop is the gimmickiest of gimmicks: a comic written by a six-year-old boy. When you dig deeper though, you realize that it’s really the ultimate tribute to pure imagination, unfettered by logic, by rationality, or by the rules of storytelling. Ethan Nicolle should be commended for taking the random musings of his younger brother and turning them into a true work of art.

8. World Of Hurt by Jay Potts

It’s tempting to dismiss World Of Hurt as a simple parody, but it’s anything but. What it really is, is an homage to a genre that gets paid tribute to often, but rarely as lovingly and painstakingly as it is here: Blaxploitation. The strip deals with the continuing adventures of Isaiah “Pastor” Hurt, street-savy hero-for-hire who regularly battles drug-dealers, revolutionaries, and corrupt cops in an effort to keep his streets clean, while trying to make a living by doing so. The dichotomy of Potts using 4 panel techniques used by the likes of Milt Canniff and  Alex Raymond in the 1930s and 1940s, while telling stories based on a genre made popular in the 1970’s should be unsettling, but it really works. Potts sense of timing, and his talent at storytelling is improving with every story arc.

7. Cura Te Ipsum by Neal Bailey And Dexter Wee

Imagine that you’re not alone in the universe. Imagine that you discover that there are numerous versions of you, in numerous permutations of what you consider to be reality. Then imagine that one of those versions is the worst villain in the history of the world, and that he wants nothing more than to destroy the very fabric of the universe as we know it, and it’s up to you to stop him. That is the premise of Cura Te Ipsum, and it’s a great one. Intrigued? Of course you are. Ambition is the watchword for this strip. Bailey and Wee have created a large, epic canvas on which to tell their alternate reality-hopping adventure, and it’s one that seems to be only growing in scope with every panel and page. And although I keep expecting the strip to collapse under its own weight one of these days, it only seems to be getting better and bigger. It’s an action-packed sci-fi thriller, in the truest sense.

6. Nathan Sorry by Rich Barrett

On 9-11, Nathan Sorry was supposed to die. He didn’t. This is the story of what he did after, and why he made the choices he did. Ostensibly a 9-11 story, what Nathan Sorry is really about is consequences. It’s a political thriller of sorts, but the thrills come more from the well-developed characters and their small-town dramas than they do any over-arching political message. It’s more Robert Ludlum than Tom Clancy in its approach to highs and lows, but fans of well-crafted comic books would be well-served by this smart, engaging ne0-noir.

5. Lady Sabre And The Pirates Of The Ineffable Aether by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett

Pirates. Steampunk. Pretty girls. I doubt you need more than those three things to create a great comic, but to Lady Sabre Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett also add great characters, smart tension, and some of the best art you’ll see in comics at all this year. We’re starting to see more comic veterans follow Warren Ellis’ Freak Angels business model (give away the webcomic for free, then charge for the collections and merchandise), and Lady Sabre is proving to be an excellent example of what A list talent can do with the burgeoning sub-medium of webcomics.  I can honestly say that there isn’t a better looking webcomic out there right now. Burchett seems to be relishing the opportunity to show what can he do to a new audience, and every new page of this strip is a revelation in how to build an evocative fantasy adventure.

4. The Abaddon by Koren Shadmi

The Abaddon starts with a man named Ter. He knocks at the door of an apartment, looking for a new home. He’s welcomed graciously by the residents, but we find out quickly that mystery abounds. Not only do the residents not seem to know anything about the place they are living in, or how they got there, but even Ter himself doesn’t have any recollection of how he arrived, or even what his real name is.  To create real mystery, you must create real tension, and Shadmi weaves tension like a spider. Every panel strengthens the characters, and every line of dialogue enhances the mystery. The art is bold and unconventional, and it’s absolutely perfect for setting the tone that Shadmi is going for here. If you love a great mystery, this needs to be a regular stop of yours.

3. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

 Rather than a continual serial story, Hark! is a series of unrelated strips, ranging from one panel to several pages. The subject matter ranges from pop culture, to politics, to literary fiction, but the main focus here is on history. Or if you’d like, making fun of history. Kate Beaton’s got a knack for finding the humour in pretty much everything, or to put it more accurately, creating humour out of pretty much everything. Although a lot of the work is slightly absurdist in nature, there’s an intelligent grasp of the inherent silliness in how seriously we take our selves, and how seriously we take our history. What I love most about Beaton’s work is how much it demands of the reader. If you don’t know the historical events she’s lampooning, you won’t get the joke. Same deal if you haven’t read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. There were a lot of great Hark! strips this year, but my personal favourite might be Beaton’s take of what famous books might be about going only by their Edward Gorey covers.

2. The Abonimable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl

Kerschl is Stewart’s studio partner, though the only real similarity between the two of them is a constant commitment to quality. While Sin Titulo is a tight thriller, Charles Christopher is a meandering fantasy, and a beautiful one at that. Charles Christopher is, in fact, a sasquatch. Or a yeti. Kerschl never actually says, and that’s ok. He lives in a forest with a multitude of talking animals, who all have their own dramas and subplots. The strip jumps between the adventures of Charles himself, the denizens of the forest, and flashbacks involving Vivol, a bear that serves as an elder statesman of sorts for the strip. Although Kerschl is taking his time at unraveling some of the comics secrets, the journey he takes you on while getting there is the real reason I love this strip as much as I do.

1. Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart

Stewart is getting a well-deserved reputation in the big leagues for his work on books like Batman & Robin, but Sin Titulo is where his heart is, despite the inconsistent updates. Here’s the plot: When going through his estranged dead grandfather’s personal belongings, a man discovers a picture of his grandfather with a beautiful young woman that he’s never seen before. Intrigued, he goes to his grandfather’s grave, only to see the same woman there. And the mystery begins. What ensues is one of the most compelling, complex, and sometimes convoluted mysteries I’ve read in comics this year. Stewart has said that his prime inspiration here was the TV series Lost. He wanted to create a narrative that had numerous seemingly unsolvable mysteries attached to it. He’s accomplished that, in spades. The only question now is whether or not he can deliver on the promise to actually shed some light on the previous 150 pages of weirdness and strangeness. If he does, he’ll have accomplished no mean feat: The best long form web comic to date.

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 56: Marvel Comics – Spider-Man Part 2!

Spider-Man: The JMS years

Because his run ended in scandal and controversy, it’s tempting to dismiss all of J. Michael Straczynskis long tenure on Spider-Man as disposable. Far from it. In fact, it’s JMS’ run that got me back reading Spider-Man after years and years away from the book. People forget that before JMS, Spider-Man was a floundering stunt book full of clones, death, and sadness, and featured every dumb gimmick Marvel could think of to bolster sales. JMS went back to basics on the character, but also attempted to add some depth to his origin. Peter Parker as avatar of a long dead Spider-God might not have taken off with the masses the way Marvel hoped, but they’ve had worse ideas over the years, and the concept garnered some great stories. And some terrible ones.

Amazing Spider-Man – Coming Home, Revelations, Until The Stars Turn Cold, The Life & Death of Spiders, Unintended Consequences, Happy Birthday, The Book Of Ezekiel

This run started off with a huge bang. JMS introduces Morlun, a new addition to Spidey’s rogues gallery, and one that was perfect as a starting point for what the writer was trying to accomplish in his run. JMS is known as a fairly talky writer, and to his credit he counteracted that by putting together one of the great Spider-Man battles as his first order of business. And not only is there plenty of action, but there’s also plenty of attention being paid to characterization. No, it’s not the same Peter Parker stumbling through personal problem after personal problem that we know and love. This Parker is starting to get his shit together. And we love him for it. After Morlun, comes the big reveal: Aunt May finds out that Peter is Spider-Man. And so we get several years of poignant character moments between those two icons that we’d never been privy to before, simply because of one simple change to the status quo.Also? Funny. Really funny. JMS’ Spidey isn’t quite as quippy as previous incarnations have been, but the laughs are subtle, and frequent. Oh, and John Romita Jr turns in some of the greatest art he’s ever done. And this is a guy who turns in great art the way you turn in your parking pass at work. It’s a regular occurrence. In short, the first 7 trades of this run are pretty much magic.

Amazing Spider-Man: Sins Past, Skin Deep, New Avengers, Spider-Man – One More Day, The Other, Back In Black

And then one day the magic died. I’m not sure whether or not it was John Romita leaving the book, the heavy-handed interference from Marvel EIC Joe Quesada, or something else that caused the not-so-gradual decline of this book, but decline it did. It was obvious by this point that JMS’ heart wasn’t in the comic anymore, and Sins Past was just the first of many terrible creative decisions. Mistake number one: Introducing two new villains as the long-lost love children of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osbourne. Stacy is a much-loved character in the Marvel canon, so much so that her 1973 death is considered the official end of the Silver Age of comics. To retcon her into a needy whore with daddy issues enraged fans and critics alike. And worst of all, it wasn’t a good story. And that was just beginning of two years worth of terrible decisions: Peter joins The Avengers. Peter tells the world his secret identity. Peter makes a deal with Satan to nullify his marriage with the love of his life in order to save the life of a woman near death anyways. Nah, that last one would never happen. Oh, wait. It did? Crap. As I said, it’s obvious from the quality of this dreck that JMS was under the gun here, and that he was essentially under orders for a lot of this. And since he’s written some fine comics since then he can be forgiven. But the end of this run was where a lot of long-time Spidey fans jumped off the book, and judging from recent sales numbers, they never came back.

CULL

Spider-Man – Tangled Web Vol. 1-4

This was a series that ran concurrently with a lot of JMS’ run, and man is it ever missed. Basically the premise of this is that it’s an anthology series, featuring stories both short and long, that fit neatly into the Spider-Man mythos, but don’t always star Spider-Man. And to top it off, if features plenty of indie and top creators that aren’t always known for their take on superheroes.And so you get fantastic, quirky little Spider-Man stories by people like Duncan Fegredo, Garth Ennis, Greg Rucka, Eduardo Risso, Paul Pope, Peter Milligan, Brian Azzarello, Sean Phillips, Darwyn Cooke, Kaare Andrews, and Ted McKeever. Now, this book isn’t for those who need continuity and punch-ups to pervade every page of their comics. But if you love short, stand-alone superhero stories by unconventional creators, you’re not going to get much better than this.

KEEP

Spider-Man: Blue by Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb

This was from a brief moment a decade ago where the pairing of Loeb and Sale could do no wrong. Every publisher wanted them to work their magic on character after character. It’s popular now to trash Jeph Loeb for every thing he’s written in the last 5 years. But his work with Sale still stands up. For the most part. This is a small story about Peter Parker reminiscing about the first love of his life, Gwen Stacy. And so there is plenty of over-the-top schmaltz, but it’s good schmaltz, and quite frankly it’s the stuff than Loeb writes the best. But as pretty much everything that Loeb and Sale did together, it’s Tim Sale that isn’t just the real star, he’s the whole damn thing. I don’t think I could name 5 mainstream artists that are operating at the level that Sale is at, and this is a great example of his finest work. As a Spider-Man story, I can’t say that it’s particularly engaging. But as an example of one of the best writer-artist partnerships of the last 20 years, it’s pretty much essential.

KEEP

Spider-Man – Kraven’s Last Hunt

This is the greatest Spider-Man story ever told. Or at least that’s the conventional wisdom. And for once, I agree with conventional wisdom. This story, originally done in the late 1980’s, stars Kraven, a Spider-Man villain who never really fulfilled his promise as a bad guy. Although he always had a great look, he was a fairly one-note character. That is, until J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck got ahold of him. This is really his story, and it’s the story of a dying man. Nothing is wrong with him per se, but he’s at the end of his life, and he knows it. And so he wants to do one last thing: Destroy Spider-Man. Not kill, though that’s part of it. Destroy. And for Kraven, destroying your greatest enemy means becoming him. And he does.

This, my fine friends, is one of the great ones. One of the true, epic superhero stories that give you faith in a genre famous for telling truly epic stories. And it stands up so well. Even though it’s 25 years old by now, it would still kick the ass of 99% of the superhero comics out right now in terms of emotional impact, and in terms of pure entertainment.

KEEP

Spider-Man: Fever 

Ok, here’s what you do. Grab a Spider-Man comic. Any one, really. Ok, start reading. Now, smoke a carton of cigarettes. I’ll wait. Done? Ok, now here’s a thermos full of whiskey, beer, and coffee, and I’m going to need you drink that in one shot. Oh, and I’m going to need to inject your eyeballs with heroin and speed.

Now you know what reading Brendan McCarthy’s Fever is like. It’s a trippy mindfuck to end all trippy mindfucks, and it’s more about paying tribute to 1960’s Steve Ditko Doctor Strange comics than it is about telling a solid superhero story. If you love batshit crazy indie comics (and I do), then this book is for you. And only for you.

KEEP

Next up: Spider-Man and his little buddies!

What I learned at Emerald City Comicon

I’m not a big comic con person. I’ve been to San Diego’s famed convention a few times, but haven’t been to many other than that. In fact, despite the subject matter of my blog, I’m not really a comic book geek at all, or at least in terms of sharing a lot of the “truisms” that comic book geeks are supposed to have. Most of my friends don’t read comic books, I don’t play video games, and I watch as many independent art-house films as I do  big budget sci-fi films. I also have personal hygiene, have basic social interaction skills, and have actually known the touch of a woman. Ha! I kid because I love.

 

The shoes my wife bought while I was at the comic con

But I do love comic books. I love them, and I love talking about them, and I’m even working on writing them. And so I trekked down to Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon yesterday, along my good friend and writing partner, Jay. My wife came along for the ride, but spent the day shopping, and ogling the good-looking shoe sales guys at Nordstroms.

As I’ve said, I’ve been to the San Diego Comic Con several times, and while I found it exciting, I can’t say it did much for me from a comic book perspective. I did get  some nice sketches, and saw some crazy movie panels, but it’s not creator friendly, and to be honest it’s a little soul crushing. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Emerald City was quite comic book focused, and at least from my perspective, seemed to be a lot more creator friendly than San Diego is. Geek culture was prevalent, however, in that there was lots of cosplay, lots of people who still can’t over the fact that Firefly was cancelled, and excessive line ups for TV “stars” that aren’t famous enough to even make the janitorial crew at the medical centre where Celebrity Rehab is filmed.

 

Random character that I don't care about.

We went just for one day, and kept to the convention floor for the most part.There were panels, and while many of them were comic book themed, they mostly consist of the following: Disgruntled Fan: “I love (insert obscure character’s name here. It could be Superman. Or Wolverine. Or the Golden Pretzel. Doesn’t really matter).”  “I don’t like that you did (insert random character event here. It’s usually death. Or turning the character gay. Or a combination of the two) to him. Since my world view is so narrow, I thought that rather than voting with my dollar and supporting different comics created by talented creators that don’t necessarily succeed or fail on the whims of billion dollar multi-nationals, and since I really only want to read about the adventures of 70-year-old marketing franchises, I’ve decided to come here and complain to you, even though you have tried to revitalize (insert character here) a dozen times to no avail, and tell you that not only that everything you have done to this point sucks, but also to tell you that everything you are planning on doing in the future sucks, and also that ideas that you haven’t even formulated in your brain suck.” Editor-in-Chief: Good question! We love (insert character here), and trust me when I tell you that we’re planning great things with (insert character here) but I can’t quite tell you about them yet, mostly because everything we’ve ever done with that character has failed miserably, and because anytime we try anything new, you shit all over us, and so now we’re terrified of change, even though we need it in order to survive in the long-term.  We hope to have announcements at (insert upcoming comic convention held in more important city) regarding (insert character here), although you and I both know that any new thing that we do with that character will be ignored by the next poor creative team that we somehow convince to take over the thankless task of babysitting our increasingly fickle fan base.  Good question!” 

 

 

Apparently, this guy was Indiana Jones.

And so it goes. As I said, Jay and I spent the day on the floor, except for a brief spell where Jay decided to stalk the guy  who played Indiana Jones. No, not that guy. The other one. No, not that one. The guy you’ve never heard of. Right.

I brought in a few books to get signed by creators that I knew were going to be there, but line-ups deterred me from following through on this for the most part. They weren’t that long, I just didn’t feel like standing in them. However, I did get books signed by Matt Kindt, Ethan Nicolle, and Ben Templesmith, so it still worked out all right. Jay is better than this than I am, mostly because a) he has freaky luck in picking the exact moment where no one else is bothering the person, and b) he’s actually a friendly, engaging person that people aren’t terrified of when he says hi. So he’s very much unlike me, and 98% of the rest of the people who go to these things. And so he got signatures by Greg Rucka and Geof Darrow.

In terms of original art, I got a nice little sketch of Hellboy by the writer/artist of Icarus, Ryan Cody. The big prize for me was buying an original piece of art from 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man, by one of my current favourite creators, Matt Kindt. Jay won out on this as well, as he commissioned Matt to do a truly amazing piece for him. Jay picked Indiana Jones as the subject, and so Matt complied and the results were incredible.

I also picked up a few books, but it was a relatively small haul: The awesome little BPRD – Hell On Earth: Seattle comic that Dark Horse produced just for this con; the first issue of Officer Downe by Joe Casey; Casey’s Godland TP’s Vol. 4 & 5; a really interesting little sci-fi graphic novel

Godland, baby!

called Jan’s Atomic Heart by Canadian Simon Roy;  Two The Incredibles trades by Mark Waid; The Solomon Kane: Death’s Black Riders TP (I also got writer Scott Allie to sign this); the TP of a mini called Olympus, also signed by writer Nathan Edmondson; the first issue of Icarus, signed by creator Ryan Cody; and a copy of Mephisto And The Empty Box, which is the only graphic novel by Matt Kindt that I didn’t own. Awesome for me!

Probably the most valuable thing I got in Seattle was information. I’m currently writing my own comic books with my writing partner Jay, and so we went to Seattle with the goal of trying to talk to as many writers and creators we could, just about their experiences and recommendations. We had some awesome talks, and here are some highlights:

Oni Press Booth – In terms of the bigger companies, these guys were the most helpful, and the most engaging. The guy running the booth really went out of his way to talk to us, and gave us the low down on some my favourite Oni titles, like the Sixth Gun, Wasteland, Stumptown, and Guerillas. According to him, putting out books on time is his top focus this year, and so their new policy is not to solicit books that aren’t completely done.  Also had a short talk with Brian Hurtt, artist of the Sixth Gun, and he told us that the book is on track, and that they’re continuing to work on it for the forseeable future.

Top Shelf – I’m a fan of Top Shelf in general, and although they’re small, I think that they put out a nice cross-section of stuff. I asked about when the next installment of League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen was coming out, and was told this summer for sure. Uh huh. Had a nice conversation with J.D. Arnold, the writer of BB Wolf And The 3 LP’s, about the blues, and the incredible art work of Rich Koslowski. The only negative thing about this booth was that when both Jay and I complained that both copies of a book that we own are falling apart, we were given explicit instructions as how to fix it ourself. No offer to exchange the book, or refund our money, but rather a how-to guide on book binding. Good if you’re a 19th century homesteader, I guess, but not what we were looking for.

Dark Horse, and DC –  Meh. Not much going on here, and I’m not really sure why they bothered putting up booths.

The Image booth – This was probably the most fun we had at the con. Had some really great conversations with people like John Layman (the writer of Chew), Nathan Edmonson (the writer of The Light, and Who Is Jake Ellis?, and Jay Faerber (writer of Noble Causes, and what looks to be a really interesting new crime book called Near Death), and Jim Zubkavitch (writer of Skullkickers). I think that working these kinds of things can be hell for up and coming creators, and so the impression we got is that they enjoyed talking to people who actually knew and appreciated their work. Got some great tips on networking and writing, and some cool peeks into what they were working on in the future.

We also spent some time talking with Cameron Stewart, the creator of Sin Titulo. He confirmed what had been reported by Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool.com, that he will probably be putting out Sin Titulo in hardcover form sometime in 2012. Very friendly and engaging guy. He also seemed to appreciate talking to people who have read something that was so obviously near and dear to his creative heart.

Probably the most rewarding time we spent there was in talking to the writer/artist Matt Kindt. Both Jay and I are big fans of his, and seeing him be so kind and generous with his time was awesome. He told us a bit about some of the projects that he’s working on, including an upcoming spy comic for Dark Horse, and a sequel of sorts to Super Spy.

So all in all, a rewarding trip. Although I did like the comic book focus, I was still surprised at how few small comic publishers were there. I know it’s Seattle, and the little guys probably have to be pretty choosy which cons they go to, but still. That being said, it was still great to see so many people enjoying the medium I love.

 

 

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 9: DC Comics – Doctor 13 to Gotham Central

Doctor 13 - Architecture & Mortality

Doctor 13 is an old DC character from the 60’s that doesn’t make a lot of sense in a world full of superhumans, magicians, and god-like entities: He’s a skeptic. Now, I consider myself to be an amateur skeptic of sorts; in that the only way I would believe in people with super-powers, is if one of them flew down to my house and crapped on my new carpet. So you can see why I would identify with him. But how can you be a skeptic in a world full of magic? When the evidence of the existence of the paranormal slaps you in the face every single day? That’s what Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang try to answer here. This is honestly one of the weirdest things DC has published in recent memory, and I love it.

Brian Azzarello is usually known for his hardboiled crime fiction, but he turns in a fun, completely absurdist piece here that isn’t like anything he’s ever done. Cliff Chiang is one of the very few modern day pencillers whose work is strong enough to get me to buy a book just for the art, and he outdoes himself here. I will definitely say that this isn’t for everybody (a good friend of mine looked at a few pages of this book and said that it was the most ridiculous piece of comic book art he’s ever seen. And he likes Frank Miller), but if the idea of talking Nazi Gorillas teaming up with gay vampires and 30th Century plague carriers to convince Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison not to write them out of continuity sounds like your bag, give this a shot. It’s pure, absurdist comic book fun. Also should mention that this has one of the best last pages to a comic story that I can remember.

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Flash And Green Lantern - Brave And Bold.

Whew! Finally some characters you’ve heard of. These two are familiar to pretty much everybody, and for good reason. They’re 2 of DC’s ‘Big 5″ characters, although you wouldn’t know it by the way DC treats them sometimes. This is a flashback story, delving into the early friendship between Barry (the original Silver Age Flash, then was killed by the Anti-Monitor. Then Wally West who used to be Kid-Flash became Flash, and at first everyone hated him but then Mark Waid wrote him and people started to like him, but then for some reason they made Impulse  the new Flash. He’s actually Barry Allen’s grandson from the far future, but then he died, and now for some reason Barry Allen is back even though Wally West is a more interesting character but for some reason DC seems to think that the best way to deal with poor sales is just by rebooting everything back to 1975) Allen and Hal (was the original Silver Age Green Lantern, but then went evil and killed a lot of people and then he died, but then came back to life, and then died again. And then he became God’s Spirit Of Vengeance, which is an ok gig if you’re retired I guess, but then he came back to life yet again, and now he’s back to being Green Lantern again) Jordan. Yes.

This was nicely written. Mark Waid goes back into the Silver Age era he knows so well, but adds nuance and breadth to these characters that never really existed before now. In fact, a lot of what Waid did here set the groundwork for the inevitable resurrections of each character, and some of the characterization here can be found in both the current Flash & Green Lantern titles. Tom Peyer’s pencils work well with the story, and it’s overall a good read, though not essential. Please also note that despite my sizable DC collection, this is the ONLY trade I own with the Flash’s name in the title. I’ve never been a big fan of the character, though I will most likely give the rumoured omnibus of Geoff Johns run on the book a try when it comes out next year.

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Gotham Central  5 Trades (Half A Life, In The Line Of Duty, Dead Robin, Unresolved Targets, Quick and the Dead)

The commercial reaction to Gotham Central when it was on the stands sums up everything that I think is wrong with modern comic book fans: It’s extremely well-written, with complex characters and exciting action-packed scenarios. When it was being produced, it was regularly one of the most critically acclaimed series on the stands, and I can say without exaggeration that this is one of my favourite DC titles of the past decade. And nobody read it.

It’s an idea so simple you can’t believe it hasn’t been done before: What would it like to be a police officer in a world full of superheroes? I should also mention that it HAS been done before, notably with Brian Bendis and Mike Oeming’s brilliant Powers series. But this was the first time it had been done with heroes we know. What would it be like to work 6 months on a case and then have a 14-year-old in tight shorts come in and beat all of your suspects up in one night? Or to have a sociopath in a bat costume have more credibility with the citizens you’ve sworn to protect than you do? 

That’s what Gotham Central is about. It’s the story of Gotham City’s Major Crime Unit: A group of detectives hand-picked by Commissioner Gordon to take on the city’s worst problems. It was originally co-written by two of my favourite contemporary writers: Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker. There were different artists, though Michael Lark was the initial and primary penciller on the book.

I consider this book to be a gateway drug. If you only read superhero comics, but want to get an accessible look at what else is out there, try this book. If you’ve never read superhero comics, but want to see what it’s all about without having your intelligence insulted, try this book. It’s like Law And Order, if L&O had occasional cameos by Batman, but was also not boring.. I’ll also say that I would consider Half A Life (the second major arc of the comic) to be one of the finest story arcs to ever be found in a DC comic book.  

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 Next up: Some characters YOU ACTUALLY HAVE HEARD OF!!!! GREEN ARROW! GREEN LANTERN! HAWKMAN! Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. Oh, and the culling starts in earnest….

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part Eight: DC Comics – Checkmate To Deadman

I know, I know. You haven’t heard of any of these people. Where’s Superman? Where’s Green Lantern? Where’s Ambush Bug? Don’t blame me, blame whomever invented the alphabet.  So I guess Al Gore. I’ve always known that I gravitate towards lesser known characters, but doing this cull has confirmed it. For example, I have exactly one trade featuring the Flash, but I have 7 trades featuring the Question. And I wonder why no no one wants to borrow my comics. The question here is why? Why do I prefer characters like Checkmate or the Question to characters like Superman or Hawkman? I’m pretty sure the answer is flexibility. If you have a character that doesn’t have millions of dollars in licenseing fees attached to it, or isn’t the hero to millions of kids, you can do more with that character. For example, you can show Kate Spencer’s Manhunter smoke cigarettes, be divorced and kill people, but still can’t show Wonder Woman kissing a boy. Or a girl. Unfortunately.  

Checkmate 3 trades (A King’s Games, Pawn Breaks, Fall Of The Wall)

Checkmate was created as DC’s answer to SHIELD in the late 80’s, essentially a spy agency dealing specifically with superhuman problems. It never really caught on, and was used sporadically until the 2000’s, when DC started to use it heavily as part of it’s Infinite Crisis storyline. Greg Rucka, the writer of the best spy comic ever in Queen & Country, took up the reigns, and gave us a short lived, but unique and interesting take on the superhero spy genre.  I really like this book, and I’m definitely keeping it. But sometimes it tries too hard to shoehorn well known DC characters into it’s storyline, and you suspect that maybe Rucka would have been better served by removing it from DC continuity even more than he already did.

Connor Hawke - Dragon’s Blood.

This was a mini series that Chuck Dixon wrote a few years ago starring Green Arrow’s son, and unfortunately like a lot of Chuck Dixon’s stuff I forgot what it was about 5 minutes after I read it. Not a bad story, but Connor isn’t anywhere near as interesting a character as his father, and can’t really hold his own book as a lead.

CULL

Deadman - The Deadman Collection

One of my all time DC favourite characters, with pencils by one of my all time favourite DC artists. Life is good. Deadman was created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino for the Strange Adventure comic, but his strip was taken over soon after by Jack Miller and Neal Adams, and it’s Adam’s run on Strange Adventures that is still remembered today, and it’s what is collected here, in addition to some odds and ends by other writers and artists.

The character is still used by DC regularly, but it’s never quite gotten back to the brilliance of the original Adams stories. The premise is this: A trapeze artist becomes a sentient ghost after being killed during a performance. He’s given the opportunity to move on to Heaven, but only if he finds his killer. It’s like The Fugitive, but with more ghosts and less Tommy Lee Jones. He has the ability to temporarily posses living humans, and uses them as he tries to find his killer.

I love this book. I love it because the motivation for the character is so easily defined and explained. In fact, I’ve always thought Deadman would make a great episodic TV show for those reasons. The stories are tight, and self-contained, but usually have to do with Deadman trying to find the man who killed him. The art here defies description. Neal Adam’s Deadman is both terrifying and heartbreaking, and his art work here is a high mark of the bronze age of comics.

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Next up: Doctor 13, Flash, and maybe even some Green Arrow!

The Great Comic Book Cull of 2010/2011 Part Five: DC Comics – Batwoman to Black Adam

I’ve gotten a few comments commenting on how little I’m culling, as opposed to keeping. I actually culled quite a bit of Batman, probably half a shelf worth, but right now I’m finding that most of the stuff I’m reading still holds up as worth keeping. I’m trying to downsize my collection, not eliminate it, much to my wife’s dismay.

BatwomanElegy

This the collection of a short run that Greg Rucka & J.H. Williams had on Detective Comics last year, focusing on my favourite lesbian that dresses up like a bat. Sorry, Jody Foster, you’re just going to have to keep reaching for the stars.

J.H. Williams has become one of the most unique and interesting artists in comic books today, and it’s a thrill to see him on a smaller profile book like this. Even if Greg Rucka’s script wasn’t good (it is), I’d keep this just for the art. One of the the best DC books of recent years, and I’m hoping that the new upcoming Batwoman series can keep the momentum going.

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Birds Of Prey - 11 Assorted Trades.

One of the most successful DC “female” comics.  The concept is this: Barbara Gordon (Quick history: She used to be Commisioner Gordon’s daughter. Then his niece. Then his stepdaughter. Then his daughter again. She also used to be a librarian. Then a congresswoman. Then a librarian again. Somehow in the middle of all this she found time to occasionally be Batgirl, but then Joker shot her and showed her dad/stepdad/uncle naked pictures of her. She’s also now a parapalegic, which I think was the extra cherry on that particular day’s shit sundae. Now she’s called Oracle and works as an IT analyst/information broker for the superhero set.) decides to start sending her own agents out on specific missions she designates. Initially this is limited to Black Canary, but eventually other heroes (Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, etc) join in.

Chuck Dixon was the first writer on this series (orginally a series of minis), and the first two arcs of his run are collected in trade. These trades are decent, and worth keeping if only for Gary Frank’s pencil work, but the misogyny is running high in places. They take every opportunity to showcase Black Canary in skimpy, revealing outfits, and much is made of her horrible taste in men, and how she has very little control of herself around smarmy, overbearing assholes. That being said, it’s a good start to what would become a cult fave among superhero fans. Things went along at a decent pace for about 60 issues, until Gail Simone came along. She almost instantly revitalized the series, to the extent that for a while this was my favourite DC book.

The next 40 issues are a clinic in how to rebuild a character. Simone takes Black Canary from being a B level also-ran, to an A level world-class hero in just a few years. By the end of Simone’s run, Canary is one of the world’s greatest martial artists, and was soon made chairman of the Justice League. Also, this is one of my favourite martial art comic books, and there is more kung-fu asskickery in one trade of this series than a thousand Jackie Chan movies.  

This series isn’t perfect though. The art is inconsistent, especially in later trades, and you can tell that certain editorial decisions (like marrying Black Canary off) don’t sit well with Simone. She left the book soon after, and it didn’t take long for DC to cancel it. Thankfully that’s been rectified, and Gail Simone and Ed Benes are back on the book that they made famous.

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Black Adam - The Dark Age.

One of the best recent examples of character building that I can remember is DC’s 52 series. They took several forgotten or underused characters, and spent an entire year rebuilding those characters, and giving them new purpose. It stuck for the most part, and several of them have gone on to their own series. Black Adam is a prime example of how well this worked, and between 52 and it’s follow up World War 3, Adam had been set up as one of DC’s great villains. This mini dealt with the aftermath of those series, and shows Adam trying to regain both his power and his lost love. Peter Tomasi is one of DC’s stronger contemporary writers, and he crafts an emotional, and effective tale. Black Adam is such a sympathetic character that you can’t help but cheer for him, even when he’s beating the crap out of your favourite heroes. Kudos also to the great Doug Mahnke for his ever improving artwork here.

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Next up: Booster Gold. Yes, that’s his superhero name. Hey, I just review ‘em, I don’t write ‘em.