2o1o in a Shortbox: The Best of the Year

The Oscars were last night, so here's the best comics I read last year. Pretty simple.

The deal is: To qualify, a work must be comics and must have become publicly available in its entirety, in English, and for the first time, either in print or on the web, between 1/1/1o and 12/31/1o. The selections are presented by category, but not in any ascending or descending order.

"Superman: Earth One"
written by J. Michael Straczynski(@straczynski); drawn by Shane Davis
Like a Hollywood action movie, the first of the "Earth One" graphic novels delivered on action, excitement, and most importantly: gravitas. A 'superhero in the real-world' story for the first half and a classic, smart, grandiose superhero/supervillain battle for the second half with strong character work throughout.

"To Teach: The Journey, in Comics"
drawn by Ryan Alexander-Tanner (@ohyesverynice); adapted from a prose-book by Bill Ayers(@BillAyers)
A documentary-comic, Alexander-Tanner deftly cartoon-ed his way through Ayers' theories about education to clear, informative, humorous, and, occasionally, thrilling effect! Truly it is a work that any aspiring teacher should read. Quite a few healthy life lessons in general are spelled out on its pages.

written and drawn by Doug TenNapel (@TenNapel)
If "Earth One" is the 'action flick' and "To Teach" the 'documentary,' this is the 'animated movie'. A fully-realized world of familiar archetypal Halloween characters used and combined in unexpected ways, portrayed with fine cartooning and lush coloring. Some pages are laugh-out-loud funny (although some jokes are childish 'potty' humor), while other pages are truly moving. The words AND the pictures are moving, both in concert and separately. (I don't play the numbers game, I list no 'number 1' graphic novel here, but if I did...)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVELLAS (under 100 pages)
"Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale"
written by Zack Whedon(@ZDubDub); drawn by Chris Samnee(@ChrisSamnee)
Truly beautiful and truly unique is this 'life flashing before his eyes' sketch of the television/film/comics character Shepherd Book. The overlapping phrases and motifs that run through the life of the main character serve as bullet-points by which the reader is allowed to drop into further and further back stages of Derrial Book's life.

"Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City"
written and drawn by Brendan Leach (@iknowashortcut)
Sharp drawing and even sharper writing makes this strange comic an exciting and engrossing reading experience. Brotherhood and the passing from one era into another are its themes, the ink-lines combined with ink-washes make for a glowing, bleary, period-accurate feeling. Not to be over-looked is the awesome faux-newspaper-front-page that makes the comic's cover.

"Falling for Lionheart"
written and drawn by Ilias Kyriazis (@IliasKyriazis)
The 'indie- film' comic for the year. (Okay, that analogy's done with now, I promise) Emotional, but with action, sex, and humor; alternative lifestyles are presented as well as mainstream ones; comics is depicted as a medium capable of expressing emotion within the narrative, "Falling for Lionheart" is among the finest graphic novellas I have ever read. And furthermore, it uses different visual art styles to VERY smart narrative effect.

"Portrait of the Cartoonist as a Woman" on NarrativeMagazine.com
written and drawn by Liza Donnelly (@lizadonnelly)
Human and honest, like the best memoir comics are, these 32 pages speak volumes about childhood, womanhood, body issues, sexism, motherhood, and creative energy. The inherent sweetness of the small moments ("I was launched as a cartoonist. ... And most importantly, I made my mother laugh.") support a sense of life and narrative.

"Bullseye: Perfect Game" #1 and #2
written by Charlie Huston(@CharlieHuston); drawn by Shawn Martinbrough
This clever short series tells of murder on the baseball diamond. A certain supervillain-assassin masquerading as a home-town baseball player to carry out a hit. A big baseball fan solves the murder and narrates the story to the reader while walking around an apartment. Only at the last page, does the POV shift and we see that the baseball fan has been talking to a certain superhero.

"Phantom: Unmasked" #1 and #2
written by Martin Powell; drawn by Hannibal King
Again, this series' strength lay in a unique POV: the sultry, intelligent, hard-as-nails, lady private investigator Laughton Brice hired to find The Phantom, through which we see 'The Ghost Who Walks' anew! (The character of The Phantom has been around since 1936.) The Ghost Who Walks never even makes a clear physical appearance until more than halfway through the first issue, only shadows and stories. And, to boot, the courageous choice a character makes in the second issue tops it off nicely.

Seriously, these are both worth checking out and only two issues-long. Ask your retailer for where you might find them. I have little doubt most American retailers didn't sell many of these two series AT ALL.

"Metal" from "Northlanders" #30, #31, #32, #33, and #34
written by Brian Wood(@brianwood); drawn by Riccardo Burchielli
One of the best stories of any medium was told last year in Brian Wood's series "Northlanders". Cross-cultural viking-era action/romance. Unique, smart, and cool.

BEST INDIVIDUAL ISSUES (either from a mini or ongoing series)
"41" from "Daytripper" #4
written and drawn by Fabio Moon(@fabiomoon) and Gabriel Bá(@Gabriel_Ba)
A tremendously emotionally affecting chapter in the haunting life of Bras, the main character of the series by those talented brother comicsmiths: Moon and Bá. The loss of a father, the birth of a son, and the moment in life at which a precarious level of security-like adulthood is attained... then swept away like all the others.

"M.I.A." Parts 1, 2, and 4 from "DMZ" #51, #52, and #54
written by Brian Wood(@brianwood); drawn by Riccardo Burchielli
Matty Roth, the main character of Wood's long-running futuristic love-letter to NYC, makes some achingly hard decisions to regain his lost honor. LOOK at that cover on the last issue of the arc!

"Collective Punishment" one of five: "five hours under fire" from "DMZ" #55
written by Brian Wood(@brianwood); drawn by Andrea Mutti
A shocking, smart, compact story about the horrors of war, both the ones perpetrated on human bodies and those perpetrated on human minds.

"Collective Punishment" four of five: "A Decade on the Wall" from "DMZ" #58
written by Brian Wood(@brianwood); drawn by Danijel Zezelj
A harrowing and beautiful issue narrated by the first "DMZ" character I ever encountered: the graffiti artist known as Decade Later. After imprisonment, during which he wasn't allowed to draw, this man creates a graffiti autobiography in the ruins of a New York City art gallery. Incredible.

"Electric Ant" #1 and #3
adapted from a Philip K. Dick prose novel by David Mack(@davidmackkabuki); drawn by Pascal Alixe
Crazy mind-altering sex between a self-aware organic-robot and a human... or is she? Visually stunning color and shape choices are made to represent Dick's psychedelic verbiage. Very cool.

"The Sixth Gun" #1, #2, #3, and #6
written by Cullen Bunn(@cullenbunn); drawn by Brian Hurtt
Fun, striking, exciting, funny, and unique all describe this new ongoing series. The most wonderful sound effects melt into the artwork in wonderful ways. The scope is huge, while the human-scale dangers never feel lost. The first arc's conclusion in issue #6 is perhaps the best: mostly double-page spread layouts.

"Never Say Die" from "The Shield" #10
written by Eric S. Trautmann(@mercuryeric); drawn by Marco Rudy
The surprise delight of my year. I received this issue in a pile of free comics. The superhero concept at the core of this series (American soldier is gifted with abilities by the government to better serve) is a very, very old one to which nothing new is brought here, but the characterization seems more genuine than most. The winning element is Rudy's storytelling panel layouts, which are the best I have seen since those of the supremely talented Steve Rude or J. H. Williams III.

"the brave and the bold." from "Superman/Batman" #76
written by Judd Winick; drawn by Marco Rudy
In fact, I shouldn't have been surprised by Rudy's skills as he had already shown me what he can do. More wonderful page compositions here. Judd Winick brings emotional gravitas to Superman's reaction to Bruce Wayne's death. It was also a wonderful compliment to this Batman issue...

"Batman's Last Case" from "Batman" #702
written by Grant Morrison; drawn by Tony Daniel
Despite the fact that this issue makes no sense without the context of a mini-series from two years ago ("Final Crisis") it does an excellent job of gifting that mini-series retroactively with more sense. Most specifically and remarkably it explains Batman's actions and makes them emotionally powerful: "I survived an encounter with something bigger than me".

"Grounded" Part One from "Superman" #701
written by J. Michael Straczynski(@straczynski); drawn by Eddy Barrows
Any story in which Superman is put into realistic morally complicated situations is usually interesting. Stories in which Superman is put into realistic morally complicated situations and finds a way to triumph are usually going to get me. A single issue that does that over-and-over again was guaranteed to win me over.

"Night Gods" from "The Brave and the Bold" #32
written by J. Michael Straczynski(@straczynski); drawn by Jesus Saiz
This Cthulu-inspired, genuinely scary comic, stars Etrigon the Demon and... Aquaman. Aquaman does a series of bad-ass things and Straczynski put in the effort to write all of Etrigon's dialogue in rhyming verse. All good things.

"Ladies' Night" from "The Brave and the Bold" #33
written by J. Michael Straczynski(@straczynski); drawn by Cliff Chiang(@cliffchiang)
A return to the moment-in-time just before a young heroine's defining tragedy laid out in sharp relief. Just beautiful.

"A Batman's Work is Never Done!" from "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" #17
credited as written by Sholly Fisch; drawn by Robert W. Pope
Kids' comic: Batman has a busy week. Calls his friends. Hijinks ensue.

BEST SHORTS (under 22 pages)
"Comic-Converts" on Jillian Tamaki's Sketch Blog
written and drawn by Jillian Tamaki (@dirtbagg)
It's a diary entry, a comics news report, a food review, a showcasing of friendly faces, and an ethnographic statement all at once. The mix of geek/indie, human/inhuman, private/public elements in this comic about SDCC really shows how much a comics convention can be and how much a comic can show.

reportage and photography by Seth Kushner (@sethkushner)
The way Kushner laid-out photographs here to bring the reader through a narrative while maintaining the beauty of the photographs themselves is nothing short of remarkable.

written and drawn by Nathan Bulmer (@natemorebikes)
A fun, trippy little mini-comic. Reality melts into a world of cartoony horror for one acid-tripping punk rocker. The first chunk can be read here.

BEST STRIPS (one page each)
"Angel" in OVERFLOW Magazine #6, Summer 2o1o; and on ACT-I-VATE .com here!
written and drawn by Dean Haspiel
Hapiel's work always feels RIGHT to me, but rarely so much as when the main figure of this double-page comic falls-- no SLAMS-- into the ground and the textbox reads: "I'll miss you." A pseudo-Kirby, action-representation of emotion in line and color, this may be his best work to date. (Again, I don't make this a numbers game. But if I did...)

"Flying Restrictions 1" and "Flying Restrictions 3" (The Adventures of The Man Who Can Only Fly When He's Sad) on cowbirdsinlove.com
written and drawn by Sanjay Kulkarni (@cowbirdsinlove)
I especially like 3 because it is positive and beautiful in its resolution, but 1 serves as excellent set-up. 2 left me cold by comparison. Doesn't really need to be there.

"The Tell-Tale Beat" on XKCD.com
written and drawn by Randall Munroe
A hilarious piece that reminds us that yes Randall Munroe can, in fact, draw.

"Porn For Women" on XKCD.com
written and drawn by Randall Munroe
Honesty = excellence. And, in this case, hilarity.

"Spirit" on XKCD.com
written and drawn by Randall Munroe
Oh god! I can imagine few things as simultaneously funny and horrifyingly sad. Except maybe the next webcomic:

"SuperMutant Magic Academy: Wufflefluff" on Jillian Tamaki's Sketch Blog
written and drawn by Jillian Tamaki (@dirtbagg)
Creepy, sad, but so true.

"SuperMutant Magic Academy: Pickles" on Jillian Tamaki's Sketch Blog
written and drawn by Jillian Tamaki (@dirtbagg)
Funny but also sort of sad, and feels right to me somehow.

"Domestic Men of Mystery" on JillianTamaki.com
written and drawn by Jillian Tamaki (@dirtbagg)
Father's Day, indie-webcomics style. This one is really beautiful and sad and happy and I can imagine few better ways to go out for 2o1o.

~ @JonGorga

P.S. ~
Comics that very well might have made it had I bought/read them in entirety:

"The Playwright"
"Stigmata" (in translation)
"Artichoke Tales"
(Truly, this one is in need of more attention. Amazing.)
"Market Day"

The market for graphic novels either swung wide, wide open this past year, or I just never noticed the volume already coming out. They also take a lot longer to read...

1 comment:

  1. Ooooo. Why didn't I know Andrew Rae's "Back to Earth" existed when I wrote this list??

    Read it here: