By Paul Pope, Published by First Second
Heroic monster fighting perfection from one of comics most deserving rock stars. Feels like the Saturday morning cartoons of my youth, but way, way better. Grab a bowl of cereal, sit cross-legged on the floor and read the shit out of this thing. Comics, baby, comics.
The historic 1963 March on Washington For Jobs And Freedom is told by Congressman John Lewis, who helped organize it, and cartoonist Nate Powell, author of the amazing Any Empire. This is an extraordinary work. One of the best moments for me at San Diego Comic Con this year was going to the Top Shelf booth to buy my copy and having it signed by Congressman Lewis himself. I hear all the time from comic book readers that comics should be taken seriously as an art form, then they point to slightly well thought out super heroics or clever power fantasies to illustrate this supposed legitimacy, but it’s men like Lewis and Powell who are truly exploiting the full potential of our medium. Comics excavating the history of segregation and injustice in the land of the free.
Michael DeForge brings old and new work together in his first bound book and it is fucking awesome. Luridly gorgeous, intellectually daring and uncomfortably playful. This is amazing. Read it.
This was actually released in October of 2012, but I picked it up at SDCC this year and it blew my doors off. I would be remiss if I didn’t take every opportunity to sing its praises. Harkham conveys whole oceans of meaning with great ease and creates depth with the slightest amount of information on the page. He is funny, sentimental, intellectual and profound.
***By Matt Kindt, Published by Dark Horse
The best ongoing series of 2013. Matt Kindt’s ability to turn complex ideas into engaging comics is unrivaled. Built on the back of Phillip K. Dick and John le Carré. This is just awesome stuff.
By Gene Luen Yang, Published by First Second
Two linked graphic novels, one called Boxers, the other Saints, employ separate narrative perspectives to explore the madness and massacres of China’s anti-Christian/proto-nationalist Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the last century. Aimed at a younger audience, it never-the-less manages to capture the attention of any reader.
By Ed Piskor, Published by Fantagraphics
Cartoon exploration of the birth of a musical revolution. All printed on purposefully aged paper and adorned with compromised colors to remind you of your old comics collection. The decision is a sort of nostalgic transmission through perfect medium understanding. So on top of being an outstanding comic, there is also a feel to the form itself that takes you back. Really great.
Finally, the great Zander Cannon gives us an original graphic novel. Seemingly soft, playful, humorous, pulp at its start, Heck quickly gains steam on the thematic fuel of regret and loss. It becomes a human work that relies on the burdens its characters carry for its impact instead of cheap adventure pyrotechnics. A narrative attack that should be the hallmark of any great story about a quest down to the depths of Hell.
The Legendary Gilbert Hernandez, a cartoonist I’ve been reading since my youth, hit with two books this year, the other, Julio’s Day is just as a good as this one and it was tough to choose between the two. Ultimately Marble Season, a sincere look at childhood afternoons and the beauty of young imagination, won out. Probably for sentimental reasons alone.
Funny and profound and real. Just the way I like it. A grand story of family and secrets and the cemetery that waits for us all. Amazing stuff, gorgeously drawn.
Jeff Lemire, creator of Essex County – the finest graphic novel series of the ought’s – has been doing fun and noble work at Vertigo and DC for years now. But to me, this is his best outing since Essex County itself. Perhaps it’s because he’s turned his hand to my favorite genre, science fiction (one could argue that Sweet Tooth is SciFi, but this is MY kind of science fiction). Regardless, Trillium is a fantastic achievement. Only Lemire could make an engaging comic book issue out of travelers from different epochs in time struggling to communicate with one another. Lemire’s gift is profound, and his stories are always worth reading. This happens to be one of the best of them.
Amazing, disturbing and brilliantly drawn, just like everything else by Jim Woodring. Woodring is one of my very, very favorite cartoonists. I get more from his work than I get from almost any other artist. His capacity to drag the strangest ideas from the darkest depths of his own psyche is quite literally on par with the greatest artists in any medium. Like Lynch with cinema and Kafka with words, Woodring is capable of only being and expressing himself. His influences are deeply submerged, making it seem as if his own inner anima is his sole source of inspiration. The greatest artist on this list. The best for last.
REPRINTSEdited by Scott Dunbier, Published by IDW
Jesus. Stunning. Staggering. Amazing. $162 for the hardcover. You might want to do what I did and just try to spend some time with it at a friend’s comic book shop. It’s a bank breaker. But oh my lord… it’s worth every penny if you can afford it. Cheeper than loveless sex, and almost better too. I mean, loveless sex can be pretty amazing, but it’s fleeting. This will sag your bookshelf with its delicious weight for decades.
***By Guy Peellaert, Pierre Bartier, Published by Fantagraphics
A masterpiece of comics from the bygone era of Pop Art. A gem of the medium, treated lovingly in this English reprint by Fantagraphics. Gorgeous. The kind of comics that makes a non-artist comic book writer like myself throw his hands in the air and give up on any attempt at expression in the medium. Graphic greatness. And stupid sexy too.
The infamous, absolutely insane, epic masterwork of the seventies that bridged adventure narrative and counter culture sensibilities and would eventually run for more than a thousand pages. An unsung pillar in the foundation of modern comics. Tightly packed and skirting on the edge of impenetrable, it is ultimately deeply rewarding to pour over these super dense pages.
MORE WORK OF NOTE
There was a lot of great work this year. Almost too much to cover.
Change by Ales Kot, Sloane Leong, Morgan Jeske, and Ed Brisson was ambitious and bold in its attempt to explore the most constant and prevalent human experience, impermanence and the struggle to live in a non-static universe.
Dream Thief by Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood was hilarious and driving and gorgeously rendered.
Ray Fawkes, author of the amazing One Soul, came out with his new, haunting work, The Spectral Engine.
Mike Carey and Peter Gross delved deeper into their own current Vertigo epic with the original graphic novel, The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice.
Sam Humphries and Dalton Rose’s Sacrifice was absolutely amazing.
And though I participated in the Occupy Comics series, I think the work in it from all the other artists allows me to praise it here, despite any conflict of interest.
If the thing you love isn’t listed, it probably didn’t hit my radar, or I’ve praised it in the past (I’m looking at you Hawkeye!).
Regardless. It was truly an amazing year.
Long Live comics.