We’re a bunch of culture geeks here at Loser City, which means we love nothing so much as conformity, lists, and faux definitive rankings of things. With that in mind, this month we’re bringing you our Loser City Best Ofs, lists on lists on lists of our picks for top video games, comics, and everything else, along with personal lists from our authors on the things that kept us from crying now and then during this terrible, terrible year.
Up now is our selection of the comics we loved most this year (and which you might therefore say were the best), and goddamn was it a good year for comics no matter how you break it down. What particularly entranced us this year were the lovingly constructed indie comics (no, not strictly Image) that have become all the more visible in comics thanks to digital distribution and collectives like Study Group. That’s not to say the mainstream pop comics world didn’t provide some excellent material this year (so many good works didn’t make this list from that field, like Ms. Marvel and Superior Foes of Spider-Man and Grayson and on and on) but as you’ll see below, we felt the indie world was providing the greatest leaps in the evolution of the medium. These were our writers personal picks for the top of the year, so please feel free to let us know what you would have liked to see on here.
Operation Margarine/Agent 8
By Katie Skelly
Any critical abilities I possess or distances I (try to) keep and or maintain become forfeit when either pertains to cartoonist Katie Skelly’s comics. As the kids say, I’m ‘crushin’ on Skelly’s comics right now and not a little bit, a lot of bit. Skelly’s kick-ass chicks on bad-ass bikes Operation Margarine and the low-fi sci-fi erotica of Agent 8 demonstrate her skills as a genre mix-mistress, a Spinderella of trash culture kitsch. Skelly’s work is deceptive in its simplicity and her skill to use ‘fashion’ in all of its meanings and permutations makes her an incomparable cartoonist.
On the surface Agent 8 is know-it-when-you-see-it-erotica, full stop and yet it’s a lot more positive, honest and, yes, sexier than almost any of what passes for the faux-pornography of today’s corporate comics. If there were more comics like Agent 8 where cunnilingus and fellatio go hand in hand with voyeurism and masturbation the world (and comics) would be a better place.
Operation Margarine fulfills the promise of Skelly’s first graphic novel Nurse Nurse and marks the reign of a major talent in self-publishing and independent comics. Skelly flips the script on what the reader expects from a story about the adventures of the tough girl and the troubled girl, Bon-Bon and Margarine respectively. This good and bad, light and dark duo know they can run so far before it’s time to settle scores, own their damage and begin again. The details and the depth of Operation Margarine hide in plain sight so don’t mistake simplicity for superficiality. Peter pan collars tell no lies. – Keith Silva
by Grant Morrison/Various Artists
After like eight years of hype and trickling details, Grant Morrison’s Multiversity project finally debuted late this year, and at this point we’re more than halfway through the series so it’s totally fair to name it one of the best comics of the year.
A series of 40-page one shots, each taking place in a different alternate version of the DC Universe, The Multiversity finds Morrison exploring a different subgenre of superhero comics every issue. So far, we’ve had mainstream event comics (The Multiversity #1), pulpy throwback adventures (Society of Super Heroes), youthful celebrity satires (The Just), grim & gritty realism (Pax Americana) and wholesome all-ages romps (Thunderworld Adventures) — which at this point has become the most subversive thing you can possibly do in cape comics — all of which are loosely connected through an overarching but unobtrusive plot that involves an interdimensional threat and a “haunted comic” that destroys anyone who reads it.
The standout, of course, is the Frank Quitely-illustrated Pax Americana, which reconfigures the tropes and characters that inspired Watchmen to create a commentary on the entire subgenre of comics it created — think of it as the Watchmen of Watchmen-type comics — while simultaneously highlighting and making its own what truly made Moore/Gibbons series one of the greatest of all time, the sequential storytelling. But the other big highlight of the series is The Just, which depicts every now-out-of-continuity DC superhero (a majority of whom were teens!) trapped in a world free of conflict, like the modern day version of Limbo from Animal Man.
For a Grant Morrison fan that just wants to enjoy a goddamn superhero comic free of irony or excuses, The Multiversity delivers as both a follow-up to Final Crisis and as dense doses of cape comic ideas. However, given what the rest of the superhero field looks like — editorially mangled, criminally illustrated corporate content dictated by (shall we say) older men that serves to build an audience for writers’ future Image comics — The Multiversity serves as a series of tombstones for the things we’ll never get to have anymore, because Grant Morrison is the only person who really, truly gave a fuck. – Danny Djeljosevic
by Curt Pires/Jason Copland/Pete Toms/Ryan Ferrier/Dylan Todd
I don’t really understand what the fuck a hipster is. I don’t think anyone who throws that term around does either. But if I had to throw a guess out there, I’d imagine the hatred comes from MiLOLlenials mixing their cynicism with irony, which is a pretty dangerous concept to some people. Specifically the kinds of people who are bioengineering pop stars in lab wombs in order to achieve perfect Pop Dystopia. That’s what Curt Pires and Jason Copland argue in Pop at least.
Pop was one of my favorite comics this year because it felt like a flat, saturated neon trip through the brain of a pop culture fanatic, a kind of Fifth Element musical roadtrip for people who get called hipster a lot but are always left scratching their heads over whether it’s even an insult. The main guy, Coop, is a record and comic book store owner so depressed by throwing his lot in with these two loser cultures he decides to kill himself, only to be saved by the appearance of a renegade pop sensation who falls into his arms. A bunch of frumpy old white men and some heroin chic pop assassins who may or may not be Joan Jett and Joey Ramone are in hot pursuit, so there’s a thriller edge to the work, but really, despite all the darkness Pop is exactly what it says it is, a neon-lit examination of the tolls of pop culture and our curious relationships with artists, icons and bubblegum pop stars alike. Oh, and to complete the hipsterisms, I was into it first. – Nick Hanover
by Derek van Gieson
Derek Van Gieson’s Eel Mansions is the journal entry you feverishly write down upon awakening from dreams that seemingly border between the three point intersection of nightmarish moments filled with spittle-dripping demons, your most turgid and undulating dance party romances, and the ones where you’re sharing a delicious sandwich with Edvard Munch in a dive bar along the Akerselven. It’s a series that is reminiscent of the hell-gate Porter at Inverness Castle who tells you about drink and lechery, it makes you stand to and not stand to, all accompanied by The Hit Pack singing “Never Say No To My Baby”. It is collision. It is unfathomable. It is the Eggman and the Walrus. And it is you as much as it is me. Koo-koo-kachoo.
2014 marked the end of this initial six issue series salvo, and Van Gieson concluded it with beginnings, possibilities, left-turns, right-turns, and, above all else, a kiss. He’s an artist who, with his creation, masters the art of equivocation and goes thick groove whirling down the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire while sticking his thumbs under his overalls with the confidence of the man winking in the dark. Here, it is the creator who commands the landing, and you approach it understanding that without faith there is no real art. Eel Mansions is that trust exercise waiting to catch you as you fall. It may not be gentle, but you’ll be safe in its arms. – Daniel Elkin
by Farel Dalrymple
The Wrenchies is everything. It’s sci-fi, it’s fantasy, it’s straightforward drama. It’s superheroes. It’s alt-comix. It’s meta, but also a lot more straightforward than most people appear to think. The cast is expansive and authentic; there’s a character for everyone. Its disparate influences—A Wrinkle in Time, Dostoyevsky, Wes Anderson, David Lynch, Werner Herzog—are there, worn on its sleeve, and Dalrymple himself admits to these influences. But it’s also working in the same milieu as things like Tekkonkinkreet, Beyond Thunderdome, Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Flies, and the traditional superhero comics Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
All of these things at once, yet it is somehow never like any of these things in anything more than a passing, superficial way. Darlymple is able to synthesize these influences, these modes, and coat them in the war paint of Moebius and of Nausicca and Mike Mignola. Like Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, it’s quickly consumed—readable in a single sitting—but it’s so dense, every page packed with visual cues and thematics and motifs (not to mention Farel Dalrymple’s exquisite watercolor art), that revisiting it again and again is pleasurable and serves to enrich your engagement with the work. – Shea Hennum
by Inio Asano
Before I emigrated to Loser City, I reviewed Nijigahara Holograph for Comics Bulletin. Nijigahara Holograph was so dense with ideas and featured a plot so layered that I knew I would need to reread it several times. Asano is a master at the craft of comics, and despite the fact that this release predates work like Solanin and Oyasumi Punpun, his skills are no less sharp, his cartooning no less emotionally evocative. And because Nijigahara Holograph is so heavily rooted in the horrors humanity is capable of, I was dreading the rereads as much as I was looking forward to them. It’s been nearly a year since my first reading of Holograph, and it still feels as though the only truly innocent character is the young girl who prophesied the end of the world before being sacrificed to pacify a mysterious creature living in the drainage tunnel behind her elementary school.
You see these characters at various stages of their lives as Asano flits back and forth through time, and many of them give you hope for humanity until it is revealed that they are, in fact, no better than the children who murdered their classmate. Perhaps the most haunting part of Holograph is the fact that there is no indication that the massing of butterflies that seem to herald every tragedy, the prophecy of the end of the world, or the monster in the drainage ditch behind the school is real. Asano shows us the butterflies clear as day on the page, he shows us a metal box that gleams in the sunlight that supposedly can grant a young boy a wish, and he takes us through circular paths of time, but in the end, there is no guarantee that we should take these things literally. In the end, he puts the most important question in the hands of the readers: if this is the human race at our worst, are we really worth saving? – David Fairbanks
by Anuj Shrestha
Sometimes my favorite comics are the ones where the plots are so dreamy and vague you have to focus on the art. Anuj Shrestha makes some interesting narrative turns in Genus, but Genus had me the instant I saw its cover on Study Group, a simple image of a man in a business suit with an especially sexual flower bulb for a head. There could have been anything in those pages, including a manual for growing plants in your office, and I still would have been obsessed. Images that iconic and bizarre are hard to find these days.
But luckily Genus is more than pretty covers, it’s a reverse Kafka parable, where the world is ruled by herbological monsters and you’re the weirdo. Then it becomes almost anthropological, the protagonist infiltrating the plant people and learning their ways, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers crossbred with Office Space. This year Genus reached its fourth volume and slowly doled out more info on its world and the origins of its protagonist Samir, giving Shrestha the opportunity to provide even more absurd imagery, like a kid pulling his shirt over his head for bed only to emerge as a plantboy, or a runaway plant man getting shot in a subway car, but it also unveiled its true theme, which is by letting yourself do what comes natural, you learn more about yourself. That could have been a New Age-y platitude, but it’s a meta-touch, indicating to readers that if they want to better understand this beautiful comic, they have to return to it again and again and learn its language, of suburban pollenization, of corporate uprooting, of letting your mind blossom into what it needs to be. It may help to drown some chorizo tacos in Chalula to understand this. – Nick Hanover
by Michel Fiffe
At this point, Michel Fiffe’s Suicide Squad riff COPRA has carved out its own niche in the world of self-published (“true indie”) comics, being neither a try-out piece for New Yorker cover work nor some delusional attempt to produce something that looks and feels like a mainstream comic. Thanks to critical excitement and an audience starving for a superhero comic that doesn’t reek of disdain for its own audience, COPRA can be deemed a success — so much that Fiffe scored a freelance gig writing a pretty good run on Marvel’s Ultimates and distribution to comic shops through Diamond, not to mention drawing out some player haters that can’t seem to get what the big deal is.
COPRA‘s 2014 was a short one, consisting of six issues that act as a “cool-down” after the initial twelve-part epic, each focusing on a different character. It’s risky to spend a year on what someone might callously refer to as “filler material,” but the thing about COPRA is that it always counts, fleshing out some of the many characters thrown at us during the initial run in various settings including other dimensions, the moments right after Copra #12, and, in a standout issue, a shitty small town where COPRA suddenly turns into a subdued hangout comic.
The value of COPRA is its execution as a pure comics form of a cape-themed action comic — a series of drawings that doesn’t look like it’s trying to be a movie or even trying to ape other sueprhero comics; instead, it uses the page for something visually interesting. When you see what the official Suicide Squad comic looks like, you’ll understand why we need COPRA more than ever. – Danny Djeljosevic
The Wicked + The Divine
by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Some people might look at The Wicked + The Divine and say “oh, it’s just the Britpop dudes doin’ pop as powerful stuff again. They got Kanye this time though!” Unchain yourself from this line of thought.
The team of Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen continues interpreting popular culture seen in their previous series Phonogram and Young Avengers, but it’s framed in a set of rules that we just don’t know all of. The Pantheon, a group of 12 people-turned-gods, appears every 90 years and exhibits gorgeous and dreamy powers before dying two years later. They are the ultimate pop-stars, catalyzing the Roaring Twenties as well as our own pop world.
It’s the mystery of learning how the gods work, interact and their purpose that makes WicDiv so enticing. McKelvie effortlessly gives us information about the status and structure of The Pantheon with simple graphic of linked circles and symbols representing each member: a Sun for Amaterasu, a Pentagram for Lucifer, a winged helm for Woden. We’ll see when the gods are jailed, on fire and just plain dead. There’s no clear distinction of how these specific gods were chosen and there’s even overlaps of theme or power; every bit of information we get just leaves us wanting more.
But WicDiv is really so significant as a way to look at our modern society. It feels like this is a comic that we’ll go back to in 30 years and say, “yeah, that was 2014.” Our entry into the world of The Pantheon is Laura, an impressionable young pop-devotee. She’s enthralled by seeing them in concert and is thrust into a murder mystery amidst her friendship to Lucifer.
The idols in this series are not the brainwashing, evil type. They are undeniably magnificent. Through Laura, their importance makes us consider how every victory, failure, scrape, outburst and death of our favorite stars drives us to change our perspective. To see these pristine, unknowable gods change is devastating: it makes us grow up and understand more of the world and how much we don’t know of it. The story of WicDiv is the story of everyone’s interaction with the fluid beast of pop. If you’re not in, you’re missing out. – Liam Conlon
by Liz Prince
I don’t think there’s much I can say about Tomboy that didn’t make it into our advanced review of the book. Tomboy may very well be the most subversive book I’ve read this year; Liz Prince confronts some particularly dangerous assumptions our society has about gender roles in a way that is easily accessible. It helps that the young Liz Prince believes quite a few of those assumptions early on, buying into a lot of the stereotypes that exist about boys and girls and how we define either of them only to later realize how damaging that can be for herself and others. Because of this approach, speckled with Prince’s trademark awkwardness and sense of humor, it’s the kind of book that you could hand to a questioning teenager that could make them feel more comfortable in a world that might tell them they’re dressing the wrong way or liking the wrong things. Tomboy is also the kind of book you could hand to a parent and perhaps sway some of their thoughts on gender roles.
Of course, the real strength of Tomboy can be seen in nearly every interaction between Prince and her readers. I’ve seen people approach Prince in person and online to thank her for making them feel less alone in a world where it’s still quite popular to shun those square pegs who don’t perfectly fit into society’s round holes. Can we ask anything greater of our art than that? – David Fairbanks
Honorable Mention: Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two: City of Courts
by Douglas Wolk/Ulises Farinas
Ulises Farinas was the greatest artist of the year. Don’t believe us? Just look at this and tell us you wouldn’t want to read this thing: