2015 was a crazy year for comics, but it was also a year of creative explosions, with the small press and digital comics spheres in particular showing off incredible material. Most of our favorite comics this year came from creators working outside the confines of the mainstream industry, with boutique presses like Nobrow and Youth in Decline showcasing fantastic work from new and veteran voices. The big indie players like Image, Dark Horse, Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly all had excellent years too, and no matter where you looked, amazing comics could be found.
by Ryan K. Lindsay and Owen Gieni
Published by Dark Horse
A writer with writer’s block on his own suicide note. A race of aliens who engorge themselves on the sorrow of the human race. Ryan K. Lindsay takes two tangential but strong hooks and weaves them together into a singular tale about empathy. Negative Space is a rare comic that has a scorching elevator pitch and manages to exceed its promise in execution.
Owen Gieni paints a world much like our own: tragedy and comedy are easily juxtaposed, and the tender touch of another can bring the greatest sorrow to a screeching halt, if only for a second. When Gieni paints a splash page, it’s serious fucking business. And yet much like his co-creator, he balances the big stuff with the little (but just as important) storytelling decisions on a page-to-page basis.
Simply put, Negative Space is setting the bar for what “high-concept* stories ought to look like when executed as more than just glorified precursors to movie deals. Negative Space is good comics. – Austin Lanari [editor’s note: Full disclosure, Ryan K. Lindsay writes a column for Loser City]
by Michel Fiffe
Published by Bergen Street Press
At what point does homage exceed its origin in art? There’s no precise answer, this isn’t science, but it’s clear that COPRA has grown beyond the shadow of classic superhero comics it draws upon for inspiration to become something powerful, compelling, and utterly unique. Whether you’ve been reading comics for decades or just beginning to explore the medium, COPRA is the sort of book that will grab you by the throat and ensure you never want to leave.
That power comes from both the purity and clarity of Michel Fiffe’s vision. Each issue of COPRA is exactly what Fiffe wants to see on the page distilled through his innovative layouts and designs, vibrant colors, and finely tuned letters. Each aspect of every page is the distillation of a singular talent exploring characters and concepts. COPRA has not only exceeded its comic book inspirations, but the genres with which it is labelled as well. The visceral excitement of bloody action movies, wild concepts of superhero comics, and bloody terror of revenge thrillers are all present, but those familiar joys are only the wrapping paper for something more potent that continues to grow with each issue. As COPRA moves forward, having just reached its 25th issue at the end of 2015, Fiffe is mining deeper into its thematic core. He is questioning how individuals attempt to deal with trauma, the transformations it pushes them through, and the unintended consequences that spiral outward to impact others.
Every new page of COPRA is both a visual and intellectual joy to experience, making it one of the greatest comics experiences of both this year and this decade. – Chase Magnett
by ONE and Yusuke Murata
Published by Viz
Mark O. Stack wrote about One-Punch Man for our Best Comics of the 2010s (SO FAR, dun dun dun) list. I ranked it pretty highly in our SUPER SECRET METHOD FOR DETERMINING THE BEST COMICS EVER, and while I don’t disagree at all with Loser City King Baby’s assessment of the series, I definitely have a few different things to say about it. Have some bullet points, because this is the Internet and content is best delivered via bullets, bold(ed) and delicious
- One-Punch Man isn’t a parody.
- That is to say, OPM is not parody in the way people seem to think “parody” means.
- There’s no mocking of the superhero or shonen genres here but rather a full embrace of the tropes that make them wonderful.
- So, OPM is a parody in the sense that it takes some really laughable ideas from the genres and runs with them.
- Weird Al loves pop music. ONE and Murata love superheroes and shonen.
- In a world that is still dominated by grim and gritty “realistic” superheroes, OPM is a bastion of sincerity.
- OPM is genuinely funny, perhaps because Saitama (the titular One-Punch Man) can resolve a fight in as little as a panel.
- Sometimes a fight scene lasts multiple entries of Shonen Jump, however. ONE and Murata know when to stretch out combat.
- No matter how long a fight takes, though, the characters are allowed to take center stage, even when it’s time to flex the hyper-detailed fight scenes.
- Everyday life taking on the look of a mundane strip drawn over the course of a lunch hour gives the humor and non-superheroic aspects a special charm.
Did you like those bullets? Were they tasty? They aren’t as scrumptious as One-Punch Man, though. The first 8 volumes are available digitally. A handful are available in print. You can read the ongoing adventures in Shonen Jump. If you like superheroes and you aren’t reading One-Punch Man, you’re doing something wrong. – David Fairbanks
“Ann by the Bed” (Frontier #6)
by Emily Carroll
Published by Youth in Decline
Ultimately horror is horrific when it hits closet to home. When you see your own fears foisted in your face you’re quickest to glisten with sweat. In her book Ann By The Bed, Emily Carroll reminds us, “the lion has to come to someone’s house” and when you hear padding across the floor in the next room, what’s to keep you from screaming?
Ann By The Bed is a puzzle composed of some very intricate pieces. In this book, Carroll manipulates conventional narrative with a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through cause and effect, bouncing her reader through time and space, disconcerting as she disconnects, adding a layer of displacement to the tone of its entirety. Then there’s her apt choices of art style and color use, each of which adds another emotional hue. As well, she varies the thickness of her inking to contract and expand, and her lettering changes to resonate with the mood she is working with. In Ann by the Bed, Carroll uses all the evocative tools that comics offer in order to concentrate the tenor and the feel of the reading experience. Yet it is her mastery of all the skills necessary to pull this off, in a way, that pushes the craftsmanship at work to the background, allowing the reading to be immersive, the emotions taut, and the creepiness to be all that more creepy. It is the work of both an artist and artisan to take all the intricate pieces and connect them in such a dynamic way.
Ann By The Bed is terrifying in the way that spectacular horror is terrifying. Emily Carroll creeps you the fuck out by letting you fill in your own sense of fear and creep yourself out. – Daniel Elkin
by Ales Kot, Will Tempest, Clayton Cowles and Tom Muller
Published by Image Comics
The past few years of mainstream indie comics have given us countless attempts by Big Two creators to pursue alternative revenue streams. It’s getting pretty fucking boring, and we sorely need a dose of Real Shit. Enter The Material, a sprawling, ambitious melange of parallel dramas involving aging college professors, illegal police activity, survivors of Guantanamo Bay, Hollywood auteurs, race relations, PTSD, S&M, and A.I., among other ideas that lie far beyond the interests of the average non-cape comic.
Will Tempest’s grounded linework and striking palette (orange/turquoise/purple/pink/gold colliding with gray/brown/white) bring to life Kot’s script, which is reference/footnote-heavy yet shockingly character driven. Each issue is capped off by a different writer who uses The Material itself as a springboard for a brief essay on a related topic (Marxist theorists/torture/the semiotics of redheads/the fact that cops can’t stop murdering people), offering a dense, thoughtful read. The Material never feels like the hackwork of smart people who are punching below their weight class; instead, it’s a comic book that wants you to get your mind right, and offers the means to do so.
The Material lasted only four issues before Kot abruptly pulled the plug himself while teasing plans to revive his story as a series of graphic novels in 2016. I suppose readers weren’t ready for that Real Shit, but hopefully they get the second chance they don’t even know they deserve. – Danny Djeljosevic
by Noah Van Sciver
Published by Fantagraphics
Noah Van Sciver’s Saint Cole is part of the long tradition of the balladry of brutality. It sings the song of the sink hole caused by a life lived in response to expectations it could never fulfill. It’s the chant you hear in the places people gather to drown out their sorrows, it echoes in the alley behind the neighbor’s house whom you’ve never met, it rings in your own head from time to time, that is, if you are sensitive to it.
The entire book is a downhill slope of unleashed grievance, unrelenting and unremitting in its pace. As a reader you catch your ski on a rut at the top of the run and tumble end-over-end gaining momentum as your body darkens with new bruises and blood starts to run from all the wounds re-opened in your fall leaving you searching for a bag for your teeth. And just when you think you’re almost to the bottom, there are still new deep black holes in which to fall.
Keats said that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”. Saint Cole is especially beautiful because it is painfully true. Here, art reflects, not transforms, and by polishing the mirror, Van Sciver helps us to see our true faces. – DE
SuperMutant Magic Academy
by Jillian Tamaki
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
My first Jillian Tamaki joint was This One Summer co-created with her cousin, Mariko Tamaki and it was a fantastic coming of age story worthy of the accolades it got. I found myself once again excited by a comic from Jillian based solely on its title: SuperMutant Magic Academy. I read it while attending the 2015 Toronto Comics Arts Festival and I still haven’t lost the love-at-first-read feeling a year later. It’s a collection of her four year webcomic with new content that helps wrap up the story of these wacky, strange, loveable, weirdo teens. It’s funny – ridiculously funny – as it plays and tinkers with tropes found in superhero comics and cinematic adolescence. It’s drawn in black and white with great yet sparse use of colour to punch it up. If you love the X-Men and Harry Potter, this comic will poke fun of it in the best way possible. Teens, kids, adults, force users, and Muggles alike will (and should) agree that this comic deserves to be on this list. – Ardo Omer
by Pete Toms
Operating on the oddball fringe of digital indie comics, Pete Toms has swiftly become one of the most vital chroniclers of the weirdness of communication in the social media age. Prior works like On Hiatus utilized social media intrusions and vivid hallucinations to comment on the different personas we create for each web platform we use to talk with one another. But this year Toms took that further with The Linguists, a complex yet thrilling story about some strange goings on in a college town.
Mixing his knack for meta deconstruction with an intriguing Scanners-esque horror plotline, The Linguists is Toms at his absolute best, full of strange humor and eccentric philosophizing, expressed through his standard ’50s technicolor gone hyperreal aesthetic. The Linguists also gave us Great American Author Philip Pony, a counterpoint to On Hiatus’ gonzo celeb Harry Malloy, who seems to suffer a psychotic break at the start of the work but is slowly revealed to be perhaps the clearest thinker in the weird world of The Linguists. The message in Pony’s viral video self-mutilation and seemingly contradictory truths is that as we become more immersed in digital communication, breaking from it becomes more painful and life altering. Somehow I don’t think that will become any less relevant in the coming years. – Nick Hanover
by Sophia Foster-Dimino
Sex Fantasy isn’t about what you would expect. Or maybe it is? You can decide for yourself by reading them all on Sophia Foster-Dimino’s tumblr. I had never heard of the comic until it was nominated for an Ignatz award and I was forced to storm Foster-Dimino’s booth at SPX 2015 in order to buy the last copies of some of her minicomics. I had no idea what to expect going into reading Sex Fantasy 4, but it left me heartbroken by the end of it.
With words and pictures, Foster-Dimino presents the world and the human condition to her readers in a way that is both very strange and incredibly relatable. “Have you noticed that loving someone is like pouring water into a well” kicks off a string of panels that says more truth about dysfunctional relationships than I could stomach. Those are just a few panels out of one “issue” of Sex Fantasy, and while I have yet to find any that punch me in the gut as fiercely, Foster-Dimino spits truth on every page of every issue.
Pages transition from the realistic to the abstract with an occasional overlapping of the two into a surreal depiction that combines existence and emotion into one. The language is accessible and brief, bordering on the poetic at times. And the fusion (or juxtaposition) makes Sex Fantasy into one of the most interesting comics I’ve read all year. Go scroll up and click that link to read her comics — or better yet, buy them in print from Foster-Dimino at a show. – DF
by Jen Lee
Published by NoBrow Press
Vacancy is a beautiful anthropomorphic post-apocalyptic book both in terms of its storytelling as well as its craft. Jen Lee’s use of color is breathtaking, especially her use of sunset and sunrise soft reds and pinks to capture atmosphere, tone, and mood, especially when juxtaposed with the blue-greens of her nights and the momentary stark, flat white of her days. Her cartooning seduces you into one set of emotions – comfortable and familiar in a Saturday Morning sort of way – while the story itself murmurs something strange off to the side, almost hidden in the forest.
The world-building in this book is as dynamic a character as the anthropomorphic heroes. As the heroes journey, the environment they discover and cross through develops and, in doing so, tells a secondary story of destruction and despair. Through inference, reading the signposts that Lee has put up in this world, the audience begins to glean what may have happened and why these animals dress and behave as they do. And it is in these conjectures that the reader begins to unfurl a terrible backstory that they, themselves, own. Which gives this comic its heft and its power. Which serves as a dialogue between artist and viewer. Which makes the reading of Vacancy such a pleasure. – DE
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