I didn’t read everything this year (BATTLING BOY, that Beatles comic, anything Los Hermanos put out because I’m playing hell of catch-up), but here are some things I thought were great.
Masterplasty (James Harvey)
This was a sci-fi version of Helter Skelter (itself a great 2013 re-release), a comic about surgically changing your appearance and thus your identity. It’s a strange one, and impeccably drawn with amazing colors. When I found out James Harvey also spearheaded the Bartkira project it all made sense. It’s a prequel to a larger work so it’s hard to talk about, but you can read it for free so just do that.
Copra (Michel Fiffe)
Michel Fiffe pretty much came out of nowhere. A Suicide Squad bootleg comic transitioned into a monthly Suicide Squad tribute/remix — all published on his own on a pretty consistent basis, and on really nice paper. Isn’t that nuts? He put out 12 issues of his comic over the course of a year and some change, taking a huge risk but quickly finding that he had an audience that was hungry for this stuff, stuff that a lot of the mainstream can’t pull off for some reason — competent, interesting action comics.
Sex Criminals (Matt Fraction + Chip Zdarsky)
Sex in comics is mostly reserved for porn and whenever a creator-owned comic needs to seem edgy, so Sex Criminals ends up being the most ambitious pop comic in terms of intent. It’s a raunchy sex comedy, but it’s a sex comedy that tackles sex in a thoughtful manner, exposing the lonely discoveries that both genders tend to experience in the process of growing up.
But it’s also really funny, as a comic about people who use orgasms to stop time would generally need to be. Fraction and Zdarsky are two incredibly funny dudes, so together they come up with the most hilarious possible shit like “ET the Sex Move” and the entirety of the porn store Cumworld, complete with what feels like hundreds of glorious background video titles. If there was ever a comic that justified investing in a magnifying glass, it’s Sex Criminals.
Glory (Joe Keatinge + Ross Campbell)
One of two inspired reboots of Rob Liefeld creations ended this year, and Glory was the underdog of the two, lacking the hype that Graham/Roy/Dalrymple/Milonogiannis Prophet did. That said, it’s a super duper strong comic and a really shocking one. It’s an ultraviolent superhero comic with a predominantly female cast. It’s a relaunch that respects that these are established characters with history. It’s a comic that takes a Wonder Woman analogue and gradually turns her into something different. Also, it’s a superhero comic influenced by French comics because Joe Keatinge is a true lover of the form, not just of superheroes or American comics.
Ross Campbell’s art should be taught to everyone who wants to draw mainstream comics. Like, if you’re taking comics courses at SCAD, “Draw People Differently” should be a pre-req for their superhero comics class and students should be forced to read Wet Moon and Glory. Campbell illustrates women (and men, but more importantly women) as being distinct human beings with their own heights, body types, and ages. It’s a completely daring new idea for action comics, but there you go.
The End of the Fucking World (Charles Foresman)
I like a lot of stuff this year, but only two comics had my brain buzzing after I finished them: The Great Outdoor Fight and The End of the Fucking World. Foresman’s comic is about two fucked-up teens on the run, one of whom has some violent tendencies. It’s a quick read, but a potent one, with Foresman’s grown-up Charles Schultz linework simultaneously softening the blow and making it worse. Hey, you’re not a critic if you don’t say a bunch of contradictory bullshit, right?
It’s got that True Romance/Badlands thing going on, but the final scene really makes this comic. Sure, it’s about outrunning satanists or whatever, but it’s also about how a relationship can fuck you up. A person may be gone/dead/out of your life, but that doesn’t mean you’re done hurting.
Real Rap (Benjamin Urkowitz)
Stupid idiots make for really good comedy, and Urkowitz’s comic about Duh Studge, a fat moron who thinks he can rap, is really funny. It’s one of those slice of life, series-of-vignette style books where every page is an individual unit, but put together they tell this ongoing narrative of someone with strong opinions but no talent. It’s like Good Will Hunting if the janitor wasn’t a math genius but truly thought he was. Not everybody is special, and maybe the guy who takes your ticket at the movie theatre is just some cretin who hates everybody.
Apparently it’s only six issues and #5 just came out a little bit ago.
Zero (Ales Kot + Michael Walsh + Tradd Moore + Morgan Jeske + Mateus Santolouco + Jordie Bellaire)
Kot/Jeske/Leong’s Change was pretty great (and another 2013 standout), but I actually find Zero more impressive in what it accomplishes. It’s very much a pop comic informed by Kot’s sensibilities, a downright cyberpunk look at the James Bond operative. It’s a lot like Metal Gear Solid, come to think of it, the other great pop text where a badass secret agent is wholly manufactured by the military industrial complex. Is that a buzzword? Am I dumb?
Either way, Zero is a comic that jumps around in the life/timeline of operative Edward Zero and so each issue provides a done-in-one mission (illustrated by a different artist each instance) that manages to get across more than most stretched-out six-issue story arcs in comics tend to do. The most recent issue starts off with two guys having one of those “so you’re here to kill me” table conversations before suddenly turning into a BRUTAL fight scene which gives way to an amazingly intense car chase.
I like action comics that read like they were meant to be comics rather than rejected screenplays.
Clutch/The Softest Shadow/Color (Sloane Leong)
Sloane’s a killer talent and the three comics of hers that stood out to me the most are each very different and amazing.
Clutch – Really great, unnerving horror-type short.
The Softest Shadow – I bought a b/w print edition once, and totally double-dipped for the full color digital version.
Color – BRUTAL.
Theremin (Curt Pires + Dalton Rose)
It seems like everybody’s got an “unlikely historical figure goes on a bizarro adventure” comic, but Theremin’s the best one because it’s about the guy who invented the fucking theremin. A worthy successor to Casanova in terms of being the type of weird interdimensional adventure stuff I have the most fun with.
Nick Hanover says that this is what Manhattan Projects should have been, an I’m inclined to agree. Curt and I have similar sensibilities so this is up my alley.
On Hiatus (Pete Toms)
Nick covered this one pretty well in a previous piece. It’s dreamlike and really funny and not at all like anything else out there.
Boy’s Night (Max Landis + AP Quatch)
This is probably one of the bigger surprises of the year. Never mind the writer behind the thing (briefly: a lot of people hate him, I loved Chronicle), Boy’s Night defies all expectations. At first it seems like it’s going to be a “what if Mickey Mouse cursed a lot????” parody comic for people who haven’t heard of Air Pirates Funnies, but what ensues is actually a thoughtful, sincere story with an undercurrent of sadness as Mickey, Donald and Goofy hang out for the first time in a while, but they’re getting older and have kind of grown apart.
Landis’ script is a poignant short story that casts the cartoon characters as actors in the real world complete with distinct personalities. My favorite bits are the details that disregard actual real-world trivia. Apparently the crude party animal Donald was in a Wes Anderson movie, and at one point Mickey bellows “I directed Spirited Away!” at some antagonistic cats. What really makes Boy’s Night sing, though, is AP Quatch’s art — she adapts the characters to her own style, illustrating with expressiveness and storytelling chops that give them a whole new life.
I’m a big fan of bootleg comics, especially those that serve a purpose being copyright infringement.
Other Comics I Really Liked This Year
-I hope KC Green is still writing Regular Show, because the ones he wrote were the best.
-Pretty Deadly is so much more than I expected, like if El Topo were a shojo manga.
-Sex is my favorite Joe Casey book of the year — I’m always interested in the HBO-like Casey comics that aren’t punctuated by superhero violence that Morgan Jeske flashback issue felt all the more powerful for the lack of superhero antics in the first eight.
-Forever Evil is actually a lot of fun because it’s almost entirely bad guys. I don’t ask for much from these types of cape comics. I kind of liked Infinity too.
-The spin-offs have become a bit too much, but the core Adventure Time series remains consistently great.
-Young Avengers is pretty much made for me.
-Prophet is as strong as ever, and I can’t wait to read it all in one go.
-Batman ‘66 is basically the perfect antidote to everything boring and depressing about superhero comics.
– Danny Djeljosevic