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Nothing says the holidays like a best-of-list. Here's the only one that matters.
20: Godland #34
Tom Scioli, Bill Crabtree, Joe Casey, Rus Wooten. Image.
While it would have been nice to have seen at least one of the three promised comics mentioned in this particular issue's letters column, it's hard to be sad for any length of time: any Godland, after all, is a win. And with conclusion hovering on the horizon, this issue saw creators Casey & Scioli playing sturm und drang exclusively. Never a series that kept things close to the vest, issue #34 saw Casey taking the language of hyperbole and bombast as far as possibility allowed. That Scioli was able to find a way to visualize those extremities will come as no surprise--he is, after all, Tom Scioli. When it comes to galactic apocalypse, there is no living man who could do a better job.
19. "Dit Dit Dit Dah Dah Dah Dah Dit Dit"
from Casanova Gula IV
Gabriel Ba, Cris Peter, Matt Fraction, Dustin Harbin. Marvel.
There hasn't been a new Casanova story since 2008, and in that time, Matt Fraction has gone from the guy with great taste who bore all our hopes to the guy who...nah, I'm not doing that here. Visually, little has changed: one of the best looking comics we have, now with a subtle uptick in color choices that makes it just a touch more emotive. A syrupy, doused-in-style scene of violence gives way to a passion draped in blue and aquamarine, all while Fraction stays just on the side of acceptably hysterical, mixing the British colloquialism fetish of 2011's comedy nerd (who looks strangely like 2010's Morrison fan) with the big hips of sexual compromise. Take a note: this is how you're supposed to restart a party.
18. Orc Stain #6
James Stokoe. Image.
Whereas 2011 only saw one issue of Orc Stain arrive, what an issue it was: flashbacks, revenge, surprise and a lot of spicy phalluses. Diving deep into a hot, living cage, this year's chapter of Orc Stain (aptly titled "The Arena of Meat") saw our hero making a dead run for freedom, with the threat of castration persistently in tow. And no matter how many times you read the issue's game-changing closer--it turns out that it DOES matter why the guy has only one eye--the feeling of excitement never lessens. Here's hoping that 2012 provides James Stokoe the space--or whatever else--he needs.
17. Daredevil #3
Paolo Rivera, Joe Rivera, Javier Rodriguez, Mark Waid, Joe Caramagna. Marvel.
Opening with a throwback to classic Fantastic Four comics, picking up a thread left from an Avengers tale and then delivering seven pages of the best (and weirdest) fight scene of 2011, Daredevil #3 was the victory lap for the
relaunch title of the year. This was it, what we wanted to read, what we just had to see: the father/son Rivera duo building kinetic, clean-lined action inside suffocating sound effects while Javier Rodriguez proves that subtlety isn't dead yet. Accompanied by Waid's deceptively simple plotting--how many times did you read it before you realized that the big bad was never revealed?--Daredevil #3 was a page by page, panel by panel reminder of what's to like in super-hero comics. Hail, hail.
16. 20th Century Boys
Naoki Urasawa, Akemi Wegmüller, Freeman Wong. Viz.
With conclusion still roughly 800 pages away, 2011's crop of official translations of 20th Century Boys
served as total onslaught: death followed death, with every heart on the table left broken, if they weren't stopped entirely. And yet, due to Urasawa's able hand, misery never became miserable. Maybe it's because we trust him, or maybe it's just because we're too invested in these characters to leave them hanging now. Whatever it is, each new volume was a jungle of emotions, enveloping us whole. Four volumes to go!
Michael Comeau, Seth Scrivner, Tara Azzopardi. Koyama.
Reportedly only 100 copies of Hellberta
were printed--I don't know if I believe that, but I do believe I like repeating it--which means there are at least 99 other people right now who should feel extraordinarily lucky to have seen what has to be the best single issue of Wolverine...ever? The story of a mass-murdering revenge spree that climaxes with the apparent destruction of the entire Northern Hemisphere (except for the land), Hellberta
is almost completely the work of Michael Comeau, and it's a fantastic piece of gonzo super-hero comics, a hyper politicized critique of hedging one's principles and a beautiful piece of art all by itself. If you see one of its telltale yellow pages--even if it's in someone else's house--snatch it up like it's crack cocaine. I can guarantee you that it will be just as satisfying.
Eduardo Risso, Patricia Mulvihill, Giulia Brusco, Brian Azzarello, Clem Robins. DC.
While it wasn't the first time that Azzarello and Risso have worked together since the conclusion of 100 Bullets, Spaceman was the first time we got to see them do something completely new. A sci-fi story firmly set in the "dirty spaceship" category, centered on an ape-man hybrid created by NASA for space exploration, Spaceman arrived bearing all the trappings we've come to expect from the team: Risso's tight, perfect line and Azzarello's split lip dialog. Slipping back and forth between a violent, exhausted present and a curious Martian past, it took exactly one issue for this thing to become whatever you call the comics version of appointment television.
13. The Land Unknown
Gary Panter. United Dead Artists.
While a fine argument could be made that his book is not a proper 2011 release, made up as it is of older (and in some cases, previously published) work, here it is, all the same. Panter hasn't been absent from comics for the last few years--he's actually released a steady stream of short mini-comics, and he's seen more than a few gallery shows--but The Land Unknown
was the first major crop of take-it-home Panter since Picturebox's audacious double hardcover in 2008. But whereas that imposing collection saw Panter's work presented as art, proper, Unknown
behaves like extreme delivery service: imagine that 80's high school movie cliche, where a fat woman ladles a steaming pile of murk onto a plastic tray, glaring imperiously at you as if to say "so what if there's more there than you can handle, twerp". There are few better ways to experience Panter's work than the one that Land Unknown
provides: unexplained and in extremity. Go end some friendships, brother.
12. Uncanny X-Force
Jerome Opena, Esad Ribic, Rafael Albuquerque, Billy Tan, Mark Brooks, Scot Eaton, Rich Elson, John Lucas, Andrew Currie, Andrew Hennessy, Dean White, Jose Villarubia, Chris Sotomayor, Matt Wilson, Richard Isanove, Paul Mounts, Rick Remender, Cory Petit, Clayton Cowles. Marvel.
While the prevalent trend in comics blogsmithery may be to loft one's arrows at the most popular kids in school, you'll have to allow comiXology right of refusal: this time around, we're riding shotgun with the rest of humanity. No super-hero comic had it going on quite like Uncanny X-Force
in 2011, and while Marvel's consumer-exploitation publishing schedule forced us to open our wallets way more frequently than I feel should be acceptable when Psylocke is involved, Rick Remender and his bench of artists were able to keep balls in the air for the full term. (The series only just reached conclusion this past week, and yes, it was a satisfactory one.) The story is impossible to summarize in the scant few sentences the powers that be have allotted, so let's try blurbing the concept: this is the comic where the X-Men's cool kids go when there's ornate European music videos that needs making.
11. Lose #3
Michael Deforge. Koyama.
It can't be easy for Michael Deforge, out there on the high wire of expectation. At the same time, it's difficult to feel too
sorry for him--after all, it's his formidable talent that put him out there in the first place, and that skill doesn't seem to be flagging. Lose
#3 saw one of his longest sustained narratives thus far, a brilliantly funny take on cringe comedy by way of funny (and gross) animal characters summering in the sort of dirty, trash-covered universe that Kaz used to set his Underworld series in. Surrounding that story were the latest products of Deforge's wild imagination (facial font exercises, terrible babysitting, a beastly improv show), all of them acting as a stern, albeit unnecessary, reminder of why this guy is so exciting to keep up with.
10. Color Engineering
Yuichi Yokoyama, Ryan Holmberg. Picturebox.
Any year where there's a new translation of Yokoyama comics is a triumph for American readers, and 2011 saw two of them. And while your sheepish host felt that the other one--Garden
, also from Picturebox--was an atmospheric retread of 2008's still-mindblowing Travel
, Color Engineering
was built, from wide-open start to hyper-packed finish, out of newly trod ground. And, like many of those saddled with the avant-garde label, Yokoyama's work in Color Engineering
is winningly humorous, featuring an endless stream of entities seeking to discover. More than audience surrogate, the characters in the work are partners--you know what they know, and the lot of you are trying to figure out what that means at the same time. Any year in comics will produce work to get lost in. This time around, Yokoyama had the deepest one yet.
9. Comics drawn by Marcos Martin
Various issues of Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil
Marcos Martin. Muntsa Vicente. Javier Rodriguez. Dan Slott. Mark Waid. Joe Caramagna. Marvel.
While Marcos Martin's work on a variety of super-hero comics was never anything less than excellent, in his work since Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special
#1 (a nonsensical comic where Steve Rogers stops a Nazi plot while on his way to get the super solider injection), the artist got bolder with plastering his interests across the page. With his regular gig as rotating Amazing Spider-Man
artist as base, Martin has spent the last two years delivering the most imaginative--and yet totally comprehensible--layouts super-hero comics had on offer. 2011 saw his final statements on the genre, with a Quitely-inspired take on Daredevil that found accolades everywhere it landed. Marvel may be poorer for his loss, but comics entire is richer for the lessons he left them to publish. Brian K Vaughan better know how to keep him interested.
8. Gangsta Rap Posse #2
Benjamin Marra. Traditional Comics.
While Benjamin Marra's reputation precedes him enough that the general tone of his work is unlikely to surprise, his experiments in how he exercises that work seem ever-developing. 2011 saw the guy showing up everywhere, but it was in the gray newsprint pages of Gangsta Rap Posse
where the most hits landed. One of those long sought after "perfect comics", GRP #2 didn't hold back from a single transgresion, delivering page after page of shadowless violence. More celebration than revelation, Marra's brazen willingness to prize his own taste above all else bore fruit once again. If more cartoonists were as in touch with what their hands want to create, making these lists would be a whole lot harder.
7. Thickness #2
Angie Wang. Lisa Hanawalt. Michael Deforge. Mickey Zacchilli. Brandon Graham. True Chubbo. Jillian Tamaki.
Two issues in, Thickness
has yet to sink into the trap of porn-for-snobs that the idea seems designed to create. Instead, the freedom to go blue has seen some cartoonists--Lisa Hanawalt especially--doing some of their most fascinating work yet. The second issue saw heavyweights like Brandon Graham (an old pro at the comic book pornography game) alongside young heavyweight Michael Deforge and the aforementioned Hanawalt, and the result was the most kick-ass anthology of the year.
6. Weird Schmeird #2
Ryan Cecil Smith. Self-Published.
A bicycle action comic made up of speed and spies, a sketchbook diary of a trip to India, a horror manga adaptation, advertisements and an autobio comic about parcel delivery, Weird Schmeird
#2 doesn't sound like my sort of thing on paper, but man alive, that paper is incorrect. Whatever code it is that needs cracking, Smith figured it out--there's absolutely no fat to be found in this comic. Panel to panel, story to story, Smith strips everything down to its constituent motives--this has to move, that has to creep, the line needs to feel--the end result being such a variety of styles that the comic succeeds both as art and resume.
5. Congress of the Animals
Jim Woodring. Fantagraphics.
While last year's Weathercraft
saw Jim Woodring deliberately examining the souls of his most unnerving character, Congress of the Animals
was a resolute return--and as interpreted by some
, a deliberate conclusion--to his most loveable, Frank. Deftly exploring the individual's relationship with labor, consequence and love, Congress of the Animals
might be Woodring's least nightmarish work yet. (Although there's still a decent portion of it involving face-robbed humanoids that you shouldn't leave lying open if you have junkies visiting.)
4. Prison Pit Book 3
Johnny Ryan. Fantagraphics.
Back in 2009, when Ryan began Prison Pit
, it was a revelation; a bone-crushing giant, born fully clothed. Since then, the series has failed only to surprise--we know now what brand of intensity it is we're getting, the pleasures are to be found purely in Ryan's delivery. And while the latest addition to the Pit's cast of characters may lack a bit in the personality department, he amply makes up for it in his stubborn willingness to get the job done. (In Prison Pit
, the job is always violence--extreme, no-holds-barred violence.) Make no mistake: if Jack Kirby was born today, these are the kinds of comics he'd be drawing.
3. Hellboy: The Fury
Duncan Fegredo, Dave Stewart, Mike Mignola, Clem Robins. Dark Horse.
An orchestral climax that follows years of ground-laying, The Fury
wasn't just the rapacious conclusion to a decade of Hellboy, it was the end of what had to be the most difficult task in Duncan Fegredo's career: following Mike Mignola. What a way to go out, though--knee deep in the blood-drenched ground under skies lit by electrical fire, with all of life in the balance. There wasn't a page in these three issues that wasn't perfectly composed, and yet the series never felt less than raw: panels of finality lining up or raining down, an unstoppable slide towards that last, broken moment.
2. Ganges #4
Kevin Huizenga. Fantagraphics.
While it has been two years since the release of Ganges
#3, the only thing that could possibly have dulled would be the audience's memory of how extraordinary the series can be. But where the last issue saw Glenn goofily attacking his own thought processes, this issue opens with him in those embarassing stages of panic that arrive when sleep will just not come. Flashing through a litany of failed attempts--another book, another song, the brow furrowing further--Huizenga just as quickly changes tactics, laboriously stretching out the most minor transitions to the point where any attachment to plot falls away. As with Yokoyama's Color Engineering
, the audience becomes participatory witness, buried head to toe alongside Glenn, living and dying by his attempts to conquer. The shaggy dog ending--weirder than the last one--only seems cruel for the length of time it takes you to remember: being broken out of a trance is supposed to hurt.
1. Love and Rockets New Stories Volume 4
Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez. Fantagraphics.
Picking up the plot immediately after the harrowing conclusion of last year's installment, Love and Rockets
4 saw Jaime Hernandez making good on the promise of decades. Resolving with as much finality as one could ask the question of "how's this gonna end", the final passage of this issue's Maggie story was without comparison. There was absolutely nothing else like reading those pages for the first time--the gasp held tight in your throat, the 8 panel grids giving way only once, for a two page silent recap of the last 30 years of a life only we seem to know was well-lived.
I had a chance in 2011 to talk to Jaime about this comic, and these pages. He told me that, if he got hit by a bus, he wanted to bail out of this life knowing that he'd finished the story.
I think he might have made a mistake, though. The next part always lasts forever.
Tucker Stone's writing can be found in print from time to time. He currently blogs about comics at The Factual Opinion and Savage Critics.
This Ship Is Totally Sinking is © Tucker Stone, 2010