2011 has been a double-edged year for comics. On the one hand, it has been an incredibly dark year, with the world losing many great and important figures (some far too prematurely) — Bill Blackbeard, Dylan Williams, Dwayne McDuffie, Jerry Robinson, Bill Keane and, only recently, Joe Simon. There have been the ongoing struggles with freedoms of expression — Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat having his hands broken by authorities, Charlie Hebdo’s offices being firebombed, Susie Cagle arrested at the Occupy Oakland protests… It became that reading Tom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter each morning was almost as depressing as the front page of /r/politics. Add to that the fact that we had a run of three of the worst comics-based films in the fecal trifecta of Green Lantern, Captain America and Thor, which only seemed to correlate with the general downward trajectory of most mainstream comics…including DC’s relaunch.
On the other hand, it has been a banner year for the medium. We’ve had some incredible new talent emerge — in no small part thanks to the Center for Cartoon Studies — with small, boutique publishers releasing daring, vital works that seem to have been selling in record numbers at conventions (which, in turn, have been reporting record attendance). Kickstarter, too, has become a near ubiquitous platform for independent creators to launch their work and its incentive-based pricing is rapidly emerging as the business model of the social media age. Then, February saw the last publisher abandon the Comics Code, leaving Archie comics finally free to indulge in profanity, cannibalism, and sadomasochism — score one for free speech. We’re also in a true golden age of reprints, with Fantagraphics, IDW, Drawn & Quarterly, Humanoids and Dark Horse continuing to put out beautiful archival editions of classic material for new readers and working towards a true comics canon.
And, of course, in May we launched Graphic Eye! As part of our end-of-year celebrations, our contributors will all be revealing their Best of 2011 lists, and we’ve also invited some guest contributors to share their 2011 picks with us. We’ll be publishing one per day for the next two weeks, so keep ’em peeled.
Thanks to all our readers who have made our first few months such a success. With a load of great content lined-up for the coming year — new comic strips, more videos, bigger features — we look forward to welcoming you all back (except the ones who were here to look at pictures of Catwoman’s boobs… you lot can stay away.)
-- Gavin Lees
Gavin’s Top Comics of 2011
(in alphabetical order)
First Second have been killing it this year with their all-ages titles, bringing in pedigree indie talent like Gene Yang, Faith Erin Hicks, Aaron Renier and George O’Connor to produce mature, literate works of comics fiction. So, it was a surprise to see newbie Vera Brosgol come along and knock them all out of the park with her debut work. Anya’s Ghost is not only smart, funny and beautifully illustrated, but also has a line of healthy cynicism running through it that resists many of the pitfalls of young adult literature.
I'm not normally a fan of webcomics, being something of a neo-luddite, but there was something incredibly appealing about Josceline Fenton's Hemlock. The story is rooted in Scandinavian mythology, but with some eccentric twists that make it truly her own. Fenton's artistic blend of Takeuchi Naoko and Tim Burton is beautiful to behold, and it's been impressive to see the young artist grow in her abilities over the last year, particularly in the development of her lead character. Amazingly, she's still only in college, so goodness knows what we'll see from her in the future. My money's on big things.
I Will Bite You!
This debut work from recent CCS graduate was my find of the show at this year’s Stumptown festival. A collection of his early strips, it shows the many facets of this young artist and cements him as a real iconoclast of the form: the architectural lettering, the personification of the elements, his characters’ ability to see their own speech balloons, the near mythic scope of even his shortest strip. Lambert will be one to watch next year.
Love and Rockets: New Stories #4
After “Browntown” in last year’s installment of New Stories, there was a worry that Jaime might have peaked — how on earth was he going to top that story? The achingly beautiful conclusion to “The Love Bunglers” in this volume was the answer. Pulling together strands from Maggie’s entire 30-year history in two pages was nothing short of stunning, with his art as cooly confident as ever, making it a real emotional sucker punch. Gilbert’s work developing Fritz’s movie back-catalogue is a real mind-bender, too, weaving inter- and meta-textual strands together that lets his characters say so much, while saying so little. It is terrifying how talented these guys are.
Mickey Mouse, Vol. 1
Forget Pogo and Carl Barks — we already knew they were classics — the real reprint revelation of 2011 was good ole’ Mickey Mouse. Before he became sugar-coated and sanitized as the Disney mascot, Floyd Gottfredson wrote and drew the mouse as an ass-kicking adventurer, taking him from haunted houses to the Wild West and back again. To read these strips is to rediscover a love for Mickey and marvel at Gottfredson’s amazing grasp of storytelling and humour, as well as his flawless artwork. Naturally, with Fantagraphics overseeing the reprints, the design, packaging and presentation is gorgeous — a real worthy successor to their Peanuts series.
This is the book that really made Blank Slate’s name as an Important British Publisher. Nelson was collaborative graphic novel by 43 of England’s top cartoonists, each one telling a chapter in the life of its main character. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the editors managed to keep a tight rein on the proceedings and what emerged was a brilliantly-told story of great depth and artistry. It also serves as a real who’s-who of English cartoonists from the broadsheet darlings to the small-press upstarts. It’s also an incredibly moving trip through British history for anyone who lived it along with Nel.
I shouldn’t have enjoyed this anywhere near as much as I did. It was ridiculously over-hyped before its release, was from a debut artist and was a comic about video games, of all things. Yet, Nate Simpson showed he had what it takes — his wholly-digital artwork had a refined, European flair to it, recalling Moebius and Bilal, and his crafting of his fictional world inventive enough to be engaging, and relevant enough to be thought-provoking. His painstaking artistic process (and unfortunate recent bike accident) have meant that his work continues agonizingly slowly, leaving installments of the series as a rare treat to be savoured. This first issue is as powerful a debut as one could have hoped for.
Of all the off-kilter fantasy series that have begun to emerge recently, James Stokoe’s Orc Stain is far and away the most off-kilter, and all the more fantastic for it. Revolving around the exploits of an orc lock-breaker in a fantasy land that’s part Warhammer and part LSD nightmare, the series is a great showcase for Stokoe’s insane draftsmanship and odd sense of humour. It’s all about dicks, you see — dicks on every page… even the mountains look like dicks. It was the highlight of Image’s monthly schedule, but now it seems that the artist has just given up on the series and there’s to be no more. It was awesome while it lasted, though.
The Someday Funnies
One of the highlights of comics journalism in the last few years was Bob Levin’s Comics Journal feature on this long-lost anthology of comics about the ’60s. By some incredible fluke, National Lampoon’s Michel Choquette was able to corral all the great cartoonists of the ’70s into contributing to his book, but after a series of rejections from publishers and finally running out of money (Choquette seemed to live a globe-trotting lifestyle on publisher’s advances for several years) the book was abandoned and shut away in a storage locker. Finally, after nearly 40 years, Abrams bring it to light and it’s every bit as wild and awe-inspiring as we expected.
Tom Neely is, hands down, my favourite artist at the moment. The way he’s able to blend the cuteness of the Fleischer Brothers with horrifying anatomical expressionism is a wonder in itself, but from this art he is able to weave profound, haunting tales that meditate on the nature of art, love and existence. The Wolf is the pinnacle of these talents — a graphic novel entirely without words, that sees Neely experiment with a dizzying array of artistic techniques and make a story about sex that completely transcends its subject matter. The fact it features the creepiest fleshless-creatures-with-Mickey-Mouse-gloves that you’ve ever seen is just a bonus.