2002: TRADE PAPERBACK RELEASES
Over the course of the past two weeks, I came up with my list of the Top Ten Series of the year 2002. Today, I’d like to look at an assortment of memorable graphic novels and trade paperbacks that were released in that same year. It would be difficult to rank the releases. So many exciting ones showed up. It’s more a matter of ticking off some of the ones that best represent the year as I read it.
For starters, Dark Horse and Marvel get credit for their authoritative reprints of classic 1980s comics series. With Marvel, it’s the bi-monthly trade program to put the original Larry Hama-penned G.I. JOE stories back into print. Each trade paperback contains 10 issues of the original series with new coloring on nice glossy paper under a J. Scott Campbell cover. The $30 price point is a little high, but that includes remastered coloring and heavy paper stock.
The Dark Horse series I’m referring to is the collection of the classic Marvel STAR WARS series. Each of their trades collects more than a year’s worth of issues of the original series by such luminaries at Dick Giordano, Walter Simonson, and Howard Chaykin. At $30 a pop, it’s an affordable collection for true STAR WARS fans, for anyone who might fondly remember those issues, or those who weren’t necessarily around for the original golden period of Star Wars-based comics.
For Dark Horse, of course, such reprints and repackages are old hat. Look at their recently completed LONE WOLF AND CUB series or the newer ASTRO BOY reprint series. They’re also putting together two volumes to reprint the complete XENOZOIC TALES this year.
Marvel also gets high points across the board on their reprint production. 2002 was the year they started up a hardcover line, and it’s been one of their great success stories. They’ve tried a series of different comics formats, including weekly black and white books, “backpack” books, and “Marvelscope.” This is the one that seems most likely to stick for a long time.
The debut hardcover, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Volume 1, stands up as one of the great repackagings of the year. In addition to the first 13 issues of the series on a larger size paper, Marvel included plenty of behind the scenes material that went into the making of the book, plus sketches, a lost script sample, and even the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko AMAZING FANTASY #15 Spider-Man debut story.
That hardcover has been followed up with year-long collections of such series as the Ennis/Dillon PUNISHER, Bruce Jones/John Romita Jr./Lee Weeks HULK, ALIAS, ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP (reprinting an astounding 17 comics for $40), ULTIMATE X-MEN, Grant Morrison’s NEW X-MEN, and more. Some have been less exciting than others (CAPTAIN AMERICA: RED, WHITE, AND BLUE; MARVEL YEAR IN REVIEW, THE BEST OF SPIDER-MAN Volume 1), but the format is a real keeper and Marvel has done a great job in picking material for reprinting with this.
Already, the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN editions have second volumes solicited. What was once a tentative question mark in the Marvel publishing program now looks like a complete success, with a new hardcover or two in production every month.
That’s not all, though, as the regular trade paperback program has boomed. Reprints happen as soon as they’re available now. If you want to follow a series in trade form, you don’t have to be worried about being six months, a year, or more behind the curve of the regular monthly readership. Marvel has hit nearly-ridiculous speeds in their trade program. Some come out the week after the last issue is printed now. It’s gotten much easier to “wait for the trade,” with a more reliable and predictable publishing schedule.
Marvel wasn’t the only one putting out hardcovers, either. DC played around with the format some more in 2002, including the overlooked BATMAN: NINE LIVES original graphic novel from the minds of Dean Motter and Michael Lark. It gets kudos for the unique combination (at the time) of two formatting options: it’s hardcover and printed sideways. The binding is located on top of the book, as it’s traditionally held. If it’s easier to picture it, think of the Marvelscope format done in hardcover. Motter and Lark’s story is a solid Elseworlds tale, with movie homages that don’t distract from the story. It’s a solid Batman story that movie aficionados will also be able to appreciate.
(Michael Lark is now handling art duties on GOTHAM CENTRAL, which is looking pretty good right now as an early contender on the Top Ten of 2003 list.)
Another book was later published in the same format. From Doubleday’s Graphic Novels line came Jason Little’s long-awaited compilation and conclusion of SHUTTERBUG FOLLIES. The $25 hardcover book presents the complete story (originally published on the web) of photo shop employee Bee, and how her hobby of collecting the weird photos that crazy New Yorkers take leads her to the scene of a murder. From there, her obsession with solving the case leads her to some new friends and dangerous situations.
Bee is instantly likeable, and doesn’t come across as one of those Women In Danger you see in comics too much. Yes, you know she’s pushing things too far and getting herself into trouble, but you can’t help but share in her curiosity.
Little’s artwork reminds me of a more reader-friendly Chris Ware. The coloring scheme is similar. The artwork is clean. The storytelling is clear. The story, itself, though is more commercial and less “literary.” It’s a much more enjoyable read, although not really suitable for all ages. (Too many graphic images of naked and dead bodies.)
CATWOMAN: SELINA’S LAST SCORE was an original graphic novel in hardcover format from the mind of Darwyn Cooke. It filled in some of the gaps left behind during Cooke’s run at the beginning of Ed Brubaker’s new CATWOMAN series. Cooke did a great job in making a book that felt completely at home as a movie. Not just a movie script, but a full blown movie. His chapter headings began with a series of images for the next location the book was set in, approximating an opening montage sequence. You cold hear the soundtrack in your head as you read the book. The story itself is satisfying, and Cooke’s art worked as well as it did in his all-too-short tenure on the monthly CATWOMAN series.
(Don’t forget the first trade paperback compilation of Brubaker’s series that’s also available now. The series is a good one, just missing my Top Ten list. I realize now that it probably missed it because I waited to read the series in arcs. I didn’t feel the need to keep up with it from month to month.)
DC produced its own oversized hardcover book with THE ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY, reprinting the first and best year of the title from Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, and Laura Depuy. It stands an inch or two larger than Marvel’s hardcovers, and shows off Hitch’s dramatic and “widescreen” art better than it’s ever looked. It’s even better than his JLA Treasury Edition sized one-shot that was marred by a small number of unfortunate computer scanning errors. The volume comes in a fancy slipcase, and retails for less than $50. (Previous DC hardcovers, like GREEN ARROW/GREEN LANTERN or CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS came in at closer to $80.) It’s a handsome addition to anyone’s bookshelf.
Image started its march towards hardcover glory in 2002, as well. LEAVE IT TO CHANCE, the much-missed tale of an adventurous young girl, made its comeback in a bold new way. Image began using what it referred to as the “European” or “Tin Tin” format, reprinting the original storyline of James Robinson and Paul Smith’s charming fantasy work as an oversized hardcover at a great price, $14.95.
tpb personal highlight of the year was Oni’s release of THE COMPLETE COPYBOOK TALES. J. Torres and Tim Levins’ tales of growing up 80s is one of my favorite comics of all time. Its original run was produced as a series of mini-comics, followed by a short-lived Slave Labor Graphics series. Not nearly enough people had read it until Oni put out the trade that was originally scheduled in 2001 by Fanboy Entertainment. It was definitely worth the wait.
It was a personal highlight because I wrote the introduction to the book, finally breaking the curse of failed print publications with my name in it. (COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE seems to have survived my one DVD review, and now devotes an entire section to such things every week. Go figure. One or two other magazines were not so fortunate.)
Another book that struck close to home was Tyler Page’s STYLISH VITTLES: I MET A GIRL. It’s the 300 page original graphic novel telling the story of a college romance as it starts to blossom, from the very hesitant beginning to the blowup at the end that nearly ruins the whole thing. It’s one of the few romance stories I’ve ever read that reminded me of any portion of my life, and because of that really struck a chord. (I love Tom Beland’s TRUE STORY — which has a trade due for release soon — but it’s hardly a mirror for any of my experiences.)
Page’s black and white artwork is very organic. It evolves over the course of the book, and changes styles when the story dictates. Everything is done by hand, right down to the lettering, giving the book a natural artsy feel that’s neither pretentious nor difficult to read. Page takes a huge gamble with his dramatic opening sequence, that’s spread out over nearly 50 pages. It’s a gutsy risk that pays off in the end.
The next book in the projected series of volumes is due out in a couple of months. It’s in PREVIEWS today, so go pre-order it.
Doug TenNapel’s CREATURE TECH was a big find at the San Diego Con this past summer, where the creator sat at the Top Shelf booth behind a stack of freshly printed copies and gave away original art from his Earthwork Jim days as an incentive to pick up a copy. TenNapel, the creator of that Saturday morning and video game icon, created an oddball story that mixed parts of Doctor Seuss with bits from B-movies of the 1950s and episodes of the X-Files into one slick package. TenNapel’s madcap art straddles the line between serious characterization and insane images leading to serious destruction, crazy action sequences, and genre spoofs. (You can find the full review here.)
Another big favorite of the year was another Slave Labor Graphic book, SPARKS, from Lawrence Marvit. This is the story of an awkward young woman, Jo, whose best friend is the robot she built. Her home life is a wreck and her friends are few and far between. Her self-confidence is shot. In this phonebook-sized black and white work, Jo gets the chance to break out of the life she’s trapped in, and the results are engrossing.
The first half of the book is a reprinting of the original series from Slave Labor. The last 170 pages is the all-new ending to the series that was two years in the making. (The final review for SPARKS is tucked away in the archives here. My initial review for the first issues are back a little further.)
Finally, AiT/PlanetLar’s “books with spine” lineup included Brian Wood’s COUSCOUS EXPRESS, the start of what looks to be a new series of books from Larry Young’s resident graphic design genius. Steven Grant’s BADLANDS saw new light, and Mike Brennan’s ELECTRIC GIRL found a new home. Those three, in particular, are worth reading, but it’s another book that stood out from the pack: the long-thought-lost World War I saga, WHITE DEATH, from Rob Morrison and Charlie Adlard. It’s a tense saga of warfare in the trenches in the snowy mountainside. Adlard’s art switches back and forth from a younger creator’s unsteady line to an accomplished artist’s experiments with media to accomplish a detailed and gritty portrayal of snowbound warfare. WHITE DEATH is the highlight of another solid year from AiT/PlanetLar.
IF YOU MISSED THE TOP TEN SERIES LIST…
The ten books that did make the list were (in no particular order) ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, SUICIDE SQUAD, THE PATH, DAREDEVIL, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, RUSE, LONE WOLF, ULTIMATES, NOBLE CAUSES, and MY MONKEY’S NAME IS JENNIFER.
Next week: An announcement about Pipeline2’s future. I’ll put it up on the Pipeline message board before Tuesday, if you’re inclined to join in the conversation there.
VariousAndSundry.com has been updated with reckless abandon this week. Come see what DVDs were released this week and what TV shows are coming to the format in the months ahead. Check out the Grammy nominations, some odd Hollywood death coincidences, a VERTICAL LIMIT DVD review, my hopes for what the third season of 24 will be, and more.
More than 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML that’s soon going away.
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