Everyone loves looking back at the best work of the previous year, so here are the thoughts of the gang here at Comics Should Be Good!
There was so much to discuss, that we even broke this up into two parts! Today, you'll hear from Greg Burgas, MarkAndrew, Greg Hatcher and myself. Yesterday, you heard from Joe Rice, Pol Rua, Bill Reed and Brad Curran (click here for a link to their picks).
Best Artist: Juan Ferreyra: Rex Mundi, Emissary, Small Gods.
When he started on Small Gods, he was working in black and white, and the starkness of the lack of color made his attention to detail stand out. After that title got cancelled, he moved on to Emissary, which also died, but his work on Rex Mundi continues to shine. He is painting more and softening his lines, which works very well with the tone of the book. It's a nice transition, as is his move to colors, which makes his art even more spectacular.
2. Mark Buckingham, Fables.3. Stuart Immonen, Nextwave.4. Georges Jeanty, The American Way.5. J. H. Williams III, Desolation Jones, Seven Soldiers #1, one stinkin' issue of Detective.
Best Writer: Will Pfeifer: Catwoman.
Others were better writers, but he made me care about a character I had absolutely no interest in. He has used a wonderful supporting cast to tell stories about people making difficult choices and living their lives as best as they can. In Catwoman, there are no easy ways out, and each incident has consequences far beyond what we expect. And the Film Freak is the best new villain of the year.
2. Joe Casey, Godland.3. Bill Willingham, Fables.4. Peter David, X-Factor, Fallen Angel.5. Ed Brubaker, Daredevil, Criminal.
Best Mini-Series: Scarlet Traces: The Great Game, by Ian Edginton and D'Israeli.
Beautiful art, first of all. Second, it's a very fun science fiction series. Most of all, though, it is a wonderful comment on the war in Iraq but doesn't take an easy stance on that or any war. Just when you think you have it figured out, Edginton twists things to force you to look at everything a different way. You continually have to re-assess how you feel about the military, the government, the press, and even the enemy. And it's thrilling, exciting, tense, and occasionally heartwarming. Good stuff!
2. The American Way by John Ridley and Georges Jeanty.3. The Middleman Vol. 2 by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McLaine.4. Batman: Secrets by Sam Kieth.5. The Surrogates by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele
Best Ongoing Series: Godland, by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli.
Pure adrenaline, pure joy of comics, pure fun. In every issue, Casey and Scioli try to top themselves, and usually they succeed. This has been compared to early Marvel Kirby stuff, but as you know, I'm not the biggest fan of Kirby. I prefer to think of it as in the tradition of the best wacky Steranko stuff, if we have to compare it to something. I would rather appreciate it on its own, which is as totally kick-ass science fiction wackiness, with just the right touch of irony that we expect from today's comics. It's the most fun comic I've read this year, and that includes Nextwave.
2. Fables, by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham.3. Ex Machina, by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris.4. Moon Knight, by Charlie Huston and David Finch.5. Rex Mundi, by Arvid Nelson and Juan Ferreyra.
When the lions see the sunset in Pride of Baghdad. Considering what they have gone through, it's a heartwarming as well as tragic moment, and sums up what they have wanted the entire time. It's a thoughtful moment, too, as they realize how far they've come. Vaughan makes us feel the triumph of the moment without ignoring the horror of the war, and Henrichon's art, good for the entire book, shines for those brief panels. A great moment in a great graphic novel.
Writer of the Year: Alison Bechdel for Fun Home.
Reading Fun Home is like watchin' a jigsaw puzzle being put together, piece by piece. But, y'know. Not boring. In two-hundred odd pages Bechdel assembles three stories: The beginning of her life and her coming to terms with being gay, the eventual suicide of her father who spent quite a lot of his life cheating on his wife with a series of young men, and the day to day life in the funeral (Fun) home which the author's family both managed and lived in. Sometimes the three narrative are smooshed together, sometimes their jerked apart apart, they're rarely presented chronological order but at the end they end up feeling like three chapters of one complete story.
What makes the story work so well is Bechdel's almost compulsive lack of sentimentality and her ability to approach her own life story as detached observer while STILL hammering together a very emotional-not-emo work. She chides herself for her lack of (fear of?) easy emotional involvement in the story, but it's what allows her to ruthlessly gut her own life and duct tape it back into a work that feels, complete, unbiased, and ultimately very moving.
The art doesn't hurt none either. She's an extremely solid cartoonist, and her characters are readily identifiable caricatures but they're also expressive enough to show a broad range of emotion. It's the lively cartooning that keeps the book from been' too somber; Her parents are presented as rather austere critters, but L'il Allison Bechdel is just sooooo charming. The panel-to-panel construction of the story is refreshingly restrained, usin' the same wide angle view for most panels, which means that even small changes in camera angle really serve to make individual panels stand out.
If taken individually, this restraint in both writing and art would make individual chapters feel incomplete and distant, but they're aligned so skillfully and in such perfect order that they make Fun Home the most complete? full? memoir I've ever read. It's crafted so well you don't notice how well it's put together, and the sad and sweet emotional punch at the end, when everything's tied together and wrapped up and the full affect can be appreciated affected me more than ANYTHING I've read (or seen) this year.
Best Artist: Kim Deitch, eighteen years ago for Shadowland:
Speaking of father son legacies: Kim Deitch's dad was a big-shot in the animation biz, and it's hard not to notice how much his son Kim's work is influenced by animation. There's an almost madcap FULLNESS to the story, with no more wasted space than a Warner Brothers cartoon. It's also hard to describe: It's a science fiction carnival story with both comedic and humorous elements. It's about stripping away the glossy veneer of childhood, but it's also about magic hiding in plain sight. And it's frickin' glorious.
There's a kind of two-dimensional look to the characters, making Deitch's pages feel like a bunch of overlapping, flat planes. And there's a few panels where the characters LEAP from the page, and you can almost expect a hearty th-th-th-that's ALL, Folks. But this isn't Alex Toth style animation, either. Every page is stuffed with detail, and it takes careful study to figure out what's going on; and these are BIG pages.
Fitting so much stuff on each page requires masterful design skills, but what really makes Deitch the artist of the year in my eyes is the subtle blend of "sinister" and "innocent" that Deitch evokes. The book starts with what feels like kid's story, 'bout a diving pig at the carnival coming back for one last run, but the outside of the panel borders are filled with drawings of devils and disembodied eyeballs and meat grinders. Nothing's ever cute in Shadowland... At least nothing's ever JUST cute.
Likewise, a bit further on, I actually said "Awww. That's the darlingest little severed head." Even the sex and violence has a zany feel to it. Shadowland is a darned appropriate moniker for the book where everything lives in an emotional nether-realm between the creepy and the beautiful, where everything's sacred and everything's profane. Beautiful.
Series of the Year: Love and Rockets.
It's easy to ignore 'cause it just keeps ticking along like clockwork. Everybody's best comics of all time list is gonna have L & R on it, but it's easy to forget that the Hernandez Brothers are doin' one of the best comics of the NOW.
Gilbert's moving away from the awesome mega-epics like Palomar and Luba and writing three shorter, more accessible serials, each of 'em a Fun Homian "day in the life of" a main character. And, yeah, TWO of these serials tie back to the Palomar/Luba stuff, but they mostly work as self-contained stories, something that Love and Rockets has never been very good at. It occurs to me that Gilbert might be the best horror comics writer that never was. There's an uneasy tension to his stuff between the everyday and either the emotionally horrific or the jus' plain horrific, and it's downright scary to see his lifelike characters dragged through the mud. There's a bit at the end of # 18 where we have a side-by-side visual depiction of how the narrator of the piece sees himself (Confident, handsome, virile) with what he actually looks like (Beat to shit and torn apart.) The whole sequence made me gasp, out loud, on the bus, scaring the homeless dude behind me. I kind of miss funny experimental Gilbert, but freaky/scary Gilbert just about makes up for it.
And Jaime, man, Jaime. I've always skewed towards a preference for Gilbert's more literary style in the favorite Hernandez brother competition, but, dag, Jaime's borrowing some stuff from his bro and turning out mebbe the best work of his long and storied career. Here's three reasons why Jaime's stuff rocks:
(1) His beautiful, naturalistic cover drawings. Jaime's ALWAYS been one hell of a sequential artist, but his covers have turned into some of the best cartoon art of our day, capturing the humanity of his characters. Check out Hopey in repose from last years # 14 of the spooky noirish feel of # 18, released just this week.
(2) His increasing confidence with using literary stuff. There was this effortlessly dropped flashback in L & R 17 where punker chick Hopey is now all grown up and working as a teacher's assistant and the book jumps back to her OWN childhood but you don't really realize that it's a flashback 'till a couple pages later and THEN you figure out that Hopey still sees herself as much as a rebellious kid as an authority figure and you're all "Holy Shit! Dude can write!"
(3) His use of myth and metaphor. Gilbert's always been the go-to dude for artsy fartsy writing tricks, but there's a Jaime story in # 18 that's totally about Maggie, the major protagonist of Jaime's work since forever without having Maggie appear in it at all. It's about the character-in-ideaspace, almost about the MYTH of Maggie. A damned good, dammed effective trick, flawlessly executed.
One Shot/Mini-Series of the Year: Well, EVERY issue of Solo was pretty damn interesting, the four issues we saw this year being the most experimental mainstream comic we've seen this year, concluding in the mind-blowing last issue from Brendan McCarthy where narrative was tossed right out the window and all we're left with a chaotic swirl of color and madness.
And there was Meow, Baby. Which wasn't Jason's best work, but featured "One mummy, one god, one angel, one devil, one plastic surgeon, one Dracula, one Van Helsing, two ambulatory skeletons, one ice cream girl, two policemen, one space alien, one rocket ship, one Egyptian explorer, one werewolf, one family of cavemen, one Frankenstein monster, one pizza delivery guy, one Godzilla, one family of zombies, one Terminator, one set of potential in-laws, one mob of angry villagers, one naked girl in a shower, one Rubik's Cube, one hitchhiker, one ophthalmologist, one Darth Vader, one Frenchmen, one time clock, one pterodactyl, one Jules, one Vincent, one teacher, and one Elvis." And that ALONE makes it worthy of consideration.
And Joe Kubert shows us that he can still write decent and draw AMAZING in "Sgt Rock: The Prophecy." And Neil Gaiman humanizes the Kirby myth over in Eternals while John Romita junior draws with a sense of scope rivalling Jack hisownself.
But, really, nothing absolutely flattened me this year. Unless we count "Essential Man-Thing" which reprinted the Sublime Gerber/Ploog "When I died" which I'd cheerfully submit as the single best issue of any Marvel comic.
This is always the hardest one for me. How do you compare artists working in totally different genres and doing completely different kinds of projects.... say, Craig Thompson to Bryan Hitch... and declare a winner? It's ludicrous. That's the fallacy of these 'best of the year' roundups to begin with.
Even confining my choices to someone from mainstream monthly comics there were so many pieces of really good work out there this last year... but I'm going to say Darwyn Cooke who took on an impossible job and made us all like it.
I refuse to name Grant Morrison. Mostly because I didn't read anything of his this last year except a couple of issues of All-Star Superman, and I thought those were just okay. I imagine I'll get around to Seven Soldiers in trade one of these days, but in the meantime, well, I should pick a guy whose work I actually read.
Easily, the guy that blew me out of my chair more often than anyone else this year was Steve Gerber. I did a retrospective on some of his older work here a while back, but to my delight, there was NEW stuff from him this year as well and it was every bit as good as the old. I'm sad to lose Hard Time but on the other hand I'm delighted to get Dr. Fate.
There were also re-issues of his work that were new to me, though they date back decades: I missed Man-Thing and Tales of the Zombie on the first go-round, as well as his work on Son of Satan and Marvel Two-In-One. All of those saw print this year in Essential format, along with Essential Defenders volume two. For a Bronze Age Marvel guy like me, that was Christmas all year long... and Hard Time proved he still has it.
Without question, the best one-shot of the last year was the Hero Initiative benefit book, Actor Comics Presents. Just a lot of really good comics cutting across all genres -- funny, serious, superhero, western, autobiographical, from both new kids and seasoned vets... it was like a snapshot of the entire American comics landscape. You get to see talented people doing stories they normally never get a chance to -- where else would you get a new Western story from Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano, or the first new Joe Staton E-Man in forever, sandwiched in between all these funky little indie guys like Rob Gullory and John Gallagher doing their indie thing? Plus you do a nice thing for the industry when you spend money on it.
Best mini-series I saw last year was The Lone Ranger. I'm hoping it does well enough to become an ongoing, but only if you get the same talent working on it.
Best Ongoing Series
Hmp. This is another hard one. The trouble is that there really wasn't anything that I dived for in the new ongoing pile, nothing had that gotta-read-it-right-NOW! excitement. The stuff that I got excited about was all limited-series work or reprints. There are lots of ongoing books that I like a lot, but it seems like if you're going to name something as best of the year there should be a little more. I am going to assume for purposes of being able to name SOMETHING here that Astro City sort of qualifies as an ongoing. Damn the torpedoes, I am saying Astro City.
"There. Was. No. Store."... Mark Waid's horrified moment of realization that two fans have actually kidnapped him, from "True Tales of HORROR from the Convention Trail" in the ACTOR Comics Presents book. He doesn't get to strut it much at DC but those of us that remember Mr. Waid's tenure on the old Amazing Heroes know that he can really bring the funny when he wants to.
To close this out, I figure I'd try some different categories before I fell right into place with my own strict categories (got to try to liven things up, especially when you see my picks for the main categories...hehe).
Most Surprising Good Issue of the Year - I think this would have to be, without a doubt, Sable and Fortune #4, by Marvel Comics.
I meant to mention this when the issue came out (some time early in the Summer or late in the Spring), but man, after three issues of mediocre-to-poor espionage stories, writer Brendan Cahill (with guest-artist on the last issue, Laureen McCubbin) pulls out of practically thin air an engaging, character-driven issue where Dominic Fortune talks with a woman at a bar for almost all of the issue, and yet, their conversations (which seem to echo Fortune's life) dovetail into a satisfying ending of the series, and somehow made me want to see MORE of these characters, something I'd never consider in the realm of possibility after #1-3.
I mean, who could POSSIBLY predict that Sable and Fortune #4 would be a good comic book??!
Best Brian K. Vaughan Comic Book Title of 2006 - While both Runaways, Escapists and Ex Machina were really good in 2006, I think I will give the nod to Ex Machina, for consistently outperforming expectations on how one writes good stories about a superpowered mayor of New York City.
Best Turnaround on a Comic Book Title WitHOUT a Creative Change - I think the pick here is Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise.
Never a BAD book, Strangers in Paradise had fallen into a bit of a rut, where the story stalled a bit. However, in 2006, writer/artist Terry Moore began the long stretch toward the finish of the title. When that happened, things actually began HAPPENING, and the book got a lot better.
Best Turnaround on a Comic Book Title WITH a Creative Change - Shockingly, I am going with the transition from Judd Winick to Grant Morrison on Batman.
I thought Daredevil got a lot better from Bendis to Brubaker, but Bendis' Daredevil was better than Winick's Batman (which, itself, wasn't that bad, really), so the transition wasn't as big as going from Winick to Morrison.
Best Follow-Up Comic Collection - The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, from Gemstone. This companion piece to Don Rosa's classic The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck storyline is a wonderful, wonderful collection.
If you liked the former, you'll like this one as well! Good stuff!
Best Ed Brubaker Comic Book Title - While Criminal gave it a real run for its money, I still think Daredevil is the standard bearer for this category. Brubaker has written practically flawless issues of Daredevil, and he has shown no signs of letting up.
Best Fight - It has got to be the Mouse Guard versus the snake in Mouse Guard #1. What an awesome fight.
Number of Issues of 52 Singlehandedly Saved by Grant Morrison From Being Awful - 9
Funniest Comic Book of the Year - Tales Designed to Thrizzle #3.
A history of pornographic coloring books. HiLARious.
Absolute Best Absolute Edition - Absolute New Frontier, duh!
Now, on to the real categories! Prepare to be unsurprised, people!
Best Writer - Alison Bechdel, Josh Cotter, Chris Ware, Brian Fies, Kevin Huizenga and Gene Yang all contributed excellent pieces of graphic literature in 2006. Huizenga, in particular, impressed the hell out of me with his work.
Any of them would be a fine choice for best writer, but at the end of the day, each of them (save Huizenga) pretty much had the one major work, and when you can contribute high levels of quality while contributing a whole pile of excellent work, then that is a little more impressive to me, personally.
Of the writers who wrote a lot of books, Ed Brubaker had a great year on Daredevil and Criminal, a really good year on Captain America and a decent year on Uncanny X-Men.
Bill Willingham had a good year on Fables and Jack of Fables.
Jeff Parker played musical chairs, doing high quality work on a variety of odd projects.
Brian Wood did great work on Local and good work on DMZ.
Joe Casey had a number of strong works.
Brian K. Vaughan did good work on Runaways, Y the Last Man and Ex Machina and Pride of Badhdad.
But Grant Morrison wrote Seven Soldiers, which was fantastic and All Star Superman, which was transplendent. He even wrote a few good issues of Batman, to boot!
Warren Ellis, with the excellent Nextwave and the very good Fell, is his main competition, but I don't think he did as good of a job as Morrison this past year.
So yeah, Grant Morrison is my pick.
Best Artist - Darwyn Cooke did some very nice work.
Matt Wagner continues to amaze me, over twenty five years into his career.
If we count covers, Marko Djurdjevic and James Jean both had a substantial amount of great covers this past year.
Brad Curran picked a great artist in Dave Stewart, who I think had a bit of an off year in 2006 (his New Avengers run...yikes). I really like Frank D'Armata's color art.
But I think it really comes down to Quitely versus Williams, and while I absolutely adore Quitely, and HEAVILY considered a tie (but realized it was too cheesy), Williams did Desolation Jones, which looked amazing AND he did Seven Soldiers #1, which was heavenly.
Granted, neither man had a large body of work in 2006, but what great artist DID? I guess the art team of Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudino. They were great, but Williams was staggering.
So J.H. Williams III.
Best Mini-Series/One-Shot - Was Ganges a one-shot? That was really good.
Obviously, Fun Home, American Born Chinese and Mom's Cancer all ruled.
Batman: Year 100 was great.
Union Jack was a lot of fun. So is Phonogram.
Brendan McCarthy's Solo was nifty, as was Mouse Guard.
American Splendour and Batman and the Monster Men (and the Mad Monk) were both very good.
But Seven Soldiers was a reading experience unlike any I've seen in comics before, so it gets the nod.
Best Ongoing Series - Skyscrapers of the Midwest and Tales Designed to Thrizzle are awesome books.
Is Or Else an ongoing? How about Elephantmen?
Acme Novelty Library is great, as usual.
Fell was very good, and Nextwave was a TON of fun.
Fables, Criminal, Daredevil, Runaways, Walking Dead, Godland, Powers and Ex Machina were all top notch.
But yeah, All Star Superman it is.
Can't punish Morrison and Quitely for producing the best ongoing series out there, just because a bunch of other people agree with me.
Best Moment - Nextwave had a LOT of good ones - the main ones Brad and Bill mentioned.
Daredevil had a great moment where Punisher decides to enter the fray.
Seven Soldiers #1 had a bunch of great moments.
My pick, though, is from All Star Superman #5, where Lex Luthor (who Morrison has re-imagined as COMPLETELY bald, down to the eyebrows) is wearing drawn in eyebrows.
One of them gets rubbed off, so Luthor draws it back in - but he draws it back in in an arch, to fit the evil speech he is giving!
Quitely and Morrison - you mad geniuses!
Okay, that's our picks!