Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Category 13) Covers of the Year! (That didn’t make any of the other CSBG best cover lists!)
Category 12) Webcomic of the… Ah, actually, ONLY Webcomic I Read Regularly!
Click on Carl for a link to Part One of Carl’s Large Story!
Category 11) DC Comic of the Year!
Category 10) Marvel Comic of the Year!
Category 9) Image Comic of the Year!
The only three mainstreamy books to get a “Gosh! Wow! That was FREAKING AWESOME!” reaction from me. But I pretty much only read Marvel and DC stuff in trades, so I’m a little behind.
Category 8) Best Comic Recommended By Comics Should Be Good Readers! (Tie)
(Instead of ranking (1) First Half of Death Note (2) Yotsuba (3) Second Half of Death Note, I wussed out and called it a tie. )
Category 7) Best Comic of Last Year I Didn’t Get Around To Reading Till This Year!
Category 6) Zombie Comic of the Year!
(This was RIGHT up there for book of the year, actually.)
Category 5) Best Reprint of Older Material… Um… Of the Year!
4) Pirate Comic of the Year!
(Ah, the category nearest and dearest to my heart. Sorry, Pirates of Coney Island. It was damn close.)
3) Comic Writer of the Year!
So. An analogy. It might help to think of Percy Gloom as Cinderella, just shorter. And nervouser. With a HUGE head. And a hell of a lot wrinklier. And it’s got a dark sensibility to it… OK, think of it like the original Cinderella stories, or the Anne Sexton Poem where the wicked Stepsister chops off her heel to fit in the glass slipper.
Or maybe skip the analogy. But Percy Gloom is a sorta Fairy Tale, complete with it’s own surrealistic, sligtly Dali-esque Fairyland.
And having created this world, Malksian plops Percy Gloom in the middle of it.
(Yes, he DOES throw the muffins at the girl on the post with the bucket on her head. But it makes sense. You kind of have to be there.)
At the book kicks’ off, Percy’s not QUITE sweeping cinders. In fact, he’s unemployed and trying to get hired at the Cautionary Writing Institute writing extremely extensive warning labels. Even after getting hired at his dream job, he finds himself buffeted by beaurocratic forces beyond his control. By the end… well he hasn’t gone from rags to riches but he’s stared death in the face and rejected it, (and he’s happily sitting on the head of a giant snail as the goats start to sing) and THAT’S a hell of a lot more impressive.
What Cathy Malkasian does here is pull of three really effective writing tricks. First, she makes a unique and cohesively logical fantasy world. Second, she gives Percy a completely believable and human character arc. And third, she makes the one reflect the other. The world Percy lives in doesn’t change much over the course of the series.. BUT it always seems to reflect what Percy’s going through. At the beginning I thought “Of course poor Percy’s all messed up in the head look where he lives! It’s so horrible!” And at the end I though “Of Course Percy’s Happy! Look Where He Lives! It’s so Cool! Giant Snail!”
So even in this really-pretty-damn-good year for comics, I can’t think of anything that impressed me more.
2) Comic Artist of the Year!
The easiest way I can think of to show you the scope of the awesomeness of this project is to recite some lists.
1) Alice in Sunderland is, at various times it’s a hoax, a dream, and an imaginary story.
2) Alice in Sunderland is the history of the British town of Sunderland. It’s also the story of the writing and cultural history behind Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. But it’s the furthest thing possible from “High School Textbook” history. This is history on a grand scale, weaving dozens of divergent stories, elements of myth, and a questioning sense of humor that constantly refutes and challenges it’s own reality into three hundred-some-odd pages of the best comic art I’ve ever witnessed.
3) Alice in Sunderland’s cast of characters includes early 20th century comedian George Formby, Jack the Ripper, Sir John Lambton: Knight of Rhoes, Grace Slick, Trina Robbins, John Lennon, Jeff “Bone” Smith, Jack Crawford “Hero of Camperdown” who “once famously rides a big through the alleyways,” Scott McCloud, the author’s own Grandmother, Lewis Caroll, and, of course, Alice Liddell, the real life Alice in Wonderland.
4) In making Alice in Sunderland Talbot combines, among other things, photographs, maps, newspaper clippings, children’s book illustrations, watercolor painting, collage, postcards, dolls(!), cartoons, comic strips, and his own pencilled art, which adopts the style of Herge, EC’S Jack Davis, and John Tenniel, illustrator of Alice in Wonderland.
And there’s generally at least one thing on every page I don’t know HOW Talbot pulled it off.
And IT ALL WORKS!
I said it was a good year for comics – And I meant it – But I didn’t see any competition in this category.
1) Ongoing Comic Series of the Year!
Wow. I never woulda seen THIS coming in aught five. Honestly, the first few issues just weren’t all that good. But now I’m calling Mome the best ongoing series of the year. It’s a book I find endlessly engaging and delightful.
Although sometimes I’m not sure the feeling’s mutual.
(Art by Ray Fenwick)
See, I look at comic art as a continuum. There are art driven comics (Ray Fenwick’s a good example, actually. Or think Dave McKean’s stuff… Or even early Image books) narrative driven comics (Fun Home, ferinstance. Or Curt Swan’s Superman), and those that kinda hang out in-between. (With further subdivisions into DESIGN, PURE DRAWING, NARRATIVE, and MOMENT TO MOMENT based comics… But that’s probably beyond the scope of this piece…)
Anyway, the point is: All of these styles show up in Mome.
(Art from Elanor Davis’ creepy SEVEN SACKS. We never do find out what’s inside.)
And it’s not just the scope of comics being presented that makes Mome my Best Of the Year! pick. It’s also the relaxed, unpretentious, even friendly atmosphere of the series. The “contestants” (as one title page calls ‘em) aren’t so much telling us “This work will change your life forever” but “Hey, look what I did!”
Some of this comes from the books four-times-a-year schedule. Which is just about perfect for the strips working in serial format. Each issue allows us to reconnect with some old familiar styles and storylines, and three months is just about enough time so that the stories don’t feel rushed, but there’s not SO much time between episodes that you totally lose the plot.
(Art from Kurt Wolfgang’s cheerfully apocalyptic NOTHING EVE – Including my favorite comic quote of the year.)
This informality shows up in other ways, too. Some contributors appear in every issue. Some pop in from time to time, usually there’s an interview with one of them, and there’s one serialized story by a BIG NAME… Well, a big name from the small pool of independent comics…serialized in each issue. There’s been a Jim Woodring Frank story in the last few issues, and the first couple MOME books of the year featured Lewis Trondheim‘s AT LOOSE ENDS, a quiet memoir about being an artist and growing older.
(Some take it harder than others.)
And all this stuff about how comfortable and friendly MOME is doesn’t mean that the content is sloppy, tossed off, or ungood. Around eighty percent of the content falls somewhere between “extremely solid, competent work” and “borderline spectacular comics. ” It’s very rarely sloppy or unprofessional, and when it is… it feels like part of the charm.
OR it’s another freaking dream comic. If there’s one thing I hate about this series, it’s all the artists subjecting us to their dreams, which are uniformly uninteresting. DEAR COMIC ARTISTS. NOBODY GIVES A CRAP ABOUT YOUR STUPID DREAMS AND SHOWING THEM TO US MAKES US HATE YOU. But other than that, it’s a darn fine comic.
(Not an example of crappy work. I just had an extra scan I needed to fit somewhere. From DREAD, words by Brian Evenson, adapted by Zak Sally.)
So MOME is best series of the year(!), for being consistently invigorating and challenging… But in a friendly, local-bar sort of way.
0) And Also! Alias the Cat and Sammy the Mouse and Exit Wounds and Club of Heros and Chinatown and Speak of the Devil and the Sketchbook Diaries and Town Boy and Immortal Iron Fist and… geez. LOTS more.
Let’s all raise glasses and toast to one hell of a year.
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