Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Closing up our month of lists and year in review on She Has No Head! is a list of my “Bests” from 2010 (and a few worsts). Please keep in mind that I didn’t get to read ALL THE BOOKS. For example, The Return of The Dapper Men is sitting here and wooing me with its gorgeous swan song and telling me that it could have been a contender…but I just didn’t get to it…and that’s the way it is sometimes, but of the stuff that I read (which was A LOT), here’s what I really loved the most…
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Becky Cloonan
This tightly plotted, quiet, beautifully sublime issue of Demo follows Marlo, a girl who only gets through the day via post-it note instructions, finding her system hacked by an outsider – which derails her life completely – but in surprising ways. The issue made me think about all the things I personally miss by keeping my life on such a short leash, and that sometimes good things do happen that aren’t already on the post-it note, and that there’s no way to be open to them if you’re not willing to risk, willing to lose, and willing to look up from the post-it. Any time a book can make me think twice about life I know it’s doing something right. Carefully crafted by Brian Wood and stunningly illustrated by Becky Cloonan (my all-time favorite of her work to date) this story was easily my favorite comic of the year.
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Matthew Southworth
Publisher: Oni Press
Anytime Greg Rucka wants to write a new series, especially an independent one with an interesting female lead I’m definitely on board, but I had no idea how much I’d fall for Dex and Stumptown. It’s not everyday in comics that wonderfully layered female characters are created, but Greg Rucka is the best at doing it as far as I’m concerned, and his lovable screw-up Portland P.I. Dex, is no exception. This first arc follows Dex as she tries to find a missing girl and in the process encounters two different sets of thugs (one set a little more polished than the other), a pair of scheming siblings, the seventh wealthiest man in Oregon, and a whole lot of other trouble. It’s excellent smart fun from cover to cover, and Matthew Southworth’s art is gritty and fitting for the story and particularly exceptional on the 4th issue, where he really pulls out all the stops.
*Technically Stumptown debuted in November of 2009, but since only one issue occurred in 2009, and it wouldn’t have been enough work to consider for 2009, I’m placing it firmly in 2010.
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Various (Frank Quitely, Frazer Irving, Andy Clarke, Cameron Stewart, and more)
There were highs and lows to Batman & Robin this year, but I realized that it was consistently the comic I reached for first when it showed up in my pile, and it was consistently a book that pleased and impressed me and only occasionally disappointed me. The chemistry and character development for Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian Wayne as Robin was sublime overall in B&R and I came to love those characters and their relationship together so much that I actually worried a little about what would happen when Bruce returned – and THAT is a major accomplishment. Additionally, while I was displeased overall with the arc(s) detailing the return of (my beloved) Bruce Wayne and thought most of the stories were pretty badly mangled – spread over too many books and as such their power far too diluted – it was in Morrison and Irving’s Batman & Robin #15 that I felt Bruce’s return most powerfully…and if I was picking a runner up to “single best comic” of the year, that would probably be it. It was the only time I got that shiver of “OMG! BRUCE IS BACK!” that I’d been waiting for and wanting so desperately.
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Rebekah Isaacs (covers by Fiona Staples)
This was a tough category for me as I’d say three of my favorite things I read this year were mini-series in the form of Brian Wood’s DV8 and Demo Volume 2, and Dorkin and Thompson’s Beasts of Burden. In the end I went with DV8, probably because it really re-invented superheroes for me this year. DV8 reminded me of how many ways there are to tell great superhero stories and that often more subtle stories can be incredibly powerful and Wood nailed that here with a subtle story told on an unsubtle landscape and with characters that would NEVER be described as subtle. A tale of 8 anti-heroes dropped on a foreign planet for unknown reasons, Wood gives us an insightful and harrowing glimpse into their unraveling as both people and “heroes”. Isaacs’ commanding cinematic style took Wood’s subtle personal story up to epic levels – a deadly effective combination which was magic for me. It didn’t hurt that it introduced me to Rebekah Issacs AND Fiona Staples incredible art, for which I will always be grateful.
Writers & Artists: Various
I always enjoy a good anthology, but his was one of the best I’ve read, not just in 2010, but period. With a massive glut of indie talent from Kate Beaton and Jaime Hernandez to Jeffrey Brown and Eduardo Medeiros so many of these stories were exceptional fun. Like any anthology some work is stronger than others, and often enough one person’s best is another person’s “eh” which is part of what makes anthologies so great – that there is something for everyone – but I found this collection to be particularly strong. Even for stories that weren’t so much my cup of tea, they were still interesting and better that most stories I read this year. A little bit heartfelt, a little bit strange; a lot of beautiful and a whole lot of funny made this series a home run. I hope Marvel keeps it up.
Editor: Mark Chiarello
I’ve talked briefly a few times about Wednesday Comics in this column before, but if you haven’t read it yet I cannot recommend it enough. The content, originally published in 12 massive oversized newsprint issues, is absolutely top of the line – the best creators (Neil Gaiman, Amanda Conner, Dave Bullock, Jimmy Palmiotti, Ben Caldwell, Brian Azzarello, Mike Allred, Walter Simonson, Joe Kubert, Karl Kerschl and many many more) working on some of their favorite characters, telling stories without limit, and collected together in this (also oversized )hardback edition is just not to be missed. If you for any reason struggled with following along with the weekly newsprint originals, I will say that collected here by story, rather than by issue, the stories ARE easier to read, so if you were put off by the original format (for what it’s worth I LOVED that format) this might also be a good reason to try again. I hope Chiarello will do this again sometime in the future, I’m sure it was exhausting and I don’t know if his well-deserved promotion means we’re more likely or less likely to get a Wednesday Comics Volume II, but I’ll never give up hope!
Writer & Artist: Chris Ware
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
This 20th volume of Acme Novelty Library explores the life (and I mean the ENTIRE life) of Jordan “Jason” Lint, a one-time bully of Rusty Brown who is now explored in the traditional Chris Ware exceptional and microscopic detail. As Ware shows us Lint’s story from birth to death you cannot help but be moved and transfixed seeing a man’s life laid out as only Ware can. In “Lint” Ware continues his experimental and highly effective examination of just what the comics medium is capable of. It’s a must read, and as a bonus, for those potentially new to his work, it stands on its own just as nicely as it does a part of the larger whole of Acme Novelty Library.
Writer & Artist: Ross Campbell
This was also a tough category as I read a lot of great YA graphic novels this year (Mercury and Smile especially stand out) but in the end I picked Campbell’s Shadoweyes for much the same reason I picked Brian Wood’s DV8 – because it re-invented superheroes in a refreshing way that I hadn’t seen yet – and in a way that I really loved. With Campbell’s excellent ear for teen voices and exceptional illustration work paired with great coming of age themes, and darker more adult aspects of alienation, identity and a deep question of where right and wrong intersect, Campbell’s Shadoweyes managed to both entertain and provoke, as my favorite comics usually do. Bonus points for the fact that we’re getting more Shadoweyes – in the form of Shadoweyes In Love – in early 2011 from SLG.
Writer & Artist: Sarah Glidden
Easily one of the most insightful and thought provoking comics I read this year, I devoured Glidden’s beautiful watercolor travelogue detailing her birthright trip to Israel as a progressive American atheist Jew in one sitting. And then I went back and read it again. Israel approaches a touchy and loaded subject with logic and rational critical thinking, but ultimately is not afraid to also get caught up in emotion when necessary…and it is necessary, and moved me very powerfully and personally. I found myself believing what Glidden experienced, what she resisted, what she embraced, and ultimately what she took away from her experience. Her conflict, both internal and external, felt real and believable to me in a tangible way. I doubt I actually understand Israel – and probably won’t even if given 60 years – but it certainly opened my mind and made me think in a way that only the best of comics can
Writer & Artist: Kate Beaton
Publisher: Web – http://harkavagrant.com
I’ve raved about Kate Beaton quite a bit this year (here and here if you want to read more) but in comics this year I’d be hard pressed to say I got more enjoyment pound for pound out of any single creator than Kate Beaton. Her webcomics, whether more finished and polished, or quick and dirty sketches, never fail to amuse me. There’s something very specific about both her sense of humor and her sketchy but extremely effective drawing style that just hits right in my sweet spot. And judging by her twitter followers (22k+ and counting) I’m not alone…which is nice…because usually something that hits MY sweetspot that dead on, is not so popular, which feels kinda lonely. But Kate Beaton is amazing and I’m just glad so many others “get it” too. If you haven’t been reading Beaton, go over to Hark A Vagrant for her hilarious superhero comics, but stay for the historical and literay comics, and the occasional “younger self” comics, which are somehow always my favorite.
Writer & Artist: Karl Kerschl
Publisher: Self-published/Karl Kerschl
Karl Kerschl’s lovely printed collection of his weekly webcomic set in a woodland and populated by a variety of woodland creatures, including the titular (and mute) Charles Christopher, a gentle abominable snowman is gorgeous, and moving. The story varies wildly from hilarious to heartbreaking (yes, this book has made me cry and more than once) and is one of the best-drawn comics you will find anywhere. Kerschl’s characters (whether bird, bee, or abominable snowman) are undeniably relatable and it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love once you start reading – but prepare yourself to shed at least as many tears as laughs.
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: J.H. Williams III
The stunning Beasts of Burden hardcover collection really gave Elegy a run for its money, but at the end of the day I had to go with the book that I know I will re-read the most, loan out the most, the one that collects what I called “the superhero comic I’ve been waiting for” and of course the one with the Rachael Maddow introduction! Collecting Rucka and Williams III’s brilliant Batwoman run in Detective Comics #854 – #859, Batwoman: Elegy is the comic book in my house that I love the most…and that’s saying a lot coming from a girl that skews independent pretty hard and has a significant collection (and the credit card bills to show for it). If you haven’t read this yet…what are you waiting for? If you’ve already read it, read it again…you’ll discover so many amazing new things each time.
Writer: Evan Dorkin (with Mike Mignola)
Artist: Jill Thompson
Publisher: Dark Horse
There’s no way I had more fun reading any one standalone story this year than Dorkin and Thompson’s Hellboy/Beast of Burden one-shot – which was wall to wall adorable fun. With gorgeous painted artwork and amazing chemistry I never thought possible between a bunch of talking supernatural crime solving animals and the “beast of the apocalypse”, the story of Hellboy hooking up with the Beasts of Burden “team” to solve a crime is totally rewarding. I guess when you look at Hellboy and the Beasts Of Burden characters it almost makes sense for a great team-up…and certainly the results are brilliant…but I never would have thought of it until someone put it in front of me.
Honestly, of all the categories, and of all the horror of trying to break this stuff down to “one winner” this was the most impossible of all the categories. How do you choose between Kate Beaton’s hilarious Rogue story from Strange Tales II #3 (OR her Kraven/Spider-Man story from Strange Tales II #2!); Lucy Knisley’s fantastic Doc Ock story from Girl Comics #1 (right); Jeffrey Brown’s hilariously emo X-Men tale from Marvel Strange Tales II #2; Eduardo Medeiros’ adorable Spider-Man vs Juggernaut from Strange Tales II #3; Faith Erin Hicks totally fun Nextwave (and a sandwich!) story from Girl Comics; Jill Thompson’s beautiful Inhumans story from Girl Comics, Amanda Conner’s Power Girl/Wonder Woman team-up from Wonder Woman #600 (more on that below); Terry Moore’s Thor tale from Marvel’s Strange Tales II #3…the list just goes on and on and on for great short work this year…and that’s just the mainstream stuff! MOME continued to put out fantastic collections of short stories (which I am embarrassingly behind on reading). It was all just too much. So go out and read these stories – collected in Girl Comics, Marvel’s Strange Tales II, and the ever fabulous MOME.
Creator: Ross Campbell
Ross Campbell’s Sparkle Park from Shadoweyes crawled into my cold dead heart and made me happy again. Seriously, she’s one of the most energetic and lovable characters I’ve seen created for comics in well…just about ever. In a comics world of badass chicks right and left (which I also love) it’s also refreshing to have an unabashedly girly, super open and loving character like Sparkle come along. I fell in love with her instantly – of course it doesn’t hurt that Campbell draws her to be the most adorable thing on two legs. Sparkle is one of the most effulgent, energetic, and unique characters I’ve ever read on the page. I can’t wait to see more of her in 2011.
Artist: J.H. Williams III
Publisher: DC Comics
There were a hell of a lot of good covers this year. Just take a look here for a taste of some of my favorites from August 2009 through July of 2010 – but at the end of the day, the cover I would most like to have hanging up on my wall, that best captures both the thrilling mystique of superheroes that I love but that is also stunningly impressive from simply a visual and graphic design standpoint – down to the logo placement, title block, and creator credtis…is J.H. Williams III’s Batwoman #0.
Runner up: It was almost painful for me to decide between these two as Fiona Staples cover to DV8: Gods & Monsters #2 is somehow both horrifying and beautiful. Can’t wait to see more of what Staples is going to do in 2011. If Magus #1 is any indication, we’re in for a lot of beautiful stuff.
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Steven Sanders
I don’t know why a badass green-haired alien and brilliant blue beast can’t find a place for themselves in this big bad world of ours, but I was desperately sad to find S.W.O.R.D. canceled practically before it had begun. Expanding the Marvel universe in a fascinating wall to wall fun kind of way, I got a real kick out of a book that managed to somehow both follow the “superhero format” and also blow it to bits (although apparently it didn’t follow the “superhero format” enough for the readers/publishers) but I for one found it totally refreshing while still hitting all the superhero-esque notes I know and love. Regardless I suppose I’m grateful for the five issues I got, and the great introduction to both Gillen and Sanders.
Writer & Artist: Amanda Conner
Publisher: DC Comics
I’ve known for a long time (as we all have) that Amanda Conner is an absolute badass when it comes to drawing comics. She’s an exceptional storyteller, and one of the best of the best when it comes to the essentials of cartooning. However, I didn’t know she was also a solid writer, as she proved with her deft handling of the short story “Fuzzy Logic” in the Wonder Woman #600 issue.
She blew me away with her warm funny story of Wonder Woman and Power Girl (and Power Girl’s cat) and did in 5 pages what many can’t do in 22. What a wonderful surprise. I’d so like to see more of her writing and drawing her own work in the future – let’s make it happen!
Writer: Bryan Lee O’Malley (books), Edgar Wright & Michael Bacall (screenplay)
Director: Edgar Wright
Publisher/Studio: Oni Press/Universal Pictures
Though I loved Tamara Drewe and thought it would easily take this category for me, in the end the unbridled enthusiasm of the Scott Pilgrim adaptation – and the fact that it so wonderfully embraced the same feeling and energy of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s books – totally won me over. I watched this via pay per view (long story) over the Thanksgiving holiday and in the first few minutes felt so perfectly drawn into Pilgrim’s world and players I sometimes felt more like I was reading a new volume, rather than watching an adaptation, which felt just right. I know there are Michael Cera lover and haters out there (I happen to be the former) but I thought he perfectly nailed Pilgrim’s slacker charm in every frame, and the thing that was the least interesting to me in the books (the whole fighting ex-boyfriends bits – I was much more entranced with just the relationship-y slice o’ life stuff) was extremely well executed in the film.
Worst Industry Development: DC’S SHUTTERING OF CMX, WILDSTORM, ZUDA AND SIGNIFICANT LAYOFFS AT VERTIGO
All of this depressed me to no end and put another small arrow in my cold heart and all my hopes that DC and Marvel will begin to diversify and expand their characters and stories and the creators they bring in to do great projects…instead this signals (to me at least) more insulation, more continuity porn, and more giant events that I don’t give a crap about. Some days, like the days of these closures and layoffs I feel like comics is actively trying to send me away. Good work comics. Bah humbug.
Best Mainstream Book News: BATWOMAN GETTING HER OWN SERIES
I wouldn’t have thought DC could outdo their initial Batwoman run with Rucka and Williams on Detective Comics, but when they announced that Kate Kane would not only get her own title, but get it with her “original” creative team of Rucka and Williams III…it was the smartest move I’d seen them make in…well, just about ever. Of course that did not last, but at least their intentions were in the right place…and for a few brief months I was blissfully happy (of course I’m still happy and optimistic, just not quite SO happy).
Worst Mainstream Book News: GREG RUCKA LEAVES DC
I mourned the departure of Rucka from Batwoman because in that moment I knew that Batwoman would never be “perfect” for me, but the bigger loss was the realization that the big two (Marvel and DC) are not able to hang on to exceptional creators like Rucka – and that that – while great for independent comics – is a bad sign for the big two – which runs the bulk of this industry for most people. All that said, the big two’s loss is the independents’ gain…so yay for more Stumptown and dare I dream to hope…more Queen & Country?!
Biggest DC Missed Opportunity: Hmm. Where do I begin? Would it be passing on Ben Caldwell’s exceptional and so fresh and exciting looking Wonder Woman? Or passing on a delightful Zatanna webcomic by Cameron Stewart…or passing on the totally awesome Big Barda/Scott Free webcomic by Ramon Perez? Too many to choose.
Biggest Marvel Missed Opportunity: FAITH ERIN HICKS WOLVERINE STORY
I’m sure there are bigger and more heinous mistakes (and the title Girl Comics still sticks in my craw painfully) but I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again (though I promise this is the last time) Marvel not immediately finding a vehicle in which to publish Faith Erin Hicks hilarious Wolverine Short is a crime against all of us. Especially considering that they had two perfect vehicles in which to give it to us – Girl Comics AND Marvel’s Strange Tales II. LAME. Now, the reality is that I still got the story, and I got it for free (and so can you!) but Marvel not seeing its hilarious simple brilliance and capitalizing on it…worries me.
I’m not really a lover of pin-ups at this point in my life…I guess I’d rather see great covers (which frequently operate not unlike pin-ups) or really great penciling/storytelling…but I can still recognize a great one when I see it, like Adam Hughes excellent offering of Wonder Woman for the Wonder Woman #600 issue.
I especially appreciate that Diana looks strong and beautiful here and much less sex-kitteny, which I’m a fan of as I’m sure you all can imagine.
Bonus points for the kids in the drawing being based on the characters from Friends. It’s little touches like that that help catapult this above other pin-ups I saw this year.
You know what would curb a significant amount of my bitching about the role of women in comics at the big two? Letting Kathryn Immonen and Tonci Zonjic turn Heralds onto an ongoing series. Though by the end of the series Heralds had a few rough spots (too many artists on deck and a story that became a bit unwieldy for a mini-series) it was still a massive amount of fun and the kind of book I’d like to see Marvel try again. Light and fun, and bringing together a dream cast of female leads it had an enthusiasm that I found completely intoxicating. It wasn’t a perfect series, but it was a step in the right direction – and slightly outside the usual Marvel box – and an experiment I hope they’re willing to try again. With a more tightly woven story and one artist working on the book instead of three this series easily could have topped my “best of list”, instead of just rating a mention.
So that’s it…my year in review so to speak, what I loved so much about comics in 2010, and a few things that really bothered the crap out of me. What about you?
As it’s “that time of year” – I’d also like to just take a moment and thank all of you for such a great year on She Has No Head! – you have no idea how much I’ve appreciated the feedback and comments – especially when insightful and encouraging. You guys have made this, which is very rewarding but can also be really challenging and time consuming, all worth it, so thank you, and I hope you’ll keep tuning in. There’s a lot to come for She Has No Head in 2011 – including some advance reviews and previews, and the return of The Ladies Comics Project, publishing in four parts, for the entire month of February. So many thanks and a Happy New Year to you all!
*FYI – She Has No Head! is actively accepting review copies of “female friendly comics and graphic novels” for future columns on CSBG. Please get in touch via email (using the CSBG “contact us” button above) to discuss.*
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