Daniel Clowes

Best Comics of 2011 – A List of Lists for the Listophiles

Whether published as comic books, graphic novels, manga, web comics, digital comics, or some other form of sequential art, comics published this year continues a fantastic renaissance in the art form that brings more creativity and innovation. Barely able to contain their excitement, several outlets have already released their lists for the year’s best. And since we’re now knee deep in the holiday shopping season, let’s see what has won the attention of critics and reviewers in 2011.

I’ll add to the list as more are released. Check out the artists own webpages and check out the publisher links for more info on each book. Select quotes are taken from the site/publication, visit each for more.

First, here are some Black Friday shopping guides that are still worth consulting and will no doubt influence those site’s final Best Of lists:

Also of note is the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs blog sending out an open call for nominations for this year’s Best Webcomics. Let me know if I’ve missed a Best Of list worth reading. OK, on with the lists!

Amazon.ca – Best Books of 2011: Comics & Graphic Novels (published November 28, 2011) [mostly the same as Amazon.com’s list below except for 4 items]

Zahra's Paradise by Amir & Khalil

Publishers Weekly – Best Books 2011: Comics (published November 7, 2011)

“An Iranian blogger goes missing and his family enters a hellish twilight zone of obfuscation in a story that captures the uncertainty of living under religious dogma.”

Host of NPR’s On the Media, Gladstone uses a cartoon persona to take the reader on a thoughtful and entertaining excursion through the history of the media from ancient Rome to the rise of digital technology.

“In this epic work of science fiction, Rachel Grosvenor, an outcast in a world ruled by a complex network of clans, looks to find a place for herself by attempting to join a very exclusive clan.”

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Amazon.com – Best Books of 2011: Comics & Graphic Novels (published November 8, 2011)

Habibi, Craig Thompson’s intricate and moving fairy tale about familial and romantic love, one’s relationship to their environment, the shared roots of Christianity and Islam, and the effects of industrial modernization, tops our list of the best Comics & Graphic Novels of 2011.”

The New York Times – Holiday Gift Guide: 100 Notable Books of 2011 (published November 21, 2011)

“In this capacious, metaphysically inclined graphic novel, a flock of finches act out Nilsen’s unsettling comic vision about the food chain, fate and death.”

Comic-Con Wrap-Up: Comics Debuts

I know it’s hard to believe with all the big flashy Hollywood things, but Comic-Con actually had stuff about comic books! There were a number of exciting debuts this year. Scroll through and see if something catches your eye. If so, read the blurb I’ve put together from the publisher’s write-ups, and if you’re intrigued, click the links to find out more.

Any Empire by Nate Powell

Any Empire by Nate Powell

Any Empire by Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) recalls aimless summers of Nancy Drew and G.I. Joe, treehouses and army surplus stores… but when fantasy starts to bleed into reality, whose mission will be accomplished? [Interview]

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen: A haunting postmodern fable, this beautiful and minimalist story is the culmination of ten years and over 600 pages of work that details the metaphysical quandaries of the occupants of an endless plain, existing somewhere between a dream and a Russian steppe.

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

Daybreak by Brian Ralph is an unconventional zombie story. Drawing inspiration from zombies, horror movies, television, and first-person shooter video games, Daybreak departs from zombie genre in both content and format, achieving a living-dead masterwork of literary proportions. [Interview]

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes: Classic staples of the superhero genre – origin, costume, ray-gun. sidekick, fight scene – are reconfigured into a story that is anything but morally simplistic. With subtle comedy, deft mastery and an obvious affection for the bold Pop Art exuberance of comic book design, Daniel Clowes delivers a contemporary meditation on the darkness of the human psyche.

Freakshow by David Server, Jackson Lanzing and Joe Suitor

Freakshow by David Server, Jackson Lanzing and Joe Suitor

Freakshow by writers David Server and Jackson Lanzing, and artist Joe Suitor: When five refugee survivors develop monstrous mutations from a devastating chemical explosion that leaves their city in ruins, they band together to seek revenge against the clandestine government quarantine that has seized control in the aftermath. But are they monsters…or heroes?

WAIT, there’s more! Click through…!

(more…)

Comics at the LA Times Festival of Books 2011

LA Times Festival of Books loves comics, Hi De Ho

Comic books, graphic novels, manga (whatever you want to call sequential art) was pulling in the crowds at this past weekend’s LA Times Festival of Books, the nation’s largest book fair. After 14 years at UCLA, the free open air event moved to rival campus USC in South LA and it didn’t seem to hamper attendance. The more concentrated layout, and the campus’ access to public transportation seemed to please most attendees.

(Although, it could’ve been more clear where to park and where to walk to get to the Festival as you arrived. We saw no signs at Vermont and Jefferson after heading south from the 5. Hardly an obscure route.)

That nitpick aside, all seemed to go well for the most part, and perhaps the most favored part of the Festival was comics. While I was only able to attend over half of Saturday, almost every comics booth and panel I checked in with had a heavy turnout with a good mix of what seemed like a lot of curious newcomers and some diehard (or at least familiar) comics readers.

Hi De Ho Comics & Books with Pictures, a longtime store located in Santa Monica, had a very prominent location and a big booth setup (right). This was probably one of the most consistently and heavily trafficked booths we saw on Trousdale and Childs Way. Legendary Archie Comics writer George Gladir, co-creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch with artist Dan DeCarlo, was signing copies of Archie’s Americana series. He was particularly proud of his name getting credited in the two Best of the Eighties volumes, noting how rare it was for Archie to name the creators at the time. Adults that grew up on Archie and kids that are growing up on Archie now clustered around his table, sometimes making it near impossible to even see him. By the middle of the day, Hi De Ho had sold out of Best of the Eighties Volume 1 and George had to keep asking for the staff to replenish copies of Volume 2. It was also great to see the great diversity of people that were drawn to him, proving that Archie truly is a pervasive American icon. On the other side of the booth, graphic novelist Mark Kalesniko was providing free sketches with purchases of his books, like his latest release Freeway, about that most unique of LA experiences: soul crushing traffic. Yet just from the little I’ve read so far, it maintains such charm and humor with an amazing ability to depict movement and the main character’s emotions, sometimes with no dialogue whatsoever.

SLG Publishing was the second booth we discovered, and it kept getting waves of people checking out their great selection of graphic novels, comic books, t-shirts, posters and Ugly Dolls. In addition to their own material, they also had a smattering of graphic novels from other publishers. We easily spent the most money here, which surprised me. Nahleen actually out-spent me at SLG, which might be a first when it comes to comics.

Kids, parents eat up kaboom's Disney comics

Right next to SLG was the Boom! Studios booth, which had a constant mob trying to check out the Disney and Peanuts graphic novels from their kaboom! imprint. Boom! smartly had a buy 1, get 1 free deal going on. Kids and parents alike were asking all sorts of questions about what’s best, what’s age appropriate, and more, and the Boom! staff was great. They clearly love this material too. One kid asked which volume of Donald Duck: Double Duck was best, and the guy responded not as a dry sales person, but as an enthusiastic reader. One somewhat awkward moment came when a mother asked where Boom!’s store was located, so she could buy more at a later date. She had to be informed that there is no store, Boom! sells to other stores. She must’ve sensed it was going to get confusing so she said she would just check out their website, and I suspect she did based on her kids’ eagerness. Fortunately kaboom! has an online store, so I’m optimistic they’ll eventually get what they want.

Next stop was the booth for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. This was a pleasant surprise, because I didn’t see them listed on the exhibitor list posted on the Festival’s website or iPhone app. The CBLDF provides crucial First Amendment protection to the comic book industry, so it’s great to see them accepting donations and getting the word out about their work in this kind of mainstream venue. Unfortunately not as many people were stopping at their booth. Maybe it needed to be laid out differently, with the tables pushed more toward the front of the tent, or maybe people thought something with the word “Legal” in the title was too boring to even bother. But they had a steady stream of 2-3 people at a time, at least. (One guy abruptly stopped in and asked if there was a way to volunteer to get into Comic-Con, which seemed a little transparently like someone didn’t get tickets to the sold-out convention, but still wanted to go and maybe or maybe not cares at all about the work CBLDF does. But whatever.) They had awesome “I Read Banned Comics” t-shirts for sale, as well as signed copies of some fantastic material all reasonably priced.

The web-comic Green Pieces Cartoons had a booth with a great set-up that was constantly pulling people in: a monitor displayed to passers-by artist Drew Aquilina drawing his environmentally-friendly characters. The gag strip has been covered by National Geographic Kids and there was a near-impenetrable wall of people there when I stopped by. A print version of the web-comic was for sale, along with t-shirts and tote bags.

Lots of interest at the Archaia booth

Archaia Entertainment had another popular booth (right) with probably the best deal at the festival: buy 1, get 1 free; buy 2, get 3 free. This kind of belief in their product goes a long way and caught some off-guard. There were also a few artists on hand to offer free sketches, like Dave Valeza, artist of the graphic novel An Elegy for Amelia Johnson. It’s great cover design really popped out, and was getting a lot of questions, some from young women. Comparisons to Blankets were made. Mouse Guard and The Killer were also getting a lot of attention (The Killer Vol. 1 had sold out), and Revere got one of the best pitches from publisher Stephen Christy (“The British are coming, but the werewolves are worse”).

The team-up booth of Wondermark and Sheldon also had a wall of people in front of it. They not only were attracting a lot of interested, but they probably won the Devoted Fans Award. I overhead a young woman tell Sheldon creator Dave Kellett that she had traveled a considerable distance just to see him. The rest of the Festival, indeed the rest of Los Angeles, was apparently inconsequential. These two web-comics have a unique look and their styles are different, so that no doubt explained the big draw. They were undeniably eye-catching, which probably explains why the comics booths in general got so much attention. Graphic design skills pay off. And then the quality substance kept them there.

The only panel I was able to make was the Graphic Novel panel moderated by the Hero Complex‘ Geoff Boucher. The panelists were three amazing talents: Daniel Clowes (Mr. Wonderful, Wilson, Ghost World), Dash Shaw (BodyWorld, Bottomless Belly Button), and Jim Woodring (Weathercraft, Frank). The three had a fully engaging and frequently funny discussion about their approach to their art, storytelling, technology, their work environments and more. The panel wasn’t quite sold out but the room was definitely packed within 5 minutes after it started. It was fascinating to listen to creators with such diverse styles and approaches.

In 2009, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, begun in 1980, added a Graphic Novel category. This year’s winner, only the second since the category was created, was the amazing debut graphic novel by Adam Hines, Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One. Dash Shaw’s BodyWorld and Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft were also nominated, along with You’ll Never Know Book II: Collateral Damage by Carol Tyler and Karl Stevens’ The Lodger. (Both Tyler and Stevens were guests for the earlier Graphic Memoir panel.) Last year’s Graphic Novel Book Prize winner was the worthy Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. The LA Times Book Prizes were awarded Friday night before the first day of the Festival.

For more pictures, see my Flickr set.

New Graphic Novels, Comic Books for You – 9/30/09

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff that came out the week of September 30 that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

Johnny Cash: I See A Darkness – $17.95
By Reinhard Kleist
224 pages; published by Abrams ComicArts; available at Amazon.com

The first and only illustrated biography of “The Man in Black”, Johnny Cash, the most famous country singer of all time.

Cash was a 17-time Grammy winner who sold more than 90 million albums in his lifetime and became an icon of American music in the 20th century. Graphic novelist Reinhard Kleist depicts Johnny Cash’s eventful life from his early sessions with Elvis Presley (1956), through the concert in Folsom Prison (1968), his spectacular comeback in the 1990s, and the final years before his death on September 12, 2003.

The author’s site has a preview (although the final lettering is missing). I love that image of Cash in the recording studio.

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth – $22.95
By Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou & Alecos Papadatos
352 pages; published by Bloomsbury; available at Amazon.com

The innovative, dramatic graphic novel based on the life of the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell.

This brilliantly illustrated tale of reason, insanity, love and truth recounts the story of Bertrand Russell’s life. Raised by his paternal grandparents, young Russell was never told the whereabouts of his parents. Driven by a desire for knowledge of his own history, he attempted to force the world to yield to his yearnings: for truth, clarity and resolve.

As he grew older, and increasingly sophisticated as a philosopher and mathematician, Russell strove to create an objective language with which to describe the world – one free of the biases and slippages of the written word. At the same time, he began courting his first wife, teasing her with riddles and leaning on her during the darker days, when his quest was bogged down by paradoxes, frustrations and the ghosts of his family’s secrets. Ultimately, he found considerable success – but his career was stalled when he was outmatched by an intellectual rival: his young, strident, brilliantly original student, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

An insightful and complexly layered narrative, Logicomix reveals both Russell’s inner struggle and the quest for the foundations of logic. Narration by an older, wiser Russell, as well as asides from the author himself, make sense of the story’s heady and powerful ideas. At its heart, Logicomix is a story about the conflict between pure reason and the persistent flaws of reality, a narrative populated by great and august thinkers, young lovers, ghosts and insanity.

The Amazon.com link above has previews and the Bloomsbury link above has three-part making-of video series on YouTube, but there’s also an excellent website at Logicomix.com with behind-the-scenes info, a preview trailer and lots of other info. This debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List and is getting excellent reviews.

Mickey Mouse & Friends #296 – $2.99
By Stefano Ambrosio & Lorenzo Pastrovicchio
32 pages; published by Boom! Kids

First BOOM! Kids issue! One of the longest-lived, most-successful comic book series in the industry’s history comes to BOOM! and brings a little magic — presenting Wizards of Mickey! Student of the great wizard Grandalf, Mickey Mouse hails from the humble village of Miceland. Allying himself with Donald Duck (who has a pet dragon named Fafnir) and team mate Goofy, Mickey’s come to the great tournament to get his revenge on Peg Leg Pete, who has stolen the Rain Crystal from Miceland! Join Mickey Mouse and his friends on an epic tale of magic and wonder! Join BOOM! Kids for a whole new epoch in Disney publishing!

Disney comic books have been missing from the market place for about a year now. This is an imported story, which has been a pretty standard practice for previous publishers of Disney comics. It was originally done in Italy but from the looks of this preview, the translation holds up pretty nicely.

High Moon Vol. 1 – $14.99
By David Gallaher & Steve Ellis
192 pages; published by DC Comics’ Zuda Comics; available at Amazon.com

The first winner of Zuda Comics’ monthly online competition, HIGH MOON is a horror adventure of cowboys and werewolves in the Old West. HIGH MOON begins with a gruff bounty hunter, Matthew Macgregor, investigating a series of strange happenings in the dusty town of Blest, Texas. While Macgregor seeks to uncover the town’s dark secrets, he tries desperately to keep his own hidden. 

The horrors of Blest ripple out to the mountainous town of Ragged Rock, Oklahoma, where another detective investigates a series of murders following a bizarre train robbery. Uncovering an age-old vendetta, this mysterious lawman is forced to do battle with a steam-driven monstrosity.

Macgregor’s tale concludes as a young woman’s dire call for assistance leads him through the Black Hills of South Dakota and into devastating battle between two warring factions. Macgregor must face down the United States government – only to discover a secret ritual that spells the destruction of the American frontier.

It’s such a relief when someone you personally know releases something, and you can be genuinely complimentary of what they’ve produced. While David Gallaher and I have “virtually” known each other for years, I’m happy to say that his web-comic holds up nicely as a thrilling horror/western mash-up. You can read it for yourself right here. And then there’s this production blog for good behind-the-scenes goodies.

Power & Glory – $19.99
By Howard Chaykin
128 pages; published by Dynamite Entertainment; available at Amazon.com

A crime fighter is genetically engineered to be a super-hero – but when the test goes awry and he doesn’t have the super-hero qualities needed, he has to be teamed up with a former CIA agent who is the brains behind the duo. One gets all the glory while one has all the power.

I’ve always thought that it was a bit weird that every super-hero just instantly has what it takes, mentally and emotionally, to actually be a superhero. I guess I’m not alone. Probably not one for the kiddies.

The Dynamite link above has a 9-page preview so you have a better idea of just what you’re getting into by entering one of Howard Chaykin’s worlds.

Prison Pit: Book One – $12.99
By Johnny Ryan
120 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

Prison Pit is an original graphic novel from the pen of Johnny Ryan, best known for his humor comic, Angry Youth ComixPrison Pit represents a marked departure from AYC or his Blecky Yuckerella weekly comic strip, combining his love for WWE wrestling, Gary Panter’s “Jimbo” comics, and Kentaro Miura’s “Berserk” Manga into a brutal showcase of violence, survival and revenge. Imagine a blend of old-fashioned role playing fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons crossed with contemporary adult video games like Grand Theft Auto, filtered through Ryan’s sense of humor.

The book begins with C.F. (his full-name would be too horrifying to reveal here) being thrown into the Prison Pit, a barren negative-zone populated by intergalactic, violent monster criminals. In this first volume, C.F. gets into a bloody slorge war (a slorge is a giant slug that excretes a steroid-like drug called “fecid” that all the monster men are addicted to) with ultraprisoner Rottweiler Herpes and his henchmen Rabies Bloodbath and Assrat. The ensuing bloodbath is an over-the-top, hyperviolent yet hilarious farce worthy of Ryan’s inspiration, Kentaro Miura.

If Howard Chaykin is too much for you, you’ll never be able to handle Johnny Ryan, who is maniacally funny in the absurdly over-the-top violence. Here’s a PDF file preview.

Ball Peen Hammer – $17.99
By Adam Rapp & George O’Connor
144 pages; published by First Second Books; available at Amazon.com

The world is dying.  After most of the city succumbed to the plague, Welton’s staying inside — permanently.  But hiding in his claustrophobic basement room — the only place he knows is safe — exacts a gruesome price, and he becomes part of a collective that’s killing children.  Infected with the plague himself, with no way to find the woman he loves, Welton takes refuge in apathy — until someone knocks on his door.

Ball Peen Hammer gives us a window into life in a half-deserted apartment building in a time of raw love, sacrifice, fear, and death.

This one is a bit more serious but also not for the weak at heart. Here’s a 13-page preview.

Refresh, Refresh – $17.99
By James Ponsoldt, Danica Novgorodoff & Benjamin Percy
144 pages; published by First Second Books; available at Amazon.com

Fathers, sons, and the war that comes between them.

There’s nothing Josh, Cody, and Gordon want more than their fathers home safely from the war in Iraq — unless it’s to get out of their dead-end town.  Refresh, Refresh is the story of three teenagers on the cusp of high school graduation and their struggle to make hard decisions with no role models to follow; to discover the possibilities for the future when all the doors are slamming in their faces; and to believe their fathers will come home alive so they can be boys again.

The above says enough to get me hooked. But for more, here’s an 11-page preview.

Trotsky: A Graphic Biography – $16.95
By Rick Geary
112 pages; published by Hill & Wang; available at Amazon.com

Trotsky was a hero to some, a ruthless demon to others. To Stalin, he was such a threat that he warranted murder by pickax. This polarizing figure set up a world conflict that lasted through the twentieth century, and in Trotsky: A Graphic Biography, the renowned comic artist Rick Geary uses his distinct style to depict the stark reality of the man and his times. Trotsky’s life becomes a guide to the creation of the Soviet Union, the horrors of World War I, and the establishment of international communism as he, Lenin, and their fellow Bolsheviks rise from persecution and a life underground to the height of political power. Ranging from his boyhood in the Ukraine to his fallout with Stalin and his moonlight romance with Frida Kahlo, Trotsky is a stunning look at one of the twentieth century’s most important thinkers and the far-reaching political trends that he launched.

Rick Geary does excellent work. Unfortunately I can’t find a preview but just imagine looking at something really impressive that compels you to buy it.

The Best American Comics 2009 – $22.00
Edited by Charles Burns
352 pages; published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; available at Amazon.com

Now in its fourth year, Best American Comics showcases the work of both established and up-and-coming contributers. Editor Charles Burns—cartoonist, illustrator, and official cover artist of the Believer—has culled the best stories from graphic novels, pamphlet comics, newspapers, magazines, mini-comics, and the web to create this cutting-edge collection. Featuring the work of such luminaries as Chris Ware, KAZ, and Robert Crumb, this volume is “a genuine salute to comics” (Houston Chronicle).

This is a highly acclaimed yearly anthology that provides a great sampling of the depth and art of comics. Here’s the book’s official site which has more information.

The Book of Genesis – $24.95
By R. Crumb
published by W.W. Norton; available at Amazon.com

From Creation to the death of Joseph, here are all 50 chapters of the Book of Genesis, revealingly illustrated as never before.

Envisioning the first book of the bible like no one before him, R. Crumb, the legendary illustrator, reveals here the story of Genesis in a profoundly honest and deeply moving way. Originally thinking that we would do a take off of Adam and Eve, Crumb became so fascinated by the Bible’s language, “a text so great and so strange that it lends itself readily to graphic depictions,” that he decided instead to do a literal interpretation using the text word for word in a version primarily assembled from the translations of Robert Alter and the King James bible.

Now, readers of every persuasion—Crumb fans, comic book lovers, and believers—can gain astonishing new insights from these harrowing, tragic, and even juicy stories. Crumb’s Book of Genesis reintroduces us to the bountiful tree lined garden of Adam and Eve, the massive ark of Noah with beasts of every kind, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by brimstone and fire that rained from the heavens, and the Egypt of the Pharaoh, where Joseph’s embalmed body is carried in a coffin, in a scene as elegiac as any in Genesis. Using clues from the text and peeling away the theological and scholarly interpretation that have often obscured the Bible’s most dramatic stories, Crumb fleshes out a parade of Biblical originals: from the serpent in Eden, the humanoid reptile appearing like an alien out of a science fiction movie, to Jacob, a “kind’ve depressed guy who doesn’t strike you as physically courageous,” and his bother, Esau, “a rough and kick ass guy,” to Abraham’s wife Sarah, more fetching than most woman at 90, to God himself, “a standard Charlton Heston-like figure with long white hair and a flowing beard.”

As Crumb writes in his introduction, “the stories of these people, the Hebrews, were something more than just stories. They were the foundation, the source, in writing of religious and political power, handed down by God himself.” Crumb’s Book of Genesis, the culmination of 5 years of painstaking work, is a tapestry of masterly detail and storytelling which celebrates the astonishing diversity of the one of our greatest artistic geniuses.

A surprisingly reverential and straight adaptation from one of comics’ most influential humorists. Here’s a preview of chapter 19.

Pretty big week for comics. Lots of good stuff to check out.