Fantagraphics

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: Banjo Playing and Speedo Wearing

My Comic-Con 2011 Haul

My Comic-Con 2011 Haul (click to see what I got)

Those two things didn’t happen at the same time but they were two of the most memorable moments of Comic-Con for me this year.

As the comic fates would have it, I was only able to attend one day of Comic-Con this year. Dreading the annual 3-hour drive down to San Diego, I decided instead to ride Amtrak’s Surfliner train down to San Diego from LA’s Union Station to spend the day, and then head back that same night. It ended up being a great way to get around the inevitably terrible traffic and parking headaches. I got to relax, enjoy the spectacular view of the California coast, check out Comic-Con’s app (much improved over last year) to mark panels I might want to see, waste time on Facebook without feeling guilty, take a nap or two, and on the way back I got to read some of the awesome graphic novels I bought. It was dreamy. I will almost surely be doing this from now on (until Comic-Con finally moves up to LA to make it more convenient for me).

Because I only had one day, I wasn’t able to do everything (impossible even if you’re every minute of the day). There were a few people I couldn’t connect with (sorry, Kristian and Brandon!), some publisher tables I never got to (sorry, Boom!, Archaia and IDW!), and some panels I missed (ThunderCats nooo…). Another day probably would’ve done it for what I wanted to do. But I bought a (very heavy!) ton of graphic novels, got to hang out with Scott Shaw! and share a laugh with Sergio Aragonés, and got to experience two things that really stood out as unique and made me absolutely happy that the world of comics exists.

© Eric Drooker, http://drooker.com

© Eric Drooker

The first was artist Eric Drooker‘s panel. Here’s how Comic-Con’s program described it:

Visual artist and Comic-Con special guest Eric Drooker will project hundreds of his magical images and explore how his early years as a street artist in New York City inspired his award-winning graphic novels Flood! and Blood Song. He’ll discuss the process of designing the animation for the recent hit film Howl, starring James Franco, and how he adapted it for the new book, Howl: A Graphic Novel. Best known for his numerous cover paintings for The New Yorker, Drooker will tell hilarious-but-true stories of how he wound up getting published.

A pretty straightforward description. Drooker is a fantastic artist and storyteller, so hearing him talk about his process and history sounded great. It turned out to be so much more than that. He did talk quite a bit about his work and his background, but Eric Drooker also happens to be a talented musician. Over the projected slideshow of his artwork, which has a haunted quality evocative of woodcuts from the 1910s and ’20s, Drooker played his banjo or harmonica and occasionally sang. Like his art, the music he created seemed to harken back a century. There was something incredibly powerful, moving and intimate about seeing and hearing two different forms of art that he had created and was creating live right before us. It seemed like such a personal expression. Here he was expressing himself to us on multiple levels, visually and sonically, and with such immediacy. I guess the easy description is that he created a soundtrack for his own art, but it felt deeper yet more transcendent than simple accompaniment. It was beautiful.

Ajax Wood as Cannibal F***face from Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit 3

Ajax Wood as Cannibal F***face of Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit 3

The second event was a tad sillier but a great example of how comics can take back some of the main spotlight from Hollywood at Comic-Con. I was standing near the Fantagraphics booth when this growling voice bellowed out over the conversations and white noise of the convention floor. In stalked a large hairy man covered in fake blood and wearing nothing but a speedo. He immediately started yelling at people around him, threatening them, cursing at them, mocking them. Now this is Comic-Con, so while there was some confusion, it didn’t take long to figure it out. The bloody man started pacing like a caged tiger behind Johnny Ryan, who was quietly signing copies of his new graphic novel Prison Pit 3. Johnny Ryan is a hilarious cartoonist but he is most definitely not for children. Crass and abrasive, his punchlines are more like blunt objects of comedy that shock and delight at their willful disregard for… everything. He released the third in his Prison Pit series of graphic novels at this year’s Comic-Con. It’s basically a trilogy of absolute violence and gore done on such a deliriously excessive level far beyond the parodying done on The Itchy & Scratchy Show from Matt Groening’s The Simpsons. As a promotional stunt, Johnny Ryan and his publisher Fantagraphics had performance artist Ajax Wood (aka Ardent Vein) done up to look like the main character in Prison Pit, Cannibal F***face. Everything Wood yelled was dialogue from Prison Pit 3. Some of the other exhibitors were mildly annoyed at the disruption, but I think it was a great promotional bit. Now maybe this example scared off more people than it drew in, but it certainly fit into the spirit of Johnny Ryan’s work, which itself isn’t exactly mainstream (although he regularly contributes to Vice Magazine). So it’s actually a pretty accurate marketing stunt. If that kind of spectacle is something that amuses you or draws you in, you’ll probably like Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit 3. Personally, I would’ve given him a few assistants (maybe with fliers) and had him skulk around the convention floor a little bit before sticking him behind the Fantagraphics booth. But it was great. It got people’s attention. Usually at Comic-Con, all of the really flashy stuff is from Hollywood. Publishers and artists would do well to remember that comics are worth some creative pomp and circumstance too. Comics should be the main spectacle of Comic-Con.

The common thread between these two events is that the artists found a way to add performance art to their work. The two had different goals and purposes (one was a panel, one was a book signing) but people in comics are creative enough to come up with more ways to add a level of performance to their art for public appearances like conventions. When they meld so perfectly with the artist and their work, like these two did, it adds a new level of experience and awareness for fans. And it brings back some of that unorthodox spirit that comics have had in the past that make them so memorable.

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…)

Web and Digital Comics dominate Harvey Awards nominations

Gutters by Ryan Sohmer, Lar deSouza, et al.

The prestigious Harvey Awards have released their 2011 nominees for excellence in the comics industry. Named after the influential cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, founder of MAD Magazine, the Harvey Awards are the only comics industry award both nominated and selected by comic book creators, those who write, draw, ink, letter, color, design, edit and/or otherwise help create comics.

This year showed an unprecedented number of nominations from web comics and digital comics, with a total of eight different works getting recognized in multiple categories. Most significantly is the showing from Gutters, which is nominated for a startling six nominations, more than any other single creator or comics work whether in print or not. The web comic that satirizes the comics industry appears to have won a significant number of fans within the industry, as it has been nominated for Best New Series, Special Award for Humor in Comics, Best Online Comics Work, Best Writer (Ryan Sohmer), Best Artist (Ed Ryzowski), and Best Colorist (Ed Ryzowski).

The digital comic Box 13, originally released through ComiXology, also had a decent showing, with two nominations: Best Letterer (Scott Brown) and Best Inker (Steve Ellis). Comfort Love and Adam Withers also received two nominations, one for Most Promising New Talent for their web-comic Rainbow in the Dark, and one for Best Anthology for their Uniques Tales.

The remaining Best Online Comics Work category had the following nominations: Guns of Shadow Valley by David Wachter and James Andrew Clark; Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton; La Morté Sisters by Tony Trov, Johnny Zito and Christine Larsen; and PvP by Scott Kurtz, who will be the Master of Ceremonies at the award show at the Baltimore Comic-Con in August.

Last year’s Harvey Awards only saw 3 categories outside of the Best Online Comics Work category nominate digital and/or web comics. The Best Online Comics Work category was added to the Harvey Awards in 2006.

Harvey Awards (1988-present)

On the print side of thing, this year’s Harvey Awards gave five nominations to Darwyn Cooke and his adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov won four nominations for his work in Echoes with artist Rashan Ekedal and Tumor with artist Noel Tuazon. Tumor is nominated for Best Graphic Album Previously Published; it was originally published digitally on the Kindle in 2009. Artist Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets: New Stories) and Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee each had three nominations, with an additional nomination each for The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death, edited by Todd Hignite, and Langridge for his writing on The Muppet Show comic book series.

IDW Publishing raked in 16 nominations, more than any other publisher. Marvel Comics brought in 13, including 1 from their Icon imprint. DC Comics and Image Comics both obtained 11 nominations each with their respective Vertigo and Top Cow imprints bringing in more than half.

Complete list of Harvey Comics 2011 nominations.

In Recognition of Memorial Day

Our Army at War #13, August 1953 (Art by Bernie Krigstein, published by DC Comics)

The 1812 War, Fall 2011 (Art by George Freeman, published by Renegade Arts Entertainment)

Civil War Adventure, May 2011 (Art by Gary Kwapicz, published by History Graphics Press)

It Was the War of the Trenches, February 2010 (Art by Jacques Tardi, published by Fantagraphics)

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6, August 2006 (Art by Joe Kubert, published by DC Comics)

Two-Fisted Tales #27, May 1952 (Art by Harvey Kurtzman, published by EC Comics)

Last Day in Vietnam, July 2000 (Art by Will Eisner, published by Dark Horse Comics)

Gulf War Journal, August 2004 (Art by Don Lomax, published by iBooks)

Dougie's War, August 2010 (Art by Dave Turbitt, published by Freight Design)

War Fix, June 2005 (Art by Stephen Olexa, published by NBM Publishing)

LA Comics News Roundup: publishers kickstart 2011

All the news that’s fit to shove through internet tubes. Here’s the world of comic books and graphic novels in LA and beyond over the last week or so, with some commentary:

= Boom! Studios Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon gets the prestigious Comics Reporter Holiday Interview treatment, talking about the culture and climate of the LA-based publisher and his journey to his current position. Read it

= Silver Lake store Secret Headquarters was named Bookstore of the Week by the LA Times book blog Jacket Copy. More acclaim for a shop that in 2008 was named one of the World’s 10 Best Bookstores by The Guardian. The LA Times article also gives mention to local LA artists Martin Cendreda (Catch Me If You Can) and Sammy Harkham (Crickets). Meanwhile, I have somehow still not checked out this store. Read it

= The ever-expanding Comic International: San Diego could add a balloon parade through downtown San Diego to kick off the festivities. City Council District 4 President Tony Young, a self-proclaimed comic book collector and fan, floated the idea in his New Years address and expanded on the idea in an interview. Read it

= Comics industry numbers from Diamond Comic Distributors, the primary method comics publishers get their comics and graphic novels to comic book stores and other outlets, has released their reports on 2010 and as expected print comics took a hit. “Annual sales of comic books, graphic novels, and magazines to the comic book specialty market declined slightly in 2010, down 3.5% from 2009.” Comics industry number-cruncher John Jackson Miller estimates that the industry generated $415 million last year. The comic shop market hit a peak of $437 million in 2008. However, he counters this gloom with data showing the fourth quarter of 2010 ending 2% up from fourth quarter 2009 due to graphic novel sales. This supports some cautious optimism from some as early signs of a turnaround. Read it: part 1, part 2, part 3 (more…)

LA Comics News Roundup: Comics vs. Toys begins, Borders ends

All the news that’s fit to shove through internet tubes. Here’s the world of comic books and graphic novels in LA and beyond over the last week or so, with some commentary:

= Rebranded Eagle Rock comic store Comics vs. Toys gets profiled on how it came into existence. Answer: From the ashes of two neighboring Eagle Rock comic stores Another World Comics and Mini-Melt Too. In a time when stores are closing and people in less populated areas are lucky if they have a store within a 3-hour drive, it’s amazing to think that two stores existed side by side for a year. I shopped at this store for maybe a year when it was still the Meltdown Comics satellite shop Mini-Melt Too, after Another World Comics had already closed, and really appreciated co-owner Ace Aguilera going out of his way to get me the comics I liked, which can skew off the beaten path at times. It’s one of those small but great stores that LA is lucky to have in abundance. Read it: Eagle Rock Patch

= And speaking of stores closing, the LA Weekly looks at the slow death of the Borders in Westwood. The Borders company will give severance pay, but hasn’t told the store employees their last day. Apparently it will be when the store has been picked clean at severely discounted prices. Read it: LA Weekly

= Two 24-year-old Los Angeles men, Farhad Lame and Navid Vatankhahan, each have to pay $750, complete 10 days of community service (picking up trash), and remain on probation for 3 years for selling fraudulent passes to this past summer’s Comic-Con International: San Diego comic book and pop culture convention. They pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in San Diego Superior Court. They had sold a pair of 2-day passes to 2 women for $120 each on Craigslist. The passes ended up being photocopies of exhibitor badges, so naturally the women weren’t allowed in. Both men were arrested on the last day of Comic-Con. Read it: Sign On San Diego

= For you creative types, comics lettering and calligraphy innovators Comicraft, based right here in Los Angeles, had their annual New Year’s Day Sale, and “secretly” extended it through the holiday weekend. Maybe it’s still happening when you visit. See it: ComicBookFonts.com

= Comics Alliance wrapped up their Digital December, a month long look at the state of digital comics with excellent interviews with nearly every major player and articles by David Brothers and Laura Hudson: (more…)