by Roger Ash
It’s that time of year when people put out their “best of” lists for the past year and I thought I’d join in the fun. Instead of a Top 10 list, I’ve decide to do two Top 5 lists. I want to spotlight both monthly comics as well and books/collections and since they’re different animals, dividing them seemed the logical thing to do and you still get ten recommendations. And I count them down from five to one to help build the tension! Here we go!
Top 5 Comics
Terry Moore’s new horror comic has me hooked. On one hand, that’s odd as I’m not really a horror fan. On the other hand, it’s not so odd as I really enjoy Terry’s work. He has created a book rife with creepiness and mystery, while keeping the personal relationships that first attracted me to his work. And of course the art is gorgeous.
4) Tiny Titans
This book always makes me smile. Art Baltazar and Franco obviously have a love for the DC Universe and it shows through in every issue. It’s just plain fun. Unfortunately, Tiny Titans is ending with issue #50. That blow is somewhat softened by the fact that I have their new series, Superman Family Adventures, to look forward to.
Jonathan Hickman made me interested in the Fantastic Four again. While I’m loving his epic tale of love and war, what keeps me coming back is the relationships between the main characters. The fact that these characters are family sets them apart from most other super teams and he doesn’t forget that. Add in some wonderful art by Steve Epting and Barry Kitson and you’ve got something special. (And yes I know that technically these are two different books, but one slid into the other so I’m looking at it from a story standpoint.)
Jeff Smith’s latest series is very different from Bone. No value judgment, just a fact. This is a more mature story of love, obsession, crime, alternate realities, and Nikola Tesla. I find it better to save up a few issues of Rasl before reading them as I catch the intricacies and nuances of the story better when I do. I’m not sure exactly where Smith is going with the story, but I sure am enjoying the ride.
I first encountered Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo in Critters back in the 80s. I’ve been a fan ever since. The rabbit ronin, his friends, and enemies have provided endless hours of enjoyment for me with stories ranging from humorous to exciting to heartbreaking. And now, 25 years on, Usagi is still fresh, exciting, and better than ever. Bravo!
Top 5 Books/Collections
This volume from BOOM! collects the first two issues of the venerable series, Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories. Considering what these issues go for on the collector’s market, this book was a tremendous deal for Disney fans. It was great fun to revisit the work of Al Taliaferro and Floyd Gottfredson and others. Plus, the vintage ads were a real hoot. Now that BOOM! no longer has the Disney license, I sort of doubt that there will be any future volumes in this series and that would be a real shame. This is fantastic material that should be in print. Someone please prove me wrong and bring this archive series back!
I always knew that Alex Toth’s work in comics was highly regarded and very influential, but I was not familiar enough with his work to understand why. I knew much more about his work in animation than his work in comics. That has changed after reading Genius, Isolated from The Library of American Comics/IDW, the first of three volumes examining the life and art of Alex Toth. Brue Canwell’s biography of Toth is interesting and informative, never shying away from the controversy that often surrounded Toth. But the real star of the book is the art. From examples of his art to full stories, including a complete reprinting of Jon Fury (a weekly comic he did while in the military), it is easy to see why Toth has had the impact he has on others. This is amazing work and every fan of comics history and comics art should have a copy. I’m really looking forward to the next volume, Genius, Illustrated, which I believe is on the way in 2012.
I first became familiar with Walt Kelly’s Pogo in Fantagraphics’ previous reprint series of the strip. While that series was fine, though it never reprinted the whole series, this volume blows it out of the water. The strips are reprinted from the first two years of Pogo and are very crisp with all the detail of Kelly’s art shining through. Plus, it includes the first year of Sundays in full color as well as the strips printed in the New York Star prior to Pogo becoming syndicated. The characters are fun and fully developed. As a former English Major, I really enjoy Kelly’s word play. This is not a book to be read quickly, but slowly and savored. Pogo is widely regarded as one of the greatest comic strips ever and this first volume amply shows why.
Two volumes in Fantagraphics’ Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse came out this past year and I highly recommend them both. Floyd Gottfredson has been considered by many to be the Mouse Man in the same way that Carl Barks is considered the Duck Man. While Barks’ work on the Disney Ducks has been written about extensively, the same hasn’t been the case for Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comic strips. That is changing with this series. The highlight of the volumes are the strips themselves which are a lot of fun and show an adventurous side to Mickey that may come as a surprise to those who only know the modern Mickey. It’s also fun watching Gottfredson develop as an artist and storyteller as the strips progress. In addition to the comics there are essays examining the stories, the creators involved (the comics were often inked and scripted by others), and the characters themselves. This series is a long overdue look at one of comics legendary creators and their work.
This book is a bit out of the ordinary for The Library of American Comics/IDW. They usually collect the best comics of the past whereas this volume looks at one that failed. What makes this strip different from the other comic strips that never made it is that it was by legendary animation director Chuck Jones (The Coyote and the Roadrunner, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Marvin Martian, Pepe Le Pew, the Grinch, etc.). Kurtis Findlay’s introductory essay is a well-researched, interesting, and informative look at how Jones’ attempted to develop his creation, Crawford, into animated life and how he wound up as a comic strip. I found the essay fascinating as it covered an area of Jones’ career I didn’t know much about (and I’m a big fan of his work). This is followed by various developmental sketches of Crawford and his friends from throughout the years. The strip itself follows, most of which are reproduced from original art (there are a handful that were reproduced from microfilm as that is all that was available). It’s a fun strip and fans of Jones’ work are sure to enjoy it. I often thought the strip should have been called Morgan as Crawford’s friend seemed to play a bigger role than Crawford himself. The strip never really gets rolling as it only lasted about six months. The final two sections of the book include unpublished strips and gag ideas followed by the icing on the cake, a near-complete storyboard for a Crawford animated pilot. After reading the book, the question hanging in the air is why didn’t the strip succeed? My theory is that while Jones was an outstanding director, he didn’t quite grasp how comic strips worked. I’m guessing these strips read better in the book than they did a day at a time. But you should decide for yourself! Read this book and come to your own conclusion. I was really looking forward to this book and I’m happy to say it lived up to, and surpassed, my expectations.
Something that I’ve never heard anyone else comment on about The Library of American Comics books is that in addition to being great reads, they also make great cat toys. Right about now you’re probably thinking I’ve lost what little mind I had left, but let me explain. All The Library of American Comics books come with a bound-in ribbon bookmark. Once I open the book and flip the ribbon to the outside, it’s only a matter of moments before my cat shows up to start playing with the ribbon. So I can read while my cat is happily occupied!
Honorable mention: Thor by Walter Simonson Omnibus and Walter Simonson’s The Mighty Thor Artist’s Edition, two fantastic collections featuring perhaps my favorite superhero comics ever.
Those are my lists. How about you? What do you think were the best comics of 2011? Comment below and let me know!
Happy New Year, everyone!
Now, go read a comic!