The 100 Best Comics of the First Half of the 2010s: Part Three, 60-41

This article was originally published at Loser City on December 9, 2015.

100 Best Comics of 2010s

People tend to reminisce about long gone eras, arguing that things were always better way back when. But when it comes to comics, there’s no denying that the 21st century has seen the medium explode in unprecedented and unpredictable ways. For many people, that has come primarily in the form of the advent of the superhero blockbuster, and it’s certainly true that comic book adaptations are enjoying a dominance at the box office. Yet for those willing to look beyond Marvel and DC, there’s an even more exciting revolution taking part, as pop and art comics alike are undergoing a renaissance.

At Loser City, we feel that the 2010’s have been an especially exciting time to be into comics, thanks to the wealth of incredible material being produced as well as the emergence of more and more new perspectives from creators and fans who have historically been underserved in the medium. We wanted to take this opportunity here in the middle of the decade to look back at the phenomenal material that has already emerged and anticipate where comics are going next. Comics continues to have growing pains and a number of major issues hold the medium back from its true potential, but we have chosen this time to focus on the positive and hopefully introduce you to the works we believe are currently making up the modern canon, whether they be completely new works, material newly translated works or long running series that continued in this decade. We already wrapped up parts one and two, which you can check out here and here. Or if you’re already caught up, jump right in…

 

Gold Pollen Seiichi Hayashi

60. Gold Pollen and Other Stories
by Seiichi Hayashi

Published by PictureBox

Famous for comics like Red Color Elegy, Seiichi Hayashi belonged to the same generation of cartoonists as Masahiko Matsumoto, Takao Saito, and Yoshihiro Tatsumi. In the pages of Garo, these men pioneered the “gekiga” style of comics, similar to the “alt-comics” ethos in America. Their work was obtuse and puzzling. Their aesthetics were rough and raw. And they weren’t always interested in delivering the highest quality draftsmanship, though Hayashi was an incredibly adept draftsman. They were more interested in fully utilizing the potential of comics, playing around with its representational elements, trying to overturn the temporal relationships between panels and pages.

Hayashi is emblematic of that notion, and his work is challenging and uncompromising. He often draws characters without faces, or characters that are missing important facial components (mouths, eyebrows, etc.), and he sought to tell emotions rather than stories. He draws heavily on the interplay between the post-war Western iconography that became ubiquitous in the years following American occupation of Japan and traditional Japanese aesthetics, and he challenges his readers in very visceral ways. His characters struggle to understand one another and they struggle for control of their own emotions, but the result is consistently harrowing and fulfilling.

Gold Pollen and Other Stories was selected in particular for this list because it demonstrates all of his modes and the broad range of his style, but really any work by Hayashi is better than almost anything else you could read.    – Shea Hennum

The Fifth Beatle Andrew Robinson Kyle Baker

59. The Fifth Beatle
Written by Vivek Tiwary, Art by Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker
Published by Dark Horse

It may be the hardest thing in the world to do to get inside the head of an extremely famous person. How does one bring to life the experiences of the man behind the Beatles? That’s what Vivek Tiwary did with his outstanding graphic novel The Fifth Beatle. Tiwary’s background is in the world of theatre and he brings a different perspective to Brian Epstein’s story than has been presented in other works. In focusing his story directly on Epstein rather than his ridiculously talented protégés, this book artfully finds the space to breathe and to explore Epstein’s complex story, which is full of dangerous liaisons, fabulous earnings and a frankly shocking amount of angst (which apparently is quite true to life). It’s a great portrait of an existence that’s right on the edge of fame.

Andrew Robinson does a gorgeous job of bringing Epstein’s inner life to the page, showing readers Epstein’s thoughts in subtle ways that still employ real power. Robinson’s art alternates between realism and abstraction often in the same panel, a smart a depiction of the interior/exterior dichotomy, giving readers clear insight into Epstein’s mind. After reading this book, you may never think of the Beatles again without thinking of the man who was instrumental in bringing them their worldwide fame and fortune. – Jason Sacks

Seconds Bryan Lee O'Malley

58. Seconds
by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Published by Ballantine

If Scott Pilgrim is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s treatise on evolving from adolescence to young adulthood, then Seconds focuses on the next step in life as young adults are forced to settle into careers, relationships, and other commitments. This volume takes all of the strengths of its predecessor, the humor, the cartooning, the character work– and the beautiful colors of Nathan Fairbairn found in updated editions– and builds on them to create O’Malley’s strongest work to date.

O’Malley veers into the realm of magical realism in Seconds focusing on a concept that finds poignancy in its simplicity: mushrooms that provide the eater with a second chance. It is through this idea that he delves into the nature of regret and the struggles of finding satisfaction with one’s decisions and place in life. Despite Katie’s specificity as a character, O’Malley delivers a comic that is deeply relatable to those finding themselves settling into adulthood and all of the numerous responsibilities that it entails. Seconds is a comic that provides no easy answers, but reveals the significant difference between getting what you want and what you need. – Chase Magnett

Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell Jacques Tardi Jean-Patrick Manchette

57. Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell
Art by Jacques Tardi, Written by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Published by Fantagraphics

I like my crime novels like I like my coffee: very dark and very bitter. I loved Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell by Jacques Tardi, adapted from a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette.

This astonishing graphic novel is a bleak noir story of murder, gunplay, betrayal, corruption, the true depraved reality behind seeming idyllic fronts, and so much more. It’s a bleak and existentially shocking journey into everyday horror, exploring a world of people who are broken – or, more than that, these characters aren’t just broken, because that implies that they once had some sort of time in which they held themselves together. These are pathetic rejects of society living their pointless lives of murder, deceptions and lies in full view of everybody else, driving their fancy cars and living in their beautiful homes and being acclaimed by the suckers, but ultimately in their center is a black hole of abject wretched nihiliam.

Run Like Crazy is also a hell of a lot of fun. Drawn beautifully by the genius Tardi with his usual hand-hewn combination of looseness and fascinating specificity, what comes through more than anything are two things: the vividness of these horrible characters, and the arbitrariness of the events that unfold. It’s everyday horror, the noir that lives right outside our windows (well, if we lived in Paris) and threatens to pull us in and downward, ever downward, until we must run like crazy and run like hell just to be able to live another day in this world. Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell is dizzyingly exciting and terrifying. It’s a portrait of deeply broken people and the way that their hubris destroys everybody’s lives – including their own. – JS

Massive Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It

56. Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It
Various artists

Published by Fantagraphics

The first collection of gay, erotic Japanese manga released by an American publisher, Massiveprofiles nine influential mangaka; Gengoroh Tagame, Inu Yoshi, Kumada Poohsuke, Takeshi Matsu, Jiraiya, Gai Mizuki, Fumi Miyabi, Seizoh Ebisubashi, and Kazuhide Ichikawa. Along with stories from each mangaka, the anthology also contains interviews with each of the men as well as essays by editors Kidd, Ishii, and Kolbeins that explore subjects such as Japanese society’s attitude toward homosexuality and the current state of the manga industry. Readers of all sexualities can find something to appreciate within these pages, whether it is how the mangakasee the world or the deep attention to anatomical detail.

The stories included in Massive cover a range of tastes, but perhaps most notable are the additions of the famous Gengoroh Tagame’s violent and kinky “Do You Remember South Island P.O.W. Camp?” and Jiraiya’s flawless “Caveman Guu.” Tagame has an entire other book on our list, so I’ll leave his praises for Megan Purdy to sing, but Jiraiya is without a doubt among the most talented cartoonists working in the world today. The men he draws resemble photographs in their seemingly impossible detail, in the curves of their skin and the charm of their smiles. Jiraiya’s writing, too, is irreverently funny and because of his talent, “Caveman Guu” is the most unforgettable of the batch.  That being said, all of Massive deserves your attention because rarely in English-speaking countries do we get collections of manga put together with such care. – Ray Sonne

Masterplasty James Harvey

55. Masterplasty
by James Harvey
Published by Image Comics

I wouldn’t endorse James Harvey individually, but I can agree that Masterplasty is a transcendent work. Colour, command of line, attention to detail on street views and individual character design, personal and capital-f Fashion-legitimised style– it’s a visual trip, and an inadequacy complex story full of knives and cynicism that ends on a sweet little romantic unswing. In this comic, no longer available online but printed at A3 in the name of exhibition, Harvey draws people who are preternaturally gorgeous and people who are supposed to be institutionally unpretty, and while it’s possible to tell who’s who, they all come out looking delicious because his art is so well-weighted. This pushes my reading of the story into positivity, the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and no falser for it performs backing vocals for a yarn about leaving your girlfriend for a better life after cosmetic enhancement, aiming too high and crashing back to earth, only to find her interested in your newest, anonymous, once again non-gorgeous profile. Masterplasty’s colours and tones– created through layering dots in red/yellow/blue, traditional-print style– and elongated limbs make the whole comic look go-go and anti-grav, this club scene with a cohesive narrative. – Claire Napier

Megahex Simon Hanselmann Fantagraphics

54. Megahex
by Simon Hanselmann

Published by Fantagraphics

The first time I read Megahex, I laughed and laughed, thinking this was the next logical step in stoner comedy— a millennial Cheech and Chong. But when the back cover snapped shut, the sun went down. Cheech never agonized over debilitating anxiety. Chong never questioned his sexuality. This wasn’t your classic toke ‘n’ chuckle because Megg, Mogg and Owl come down from their highs, and that’s where this book hits the hardest, and boy, does it ever hit.

Simon Hanselmann’s thin lettering and light colors take some of the edge off and placate the darkness that encompasses the friends’ hazy, fly-by-night habitat. Most pages are constructed in a tight grid, which serves both as scaffolding — keeping the comic and characters’ lives from completely collapsing — and a prison. Whether it’s depression, addiction, boredom, or all of the above, the band of witch, owl and cat is stuck in place, glued to each other and their destructive rituals.

Megahex is a book of fuck-ups, through and through, but its greatness lies in the brief glimpses of mindfulness, of sanity, of sobriety, that Hanselmann gives the gang, a reprieve that usually evaporates quickly. Just a puff of smoke. – RJ Casey (Note: RJ Casey is currently on the Fantagraphics staff. He wanted to let you know because when it comes to full disclosure, he’s a good boy.)

The Wrenchies Farel Dalrymple

53. The Wrenchies
by Farel Dalrymple

Published by First Second

Farel Dalrymple is one of the most audacious and imaginative cartoonists working today. He consistently constructs dense, richly populated worlds with details that evoke everything from Dostoevsky to Wes Anderson to Moebius. Nowhere is this imagination more ardently displayed than in his recent work, The Wrenchies.

A blend of freak-o super-science comics like Doom Patrol and Philippe Druillet-esque formalism,The Wrenchies is a book about the apocalypse, a nerdy kid who likes comics and the failure of a cartoonist who may wind up saving the day. It jumps around from genre to genre, dipping a toe in a thousand different idioms and visual styles, and Dalrymple is constantly balancing a strident populism with an opaque idiosyncrasy. A lot of it feels messy and personal, and it’s a book that asks a lot from its readers. But it’s also an aesthetically beautiful comic filled with some of the most stunningly rendered and precisely composed images in recent memory. The Wrenchies is a comic that engages its readers in innumerable ways on innumerable topics, and it is, pound for pound and page for page, a near-peerless comic. – SH

Passion of Gengoroh Tagame

52. The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame
by Gengoroh Tagame

Published by PictureBox

In the previous part of this list, I said that Sex Coven, despite all the sex, wasn’t a sex comic. The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame? Now this is a sex comic. Tagame’s comics are beautiful, evocative, visceral– a whole string of positive adjectives could go here, but the most important one would always be dirty. These are hardcore BDSM comics, sometimes funny, never sweet; all raw nerve and bone. He’s a wonderful, clever cartoonist and you could of course read Passion for that alone, but these stories are porn– comics to get off to. But Passion isn’t “just a fuck comic,” because like all the best erotica, it’s, well, fervent. Emotionally intense and satisfying, if powerplay is of interest to you. The release of Passion, a first comprehensive English translation of his work in a beautiful Chip Kidd designed book, is significant for a lot of reasons– aesthetic and political– that don’t really figure into the importance of the work in of itself. This is just a really good book. – Megan Purdy

Nurse Nurse Katie Skelly

51. Nurse Nurse
by Katie Skelly
Self published

Nurse Nurse is joy, plain and simple.

Critics are quick to use the word ‘fun’ to describe a comic when the word they want is ‘adequate’ or some shorthand for “better-than-half-the-shit-I-read-week-to-week.” Cynicism degrades the high. So when a comic like Nurse Nurse comes along, it acts like a purgative, a reminder that comics, like all art, are best when they are at their most personal, when they don’t give any fucks and exist only because.

Yes, Nurse Nurse is about the adventures of a space nurse, Gemma, as she navigates alien planets infested with hallucination-inducing butterflies, an ex-boyfriend who’s become a space pirate, cattish co-workers, work fuck-ups and a TV show that seems to be based on her life … so what? Skelly creates characters and stories for her and her alone. If readers wanna’ ride along she’s cool with it. This isn’t selfish nor self-indulgent, it’s personal, there’s a difference. Nurse Nurse shows an artist creating art, comics … for herself.

Skelly’s great skill is charm. From her cartooning to how she develops characters it’s charm, charm, charm all the way down and all of it in timeless black and white. Collecting eight mini-comics, Nurse Nurse shows Skelly developing as a cartoonist and a storyteller, there’s some scruffiness, sure … and? Art allows for promise, for joy. Nurse Nurse delivers on both. – Keith Silva

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life Ulli Lust

50. Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life
by Ulli Lust

Published by Fantagraphics

Ulli Lust’s Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life was the 2013 Ignatz award winner for Outstanding Graphic Novel and was one of of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2013. Edited and translated into English by Kim Thomson, Today… is a hefty memoir that explores and confronts complex issues such as gender inequality, addiction, and rape. The comic begins with a teenage Ulli living in Vienna with some punk friends. Ulli is almost seventeen years old and has recently dropped out of school. She is restless and unwilling to do anything her middle class parents find appropriate. After meeting a new friend named Edi the two decide to travel around Italy together.

The narrative is interspersed with excerpts from Lust’s diaries. These excerpts are accompanied by reproductions of the actual handwritten diary pages. Lust allows us to read these dated entries and consider them alongside the events she illustrates. Also included are reproductions of photographs of Lust’s family and friends. Interweaving the diary entries and reproductions of photographs within the narrative emphasizes the temporal shift in the act of remembering.

Being young and attractive makes Ulli the frequent recipient of unwanted male attention. Lust shares many personally traumatic moments including sexual violence. Lust records her attack and subsequent rape as a struggle rendered in small, cramped panels, referencing the tight, enclosed space. The rapist is drawn as dark, silhouetted; a figure with indistinct features. On the next page the panel borders dissolve as her rapist continues to overpower her. Lust then draws her rapist as a roaring beast.

After this rape Ulli walks on the beach. The overall page design is markedly different from most of the other pages in this work.  Lust uses simplified, minimal drawings to depict herself as a wavering sketch, appearing much less substantial than in any of the previous pages. These images are also not bounded by panel borders, emphasizing the delicate quality of the depiction. It’s aesthetic decisions like these that make Todaysuch an unflinchingly honest and detailed account of youth in all its power and danger. – Francesca Lyn

Agent 9 Katie Skelly

49. Agent 9
by Katie Skelly

Self published

Every Katie Skelly comic feels like the people in it are motivated. They want things, and they respond to that want. Often this response is an action; in Agent 9, the desire is “pleasure” and the action is “sex.” Agent 9 does sex because she feels like she wants to.

I’m not sure yet how Skelly manages to express the possession of internal desires so well. Her figure drawing is very simple, as it meets the reading eye; eyes are big and often focused on as characters look around. These eyes appear to be focused, despite their lack of pupils– Skelly positions the (for example) blue circle just precisely enough within the white egg to direct the gaze with exactitude, and the lack of absolute focus allows for the impression of internal life: Skelly draws mystery girls having a great time, and maybe they have a great plan too. You’ll find out what it is when you’re ready.

Skelly’s other great strength is in her matter-of-fact genitalia and body drawing. Linework on Agent 9’s thighs is lumpy and interrupted, contrary to the terrible fear of cellulite our forefathers all apparently agreed to entertain. There’s no shine put onto a perfect puss, no effort to make the body appear a trinket. Agent 9 slips two fingers into her vagina in a close-up panel. Pubic curls are drawn all around it, back towards the curves of her buttocks and either side of Agent 9’s own hand. No other bodily detail is offered; this small panel is just a triangle of green standing for “irrelevant background scenery” and the peach and minimalist black linework of her thighs, vulva, lower stomach and hand. No opportunity for the reader to to phase out “hairy undercarriage,” no option to desexualise or deeroticise. Agent 9 exists via this body, and Agent 9 is all horned up. Rather than presenting the evocation of some boner angel via slick anatomical approximation, Agent 9 is a sex book interested in following arousal from within. If you’d rather be hot than chase hotness, Agent 9 may be for you. – CN

Arsene Schrauwen Oliver Schrauwen

48. Arsene Schrauwen
by Oliver Schrauwen

Published by Fantagraphics

Published by Fantagraphics in 2014, Belgian cartoonist Olivier Schrauwen’s Arsène Schrauwen is a surreal and epic saga. The often disorienting narrative centers on the adventures of Olivier’s grandfather Arsène who, in 1947, travels from Antwerp to an unnamed African country. Arsène is an awkward, timid, and uncertain young man. We learn that Arsène is going to meet his cousin Roger, though it remains unclear exactly what he will be doing once he reaches his destination.

Arsène Schrauwen is a completely unsentimental narrative, depicting its lead thrown into a trippy world full of unknown threats. Schrauwen’s visual style emphasizes the dreamlike nature of the narrative. The thin-lined drawings are fairly simple and often delicate. The comic makes innovative use of color. Originally self-published using a risograph, Arsène Schrauwen is rendered in vivid color palette; most of the comic shifts in color between a heavenly blueprint blue and a complementary red-orange. The meaning of the color changes throughout the narrative. When Arsène hides in his cabin until he is forced into interacting with the other characters the blue suggests being below deck. Later, the scene changes to red-orange, suggesting an oppressive tropical heat.

Arsène Schrauwen blends wonderful fantastical elements with chaotic drama. Arsène’s cousin Roger is spearheading the construction and development of a grand futuristic planned community tentatively named Freedom Town. The reproduced risographs are often charmingly off-register, adding a pleasing contrasting crudeness to the well-designed panels and suggesting that something is askew.  At the beginning of Arsène Schrauwen, Roger shows Arsène an elaborate scale model of Freedom Town. At the center of the model is a structure he refers to as a bricolage monument. To Roger, the monument represents the dream of this new planned community, an audacious, daring vision composed of an assemblage of odd objects. Arsène Schrauwen becomes its own bricolage monument, with unfamiliar, seemingly disparate elements coming together to form a glorious whole. – FL

Hellboy in Hell Mike Mignola

47. Hellboy in Hell
Written and Drawn by Mike Mignola, Colors by Dave Stewart

Published by Dark Horse

Whereas many of his peers have faded from relevance or gone the way of self-parody, Mike Mignola has only become more vital and bold in his past decade of comics work. In addition to outlining the entire Mignola-verse line of properties at Dark Horse, like the consistently greatB.P.R.D. Hell On Earth, he has continued to push himself as an artist and designer with each new issue of Hellboy in Hell.

The series follows Hellboy’s adventures after his earthly demise, featuring only a few (if any) new issues each year. While the connective tissue between it and Hellboy’s earliest stories like “Seed of Destruction” are apparent, Mignola has come a very long way, transforming his style and improving his storytelling. Every panel of Hellboy in Hell makes a statement. Mignola constructs awe-inspiring architecture inspired from old world European designs and still delivers one-liners with understated humor. Dave Stewart’s colors light up the underworld in all of its sanguinary glory, making it clear why he has so many Eisner Awards at home. Hellboy in Hell is both the continuation of one of the greatest original comics creations and the career of one of comics’ greatest creators of the 20th Century. – CM

Multiple Warheads Brandon Graham

46. Multiple Warheads
by Brandon Graham

Published by Image Comics

Multiple Warheads feels passionate in a way so few other comics do. Brandon Graham, the cartoonist behind King City, renders characters with a fluidity and sensuality that is hard to ignore, and there’s a particularity to every movement that they make. He draws bodies with a certain weight, and he gives life to those bodies with a specificity of affect that is absent in most cartoonists’ work. The characters aren’t just drawn to look different from one another, but they make facial expressions that would look out of place on a different face, they carry themselves in a singular way. Graham ensures that each one of his (sometimes very bizarre) characters is given personality all their own, but more importantly, that personality is represented in everything they do.

The series, which started off at Oni Press before moving to Image, concerns Sexica, a black market organ smuggler, and her boyfriend, who happens to have two penises (one used to belong to a werewolf). Together they share adventures both epic and quotidian, but the high-concept isn’t the important part. The important part is that it’s all written with Graham’s signature blend of relatable warmth and rapid-fire punning. It’s not about plot or what happens– it’s about mood, it’s about jokes, it’s about tricking the audience into thinking of these completely fictional people and this insane sci-fi world as real. What could be better than that? – SH

Parker the Outfit Darwyn Cooke

45. Parker: The Outfit
by Darwyn Cooke
Published by IDW

“When the woman screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed.” She’s curled up halfway in that scream and he’s already on the floor – that’s page one. Flip it. He rolls for the pistol hidden under the bed. A wild shot takes out the alarm clock. Parker pops up to see his attacker and then down, after another shot. It’s a ploy as much as it’s a retreat. By the next page the guy is dead, splayed across the floor, sloppy as the hit itself, and Parker slides out from under the bed. You know he’s a born killer.

Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations meet the challenge of turning prose into a comic head on- distilling the narrative and rethinking function. Westlake’s prose is spare to the point of violence, his characters upfront about their menace. How can Cooke create the same effect? Action, not frenzied but deliberate and brutal, revealing Parker in his movements, in how he moves through a scene. If it’s not necessary Cooke discards it. Westlake wouldn’t have minded. Most everything you need to know about Parker, crook and killer, you can learn in these moments of violence. The rest of it, you can find in the laying and springing of a trap.

The Hunter and The Score, Cooke’s preceding and succeeding Westlake adaptations, are both great capers, but The Outfit is more ambitious. It’s Parker at his unreasonable and fuck you best. There’s a score to settle and money to be made, of course, but going head to head with the Outfit– yes, that one— isn’t exactly a tidy score. For Parker, it’s the satisfaction of doing it. For us, it’s the satisfaction of watching. Hand to hand or otherwise, Parker won’t be stopped, and the comic feels just like that too – taking a breather to explain a scam, instructional style, a step back, stylistic shift, to look at all this criminal frenzy from the eyes of a news rag, but all the while boiling away. The delight of The Outfit is how neatly it marries character study, an almost leisurely survey of Parker’s world, with breakneck violence. You already know Darwyn Cooke is a good cartoonist. Well, The Outfit is some of his best work. – MP

Nimona Noelle Stevenson

44. Nimona
by Noelle Stevenson
Self published

The name Noelle Stevenson started to echo around the hallowed halls of comicdom in the year 2012, revealed as the sinister alter ego of one Gingerhaze, a popular fanartist from the shadowy lands of Tumblr. Unfolding the tale of one Lord Ballister Blackheart, a former knight and current mad scientist who relentlessly irritated our beloved Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, Stevenson depicted in her webcomic the treasonous actions of Nimona, a shape-shifting supervillain in training.

As Stevenson would have it, it is this small girl who is responsible for many of the unspeakable acts to befall both the kingdom and Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin of our noble Institution, with Nimona posing as both powerful ally and dangerous weapon. It even appears that the positions of Blackheart and Goldenloin may lie at different spots on the moral compass than originally supposed, with trials of friendship and individuality, alongside the complexity of good versus evil explored. As far as morality tales go, Nimona does subvert the usual “strong female character” archetype and princess hero tales, and it cannot be denied that the progression of Stevenson’s art and experimental layouts is clear to see. However the collected edition is absolute blasphemy and cannot be recommended by the universally adored Law Enforcement and Heroics. – Laura Sneddon

Voyeurs Gabrielle Bell

43. The Voyeurs
by Gabrielle Bell

Published by Uncivilized Books

We all know big magic when we see it. It is the shiny, showy precision of a Las Vegas magician. Big magic is Beyoncé on a sparkly, epic world tour. Big magic is dazzling, it forces you to be enthralled by it. Small magic does not work like that. It is contemplative. Small magic creeps in when you do not expect it to. It lingers in your mind. Small magic is a quiet power. In her complex and compelling graphic memoir The Voyeurs, Gabrielle Bell works in small magic, making it look effortless.

With an introduction written by Aaron Cometbus and published by Uncivilized Books in 2012, The Voyeurs collects stories that originally appeared in Bell’s webcomic Lucky. The comic is episodic, focusing on telling everyday stories such as taking a bike ride with a friend or going on a road trip. These thoughtful, mundane stories are sometimes used as a springboard for more fantastical musings. Getting a laptop repaired quickly becomes an expanded meditation on the significance of having an online presence. Other stories focus on Bell’s interpersonal relationships such as her tumultuous relationship with filmmaker Michel Gondry.

Bell chooses to construct The Voyeurs using panels that are consistently the same size. These panels are outlined with wavering, hesitant lines. The action within each panel is typically and self-consciously bounded with wordy captions and provocative dialogue. Bell is a master of pacing, her panels emphasizing the quiet power of an economy of shape and line.

In the epilogue of The Voyeurs Gabrielle visits her good friend Tony at his apartment. The two watch the film Vivre Sa Vie. Tony refers to the film as being Brechtian and explains that Bertolt Brecht was “a playwright who liked to call attention to the fact that you were watching a play.” Tony then points out moments in the movie where the filmmaker has decided to call attention to the fact that you were watching a film. Similarly, The Voyeurs calls attention to the medium of comics as a whole, challenging readers to reconsider the transformational power of the autobiographical comic. – FL

Mind MGMT Matt Kindt

42. Mind MGMT
by Matt Kindt

Published by Dark Horse

Matt Kindt began the millenium in a big way with the publication of “Mephisto and the Empty Box” in 2001. Mind MGMT completes the promise made there of a restless, new comics creator set on changing how we see the medium.. This 36 issue deep dive into conspiracies, structure, and format experimentation opened with a lot of big ideas and only continued to add more with each issue.

There are very few comics as inventive as Mind MGMT on any level. Kindt’s concepts for mental powers managed to seem new in a market filled with too many superpowered characters already. What was even more remarkable was the visual execution of these concepts on the page. Kindt took full advantage of the comics form in a story that could only be illustrated, never transferred to prose or screen. His use of individual pages, letter columns, and margins pushed the medium even further, providing depth and complexity that requires multiple readings. Kindt never settled for his own current achievements or those of the comics being published around him. Instead he opted to try and discover something new as the series continued, resulting in many great, if minor, moments as well as some truly eye-opening ones. If you’re looking to discover what comics are capable of this decade, then Mind MGMT is likely to expand your mind. – CM

Island Image Comics

41. Island
Various artists

Published by Image Comics

I complain a lot about Island. I’m a nitpicker by nature and at 100+ pages per issue, Island gives me a lot to pick at. My favourite complaints concern the design. Start a comic on a verso? What? No. Framing material- does Island know what it is? A little more subtle guidance for the reader, please and thank you. But well, these aren’t complaints about content, and they come down to the editor’s lack of interest in guiding. The content, though, is always interesting, and the production no less than lush. So, fine. I can live with some quibbles.

Island is a science fiction and fantasy anthology edited by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios. The issues are big– outsized and long on ideas. The material is varied. Skateboarding mummies share space with whole body transplant patients and folks who’ve got theraputic computers chattering away in their heads. It’s a mix of one shots, essays, illustrations and serialized comics. One issue has an episode of Multiple Warheads-– awkward, if you haven’t read at least some of Graham’s sprawling weirdo sexterpiece. To be sure, there are misfires– but isn’t it obvious? I complain aboutIsland so much because I love it. It’s weird, ambitious, and challenging. It’s full of interesting comics by great cartoonists, and it always seems to be going places, even when I’m not sure what those places might be. I don’t know if Island is a great comic yet – though I did nominate it for this list – but it’s reaching toward it, and that alone makes it an always interesting, sometimes satisfying read. – MP

For the rest of the 100 Best Comics of the First Half of the 2010’s:

Part 1
Part 2

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About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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