This article was originally published at Loser City on December 11, 2015.
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 partsone, two, three and four so be sure to check those out. Thanks for following along with us!
Written by Juan Diaz Canales, Art by Juanjo Guarnido
Published by Dark Horse
Following in the footsteps of Kley and Grandville, Disney and Inspecteur Canardo comes John Blacksad, a cross between Bagheera, a suit, and a large bottle of bourbon. Private detective in a 1950s world of smoky American noir, this anthropomorphic cat is an instant superstar. Originally published in France in 2000-5, the first three adventures of Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s titular character were collected by Dark Horse in 2010 in a luxurious oversized hardcover as befits the super-multi-award-winning series.
Somewhere Within the Shadows is the standard revenge pursuit as Blacksad tracks down the killer of his former flame and lands himself on the path of darkness; Arctic Nation expands upon the racism in the first to serve up a complex power struggle in the failing neighborhoods of post-WWII small town America; Red Soul plunges deep into the era of McCarthyism and the Red Scare. Each follows a standard noir formula, give or take a few character developing diversions, but as with all noir it isn’t the destination that is important but the view along the road.
Guarnido’s background in Disney animation is evident in the smooth stylings of the animal characters and the liquid dynamism of their panel filling frames. The choice of each species is crucial – these characters are as near human as anthropomorphism allows with their animal mask revealing the personality within. Backgrounds too are intricately detailed and lavishly painted, the entire book reads as if within a fond childhood memory awash with emotion and smell on top of sight and sound.
I could write countless words about the intricacies and comic trope subversions of this series but simply put, Blacksad is a masterpiece. – Laura Sneddon
19. Bulletproof Coffin
Written by David Hine, Art by Shaky Kane
Published by Image Comics
Bulletproof Coffin takes meta, self-parody and playfulness and sez drop yer drawers and let’s do the dirty boogie. It’s the best comic David Cronenberg never wrote cuz David Hine and Shaky Kane did it for him. Madcap, grotesque, creepy, and sexy in all the best ways, Bulletproof Coffin should be required reading for like… life.
Enter Steve Newman who cleans out the houses of dead people. And for his troubles and because he’s got the O.K. from ‘the boss,’ Steve-O gets first dibs on anything he might want to squirrel away in his sanctum sanctorum of tchotchkes and kitsch before he hauls it off to the dump, where it belongs, except it doesn’t, right(?). So Newman– he later becomes ‘Noman’ and ‘Nayman’ and the Coffin Fly, but that’s a ways down the line– gets a hold of a stack of Golden Nugget Comics and that’s when things get hinky, kinky and as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.
Hine and Kane know how to ‘egg the pudding’ just enough to be able to create the first gestalt comic where the story, words, images, letters, ads and other ephemera are as important as the physical comic itself. A lot of other artists (even those of a comicbook-ery bent) have taken on stories within stories and comics within comics before. What Hine and Kane accomplish with Bulletproof Coffinthat’s different from those other degenerates creators is prove how goddamn original comics– fuck it, art– can be when the words ‘creator-owned’ become more than a slogan or a signifier for a well-maintained pull-list and become a code, a purpose. – Keith Silva
Written by Brandon Graham, Art by Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis, Brandon Graham and guests
Published by Image Comics
A relaunch of an old Rob Liefeld series, Prophet began life as Conan the Barbarian in space–or, at least that’s how it was sold. By the end of its first three-issue arc, however, it had already become something so much greater than its PR polished elevator pitch. John Prophet, the last earthman, had been cloned and those clones were being used to kickstart a new Earth Empire. But other forces were at work and in the series’ 25-issue run, an old John Prophet clone has come with the latest incarnations of the original’s superhero compatriots to wage war.
Bringing together cartoonists like Ron Wimberly and James Stokoe to guest on a series whose regular artists/writers include Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis, and Brandon Graham Prophet boasts one of the best creative rosters in the game. And all of these artists, varied though their aesthetics may be, all fit in well with the neo-Heavy Metal ethos. Like Multiple Warheads, the other Graham series on the list, Prophet doesn’t always reveal itself after a single read. The ensemble is huge and the plot is gargantuan in scope, but there are enough ideas per page to make your head spin; each issue casually drops concepts and technologies that someone less inventive could stretch into a whole career. And while it still lacks a conclusion, it’s a series that’s been consistent in its art and in its writing, two components that people treat as separate and discrete but what Prophet insists are inextricable. – Shea Hennum
by Taiyo Matsumoto
Published by Viz Media
Mark O. Stack, fellow contributor to this list and King Baby™, asked me what Sunny was about and I told him that “It’s about being sad.” And that’s not inaccurate. Taiyo Matsumoto’s series, which follows a number of children living in a group home, isn’t simply about being sad, though. It’s about all things that make us sad; it’s about confronting those emotions and expressing them. Character’s aren’t forced into situations of physical and emotional violence, situations that prey upon the reader’s sympathies for orphans; Matsumoto is never exploitative or manipulative. Rather, his characters are placed into situations that force his audience into nostalgic recall, a state of remembrance for times and places gone and nearly forgotten. The sadness is more a state for the reader than for the characters.
His pen work is unsteady but confident– the work of a practiced cartoonist, but one who doesn’t rule out his lines– and his inkwashes give figures a soft, comforting texture. With these thin black lines, he approximates colors, he creates sounds, temperatures, tastes, smells– with these precise lines and some well-chosen sound effects (the “reep, reep” onomatopoetic of Cicadas calling), Matsumoto is able to trick his readers into thinking they are children again, running around in the dog days of summer.
Fortunately, he uses these power for good, and instead of tugging at his readers’ heartstrings with displays of abject depravity and cruelty, he simply shows us the heartbreaking quotidian: a child says something cruel to another child; a parent cannot communicate their parental abdication to their child. It’s not simply about “being sad.” It’s a comic that ushers you into sadness, but it also shows you the way out. – SH
Written by Ales Kot, Art by various
Published by Image Comics
Zero has heft. Zero has power. Zero is a deep character study mixed with an existential spy drama. It follows shifting perspectives— embodied in its diverse roster of artists— to give a view of the spy world that is fragmented and elusive, where nothing seems to stay steady because the character’s inner and outer worlds are constantly changing. Zero is dense, but it’s dense in a unique way: dense in thought, dense in action, but loose in direct storytelling. The world that writer Ales Kot and his ever-shifting team of artists create is compelling. You can’t turn away as a reader, because the world is so beautifully created and the thought behind it so well considered, but it’s also a world that’s hard to visit, full of shifting visions, deep uncertainly, a nightmare that perfectly reflects our protagonist’s inner turmoil. Love is twisted into unrecognizable shapes, and a safe haven becomes dangerous through the very air that people breathe.
Zero is a series of many paradoxes, but that is what gives it power. Ales Kot’s comics kill. – Jason Sacks
15. Ms. Marvel: No Normal
Written G. Willow Wilson, Art by Adrian Alphona, Colors by Ian Herring
Published by Marvel Comics
Ms. Marvel was the class favorite in “Gender, Race, and Comics,” a course I teach at Virginia Commonwealth University. Students who had previously admitted they were not fans of superheroes told me that it was the highlight of their semester. They loved it. Admittedly, it is an easy comic to love- with gorgeous, distinctive artwork by Adrian Alphona and winning writing from G. Willow Wilson, the comic is a delightful page turner. More than just being entertained, they thought it was important. Such is the captivating power of the much-lauded Ms. Marvel.
Kamala Khan is Marvel’s first Muslim character to headline her own comic book. A Pakistani American teenager from Jersey City, Kamala is a superhero fangirl, an adorable nerd who writes Avengers fanfic and idolizes the original Ms. Marvel. In our current climate of islamophobia, Kamala’s characterization is not just culturally relevant, it is important. Ms. Marvel makes a strong case that the all-American girl can be a practicing Muslim.
Ms Marvel is an accurate portrayal of what it is like to be a teen girl growing up in a strict household. As hers is a second-generation immigrant story, Kamala is constantly negotiating and figuring out who she is, desperately wanting to be seen as “normal,” as one of the popular white kids. Kamala’s adolescent drama is compounded when her Inhuman abilities are awakened through exposure to a Terrigen Mist bomb. Kamala is transformed, subconsciously transforming into the superhero she adores: Carol Danvers in her Ms. Marvel costume. It is wish fulfillment gone wrong; changing her appearance does not even begin to solve her problems.
The entirety of Ms. Marvel has Kamala discovering her powers as she discovers who she is as a person, realizing that it’s not her superpowers but her character that makes her heroic. – Francesca Lyn
14. Hark! A Vagrant
by Kate Beaton
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Often referred to as Kate Beaton’s first collection, this is in fact the second collection of the titular webcomic, albeit definitely the one that launched her into the stratosphere of fame! Beaton’s famous series has been around since 2007, but in the last 5 years the artist has won a clutch of awards, topped the New York Times bestseller list, and generally ruled the entire world. While educating the masses on all things literature and history by using sneaky educational humour, Beaton has never shied away from using her work to communicate important (and hilarious) feminist messages.
And that’s kind of a big deal. Things have changed a lot in even the last 5 years, with feminism moving from a dirty and annoying word to now being an acceptable label for any decent comic creator to claim. One can only assume that the combination of feminist and funny caused objectors to explode.
From Suffragettes in the City (Susan B Anthony yo!) to Brahms and Lizt and the Kennedys and Wonder Woman, Beaton’s unique and deceptively simple style is beloved by literally everybody. Seriously. Treat anyone who doesn’t like this book with the utmost suspicion. – LS
13. Supreme: Blue Rose
Written by Warren Ellis, Art by Tula Lotay
Published by Image Comics
Supreme was a Liefeldian Superman expy back in 199X (for Xtreme), revisited by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay for a cracking bit of Pure Comics. Going hard on alternate realities, making “this story is being retold” a part of the internal and external narratives, Supreme: Blue Rose works so terrifically well because in the end, it’s a Lois Lane comic. When you’re expy-ing an expy, the spiral goes all the way down.
Trusting its regular, human heroine to carry the series, Supreme: Blue Rose allows a slice of life comic, following mid-late twenties career ennui, economic struggle and medication and mental health, adding the odd guest-character vignette here and there, to become a high-concept superhero melodrama without losing any of its relatability. Lotay’s approach to page visuals is all-consuming, the air is visible, the atmosphere is drawn onto the story. Fashion is used, subtly, to boost the emotional effect of scenes and themes. Supreme: Blue Rose feels like an exceptional, whole work, but is so well nestled into the core of old stories which grew into cultural touchstones that it achieves reach, relevancy and warm recognisability every time it subverts or reframes an old beat. They say there are no new stories, but like springtime, this comic feels fresh. – Claire Napier
Written by Matt Fraction, Art by David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth, Annie Wu, Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Before this book came out, it was hard to imagine being excited about a Clint Barton solo book. Nothing against the dude, but come on. He’s not the draw on the Avengers, and you know it. So did Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth and Chris Eliopoulos. Together, they gave us a version of Clint Barton who knew it, who was just trying to do good on his days off, and who rarely made good decisions. Nobody knew this better than the other Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, who the book’s team smartly made a co-lead instead of a sidekick. Kate Bishop isn’t anybody’s sidekick, as evidenced when she got fed up with Clint, fled to LA and set up shop as a Jim Rockford-esque detective who hung out with– for legal reasons– not Philip Marlow in The Big Sleep and recluse-era Brian Wilson, in an arc drawn by Annie Wu.
This book was great, you guys.
More than that, it was ambitious. What other comic book featured a noir detective story starring a dog? Hawkeye did that, and Aja and Hollingsworth created a new visual language to represent how a dog sees the world. An issue prominently featuring American Sign Language? They did it. Fake romance comic covers as storyline cues in the middle of an issue? Annie Wu did it. Dream sequence cartoon christmas specials? Pretty great. Putting together a Hurricane Katrina charity issue in a matter of weeks? Yeah.
Pulling all of this together– the gorgeous thoughtful colours, the innovative page layouts, the buckwild lettering and alternating lead characters– was the team’s sense of dry goofiness. Hawkeye was serious enough to be dramatic and pull at the heartstrings while building stakes that escalated from the first issue to the last. It also knew when to take the piss out of itself, with awkward one-liners, running gags about fake TV shows and tasteful male nudity. It beat up its characters but loved a pratfall. It’s easy to see why so many Marvel solo books have tried to emulate it since, but the secret is in how hard that actually is to do. It takes a team with each member in sync with each other, willing to take some chances. Those don’t come along every day.
Aw, Hawkeye. – James Leask
11. One Punch Man
Written by ONE, Art by Yusuke Murata
Published by Viz Media
“If you train hard enough you can punch people harder than they can punch you, and that’s good.” – Danny Djeljosevic, describing the morality of Dragon Ball specifically and shonen anime/manga in general.
A lot of humor in this comic comes from the protagonist Saitama’s unimpressive appearance and how heroes and villains alike react to it with derision and/or disbelief. But when Saitama displays his abilities, characters immediately start asking him for the secret to his immense power. His answer, a simple workout routine performed every day without fail, is met with equal derision and disbelief. Characters scoff because no one could possibly get so strong from doing 100 sit-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 squats, and running 10 km every day. But here’s the secret: none of them are doing it. Saitama is. Just like Dragon Ball and other shonen manga before it, One-Punch Man espouses the value of having a good work ethic.
The ONE-written series began life as a self-published webcomic before being remade with artist Yusuke Marata for publication in Young Jump Web Comics and eventually making it over to America via Viz Media. The success of this comic may appear to have been overnight for some American readers unfamiliar with its history. They may ask why a comic that gently ribs at genre tropes and initially appears to be one gag extended over several volumes has been so well-received. The answer is simple: overnight successes don’t come overnight and the creators did the work. The jokes in One-Punch Man are well-considered and executed, dealing in a level of hyperbole suited to the already comedic and action-packed shonen genre, while the visuals jump back and forth with the juxtaposition of the simplistic and hyper-detailed in a way that creates both comedy and excitement. – Mark O. Stack
by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka
Published by Viz Media
All right, kids, I’m going to say it: Naoki Urasawa is not as good as you think he is. He just isn’t. I would probably even go as far as declaring him the most overrated manga creator–at least in the English-speaking world.
It’s not a question of his artistic talent. Urasawa has a fantastically distinct style and one of the things I love about him is that I can pick up a piece of his work and know it’s his at a mere glance. He’s an artist who has really mastered the art of making distinctive and variably expressive faces, which is a pretty hard thing to execute. All of his protagonists, all of his side characters, all of his background extras–they’re all different. And what really enhances the strength of his material is his ability to make his characters look creepy without using the visual signifiers we often use for villains, which only underlines how disturbing his bad guys are.
The stories also tend to be compelling, dark, twisty narratives. I feel like classifying his work as ‘horror’ is definitely wrong, but the thread that I think holds true throughout most of his major works–21st Century Boys, Monster, Billy Bat–is a sense of horror at what is unfolding. Claire Napier used this idea to describe Tantei no Tantei, but I think it’s applicable for Urasawa’s oeuvre too.
But here’s the thing about an Urasawa comic, a thing that seems to hold true about basically all of his works, and a thing that really should keep the vast majority off any “Best of the Decade” List: they almost invariably crush themselves under their own weight. Urasawa has this nasty habit of writing stories that start out strong and tight, but eventually get bloated and out of hand. 21st Century Boys is a great work, but should have stopped well before it actually did. Monster involved more subplots and side characters than Urasawa really knew what to do with.
So, at this point, you’re asking: why the hell is Pluto even on this list? The reason is, Pluto represents everything that is great about Urasawa with none of his failings–a drop of shining liquid squeezed from gold ore. And as though the idea of “peak Urasawa” weren’t enough, then you add the fact that Pluto is, at its core, also a work by “god of manga” Osamu Tezuka.
The comic is a reinterpretation of the Greatest Robot on Earth arc from Tezuka’s Astro Boy, reworking the pieces of Tezuka’s original narrative into a murder mystery that is more Urasawa’s style. The whole thing works because Urasawa applies his artistic skills, his sense of horror, his twists and turns to a story that already has shape. To put it bluntly: Tezuka reins him in. Urasawa is forced to constrain his wilder tendencies into a tight 8 volumes, as compared to his typical 18-20 volume fare.
Pluto is the best that one of the most talented creators of our time has to offer, through the framework of what one of the most talented and game-changing creators of all time had to offer. The best of the best. A living giant’s talent honed under the guidance of a dead god.
If that’s not divine intervention–I don’t know what is. – J.A. Micheline
9. My Friend Dahmer
by Derf Backderf
Published by Abrams Comicarts
We got really into serial killers in the 2010’s. Or I should say we got into works that tried to show off more of the backstory of serial killers, the development of them and the descent into their ultimate madness. Hannibal is the work that probably comes to mind for most of you, but I think the best example of this subgenre isn’t that heavily stylized show but My Friend Dahmer, a curious little graphical novel by Derf Backderf that detailed Backderf’s “friendship” with the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer in his adolescence.
Backderf’s style is typical of alt-comix, goofily grotesque and grimy, but Dahmer isn’t a goofy story, nor is it a horror story. Harrowing is the word that perhaps describes it best, because we know what Dahmer will become but we are captivated by the awareness that that information is useless to us and Backderf. From Backderf’s telling, Dahmer was an awkward kid who joined their friend group because of the imitations he could do, but there were always signs that something was wrong with him. He had a troubled family life and he liked to torture animals, which serial killer fiction fanatics know are red flags. So the shock of the comic comes from Backderf’s depiction of the apathy of the adults around them, who either didn’t notice or didn’t care that Dahmer was troubled, coming to school reeking of booze, indulging in more and more dangerous extracurricular activities. Backderf’s slack style communicates this excellently, his caricatures fitting the awkwardness of youth while the adults exist Peanuts-style in the background, popping up to remind you how clueless or uninvolved they were but not actively participating. My Friend Dahmer doesn’t ask you to sympathize with the future killer, but it does ask you to reexamine your daily interactions, to be more aware of the other humans around you, to look for signs that they are asking for help. -Nick Hanover
8. King City
by Brandon Grahama
Published by Image Comics
King City is the story of a boy and his cat. Joe and Earthling JJ Cattingsworth III are closer to friends than they are to pet/owner, with Earthling serving as a McGuffin for all but the most serious of tasks. With a catmaster as the main character, the solution to a problem is often just an injection of cat juice away, which lets Graham focus on the things that really matter: people. King City is a sci-fi book filled with capers and intrigue, one where Graham has built an expansive world with some pretty significant historical events that are only hinted at, but at its core, it is a comic about relationships from beginning to end.
Alongside the personal relationships with Joe’s ex, her current boyfriend (and his literal slow disintegration), and his friend Pete’s trying to free an alien from a sex trafficking ring, the 12-issue series builds up a conflict between some massive, quasi-Lovecraftian beast (AND a gang war). Those big, Earth-shattering events? Graham lets them happen off-page in the last issue. What would normally be the climax of a sci-fi adventure story is an afterthought in King City, as Joe is given the go ahead to take care of his people, with the assurance that there will always be another demon king or million gore vortex, and that he can catch the next one.
King City‘s artistic style is distinctly Graham, which feels like a cop-out to say. There is no one else out there that seems to mesh European and manga influences as well as he does (Prophetcollaborator Giannis Milonogiannis comes close). Like his friend James Stokoe, Graham often litters his pages with details, but they tend to be jokes and puns in the background rather than a few thousand scales on a Godzilla. King City breathes in a way that few comics allow themselves, not just in Graham’s regular lingering on details of the setting but also in how open some of the layouts feel, how free flowing some of the plots and subplots are.
All of the events of King City are there to showcase the characters’ relationships. They’re a vehicle for Graham to tell the reader about what really matters in life: the people you love. – David Fairbanks
7. Multiversity: Pax Americana
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Frank Quitely, Colors by Nathan Fairbairn
Published by DC Comics
I’m not sure how many superhero comics will have made this list, but I’m pretty sure one we almost all nearly agreed on was this installment of Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity for DC. It’s the series Morrison fans had been waiting years to read, the culmination of his years of work in reshaping the DC Universe and melting brainmeats. And the information that one Frank Quitely would be taking on the world of Charlton characters had everyone in a meltdown, especially when the conveniently unsourced quote from Morrison that hit the headlines was “Watchmen done right!”
Hype is one thing, delivery another. While annotation fans rubbed their hands with glee, everyone else awaited Pax Americana with bated breath– surely it would be a miracle if it lived up to expectations? And yet here we are, the Glasgow boys once again pulling off an all new classic. Every grid, every panel position is loaded with meaning– musical harmonics and frequencies guide the flow– structure is key and lock. It’s a masterclass from Quitely who has readers moving backwards across a page at one point without even realising. We3 revolutionised sequential storytelling. Pax may well do the same. The lesson? Morrison and Quitely are always worth waiting for. – LS
by Michel Fiffe
Published by Bergen Street Comics
A meat-grinder of a comic, Copra began as an homage to John Ostrander’s run on the Suicide Squad before mutating into something entirely different. Those early issues are obvious love letters to an extant work, though Fiffe does draw them with a signature style of cartooning that is exceedingly visceral and aesthetically pleasurable to behold. As the series progresses, however, Fiffe continues to make tweaks to his version, and it soon bears little resemblance to the thing it was supposed to be a recreation, though. His characters grow incredibly sympathetic and unpredictable, and a powerful emotional core starts to drive the book.
This interesting trick of influence and idiosyncrasy isn’t why Copra is a brutal comic, though.Copra is a brutal comic because it’s one that doesn’t pull its punches–narratively or artistically. Fiffe’s inks and colors have a rough, abrasive texture, and they force the eye to read the pages as aggressive and mean. His characters have a solidity and weight to them that makes their movements impactful. It’s a style built to communicate violence with intense tactility, and Fiffe uses it for just that very thing. He draws familiar archetypes in familiar scenarios playing out familiar conflicts, but in Fiffe’s version, there’s actual pathos and when two characters start wailing on each other, it gets messy, gross, painful to watch. Basically: what a great fight comic should be. – SH
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, Art by Fiona Staples
Published by Image Comics
Saga is everything I want from a comic. It functions as a popular entertainment, a beautifully composed collection of artwork, and a story that speaks to both my own life and much larger concepts. Together Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have crafted a comic that fulfills everything an ongoing comic series ought to be as amusement and art. At its core Saga is a story about family and the essential relationships that compose this dynamic notion. Heroes and villains alike are defined by their lovers, children, parents, and siblings. In turn these relationships both impact and are impacted by the world with war, ideology, and commerce all coming into play.
Set against the backdrop of a colorful, intergalactic landscape these ideas aren’t just relatable, but immensely enjoyable. Staples’ artwork still feels fresh with each page reading like a new discovery. Her designs for alien races, worlds, and technology are nothing short of superb, engaging both the eye and imagination. Every splash page and cover for the series evokes big emotions thanks to both her deft craft and the powerful story being told. Even after 31 issues every single cliffhanger can still fill its audience with anxiety because there’s less than extraordinary about this comic. Saga really is just that good. – Chase Magnett
by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Published by Vertigo Comics
We bring our own narrative and the sum of our experiences to our understanding of something as brave and audacious as Daytripper. We understand it as we understand ourselves. What we find therein speaks as much to who we are as a person, as it does the work itself. What Bá and Moon have created is, in fact, the story of ourselves, insomuch as it is the story of experiences.
As much as we might try to deny it, life is a series of cause and effects.Trace back how you ended up where you have in your life. Follow the decision making process, as it were as far back as you can go. If you’re honest with yourself, you not only have a better sense of who you are and where you’ve come from, but, more importantly, the study, in a way, forces you to take ownership of your present.
Unfortunately, we take each of the decisions we make in our day-to-day rather lightly. Upon examination, though, they gain gravitas. But as we have little time in our scurry we have less for reflection. The last choice, then, becomes defining. Yes, death IS a part of life. It, in this case, provides the final punctuation to our story. Is it an exclamation point? A period? A question mark? Or an ellipse?
This is where Daytripper, for me, straps on its profundity — it parses the punctuation and, by doing so, assays the life led. Bá and Moon force us, through their art, to consider the wisdom of the moments that encompass our lives. – Daniel Elkin
3. Through the Woods
by Emily Carroll
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Emily Carroll makes it to this list for the second time with Through The Woods. This is Carroll’s first book and she gives us five terrifying and electrifying tales connected to the woods. The vibrant reds, blues and yellows pop off the black glossy pages making it a gorgeous experience BUT it’s the spectacular pacing that makes this scary read better than rest. Just as she used the online format to its fullest in her webcomics, Carroll navigates the page like a pro with the use of empty space and well placed yet poetic words. If this isn’t comics at its best, I don’t know what is. – Ardo Omer
2. Operation Margarine
by Katie Skelly
Published by Ad House Books
If Nurse Nurse is Katie Skelly’s Dangerously in Love then Operation Margarine is her I Am … Sasha Fierce which (to follow the metaphor through) makes Skelly the Beyoncé of indie cartoonists. Like Queen Bey, Skelly, with Operation Margarine, proves her debut was (merely) the first act in a career that stays true to her first loves as she continues to evolve as an artist.
Operation Margarine follows society gal Margarine and the tough-talking, no bullshit, bouffant badass, Bon-Bon as they head out on the highway (on motorcycles!) towards adventure and to escape their pasts. It’s a pinch of Horatio Alger, a handful of Russ Meyer and all the self-possessed masterwork of an artist in full.
Skelly’s clean lines belie a complex narrative that comments on abuse, anxiety, body image, friendship, self-destructive behavior and self-sacrifice. As much as some aspects of Operation Margarine play as over-the-top and kitschy, Skelly works best with subtleties and silences, sometimes words, other times gestures or details, like scars. Skelly’s greatest gift is that she lets this comic be a comic, the true mark of a storyteller who knows and Skelly knows.
When Margarine asks Bon-Bon about her past she’s told, “Marge, I have an idea. Let’s skip this part. Let’s just be… new people,” it’s reflective of Skelly’s own poise as a cartoonist to never compromise, to tell her own story the way she wants to tell it. With Skelly what’s past is prologue. Operation Margarine is epic, sexy and sad, a mission statement for how to make comics and how to make peace with oneself. – KS
1. Prince of Cats
by Ron Wimberly
Published by Vertigo Comics
At this year’s SPX, on a panel called “Black Art Matters,” Ron Wimberly, the creator of Prince of Cats, said, “Don’t believe the hype of everyone else’s hustle.” That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s an artist assured of his own merits. And his merits shine beautifully in Prince of Cats. Because it takes balls to take on Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, to recast a minor role into a major player, to transport fair Verona to Brooklyn, to take a classic story of star-crossed lovers and flip it on the B-side in order to tell a tale of heroism and honor, turning “the courageous captain of compliments” into a tragic figure of epic standing. Ron Wimberly has those balls and they are on deft display in Prince of Cats. Because everything works in this book.
In Prince of Cats, Wimberly has full control of his craft: from the cartooning to the colors to the dialogue to the pacing– it is complete in every aspect. It dares to tell the story of Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet, transported to Brooklyn in the mid-80’s, now made hip-hop and ninja, pierced and cocksure. By taking on this dare, Wimberly transforms a tragedy that has been watered down so much through endless tellings and interpretations and cultural touchstone thickness as to be bereft of its woe, bordering on comedy. He transforms it and creates a new tragic hero, one that is believable, one that is true, one that is flawed by hubris and empathy at the same time – a candle that cannot burn long on this stage.
Prince of Cats doesn’t need my hype. It’s got Wimberly’s hustle all over it it. – DE
For the rest of the 100 Best Comics of the First Half of the 2010’s: