Why 2016 Was a Great Year for Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on December 28, 2016.

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We are only a few days away from the start of 2017 and it is time to take stock of the previous year, assess how it went, and make plans for the future. Some topics are more difficult to reflect upon than others, but there’s one that shouldn’t be too difficult to think about at all: comics. Sure, there are more serious things to worry about, but it’s the holidays and we’ve all earned a break, so let’s consider comics in 2016.

Looking at the entirety of this year, we’re pretty confident that it has been a killer year for comics. There are a lot of reasons for that, some small and some big. Plenty of top-notch books have debuted or continued (as will be shown in our best of 2016 list later this week). However, there are a few key points that really make the case for why 2016 was a great year for comics.

The DC Comics Revival

This one could stand on its own because it encompasses so much. Let’s start at the beginning though. Before DC Rebirth #1 was even released the company’s leadership, including Dan Didio and Geoff Johns, took their show on the road talking to retailers and fans about the future. It was a show of good faith that paid off at the announcement of Rebirth and everything to follow. The big announcement in January was live streamed to all of comics fandom who couldn’t attend in person made lot of big promises for the future.

Those were promises that DC Comics has consistently delivered on since premiering the publishing initiative too. The over-sized event issue was released for a steal and received widespread acclaim from fans. What was even more impressive were the array of series that followed it. The publisher refocused on their core brands and began to offer many of their most popular titles on a bi-weekly basis. Even more impressively they once again decided to hold the line at $2.99 making their comics some of the most affordable on the market. The diversity of creators working on these relaunches also assured that there would be something for every superhero fan. Six months into Rebirth and it’s clear that the quality and variety of the line is here to stay.

The complete Rebirth cycle would be more than enough to make the case for DC Comics essentially winning 2016, but they decided to one up themselves with the announcement of “pop up imprints”. Young Animal, headed by Gerard Way, was the first of these and with all four of its debut series now available it’s clearly not a fluke. This imprint is producing a variety of strange (in the best sort of way) content that expands the superhero genre and attracts different creators. Now there’s a second pop up on the horizon in the form of a Wildstorm revival headed by Warren Ellis. No matter how great 2016 was for DC Comics, it appears they’re still driving to make 2017 even better.

Tom King’s Rising Star

One portion of DC Comics’ rebirth in 2016 was their announcement of an exclusive contract with writer Tom King. No creator has received more buzz or admiration over the past year than this particular rising star. His takeover on Batman has him helping to lead one of the “Big Two” publishers, but it’s the completion of his “Trilogy of Best Intentions” that really deserves a standing ovation.

Composed of The Omega Men with Barnaby Bagenda, Sheriff of Babylon with Mitch Gerads, and The Vision with Gabriel Walta, each portion of this thematic trilogy represents some of the best mainstream comics produced in years. They reflect a variety of genres and a real careful attention to formalistic elements in comics. It’s the sort of thesis statement on which someone can found a comics career on, and it seems like King is just getting started. Looking at King’s career so far you can hear strains of Sinatra’s “The Best is Yet to Come” playing in the background.

Completing a Long March

We’ve known that March was something special since its first book debuted in 2013. The completion of the trilogy this year was a real cause for celebration though. Each new installment has built not only on the narrative, but on the artistic achievements laid down in previous books. Nate Powell’s artwork continued to grow and better highlight mood and relationships in these historically fraught books.

March also garnered some major recognition for the comics medium when it won the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It is the first ever comic to win this award breaking down yet another barrier for the medium and showing it to be a form of serious literary expression. The march of this particular story isn’t quite over though. There are still the Eisners next summer and what is bound to be an ongoing expansion into classrooms across the United States and the world. March is an incredible comic and in 2016 it received all of the recognition it deserves.

Expanding Book Market

March was part of a broader (and more nebulous) trend in comics this year as well. At the end of 2015 all of the Barnes & Noble chain expanded their comics and manga sections, doubling them both. Comics have continued to play an increasingly large role at retailers outside of specialty stores in 2016, as well. Comics like March, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, and Ghosts have all been primarily driven through mainstream outlets to varying degrees of success.

It seems like you can find comics more places each year and that’s a very good thing. For a long time it has been a niche medium, but now the works of Raina Telgemeier and other can regularly be found within classrooms and inside backpacks. A new generation of readers are discovering more and more comics in bookstores, libraries, and big box stores in increasingly large sections. This isn’t undercutting the role of the local comic store, the backbone of comics in America, either. It’s showing a trend towards the more mainstream role of the medium, helping more readers discover the joy of comics. That’s always a good thing.

2016 wasn’t just a great year for some comics, but the entire medium. Superhero comics and comic shops have received a boost from DC Comics’ big push for innovation in Rebirth and Young Animal. New talent is starting to spark with writers like Tom King making a big impact. Top-notch books like March are drawing outside attention to the form. And that’s being rewarded with expanding shelves throughout the United States. It’s an exciting time to be reading comics with more great stories available than ever. That’s one good reason to celebrate 2016.

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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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