February 19, 2020

, , , ,   |  

Bang! #1 Begins With a Bang

Bang! #1
Written by Matt Kindt
Illustrated by Wilfredo Torres
Colored by Nayoung Kim
Letters by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse

Bang! is a stylish, fun new series that begins as a classic James Bond style spy tale, but very quickly turns into something different. Writer Matt Kindt, artist Wilfredo Torres, colorist Nayoung Kim, and letterer Nate Piekos are telling a story that moves very quickly from genre fiction to metafiction, (including references to Kindt’s on prior work), and is off to a promisingly weird start.

February 18, 2020

, ,   |  

4TH ANNUAL QUEER COMICS “PRISM AWARDS” OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS Online Submissions: February 19 - March 18, 2020

The Prism Awards have announced that they are open for submissions for their 4th Annual ceremony.  These awards celebrate queer creators and works that were released in 2019.  This year, Panel Patter’s own Rob McMonigal is serving as Chairperson of the awards, working with The Cartoon Art Museum’s Nina Kessler to organize this fantastic event.

Submissions will be open from February 19th through March 18th.  Finalists for the awards will be announced at the Queer Comics Expo in May.  Winners will be announced at this years Comic-Con International in July.

Categories and more information on how to submit work for the awards can be found in the press release below.

Source: Press Release


Online Submissions: February 19 - March 18, 2020
Finalists announced at Queer Comics Expo, May 16-17, 2020 in San Francisco 
Winners announced at Comic-Con International/SDCC, July 23 - July 26, 2020, in San Diego SUBMISSION FORM: ​bit.ly/2020prismawards
(links to: ​https://forms.gle/ZjxcyBvM3G9ZiKFRA​)

San Francisco, CA:
Prism Comics and the Cartoon Art Museum are proud to announce the FOURTH ANNUAL PRISM AWARDS! These Awards will be presented to comic works by queer authors and works that promote the growing body of diverse, powerful, innovative, positive or challenging representations of LGBTQAI+ characters in fiction or nonfiction comics. The goal of the Awards is to recognize, promote and celebrate diversity and excellence in the field of queer comics. Online submissions are due by Wednesday, March 18, 2020 at 11:55pm.

Finalists in each category for the Prism Awards will be announced at the Queer Comics Expo May 16 - 17, 2020 at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. Winners of the Awards will be announced at Comic-Con International in San Diego. All submissions will be reviewed by an impartial panel of judges made up of professionals in the field of comics, including authors, scholars, reviewers and librarians.

Eligible work must have been made or first published between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019 and never before submitted to these Awards. Authors may submit up to three entries. One award will be given in each of the following categories:

Best Short Form Comic
A self-published or traditionally published comic of 32 pages or less, which was first printed or posted online during 2019. Entries to this category should be a complete story, NOT an excerpt from a longer work. Please submit the entire comic as a PDF.

Best Webcomic
A comic that is primarily/initially published online. Please submit no more than 32 pages or strips in PDF form that were first posted during 2019. Can be a complete or ongoing story.

Best Comic from a Small to Midsize Press
A comic published by a self-owned, small or midsize press during 2019. We are leaving it up to the entrant to self-select into this category, but reserve the right to move the work into the Mainstream Publisher category if we feel that is more appropriate. Please submit an excerpt of no more than 32 pages in PDF form.

Best Comic from a Mainstream Publisher
A comic published by a mainstream publisher during 2019. We are leaving it up to the entrant to self-select into this category, but reserve the right to move the work into the Small to Midsize press category if we feel that is more appropriate. Please submit an excerpt of no more than 32 pages in PDF form.

Best Comic Anthology
A collection of shorter works created by at least four different authors, either self-published or traditionally published during 2019. Submit the entire anthology in PDF form.

Submission Guidelines:
* All entrants must fill out the Prism Awards submission form and provide a link to the PDF copy of their submission.

* No submissions, except Anthologies, may be more than 32 pages.

* Each work submitted must be in a single PDF file.

* All submissions should have the title of work and the main author’s name clearly visible on at least one page of the work.

* This year we are only accepting comics in English, as we are unfortunately unable to judge non-English language comics at this time.

* There is no entry fee for the Awards. No cash prize, travel, housing, or other in-kind services or items will be offered with these Awards. Winners and Honorees will be celebrated during the weekend of the Queer Comics Expo and promoted online and in social media.

The list of all previous Prism Award Winners and Honorees can be seen at Prismcomics.org/Prism-Awards

Nina Taylor Kester (Cartoon Art Museum, Program Coordinator) ​education@cartoonart.org 
Rob McMonigal (Panel Patter, Site Editor) ​trebro@gmail.com

About Prism Comics, the Queer Press Grant and Prism Awards

Founded in 2003, Prism Comics is an all-volunteer non-profit organization that supports LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ+ friendly comics, comics professionals and readers. Prism fosters diversity in comics and popular geek culture and is one of the only comics organizations that provides an annual financial grant to emerging comics creators – The Prism Comics Queer Press Grant. Learn more at prismcomics.org.

About the Cartoon Art Museum

The Cartoon Art Museum’s mission is to ignite imaginations and foster the next generation of visual storytellers by celebrating the history of cartoon art, its role in society, and its universal appeal. The museum’s vision is to be the premier destination to experience cartoon art in all its many forms from around the world, and a leader in providing insight into the process of creating it. The Cartoon Art museum can be visited online at cartoonart.org and at it's new location 781 Beach St, San Francisco, CA 94109.

February 12, 2020

, , ,   |  

Catch It at the Comic Shop February 12th, 2020

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Mike's Pick:

February 5, 2020

, ,   |  

Catch It at the Comic Shop February 5th, 2020

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

James' Pick:

February 4, 2020

, , ,   |  

Looking into the Peephole of John Porcellino’s King-Cat Comics and Stories #79

John Porcellino’s King-Cat Comics and Stories is about the details. It’s a chronicle of the year (give or take) since the last issue and a number of the things that have crossed Porcellino’s path and mind. Whether it’s an interesting phenomena that exists in southern Wisconsin or just a memory of discovering his first zine in Champaign, Il, this comic just feels like a peek into a few of the things that make Porcellino who he is. Through his comics here, Porcellino peels back these layers, only to reveal that there are more and more layers that will need other comics to eventually get through. In fact, one of the more intriguing layers here isn’t even a comic by Porcellino but about him by the always great Gabrielle Bell.

So many autobio cartoonists try to hold themselves at a distance from their work so their comics are a reflection of them but it’s not them. The comics of Chester Brown, Joe Matt and even Gabrielle Bell, while often confessional, take on the artifice of “style” that creates barriers between themselves, the stories, and the readers. Their comics end up only being that part of them that they choose to share with us but it’s still a shaped and molded version of themselves. Porcellino doesn’t have those boundaries between himself, his zines or his audience. His comics are confessional in a way that’s more than performative. Whether it’s his King-Cat issues or longer works like The Hospital Suite, Porcellino’s stories are these bare reflections of thoughts, events and experiences that he wants to explore as much as he wants to get down on the page so he can move on to the next strip and experience.

Porcellino jumps around with short stories going as far back as his childhood and as recently as this past summer. That’s generally how his comics work but this issue feels like it is a reaction to a tumultuous year. (In a note included with his subscriber copies of the issue, Porcellino admits to 2019 being “the longest ever.). The issue is dedicated to his dog Gibby and comics’ all-around-voice-of-reason Tom Spurgeon, who both passed away this last year. Porcellino has used his comics to explore that kind of trauma so this issue becomes an anti-reaction to those events. It’s mostly Porcellino recalling good memories to act against the troubling events of the year.

He gives a chunk of this issue to Gabrielle Bell and her comic about visiting an art exhibit with Porcellino from a couple of years ago. The strip shows a Porcellino who would love to be able to get lost in art. An opening letter to Patrick R. Porter written in August, 2018, Porcellino mentions retiring his distribution company Split and a Half “soon.” (For the record, I’ve ordered a couple of different things from Porcellino lately through Spit and a Half.). The thought of retiring from distribution to just focus on art is brought up again in Bell’s comic. In Bell’s recounting of the exhibit visit, Porcellino goes missing, with Bell only capturing a glimpse of him in the corner of one of the pieces of art that fascinated him.

Bell displays part of the magic of Porcellino and his comics. Porcellino has this way of looking at the world and expressing it through his experience of art. Chunks of this issue frame the world as an aesthetic experience, as the ability to be able to process events as an artistic expression of emotion. Bell clearly depicts Porcellino as an artistic shaman but Porcellino’s own comics contain a wonder about this world where he’s our gateway to it. Through revealed connections to other zine creators in a few of these stories or just exploring the odd occurrences of gravity hills in other stories, Porcellino shares with us these portions of his life to allow us to take part of them and not make them our own but to incorporate them into our experience of the world and art. Porcellino has all of these experiences and his art transforms them from personal experiences to communal experiences.

Porcellino has an uncomplicated approach to his drawing, using simple and immediate lines to create his images. His drawing is simple but it allows the audience to spend time on the image, “reading” what we see as much as we read the words on the page. This hand-created aspect of Porcellino’s comics, seen in every aspect of the comic, helps foster the intimacy of his work. It’s not something that’s being created but something that is being shared. His hand-written Top 40 list is an unfiltered list of the pop-culture that meant something to him over a year, just like his comics of conversations with his mother or high school science trips are these building blocks of a person and a cartoonist. As the comic has become more of an annual series, each issue is an opportunity to catch up with Porcellino, giving us an opportunity to hear stories about the past to understand who this artist really is.

January 29, 2020

, , , , , ,   |  

Catch It at the Comic Shop January 29th, 2020

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Mike's Picks:

, , , , , ,   |  

Thumbs by Sean Chris Lewis and Hayden Sherman

Written by Sean Chris Lewis
Illustrated and Lettered by Hayden Sherman
Published by Image Comics

So when sitting down to write about Thumbs (written by Sean Chris Lewis and Illustrated by Hayden Sherman), I thought to myself, given the news these days, it’s a tough sell to read a story of an America racked by a form of civil war, with what feels like an irreparable divide between sides. And then I turned to my review of The Few, Lewis and Sherman’s collaboration from three years ago. Turns out, that was my reaction the last time I picked up a comic by this team.

January 28, 2020

, , , , , , ,   |  

Protector #1

Protector #1
Written by Daniel M. Benson and Simon Roy
Art by Artyom Trakhanov
Colors by Jason Wordie
Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Published by Image Comics

Protector #1 is a very strong debut issue, of a far-future set, post societal collapse science fiction story. There’s lots of mystery to unlock and what feels like the beginnings of an interesting and well-realized world. And the whole story is brought to life with really wonderfully detailed, grimy, and weird visuals. 

Protector is set in 3241 A.D., and the story begins in the slave mines of Shikka-Go, where the Hudsoni tribe has seized control from their rivals, the Yanqui. Mari, a Yanqui slave girl flees from her captors and makes her way underground to the ruins of an ancient building, leading her captors on an extended chase, and inadvertently activates an ancient “demon”, which is a relic of a more technologically advanced time. Later we learn that this demon represents a significant threat to the entities known as Devas, who speak to the humans through a human intermediary that they possess (like Ancient Greek gods speaking through an Oracle). The mission of the Hudsoni is clear. The demon represents a threat to the status quo and the Hudsoni must destroy it, and if the Hudsoni will not do it, the Devas will do it themselves, no matter who or what else is destroyed in the process.

January 20, 2020

, , , , , ,   |  

Black Stars Above (Series Review)

Black Stars Above
Written by Lonnie Nadler
Illustrated by Jenna Cha
Colored by Brad Simpson
Lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Published by Vault Comics

This is my second review of a Vault horror comic and it's only January (see my earlier review of The Plot), so I think they're onto something.  Today I'm looking at Black Stars Above (written by Lonnie Nadler, drawn by Jenna Cha and colored by Brad Simpson), a fantastically unsettling supernatural horror book that perfectly evokes a world of desolation and loneliness.

January 15, 2020

, , ,   |  

Catch It at the Comic Shop January 15th, 2020

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week..

Mike's Picks:

Rai 3 by Dan Abnett and Juan Jose Ryp, published by Valiant Comics
I can't express how impressed I was with the first two issues of this series, and I'd love to see people jump onto this series before it hits the first trade. As Rob noted in a previous write up of this series, Abnett and Ryp are bringing a certain 2000 AD feel to the book, and it certainly works. Rai draws on both samurai narratives and sci-if like Fury Road or even Book of Eli. In addition to this series being fun and engaging, it’s easy to jump into. There isn’t a ton of Valiant knowledge you’d need to find your way in this book.

2000 AD 2162 X-Mas Special by a bunch of creators, published by Rebellion
One of my New Year’s reading resolutions is to dive into 2000 AD, and what better way than with this issue packed with new stories to jump into. Though it’s a few weeks old for us stateside, I personally look forward to relishing in the post-holiday British glaze.

January 13, 2020

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |  

Rob's Favorite Comics of 2019 Part 2: Blackjack or 21 Reasons to Love Comics

What happened to 2019? I feel like it was July and San Diego Comic-Con just a short while ago! Was this really a year I judged the Ignatz and Prism Awards and managed to keep my eyeballs from falling out from all the reading? Why yes, yes it was.

In case you didn't see my short list posted last week, a bit background on my 2019 reading:

I said it in 2018 and I'll say it again here in 2019--we have an embarrassment of comic riches right now. I read well over 200 different comics in various shapes and sizes--from very small minis to epic-long book length features--and I barely scratched the surface of what was out there. There are so many, many comics I never got a chance to read. That's why I use "favorite" instead of "best" --there's no way to call things best when you look and go, "Oh crap, I didn't even get to read Insert Title Here yet!"

My goal was to get the final list to about 10% of what I read, regardless of the form of the comic, its genre, or length. When I realized I could make a gambling pun, I went with 21 as my number for this year's favorites. Could have been 23, could have been 33, honestly. I really liked about 2/3rd of the 2019 books I read this year. They'd all be 3 stars or better on my Goodreads profile, and you can find some of them over there, if you care to look.

This list is really damned hard to make up, and if I had to do it again in a month, a few things might fall off and be replaced by short list selections. Favorites lists (or, if you must, "best of" lists) are subjective and change regularly up to when you post them. Without any more preface, here's the 21 comics I thought were my absolute favorites in 2019. I hope you liked them too--or if they're new to you, that you give them a try!

One final note: Look at the variety of publishers on here: 17 if I counted correctly. Part of that is due to me purposefully reading as widely as a I can, but part of is is just HOLY CRAP EVERYONE THERE ARE SO MANY GOOD PUBLISHERS RIGHT NOW.

Okay let's go!

Batman Kings of Fear by Scott Peterson, Kelley Jones, and Michelle Madsen, published by DC
Kelley Jones just gets better with age, honing his abstract style to do more storytelling alongside visuals that put Bats and his rogues gallery into perspectives no other creator has thought to try. The covers alone are worth picking this one up, and the insides are even better. Some of the panel layouts and way Kelley works off Peterson's cool concept--what if Scarecrow drugged Bats enough to get him talking--were so good I just stared at them for several minutes. And that's not to underplay Scott's work here as a writer--he really digs into the psychological concepts of Batman, even if I disagree with some of the answers we find in the series. I don't read a lot of DC material right now, but I'm glad I got to this one, it's highly recommended and requires no prior context beyond a general knowledge of the characters.

Bitter Root by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sanford Greene, Rico Renzi, Clayton Cowles, and others, published by Image
This one took a long time to get into our hands but it was well worth the wait. Set in the Harlem Renaissance, a family of African Americans are the only ones who can battle the monsters that form when hate overrides human nature, turning racists into literal monsters. It's a great concept, made even better by the way Walker and Brown mix in family dynamics, women's equality, and other little touches into the mix. With Greene's exaggerated style going wild with the monsters and battle scenes, this was an easy pick to be a 2019 favorite--and probably 2020, too, depending on when the series returns.

Cannonball by Kelsey Wroten, published by Uncivilized Books
Ebony, Emma, and Kelsey were three creators I strongly pushed for the Ignatz and so it's no surprise they all ended up on my list this year. Kelsey's Cannonball is about a young writer who is about as unlikable as you can get, running smack-dab into success and handling it about as badly as you possibly can. You know the type. Kelsey creates a great variety of characters for her protagonist to play off of, and again, you know them, too. The linework is really strong, with bright coloring, and it's going to be great to see how Kelsey follows this up. Will she keep doing awkward and awful people, ala Noah Van Sciver? Or move forward into other themes? Either way, she's a creator to watch!

Clue: Candlestick by Dash Shaw, published by IDW
Describing this one strains my abilities as a reviewer. Shaw uses all kinds of visual tricks to play to the board game theme, including incorporating other iconic game images, plays with perspective, style, and page layouts in ways that make you linger over the pages, and the whole thing is just absolutely absurd. I love how Shaw gets the iconic pawns into the picture and his web ensnaring the various suspects together works so well. There's even mini-games. It's such an awesome hodge-podge of "I can't believe Hasbro is so cool about this" and part of why IDW can adapt just about anything and make it fun to read.

Dr. Mirage by Mags Visaggio, Nick Robles, Jordie Bellaire, and Dave Sharpe, published by Valiant
I've been reading Mags' work for a long time now, and her growth as a writer really shows in this series, where she stretches out from her usual character types and works within the framing already established by other writers. Dr. Mirage has echoes of the Kims, Kates, and others, but this story feels different, and in a good way, showing Mags is only going to keep getting better and better. With Robles and Bellaire on art duties, the book is gorgeous. I love the way Robles forms the magical world of Mirage, using some very Ditko-inspired concepts but drawing them in his own, amazing, linger-over-the-pages style. Best of all, this is Valiant the way I like it (same as with Punk Mambo below)--something you can read that's inside a larger world but doesn't make you read every book. Make sure you fans of the magical side of comic characters check this one out.

Egg Cream #1 by Liz Suburbia, published by Silver Sprocket/Czap Books
Liz Suburbia does amazing work at little slice of life comics, and this is no exception. A collection of shorter stories, including one that continues a story about kids who were abandoned and their struggles to survive, Liz's linework ranges from minimalist to more detailed, depending on what she needs and is in the vein of Liz Price and Chuck Forsman. A longstanding vet of the indie comics scene, Liz's work just keeps getting better.

Friendo by Alex Paknadel, Martin Simmonds, Dee Cunniffe, and Taylor Esposito, published by Vault
Friendo is the dark technology story we needed for 2019. A company offers a virtual friend who won't judge you--but will encourage you to buy as much shit as possible. When the tech goes haywire, it turns a loser's life into something else entirely. Panel Pal Alex does a great job taking some of the worst aspects of today's world and pushing them to extremes that, sadly, don't seem all that improbable anymore. Martin Simmonds' linework is perfect, able to capture the absurditty of it all while still making it feel like a world we could all live in--and may end up doing so, whether we want to or not!

Highwayman by Koren Shadmi, published by IDW/Top Shelf
There are a few exceptions to the rule, but usually being immortal kinda sucks if you're an ordinary person. Especially if you have no idea how you got that way in the first place? Shadmi takes us on a walk across different places and times in North America, as our protagonist searches for answers on why he's cursed to see humanity in all its rises and falls. There's a strong sense of mystery and each chapter provides an insight into a possible world we might become, but might not. The art is absolutely gorgeous. This one reminds me of European style comics, and is a perfect example of what Top Shelf brings to this expanded world of publishers.

Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers, published by Drawn and Quarterly
Ebony won a well-deserved Ignatz as a creator to watch, and this set of stories that are semi-autobiographical and drawn from the experiences of African Americans. The art is phenomenal, the people remind me of anyone I might bump into on the street, and Flowers weaves them into a compelling narrative. Can't wait, like Emma Jayne and Kelsey Wroten, to see what's next for Flowers as she continues her career.

House of the Black Spot by Ben Sears, published by Koyoma
It must suck to live in a small, idyllic town if you're about to be drawn into a comic book. Every time you turn around, someone wants to screw you over. No exception here, as Gear Town gets caught up in a scheme to take advantage of its land that only the detective work of the Double+ gang can stop--if they survive the experience! Ben Sears' use of geometric shapes to design his characters and settings are always a wonder to behold, and this bright, bold, full color work is one of his best at showing off his skills. With cute, endearing characters and a ghostly plot, this was a lot of fun to read.

Jim Henson's Storytellers: Sirens by Various Creators, published by Boom! Studios
I barely remember the TV show this periodic anthology is based on, but I recall being a bit sad it was Henson but didn't have Muppets. (I was young, okay?) Boom! uses this as a framing for various anthologies, which I think is really cool. This one centered around the legendary creature Sirens, and each creative team used the frame to tell a story with a moral, just like the show. This is an under-the-radar comic and I really dug it.

Moneyshot by Tim Seeley, Sarah Beattie, Rebekah Isaacs, Kurt Michael Russell, and Crank!, published by Vault
If you've ever read a Tim Seeley comic, you know that fun, sexy books are his stock in trade. Combined with Sarah Beattie for a book that's guaranteed to be either loved or hated, Tim's taken a bit of cynicism, a bit of reality, and a chance to really pile on the sex jokes in Money Shot. In the near future, science can't get funded because everything is about profit. Fortunately, so is porn. A group of scientists get together (literally) to use sex to pay for their research, but quickly get in over their heads (and inside a lot of other things) in a series that apparently took awhile to find a home. Thank you Vault for publishing this unique gem, drawn with a lot of skill in telling but not showing by Rebekah Isaacs. One of my favorite favorites, and I'm so glad it's a big enough hit to be getting extra issues.

Punk Mambo by Cullen Bunn, Adam Gorham, Jose Villarrubia, and Dave Sharpe, published by Valiant
Long-time Panel Patter readers know that horror is my bag, and Cullen Bunn is one of the modern masters of comic (and comedic, when called for) horror. He's extremely prolific, and even if not everything lands squarely, when Cullen is at his best (Harrow County), no one can touch him. Giving him a magical horror character with very few strings attached to the backstory was a stroke of genius by Valiant. Mambo herself is a ton of fun--a bit of a riff on Constantine, but different enough to work--and Bunn shows that the selfish persona she presents might not be all there is to her, while setting up some future story threads. Gorham's linework is excellent and creepy for the monsters, with nice color work from Villarrubia. Best of all, you can read this self-contained, too.

Section Zero by Karl Kesel, Tom Grummett, Jeremy Colwell, and Richard Starkings, published by Image
Karl and Tom are two creators I've been reading for a very long time. Kesel's done work on just about every character out there, and Grummett was a staple of superhero books. Section Zero is their creator owned book about a team of individuals who don't exist looking into things that *shouldn't* exist. It's a fun romp of a book that takes a step back in time to the 1990s, but the good art side of the 90s, which means this won't be for everyone. But if you like seeing a slightly dysfunctional team, secrets upon secrets, a fair number of word balloons, and really good linework, be glad that "there is no Section Zero" is just a tag line.

Spencer and Locke Volume 2 by David Pepose, Jorge Santiago, Jr., and Jasen Smith, published by Action Lab/Danger Zone
It's really hard to do newspaper strip homages. Most of the time, they're either too sappy, too obvious, or just crude crap that takes things to the eXXXXtreme. None of those work for me. But somehow, David Pepose found a way to take the idea of "What if Calvin's home life was awful?" and managed to turn it into a noir where there's just enough love shown even as the characters (and their strip peers) are bent and twisted that it's absolutely brilliant. Santiago, Jr. is the linchpin for this, able to go from a shady modern look to spot-on impressions of the Sunday Funnies. Seeing the various cameos in this one were especially fun, but I'm not sure what David has against Dick Tracey... If you slept on this one, please know that "Twisted Calvin becomes an on-the-edge cop with Hobbes 'helping' him stay alive" is one of the best comics you might not have read yet.

Stronghold by Phil Hester, Ryan Kelly, Dee Cuniffe, and Simon Bowland, published by Aftershock
A being of impossible powers must be kept thinking he's a schlub. When the plan starts to backfire, thanks to dissension in the ranks of the people devoted to keeping up the delusion, the entire Earth is at risk. The body count rises as the story goes, as this quiet war reaches a climax. This is one of the best writing jobs I've seen from Phil Hester, and it features one of my all-time favorites, Ryan Kelly, on line art. Ryan's able to swift from the mundane to the monstrous on a dime, his panel pacing is top notch, and the intricate details make this feel very realistic, yet not photo-realistic. Such a great series that I hope people keep picking up in trade over the next few years. It's also a model for the good things coming out from Aftershock.

Algernon Blackwood's The Willows by Nathan Carson and Sam Ford, published by Floating World
A classic cosmic horror story gets a facelift by Carson and Ford, turning it into a modern classic of horror comics. Two young women (originally young men who were basically ciphers) dare to go down a path of the Danube where no locals dare venture. Soon they are trapped between our world and one so full of horror that only the most masterful artist can put it onto the page--and Ford does just that. His details are unbelievably good, whether it's a splash page showing us just how doomed the women are or putting the horror into smaller panels that show the creeping horror that threatens to engulf them. Carson's writing style is fresh enough to be modern but also captures the feel of the original. An amazing collaboration, and I'd love to see these two do more original horror work in the same vein.

These Savage Shores by Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone, and Aditya Bidikar, published by Vault
Sometimes a series will grab you by the lapels and say "I'm going to blow you away!" --and while it's really weird when a paper comic suddenly grows arms out of the gutters and does this, it's especially disturbing when your ipad touches you with new, unexpected plastic fingers.
This never happens to you? Okay, then.
Anyway, jokes aside, let me be about the thirtieth person to tell you that These Savage Shores is awesome. First there's the premise--British Vampires assume anything in India is inferior and learn quickly they aren't the top monsters. Then there's the dialogue, where Ram V really excels at hitting the right period piece notes without overdoing it. Add in the linework from Kumar, and toss in the best use of the 9-panel grid in comics in 2019 (fight me over this, I dare you), and you have a standout series from a standout publisher.

Trans Girls Hit the Town by Emma Jayne
It's not easy for me to put a mini-comic on the list these days. Part of that is because I'm not on the East Coast anymore, and so I'm not going to very many shows, which is where I usually grab my indie pamphlets. The other part is, that to be honest, there are so many great indie publishers right now putting out amazing science fiction/fantasy/horror comics that most of my time and interest lies these days. So how do you break through? Be a thoughtful look at the life of two characters who are trying to make their way through life, talking about ordinary things in a way that feels very realistic, drawn in a style that sets the scene. Emma was one of my creators I pushed for on the Ignatz ballot, and I think we'll be seeing many more great things from her in the future.

Vampirella vs Re-Animator by Cullen Bunn, Blacky Shepherd, and Taylor Esposito, published by Dynamite
The only person to make this list twice is Cullen Bunn, and it's well deserved. Dynamite has done some really fun Herbert West comics over the past few years and seeing him try to defeat death with the aid of interstellar demons that not even Vampirella may be able to stop was a fun romp. I loved the way Blacky Shepherd worked mostly in black and white with only a few splashes of color--it gave the book a unique feel. Dynamite does such a great job making these pairings and finding good creators for their crossover and licensed books, and this one was my favorite when I came down to putting the list together.

When I Arrived at the Castle by Emily Carroll, published by Koyama
This might be my favorite Gothic lesbian horror comic (and yes, I've read enough of them to form an opinion). I remember Emily Carroll from her amazing horror webcomics that really used the medium to its fullest, and if anything, her work is even better now. The pacing on this reads like a classic novella, and the twists and turns (and erotic art) keep you reading. I especially loved the little stories-within-a-story that Carroll uses towards the back half. The coloring is amazing, and because it's Koyama, the production values are second to none. One of the best  horror comics 2019 provided, and it's last here just because of the alphabet. Make sure you read this one, and then go back and read all of Emily's other work!

January 10, 2020

, , , , , ,   |  

The Innocent Killer in Kousuke Oono’s The Way of the House Husband V1

The Way of the House Husband Volume 1 has a ridiculous premise but is really enjoyable because of the Kousuke Oono’s devotion to that ridiculous premise. Oono’s main character Tatsu, once having earned the nickname “The Immortal Dragon,” is oblivious to his own situation that he’s now a stay-at-home husband, fending off kitchen knife salesmen and robot vacuums with the same gusto that he fought rival yakuza killers in another lifetime. His obliviousness leads Oono to show us Tatsu through other people’s perceptions of him, like that knife salesman who has no idea what he’s getting into. Tatsu’s skills as a killer shift to being a house husband remarkably well, playing to the comedy of the shared skill sets of both roles. No matter what life he’s living, Tatsu is who he is and doesn’t recognize the difference between taking on a rogue Roomba or dangerous ghosts from his past.

Incapable of recognizing the incongruities in his life, the two sides of Tatsu exist together without any self-awareness of the image he projects to his neighboring housewives or to the yakuza gangs that track him down. To himself, he seemingly walks the same path he always had and Oono has a fun time playing with this. He has a fun time putting this killer in a grocery store, trying to find some way to please his wife or placing this home-bound husband in dangerous situations by having old partners and rivals tracking him down, expecting him to be the man he used to be. Homemaker or killer, that’s the dichotomy of Tatsu’s character that Oono has fun setting against each other in this initial volume.

Oono has a visual sense that allows Tatsu to walk in these vastly different worlds. It’s not the most dynamic or exciting artwork but the dual nature of the story is also captured in the artwork, where you can tell that Oono is as comfortable with how gangster stories are supposed to be told as he is with everyday, light-touch stories. Representing the split nature of Tatsu, Oono’s art can be cute and almost saccharine on one page and then dark and violent on a few pages later. There’s not particularly great or inspirational images throughout this book but Oono shifts between light and shadow (like his main character) with an ease that helps move you through these contrasting moods.

In a lot of ways, Tatsu is a lot like another great manga character, Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba! Yotsuba has such a different life than Tatsu; she’s a young girl who is experiencing the world for the first time. She’s an innocent in this world that’s full of wonders and Azuma shows us those wonders for the first time through her eyes. But she’s unaware of the world, unaware of the world beyond her own experiences. That is how Tatsu is like her; their definitions of themselves and the world are completely defined by their own experiences in it. While Tatsu uses his lethal expertise to try out a set of probably cheap knives, he’s got a door-to-door salesman sitting across the mat from him, probably scared that Tatsu is going to see how well those knives cut him. Instead of putting the knives through their paces on a human subject, something that a man known in his past life as “The Immortal Dragon” would do, he does what anyone would do— he prepares a meal, pleased with the knives ability to cut through vegetables.

Azuma and Oono’s characters live these lives where they don’t recognize anything outside of their own experiences. They don’t have the context to understand the world or even their places in it so they end up only reacting to the people and events around them. Yotsuba and Tatsu (at least in this first volume) don’t really change. So Azuma uses the cast of Yotsuba’s father, friends and neighbors to reflect growth in these stories, giving Yotsuba new experiences and new joy as she plays off of the supporting characters. It will be interesting to see how Oono continues this series; will Tatsu ever become self-aware or will he remain the same? As a single volume, the misadventures of Tatsu are fun; it’s fun to laugh at this miscast killer. But how will Oono create any momentum in this series to keep his audience reading it?

Tatsu exists between two worlds, one we think of as safe and another that we know is dangerous. As Oono has Tatsu navigate the intersection of these worlds, Oono discovers a humor that can only be found in “innocent” characters. Tatsu may be a killer so calling him innocent isn’t completely true but there’s a purity in him on display that doesn’t recognize evil, that doesn’t recognize a corrupt world. It’s weird and heady to talk about this book in terms of innocence because Oono acknowledges Tatsu’s past even when the character seems to have a blind eye about who he once was.

The Way of the House Husband Volume 1
Written and Drawn by Kousuke Oono
Published by Viz Media

January 8, 2020

, , , , , , , ,   |  

Catch It at the Comic Shop January 8th, 2020

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Neil's Pick:

January 7, 2020

, , , , , ,   |  

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams
Created and Illustrated by Michael Allred
Written by Steve Horton & Michael Allred
Colored by Laura Allred (with Color Assists by Han Allred)
Edited by Mark Irwin
Published by Insight Comics

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns and Moonage Daydreams (Bowie for short) is an absolute pickup for any fans of David Bowie (his music, his life, his personality). It’s a gorgeous graphic novel (illustrated by the husband and wife team of line artist Mike Allred and color artist Laura Allred, and written by Mike Allred and Steve Horton) telling a creatively imagined story about Bowie’s life, with its primary focus from the beginning of his career as a musician, to the end of his “Ziggy Stardust” phase. 

January 6, 2020

January 3, 2020

January 2, 2020

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |  

Rob's Favorite Comics of 2019 Part 1: The Runners-Up

What happened to 2019? I feel like it was July and San Diego Comic-Con just a short while ago! Was this really a year I judged the Ignatz and Prism Awards and managed to keep my eyeballs from falling out from all the reading? Why yes, yes it was.

I said it in 2018 and I'll say it again here in 2019--we have an embarrassment of comic riches right now. I read well over 200 different comics in various shapes and sizes--from very small minis to epic-long book length features--and I barely scratched the surface of what was out there. There are so many, many comics I never got a chance to read. That's why I use "favorite" instead of "best" --there's no way to call things best when you look and go, "Oh crap, I didn't even get to read Insert Title Here yet!"

Still, I had a pretty good sample size between my award reading and my normal reading. I didn't get to write as many reviews as I wanted to, but I assure you, I was reading, reading reading.

Let's talk a bit about process here. My goal was to get the final list to about 10% of what I read, regardless of the form of the comic, its genre, or length. That's in the next column. Of the comics I read, though, I am very happy to report that only about 1/3 were books I didn't really engage with. The other 2/3rds were good books. They'd all be 3 stars or better on my Goodreads profile, and you can find some of them over there, if you care to look.

That started the hard part. Liking a book is one thing, but I had to *really* like it to get it over to the short list and final list. So books like the IDW Marvel offerings, while a lot of fun, just weren't going to get over that hump, though I thoroughly recommend them for anyone who just wants fun adventures with familiar characters and not a lot of continuity to weigh them down. Similarly, I enjoyed a lot of Dynamite books this year (Nancy Drew, the new Vampirella, Elvira, and more) but most didn't quite make the cut. And that's to say nothing of some really solid work from Panel Pals like Kevin Budnik or the beautiful Cult of the Ibis from Fantagraphics or things from 2018 that kept on being great (Farmhand, Ice Cream Man, Lumberjanes, just to name a few).

It was pretty damned hard to make this short list, but here they are. These were really, really great books from 2019, for a plethora of different reasons. Listed in alphabetical order, I present my Shortlist for 2019:

  • Assassin Nation by Kyle Starks and Erica Henderson, published by Image
  • Black Badge by Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins, and Hilary Jenkins, published by Boom! Studios
  • By Night by John Allison, Christine Larsen, Sarah Stern, and Jim Campbell, published by Boom! Studios
  • Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America by Box Brown, published by First Second
  • Consumptive by Jamie Tanner, Self-Published
  • Dick Tracy Dead or Alive by Lee Allred, Mike Allred, Rich Tommaso, and Laura Allred, published by IDW
  • Exorsisters by Ian Boothby, Gisele Lagace, Pete Pantazis, and Taylor Esposito, published by Image
  • Faithless by Brian Azzarello, Maria Llovet, and Andworld Design, published by Boom! Studios
  • Fast Enough by Joel Christian Gill, published by Lion Forge
  • Fearscape by Ryan O'Sullivan, Andrea Mutti, Vladimir Popov, and Andworld Design, published by Vault
  • Ghost Tree by Bobby Curnow, Simon Gane, Ian Herring, and Becka Kinzie, published by IDW
  • Giraffes on Horseback Salad by by Josh Frank, Tim Heidecker, and Manuela Pertega, published by Quirk Books
  • The Girl from the Other Side by Nagabe, published by Seven Seas
  • Glitch by Sarah Graley, published by Scholastic
  • Gogor by Ken Garing, published by Image
  • High and Shy by Amy Jame, published by Silver Sprocket
  • Hobo Mom by Charles Forsman and Max de Radigu├Ęs, published by Fantagraphics
  • James Bond: Origin by Jeff Parker, Bob Q, Jordan Boyd, Simon Bowland, and others, published by Dynamite
  • Lorna by Benji Nate, published by Silver Sprocket
  • Mary Shelly Monster Hunter by Adam Glass, Olivia Cuartero-Briggs, Hayden Sherman, and Sal Cipriano, published by Aftershock
  • No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular! by Nico Tanigawa, published by Yen Press
  • Rai by Dan Abnett, Juan Jose RYP, Andrew Dalhouse, and Dave Sharp, published by Valiant
  • Ronin Island by Greg Pak, Giannis Milonogiannis, Simon Bowland, and Irma Kniivila, published by Boom! Studios
  • Self/Made by Mat Groom, Eduardo Ferigato,  Marcelo Costa, and Troy Petari, published by Image
  • A Shining Beacon by James Albon, published by IDW/Top Shelf
  • Shirtlifter 6 by Steve MacIsaac and Todd Brower
  • Shout Out by Various Creators, published by TO Comix Press
  • So Buttons Slice of Cake by Jonathan Bayliss and Others
  • They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker, published by IDW/Top Shelf
  • Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai and Tom Luth, published by IDW
  • Wizard Beach by Shaun Simon, Conor Nolan, Meg Casey, and others, published by Boom! Studios

December 31, 2019

, , , , , , , , , , ,   |  

Mike's Favorite Comics of the Decade

Mike's Favorite Comics of the Decade
2019 marked a decade of comics for me following my return after, coincidentally, a decade hiatus (more or less). I would like to dedicate my best of the decade list to Third Eye Comics and its wonderful staff, especially the original trio of Steve, Trish, and Torma. Third Eye wasn't the first store I stumbled into upon my return to comics, but it's the store that helped make my passing curiosity stick. It is more than a comic store; it's a family, and that experience is tangible every time I arrive to pick up my subscription box or stroll by on a weekend to pick up some random reads. In addition to providing weekly reads, I've had the chance to meet the likes of Tom King, Gail Simone, Jason Aaron, Mike Moreci, Scott Snyder, and Charles Soule there. It's a fantastic store, one of the best in the country, and its housed in little ol' Annapolis. Thanks Third Eye fam for everything.

, , , , , , , ,   |  

Neil's Favourite Comics of 2019

2019 was a quiet year in comics for me. Work and family commitments, financial issues and what I deem a pretty disappointing year for comics, hit my reading hard. Therefore my pull list was limited to a few single issues and a big turn to trades/collections. All that being said, it made singling out my top 5 picks a great deal easier.

Top Five:

5) Bitter Root by David F. Walker, Sanford Greene and Chuck Brown
Published by Image Comics

After enjoying Walker and Greene's run on Powerman and Iron Fist, I was eagerly looking forward to their next project, Bitter Root. Set during the 1920s when the Harlem Renaissance was is in full swing, it introduces us to the Sangeryes. A family of monster-hunters/purifiers who must overcome their differences to stave off the human race from a world-ending threat. Think of BPRD set in the past but where monsters aren't just around for the sake of it. They are monsters that are created through hate and the horrors of racism. And that's why this book is so special, it takes a stand against hatred of all kinds. Eye-catching artwork by Greene who is able to let loose his style and at points take homage from Kirby in his monster creations. Walker and Brown's writing here is exceptional, world-building at a great pace and one that's deeply rooted within the Sangerye family. Cannot wait for volume 2.


4) Murder Falcon by Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer
Published by Image Comics

Guitar Wielding Metal Fan, check. Giant Monsters, check. Emotional Rollercoaster, check. Then count me the fuck in!

Murder Falcon, was and wasn't what I was expecting. I was expecting fun, heroics and giant monster action and I got that. What I didn't expect was a moving character arc, a character arc that almost felt as hard-hitting as I Kill Giants and that book destroys me each time I pick it up. Having not read Daniel Warren Johnson's consistently recommended Extremity (I will get to it eventually) Murder Falcon was still an instant pick up. Following his Instagram and Twitter feeds online has made me fall madly in love with his art and his love of metal. Lead character Jake has a truly emotional and touching story that he battles with throughout the book. Full of self-doubt Jake seeks to overcome his problems, eventually with the help of Murder Falcon. This is where the book becomes incredibly enjoyable. There are huge battle scenes in which Murder Falcon alongside Jake and his band prevail over a monster invasion. Few comics have moved me emotionally this year but this one has plenty of heart and plenty of metal.

3) Cretaceous by Tadd Galusha
Published by Oni Press

Dinosaurs, who doesn't love dinosaurs? Cretaceous caught me completely by surprise and a comic I would have missed if not for the Off-Panel Podcast. Apart from my number one pick of 2019, Galusha has created one of the most beautiful comics of the year. His illustration work is astounding. Showing that he'd highly-researched his subject matter, from the flora and fauna to every dinosaur within the book. Thankfully the dino's are not anthropomorphic and we get a story with the only words present being onomatopoeic. That being the case this makes for a very deep and captivating story to follow. A story full of savagery where hunters become the hunted and life was all about survival. One fantastic element in this comic is that even though the story is mainly about a dispersed Tyrannosaurus Rex family, Galusha drops in other dinos that "sometimes" even though not seen, can be heard. And if the reader pays close attention to the onomatopoeic dialogue the story becomes creepily immersive.

2) Friendo by Alex Paknadel, Martin Simmonds, Dee Cunniffe, Taylor Esposito, Kim McLean
Published by Vault Comics

Have to say that I'm extremely happy to see that my top two picks of 2019 are both Vault Comics releases. Having followed Vault from day one, its great to see a new indie publisher really making waves in the industry.

Fellow Northerner and all-round top bloke Alex Paknadel has crafted the best science-fiction comic of 2019. Friendo, set in the not too distant future, where consumerism is rife and people seek out celebrity by almost any means. Not too unlike our current day and age. Paknadel and team take this concept and go full-on bat shit crazy with it. Lead protagonist Leo, after spending many years of his life abusing his body for minimal profit is gifted with what can only be described as Google Glass v2.0. This is when we're introduced to Jerry the digital personal assistant generated from Leo's own personality. Jerry is cool, comical and a great assistant to have but only if Leo is spending money. Becoming more and more dependant on his personal assistant Leo's life begins to spiral out of control. Reality shows, electrocution, stabbings, shootouts and hired killers are all added to the mix. Simmonds art and Cunniffe's colour work go hand in hand. Bright bold colours with a minimalist approach to line work is an art style I never knew I admired, but I do now!

Friendo deserves the cult status it has garnered, even receiving props from none other than Warren Ellis. A bleak, fun and satirical story that could quite easily happen within the next five years.

1) These Savage Shores - Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone and Aditya Bidikar
Published by Vault Comics

It only took the first 6 pages of These Savage Shores for me to fall in love. Sumit Kumar's art is a sheer joy to take in. Add to that Vittorio Astone's stunning atmospheric colour work and you have the most beautiful visuals of any comic in 2019. Mixing up panel work from the 9-panel grid to large sweeping landscapes gave each page huge depth and incredible attention to detail. Then there's the story itself. For me, Ram V has given us the best executed comic book of 2019. Ram is able to mix fantasy horror, local urban legend, power struggles, politics and romance all into one. This may all sound incredibly hard to follow but it isn't. It's gripping, violent, heartbreaking, and its plot is so expertly crafted that it even blends the dark history of the East India Company within it. Finally, because of it rarely being mentioned, Aditya Bidikar's lettering within this comic is outstanding. Go pick it up and just look at the artistry in the letters written from some of the characters. They are a thing of beauty.

Simply put, this is the comic of 2019.

Final note

I may not have referenced or commented on all contributors for each of my picks but I have to say this. 2019 has been a difficult year for me and my family, we've seen some hard and deeply emotional times. But thanks to comics, especially ALL the people involved in the above five, you've given me escapism and a place to forget the hardships. And with that and with tears in my eyes, I truly thank you all.  

December 20, 2019

, , , , , , , , , ,   |  

James' Favorite Comics of the 10's

Here's a list of 30 comics I really loved this decade. I read a ton of other great comics this past decade and I originally intended for this to be a smaller number. However, even limiting it to 30 was tough. A lot of creators did some wonderful work.

As always, these aren't the BEST comics (I have no idea what *best* means when evaluating something as subjective as art), just some personal favorites (listed in alphabetical order).

4 Kids Walk into a Bank by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss, Claire Dezutti, Courtney Menard, and Thomas Mauer, published by Black Mask Studios
4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is one of the coolest, most stylish, clever books I've read in years. Think Stand by Me meets Goodfellas with a healthy dose of Wes Anderson thrown in.  It's a story of 4 kids who decide that the only way to prevent one of their dads from robbing a bank is to...rob a bank. Needless to say, writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Tyler Boss do a phenomenal job of telling a story of some messed up kids trying to prevent some messed-up grown-ups from doing a terrible thing. Rosenberg is such a great writer of funny, believable dialogue. There are some incredible discussions between the various kids in the story.  But he's not just funny. The relationship between the main protagonist and her dad is warm and real and understandable. And Boss is a serious talent to watch. This book is loaded with incredible visual humor, along with fantastic and inventive visual storytelling.  4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is hilarious and poignant and memorable.

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Brian "Box" Brown, published by First Second
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend is a moving, thoughtful, wonderfully illustrated and thoroughly researched biography of Andre Rousimoff (a/k/a Andre the Giant) which doesn't attempt to cover every episode or event in Andre's life, but instead highlights significant events in his life to create a sense of who he was, based on interviews, stories, books, video, and some amount of creative interpretation. The story covers the high points while also not shying away from some of the darker part's of Andre's life. The end result is a story which illuminates while still retaining the mystery of a giant among men. Brown's art here is black and white and can fairly be described as a "cartoon" style; he successfully balances both humorous and serious elements in his art. While the depiction of characters is not "realistic" in nature, there is a great deal of emotional honesty in the art; Brown's ability to convey feelings in facial expressions and scene-setting is first-rate.

Avengers/New Avengers/Infinity/Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman and Numerous Contributors (including Salvador Larocca, Leinil Yu, Jim Cheung and Frank Martin), published by Marvel Comics 
Jonathan Hickman (in collaboration with many talented artists) doesn't do things halfway. When he took over the Avengers and New Avengers titles in 2012, he built an enormous story, encompassing nothing less than the end of everything everywhere, in all universes. You know, no big deal. How epic is this story? Well, it includes the miniseries Infinity (which came out in 2013 and which I loved), and in that story, the Avengers team up with the Kree, Skrulls, Spartax, Shi'ar and others to face the incredibly ancient, incredibly powerful Builders, oh, and Thanos takes over Earth - and that ENTIRE story is a sideshow from the real threat. That's how big of a story it is. So, this is an amazing, long-form story about the battle to prevent the end of everything. You need to be reading it. The art varies from arc to arc and issue to issue, but some of the standout contributors include Leinil Yu, Jerome Opena, Steve Epting, Stefano Caselli, and more.  This whole series culminates in the incredible Secret Wars, which is an incredibly fun mashup of alternate versions of various heroes, and a huge, climactic conclusion not only to Hickman's Avengers, but also his Fantastic Four. This is big, epic superhero storytelling at its best.

The Black Monday Murders by Jonathan Hickman, Tomm Coker, Michael Garland and Rus Wooton, published by Image Comics
Jonathan Hickman often explores certain themes, including (i) complex social settings and systems, (ii) the powerful and secret elite that are the hidden hands moving the chess pieces of society, (iii) the ultimate failure of that elite to focus on those goals and to maintain (or protect) society, and (iv) the inevitable descent into selfishness, fighting, and betrayal. All of these themes show up richly in The Black Monday Murders. It's an amazing story about how dark magic is actually what fuels money and finance in the world, and the alliances, betrayals and bizarre rituals behind the power of Wall Street. The Black Monday Murders is telling a big, intricate story with a lot of moving pieces; it's got a whole lot of morally gray protagonists, which you'd expect in a story about the secret history and powers of the world. All the while, it's wonderfully illustrated by Tomm Coker with terrific, thoughtful colors from Michael Garland. Their artwork is great at conveying moments of stillness along with moments of action and violence, and really sets the dark, ominous mood of the book. There are also a number of text pages that tell parts of the story. The Black Monday Murders is great, complex, comic book storytelling for grownups.

Daredevil by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, Javier Rodriguez, Michael Allred, and more, published by Marvel Comics
Daredevil was not a character in which I have historically had much interest. But the big, sprawling, hilarious, dramatic and engaging story told by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin and more, well it changed my mind. When Mark Waid began writing Daredevil, Daredevil/Matt Murdock was in a pretty weird place.  Most recently he'd been possessed by an evil spirit, was leading an army of ninjas, and had built a giant temple/fortress in the middle of Hell's Kitchen. Murdock is also dealing with the fact that his secret identity was revealed to the public, and this has affected his law practice. You might think all of this would lead to a dark story, but it doesn't. Brought to life first by the duo of Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, and then eventually (for the most part) by the spectacular Chris Samnee, Daredevil is a joy to read. Whether it's battling against new or old foes, or dealing with his public identity, Waid and his co-creators tell a story that has humor adventure, charm, wit, and emotional resonance. Matt Murdock sometimes does succumb to his fear and depression, and we see him come out of this through the love of friends and family. In the latter part of this series, Matt and friends move out to San Francisco. While it's weird to think of Daredevil out of NYC, it's a wonderful conclusion to a fantastic series.    

Deadly Class, Rick Remender, Wes Craig, Lee Loughridge, Jordan Boyd and Rus Wooton
Deadly Class is so many things, all of them great. It's a period piece set in late 1980s San Francisco, about teenage punks, rebels, criminals and misfits (all the most awesome people). It's a story about a teenager without hope getting a second chance (at a tremendous cost), as he's taken into a secret high school for training assassins (like Breakfast Club meets Fight Club). It's also one of the most honest, brutal explorations of depression, loneliness, and the anxieties and fears of being a teenager that I've read in a long time. Plus the art from Wes Craig (with colors by Lee Loughridge, and then Jordan Boyd) is staggeringly good. The layout, design, sequential storytelling, all of what Craig and Loughridge/Boyd do in this book will blow your mind (and not just the issues where the main character is high on acid). This is a punk rock book, done at a virtuoso level.

East of West by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin, published by Image Comics
What makes East of West such a special book? Well, it has elements of alternate history, it's a futuristic western, there's religious and apocalyptic drama, it's a complex story of multiple nations and their intricate politics, it's a love story, and all of that is in the first few issues. It's at turns dramatic, funny, intense, action packed, cynical, optimistic, and always vast in scope. This is a huge world of many competing interests that Jonathan Hickman has crafted, but the biggest selling point in why to pick it up is that the art is out-of-this-world good every month, and has only gotten better over the course of years. Nick Dragotta is an absolute master of kinetic action, violence, physical humor, and drama, but also the quieter moments. He's got an incredible ability to control the pace of the book, speeding us up or slowing us down through the action. And the colors in this book have consistently exploded off of the page. The colorist is Frank Martin and he's really done special work in this book (some of my favorite color work). Color is such an important part of this book - each nation is associated with different colors, and colors have both thematic and also atmospheric elements to them. The "realism" of the colors is also often ratcheted up or down depending on the context. This book is an absolute gift and one you absolutely need to be reading.

The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser, published by Image Comics
Few writer/artist teams inspire as much confidence as Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Fatale, Sleeper, Incognito), and in The Fade Out, that confidence is completely justified. This is a highly compelling murder mystery noir story, and a broader look at late 1940’s Hollywood, and the way in which something tragic (like being a soldier and seeing battle) doesn't really leave you. The lead character (a screenwriter) clearly has some secrets of his own, and there’s a great supporting cast of characters in this story. Brubaker and Phillips bring a lot of credibility to the world they've created; the atmosphere feels very authentic to the time period. This is a great, emotional story, beyond just being a murder mystery. If you liked L.A. Confidential, you'd enjoy this comic. If you didn't like L.A. Confidential, wow, I really don't know what to say.

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman, Dale Eaglesham, Steve Epting, Nick Dragotta and many others, published by Marvel Comics
Jonathan Hickman shows up a whole lot on this list, and with good reason. His work really speaks to me. He's working with huge ideas in all of his stories. They're big and intricate and ambitious. But my favorite story by Hickman is, and remains, his run on Fantastic Four. I think that what makes this run so special is that it combines enormous, heady sci-fi ideas, with a family-focused story that has a ton of heart. Reed and Sue's relationship, Reed's relationship with his own time-traveling father, Reed and Sue's relationship with their children, Ben and Johnny's bond (really, their brotherhood), the complex relationship between Reed and Victor Von Doom.  As I say all this it might seem like this is all Reed's story. And while he does get a lot of great moments (the first storyline concerns a whole council of Reeds from across the multiverse), every member of the FF gets a chance to really shine. Sue is a diplomat and an incredible badass, Ben has some wonderful moments, and Johnny has (in my estimation) never been better or more heroic. I love Hickman's voice on all of these characters -at this point I have trouble accepting Victor Von Doom written by anyone other than Hickman. There are a number of talented artists on this book - while I do wish the art had stayed a little more consistent, some of the best stories are brought to life by some of my favorite artists, like Steve Epting and Nick Dragotta. This is comic book superhero storytelling at its finest.   

The Flintstones by Mark Russell, Steve Pugh and Chris Chuckry, published by DC Comics
The Flintstones is an absolutely phenomenal, fiercely intelligent, and sometimes brutally satirical comic. But it's also a comic about the value of friendships and community. It's not what you'd expect a Flintstones comic to be. It's very funny and engaging, but each issue also tackles some complex social issues. Writer Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh do fantastic work here, and you'll want to reread each issue a bunch to make sure you catch all of the detailed visual humor in each panel. If you'd told me that one of my favorite books of the decade would be The Flintstones, I would have laughed at the idea. I enjoyed the Flintstones cartoon (and super sugary vitamins) when I was a little kid, but there was no way a comic about Fred, Wilma, et al. was going to appeal to me as an adult. I couldn't have been more wrong.  The smartest, sharpest, most pointed social commentary I've read in years was in The Flintstones. Writer Mark Russell (Prez, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, Second Coming) had no fear in taking on all sorts of topics ranging from warfare, the way we treat veterans, election politics, religion, lack of interest in science, consumerism, marriage, animal cruelty, and many other topics. But the book isn't a dry social critique, rather it's a brutally hilarious look at ourselves through the lens of "prehistoric" life. Steve Pugh and Chris Chuckry do terrific, hilarious, surprisingly emotional work in each issue. It is a wonderful book, and each issue is packed with great gags and visual humor.

Giant Days by John Allison, Max Sarin and Whitney Cogar, published by Boom! Studios
Giant Days is a hilarious, heartfelt, absurd and very insightful book, which concluded this year. It’s the story of three women who’ve become best friends at university in England (along with their assorted friends and significant others), but that really doesn’t do it justice. Over the past few years I’ve come to love Esther, Daisy and Susan, along with their friends McGraw and Ed and others. Each has distinct personalities and great stories, and I promise you’ll come to love them as well. These are characters that I've loved to spend time with, and that's a tribute to writer John Allison and artist Max Sarin. The art in this comic has been such a gift. It's "cartoony" and stylized, but Sarin has such a gift for facial acting, body language, and interpersonal interactions that it will feels as "realistic" as anything. Sarin's grasp on visual humor is first-rate, which is a good thing because this comic is hilarious. Giant Days is inviting, smart, empathetic and compassionate, and I believe you will come to love the cast of characters as much as I do.

Godzilla: The Half-Century War by James Stokoe, published by IDW Publishing
I have to admit I was never much of a Kaiju fan growing up. Godzilla stories didn't particularly interest me. And then I saw Godzilla: The Half-Century War (written and illustrated by James Stokoe), and I (likely) said "HOLY $%^T THAT IS THE COOLEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN".  Even if stories of giant monsters don't typically interest you, I think you'll feel similarly. This story chronicles a few of the people who first encounter Godzilla in 1954 when he marches a destructive path through Tokyo, and each issue moves approximately a decade ahead, as new threats emerge and the anti-monster force keeps fighting what seems like a futile battle. Retaliation just brings further escalation, and in the end Godzilla proves to be more of a force of nature than a monster or enemy. So, great story, very compelling, etc.  But the real reason you need to read this book is that it has some of the most detailed, stunning visuals you'll ever see in a comic. There are pages in this book that make me think "this one page must have taken Stokoe three years to draw", but there a bunch of pages that are just as intricately detailed. Stokoe incredibly brings the world of Godzilla to life, illustrating him and other monsters, and cities, and people, all in painstaking detail.  There are stunning images on the page on display in this story. But Stokoe doesn't just create memorable images, he's also a hell of a sequential storyteller, as there's a ton of action and it always makes sense, and he does fantastic work conveying the sense of perspective as these monsters dwarf the humans around them. An incredible read.

Halcyon by Tara Butters, Marc Guggenheim, Ryan Bodenheim, Mark Englert, and Dave Sharpe, published by Image Comics
Halcyon is a terrific, dark story about superheroes, written by the accomplished show running team of Marc Guggenheim and Tara Butters, with art from Ryan Bodenheim and colors from Mark Englert. The central premise of the story is "what happens when the eternal fight for truth and peace and justice is over?" Let's just say this transition doesn't exactly go well for the superheroes of this world. It's an extremely compelling story. There are analogs for a number of prominent superheroes (Superman, Batman, The Flash, Beast, Captain America), but there are enough differences so it doesn't feel too on-the-nose. Ryan Bodenheim does spectacular work in this book. He's got a gritty, kinetic, detailed style that works well for both action and quieter scenes. He's complemented with strong coloring from Mark Englert who shows a great range in this series, from the desert to undersea to weird prisons, all vividly colored. I'm not sure whether the creative team here will ever revisit these characters and this world; the way the story ends it's well set up to tell more stories. Regardless, Halcyon is a fun, exciting, compelling read and one of my favorites. If you like Watchmen, you'd enjoy this.

Hawkeye by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Annie Wu, Javier Pulido, Francesco Francavilla, Matt Hollingsworth and Chris Eliopoulos, published by Marvel Comics
The pitch on this book is essentially "what does Hawkeye do when hes not being an Avenger" and the answer one of the best comics to be published in the past decade. This is a truly special, memorable book. This isn't "classic" Hawkeye, but this is a story with a ton of humor, heart, and some of the best comic storytelling you'll read. So what does he do?  He buys a building, goes up against the track suit mafia, runs into some much bigger problems, alienates his protege Kate Bishop, goes on a few missions, drinks coffee straight from the pot, gets an incredible dog named Lucky (a/k/a Pizza Dog) and stands up for the people against the forces of greed and evil. Most of the issues are illustrated by David Aja who was already fantastic but is an absolute master on this comic. There is some of the most clever visual storytelling you'll see in a mainstream comic. There are also some creative risks, such as an entire issue told from the perspective of Pizza Dog (with amazing use of symbols), and an issue mostly told in American Sign Language. There are a few other artists involved in this series, and while it is occasionally a little jarring to move from one artist to another, that fact that the other artists are Annie Wu, Francesco Francavilla and Javier Pulido makes it a lot easier. As does the consistency in lettering, design and colors from Chris Eliopoulos (a key contributor on design in the Pizza Dog issue) and Matt Hollingsworth. This is a moving, funny story with a ton of heart. Hawkeye has my highest recommendation. 

Lazarus by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark and Santi Arcas, published by Image Comics
Lazarus could (like many of my other favorite series) be fairly described as a slow-burn, but once you start this book you're not going to want to stop. The scope of this book can go from the very personal, to the big-picture global view, all in one issue. This is less a book about high-flying or intense action (those the team of Rucka and Lark are highly skilled at capturing those moments), but more a book about simmering tensions, subtle alliances, small gestures, wheels within wheels, and some of the best, most meticulous world building you'll read (in a comic book or otherwise). There have been several issues that are just rich texts filled with information about some of the various families in this world.  It's also a depressingly realistic dystopian vision of the future that's an astute commentary on right now. All of this is accomplished with tremendous skill by the art team of Michael Lark and Santi Arcas. Lark's noir-tinged style isn't the obvious choice for futuristic science fiction, but it suits the somewhat dystopian nature of the book perfectly. Lark is a master at human emotion, complex interactions, and subtle gestures. At the same time, he depicts brutal and intense violence more effectively than just about anyone. This book looks at a future where the rich got richer, and the rest of us are "waste". It also has a fantastic female lead protagonist in Forever Carlyle (this should not be a surprise to anyone, given it's Greg Rucka). She's smart, capable, impulsive, imperfect, loyal, inquisitive, and still very much a teenager. It's a book you need to be reading.

The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra, Jordie Bellaire and Rus Wooton, published by Image Comics
If you want to know the real truth behind American history from the middle of WWII to the beginning of the Vietnam War, you're not going to get it in a PBS documentary, nor are you going to get the true nitty-gritty from reading a history textbook. No, you need to be reading The Manhattan Projects, one of the most inventive, perfectly crazy series you'll ever read. From creative interpretations of well-known historical figures (Cannibal Oppenheimer! Einstein wielding a chainsaw, killing aliens! Harry Truman at the center of a gigantic, murderous orgy ritual! Robot FDR!), to twisted takes on significant historical events such as the dropping of the atomic bomb and the assassination of a certain beloved president, no topic is off-limits or safe from the view of the creators of The Manhattan Projects, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra. The colors from Jordie Bellaire in this book are bright, big and also a very important part of the storytelling in this book. This story continues Jonathan Hickman's exploration of the idea of a powerful secret elite, and the ways in which they can try and fail to advance scientific goals (and shape the world). An amazing, frequently hilarious, sometimes shocking and disgusting book that also happens to read better in collected editions.

Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt, published by Dark Horse Comics
Mind MGMT is a story about many things, but it is, at least in significant part, a story about our limited ability to perceive the reality around us. Our perception and observations about reality are unreliable, they can be manipulated.  That (unsettling) premise is the hook for Mind MGMT, one of the most interesting, distinctive, and thought-provoking comic series I've ever read.  Kindt illustrates the book using watercolors, and it's hard to imagine the story being told in any other way. Kindt's watercolors add an amazing sense of unreality and distortion to the whole series. His style works perfectly with the tone of the series. Additionally, nearly every page of Mind MGMT appears to be a report page on official stationery to the Mind Management organization (as it contains bureaucratic instructions at the top of each form), so the book reads as if it is prepared by an agent of the organization.  Mind MGMT demands something of you, as each page may require multiple rereads in order to understand how the additional text/comic fits in with the main body of the story. Kindt makes creative layout choices in that sometimes the panels are meant to be read across first and then down, and sometimes they're simply meant to be read vertically in order. Part of the fun and challenge of the book is figuring out, structurally, how an issue is meant to be read. Moreover, from issue to issue there's not necessarily a linear focus on story, so the reader is never quite sure (at the start of an issue) where the story in that issue is going to go. This adds to the general sense of disorientation, which may be unnerving (to someone expecting a more linear narrative) but it's keeping with the themes and ideas of the story.It's an amazing, unsettling read, and its themes of lies, propaganda and manipulation are more relevant than ever.

Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads, published by DC Comics
I knew that Mitch Gerads was super-talented at bringing highly detailed, realistic worlds to life, from his work on Punisher and The Sheriff of Babylon. But I had no idea he could turn those talents into something so unsettlingly weird and existential unease-inducing. But that's Mister Miracle, a fantastic book from Gerads and talented writer Tom King (not the last time you'll see him on this list). King and Gerads are telling a story about the New Gods, but what it feels to me like they're really doing is taking a deep dive into both depression and delusions, and the way that mental illness can alter your very sense of reality, and make you your own unreliable narrator.  The story chronicles the life of Scott Free a/k/a Mister Miracle, after a suicide attempt. He's seeing things and experiencing things that aren't there. Or are they? He and his wife Big Barda are making a life for themselves in Los Angeles, starting a family. But the also have obligations to the New Gods of New Genesis in their war against Darkseid and the forces of Apokolips. This book really brings to life the struggle of wading through your life while being a high-functioning depressed person, in an incredible way. It's full of heart and humanity and weirdness.  Gerads' art is just next-level good and weird and wonderful. Mister Miracle is an amazing read

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, Nico Leon, Diego Olortegui, Marco Failla and others, published by Marvel Comics.
Ms. Marvel was consistently one of Marvel's best and most important books this decade, and their most impactful creation (the character was created by writer G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat). Kamala Khan is an amazingly well-rounded and fully realized character, brought to life by writer G. Willow Wilson and a series of talented artists. Ms. Marvel is Exhibit A for why I will always ultimately prefer Marvel over DC. The characters live in a real place (Jersey City), Kamala's family are practicing Muslims (depicted with knowledge and compassion) who originally hail from another real place (Pakistan), and the comic takes on incredibly real problems (authoritarianism, racism, gentrification, anti-immigrant bias). And while the book sometimes has to tie into the superhero crossover event of the week, Willow and her artistic collaborators have been able to do so in a way that preserves the terrific, moving and great stories they've been telling. I still don't care about the Inhumans though. 

The Multiversity by Grant Morrison, Joe Prado, Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke, Scott Williams, Jim Lee, Karl Story, Chris Sprouse, Marcus To, Frank Quitely, Cameron Stewart, Ben Oliver, and Nathan Fairbairn, published by DC Comics
The Multiversity feels like the story that Grant Morrison was born to tell.  It's big, sprawling, metatextual, confusing, funny, terrifying, and full of heroism and humor. The series is bookended by stories of heroes battling against the forces of evil, and the rest of the book is a series of one-shots that moves from one earth to another. Each of these is completely different, but they all involve earths under siege by the same forces of darkness and terror. The art is incredibly varied, with contributors like Chris Sprouse, Ivan Reis, Cameron Stewart, Jim Lee, and the pinnacle of the series, the "Pax Americana" issue, illustrated by Frank Quitely.  It's clear to me how much Morrison loves DC Comics, whenever I read any of his work.  Much like in Final Crisis, Morrison really just embraces the weirdness here, and along with his artistic partners, is clearly having a wonderful time.  Each issue is incredibly varied, and is a joy to read.

Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Niko Henrichon, and Nicolas Senegas, published by Image Comics
Noah (the graphic novel), is neither a faithful adaptation of the Biblical story nor is it a children's tale. Strictly speaking, it is an adaptation of the first draft of the screenplay of Noah (the movie), written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, based (loosely) on the Biblical story of Noah. This is a creative and ambitious book, which attempts to fill in a number of the gaps in and expand upon the Biblical story (which is pretty bare-bones) and wrestle with what the decisions undertook in that story would have meant (and felt like) to the people living around Noah and his family. The look and feel of this story are visually striking, starting with the sky, all the way down to the ground. Niko Henrichon and Nicolas Senegas make everything in the sky far larger than in a "real" sky; it feels like this takes place in a time that is much closer to the time of creation when all the heavenly bodies were still bunched together, before everything settled into what is our world. You also really feel, through the art, that the whole world is being destroyed and everyone other than those on the Ark has been condemned to die. Much like in scripture, there's a lot to wrestle with in this story. Regardless of whether you enjoyed the movie, or have an interest in the Bible generally (though some religious people may find much of the story objectionable), Noah is well worth a look

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden, published by Avery Hill/First Second
There are stories you enjoy and then soon forget. But there are other stories that stay with you. On a Sunbeam feels like it’s going to be the latter for me. It’s a gorgeous story that’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and it’s full of tension punctuated by lovely moments of romance, friendship and the beauty of found family. It’s also one of the most gorgeous comics I’ve read in a long time. There are pages of this book that I count help but longer on because they were so beautiful, and that’s not something I normally do when reading a comic. Creator Tillie Walden is a remarkable talent, and I really can’t recommend On a Sunbeam highly enough.  On a Sunbeam is set sometime in the indeterminate future, where humans have the ability to travel the stars. People seem to be scattered all over the place, living on various planets, moons and asteroids. This isn’t a 10,000 foot-view-story (a la Jonathan Hickman or Star Wars), so we don’t really learn anything about the broader state of humanity, or galactic civilization, or anything else of a more “macro” scope. Rather, this is an incredibly grounded story (ironically, one set in space) which is really just focused on the lives of the characters in the story. For a story with a vast scope, it feels quite intimate. And it’s kind of a science fiction story, but one where the creator doesn’t waste any time bothering with the science of it all. Because that’s not the story; the story is in love and loss and courage and memory and isolation and family. This was a joy to read.

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson and Jared K. Fletcher, published by Image Comics
Paper Girls has turned out to be so much more than I had originally anticipated (and I already knew from the beginning that I would love it, just based on the creative team). I knew from the get-go that the combination of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang would make for something great, but it become such a special, beloved book for me. My love of this book started with the 80's setting (I'm the exact same age as the characters), but it's so much more than a nostalgia trip. This is an incredible science fiction story where it truly feels like anything can happen, and it pretty much does. Insane time travel, multiple versions of characters, wonderful bonds of friendship, young romance, it's all there. Every once in a while a comic comes along and feels like it really has the magic, and Paper Girls is one of those books. The art on this book is consistently stunning, courtesy of the virtuoso Cliff Chiang, whose gorgeous, heartfelt illustrations bring crazy ideas to life on a page where he's equally adept at capturing humor, sadness, and the full range of human emotion. Matt Wilson on colors is a rock star, giving this book it's wild, neon, atmospheric colors that are so memorable. And every issue looks and feels terrific thanks to the design work of Jared K. Fletcher. Given that Brian K. Vaughan s writing, this is probably not a surprise. He's the author of some of the most popular and deservedly beloved comics of the past 15 years. Runaways, Y: The Last Man and Saga had that magic, and so does Paper Girls. That amazing alchemy that comes from an incredible combination of writer and artists and creative team, where what they make feels like something with its own life to it. I absolutely adore this comic, and you will too.

The Private Eye Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente, published by Panel Syndicate and Image Comics
The Private Eye is an ambitious sci fi/detective series, which was originally published online by co-creators Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin under the Panel Syndicate banner, and eventually released as a hardcover by Image Comics. The story is set in the year 2076. This is a world which looks somewhat like what you'd imagine the future to be (tall buildings, futuristic cars), but there's no online connectivity. At some point (but well prior to the events of the story), there was an event where "the cloud" burst and for forty days and forty nights, all of everyone's deepest, darkest secrets became public. After that, no one trusted the internet anymore. Privacy is highly valued in the "present" time of the story; people go out of their way with masks and pseudonyms to hide their true identities in order to maintain their privacy.  This is a richly designed and detailed world, full of amazingly rendered touches. We don't know all that much about any of the characters in the story (as they come from a world where privacy is highly valued), but we're given enough to make them interesting. The art from Marcos Martin and colors from Muntsa Vicente are vibrant, detailed, and remarkably rendered. Every character has a tremendous amount of detail, and the setting (a futuristic world where most people where elaborate masks and costumes when outside) lends itself to the artistic team really getting to let their imaginations run wild.  Like the best science fiction, this story may take place in the future but it's about right now. The way these characters live (zealously guarding their privacy, not trusting any form of online communication) is a great commentary on how we live today, where we share everything online and trust in the security of the cloud.The Private Eye is more timely than ever.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples and Fonografiks, published by Image Comics
It's hard to say too much about Saga that hasn't already been written. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples continue to be pretty much peerless in their ability to craft stories full of exciting and weird science fiction concepts, moving, complex and real characters, engaging, dramatic, intense and heartbreaking plot, all presented visually by one of the best in the business. This book is raunchy, intelligent, and fearless. The introductory pitch on this book is that it's like an R-rated Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet. That doesn't do it justice, but you should also know that while the scope of this book is big, the focus is always squarely on the characters. Vaughan is as good as anyone at creating characters you'll come to care about. Vaughan has an incredible partner on this book in artist Fiona Staples. I've been engaged more by certain story arcs and less by others, but my enthusiasm for Staples' art has never waned. She continues to produce, on a regular basis, some of the finest art in any comic. Her absolute mastery of emotion and expression is something to behold (just look at the raccoon-type people on the right-hand panel above), and she makes every character seem interesting and important and alive. As absurd as characters can be (such as robots that have televisions as heads, or some of the even more absurd or disgusting characters she's depicted), Staples' art makes you take them seriously. She also has a great, varied color palate in illustrating her work, and along with great skill and care in depicting backgrounds and locations, she makes the world of Saga one that feels truly real.

Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, published by Image Comics
I probably don't need to tell you why Sex Criminals is a great book, but here you go: Sex Criminals is one of the most outrageously funny (and just plain outrageous), raunchy, emotionally honest, intelligent, thoughtful comics that has been published in a very long time. It's a story about people who can freeze time whenever they orgasm, and those two people meet and decide to rob banks. But it's so much more than that. Matt Fraction is a really gifted writer and he lays out a sometimes painfully honest, astute comic (really an amazing look at depression and other psychological disorders). His partner, Chip Zdarsky, does incredible work on the art in this book. It's outrageous and hilarious and full of information and jokes and details, but also searingly emotional and clever. It's a terrific read. But it's more than just a raunchy book (though it is that) - Sex Criminals is a pretty profound exploration of a number of profound issues such as intimacy, depression, and a compassionate look at the adult film industry. But I mean it's also got people hitting each other with dildos, lest you think it is too serious.

Silver Surfer by Dan Slott, Michael Allred and Laura Allred, published by Marvel Comics
Silver Surfer (from writer Dan Slott and artists Mike and Laura Allred) is one of the stories from the past decade to which I have the biggest emotional attachment. I've never really been all that interested in the Silver Surfer as a character, but this comic made me a believer. This is a story where every page is filled with so much fun and wonder and emotion, I read and I remember why I love comics. Really, this book is a love letter both to silver-age comics generally, but also to the concepts of wonder and imagination. It's also a (very compelling) love story.  The Surfer and his companion Dawn Greenwood go on all sorts of incredible, amusing, remarkable, sometimes sad adventures throughout the universe. Mike and Laura Allred's art has never been better (in my opinion) - they have a way of conveying joy and sadness simultaneously in their art, and it's something special. There are pages you'll just stare and stare at, marveling at the detail, the color and the life that comes off of the page. And there are some mind-blowing sequences, including a comic told as a Moebius strip.  I can't recommend Silver Surfer highly enough.

Supreme: Blue Rose by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay, published by Image Comics
There are comics that ease you into a new world, comics that drop you right into that world, and then there's Supreme: Blue Rose (the sense of disorientation and placement into a weird and different world is part of what I love about the book so much). By way of background, Supreme was originally created by Rob Liefeld in the early 1990's as a Superman analog, and subsequently written by others (including Alan Moore!). However, not having read any of those issues should not be a deterrent to picking this comic up. This is a complex, dense story, with all sorts of layers and clues and mysteries. With his usual wit and skill, Ellis brings to Supreme: Blue Rose some of the ideas that concern him most; he's using an old superhero character as a jumping-off point to build a remarkable world involving mathematics, alternate realities, time travel, and the hidden nature of reality. This story has a highly intriguing, dream-like, stream-of-consciousness quality, and the reason for this appeal is the artist, Tula Lotay. She is a serious talent. Her work here is like some combination of Fiona Staples, Sean Murphy, Mike Allred and some sort of psychedelic fever dream. Lotay's work has a soft, watercolor appearance to it which also adds to the dreamlike feeling. What you first notice about Lotay's art in this book is the women. She draws some of the most beautiful, striking women I've ever seen in a comic book; faces you can't look away from. For a light-hearted, easy-to-follow superhero romp, don't pick up Supreme: Blue Rose! However, do pick it up if you're intrigued by a stunningly gorgeous, complex mystery involving superheroes, mathematics, alternate realities, the future and maybe the entire universe

Thor: God of Thunder/The Mighty Thor/Thor/King Thor by Jason Aaron, Mike Del Mundo, Esad Ribic and more, published by Marvel Comics
Jason Aaron has been telling a huge, epic, very impressive story about Thor, Asgard, and the other realms, over the course of seven years. This story began in the wonderful Thor: God of Thunder, illustrated by Esad Ribic, who more than anyone brings to life a muscular, adventurous world of fantasy and danger. This was a terrific story involving Thors of multiple time periods (including a King Thor from the distant future) and a terrific antagonist in Gorr the God Butcher). Aaron continued his amazing story of Thor by introducing a completely different Thor, that being Jane Foster, in The Mighty Thor. That was a spectacular series, as it raised many other issues and ideas that couldn't be explored with Thor Odinson. And that series was brought to life by the equally spectacular Russell Dauterman, whose beautiful linework and creativity are only matched by his skill as a sequential storyteller. But it's all coming to a close. Years of storytelling were building up to the War of the Realms, a fantastic miniseries, and so this year we had the conclusion of Thor (mostly drawn by the talented, Mike Del Mundo, whose dreamlike style brings an other-worldliness to the story) which brought to a close the story of the current-day Thor, now the leader of Asgard. This was a moving, powerful story. But Jason Aaron wasn't done. To conclude his saga, Aaron reunited with Esad Ribic, and returned (in King Thor) to the story of King Thor, Loki and Gorr the God Butcher. This last series is dramatic, huge, intense, and very metal. It's great to see this epic run come full circle, and it's been an incredible ride. I recommend every book in this saga.

The Vision by Tom King, Gabriel Walta and Jordie Bellaire, published by Marvel Comics
Tom King has really burst onto the comics scene in the past few years, writing some wonderful stories (like Mister Miracle (also on this list), The Omega Men, and The Sheriff of Babylon), but my favorite one of his comics thus far remains The Vision.  The premise of The Vision is that the android Vision (you know, Paul Bettany from the movies) decides to move to the suburbs and build himself a family. He's got a wife, two kids, and even an android dog. But, things pretty quickly start going horribly wrong. A lot of weird stuff happens in this book.  The book has an incredibly pervasive sense of existential dread throughout the series, and King's dialogue is some of the insightful I've ever read in a comic - I've loved his use of androids to make pointed observations about the nature of humanity.  King's artistic partners on The Vision are supremely talented artists Gabriel Walta and Jordie Bellaire.They do incredible work in bringing the story to life. Walta has an interestingly "static" style that actually works perfectly for the subject matter.  Walta's art evokes images of smiling, happy faces, but with incredibly weird things going on behind the scenes. Walta and coloring master Bellaire bring the story to life with terrific skill and thoughtfulness.  The Vision is an absolute must-read.