April 1, 2020

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Catch-Up at the Comic Shop for April 1, 2020

We're going to be doing something a little different for awhile. With all? most? publishers taking a hiatus from new books, the Panel Patter team will be doing some curated picks of "evergreen" or recent titles that should be easily mail ordered from your favorite comic book shop or indie bookstore. (And digital, too, if you're like Rob and out of space!) We'll keep this up for at least the month of April, but if there's a call for it, we'll keep going, so let us know what you think!

And now, let's get to the comics!

James' Pick:

March 31, 2020

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Quick Hits: All-Star Superman

All-Star Superman
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely
Colors by Jamie Grant
Published by DC Comics

What makes All-Star Superman so great? My short answer is "everything" but I know that's not really a satisfactory answer. Here's my slightly longer answer.

The story begins with Superman foiling one of Lex Luthor's evil schemes - there's a ship near the sun, and Lex has set a bomb aboard the ship, and Lex knows that Superman will try to save the people aboard. In doing so, he will expose himself to so much solar radiation that it will start destroying his cells. And Lex is right. Superman is dying. But before he goes, there are 12 things he wants or needs to accomplish. And the story of All-Star Superman follows Superman as he works on these various labors. Meanwhile, he spends time with Lois and goes up against Lex. That's the basic plot. But none of that does the book justice.

March 26, 2020

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Did You Know the Train Tracks End? - A Look at Coffin Bound Volume 1: Happy Ashes

For no particular reason, I didn’t get the chance to read Coffin Bound when it debuted in single issue format, so I came into the reading of the trade released on Wednesday without any preconceived notions outside of an admiration for what writer Dan Watters produced in Vault’s Deep Roots and DC/Vertigo’s Lucifer. The cover of the Coffin Bound trade boasts a blurb from none other than Neil Gaiman, spiritual godfather to Watters and his White Noise counterparts. The former Sandman scribe proclaims, “If you like Dan Watters’ work on Lucifer, this is even weirder.”

March 25, 2020

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Catch It at the Comic Shop March 25th, 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' Picks:

No One's Rose #1 by Emily Horn, Zac Thompson, and Alberto Albuquerque, publised by Vault Comics
I very much enjoyed the first issue of No One's Rose. It's an engaging sci-fi series from Vault, who does sci-fi very well. It's set in the future after the fall of the Anthropocene civilization (i.e., the fall of humanity). There are only 30,000 or so people left alive, and they all live in a zero-waste domed city that receives oxygen from a giant super-tree. Outside the dome is a terible, dangerous wasteland. But all is not well under the dome. There is some very clear class stratification, and some rising discontent from the citizenry. And...terrorists wearing what look like lettuce masks? We'd better keep reading to find out what happens. It's an engaging story from Horn and Thompson, with some really appealing art from Alberto Albuquerque (who knows his way around sci-fi, having drawn Letter 44).

Lazarus: Risen #4 by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, Santi Arcas and Simon Bowland, published by Image Comics
Lazarus is a fantastic comic and has been for many years, so I feel like it gets overlooked. Well, it shouldn't. Greg Rucka, Michael Lark and more have been telling a dense, incredibly well thought out story for a number of years now (here's my review from 2014). A little while back, Lazarus shifted to a quarterly format and I've enjoyed it, as each issue has a longer story and provides terrific supplemental materials. Seriously, this series has the best, most comprehensive supplemental materials. It's a great, thoughtful, engaging read. 

Batman: Creature of the Night HC by Kurt Busiek and John Paul Leon, published by DC Comics
Many years ago, Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen told the story of Superman: Secret Identity, the story of a man living in the *real* world whose parents thought it would be funny to name him Clark Kent, and who ended up having super powers. If you haven't read it, you should. It's an extraordinary comic. Kurt Busiek has returned to do something similar in Batman: Creature of the Night. Thankfully he has another incredible artistic partner in John Paul Leon, who really does incredible work in this comic. This book tells the story of a boy named Bruce Wainright whose parents are murdered and who has an uncle Alfred, and well, Batman plays a role in the story as well. I don't want to say too much. It's darker and contemplative, but really entertaining. And like I said, Leon does really stunning work. This is a great read.

Immortal Hulk #33 by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, and Alex Ross, published by Marvel Comics
I know I'm far from the first to say this but Immortal Hulk is and continues to be a pretty remarkable book. I started off thinking it was going to be something, but it's turned into something completely different. I initially thought it was going to be a return of the Hulk to his horror roots. And it is, but it's so much more than that. Immortal Hulk is a book full of smart Biblical allegory, mess with your head weirdness, moments of humor, political commentary, and some truly grotesque body horror. It's an extraordinary book, and one you should go back to the beginning and read.

Mike's Picks:

Coffin Bound Volume 1: Happy Ashes by Dan Watters, Dani, Brad Simpson, and Aditya Bidikar, published by Image Comics
I wrote a fairly extensive review of this collection, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I will say that this collection is one of the most impressive books I’ve read in 2020. It’s stunning, unique, and deliberately over the top in all the ways you’d want it to be. I can’t recommend it enough.

Once and Future TPB Volume 1: The King is Dead by Kieron GIllen, Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillain, and Ed Dukeshire, published by BOOM! Studios
I think this one should be a must buy based on the creative team alone. Dan Mora hasn’t done that much interior work, and I’m excited to see how he approaches this story compared to Terrifics or his Klaus work with Morrison. Pairing with Tamra Bonvillain only ups the ante. She is easily one of the best colorists working today, and I’ve loved her work in books like X-Men Red, Doom Patrol, and Captain Marvel. And of course, there is Kieron Gillen at the helm, one of the most creative writers around. The concept for this series is prescient yet novel, exactly what we’d expect from Gillen

Transformers vs. The Terminator by David Mariotte, Tom Waltz, John Barber, Alex Milne, David Garcia Cruz, and Jake Wood, published by Dark Horse Comics/IDW Publishing
Little known fact about me – I'm down for all things Terminator. Comics, television, movies, games – Terminator is my jam 100%. T2 was the first R-Rated movie I saw. Sarah Connor Chronicles was the first television show I’d watch week to week outside of The Simpsons. And I’ve been reading Terminator comics since I first started with the hobby. IDW has worked wonders for the Transformers franchise, and I think this series has the potential to be a blast.

March 23, 2020

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Big Steps - Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Dragon Hoops
by Gene Luen Yang 
with colors by Lark Pien and art assists by Rianne Meyers & Kolbe Yang
Published by First Second

I was incredibly excited to open my copy of Dragon Hoops. Almost three years ago to the day, I watched Gene Luen Yang give a keynote presentation at the SoMIRAC conference (Maryland’s reading teacher convention). Yang was at a great place in his career at this point – he had already completed his run on Superman and had launched New Super-Man as part of DC Rebirth, he had received a MacArthur Genius grant, and he had been named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. About eight years earlier than this conference (2009 to be exact), Yang first came into my life with American Born Chinese via a graduate school class on young adult literature. His book hit me at the perfect timing. I was less than half a year into my return to comics and graphic novels, and prior to picking up American Born Chinese, I was almost exclusively reading mainstream superhero books, Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth being the only exception.

Yang’s keynote was excellent. Keynotes at education conferences can be hit or miss. I’ve seen great presenters give average keynotes. Often, they are vague and overly philosophical, filled with platitudes and short on actionable information. Yang’s, though, provided the kind of inspiration educators were looking for. In his hour-long talk, he described his love for teaching, his early comics fandom, his connection to Superman, and, most importantly, his belief that reading opens new worlds to the reader. Such a philosophy was the core tenet behind his Read Without Walls campaign, and most of the second half of his keynote was directed at earnestly promoting it. Educators, teachers, librarians, administrators, other writers – they all loved it.

The Reading Without Walls challenge asks people to intentionally read books outside of their comfort zone, to approach genres or forms they normally wouldn’t with characters or settings that aren’t in their normal repertoire. The basic idea is that reading new stories allows you to break down the walls around you. Dragon Hoops is essentially the realization of that concept in graphic novel form.

In 2017, when I first heard Yang mention his new project, he mentioned that reading helped get him to a place where he could begin to approach a book that was so far outside his comfort zone. Dragon Hoops is, on the surface, a story about a phenomenal year for the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons boys basketball team. Even though he had worked at the school for seventeen years, Yang never immersed himself in the school’s storied basketball program. Reading books about basketball was one of the reasons he allowed himself to take a step towards something new. Yang uses the recurring step metaphor throughout the story. It helps to build a feeling of universality for the book – everyone needs to take certain steps in their lives if they want to progress. For Yang, as the book begins, he’s struggling to determine the focus of his next graphic novel. Stepping into something new would be a challenge, but it’s perhaps the exact challenge he needs.

Dualism is a concept that permeates nearly all of Yang’s work. It provides both the definitive structure and thematic grounding of American Born Chinese; it serves to bisect the narrative of the two-part Boxers and Saints; and is the undercurrent that guides both Yang’s Superman run as well as New Super-Man. So much of Yang’s work is a meditation, an attempt to reconcile Western upbringing with Chinese roots.

Dragon Hoops marks a bit of different path for Yang, a different type of narrative, though one still primed for dualistic motifs. This book is the first to feature Yang as a character, and while it is certainly a story of a high school’s basketball team’s remarkable season, it also delves deep into Yang and his creative process. If all of Yang’s previous works had some sort of autobiographical slant to them or function as a cultural history, Dragon Hoops represents a formal dive into the world of memoir. Yang’s ability to be a character in his own story allows the reader to see the story through a more personal lens. By the end of the book, we have taken a journey not only with the O’Dowd Dragons, but with Yang himself.

There two main plot lines in Dragon Hoops. The first is the one you'd expect, the chronicling of an historic basketball season as the Bishop O'Dowd Dragons fight for their first championship in history, one that eluded the team not only in the previous season, but eight times total, including a particularly heartbreaking moment for the current coach who, as a player, might have had a championship-winning basket if not for a controversial call. But more so than being a book about the team, it's a book about writing a book about the team. The second core plot line tracks Yang as he struggles to find the right angle into the book, maintain the inspiration necessary to complete it, and consider a major life hurdle of pursuing a career as a full-time comics creator. Interspersed in the story are little snippets of Yang's conversations with DC Comics about starting on Superman, a run that would see him succeed Geoff Johns, reveal Clark Kent as Superman's secret identity, and ultimately preside over the death of the New 52 iteration of the character. Big steps indeed.

As a story-teller, Yang is most adept at layering narratives. I don’t know of a better graphic storyteller who can weave multiple threads together with such a degree of precision that still allows for enough unpredictability to drive page-turning. That Yang can maintain that same level of multi-layered narrative thrill for information and events that are four and five years old and entirely Google-able is testament to the way he can structure a book.

One of my favorite undercurrents in the graphic novel is the inclusion of brief segues into the history of basketball. Not only does Yang use stories from basketball’s past to parallel the O’Dowd Dragons, he does so to point out the importance basketball has to certain communities and individuals. As a basketball novice, you can see that Yang has done his research. He sets up basketball as the sport of innovation, of taking the proverbial step that defines his entire narrative. From James Naismith, the immigrant inventor of the game, to the nascent days of the sport’s popularity with inner-city Catholic schools filled not with prized recruits but with poor ethnic Catholics, Yang explains exactly how basketball became a phenomenon, why it resonated so well with black urban youth, and how it became an international game. Basketball, Yang explains with great clarity, has always been a sport that required big steps.

Yang focuses on the ups and downs of the Dragons’ season, but the core of the graphic novel is a series of character studies. We are gifted the transformation of Austin Walker, one of the few players Yang actually teaches, throughout the book. Yang is fortunate to be able to profile Alex Zhao and Jeevin Sandhu because both personify his “big step” theme. Neither are prototypical high school basketball starts. Alex is an exchange student from China, and Jeevin is of Pubjabi descent. Pairing their stories, and the stories of the team as a whole, with basketball’s history of segregation and disclusion funnels directly into Yang’s main objective. For a sport that has become so wonderfully multicultural, it managed to erect plenty of walls over the years. It’s fitting that the fruit of Yang’s Reading Without Walls campaign not only highlights those instances but also profiles the people who have, and who continue to break down those barriers.

Graphically, Dragon Hoops features some of Yang’s most detailed work. The book’s paper stock is the more textured feel of Boxers and Saints, not the glossy stock of American Born Chinese. Despite working with such a large cast over a long story, the book never feels cluttered. He peppers in a few splash pages, especially when recounting an important game. One of these is a particularly thunderous dunk from one of the team’s stars, Ivan Raab, that explodes off of the page with a big assist from Yang’s coloring partner, Lark Pien. Pien does great work in this book capturing the diversity of the team and the tone throughout the book. Yang’s most viable talent as a cartoonist is in facial expressions. He is adept at placing dialogue, but it’s the way his characters interact that help tell so much of the story. These clever, sometimes subtle attributes truly work to deepen the impact of Yang’s narrative.

Dragon Hoops is in many ways Yang's most complete book, his truest narrative since perhaps American Born Chinese. It is certainly the most personal, and it represents his continued development as a comic creator. He pointedly captures the magic of a special season and honestly portrays his own anxieties about the creative process. It is a complete story, sincere and heartwarming, that marks another high point in Yang's exceptional career.

Yang with yours truly at the SoMIRAC conference, 2017. In my hand is a copy of New Super-Man 1 he just signed. Belated apologies to the people I elbowed out of my way to find him at the end of his keynote.

*Author's note - First Second's website hasn't updated to include any previews of this book, and the ones I cold find online all had an "exclusive" tag to to them. Despite the fact the book arrived in comic shops on 3/11 and bookstores on 3/17, I still wasn't sure what I was allowed to use. I'm pretty sure I broke just as many rules by taking pictures of the book for inclusion in this review. The first picture comes early enough in the book that I thought I could get away with it, and the second picture is currently the same page featured on First Second's website (despite First Second not actually providing any other info about the book?)

March 20, 2020

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This Comic, This Legend— a look at Tom Scioli’s Fantastic Four: Grand Design

Is there any Fantastic Four artist or writer who ever said “screw Kirby and Lee”? Who said that, sure, they created Marvel's First Family but thought that they screwed it up and would just take those characters and go off and do their own thing? The closest is maybe Warren Ellis and John Cassiday’s The Four from Planetary (reviewed here), a recontextualizing of the FF as the villains of their story. And even Ellis and Cassiday don’t stray too far from the original work. The Four are just coming at the story and myths of the Fantastic Four from a different angle. But there’s nothing that really strays too far from the work done in those 101 original issues. Maybe that’s just how iconic the Fantastic Four are. Their pull and strength are firmly rooted in that 1962 New York mentality that birthed them. So what does that mean for anyone who’s ever tried to tell their own Fantastic Four story?

We see the template for almost every Marvel character in the Fantastic Four. Cyclops is 40% Reed Richards, 20 percent Sue Richards, and 15% evenly of Ben and Johnny. Wolverine is 35% the Thing, 35% Human Torch, 20% Sue, 10% Reed. You can even throw in Doctor Doom and Galactus into those equations to some degree or another to get every character in the Marvel Universe. In other words, the Fantastic Four are Marvel. They’re the building blocks for everything from the comics to cartoons and movies. Other characters may be more iconic in people’s minds now but these characters are the DNA of everything that’s come since Fantastic Four #1.

Tom Scioli, by stripping it so much of those first 101 issues that Kirby and Lee created, shows just the genetic makeup of these characters and stories in Fantastic Four: Grand Design. Just from his artistic style, it makes perfect sense that Scioli would tackle the FF but he pretty much makes every other “Grand Design” project redundant because he doesn’t just dive into the characters but into the fabric of the Marvel Universe.

If Ed Piskor in his X-Men: Grand Design was trying to create a grand unified myth out of (mostly) Chris Claremont’s epic run on Uncanny X-Men, Tom Scioli is doing something very different in his take on the Grand Design concept. Fantastic Four: Grand Design takes Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s legendary work, processes it through almost 60 years of comics and continuity and then spits it all out again. It’s pure Lee and Kirby but it is also pure Scioli. He is recontextualizing it in relation to itself. These stories have existed for decades and have been retold by some great and not-so-great creators as they’ve tried to bring these 1960-era stories into the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. For all of the Doctor Doom and Galactus stories out there, everything tracks back to those first 100 issues by Lee and Kirby.

So instead of trying to tell his own Mole Man or Inhumans story, Scioli retells the original stories, paying homage to Lee and Kirby in that way all of his books come back to Kirby. Why reinvent the wheel because the wheel already is there and it works. Scioli crams almost 10 years of comics into one slim book by adjusting the scope of the storytelling. Jamming 25 panels into every page, the art barely gives you any opportunity to stop and linger. It’s snappy and it moves quickly, narrowing you for us into the moment, the panel, and the snapshot of narrative before getting pulled into the next snapshot. It’s almost like watching a film one frame at a time.

This is not just a Fantastic Four story; it’s THE Fantastic Four story. Playing the role of both Kirby and Lee, Scioli conveys the fun, adventure, drama and scope of the stories without having the room of 10 issues, let alone 101 issues (plus annuals) to give these stories room to breathe. He also has to act as editor over Kirby and Lee, finding the moments that are most elemental to every FF story. He only has the room to show the moments that define Galactus, Alicia Masters, Wyatt Wingfoot, and even Diablo. These are the moments that define the heart of the comics that he’s drawing inspiration from.

Scioli is performing a restoration on this grand myth. The Lee/Kirby run on the book only lasted about 9 years and so that there have been almost 50 years of stories told since their last collaboration with these characters. In that time, everyone has tried to do their Fantastic Four story, their version of Lee and Kirby. A lot of baggage has built up over these characters and this story over the years. For as much as they did, it feels like thousands of stories have been told trying to retell their work. Scrubbing off the decades of grime and wear-and-tear that this series has accumulated, Scioli is digging up the primal myths of everything Marvel. That Kirby crackle is being recreated without cleaning it up. Scioli recognizes the age of the work, as evidenced through his own visual devotion to Kirby as well as the old newsprint fading veneer that the art is given. The yellowing pages and faded colors show the facade of age. This is a modern comic but not a modern story. It’s important to remember this as Scioli acknowledges the age of the myth. It belongs to the obscurity of endless long boxes filled with hundreds of comics like this.

But even Scioli can’t help but try to “finish” Stan and Jack’s story. He throws in plenty of his own loves, including turning Black Panther into the leader of a Voltron-like cadre of fighters and their panther-themed mech. That’s something straight out of GI Joe Versus The Transformers or his Go-Bots. As much as he loves the story of comics, he loves the stories found in toys. The Fantastic Four gives him the best of both worlds. The final pages of the books jump from Kirby and Lee to some John Byrne FF work as well as Jim Shooter and Mike Zack’s original Secret Wars before Scioli gives his own final ending to the legend of the Fantastic Four that, fittingly enough, ties into the early days of the team. If he’s trying to pay homage to Kirby and Lee, Scioli’s fingerprints are all over this series as he curates the pieces of history that he wants here. In that way, Scioli is as guilty as everyone else not named Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the wearing down of the original stories.

The “Grand Design” banner is backward-looking, trying to imagine a grand narrative to stories that were created month in and month out to meet deadlines. Lee and Kirby didn’t have a grand design to their FF stories any more than Chris Claremont and his many artistic cohorts had a grand design to the X-Men but it’s nice to imagine that they did. To pretend otherwise is a bit of a hollow practice because it’s imagining a story engine structure that doesn’t exist in the source material. The joke is that there was never a grand design to these stories. It was just two guys asking “what’s next?” Scioli (and Ed Piskor before him in X-Men: Grand Design) are just retelling these stories and trying to find connective tissue to a continuity that existed in spite of not having that tissue.

That’s not to say that these exercises aren’t fun. Of course, Scioli was going to do a Fantastic Four story someday so why shouldn’t it be playing with the original text as he did. And who wouldn’t get excited about a Jim Rugg Spider-Man: Grand Design, a Michel Fiffe Daredevil: Grand Design or (one I’d be most excited about) a Josh Bayer Incredible Hulk: Grand Design that encompassed everything from the first story to the Bill Mantlo stories? A large part of the draw of these stories is seeing these cartoonists work with these characters. It’s got to be fun to do these kinds of stories if you love the characters and creators that you’re recreating.

Fantastic Four: Grand Design may not be the only Fantastic Four comic that you would want to read but it’s the only one that you need to read to understand the draw of these characters, this comic universe and the thrill of the Marvel approach to superheroes. Tom Scioli, in trying to tell a story about a family who gains incredible powers and go on amazing adventures around the world and universe, boils down the story of these characters in a way that makes you sit back and take notice of stories that you’ve maybe taken for granted for a long time. It’s a reminder about how these characters set the tone for everything that followed in comics and now in modern popular culture.

Fantastic Four: Grand Design
Draw and Written by Tom Scioli
Published by Marvel Comics

March 18, 2020

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REVIEW: Undone by Blood or The Shadow of a Wanted Man #1-2

Undone by Blood or The Shadow of a Wanted Man #1-2
Written by Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson
Art by Sami Kivelä
Colors by Jason Wordie
Letters by Hassan Ostmane-Elhaou
Published by Aftershock Comics

I’ve really enjoyed a number of Aftershock Comics recently), and I’m happy to add Undone by Blood or The Shadow of a Wanted Man (Undone by Blood for short). Two issues in, Undone by Blood is a really smart, intense revenge drama set in 1970’s Arizona that cleverly uses a “story within a story” to explore ideas of revenge and justice. Not to mention it’s got gorgeous, gritty and vivid art. It’s a highly entertaining read and I strongly recommend it for anyone looking for smart and ambitious comics.

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REVIEW: Artemis & The Assassin #1

Artemis & The Assassin #1
Written by Stephanie Phillips
Art by Francesca Fantini and Meghan Hetrick
Colors by Lauren Affe
Letters by Troy Peteri
Published by Aftershock Comics

Sometimes I want to read a comic that's a metaphor for colonialism, or a critique of capitalism. But sometimes I just want to read a story about time-traveling assassins. Well, excellent news for me! And for anyone else who enjoys fun, engaging, sci-fi action stories. Artemis & The Assassin is here, it's a highly entertaining read, and it's off to a very strong start.

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Catch It at the Comic Shop March 18th, 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: 

March 11, 2020

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REVIEW: Decorum #1

Decorum #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Mike Huddleston
Published by Image Comics

Here's an axiom that's true about me.  If Jonathan Hickman writes a book, I'm going to write about it (as you can see here, here, here, and here). His work speaks to me in a way that few other comic writer's work does. He's up there with Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis as far as comics that are as complex as they are engaging. I find his interest in systems. structures, and hidden elites to be fertile ground for storytelling, whether it's an alternate-history apocalyptic Western, World War II, or dark magic controlling international finance. But, what I also love even more than all of these things is being surprised.  If a writer I love can zig when I expect the ot zag, that's even better.

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Catch It at the Comic Shop March 11th, 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' Picks:

March 5, 2020

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Navigating the Dangerous Waters in Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salty Sea

Note: This review was originally written back in 2012 for Newsarama for an inferior edition of Hugo Pratt’s first Corto Maltese book, The Ballad of the Salty Sea. It was my first real experience with Hugo Pratt and Corto Maltese, outside of the reference in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

IDW’s new edition is out this week, a far superior reprinting of this great book. The art looks crisp and fresh, sadly the exact opposite of the 2012 version which looked like it was reproduced from 3rd generation copies of Pratt’s work. And even with that lousy edition, I was still amazed by Pratt’s work. I’ve loved the IDW editions and look forward to a summer just rereading this incredible series of stories.

I think this review has been lost to the ages on Newsarama because I can’t find it through any search engine so here it is, mildly updated just to correct a couple of typos and one bit of editorializing from a 2020 perspective.

Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salty Sea
Written by Hugo Pratt
Art by Hugo Pratt and Patritzia Zanotti
Published by Universe (published by IDW in 2020)
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

I’m always amazed at watching artists draw sketches at a convention. The ones I really enjoy watching are those who are quick and draw all over the board, a mark here and a line there. They don’t fret and worry over every single line, looking for some elusive perfection out of every mark. Instead, they pull the image out of the page as if instead of putting ink down on the page, they’re removing the white from the paper and revealing an image. It’s amazing to watch these artists at work as the image takes shape. I imagine that even as he was creating comics Hugo Pratt was one of those types of artists.

Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salty Sea is Pratt’s original 1967 serial that introduced devilish rogue Corto Maltese to Italian readers. Maltese, a pirate captain without a ship to call his own thanks to an unseen mutiny, is pulled into kidnapping and power struggles in a loose network of pirates who all report to the Monk, their robe-wearing leader whose identity is unknown. Pratt’s story works because he builds a fascinating and diverse cast, all of whom have some kind of hidden motivations. At the center is Maltese, a pirate with the heart and soul of a hero. He’s a rapscallion like Han Solo was before he found religion or the rebellion or whatever it was that Han Solo found. He’s a scruffy nerfherder who’s out for himself foremost but that doesn’t mean that he won’t also protect those who can’t protect themselves.

Around Maltese Pratt includes two kids, Cain and Pandora, who constantly run the risk of being those kinds of cutesy/annoying kids who hang around in The Rock (or Dwayne Johnson as he goes by in 2020) movies who he’s trying to save but are really there to teach him valuable life lessons. Pratt mostly manages to avoid being sentimental about the kids as he focuses on the dangers for these two kidnapped children, lost in a world of pirates and villains. The Ballad of the Salty Sea ends up becoming their story as much as, if not more than, Maltese’s. The main threat in the book revolves around the safety of these children and their attempts to escape their kidnappers. Between them and Maltese, Pratt constructs a harrowing and classic adventure tale that reads like something out of a Robert Louis Stevenson story.

Pratt’s rugged and tough artwork endows the story with a vigorous spirit. Pratt has an art style that shouldn’t work. It’s quick, rough and unrefined by today’s eyes. A lot of panels look like they were done as quickly as possible so that Pratt could get onto the next panel. And then that next panel looks quickly sketched out so that Pratt could get to whatever was next. But in each line on every page, there’s a mystique behind Pratt’s pen. His individual marks on the page shouldn’t work but when you see them in relation to others marks, like those magical con drawings that come together, the resulting image is a magical and exotic piece of the grand story.

Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salty Sea is a perfect exhibit that showcases Pratt’s rugged artwork. There are artists with names like Toth, Caniff, Moebius, and Pratt who pull you into stories by the simple marks they make on a piece of paper. These marks contain no singular value in themselves but as the marks build into an image, an image builds into a page and a page builds into a story, those simple marks contain the unique DNA of the artists that opens up these unique worlds for the readers. Pratt builds his characters, his settings and his plot through these images on a page that creates a unique world that’s defined one exquisite mark on a page at a time.

March 4, 2020

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Catch It at the Comic Shop March 4th, 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' Picks:

March 3, 2020

February 28, 2020

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Art as Rebellion in Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg’s The Plain Janes

Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg’s The PLAIN Janes adopts the phrase “art saves” but there’s so much more happening in their book that saves Jane Beckles, a teenage girl who survived a bomb attack at a local cafe in the city but carries hidden emotional scars with her when her parents move her to the much “safer” suburbs. In that suburb and her new high school, Jane finds a group of friends who practically share her name; Jane (the theatrical one,) Jayne (the brainy one,) Polly Jayne (the sporty one) and James (the one who will try anything.). Even her rival in the final chapter has the similarly sounding name Payne. Jane finds friends and cohorts who don’t suffer from the same trauma that she does but long find something outside of themselves to share with the world. Through Jane’s drive, they all find art, creating guerilla installations anonymously around their town trying to incite something in themselves and in their fellow students and citizens. It’s art as secret community service.

February 26, 2020

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Catch It at the Comic Shop February 26th, 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' Picks:

February 19, 2020

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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:

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!