September 3, 2012

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SPX 2012/Baltimore Comic-Con Spotlight: Top Shelf Books

 Some of the comics folks I like best will be at both Baltimore Comic-Con AND SPX this year, so here's a week of double-spotlights!

You can find all of my SPX Spotlight posts, including those from past years, by clicking here.

You can read all of my Baltimore Comic-Con Spotlights here.

Top Shelf was one of the first indie publishers I got into, back when I broadened my tastes, and at one point in time, I'd read nearly all of their catalog.  That's a lot harder to do now, especially since I have extra reading duties these days by being a Newsarama Best Shots team member, but they are still one of my favorite comics publishers.

Top Shelf always seems to be slightly ahead of the curve on trends, whether it's expanding to children's comics or partnering with Alan Moore or moving into digital just before everyone else did, they seem to be very good at sensing what's a good thing to be a part of in the comics world, observing others but still remaining their own thing.  You can see all of my reviews of Top Shelf here.

While I know they'll have evergreen books as well, some of which are in my reviews, I'm going to highlight here the things from the 2012 calendar that I think you should take a look at.  You can find Top Shelf's complete 2012 catalog here.


  • Blue by Pat Grant.  A debut graphic novel, this story features a mixture between fact and fiction as three teens living in a world with tentacle-creatures who go looking for a dead body.  This book works on multiple levels and is, to a degree, an homage to Stephen King.  Anyone who likes coming of age stories really should grab it.
  • Cleveland by Harvey Pekar and Joseph Remnant.  I'll be honest, I'm not a Pekar guy, so this one isn't a book I would read, but I know many people are fans of his work, and this Ignatz-nominated story of a troubled man in a troubled city is supposed to be one of his best.
  • The Pterodactyl Hunters by Brendan Leach.  This is on my list of books I want to pick up, as my friend and Newsarama co-worker Scott Cedarlund said lots of great things about it, and his taste matches mine almost exactly.  I'll quote his summary:  "Pterodactyl Hunters In the Gilded Age is more about the idea of a gilded age than it is about pterodactyl hunters. Leach sets us up for a great fantasy story and then delivers a story about characters who maybe aren’t quite ready to grow up. It’s the past smashing into the present while the future is the big unknown."
  • The final League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century book is here, and again, this is one that fans of Moore should get and those who've given up on him (like me) should not.  Nothing I've heard about this one appeals to me, but others rave about it.  If you're in the rave group, they're sure to have copies at both shows.
  • Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire is the acclaimed creator's first professional work, brought back into print.  I'm a little late to the "wow, Lemire is good" crowd, so I'm just going to say right now that whether it's this book or his latest, Underwater Welder (which I am working my way through as I write this), you should get one of Lemire's books and get on the bandwagon before it pulls away.  He's winning praise for Animal Man and Justice League Dark, but that doesn't mean the man isn't just as good, if not better, working in his own universes.  Lost Dogs, which was awarded a Xeric Grant, is a man against the world story, while Underwater Welder has similar themes but mixed with the weirder elements that DC-Lemire fans may enjoy more.  Either way, I doubt you can go wrong!
  • The Lovely Horrible Stuff by Eddie Campbell is another entry in his ongoing mix of autobiography and concept books.  Drawn in a mix of styles that we've seen from Campbell for awhile now, honed to a razor's edge, Campbell speaks frankly about how money affects him--and the wider world.  A great book that I highly recommend.
  • James Kochalka finally releases a new diary collection, covering the years 2008-2011.  Kochalka is the gold-standard for daily diary comics, often imitated but never quite replicated.  The whimsy, angst, and anger of Kochalka, combined with his brutal honesty (sometimes he looks like a total asshole) make these THE diary strips to read.  A must for autobiographical comics fans.  My only question on this one is print or digital?  
Top Shelf Books also has quite a variety of all-ages work, such as Owly, Dragon Puncher, Johnny Boo, and Pirate Penguin vs Ninja Chicken.  They have two new books coming this fall, Upside Down:  A Vampire Tale by Jess Smiley and August Moon by Diana Thung.  They are longer works in comparison to most of the Top Shelf books for all ages.  Upside Down might make SPX, but if not, you can pick it up from the publisher (or your favorite book store) later this year.  August Moon is not set to release until October.

In additional to physical copies, all of the above books are also available digitally on Comixology and other digital platforms.  Plus, Top Shelf is experimenting with digital-first comics, such as the great Double Barrel, which are outside the scope of this spotlight.  You can find them either via Top Shelf's site OR by searching your favorite digital provider, as Top Shelf is on every platform I know.

For SPX, Top Shelf will have James Kochalka, Ed Piskor, Nate Powell, Joseph Remnant, and Jennifer Hayden at the show.  Make sure you stop by and say hello!

Filled with comics for all age groups and interests, their booth should be a must-visit at either Baltimore Comic-Con or SPX--and maybe both!  If you can't make either show, find them online at their website.