Friday, December 28, 2012

Panel Patter's Favorite Graphic Novels of 2012


It's that time of year again!  Time for those of us with blogs to talk about what we liked from 2012.  I know most of these use "Best of" in their terminology, and I even did in 2011, but I just hate the use of the word "best."  It implies you have reviewed all of the candidates.  This year, I am going back to favorites.

Today is the second of two days on indie comics.  I split them up into two columns this year, because when I put together my "short list" I had over forty titles that I thought were worthy of consideration.  Non-superhero comics are my primary reading source, and even giving myself two lists, I had to make some hard decisions.

A word on this list (and its sister list) before we move on.  I am completely baffled by people who say that there aren't any interesting comics to read.  To them, may I suggest that you are locking yourself in too much to whatever publisher or publishers you are currently reading.  My floppy-first list has seven different publishers on it, and my graphic novel indie list has nine different publishers.  If you aren't finding what you want at the names people know, then look elsewhere.  Take a chance on a Comixology sale or raid the clearance bin of your comic shop.  Good comics are out there--you just have to be willing to look.

Let me preface this list by saying, there are hundreds of comics out there and no matter how widely I read, it's never going to be everything.  My selections here are based on what *I* have encountered and read over 2012.

Without further ado, here we go:

10:  American Barbarian (AdHouse Books)
Tom Scioli is without peer in the current comics industry at bringing a Jack Kirby feel to the comic page.  What's great about his style is that unlike other Kirby imitators, his work uses the King's inspiration to create new things that stand on their own, like this story that just gets progressively weirder and trippier the further you read it, building to an ending worthy of the 1970s--but with a very modern feel.  Great stuff!

9:  Walk Like a Sumerian (Whole Story)
I've joked that 2012 was the year of Box Brown for me, as I really found myself introduced to the publisher of Retrofit comics.  This collection features his interpretations of Sumerian stories, told with a touch of sarcastic humor yet still respectful of the source material.  The style is minimalist, but the effect works quite well and there are some neat touches, such as some Kirby-inspired work.  Brown is a great indie cartoonist with a fairly large body of work that I can't wait to catch up on and read in the future.  This one might be unavailable to you right now, but hopefully it will be offered again by Whole Story or Brown.

8:  Olympians 4 Hades (First Second)
George O'Connor's look at the Greek Pantheon via the lens of superheros continues with this fourth installment taking on one of Zeus' brothers and including the story of Persephone and other Greek Legends.  I really like the idea of casting the stories in this way, and O'Connor even uses some tricks from the old Marvel Handbooks to help young readers understand the nature of these stories.  A great all-ages read that feeds my mythology fix.

7:  Lovely Horrible Stuff (Top Shelf)
Eddie Campbell continues his series of works that are part essay, part autobiography, and all excellent with this look at money and how it impacts on the lives of people big and small.  Speaking frankly, Campbell serves up some bitter moments and talks about what it was like to have a bit of royalty boosts from working on certain projects.  The second half is a mix of history and personal experience on the island of Yap, where large wheels were used as currency.  This is a great introduction to Campbell's personal comics and is not to be missed.

6:  Hopeless, Maine (Archaia)
This webcomic gets a beautiful edition from Archaia, bringing the lush gothic nature of the story onto the printed page.  Like Princeless, I enjoyed this one a lot because the young female protagonist was treated with respect and given her own individuality.  There's a lot of great visual touches and the story uses modern sensibilities while setting the tale in a land that Edgar Allan Poe's creations could have inhabited.  This was an awesome sleeper find for me that I hope sees a wide audience.

5:  Xoc (Oni Press)
Matt Dembicki makes this list twice, which is pretty awesome if you ask me.  His first appearance is here as the writer-artist of mini-comic turned into larger graphic novel Xoc.  It's a nature documentary turned into a comic, complete with educational references that Dembicki uses to back up the things he shows on the page.  Xoc is a great white shark, migrating to have her child.  But the path is blocked by other predators, human killers, and other dangers due to the negligent way we treat nature.  This looks great as a larger comic and should be in any nature-lovers's comic library.

4:  District Comics (Fulcrum)
And here is Matt's other entry, this time as the editor, though he does contribute to the book as well.  A few years ago, Dembicki created Trickster, an anthology of Native American stories.  Here, he's the overseer of the hidden history of Washington, DC.  Inspired to do this after creating a mini-comic on an iconic former DC Brewery, Dembicki recruited local artists and writers (and a few non-locals) to tell tales of the Nation's capital that range from trying to kill Truman to the first Washington Nationals baseball team.  The anthology is full of quality stories, without a single misstep, and includes PP favorites Rafer Roberts, Max Ink, Carolyn Belefski, and Andrew Cohen, to name just a few.

3:  Fusion Elementary (Whole Story)
This is the only publisher repeat on my list, and it's well-deserved.  Ryan Estrada, the brains behind Whole Story, took a Korean creator's comics and asked a series of popular Western creators to "translate" them for him, leading to insane amounts of comedy as they tried to find the funniest explanations possible for what was going on in the chapters, which already were a bit odd, even without help from the likes of Katie Cook, whose entry is my favorite.  I hope this is re-released in 2013 so more people can enjoy it as much as I did.

2:  The Hypo (Fantagraphics)
It wouldn't be a favorites list for me without at least one Fantagraphics book, and while they didn't steal the top three spots again this year, Noah Van Sciver represents with this historical fiction of one of the key moments of Abraham Lincoln's life.  Rather than choose his early years or presidency, Van Sciver goes right for the jugular and picks his weakest moment, where his personal and professional lives looked like utter shit, and drove Lincoln to the edge of madness.  Given that Van Sciver specializes in characters who are at their wit's end and have horrible things going on in their lives, he's picture perfect in his presentation.  You're not going to find this one for sale at the Lincoln Memorial, but the very human look of Lincoln's dealings with sex, love, and politics is as intimate as I think any work has ever been with Lincoln.  It just narrowly gets beaten out by...

1:  Blacksad A Silent Hell (Dark Horse)
Early on in my non-superhero reading, I cam across a small edition of some of the adventures of Blacksad and immediately fell in love.  Here was a noir world created around anthropomorphic animals, using the hierarchy of the animal kingdom to speak about the ways we as humans treat each other.  Blacksad himself was a perfect noir character, trying to do the right thing but often sinking in the filth in the process.  This new graphic novel, brought to us by Dark Horse, takes us into the world of jazz and its own brand of racial/prison politics.  The addition of one of my favorite music genres to one of my favorite storytelling genres, combined with an amazing story full of twists and turns, plus production notes make Blacksad A Silent Hell my favorite graphic novel of 2012.

Honorable Mentions:  Crime Does Not Pay Archives 2 (Dark Horse), Eerie Presents El Cid (Dark Horse), and The Kind (Whole Story).

See you Saturday, for my round-up of my favorite comics involving superheroes and those associated with the genre!

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