September 4, 2013

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SPX/Baltimore Comic-Con Spotlight 2013: Top Shelf

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Welcome also to my 2013 Baltimore Comic-Con Spotlight entries. Over the course of this week, I will also be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at another of my favorite conventions, the Baltimore Comic-ConYou can check out all of my spotlights for the Baltimore Comic-Con from both this year and prior years here.

I have to be honest, I'm starting to run out of cool things to day about Top Shelf, because I've been doing it for so long now. They were one of the publishers that got me into the indie comics world, and unlike some other publishers, their work has continued to stick with me and be some of my favorite books every year. Here's a link to all my Top Shelf related posts.

The Top Shelf team has an uncanny knack for finding books and creators who are amazing at what they do. They've brought the world Jeffrey Brown and James Kochalka's personal comics at the same time as quirky things like Simon Gane's All Flee or the strange Mosquito. Future dystopias like Surrogates rub elbows with real-world travelogues. They've published Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, veterans of the field, while working with newer creators on the way up, like Jess Fink. They have an entire children's line led by Owly and Johnny Boo and have made several forays into bringing works from other countries into English.

Heck, Top Shelf even was the tipping point for getting indies into the world of Comixology and any company that heavily supports digital is one that'll get my support.

Every year, Top Shelf has new and different comics, mixing work from their stable of creators with new faces. I've read their work in hard copy and digital form (via Comixology) and I've been impressed with the production of both, all at an affordable price point, even when in hardcover.

This year, the gem in Top Shelf's crown is March (review here), co-written by Congressman John Lewis, the first member of Congress to work on a graphic novel. Joined by his assistant Andrew Aydin and Panel Patter favorite Nate Powell, Lewis tells the story of the Civil Rights movement at a time when it's more important that ever.

If you can only get one Top Shelf book this year, get March. Even if you are already a supporter, Lewis's story reminds us why we can't ever give up.  It's not only inspirational, it's good comics.

But if you want more than just one, oh are you ever in luck! In addition to their back catalog favorites, they should also have these books for you. (A complete list of 2013 releases is here.)

  • Alan Moore's still working in his League Universe, with this latest comic, Nemo: Heart of Ice, which finds him creating a pulp adventure with one of the characters from the series, again working with Kevin O'Neil.
  • At just about the other end of the spectrum, James Kochalka has Johnny Boo Book 5, with his famous ghost taking on a variety of tasks, including the power of yawns.
  • I spotlighted Jessica Fink's We Can Fix It earlier in my SPX spotlight series, but here's another plug for that memoir with a ton of fun moments, as Fink travels back in time to spy on her sex life and finding it more complicated than she'd hoped.
  • Jeffrey Brown, a long-time Panel Patter favorite (especially of Erica), has his latest personal comic out, talking about how much his world has changed, now that he is married and has a child. Brown is always an unflinching autobiographer and as he grows older, he has even more to look back at. I'm also impressed by how far his art has come from the days of Clumsy.
  • Crater XV is the continuation of the story of Army Shanks and the Far Arden world, dealing with the fallout from the Eisner-nominated book. This one is a digital first, being part of Double Barrel. Already a bit on weird side, Kevin Cannon spins the strange dial up to XVI and higher, with secret space plans, conspiracies, and stuff that's just plain silly. Canon's angular, quirky art just adds to the fun as this sequel is just as good as the original.
  • Heck, the other half of Double Barrel, is Zander Canon's first solo graphic novel work. If you're used to his style from Alan Moore's Wildstorm work, this one will be a bit jarring in its style, with the focus on alternating black and white shading, with the characters themselves being more blocky and less well-defined than we've seen from Canon's superhero work. Once you get used to that, the story is amazing and heart-rending in places, as a man journeys into the underworld and definitely has issues with what he sees. Canon does a great job with the mythology here and fans of epic stories based on classics will love it.
  • Matt Kindt, like Jeff Lemire last year, is exploding into the world of mainstream comics. Go back with him to Super Spy, an early work that will show you why he's in demand everywhere from Dark Horse to Valiant.
  • Lots of folks have made fun of the Bible, but only a few of them get it right. Working with illustrations from Shannon Wheeler, Mark Russell nails this nose-tweaking of the Word of God. Like Bill Cosby's Noah or Adam and Eve sketches, Russell understands that the best way to laugh at scripture isn't to attack it for being implausible, it's to show just what a literal reading of the thing means. Playing with modern forms of language and style, Russell hits this one out of the park, with Wheeler chipping in to provide periodic visual gags. Cleverly designed to look like my great-grandmother's old King James pocket Bible, this is highly recommended for faithful friends who can laugh and atheists who can pretend they don't have any stones lying outside their glass houses.

Those are just a few of the things you can find at Top Shelf's booth. You really can't go wrong with whatever you end up picking. Their work is phenomenal and they have a hit to miss ratio for me that might be the best of all the publishers I read. (I can only thing of maybe 2 Top Shelf books ever I honestly didn't like.)

At the Baltimore Comic-Con, you can meet Chris Staros, one of the publishers of Top Shelf and ask him for his own personal recommendations. He'll be joined by Aydin from March at the show.

For SPX, Top Shelf will have Jeffrey Brown, Congressman Lewis, Mr. Aydin, and Nate Powell on hand, along with Chris, who will once again be slinging books at the Top Shelf Booth.

Whichever show you go to, make sure you don't miss the Top Shelf Booth. They're a gateway drug to the world of indie comics. Open your mind--and your wallet. I promise you won't regret it.

Plans for comic shows shelved for now? Well, go right to the Top Shelf website or look them up on Comixology.