SPX Spotlight/Rose City Roll Call 2014: Top Shelf Books

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press ExpoYou can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Rose City Roll Call! Cambot! Gypsy! Tom Servo! Croooooow! Periscope! Dark Horse! Kurt Busiek! Ooooooooooonnnnni! It's another Panel Patter feature on creators and publishers who will be at Rose City Comic Con! You can find all our features for the show right here!

Like Fantagraphics, Top Shelf is one of the anchors of any Small Press Expo, and of course is also one of the publishers we've written about extensively. You can find all of the Top Shelf entries here.

As with the best of the small presses, Top Shelf has a little bit to offer everyone. They are some of the best at doing all-ages comics, with James Kochalka's Johnny Boo and Dragon Puncher, Andy Runton's Owly, and non-series work from Jess Smart Smiley and Rob Harrell, just to name a few.

At the other extreme, they're the current publishing home of Alan Moore, who continues his League work there, along with other projects. They'll print comics from other countries (a few years ago, they had an "invasion" of Swedish creators), have been the indie starting place for creators currently making it in the superhero world (Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and Robert Venditti, for example), and also published Eddie Campbell, the Immonens, and more.

It was Top Shelf that got me into autobiographical comics, with Kochalka's American Elf and the various books from Jeffrey Brown setting my personal standard for the genre.

There's so much good to say about Top Shelf, and you're sure to find something you'll like when you visit them at either the Small Press Expo or Rose City Comic Con. For this spotlight, let's concentrate on the books that are new this year:

If you've been trade-waiting Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's Century, the time is now. Taking his literary team across the 20th Century, Moore gives things his unique perspective and allows the story to be a background for his own commentary on where the world went in the past 100 years. Anyone who reads Alan Moore knows how good he is at creating analogues to real life and intertwining events into his story. Meanwhile, O'Neill's stark, angular lines and brilliant colors make for a demented canvas to linger over, as he matches Moore's words with his visuals. Though not my favorite work from Moore, it's amazing to see what he's done with the concept. (And don't forget, Moore was doing this years before everyone and their brother dug up literary characters to play with.)

Another "before it was cool" example of using literary figures in modern fiction is Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins' Pinocchio Vampire Slayer in which the main character lies to create wooden stakes, which he uses to do the killing. I read this when it was originally published, and I really liked the idea, though it did lose a bit of steam for me in the middle. This is an omnibus edition collecting the entire story, which was originally a Slave Labor Graphics release. Anyone who enjoys the literary updates or mash-ups and didn't read this already should do so. It's not dense and layered like Moore's interpretations, but it is a lot of fun.

Speaking of fun, we already profiled Eric Orchard's Maddy Kettle (review here), so I won't belabor a description here. It's the story of a determined girl going after the witch who transformed her parents. The plot is very solid, the illustrations are distinctive and unique (and My God, the cross-hatching), and it's the first book of a longer story that still tells a complete tale within its pages.

Obviously, we're big fans of Liz Prince here at Panel Patter. The Tomboy author also has a new collection at Top Shelf, Alone Forever, which collects her webcomic into a book. A series of shorts that range from comic-strip style 3-panel gags to longer entries, Liz gives it her usual unvarnished approach, ability to change up the visuals as necessary, and really has her acid wit turned on high for many of the panels. A few recurring gags, including vicious heart candy ("At least you're not Liz Prince" says one), talking to her cats, and her blunts style feature prominently. If you're looking for the next thing to read after Tomboy, this is a good place to start.

Make sure you stop by and see Top Shelf at the shows. They'll have these four books, along with copies of some of the other things I mentioned above, because they do an awesome job of keeping books in print. Quality always deserves to be appreciated!

Can't make SPX? Not running to Rose City? There's no better time to check out Top Shelf. You can find their website here, and through September 26th, they're running their annual sale! You can get a lot of books for half off and some hidden gems for only $1 and $3! Check it out!