January 4, 2018

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Rob M's Favorite Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comics of 2017

Another day, another list from me to start off the year! This one is probably cheating a bit--after all, technically, all superhero comics are fantasy--but I tend to use a category like this one for the comics that have a lot in common with the genres I read in prose.

I'm particularly happy with the variety of comics on the list this year. We have everything from the intricately detailed On a Sunbeam to the "Oh shit, this is too on the nose" Bitch Planet to some nifty stories that look at traditional fable work and re-imagine them.

I don't have a lot else to say except the daily reminder that I don't rank books in my favorites--these are the ones I liked best of the comics I read, and I point them out here to help bring a bit more attention to them as we move into 2018. Let's get started, shall we?

Amelia Cole Omnibus by Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride, and Nick Brokenshire, Published by IDW (originally Monkeybrain)
One of the original Monkeybrain titles finished up late last year, but the omnibus came out in 2017, so I happily got to add this story of three worlds, two magical, one not, threatened by a force too hidden for most to notice. Amelia Cole walks the line between worlds, with a magic wrench and a cool golem pal, trying to use her powers to protect people in a world that often wants her to follow the rules instead. A great all ages story with bright colors and cool characters, I am sad this story is over, but happy to see it collected for new fans to enjoy.

Arabian Nights by Arnar H. Onnuson and Marta Selusi Luis, Self-Published
The first in a series of stories, this tale of love, theft, and a bit of magic really caught my attention because of its telling a new story within very familiar territory--and was willing to show its two main characters weren't entirely good people, just two lovers trying to make it in a world that pushed them into the margins. Using the backdrop of djinns, princes, and markets, Onnuson and Luis craft a story of being dedicated to each other. Luis's art has the slightly shaky style of Joann Sfar, but with larger, bulkier characters who push against the panel borders. Fitting for the world, the colors are bright and appear to be colored pencil, though with so much digital editing these days, it's hard to tell what's digital and what's analog. I look forward to more from this creative team.

Bitch Planet Triple Feature by Various Creators, Published by Image Comics
Sometimes good things can come out of being behind on deadline. While DeConnick and Valentine De Landro caught up, they invited a wide variety of creators, including Dylan Meconis, Matt Fraction, Joanna Estep, and Andrew Aydin to seed short stories within their dystopic world that went from improbable to highly likely within one presidential election. Not going to try and describe the stories here--suffice it to say that each creator did their best to expand the corners of a hellscape where women are often forced to pit themselves against each other just to survive. So...kind of like now, I guess. I'd originally been iffy on the concept of this whole series, but I've come around to see that we really are just a few missteps away from creating a world like this one. If you passed on this because it wasn't core story, I strongly urge you to go back and pick it up. It's great work.

Centralia 2050 by Michelle Stanford, Self-Published at http://centralia2050.com/
A sci-fi story drawn in OEL Manga style with intriguing characters, a central mystery, robotic creatures and people, and an underground that fights against the power. A webcomic that recently funded on Kickstarter for a print edition, this story reminds me of something that Sparkler Monthly might have published. It's got a lot of the things that make for a shojo story: Mysterious girl, reluctant male character who helps her, and the possibility of a romance. There's a lot of great close-up work, as you'd expect from an OEL, with just enough scenes of the outside world to set the stage, allowing the reader to fill in the details of what it's like to live in this future that isn't perfect by any means, with people disappearing and brute force to any who step out of line. Stanford's linework is designed to highlight facial features and body language, and it's clear she's trying hard--and succeeding--evoking a style. Good stuff, and I am very curious where this story is going.

Heartthrob by Christopher Sebala, Robert Wilson IV, and Nick Filardi, Published by Oni Press
The first volume of Heartthrob, set in the 70s and featuring a woman in a dead end job who gets a heart transplant and finds its old owner, a bank robber, now lives inside her head, was a breakout hit for me. The second volume is even better than the first, which is no easy task. Callie tries to separate herself from her "partner," but once stealing is in your blood, it's hard to escape...assuming you ever wanted to. With Sebala's amazing dialogue filled with quips, Wilson IV's stunning visual work, especially his expressions, and Nick Filardi using color as mood, this is one of my favorites again this year.

Little Gods by Leda Zawacki, Published by Tinto Press
Sometimes fables are meant to be re-imagined. Little gods does this very well, taking a creation story and looming at it from the perspective of the created, who want to form their own ideas about life, despite the dangers. When one of the Sky God's daughters leaves home and discovers she is in love with another runaway, the two form their own bond, making for a tragic, but still uplifting story of queer love. First tackling the original myth and then working into her own, female-focused version, Zawacki shows how stories are meant to be adapted and changed based on the desires of the storyteller. Very thin lines define the characters and there are some great moments, such as when we see red splashed across the next panel, implying blood from what's happened on the page before, show off Zawacki's talent of using her art to tell as much of the story as her words. I'm definitely adding Zawacki to my list of creators to follow going into 2018.

Mech Cadet Yu by Greg Pak, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Triona Farrell, Published by Boom! Studios
Greg Pak, re-teamed with the co-creator of Amadeus Cho, does a story about a young boy who isn't supposed to be part of the Giant Robot team, but ends up being bonded to one, and must learn how to survive, both on the battlefield and in an atmosphere where he isn't exactly wanted. Once again doing his part to bring more representation to comics, Pak also brings his great sense of humor and storytelling, while Miyazawa captures the size and scope of the characters extremely well. I enjoyed this series a lot more than I expected to!

On a Sunbeam, Self-Pubished online at http://www.onasunbeam.com
Tillie Walden is incredibly talented, and her linework only improves with age. Given how young she is, that's really saying something in terms of her potential. This webcomic, soon to be published by First Second, blew me away with its intricate details, even if sometimes the story itself wandered a bit more than I'd prefer. But when you are getting a chance to look at Tillie drawing ancient space ruins, the vastness of space itself, and young queer characters, it's really perfectly find to just wander alongside the drawings. Walden is a phenomenal talent and I fully expect see her on my favorites list for as long as she wishes to keep creating.

Zodiac Starforce by Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau, published by Dark Horse Comics
Like Mech Cadet Yu, this series takes some of the things we've seen before and puts them together in a way that a ton of fun to read--and a lot of that is Ganucheau's artwork, which is amazing. I love how each character has their own look, from body shape to hair to outfit--even when in the Starfoce Uniforms. The bright, rainbow coloring fits with the characters as well as the queer themes, and the dialogue from Panetta is solid and doesn't feel tin-eared the way that some writers do with young characters. I'm so glad this series is back, and I hope we get a lot more of it moving into 2018 and ongoing.

That's my sci-fi and fantasy favorites for 2017! I liked each of these books a great deal, for widely varying reasons, and I think it's also a list that has some things that definitely didn't get a wide enough audience. So check them out if you can! Again--I really want to have a good discussion on these, so feel free to comment here or hit me up on Twitter at @rob_McMonigal. Looking forward to it!