December 28, 2020

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Sean's Favorite Comics of 2020: The Long & Short Box

I cannot believe that it is this time of year again. The time where I reach back for rereads of stuff from months back, and taste again as many titles I hadn’t remembered I forgot so that I can (as best I can) come up with a well rounded list of which comics of the year are my favorites.

This year I went with the short-box/long-box theme rather than a top ten/runner-up as I typically do. I probably read about 100 titles in at least a partial capacity while also “sampling” others to see if I missed anything from before. After all was settled I probably read at least a few issues of nearly 150 titles or so. That’s quite a bit for me, and probably a personal reading record brought on (unfortunately) by living life in quarantine. From these that I read I picked fifteen to pack away in the long-box of favorites (the runners-up), while ten were filed in the short-box (my favorites).

While I can assure you that I’ve probably failed to include one that I’ll most likely regret after having published this as it is. Regardless, it is how it reads and I’m certainly happy with the fact that during the treacherous year that was 2020 I was able to be fortunate enough to “struggle” through having to pick a handful of favorite comics from a long list of completely worthwhile choices.
There is no wrong answer to the question, “what were your favorite comics this year?” And these were mine.

(Alphabetically)

THE LONG BOX


Alienated TP by Simon Spurrier, Chris Wildgoose, André May & Jim Campbell, published by BOOM! Studios 

This comic took me by a bit of a surprise. It’s a fun spin on the cosmic idea of a shared consciousness. Three unlikely acquaintances named “Sam” find themselves linked telepathically after having found a mysterious creature in the woods. The structuring of plot and paneling is sometimes unique and it grabbed my attention right away. It takes a rather dark turn about halfway through the series, tackling subject matter such as self-harm— a topic that can be difficult to address. But the creative team does it in a tasteful and appropriate way that adds depth to the story while also bringing awareness to the issue. It’s a real treat and a quick read to share with other readers looking for something a bit different. 


Amazing Spider-Man by Nick Spencer, Mark Bagley, Marcelo Ferreira, Ryan Ottley, Kim Jacinto & Guillermo Sanna, published by Marvel 

I cannot describe to you how much I have wanted the main Spiderman series to find it’s footing again. This year, for me, it finally did. Once the tie-in’s with last years Absolute Carnage finally wore off and the storyline found its way back into itself, I was all-in. With the Sin-Eater back (no spoilers with how), along with the unveiling of who Kindred really is, Nick Spencer’s scripts finally are managing to get me reading monthly again. With main series artist, Ryan Ottley, having recently left the series it will be fun to see where the character goes in 2021 with it entering some very dark territory not seen in years.


Bad Reception TP by Juan Doe published by Aftershock Comics

Juan Doe created a work of art here. It’s a fable about our obsessed addiction toward internet fame told in form of a murder mystery. The first issue is probably one of the most inventive single issues I’ve ever read; as a comic it took huge risks by entering the story in this way but the payoff it received after doing so was well-deserved. As a critique on society, this book needs to be read. Because underneath all of the B-movie slasher film tropes it has a rather large message for those of us reading it [on our digital devices].


Bang! Vol.1 by Matt Kindt, Wilfredo Torres, Bill Crabtree & Nayoung Kim, published by Dark Horse

Matt Kindt loves telling stories that are telling stories about stories right now. His approach lately has been inventive and consistent and, frankly, he is probably one of the best out there right now. Bang! is about a writer who uses his writings as a tool to predict future things. His body of work rounds out the cast of characters that we read in Kindt’s story. If this is at all confusing, I assure you.. once you start reading and give it a chance you’ll see at what level of genius Matt is currently writing at. The potential for more volumes of this story is wide open. I look forward to what Kindt and his creative team on this title have in store in the future. These are fun one-shot type comics that fit together like puzzle pieces of a story that lies just outside the story being told. 


Bitter Root by Chuck Brown, David F. Walker, Sofie Dodson & Sanford Green, published by Image

Here we have a story about what would happen if racism turned you as ugly on the outside as it does to your inside. It’s a fun story about a family in 1920s Harlem who track down and remove the monster from the person. This year was the series’ second arc and it took us to places more mysterious and evil than before. It revealed that an aggressive approach to things mimicking a similar fashion to fight as the very problem being addressed could also be a pathway to the monster that becomes us. Bitter Root can be read casually as a monster hunting horror story of the early 20th century, or it can be read in what I’d assume it to be for what it was intended and recognize the societal parallels when I’m seeing white men turn to rabid beasts and start attacking the black men. Sad, really. But.. it’s a very good story and a comic worth checking out.


Chasin’ the Bird by Dave Chisholm & Peter Markowski, published by Z2 Comics

My kids love jazz music, but I wouldn’t have them read this one. Not yet at least. That’s because this is the untold story of the jazz legend Charlie Bird, and it goes to some pretty dark places. The artwork from newcomer, Dave Chisholm is amazing to look at and he really utilizes his knowledge of the subject of jazz to his advantage. Splash pages are not wasted here as they are used several times here as a way to navigate the readers’ eyes. Music is the reason for the story that is told and there are no shortcuts here as Chisholm relies heavily on that when designing the page layouts. This is a gorgeous book about a legendary man in a genre of music that typically gets lost among all the rest. 


Daredevil by Chip Zdarsky, Marco Checchetto & Jorge Fornés, published by Marvel 

Matt Murdoch has been on the top of my reading list all year. Back in January I started a reread of all the modern issues starting with Kevin Smith’s run from 1999. As I caught myself up to Zdarsky‘s current run I realized why I enjoy Daredevil so much— it’s because he is everything that childhood-me would have wanted Batman to ultimately become. Dark, brooding, self-reflective, all of the elements that have been tried and to a certain degree fallen short in the Wayne saga. Story parallels that the script in this current Daredevil is taking Murdoch and Mayor Wilson Fisk on is one of the more interesting elements in comics this year. Not to mention.. Checchetto draws pretty much the best Spidey and the best Daredevil right now (and there’s been plenty of Parker cameos in this Zdarsky run so far). As we enter 2021 we will see Daredevil behind bars once again, but I have no reason to think that this’ll be just a rehash of what’s been. Trust me on this. Find the means to catch up and read alongside me.


Eddie’s Week by Patrick Dean published by Birdcage Bottoms Books

If you want a quirky, weird story about a criminal behind bars in the living room of a recluse on vacation, then this is going to be right up your alley. Imagine somehow there is a parakeet mysteriously appearing in a birdcage in your house.. that’s this book, but the parakeet is a person, and the only mystery is where this story plans to take the reader. We are told the reason for the why this oddity has taken place, but then.. have we, though? This graphic novel about Eddie’s week on vacation is absurd, hilarious, and down-right silly. Here is the type of book that you suggest to the reader who’s read everything, but looking for something a tad off the beat and path. 


Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino & Dave Stewart, published by Image

What can I say about this one that hasn’t already been said? This comic really is a literal masterpiece of horror. Visually, it’s daring. And the script… the script is, for the lack of my ability for a better metaphor, upside down on itself. Lemire always seems to have a full plate for himself and for the last few years this collaboration with Sorrentino has been among one of his best he’s ever done. As the series wrapped itself up very recently I will be sure to revisit this one in its entirety over and over again, and frankly so should you.


Kodi by Jared Cullum published by Top Shelf Productions

I caught a review copy of this book, then immediately went to the creator’s website to purchase a hard copy for my daughter. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s getting a signed copy from Jared Cullum as part of her Christmas presents. The story is heartfelt and warm and it’s about the unlikely friendship between a young girl and… a bear? Yes, a bear. It is a gorgeously painted book done in vivid watercolors so to capture the soft and whimsical tone throughout the book. I highly recommend this one for younger readers. It will encourage them to be a better person and get them excited about reading. 


Pirouette by M.L. Miller, Carlos Granda, Champe Ramirez & Jim Campbell, published by Black Mask Studios

I have found my niche and apparently it involves scary stories about clowns. Pirouette is a story about one such clown as they are raised in a traveling circus, but the angle to this one is that the clown isn’t really a clown.. well, in the sense that to be a clown refers to being of its own species. The young clown in our story finds out the true existence of their past and does what they can to escape the present they find themself in so that their real past could come and replace it. It is a dark story with no real surprises other than it’s pretty damn good. 


Red Mother by Jeremy Haun & Danny Luckert, published by Boom! Studios

As most psychological horror stories go, Red Mother is pretty damn near the top of the list of ones you should be aware of. It’s a slice-of-life story of a woman who loses her eye and her lover in the blink of… well.. an eye. The story is one hundred percent my jam. It is a well-examined character study and the scares hold no bars. It’s a slow burn at times, but it is also simultaneously an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride to the end. As probably one of the more consistently scary ongoing horror titles being published right now, I’d consider this one as best in its class.



Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV, Werther Dell’Edera & Miquel Muerto, published by BOOM! Studios

A book with such an awful title shouldn’t be allowed to be this good. But here we are, nearly done with my long box of favorites and I’m telling you how much I loved reading a comic called Something is Killing the Children. Book title nuances aside, this series has been strong since it’s very first issue. The writing, the artwork, pretty much everything was hitting on all cylinders from that initial panel that introduced our cast of characters. This is a horror comic with a purpose and something very specific to say about things. If you decide to pick this one up (and I strongly urge that you do if you haven’t already) then I promise you that you won’t regret it.


Undone by Blood: or The Shadow of A Wanted Man by Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson, Sami Kivela, Jason Wordie & Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, published by Aftershock Comics

A girl with a gun (and an Old West novel in her pocket) is out for revenge against the man who killed her family. Her name is Ethel and her badassery is no match for anyone in this neo-western story told in an inventive simultaneous format depicting the consequences of letting vengeance be your co-pilot. I should be honest and say that westerns aren’t typically my jam, but this comic proved my intuitions wrong by hooking me in with it’s unique approach to story. 


Wasted Space by Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman & Jason Wordie, published by Vault Comics

If you are hungry for a read that merges metatextual narratives with theology, politics, and divine intervention then this series is probably something you should have on your to-read pile. Billy Bane, Molly, Dust and the whole gang are characters you’d cast in a story meant to live longer than it’s shelf life. This story has only just reached beyond its midpoint and we have so much left to learn, all while having so much already told. It’s a dense read. It’s a fun read. Hilarious, thought-provoking, and about as clever as any science fiction about space junkies nicknamed Alpha and Omega (along with their mouthy Fuq-bot) you could ask for. Hayden Sherman is a phenomenal illustrator and he is doing career-defining work here with this Moreci script.

THE SHORT BOX


Blue in Green by Ram V, Anand RK, Aditya Bidikar, Tom Muller, published by Image Comics

Holy Smokes! This book is fantastic. I don’t really like specifying a number one for the year, but if I had to do it this year I’d definitely include Blue in Green in my top three. This visually frightening graphic novel provides opportunity for the companionship of the impeccable writing of Ram V with the unrecognizably brilliant art of Anand RK. After recently read Graffity’s Wall for the first time I was not prepared for what he does here in BiG. It’s a story about an aging jazz musician who seeks to find his passion and connection to success with the demons and the family history that apparently comes with it. This is more of a nuanced and layered story of characters rather than it is a horror story about a jazz musician, but then it is also everything and all at once. My favorite page layouts from this year (and maybe the last several) come from this book. Words of advice: when you see these names on a book it’s in your better interest to just go ahead and pick it up. This comic gets awarded the “breakout creative team” award. 


Canopus by Dave Chisholm, published by Scout Comics

It is a shame that this series has not been collected in trade so that readers can experience this story for all its intended. Full disclosure here— I did not know what I was in for when I began reading this sci-fi story about a woman lost, not only in space, but also in identity. Canopus is a story about forgiveness, it’s about self-identity, and it’s about perseverance. This miniseries was a highlight for me in a year plagued with so much dread. It was a bright light that not only served purpose to entertain but to also seize its moment and teach me something. This comic gets awarded the “best comic that taught me a thing or two about living” award.


Gunning for Ramirez by Nicolas Petrimaux, published by Image Comics

And the winner for the “most fun I had while reading a comic” award goes to.. Gunning for Ramirez. Here we have fast cars, hot tempers and kick-ass facial hair.. oh, and one really badass vacuum cleaner. Jacques is a vacuum repairman (or is he?) with not much to say (cuz he’s mute.. or is he?) with a whole lot of people who seem to think he’s a hitman named Ramirez. With built in “commercials” throughout the story disguised as advertisements for products within the story, it goes without saying that this book is paced so wild that it needed to give itself periodic moments for reader to catch their breath. Serious fun read here! 


HoteLL by John Lees, Dalibor Talajić, Lee Loughridge & Kaare Andrews, published by AWA Upshot

This title wins for the scary AF book of the year. It’s about a hotel on Route 66 called The Pierrot Courts Hotel, and the things that happen during this four-issue read are what nightmares are made of. I don’t scare easily but this book made me lose some sleep. Each of the four issues are self-contained stories but by the end of the book they all come together and knock you off your feet. Fans of Ice Cream Man should definitely check this one out, but truthfully.. this is a story that all horror fans should read. This comic gets the “scariest AF” award.


Ice Cream Man by W.Maxwell Pronce, Martin Morazzo & Chris O’Halloran, published by Image Comics

Speaking of horror.. I can’t speak on the genre without mentioning this title. These latest issues from W Maxwell Prince and Martin Morazzo have improved upon their already flawless format for the series. As essentially an anthology of stories held together by the title character and his cameo appearances, these slice-of-life horror tales are sometimes uncomfortable and often disturbing. As often compared to The Twilight Zone, this ongoing comic has the ingredients to be included on the must-have lists of many for as long as the creators want. An easy winner for the “best horror comic” award.


Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy José, Belardino Brabo, Paul Mounts, Mike Hawthorne, Mark Morales, Butch Guice, Tom Palmer, Marc Deering & Alex Ross, published by Marvel

Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s run with Hulk has been character defining. The period of issues last year were some of the best mainstream comics that I’ve ever read. This year things shifted slightly as we bore witness to Joe Fixit surfacing in ways he previously hadn’t, and an epic battle between the Immortal and The One Sent To Save Us All. The One Below All, The Green Door, The Thinking Man.. so many things from Banner’s past in an epic story that will be referenced by the story’s that follow it for years to come. A truly disgusting (in a good Joe Bennett way) and very fun read with one of the characters that got me reading comics at all. Easily, this wins the award for “best mainstream comic” of the year.


The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott by Zoe Thorogood, published by Avery Hill

This is a debut graphic novel about an artist exhibiting her debut art gallery.. as she is going blind. It’s an incredibly touching story about finding the gears that move your feet. It’s a book that tells it’s readers to not be afraid to try something that is hard, or that may feel slightly too out of reach. The art in this book is so incredibly inventive that it (not even joking) inspired me to pick up a pen and paper after I finished reading it. Billie Scott easily wins the “best book that’s most likely to get you creating something” award. Zoe Thorogood has a bright future ahead. Be on the lookout for more work from her. 


Kill Lock by Livio Ramondelli, published by IDW

A series that largely got overlooked from IDW this year was written and illustrated by one of their main Transformers artists, Livio Ramondelli. Visually not far off from his other work with IDW, Kill Lock reads much different. It is a story of four robots convicted of irredeemable crimes and sentenced to be linked together by something called the “Kill Lock”. Ultimately, this means that if one of them die then they all do. Immediately, these robots steal your heart and demand your attention with the quips and snark that would make Futurama’s Bender proud. Winner of the “best comic with swearing robots” award.


Nobody is in Control by Patrick Kindlon, Paul Tucker & Wallace Ryan, published by Black Mask

2020 was the year that paranoia and conspiracies were considered normal by your average person. And if that triggers a panic attack.. I’m sorry and I share this experience with you, but this Black Mask title is a gem not to be missed. What starts out as an investigative response to a passerby in someones vacation home turns into a wild and bizarre escape from an unknown pursuer. As chase gives way the adversarial new acquaintance gives our story’s main character a plethora of fun facts by way of conspiracy and supposed truths. The script is insane in this book, and is equally matched with artwork from Paul Tucker as he flexes his fingers around the various pens necessary in order to create the splash page layouts full of the colorful commentary from said adversary. Winner of being “the most 2020 literal” award.


One Story by Gipi, published by Fantagraphics 

I read this graphic novel twice and I’m still not sure I fully understand what it is about. And what I mean by this is that with as many layers used by Gipi, both in dialogue and in illustration, it is nearly impossible to digest everything all at once. Italian cartoonist, Gipi, tells this story through dual narratives in several different illustrative styles. As inventive as it is imaginary this book is a somber yet truth-telling narrative of how our choices we make now affect the things much further than you’d imagine. Technically, this was released in it’s native language in 2013. Fantagraphics allowed the audience of the book to grow exponentially as it released the english translation this year. Winner of the “best damn watercolor attempt at a sunset” award, the oversized book’s format is exceptional and presents it’s interior painted and sketched elements something to behold.