January 4, 2021

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |  

Rob's Favorite Comics of 2020 Part 1: The Short List of a Crappy Year



Well, here we are at the end of 2020. What a year. I don't think I need to go into why. I personally was very fortunate--I'm still employed, I did not get sick in 2020 and neither did anyone in my family. We were very blessed, and I can't thank God enough for that. Many, many others in the US and elsewhere were not so fortunate. Even as we move into a new year, things look a long way from the "normal" we were used to.

Despite how awful 2020 was as a year, it still featured a lot of great comics. While I did spend a lot of time going back to old favorites like the first run of What If... and old Marvel horror work, just to name a few, I still read just over 150 different things year. Even better, I think I did a better job of knowing what I might or might not like. And while I missed out on so many things (just didn't make it to Bowie, for example, as it got hung up at the library), I'm really pleased to report that I came in with only 15% of the things I read with a 2020 date that I didn't care for, and of those, I think maybe about 5 were "Oh God, My Eyes!" which I think is a personal best. (No, I'm not naming them here. Maybe if we get together after a con day or something, should cons ever come back.)

So that left me with well over 100 books that ranged from "I liked this" to "I love this!" and while I'd love to talk a bit about all of them, that's not much of a shortlist. So, like last year, I set a few cutoff numbers, trying to get to roughly 25% for my short list, of which 16 make up my 2020 Favorites List, which I'll reveal tomorrow. It's not an ideal system, but it works for me and it's scalable to however much I read in a given year.

The TLDR version is that it' really means something if you're on the list today or tomorrow. I think a lot about this, and I take it (probably too) seriously. Any book you find below or in the Favorites list is something I'd recommend without hesitation. They're amazing books from amazing creators, and feature a very wide variety of publishers and styles, which is just how I like it.

As something a little different, and to give this list a little more oomph, I'm including a sentence or two as to why it made my favorites. It's almost like I wrote them to be things you could put in a tweet so creators can promote themselves. I'm sure it's 100% coincidence.

Without further ado, here we go! These are in alphabetical order, as per usual.

Rob's 2020 Short List:


750cc Down Lincoln Highway by Bernarad Chambaz and Barroux, published by NBM
Anyone who's ever taken a road trip will enjoy this memoir, but it's especially cool for those of us who've driven sections of the first major US Highway over the decades.

Be Gay Do Comics by the Contributors to The Nib, published by IDW
A ton of amazing queer creators (several of whom are friends) tell their stories, stories of what it's like to be LGBT in today's world, and even a historical tale or two. I read most of these online and this is a great cross-section of The Nib's solid content and its wide variety of styles and contributors.

Billionaire Island by Mark Russell, Steve Pugh, Chris Chuckry, and Rob Steen, published by Ahoy
Hopefully not a prediction of the future, this series takes the inequality of the world head on, in the same way Swift used to do so effectively.

Bug Boys by Laura Knetzger, published by Random House
A really cute set of stories of two bugs who are best friends and have adventures together. Reminds me fondly of Kochalka's all-ages work, in both content and style.

Conan the Barbarian by Jim Zub, Roge Antonio, Robert Gill, and others, published by Marvel
Jim Zub gets how to write like Robert E. Howard without sounding like a purple-prose machine and his art partners really do a great job making one of my favorite pulp-era characters come to life.

Cryptoid by Eric Haven, published by Fantagraphics
A strange, wordless book that's a hallmark of Fanta's style. Watching how the pages slowly tell a narrative was a real joy.

Devil Within by Stephanie Phillips, Maan House, Dee Cunnniffe, and Troy Petreri, published by Black Mask
A breakout work for Phillips, this is yet another increasingly thrilling horror tale about a model couple whose lives go horribly wrong. House's art style really nails the normal to abnormal shifts quite well, and bonus points for the team using a lesbian couple here.

Dracula, Motherfucker by Alex deCampi and Erica Henderson, published by Image
DeCampi and Henderson empower Dracula's "brides" and put them on equal footing with their generally jerky "master." Henderson's linework really shines here.

Ex Mag by Various Creators, edited by Peow
An indie anthology? I'm in! A lot of great new creators alongside familiar names. I hope this gets a nice, long run.

Exorsisters by Ian Boothby, Gisele Lagace, Pete Pantazis, and Taylor Esposito, published by Image
The pair are back to trying and solve more haunting issues, but things are going from bad to worse in this lighthearted, but still strongly-plotted horror story with OEL manga style art from Lagace.

Faithless Brian Azarello and Maria Llovett Boom!
The story sometimes wanders a bit, but the draw here--literally--is Llovett's amazing artwork. A great book for fans of erotic horror.

Familiar Face Michael DeForge Drawn & Quarterly
As he ages, DeForge's social commentary within his comics grows stronger and stronger--and even more harsh. In this world where identity shifts, finding who you really are is the hardest thing of all.

GI Joe by Paul Allor, Chris Evanhuis, Brittany Peer, Emma Vieceli, and Neil Uyetake, published by IDW
While continuing to publish more traditional Joe stories, the best of them is Allor and company's reimagining of the scenario, with COBRA running the show and the Joes fighting an underground war. Not normally my thing, but Allor's done a spectacular job of making this story work, alongside some great artistic collaborators.

Goblin Girl by Moa Romanova, published by Fantagraphics
A really solid autobio-style comic, centered around trying to recover while outside influences cause more harm than help. The ending is really powerful without being dramatic.

Harleen by Stjepan Sejic and Gabriela Downie, published by DC
The road to hell is paved with good intentions--and stunningly beautiful art. Been a fan of Sejic for years now and so happy to see him working on such a high-profile gig as artist *and* writer.

Ice Cream Man by W. Maxwell Prince, Martin Morazzo, Chris O'Halloran, Good Old Neon, and others, published by Image
This strange little (almost) one-team horror anthology hits all my old EC comics vibes, and just keeps getting weirder and better as time goes on. There's a long-term story, but it's also cool to just read for the individual tales. Extra props for the Quarantine Comix series, too. 

Marvel Action Chillers by Jeremy Whitley, Seth Smith, Gretel Lusky, Derek Charm, Nahuel Ruiz, Valeria Lopez, and others, published by IDW
Panel Pal Jeremy Whitley gets together with a host of artists to add a little horror to the all-ages mix, and it works brilliantly. This was my favorite, but really, all of IDW's Marvel comics are must-reads in my opinion. 

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, Mike Mignola, Jerry Ordway, and others, published by Dark Horse
It's been years since I enjoyed a Neil Gaiman comic, but his steering the adaptation ship is hitting me right in the "started learning myths at age 6" feels. Artwork is spectacular, too.

Our Dreams at Dusk by Shimanami Tasogare, published by Seven Seas
This comic about being an outsider, particularly a queer one, is the comic I wish I'd had growing up.

Penultiman by Tom Peyer, Alan Robinson, Lee Louridge, Rob Steen and others, published by Ahoy
A man who has everything on Earth but is terrible on his home planet makes matters worse by going back, only to find a robot is better than he is at being a hero. A wonderful send-up of Superman.

Thirteenth Floor Vol 2 by Alan Grant, John Wagner, and Jose Ortiz, published by Rebellion/2000 AD
The killer computer gets a retail job as this fun horror series is reprinted, in all its gory glory.

Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai and Tom Luth, published by IDW
This classic just keeps being one of the best comics out there, as Sakai finds ways to integrate decades of history without feeling like the series will collapse under its own weight of continuity. 

Wicked Things by John Allison, Max Sarin, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell, published by Boom! Studios
I'm not quite sure how all these characters mix together, but Allison's dialogue is just a total delight, and Sarin's linework perfectly captures the humor in every page.

Woods by Mike Freiheit, published by Birdcage Bottom
A couple trying to recover from a nervous breakdown and the ominous nature of America after the 2016 election move out to a remote home to try and regroup, but neither can give up the demons that haunt them in this well-constructed psychological horror piece.