Top Shelf's 2011 Release Schedule Previewed

As long-time readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of Top Shelf as a publisher. They bring a very wide mix of comic styles to the table, offering something for just about everyone. Though I may not always love every book of theirs that I read, I'm rarely disappointed.

Top Shelf recently revealed their 2011 release schedule. Here's some comments from me on what looks interesting and what I'm hoping to read in 2011, finances willing!

January and February bring some new printings of solid books, such as Essex County (in the running as part of a Canadian heritage program), From Hell, and Tricked. That's probably as good of an excuse as any for me to get out my copy of From Hell and start reading it. (I admit its size is a bit daunting while I have limited reading time.)

March brings the first of the new releases I'm looking forward to, Incredible Change-Bots Two. I'm a big fan of Jeffrey Brown (even if he roots for the wrong hockey team), though I mostly know him from his autobiographical work. I recently read the first Incredible Change-Bots (also available in March with a new printing), and it was as good as its name. Brown might not be the first name you associate with snarky comments, references and parody, but he pulls all three things off quite well in the first volume. Now he's back for more, with the added bonus that his drawing skills have significantly improved over time. I'm eagerly looking forward to this one, and it's probably my number one pick of the new Top Shelf books this year.

Also due in March is Night Animals, which promises two wordless stories from an up and coming Belgian artist, Brecht Evens. This is more like an oversize comic book than a graphic novel, but I've enjoyed the other imports I've read from Top Shelf so far, and this looks like another good addition to the list.

May looks to be other good month, with Surrogates author (and Top Shelf staff member) Robert Venditti debuting a new book with Mike Huddleston, The Homeland Directive. Looking at the bleaker side of the present rather than the future this time, the book appears to have a conspiracy angle that questions privacy versus security. Given Vendetti's strong ability to look at all sides of an issue, I'm betting the debate is a lot murkier than in most thrillers with a hero on the run, making for a more complex (and therefore, more interesting) story.

Also in May is a collaboration between Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin, Gingerbread Girl. I'm sold on this one based on the creative team alone, but if you need more details, it's about an eccentric young woman who may have invented a sister for herself. If you need any further convincing, remember that this is the husband-wife team that brought us Banana Sunday, still one of my favorite books. To coin a phrase, 'Nuff Said!

I'm a little confused as to why Top Shelf's Free Comic Book Day offering is listed in June, but they're using the time to kick off the Top Shelf Kid's Club, giving a bit of cohesion to the several kid-friendly titles published by the company. I am of course not the target market for these titles, but I've read two of James Kochalka's editions for all ages, and I thought they were quite good, working for youngsters but also offering a story adults won't get tired of having to re-read to their children.

Two of the June kids releases look like they may have some crossover appeal to adults, Okie Dokie Donuts Story One byChris Eliopoulos and Pirate Penguin vs Ninja Chicken Book One by Ray Friesen. Eliopouslos's work definitely has all ages appeal--he's dealing with donuts, the junk food that eats like a breakfast. In the case of the latter book, if Pirate Penguins fighting Ninja Chickens doesn't appeal to you, then frankly, I just don't know you. [Section edited. Can you believe there are TWO Chris Eliopouloses making comics that sound cool?]

I know a lot of people will get excited about new Alan Moore with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol III) Century #2 1969 (I'm not quite sure that title is long enough), but I am more geeked out about Nate Powell's new book, Any Empire, also due in July. Powell's zine collections are excellent work, and his book Sounds of Your Name was a big impact on my decision to change my career path for reasons too lengthy to go into here. It's great to see a zine creator (who still makes zines, by the way) doing so well, and I look forward to reading this newest book.

August the Month of Kochalka Cute, with two books in his all-ages stable seeing release. I thought the mix of photos with typical primitive art from Kochalka was a cool effect in the first book, so I am eagerly awaiting its sequel, Dragon Puncher Island. Cats in robot suits punching things! How can you go wrong? There's also the 5th Johnny Boo book, Johnny Boo Does Something. There's definitely a little bit of a cynical streak in the Johnny Boo comics, so I'm curious to see what this doing something entails. Will we see Johnny Book try to bring about world peace? Nah--it's far more likely he'll end up having an ectoplasmic bowel movement. Either way, it's sure to be entertaining.

The Korgi series also gets a new volume, for those keeping up with Christian Slade's characters. I haven't tried this one yet, but given how good the other Top Shelf all ages books have been, I might this time.

October is another good month for all ages titles, with Owly going to Book 6 and a story of vampires by Jess Smart Smiley called Upside Down Book 1 A Vampire Tale. These titles look every bit as good as the ones I used to read as a child, and I'm glad to see a quality publisher like Top Shelf taking the time to create comic readers at an early age that can slowly move up the ranks of their books as they age.

Top Shelf ends their publishing year with November's Ax Volume 2. Ax is about as far away as you can get from an all-ages title, if my browsing of the first volume is any indication. We tend to think of manga as being either boy's superheros or girl's high school dramas, but there's as much variety in eastern comics as there are in western comics, if you only know where to look. Top Shelf does, and they're bringing them to the attention of English readers, which can only be a good thing in the long run, even if some of the stories aren't the most pleasant to read. Combined with Viz's signature series, it's been a great time for manga readers looking for titles that are outside the usual shojo-shonen box.

That's what looked interesting to me from Top Shelf for 2011. I can't wait to start reading! What are you most looking forward to from them? Tell me in the comments!