A Year End Thing
I am aware that it’s already 2011. Fully aware.
More than anything else, I’ll probably remember 2010 as the year when I sort of almost actually didn’t become a writer for the New York Times:
Of course I don’t write for the Times, but it’s a pretty incredible thing to find that something I wrote is being quoted at all, and by people that I respect. Discovering this a day before my 31st birthday was a nice touch, too. When I hit 30, I sort of asserted to all of my friends that I would start doing something related to comics in the following decade, to get to do a thing by 40. And while I’ve hardly won any Eisners (and I don’t really plan t0), it’s been one hell of a year. In March I finally got this here site going and not long after, I picked up my first ever paid writing gig at ComicsAlliance, at which point my life entered an endless stream of surreality as my favorite comics site become my employer and the people whose work I’ve been reading on the Internet for years turned into real people, and friends to boot. The whole thing has been incredibly exciting and humbling, and I’m totally grateful to new friends and anyone who has supported me on this stuff in the past year. I’m not doing a list of names, but you know who you are.
Thank you, twitter. You made it all possible. I feel weird about saying that, but it’s true.
Oh my god are you as bored reading this as I am writing it I don’t like doing this at all let’s talk about more interesting things than me like COMICS.
I don’t have a “Best of 2010″ list since I don’t really care about putting one out, but what I do have is a year of comics reading that includes stuff that didn’t just come out this year, and I’d be irresponsible to my own experience as a reader if I didn’t take the time to record at least some of it right up in here. I also have a Theory/Taxonomy that I will share. It is for the smiles. All in due time (next post), my friends.
I read a bunch of books this year that are worth remembering. First off is three different war comics.
Charley’s War could easily be the most important comic that I’ve read all year, and this was most definitely a year of reading some war comics. There are two big things that really struck me about this comic. The first is that I came to realize that the only war comics worth reading are the ones that do anything but glorify war. There is always action, and combat is a necessary historical backdrop for the story, but what should lie at the heart of all of these stories is that war is always ridiculous, terrible. There may be justified wars, but there’s no good reason to suggest that warfare should ever be celebrated. Charley’s War does anything but. It’s a deeply layered takedown of World War I, from the industrial horrors of the war itself to the social inequities inherent in the prosecution of it. There was no honor in this war; Pat Mills and Joe Colquohoun remind you of it every step of the way.
Oh yeah, what was the second thing that stuck me? Something that we should always remember about comics: simple presentation does not naturally imply simple content. Charley’s War is a very straightforward book, and without the appropriate historical context and understanding, you might be dumb enough to read it as the story of a guy in a war whose friends keep dying. Reading the collections with historical background, additional essays and commentary by the creators make the reading experience complete. Charley’s War is all kinds of historically accurate and this year I learned more than I ever have before about World War I simply by following the journey of one Charley Bourne through The War to End All Wars.
Blazing Combat blew my mind. This comic was so inherently anti-war that the army basically shut it down after four issues. The only thing this book has to say is that war is always terrible and people always die, and it attempted to say so while the U.S. was getting embroiled in the Vietman War. Most of the stories are written by Archie Goodwin, but are duties are handled by a whole mess of the greats, including John Severin, Gene Colan, Wally Wood and Alex Toth, Goddamn Alex Toth. This book is worth buying just for the 3-4 Toth stories. I wrote a bit about one of the pages in this book a few months back. You can check that out right here.
I probably read this last year, but I read it again this year, so screw you. We all hit a point in our worthless salad days when we read something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and we understood the whole magical realism thing and it made us feel thoughtful and cultured to have read 100 Years of Solitude and whatever except that as wonderful as it is, it hits so far from home. Fred Chao’s Johnny Hiro is magical realism for all of us, especially New Yorkers. He creates a city where everything seems possible, dinosaurs roam the streets of Manhattan and if you want Michael Bloomberg to help you with something, all you have to do is call him on the phone. He’ll be there. Not counting last week and the blizzard and all that.
Johnny Hiro is one of the most relatable heroes that I’ve read in anything for a long time, probably because he’s nothing more than a guy who’s trying to get by and make his girlfriend happy in a city that seems committed to denying him the success that he dreams of. It’s pretty clear that whatever that success may be doesn’t truly matter, because he’s got Mayumi and she’s pretty much the best.
Other things that you’ll see in this book that seem perfectly natural on the streets of NYC: Giant robots, ninjas, Judge Judy and the cast of Night Court, samurai bathroom stall attacks. Do you need more convincing? This book is great. Pick it the hell up.
I’m one of those people who fully digs anthropomorphized animals, but I don’t dig it in the creepy way, which leaves me with very few outlets, but my limited options are made of pure quality. Blacksad is some classic hard-boiled noir business, reminiscent of the best detective fiction. The three stories in the hardcover I got my hands on deal with racism, communism, Hollywood dirt and The Bomb, and they’re all fantastic. This book also has some of the best art I’ve seen this year. I was gonna do a thing on one of the pages from this book as a “Perfect Pages” post, but then I realized that every page in this book is perfect. The key to a good anthropomorphic story for me is the facial expressions, the body language, matching the right species to the right personality. It’s all here. It’s not for creepers, it’s for people with taste.
My favorite book of the year that didn’t involve ninjas, punching, superheroes or anything of the like. Market Day is a comics masterpiece, and a landmark work of Jewish storytelling. Anytime it comes up that I’m Jewish and I’m into comics, someone inevitably asks me if I’ve read Maus. My hope is that sometime in the very near future, people will default to asking me about Market Day, because this is the book they should be reading. I wrote a gushing ode to it over here.
Yeah, I don’t like Maus that much. I didn’t really like X-Force in the 90’s, but for some reason, that doesn’t bother anybody as much. Don’y ask me why.
King City/Won Ton Soup/Orc Stain
My favorite thing about fiction in general is the notion of creating universes. The best works of fiction for me, realistic or otherwise, do a really good job of creating a compelling universe for me to get into as quickly as possible. That’s easily my favorite thing about these comics from Graham and Stokoe: their worlds are fully-formed. They’ve got their own languages (these guys are boss at coining slang), cultures and unknown histories. They make me want to become an anthropologist just to investigate more about the societies big and small that they’ve invented. Graham’s King City is the most fascinating urban landscape you can possibly imagine, replete with sight gags and puns so good they make a lifelong pun hater into a lover (I HATE PUNS). And his characters, they float on through. That’s the best way I can describe it. Stokoe creates expansive worlds, filthy, messed up planets, and the best recipes that’ll never exist. I’m not done with Orc Stain yet, but the art is something else. I love the hell out of Won Ton Soup and I can’t get enough of the whole badass vagabond chef thing. I hope there’s more to come out of this.
I think what I love most about these two artists and whatever school it is they’re bringing to their work has such a unique attitude and personality to it. If there was ever a set of comics that I could liken to someone playing jazz, it would be these. I’m going to keep rereading them so until I’ve memorized every damn note.
Probably the best ongoing that I’m still reading. Scalped is a book about brokenness: the most unfortunate victims of a broken system that failed them from the start, a proud heritage nearly broken by that same system, broken families, promises, dreams, and pretty much everything else. Jason Aaron, R.M. Guera and others have created something remarkable and lasting, a painful, heartbreaking crime drama that somehow manages to be infused with hope. The ongoing plot of this book is one thing, but the true gems of Scalped of the single issue stories about life on the res. Issue #35 is one of those, and it has one of the best pages I’ve seen all year. I won’t waste time getting into it; look at it for a few minutes and then ask yourself why the hell you’re not reading this book already. (Click to enlarge).
The Rise of Arsenal
I’m confident that I’ve said everything I can say about this wonderful book already. My internal monologue reviewed issues #2 and #3 right here and here, I did some jokey analysis of the series in general here, and I wrote it up for ComicsAlliance’s Worst Comics of 2010 list. And then, of course, there’s the sketchbook. My last parting gift to what was easily the most entertaining comic of 2010 is this, one more addition to the sketchbook: Arsenal with Bill the Cat by Nathan Schreiber:
Believe it or not, I’m actually not done writing about this. In my world, there are no dead horses to kick. Only dead cats to love. Wait and see….
There are many things that I could say about this comic, and I plan to down the line, but for now? This and only this:
Some fast ones:
The Bulletproof Coffin: If you’re not inside it, you’re in the wrong place.
Hellboy & B.P.R.D.: There’s no hype here, no PR machine, no press conferences, no big things happening at cons, no major events, pointless crossovers (Hellboy getting down with Beasts of Burden is anything but pointless), no claims that “nothing will ever be the same again!” even though they keep changing. It’s nothing more than people who are the best continuing to do what they do best.
Gotham Central: The best televised police drama that has never been on TV. And Batman.
Pluto: There are three books that I’ve read in my life that have caused me to have an intense physical reaction while reading them: Crime and Punishment, The World According to Garp, and now this. In the first two examples, the intensity happened during one very specific moment in each book. Pluto had eight volumes, and something gripped me like that while reading each and every one of them.
Superman: Grounded: Typo.
Detroit Metal City: It might be about a sweet singer-songwriter who parades around as an evil metal god, and on that level it’s all kinds of hilarious, but it’s really about that person inside all of us that we never let out and the brilliant things that might happen when we finally do.
Daytripper: The real South American magical realism. Ba and Moon made a thing of beauty, a stunningly gorgeous and heartfelt meditation on the meaning of life and family, and somehow managed not to be pretentious as hell while doing it.
Scott Pilgrim #6: Comics Internet Champion Laura Hudson says everything there is to say right here, and I won’t even attempt to match that. I will say this much: I picked up and read the full run of this comic over the course of this year, and the thing that I love most about this book is the way that Bryan Lee O’Malley draws us in with the cultural trappings of our childhoods only to teach us some really powerful lessons about growing up.
Franken-Castle: I wrote an ode to it right here not too long ago. I don’t even like the Punisher that much, but I ate this up like a 1950’s youngster at a badass monster movie double feature at the matinee. Rick Remender and Tony Moore know exactly what they’re doing (the other artists were great too, of course). Keep following these two. Don’t forget: Monster Punisher flying a dragon mounted with a gun and shooting evil samurai. Don’t ever forget this.
Phonogram: The Singles Club: Good enough to get me way into Brit-pop, and it’ll certainly do the same to you.
Thor: The Mighty Avenger: Go back, look at the facial expressions. That’s it. Marvel is crazy stupid if they don’t see the long-term business potential of releasing the whole thing. I gave it some love in ComicsAlliance’s best of 2010 list right here.
Peepo Choo: If you don’t get the joke, then you’re probably the butt of it.
Grandville: See under Blacksad. Similar brilliance, different flavor, equally delicious.
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less: I did one hell of a long interview with Sarah Glidden about this book right here, and I’m prouder of that than just about anything I’ve written all year. I left myself and my politics out of the writing, of course. It was an intense and personal read for me, and I’ve been playing with a post here for a while using the backmatter of that interview. She makes that place beautiful, and it is, in its very unique way. But she brings a certain type of person’s certain type of struggle to life, and I hope people use it to start some very necessary conversations.
“Um, actually…you forgot Parker: The Outfit.”
No I didn’t forget it, idiotic imaginary commenter that I’ve fabricated in this post so I can hate you. Darwyn Cooke just created something so perfect that I’m terrified that Parker himself might come out of those pages and kick my ass if my writing isn’t good enough. Read Tucker Stone’s interview with Darwyn here. It’s an essential part of the experience.
One last thing.
I haven’t been writing for all that long and while I feel pretty good about where it’s gone so far, my voice isn’t there yet. I feel like a pubescent 14 year old whose voice is cracking but every so often he gets a glimpse at how he’ll sound someday (god, this is terrible imagery). I will claim that voice I’m dedicated to that and it’s a promise I’ve made to myself. I love doing this and I’m committed as hell to keep getting better at it. When it’s been good, it’s been a great time. At the very least, I want to be able to give you some healthy belly laughs. At the most? I look forward to finding out.
Hope you’ll stick around, I guess? Oh, and sorry about the weird formatting on the “war of the trenches” entry. Cant seem to fix that for some reason.
Read Sean Witzke. He’s the best.
I haven’t edited this yet.
Are you still here? Did you stick around for the hugs? Here you go: