Thursday, January 31, 2008

The preliminary meta-list

Okay, here it is: the top 10 comics/graphic novels, based on every best of 2007 list I could come across. Bear in mind the rules I laid out earlier; also bear in mind that I excluded any list which drew only from a narrow slice of the comics industry (eg, manga, the big four publishers, etc.). Each critic was given 550 points; these points were attributed by weight for lists with rankings (the points were evenly split on unranked lists). These are the raw point totals--it's just a coincidence that Exit Wounds got such a nice, round number.

I'll update these lists once the new issue of the Comics Journal is out. I'll also expand the list to, I don't know, the top 100 or so (there were over 400 titles getting votes, FWIW). I'll also break down the lists a little further as well. But for now, here's the top 10:

1. Exit Wounds (1000)
2. Shortcomings (922)
3. All-Star Superman (802)
4. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets (668)
5. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (659)
6. Criminal (640)
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 (541)
8. Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories (426)
9. The Immortal Iron Fist (357)
10. The Arrival (353)

HUGE year for Drawn & Quarterly, eh? Marvel and Dark Horse are the only other publishers with multiple titles in the top 10. I'll leave the analysis for later, but I would like to point out that my predictions weren't totally laughable. At least for the top 10.

Okay, made the decision

-Okay, I guess I'll go ahead and release the best of 2007 meta-list later in the week early next week, even though it won't include the data from the Comics Journal year-in-review issue (which Dirk Deppey notes is a couple weeks away at a minimum). I'll probably just release a top 10 for now, and then make a more comprehensive post on the list later, with breakdowns on print vs. internet, etc.

-Man, right after I write something about how the grossly unprofessional comics shops is mostly a relic of the past, I read something like this (be sure to check out the comments for additional stories of a similar nature). Two thoughts occur: first, I've obviously been pretty lucky to have good, professional comics shops to patronize in all the places I've lived. I was already aware of this, of course, but it is worrying to think that such ridiculous, unprofessional behavior might be more widespread than I'd thought.

Second, I wonder to what extent comics shop proprietors are aware of the kinds of things their employees are saying to customers. It's a concern for every small business, but the role of fan discourse in the comics industry is disproportionately high.* Anyway, I haven't really given this subject much thought in the recent past, mostly because I almost always interact with the shop's owner when I go in to buy comics. Anyone out there have any thoughts on comics shop employees?

*And yet it's not as important as some people think it is--remember Jeph Loeb, etc. We need a name for this, like the Loeb Paradox or Loeb Syndrome.

-Totally unrelated to comics: I'm going to try to start making picks for the bigger MMA cards, at least until the quality of these picks are too shameful to continue (my informal picks for the past couple of cards have been waaaay off). I'll start with this Saturday's UFC 81. Here are the picks:

Tim Sylvia vs. Antonio Nogueira: Nogueira won't take Sylvia down, and he won't beat him on his feet either. Sylvia wins a long, boring decision.

Frank Mir vs. Brock Lesnar: Man, MMA bloggers really don't want Lesnar to win; in fact, some seem to be personally offended by this match. It's pretty silly to focus on Lesnar's career as a professional wrestler, since it's a vocation he only reluctantly chose. I think he's too strong, too fast, and too big for Mir. If Lesnar can survive the first round, he'll maul Mir a couple of minutes into the second.

Jeremy Horn vs. Nate Marquardt: I would have preferred to see Marquardt fight his originally scheduled opponent, Thalles Leites. Horn is an okay replacement, but it kind of guarantees the fight going to decision (with Marquardt picking up the win). Should be more interesting and will definitely be shorter than Sylvia-Nogueira, at least.

Rob Yundt vs. Ricardo Almeida: Another fight affected by injury; Almeida was originally scheduled to fight Alan Belcher. I think Almeida wins this one easily (probably by submission), but that's based on an unfamiliarity with Yundt. You never know with unheralded, undefeated fighters--Yundt might be the next Georges St. Pierre. Still, I'm guessing that Almeida's history of fighting world class opponents trumps Yundt's flawless record fighting exclusively in Alaska.

Gleison Tibeau vs. Tyson Griffin: Griffin may be UFC's most entertaining fighter, and he's racked up quite a few quality wins in his career. I don't think Tibeau will offer anything he can't handle; Griffin wins by (T)KO.

Chris Lytle vs. Kyle Bradley: Ugh, I didn't even know this fight was on the card. Bradley looks to be a little too small to win this. Good to see this relegated to the untelevised portion of the show.

Marvin Eastman vs. Terry Martin: I'm going to go with Martin, who I still think has the potential to be a force at middleweight if he'd work on his technique a little more, by (T)KO.

David Heath vs. Tim Boetsch: Another last minute replacement (Heath was scheduled to fight Thomas Drwal). I'm going pick Boetsch under the assumption that, despite being a last minute replacement, he's been training and is in shape.

Keita Nakamura vs. Rob Emerson: I disliked Emerson when he was on The Ultimate Fighter. I like him even less now that I know of his past as a rich teenager who liked to beat up strangers with his friends. I'm not sure how he's remained under a UFC contract for this long, frankly. I presume this fight is at 155; maybe Nakamura will fare better at the lower weight class. He's definitely more talented than Emerson, and should win by submission.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Advice sought

-Best of 2007 meta-list update: The list is done, and has been for a while, but I'm still waiting on the relevant issue of the Comics Journal to hit so I can include all the lists included therein. But my understanding is that the issue in question won't be out until February. Will all of you still care by then? Should I just go ahead and release the current list, and add in the rest later? Please let me know what you think.

-Has DC finally managed to out-hype Marvel with the barrage of Wonder Woman-centric articles hitting newpapers and the internet lately? Granted, some of those pieces probably have little to do with DC's marketing department, but the much detested original was clearly motivated by the recent work by Gail Simone and Jodi Picoult on Wonder Woman. When you throw in the recent Wonder Woman in Playboy controversy (which reached unprecedented heights of lunacy here), it's likely that a number of people (like me) who lead lives which are generally free of Wonder Woman-related thoughts have now spending a few seconds thinking about the character. What exactly DC/Time Warner will gain from this is unclear, given that studio executives seem a little antsy about committing to a Wonder Woman movie.* And what any of this has to do with the increasing numbers of women as creating and reading comics is even less clear. In any event, Heidi MacDonald has the best take on all this.

*Surely I'm not alone in thinking that Marvel's incessant pushing of Captain America to the mainstream press has something to do with attempts to raise the character's public profile, so as to make the inevitable Captain America movie a bigger deal than, say, the upcoming Iron Man film.

-It's quite a relief to see that Achewood is back to, you know, being Achewood again. It's also a good reminder to be thankful that Florida isn't one of the places I might be moving to in the near future. I mean, there are arguably worse options on the table, but at least it's not Florida.

-The problem with staying up late watching old heavy metal videos: sometimes you get songs like this one stuck in your head:

The funny/tragic thing is, I don't even like "good" Kiss. On the other hand, I also saw this, which is was good fun:

Ah, the days when speed metal guitarists could shift between looking like Lemmy and some dude from Slaughter all in the same video. And it's interesting to hear a thrash song where the bass carries the melody at certain points (specifically the chorus). I should really get around to listening to more Overkill one of these days.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why I hate Game Crazy, and why I'm glad most comics stores are much better than it

-The recent (and ongoing) discussion of professional standards among comics retailers reminds me that, of my worst shopping experiences, none have occurred in a comics shop. It's really the video game store which provides the worst customer service experiences these days. Probably the most annoyed I've ever been with employees of any store was at a nearby Game Crazy.* The one guy at work was glued to a Guitar Hero demo, pretty much ignoring us the entire time. Later, another employee came in and stood in front of the section I was trying to browse; he made no effort to get out of my way (perhaps because he was distracted by his attempt to get the on-duty employee to loan him some money). My wife tried to buy a used game, but the employee gave her the wrong disc and didn't try to find the correct one when she pointed this out; he insisted that that was the only disc in the drawer.

I've never experienced anything close to this kind of bad customer service at any comics shop I've ever visited. Add in the store's many other disadvantages (really poor selection, cramped quarters, cardboard displays blocking part of the used section, new games placed behind the counter so that you couldn't really make out what the store had in stock, employee ignoring not only us but the kid (possibly his own) who had been left there for him to babysit), and it makes for as bad a shopping experience as I've ever had in any comics shop anywhere. In fact, I think the problems associated with the "bad comics shop" of 20 years ago most closely resemble those routinely encountered in video game shops today. Consider my biggest complaints about video games stores:

  • Unnecessarily large staffs who still manage to spend more time talking amongst themselves about disliked customers than actually doing any work
  • Clerks more interested in playing game demos than ringing up customers
  • A brazenly anti-kid attitude in a business with a huge juvenile traffic (not really a problem for a lot of comic shops these days; see below)
  • Open partisanship for particular consoles which puts similar attitudes in comics shops to shame**
  • Constant pressure to preorder games
  • Contempt/fear of those whose preferences in video games differ from their own--for some employees, the Wii is basically equivalent to Cancer Comics
  • Complete lack of knowledge about upcoming releases, ordering obscure titles, etc.
  • Extra, unwanted attention paid to any female customers

I rarely experience these things in comics shops, mostly because I think the 90s bust kind of weeded out the most ineptly, unprofessionally-run stores (and those remaining stores fitting this description all but chase off any non-regular unfortunate enough to wander through the doors). It also helps that comics shops are usually locally-owned, with the proprietor taking special interest in the store's day-to-day operations. In contrast, video game stores are, by and large, operated by young men with no vested interest in the longterm success of the store. There's a tradeoff with this kind of absentee corporate ownership though; I think these stores have a much better stock of games because inventory decisions are in the hands of bean-counters rather than guys who think Big Brain Academy is ruining the video game industry. Maybe the comics industry would have been better off with a few EB/Gamestop-type chains. If nothing else, it would encourage independent stores to compete with the chain stores by offering a better selection or better service.***

And I should add that not every video game store is plagued by the problems I've outlined here. The store where I do most of my shopping is way too busy to allow its employees to sit around playing game demos. It does have a couple of part-time employees, neither of whom I see in there on a regular basis, who are far less helpful. But the main guys (yes, they're all guys) do a good job. I'll be sad to leave that store behind.

*Yeah, I know--most of these stores suck. But we had a discount card, so we tried to hit it up as often as possible. This, of course, begs the question "why on earth would anyone pay for a Game Crazy discount card?" We actually have a couple of decent reasons. There's a pretty good branch in Columbia, SC, where I bought a copy of the somewhat hard to find original Digital Devil Saga for PS2. The promise of a 10% discount, combined with a subscription to Nintendo Power (which my wife had been wanting to get for a while), compelled me to sign up for the card. We managed to buy enough games to pay for it in discounts, so it wasn't a bad decision in the long run.

**Admittedly, open PS3/360 partisanship makes more sense than open DC/Marvel partisanship. If you (foolishly) invested $500+ in a console at launch, you have a legitimate stake in seeing that it actually succeeds; otherwise, you blew half a grand on a machine that will mostly gather dust for the next 5 years. Still, that doesn't justify clerks talking up one machine at another's expense, especially if the customer owns the competing console. Incidentally, this happened to my wife recently--a somewhat delusional PS3 fanboy/clerk tried to convince her that we had wasted money in buying an X-Box 360, that developers were about to stop supporting it in favor of the Sony machine, etc. I think this might have been a Game Crazy employee, actually.

***My current store kind of does this, actually, but that's a rather complex tale which I'd prefer to save for another time.

-On the subject of kid-friendly stores: I don't think it really matters anymore for most stores I visit. I mean, it would be nice if it did matter; I'd feel better about the industry if I saw more kids shopping in comics specialty stores. But really, there's not a whole lot that most DM stores can offer to offset the tremendous advantages held by chain stores (most notably location and parental interest). People argue that comics shops should do more to ensure the future health of the industry, but I've never thought it reasonable that a small, marginal business like a comics shop should have to alter its (presumably) successful strategy in order to satisfy pundits.

I mean, there's probably a lot more money to be made by catering to kids, but these situations seem to exist only on a case-by-case basis. In other words, a shop based in a strip mall full of parent-friendly stores with no interest to children (like clothing stores, nail salons, office supply stores, etc.) are likely making a mistake by failing to appeal to kids. Ditto for shops located near schools or subdivisions with lots of kids. However, stores located on college campuses or in inconvenient, nonresidential neighborhoods probably aren't going to get as much juvenile foot traffic. It's silly to expect these stores to invest time and money into appealing to a hypothetical (and quite possibly non-existent) patronage.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lamenting the demise of a good superhero comic

I guess I'm not really surprised that The Order will end with its tenth issue, though I obviously wish it wasn't. That's just kind of the way it goes with superhero comics these days--if a title doesn't involve characters which are at least 10-15 years old, then it's a real struggle to keep it alive. The whole market is so dependent on nostalgia and the ersatz gravitas which it lends to something as silly as dudes wearing spandex and beating up other dudes in spandex. Marvel and DC have been exploiting this mentality for years, flattering fans' nostalgia by tying it to solemn events driven by fears of death and continuity reboots. In this kind of environment, it's no wonder that "fun" is anathema--"fun" comics remind the reader of the inherent goofiness of superheroes, thus suggesting that perhaps life offers more than Spider-Man comics.

But that's not really a fair analysis, is it? There's clearly a large market for comics which seek to do things other than kill off obscure Teen Titans or determine which version of Hawkman is in continuity. Look at the top selling comics for January, if you will. Ultimates 3 #1 for the month, and it promised no continuity reboots or deaths of long-established characters. Now, you could argue that it did promise to set classic characters (for which readers probably had some nostalgia) in a serious, modern, ultra badass kind of setting. After all, that's what the previous two Ultimates series had done. But surely most of those reading it were turned off by the contents of the first issue: Loeb's frenetic script and Madueira's cartoon-influenced art. If sales of subsequent issues drop (and I think most of us expect they will), it should indicate that readers want a tone more similar to the first two series: photorealistic art, a slower pace, a stronger action movie influence.

Even if you dismiss the strong sales for Ultimates 3, there are other high-charting books to consider. The Sinestro Corps War, running in the Green Lantern titles for the past few months, was surprisingly popular. The story didn't run away from the goofier aspects of the Green Lantern concept--if anything, it embraced them by creating six other color-themed groups with basically identical powers. There's no apology, no attempt to cover up the silliness of superheroes by slathering on a layer of solemn reflection of the important legacy of sacrifice or whatever. I mean, for all I know that stuff is in there, but I'm pretty sure that's not what the story was about. Specific plot points aside, this is a story which could have been written in 1970. And yet it was a tremendous success in 2007, appealing to an impatient, jaundiced readership.

So why don't Marvel and DC focus on those kinds of things? Well, I'm not entirely sure that either publisher realized the extent of the demand for these kinds of stories; now that they know, we'll probably see more of this type of thing. But I think we'll still Superman-is-crying-blood-on-the-Captain-America's-shield type of events as well, unfortunately. Stories like World War Hulk and The Sinestro Corps War depend upon execution--and that's all in the creative team's hands. Quesada and Didio can plot all this out in creative summits, but the quality of the book will be largely determined by work done by the writer sitting alone at the computer and the artist sitting alone at the drawing table. For these kinds of events, the creative team is responsible for making a comic which people want to read. If readers had been dissatisfied with the early chapters of the Sinestro storyline, then we wouldn't be talking about it now.

Compare that to the big event which promises that NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME. Massive changes are their own reward; the quality of the comic is secondary. To be fair, some people will buy the upcoming Secret Invasion comic because they expect it to be good. Many others, however, will read it because they've been promised big important events, the kind which adds an illusory weight to comics featuring a guy made out of orange rocks. Which is not to say that Ben Grimm should be limited to desperately, self-consciously "fun" stories where he plays poker with Hercules and chases the Human Torch around the Baxter Building. It's just that Secret Invasion, like Civil War and House of M before it, rely less on the quality of execution and more on the promise that NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME. It's a lower-risk proposition for Marvel/DC to commission these types of comics; all you have to do is set expectations high enough and attach a high profile creative team.

But the success of the Sinestro Corps War and World War Hulk provide hope that DC and Marvel won't limit themselves to big event comics. Dan Didio is already tripping all over himself to promise more of these kinds of stories; Quesada is probably doing the same in private (having fewer reasons to string together mea culpas, at least for now). It remains to be seen if this leads to an increase in quality. The recent Ressurection of Ra's al Guhl event, though more modest in scale, hasn't exactly set the world on fire, and it probably won't improve any of the titles' overall sales like the Sinestro Corps story did. There are a couple of lessons to draw here. The obvious one, the one which Didio seems to cite most often, is that readers don't want long, sprawling crossovers. That's undoubtedly true, but I have to think the appearance (perhaps illusory?) of this being a creator-driven event might be equally important. Didio and Quesada ignore this lesson at their own peril.

Both companies are well aware of the importance of the book trade; no matter what they say in public, it's pretty clear that the powers that be at both companies see a future driven by graphic novels rather than short comic books. One would have to assume that both companies are constantly looking for evergreen stories (especially DC, given the incredible success of titles like Watchmen or Sandman over the years). I feel pretty comfortable speculating that collected event comics have a much shorter shelf life than graphic novels collected works by prestigious or popular creative teams. In the long run, which do you expect to sell better: Infinite Crisis or All-Star Superman? DC has tended to cover both flanks by hyping DM-directed events like the former while releasing potential evergreen titles like the latter. The deterioration of the All-Star line doesn't bode well for the future of this strategy, but maybe the Sinestro Corps War (a potential evergreen) will kick-start it. In contrast, I think Marvel has tried to publish event comics with a veneer of prestige. That was clearly the case with Civil War, a NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME comic gussied up with a clumsy stab at real-world relevance. But the ongoing ill will fostered by the title, along with the publisher's insistence at jumping from mega-event to mega-event, have probably doomed the title to obscurity five or ten years down the line. Perhaps Marvel will try a dual bookstore/comic shop strategy in the future. Keep an eye on the creator-driven Immortal Iron Fist, a strong potential evergreen title. If Marvel keeps supporting it in spite of its modest DM sales, then maybe it has adopted a bifurcated publishing strategy.

But even if there is a somewhat brighter future ahead for creator-driven content, that still doesn't do much for The Order. It was a well-written, well-drawn book which touched on many of the themes and employed many of the tropes which define the most popular comics on the market. You just can't attribute its failure to anything other than the lack of established characters. Some might try to attribute the enduring popularity of classic superheroes to their mythological resonance, but that's the kind of analysis never really convinces me. It's fair enough for DC's characters, but the Marvel universe always seems much messier; it lacks the clear hierarchies of age and prestige which give DC's fictional universe a sheen of classical orderliness. I think we're really talking about nostalgia here, and that's a much more problematic thing for Marvel and DC. It's harder and harder for creative teams to extract anything of value from characters like Batman or Spider-Man, which probably explains the greater excitement surrounding books featuring second and third tier characters like Green Lantern and Iron Fist.

It sure would be nice for either publisher to infuse their comics with some fresh intellectual properties, but creators are rather reluctant to repeat the mistakes of the predecessors by surrendering control of their creations to Marvel and DC. And even when they do create new characters, as Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson did in The Order, it seems that today's readers just aren't interested. Maybe things would have been different if Marvel could have slapped a thin layer of nostalgia on the title by calling it The Champions.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I have no white paper to offer

Man, the big long post I was working on was about FAN OUTRAGE, but I'm afraid that this topic has been supplanted by RETAILER OUTRAGE (best place to follow the link trail is here). I've never fully expounded on the Hyacinth Theory of good retailing here, mostly because it doesn't exist.

Honestly, I've never been completely satisfied with any comics shop. There's always something that annoys me on some level. I really like the owner of my current shop; I consider him a friend and we socialize outside the confines of the store. He stocks most of the art comics I want, including a lot of stuff that's just not up his alley. And he always tries to keep this material in stock, insofar as Diamond allows it. But he just won't buy into the manga revolution. He'll happily order manga for me, but I can't go into the store expecting to see the latest volume of Dragon Head or whatever.

I've kind of just learned to live with this. I make most of my impulse manga buys at the chain bookstores and most of my bulk buys through Amazon. As problems with stores go, this is a pretty minor one; there are plenty of places to buy manga these days. Problems I consider more severe than a poor manga selection include but are not limited to:

-an RPG section with a large and loud following; this is a thousand times worse if a section of the store is set aside for RPG people to play their games AT TOP VOLUME
-employees who sneer at the purchases you make; this is a thousand times worse if said employee has something along the lines of Ultimate Iron Man as their Pick of the Week
-employees who try to sell things to you which are only tangentially related to the things you actually wish to purchase (example: a year or so ago, my brother was buying a stack of romance comics and the cashier tried to sell him that recent issue of Daredevil with the Romita Sr. cover)
-employees who ignore customers directly seeking their attention
-multiple employees behind the counter talking about the Transformers movie when there are customers on the floor who look like they might need some help
-employees/customers having loud conversations which make me question my interest in comics (please note: I'm not talking about conversations about minute points of continuity or the appropriate degree of nipple erectness in a Big Barda statue; I'm talking about conversations which explicitly and vehemently reject the very notion that comics exist as anything other than delivery mechanisms for plot developments concerning various spectra of lantern corps or memorable Wolverine beheadings)
-employees who subject me to their terrible taste in music; Weezer seems like a popular choice among these folks
-failure to order the most basic art/literary titles, like something along the lines of the big Castle Waiting HC
-propensity to order just enough titles to fill subscribers' lists, leaving the shelves a barren wasteland
-stock which has been bleached by sunlight, dogeared by gravity/wind, etc.
-open hostility from employees
-positioning the store's fixtures in a manner that prohibits ease of browsing (my store of choice borders on having this problem)

A store with any of those problems would have to be really, really good in other ways to get my patronage. Generally speaking, if a store has a good selection of comics I want to buy, I will put up with all kinds of unprofessional/annoying shit. Here is a partial list of things people complain about in other stores which I dislike but will gladly tolerate if the store carries something I want to buy:

-new comics piled up on a table rather than put out on the shelf
-dim lighting
-creepy cashier(s) (so long as they keep to themselves)
-disorganized stock
-failure to carry classic comic strip collections
-failure to carry comics by smaller independent publishers (I'm talking smaller than Top Shelf/D&Q/Fantagraphics)
-failure to carry minicomics
-complete lack of back issue stock
-lack of air conditioning
-stupid toys, sculptures, and assorted superhero ephemera
-loud manga fans
-questionable odors, provided they aren't overwhelming
-a pro-Kevin Smith atmosphere
-no comics for kids or general kid-unfriendliness (two caveats: (1) if the store has a high traffic in youngsters, I think its management must either chase the kids off or make the store as kid-friendly as possible, assuming this doesn't interfere with the store's profitability; (2) if the store is avowedly kid-friendly, then it shouldn't play Kevin Smith movies on the television and the employees should watch what they're saying)
-sub-moronic staff who have never heard of, say, Walt Kelly or Robert Crumb
-a clear favoritism towards superhero comics
-displays, events, or the like suggesting that screechy middlebrow comics are the highest level to which comics can aspire
-television(s) constantly playing old Star Trek episodes (or the like)

Here are problems I have not yet encountered in any store, but which don't seem completely unrealistic and which I would probably find very annoying were I to encounter them:

-refusal to special order titles through Diamond
-pressure to make a special hold list
-uptightness about flipping through comics
-a Goth-intense staff
-televison(s) constantly playing porn
-creator(s) hanging out, pestering you to buy their comics (note: I'm not talking about a formal signing here)

But like I said, I'm willing to put up with all kinds of stupid shit so long as the store has material I want to buy. I might not come in every week, and I might consider other options if the store is annoying in multiple ways. But if I can go in with full confidence that that new Dash Shaw GN will be there, then I'll put up with all manner of annoyances.

Related: In all likelihood I'll be moving beyond the reach of my current store in the next six or seven months, and I'm a little nervous about what lies out there. It's been a long time since I've had to switch stores. Frankly, I've never shopped at a store which I held in any degree of contempt. Maybe I've just been lucky. Maybe there's a lot of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct ordering from the publisher in my future, but I sure hope not. I'll make sure to ask you folks about the quality of stores in my new location when and if the time comes.


1. A decent brand of tofu
2. Decent produce (bell peppers being a good indicator of the overall quality)
3. Sales which aren't tied to the store's price club or whatever
4. Absence of yuppie-types who are oblivious to your need to get to the area where they're aimlessly chatting with fellow yuppies, thus jeopardizing your ability to finish your shopping in the small window of time you have allotted for it
5. Absence of old people whose slow movements inhibit your progress, thus jeopardizing your ability to finish your shopping in the small window of time you have allotted for it (this isn't entirely fair, since it's not like anyone chooses to get old; however, one can choose to be an oblivious yuppie)
6. Absence of divorced/single middle-aged men who will scornfully rush past you at top speed in order to get to the Chunky Soup or whatever it is that divorced/single middle-aged men who can't cook for themselves eat
7. Adequate supply of cashiers
8. Adequate supply of carts
9. Bakeries with at least one unique item which I like to eat
10. Prices that don't make me feel like a sucker for continuing to shop at the store

As you may have guessed, I have never come close to finding a grocery store which comes close to satisfying all these desires.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

One more day...of not posting

Well, I think I might have turned the corner from "sinus malfunction" to "get dizzy trying to read off a monitor." Which is funny, cause last night I was feeling fine and wrote probably about 80% of a fairly long post. Maybe later tonight I'll feel better.

Anyway, here are a couple of stopgap pieces of content:

1. This video which Tom Spurgeon linked to yesterday:

2. Has anyone else been underwhelmed by the Achewood tribute to/parody of Chris Ware? It's just not working on any level for me.

Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow, assuming my head stops spinning.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Feeling kind of under the weather, so I'll probably forgo posting today unless my nose starts operating in a somewhat more conventional manner. In the meantime, here are a couple of Badfinger clips.

EDIT: And if you want some comics-related content, you couldn't do much better than this, which is probably making the rounds all over the blogosphere as we speak. I wouldn't know because, well, HONK, but it's well worth reading. Maybe I'll post some kind of extended response to the issues raised in the main post and in the comments. Once my nose feels better.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Yes, you probably should shut up now

-Heidi MacDonald is right--it's time to move on from One More Day. I mean, I expected all the hand wringing from people leaving comments on the popular blogs/boards--who didn't? That's the nature of comics fandom. Having said that, some of the reactions are setting new standards for fanboy meltdowns, and it's clearly wearing on the people who run these sites. It looks like MacDonald's plea for a moratorium on OMD discussions backfired, but I sympathize with what she, Brian Cronin, and the Blogorama guys are going through.

Irritating in a different way are those who feel compelled to brag about their total disinterest in OMD. What, exactly, is the point of this? Is this kind of minimal standard of human intelligence worth celebrating? You knew it was going to suck all along? Great--that puts you on the same level as the hundreds of Newsarama posters who have been saying the same thing for the last year. (Don't worry, you can still claim some moral superiority if you didn't actually buy it. You didn't buy it, right?) I'm not sure whether I prefer this unwarranted gloating or the apocalyptic overreaction to Civil War, where all pretense of enlightened apathy was abandoned in favor of wild denunciations of Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, and other fictional characters. The latter seemed to last for the better part of the spring, but at least it was funny.

Don't get me wrong. One More Day has been an interesting story for a variety of reasons. J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada have provided plenty of entertainment with their dueling versions of events. The metaphysical dissolution of the Spider-marriage does seem like a bit of a departure for Marvel. And the fan reaction has been exceptionally vehement. But it's still unclear if any of those things matter in the long run. JMS and Quesada's quarrel might be an isolated incident, rather than a turning point in editorial-creative relations. Other writers at Marvel might avoid magic due to the critical backlash against the silliness of having Mephisto "fix" the marriage, or personal distaste for the same.

Finally, I strongly suspect that fans' overblown reaction to OMD might not be a reflection of unprecedented anger so much as a growing tendency towards increased shrillness in reaction to every new event. Over the last 3 or so years, we've had a succession of controversial events and subsequent denunciations of said event by a very vocal segment of fans. And yet the events keep on rolling. I suspect some fans have decided (perhaps unconsciously) that the problem is THEY'RE NOT SCREAMING LOUD ENOUGH. Perhaps they should look across the metaphorical aisle to DC, where declining sales have had a clear (though not necessarily positive) effect on editorial content. I'm pretty sure that Quesada and his corporate overlords will respond to economic pressure more readily than Youtube videos of burning comics. Is OMD offensive enough that all the talk of boycott isn't just hot air? Should Marvel regard the subdued reaction to the upcoming Skrull event with some trepidation? Will this Skrull-apathy combine with the aforementioned Spider-enmity to affect Marvel's bottom line? I have my doubts, but I guess we'll see.

-I don't know if I'll be able to resist a Batman Lego game (via The Beat). So far I've been able to resist the Star Wars Lego games, but I like Batman more than Star Wars and this game looks much funnier than its Star Wars counterpart. I mean, look at that image of the Scarecrow. And on the second page, Killer Croc with the traditional Lego protuberance on his head! I don't know if I have the willpower to avoid playing this. I'm pretty sure, however, that I have the willpower to wait 6-8 months for the price has gone down.

-I had a dream the other night where I confused Los Bros Hernandez with the Nogueira twins--I specifically thought that Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (the one who fights at heavyweight) had written Speak of the Devil. There's nothing really interesting to add to this--just a window into my madness.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Recent Superhero Comics Reviewed

Brave and the Bold 8 & 9 by Mark Waid and George Perez (DC)

I think this is the first time I've ever read two issues of this title back-to-back. Issue 8 is basically what I've come to expect from the book--a fairly light adventure story focused on character work. Waid has undoubtedly the most entertaining take on Doom Patrol since their resurrection. It's a pretty viable model for how these characters could work in a shared universe setting--the members of Doom Patrol interact with the Flash and his family in a Addams Family/Munsters kind of way (Waid actually references the latter). Doom Patrol don't bemoan their freakishness; they're either oblivious to it or just don't care what other people think. Perez' pencils suit the tone okay--he can pull off a creepy mansion pretty well--but I think the Elasti-Girl joke might have worked better with someone like Gary Frank drawing it. In fact, I would say that this was the comic Gary Frank was born to draw. An ongoing Doom Patrol comic based on Waid's take would soon wear out its welcome, but they make pretty interesting foils for the other superheroes.

Issue 9 featured three distinct stories, bound together by the ongoing "Challengers of the Unknown read the Book of Destiny" subplot. This format invites speculation: did Waid (or one of his editors) question the commercial viability of an issue devoted to teamups of the Blackhawks and the Boy Commandos or the Metal Men and Dial H for Hero? Did Waid dump all these teamups in one issue because he isn't sure of his future on the title? It's entirely possible, of course, that Waid had always intended to break this issue into three parts. The stories all work pretty well, with a few hiccups. In the last story, it's unclear exactly why Hawkman and the Atom are bothering to fight the villain at all. And the central theme of the Blackhawks/Boy Commandos story is underdeveloped. Waid tries to emphasize the parallels between the two groups, but doesn't really say enough about the obvious issue: why are a bunch of pre-teen kids fighting in World War II in the first place? I found #8 to be the stronger of the two, but both issues delivered the usual Silver Age-infused fun I expect from this title. Nothing earth-shattering, but worth a few minutes of your time if you're into the genre.

Immortal Iron Fist 11 by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, David Aja, and Kano (Marvel)

I've always liked this title, but this is the first issue where I could see why so many people think it's the best superhero title being published right now. Up to this point, I always felt like the book tended to take a bit too much time to get where it was going. In this issue, however, everything seemed to come together. Especially good were the Kano-illustrated flashbacks, in which Davos essentially goes off the deep end. The last panel was perfect--a bloody, crazed Davos being dragged off after spitting in his best friend's face. I also liked the present-day tournament fight, the first one that really clicked with me. The "oh no, he's GONE TOO FAR" moment is crucial for any action-adventure story featuring a tournament. It's may be a cliche, but it's a highly effective one. After this issue, Davos finally seems like an interesting villain and an actual threat to Iron Fist; I'm eager to see them meet in the tournament. I also thought that the other branch of the plot, with Hydra building a railroad to K'un-Lun, made more sense and finally added some tension to the proceedings. This is totally reading like a story arc from YuYu Hakusho, and I mean that as a compliment. It's the first issue of Iron Fist that entertained me as much as Brubaker and Fraction's other series. And if you're digging it, you'd be foolish not to check out some shonen manga.

Hulk #1 by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuiness, and Dexter Vines (Marvel)

Those of you who read this--did you find it at all odd that She-Hulk was wearing a belt AND suspenders? Actually, the suspenders were down, but still. That was probably the dumbest thing in this issue, which is surprising given the epic stupidity of the Loeb-written Ultimates 3 #1. This might be partly because Loeb is much less intent on cramming several months worth of plot developments down our gullets. It also helps that Loeb is working with a much more talented artist in McGuiness, whose art has never looked so good. The action was crisp, and his character work is good, his pouty She-Hulk being a highlight.* For his part, Loeb is mostly content to set up a few mysteries and let McGuiness sell the action and drama. If that's the approach he takes for the entire run, this might end up being a pretty entertaining series.

Happy now, Dan?

*Bear in mind here that I'm talking about cartooning skill and not whether or not this is consistent with the characterization of She-Hulk in her ongoing title, which I haven't read in a couple of years.

Legion of Superheroes #37 by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul, and Livesay (DC)

Regular readers of this blog might remember that I'm kind of a Legion fanboy. I'm not totally obsessed, but I know what I like about the series. The Waid/Kitson LSH was an interesting take, probably a necessary revamp. But I'm not sure that it quite captured the spirit of the title's Silver/Bronze Age glory years. Waid did a pretty good job at juggling the members; the real key is to cook up situations which keep the members from acting as, you know, a legion. Waid did this mostly by playing up politics, both internal (the struggle over who will lead) and external (the delicate balancing act between street cred and official sanction). Having said that, I thought that the political struggle overshadowed everything else, ultimately to the detriment of the series.

Shooter manages to restore some balance here, putting the endangerment of a field team of Legionnaires at the heart of this issue. He wisely keeps the politics in the mix, but the addition of some sexual politics brings the comic a bit closer to its roots. Ideally, LSH should look as much like a romance comic as a superhero title possibly can. Curt Swan and the criminally underrated George Tuska drew impossibly pretty Legionnaires. The book hit its visual peak when Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell combined that aesthetic with flashier costumes and more bombastic storytelling. It's totally unfair to compare Manapul to any of those artists, but I think he's closer to this ideal than Kitson was. The cover seems to show Invisible Kid in a new (proper) costume, and I think that Brainiac 5 costume is at least modified from the Kitson version. The Legionnaires also look more like teenagers, and very pretty ones at that.

All in all, I like the direction that the comic seems to be headed in. The question, of course, is how long Shooter and Manapul will be able to maintain this direction before the heavy hand of editorial decides that the Levitz/Giffen LSH must be returned to prominence. I like this approach to the Legion a lot more than anything I've seen from Brad Meltzer or Geoff Johns, so here's hoping they just leave this title alone. Highly unlikely, given the 50th anniversary of the Legion falling this year, but here's hoping anyway.

Captain America #31 by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Butch Guice (Marvel)

Interesting to see Guice inking this issue--I wouldn't expect to see him inking someone else's pencils. On the whole, his work meshed well with Epting's, though the results were sort of rubbery at times. (To be perfectly fair, Epting can tend towards rubbery faces.) Mostly, though, I'm struck by how much colorist Frank D'Armata ensures the visual continuity of the book. I never would have guessed that Epting wasn't inking.

As for the story, it's more of the solid thriller work I expect from Brubaker and Epting. Some might be most impressed with the continuing rehabilitation of Tony Stark/Iron Man, but I quit worrying about that kind of thing about five minutes after I finished reading the last issue of Civil War. Within the confines of the story, Iron Man and Bucky's scenes together worked pretty well. I'm as impressed as ever, even as I look somewhat reluctantly to the Alex Ross-designed future.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Review: Pax Romana #1

Pax Romana #1 by Jonathan Hickman (Image)

I never read Jonathan Hickman's Image debut, The Nightly News, for a couple of reasons. First, I generally dislike screechy middlebrow comics like The Nightly News appeared to be. If you were to chart my interest in comics on a Cartesian plain, it would look like an inverted parabola with "stupid genre comics" on one end, "snooty art comics" on the other, and "Phonogram" in the middle. Second, Graeme McMillan's review made it sound simultaneously unenlightening and unentertaining--the very epitome of a screechy middlebrow comic. So I assumed I'd never read anything by Hickman.

And yet I picked up a copy of Pax Romana #1. With the new year, I've decided to try reading more Image comics, cause I think there's an emerging trend towards a new type of art-first mentality there. Plus I really dug the preview images I'd seen for Pax Romana on CBR. Hickman's art looked less severe and more painterly, almost psychedelic. I liked the way that the washes of color played against the sharp outlines of his figures. And so I resolved to broaden my mind and pick up a copy.

If I had bothered to read the dialogue in those preview pages, I don't know that I would have done so. Seldom have I seen such uninviting opening words: "The megacity Constantinople--Post-aurora, before the synthetic rains." Huh? Did I really sign up for this? Admittedly, alternate history SF isn't my thing, mostly because it's too contrived, has nothing to do with the chaos that is actual history. Still, I was hoping that Hickman's art would be enough to overcome my distaste for the genre. I really needed something or another to sell me on the idea of this particular alternate history--shocking, grandiose images and ideas which I couldn't wait to see explained. Instead, Hickman starts out with some rather ineffective exposition, characterized by a lot of goofy jargon about Series-7 Gene Popes and synthetic uteri. I found it confusing and pretty off-putting; it presumes that the reader is as interested in Hickman's world-building as he is. In reality, I need to be convinced that reading this stuff is worth my time. And frankly, I've had enough pseudo-genetic plot devices to last several lifetimes.

Exacerbating all this is Hickman's absolutely godawful lettering. It's computer-generated, but not in such a way to resemble human handwriting. Hickman places the words in large, rectangular speech balloons. It's similar to the lettering Chris Onstad uses on Achewood, except the font is even more austere and the lettering is much, much smaller relative to the balloon. It's really those balloons that look the worst--the large margins and sharp edges give it a cold, lifeless look. Combined with Hickman's heaping piles of exposition, I felt like I was reading a stereo manual. It was enough to make me consider abandoning the book.

But then I remembered my interest in the "new" Image, and decided that I probably ought to give Hickman a little more rope. After five or six pages, Hickman rewarded my patience by finally supplying a hook for his story: the Catholic Church has been funding a bunch of SciFi-friendly research, and a couple of the scientists on their payroll have invented a device that allows time travel. That's certainly an interesting starting point--what would the Vatican do with access to time travel? Unfortunately, Hickman arrests all momentum by devoting two pages to an interview transcript, featuring a bunch of characters who had not appeared before (and who would not appear again). Hickman divides the transcript under headings like "Military Necessity" and "Who Leads." At this point, the experience is less like reading an exceptionally well-illustrated instruction manual for a new piece of electronic equipment and more like reading a brochure for aluminum panel siding.

I imagine Hickman made this choice for two reasons: (1) as a quick way to dump a lot of information on the reader, and (2) as a calculated stylistic decision. Unfortunately, I don't think it works on either level. It's not compelling as an info dump because the information is vague enough that Hickman could have conveyed it in a few panels. The transcript doesn't work as a stylistic choice either, mostly because it's so visually boring. Instead of integrating the text into the art (as he does throughout the rest of the issue), Hickman keeps them totally separated. It's a jarring break from the visual continuity of the book, and I don't think it really accomplishes anything aesthetically or narratively.

Hickman returns to a conventional comics style to detail the recruitment of an assault team which will head into the past to do...something or another. The leader of the team is a hardened, eyepatch-wearing soldier nicknamed "Black Bear" who says things like "the men I recruit will be men of honor" and "I'm not sure how you got a hold of the nukes, but I'm happy to have them" and (sarcastically) "Nice speech." The "men of honor" are a racially diverse group who all have very clear specialties. The (apparent) villains of the piece are a shirtless dreadlocked Jamaican named Shaka Love ("you cross dat line...It be angels eider way") and a slave trader who establishes his evilness by killing a mother and child in his first scene. It's around this point that I can't help but compare Pax Romana to a video game.

Now I know that saying "it's like a video game" is an exceptionally lazy piece of criticism; it would also be somewhat hypocritical on my part, since I actually like video games. And man, Pax Romana would make a good game. A team of genetically-modified super soldiers sent back to the past, led by a cyclopean anti-hero with a zoological nickname! The promise of killing hundreds of medieval warriors with futuristic weaponry! A small group of comrades (including a love interest, maybe?) to talk to between missions, slowly revealing their mysterious backstories! Hey, that sounds okay to me. I wouldn't even care about the corny dialogue or moldy old character archetypes or Byzantine (PUN INTENDED) plot if I got to run around with a laser cannon shooting hordes of dudes on horses. I'd even go for something lower-key, like a stealth-type game where the futuristic weaponry would be for emergency use only. If nothing else, the massive processing power of current gen systems would ensure a lush, immersive environment. Right?

That's the biggest problem I see for Pax Romana going forward; I don't see any gorgeous reproductions of the late Roman Empire in the works. That's just not the kind of work that Hickman does. The visuals in the first issue of Pax Romana are mostly limited to mid-distance shots of human figures. The burden of establishing location is shouldered by exterior shots of buildings--there are almost no interior details here. Characters tend to float in washes of color; in the infrequent occasions in which they interact with their environment, the details are minimal. I have no idea how Hickman intends to sell readers on the setting of the story, and I don't see how this is going to succeed as a narrative unless he does so. Such detail is not absolutely necessary in a period piece, but I do think readers are conditioned to expect it. Pax Romana will have to rely on interesting characters, clever plotting, or the reader's agreement with whatever message Hickman is sending.

I get the idea that Hickman is counting on the latter, what with all his talk about sociology and the nature of his previous project. Since this first issue is all exposition/no philosophy, there's not really a whole lot of interest. Hickman's style, the very thing which attracted me to the comic, begins to wear thin about halfway through the book. The art is distinctive, but repetitive; it's hard to tell when a scene has ended because there are so few visual cues. I also found his drawing to be inconsistent--the four-year-old emperor looks like a 40-year-old little person at some points. The writing isn't much better. In addition to employing stock character types, Hickman's dialogue is heavy on exposition-intensive monologues.

Despite all this, I'm planning on reading the second issue just to see how Hickman handles the challenges of his historical setting. If he focuses on long speeches about the meaning of freedom, I probably won't be sticking around. Hickman does sort of apologize for the content of this issue, noting that he started out with all the Gene Pope business because he hopes to turn this series into a Hellboy-like franchise. I'm pretty skeptical about that, based on this first issue. But it's an interesting enough prospect that I'm willing to give him another issue, despite my many reservations.



Things are kind of hectic here at the moment, but I should have a review of Pax Romana #1 up later in the day. The best of 2007 charting thing is going well, and I think you'll be surprised by what's doing well and even more by what's not doing well. There are a couple which have really thrown me for a loop. I don't want to say much more while there are still bloggers who haven't finished their lists, but it should be interesting reading.

I'll remind everyone again to please send me your lists if you want them included.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Update on the best of 2007 list database

-As I've computed these lists, I've narrowed down my criteria for what to include and what not to include. Here is what I'm not including (and please note that this list might grow):

  1. Lists with over 50 entries (at this point, your support for any given title is essentially meaningless, especially given what a pain it is to enter all that data)
  2. NEW: I'm not including any lists of less than 5 total items, because it throws the thing so severely out of whack.
  3. Lists which are framed as gift giving ideas, unless it's clearly stated that this essentially the author's best of 2007 list as well
  4. Lists which specifically limit themselves to a particular quality other than best-ness--like new comics or "fun" comics (though I'd be happy to include Mr. Walsh's list if he wants me to)
  5. Anything billed as "best things I read last year, regardless of when they were published"

-I am including lists with categories (like "best manga" or "best new series"), and I've got a system for adding additional weight to the winners of these categories. I'm also including lists where the author expresses grave doubts about the list's un-definitiveness. That's just the nature of the beast, folks.

-I'm going to put anything which is obviously all-superheroes, all the time in a separate category. Ditto for manga. I haven't decided whether or not to integrate them with the regular lists or not. I can see a case for either side, but I'm leaning towards not including them. A "snob" who doesn't read superhero comics but does read manga, webcomics, and comic strips has a much better handle on the medium as a whole than a dude who only reads superhero comics and maybe Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'll try to err on the side of inclusiveness here--I'd include this with the regular lists, but this I wouldn't. (EDIT: I've reconsidered. Both those lists are going in the "overwhelmingly mainstream" section. Any list that is (a) 90% superheroes and licensed IPs and/or (b) all Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image doesn't really count as a real survey of the medium, IMO. I am, however, compiling these lists, and I'll definitely publish the results cause they're pretty interesting in and of themselves. And, as always, I reserve the right to grant the benefit of the doubt in any given situation. And besides, I'll probably compile a list with the "overwhelmingly mainstream" lists factored in. Should be interesting.)

-I'm separating these out into separate categories for sources devoted to comics (mostly blogs) and sources for which comics is but one of many topics of coverage (mostly newspapers).

-Preliminary notes based on my findings:

  1. I vastly underestimated the popularity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I mean VASTLY underestimated.
  2. Shortcomings might beat out Exit Wounds. There are still a few key precincts which haven't reported, though. Either way, I grossly underestimated the support for that book. This has been a big year for Drawn & Quarterly.
  3. I'm happy to say that I'm right about Powr Mastrs and The Blot being big successes in these kinds of polls. I don't know that either one is going to end up in the top 20 (I had no idea Captain America, Fables, or Y the Last Man would pull down such huge numbers), but they're both on a lot of lists.
  4. This is much less work than I would have guessed, thanks to the immense help of Chad Nevett. Thanks a lot, man.
  5. This is going to sound snobby, but what the hell: the worst lists I've seen so far have come from superhero-exclusive blogs and general pop culture magazines/web sites. And by "worst" I don't mean "don't share my peculiar tastes" so much as "would consider Popeye too deep" or "expresses a profound dislike for anything in black and white."
  6. There's a big gap between what what made the lists of comics-oriented sites and what made the lists of the more more mainstream-ish papers. There might be a story here.
  7. There are 266 titles on the list so far.

-Once again, if you have a best of 2007 list that you want to make sure is included, please make sure to contact me. If it's on the Blogorama wrap up posts, I've got it already. I'll be collecting these at least until the Best of 2007 issue of The Comics Journal comes out.

Plans, plans, plans

Okay, while we're on the subject of year-end lists: I think I'm going to try to compile and integrate them into one master list this year. I mean, not every one I've run across--none of those lists which rank things like "best slobberknocker" or "favorite new lantern corps" or whatever. It's a little tricky to figure out how to integrate all these various ranking systems, but here's my idea for a system:

-Each critic gets some number of "points," like say 550.
-If the list is ranked, each title will be weighted. So, for a top 10 list, the #1 book gets 100 points, the #2 ranked gets 90, all the way down to 10 points for the tenth ranked. For a top 40 list, #1 gets 25 points, #2 gets 22.5 points, etc. (EDIT: I don't think that math works. HELP.)
-If the the books are unranked, each gets the mean for the total allotted points.
-For jerks who did hybrid ranked/unranked lists (like yours truly), I'll come up with some kind of hybrid system. Or something.
-I'm not doing any lists with more than 50 books. At that point, it's not a list so much as a literary travelogue. Sadly, this means I'll be excluding Tom Spurgeon's list, which is inevitably the best one every year. But that probably won't come out anytime soon anyway, and I doubt he really cares.

And here's another thing: I'm going to take a stab at predicting what the aggregate top 20 will be. Please bear in mind that I made this list without consulting any other list than my own. Here goes nothing:

1. Exit Wounds
I don't think anyone doubts this will be #1.
2. All-Star Superman
It's the token superhero choice, plus it's the only good thing Grant Morrison's written in the recent past.
3. The Salon
A strong middlebrow choice; it's the art comics equivalent of All-Star Superman for some list-makers.
4. Alice in Sunderland
5. Shortcomings
Although I saw this on a lot of lists, I expected to see it on more.
6. Shazam vs. the Monster Society of Evil
Another one I expected to see more often. To be fair, my memory might be faulty. I suppose we shall see.
7. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets
I think the widespread embrace of this book might be the most positive story coming out of the DM this year.
8. Scott Pilgrim 4
9. Chance In Hell
10. Alias the Cat

11. Achewood
The token webcomic pick of choice; to be fair, I think it's better than well over half the stuff on this list.
12. Aya
13. MW

The token manga pick on a lot of lists, though it seems to have split the vote...
14. Tekkon Kinkreet
...with this book. Also see comments for Achewood above.
15. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Don't laugh--I remember seeing this on a ton of Entertainment Weekly-type lists. Plus there's no accounting for taste.
16. Moomin
17. House

18. Powr Mastrs
19. The Blot

I think this would have been near the top ten had it been distributed by Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, or Drawn & Quarterly. That kind of success will probably come to Tom Neely eventually, regardless of who publishes his work.
20. Superspy

A day after writing this stuff, I read another year-end retrospective and realize that there are two other likely candidates: Re-Gifters and The Umbrella Academy. I would probably have put the former around #10, and the latter around #14.

I'll start compiling this information today, and keep adding to it every day until the end of the month. I'll probably be relying on (a) various "best of" roundups posted on the net and (b) whatever I see on the blogs I regularly read. So if you want to make sure your list is included, please let me know. If anyone else had already announced plans to do the same thing, please let me know. I don't want to step on any toes. One last thing: if anyone has any suggestions about methodology, I'm happy to hear them. I got Cs and Ds in high school calculus, so I'd be happy for any math-related advice in particular.

As far as plans for this blog in the new year, I've got a few things in mind for the coming weeks that I'll mention here just so I don't forget: a review of recently-read superhero comics; an overview of the Ignatz line (I recently acquired a big stack of these comics, so now seems like a good time to do such a thing); and maybe something about All-Star Batman and fanboy self-loathing. I'm not so sure about that last one, mostly because I really don't want to read ASBAR. We'll see.

Beyond that, I'm hoping to start running more interviews and previews and stuff like that this year. I'd especially like to feature any small press creators out there, so let me know if you have any upcoming work you want to publicize on this blog.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Best comics of 2007


So here it is. As you'll soon see, I'm actually ranking my ten favorite comics of 2007. This seemed like trend-bucking until Jog and Sean Collins did the same thing (well, Sean did two top 15 lists, but they were ranked). I hold some reservations about doing it myself because my tastes seem to fluctuate wildly. I might look back on this list with no small amount of regret before too many months have passed. So get ready for a revamped version of this list every other month, starting in March!

Despite my apprehension about ranking my favorites for 2007, I'm even less inclined to make an unranked, ultra-inclusive list of everything I sort of liked from 2007. I like to actually make an argument (not the same thing as starting an argument) when I do stuff like this. Please note, however, that the other sections of this list are not in any particular order. I don't mind taking the effort to rank my ten favorite comics of 2007, but I don't want to try to rank the top 30. I have my limits.

One last thing: I never got around to reading Exit Wounds. I thought I'd be able to pick up a copy in the last two weeks of the year, but it just hasn't worked out that way. When I finally get around to reading it, I'll let you know if it should have been on this list.


1. Sammy the Mouse #1 by Zak Sally

One of the best crafted comics I read all year--great dialogue and timing. It's that great characterization that makes this work, cause otherwise it would be a huge mess. The main characters are, more or less, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. They're incredibly shoddy versions of these characters though--alcoholic, prone to seizures, possibly schizophrenic. They go about in a bleak, nightmarish world, colored in scribbly gray and blue lines (more on this choice here), filled with lopsided houses built on cliffsides and bars in the shape of giant human babies (with anatomically correct interiors). They binge, purge, and repeat.

One might be tempted to call this an existential nightmare, but it's not so simple. Sammy (the Mickey analogue) clings to his Sisyphean routine even as other characters--including a mysterious disembodied voice--offer him exits from it. This might be because Puppy (Sally's Goofy stand-in) suffers for his attempts to break the monotony of his life. He invents things, possibly at the prodding of the same disembodied voice which speaks to Sammy, but he's having a seizure in a liquor store when he's first introduced. The third character, HG Feekes (Donald Duck, more or less) is probably the stablest of the three, any potential self-loathing tendencies viciously externalized against the other characters in the book.

It's unclear exactly what, if anything, any of that has to do with the Disney allusions. And there are also cryptic panels that seem to take place in the real world (or something more closely resembling the real world), with repetition of some of the dialogue from earlier in the book. Plus there's a rather open ending. So no, this isn't a completed piece of work by any means, but it's the comic I've re-read and thought about the most times this year. There's something about Sammy the Mouse which affected me in a very visceral way, and I'd be completely dishonest if I said this wasn't my favorite comic of the year. I suspect more people will come around to my way of thinking as more issues are released. In the meantime, you'll probably agree that, at the very least, it's a very good comic.

2. Notes for a War Story by Gipi

Possibly the most beautiful comic released in North America in 2007, Notes for a War Story is a haunting and provocative story about young men and their attraction to violence. But it's also about how class can still divide long after it's divorced from any socioeconomic context. Gipi enshrouds his sharp, sneering young men in murky green washes, making the stylistic jump at the end of the book all the more shocking. Gipi takes full advantage of the comics medium, depicting the aged Giuliano as physically similar to the hard men he rejected in his youth. A wonderful book, alternating between explosive and subtle passages. How on earth did we ever get by before First Second?

3. Phoenix: Sun by Osamu Tezuka

It's wonderful that we live in a time when so much of Tezuka's body of work is so readily available in English, and when interest is high enough in these books to make one optimistic about the possibility of even more translated editions. Phoenix predates the current wave of Tezuka releases, so the hype might not be commensurate with the quality. Which is really too bad, because this is Tezuka at his peak. Read my review for more of my thoughts.

4. Delphine #2 by Richard Sala

Richard Sala is one of those cartoonists who seems to be making comics especially for me. Dense yet playful mysteries full of winding staircases, hidden passages, bizarre villains, and weird artifacts, all drawn with a wonderfully expressive line--I love this stuff. I can't get enough. What makes Delphine such a treat is that Sala is branching out while retaining the essence of what makes his comics so compulsively readable. Delphine is much slower paced than the archetypical Sala comic, with larger panels, a greater number of quiet moments, and longer scenes. The art still retains Sala's distinctive linework, but is complemented by sepia washes that add to the more restrained pace. This departure from his standard storytelling fits the story, which takes place in an unnamed European country. It's pastoral Sala, and it works better than I'd ever have expected. In fact, it's his best work since The Chuckling Whatsit.

5. Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus, vol. 1-3 by Jack Kirby and others

I'm a little loath to include this new series of reprints, since Kirby's Fourth World material has been reprinted several times in numerous formats. But I can't in good conscience put this any lower. These are absolutely gorgeous volumes, from the incredible covers (not the dust jackets, but what's beneath) to the paper stock. Better yet, the sequencing of the stories in published order has given them a new power. You can see Kirby's deft world building, always present yet always subservient to his desire to entertain his readers. And maybe I'm just in a different state of mind 10 years after I last read these stories, but the Fourth World seems so much more vibrant in this format. The Paranoid Pill, Happyland, the Glory Boat, the Hairies--these are some of the best ideas in the history of comics, each one better than the last. It's enough to make me reconsider whether or not this is actually Kirby's best work. I can't recommend these books highly enough.

6. Town Boy by Lat

Those who think they hate all autobiographical (or semi-autobiographical) comics might experience a change of heart after reading this book. There's a very casual narrative flow to Town Boy, but mostly it's a collection of blackout gags set in the Malaysia of Lat's youth. The gags all work--one towards the end involving the protagonist on a date is one of the best I've ever read--but the real pleasure comes from Lat's detailed set pieces. It's a rare comic that creates such an overwhelming sense of place in such a low-key, charming manner. Again, it's great to have these sorts of comics available in the US--and in chain bookstores at that! What an age we live in, etc.

7. George Sprott by Seth

There are few things I find more sadly fascinating than the forgotten history of mundane life. This comic is steeped in it. Read my review.

8. Alias the Cat by Kim Deitch

Deitch is one of the real treasures of comics, someone who does brilliant work that wouldn't work in any other medium. With each passing year, it's easier to argue that Deitch is the greatest cartoonist of his generation--no mean feat, considering who's in that generation! He's certainly aged the better than any of his contemporaries. That's even more remarkable considering that Deitch has been mining the same lode for the last couple of decades. This is more of what we've come to expect from him--a look at the seedy underbelly of the early 20th century entertainment industry, with the usual Deitchian flourishes (secret histories, mysterious artifacts, kinky fetishes, Waldo,). Compare this to the work collected in last year's Shadowland, and you'll see that Deitch has only grown sharper and funnier with age.

9. Percy Gloom by Cathy Malkasian

Maybe I'm wrong, but this seemed to have a lot of buzz when it was first released, then promptly ignored thereafter (except by Jog, who posted this review in the interim between my writing this entry and posting it). I think that's obviously a shame. Malkasian's art is absolutely lovely--filled with curving, collapsing architecture rendered in sepia colored pencils. It's quite reminiscent of Sammy the Mouse, except with a completely different message. While Sally's characters cling to their purgatorial binging and purging, Malkasian delivers a positive message about the ephemeral nature of life. I guess I probably should worry that I found Sally's bleak vision more appealing.

10. Powr Mastrs volume 1 by CF

I've said a lot about this comic. I won't try to add anything else here, except that after reading it you kind of think, "Of course! Why didn't anyone else do this kind of thing before?"


Achewood by Chris Onstad

Am I alone in thinking this strip was a little better in 2006? That still means that Achewood is better than nearly everything else being published in any format by a really large margin. This isn't merely the standard by which all other webcomics are (totally unfairly) judged, but the standard by which all humor comics are (totally unfairly) judged.

Multiple Warheads #1 by Brandon Graham

I don't have any illustration for this book because (don't laugh) I'm not sure where my copy is. I'm sure it will turn up eventually. In the meantime, there are a couple of good images in this review.

Dan Nadel recently wrote that CF and Brian Chippendale are working in the same spirit as "underground fantasy" cartoonists of the 70s. I don't know that Nadel would agree, but that's more or less what I thought of when I read Multiple Warheads. Graham works in a much more conventional style than the Ft. Thunder alums (both in terms of writing and art), but the spirit seems to be the same--he takes the sf/fantasy elements of his work seriously (though not humorlessly), and he doesn't waste a lot of time with exposition. The results are pretty wonderful, and remind me that I still need to track down King City.

Tekkon Kinkreet by Taiyo Matsumoto

If you were to make a Venn diagram of Multiple Warheads, some of the parts which don't overlap with Powr Mastrs would overlap with Tekkon Kinkreet. Where Graham's psychedelic landscapes seem to be channeling Rick Griffin, Matsumoto's inky puddles are more indebted to Jose Munoz. I'm not sure that I would have guessed that the European influenced manga would look so good, but it seems pretty obvious now. In fact, if I were a fictional character with so much money I could swim in it, I'd create an exchange program to send young mangaka to Europe, where they would be immersed in the works of Munoz, Tardi, Pratt, and Moebius. Tekkon Kinkreet would be worth reading if its virtues were limited to its arresting images, but there's a pretty ambitious story to go along with all the lovely pictures of Black and White beating Yakuza with heavy blunt objects. One of the great entertainment values of 2007.

The Blot by Tom Neely

Tom Neely is the obvious choice for best new talent of 2007. This is the kind of debut that blindsides people--confident, complex, extremely well-developed. One of the most interesting things about The Blot (at least to me) was the disconnect between the style of art and the narrative. Neely is working in a style reminiscent of some of the greatest storytellers in comics history in the service of a story that relies on symbol more than plot. I'm eager to see more of his work, doubly so if it's in color (his paintings are pretty stunning).

New Engineering by Yuichi Yokoyama

I was going to beg off and refer you to Jog's review, since talking about this kind of material makes my tongue feel like a potato. Or my fingers, since I'm typing this. But I'm not sure we were struck by the same things in this book. I'm apparently in the minority who prefers the engineering in New Engineering. Maybe it's my own concerns--I tend to think of the future of humanity in post-human kind of ways. Not like Grant Morrison's X-Men, but like all organic material has been eliminated, and the future of Earth lying in synthetic intelligence. In that sense, this seems almost like a hopeful, if humorous comic; those fake plastic mountains kind of like our monstrous public buildings based on Classical architecture. I'm pretty sure none of that is what Yokoyama was going for, but it's my lasting impression. The fight scenes are also pretty mind-blowing, I should add.

Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

The thing that distinguishes Criminal from other crime comics available in the early 21st century is the quality of craft. Brubaker's script is subtle yet evocative, and Phillips is doing career best work. The sequence in issue 10 with the alternating blue and red lights was ingenious (extra credit to colorist Val Staples for pulling it off). It's not going to change your world (unless you've never read any noir), but the execution is impeccable.

Dragon Head by Minetaro Mochizuki

I thought this series was running out of steam, but then I read the seventh volume (the one with the long helicopter flying sequence). Absolutely chilling. Very few comics combine this kind of "widescreen" action with such a sophisticated sense of atmosphere. It's a disaster movie for adults. In, uh, comics form.

Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie

Breezy yet affecting, with delightful art marked by charming cartooning and vibrant colors. This is exactly the kind of book that will convince a certain type of skeptic that comics are capable of greater versatility and subtlety than one might think.

Bookhunter by Jason Shiga

One of the most entertaining books of the year, especially for those nostalgic for the libraries of their youth. I'm not sure that I bought into the 70s cop show parody aspect of the work as much as others--could be lack of familiarity with the source material--but that didn't stop me from enjoying this book on its own merits. I'm betting that Jason Shiga will eventually write/draw something that will turn the comics medium on its ear. This isn't that book, but it's a very good book.

Storeyville by Frank Santoro

I surely didn't read this when it came out, so I'm very grateful for the new Picturebox edition. In his introduction to the book, Chris Ware hits on the thing which most stands out for me about Storeyville--the way that Santoro's art changes with protagonist Will's emotional/mental state. This all leads to the final scene, where Santoro starts working in these gorgeous diagonal compositions, lines going everywhere as Will is confronted with a situation he never envisioned. I feel a little regret at writing this list only a week after reading this--I kind of think that, upon further reflection, I might consider this one of the two or three best books of 2007.

At Loose Ends by Lewis Trondheim

This is the multi-part autobiographical story serialized in MOME over the last year or so. I'm not sure that will hold the same interest for people less interested in Trondheim's career, but I can't deny its appeal to me. I wonder if Trondheim didn't sacrifice a little depth in exchange for greater immediacy, though. All that nature drawing sort of underscores the theme of trying to retain the sheer pleasure of drawing, but that seems a little too easy. But then again, Trondheim's conclusions are ambiguous, so maybe I should see these drawings as an act of desperation. In any event, it's the best meta-type comic story I read all year.

While we're on the subject of MOME, I'll briefly note that the journal improved dramatically in the course of the three issues featuring Trondheim's serial. Elanor Davis, Emile Bravo, and Tom Kaczynski are much more attuned to my sensibilities than most of the original contributors. Plus Joe Kimball is a promising young talent, and Al Columbia is still Al Columbia. I haven't read the latest two issues, but I'm looking forward to doing so.

Speak of the Devil by Gilbert Hernandez

I have to confess--I'm a lapsed Love and Rockets fan. Not because I lost interest in Los Bros Herndandez in particular, but because I lost interest in/time for comics in general earlier this decade. And when I came back, there was a whole lot of Los Bros to catch up on. It wasn't so much as to seem overwhelming, but with so many other enticing comics to read it was easy to put off catching up. Lucky for me, Speak of the Devil and Chance in Hell provided an opportunity to check out Gilbert's recent work without having to brush up on my history of Palomar. Of the two, I greatly prefer Speak of the Devil. It's partly the imagery (the protagonist lurking in the shadows, wearing a mask) and partly the storytelling (many wordless scenes depicting the aforementioned actions). It's also a refreshing twist on the "dark secrets of suburbia" theme. Which is good to see, cause I've lived all my life either in rural or urban environs and have always found the idea of suburban living a little creepy. Which, in turn, is probably one of the reasons I've found the first half of Speak of the Devil especially compelling. Oh, and one more thing: this totally rekindled my love of Gilbert Hernandez' work, and I'm now working on getting caught up with the last 7-8 years of Love and Rockets.

Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes

In all fairness, this is probably as good or better than anything in my top 10. I just wanted to make room for some other comics on the list, and Mister Wonderful's incompleteness is good enough justification for doing that. Still, it's so good that I feel somewhat guilty about omitting it anyway, but I remind myself of two things: (1) It's not like Dan Clowes especially needs my praise at this (or any) point in his career, and (2) I really expect this to seem like a very different story once I've finished reading it. We'll see.

I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets by Fletcher Hanks; edited by Paul Karasik

Now this book, more than any other, really characterizes the current market for comics reprints. Could you imagine such a thing existing ten years ago? I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets is probably the archival project of the year, in that (a) these comics were not readily available in any format other than their original printings, and (b) this is an essential book for any comics library. Given its success, hopefully we'll see more volumes collecting work of a similar spirit from comics' shadowy past.


Reptilia by Kazuo Umezu

Seems to be getting some lukewarm reactions, but I enjoyed it more than anything else I've read by Umezu. I think it's because there's something so viscerally disturbing about the Snake Lady (and this isn't a personal phobia, cause I like real-life snakes just fine). Kind of like Uzumaki, where one's reaction is more disgust than terror. Good stuff, if kind of slight.

Grotesque #1 by Sergio Ponchione

Beautifully drawn light Lynchian fantasy. Three men all prepare themselves to journey into the physical manifestation of their imaginations, which may be the same place for all three. Or else it's three very similar imaginary places--it's a little hard to tell yet. For now, it's a fun set of vignettes, with a few really clever, moody set pieces. I've got pretty high hopes for this series.

The Order by Matt Fraction, Barry Kitson, and others

I guess this was my favorite non-reprint superhero comic of 2007. It's either this or Captain America, and I really thought The Order broke more new ground. The central concept (real life heroes become superheroes) sounds hackneyed; in the hands of a less talented writer, it could be pretty schmaltzy and pandering. But Fraction takes the idea in unexpected directions by introducing an element of wish fulfillment and grounding the series firmly in Southern California culture and politics. I would like to see the mysterious government agency subplot actually link up to these themes in 2008; if it does, this will surely be one of the best superhero comics of the decade.

Thingpart by Joe Sayers

Some will find Thingpart very reminiscent of Perry Bible Fellowship. Which is fair, because it is--there's a similar rhythm to each strip, and a very similar juxtaposition of innocence and cruelty. I find Thingpart funnier however--I think it's partly the greater visual consistency and partly the somewhat cuter/sweeter nature of the humor. But mostly it's the fact that Sayers maintains a rather static "camera" throughout the proceedings, a style I find more conducive to this type of humor. Or maybe I've just been conditioned by years of reading crappy, poorly drawn newspaper strips to see that as the only way to deliver humor in 3-4 panel form. Regardless of my own deficiencies as a comics reader, Thingpart is a very funny strip with very little in common with Cathy or the like.


The Arrival by Shaun Tan
I've thought about picking it up on several occasions, but the highly realistic pencil art is a turnoff. I'd like to read it, but I'm hesitant to spend money on it.

The Ice Wanderer by Jiro Tanigushi
I think I missed this at the store. Will try to get a copy eventually.

Moomin by Tove Jansson
I just haven't picked up any of these collections yet. I fully intend to do so at some point in the future.

Exit Wounds by Rutu Mordan
I've been trying to get a copy, honest!

Cromartie High School
I'm behind, but I'm sure this is still the funniest comic available that isn't drawn by Michael Kupperman (speaking of whom, isn't it about time for a new issue of Tales Designed to Thrizzle?).

Dr. Slump
I didn't start reading this until late last year, and I've still got a lot of catching up to do.

Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds
Is this available in America yet?

Popeye vol. 2 by EC Segar
I think this is going to be a late-arriving Christmas present. I'm sure that it's as good as the first volume, which I still haven't finished reading because I basically suck.

King City by Brandon Graham
I would totally own this if I could find a copy.

Service Industry by T. Edward Bak
Reich by Elijah Brubaker
Two comics that I'll eventually order. I'm not made of money!

...And I guess that's it. I know there was a lot of "I'm so glad work like this is being published in America" throughout the piece, but that's really how I feel. 2007 was a great year for comics; let's hope that 2008 will be even better. I fully expect it will be.