2015 First-Half Favorites: Top 5 Comics

I don’t read comics the way I used to. Some weeks, I don’t even make it into the shop until Thursday. But as it is with me and music, I’ve come to rely on this little ragtag batch of Idle Timers to keep me informed and help curate my annual To Read/To Listen/To Watch lists. And pausing halfway through the year to reflect upon which books have already grabbed our attention allows us to acknowledge some good stuff that may or may not have risen to the surface otherwise.

My Top 5 from the first half of the year, in alphabetical order.

Jeremy Baum
Fantagraphics Books

I’m not going to pretend I understood what the fuck was going on in this book. But there was something so mesmerizing about this surreal narrative that I even read Jeremy Baum’s debut comic a second time, in reverse, just to see the way the dream falls back into place.

dorfIt starts like a Jim Woodring comic: innocuous enough, but with that fragile layer separating fairy tale from bizarre fantasy. And down this rabbit hole is a gorgeous blend of sci-fi, elf ears, and eroticism made all the more enthralling by the painstaking artistic detail, right down to the gorgeous hand-coloring.

Zander Cannon
Oni Press

Zander Cannon’s new book, currently through four issues, is everything I could have hoped for from this veteran cartoonist. Nothing against the excellent Heck, or recent collaborations with other creators, but Kaijumax may come closest to the comedy and adventure that still makes Replacement God one of my favorite series.

The story is set on a prison island for giant monsters, policed by a security force of Ultramen. And amidst the kaiju-gang dynamics, threads of superpowered corruption, and extraterrestrial gambling rings, is a cast of characters that gets more entertaining with each issue. Not to mention Cannon’s signature ability to engage with his audience: Find Grubbzo isn’t as easy as you’d think (and has made me re-read each book at least once); and even though my idea for a dungeon breakout was never immortalized as a “Knute’s Escape” in Replacement God, I’m going to work extra hard to dream up a Kaiju that can, ironically, be locked up instead.

pkville 22Palookaville 22
Drawn & Quarterly

The arrival of a new issue of Palookaville always seems to come as a surprise to me. A very pleasant, thank you Seth for still producing this labor of love, surprise. I get the same feeling when I see a new issue of Jason Lutes’s Berlin (which, incidentally, also saw a recent release). The saga of the Matchcard brothers continues in the Clyde Fans serial. It’s a slow death of a salesman, and an affecting meditation on roadside welcome signs and the twilight towns in everyone’s past.

palookaville-22-1The real treat in this new volume, though, is Seth’s continuing autobiographical piece, “Nothing Lasts.” From a publishing stable that has given us such a great tradition of intimate, powerful biocomix, from Joe Matt through Gabrielle Bell, it’s amazing that we’ve waited so long for something similar from one of the greatest cartoonists working today (It’s a Good Life doesn’t seem that autobiographical in retrospect). And it has been well worth the wait. This particular chapter hits home with a Tilbury version of my Jack’s on Chestnut Street, and reflections on a childhood where pop culture lived and breathed in newsprint and magazine racks rather than on the Internet.

Scott McCloud
First Second

In the 90’s I wrote a term paper for a comparative literature course in post-War paranoia. I wrote about Spiegelman’s Maus (what professor could argue with a Pulitzer?) and had Scott McCloud in my corner. After dropping off a copy of his Understanding Comics on my instructor’s desk, I felt completely assured that I was about to embark on an entirely new plan for graphic studies and help the University of California pioneer a new curriculum. That little fantasy didn’t make it past a windowless office in Sproul Hall, however. I left some other comics with her as well, and I blame the fizzling enthusiasm on Frank Miller’s Sin City.

“This isn’t as good as you think it is.”

But then she handed back Understanding Comics, saying she loved it. And, “the guy in this comic? He reminds me of you. He should teach a class.”

If only.

Anyway… this is the first McCloud I’ve read since that Abraham Lincoln experiment years ago. I didn’t make it through the entirety of the Understanding follow-up; it came out during a time in which I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about what I perceived to be the digitization of every artistic medium I loved. So Sculptor surprised the shit out of me. Not because I liked it — loved it, actually — but because I’d had any doubts about it at all. It’s a 21st century Faustian tale told in a 20th century medium about an artist who creates art with his hands. Messes with my emotions just thinking about it. And it’s the best thing McCloud has done to date.

FullSizeRender (4)Silver Surfer
Dan Slott & Michael Allred
Marvel Comics

Anything Mike Allred does gets my attention, and I’ve loved all of his prior Marvel collaborations. But teaming up with Dan Slott for a run at Silver Surfer seemed so perfect I was shocked that it hadn’t happened earlier.

The first few issues, released last year, reminded me of some of the campiest episodes from Star Trek‘s original series. There was just enough irreverence and zaniness to make it fun, without taking itself too seriously. But this was Marvel’s cosmic catalog! I used to love this stuff! What Abnett and Lanning did for Jim Starlin’s legacy, I was hoping Slott & Allred could do for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s.

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The duo hit their stride this year, culminating in one of the single best comics I’ve seen from Marvel in years. I’ve always been a proponent of comics that showcase the unique storytelling possibilities of the medium, and the “Möbius strip” issue does just that. Trapped in a timeloop, Slott & Allred take the Surfer through a Groundhog Day narrative that literally twists on the page, allowing the reader to interact and “help” the characters escape. The book is clever and beautiful, and laces in a homage to Jean “Mobius” Giraud with space-French-speaking aliens in the Giraud Expanse that seem transported directly from the Le Garage Hermétique.

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More Top 5’s!