In this last episode of 2013 we count down our favorite comics of the year. On a methodological note, we limited ourselves to book-length works that felt like complete statements.
We also discussed the Sequential Artists Workshop’s end-of-year fundraiser. There are still 28 days left—consider pitching in to help fund this awesome school!
Josh’s Top Five:
Alex’s Top Five:
We said we’d post links to a bunch of our favorite minis and floppies here, but man, that’s hard to sort through. Hopefully we’ll do that soon.
Thanks for listening, everyone. 2013 was a great year in comics—see you early in 2014!
In this episode we are joined by Karen Green, the Ancient & Medieval History and Religion Librarian at Butler Library at Columbia University–and the driving force behind their graphic novels collection. We talk about her path to becoming a librarian and creating the collection, and also her recent work with the Society of Illustrators. We also discuss:
Sacrifice by Sam Humphries (writer) and Dalton Rose (art)
Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot.
Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff
Dungeon by Lewis Trondheim
Captain Goodvibes by Tony Edwards
Cages by Dave McKean
Warren Ellis is one of my favorite comic-book authors. He’s best known for Transmetropolitan, a ten-volume sci-fi epic in which a latter-day Hunter S. Thompson does battle with the Smiler (a political creature something like a cross between John Edwards and Vladimir Putin) armed only with journalistic truth and a bowel disruptor ray gun. At the moment he’s writing at least five ongoing titles that I know about–FreakAngels, Gravel, Anna Mercury, No Hero, and Doktor Sleepless–on top of his endlessly disturbing blog.
Apart from all these he’s been writing a series of one-shot “graphic novellas” riffing on historical topics. The first of these, Crécy, looks pretty good, but I haven’t read it yet.
The second, Aetheric Mechanics, came out just under a year ago. It’s steampunk sci-fi, built around Sherlock Holmes and John Watson (under different names). In London, 1907, Britain is at war with Ruritania (name borrowed from The Prisoner of Zenda). While the bombs fall, Holmes attempts to find the murderer of several experts in “aetheric mechanics” (roughly physicists, if physics worked the way it does in H.G. Wells novels), a man who flickers in and out of invisibility. It’s a fun mashup of 19th-century pulp novels, although that concept does smell faintly of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The new one, Frankenstein’s Womb, quite frankly sucks. I read it twice to make sure I wasn’t missing anything good, and I’m pretty sure I’m not.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and her not-yet-husband Percy Bysshe Shelley are on the road to meet Lord Byron somewhere or other, and Mary decides she wants to stop and explore a ruin called Castle Frankenstein. There she meets a monster created a hundred years earlier by Johann Conrad Dippel, considered by some to be the inspiration for Frankenstein the novel. The monster gives her a long account of Mary’s own history—the death of her mother, feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, in childbirth; the philosophy of her father, political reformist William Godwin; her future marriage and Percy Shelley’s death—followed by a glimpse of the future, a person in an emergency room being shocked back to life by a defibrillator. (It’s a scene sort of reminiscent of the one toward the end of Alan Moore’s From Hell in which Sir William Withey Gull commits his final Jack the Ripper murder and is granted a terrifying vision of a late-twentieth-century office building. It’s hard to avoid ripping off Alan Moore.)
The problem is that none of this seems to go anywhere. If there’s a meaningful engagement with the actual themes of Frankenstein (a warning against the advance of technology and industrialism, especially by those like Victor Frankenstein who refuse to take responsibility for their creations), I missed it after all, and I was looking. It’s not even a particularly good history lesson, since it doesn’t tell you why Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, or Percy Bysshe Shelley matter. It has some nice gloomy drawings (preview here), but that’s really about it.
It’s the start of a glorious new blogera, and just as I did with my previous blogcarnation (which I will not link to, since that persona has enemies), I’ll start with a comic review. It’s one of a few things in this world that I read and you don’t.
John Layman has been in comics for quite some time, according to his Wikipedia page, and in that time has written a bunch of minor superhero books and some crossovers in the Army of Darkness line, which I don’t read because I hate coming into things in the middle and the comic has been going on since the early 1990s.
Then came Chew.
In it, Layman has managed to do something pretty rare: invent a new superpower that isn’t lame. His hero Tony Chu is what he calls “cibopathic.” “That means,” explains the narration bubble, “he can take a bite of an apple, and get a feeling in his head about what tree it grew from, what pesticides were used on the crop, and when it was harvested. Or he could eat a hamburger and flash onto something else entirely.” (“Cibo” would be from “cibus,” the Latin word for food.) In Issue 1 Tony confronts a serial killer who commits suicide rather than tell what he’s done with his victims. Tony gets the information anyway by chewing off the dead man’s face.
(Did I mention that my neighborhood comic-book store owner declared that I would definitely like Chew because I like “that weird stuff”?)
Now, you can definitely see how this might be disastrous and disgusting. Or you can imagine it handled with humor by a guy who’s been writing Evil Dead-derived stories for the last bunch of years. It’s the latter. For example, Tony soon goes to work for the FDA, now the most powerful law-enforcement agency–because all chicken has been banned. Because of bird flu. The black-market chicken trade dominates the criminal underworld. It’s completely ridiculous and it tickles me.
Chew is now up to issue 3 of 5. The first two issues were popular enough to call for multiple printings, so you can still pick up the back story, or you can wait for it to come out in trades. Preview here.
Since this is the first post on the new site, I want to take the opportunity to thank Jessica Winter and Adrian Kinloch with extreme heat and fervor. They came to me and offered to design this site–it wasn’t even my idea–and it’s beautiful. It was an extraordinarily generous thing to do. I am deeply grateful.