2012 was an exciting year not only in the stories that were told but in how they were told. Here are ten books that used the comic book medium to its fullest degree.
10. Making Censorship Fun with Hawkeye
It was a genius idea by the creative team on this book to use a masked Hawkeye image to cover Clint Barton’s “bow and arrow” during this scene. It’s the fun moments like this that make Hawkeye one of the best comics that Marvel is producing. Matt Fraction’s writing is at its best and David Aja is a master both in art and the structuring of panels. The fact that they are mostly telling one and done stories is a breath of fresh air as well. It’s the little details, like the fact the Avengers are obsessed with a show called Dog Cops, that make a great book and Hawkeye is full of those details.
9. The Incorporation of Art and Storytelling in Saga
There has been writing used as art before in comics. It is always exciting when it happens, whether it’s hand lettering or sound effects as part of the action. Saga liked that idea and took it a few steps further. Fiona Staples takes Brian K. Vaughan’s narration and adds it to her art in beautiful ways. That little detail makes the narration and the book feel so genuine. Almost as if we have stumbled upon a real girl’s cosmic, picture diary.
8-7 The Roller Coaster Rides of Stumptown and Batman
Most comics read the same way. You read from left to right. Start at page one and then end at page twenty-two twenty. The only movement that is necessary is your right hand passing the pages to your left. That’s the normal way. Two books this past year changed it up. In Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman the Dark Knight got stuck in a maze. The comic was full of twist and turns both in its storytelling and physicallity. You had to turn the comic on its side and upside down in order to read it. Then in Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s Stumptown there was what has to be the best car chase in comics. Again, the creative team used the comic as a tool to tell their story as Dex Parios speeds through the streets of Portland. Both were wonderful and exciting and made the readers feel as if there were in the greatest amusement park of all time.
6. Q: What is a Kid’s Book, a Licensed Property, a Humor Comic and is Read All Over?
A: Adventure Time!
There is a stigmatism with the following: license properties aren’t supposed to be good, adults don’t buy funny comics meant for kids, backups in comics are meant as filler and left to be ignored. Boom must have taken all of these into account when preparing a comic based on the hit Cartoon Network show created by Pendleton Ward. They took the challenges and rose above them making Adventure Time one of the most unique comics on the stands. Not only is it refreshingly funny and absurd, it also is a showcase for the best independent artists in the business. Featuring imaginative work from Ryan North, Braden Lamb, Chris Eliopolis, Paul Pope, Jim Rugg, Chris and Shane Houghton and many more. That’s just the interiors. Cover artists have also included Jeffrey Brown, Chris Samnee, Scott C., Franco, Colleen Cover, Phil Andrew, and Dan Hipp. Whether you like the cartoon or not this is a must read book.
5. Prophet Shoves Into the Deep End
There is no budget in comics. The only limits are the storytellers imagination. Prophet is big budget strange from the start. Brandon Graham and Simon Roy set a tone in that first issue that this was going to be like no other sci-fi book you have ever read. It is an out there book with big ideas that respects us as readers. It gained our trust early and then said “C’mon. Let me show you something weird. And then I’m gonna do it again. Like twelve times. And then we’ll do it again next month.”
4. The Endless Panel of xkcd
xkcd is one of the most popular webcomics on the internet thanks to the humor and intelligence of Randall Munroe. He did something very unique this past year. He posted a comic titled “Click and Drag”. It had three small panels on top and then a large panel at the bottom. The title acted as instructions as you explored a beautiful and what seems like endless world of the panel. With just one, giant, panel xkcd illustrates the exciting possibilities of online comics. I am sure many were inspired by this and I can’t wait to see how it influences other digital books in the future.
3. Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score – First Class all the Way, Baby!
IDW has to be commended for the prestige in the presentation and construction of this book. The sturdy hardcover, the thickness of the pages and stellar graphic design makes this stand head and shoulders above the other flimsy trade paperbacks on your shelf. That’s just the outside, Darwyn Cooke’s art must also be mentioned because it is outstanding. If all your comics went to a bar, this is the book the bartender would notice first despite how crowded it may be. This is class. This is a book you can be proud of.
2. Darth Vader and Son – The Little Book that Goes a Long Way
Jeffrey Brown’s small book is proof that sometimes simplicity is the answer. It is just little vignettes of Luke Skywalker hanging out with his dad. Not unlike a Pixar movie, this is a book that has a little something for everyone. If you like comic strips like Peanuts or The Far Side or Family Circus, you might like this book. If you have kids you might like this book. And of course if you like Star Wars you might like this book. It’s such a little idea and Brown has the restraint in keeping that way. This wouldn’t work as a six issue mini which is something we see way too often these days. Just remember that famous acronym, “K.I.S.S.” Keep it Simple, StarWars.
1. Thinking Outside the Box (Literally) with Building Stories
There is a reason why you have seen Chris Ware’s monumental book on several best of lists. It is a huge accomplishment in proving why print media will never go away. Could you read a digital version of this book? Sure, but it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact as the physical version. Nothing can compare to the excitement of opening the box, which looks like a giant board game box, and seeing all the different bits. Strips, fold outs, newsprint. It invokes the same memories of stumbling upon a chest in your grandparents attic. Discovering new things each time. Then, the fact that you can read it in any order not only showcases the strengths of Ware as a story teller but also invites you to revisit it year after year. When I read it, I read it from smallest to largest. Next time, I will find a new route to experience the story. Similarly to the rectangular Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, I expect Building Stories to inspire innovation and experimentation in the future of the comics industry.