Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2013

[Previously Published @ Poopsheet Foundation]

Dedicated to Dylan Williams

Post York by James Romberger: Set in a post-apocalyptic New York City that thematically values humanitarianism over sheer survival, Post York seeks to re-examine man’s relationship to the natural world. This was the offering from Uncivilized Books that grabbed me by the throat and made me pay full attention to this bold new publishing house helmed by Tom Kaczynski.

Last Train to Old Town by Kenan Rubenstein: It’s a perfect dichotomy of suburban squalor and urban intrigue, with an identifiable outsider steeped in the mysteries of social isolation. The breakdown of reality gives way to a fantastical escape. Old Town operates with a creative zeal evidenced in the hand-lettering, mounted panels, inserted maps, and assorted accoutrements allowing you to sense the might of the craft on display, to sense the very hand of the artist on every single page. This is the book you want to watch out for as future installments are released.

Eel Mansions by Derek Van Gieson: It’s like David Lynch on paper, flirtatious, mysterious, and dangerous. Van Gieson laces this burgeoning series with so much addictive critical bait, from cinema, to music, to cultural anthropology observations, that it quickly becomes an irresistible entryway to a never-ending conversation between the handful of people who can keep up with what Van Gieson is slinging with so much affection.

Burning Building Comix by Jeff Zwirek: Any “best of” list that doesn’t at least seriously consider Zwirek’s creation for its sheer design ingenuity is questionable. It’s a foldout experience that follows a fire racing its way through an apartment building and the actions of its various inhabitants, one that’s concerned with how format and story (that’s form and function) each impact the other. It’s builds to become quite an experience, which can be read up, down, and all around.

Deep In The Woods by Noah Van Sciver & Nic Breutzman: This is your latest entry in the “Newsprint Revivalist” movement, with modern horror at the hands of Breutzman extrapolated from the breakdown of social units. The other half of this 2D Cloud offering is a modern parable about a girl lost in the woods. Van Sciver uses a dismembered floating cow head(!) to remind us about integrity and doing what’s right, even if it’s not popular, easy, or quick. Noah Van Sciver represents the strength of his generation of creators. His is an uncomfortable realism, unafraid to dwell on the paupers, while most stories only want to acknowledge the princes.

The End of The Fucking World by Charles Forsman: Fantagraphics wisely collected Forsman’s series of mini-comics centering on the apathy, longing, and lack of belonging for the new generation. The End of The Fucking World is a book concerned with the misunderstood dynamic of the Millenials, highlighting their inherited cultural attachment disorder in a way that us Gen X’ers, and even our aging-out Baby Boomer parents, might finally comprehend.

New School by Dash Shaw: One of the hallmarks of Contemporary Art is the recontextualization of found objects, and Shaw employs a strong sensory experience using that style of visual and narrative shorthand. Aside from the rich family dynamics and subtle sci-fi exploration of the new, New School is largely a paradigmatic tale about willfully crafting a cultural sense of identity. It’s the best work so far from a daring creator who just gets better and better with each successive project.

Homesick by Jason Walz: Homesick showcases a dual narrative structure, one track following the autobiographical account of Walz dealing with the news of his very sick mother, while the other focuses on a seemingly unrelated lost Russian Cosmonaut, until the two threads invariably converge. Like the great Craig Thompson, Walz uses visual symbology to help convey complex emotional content, suggesting the fleeting nature of happiness in the process, and that we should instead look for the stasis found in true peace in order to be content.

Charles Bukowski’s Post Office by Bart King: The construction technique is pure tactile objet d’art, using that meme’d procedure where you print on a large sheet, fold it in half lengthwise to double it over, and then slice the interior channel atop, fold, fold, fold, and voila, you have yourself a hand assembled mini-comic with zero staples. Post Office operates with a somehow effervescent sense of drudgery, because whether times are up, or times are down, the postman cometh, and it’s a hard realization that *you* are often the source of your own undoing.

All You Need Is Love by Emmi Valve: Kus! Comics delivers their 11th mini, and it’s an emotional knockout. All You Need Is Love is a sequential art lesson in wanting what you’ve got, rather than getting what you want. Valve is in the process of learning to appreciate what she has, to be present and experience it, rather than seeking another arrangement which may never actually materialize. It’s an irresistible autobiographical aesthetic from one of my favorite publishers. Kus! Comics is an international sensation waiting to explode as awareness builds.

The Outliers by Erik T. Johnson: Playing like an alt comics guide to primal fears, the story involves a boy who is a societal outlier in danger of getting lost in the shuffle. Instead, he just gets lost in the woods and makes a startling discovery. The Outliers is a careful exploration of our prejudices and jingoistic attitudes, not to mention the fact that you just never know what’s going on behind the scenes with most people. Johnson is able to effectively evoke mood and place, on the fringe between a sense wonder and a sense of discovery.

An Afternoon In Ueno by Graeme McNee: I joked with McNee that he inadvertently created a Japanese comics version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, awakening a young person’s ability to discover the type of truths that can’t be taught by schools or parents, and can only be experienced firsthand. Ueno employs a devastatingly effective use of the minimalist approach, and along with creators like Ryan Cecil Smith, highlights the growing presence of expat comics practitioners living and working in Japan, creating a startling fusion between culture and craft.

Xeno Kaiju by Pat Aulisio: I never met a Hic & Hoc Publication that I didn’t like, and Xeno Kaiju continues this tradition with a brawling, in-your-face, monster jam comic that I cited as “the best sequential art hangover I’ve had in years.” Squarely in the “Newsprint Revivalist” category, Aulisio eschews words in order to fill nearly every crevice of the page with textures, patterns, technology, and ink matter, swirls of the stuff coalescing to form nascent imagery. It’s a dance rife with bizarre death metal calligraphy, the great wallpaper extravaganza of 2013, and I guarantee you that your comics year isn’t complete until you partake in the raw energy that is Xeno Kaiju.

It was a very competitive year, so I have a few honorable mentions that I would feel remiss in not drawing some attention to. These included: a totalitarian regime counterbalanced by Freedom of The Press in Our Library by Amanda Baeza, the dark sensory experience of Out of Hollow Water by Anna Bongiovanni, the sprawling travelogue about young people being allowed to make their own mistakes in Today Is The Last Day of The Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust, the cumulative effects of marginalization on the psyche in Look Straight Ahead by Elaine M. Will, and the haunting novella about love and isolation found in Sorry Sheets by Eroyn Franklin.


12.18.13 [Weekly Reviews]

Conan The Barbarian #23 (Dark Horse): The colors on the opening page are a ridiculously good bit of foreboding from Dave Stewart. The words remastered by Brian Wood suggest, not quite otherworldly visitation, but the de-evolution of a gene pool not quite diverse enough. Conan is enveloped in something much larger than himself, in fate, lost in a jungle, the bloodlust of battle and the fog of lotus, and evidence of his comrades from The Tigress fleeing in a panic (oh, it just occurred to me, The Tigress should be the name of a Ninth Wave ship in The Massive, crazy crossover!). I don’t know about you all, but I’m accustomed to seeing Riccardo Burchielli drawing New York City, so this raw, unhinged, power in his art was such a rewarding surprise. There’s something wild and different about it, and if Dark Horse was thinkin’ straight, they’d be putting him on a Tarzan reboot ASAP. Conan’s encounter with N’Gora was so sad, here’s a man who he truly respects, a man he considers kin, and Conan’s only recourse is to be resigned to do what he must. This issue is one of the best of the run, if not the best, in some ways the punctuation that the entire run has been building toward for the last two years. It’s full of emotion, guilt, and brutality. It is somber, dark, and energetic, everything I like in my genre fiction. There are a couple full page shots at the end that will stop you dead in your tracks. One period of Conan’s life ends abruptly right here on the page. If there were any vestigial traces of a young man in Conan, that youth is now violently ripped from his soul. When Conan started fleeing out of the woods, when he starts to come upon The Tigress, even though I knew how it must end, even though I’ve known all along, even though I read the old Marvel Comics and knew exactly what to expect, I just wasn’t prepared for this. I just kept muttering with dread "oh no… no… no… no… no… no… no… no… no… no…" Grade A+.

The Massive #18 (Dark Horse): Mag makes a startling (for him) discovery in Cal’s quarters that leads to the line “a log of my best friend’s slow death of cancer.” Ugh, there’s so much going on in that line, the confession of enduring friendship, the inherent shock and sorrow, and the slow war(s) that Ninth Wave just keeps continuing to wage and lose. There’s also the interesting bit about why Lars would be in on it ahead of Mag, especially when Mag is the one who steps up to diplomatically extricate the gang from their current situation. Well, Cal’s ashore, there’s more Mary Mystery, and the "Longship" arc comes to a close. Nitpick, but the gun drawn doesn’t really look at all like the Glock 17 scripted, but that’s ok, Cal is mostly pissed because Bors has him figured out, from origin, to motivation, to current existential crisis, another open-ended ending from Wood, about the conflict of two guys threatening to pull down two entirely different groups. Grade A.

Buzzkill #4 (Dark Horse): There’s not many books that could open with an Othello quote and have it play relevant instead of just an empty grab at sophistication, but here you go. The team infuses this book with the malformed guilt of a child, and how that can shape actions as an adult, hitting the startling family connection which was recently revealed. I loved all the stylized lines, forced perspectives, and how the art can “pop” through the panels while imparting so much depth. It’s like Neal Adams doing manga speed lines or some damn thing. While the showdown brings about an end of sorts, I hope I’m not the only one thinking that this title could be managed like the great Luther Strode, an open-ended mechanism to tell more tales with, as we’ve witnessed the hard-earned birth of a hero. This was one of the underrated gems of 2013. Grade A.

Locke & Key: Alpha #2 (IDW): I like when comics hit a planned ending and don’t meander. It sounds simplistic to say, but good stories have a definitive beginning, middle, and end. At the end of Joe Hill’s opus, it’s an emotionally satisfying read, and regardless of what you think about his writing or this genre, please give it up for Gabriel Rodriguez. Dude is one of the absolute finest artists working in the industry today. His style is so polished and so emotive, full of rich thick lines, able to impart the right weight to the substantial action or emotional heft. He could do anything and I’d check it out. I thought the immolating vampire “burn-away” was a little Buffy-esque, but otherwise this is full of memorable moments, whether it’s death being like “drowning in emotions you never wanted to feel,” or “your body is a lock, death is the key.” It’s a bittersweet ending that I was ready to compare to the grand denouement of Six Feet Under, but then it went and leaned a little too far toward the sweet side with a deus ex machina save at the last minute. Grade A-.

X-Men #8 (Marvel): I’ve given Terry Dodson a lot of crap about the cheesecake quotient in his art, but that Monet cover is slick as hell, and it’s not just because I love the character. The clever visuals continue with Psylocke’s “psychic bubbles” as she unsheathes her sword to aid Rachel on watch. That opening sequence is just so smart and taut, and Brian Wood continues the mostly female cast with villains including Lady Deathstrike and Typhoid Mary, while connecting it all back to John Sublime, Arkea, Sabra, and all kinds of drops that nod to the bits I’ve enjoyed at various points during his various runs. There are moral implications to the would-be body-mod power enhancements, and not just the raw threat it poses to the X-Men. Unfortunately, the shift from Dodson to Kitson is a fairly jarring art transition, and the front of the book is aesthetically much stronger than the end. Grade B+.


Umbral #2 @ Fanboy Comics

I wrote an advance review of this week's fascinating Umbral #2 over at Fanboy Comics.


My 13 Favorite Comics of 2013

I could start with my usual explanation of qualifiers, byzantine personal criteria, and commentary about the highly subjective nature of “best of” lists, but that seems tired. These are simply the books that I most looked forward to reading, for sheer love of the game. Last year, I cited 2012 as the year that creator-owned comics “won,” and that movement seems undeniably overwhelming now in 2013. I don’t think it was prescience as much as it was merely selective amplification of the observed present. Creator-owned comics certainly occupy the majority of the mind share as far as I’m concerned, and are making significant advances in market share too. I hope that continues. These were my favorite titles of the year…

The Massive (Dark Horse): For the number one slot, my good friend Ryan Claytor and I decided to do something a little different in order to satisfy our tradition of annual collaboration. While I’ve been evangelizing The Massive since long before the first issue came out, and Brian Wood as a creator much longer than that, the bulk of the credit here should go to Ryan. It’s relatively easy for me to crank out a one-page script. But, in addition to teaching at the university level full time, and running his small press concern Elephant Eater Comics, Ryan also tabled at SDCC this year, ran a successful IndieGoGo Campaign, became a father, and somehow still managed to find the time to illustrate this beauty. Comics analysis rarely takes the form of comics itself. Click to enlarge. Enjoy.

Deathmatch (Boom! Studios): Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno pulled off a magnificent self-contained world-building stunt which transcended the basic hook of the NCAA-style bracketing system that killed off characters in every issue. With the somber resigned tone from Jenkins, and rich art that combined the detail fetish of George Perez with the raw unhinged energy of Juan Jose Ryp, they dismantled all of the familiar archetypes to deconstruct the stale old superhero genre. It was utterly fascinating and thoroughly entertaining.

Strange Attractors (Archaia): I consider myself an armchair New Yorker, if such a thing exists, so I’m on board for any comic book treatise on the inherent nature of NYC. Writer Charles Soule burst onto the scene with artist Greg Scott and made an active concern of turning New York City into a living engine of clockwork beauty at the hands of a couple of obsessed geniuses. This book had me scrambling to find all of the writer’s other work. Consider this your latest successful entry into the “comics as love letters to NYC” category.

The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys (Dark Horse): Gerard Way proved his writing wasn’t a gimmick with The Umbrella Academy, so it was up to the rest of the creative team to sell this world and really dazzle with their abilities. Boy, did they. Shaun Simon, Becky Cloonan, and Dan Jackson brought to life a vivid world of post-pop revolutionaries set against a quirky future dystopia. Their rebellious struggle is quintessentially American, and the environment is firmly post-apocalyptic, so I was hard-wired to respond favorably to the marriage of two of my favorite literary devices around. This book was so pretty, it was just stupid.

Star Wars (Dark Horse): It was honestly the most purely enjoyable read of the year, with slick confectionary visuals that never failed to delight. Brian Wood, Carlos D’Anda, Ryan Kelly, and Gabe Eltaeb basically spent the year running Beggar’s Canyon, creatively bullseyeing womp rats like they were in their T-16’s back home. They found the absolute perfect balance between tapping nostalgia buttons, world-building in the Extended Universe, making logical narrative extensions, and crafting well-balanced gender dynamics. With intelligence, action, and heart, it should go down as one of the greatest contributions to the property ever. It is truly shiny.

The Legend of Luther Strode (Image): Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore flaunt undeniably that they understand what comics were made for. They’re for stories like this. The Luther Strode Trilogy is a horror-superhero genre mash-up that fully utilizes the medium, doing things that you can’t possibly do in prose, film, or other media. Everyone will enjoy the hyper-kinetic lines and the bursts of memorable slash-fic action featuring the titular character, but here’s the real secret: Petra is the icon of a generation.

Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth (Image): Ken Kristensen and MK Perker slap us upside the head with irreverent humor and visuals that blur the line between surreal caricature and raw realism. Todd is a crisp social satire that parodies the ills plaguing our culture. The story is ostensibly about an awkward kid with a bag on his head who’s framed for murder, goes to prison, and is currently tackling Charlie Rose & The PBS Cult, while the superscript takes on racism, homophobia, religion, poor parenting, and so much more. There’s deep commentative wisdom hidden somewhere in these pages, but I’ll be damned if I can find it, I’m too busy laughing and shaking my head in disbelief. “That was a weird game.” #TickleParty

Manifest Destiny (Image): Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, and Owen Gieni create seamless speculative historical fiction which blends the real and the imagined, as the Corps of Discovery led by Merriwether Lewis & William Clark set out to chart the frontier. While their Congressional Mandate is officially about laying claim to the Louisiana Purchase and charting waterways, their classified off-book mission as assigned by President Thomas Jefferson concerns investigating supernatural creatures that may be lurking along the passage to the Pacific Coast. Roberts’ lush awe-inspiring depictions of the frontier and startling incursions by mythic forces tickle all the right parts of the brain. It satisfies our craving for the history contained by non-fiction, and the truths that can only be delivered by fiction.

East of West (Image): Jonathan Hickman’s expansive creator-owned opus may be the pinnacle of his career and the most outright imaginative book of the year. In cold open style, it never insulted readers’ intelligence in the way it crafted its internal mythology, fully engaging the audience to work for clues without a hint of exposition. It’s a rich and satisfying experience easily labeled “post-apocalyptic sci-fi western mystery,” if you dig. Nick Dragotta’s wide-eyed art was an example of the full-potential magic that’s unleashed with hands-off publishing and a creator-first approach to making comics. Most critics would probably cite Saga, but I’d willingly hold up East of West as the emblematic flagship for what the “new” Image Comics is capable of.

Sheltered (Image): Ed Brisson, Johnnie Christmas, Shari Chankhamma, and Ryan K. Lindsay offer a full service creative package with emotionally charged art and a killer premise that spins the go-to post-apocalyptic genre on its head, mostly by hitting rewind. It’s billed as a pre-apocalyptic tale centering on a community of obsessively-focused doomsday preppers. Sheltered is an unflinching mix of high concept and intense interpersonal drama which reminds us that the real story is rarely the grand external threat, but usually the internal breakdown of humanity bubbling just below the surface. It’s the next The Walking Dead. Mixed with Lord of The Flies, that is. #TeamVictoria

Letter 44 (Oni Press): Letter 44 is the best premise I’ve read in ages, pairing the presidential custom of the outgoing POTUS leaving a letter to the incoming POTUS, with Obama and W analogues for maximum social relevance. There was a palpable frenzy at SDCC to snap up advance copies of this book and I pushed them onto several readers at the LCS who went on to do the same. There’s something to be said for building connoisseurship in an audience. With artist Alberto Alburquerque co-piloting the deep space mission, Letter 44 challenges our political preconceptions as an act of good art instilling real-world reflection. Soule mines the best political procedural dramas, the best sci-fi summer blockbusters, and fuses them into an irresistible package.

Lazarus (Image): Like Paul Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money, Greg Rucka is back, y’all. Queen & Country is one of my favorite works, ever, so it was nice to see him return to creator-owned comics and just swing for the fences. With Michael Lark’s gorgeous dark precision, he crafts a nightmarish social fiction future about resource scarcity, class division, and raw family dynamics. With unapologetic fits of action and violence, and strings of backmatter factoidal DNA propping up the world, Lazarus taps into our sense of belonging and socially-relevant fears regarding the world our children will inherit. It’s required reading.

Umbral (Image): It’s rare that you catch two creators intersecting at the meteoric rise of their craft, but that’s what it feels like when writer Antony Johnston and artist Chris Mitten catch dark matter energy in an enchanted bottle and whisk us off to the Kingdom of Fendin. Johnston world-builds with effortless beauty and intrigue, while Mitten clangs his hard-edge line weights against his graceful emotive figures for a tale of paradigm-shifting upheaval and the dark forces that lurk just on the periphery of our consciousness. The Royal Family is dead. Rascal knows the secret. The Umbral have returned.

Since I started Thirteen Minutes, I’ve never had more difficulty down-selecting from so many great contenders as I did in 2013. At one point during the year, I had 32 titles vying for these 13 slots, and candidly, several of the books could just as easily have placed had the year not been so crammed with excellence. At the end, it absolutely came down to personal preference and didn’t have anything to do with inherent quality. There’s probably a dozen titles I could rattle off, but these 5 came the closest to appearing, so you can consider any of them the unofficial #14.

There was the inventive and irreverent dysfunction of God Hates Astronauts: The Completely Complete Edition (Image) by Ryan Browne (“Blagojevich!” “Fenestrate!” “Horchata!”), the R&D backmatter-driven glee of Think Tank (Image/Top Cow) by Matt Hawkins & Rahsan Ekedal, the razor sharp premise and smart rendering of Death Sentence (Titan Comics) by Monty Nero & Mike Dowling, the obtuse intrigue of Pretty Deadly (Image) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios, and the trifecta of smarts, adventure, and emotion in Brian Wood & Olivier Coipel’s X-Men (Marvel).

As for some brief analytics, it’s worth noting that 7 of the 13 entries (56%) were published by Image Comics, which makes the House of Creator-Owned Comics the clear winner by force majority. Dark Horse Comics came in a respectable second place with 3 entries (23%), while Boom!, Archaia, and Oni Press all clocked in with 1 entry apiece (8%). Brian Wood occupied 2 spaces, as did Charles Soule, which is 15% for each writer. Mostly importantly, 12 of the 13 entries were creator-owned comics (92%), with Star Wars holding fast as the lone exception.


12.11.13 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Manifest Destiny #2 (Image): While there’s another book called Umbral giving it a run, Manifest Destiny has quickly become my favorite new title of 2013. It appeals to so many different parts of my brain. It gets me as a history nerd, it gets me as a speculative fiction nerd, and as a self-proclaimed color nerd ever since I got the chance to interview Dean White and truly understand the coloring process, Owen Gieni’s colors totally get me too. There’s startling action with the right visual flourishes. Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts are crafting a tale that’s equal parts rousing adventure, leadership primer, and a genre blend of paranormally mythic and historical that mines the best elements from truth and fiction. I love it so much. Grade A+.

Deathmatch #12 (Boom!): Deathmatch, too, has been one of the best series of the year. At the end of all the machinations by The Manchurian, we see Sable and Dragonfly as the last two combatants standing. With a resigned sense of fate, and the illusion of choice collapsing down into a single inevitable moment, we understand through brilliant genre deconstruction that “There are no heroes anymore.” While some of the paradoxical pseudo-science gets a little thick toward the end, the somber tone of this is right up my alley, and short of his old Inhumans run with Jae Lee, I’m hard pressed to recall a Paul Jenkins book that I’ve loved more. With Carlos Magno working an aesthetic that’s half George Perez and half Juan Jose Ryp, this was can’t miss and, for my money, the best book Boom! Studios has ever published. Grade A.

Astro City #7 (DC/Vertigo): It was so cool to see the origin story of Winged Victory, especially the real world tie to Samothrace. All the while in this run, Kurt Busiek proves why he’s a master, bending the narrative shifts in each issue so that the periphery players and events become the core focus of the stories, and illuminate the genre like few other works have. It’s a method that could easily fall flat under a less skilled writer, but Busiek makes it sing. Brent Anderson reminds me of a really good movie soundtrack, the kind that enhances the proceedings without you ever really noticing it, as backhanded as that might sound. It’s totally seamless, and allows this issue to focus on public perception and the conflicted price of fame in the face of scandal. Grade A.

Death Sentence #3 (Titan): I continue to be so impressed by the total package that Death Sentence offers. There may be some rare occasions when Monty Nero’s dialogue feels a tad affected and I mutter “real people would never talk like that,” but for the most part, the three primary characters are a convincing rendition of id, ego, and superego, and the writing takes us to natural conclusions given these personalities and these events. The premise of the whole enterprise is just so precise and crisp, while the smart visuals from Mike Dowling are so subtle you might miss some of the special moments. For example, notice how the character of Monty sits bored out of his skull as a kid, and then a few pages later Dowling mirrors that image as a hedonistic adult. Those visual callbacks are the stuff of legendary comic runs, and Death Sentence has the potential to stand as one of the greats. The writing process backmatter that pulls the curtain back is just the icing on an already sweet cake. Grade A.

Satellite Sam #5 (Image): Oh, Satellite Sam, what am I gonna' do with you? This title is on the fence for sure, and I can’t quite articulate why that is. My gut tells me to just catch it in trade at this point. I enjoy the clever bios of the characters that introduce every issue, but then the story just seems to descend into confusion and/or treading water. The core raison d’etre of discovering the killer seems to come back into focus as this first arc(?) comes to a close, but if you measure the distance covered from first issue to fifth issue, things haven’t really progressed much. In every issue, we see conniving studio flunkies and washed up has-beens jockeying for position, and here we get three very different beej scenes to satisfy the sexual quota, but at the end of the day, I’m not feeling as if there’s much there there. Chaykin’s art has always been hit and miss for me, and beyond an aesthetic that’s well-suited and in tone with the era, I’m not seeing anything special beyond that worth championing. Image Comics has a weird trifecta going of sexualized books, with Sex (the best of the bunch IMO), Sex Criminals (the hyped critical darling), and Satellite Sam’s Sexcapades, but if I had to choose just one, it wouldn’t be this one. Grade B.


12.11.13 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Lazarus #5 (Image): Ok, I totally dig Lark’s interior art, but something is seriously wrong with that cover. It’s like they put an adult head on a little 7 year old body or something. It looks all kinds of weird CG glossy and out of proportion. That aside, “Lift” shows us life from a different POV and starts an arc that’s going to appear to demonstrate how one can exceedingly rarely be pulled up through a bureaucratic nightmare from "Waste" to worker bee "Serf" in the Controlling Family socio-economic system. Forever’s flashback drives home how she was bred as a warrior, while the modern day scenes continue to show how conflicted she is about her role in a crisp world that’s been built, full of social extrapolation and resource scarcity. I really liked those cool ships that look a little like the old GI Joe “Skyhawks,” which were one of my favorite toys as a kid. We see them along the Mississippi River, acting as an antagonistic border between Family-States, and Forever’s handling of an “incident” is absolutely chilling! As Rucka says in the backmatter, “The world should explain itself, the author shouldn’t explain the world.” YES THANK YOU MORE LIKE THIS PLEASE. Grade A.

Three #3 (Image): Ryan Kelly & Jordie Bellaire are a really good artistic combo, Bellaire’s deep palette really stands up well to Kelly’s thick line art and gives a nice richness to the aesthetic. The crimsons and the Earth tones mesh together all of the landscapes, and people, and weapons of war, in these heavy bronze hues that are so beautiful. Bellaire also captures the dimly moonlit nights. I’m starting to have some slight trouble with Gillen’s writing, namely the stilted dialogue (which I also noticed recently in Uber), and then the tendencies toward exposition around the geography and character motivations. I understand that the book exists to clarify popularized misconceptions about Spartan society, but the script is starting to reflect some of the dryness of the research, and I hope he won’t forget that telling a compelling story is his first and foremost obligation. Amid trackers tracking Helots on the run, and Klaros being a man with a secret (“Who ARE you?”), at least there’s a hint toward more character driven story elements and less of the stuff I’m being bored by. In the interim, it looks absolutely gorgeous. Grade A-.

Unity #2 (Valiant): Kindt has a way with the action and geo-politics around the historical bits. It makes for nice commentary on the nature of modern warfare. There’s that high-level strategy to the writing, but it also exhibits smarts on the tactical narration side with Ninjak. All of Kindt’s words flow so well, and I dig how Kindt is positioning this book as the new center of the Valiant Universe. It’s getting to the point where you could just read this one book and basically get the gist of the entire line, it touches almost all the corners of the world. You can almost see the contrarian-to-Marvel-and-DC pitch, that this is “Conan in the Iron Man Armor (X-O Manowar) fighting the Justice League (Harada, Eternal Warrior, Ninjak, et al),” and Braithwaite’s art has the right grit to it, serious tone and dire battle conditions that feel adequately consequential. Grade B+.

Harbinger #19 (Valiant): I gotta’ say, this whole VR construct and cartoon character bit really needs to go. It’s too much silly, too little gravitas. It’s too much talk, too little progression. I generally dig Dysart’s writing, but for the last couple of issues I’ve been really starting to lose interest. I’m hoping it’s just this arc and not endemic of the direction the title is going long-term. The art has some nice moments, but mostly looks inconsistent and rushed. This has been my long-standing gripe about the entire line, with few exceptions, that the art generally wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the strength of most of the writers. Grade B-.


Star Wars #12 [The Wood Pile]

Star Wars #12 (Dark Horse): Wow. I don’t know how else I can so plainly reiterate what a terrific extended take on the Star Wars Universe this run is. It’s such a crystalline piece of art, with so many different facets to analyze, from individual characterization, to imaginative plotting, to the precision of the art and coloring. If all the high-octane action occurred last issue, this epilogue issue lets us catch our breath in the aftermath and addresses the relationships. Judging solely by this issue, you’d assume Brian Wood is a fan of Homeland, in the way the issue bends the basic tradecraft of the spy game to its whim. You can almost imagine Mon Mothma, Leia Organa, and Kell Bircher as LucasFilm versions of Saul Berenson, Carrie Mathison, and Nicholas Brody, as CIA handlers running recruited assets and maintaining a precarious state of compartmentalization, even obscuring the end-game from each other if the situation warrants it. Kell Bircher is a particularly interesting creation, a deep cover agent from Chandrilan Special Forces, who is a winning amalgamation of the political savvy of Leia, the raw skills of Luke, and the roguish charisma of Han Solo, all in one person. I DEMAND AN ACTION FIGURE OF KELL BIRCHER!

There are great moments which come in pairings, literally littered all over the place, an Imperial Star Destroyer garbage dump’s worth of delight, from Luke and Prithi's brief romance, to Han and Leia’s budding and ever-strained relationship, to Wedge and Kell sharing some trust based on pilot’s code. I also really enjoyed the quick conversation between Perla and Mon Mothma, providing Han’s new friend a nice denouement using the methods the Rebel Alliance can employ to enlist qualified pilots and officers. The offer of a military service contract (with perks!) is an interesting look at the politics behind building a rebellion, this type of detail is something we’ve never really seen before in filmic escapades. There’s just so many stand-out moments packed into this issue. Wood has teased the birth of Rogue Squadron before via Wedge’s dialogue, but here it actually is, formally announced in the flesh. Leia also sees a wide emotional range to her character arc, going from feeling slighted and out of the loop, to leading a briefing in well-spoken natural leader fashion, and pushing back with her own highly compartmentalized plan on Mon Mothma, which highlights not only her results-oriented intelligence, but her absolute dedication to the Alliance, regardless of the personal cost.

The combination of Carlos D’Anda’s art and Gabe Eltaeb’s color is just a thing of beauty. Like Wood’s lines around events “far, far away” or the insertion of Bothan Spies to the proceedings, their art prowess feels totally at home in Star Wars. There are so many examples around of the deliberate efforts at authenticity. It’s in the details of the costume designs, Leia’s various jackets, which seem ready for her action figure assortment, Mon Mothma’s couture trenchcoat, to the dead-on hair styles which are in keeping with the shaggy 80’s look, yet perfectly acceptable in modern times, or the small flourish of an X-Wing’s open nose cone in a hangar bay. It’s just all so carefully crafted, so rich, so convincing, so evident that it's being done by fans, for fans, who intuitively understand the alluring mechanics of the original source material. It's so damn good. The white hot gleam of ships dropping in and out of lightspeed imprints on our nostalgic DNA and rouses even the most jaded comic book adventurist.

By the end of the issue, it’s clear that this is a natural demarcation point. It’s a “Year One,” a “Volume One,” a “Season One,” the place Wood’s initial year-long contract would have brought him had it not been extended to 20 issues (common knowledge if you pay attention on Twitter!), a place where I’d want the first big ol’ hardcover collected, a call-it-what-you-will definitive “chunk” of story. You see, it’s clear that the covert ops mission is over, and it brings to the fore the other prong of the mission parameters Princess Leia Organa was initially supposed to execute. There’s the the little matter of finding a new planet to serve as home base for the Rebel Alliance against the Galactic Empire. I think it’s 3 years that pass between Star Wars and Empire, so there’s plenty of space for stories left to tell, and I can’t wait to see where we go next. This is one of the best books of the year, and I have a feeling it will be in 2014 as well. Grade A+.


The Great Statistical Purchasing Analysis of 2013!

Welcome to the 6th consecutive year that I’ve tracked my comic book purchasing and provided some commentary about the data. I still enjoy analyzing the information because I’m fascinated by patterns and playing with statistics, but I do fear that it’s becoming less meaningful because a couple of key factors are skewing the numbers away from being a truly accurate snapshot of what I actually consume. Nevertheless, I’ll present the data, make some basic observations, and walk you through what’s skewing the metrics. Remember that this is a purchasing analysis, meaning that it represents only my out of pocket expenses, not the total quantity of what I consumed, so it does not take into account comp copies (which I did a better job of tracking in tandem this year). In short, there was significant change this year! Instead of a declining trend across all categories, there was a pronounced uptick in one. I’ll start where I always do, with the TOTAL QUANTITY of SINGLE ISSUES purchased from 2008 to 2013.

2008: 259
2009: 197
2010: 169
2011: 125
2012: 143
2013: 285

While I still feel like I’m becoming less interested in the vast majority of what’s currently being published (*cough* Marvel! DC! *cough*), and there are fewer creators I feel a sense of consumer loyalty to, this year’s number actually suggests the exact opposite. For the first time since I started tracking, there’s not only a huge year to year leap of 99% from 2012 to 2013, but also a 10% bump from 2008 to 2013. That means this is the most SINGLE ISSUES I’ve ever purchased since I started tracking the data, and almost exactly doubles the year to year quantity. Let’s figure out why... While I did quit buying Marvel and DC Comics that weren’t classified as creator-owned about 18 months ago, those were replaced by a healthy crop of creator-owned comics, mostly from Image Comics. There is also a financial causality which explains this chart-busting phenomenon, which we’ll get into below. Here are SINGLE ISSUES tracked by TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT.

2008: $777
2009: $697
2010: $616
2011: $458
2012: $455
2013: $383

This is huge. Although the total volume of floppies was up 99%, the TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT was actually down from 2012 to 2013 by 16%, with an overall decrease from 2008 to 2013 of 51%. So, I’m buying more than I ever have, yet spending less than half of what I should based on the most comparable quantity recorded. This wildly disproportionate decrease in dollars spent vis-à-vis total single issues purchased is attributable to one single factor. For the full calendar year, I received a very deep discount from my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. On those review books, I was spending much less than cover price, which allowed me to reallocate those savings to additional purchased material. An interesting aside here is to work out what the average price per floppy was under this paradigm. It means that on average, I only spent $1.34 per single issue. This is down from an average floppy price of $3.66 in 2011 (which was pre-discount), and $3.18 in 2012 (when my discount kicked in toward the middle of the year and began to draw the average down, despite most comics moving toward the $3.99 vs. $2.99 price point). Moving on, since comics are periodicals and the weekly sales pattern is endemic to the business model, I like to look at my purchasing habits on a weekly basis as a meaningful metric. Here is the AVERAGE QUANTITY of SINGLE ISSUES purchased per week over the period.

2008: 4.98
2009: 3.79
2010: 3.25
2011: 2.40
2012: 2.75
2013: 5.48

On average, I bought 5 total SINGLE ISSUES per week in 2013, a 99% increase from 2012 to 2013, and an overall statistical nudge of 10% over the tracked period from 2008 to 2013, which is in perfect parity with the increase in single issues. We can also take a look at AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT per week on SINGLE ISSUES.

2008: $14.94
2009: $13.40
2010: $11.85
2011: $08.81
2012: $8.75
2013: $7.37

In 2008, I’d spend approximately $15 per week on SINGLE ISSUES, and by 2013 I’m spending around $7 on average, which is a drop of 51%. In terms of year to year fluctuation, this is a 16% decline from 2012 to 2013. Moving on to the GRAPHIC NOVELS AND/OR TRADE PAPERBACKS AND/OR COLLECTED EDITIONS AND/OR WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL THEM BUT YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I MEAN category, I tracked all of the metrics in the same manner. Here is the TOTAL QUANTITY of TRADES/OGN purchased.

2008: 55
2009: 26
2010: 18
2011: 12
2012: 07
2013: 03

This is a 57% decline from 2012 to 2013, with a drastic decrease of 95% from 2008 to 2013. I know this looks dismal, but keep in mind that these metrics are for books purchased, not consumed. You’ll definitely get tired of hearing me make that distinction. This doesn’t represent what I actually read, only what I actually paid for. What’s interesting is that this number should really have been zeroed out completely, but I bought these 3 anomalies simply because I had pull quotes on them and wasn’t able to get comps otherwise. Since I obsessively try to track down and own all of my pull quote books to serve my fragile ego, this necessitated purchases. I actually read TONS of books in the TPB/OGN format this year, but I’ll save the comps discussion for its own new section down below. For now, let’s move on to look at TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT on TRADES/OGN.

2008: $1,200
2009: $521
2010: $413
2011: $103
2012: $78
2013: $38
From 2012 to 2013, this is a 51% decrease, with a staggering 97% decline from 2008 to 2013. So, it cost me $38 to satisfy my ego and hunt down 3 books that I had pull quotes on, which I wasn’t able to get comp’d for whatever reason. Let that be a lesson to you, kids. $38 is the price of fame in the glamorous world of comic book reviewing. Let’s now look at a weekly breakdown, starting off with the AVERAGE QUANTITY of TRADES/OGN purchased on a weekly basis.

2008: 1.06
2009: .50
2010: .35
2011: .23
2012: .13
2013: .06

That’s a 54% drop from 2012 to 2013, and a 94% drop from 2008 to 2013. While I was neatly buying 1 full OGN/TPB on average when this all began, now that the number has slipped so low in subsequent years that it’s basically become a meaningless metric on a weekly basis. In terms of AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT on TRADES/OGN per week, the numbers shake out like this.

2008: $23.08
2009: $10.02
2010: $7.94
2011: $1.98
2012: $1.50
2013: $0.73

As you can see, this is a continued decline of 51% from 2012 to 2013, and an overall 97% whack from 2008 to 2013. So, if you spread that $38 out over the whole year, it averages less than 3 George Washington-head quarters a week. Lastly, and mostly for kicks, we can look at combined units for both floppies and collected editions, that’s all “things” qualifying as comics. Here’s the overall TOTAL UNITS PURCHASED.

2008: 314
2009: 223
2010: 187
2011: 137
2012: 150
2013: 288

That’s an increase of 92% from 2012 to 2013, and an overall 8% drop from 2008 to 2013. So, while the total quantity of single issues purchased in 2013 was able to eclipse the original 2008 number, since I didn’t purchase any OGN/TPB in significant quantities to complement that, the overall total units tracked still didn’t reach 2008 levels. In terms of TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT on TOTAL UNITS, it looks like this.

2008: $1,977
2009: $1,218
2010: $1,029
2011: $561
2012: $533
2013: $421

This equates to a 21% decline from 2012 to 2013, with a 79% overall drop from 2008 to 2013. I went from spending nearly $2,000 on comics 6 years ago, to just over $400 this year. Add it all up and *cringe* it looks like I spent about $5,739 on comics in the last 6 years. That’s an annual average of $957. To run things out, as for AVERAGE TOTAL UNITS purchased per week…

2008: 6.04
2009: 4.29
2010: 3.60
2011: 2.63
2012: 2.88
2013: 5.54

This means that I went from purchasing 6 total “things” that could be classified as comics per week (whether singles or trades) in 2008, down to a low of about 2 and a half in 2011, and now back up to about 5 and a half in 2013 . Those metrics represent a jump of 92% from 2012 to 2013, with an overall drop of 8% from 2008 to 2013. Lastly, we can also look at AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT per week as applied to TOTAL UNITS.

2008: $38.02
2009: $23.42
2010: $19.79
2011: $10.79
2012: $10.25
2013: $8.10

This is a pretty tangible real-world metric that seems to ring true based on my perception of what I actually do in the LCS on a weekly basis. It means that in 2008, I was basically dropping $40 per week, and now I’m only dropping less than $10 per week on average. This comes out to a 21% decline from 2012 to 2013, with a 77% decrease from 2008 to 2013. 


That has traditionally been the end of my purchasing analysis for the year. What these numbers don’t factor in are comps. Thirteen Minutes has flourished in the last couple of years and the number of comp copies I receive has increased dramatically. When you combine print copies comp’d for review purposes (the majority at roughly 75%) and their digital counterparts (the minority at roughly 25%), the quantity of what I actually read and consumed skyrockets. Not only does the total volume of material increase, but the corresponding dollar amounts are astronomical were I in a position where I actually had to pay full retail. I did a much more thorough job of tracking these numbers this year, primarily out of curiosity, which has allowed me to add this new ancillary category. While it’s still outside the scope of a “purchasing analysis” since they didn’t represent any out of pocket expense, it speaks volumes about was actually consumed, and makes me feel like a pretty lucky guy to basically receive a bunch of free material.




Yet another factor is the flat-out TON of Amazon credit I accumulate and burn up on comics, with no out of pocket expenses incurred or applicable for a purchasing analysis. I also did a better job of tracking the Amazon credit this year.


Add that to our comp totals and I consumed a grand total of 304 additional books with no out of pocket expense, with a total retail value of $2,071. Questions? Comments? Did you like the additional comp category? Can you stand the mighty power of the numerical analysis? Did all of this transparency change your life? Shall I keep going next year?


Golden Age @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed the impressive Golden Age by Rob Harrington, Giulie Speziani, and Cecilia Latella over at Poopsheet Foundation.

Baltic Comics Magazine s! #15 @ Comics Bulletin

I reviewed Baltic Comics Magazine s! #15, published by Kus! Comics, over at Comics Bulletin.


1 Night On Earth [Small Press]

1 Night On Earth (Ginger Rabbit Studio): It’ll probably sound horrible, but sometimes I joke with people that I’ve been reviewing comics for so long that I can just glance at one and know instantly if I’m going to like it or not. Yes, I can actually judge a book by it’s cover. When I saw this Giovanna Terrone cover, I fell in love a little bit, and then when I realized all of the stories were written by Giulie Speziani, I got really excited because her work I’ve sampled in the past has been so strong. 1 Night On Earth is billed as “5 Cities. 5 Stories. 1 Night.” taking place in Hong Kong, San Salvador, Miami, Los Angeles, and Sydney. All of the pieces are written by Speziani, with different artists accompanying each entry, and then self-published by Speziani under her Ginger Rabbit Studio label. This type of micro-anthology is an ambitious project for her to take on, and I’m happy to report that it totally succeeds.

Speziani and artist Shari Chankhamma lead with what is probably the strongest piece in the book. It’s ostensibly about a man in Hong Kong corresponding with his granddaughter from afar, but like the late Roger Ebert used to say about great movies, it’s not about what it’s about, but about how it’s about what it’s about. The Hong Kong entry evokes mood like nobody’s business. There’s a sense of longing, then sorrow, and it builds to absolute dread. It almost feels like some sort of post-apocalyptic story, without ever saying so, but I just kept waiting for something bad to happen. It was so convincing about how there are all these small scale little human dramas occurring out of plain sight in a huge gleaming city like Hong Kong. Chankhamma is a creator who came to my attention as the colorist on the great new Image Comics series Sheltered, but it’s so fab to discover she’s a terrific artist in her own right, absolutely capable of producing and coloring her own feature length work. I’d love to see more from this duo.

In San Salvador, Speziani teams with artist Anissa Espinosa and colorist Kerri Aitken. I really enjoyed the amber hues that pervade this story, emphasizing the inherent danger lurking just below the surface of all cities. There’s great use of light-sourcing and shadow, and a desperate sense of urgency to the way Speziani writes the dialogue. I know that it’s probably not intended to interconnect the pieces in any way beyond the overriding city theme, but I started to imagine very loose connections. What if the girl in this piece was the granddaughter from the first? They mention Miami, which then becomes the third piece. The fourth piece might be focusing on the killer from the second. The phone from Miami might link it to the LA piece, etc. The sister in the fifth could be related to someone in the fourth, etc.

For the Miami entry, Speziani works with artist Francine Delgado and colorist Janessa  Douglas. There’s an appropriate Latin flair to this story, the art reminding me of early Eduardo Risso lines. With killers and dive bars and tropical days giving way to balmy nights, it’s evidence yet again that Speziani and company can capture the mood, the vibe, the spirit of a city, through smartly rendered art and a character-driven snippet of storytelling. The LA story with Sarah Elkins takes an unexpected turn, but I enjoyed it for the simple fact that the protagonist has to drive. And for anyone who’s lived in LA, that small detail rings true, you know that you have to drive everywhere to get anywhere, unlike some other major metropolitan areas with a more robust transit system. And hey, any story that mentions street tacos and horchata is ok in my book.

The final entry, about Sydney with artist Jennifer Weber and colorist Kimberly Anne Black, is perhaps a little more “cartoony” an aesthetic than its sister pieces. Whatever it might lack in gravitas though, it makes up for in other ways. For example, as someone who’s spent time in Australia and worked very closely with some Aussies, it does capture the good nature of the people who tend to concentrate down the pub and the brilliant social elements of the culture. 1 Night On Earth even comes with a very good soundtrack, a short set list for each city that will satisfy the most hardened music snobs, and at the bargain price of just $3, I highly recommend this full-fledged floppy as a smart sampling of artists and urban haunts. Grade A.

12.04.13 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Think Tank #11 (Image/Top Cow): Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal really amp up their bold approach to speculative fiction in this issue. While it’s all based on real-world tech R&D and authentic tradecraft, it leaps from those origins toward a startling showdown with China. Political pundits and intelligence analysts in-the-know are betting that the “next” next global hotspot will not be the Middle East, but probably some dispute (Taiwan, North Korea) involving China and the general South China Sea Region. Hawkins peppers the story with factoids and details that ring true (not just about the cool tech on display, but about how money talks, or our modern surveillance state, or how to navigate internationally) because, well, they are. The transparency of the research makes for a very satisfying read. The final shot is a nice callback to a historical event, like the BSG homage that preceded it. Now, I was perfectly happy with the black and white art, but I’ll admit it will be a fun treat to see Ekedal’s work in full color when Season 2 hits. As a side note, it’s interesting to see the creators openly address sales, jumping on points, and roadblocks around consumer perception. I wonder if some of these bold storytelling choices are also meant to address that. They’re stripping away the excuses, so if you’re not buying this now, you’d better start soon! Grade A.

Trillium #5 (DC/Vertigo): The individual pages in this book are absolutely beautiful. I think it’s the best pure art of Jeff Lemire’s career to date. There’s some sort of Kevin O’Neill LOEG-style stuff going on in the Brittania sequences as well, and the prose is lyrical and very effective emotionally. My only real problem with Trillium is a structural one, this shoehorned-in underpinning the series seems to want to build itself on. I’m just not very enamored of the layout choices. I don’t think they’re necessary. Not only do the individual issues not feel very connected, but all of the flip-formatting, and dual strips, and turning shit upside down and backwards doesn’t really add much beyond the gimmick that exists for the sake of itself. They’re mirror images! I get it! Watchmen did the symmetrical panel composition bit 20 years ago and I didn’t need an arrow telling me to turn the book upside down to figure it out. I feel like this will actually distract from the strengths of the writing and the very good story would just be better served with crisply edited traditional layouts. I can also foresee a problem with the eventual collected edition. Floppies are one thing, but who the heck wants to have to manhandle some hardcover back and forth, twisting and turning the thing a different way for each issue it contains, leafing forward, and leafing back, and whatever the hell else it will ask of us? I’m giving a full letter ding for this needless format experimentation, because form isn’t really following function. Grade B.