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Fifty-Two You Want: A One You Want Special Edition

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Last week a lot of comics were in stores.
Some of the worst ones got a lot of attention.
Some of the best ones didn’t.
Whether they were might be comic books, graphic novels or minis, the latter were works well worthy of spotlight.
So, here’s their spotlight.
These are the Fifty-Two You Want.

Yeah, so the introduction’s a little different this week.

The column’s completely different.

Like the intro mentioned, a huge number of comics hit the shelves, but all I read about was how awful a couple comics in particular were talked about without end. I get it, they were horrible. I didn’t like them either, but the amount of attention given to them grew from necessary to absurd.

Not all that long ago I got so frustrated by the endless negativity put out by a number of brilliant writers on comics I outright asked why they did it. Most answered it was due to hits. Some answered it was because everything was shit.

Well, okay, if you want hits, then fantastic. That’s your pursuit. However, if you think it’s because everything is shit, well, I’ll tell you, I think you’re reading the wrong comics. I get that everyone has differing opinions. Something I think is brilliant is viewed by trash by someone else. That’s totally cool.

I don’t buy in this day and age where we have a generation raised with the notion that creator-owned books is the end result, not some step on the way to work on someone else’s comics, producing an endless library of differing titles that there’s not something for you to be excited about. I believe we’re in a Golden Age of comics here, way more so than the one in the thirties and forties. There’s a huge amount of diversity in creators and creations. I promise you there is a comic out there for you.

You don’t need me to inform you DC Comics recently expanded their entire line to 52 titles, all beginning with #1 in an effort to attracted current, lapsed and new readers to a diverse lineup of superhero titles. Hey, I know “diverse lineup of superhero titles” reads absurd, but you have to give them credit for at least giving it a shot. There are a number I highly enjoyed.

So, here’s MY “Fifty-Two”, my list of fifty-two comics that come from a number of diverse creators in a diverse amount of genres that you could enjoy. All of them are for me. I don’t imagine all of them will be for you. These are fifty-two comics you can buy with relative ease right now. I think there’s something for everybody in here. I could be wrong. There’s a lot more out there.

All of these are in print. The vast majority you should be able to order through your local comic shop, in English. A couple of them might require you do some searching to overseas connection, but it shouldn’t take more than a few clicks to get them at cover price. I’m also trying to keep it to works that have come out over the last five years or so, including reprints of older material. I also try to keep it somewhat affordable.

Unfortunately these parameters kill suggestions for some of my all-time favorite cartoonists, like Moebius, Claire Wendling, Yves Chaland, Winsor McCay, Brendan McCarthy, Hugo Pratt and many others. It’s a damn shame it excludes out-of-print works like CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES, NOCTURNALS, ROCCO VARGAS, KING CITY, THB and SHAOLIN COWBOY, but hopefully that’ll change with time. On that note, I implore you to check out everything Humanoids is publishing in the US right now, but unfortunately their titles seem to go in and out of print with some frequency, so I have a hard time listing them all here. However, they’re pretty much all brilliant.

Along those lines, I’m trying to avoid comics I know have already gotten a crap ton of press. Everybody’s heard about TINTIN, MAUS, BOX OFFICE POISON, ASTERIOS POLYP and WATCHMEN at this point, right? We’re all pretty well versed in JIMMY CORRIGAN, SCOTT PILGRIM, CHEW, BONE and WALKING DEAD, aren’t we? If you’re not - no problem - just Google those titles and check out the two billion articles written about them.

Finally, I’d like to add this is a list, not a ranking. I’m not claiming what’s at #1 is better than what’s at #52. Nor do I want to suggest it’s definitive. I have no such aspirations. It’s the first fifty-two comics to come to mind, listed in the order they come to mind. If your comic is not on here, please don’t take offense. I probably love it too.

So, anyway. Here you go.

FIFTY-TWO YOU WANT.

1) HABIBI, written & illustrated by Craig Thompson, Pantheon
Right off the bat I’m killing my “books that have gotten/will get a ton of press rule,” but hey, it’s the book that inspired this column in the first place so it deserves to be on top. Thompson’s massive tale of two child slaves seemingly bound together by fate was very much well worth the wait since 2003’s BLANKETS. HABIBI is 700-pages of a gut wrenching, though provoking, emotional roller coaster I can’t wait to read again.

2) BEAST, written & illustrated by Marian Churchland, Image Comics
Churchland receives the 2010 Russ Manning Award for Most Promising Newcomer for her first work, BEAST, and oh, man, it is totally deserved. For the first time out, Marian really knocked me on her ass with her story of a young sculptor’s deal with a mysterious, shadowy stranger to carve his portrait out of marble. It’s one of those books where the less you know, the better is is, but I will say this one gets my highest possible recommendation.

3) 20TH CENTURY BOYS, written & illustrated by Naoki Urasawa, Viz
Urasawa is easily my favorite cartoonist when it comes to his pacing alone. Yes, his line work, characterization, etc. Is all that of a master as well, but the way he tells the story is pretty much unparalleled in comics today, regardless of where in the world they come from. There’s often been times where a volume will at first seem out of place, but later on within a small amount of pages, if not panels, he’ll make you realize it’s the most important story element yet. This is pretty much my gateway drug for anyone intimidated by the world of manga. In terms of its place in world comics, this story of a group of friend’s childhood dream turned real world nightmare is one I can’t get enough of.

4) CASANOVA, written by Matt Fraction, Illustrated by Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba, Icon
Yes, I just wrote an entire column as to why I love this series so damn much, but I love the series so damn much so I can’t stop singing its praises. Currently available in two collections (LUXURIA and GULA) and one first issue of a new mini-series (AVARITIA), CASANOVA combines pretty much everything I love in pop culture under one easy title. It gets more and more brilliant as it goes along as well. The first volume is strong, but seeing everyone involve mature over time is really something to behold. There’s not a single issue release out there I’m more excited about as a new issue of CASANOVA.

5) KYLOOE, written and illustrated by Little Thunder, Kana
Little Thunder may only be 27-years old, but she’s kicking everyone’s ass straight out of the gate with the release of her three volume series, KYLOOE. This is one of those books I mentioned you’ll need to snatch from an overseas connection (and yeah, it’s only available in French), but it’s well worth the effort even if you don’t speak its language. Even with my limited French reading ability, I found it to be a very powerful work. It focuses on a woman, Kylooe, and her dealing with reality and unreality all converging into each other at once. Artistically, I haven’t been this impressed with a debut… well, possibly ever, and there’s been a lot of impressive debuts in recent years. This one may take some effort to track down, but I’m tell you, you need to make it happen.

6) GREEN WAKE written by Kurtis Wiebe & illustrated by Riley Rossmo, Image Comics/Shadowline
A long-running mystery is a hard thing to maintain, as a number of TV series like LOST or TWIN PEAKS will tell you. I still find myself a sucker for them, even though I know a lot of the time I’ll be let down once the mystery is revealed, if it is at all. Wiebe and Rossmo seem to get this frustrated, as while GREEN WAKE has the potential to be a very long-running mystery about a guy who may be    dead in a town full of people who should be with the rare trait of having some very satisfying results.

7) LOVE & ROCKETS: NEW STORIES, written & illustrated by The Hernandez Brothers, Fantagraphics
Yes, the Hernandez Brothers get a lot of press and praise, but their new series of LOVE & ROCKETS stories is so above and beyond even their greatest works such as LOCAS and PALOMAR, that it deserves extra attention. Furthermore, I can see how the previous length of LOVE & ROCKETS can be intimidating for someone to dive into, so the (thus far) four-volume NEW STORIES makes it easy to dive right now.

8) I KILL GIANTS, written by Joe Kelly, Illustrated by JM Ken Niimura, Image Comics
If someone I know hasn’t read comics and they’re interested in checking them out for the first time, about nine times out of ten I’ll give them a copy of I KILL GIANTS. Barbara  Thorson’s struggle with the state of her reality in light of some personal travesties anyone can relate to makes it a masterful work that truly belongs on everybody’s shelf.

9) BLACK JACK, written & illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical Inc.
Some credit Osamu Tezuka as being the Father of Manga and considering his volume of work alone, it’s a title he well deserves. Of all his works (from ASTRO BOY to DORORO to MW to PHOENIX and to countless others), BLACK JACK is my absolute favorite. Despite originally coming out many a year ago, the release of a current edition by Vertical Inc has me drop everything I’m doing just so I can make sure I grab a copy. Over the course of seventeen volumes, Tezuka tells many a short story about the world’s greatest unlicensed surgeon in a variety of genres, ones that will make you laugh, others that will make you cry and even more that will scare the crap out of you. It’s comics medical drama at its finest.

10) RASL, written and illustrated by Jeff Smith, Cartoon Books
So, I mentioned I wasn’t going to list Jeff Smith’s BONE as it’s already pretty well praised and written up, but his current work, RASL, is one I think deserves a special spotlight. In fact, I think I enjoy it more than BONE. Maybe it’s because I’m older, maybe it’s because I really love any comic that regularly references Nikolai Telsa and Pablo Picasso. In the end, I know I’m enjoying every issue of Smith’s multi-dimensional sci-fi crime series.

11) NEAR DEATH, written by Jay Faerber, illustrated by Simone Guglielmini, Image Comics
Speaking of crime, we seem to be living in a Golden Age of comics crime fiction alone, perhaps started with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s CRIMINAL. Any Golden Age means there’s people trying to cash in on said Golden Age, resulting in a lot of sub-par work rehashing the same shit over and over again. I’m thrilled to say that NEAR DEATH not only doesn’t do that, but it’s a unique entry in a genre getting a lot of attention lately. Only one issue has hit the stands thus far, but I’ve read the first three and let me tell you the next two certainly live up to the high bar the first one set out in its story about a hitman making up for past crimes. This is a must read.

12) YAXIN: LE FAUNE GABRIEL written by Dimitri Vey & Man Arenas, Illustrated by Man Arenas, Soleil
Like KYLOOE, YAXIN is going to require you to reach overseas and be okay with reading (or not reading, as the case may be) French, but again, it’s well worth it. I haven’t been so impressed with a fantasy series in ages. It’s not just the content, but animator Man Arenas is building himself a throne in the same castle as Catherine Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith, Charles Vess and other such fantasy illustrators. It’s beyond beautiful work. Like NEAR DEATH, it works in a genre that’s really overplayed right now, but does something original. I got the same charge out of seeing Man Arenas’ work for the first time as I did Claire Wendling. High praise, but again, it’s all deserved.

13) ORC STAIN, written & illustrated by James Stokoe, Image Comics
On the complete opposite end of the fantasy spectrum (in execution, certainly not quality) is James Stokoe’s orc-infested epic, ORC STAIN. If YAXIN is fantasy’s version of classical music, ORC STAIN is its Death Metal. And I love each and every super-detailed page of it. I’ve read this described as modern “Boy Comics”, the kind of thing an angry 13-year old would love. I think they’re right. Then again, it’s also something this generally happy 29-year loves too, so take that for what you will.

14) MICKEY MOUSE: RACE TO DEATH VALLEY, written & illustrated by Floyd Gottfredson, Fantagraphics
Yes, Mickey Mouse is pretty much the most popular cartoon character on Earth and has the largest corporation out there marketing his every move, but Floyd Gottfredson’s long running comic strip has gone largely unrecognized since 1989’s Uncensored Mouse reprinted a handful of strips in two issues. I get why. It goes against the global brand of Mickey Mouse. He uses a gun. He’s contemplated suicide. There’s some straight-up racist shit. However, they’re really, really, really solid comics, regardless of character, I feel up there with Krazy Kat. This volume reprints some of the best introductory stories. I hope it’s merely the beginning of putting this huge body of strips back for general consumption.

15) META 4: THE COMPLETE SERIES, written & illustrated by Ted McKeever, Image Comics/Shadowline
I’ve been a fan of Ted McKeever’s trippy comics for a long time now and was stoked when Image Comics/Shadowline released three volumes of a Ted McKeever library (comprised of TRANSIT, EDDY CURRENT and METROPOL) and long hoped for not just further volumes, but also new material. I’m thrilled to say my wish for new material started with (but isn’t limited to) the release of META 4, a story about an astronaut waking up on Coney Island and the visually-speaking Santa Claus who may be his only chance at regaining his memory. It’s easily his strongest work (and this is coming from someone who has loved pretty much everything he’s done before) and deserves a whole lot of analysis.

16) ARZAK, VOL 1: L’ARPENTEUR, written & illustrated by Moebius, Glenat
Another one for the need-to-go-overseas/it’s-only-in-French pile. But hey, it’s written and illustrated by the guy I consider to be the greatest living artist, regardless of medium - Jean “Moebius” Giraud. Jean Giraud, under the pseudonym Moebius, has been crafting some of the finest science fiction since the 70s such as The Airtight Garage, Gardens of Aedena and, with Alejandro Jodorowsky, Incal. One of his most famous creations, ARZAK, returns in the first of a three volume series expanding on his backgrounds and origins. It’s usually true that you can’t go home again, but Moebius does so flawlessly, producing what I think is his best work, at least visually.

17) RODD RACER, written & illustrated by Toby Cypress, Image Comics
I did a One You Want about this one already, like a few entries on here, but I don’t really care. Again, Cypress is just that damn good. I’ll admit being a bit of a race car nut probably helps my passion for this book, but even if you loathe cool looking cars, his artistic ability makes this one a must buy.

18) MISS DON’T TOUCH ME, written by Hubert, illustrated by Kerascoet, NBM
A young woman’s sister is murdered, forcing her to live in a brothel with the intent of rooting out her killer in the post-Great War era story, imported from France by publisher NBM. It’s a deep work, often as horrifying as it is hilarious, as joyous as it is heart-breaking.

19) BLUE ESTATE, written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev & Andrew Osborne, illusrated by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Robert Valley & Paul Maybury, Image Comics
Speaking of crime comics and Toby Cypress, BLUE ESTATE marks as both one of my favorite crime series and one of my favorite artistic experiments, as its sprawling story crawls over nearly every sub-genre of crime fiction in a variety of styles which somehow all fit together despite each artist having their own unique look.

20) HAIR SHIRT, written & illustrated by Pat McEown, Self Made Hero
Pat McEown has been away from comics for a while, but it was no surprise the first few pages of HAIR SHIRT felt like he walked into the ongoing Comics Party, made a huge amount of noise and reminded everybody he’s one of the best people this medium has ever seen. HAIR SHIRT’s a familiar sounding story about remembering you can’t ever go home again, but McEown makes the seemingly well tread territory entirely his own.

21)  SAVAGE DRAGON, written & illustrated by Erik Larsen, Image Comics
I don’t get how this book doesn’t get more recognition. Like superheroes or not, Larsen’s written and illustrated over 175 issues of his series without an end in sight. Even Dave Sim had Gerhard on CEREBUS. It’s an unprecedented feat, which I think often gets unfairly categorized as a generic punching superhero. The truth is the superhero element is merely part of a larger whole, taking inspiration from a number of different comics, often experiment with the medium more so than its genre. While I think you could probably pick up the latest issue and dive in, I particularly recommend the black and white reprint volumes, SAVAGE DRAGON ARCHIVES, which collect about 25 issues at a time.

22) WE3, written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Frank Quitely, DC Comics/Vertigo
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely are quite possibly mainstream super-comics biggest stars, but their cybernetic take on HOMEWARD BOUND is quite possibly my favorite in-print collaboration of theirs. Not only is the story gripping, but the visual experiments they undertake are mesmerizing, most done in an effort to convey on paper how animals perceive our world. They also play with how you can utilize a 2D medium to convey 3D space. It’s something I haven’t seen since.

23) ORDINARY VICTORIES, written & illustrated by Manu Larcenet, NBM
While ORDINARY VICTORIES couldn’t be any more different than WE3 with its slice-of-life story of a guy dealing with getting older, the fact that it takes a story we’ve seen before and conveys it in such a new way visually gives it a common thread. There’s a reason this one is so wildly praised overseas. It’s a damn fine read just about anyone can relate to.

24) FINDER, written & illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil, Dark Horse Comics
I will never, ever understand how Carla Speed McNeil isn’t a higher praised cartoonist and especially how she’s not spoken as one of the best science fiction writers our medium has ever produced. She doesn’t just craft stories in FINDER, she’s building worlds almost better than anyone else out there, digging into just about every facet you can to create a sort-of aboriginal science-fiction I’ve never seen before. It’s now easier than ever to read the whole thing, as it’s available in two gigantic Library editions and one original graphic novel. Seriously, buy ‘em, read ‘em and single their praises as there’s not a lot of people who is in more need of recognition than McNeil.

25) DAYTRIPPER, written & illustrated by Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba, DC Comics/Vertigo
I could be wrong, but I think this entry makes Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba to be the only creators on this list to have more than one book their name, beyond Toby Cypress’ contribution to BLUE ESTATE. It’s very well deserved. Despite featuring two-thirds of the creative team of CASANOVA, DAYTRIPPER couldn’t be any more different. Whereas CASANOVA is a mind-melting spy-fi thriller, DAYTRIPPER is a meditation on where we are in the various stages of our lives and all the possibilities of where it can go or end. I also recommend Gabriel Ba’s collaboration with Gerard Way, UMBRELLA ACADEMY, which also couldn’t be any more different than CASANOVA or DAYTRIPPER. All must reads.

26) SUPERPRO K.O. written & illustrated by Jarrett Williams, Oni Press
I love pro wrestling almost as much as I love comics, but the two have never seem to fuse together in a way that services either the medium or the sport(s entertainment). Most of the time one of the larger federations will try to jam their intellectual property down the throat of comics or people will approach pro wrestling without any level of respect. However, Jarrett Williams accomplishes the rare feat of making pro wrestling work very well in comics with SUPERPRO K.O. In a way just about anybody could enjoy. It’s funny without approaching the subject matter ironically. SUPERPRO K.O. Makes it obvious Williams has a huge passion for what he’s writing about.

27) EMITOWN, written & illustrated by Emi Lenox, Image Comics
I’ve long held the belief autobiography is the toughest genre to pull off. I mean, lets face it, human life is a beautiful, precious thing, but in most cases if it’s not relayed through the filter of fiction, it’s usually pretty boring to read about. Lenox has a rare gift of making the mundane hilariously entertaining to read, including the rise and fall of relationships, trouble with work and the pursuit of the perfect breakfast burrito.

28) AFRODISIAC, written by Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca, illustrated by Jim Rugg, AdHouse Books
AFRODISIAC is your favorite 70s-comic blacksploitation that never was, written and illustrated in a variety of styles spanning the history of comics in what seems to be an absolute love letter to the medium itself.

29) LOSE, written & illustrated by Michael DeForge, Koyama Press
I once declared Michael DeForge to be the “World’s Most Exciting New Cartoonist” and I still stand by that statement. Every issue (of, thus far, three) of Michael DeForge’s LOSE excites me even more than the last for the vast amount of potential he shows. Each story is different than the one before, with each one sharing a beautiful surrealness I’ve not seen anyone else, even master cartoonists, replicate. Michael DeForge is definitely one to watch out for.

30) iZOMBIE, written by Chris Roberson & illustrated by Michael and Laura Allred, DC Comics/Vertigo
I’ve been a big fan of the Allreds’ work since Tundra first released the duo-tone MADMAN limited series. Since then I’ve followed just about everything they’ve done, including pre-MADMAN works like DEAD AIR and GRAFIK MUZIK as well as work-for-hire jaunts such as X-STATIX. iZOMBIE seems like the natural extension of all of Allred’s work, reaching back to the oddball weirdness of his GRAFIK MUZIK days, acting as a sort of and thematic sequel. iZOMBIE’s zombie struggling to be human seems like a natural fit within Allred’s oeuvre, resulting in the best combination of writer to artist in quite some time.

31) NO. 5, written & illustrated by Taiyo Matsumoto, Viz
The author of the hugely popular TEKKONKINKREET and the recent GOGO MONSTER recently rereleased his giant robot fighter series, NO. 5 as an iPad app and, I believe, a print edition on the way sometime soon. I read both TEKKONKINKREET and GOGO MONSTER without ever checking out NO. 5 and I have to say it’s pretty eye opening to understanding Mastumoto as an author. It’s just as off the wall and insanely detailed as his other work, in a way that makes the work wonderful dense and well worth many a reread.

32) STAGGER LEE, written by Derek McCulloch, illustrated by Shepherd Hendrix, Image Comics
I’m a big music fan and unlike my love of pro wrestling it seems like musics had an easier time gelling with comics, specifically in works like RED ROCKET 7 and LOVE & ROCKETS (apparently mostly comics with the word ‘rocket’ in the title). STAGGER LEE approaches music not as an element of a larger story, but rather the subject of the entire work, as it examines why the  Stagger Lee legend is so prevalent in songs over a countless number of styles.

33) FEAR AGENT, written by Rick Remender, illustrated by Tony Moore, Mike Hawthorne, Jerome Opena, others, Dark Horse Comics
I’m really particular about my science fiction. If it veers too much from what I like, it’s hard for me to gain any interest. I specifically dig either the Philip K Dick/CHILDREN OF MEN/MONSTERS type where it takes an element of sci-fi and keeps it otherwise grounded or the EC Comics/Jack Davis/Wally Wood style. Anything else rarely works for me. FEAR AGENT is one of two modern comics to get that EC Style down so well and really go somewhere interesting with it. In a sense, it’s not just the EC science fiction, but rather EC on a whole, from war to romance to horror and whatever else Gaines was publishing. However, it accomplishes all this without being nostalgic, which is something of a rare feat.

34) THE OVERMAN, written by Scott Reed, illustrated by Shane White, Image Comics
This is the other comic that takes the EC sci-fi style and does something new and original with it. THE OVERMAN is a bold, dense (in a good way) work which goes into very new directions in the hard sci-fi style. It’s a heady read, but one I enjoyed all the way through, multiple times over.

35) DIARY COMICS, written & illustrated by Dustin Harbin, Koyama Press
As I said with EMITOWN, autobiography is something I feel is really hard to pull off and also really hard for me to get into. Yet despite having such a wildly different style, Harbin is also able to make it work quite well. His style is very much his own, with certain roots in classical cartoonists, without ever seeming nostalgic. He’s definitely a cartoonist to watch out for, much like Michael DeForge in the respect I’m extremely excited for whatever he does next.

36) TURF, written by Jonathan Ross illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards, Image Comics
Imagine if Michael Bay made a blockbuster action flick in the 1930s and the end result would pretty much be TURF. It’s an especially impressive read knowing it’s Jonathan Ross’ first time out writing comics, but I suppose it does help he has one of the best illustrators comics has seen in some time, Tommy Lee Edwards, backing him up. It’s vampires versus mobsters with an alien spaceship crashing in the middle and screwing everything up in the best possible way.

37) THE KILLER, written by Matz, illustrated by Luc Jacamon, Archaia
THE KILLER is a hard noir take on a hitman on the verge of cracking. Jacamon and Matz examine the minutia of a life of hitman and the toll it would take on the human psyche and soul. It’s a quiet work, but one that is also thoroughly engaging over the three volumes in print. A great work.

38) KRAZY & IGNATZ in TIGER TEA, written & illustrated by George Herriman, IDW Publishing
KRAZY KAT is one of my favorite comic strips of all time, but it’s a bit hard to get into. There’s a lot of different volumes (mostly published by Fantagraphics) with a lot of debate as to where to start. I choose to introduce people with ‘TIGER TEA’, even though it’s pretty different from the rest. It’s one of the few times KRAZY KAT has ever had an ongoing storyline, this one basically involving alcoholism. That said, it’s a trip and an absolute fantastic addition to IDW Publishing’s lineup of Yoe! archival collections.

39) Absolutely Everything Sunday Press Publishes
As I mentioned in the intro, I want to keep this list somewhat affordable, but I struggled with the notion of not listing what Sunday Press publishes. On the one hand, their items tend to cost in or close to the three digit range. On the other hand, they’re the most brilliant reproductions of classic comics I have ever seen and this is coming from a guy who goes out of his way to buy reproductions of classic comics, often the same comics in multiple editions. I negotiated with myself to give the company a listing as opposed to the individual titles. I’d start with LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND: SO MANY SPLENDID SUNDAYS by Winsor McCay, their full size reprints of the comics masterpiece. Publisher Peter Maresca deserves the same level of Comics Sainthood as the Patron Saint of Reprints, Bill Blackbeard, does.

40) BULLETPROOF COFFIN, written by David Hine, illustrated by Shaky Kane, Image Comics
Examining comics in comics often doesn’t work and most times seems like navel gazing. However, leave it to the tales of David Hine and Shaky Kane to make the impossible work, as a comic about a comic about comics ended up being one of my favorite comics of the year. It’s brilliant and maddening in a way only the guys behind STRANGE EMBRACE and THE A-MEN could produce.

41) GILDED LILIES, written & illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, Conundrum Press
There’s a good chance you’ve already read or at least have seen Jillian Tamaki’s SKIM, but I particularly enjoy GILDED LILIES’ combination of short stories and sketchbook to get a different look at the cartoonist. She’s able to take her beautiful brush style to a number of differing types of comics, while all being recognizable as coming from her hand. Sometimes sad, other times exciting, but overall wonderful stuff.

42) AGE OF BRONZE, written & illustrated by Eric Shanower, Image Comics
Remember how I said I didn’t get how Carla Speed McNeil didn’t get more praise? Crank that up to 11 for Eric Shanower and his retelling, heck, recreation of the Trojan War, AGE OF BRONZE. I’ve sometimes found that the more well researched historical fiction is, the more bogged down the author gets in showing off the details instead of telling their story. Shanower works against all that, to create something astonishing well researching and incredibly engaging at the same time. He’s very skillful in a number of different ways, but my favorite thing may be his sense of timing. The guy’s able to pull off the most subtle, intimate moments between people with the same ease he seems to have an army crashing down a town’s gates. I combined “ease” with “seems”, because I can only imagine the high level of skill he has is something he’s worked extremely hard for. However, the reader would never know this, as each volume keeps you highly engaged.

43) LOOSE ENDS, written by Jason Latour, illustrated by Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi, 12-Gauge Comics
Another example of crime-fiction-done-right and a book-I’ve-recently-written-a-whole-column-about-but-feel-the-need-to-write-about-again-because-it’s-so-freaking-good. What can I say? Everything from the format, to Latour’s slowly brewed story to Brunner and Renzi’s beautiful, unique artwork make this one title I actually ask my retailer to pull aside for me so I never, ever run the chance of missing a single issue.

44) MALINKY ROBOT, written & illustrated by Sonny Liew, Image Comics
I talk about World Comics a lot - the theory Paul Pope put out there about styles from around the world converging in the upcoming generation of cartoonists as the availability of world wide works increases. There’s not a lot of other cartoonists who embody this more than the Singapore-based Sonny Liew, whose work seems to transcend their cyberpunk roots and go in a completely unique direction. Like a few others I’ve mentioned, Liew’s current work makes me excited for the medium’s future and specifically where he’ll be taking it from here.

45) MONSTER PARTY, written & illustrated by Chris Eliopoulos, Koyama Press
A lot of people talk about needing more comics for kids, but not a lot of them do anything about it. Eliopoulos not only does something about it, he does so better than anyone else. Between this and his Top Shelf release, OKIE DOKIE DONUTS, Eliopoulos seems to really get how to write and draw comics kids will actually want to read, which won’t bore the parents buying them. The guy has a huge future here and it’ll be very interesting to see where he goes.

46) BLACKSAD, written by Juan Diaz Canales, illustrated Juanjo Guardino, Dark Horse Comics
This is the last major crime work on this list, but also one of the all-time greatest. BLACKSAD takes on the Cold War era with an approach many have tried to emulate, but all have failed. While BLACKSAD does the same with many a noir pastiche, it avoids being either nostalgic or boring by doing something very different. It no doubt helps Juajo Guardino is one of the greatest illustrators this mediums ever seen, especially when it comes to how characters act and portray emotion. There’s a lot to absorb in his amazingly detailed art work, but it’s in the subtleties he really succeeds.

47) PIM & FRANCIE: THE GOLDEN BEAR DAYS, written & illustrated by Al Columbia, Fantagraphics
My description of Al Columbia’s PIM & FRANCIE: THE GOLDEN BEAR days boils down to a ‘fever dream.’ Not quite a linear narrative, not quite a sketchbook, Columbia’s work recalls the cartoonists of the 1920s and 30s in the most disturbing way possible. If MICKEY MOUSE: RACE TO DEATH VALLEY is those cartoons at their purest, PIM & FRANCIE is those cartoons at their most twisted. I love every page of it. Like Guardino, a lot of people try to pull of what Columbia does, but they’re never successful.

48) 7 PSYCHOPATHS, written by Fabrien Vehlmann, illustrated by Sean Phillips, Boom! Studios
I already mentioned what a big fan I am of Sean Phillips’ CRIMINAL, but it’s this World War II-based mini-series I thought deserved its own mention. Originally part of the 7-series published by Delcourt in France, 7 PSYCHOPATHS reveals the seven certified insane assassins giving one final shot at assassinating Hitler in a way that makes Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS look tame in comparison.

49) THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC. VOL 1: TERROR OVER PARIS/THE EIFFEL TOWER DEMON written & illustrated by Jacques Tardi, Fantagraphics
Jacques Tardi is known for an awful lot of different types of comics, usually more grounded, but ADELE BLANC-SEC is pretty much as opposite of them all as it gets. Often more comical, sharing much more in common with DYLAN DOG than any of Tardi’s own works. Each story is a different take on the monster hunter’s various, well, monster hunts, all while being pretty comically strange and no two quite alike.

50) ELEPHANTMEN/HIP FLASK, written by Richard Starkings, illustrated by Ladronn, Moritat, Axel Medellin and many others, Image Comics
As I mentioned when I talked about FEAR AGENT, there’s basically two types of sci-fi that I like. One was the EC-style FEAR AGENT and THE OVERMAN do so well, the other is the much more grounded Philip K. Dick/CHILDREN OF MEN style ELEPHANTMEN and its companion mini-series HIP FLASK, seem capable of properly conveying. Often described as “TAXI DRIVER meets BLADE RUNNER”, ELEPHANTMEN takes on the ongoing story of creatures created solely to be weapons attempting to find their place in a futuristic Los Angeles. It’s not easy. Not by a long shot.

51) DUNCAN THE WONDER DOG, written and illustrated by Adam Hines, AdHouse Books
This one hit me out of nowhere and left me feeling blindsided. Adam Hines’ massive story of just what animals are thinking (one of nine incredibly huge volumes) covers about three billion different types of art styles handled so damn well. It’s especially impressive when you consider it’s handled so damn well by someone who’s relatively brand new to this industry. All the hype you’ve read about this one is dead on. You need to read this.

52) NONPLAYER, written & illustrated by Nate Simpson, Image Comics
Along those lines comes a mere single issue that knocked the entire comics industry on its ass when it was released earlier this year. While being released at a snail’s pace, the 2011 Russ Manning Award recipient Nate Simpson is keeping this one very much well worth the wait, with testimonials coming from medium heavyweights such as Moebius, Frank Quitely and Geof Darrow. It may take years to come out, but there’s not another comic out there where a single issue warrants so many revisitations, if not just to live in its world just a little bit longer. NONPLAYER is damn fine comics at their damn finest.

###

Joe Keatinge is the Eisner and Harvey award-winning co-editor of POPGUN and writer of the upcoming Image Comics series, BRUTAL, with illustrator Frank Cho. He lives in Portland, OR and works out of the comics studio, Tranquility Base. Follow him on Twitter @joekeatinge.

Comments

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Sep 26, 2011 at 6:11pm

    This list is going to end up, just like some of Paul Gravett's lists, doing serious damage to my credit card...

  • Richard Boom

    Richard Boom Sep 27, 2011 at 3:12am

    amen!! :D I actually only have three titles from this list :D
    22, 50, 46... Blacksad is amazing!!

  • Jason Copland

    Jason Copland Sep 27, 2011 at 12:46pm

    RODD RACER is pitch perfect. More love is needed for the work of Toby Cypress. Toby is the real thing.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Sep 29, 2011 at 5:57am

    ORDINARY VICTORIES is one of my faves ever! Good pick, also thanks for the Krazy & Ignatz tip (hello Amazon, how did you suddenly pop up in my browser?) and as for Seven Psychopaths, have to disagree there (http://www.brokenfrontier.com/lowdown/p/detail/sean-phillipsa-psychos -> it's an older link from before the BF redesign so images are left out)

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Sep 30, 2011 at 3:30am

    ak, I wanted to be a smartass and buy the Fantagraphics krazy kat collection with the Tiger Tea storyline because the single Tiger Tea collection apparently doesn't contain the whole thing and what happens??? it's the only year they don't seem to have collected 1936-1937, the collections skip that one. dammit.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Sep 30, 2011 at 8:33am

    With KRAZY KAT Bart it kind of doesn't matter where you start - it will take you a volume or two to get into it. But once you do you really won't regret it! I think the volumes I have jump around a little.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Sep 30, 2011 at 8:45am

    I know but that krazy kat addicted to liquor? that sure seemed like a good starting point to me :p

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