Tag Archives: Best of Lists

Top Picks: Graphic Novels of 2016

Well, time has rolled around again for my annual best of list.  This year, I’m going to go about it a little differently.  I’m choosing one selection from each of the 2016 meetings of the Graphic Novel Discussion Group.

The list is in chronological order by month rather than any ranking by preference.  I have included the topic we covered for that month as well.  There are some of the selections where I have only listed the stand-alone work or the series as a whole.

All right, let’s get to it…

Craziness, that’s all I’ve got to say!  If you like the tough-kid Borribles series (a major influence on writers like China Mieville) and the twisted narratives of David Lynch‘s movies then you will love this graphic novel by Farel Dalrymple.

 

This is an incredibly detailed 24 foot-long panoramic drawing by Joe Sacco that tries to capture the full events of just one day of battle in World War I. The set also includes a 16-page booklet to give viewers some historical context.

 

  • The Sandman series (by Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III) – Sandman Overture

sanmanoverture

Neil Gaiman finally returns to his award-winning, beloved Sandman series with a prologue tale that explains just how Morpheus was captured in the very first issue of the series.  The art by J.H. Williams III is gorgeous and appropriately psychedelic as befits the adventures of the Lord of Dreams across the galaxy as he attempts to right a wrong from long ago.

 

roadtocivilwar

This volume of the first Civil War series collects the prequels to the main tale.  In it we get to see how key players such as Doctor Strange, Mister Fantastic, Namor, Professor X, and Iron Man form the ultra-secretive Illuminati, as well as how Spider-man is drawn into the conflict between the forces of government control and those superheroes who wish to retain their autonomy.

 

  • May 2016: We did not have a meeting in May so I’m going to put up a comic that I read in 2016 and just loved, Gotham Academy!

gothacadem

Gotham Academy is a prestigious boarding school with a ton of secrets.  Mystery, magic, and the bonding of a special group of students make for a creepy thrill-ride.

 

Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin have beautifully crafted a future where all our expectations about privacy have been turned upside down after a major event that shuts down the Internet for good.  In this world, our main character, a private investigator, and his femme fatale client break rule after rule in search of her missing sister.  Along the way they stumble into a conspiracy that threatens to shake the very foundations of this new social order.

 

Strangers in Paradise was the 13 year project of indie comic writer and artist, Terry Moore.  It was a complicated series of interlocking stories told in a realistic style with a dedicated fan-base addicted to the intensely personal quality of the main characters’ interaction. It mixed several sub-genres – romance, crime drama, and autobiography – while always feeling fresh and compelling.

 

  • Valiant Comics – Harbinger (by Joshua Dysart)harbingah

Honestly, I could have picked a few other titles such as The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage, Archer & Armstrong, or The Eternal Warrior as my favorite Valiant Entertainment selection but Harbinger is the title that originally attracted me to their line of comics.  It is the tale of Peter Stanchek and other teens like him who have psionic powers and are trying to escape Project Rising Spirit, who have been holding them prisoner and conducting experiments on them.  Joshua Dysart‘s pacing is tight and his dialogue is crisp, letting the reader get to know the characters while keeping thrills coming one right after the other.

 

A classic and a cornerstone of many introductory Comic Studies courses, Scott McCloud‘s Understanding Comics is more than just that.  It is also an entertaining comic in itself.

 

Mike Mignola has created one, excuse the pun, hell of a quintessentially quirky supernatural comic character with Hellboy.  This trade is a collection of the various one-offs and other ephemera about Hellboy that were published in other titles.  Also, there is a short story, King Vold, that was created especially for this particular compilation.

 

Well, what can I say?  Doctor Strange is one weird dude and so are most of his stories.  I honestly can’t pinpoint a particular one that I’d suggest because I tend to like him best when he is part of a team, be it The Defenders, the Illuminati, or as Dr. Doom’s sidekick in Jonathan Hickman‘s Secret Wars.

 

lrv1n24

This series is hard to quickly summarize because there have been three different creators, all brothers, with different visions who have participated across the 30+ years of its existence.  The primary two creators have been Jaime Hernandez, whose focus has been on the punk scene of a primarily Latino community in California (presumably East Los Angeles), and Gilbert Hernandez, who has spun out a rich set of stories about a mythical Latin American town called Palomar (and the immigrants in the U.S. who’ve hailed from there).

My personal favorite are the stories that focus around the characters Maggie and Hopey, also known about town as the Locas.  You can see them in action in the above now-iconic picture from Love & Rockets #24.

 


If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group. Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 7:00 PM.

Upcoming meetings will take place on the following dates:

dciomfeb2017

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Tony, Main Library

My Top Ten Graphic Novels of 2015

Man, 2015 was a killer year for the graphic novel format and especially for the library’s ever-expanding collection of graphic titles (thanks to LFPL’s graphic novel selector and manager of the Newburg Branch, Kerry Hunter).

I’ve been sitting on this top ten for so-o-o long because I keep on changing my mind about what should make it and what shouldn’t.  Since it’s way beyond late for best-of lists, let me drop it on you as is…ten picks in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.

Many of the titles are ongoing series so I’ve just named each series as a whole rather than any specific volume. I have included artists when listing creators but some titles have multiple artists so then I’ve only listed the writer.

  • Batgirl by Cameron Stewart/Brendan Fletcher — Barbara Gordon is off to college, living in a new part of town, and Batgirl is changing along with her! The stories are well-paced and the art by Brendan Fletcher is a fresh change of pace from typical superhero fare.

batgirl

  • Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick/Valentine De Landro — Imagine The Handmaid’s Tale if it was a women-in-prison exploitation film…set in space!  The art by Valentine De Landro perfectly reflects the 1970’s grindhouse aesthetic that co-creator Kelly Sue DeConnick is evoking.  However, rather than titillating the male gaze, DeConnick serves up an entertaining kick to the groin of Patriarchy!

bitchplanet

  • Deadly Class by Rick Remender — Set in 1987, this tale of punk rock rebellion mixed with a twisted take on the classic boarding school setting is a non-stop thriller.  Rick Remender once again deftly develops his outsider character, here named Marcus Lopez.  Lopez clearly has a lot of heart, screwed up as it may be, as he trains to be an assassin and falls in love with the wrong girl.

deadly class

  • Finder by Carla Speed McNeil — Whoa! It is hard to describe this series as Carla Speed McNeil, both author and artist, has spent the better part of 20 years developing this sci-fi/fantasy tale about a futuristic society that may or may not be here on Earth.  The main character, Jaeger, is the titular Finder, his aboriginal society’s title for a certain kind of shaman.  Issues of race, class, the nature of work, the power of reading, magic, and sexuality are all explored as we follow Jaegar’s travels.

finderthird

  • Ms. Marvel by G.W. Wilson — Kamala Khan is a nerdy but cool first generation Pakistani-American teen just trying to get through school and keep up with her fan obsessions (one of whom is Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel) when she is exposed to the mysterious Terrigen Mist.  Once exposed, Kamala finds herself with new powers, ones that she she uses to keep her hometown safe – even though she has strict immigrant parents, a curfew, and the constant monitoring of the Inhumans to boot.

msmarvel

  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson — Nimona is one heck of a little hell-raiser and don’t you forget it!  She forces her way into the life of the villain Lord Blackheart so that she can become his apprentice.  As Lord Blackheart battles his arch-nemesis Sir Goldenloin, he finds Nimona just may be too wild to guide.  Noelle Stevenson’s art can be said to be simple and cute but is sophisticated enough to portray the darkness of the soul when needed.

nimona

  • Outcast by Robert Kirkman/Paul Azaceta — Demon possession is tackled by Robert Kirkman, the writer who brought us The Walking Dead.  Kyle Barnes’s life has been ruined by demons by the time he meets Reverend Anderson, who is trying – and failing – to successfully perform an exorcism. The art by Paul Azaceta is creepy, allowing the story to breathe as it unfolds at a psychologically compelling pace.

outcast

  • Polarity by Max Bemis/Jorge Coelho — Can a drifting young man with bi-polar depression be a superhero?  This question is explored in a visually stunning tale from Max Bemis and Jorge Coelho.

polarity

  • Phonogram by Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie — I’m a sucker for comics about music and Phonogram is just that.  But it’s also about identity, magic, the nature of reality, and really great tunes!  Kieron Gillen is an old hipster for sure but he’s got none of the out of touch boringness that such a label suggests…yes, Gillen knows how to keep you coming back for more.  Jamie McKelvie renders the characters and the setting in crisp lines but the real magic is in his facial expressions…every character is clearly their own.  This is a boon as many comics with what I call the “indie autobiographical style” of art fail to strongly differentiate anyone but the main character.

phonogram

  • Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe — Quick synopsis: four party-hardy women in a medieval world roam the countryside and slay monsters.  Yeah, this could have been stereotypical sword and sorcery fluff but Kurtis Weibe slips in subtle, convincing character details for all four warriors along the way. He also is great with writing banter so I found myself laughing all the way, too.  Roc Upchurch was the artist on the first few issues and his character designs are gorgeous.

ratqueens

 

If you are interested in talking about these comics or others, LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group is the place for you!  The Group meets at the Main Branch on the second Monday of every month at 6:00 PM.

ThePrivateEye
Join us on June 13, 2016 as we explore the future-noir world of The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan (co-creator of the New York Times best-selling series Saga) and Marcos Martin.

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Tony, Main Library

In Defense of Comics, pt. 2: Take the Challenge!

In a previous article, In Defense of Comics, I closed with a challenge to those who do not normally read comics to try one out.  Of course, picking a title to get started on can be difficult for the novice.  But as I was working up a best of list for this year’s graphic novels, it struck me that this could be a perfect opportunity to assist the those who would like to take me up on that challenge.

The list below comprises some of my favorite comics which I read in the past year (whether or not they were published in 2014).  There are twelve titles in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.  Many of the titles are ongoing series so I have just named each series as a whole rather than any specific volume.  I have separately given both the author and main artist for each title (except for those titles where the author and the artist are the same person). 

To make it easier still, all of these works can be checked out from LFPL.  You can click the title and it will take you to the item’s record in our catalog.  If it is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a request (using the button on the right hand side of the entry). 

I suggest that one volume (or series) be read each month in 2015 so that you can become comfortable with the medium.  Notice I said medium not genre.  The works below span several genres – and only two can be said to be of the superhero genre – but they are all clearly using the comic medium.

So, here goes:

Bandette by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover

bandette

Bandette is a teenaged thief but she’s the most stylish and fun thief you’ll ever meet.  Watch as she defies both the police and the criminal underworld with her wits and panache in this giddy adventure appropriate for children but charming enough to capture adult hearts.  Line art by Colleen Coover is in the Franco-Belgian style and colors are applied in a painterly manner harking back to America’s (then-contemporary) view of Paris in the late 1950’s or 60’s.

 

Battling Boy by Paul Pope

battlingboy

Son of a fierce warrior god, Battling Boy comes to Earth for his initiation rites.  He lands in Acropolis as it is menaced by a series of monsters and quickly becomes its latest hero (now that the city’s former defender, vigilante Haggard West, has recently died).   Paul Pope, both author and artist, brings his edgy punk rock style to this tale that will appeal to superhero, fantasy, and manga fans alike.

 

Fatale by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

fatalebrubaker

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continue their award-winning approach to this tale of crime noir (of course) mixed with horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft.  The book’s title gets its name from the main character, femme fatale Jo, who is stalked across the 20th Century by an ancient evil power.  The art is perfectly pulpy and creepy as befits a tale filled with crooked cops, Nazi spies, Satanic cults, snuff films, and other dark matter.

 

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

ghostopolis

Ghostopolis is a boy’s adventure tale.  The protagonist, Garth Hale, is accidentally zapped to the spirit world by failing ghost hunter, Frank Gallows.  In the spirit world, Garth meets his grandfather’s ghost, Cecil, and the two go on a quest to find a way back home for Garth.  Along the way, the evil ruler of Ghostopolis tries to take control of our hero as Garth has manifested powers that the spirits do not have.  TenNapel‘s art is energetic and the page layouts are well-designed to keep the reader engaged in the story and ready to flip to the next page.

 

The Grand Duke by Yann & Romain Hugault

grandduke

The Grand Duke, gorgeously rendered by Romain Hugault, is a non-fiction tale set in the waning days of World War II.  It centers around a unit of the Luftwaffe and the Night Witches, a real life women’s air corps that flew for the Soviet Union, as they battle it out in the skies over Eastern Europe.  Despite knowing how history turns out, the author keeps the reader engrossed as both sides raggedly pursue war’s end against great material odds and low morale.

 

Hopeless Savages by Jen Van Meter & Christine Norrie

hopelessavages

The perils of punk rock parenting in suburbia with romance, intrigue, and reality TV are explored in this quirky, hip collection of tales.  Due  to the number of artists that have worked on the series over the years, there is no one style that dominates other than it’s all in black and white.  

 

Lazarus by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

lazaruckas
Lazarus is a dystopian tale set in the near enough future that it sometimes feels scary, as if all that it would take for the events in the story to happen is a few bad years where government breaks down and corporations step into the void.  Lazarus’ main character, Forever Carlyle, is her family’s main protector and enforcer of the harsh set of formal and informal rules that keep them in power.  While in many ways a stereotypical strong female protagonist, Forever comes across as very real.  Rucka deftly shows us how her contradictions and weaknesses form Forever’s motivations.  Michael Lark‘s art combines science fiction and crime elements in a perfect blend with colorist Santiago Arcas‘ subtle use of shade and tone.

 

Peter Panzerfaust by Kurtis Wiebe & Tyler Jenkins

peterpanzerfaust
Peter Panzerfaust is a retelling of the J.M. Barrie classic story.  The setting is World War II and the charismatic Peter helps a band of orphans survive the German invasion of France.  Soon the group is pursued by an SS officer that Peter wounded in their escape but they are also given assistance by members of the French Resistance, including the alluring Tiger Lily.  Tyler Jenkins manages to blend fantasy art and combat action art into a style akin to noir but which is much more lively and fantastic in tone.  His composition moves the story along effortlessly, shifting from standard panels to open space with ease.

 

Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra

scalped

Scalped is a dark crime noir story that takes place mostly on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the deeply impoverished Oglala Nation (also known as the Lakota).  This is a sordid environment where the very worst in people is explored during an undercover assignment taken on by the reservation’s own prodigal son, F.B.I. Special Agent Dashiell Bad Horse.  Readers are witness to harrowing drug and alcohol addiction, ultraviolence, and spiritual desolation as Bad Horse attempts to bring to justice the reservation’s Chief Lincoln Red crow, a former Native American radical now turned mob boss.  Grim and dirty – even ugly at times – art by R.M.  Guéra helps convey the sense that the world the characters live in is terribly damaged.

 

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber

superiorfoes

Spider-Man is one of the quintessential characters that people think of when they think of superheroes. However, this is not your quintessential superhero book. In fact, neither Spider-Man nor any other superhero appear in the tale much at all. No, this is character-driven book that looks at the other side of the equation, what it would be like to be a supervillain.  Much like another recent Marvel title, Hawkeye, this comic rests on a sturdy foundation of humor and rough art to convey the working class nature of its characters (i.e., the Sinister Six) as they clumsily attempt to carry off a variety of criminal jobs.

 

Thief of Thieves by Robert Kirkman & various artists

thiefothieves

This is a straight up heist tale about a veteran thief working a last big score with his crew, the comic equivalent of Ocean’s Eleven. One twist is that this veteran, Redmond, is not just working for himself but to save the life of his wannabe yet ne’er-do-well son, Augustus, from a major crime boss to whom Augustus is heavily indebted. The art varies (as different artists were utilized over the run of the series so far) but as a whole, it is a mix of noir and mainstream comic styles that are appropriately gritty.

 

Watson and Holmes by Brandon Perlow & Paul Mendoza

watsonandholmes

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson together again!  Sort of.  This time, they are a pair of African-Americans who investigate crimes in New York City.  The art is not easy to pigeonhole into one genre though the use of color and setting do clearly give it the feel of a mystery.  Everyone from Doyle‘s classic tales, from Inspector Lestrade to Sherlock’s Irregulars, makes an appearance at some point as the duo are embroiled in a case that involves drugs, gangs, and guns.

Reviews by Tony, Main Library


If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join us at one of the following LFPL book discussion groups:

Graphic Novel Discussion Group @ Main

Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

Graphic Novel and Comic Book Discussion @ Fairdale

Meetings are held at the Fairdale Branch on the first Tuesday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

Twelve Great Reads

Can you believe it? 2013 is almost over. And you know what that means…end of the year time is Best of the Year time!

So here is a list of some favorite comics from the past year. They may or may not have been published in 2013. Many of the titles are ongoing series so I have just named each series as a whole rather than any specific volume.

All of these works can be checked out from LFPL. I have also named the author and main artist for each title (except for #12 where there were multiple artists over the course of its run, sometimes even in the same issue).

Due to the variety of stories being told, it was difficult to rank the items in order of preference. Instead, they are listed below in alphabetical order.


American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque

What if vampires were evolving? What if one of the meanest, low-down gunslingers of the Wild West was the first of a new breed of stronger, faster vampires? Stephen King himself adds his macabre touch to this tale of horror and revenge across the decades.


Batman: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

One of the best of DC’s New 52 storylines. Scott Snyder (who is also the primary writer for American Vampire) deftly continues the building of Gotham’s most important character – the city itself – that he began in the Gates of Gotham. We are introduced to the shadowy Court of Owls and to the Talons, an army of immortal assassins in service to the Court, as they decide to show Batman who really runs Gotham.


Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja

Action and comedy mingle in this fast-paced look at the life of the non-powered superhero. It’s just a man with a bow tackling problems with femme fatales, Russian mobsters, and the training of a sidekick…er, partner. The writing by Matt Fraction is quick and witty, and the art by David Aja is a perfect fit.


I, Vampire by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino

A minor character from J.M. DeMattheis’ run on House of Mystery is now the star of his own title in the New 52 universe. The background of Andrew Bennett, the titular vampire, is revealed along the way as he battles the plans of his lover, Mary Queen of Blood, to lead a worldwide vampire revolution against humanity’s dominance over other species.


The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

Imagine a world where The Manhattan Project was but one undertaking of a long-running government program to investigate and master exotic science for the benefit of the U.S. Many important scientists from the mid-Twentieth Century work there but one, Robert Oppenheimer, is harboring a secret of his own that will threaten the very existence of The Projects.


The Massive by Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson

The Massive is not just another post-apocalyptic tale. It examines what it would mean to be an ecological activist in the wake of multiple events that trigger permanent disastrous climate change. Brian Wood – best known for creating DMZ and his work on various X-men titles – keeps this exploration from becoming didactic or boring by focusing on the mystery of a disappearing ship which the main characters are seeking. Plus they have to battle pirates!


Mind the Gap by Jim McCann and Rodin Esquejo

This para-scientific thriller is about a woman admitted to the emergency room after being beaten into a coma and what her place is in an unfolding conspiracy. The protagonist, Elle Peterssen, finds herself conscious but separated from her body. She is in an indeterminate spiritual realm and wants to get back to the real world. While Elle struggles to return to everyday life, there is a lot of drama involving her friends, her family, and a mysterious stranger who seems to be orchestrating events from the shadows.


Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma

Morning Glories is part prep school drama, part Lost-style conspiracy, and all fun. Nick Spenser – creator of Infinite Vacation, a title that almost made this list – keeps the intrigue and the action going without skimping on characterization. Love them or hate them, you definitely want to know what happens to these characters.


Revival by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton

What if a zombie outbreak happened only in a small, rural Wisconsin town? And said town has to struggle with the reintegration of its newly revived citizens into society? Not only that but it has to face the pressure from the rest of the world that is pushing at the boundaries of a CDC quarantine zone. Revival is subtitled “A Rural Noir” and that is exactly what it is. Tim Seeley doesn’t back away from showing the macabre and horror inherent in the situation. What else would you expect from the creator of the infamous Hack/Slash series?


Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Two alien races are at war but love unites a couple of soldiers from each race as they are pursued by their respective forces who wish to punish them for their treason. They also have to figure out how to take care of their newborn child and deal with overbearing parents! Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ space opera never turns into corny pastiche even though its core story is as old as Shakespeare and is filled with stock science fiction trappings like space battles, mercenaries, and robots.


Saucer Country by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly

This series has been described by its creators Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly as “The West Wing does The X-Files,” and they deliver on the promise of those words. Arcadia Alvarado, the Governor of New Mexico, is about to make a bid for the Presidency when she is abducted by aliens. As her staff struggles to keep her campaign from faltering, Arcadia hires Professor Joshua Kidd, a Harvard sociologist who has studied alien abduction, to help her get to the truth of UFOs and the alien agenda.


The Shade by James Dale Robinson

The Shade (a.k.a. Richard Swift) has been a super-villain since the Golden Age of comic books, primarily serving as nemesis to both the Jay Garrick and Barry Allen iterations of The Flash. But he is also an immortal who gained his powers in the same period which saw Charles Dickens rise to fame. In fact, Dickens was a great friend of The Shade when he was still a normal man. In this series we find The Shade in a morally ambiguous place as he has decided to change his super-villain ways and save his descendants from assassination by a mysterious opponent.

-Tony-