Comic Creators on the Comics That Stood Out in 2021

You’re about to get two straight weeks of me talking about my opinions about 2021 in comics. It’s going to be a lot. I figured with that on the horizon, we might as well start by looking at the year that was from the perspective of people who are much smarter about comics than yours truly: the people who make them themselves.

That’s going to be happening all week here on SKTCHD, as a bevy of fantastic creators will be sharing their views on the year that was, from the top comics and creators to the trends that have caught their eyes for today and tomorrow. A new one of these features will be running each day this week, and shocking absolutely no one, these smart people have smart views on this wild world of comics we reside in.

Kicking the whole thing off is the arguable big gun, because why not start with our Best Picture equivalent from the jump. It gets more interesting from here, I swear, but here’s the first question I challenged these kind folks to answer:

What comic or comics really worked for you this year? Did anything blow you away in particular?

It turns out the answer to the latter was yes, so let’s get to the comics! There’s a lot of goodness within, so if you’re looking for an excellent reading list, you can certainly develop a robust one with the comics suggested touted here.

Dave Baker (Everyone is Tulip): Will Kirkby’s Grenade. It feels like the type of work that has been labored over and obsessed over by the creator for years. That’s the type of work I really respond to. A passion project that you can tell almost broke the creator. There’s a madness, intensity, and compulsion in his pages. He’s a brilliant illustrator that you can tell got swept away by the project in the best way possible. Highly recommended.

Declan Shalvey (X-Men Unlimited): This may be my worst year for keeping on top of things but there were some jems this year. Every time I read a Brubaker/Phillips joint like the current Reckless books, it gets me so jazzed to make comics. Friday with Brubaker and Martin was a godsend. Chip and Marco’s Daredevil book has continued to be excellent, Chris and Laura Samnee’s Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters has been a joy. Really enjoying Christine Larson’s Orcs. I just read Cliff Chiang’s Catwoman: Lonely City and loved it. Human Target is mind-blowingly beautiful and I’m really impressed with the ambition of Williams III & Blackman’s Echolands.

Elsa Charretier (November): Although I imagine my suggestions will be largely preaching to the converted, I’m talking to you, one reader that hasn’t yet picked up Hellboy and Deadly Class. These two books -for which I was extraordinarily late to the party seeing that our favorite demon has been throwing comics on its head since 1993 and Deadly Class is about to conclude its 50-issue run- have changed my year.   

I never had any doubt that Hellboy would blow my mind. I saved it as you save the last cookie in the jar. For a rainy day, for the insatiable craving that makes you tear through your house in the quest for something worthy of your time, something comfy yet substantial. And I guess it’s no surprise that the pandemic felt like one of those times. Hellboy soothed me. It opened in my mind a pocket of joy, gothic bitter-sweetness, an inspiration that I can now call upon request, whether when I’m creating or just going through life. Which is what stories are ultimately about: giving one extra tools to understand one’s humanity. In that regard, and in many others, Mike Mignola’s creation is a piece of art you’re lucky to come across once in a lifetime.  

Deadly Class is a whole other kind of monster. I always kept an eye on it -primarily because Wes Craig is an artist I would have loved to be, if I were ever given a choice on my drawing and storytelling style. Finally, I jumped in and got the first trade. For the art, initially. I quickly realized I had vastly underestimated how Rick Remender’s writing would be a perfect companion to Craig’s art and Jordan Boyds’s colors. The story tells us about a school for young assassins. Not the most reliable of circumstances. Yet everything that matters, who these kids are, what they are going through as teenagers, as victims of violence, of drugs, and of a world careening madly toward neoliberalism, rings astonishingly true. 

Ten pages in, I ordered the next four volumes. 

James Tynion IV (The Nice House on the Lake): I have a feeling I won’t be the only one with this answer, but reading Barry Windsor Smith’s MONSTERS has to be one of the most powerful reading experiences of the year. I think a lot of creators my age (and not my age, frankly), still see the mid-late 1980s as the creative peak of what our industry can and should be. I think a lot of us go through a phase where we sit down and read through all the seminal hits of that era and… So having a book that was conceived and started during that moment, and slowly, deliberately put to paper over three decades and released into the world by one of the real masters of our medium is something deeply special. It’s a big sturdy book, and reading it is like stepping into a time machine and traveling to the raw, uncaged creativity of that era. You can still feel the warmth of the creative fire carried forward more than 30 years. There’s also just the joy of seeing this masterpiece, originally conceived as a Hulk story, released as Fantagraphics book, which hearkens back to an era when the walls between indy/alternative comics and the superhero mainstream were not as impermeable as they would become in the 1990s. And it’s just a damn good comic book that challenges us all to be better. What more could you ask for?

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