It’s Thanksgiving in America. So, in lieu of our typical Friday column, we’re mixing things up by talking about ten things I’ve been thankful for this year in comics, with the regular edition of Comics Disassembled returning next week. I just can’t pass up this day of thanks as an opportunity to talk about a whole bunch of cool things I’ve liked in comics this year, so let’s get to it!
Unexpected Delights, Delighting Unexpectedly
While I wouldn’t say that this is a significant part about the malaise surrounding comics necessarily, I do sometimes wonder whether the constant focus on getting people to pre-order and inundating them with everything you could possibly know about an upcoming comic takes some of the excitement away from the whole thing. The constant buildup and endless drive to get people to buy specific comics has, at least to me, removed some of the thrill of finding something new and unexpected to read. Not always, but it’s often true.
That’s why some of my favorite comics this year have been the most unexpected ones, and no publisher better exemplified that than ShortBox. Zainab Akhtar’s once and future publisher — the one behind 2023 releases like Joe Sparrow’s Cuckoo, Devi Putri Megwati’s Out of Style, and 100+ releases during October’s ShortBox Comics Fair — has been a one stop shop for great comics throughout its existence. This year was no different. And the beauty is, I trust ShortBox to the point I’m happy to order anything from them even if I know very little about it — I actually avoid learning things, at times — simply because I know if they’re publishing it, it’s sure to be good (or at the very least, interesting). It makes every ShortBox release an unexpected delight, something I treasure in an era of being immersed in knowledge.
ShortBox isn’t the only home to these types of stories. Other new titles like Image’s Hexagon Bridge, First Second’s Bea Wolf, and Avery Hill’s The Hard Switch snuck up on me and wowed me in the process, while even a comparatively ancient series in Time Before Time surprised me with an ascendant final year. Whenever this kind of thing happens, though, it brings a ton of joy to me as a comic fan, especially when it’s so rare.
Creators, Showing Different Sides
One of my favorite things in comics is seeing creators showcase different sides of themselves. No one is just one thing, even if they sometimes stick to what they’re known for, and for obvious reasons. If fans get to know you for one thing, it can be prudent to stick to that one thing. But every writer, artist, colorist, letterer, and beyond is capable of much more than we see from them, because what keeps them in a certain approach is typically dictated by what a project requires of them (i.e. if you’re drawing a superhero comic, draw it in a superhero comic sort of way) more than their creative capabilities. I love getting a chance to see creators explore what they’re capable of.
This year has felt particularly loaded in creators showing different sides of themselves and popping because of it. Sometimes those come for obvious reasons, like when you have an artist in Erica Henderson drawing and coloring two different graphic novels in one year that exist in much different genres, or a cartoonist in Juni Ba publishing a pair of tomes created in much different times of his life. You’ll even see it from cartoonists like Faith Erin Hicks and Trung Lê Capecchi-Nguyễn who craft short comics for social media to express another side of themselves outside of their published work, whether that’s about something like your relationship with fan art or your experiences traveling in France. These disparate works provide an obvious compare and contrast with their other work that showcase the broad capabilities and gifts these fine folks bring to the comic book art form.
Sometimes it’s a bit less obvious. A good example of this is Jonathan Hickman’s Marvel output this year. Titles like Ultimate Invasion or Ultimate Universe #1 showcase the version of the writer many likely hold most clearly in their brains. You know, his clinical, precise storytelling and tight, smart plotting that is entirely its own flavor of superhero comics. But then you read something like G.O.D.S. and get a much different read altogether, one that features ingredients of his other works while feeling much warmer and, dare I say, charming. It’s so fun to see.
These other sides of creators — like Marjorie Liu’s lowkey hilarious dialogue, Fernando Blanco’s adeptness with horror after years drawing superheroes, or Al Ewing’s chameleonic ways — always thrill and impress. Maybe this ties back into the last point after all. It’s one thing to go in knowing what you’ll get from a creator. It’s something else altogether to get something unexpected. That’s a ton of fun, and it can make the comics you read feel that much more special.
Libraries, Being Important
It’s been a turbulent year for libraries, as books are constantly being challenged and funding is perpetually under threat because certain people seemingly hate knowledge and society progressing. That’s why it’s worth celebrating them when you can. The fact of the matter is, I — and many other people, I am sure — would not be who I am today without my local library system. From my youth reading every book I could get my hands on (and watching every Godzilla movie they had in circulation, which was 100% of them) to adulthood where I use my library card as a way to keep up with all the glorious comics and manga of the world without adding to my constantly swelling bookshelves, they’ve been a constant in my life pretty much since I learned how to read.
This year was no different, even if my relationship with my library has evolved a bit. Whether it’s a sale of excess inventory loading me up with great, heavily discounted graphic novels or the usage of apps powered by my library card like Libby and Hoopla, sometimes how I engage with libraries isn’t our unified vision of going to one and checking out a book. But ultimately, no matter how my relationship with them has changed, my local library — particularly Loussac Library here in Anchorage, Alaska, the one that’s been my fave since I was little — remains a huge part of who I am as a reader, both of comics and everything else. That hasn’t changed in 2023, even if I’m engaging in different ways than before.
So, I’m hugely thankful of my library and all the libraries and librarians out there. And for you, the comic fan who doesn’t regularly haunt the sprawling shelves of graphic novels and manga, both digitally and physically, I only have one question for you: Why not? A library card is a magical thing, and a free gateway to great comics. Get on it!