Welcome back to The SKTCHIES, SKTCHD.com’s first annual year-end awards. With The SKTCHIES, it’s less about defining the best in comics. Instead, it’s more about sharing our favorites, and the ones that helped make this year a great one for the medium. And today, our comic-centric section continues.
It turns out there are a lot of comics coming out these days, and they are more diverse and interesting than ever. New publishers are springing up all over the place, comics are being released in new ways, and more varied subjects and stories are being told than at any point in comic book history. What does that mean for my year end awards? Well, it means they’re going to be big in response. This week, I’ll be revealing five different titles a day that were my favorite – not necessarily best, but my favorite – comics of the year, with each getting their own SKTCHIES award. While that means they’re getting a fake award, it is in fact a fake award that celebrates their very real quality. Even with that larger than usual list, I can’t cover everything, so please, by all means – share your favorites in the comments.
So without further ado, here are the next five titles that make my year end list. The comics are ordered alphabetically by title. Stay tuned, though, as the list will come to a close tomorrow.
The Metronome Award: Saga (Image Comics)
Saga is arguably the most popular comic in the industry, but in a weird way, you can feel an undercurrent of malaise about the book. It’s a comic that sells well, it wins all of the awards and the creative team is adored, through and through, but there’s a quietness that surrounds it. I don’t know if I’d quite call it a backlash against the book, but what I will say is it’s a comic that doesn’t get the amount of attention that a book like this usually might. It’s what I call a Metronome comic. You always know what to expect from it (“ho hum, another great issue of Saga.”), especially now that it’s been around for almost four years.
However, when it’s predictable greatness, that’s still worth celebrating. And Saga continues to be as regular of a title as you can find both in schedule – there’s a reason why everyone calls the release schedule for most Image titles the “Saga schedule” – and in quality. Just think about this: have you ever read an issue of Saga and thought, “you know, that wasn’t very good.” No. You haven’t. Because one doesn’t exist. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are so damn good that an off issue for them would still earn rave reviews. And the issues they’re on point for? We’re talking transcendent quality, my friends.
It’s a beautiful and special book, and one that continues to win awards and sell a ton for a reason: because it’s damn good. Like I alluded to earlier, Saga’s problem is it is a comic that’s predictably great. I have to imagine many creators out there would be more than happy for that to be their problem.
The Let’s Be Honest with Ourselves Award Secret Wars (Marvel Comics)
A little while back, I wrote about how the delays Secret Wars was having and how its schedule had slipped into the post relaunch realm was impacting Marvel’s potential for success. That was legitimate, and after that article, I heard from an array of readers about how frustrating the Secret Wars experience has been for them. I believe it, and to a degree, the massively extended schedule, the break for Marvel’s regular line and how it seeped into ANAD time was a downer for me too. However, there’s one thing we shouldn’t mix those negatives up with, and that’s that the event itself has been lacking in some way. Because it hasn’t. Now here’s where my hot take cannon gets ready to fire. Are you ready?
If Secret Wars #9 sticks the landing in January, it’s my belief that Secret Wars could – and should – be considered Marvel’s greatest event ever.
There are a whole mess of events throughout Marvel’s history, but I’ll be honest: none of them have ever been as grandiose or spectacular as Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s joint. It shouldn’t be surprising, though. Hickman does big ideas better than anyone, and Secret Wars is really just a continuation of his epic run on the Avengers books. This is the magnum opus of his entire time on Marvel. And Esad Ribic? He’s the comic book equivalent of Homer. If the times of yore needed someone to tell their tale, they’d want someone exactly like Esad Ribic. He’s the Ronnie James Dio of comic book art, and by god, he’s painting his Sistine Chapel here.
Secret Wars is the “this one goes to 11” of comic book events, and while many have issues with it for this reason or that, let’s be honest with ourselves: we all know it’s awesome. It’s comics like this that make us want to read superhero comics, and if more events were like this, the phrase “event fatigue” would never have entered our cultural lexicon.
The Gray Area Award: Southern Bastards (Image Comics)
I’ve already hit Jason Aaron and Jason Latour pretty hard for their roles in making me feel confusing emotions about series villain Coach Boss, so I don’t want to dig into that again too far, but I will emphasize this: The Jasons made me feel more empathy for a despicable villain than most comics make me feel for their heroes. I’ve said this a lot lately it feels in life, but the world isn’t black and white. It’s a series of grays, and most everyone – the heroes, the villains and everyone in-between – lives somewhere in that area. Life is all about ambiguity and right or wrong being a matter of perspective, and The Jasons? They live in that area in this book, and they mine its fertile grounds for a beautiful, heartbreaking story where there’s no certainty besides everyone losing when it gets to the end.
Latour’s art is moody and atmospheric, and it adds so much to each story. His work in my favorite issue of the series from this year – issue #11 – was a beautiful look at a different part of Craw County than we’re used to, as well as an engrossing introduction to Deacon Boone (aka the Piggy Wiggly’s least likely customer). The specter of Boone departing the wooded area near his home, deer in tow, was one of the most quietly affecting marriages of image and text in any comic this year, and showcase a partnership that is deeper than two guys who share a first name. The Jasons clearly share sensibilities and agree upon the right way to tell a story, and it’s always a treat when a new issue comes around.
Southern Bastards is widely considered to be one of the best monthly comics around today, and simply reading an issue reveals why that’s the case. These guys are at the peak of their powers, and this? They’re working perfectly in lockstep. I couldn’t enjoy it more, even if they make me mad on occasion because their work makes me feel uncomfortable emotions.
The Kids Do the Darndest Things Award: Space Dumplins (Scholastic)
Craig Thompson is – in my opinion – one of the greatest cartoonists in comics. He’s proven it in works like Blankets and Habibi, and this year, he took his work in a slightly different direction: he crafted an all-ages graphic novel called Space Dumplins. Some of the highbrow audience who enjoys his work may have hemmed and hawed about Thompson doing such a thing, but when I first heard that he was doing that, I was overjoyed. I’m always hopeful for my favorite creators to do more work that isn’t focused on one audience or another, instead looking to tell a story that anyone could enjoy. And Thompson didn’t just try here, he thrived.
From a ten thousand foot view, Space Dumplins is about a little girl and her friends trying to save her father, but it’s about more than that. It’s about figuring out who you are, and from there, growing comfortable and confident in your ability to handle things yourself and, better yet, with your friends and family. Violet and her pals get into some seriously sticky situations, and together, they find solutions and themselves in the process. It’s a beautiful book, and not just in the affecting story, but in the art. Thompson’s one of the most gifted artists in the business, and he showcases every trick in his bag here. Thompson’s line has always been a lively one, and it’s always fun to see how he uses that energy in his storytelling. It fits perfectly for the youthful story of Violet and her friends.
Space Dumplins is a lovely little book. While it may not be the same type of instant classic some of Thompson’s other work is, it’s a very welcome change of pace from one of the best cartoonists in comics, and something I hope many young readers get to read and love.
The Comic of the Year Award: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Marvel Comics)
For me, comics are all about the enjoyment of the read. Sure, I can get a highbrow reading experience from many comics, but when it gets down to it, the experience I’m always in pursuit of is the joy I felt as a kid in the 90’s reading X-Men comics. People lament the era all of the time, but for 8 to 10 year old David Harper, those comics would straight up blow my mind. When I read comics, I just want to scratch that itch. The one where I read a comic and it makes me smile and it stays with me afterwards in a positive way.
Which is why there wasn’t any other option for my pick for my favorite comic of 2015. Ryan Q. North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl may not be the very best comic I read this year, but I enjoyed nothing more than it. A big part of it is the creative team, all of whom are doing big, unique things here. North’s one of the most clever and hilarious writers in comics, and his outside the box thinking on superheroics give it a feel unlike any of its brethren. Henderson’s art is full of charm and she sells a joke better than almost any artist (especially during the Kraven fight), and perhaps best of all, some of the faces she gives people (namely Galactus) make me giggle. Rico Renzi’s colors are a perfect tonal fit for the book, and the pop flair he gives moments like the Kirby-ish Galactus scenes add a whole lot to our reads even if we aren’t actively thinking about it.
But it goes beyond the specific contributions of the creative team, and into what they accomplish as a team. That’s where the magic lies. The tales of Doreen Green as she joined college and “fought” Galactus and had team ups with other heroes with rhyming names (like Koi Boi and Chipmunk Hunk) were the best time in comics this year. Its perpetually refreshing approach to the superhero genre and how Doreen always looked for alternative solutions to problems led to some of the most joyous reads of my year, led by issue #4 in which she confronted Galactus on the moon. That was, bar none, my favorite single issue this year, and the way she handles the Devourer of Worlds was basically the best “win” in a fight I’ve ever read in my two plus decades of reading comics. It also doubles as the only comic I’ve ever read that ran its letters column on the second page, which is much more charming than it sounds.
So yeah, it’s a bit atypical. North’s very meta humor – particularly with the footnotes and Squirrel Girl’s cards she consults for villain fighting advice – might read strangely to those who have a rigid view of what superhero comics are all about. Henderson’s art isn’t all pulsing muscles and posturing beef/cheesecake. But sometimes a little atypical is needed, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a comic that we could all use a little more of. It’s a wonder to read, and something I’m happy I made the choice to pick up. If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on my very favorite comic of the year, and one I hope to have at the top of my reading pile for a long time coming.
Come back tomorrow for the final five picks for our favorite comics of 2015.