Before we get too far into 2011, I wanted to take a minute to recommend some truly excellent comics collections I picked up last year. These are all such great books that I can’t imagine any comics fan that would not enjoy them thoroughly. This was a great year for graphic novels, and there’s many that came out that I’m still waiting to pick up. These are just the best of the ones I did get a hold of. So, in no particular order…
Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson (Dark Horse)
Some of the most human characters I read this year weren’t human at all, but dogs. This tale of a group of canines who protect their town from the threats of the paranormal features spot-on characterization from Evan Dorkin and beautiful watercolors by Jill Thompson. I was surprised at how much real emotion and genuine sense of foreboding they were able to pack into this book. Here’s hoping this is just the first of many volumes!
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Set to Sea by Drew Weing (Fantagraphics)
I started reading this story a few years ago when Drew Weing started posting it one page at a time on his site. He finished it up this year, and it’s great to finally have it in print. This story of a giant with the heart of a poet who becomes something of a pirate is also one of the most artistically impressive things on this list. Each page consists of only one large panel, but Drew packs within that panel a ton of intricate detail. He is definitely someone worth studying if you want to become a better inker (like I do). It’s a unique tale told with its own sense of pace and atmosphere… and just a great read.
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The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl (Self-published)
Easily my favorite webcomic for the last year or so, The Abominable Charles Christopher finally saw print this year in a beautifully put together book by Karl Kerschl. What makes this comic great is not only Karl’s flat-out amazing artwork, but the way he can seamlessly switch from everyday comical adventures of forest animals to the larger epic tale that Charles finds himself in. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
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Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard by various creators (Archaia)
Mouse Guard anthology? Yes, please. The collection of creators that David Petersen was able to get together to craft tales in his Mouse Guard world is pretty incredible. Some of my very favorite artists (Karl Kerschl, Guy Davis, Ned Naifeh…) contributed tales, along with many other talented folks. The frustrating thing about some anthologies is the unevenness of quality, but you won’t find that here. I also loved the interstitial scenes that David created to set the scene… a tavern full of mice trying to win a contest to pay off their tab by telling the best story. Again, I hope this is just the first of many.
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The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)
My love for all things Hellboy is deep and abiding, but the Amazing Screw-On Head might just be my favorite thing Mike Mignola has ever produced. It is just so quirky and fun, and it’s so obvious that he had a blast creating it. When I heard that he was collecting it, along with some other quirky, non-Hellboy stories… well, I was pretty happy. This book didn’t disappoint at all. The one thing that I didn’t expect was that most of the stories would actually have subtle connections. Such a good book… full of monsters, heroes, tragedy, legends, and great humor.
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The Marvelous Land of Oz by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young (Marvel)
You gotta love these Oz books. It’s so great that Marvel is finally letting some uber-talented creators put the tales into comics form. Skottie Young continues to be one my absolute favorite artists out there, someone whose loose and fun approach to his artwork inspires me constantly to improve myself. I really enjoyed how quirky the characters were in this volume, especially Jack Pumpkinhead and the Woggle-Bug. And the next series is already on the shelves!
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Wednesday Comics by various creators (DC)
An 11″ x 17″ hardcover that is easily one of the most massive books I will probably ever own, Wednesday Comics is a truly amazing book for many reasons. First, the collection of talent here is second to none. I won’t even try to list all the great creators, but let’s just say it’s some of the very best. I appreciate the fact that they let some relative newcomers do their thing in the same pages as living comics legends. Second, as a lover of anthologies it is great to see one that features some of the biggest characters of all time in shorter, stand-alone stories outside of continuity. And finally, the epic size of the pages leads to a truly unique reading experience. Even though each story is only twelve pages long, the larger page format makes it feel like you’ve read a full issue each time. Beyond that, as an artist it is fascinating to see the different creative storytelling approaches these writers and artists took with the larger page. This is another book I’ll be studying for a long time. It felt like a long wait for them to collect this thing, but it was so worth it.
By the way, almost all of these books were purchased at our awesome local comic store… Hurley’s Heroes. If you’re anywhere near the southwest Missouri area, you owe it to yourself to check them out!