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Traditionally, even here at Comic Book Galaxy, observers of comics, movies, TV and music like to assemble Top Ten lists at the end of the year. It's a way of acknowledging that we're all another year closer to the grave, and a chance to more or less get away with not really writing a column -- such things tend to write themselves.
2002 was a little different, in that there wasn't really a steamroller powerhouse work that asserted itself among what's left of the mainstream readership and demanded recognition as the very best thing to hit comics shops this year. A lot of titles achieved cult audiences and even popular success, if you can call it that, but with comics audiences ever shrinking, frankly the best-selling comic being produced in the United States still might as well be a mini-comic run off on a photocopier out in the woods somewhere.
Disgrace and Digression
Some of the most-anticipated mainstream releases this year turned out to be some of the most disappointing, and in at least one case, heinous comics of the year.
John Ney Reiber was an unknown writer to me when he was appointed to take over Captain America in its most recent relaunch. Artist John Cassaday was, and remains, one of my favourites, though, and I was looking forward to their post-September 11th spin on one of Marvel's oldest icons.
Substituting empty sloganeering for thoughtful exploration, vapid minimalism for spare communication of ideas, and repugnant, deliberate ignorance for compelling motivation, Reiber's criminally simplistic take on terrorism and America's relationship to it repulsed readers with a genuine interest in getting to the root of the current global situation. I'd love to own an oversized hardcover collection of John Cassaday's artwork from this series, but without Reiber's words marring the artwork.
Thankfully, Marvel appears to have come around and realized how repugnant Reiber's work was. As I was putting this year-end piece together, Newsarama reported that Reiber had been abruptly pulled from the title. New writer Chuck Austen's description of the transition makes it sound like Reiber's removal came unexpectedly. It's nice that once again (as with Frank Tieri, who was ordered to tone it down after I pointed out just how freaky and inappropriate for a kid's comic his apparent interests were) Joe Quesada has recognized the criminally bad writing going on on one of his titles, but it's too bad that it comes so far into the run that as talented and sublime a talent as Cassaday has had his reputation tainted by association with this horrifically wrongheaded work.
Speaking of shame, both Frank Miller and DC should both apologize for inflicting The Dark Knight Strikes Again on audiences. This gaudy, scattershot exercise in pointless profiteering was an insult to DC's readers and its history. It may have sold boatloads of individual issues and overpriced hardcover collections, but it will long be remembered as one of the worst comics released in 2002, if not of all time.
Some people might have thought I was tilting at non-existent windmills when I blasted Doug TenNapel's Creature Tech for being a thinly-disguised religious tract disguised as a fun-filled sci-fi/fantasy graphic novel. TenNapel was outraged by my non-review, but then went on to prove me exactly right and then some. Creature Tech's stealth Christianity belongs on your bookshelf right next to Ann Coulter's Slander. The right-wing overthrow of the lawful U.S. government is bad enough without trying to sell me the same vile, regressive, ignorant points of view in my funnybooks.
In the face of the enormous apathy about comics (and reading in general) from the world at large, many creators have chosen to eschew attempts at popular success, though, and chosen to create personal works that grab the reader by the soul and never let go. Here's a look at some of the best of those that saw the light of day in 2002.
Forlorn Funnies #1-2
Paul Hornschemeier spun the comics world off its axis with the brilliant experimentalism of Forlorn Funnies #1, then followed it up with a more formal -- yet still mind-expanding -- second issue delving into the pain of loss. Hornschemeier explores the stinging wounds of heartache better than any other comics creator working today, and proved with these two issues that there simply is no one producing better comics. I say with no reluctance at all that if you haven't read these issues yet, you are truly depriving yourself of the very best that the medium had to offer in 2002.
B. Krigstein Vol. 1
The most complete and complex biography of a comics creator ever published, this huge volume establishes Krigstein as the best comic book artist ever, but one who was stymied by artificial limitations placed on his work and mostly forgotten in the decades since he created his visionary body of work. A collection of his stories is on the way, edited by Sadowski, and that should prove to be one of the most important collections ever released. B. Krigstein Vol. 1 also set a new standard for how books of this type can be produced as serious works worthy of study by any intelligent, interested reader.
The House at Maakies Corner
Chip Kidd improves upon his earlier design work in service of Tony Millionaire's joyously demented comic strip to deliver one of the most aesthetically pleasing and creatively entertaining books of the year.
One of the most impressive floppies to debut this year, Lumakick is an hallucinatory look at heartache and loss, from a unique and extremely promising point of view.
A tale of a bygone age, told with a timeless sensibility by two storytellers with creative powers far beyond their years. Rob Vollmar and Pablo Callejo created the only comic that made me cry this year.
James Kochalka's Sketchbook Diaries Volume
With Volume Three set for release in 2003, this is quickly becoming an annual tradition that I hope continues for the rest of my life. James Kochalka's trippy interpretations of his life and times have influenced a new generation of cartoonists such as Jason Marcy and Drew Weing, and have enriched the lives of Sketchbook Diaries readers.
Beg the Question
Bob Fingerman's urban romance combines a knowing cynicism with an unkillable optimism to create a gratifyingly complex, funny and sexy graphic novel for grown-ups.
It seemed to me like a lot of superhero books were adequate reading this year, but not compelling in such a way that you'd feel the need to pick them up every month unless you have a cape fetish that just won't quit. I bought a few issues of Amazing Spider-Man by J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr., and they were pleasant enough diversions, but nothing I wanted to read every month or stash away for the ages in Mylar Snugs. I bought a couple of issues of Detective Comics during the whole Bruce Wayne: Unrepentant Whoremonger storyline; again, they were okay, but -- that's as far as it went.
Brian Michael Bendis's Daredevil provided a fun read when you sat down with a stack of issues -- or the impressive new hardcover collection -- but you have to read at least three or four issues in a sitting to really get the maximum enjoyment out of it. This tendency to write with collections instead of monthly readers in mind (and Daredevil is far from the only offender) has been criticized in many quarters, especially by the Galaxy's own d. emerson eddy, and it's hard to argue the point. Monthly comics are just that, and ought to provide a complete and satisfying story every month in addition to serving the greater story arc in effect at any given time. If you want to, you know, find new readers.
But even though my interest in comics is primarily in autobiography (any such work by Crumb, Kochalka, Eddie Campbell, or the Galaxy's own Jason Marcy is irresistible to me) and visionary experimentalism like that of Paul Hornschemeier, Richard Hahn, or B. Krigstein (all mentioned above), there are a few mainstream titles that continued to hold my attention in 2002.
In the vacuum created by the corporate-fuckery fueled meltdown of The Authority stepped The Ultimates, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's perverse, "widescreen" re-imagining of Marvel's decades-old Avengers concept. Perhaps the most polarizing mainstream title of the year, most readers either loved Millar's twisting of the knife into the back of one of Stan and Jack's core concepts, or they loathed the disrespect they perceived the book to be dishing up. My take on it is that the Avengers are still alive and kicking in their own, tired title -- and grown-ups with a taste for something a bit more realistic (and yes, mean-spirited) are lucky to have this, one of the few mainstream superhero comics that's even readable these days.
The monthly title had its ups and downs this year, but remained one of the most consistent and entertaining monthly titles, and the art by Mike Oeming has become so spare and powerful that it's almost scary. With two years of stories behind them, the relationship between Deena and Walker has become one of the most interesting and addictive in comics, and the overall feel of the book continues to convey that the creative team is completely in synch and having a ball.
The Absolute Authority
As much as DC Comics eviscerated and destroyed the integrity of The Authority, much of the sting felt by readers was salved by the release of this outstanding slipcased, hardcover edition. This collection confirmed my feeling that the first twelve issues of this title are not only the only issues of the title that really matter, but are twelve of the very best superhero comics ever created. There's a misconception that The Authority was some sort of mean-spirited satire of superhero comics -- and eventually it did become more or less just that -- but Ellis, Hitch, Neary and Depuy's 12-issue saga provides a rollicking adventure story with heart, soul, and a whole lot of action -- and an uplifting message about duty and sacrifice as well. This luxurious collection belongs in the library of any reader with a taste for the superhero genre, and stands in stark contrast to the disappointing "Scorched Earth" one-shot that DC/Wildstorm released late in the year, which suggests the franchise will continue its corporation-fueled downward spiral when it relaunches in 2003.
Here's what comics creators and industry observers are saying as we bid 2002 farewell.
Steve Niles, writer of 30 Days of Night, Fused, Savage Membrane, Guns, Drugs and Monsters (www.steveniles.com):
Chris Allen, Breakdowns columnist (Movie Poopshoot.com):
Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics Books):
Warren Ellis, writer of Mek, Global Frequency (Warren Ellis.com):
James Kochalka, The Sketchbook Diaries, Fantastic Butterflies (American Elf.com):
Ted Rall, writer, cartoonist (Rall.com):
Rich Johnston, gossip columnist (Lying in the Gutters):
Gary Spencer Millidge, writer/artist of Strangehaven (Millidge.com):
Alex Robinson, writer/artist of Box Office Poison (Alex Robinson Online):
2003 will mark the fifth consecutive year that I've been writing about comic books, and I'm extremely thankful for the readers who have come along for the ride. A lot of people have made me grateful for their friendship and feedback over the past year, and I'd like to single some of them out. Chris Allen, Andrew Goletz, Jason Marcy, Tony Isabella, JC Glindmyer and everybody at Earthworld Comics, Derek Martinez, d. emerson eddy, Rob Vollmar, Ted Rall, Eric Reynolds, Josue Menjivar, Jason Baldwin, Brian Lynch, Barry Windsor-Smith, Chris Staros and Brett Warnock. Thanks, guys.
And to everyone who has made Comic Book Galaxy a regular part of your online reading, thanks for being a part of this and for occasionally letting me know what you think, whether you agree or disagree. All your feedback is appreciated and taken into consideration as we continue to evolve this thing.
In the coming year I am greatly looking forward to new work from some of my favourite creators, including Alan Moore, James Kochalka, Warren Ellis, Paul Hornschemeier, Ed Brubaker, Bendis and Oeming, and many others. I'm also looking forward to discovering new creators who delight my senses and fire my imagination, as I found this past year in Hornschemeier, Drew Weing, Tony Consiglio, Richard Hahn and others. If you'd told me at the end of 2001 how many great new comics I'd read by people I'd never heard of, I'd have thought you were nuts. But 2002 proved that there's still passion for comics waiting to be found out there in new creators, with new ideas and new ways of bring them to your attention.
As we move on to the future and into 2003, I hope you'll seek out these passionate new creators and expand your concept of what comics can be. That's what happened to me this past year, and it made for a very rewarding 12 months, and gave us lots of exciting comics to talk about. If you get a chance, please stop by The Comic Book Galaxy Forum, a message board where you can share your thoughts what you're reading, and interact with Comic Book Galaxy's readers (and writers).
I hope you, and those you love, have a healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2003.