The Best Comics of 2013 – As Chosen By Actual Comic Creators
DIRK MANNING (The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West, Nightmare World, Tales of Mr. Rhee)
5) THE LEGEND OF OZ: THE WICKED WEST (Big Dog Ink) and URSA MINOR (Big Dog Ink) – TIE
I hate to start this list with a tie, let alone with a tie between two books that I have both personal and professional connections with (I wrote a four-issue story-arc about the origin of The Flying Monkeys for The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West in 2013 and will be writing the Ursa Minor Annual in 2014), but I simply couldn’t justify starting this list any other way given the sheer strength of both titles – even without my own personal involvement.
Whether it be retelling (and expanding) the story of The Wizard of Oz as if it took place in the Wild West or exploring the very gruesome horror story of a young female werebear (yes, really!) who covertly hunts the vampire legions pretending to protect humanity from other supernatural creatures (when they are, in truth, fattening them for the slaughter), both The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West and Ursa Minor work much better than they have any right to at first blush. This made these two titles from up and coming publisher Big Dog Ink two of my “go-to” picks for people who would tell me they’re looking for something new and fresh to read.
Combining phenomenal art with strong writing (usually by Big Dog Ink co-founder and head writer Tom Hutchinson) has been drawing more and more buzz to Big Dog Ink’s line of titles, and while this publisher has remained the industry's “best kept secret” in 2013, don’t be surprised if they become one of the most talked-about “non-Big Two” companies in 2014 due to the strength of not only these two titles, but also the rest of their line as well.
4) GOD IS DISAPPOINTED IN YOU (Top Shelf)
I’ve long been a fan of Shannon Wheeler’s work (especially his one-panel-joke comics), and it was based largely on his name that that I decided to check out God Is Disappointed In You, a straight-talkin’, humorous and surprisingly non-blasphemous retelling of The Bible in distilled passages by writer Mark Russell. This gorgeous little book (it’s about the size of a hotel room bible) is perfect for anyone interested in some historical infotainment. The bite-sized selections make this a perfect “bathroom book,” but be forewarned that you could spend more time than you planned for guffawing on your porcelain throne as you continue to be enthralled and entertained by a story you only thought you already knew.
3) Drumhellar (Image Comics/Shadowline) and Godzilla: The Half-Century War (IDW) – TIE
In Drumhellar artist Riley Rossmo and writer Alex Link created a carefree and hippie-like occult investigator who hangs out with a ghostly pink cat and succeeded in filling the void left in my heart by Hellblazer, despite Drumhellar’s whimsical and borderline psychedelic tone being as far removed from the grim Vertigo stylings of the former as imaginable.
In Godzilla: The Half-Century War writer/artist James Stokoe brought his Orc Stain-style of visual insanity to a surprisingly touching Godzilla story that has managed to hold me over as I drool in anticipation for the new Godzilla film to be released in 2014.
Along with being excellent reads with very dynamic art styles, what also earned both Drumhellar and Godzilla: The Half-Century War a tie for third place in my best comics of 2013 is how both these books proved wonderful comfort-reading when I was in the mood for a good off-beat comic… or two.
2) Five Weapons (Image Comics/Shadowline)
After dedicating the last several years of his career to his very adult-themed superhero parody series Bomb Queen, writer/artist Jimmie Robinson switched gears with the all-ages Five Weapons, a mini-series-turned-ongoing-series about a pacifist student sent to a high school for assassins. Witty, compelling and surprisingly fresh given the potentially pedestrian “fish out of water” plot, Jimmie’s dynamic art and infectiously innocent love of the world and characters he created caused me to smile from the first page to the last of this first TPB collection… and upon repeated reads the only thing that made me smile more was knowing that the series is now returning as an ongoing series in 2014.
1) The HELLBOY/B.P.R.D./”Mignolaverse” Series of Titles (Dark Horse Comics)
Anyone who’s interested in enjoying a comics in set a fully realized grand-scale “universe” where change not only happens, but also actually matters, (rather than the constant illusion of change that takes place in most corporately-owned superhero comics) should be onboard the Hellboy/B.P.R.D./Abe Sapien/etc. train by now… and if not, make 2014 the year to do so.
With Hellboy in Hell, the agents of the B.P.R.D. slowly coming to terms with the fact that their fighting a losing battle against the Armageddon and the end of the age of man, and Abe Sapien desperately trying to find (and fight against) his place in the Apocalyptic events ravaging the planet, Dark Horse’s “Mignolaverse” of titles is not-so-quietly changing the rules on what comic readers can – and should – expect from storylines that boldly claim “Nothing will be the same after this!” While that’s hyperbole (at best) with most publishers and writers, in the Hellboy/B.P.R.D./Abe Sapien titles (to say nothing of the several other equally impressive spin-offs), you have a small army of some of the best writers and artists currently working in comics putting on a clinic in regards to high-stakes story-telling and world-building.
If there are better comics currently being published than these, I have yet to see them.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Savage Dragon (Image Comics), The Walking Dead (Image Comics), Dia De Los Muertos (Image Comics/Shadowline), Locke & Key (IDW), Black Science (Image Comics) and of course Saga (Image Comics).
MICHAEL MORECI (Curse)
1. Revival: This series continues to get more nuanced and deep with each passing issue. In other hands, I think the central conceit–the dead returning–would overwhelm the real story, that of the people and their dealings with life, death, and every nook and cranny between. Seeley and Norton make for a damn near perfect team.
2. Daredevil: I don't know what I can possibly say that hasn't already been said before. This is, without a doubt, the best superhero book on the stands. It's smart, sophisticated, funny, and tender. It's almost unfair how good this is.
3. Black Science: I'm apprehensive to list this, only because there's only been two issues. But, my God, what a pair of issues they were. I'm a sucker for Remender's sci-fi pulp (Fear Agent is one of my favorite series of all time), and he's always at his best when he mixes his weird concepts with ruminations on father/son relationships (see his Captain America run for more).
4. Adventures of Superman: I love this digital series, focusing on classic Superman stories. Absent is the angst, the New 52, or anything else that distracts from the central, heroic character that inspires people across the globe.
5. The Unwritten: Consistently one of the best books going, ever since it started. Woefully unappreciated, in my mind. Incredibly smart and inventive, and consistently surprising in its willingness to take chances.
RYAN FERRIER (Tiger Lawyer)
Lost Cat – Jason (Fantagraphics)
To me, Jason is one of the all-time great comic storytellers. He was a big factor in getting me back into comics after an adolescent break with 2001's Hey, Wait, and he's been telling consistently—if not increasingly—amazing stories since. Lost Cat, his 2013 release, is no exception. Jason's nigh-sardonic subtlety and realism melds itself wonderfully in this exceptionally paced, emotionally driven story about a private eye and a missed connection.
The Mysterious Strangers #1 – Chris Roberson/Scott Kowalchuk (ONI Press)
I picked issue #1 only because it's hard to pick a single issue in this series. I love everything about it. The characters, the pacing, the tones, and most of all, Scott Kowalchuk's gorgeous art. It's everything I wanted in a series: two-issue stories with more substance than an entire run of a big superhero title. I really hope we see more of this series in the future.
Daredevil #25 – Mark Waid/Chris Samnee (Marvel)
Waid and Samnee have done a tremendous job of bringing their puzzle pieces together while keeping the long-game interesting. This issue in particular is thrilling and brutal. Chris Samnee's visual storytelling is jaw dropping. Never before has a big superhero character felt this real.
Hawkeye #11 – Matt Fraction/David Aja (Marvel)
On a process level alone, "Pizza Is My Business" is a sheer triumph of the medium.
Afterlife with Archie #1 – Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa/Francesco Francavilla (Archie Comics)
Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun.
ROYDEN LEPP (Rust)
1. The Reason for Dragons by Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely was an excellent self contained story that was accessible by anybody. It was simply… a good story, but it was also a simple story, which is harder to create than one would think. The art was gorgeous and generous. Nothing was rushed but nothing was over thought. This book is such a pleasure. I've thought about it several times this year when thinking about what I'll do after Rust is complete.
2. The other story that got my attention this year was a web comic from Study Group comics, from a well known creator named Sam Alden. The story was called Haunter. It's a quiet, wordless story of a hunter in a forest that comes upon a terrifying foe. This is one of the rare experiences I have reading a comic when I feel completely engrossed. The art was strikingly colorful and skillfully created and made me linger on each panel. And the flow of the story completely gripped me. It's one of two comics I've ever read that when I think back on it, I see it in motion instead of as a comic. It was creepy, engaging and haunting. This is by far the best comic I've read this year.