Here’s a short list of some of my favorite comics–and comics-related–things from 2016. And, as always, keep in mind my usual caveat: these are just my personal favorites; I make no claims for the best!
Children of Captain Grant – (all ages graphic novel) by Alexis Nesme, based on work by Jules Verne
I was gobsmacked when I saw a few sample pages of this posted on an Italian comics website and I bookmarked the page, thinking I might shell out for a French language version just to have to look at. Months later, I was delightfully surprised to see that it was getting an English translation, courtesy of Super Genius Comics (which seems to be a new imprint of Papercutz). The story here is a solid, straight-ahead adaptation of the Jules Verne short story of the same name. It’s a classic nautical Adventure to Foreign Lands-type story–and one that’s largely clear of the colonialist insensitivity that can make stories from this era tricky to deal with for younger audiences. The real star here, though, is the jaw-dropping painted artwork. Oh, also, did I mention that all the characters are done as animals? Hands-down my favorite comic of 2016.
Manben – (Japanese comics documentary TV show) hosted by Naoki Urasawa
There are few things I love more than seeing other cartoonists’ studios and learning about their process. There’s a fair amount of information out there about this subject as far as it relates to Western artists, but the world of Manga has remained largely shrouded to outsiders. This year, though, I became aware of Manben, a Japanese TV show hosted by master manga artist, Naoki Urasawa. The premise of the show is simple: in each episode, they record a manga artist at work and then Urasawa discusses process with them. Obviously this is all conducted in Japanese, but some kind soul has fansubbed English subtitles for the episodes to-date. You can find most of the episodes streaming on DailyMotion.
Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist – (prose biography) by Michael Maslin
I’m a huge fan of New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno, so this one’s been on my radar since I first got wind of it. It’s a much needed start-to-finish look at this important figure in the history of comics–one who’s not had a comprehensive biography to this point. One of the most interesting sections of the book appears almost as an addendum: pull quotes from currently-working New Yorker cartoonists discussing the influence and impact Arno’s had (or not had, in several cases) on them.
Webcomics Coverage at The Beat – (online comics news) by Maggie Vicknair and Heidi MacDonald
In terms of “eyeballs on the page,” webcomics are surely the most widely-read form of comics–and yet, like pretty much any form of comics that’s not distributed via the direct market, webcomics are rearely covered/reviewed/discussed in most comics circles. And that’s why it’s so great to see that The Beat has been covering them regularly this past year in two features: Webcomics in Review (reviews of ongoing webcomics) and Webcomics Alert (noting newly launched webcomics).
Space Battle Lunchtime – (comic book series) by Natalie Riess
I’m a sucker for comics about cooking and this is a great one. Here’s the setup: Peony is a baker from Earth who’s abducted by aliens so she can compete in an intergalactic cooking competition. The story is tons of fun, the cartooning is loose and expressive, and the coloring is fantastic. What’s not to love? The first story arc (the “partner challenge”) is collected in a trade paperback, or you can follow along with the individual issues as the come out.
Nod Away – (graphic novel) by Joshua Cotter
This came out way back in February, but it’s for sure one of the best GNs of 2016. It’s the first installment of what’s sure to be an epic SF story. Even at 250-ish pages, Nod Away just begins to set up the opening pieces of its Philip Dick-esque story. That the cartooning is beautiful will come as no surprise to anyone who knows Cotter’s previous series, Skyscrapers of the Midwest.
Palomino Blackwing Pencil Sharpener – (art supply)
I’d been searching forever for a good handheld sharpener and I’ve finally settled on the Blackwing. My requirements were: two stage sharpening (one stage exposes the lead, the other sharpens), must fit into a standard pencil case, must have replaceable blades. The Kum model that most people recommend had all of these but also had lead pointers (that I never use), the blades seemed to wear out quickly, and it tended to break colored pencils. The Blackwing has none of these issues. I’ve been using it for about a year and have yet to need to change blades.
We Told You So: Comics as Art – (non-fiction book) by Michael Dean and Tom Spurgeon
This one’s a late entry–it came out in December and I received it for Christmas–and I’m only 200 or so pages into it, but so far it’s definitely one of my top non-fiction books of 2016. We Told You So is an oral history of the the alt/indie publisher Fantagraphics. It’s a huge slab of a book and it’s beautifully designed. There’s a lot of “inside baseball” here and things are occasionally mentioned in passing that could probably use a bit of explanation/context… but it never really impedes the overall narrative. That it’s somewhat self-congratulatory shouldn’t surprise anyone given the title of the book, but hey, it’s Fantagraphics!
Providence – (comic book series) by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows
As literally every single write-up of Providence will tell you, this series is a “slow burn.” Well, the burn turned into an inferno right about the time issue 10 hit the stands in 2016. It’s taken me a while to come around to the art in this series (and I still don’t think it’s well-served by the kind of coloring that’s used here) but it’s become one of my favorites, and a potential late-era Alan Moore masterpiece. If you decide to dig in, I recommend reading each issue twice: once just for the main plot, and a second time referencing the extensive panel-by-panel notations at Facts in the Case of Alan Moore’s Providence.
Critical Chips – (comics criticism/writing) edited by Zainab Akhtar
This is another late entry that I’m not all the way through yet… but so far this Kickstarter-funded collection of comics writing has been largely great. The ten pieces herein–by an array of folks including David Brothers, Joe McCulloch, Annie Mok, and more–address a wide range of comics (Krazy Kat to Copra) in a way that’s insightful and smart, but immensely readable. My only complaint: it’s so nicely put-together that I regret getting the digital, rather than print, edition.