The Best 19 Comics For Your Bookshelf of 2002
The comic book of your youth is a periodical. It is a magazine — seen in spinner racks, on newsstands, and perhaps if you are truly lucky, at your local library. However, the comic book periodical is disappearing from these markets. Spinner racks and newsstands are dropping comics. And if they still carry them, the selection is pitiful. But there is salvation. The bookshelf format is rescuing comics from oblivion.
Whether they are original graphic novels like The Golem’s Mighty Swing or trade paperback collections like Ranma1/2, more and more bookstores and libraries are carrying these formats and in almost every genre. Whether you want super hero teams (JSA), classic superheroes (Amazing Spider-Man), revamped classic superheroes (Ultimate Spider-Man), revamped classic superheroes with a twist (Exiles), nihilistic, fascist superheroes (The Ultimates), teenage punk rockers (Hopeless Savages), time-traveling, demon-fighting girls (Inu-Yasha), spies (Queen & Country), rabbit samurais (Usagi Yojimbo), Christian alien symbiotes (Creature Tech), women bounty hunters and the grifters who love them (Jinx), lawyers for the macabre (Supernatural Law), serial killers (Torso), humor, (Who’s Laughing Now?), sick humor (Hey, Mister After School Special), fantasy (Castle Waiting), dark fantasy (Sandman), the biography of a honey bee, (Clan Apis), true-life adventures in Hollywood, (Fortune & Glory), historical fiction (The Kents), history (Fallout), comic book history (The Dreamer) media tie-ins (Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or whatever — it is out there ready to be read and added to your bookshelf.
Additionally, there isn’t that monthly (or in some cases longer) wait for the next chapter of the story. You get the whole story, or at least a significant portion of it. Imagine you can only read one chapter of your favorite novel each month — that’s what you get with your monthly comic book. Me personally, I’d rather read the story on my time and not theirs, especially in this day and age of late shipping underprinted books.
So what makes a bookshelf comic? Well, it can’t be that standard 36-page (cover to cover) periodical with staples down the middle that you pull out of a spinner rack. No, it should be square-bound and preferably have a page count of 96 or greater. It should have the title on the spine and look cool in your bookcase, on the coffee table, in your hand, etc. Of course, it will cost a little more than a comic book, but no more so than a hardback or even some paperbacks. And did I mention that more and more libraries are carrying bookshelf comics, so you can read them for free.
So without further to do, here are my 2002’s for the 19 Best Comics for your bookshelf.
19. King David (DC/Vertigo, Oversized Trade Paperback, $19.95)
Where else would you find a book that proclaims: “Violence! Intrigue! Polygamy! Mass Circumcision!” and who else could pull it off but Kyle Baker? He takes this classic story and makes it breathe. Looking like the storyboards for a great animated classic, Baker mixes his trademark sense of humor with a biblically accurate story with excellent results.
18. Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Pantheon, Hardback, $21.00)
Kim Dietch and his brother Simon, expanding upon earlier works in RAW, take a poke at the history of animation in their work, Boulevard of Broken Dreams. From the early vaudeville days through the modern nostalgia, they bring us the lives of the everyday people who created those cartoons. These aren’t the Disneys, Joneses, or Averys, but the smaller studios, struggling to survive and still remain true to their art. Their lives aren’t pretty stories, but once you start reading, you can’t stop.
17. Bigg Time (DC/Vertigo, Trade Paperback, $14.95)
Ty Templeton tells us the story of a man and his guardian angel. This may seem simple enough, but Stavros, the Guardian Angel in question, has done all he can to make Lester’s life miserable. From a restroom break in the subway to digs on the Hollywod life, Ty Templeton makes you laugh throughout the book. All this and we get the return of Stig, one of the greatest comic characters ever. (Track down back issues of Stig’s Inferno if you don’t believe me) For comedy, you can’t bet Templeton when he’s in top form.
16. Badlands (AIT/PlanetLar, Trade Paperback, $12.95)
Who killed JFK? That’s where this story begins. Steven Grant and Vince Giarrano gives us their hypothetical on this chestnut of political thrillers. Ex-con Connie Bremen is fresh out of jail and looking for a job. An old “friend” hooks him up and the rollercoaster begins. Originally published in 1992 by Dark Horse and long out of print, Ait/PlanetLar has reissued this fine book, as well as the Illustrated Screenplay (a failed attempt to get this to the big screen).
15. The Castaways (Absence of Ink Comic Press, Trade Paperback, $5.95)
The hobo life is the stuff of legends, but no one has made it seem more real than Rob Vollmar and Pablo Callejo in The Castaways. Young Tucker is on a search for his father, riding the rails for the first time, and only a kid could be so stupid. Vollmar gives us a story about growing up and family that draws you in and punches you in the gut. He takes the stereotypes and makes them real, no small feat in this world of hack writers. Callejo equals the task by giving us crisp art that shows the times and illuminates the dialogue. If you aren’t moved by this story, then you are just cold-hearted.
14. Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score (DC, Hardback, $24.95)
Despite the presence of the costumed villain, Catwoman, this isn’t a superhero book. It is comic noir. Taking the basic idea of Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, and infusing it with a Richard Stark feel, Darwyn Cooke gives us a rich, dark novel about thieves, mobsters, private eyes, and basic human dignity. This novel takes place simultaneously with the “Search for Selina Kyle” story collected in the Catwoman: The Dark Side of the Street collection, but neither is dependent upon the other.
13. Hard Looks (Dark Horse, Trade Paperback, $19.95)
All right, this one is a reissue too, but it has new materials. If you aren’t reading Andrew Vachss, you aren’t reading one of the most absorbing voices in modern fiction. Vachss, a lawyer who represents children in abuse cases, brings his view of that world to the rest of us. Through his words, we meet serial killers, young gangsters, and monsters of all shapes and sizes. Yet, there is a humanity in there, an idea of right and wrong that is infallible. Vachss will shock and disgust you at times, but you will always learn something.
12. Forge (CrossGen, Trade Paperback, $7.95)
The hardest working publisher in comics today seems to be Mark Alessi and CrossGen. Less than five years old, Alessi and his team are building a future for comics that many never thought possible. And one of their most innovative ideas is the title Forge (and its sister book, Edge). This is an anthology title reprinting six of their monthly titles: Negation, Crux, The Path, Route 666, Meridian, and Sojourn. In my view, these are the best books of the CrossGen line, covering all the bases — fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, horror, and samurais. On top of all this is the price. At $7.95, you are getting all of these books at less than half of the cover price. Also, CrossGen has recently changed the size to reflect a more standard paperback size, making it even easier to carry and read on the go. (The first eight editions are standard comic Trade Paperback size and cost between $9.95 and $11.95, which is still cheaper than getting the individual comics)
11. Three Fingers (Top Shelf, Trade Paperback, $14.95)
Another look at the animation industry, but this time from a more Roger Rabbit angle. Rich Koslowski takes us into the world of Rickey Rat, Toon Actor, and it is not a pretty place. Like Hollywood, there are scandals, dark histories, and long-standing grudges. All of his characters are one step removed from the ones we know or think we know. Take a step into this alternate universe and drink in the details.
10. Mars (Tokyopop, Trade Paperback, $9.95)
Can millions of teenage girls be wrong? Look at the graphic novel sales charts at bookstores and you will see that the best selling books are mostly English translations of Japanese comic books (known popularly as manga). Published primarily by Tokyopop and Viz, these books have high production values, great stories and look just like books in size and shape. Mars is my favorite. It tells the story of shy art student Kira and her relationship with the rebellious Rei. The story is wonderful and I wonder why no American publishers try to do this.
9. Road To Perdition (DC/Paradox, Trade Paperback, $13.95)
Yes, this book is the inspiration for the movie, yet it is not quite the story you think it is. Every movie changes the source material somewhat, and Sam Mendes did so in his movie this summer. However, DC Comics didn’t seem like they were behind the project. They did almost no tie-ins with the movie until it was ready to release. Even the book was out of print until the month before. But now you can read the whole story. Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner base their story more on Hong Kong action films than Godfather theatrics. Theirs is more roller coaster than introspection, and I think theirs is more fun. Read the book and watch the movie and enjoy both.
8. Lone Wolf & Cub (Dark Horse, Trade Paperback, $9.95)
The story is finally finished. Never before in the United States could we read Lone Wolf & Cub in its entirety, unless we knew Japanese. At the close of 2002, Dark Horse published the final volume in this 28 book series, and I want to read it all over again. The story of Ogami Itto, Kogi Kaishakunin for the Shogun, has been betrayed by those he thought were his friends. Now with his infant son, he makes his living as an assassin, traveling throughout Japan and living the life of meifumado. Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima make you feel the cold, the hunger, and the pain that make up the lives of Lone Wolf & Cub. You will never find a better samurai story than this.
7. Electric Girl (AIT/PlanetLar, Trade Paperback, $13.95)
What would you do if you could control electricity and your best friend was a gremlin? That is the question Michael Brennan answers with Electric Girl. Virginia was born with the ability to generate electricity, hence the title. Her best friends are Blammo the dog and Oogleeoog the gremlin (although, he’s that troublemaking friend that your mother always warned you about). Cleanly drawn and lots of fun, Electric Girl is that rare title that is accessible by all ages. The second edition came out this year, and I look forward to future volumes.
6. Akira (Dark Horse, Trade Paperback, $29.95)
The most ambitious science fiction comic ever. You may have seen the animated movie, but if you haven’t read the books, you are missing the ENTIRE story. Another series that wrapped up this year, Akira is a masterpiece of fiction. Psychic gods, special forces, devastated cities, motorcycle gangs, and more — once you start reading, you won’t be able to put it down. Katsuhiro Otomo’s vision of the future is disturbing and inspiring. And the artwork will just floor you.
5. Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming (Pug House Press, Trade Paperback, $16.95)
Rachel Hartman has done something truly special. She has created a medieval world and made it into something special. Amy of Eddybrook is a fully realized little girl, full of energy and spunk. And the people around her are just as vibrant. Her life is not glamorized, but is not squalid either. This book surprised me in its feel and its depth. It left me wanting much, much more.
4. The Adventures of Barry Ween: Gorilla Warfare (Oni Press, Trade Paperback, $16.95)
Judd Winick is the commercial darling of the comic book industry. He was a cast member on MTV’s The Real World. He’s lectured publicly about AIDS and wrote a book bout his friendship with Pedro Zamora. He’s defended his vision of comics on MSNBC’s Donahue show. Everyone knows his work on Pedro And Me and Green Lantern, but his best by far is The Adventures of Barry Ween, and the best of those was the latest installment, Gorilla Warfare. Barry Ween is ten, but he is also the smartest person on the planet. You just don’t fuck with Barry, but that doesn’t mean he is infallible. After all, he is still human and makes very human mistakes — like giving his heart to others. Gorilla Warfare is simply amazing. Every time I read it, I laugh hysterically and bawl my head off. It’s damn good — pure and simple. Read it.
3. Y: The Last Man — Unmanned (DC/Vertigo, Trade Paperback, $14.95)
Where to begin? Is this science fiction? Fantasy? Mystery? Adventure? Parable? Yes. It is all that and more. Brian K. Vaughn writes a story of the last man on earth, and it’s nothing like you would expect it. Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan Jr’s art perfectly depict the story. The first book is out and it leaves us wanting more.
2. Road To America (Drawn & Quarterly, Trade Paperback, $14.95)
Politics and sports shouldn’t mix. When it does, we get overpriced stadiums on our tax dollars and scandals like the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee. But for some, they are permanently intertwined. Road To America gives us this view. For many Americans, Algeria is just a place on the map (if we can find it) for the French and Algerians, it was the scene of a bitter fight. Once a French colony, Algeria wanted independence that the French weren’t willing to give. A bitter fight was building into a bloody civil war. On the cusp of all this was the rising Algerian boxer, Said Boudiaf. He just wants to box, but neither side will let him go unmolested. Baru writes and draws a complicated and tense thriller, which is made up of shades of gray, much like the real world.
1. Eagle (Viz, Trade Paperback, $22.95)
Simply the best story of this year and last. Subtitled “The Making of an Asian-American President,” Eagle is just that — the rise of one man to the Presidency. Especially in light of the 2000 fiasco, reading this makes you wonder what could happen if candidates had real passion and could get past the gatekeepers that seem to control our system. This book is what The West Wing should be. The pacing and art are perfect. Once you start, you will not want to stop. It is breakneck from the beginning and makes you wish that such a man could win.
I wish I could add more because so many great books came out this year. Books like Amelia Rules, Trenches, XIII – Lachez Les Chiens!, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives, Crisis on Multiple Earths… but 19 is the limit. So go out and read these books.