Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Best Comics of 2012 -- UPDATED

Update: I forgot CURSED PIRATE GIRL!

I read some tremendous comics last year. I wanted to take a few moments and call out some of the best, comics that really stuck with me.

Delilah Dirk: The Seeds of Good Fortune

One of the best webcomics going, Tony Cliff's "Delilah Dirk" is beautiful, with a rich and engaging historical world. The title character is a swashbuckling lady who's not QUITE as smart as she thinks she is, but is lucky enough that she gets away with it.

Cliff's art is simple yet gorgeous, and he fills in beautiful details on every page.

One of the real delights of this little side story is a two-page spread in which Delilah runs away from a passel of bad guys -- Cliff does this out as a single image with a dotted line showing Delilah's path through a tangle of alleys and rooftops. It's like one of those Family Circus panels where the little kid goes wandering around and by following the path you get the story of what happens. It's very cleverly done and perfectly fits the light-hearted feel of the story.

The story itself finds a little more depth than you might expect, for what is basically just an extended chase sequence. It's got a tight structure to it and some good character moments. I'm really looking forward to a print version of the main story before too long.

Lola

J. Torres and Elbert Or teamed up for this spooky-sweet story about a young lad uncomfortable with his heritage and what it means for his day-to-day life. Set at a Philipino family gathering, this book is a perfect balance of art and words; Torres' tight, understated script is brought to perfect life by Or's clean lines and striking compositions.

Anyone who's had to deal with uncomfortable family moments will identify with our young protagonist, who finds his memories of his grandmother and his deceased cousin are still shaping his life years later. Frightened by much of what he can remember, and dismissive of the traditional tales that his Philipino family tell and re-tell, Jesse (our hero) manages to gather his courage and ultimately decide on what his relationship with his own spooky background will be.

Until you get to the end, and the story sticks you with a nasty twist that left me both chuckling and aghast. It DOES say "A Ghost Story" on the front cover, and these gentlemen aren't kidding around about that.

A beautiful book, and a joy to read and re-read.

Bamboo Blade

I was not familiar with the work of Totsuka Masahiro before reading this, which was recommended to me by a friend who knows very well what I like. And teenage girls beating people with sticks is high on my list. I'm certainly looking for more work by this masterful writer.

If you don't think that's funny,
I don't know what you are.
Bamboo Blade is a 14-part manga about a high school girls' kendo team. If you're thinking, "manga about high school girls, uh-oh," rest easy -- this book has nothing in it of a salacious or titillating nature. No panty shots or ridonkulously enormous bosoms. Just charming young folks trying their hardest to do well.

What this book is is really really funny. I mean, hella hilarious. Every volume left me gasping in laughter at some point or other. Totsuka's sense of timing is impeccable, and his characters are so finely delineated, and yet so over-the-top and ridiculous, that hilarity erupts in every situation. And the artist, Aguri Igarashi, supplies those situations with tone and style changes that move so fast you're left scrambling to catch up. Even apparently dramatic moments (don't worry, nobody dies) like the one at left are given a buzz through the ridiculous filter -- the whole book is full of quick tone transitions like this. This stuff, where the style and tone change so dramatically so quickly, gives the book a spontaneous, "anything can happen" feel, and keeps the mood light and frothy throughout.

At the same time, the emotional beats are varied and often mature. The putative protagonist, the kendo club teacher, is a young man whose personal life is a disaster, and his selfish efforts to get out of trouble have a real impact on the students under his charge.

14 volumes is a pretty big investment, but Bamboo Blade is maybe my favourite book of all I read in 2012. The writing and the art are both top-notch, and it's just so damn funny.

Morning Glories

Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma are obviously having a lot of fun with this book, and it's infectious. If you don't know, Morning Glories is a crazy over-the-top "what's going on" story about a high school run by sinister, ruthless administrators who appear willing to murder innocent kids in order to accomplish whatever strange objective they're pursuing.

Weirdness, terror and of course good old-fashioned high school angst all feature prominently. The main characters are the latest group of six kids brought to the school -- they don't know each other, they largely don't like each other, and they soon discover there is no one else they can trust. Although trusting each other proves no less fraught with peril.

Now published in three trade paperbacks, with more story to come, it's easy to get started on this book, and so far it's been plenty of fun.

Ooku

Fumi Yoshinaga's Ooku, now into its seventh volume, is astonishing. An alt-history in which Tokugawa Japan is led by a series of female shoguns, Ooku dissects male-female relationships, assumptions and prejudices, while telling not only a mind-blowing story of an empire based on a massive shortage of males, but truly heart-breaking tales of people caught up in an impersonal system, and how tiny decisions balloon out into disastrous consequences.

The seventh volume came out in 2012, and at this point it appears the flash-back history that has explained how Japan ended up ruled by women and sealed off from the rest of the world has been wrapped up. The current shogun, Yoshimune, has gotten the full story at last. But now she faces a tremendous dilemma; does she perpetuate the system that has brought her to power, or can she find a way to reverse the mysterious ailment that has robbed her nation of most of its men?

Full of sex, torture and sweetly gentle romance, Ooku is a real gem amongst comics nowadays. Smarter than any other book I'm currently reading, and more consistently engrossing.

Easily winning The Most Insane Comic Book Of The Year award, Jeremy Bastian's Cursed Pirate Girl oozes madness from every page.

Lewis Carroll is the only possible comparison, but Bastian's wild baroque art exceeds Tenniel's classic illustrations of Wonderland in detail, bravura and sheer whack-a-doodle craziness. Sword-fighting fish, submersible parrots, giant octopuses, and more pirates than any book really needs fill (and frankly step out beyond) the pages to create a story and a world so overwhelming that the plot hardly matters at all.

Our heroine (she's a girl, cursed, pirate -- you get the picture) is searching for her father, who is (according to her) one of the legendary pirates of the Omertà Seas. With a few loyal companions she takes to the waves to find him, and in doing so runs afoul of monsters above and below the waves. 

There's a map. There's a poster. There's fan art. It's completely insane, and completely brilliant. Read it.