“Best of the year” lists have been mushrooming, but, understandably, most of them tend to emphasise longer, more substantial works: graphic novels, collected editions and ongoing series. Here, by contrast, are some of the shorter pieces of comics I have enjoyed through the year, none of them long enough to fill a single issue. (But you can, at least, click the pictures below to make them bigger.)
”You’re A Good Man, John Stuart Mill” by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. Not all of van Lente and Dunlavey’s Action Philosophers (Evil Twin Comics) worked for me, either as entertaining comics or as potted accounts of the thought of major philosophers. But this spot-on Charles Schulz pastiche hit both targets perfectly.
Mark Waid’s super-hero origin stories from 52. As superhero comics sank into a congealed mass of stodgy continuity, Waid performed small miracles every week by boiling down the essence of each of DC’s main cast and presenting it in just two pages. It didn’t hurt that the series attracted artists like Brian Bolland and Adam Hughes, long lost to the more lucrative field of cover illustration, back to telling stories instead. Here are Waid and Hughes on Wonder Woman, from 52 issue 12.
My Own Genie by Jamie Smart. British children’s humour comics have long been refreshingly free of moral didacticism. If My Own Genie was a TV series, Lula, after wishing for something selfish and irresponsible, would have to put it right, while learning a Valuable Life Lesson. In The Dandy, she can just compound the mayhem, while having a good time. It helped that the once-staid publisher D C Thompson is willing to publish artwork as wild as that provided by Smart. This example is from The Dandy Summer Special 2007, as the strip was sadly missing from the regular title for most of the year.
”Maggie La Loca” by Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets Vol 2 Issue 20, Fantagraphics). If brother Gilbert is the Gene Kelly of comics, all flash and effort, Jaime is the Fred Astaire: he makes it all look so simple that it’s easy to underestimate the amount of talent, skill and craft he employs. Plus, I’ve got a soft spot for long-running fictions that age their characters in real time.
Tom Gauld’s letter column illustrations from The Guardian. Weird little flights of fancy that brighten my Saturdays. This one is from 1 December.
Eleanor Davis’s pieces in Mome (Fantagraphics) are often the highlights of this consistently interesting and well-produced anthology. Their unsettling charm makes me wonder if this is how the first generation of comfortable burghers felt when reading the earliest, unbowdlerised Grimm folk tales. These panels are from “Stick and String” in Mome issue 8.
Bryan Talbot’s 3-page History of British Comics, using his Alice in Sunderland style and published by The Guardian to accompany the BBC’s Comics Britannia TV series. I missed this when it came out. For the next few days, my every conversation began, “You didn’t happen to buy The Guardian on Saturday, did you?”
The Mini Marvels, by Chris Giarrusso, appear seemingly at random and often unheralded in various Marvel comics. Really, they should get the cover every time, because Giarrusso’s kiddy versions of the Marvel superheroes are a charming delight, matched only by Jeff Parker’s occasional short X-Men strips with Colleen Coover. This panel comes from “Hulk Date”, which appeared in Spider-Man Family issue 3.
Jack Black from Viz comic. Of all Viz’s parade of grotesques, nothing quite captures the true, vindictive, self-righteous, Daily Mail-reading face of modern Britain quite like Jack Black.
And a Merry Christmas to you, too