I have been busy over the holidays so I haven’t had much time to read, but I did buy an iPad with my Christmas bonus, so I have been catching up on a lot of comics. I thought I’d spend a little time today talking about comics that I love, and that I’m excited about coming up in 2012.
Demo is my favourite book of the last few years, to the extent that I own two original pages from volume two. I’ve been a fan of Becky Cloonan’s art for over ten years, since a friend in NYC introduced me to it, back when she was xeroxing her own copies of Social Unrest. I always knew she was going to be big, and it has been great to see her get better over the years and get the attention that she deserves. Brian Wood’s writing is very understated; each story in Demo is encompassed within a single issue. While there is always some unusual, sometimes supernatural, element to the plot, Wood’s writing is always about people. People in love, who suffer from loss or grief, have been abused, who cannot escape their pasts. It is refreshing to see in a medium where the narrative is obsessed with “things that happen” a comic that is more interested in the effects that events have on people. Combined with Cloonan’s breathtaking art, Demo really packs an emotional punch. I’d happily recommend anything that Wood has written to people, from his indie work like Local, to his Vertigo series’ DMZ and Northlanders. Becky is also getting back into showing that she has serious writing chops too, her self-published Wolves (available at her website) is highly recommended.
I’ve been a big fan of Mike (Moorcock) since I was a teenager, so when I heard that one of the biggest influences on Casanova was Jerry Cornelius, I was pretty sure I was going to like it. Fraction’s comic has everything that you could want in a crime/spy science fiction comic: reality hopping, time travel, and gender bending, with copious amounts of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The master criminal, libertine, Casanova Quinn finds himself dragged from his own reality and forced to work as a double agent for both an insane super villain and his spymaster father. Fraction is a clever guy though, so underneath the super cool exterior is a story that is essentially about the psychological damaged inflicted on Quinn by the situation that he finds himself in. It also doesn’t hurt that the art, by those super-talented twins, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, is absolutely gorgeous, updated from the original single spot colours with beautiful watercolours. If that doesn’t sell you, it has Burroughs and Pynchon references, how can you not like that?
Parker: The Hunter and Parker: The Outfit
I’m not a big superhero guy, but I read The New Frontier on the advice of a friend and I loved it. Darwyn Cooke’s art was fantastic, and really captured the feel of the comics of the late Golden era/early Silver era. As an Eisner fan, I also really enjoyed his work on The Sprit series that he did for DC a few years ago. Lately, he has been working on adapting four of Richard Stark’s (a pseudonym of the late crime writer Donald Westlake) Parker novels for IDW, the first of which, The Hunter and The Outfit, are out now. Stark novels all revolve around the exploits of Parker, a master thief and all round tough guy betrayed by his partner and his wife in The Hunter, and left for dead. Cooke’s adaptations are very faithful to the original novels (they remain set in the 60s), and unlike the many film adaptations, Westlake was so impressed that he allowed Cooke to use the name Parker. The art is fantastic; there are some really wonderful, ingenious panel layouts. The one that sticks in my head the most is in The Outfit, when Cooke uses Monopoly iconography (because characters are playing it) to advance a story about criminal undertakings. Cooke’s Parker is traditional hard boiled noir of the highest quality, and it pulls no punches.
Sticking with noir, another comic I’m very fond of is Criminal, by the long time pair of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. While it is still a hard crime comic like Parker (and at times, perhaps almost nihilistic), Brubaker takes a more communal approach. Each Criminal arc is about a different person, who has his or her own reasons for doing the things that they do. Some are career criminals, some are forced against their will, others feel compelled by duty or revenge. In a sense, Brubaker’s choice to approach the narrative as a sort of longitudinal study by showing connections between his protagonists, not only in the present but also through the history of the city, illustrate how many of his characters are unable to escape the past. In Brubaker’s world, violent acts are causal effects that only lead to more violence. Phillips is a fantastic artist, and his work on Criminal is as good, if not better, than anything that he has ever done. I’d also be glad to recommend to anyone any of the books that the pair has worked on, from Sleeper and Incognito to their new ongoing, the Lovecraft inspired noir, Fatale.
I’m not the biggest Conan fan in the world. I read Howard’s stories a few years ago, and like a lot of his work, there is the problematic issue of some pretty ugly racism. I’ve read a few of Dark Horses Conan comics though, mostly because of Cary Nord’s great art (and of course, Frazetta’s old art is pretty amazing too). When I found out Wood and Cloonan were going to be doing Conan starting from February though, I got excited. Wood has proven what he can do with this style of comic with his Vikings based Northlanders, and the preview art has been amazing. You can see sample pages here and here.
Parker: The Score
The latest in Cooke’s Parker adaptations is due out in May, which sees Parker taking on his biggest heist yet, and with Parker’s luck, something is bound to go wrong.
The Firelight Isle
The latest project of Paul Duffield, who you may know from his work on FreakAngels with the mighty Warren Ellis. Even though the internet has been around for a long time now, we are still not really seeing the full possibilities that it provides for self/digital publishing. Ellis and Duffield pushed the boat out on FreakAngels, and now Paul is following it up with The Firelight Isle. While I admire his work on FreakAngels, I saw Paul talk about his Carl Sagan inspired science-fiction book Signal last year at Thrilling Wonder Stories, and was really impressed. For The Firelight Isle, he is interested in world building and creating a whole new culture, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do. You can find more information about the project here, as well as how to donate if you feel that way inclined.