Milton Caniff - As reported in our Year in Caniff review, there was lots of material to be excited about in 2009. The Library of American Comics released The Complete Terry & the Pirates: Volume 6, reprinting Caniff's last two years on the strip (1945-46). Checker BPG continued their reprints of Steve Canyon with a 1955 volume, changing the format to make the strips larger. Bleeding Cool.com reported last week that the company is alive and well. Though a date for the 1956 volume remains elusive. Comics Revue magazine, which also reprints 'Steve Canyon' strips, also changed formats from a standard magazine to a squarebound journal on better paper with the Sundays printed in color. They're currently reprinting the early 1970s strips.
Chuck Dixon - If I gave Chuck separate entries, he's dominate the list, so I have to condense him to one. His ongoing run of G.I. Joe is his highest profile gig. I've enjoyed all his Joe work this year, especially the way it doesn't exclude a newbie like myself who was not a Joe fan in the 1980s. His stories for Simpsons Comics continue to be laugh-out-loud and episode-worthy, maybe even moreso for me since I stopped watching the show. Storming Paradise, pictured at left, relates the events of an alternate history in which the scientists of the Manhattan Project are blown up testing the Bomb, protracting the bloody war with Japan. More blood is spilled in Civil War Adventures, an ambitious self-publishing project with artist Gary Kwapisz ideal for history buffs and for educational purposes. Just making it under the wire is the collecting of Dixon's mid-'80s series Winterworld in a special hardcover with it's never before seen sequel, Wintersea. Of all of his work this past quarter century, this is near the top of my list.
CAPTAIN AMERICA/CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN - This is still the most consistently enjoyable monthly title in terms of story and art. I have been enjoying the Steve Rogers-less 'Captain America' for over two years. It's almost with disappointment that they bring him back, but I guess it's time. His former partner, Bucky Barnes, has been filling in and earned the right to call himself Captain America. I'm still interested to see how they resolve that in the next month or so. In 27 years of reading comics, my favorite character has always been Captain America. I've lived through the murky valleys when this comic has been awful, and I'm thankful for the peaks. I hope Ed Brubaker's tenure as writer continues. It's just a shame that the scheduling snafus (the 'Reborn' series is running late) had to somewhat spoil this momentous occasion.
BLAZING COMBAT - Blazing Combat was a black and white magazine from Warren Publishing, the company that found success with horror magazines 'Creepy' and 'Eerie'. It featured war stories from a brilliant array of artists, most of them veterans of the fabled EC Comics line. Often showing the futility and brutality of war, it came too far ahead of widespread protest of the Vietnam War. Their was a mild backlash against the book that affected it's distribution to newsstands and the book was cancelled after four issues. Those issues became legendary and highly sought after, with good reason. Collected now in this book, the masses can enjoy some exemplary work from art masters John Severin, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, Al Williamson and others.
DAVE SIM - Sim is currently self-publishing two titles - 'Glamourpuss' and 'Cerebus Archives'. 'Glamourpuss' continues to chronicle the history of photorealism in comic strips, exemplified by Alex Raymond's 'Rip Kirby' and Stan Drake's 'The Heart of Juliet Jones'. This close inspection of comic strips and the men behind them is right in my wheelhouse. Sim's recreations of photographs and art styles is scary impressive, both in terms of his skill and the dedication it takes. 'Cerebus Archives' is a new series chronicling his work and career before 'Cerebus', his 300 issue masterpiece. In 'Archives', he not only reprints his early published work, but his correspondence and rejection letters of the time. Unfortunately, 'Archives' was cancelled by the main comics distributor, Diamond, and is now only available through ComiXpress.
The Complete Rip Kirby Volume 1 - Speaking of Raymond, Dean Mullaney at IDW must have been listening to Sim's pleas for a decent reprinting of Rip Kirby. 'Kirby' was always one of those strips you heard about, but never saw. It was the last strip for Alex Raymond, one of the 'Big Three' cartoonists (Milton Caniff and Hal Foster being the other two). Kirby is a detective/scientist who is something of an archetype with his fedora, pipe and horn-rimmed glasses. I'm glad we get to finally see these, if only to see the much lusted after Honey Dorian in action.
TOR: A Pre-Historic Odyssey - After a 15 year absence, Joe Kubert revived his "caveman Tarzan" character for a mini-series in 2008, collected in hardcover this year. But no knowledge of this character or his history is necessary to enjoy this story. Kubert establishes anything you need to know about Tor early on. In this tale, Tor suffers the consequences of being guided by morality, a nascent character trait of this world of 1,000,000 years ago. Kubert continues to prove, though he doesn't need to, why he's our greatest living comic book artist.
Forever Nuts Presents George McManus's Bringing Up Father - This collection reprints the early years of this classic comic strip that debuted almost a century ago. Humor never goes out of style, and I found myself chuckling at this book more than any other. It features the exploits of Jiggs, a blue collar roughhouser turned rich who misses the common life, and his wife, Maggie, who wants to climb the social ladder but is is continually foiled by Jiggs' lack of decorum with society folk. The foreword to the book is by Bill Blackbeard, who edited the 'Terry & the Pirates' reprint series for NBM in the 1980s. R.C. Harvey, author of the Caniff biography, wrote the introduction.
Charles Schulz - The Complete Peanuts 1971-1972/1973-1974 - Available separately or combined in a slipcase, we're still in what many consider to be Schulz's peak years. I find them all essential, and my thoughts on the earlier volume can be found here.
REYNOLD BROWN: A Life in Pictures by Daniel Zimmer and David J. Hornung - Ok, so this is more of an art book than a comic book, but there is a comic connection. Brown is a contemporary of Noel Sickles. Both cut their comic teeth on aviation strips in the wake of Lindbergh's historic flight ("Scorchy Smith" for Sickles, "Tailspin Tommy" for Brown). Each went on to magazine illustration, but Brown went the next step to the major portion of his career - movie poster illustration. His striking images ran the gamut, from B-horror movies ('Attack of the Puppet People') to cinematic grandeur ('Spartacus') Brown's realism and amazing likenesses make this book a lush feast. I can't comment too much on the text, as I didn't read it all, but this is a thorough retrospective on a deserving illustrator.