Sunday, December 26, 2010


Ok, so the rules are a little floppy here. These aren't strictly 10 different comics, but rather creators, series, or comic-related ephemera...

1. ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20 - Discontent, narcissistic and generally in over his head. While these traits apply to most of us, they are evident throughout the life of Jordan Lint. Cartoonist Chris Ware brings us the life of Lint, from conception to death, in 72 pages. Lint as a young man is frustrated by his surroundings and situation, yet humbled by the reality of being a dreamer with no ambition. In his journey he cyclically finds and loses love and fortune, all the time hanging onto regret and the childhood death of his mother. In his inadequacy, we see bits of ourselves. A narrative triumph.

2. CHUCK DIXON - Chuck Dixon, whose work is dependably entertaining, wrote the rough equivalent of 3-4 comics a month this year, and for him that's taking it easy. He continued his fast-paced run on the monthly G.I. Joe flagship title, as well as a three-issue arc in "G.I. Joe: Origins" (yes, he's managed to make Zartan cool). Editors know he's the go-to guy for action, tapping him for the comic prequels for The A-Team and The Expendables. I never saw the movies, but the books were a fun read. He managed to capture not just the flavor but the humor and Leone pageantry for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly series. Speaking of humor, his overlooked Simpsons stories rival the cleverness of the TV series. An avid history buff, he and artist Gary Kwapisz released a second volume of Civil War Adventure from their own History Graphics Press. He's also done a couple of snappy Airboy stories for Moonstone's Air Fighters anthology. If only they'd have Dixon do his own Airboy series so we wouldn't have to sift through the dreck that dominates Air Fighters.

3. WILL EISNER: PORTRAIT OF A SEQUENTIAL ARTIST - A two-hour documentary on the life of one of comics great innovators and the greatest champion of comics as an art form. From his early career running a comics "shop" operation, to his groundbreaking Spirit Section, to using comics educate, and then his last three decades as graphic novelist and elder statesman. Truly a career worth investigating and celebrating. The real treat for me, though, are the DVD extras which include the audio to his "Shop Talk" interviews from the 1980s Spirit Magazine. Interviewees include Phil Seuling, Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Kubert and some guy named Caniff. It's a comic book master class and historical treasure trove.

4. CAPTAIN AMERICA/CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN - The Reborn mini-series, which brought Steve Rogers back from the "dead", tumbled into 2010 in kind of a publishing snafu between the regular series as well as the Avengers titles. The Reborn ending, that Steve Rogers was back, wasn't spoiled, as that was the point of the series. The surprise, to some, was that Rogers decided to let his old partner, Bucky Barnes, stay on as Captain America. Writer Ed Brubaker then plunged him into a storylines where Barnes must confront his feelings about his past as a brainwashed assassin, and of being unworthy of being Captain America. First he must battle a true pretender, the 1950s Cap, who has been corrupted by militant terrorists. If last year's epic battle with the Red Skull wasn't enough, he must take on one of Cap's other great foes, Baron Zemo. The first Cap storyline I ever read that really thrilled me was the DeMatteis/Zeck run in the early 1980s that featured Zemo, so this brought me back home.

5. BACK ISSUE - Speaking of the DeMatteis/Zeck Cap work, it was featured in issue #41 of Back Issue, Michael Eury's magazine devoted to the comics of the 1970s/80s and recent past. This patriotic issue also covered the classic Roger Stern/John Byrne run on Cap. This mag consistently feeds my nostalgia jones, because its comics of yesteryear are from my yesteryear. Byrne's a popular topic of Back Issue, as his She-Hulk run was highlighted in issue #39. Byrne's long run on Fantastic Four was the main topic of issue #38, as well as everything you need (or don't need) to know about the Wonder Twins. Top ten list...activate!

6. COMICS REVUE - This feast for comic strip fans had all the trimmings this year. Great strips by some of the best illustrators to hold a pen. For most, this is stuff outside their best known work and rarely seen. The Phantom by Lee Falk (1941-43), Buz Sawyer by Roy Crane (1960-61), Alley Oop by V.T. Hamlin (1938), Flash Gordon by Mac Raboy (1956), Tarzan by Russ Manning (1973-74), Steve Canyon by Milton Caniff (1970-71), Krazy Kat dailies by George Herriman (1934), Tarzan by Bob Lubbers, Secret Agent Corrigan by Al Williamson, George Evans and Archie Goodwin (1976). Each issue includes eight slick color pages as well as Gasoline Alley and Steve Canyon pages in color.

7. COMPLETE PEANUTS 1975-1976, 1977-1978 - Of the two volumes, the first is the best. It has the introduction of new characters Truffles, Belle and Spike. It's chock full of classic sequences: Charlie Brown again tries to meet his hero, Joe Schlabotnik. Peppermint Patty tries out the pumpkin patch with Linus. Charlie Brown refuses to leave the pitchers mound during a rainstorm and ends up floating away. And Peppermint Patty utters her classic rejoinder to Charlie Brown - "Don't hassle me with your sighs, Chuck." Essential reading for all humans.

8. JOE KUBERT - Our greatest living comics artist had a vibrant year, both with new and reprinted work. On the reprint side, Showcase Presents: Sgt. Rock Volume 3 reprints his Easy Co. stories from "Our Army At War" #149-180 in black & white. Getting the full-color treatment were his Viking Prince stories. These tales from the 1950s "Brave and the Bold" title are new to most comics fans, some not having been reprinted since the '70s and some never before reprinted. Kubert worked with son Adam on a new Sgt. Rock story for Wednesday Comics, the collected edition of last year's experiment where comics were printed on newspaper-style broadsheets. A simple request from a Vietnam veteran compelled Kubert to tell the story of the vet's unit in Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965, in which a small advisory force of U.S. faces an overwhelming hostile attack. The art is printed directly from Kubert's pencils, which not only evokes the rough realities but also the immediacy of the situation. A detailed account from the veterans depicted in the story complements the book.

9. RIP KIRBY V. 2, 3/X-9: SECRET AGENT CORRIGAN V. 1 - Three exquisite tomes from the Library of American Comics and Dean Mullaney. 2010 gave us a double shot of "Rip Kirby", Alex Raymond's sophisticated detective. Kirby solves his cases with his intellect, but don't count out those fists. We also got the first of what will hopefully be eight volumes of Secret Agent Corrigan. Kudos to Mullaney for not trying to go back to the beginning of the strip (1934), but rather focusing on the 1967-1980 run by Al Williamson, Raymond's artistic heir. Williamson was paired with writer Archie Goodwin. The two would later collaborate on the "Star Wars" comic strip and the "Empire Strikes Back" movie adaptation.

10. GLAMOURPUSS - Speaking of Rip Kirby, Dave Sim continues his examination of the story behind the strip in this bi-monthly series. Of concern lately is the fatal day that Alex Raymond was in a car accident with fellow cartoonist Stan Drake. Drake survived, Raymond did not. Sim has broken down the day, September 6, 1956, to the molecular level, providing an inspiring investigation of minutiae as well as subtly dark conjecture.

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