The internet is full of “Best of the Year” lists, and we’re going to do the same thing here at ComicSpectrum, with a few twists. 1st: we’re not going to declare what each of us loved is absolutely THE BEST. It is what it is, our personal favorites, worth giving a look, but every person is going to view things differently. What one person thinks is the absolute best another might loathe. It’s the same work of art. My perception of it, or yours, doesn’t change what it is and we all like what we like. 2nd: We’re not going to try to put them in explicit order from 1 to 10. We’re going to talk about 10 things we thought were pretty damned good and not worry about an exact numerical ranking. Out of all the things we read in 2015, these are the ones that floated up to the top of our minds in this last week of the year. So no one book or series stands above or beneath another on this list. Check any of them out if you haven’t seen them yet.
With no further ado, let’s kick off the series with manga/crowdsourcing fan, indie comic creator, and ComicSpectrum reviewer extraordinaire, Al Sparrow!
Another Christmas has come and gone and, if you’re lucky and have good relatives, you’ve found yourself with a little jingle in your pocket in the form of some holiday cash. Now if you’re sensible, and if this were a different type of website, you could maybe invest that money in some stocks or mutual funds, but who are we kidding here? You’re a comic book fan, and this is a comic book website, so let’s talk about some of the best books that came out in 2015 – ones you might have missed – that are worthy of that extra Christmas dough burning a hole in your pocket.
I thought it might be more fun to try to pair my favorites of the year to the type of reader you might be, or more to the point, what you might be looking for in a book or series. With that in mind let’s see what stood out in the past year.
For the Bullies and the Bullied: A Silent Voice (Kodansha) deals with a very hot-button topic – bullying – in a way that doesn’t make light of it, but also avoids being preachy. When a deaf girl’s bully realizes the error of his ways and wants to atone, the forgiveness he seeks may not necessarily need to come from the victim of his attacks, but from those around him, and ultimately from himself. Well drawn, well-written, and with an eye toward all the different situations that arise from bullying, this is hands-down one of the most touching series I’ve ever read.
For those Looking for a Bargain: By now, all those two-issue Convergence (DC Comics) tie-ins should be handily lining your local comic store’s 50-cent bin. While individual titles can be hit or miss, I found a number of these flashbacks to DC’s past to be fun excursions, particularly the return of Matrix Supergirl (teamed up with Ambush Bug), the Teen Titans, Batman and the Outsiders, Infinity Inc., and others from my comic-collecting heyday. Whatever your opinion of the Convergence series itself, or event-based comics in general, these trips back in time were fun reminders of why I loved these books in the first place.
For the Tortured Artist: When Scott McCloud makes a book, I pay attention. When Scott McCloud makes a book about the very nature of being an artist, and the lengths an artist might/must be willing to go to leave their mark on the world, I pay particular attention. The beauty of The Sculptor (First Second Publishing) is McCloud’s ability to blend realism with surrealism. His protagonists have flaws, aren’t always likable, and don’t always have the right answers or do the right things. In other words, they’re real. Put those characters in a fantasy situation where one’s soul could be exchanged for one year of uncontested brilliance, and you have an honest examination of what’s actually going on – what you don’t always see – in the creative mind. This book is another testament to McCloud’s lifelong pursuit of showing us just how amazing and powerful a medium comics can be.
For the Person Who Feels They’ve Read Everything Shonen Manga Can Offer: Tokyo ESP (Vertical) hits all the notes of your standard shonen (boy’s fighting) manga, but does it with an eye towards humor, the fantastic, and a wink and a nod toward most American superhero comics. That the story centers on a female protagonist who already has a pretty strong grasp of her powers is icing on the cake. Bonus – each volume of the North American release is two volumes packed into one book, so you get a lot of story packed into each volume. If you enjoy a good fighting manga, but would like something at least a tiny bit outside the standard fare, seek this book out.
CREDIT: Digital Manga
For the Person Who Wants to Invest in a Worthy Cause: Digital Manga Publishing is mainly known for printing yaoi (boys’ love) manga, but a division of the company has taken to Kickstarter to fund the reprinting of influential manga creator Osamu Tezuka’s work, most of it long out of print or never in print on this side of the Pacific. This past year, titles like Ludwig – an examination of a period in the life of Beethoven – and Alabaster – a story about crime and the nature of beauty – saw print, while other attempts failed (but with a vow by the company to try again in the future). I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of the books I’ve backed in this effort, and look forward to reading more work covering the career of one of Japan’s master artists in the coming year.
For the Person Who Loves Comics but Doesn’t Want to Buy a Comic: The League of Regrettable Superheroes (Quirk Books) is a great look back at the history of comics, with an eye toward the less-than-stellar creations that populated them. Look, not everyone gets to be Batman, okay? Books like this are bound to stir up fun conversations – the inclusion of beloved spaceknight Rom is sure to cause some controversy – among comic fans of any age. Still, it’s hard to deny the fun of reading about Bozo the Iron Man, Speed Centaur, The Ferret, and numerous other also-rans who inhabit this tome.
For the Artist Who Knows There’s Always More to Learn: There are a ton of artistic instruction books out there. A good number of them showed up in the past year. None have been more useful or more valuable to me personally, or contributed to my improvement as an artist, than 21 Draw (http://www.21-draw.com) , a book of sketches from recognized masters in their fields. I keep it at my office and practice rendering the different dynamic poses in my personal sketchbook during lunch. In no time I started realizing ways to improve my own poses, and as a result, I’ve grown as an artist in a relatively short amount of time. A second book, which delves more deeply into the hows and whys of illustration, will be coming out next year. I anticipate it to be every bit as useful as 21 Draw has been. They are not cheap to obtain, but the payoff you’ll see as your skill and artwork improves is a mighty impressive dividend.
For the Person Who Just Won’t Accept Firefly Isn’t Coming Back: It’s not, okay? Just deal with it. Fortunately, there’s salvation in the form of Copperhead (Image). If your space-western jones hasn’t been sated since that last credit rolled on Serenity, here’s a great book that, while not part of that universe, blends that same action, humor, and all-out fun in a great book from Jay Faerber and Scott Godlewski. Technically this book started in 2014, but I’m putting it on here because I’m reading it in trade collection, and there are now two out there that have built an amazingly well-thought out – if not a bit dangerous – universe to visit. However you choose to pick it up, do so. Boo’s infinitely more interesting than Jayne ever was.
For the Person Who Loves a Good Team-Up: When Masamune Shirow (Ghost in the Shell) teamed up with Koshi Rikudo (Excel Saga), I knew I was in for a real treat. Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn (Seven Seas) is classic Shirow, with his fantastical examinations of the ever-thinning fine line of humanity and artificial intelligence, blended with classic Rikudo, offering a blend of action, humor, and cute girls in a fast-paced, hard-hitting, and funny science fiction tale. It’s impossible for me not to like this book – these are two of my favorite if not my two absolute favorite manga creators teamed up on a series – and it’s a pretty safe bet fans of either of them will enjoy it as well.
For the Person Who Wants a Peek Into Another World: Like Copperhead, this is another technicality, as the first book hit in December of 2014, but since its first volume didn’t hit my doorstep until 2015, I’m counting it (Go write your own column if you want to pick nits!). Sunstone (Image) is a not-so-well kept secret among Stjepan Sejic’s DeviantArt fanbase, but it finally saw print in three trades across 2015, with more to come next year. While our sexual desires, fetishes, escapades, and feelings are generally best kept to ourselves or our bedrooms, this book takes an honest look at BSDM culture. Often educational, frequently funny, and thanks to Sejic’s artwork, always gorgeous, this book is offers an engaging look into a world you either know well, might be curious to learn more about, or would just as soon avoid. Nobody would blame you if you just wanted to look at the pretty pictures, but there’s a real story going on here. A spiritual successor to Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, perhaps?
And there you have it. 2015 was an incredible year for great comics, both in the mainstream and off the beaten path. Whether you followed the more mainstream companies, ventured out into the back pages of your Previews catalog, embraced books from across either pond, or took a gamble on someone’s crowdsourcing campaign, you had more options as a comic reader than perhaps you’ve ever had before. And the good news is that 2016 is shaping up to offer more of the same! I wish you all happy reading in the new year! — Al
Al Sparrow (firstname.lastname@example.org)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture