My Year in Comics: 2009

December 29th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I keep trying to do a top ten list, but I keep getting bored and wandering off partway through. It’s not that I can’t do it. It’s just that everyone has done it, and I wouldn’t be bringing anything new to the table. Sure, my list of ten books would be different from someone else’s list, and I’d probably inadvertently end up pissing off fans of Geoff Johns/Brian Michael Bendis/JMS again. What’s vastly more interesting, is looking at 2009 in terms of how my approach to comics changed. I stopped chasing the dragon this year, but that’s just half of it. I started, or re-started, a lot of things, too.

Amazon makes this easy. I can look at the 46 orders I placed in 2009 (which is completely ridiculous) and see what I bought and when I bought it. On 02/16, I ordered three books from Amazon. Jack Kirby’s O.M.A.C., Black Panther by Jack Kirby Vol. 2, and Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1. I was very high on Kirby after picking up the first two Fourth World omnibuses, so that explains the two Kirby books. The outlier is Pluto. I hadn’t picked up any manga in some time before then, having stopped reading Monster when I moved to SF and already having a complete set of Dragon Ball. I’ve had a box full of manga chilling in my place for two and a half years now, with everything from Battle Vixens to Shaman King to The Ring waiting to be pulled out and reread, only for that to never happen.

The catalyst was Pluto, though. I’ve been watching anime since I was a kid, reading manga since I was a teenager. I remember picking up Super Manga Blast to read What’s Michael. Two days after reading Pluto 1, I ordered Monster 9-12, inadvertently giving myself two copies of volume 9. By February 24th, I had volumes 14 through 18, completing the series. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Monster, and reading the end of the series in a sprint like that was a blessing.

I live about six blocks from Kinokuniya, which is easily one of the best places to buy manga in the city. Large selection, decent back stock, and they’re on top of new releases. They’ve got an enormous selection of Japanese books, too. I visited it maybe twice my first year and a half here. Now, it’s more like monthly.

Pluto led to 20th Century Boys, which in turn led to Viz Signature. Other than a brief dip into and out of Black Lagoon (Nah, y’all can keep that one), Viz Signature has turned into my favorite imprint in any comics company. I’ve picked up Dogs, Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, Jormungand, solanin, What A Wonderful World! and Vagabond, and enjoyed all of them. I’m looking forward to reading GoGo Monster (which is a very handsomely designed book), Real, not simple, and maybe Tsutomu Nihei’s Biomega.

Viz Signature led to SIG IKKI, which led to Shonen Sunday. I rediscovered Yotsuba&!, which led to Yen Press, which has a few titles I need to try out. A friend’s recommendation led to Mushishi, from Del Rey, and a few titles out of that imprint, too.

I started paying attention to manga blogs, mainly via Brigid Alverson’s Manga Blog and Kate Dacey’s Manga Critic. That spiraled out into half a dozen other blogs, which led to more books. I started writing about manga more often, though nowhere near as often as I actually read it.

While all this was going on, I was growing out of slavishly following superhero books. David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp fell in my lap like a bomb, I fell in love with Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Hunter, and scored several other books. I grabbed a used copy of Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter II on a whim and remembered how much I dig that series. Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai coming out a few weeks later was perfect timing, leaving me ripe for more. While the special edition by Fantagraphics collecting the first chunk of stories was pushed back to September 2010, I’m paying attention to Stan Sakai again and wondering why I ever stopped.

Dark Horse’s Noir and David Lapham’s Young Liars reminded me of Stray Bullets again, Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s Unknown Soldier rocked. I finally read Creepy, Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair, and a gang of other books.

I read Ganges #2, my first Ganges, after some goading from Tucker. I loved it, now I’m looking out for that, too. I can count the number of books by Fantagraphics I owned before picking up Ganges on zero hands. Now, I’m keeping my eyes open.

That was 2009 for me. I found a lot of new things, I learned more about my own tastes, and I started fitting my buying habits around that. I try more things, I’m open to more kinds of books, and it’s been fun discovering things that I should’ve known about all along.

2009 was a good year for comics. At this point, I’m reading American books of all types, a few Eurocomics thanks to Marvel’s partnership with Soleil, a lot of manga, a little manhwa… is there a word for that? Omnivorous? “Comics reader?” Either way, I feel better about comics than I have in a long while.

2010 is going to be a good year.

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Before Pluto: The Greatest Robot In The World

August 7th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka is an adaptation of a classic Osamu Tezuka Astro Boy and probably the best comic to drop this year, with only Asterios Polyp (review here, amazon) and Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Hunter (spotlight coming, amazon) coming close to toppling it.

The story it’s based on was also turned into a cartoon years upon years ago. Luckily, because Manga Entertainment understands how to use the internet the way it should be used, you can check it out for free and legally here:

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The Greatest

August 7th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Man, it’s been like three years since I last posted this, and the old image links are broken. However… here is the photoshop I’m still the most proud of.

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On Asterios Polyp

July 14th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Asterios Polyp
David Mazzucchelli
344 pages
ISBN: 0307377326

David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp is looking like the latest capital A Art book, the kind of thing that people smarter than I (such as Jog or Douglas Wolk) are doubtless going to pore over, deconstruct, reconstruct, and analyze over the next few weeks. And, well, with good reason– Mazzucchelli does a lot of interesting things with the format and formula of comic books, and ends up creating amazing. More than anything, all ideas of what constitutes an “art” comic aside, Asterios Polyp is fascinating.

I read through this 344-page book pretty quickly, and barely noticed the time passing. Each chapter alternates time periods, telling us about Asterios’s history and his present, and are visually distinct. Every fistful of pages, the style switches from a standard comic format to something more influenced by graphic design and experimental. Mazzucchelli shows off a variety of styles in the book, even going so far as to have individual characters exist in their own styles.

There’s a visual metaphor introduced fairly early on, where Asterios and his wife are a combination of two different styles, with Asterios taking the form of the building blocks of a drawing of a human and Hana being the details and shading. When they meet, they merge to form a complete drawing. When strife hits their relationship, Hana violently pulls out of Asterios’s reality. It’s an amazingly effective move, and one which works on a gut level. You don’t need captions to tell you that they’re troubled, or growing apart, or anything– you simply have to look.

Asterios Polyp is so fascinating because it approaches storytelling in a way that only comics can. It takes advantage of the format to do something new and interesting, while coming at it from a new angle. Everything in life is about delivering information of one sort of another, be it via text, pictures, texture, or taste. Mazzucchelli doesn’t use the images in Asterios Polyp to show cool images or poses. Instead, each image has a point. We never (well, maybe twice, but he’s obscured) see Asterios’s face from the front. He’s always looking to the left or the right. It struck me in a few different ways while I was reading. It makes Asterios seem like he’s always doing something. There’s something just off-panel that we can’t see that’s he’s really interested in. However, it also makes him somewhat untrustworthy or uncomfortable. He’s never looking you in the eye. He never seems to be paying attention. There’s a level of distance there.

Most of all, though, it plays into the dualism that forms the foundation of his personal philosophy. Asterios Polyp can be accurately described as the story of a man learning to count to three. He embraces the idea of there being 1 and 2, yes and no, linear and plastic, and form and function. When his life falls apart, he learns to count in threes. (It’s interesting that twos vs threes is portrayed as a yin/yang of its own, inflexibility vs flexibility, but I’m not sure what that means just yet.)

Asterios is a book that’s fun to look at. The color palette is very focused. There are a lot of purples, yellows, pinks, blues, and blacks. Toward the end of the book, though, for a few pages, the palette opens up in an amazing scene. It’s a burst of color, and life, and a symbol of things to come. It’s a counterpoint to the beginning of the book, which was somber and fairly depressing.

Basically, Asterios Polyp is a must-read. It’s straightforward enough that anyone can enjoy it, but has layers that you can peel back and examine. I’m probably going to read it agin in a couple weeks, with the goal of just poring over the art. Mazzucchelli uses a lot of techniques in Asterios Polyp that all comics could benefit from. He got there first, though, and set the bar pretty high. The writing and art are excellent, and full of insights on how both comics and life work.

Asterios Polyp is objectively better than anything you’ve read this year thus far. There’s absolutely no question in my mind about that.

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Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

June 23rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I’m a little surprised at how much of my taste in comics has its origins in Daredevil. I got back into comics largely through buying copies of Frank Miller’s Daredevil Visionaries. I’d never read his run on Daredevil, and it was just what I needed to leapfrog onto the Bendis run, which led to other Marvel books, and so on. When I was a kid, Miller was my introduction to both grown-up comics and crime comics.

There’s another aspect to this that I haven’t talked about, before. Before I was introduced to Grant Morrison’s work, before I discovered Joe Casey, Ann Nocenti introduced me to weird comics in the pages of Daredevil. I didn’t have many issues of her run, but I had some of the ones with Typhoid Mary and a few seriously off-kilter tales.


I’ve been re-reading Nocenti’s run on Daredevil, and it positively leans. Her run is as much about how Daredevil is an overly violent fascist and a failure of a hero as it is about swashbuckling and dating. Nocenti got right up in the face of what it meant to pull on tights and beat up a criminal and did a pretty good job of breaking it down into its component parts. She has Murdock struggle with the thought of solving problems with his fists, forcing him to look at the effect he has on his environment. She introduced the Fatboys, a gang of youths who alternate between assisting Daredevil and getting into trouble. They follow his example and sometimes they get hurt. Sometimes they hurt people.

What’s so amazing about Nocenti’s run is that she followed up Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Born Again, one of the top five best superhero stories. Picking up the reins after two masters of the game told an amazing story must’ve been daunting, but Nocenti handled it well. She picked up the storylines they left, continuing on with a law practice-less, but happy, Murdock.

Brubaker and Bendis’s Daredevil is inextricably linked to the Frank Miller version. They’re continuing on in the same kind of story that he started back in the day. Nocenti, though, swerved right out of the gate. Her Murdock flipflops from confident to troubled, wrestling with his demons with the help of his girlfriend.

Typhoid Mary, whose origin story is collected in Daredevil Legends Vol. 4: Typhoid Mary, has been one of my favorite villains since I was a kid. Obviously, I didn’t get the Madonna (Mary)/Whore (Typhoid) complex that helps define her character or the subtle (?) feminism that Nocenti slipped in. There was just something about her that was, and is, endlessly interesting to me. She wasn’t like Batman’s villains, who were just crazy for the sake of being crazy. She wasn’t like Spider-Man’s villains, either, who were concerned with wealth. I don’t know that I had the mental capacity as a kid to articulate why I enjoyed reading about her so much. Mary was just undeniable.

The best word for her, as near as I can tell, is “uncomfortable.” Lesser writers will treat her as a generic crazy chick, Poison Ivy Plus Catwoman Minus Clothes. Nocenti, though, used her like a scalpel. She wasn’t a Bad Girl, but she was a bad girl. Typhoid Mary was a lot of issues distilled into one creature– religion, sexism, feminism, violence, and morality collided in her. She’s genuinely damaged goods, and troubling.

Mary is the easiest thing to point to when describing Nocenti’s run on Daredevil, but it’s just a part of the whole. There was the nuclear holocaust-obsessed son of a supervillain, the trials of the Fatboys, and the Inferno crossover. It’s creepy, but not creepy like a horror comic or a T&A book. It’s a crawling creepy, a book that makes you feel uneasy. Heroes who are far from perfect and entirely too human, a city full of people who refuse to be categorized into neat little boxes, the way a homeless woman tries to tell her husband where her gift is before she’s murdered by a villain… “that’s not right” sums it up pretty well.

Nocenti’s one of my favorite writers. No wishy-washy “one of my favorite female writers” or “throwback writers” or whatever. Just straight up, real talk, “favorite writers.” She’s good at what she does, and well worth seeking out. She’s spent the past few years out of comics, including filming a documentary, but she’s got a story in Daredevil 500 this August, with art by David Aja.

Good on her and good on Marvel for seeking her out. I’d like to see more work out of her in the future. I miss her voice in comics. Marvel should reprint more of her Daredevil. She did something special, and I think she’s been unfairly overshadowed by Miller’s run. Both are classic for different reasons.

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