2017 End of Year Special Favourites
Best wishes for the turn of the year! Let me take the opportunity to share with you a handful of my favourites that I’ve read over this past year that didn’t get reviewed. I say a handful, because I could easily make a list of 20+ favourites from 2017 alone (I personally bought over 200 comics this year, and that’s outside the stacks of cool comics I’ve gotten to read for potential review issues), but I didn’t want you to be stuck here all day listening to (in your head, as you read) me enthuse on various products of the sequential arts. Even though we all know you’d be riveted.
Animosity Vol 1.
‘One day, for no reason, the Animals woke up. They started thinking. They started talking. They started taking REVENGE. Collecting the first four issues of the best-selling series, plus the special one-shot issue ANIMOSITY: THE RISE.
The world is plunged into chaos as the newly-intelligent Animals fight humanity, and simply fight each other, for their own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. In the midst of the turmoil is Jesse, an 11-year-old girl, and her dog, Sandor, who is devoted to her and her protection. One year after the incident, Jesse and Sandor begin a cross-country journey to find Jesse’s half-brother, Adam, who is living in San Francisco.
Don’t miss out on this fantastic first collection of the series EVERYONE is talking about!’
Written by: Margeurite Bennett
Art by: Rafael Latorre, Rob Shwager (colours), Juan Doe (The Rise)
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Released: 1 March 2017
If you haven’t heard of this series by now, I’m very disappointed in you. I only read it recently, but have been hearing about how good it is for ages. And I’m glad I did – this tale of animals gaining sentience en masse and understandably rising up against humans is an excellently written take on the post-apocalypse genre.
It’s not an easy job, as the world-building here is intense; rather than some sort of compressed introduction to give us the set up, the first two issues are dedicated to taking us through the start of the change to a year later when our main characters, Sandor the dog and his girl Jesse, are trying to make it across the country. Drawing out the set-up for the longer series like this is a risky move, since there’s so much to cover it’s still cramming a lot in and the reader can get a bit disoriented or fed up with jumping forward in the timeline so often. However, it absolutely helps give more emotional investment in the characters, and more of an understanding of how the social situations are changing; far better than a wall of text expositioning at us can do. Once it settles into what appears to be the main plot of their adventures, and further world-building of how society – both animal and human – is changing, with regular flashbacks too, it continues the kind of thoughtful (and emotionally infused) reading that good war stories have; is one side or the other actually the good or bad guys? Factions, different alliances and motivations, and the fact that neither humans nor animals are a monolith in their desires, all ensure that there is rarely a clear-cut sign of who is trustworthy.
With so many animals to draw, have Latorre and Shwager gone with something simple for visuals? No, they’ve got some amazing and lovely detail here. So many different kinds of animal are already present in this story, and each one is lovingly drawn with expression and emotion (and often with some cool weapons). But don’t forget, this is a violent story, and there is absolutely gore and blood amongst the beautiful scenery, alongside dealing with the heavy moral and philosophical issues. This is a great series, and I highly recommend it; you can appreciate the writing or just the awesome animal battles. The volume also contains an issue of Animosity: The Rise, a glimpse of how the awakening was going down on the other side of the USA.
Not Drunk Enough Book 1
‘Logan is a repairman in the wrong place at the wrong time — which is a creepy corporate lab in the middle of the goddamn night. After fighting off a freaky creature, he joins forces with three other poor souls trapped inside the building. Who are they? What are they doing here? What the hell is going on? And will any of them get out alive? The first in a brand new series from the mind of Tess Stone (Hanna Is Not a Boy’s Name, Buzz!)!’
Written/Art by: Tess Stone
Publisher: Oni Press
Released: 5 July 2017
Those in the know may remember Stone from his hit webcomic Hanna Is Not A Boys Name some years ago, filled with distinctive energetic artwork and dark humour (if you remember him better as ‘Tessa’, he recently released an update to his situation) that instills this comic too. From this growing name in professional comics, Not Drunk Enough is another ongoing webcomic, with this book being the first collection. It’s a horror, with a focus on body horror, and the character designs in this are very cool. A group of people fighting off unknown and changing horrors while trapped somewhere is a staple trope of horror and scary stories in any form, and Stone manages to keep it fresh and intriguing; as always it’s the details which distinguish an individual work from others of the same style, and the design of the monsters here, combined with the flashbacks to finding out just what happened, really kept me drawn in. Plenty of dark humour abounds, and it never drags you out of the tension of the story, which is always the risk of humour in horror situations; it takes a certain sense of humour to blend it organically into the writing of scary/horror stories rather than slapping it on top of the plot or wedging it into the dialogue, and when you find a writer who can do it, they’re a treasure.
I mentioned those monster designs, and they’re cool as heck. I won’t spoil the plot giving away details of the backgrounds of the creatures, but the designs work really well with the story, and of course there’s at least one with a creeping nature that the characters must escape from, all while wondering who can and can’t be trusted. Sneaking around a building through the night involves a lot of darkness, which can ruin a visual medium, but here it’s broken up well by panel placements and highlights, with a surprising amount of colour wreathing the dynamic poses and action.
It’s an ongoing webcomic, though updating slowly, so you can catch up on what happens after the end of the book (the book contains extra material not found on the site, as they often do). It leaves the building and follows our unfortunate heroes to the outside, so there’s more horror in store.
We Can Fix It
‘What would you do if you had a time machine? Bet on sporting events? Assassinate all the evildoers of history? Or maybe try to fix all the mistakes and regrets that have haunted you all these years?
Join Jess as she travels back in time to share her wisdom with her naive younger self, stand up to bullies who terrorized her child self, and teach her horny teenage self a thing or two. What begins as a raunchy adventure in teen wish fulfillment grows into a thoughtful story about memory, regret, and growing up.
One time machine, one frustrated girl, one sexy futuristic jumpsuit…infinite possibilities.’
Written/Art by: Jess Fink
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Released: 8 May 2013
Top Shelf Productions
Top Shelf Productions
Sexy fun adventures! Sort of . . . it’s a lot more complicated than that. If you had a time machine and wanted to go and fix some stuff from your past where you messed up or did stupid things, would you? And more importantly – would past you listen? Fink uses this idea to try and help her past self out with awkward flirting and relationship situations, and some good old make outs (it’s technically just masturbation when it’s with yourself, right?), but as the comic progresses you’re drawn into a more serious examination of how your past is a part of what makes you who you are, even the bad parts and the mistakes. Not to mention how the things that you regret and make you cringe now sometimes seemed like a good idea at the time, and future you isn’t going to convince you otherwise. When you get asked ‘Is there anything you’d do differently?’ when asked about your past, it’s generally a ‘Yes – but that’s if I had the knowledge and experience I have now, which I didn’t, so probably not.’ On the plus side (heads up for sexy situations in this comic), you can always just make out with yourself.
The simplistic style Fink uses works well, since it’s not the settings we’re invested in here – it’s the story, the situation, and the people. The joys of stuff going well and the frustrations of past selves refusing to listen, or having to listen to future selves preach, are communicated with great facial expressions and energy. The lines and soft ink wash greys carry us through the plot as it leads us from irreverence to facing more serious problems before we even realise what’s happening, and acknowledging the issues involved with trying to fix a past that’s a part of us. And that awesome ‘future’ jumpsuit.
Welcome Back (vol. 1 & 2)
Volume 1: ‘Mali and Tessa have lived hundreds of different lives throughout time, caught up in an eternal cycle as they take part in a war so old that neither side remembers what they’re fighting for anymore. As Mali wakes up in her newest life, she suddenly becomes self-aware and starts to question everything, especially why she continues to fight. But elsewhere, Tessa is already on the hunt? Collects issues #1-4.’
Volume 2: ‘Mali and Tessa remember now: they remember their roles as soldiers in a war without end, battling each other throughout centuries, reincarnating only to fight one another again. But now that they’re finally together, they’ve decided to break this cycle for good by choosing love over war. Unfortunately, factions on all sides of the conflict are at odds with their choice—including Tessa’s parents. Collects issues #5-8.’
Written by: Christopher Sebela
Art by: Claire Rose, Jonathan Brandon Sawyer (vol 1)
Released: 10 February 2016 (vol 1), 12 April 2017 (vol 2)
Boom! Studios, Welcome Back vol. 1
I’m including two volumes of this because it’s a complete series, so I figured I might as well cover the whole thing. While there’s huge possibility for spin-off series’ from this world, Welcome Back is basically a two part graphic novel as it stands now. Born into a hidden society of constantly reborn immortal soldiers and military support in an eternal war, two soldiers decide to fight back and stop fighting each other. Obviously, this doesn’t go down well with their respective sides, and they find themselves under attack from their own allies.
It sounds pretty simple, so it’s a testament to Sebela’s writing that this is a gripping story. There are regular flashbacks to past lives and encounters which bring layers of history and story to the plot as our characters discover more about themselves, and we follow main character Mali who ‘woke up’ to her place in the war late, allowing us to discover more of the world as she does, surrounded by those who knew their roles early on. Hints as to mysteries surrounding the situation and further questions about the concept are planted around the intense action, making sure it’s not just a strange setting cooked up with a ‘just roll with it’ attitude but an immersive world, and I’ll be surprised if further stories aren’t sprung from this well. Even if that never happens though, it stands great on its own two feet, with chemistry between the characters in their immortal love story, and plenty of intrigue and secrets.
Boom! Studios, Welcome Back vol. 2
All those action scenes and fights are well illustrated (head up for a lot of violence and death. Looots), though I particularly loved the costuming in this. Not just the detail in the historical flashbacks, but the punk-rock aesthetic of Mali and sleek cliché-assassin style of Tessa. It sounds stupid, but as any visual media creator can tell you, something as simple as clothes can make a big difference to whether the characters are taken as realistic or not, mostly on a subconscious level. Constantly drawing detailed clothes is also a lot of work, and shows a lot of professionalism and dedication in Rose’s work. And that’s outside the great and detailed settings, both modern and historical.
‘Jelly Vampire features the radical life of Lulu Lulusen, an imaginative and unusual girl who embarks on countless darkly humorous adventures. Join Lulu as she disembowels bullies and travels to a planet made entirely of the soft underside of a cat’s paws.’
Written/Art by: Ida Eva Neverdahl
Publisher: Emet Comics
Released: 20 December 2017
This. This is now a favourite. It came to me recently with review comics, and I bless the day. It’s rated as 15+ only, and with good reason – one glance at the cover might make you think it’s some little kids comic, but it’s full of delicious dark humour and gore. Take another look at that cover, and the little hand sticking out of the unicorn’s horn just for high-fiving, and tell me it’s not weirdly unsettling, just as it should be. In this collection, unicorns stabbing people will never make you laugh so much (if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am). Mostly made up of one-page short form comics, there are some multi-page longer stories, and they’re even weirder since Neverdahl’s surreal sense of humour gets to stretch its legs and play up a story’s slow build to a strange conclusion; I partly shudder to think of and partly (the larger part) wish desperately for a graphic novel from her.
While the settings do get interestingly detailed when required, the almost child-like art style (though still consistent and practiced) just highlights the dark humour even more, in the best way, as we contrast Lulu’s seeming innocence with the occasional disembowlment, but most often with just plain strange things happening, all with her easy savoir-faire. This juxtaposition between art style and content is certainly not something new (anyone remember the Happy Tree Friends show?), but it’s not always done well, and often just for blood and gore shocks. Jelly Vampire is absolutely done well because it’s created specifically to express a certain sense of humour rather than just shock. It’s not as eye-bleedingly bright as you might expect, either; if you like the macabre and funny and unicorns all wrapped into one, this is for you.
While ‘Animosity Vol 1’, ‘Not Drunk Enough Book 1’, ‘We Can Fix it’, and ‘Welcome Back’ are from my private collection, thanks eternal to Comixology.com for providing this issue of ‘Jelly Vampire’ for review.