Special Feature

 

Previously in 2008: The Year You Just Read

By Adam McGovern
Published: 2009-02-03

 


Previously in 2008:
The Year You Just Read

It was a tumultuous election cycle with historic and hopeful consequences for America and the world. It was a perfect storm of quality and attention for comicbook culture, with the first superhero flick that may take home a major Oscar. And rest assured that at least one of those trends is covered in depth below…



Best Ongoing Series: Fallen Angel [IDW]


Artist: J.K. Woodward
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It’s late enough in the Aughts that it may be time to confirm this as the series of the decade. It’s writer Peter David’s own favorite from his lengthy and honored bibliography, and the feeling is infectious. The fitful odyssey of a celestial dropout and the literal sin city she roams has been a lifegiving antidote to the absolutist Bush years, “adult” in the best sense of presenting maddening moral dilemmas that the reader has to think their way out of – and that the writer tackles with the most unpredictable plotlines, outrageous humor, consequential trials and richly dimensional characters in all of mainstream comics (and much of indie). There’s no genre this fits into, though readers wanting a much smarter Da Vinci Code, a much more humane form of gothic horror or crime noir, and the most inventive and well-read of metaphysical thrillers and supernatural epics will find every ingredient in an unheard-of creative combustion here.

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Best Short Story: “Intro: The Best (North) American Comics (I happened to see in) 2008,” Lynda Barry, The Best American Comics 2008 [Houghton Mifflin]

No editor before Lynda Barry had thought to do their introductory essay as a comic itself; maybe that’s because she draws no line between erudition and enjoyment. Barry submitted a great psychohistory of why comics matter and how they work on their readers. Done in the crayon-on-placemat illuminated manuscript style she’s recently pioneered, this was a manifesto of comics’ communicative urgency that shows why she’s one of the definitive figures of the artform and any of its eras.

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Designer Genius Prize: Bryan Hitch, Fantastic Four [Marvel]

It may seem beside the point to focus on what’s outside the panels of perhaps the current era’s signature artist, but his inspiration is to take into account what’s all around that art, making it an amplification of the story – Hitch is also perhaps the current moment’s premier realist, and he broke the fourth wall and literally thought beyond the box with a page and cover design which abandons the very panel borders and sets everything up like a stylish magazine layout, with dynamic white space, drop-capped datelines, a logo design like the hippest minimal corporate ID, and cover-copy that feels like breaking headlines. In the unscripted-TV and real-time web-journal era reality has become part of 21st century media’s palette, not the exterior you contrast fantasy against, and this journalistic composition of the package and pages themselves didn’t just take Hitch’s trademark photorealism to a higher level of proficiency but extended a smart narrative of very public heroes facing inescapable revelations about themselves further into our world. That’s a big leap for the medium, and a big part of why the Millar-Hitch FF matter, in their reality and ours.

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Most Likely to Succeed: Amy Reeder Hadley


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A breakout manga star of 2006 was the standout debut artist in big-budget Western comics for 2008, showing several careers’ worth of skills in Vertigo’s Madame Xanadu. Hadley brought Matt Wagner’s earthy, mystical script about an immortal itinerant sorceress to life through the tones and textures of diverse times and cultures from Camelot to Kublai Khan’s realm and Marie Antoinette’s France. Hadley merged the storybook charm of her past resume with the gravity of horror and grand fantasy sources, balancing crystal-clear storytelling and inventive compositions that moved the narrative along briskly while rewarding scrutiny of her rich patterns, active background environments and diverse crowd scenes. This is an artist able to communicate in multiple visual languages, energizing the directness of genre comics and accessing the personal expressiveness of indie and general-interest graphic lit. All corners of the artform need more of that, and she’s ready to go in any of its directions.

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Webcomic of the Year: The Transmigration of ULTRA-Lad! by Joe Infurnari [act-i-vate.com/56.comic]


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2008 Eisner nominee Infurnari is standing at a celestial height from which the award’s namesake, the architects of early MAD, C.C. Beck, Chris Ware and Honoré Daumier can be seen clearly and their unlikely connections traced. ULTRA-Lad is faux-antiqued on simulated decomposing yellow paper in the most elegant of high-tech media, but “retro” doesn’t begin to describe this multi-directional ricochet from print-pop prehistory to the horizons of storytelling and up and down through the many layers of what it could be and never was. This is happy-warrior hero fiction better than what you remember, and dark Manichean meta-adventure with more indomitable charm than anyone else has realized is possible. Infurnari weaves a hallucinatory spell and enfolds the reader in immersive atmospheres with the lushest of stark ink and the most sparing of edible color. ULTRA-Lad is stream-of-consciousness storytelling from deep fairytale forests and the basements of mad geniuses far below utopian skyscraper kingdoms that never came. It seems random because the ideas fire so fast and assuredly that there’s no time for the artist to need overthinking or the reader to second-guess the cortical level at which the agile wordplay, dizzying humor, turbulent emotional shadings and acrobatic line enter present consciousness and comic history. It’s coming through to our continuum one page a week, completely free and pricelessly promising.

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Artist of the Year: Justiniano, Dr. Fate [DC]

Perhaps no one else so masterfully reconciles the modern drive toward individual pages and even isolated panels you could frame as works of art, and the timeless need to tell a coherent and intriguing story with it all. Justiniano’s ornate compositions and textures populated by expressive and believable characters were essential to this bizarre but intensely personal series, and his imagination opened a world big enough for writer Steve Gerber’s concepts in conveying the nether-dimensions of magic and mental turmoil and picturing the unpicturable. Justiniano’s engraved detail, psychedelic design sense and inner eye for otherworldly effects and visceral physicality, evoking everyone from Alex Niño to Todd McFarlane while resembling no one, encompassed the eras and aesthetics of Gerber’s lifetime, on the book that took him to the peak of his powers before he moved on to a higher plane.

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Writer of the Year: Paul Cornell


Artist: Leonard Kirk
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It was the year of the oddball, with the flagship titles of some of the biggest franchises in the hands of the most eccentric visionaries – Grant Morrison on Batman and Final Crisis, Gail Simone on Wonder Woman, and Dan Slott as head writer of sorts on Amazing Spider-Man and, at least announced last year, Mighty Avengers. The Big Two have been pursuing a healthy and adventuresome multiplex/Independent Film Channel dynamic the last few years, with huge events bankrolling the house while left-field creators and concepts are given more room to flourish than ever before. 2008 saw the greatest shift of this fringe farm team to the marquee titles, with little to no loss of or interference with the creators’ idiosyncrasies and edginess.

Still, it’s one thing to take a blockbuster and make it art while keeping its mass appeal intact (as all the above have); if there’s anything more impressive, it’s taking obscure or original characters in unusual stories and growing them into hits on their own terms almost overnight: often in 2008, just as many of the brand-new ongoing series Marvel is gambling on went to public-demand second printings as the surefire event stuff – including the astounding and unclassifiable Incredible Hercules by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente and Captain Britain and MI 13 by Paul Cornell. A one-man reprise of the British Invasion that transformed comics in the mid-’80s with Moore, Gaiman, et al., Cornell brings his novelist’s nuance, grasp of riveting characters and ingenuity of pace and plotting to a fresh, exciting, frequently harrowing and often tender saga in which mythic champions of Britain’s archetypal values and stalwart everyday embodiments of its contemporary multicultural character struggle with supernatural threats to the fibre of the human spirit.

Cornell also scripted one of the most refreshing mainstream miniseries of the year, Fantastic Four: True Story, in which his literary background brought canonical fiction to life in more ways than one, as the FF entered the universe of great books to save its collective characters from an attack on the human imagination. Like the earnest and intensely human characters of the recent Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters comics conceived by Grant Morrison and excellently helmed by Palmiotti & Gray, Cornell’s characters are super-citizens, with their sights locked onto the community ethics and creative space all those costumed battles – and uniformed ones – should be worth fighting for. The best comics come into being from an urgent need, be it the hardbitten optimism of the WWII years or the self-definition of indie diarists; Cornell showed that comics that mean something can make for the coolest reading, and for that geeks of all flags should cherish him as our own.

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Graphic Novella of the Year: Aetheric Mechanics

The welcome return of Warren Ellis’ Apparat imprint within Avatar Press, in which evolutionary branches of popular culture take different directions than the ones we’re familiar with, started with this affecting meditation on choice and consequences couched within a ripping Sherlock Holms pastiche. Ellis’ ear for the personality of Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing is spot-on, though from the opening page you know that something – many things – are more than a little off. Britain is at war with a country we know to be fictional, and both sides are way too technologically advanced for the 1907 we know really happened. None of the characters have the names we’re used to, but this is no mere homage, and Ellis comes up with the most novel device for explaining his story’s familiarity and variations from its canonical models that any creator in the ever-expanding field of meta-retro postmodern archetype comics has. It’s worth waiting for so I won’t reveal it here, but what counts is the finely drawn cast of characters wrestling with an over-accelerated history and a receding feeling of their own realness. The precise, expressive art of Gianluca Pagliarani aids Ellis expertly in hypnotizing the reader into the most well-crafted yet personally-felt genre narrative of 2008. [www.avatarpress.com]

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Graphic Novel of the Year (tie): The New York Four by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly [Minx/DC] and The Lagoon by Lilli Carré [Fantagraphics]


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The public and the personal defined the two polls from which these twin winners approached their material. Brian Wood’s young college characters broadcast their emotions along multiple electronic media and to various clinical voyeurs, texting obsessively and participating in psychological studies for cash, yet are often evasive to each other and deceptive of themselves. Such is the appetite for attention but anxiety at full awareness in the young, and in a culture of all ages that’s increasingly about the projection of surfaces you prefer to see, and Wood is expert at adopting just enough of the digressive, telegraphic style of speech conditioned by summary social media in both the narration and structure of the personal soap operas his characters play out. The New York Four is a gripping cliffhanger of shifting clique allegiances and iffy decision-making, told in a brisk but relaxed sequence of misadventures, soliloquies and coming-of-age set pieces; few writers can catch the meandering rhythms of real life while keeping loyal to the surprises and turning points of classic storytelling like Wood does, and his acclaimed Local collaborator Ryan Kelly lends a dense texture of realism and unglamorous yet somehow wondrous authenticity.

While that GN is about lives lived onstage of sorts, Lilli Carré’s characters huddle in abandoned ambitions and hidden halcyon yesterdays. Carré’s work is about the transformations of aging, not the horizons of youth, though her characters occupy every point on the lifeline; in The Lagoon, local lore about a supernatural dweller in the nearby natural landscape and the extra-worldly experience he promises transfixes a whole village and several generations of the same family living at a metaphorical edge of civilization. These characters are drawing magnetically into a loop of birth’s perfect possibilities and death’s superlatively satisfied questions, and where Wood & Kelly deal in exteriors and the shadows behind them, Carré’s tales are all interior, in a nighttime both haunted and enchanted. Kelly’s particular faces are like a trunkfull of snapshots whose personality is being pieced together by sensitive strangers; Carré’s artisanal eccentricity carves intricate patterns and masklike faces into pages that stand like the folk-art furnishings of vanished but vivid earlier societies. And yet the shared myths, communal rituals and recurrent micro-tragedies of Carré’s characters are not so different from the yearning and apprehension at connection that many of Wood’s protagonists, in ostensibly more energized settings and extroverted moods, pursue, and with a similar mix of wistfulness and whimsy. Matching popular instincts and personal vision, these two GNs lead the year with fresh perspectives on what you’ve known all your life.

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Best Publication About Comics: Comic Foundry

Pop-culture critics too often feel themselves to be in competition with the creators they’re reviewing rather than getting down to the business of appreciation and analysis that makes the companion-piece of a good commentary work. Still, it also robs the reader for critics not to apply as much creativity to the way they describe and interpret others’ art as the artist did to make the reader (and, one hopes, the critic) interested to begin with, and Comic Foundry stood above both the fanboy-pandering and highbrow-obsessed mags-about-comics in its witty but weighty treatments. You’ve heard the hype, and any issue of CF offers many reasons to believe. [www.comicfoundry.com]

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Leading Import: Giuseppe Palumbo

Perhaps the artist most warranting wider exposure on this side of the Atlantic in ’08 was Italy’s Palumbo – though his dense-yet-spontaneous style seems to have been an influence on artists already better-known here, from Frank Espinosa to Andy Suriano and Dan McDaid. In EternArtemisia (Eternal Artemisia, the GN component of a multimedia museum project about the matriarchal principle) Palumbo’s free, brushy style lent a sinuous beauty to organic fantasy architecture while a Steranko-esque use of halftone cast a further film of period futurism in parts; in Un Sogno Turco (A Turkish Dream) Palumbo painted smoky twilight atmospheres to tell a magic-realist story of the Armenian Genocide. Though not yet widely available in English, Palumbo’s work is worth thousands of words and any comics fan can already feel enriched in the exchange. [www.giuseppepalumbo.com]

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Colorist of the year (tie): Giulia Brusco, Scalped [Vertigo]; Daniele Rudoni, Avengers: Initiative [Marvel]


Colorist: Giulia Brusco; Artist: R.M. Guera
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Like Dave Stewart, the giant whose footsteps she’s most following in, Brusco’s coloring is not optical but atmospheric, saturating a scene with the values best keyed to the emotions defining it. It’s a highly expressionistic approach that makes such intuitive sense that it would be easy to overlook if not for the audacity with which she makes it work. At the superhero end of the, erm, spectrum, Daniele Rudoni did the most work last year to evolve the aesthetic of the drawn page to the illuminated palette of the electrified screen, lending a glowing, animation-like sense of form and motion to the artwork which aligns ink-and-paper comics with the prevailing way we experience fantasy now and brings the artists’ blueprints alive in an architecture of light.

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Inker of the Year: John Floyd

The idea of inker-as-storyteller may seem oxymoronic in a process thought to be assembly-line in nature; the inker readies a comic’s imagery for print and is a producer, not a creator – or so the stereotype goes. But the aesthetic choices at all points of the process – and the harmony or creative dissonance between all of its contributors – are what can make mainstream product shine as much as indie vision, and last year John Floyd shone the brightest. His textures in the surreal and atmospheric Mark Waid/Michael O’Hare story in the concluding Countdown to Mystery issue that memorialized Steve Gerber kept pace with and enhanced the changing moods and lurching realities of a tricky narrative and intricate visual landscape, lending a believability and agile tactile immediacy that made him a co-creator, not just a technician, in this otherworldly yet intimately emotional tale. For the Birds of Prey franchise, Floyd was able to alternate between slick modern-day cleanliness for the expository scenes and a jagged, wavering weight and definition for the Joker’s appearances that served as visual background music, making it seem as if the substance of the air and light itself were bending to the imbalance of the crazy cast-member and the hazard he represents. An apocryphal Hollywood producer once said you know a movie score is good if you didn’t notice hearing it; dependable craft is valuable, but Floyd is among the inkers that go beyond, and are worth noticing.

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Most Valuable Player (writing): Fred Van Lente


Artist: Ryan Dunlavey
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Not the biggest but perhaps the best news in mainstream comics last year was the not-so-secret invasion of indie phenomenon Van Lente. Best known for the offbeat self-publishing empire he founded with artist Ryan Dunlavey on the uproarious and nearly unprecedented edutainment comic Action Philosophers and beloved for cult favorites like the “super-Sopranos” series The Silencers, Van Lente has been infiltrating high-profile corporate comics for a few years now, contributing to Papercutz’s Tales From the Crypt reboot to amusing effect, fleshing out would-be media franchises like The Weapon and Cowboys & Aliens for Platinum Studios, and creating the groundbreaking anti-heroine The Scorpion for Marvel along with sundry oddball short stories that are often the most memorable few pages in large anthologies and omnibii.

By 2008 Van Lente seemed to be everywhere, or at least everywhere interesting, wrapping up his 12-issue run on Marvel Adventures Iron Man with inspiration and charm to create the kind of novel-sized state-of-the-canon accomplishment, summing up and advancing a classic franchise, not seen since the Mark Millar run on Marvel Knights Spider-Man; creating gems of tight and inventive plotting and delivering unforced modern morals in Wolverine: First Class, one of those rare “all-ages” titles with a light touch and literary substance worthy of the name; helming the company’s high-stakes Marvel Zombies franchise with the third miniseries in the set, mixing adrenalized ass-kicking with subtle end-times dread in the manner of the great and worth-it horror authors past and present; adding to the very thin archive of non-Kirby Eternals stories that matter with a metaphysical thriller taking up almost every riveting page of the title’s outsize annual; and breaking through to a new dimension of serious subtext and captivating craft in the moody X Men Noir. This was all while debuting the humor-history followup to Action Philosophers, Comic Book Comics, with Dunlavey and collaborating with alt.star Greg Pak on Incredible Hercules, the freak-flagship book of Marvel’s offbeat, best-selling fringe. That just scratches the surface of Van Lente’s output last year, and of the contributions to come.

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Most Valuable Player (art): Amanda Connor


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She only had a handful of books last year, but even in years where there’s not much more than one – like 2007’s witty, ass-kicking Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special – Amanda Connor creates an event, so I’m not waiting for the industry. There are many artists making groundbreaking contributions to the medium – individual style is flourishing with the classic precision of Chris Weston and Dale Eaglesham, the gritty naturalism of Bryan Hitch, the pop-art wit of Cliff Chiang and Marcos Martin, the dynamic design and down-to-earth detail of Leonard Kirk, Pat Olliffe and Gene Ha, the painterly dreamlands of Daniel Acuña and Tommy Lee Edwards, and many others. These artists make magic with strong scripting partners like Mark Millar and Dan Slott, and there are other writers whose vision comes through so clearly that even the most functional of art accompaniment is enough reason to follow them whenever their name comes up on a comic cover, like Warren Ellis and Peter David. But there are exactly two artists I’ll pick up a comic for no matter who wrote it: P. Craig Russell and Amanda Connor.

Russell’s high-art elegance needs no introduction, but Connor’s classic wit needs as much exposure as the Big Two can be smart enough to give. For a medium called “funnybooks” comics could use a lot more sense of humor about themselves, and Connor’s work is rooted in the very best anarchic imagination and inspired mischief that defined the newspaper-comic canon that forms our very medium’s Year One. Fortunately, her most high-profile book last year, a four-issue Terra miniseries from DC, also had a delightful script by the increasingly versatile Palmiotti/Gray team, and her strengths were given expansive play. The fish-out-of-water (or mole-out-of-earth) story of a subterranean being trying to save a clueless surface-world from itself, the series provided a showcase for acrobatic battles that are one part high ballet to one part Katzenjammer Kids slapstick; the emotional conflicts of various unhinged characters occasioned the range of facial expressions for which Connor is justly acclaimed and still relatively rare in a less than character-driven medium (at this point she’s second only to Jaime Hernandez in individual and expressive likenesses, and closing fast); the otherworldly locales were a panorama of weird settings and tricky perspectives, which Connor’s cartoon-based, classically-structured style and mix of fevered imagination and disciplined technique fit more than perfectly.

Connor’ style steeps the reader in comicbook reality while feeling very familiar to the foibles of real life, homaging the hallmarks of comic history with spot-on superheroics and fantastic worlds while taking it past the pinnacle and over the top with a satirical eye toward foundations of overstimulated conflict and overendowed physique that can use a little refreshing graffiti. Her art is also strong enough to withstand and work well with any kind of coloring, be it the flatter graphic approach of the past or the modern air-brushiness of Terra, in which Connor’s keen sense of how to define three-dimensional volume with sheer, sure-lined contour provided a fine canvass for lush effects following her solid lead. Connor is a top storyteller because her active, fully-imagined art tells a story both independent of and alertly intertwined with the writing; few artists can accomplish that, and it’s a power she’s at the height of, and which this of all media will hopefully be calling on more.

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Best Comics Book: Holy Sh*t! The World’s Weirdest Comic Books by Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury [St. Martin’s Press]

That heading’s not a typo, but many of the publishers memorialized in this volume would never notice – it’s a priceless pocket testament to the unknowing Ed Woods and unrecognized Orson Wellses of the medium, and many degrees in-between. All the most famous comics you’ve never read are here, from Brother Power, The Geek to Fatman, the Human Flying Saucer, as well as the genres that were born and died with their one example, like Jon Juan, Superlover and Dr. Anthony King, Love Doctor, a marriage-counselor comic. There are crazed-yet-influential indies and undergrounds, jaw-dropping overseas copyright violations like a pornographic female Spider-Man, and books only “weird” because of their rarity, including Afrocentric comics from the 1940s to 1960s and a lovely Aboriginal-legend-themed book from a team of sisters in WWII-era Australia. The authors take no cheap shots, reporting nothing but the facts to let you decide which entries’ obscurity was uncalled-for and which was deserved. That’s all that’s needed to open up lost worlds of oblivious audacity and fearless inspiration. Holy Sh*t! is a brisk, indispensable guide to comic history’s roads not taken.

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Left-Field Home Run Award: Gigantic [Dark Horse]


Artist: Eric Nguyen
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Dark Horse is especially astute at greenlighting under-the-radar oddities that turn out to be some of the most satisfying surprises of the year. In 2007 the bizarre hybrid of space opera and screwball comedy Outer Orbit was sheer deranged genius; in 2008 Gigantic slipped in at the end and made an indelible impression. Literally, since it’s a deconstruction of Japanese giant-monster drama, which both takes an uncomfortably close look at what’s really happening in all those cars and buildings the mega-cool robot titans and outsize aliens are stomping over, and posits that the whole thing is a kind of reality show for jaded extraterrestrials. Writer Rick Remender delivers a simple and slicing metaphor for First Worlders as consumers of atrocity as diversion, from Grand Theft Auto to the ignored nightly news, and artist Eric Nguyen reaches new levels of intricacy and breathtaking consequence like a master videogamer or advancing Jedi. There’s something special sneaking into the comics shops here – keep watching.

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Best Graphic Album: Look Out!! Monsters


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You’re right, I wasn’t sure quite what to call it – but this Xeric-Award-winning art-gallery-with-staples is literally beyond words, with a narrative that comes together from the scattered tealeaves of thousands of scraps from torn up New York Timeses that artist Geoff Grogan reassembles into old monster-movie and sci-fi images, bereft of dialogue and resonating serendipitously with what’s left of the headlines from which they are Frankenstinianly stitched. A mad collage process achieves pictorial genius, as pure-id creature-persecuting pathos and free-floating technological anxieties transfer from 1940s and ’50s pop culture to the trash-heap of old newsprint piles transmuted to artistic gold. The holders of Famous Monsters’ copyright got scared too, so the logo you see reproduced here had to be re-covered with a differently-designed banner, making each copy your own hand-pasted collage. At the tabloid size of big-city ephemera, this is a formidable collector’s item and an experiment to cherish. [www.lookoutmonsters.com]

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Winsor McCay Prize for Innovation in Concept: Michael Allred, Madman [Image]

Entirely wordless stories; issues done in a different style each panel; pages which fit together as one continuous landscape across a whole issue; two tiers of simultaneous stories running across top and bottom of each spread; ghostly overlay characters; animation-cell design of figures and ground; bizarre panoramic full-page and two-page compositions in which time and scale are expressed in surrealist symbolism, and sequence is defined by spatial depth rather than time progression; and an overall hallucinatory sense of pop-future design and otherworldly environments make Madman the most sustained and densely innovative marquee comic since J.H. Williams III’s work on Promethea and Ryan Sook’s on Seven Soldiers: Zatanna. Few artists can play tricks and seek new horizons with the storytelling tools while maintaining so coherent and compelling a story itself (in this case dealing with existential crises, limits of perception, and odysseys of inner emotion and outer discovery as daring as the formal techniques), but writer/designer/artist Michael and color-conceptualist Laura Allred are accomplishing it and heading out for new vistas each issue. As seen in some mainstream dayjobs like Michael’s sparkling portion of the attractive God-Size Thor one-shot for Marvel, he’s also becoming the Rodin of comics, tracing a deeply humanistic joy in the body’s forms and movement that sculpts its spark of life in all its athletic and aesthetic essence and particulars, not the steroid-and-silicone sameness that defines so much present adventure pop. Admittedly it’s still idealized, but like the nicest old-school comic heroes and movie heartthrobs, this is about what’s best in us, not what’s better than you.

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M.C. Escher Prize for Non-Sequential Art (tie): Grant Morrison and Lilli Carré


From Lilli Carreé’s The Lagoon
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The effect that’s left to impress us with is what ways low-tech creators find for wiring their stories directly into our perceptions of the world, and two creators from ostensibly opposite ends of the art/commerce spectrum stood out and sank in. In both cases, the storytelling was straightforward in its components and extraordinary in their combined effect.

Writer Grant Morrison’s Batman was a radial narrative, with the present adventures being a shifting focal point into which the franchise’s established past and Morrison’s imagined future for it kept feeding. The core was composed of several crossroads of altered consciousness – memories and hallucinations of childhood trauma, a Himalayan purification ritual, and a police sensory-deprivation experiment – branching out in subjective and contextually shifting events and personal transformations. Morrison’s Final Crisis was a prismatic narrative, paced like pictograms on the faces of an Egyptian stone, revealing different things from each vantage point and possessed of an eternal weight, both fascinatingly unfolding and preordained like its mythic subject matter, stately in its first three issues and then spinning wildly from Issue 4 onward.

Writer/artist Lilli Carré has always been deftly digressive, conveying the feeling of a kind of constellation of incident that the reader floats within and is alternately pulled between; in The Lagoon her narrative was kinetic and tactile, shifting close and wide focus, packing events into multi-paneled single pages or stretching them out for sequences of many single-paneled spreads, and creating dense fields of texture that communicated a palpable sense of duration and consciousness of claustrophobic or comforting closeness, and frightening or exhilarating vastness. Measure was a sub-theme of the whole story, as marked out by solidified sounds and depictions of aging characters’ successive selves, but the organic, intuitive swell and contraction of experience was what Carré’s narrative instincts dissolved her readers into.

It’s long been the job of filmmakers and comic creators to sculpt our perception of the passage of time; Morrison and Carré are two creators at the cutting edge of both storytelling craft and conversational physics who make us uncommonly aware of the presence of time.

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Best Comic Outside of Comics: “Don’t Talk With Yer Mouth Full” by R., Aline and Sophie Crumb, The New Yorker, 11/3/08

The form of diaristic comics is booby-trapped to lure its practitioners into a self-glamorization that undoes the claim to messy authenticity that first made them seem fresh; on the other hand, in the abbreviated medium of comics a little charisma can count for a lot, and “writing what you know” can founder unless, y’know, something ever happens to you. All three Crumbs have been guilty of making themselves the subject but having not much to say about it at one time or another, but this collaborative strip wasn’t one of them. The built-in culture clash of exile R., New York archetype Aline, and cultivated misfit Sophie with R.’s relatives at a family reunion in the Minnesota heartland was an endless vein of affectionate weirdness-watching from all sides, and the mix of unforgiving caricature and uncompromising self-exposure in all three cartoonists’ best work came together in a transcendental (if typically burlesque) acceptance. Stranger-than-fiction family lore and an anxiousness toward yet melancholy longing for the old, regionally unfathomable America flavored and fleshed out a remarkably textured four pages, all with a relentless and redemptive humor. It’s nice to see comics’ most insistent oddballs at home with themselves.

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—CCdC—

 

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