Want to try reading comics? Don’t know where to start? Want to try something different?
Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer spotlights up to three (sometimes a little more on really good weeks) brand new releases worthy of your consideration. All of these have been carefully selected as best bets for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before. They each highlight the variety and creativity being produced today. These are also great for those that haven’t read comics in awhile or regular readers looking to try something new.
While we can’t guarantee you’ll like what we’ve picked, we truly believe there’s a comic for everyone. If you like the images and descriptions below, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. You can often buy straight from the publishers or creators. If not, head over to your local comic book store, check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon, or download a copy at comiXology, or the comics and graphic novels sections of the Kindle Store or NOOK store. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.
(Please note these aren’t reviews. Recommendations are based on pre-release buzz, previews, and The Comics Observer‘s patented crystal ball. Product descriptions provided by publisher.)
When fugitive oil heir Chas Worthington settles the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, plants a flag, and declares it his own sovereign nation, the reality of the environmental catastrophe is only the beginning of his odyssey.
From acclaimed writer Joe Harris (Ghost Projekt, Spontaneous) and artist Martin Morazzo (Absolute Magnitude) comes a sprawling adventure across earth’s newest, strangest frontier!
This volume collects the first arc of this breakout hit series – a sprawling adventure across earth’s newest, strangest frontier!
Peter Bagge’s one-offs, with an all-star cast of cartoonist collaborators such as Alan Moore, Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes, and Adrian Tomine.
During the 1990s and 2000s, Peter Bagge worked mostly on his “Buddy Bradley” stories in Hate and a series of standalone graphic novels (Apocalypse Nerd), but in-between these major projects this ever-energetic cartoonist also cranked out dozens of shorter stories, which are now finally being collected in this riotously anarchic book.
Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff includes a few lesser-known Bagge characters, including the wacky modern party girl “Lovey” and the aging bobo “Shut-Ins” — not to mention the self-explanatory “Rock ‘N’ Roll Dad” starring Murry Wilson and the Beach Boys. But many of the strips are one-off gags or short stories, often with a contemporary satirical slant, including on-site reportage like “So Much Comedy, So Little Time” (from a comedy festival) and more. Also: Dick Cheney, The Matrix, and Alien!
Other Stuff also includes a series of Bagge-written stories drawn by other cartoonists, including “Life in these United States” with Daniel Clowes, “Shamrock Squid” with Adrian Tomine, and the one-two parody punch of “Caffy” (with art by R. Crumb) and “Dildobert” (with art by Prison Pit’s Johnny Ryan)… plus a highlight of the book, the hilarious, literate and intricate exposé of “Kool-Aid Man” written by Alan Moore and drawn by Bagge. (Other collaborators include the Hernandez Brothers and Danny Hellman.)
Bagge is one of the funniest cartoonists of the century (20th or 21st), and this collection shows him at his most free-wheeling and craziest… 50 times over.
Set in the future, The Grey Museum is a galactic romp, following a small group of survivors as they fend with mystic beings, interstellar parasites and themselves. Everything here is decided by narcissistic gods and goddesses, disturbed spirits, and bored aliens. Our clueless captives are left to wander, meandering their way among ruins, souvenirs, and impossible trails, and the 300-year-old television station attempts to capture it all. The Greys, a cloned race of coffee-drinking pseudo-humanity, have created a machine to “contemplate” things from a distance and annihilate them by turning them into “Awht”. We experience death, rebirth and everything in between. The fate of all Earthly life is up to these eight hairy humans preserved in jelly, they just don’t know it yet.
Columnist Anastasia Betts of Graphic Novels 101 looks at the use of comics in the classroom, and shares her experience as an educator helping teachers embrace sequential art as a teaching tool.
I realize its only January, and many of our readers, trapped inside by snow storms or other inclement weather, are enjoying hot chocolate and the warmth of their snuggies… But Earth Day is coming, and it’s never too early to think about good literature that can help you teach the importance of earth stewardship.
Earth Day isn’t until April, but most teachers will soon be thinking of the books and activities they want to utilize. Instead of the same old same old, why not shake it up a bit and introduce a graphic novel or comic on the topic? There are plenty out there and today’s column is devoted to introducing you to some of my favorites.
There are many different ways to talk about and teach environmental issues in the classroom. If you are interested in getting away from the usual reduce, reuse, and recycle mantras that usually surround the celebration of Earth Day, then you might take a look at Josh Neufeld’s beautiful book A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. This book about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, focuses on the stories of several real life characters who lived through the storm and worked to rebuild their lives afterwards. Though After the Deluge falls in the comics journalism genre, and the author works to report the events as well as the consequences for the people who faced the storm, there are many teaching extensions connected to the impact climate change is having on our weather, opportunities to connect to more recent super storms (such as Sandy), as well as other extreme weather events like the mid-western drought of last summer. If you are looking for additional teaching ideas, there is an awesome teaching guide here.
Also, if you can’t afford class copies of After the Deluge (which is hard bound, beautiful, and can be pricey), you can have your students view most of the original comic online, since it was first published as a webcomic.
In Rachel Hope Allison‘s new graphic novel I’m Not a Plastic Bag, she envisions the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as a sad and lonely monster, looking for its place in a world that has abandoned it. Whimsical and imaginative, Allison’s narrative makes the reader aware that the everyday items that are part of our lives, however briefly, have a life of their own beyond our immediate consumption. The idea that there is a garbage patch the size of Texas just 1000 miles north of Hawaii may come as a surprise to your students. But it opens up a number of fantastic learning opportunities to explore and extend student learning beyond the reading of the graphic novel itself. Additionally, this particular graphic novel also includes several pages of educational material on related environmental topics that can help guide your lesson planning.
Another newer graphic novel that is getting some attention is H2O by writer Grant Calof and artist Jeevan J. Kang. The story is set a couple hundred years in the future in a world that has lost all of its water. That’s right, even the oceans have burned off. Billions of people have died and the rest have moved further and further away from the equator forming entirely new composite nations from the remnants of humanity. The conflict emerges when a previously unknown glacier is found buried just under the surface in the mountains of Patagonia in South America. All of the nations rush to be the first to claim this badly needed water source.
The novel presents an interesting take on our near future if humankind does not manage to turn climate change around. After reading the comic, I did some further digging on some of the ideas put forth and it turns out that Calof did a lot of research to ensure that the book would be scientifically accurate. There are a lot of teaching opportunities here, not the least of which is to ask students to give some actual thought to what would happen if the water of the earth actually did begin to disappear. The novel itself alludes to the “water wars” that are sure to have taken place, but that is all. It would be a great idea to talk about the water wars that are already taking place around the world, and even have your students look more deeply at some specific case studies pulled from places like Kenya. You can read up on the water wars in Africa from this article on the BBC.
Another great book is the comic satire As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan. One of the things I really like about this book (and also really hate) is the point that it makes about how little what we do individually really matters. The book’s main premise is that changing all of your light bulbs, or recycling, or reducing – none of that is going to amount to enough change to reverse the climate change trajectory that we are on. Even if everyone in the country did all of these things, it’s still not enough. OK, that can make a reader really sad – and the book even makes fun of this despair with their very own optimistic do-gooder who thinks she is “doing her part” by buying less stuff, using her own grocery bags, and changing her lightbulbs. But as the other, more savvy, characters in the novel point out, if things are really going to change it has to happen at the corporate and state/government level. This is why I also like this book. It doesn’t pull any punches and it lets the students know that hey, if you really want to make a different CALL UP YOUR SENATOR, VOTE, get involved in making change happen at the state, national, and international level…. In addition to changing your lightbulbs. Just using portions of this book can help you launch a campaign in your classroom, and encourage your students to become more civically minded.
And who can talk about environmentally themed books without talking about Hayao Miyazaki’s serialized novel Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind? Set in a post-apocalyptic world, a princess sets out to save her people by trying to promote peace in a time of war – peace between people but also between people and nature. The environmental themes here largely focus on the harmful effects of pollution, and the challenges of trying to “purify” a world that is already contaminated. This a beautiful and deep story, and offers a wealth of discussion topics for your students around the idea of responding to a world that is already polluted. There are many literature and historical tie-ins as well, including the idea of post-apocalyptic literature as a genre in Japan.
I think I’ll end with my new environmental favorite: Saga of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore. Known for his biting socio-political writing, one would expect no less from Alan Moore in his take over of the Swamp Thing franchise. I started reading this on the recommendation of a friend and couldn’t be more pleased with the story of course, but also the clear environmental and political overtones. It’s sophisticated and entertaining, and multilayered enough to keep your high school AP lit classes discussing for hours on end.
Homework: Check out these recommendations for the best environmentally themed graphic novels of 2012, including those for young readers.
Anastasia Betts is a former teacher, administrator, and UCLA literacy coach from California. She has delivered professional development courses, workshops, and seminars on using comics in the classroom, including participating on Comics in Education panels at Comic Con International: San Diego. Anastasia currently runs an independent curriculum development company called Curriculum Essentials, Inc as well as the website Graphic Novels 101. You can follow her on Facebook at Graphic Novels 101: Using Visual Texts in the 21st Century.
A tale about a shape-shifting shark from Hawaii for young readers, a look at the characters and folklore of Cleveland, and a gutsy look at modern war – just a sampling of the wide variety from this week’s promising new graphic novels and comic books.
Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer picks three brand new releases worth checking out that should be suitable for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before.
If you like what you see here, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. Then head to your local comic book store, or check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.
Today’s battlefield isn’t just about the uniformed soldier in service to his country; there’s also the contractor, who answers to the corporation. Call them mercenaries, soldiers-for-hire, or private military operators, they are a new breed of combatant in today’s conflicts.
Shooters is the story of Terry Glass, a warrior whose spirit and soul has been hardened in countless battles. When a horrible accident shatters his world, Glass finds himself waging a private war on several fronts – against his career, his marriage, and ultimately, his faith.
Written by Eric S. Trautmann (Checkmate, Red Sonja, Flash Gordon) and Brandon Jerwa (G.I. Joe, Battlestar Galactica, Highlander), and drawn by Eisner Award-winning artist Steve Lieber (Underground, Whiteout, Road to Perdition: On the Road), Shooters tells a story of modern warfare that will stay with you forever.
Meet Nanaue, a boy craving to be who he truly is.
From the islands of Hawaii comes the electrifying tale of Nanaue, who has to balance his yearning for Dad’s guidance with his desire for Mom’s nurture.
Award-winning cartoonist R. Kikuo Johnson transports young readers to the lush, tropical shores of his native Hawaii. Emerging readers, fluent or not, will be thrilled when they experience the transformative powers of this stirring literary work.
R. Kikuo Johnson grew up in Hawaii on the island of Maui. For generations, native Hawaiians have told tales of the shape-shifting shark god Kamohoalii; The Shark King is the artist’s version of one such tale about the insatiable appetite of Kamohoalii’s son, Nanaue. Kikuo’s 2005 graphic novel, Night Fisher — also set in Hawaii — earned him both the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award and a Harvey Award. Kikuo spent his childhood exploring the rocky shore in front of his grandmother’s house at low tide and diving with his older brother. Since moving to the mainland, Kikuo has discovered the joys of swimming in fresh water and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he enjoys cooking, playing his ukulele, and riding his bike all over the city.
A lifelong Cleveland resident, Harvey Pekar (1939-2010) pioneered autobiographical comics, mining the mundane for magic since 1976 in his ongoing American Splendor series. Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland is sadly one of his last, but happily one of his most definitive graphic novels.
It combines classic American Splendor-ous autobiographical anecdotes with key moments and characters in the city’s history as relayed to us by Our Man and meticulously researched and rendered by artist Joseph Remnant.
With an introduction by Alan Moore to boot!
Kitty stories for kiddies (of all ages), a fantastic journey to a dark and weird world, and a creature of the earth haunting the swamps – Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer picks three brand new releases worth checking out that should be suitable for someone who has never read comics before.
If you like what you see here, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. Then head to your local comic book store, or check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.
Miss Annie is a kitten with ambitions and a large dose of curiosity! The big, wide world beyond the window calls! Outdoors there are trees to climb, birds to chase, and other cats. Even though she’s only a few months old, Miss Annie thinks she’s big enough for adventure right now. If only she can convince her human family that she can take care of herself — or can she?
Born in Rouen in France, award-winning writer Frank Le Gall published his first works at the age of sixteen. Since then Le Gall has continued writing graphic novel adventures, occasionally taking a break for animation and short stories.
Born in 1981 in La Louvière, Belgium, Flore Balthazar decided at the age of nine that she would become a cartoonist, after reading Hergé’s Tintin and other comics at the local library across the street from her house. She soon realized that her art would not look exactly like Tintin, and developed her own self-taught style. She eventually went on to study at the Binche and the Etterbeek Academies of Fine Arts (both in Belgium), also studying Slavic languages and literature at the university in Brussels. She quickly realized that the best way to become a cartoonist is simply to keep drawing. She now lives in Orléans, France. Miss Annie is her first graphic novel series.
The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories
Written by H.P. Lovecraft
Adapted and illustrated by Jason Bradley Thompson
Published by Mock Man Press
Funded by Kickstarter
Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city…and three times he was snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it.
In search of a lost city and a forgotten memory, Randolph Carter enters the dreamlands, the vast world of wonder and horror where one night can span a million years. From the jungles of Kled to the surface of the moon, through perilous encounters with bat-winged nightgaunts and man-eating ghouls, Carter’s quest takes him ever closer to the secret of the marvelous sunset city… and the terror of Nyarlathotep and Azathoth, the monstrous Other Gods who stand in his way.
This limited edition oversize 184-page hardcover includes a full comic adaptation of the novel by H.P. Lovecraft, as well as the related stories “The White Ship,” “Celephais” and “The Strange High House in the Mist.” It also features a map of the dream world, as well as an art gallery section with concept sketches and additional drawings.
Before Watchmen, Alan Moore made his debut in the U.S. comic book industry with the revitalization of the horror comic book The Swamp Thing. His deconstruction of the classic monster stretched the creative boundaries of the medium and became one of the most spectacular series in comic book history.
With modern-day issues explored against a backdrop of horror, Swamp Thing‘s stories became commentaries on environmental, political and social issues, unflinching in their relevance. Saga of the Swamp Thing Book One collects issues #20-27 of this seminal series including the never-before-reprinted Saga of the Swamp Thing #20, where Moore takes over as writer and concludes the previous storyline.
Book One begins with the story “The Anatomy Lesson,” a haunting origin story that reshapes Swamp Thing mythology with terrifying revelations that begin a journey of discovery and adventure that will take him across the stars and beyond.
Yesterday morning, the Hooded Utilitarian posted my list along with 21 others who contributed to a giant survey of comic book creators, retailers, publishers, educators, commentators (like me) and other industry folk from all over the world to determine the 10 Best Comics. In total, 211 people responded.
I sent my list on June 15, in response to the question, “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” I started my email response to the Hooded Utilitarian with the following: “I want you to know, this is IMPOSSIBLE.”
And it is. But despite that…
- Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
- Bone by Jeff Smith
- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
- Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
- Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
- Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
- Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
- Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
- The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
Start clicking and see if something interests you.
There are plenty of comics that are just as good as the above that deserve to be listed, and even some that are better. But I had a few guidelines to help focus my list down to a manageable size.
First, I had to have actually read the material. Of the above, only Peanuts has material that I have never read. But I’ve read enough of it that what I haven’t read would have to be an absolute bomb for it to tarnish the goodwill. That means there was some material that I am fully expecting to love and that I love for its mere existence and concept that I had to leave out. I really wanted to include Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know on my list. It sits by my desk in my to-read pile from last year‘s Comic-Con.
Second, I leaned much heavier on the “most significant” portion of the question. As some have pointed out, the question asked by The Hooded Utilitarian is really three different questions which could result in three very different lists. Because what interests me is comics’ efforts to find new audiences, I interpreted “most significant” as the comics that have been most successful in winning over new readers. That was probably my biggest barometer. Each of the above have helped establish a genre or publishing strategy or level of skill that has expanded what comics can be and are today. In retrospect, I might’ve leaned a little too heavy on modern material but I think some of the most innovative and inclusive material is being made now (if you know where to find it).
OK, so let’s hear it. What did I miss?
(More random thoughts after the jump.)
I know it’s hard to believe with all the big flashy Hollywood things, but Comic-Con actually had stuff about comic books! There were a number of exciting debuts this year. Scroll through and see if something catches your eye. If so, read the blurb I’ve put together from the publisher’s write-ups, and if you’re intrigued, click the links to find out more.
Any Empire by Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) recalls aimless summers of Nancy Drew and G.I. Joe, treehouses and army surplus stores… but when fantasy starts to bleed into reality, whose mission will be accomplished? [Interview]
Big Questions by Anders Nilsen: A haunting postmodern fable, this beautiful and minimalist story is the culmination of ten years and over 600 pages of work that details the metaphysical quandaries of the occupants of an endless plain, existing somewhere between a dream and a Russian steppe.
Daybreak by Brian Ralph is an unconventional zombie story. Drawing inspiration from zombies, horror movies, television, and first-person shooter video games, Daybreak departs from zombie genre in both content and format, achieving a living-dead masterwork of literary proportions. [Interview]
The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes: Classic staples of the superhero genre – origin, costume, ray-gun. sidekick, fight scene – are reconfigured into a story that is anything but morally simplistic. With subtle comedy, deft mastery and an obvious affection for the bold Pop Art exuberance of comic book design, Daniel Clowes delivers a contemporary meditation on the darkness of the human psyche.
Freakshow by writers David Server and Jackson Lanzing, and artist Joe Suitor: When five refugee survivors develop monstrous mutations from a devastating chemical explosion that leaves their city in ruins, they band together to seek revenge against the clandestine government quarantine that has seized control in the aftermath. But are they monsters…or heroes?
WAIT, there’s more! Click through…!
Dark Horse Comics entered its second year more than quadrupling its output.
Dark Horse Comics’ flagship title Dark Horse Presents, nominated for a 1987 Kirby Award, continued to draw in more established creators like Paul Gulacy, who had been doing work for Marvel and DC for years, and had success with his own Six From Sirius mini-series. He was the first guest artist to provide covers, but no interior work. The anthology was also becoming a good venue for creators to stretch their wings when elsewhere they were typically pigeon-holed into one job. John Workman, who was working regularly as a letterer and occasionally as a colorist for DC and Marvel, and had already done some lettering work for Dark Horse’s first issues, wrote and illustrated Roma. Steve Mattson had done some work for Eclipse Comics before coloring Dark Horse’s earliest releases. He got to write and illustrate his own features, first Doc Abstruse and then the Vitruvian Man. Mark Badger of American Flagg fame returned after his collaboration with J.M. DeMatteis in Dark Horse Presents #2 from the previous year. In DHP #10, he contributed the first appearance of The Masque. Co-created with Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley, the character would be altered two years later by John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke into The Mask, and would later be adapted into a successful 1994 film starring Jim Carrey.
Dark Horse’s second comic (and first monthly series) Boris the Bear continued to satirize comics and pop culture with riffs on Batman, ElfQuest, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (again), G.I. Joe, Rambo, and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. Jim Bradrick’s Wacky Squirrel became a semi-regular back-up feature in the comic. But by early summer, new issues stopped coming out. Colorized versions of the first three issues were released, perhaps as a stop-gap. Several months passed before the twelfth issue was finally released, and then the series, which had been largely written or co-written with Mike Richardson, left Dark Horse and struck out on its own. A month later, Boris the Bear #13 was released by Nicotat Comics with Steve Mattson assisting Smith on script. The series continued under Nicotat until 1991 and then vanished into obscurity.
Despite the loss of Boris the Bear, a new comic’s arrival earlier in the year would eclipse Boris in both popularity and acclaim. Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, starring the character of the same name who had debuted in the very first issue of Dark Horse Presents, broke out in his own series while still showing up in DCP. The title was Dark Horse’s first milestone title and went on to win critical acclaim and numerous industry award nominations. The property continues to garner respectable sales in collected editions and new mini-series.
Ron Randall’s Trekker also graduated from the pages of Dark Horse Presents for a 6-issue limited series. A one-shot would follow in 1989 and then become all-but forgotten. This however was only the beginning of Randall’s collaboration with Dark Horse.
The American was a brand-new property from the mind of Mark Verheiden. Virtually unknown at the time, Verheiden would go on to be a successful Hollywood screenwriter and producer for the hit TV series “Smallville” and (the new) “Battlestar Galactica”. He would also write comics for DC Comics and return to Dark Horse on several occasions. While the 8-issue series did spawn a one-shot follow-up and a sequel mini-series in the 1990s, it has mostly faded away.
Mecha was one of Dark Horse’s earliest full-color comics. Visually reminiscent of cartoons such as “Robotech,” “Voltron” and “Battle of the Planets,” the comic could arguably claim the distinction of being Dark Horse’s first manga-esque comic. Dark Horse would eventually have great success in translating Japanese manga for North American audiences, essentially predicting the great manga influx of material beginning circa 2002.
The Book of Night was a 3-issue mini-series primarily consisting of reprinted short stories from Epic Illustrated by the fantasy and comic book illustrator Charles Vess. Each cover warned “Suggested for Mature Readers,” a first for the young publisher.
It was clear that Dark Horse was beginning to diversify their line-up. Another strong sign of the things to come for the publisher was the acquisition of the Godzilla license, which no doubt helped them land future high-profile and profitable licenses like Star Wars, Aliens, Predator, Terminator, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more. A special one-shot was released with some of the most high-profile and acclaimed names in comics at the time, like Steve Bissette, Alan Moore, Keith Giffen, Rick Geary, Charles Vess and others.
Another expansion was a reprint one-shot of old sci-fi comics from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Basil Wolverton’s Planet of Terror contained stories by the influential illustrator from comics originally published by Marvel Comics and Key Publications. The comic included a cover by Alan Moore. Wolverton was a highly regarded artist whose work was later collected and celebrated by notable publishers such as Fantagraphics Books, but Dark Horse Comics was one of the first. Wolverton, who died in 1978, was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2000. Dark Horse followed up this reprint with several others reprint projects in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as a series of prestige busts modeled after Wolverton’s unique illustrations.
Dark Horse Comics appeared to be doing well enough, but a break-out hit was needed.