Reflecting on 2013, it’s clear that we we are living in a new golden age of comics. Not only is the sheer amount of books being published overwhelming, but the quality has reached new heights. Regardless of genre, creators continue to explore the medium in new, innovative ways, and I wonder if 2013 is only the start of something much bigger.
Due to the amount of worthy titles being put out on a regular basis, narrowing my selection down to ten was nearly an exercise in futility. I finally put my list together and what you find is a melting pot of comic book culture, covering everything from the Big Two to indie publishers to webcomics.
I had no idea who Sam Alden was a few months ago, and now he is near the top of my creators-to-watch list. “Haunter” is gorgeously crafted silent webcomic that fuses elements of fantasy, horror, and adventure. The vibrant coloring combined with the smooth flowing narrative creates the sense the monster is chasing you, making for one of the most re-readable comics of the year.
Read it here.
I’m a sucker for anything Lovecraft related, and I.N.J. Culbard is a master at adapting the master of horror’s adjective-laden prose into comic book form. “The Shadows out of Time” is perhaps one of Lovecraft’s most eccentric stories and Culbard brings it to life with a multitude of surreal and dark imagery. It’s an impressive adaptation, even with some details left out. This is a must read for Lovecraft fans.
Thor has always been a hero that demands epic storytelling, and what could be more epic than three Thors (past, present, and future) duking it out against the brutal and unwavering God Killer. Although Esad Ribic is off the book now, he captured the gloom of the story perfectly, adding to the horror of the first few arcs. I feared the book would decline after such a stellar “God Killer” storyline, but Aaron continued the dark tone by introducing Malekith and his sinister plans for Genocide. Jason Aaron writing has the God of Thunder at the top of my reading pile every month.
Hellboy was on hiatus for a while, and, though he’s not back in the land of the living, it’s a welcomed return that means his death will have a true lasting effect on the series. The book also marks Mike Mignola’s long awaited return to interior art and it’s some of his best work ever. Mignola has one of the most distinctive and beloved styles in the history of comics. When you see a Mignola page, you know it is his in an instant and that has always set “Hellboy” above the rest. “Hellboy in Hell” is simply a great comic.
A metafictional mystery that investigates the relationship betweens characters and the work of art itself, David B.’s “Incidents in the Night: Volume 1” is a terrific post-modern tale. Although it has been out for quite a while in France it was just translated to English this year. It’s a surreal film-noir style story about a serious collector who sets out to find a specific journal that brings him into a world of dreams, and away from the angel of death. It’s has nightmarish, yet tempting environment that completely sucks you in.
Jeff Lemire’s creator owned work has always pushed the boundaries of the medium with his almost-naïve art style and unconventional panel layouts. “Trillium” thrusts mainstream comics to a new level, using experimental issue designs that match the content of the book. He’s one of the only creators working for the Big Two who experiments with the medium, and for that alone he deserves all the praise he gets. “Trillium” is thrilling sci-fi adventure with a heart that showcases Lemire’s command over his art.
What many people don’t take the time to understand is that comics are simply a different form of storytelling, and like film or literature, it has its advantages and disadvantages. “Five Ghosts” is the kind of story that could only be told in comic books. The creators take full advantage of the medium, utilizing sequential art to its fullest. While I imagine the book might be optioned for a film deal in the near future, no big screen adaptation will come close to what the book offers in comic form. “Five Ghosts” is a gorgeous pulpy adventure that smashes genres together with poise and confidence.
Scott Snyder may be churning out some of the hottest superhero titles, but his roots will forever remain in horror. “The Wake” pulls from a plethora of deep-sea legends, drawing inspiration from the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Jules Verne. The ocean is a terrifying, enigmatic abyss that we know so little about, and Snyder is able to tap into that fear of the unknown with his adept writing. For a story that mostly takes place in a small, claustrophobic, Alien-esque submarine, it is so massive in scope that you can feel the importance of the book with every issue. “The Wake” is a master class in horror storytelling.
There is no genre more overrun with bankrupt imagery than horror. It’s increasingly difficult to scare or shock readers with imagery alone, yet somehow Emily Carroll manages to do it on a consistent basis. “Out of Skin” in a simple and profound story, and it’s the simplicity that makes it utterly disturbing. It’s beautiful, brazen, and original horror. “Out of Skin” proves that Emily Carroll is one of the most cerebral minds working in horror comics right now.
Read it here.
44FLOOD continues push the frontier of sequential art. “LUST” is as much a provocative story as it a piece of art. From the minds of menton3, Ben Templesmith, and Steve Niles, “LUST” explores human desires, their alluring nature, and their precarious affects on the mind. This is a comic that asks important questions about human existence and never shies away from the truth, and that is where the real horror comes from. It is superlative work that bleeds with passion, dread, and brilliance.
There are a few books that I just loved later in 2013, but I thought it unfair to put them in a best of the year list when only two issues have been released. Those books are “Afterlife with Archie” and “Drumhellar”. Kurtis J. Wiebe’s unique party/fantasy mashup “Rat Queens” also deserves a mention. You need to be reading those titles heading into 2014.
Another stellar title is “Ballistic” from Black Mask Studios. They are among the top three publishers of the year in my opinion, unfortunately I’m a bit behind on their titles.
Lastly is the absolute gem that is Abby Howard’s “The Last Halloween” (read it here). It’s hilarious and morbid in the best way.