Best of 2007

Although it's already over a week into '08, it's not too late to go over some of the best indie books that saw light in '07. Of course, this is all strictly my humble opinion so take it for what its worth. But seeing that this is my first "best of" list, I decided to add an extra layer and pick a favorite in six different categories: anthology, horror/thriller, artbook, humor, drama, and best overall.

In the best anthology category, Postcards: Stories That Never Happened gets my vote. Edited by Jason Rodriquez, Postcards is a collection of stories inspired by actual vintage postcards gathered from flea markets, antique shops, and second-hand stores. The postcards may be limited a single paragraph of text, but the creators that have contributed to this anthology have allowed their imaginations to fill in the blanks and tell the “true stories that never happened”.

In his first graphic novel, Joshua Simmons made one hell of an impression in the horror/thriller genre with House. The book centers on a trio of teenagers (one guy and two girls) who stumble upon an abandoned, dilapidated mansion in the middle of a forest. After walking through a labyrinth of corridors, the trio eventually find themselves in a shocking journey through the house. Simmons forgoes words entirely, communicating the story through the visuals by way of scratchy linework and remarkable composition.

When it comes to artbooks/bar room brawl weapons, Scott Morse's Scrap Mettle had no equal in 2007. Scrap Mettle is best described as a stocky, monster coffee table book filled with scraps of “fast art” Morse has produced in his everyday creative process. Beautiful, varied artwork from the artist’s personal Holy Trinity of mediums: inks, watercolors, and cell vinyl.

Writer Rick Spears (Teenagers From Mars, Pirates of Coney Island) and artist Chuck B.B created the perfect Adult Swim show in print with their 160-page masterpiece, Black Metal. Metal-loving twins Sam and Shawn discover their dark legacy in the bowels of hell in a tale that is one part humor, one part adventure, and all rock.

The Damned: Three Days Dead easily won best dramatic work due to the amazing job by writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt. The story follows Eddie, a hothead gangland enforcer that happens to be caught in the middle of a mob war. However, instead of featuring Corleone versus Sollozzo, Bunn and Hurtt’s version of mafia hostilities involves demons, ghosts, and devilish half-breeds. And while Eddie is most definitely a tough guy, he also happens to be a dead man. That’s dead, as in, not alive. That doesn’t prevent demon boss Big Al from bringing Eddie back from the grave to finish a very important job. If it wasn’t enough that he can’t die, Eddie has to uncover a conspiracy of deceit and murder that runs through all the families and straight to hell. The first issue of the sequel, The Damned: Prodigal Sons, is being released by Oni Press this March so make sure to check out the first book ASAP.

And finally, the winner of my best overall book of 2007 award goes to Matt Kindt's Super Spy. Composed of World War II espionage short stories, Super Spy is the perfect book to leave on your coffee table when your non-comic reading friends come over. The stories may be brief but they draw you in with superb characterization and expressive artwork. Oen of the few, fine examples of picture perfect graphic storytelling.

Hope you enjoyed these picks 'cause I sure did. Whether you agree or disagree, the important thing to remember is to spread the indie/alternative comics love. If it spoke to you or you know the book would appeal to your friend/co-worker/family member/cell mate, don't be afraid to recommend one of those crazy funny books with pictures and words. Sure, sophistication has led us to calling them graphic novels but in the end, whether they're comics or OGNs, all that matters is: Did you enjoy it? So if you did, let others know. They'll thank you for it...and so will the talented creators that shed blood and tears to tell their tales.



Out of Picture

As noted in the book's introduction, the phrase "'out of picture' is a film term used when anything is cut from a movie." However, in this case the term relates to the inspiration behind the book. Published by Villard, Out of Picture is an anthology from a group of seasoned artists well-versed in their crafts and brought together through their common day job as the talented minds behind Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age, Ice Age 2, Robots). The book was meant as a side project originally proposed to keep their creative juices flowing between the long journey that is feature-film animtation. But when you get that many artists together and anything goes, it's impossible to keep a simple side project from evolving into a full-blown production.

Part hand-drawn, part computer-generated, part concept designs/sketchbook, but mainly a short sequential showcase, this 160-page softcover has it all...and it's all good. Contributors to the book include Daisuke Tsutsumi, Greg Couch, Andrea Blasich, Vincent Nguyen, Daniel Lopez Munoz, Nash Dunnigan, Michael Knapp, Benoit le Pennec, Robert Mackenzie, David Gorden, and Peter de Sève. As far as highlights go...

In Robert Mackenzie's "Around the Corner, the narrator implores a little boy to mind his surroundings as he enters into the world of imagination.

Featuring rich, pastel-toned spot illustrations, "Yes, I Can" by Andrea Blasich follows a young inventor and his dragon friend as they work together to overcome their respective issues with flight.

Greg Couche delivers what I consider to be the book's standout with a 5-page story that combines Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes and film noir. Titled "Four and Twenty Blackbirds", the tale follows private dick "Little" Jack Horner on the trail of his partner's (Jack Nimble) killer. The linework is pencil-sketchy perfect, effectively creating the mood of a teaser trailer for a movie like The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon. And honestly, any story that includes a Peter Lorre-inspired Humpty Dumpty is pretty much amazing.

The oversized 8.5 x 12.5 format showcases the anthology's artwork nicely when compared to the standard comic-book size, giving the pages a tad more room to breathe. The $19.95 price tag is a great bargain considering that you're not getting any duds in this collection. I will throw in the disclaimer that Out of Picture may appeal to art lovers slightly more than story lovers. But at a minimum it's worth perusing for the pretty pictures.

If you're interested in finding out more about the book, visit the Out of Picture website where you can preview pages, read the artists' bios, and even pre-order volume two which is already in the works for an '08 release.



Popgun Volume One

After the success of the Flight anthology, Image Comics took a deep step into the collected short stories format with Afterworks, Afterworks 2, Four Letter Worlds, 24Seven volume 1, and 24Seven volume 2. And this past week, they’ve added another anthology to their expanding library in the form of Popgun Volume One. A self-described “graphic mixtape", Popgun showcases quite a number of talent folks, including Erik Larsen, Rick Remender, Mike Allred, Mike Bullock, Jonathan Hickman, Joe Keatinge, Jim Mahfood, Michael Linsner, Khary Randolph, Jamie Rich, and James Stokoe among others. Highlights include…

Chuck BB and Nick Stakal each contribute two pages to “Blood Inside”; a short story that draws parallels between a Viking’s dying breath and the smoker’s last puff.

Mark Andrew and Paul Maybury turn in a 7-page preview to their upcoming Aqualung OGN. Titled “Aqualung: Ambush”, Maybury’s cartoony brush work and pastel palette is great to look at but the story is a tad too confusing. I got the sense that this is just a primer for something much more epic. Regardless, the pretty pictures make this one standout.

“Manhunt in the Obsidian Hills of Mars: A Futari Tale” by Nick Derrington follows a wanted astronaut who is willing to go down fighting to keep his precious treasure safe from a group of pursuing law enforcers. Economic but effective dialogue and great artwork make for a great installment by Derrington.

The 6-page wordless “Tag” by Dave Crosland chronicles a Darwinian game of tag from prehistoric times to the far flung future. Crosland goes for a punchy, pastel tone that keeps his short lighthearted and playful.

Tony Cypress’ “Island of 100 Corpses” features Colonel Kursk: “a cursed man born through science bred to destroy.” Kursk is on a mission to find a lady when an egg-shaped robot with multiple legs and a human head (with an over-sized brain, of course) gets in the way. Luckily, Kursk has a really big knife. Fun stuff.

Brian Churilla and Jeremy Shepard present a 10-page teaser for their upcoming Engineer mini-series from ASP. Titled “Egg-Centric”, the short story features the Engineer as he attempts to cheat nature by creating a giant chicken. It goes without saying that things don’t go as planned. The story has just the right amount of goofy and Churilla’s Mignola-inspired artwork is dead on.

The Amazing Joy Buzzards make an appearance in a 4-page story titled “The Fearless Vampire Hunters, or…Excuse Me, But You’re Stake is in My Heart.” If you have yet to read The Amazing Joy Buzzards, this is a nice intro to this touring band of misfit mystery solvers created by Mark Andrew Smith and artist Dan Hipp.

“La Llorona” by Marcus White and Ed Tadem is a beautifully illustrated, haunting tale of a ghost crying out for her lost son. Unfortunately, an innocent passerby runs into the maternal spirit and is drawn towards her supernatural weeping.

Finally, writer/artist Moritat produced a gorgeous 10-page jazz tragedy of a talented trumpet player whose skills with the horn are worn away by the grim face of corporate greed and his own Chet baker-like demons. Amazing artwork, perfect coloring, and subdued dialogue make this short story a perfect example of how graphic story-telling can succeed on a number of levels.

Overall, Popgun is a pretty impressive achievement. Lots of talent contained in a single spine. Sure, there’s bound to be a few hits and misses, but there’s enough genre blending to keep it entertaining and diverse. Personally, I would’ve settled for a 300-page hardcover rather than a 450-page softcover, considering that Image already has volume two in the works. At 300-pages each, they could easily get three to four quality volumes together in no time. But, again, that’s just my preference and it doesn’t diminish the sweetness of Popgun Volume One.

If you want to preview a few of the stories online and find out more about this anthology, make sure to visit the Popgun website. Popgun Volume One is available now at your local comic shop and Amazon.



Limited Edition: Art and Design of Gama-Go

"What happens when an art school dropout, traveling curmudgeon, and an amateur taxidermist take on the massive apparel industry juggernaut. If on the way to work they're kidnapped by a Yeti, you end up with a company like Gama-Go."

Since 2000, Gama-Go founders Tim Biskup, Chris Edmundson, and Greg Long have been taking boutiques by storm with their pop culture friendly, cartoony designs. It started with t-shirts and has since evolved to all types of male and female clothing and accessories along with toys, stationary, pillows, buttons and other "bric-a-brac". With the advent of designer toys and custom collectibles, at times it almost seems like there's a hipster mom-and-pop design shop in every factory renovated studio apartment in sight. But if you really want to understand what Gama-Go is all about and why they've succeeded, all you have to do is look at their designs.

For six years, the company has made a name for itself by retiring their artwork after short runs and keeping everything in limited editions. One-of-a-kind makes for hard-to-find and that drives the trendy urban masses away from thrift shops long enough to purchase a Deathbot jacket or Ninja Kitty coin purse. Now, I'm all for coin purses but in my daily life, I rarely find them useful. However, ever since I laid my eyes on a Gama-Go postcard set some time ago, I fell in love with their colorful, cute graphics.

I hunted down everything by artist Tim Biskup, including 100 Paintings and the first three volumes of his The Jackson 500 business card-sized paintings artbooks. But outside of ordering my own jacket or coin purse, Biskup's Gama-Go work was out of my reach. So lucky for me and all their fans, the company has recently released a 400-page monster collecting six years worth of designs appropriately titled Limited Edition: Art and Design of Gama-Go.Now, this isn't the type of book that can be reviewed. Sure, technically you can review an artbook. But in my humble opinion, you either like it or you don't. Gama-Go's modern, vector-loving designs share a love for bold, bright colors and charming, goofy characters that will appeal to some and drive others away. So if you're into Samurai Jack, Powerpuff Girls, Ugly Dolls, and Scott Morse, this book is right up your wheelwell.You can buy Limited Edition: Art and Design of Gama-Go from the Gama-Go website or at a discounted price from Amazon.



Guy Davis

Make sure to head on over to Indie Pulp to check out my latest "Sketchbook Session" with amazing artist Guy Davis.

Guy has worked on a number of books including Baker Street, Sandman Mystery Theatre, The Nevermen, The Marquis, The Zombies That Ate The World, and Batman: Nevermore. He is currently drawing BPRD: Killing Ground for Dark Horse...

To find out more about Guy Davis and to see more of his artwork, make sure to visit his website.