When one writes these best-of lists early in the following year, it’s interesting how one starts spotting potential “candidates” for the next list of the top comics and creators. There have been a couple of comics released in January that already have me excited for what the year ahead has in store. Of course, I need to focus my attention right to past comics, not what lies ahead. This is the fourth and final entry in my picks for the best of comics and creators in 2012, specifically dwelling on the best writers and artists of the year.
This installment of the 2012 Glass Eye Awards is brought to you by snot. Snot — it fills your head (and the heads of those you love) and makes the most basic thought process seem like a Herculean task, bringing about delays in just about every aspect of your life.
Best Writer: Marvel has identified a core team of writers as its “architects,” guiding its iconic and profitable properties creatively, and among them was Jonathan Hickman. But it was Hickman’s non-Marvel work that really stood out. His creator-owned works at Image Comics — which in 2012 consisted of The Manhattan Projects and The Secret — never disappoint. In fact, they always stand out as particularly well-crafted, edgy and intelligent stories. Of course, while he always brings his brainy touch to every project, there was one particular Marvel title that seemed more akin to his stronger creator-owned books as well. S.H.I.E.L.D. boasts a ridiculously sporadic publishing schedule — only one issue was released in 2012 — but each episode stands out as a particularly inventive amalgam of science-fiction, history and obscure elements of Marvel continuity. Another Marvel writer who continued to excel in 2012 was Mark Waid. Acclaim for his Daredevil series continued to pile up in 2012, due in part to strong choices for new artists, but mainly due to the novel takes he offers on conflicts, both personal and fantastic, for the title protagonist. He also debuted an interesting new spin on another Marvel icon with Indestructible Hulk. Though radically different in tone, Waid’s approach to his new Hulk book is akin to that on DD. He’s taking the character in a new direction with more modern sensibilities, and he incorporates classic Marvel concepts interpreted in new and different ways.
Given how he was responsible for two of my favorite limited series in 2012, writer Nathan Edmondson was an easy choice for inclusion on my list of the best comics writers of the year. He definitely seems most comfortable in the intrigue/espionage genre, and it’s easy to see why. His novel ideas merge perfectly with this appreciation of the perfect beats and atmosphere to get the most out of the genre. He blends familiar, tried-and-true elements with different ideas for storytelling that’s always intense and entertaining. Speaking of new and unusual writing, Terry Moore‘s oddly paced but engrossing plotting on Rachel Rising isn’t to be missed. The king of self-publishing brings the same kind of grounded, humorous characterization to bear in the series, but the harsh, supernatural story allows the book to stand out as a fresh and significant departure for Moore.
My pick for the best writer of 2012, though, is someone who’s normally lauded for his artwork above his writing. But Darwyn Cooke penned some strong stories last year. One can always count on him to impress with his Parker adaptations, such as last year’s The Score, but his plots and scripts on Before Watchmen: Minutemen and Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre stood out as well. Minutemen played to his strengths, capturing the same sort of noir super-hero genre strength we’ve seen from him on such projects as New Frontier, but Silk Spectre, who Cooke co-wrote with Amanda Conner, was a different kind of cultural examination and celebration. My hope is Cooke is become a greater creative presence in the world of comics in the years to come by taking on some projects solely as a writer, along with those he crafts as a writer/artist.
Best Artist: Two of my selections as the best artists of 2012 are actually men I mentioned as being among the best writers in 2012. There’s a reason Darwyn Cooke continues to stand out as one of the most in-demand and bankable talents in the industry today, and it’s evident in every line he commits to paper, and I love how his use of one dominant color in his Parker books allows those graphic novels to stand out not only in his overall body of work but from other comics projects as well. And then there’s Terry Moore, who’s always impressed with his incredibly expressive faces and strong eye for anatomy. I think what I enjoy most about his figures are the fact they look like real people. His worlds aren’t populated by super-models and body builders. His characters look and move like real people, and it makes the fantastic elements of his plots seem all the more credible.
Frazer Irving‘s hauntingly beautiful and surreal style made something happen for me I never would’ve thought possible — it made me love a comic book set in the world of He-Man. Masters of the Universe: The Origin of Skeletor #1 was a fabulously illustrated comic book, and Irving’s work also stood out in a couple of issues of The Shade and one installment of Batman Incorporated. Another artist who had a great year was Tonci Zonjic. His action-packed panels on Where Is Jake Ellis? are effectively cinematic, making for riveting reading. His simple figures nevertheless exhibit a strong grasp of anatomy and movement, and his panel layouts always seem unconventional but strong. He also did some great work on Lobster Johnson comics, set in the Mike Mignola-verse and published by Dark Horse. His Lobster Johnson work put me in mind of Darwyn Cooke’s strong work as well, and I’m sure he’s been a significant influence on Zonjic’s style.
Rounding out my list of the best artists of the year are a couple of women. The work of Faith Erin Hicks can most often be found in original graphic novels, some she writers herself and some written by others. Friends With Boys was a great example of the former, and it boasted an incredibly strong sense of place, and despite the cartoony, simpler approach she takes to comic art, she nevertheless is able to convey a broad range of emotion, both subtle and striking. There was a more irreverent, lighter tone at play in Into the Woods, a young-readers graphic novel written by J. Torres, which was an entertaining amalgam of fantasy, natural and super-hero story elements. Next on my list — but definitely not least, since she’s my pick for the best artist of the year — is Fiona Staples. My exposure to her art has been limited. Before Saga came along, the only project of hers (aside from a few covers) that caught my eye was a standalone issue of Jonah Hex. But 2012 was her breakthrough year, thanks to Saga. Her ability to incorporate nature as a strong and pervasive presence in a science-fiction book is impressive. Of course, I’d have to say my favorite part of the visuals are her designs for the more unusual characters. When I first saw the Stalk — an impossible perfect balance between beauty and monstrousness, between grace and savagery — I was completely sold on the strength of Staples’s imagination and her ability to bring it to life in two dimensions. She seems to convey the huge scope of the space-faring story with seeming ease, but on other pages, she conveys closeness and tenderness as well.
Best Publisher: I don’t normally dedicate any space to my choices for the best publishers of the year, but I felt the strength of work produced and released in 2012 cried out for some thoughts on the subject. I don’t have a list of top publishers. In fact, I only want to discuss one of them in this space: Image Comics. Many before me have commented on how 2012 was a transformative year for Image, not just with the continued growth of the sale behemoth The Walking Dead, but with a strong focus on new, creator-owned work and unconventional storytelling. Image has finally become what it should have been in the first place: a place where proven creators go to craft original stories beyond the super-hero genre and a place where new, talented creators can find an audience for something offbeat.
And thus ends the Glass Eyes for 2012. Now excuse me while I start making some notes for next year’s installment…
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