If there’s one thing I can say for certain about the Oscars is that they’ve never been delayed due to snow. It was hectic week here at Eye on Comics, between regular work and snow removal in recent days. But a lazy Sunday afforded me the chance to finish the second half of the 2018 Glass Eye Awards. Previously, I covered the best comics and graphic novels of the year (as best my review of material available to me and memory allowed), and but now, I’m looking at the creators whom I thought had the best year creatively. Your mileage may vary, of course, and this is by no means meant to be a comprehensive or definitive list.
I’ll list some “nominees” in each category before finishing off with my picks for the top talent of 2018. Now, the envelopes, please…
Best Writer: Crafting an epic that stands out as some of the most mature, entertaining and emotionally deep storytelling with the character, Tom King has made must-read for me twice a month. Furthermore, his Mister Miracle was an intellectually engaging, metatextual sitcom that justifiably topped people’s lists of some of the best comics of the year. King has clearly risen to the top of DC’s stable of writers, as evident by him helming its latest event book, Heroes in Crisis (although that was a weaker blip for him in otherwise great year). Of course, Brian K. Vaughan had a great year, but I can’t recall a time when he didn’t. While Saga went on a hiatus mid-year, we still got a number of amazing issues of the award-winning and high-selling title, and that’s always a wonderful thing; plus, Paper Girls continued its weird exploration of time and culture. Vaughan also impressed with his unusual, challenging and compelling Barrier, which initially explored illegal immigration on the southern U.S. border but quickly turned our attention to a different kind of aliens, and an unlikely duo who must overcome a language barrier to survive.
Robert Kirkman may be the best-known contemporary comics writer outside of the industry, thanks to the success of The Walking Dead TV show, and while I still thoroughly enjoy the comic book that spawn that program, what impresses me more about Kirkman is how he diversifies with the genres he explores. He wrapped his creator-owned super-hero series, Invincible, continued his supernatural drama, Outcast and launched Oblivion Song, a sci-fi intrigue book that offers an intelligent examination of trauma and the sociological advantages and pitfalls of a world immersed in modern technology (and one without it). Ed Brubaker always topped people’s lists of the best writing talent in the industry back when he was writing for Marvel and DC, but his best work has come since he left those publishers behind and focused solely on creator-owned work. His anti-hero crime drama Kill or Be Killed offered a surprisingly relatable and damaged protagonist, and despite his illness and violent undertakings, you couldn’t help but cheer him on. And with My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, his Criminal graphic novel, also crafted with frequent collaborator Sean Phillips, was a much quieter but just-as-engaging story exploring addiction and desperation.
While those names are quite familiar to anyone who loves the best of what the medium can offer, my ultimate pick as the best writer of 2018 is a new one. While she saw a couple of short stories published in late 2016, Tee Franklin really burst onto the comics scene last year in a big way. Bingo Love was the strongest graphic novel I read in 2018. Its examination of the obstacles faced by two young women in love decades ago was touching and heartfelt, but it was also surprisingly and refreshingly bright in tone. She followed that project up with Jook Joint, and with that limited series, she immediately made it clear she had a broader range of mood and material upon which she could draw. Whereas Bingo Love was heartening and sweet, Jook Joint is a harsh, supernatural story of righteous feminism. Franklin is a powerful new voice in comics to which everyone should pay heed.
Best Artist: I led off the writer category by discussing Tom King, so I’ll get things started in the art department with one of his frequent collaborators. Mitch Gerads and King showcased the strength of the nine-panel grid in Mister Miracle throughout 2018. Gerads made these larger-than-life characters relatable by immersing them in the mundane. Scott Free became the guy down the street struggling to balance work and home life; it’s just that his work was nuts. While Gerads impressed with his realistic depictions of unreal figures, Sean Gordon Murphy delivered even more exaggerated interpretations of the extreme personalities populating Gotham City in Batman: White Knight. His redesigns of familiar characters were striking and innovative, and his elongated, angular figures grabbed the eye and never let go.
Gary Frank impressed over on another lauded limited series from DC: Doomsday Clock. He maintained his own unique, detailed style on that book, but at the same time, he channelled original Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons’ vibe on it perfectly. Olivier Coipel delivered what was probably the most inventive and different art of his career thus far on The Magic Order, from Image/Millarworld/Netflix. With every issue, the visuals have grown more and more unconventional, with flowing linework that reminded me of the late Gene Colan’s supernatural storytelling.
It was the unique blend of Japanese and European influences in his Isola art that makes Karl Kerschl my pick for the best artist of the year. His portrayal of nature was figuratively magical, and at times, it was even literally magical. I loved the jungle settings and the emotive characters. His lithe, dynamic figures seemed to dance on the page, and his heroine, though smaller than other players in the drama, nevertheless conveys skill, power and determination. Isola stands out as a pinnacle of Kerschl’s career thus far, and I hope there are many more issues of lucious linework to come.
Best Colorist: While he’s been doing a solid job as the colorist on a number of DC titles, notably Action Comics, it was on Doomsday Clock that Brad Anderson has really shone as of late. He balances the darker notes of the story with some eye-popping colors that reinforce the power of familiar DC heroes. The dichotomy in the colors help the grimy heroes of Watchmen to contrast against the more traditional characters from the mainstream DC Universe nicely. We saw a similar contrast between lighter and darker worlds in The Wrong Earth, and colorist Andy Troy has done a tremendous job of reflecting the disparate dimensional settings by diversifying the color palettes employed.
On Skyward, Antonio Fabela uses a mainly muted color palette to bring a world without gravity to life, but there’s still a youthful energy to his tones as well. I was quite impressed with the digital coloring effects he brought to bear to convey the weightlessness and fluidity of floating liquids in the story. And on another Image title — namely, Infidel — José Villarrubia used duller tones to convey the mundane, day-to-day backdrops, but he brought far more textured, weirder colors into play for the haunted elements of the plot.
But as was the case with my pick for the best artist of 2018, Isola delivered what I thought were the best colors in a comic last year. Credited as Msassyk in the comic, Michele Assarasakorn brought an array of colors I almost felt I’d never seen before in the medium. The deep green of the queen’s tiger form practically glows despite its darkness, and she bathed the settings in eerie glows. As I noted in my review of the first issue, Assarasakorn’s “colors elevate [Kerschl’s] linework beyond its usual high level.” The colors really drove home the supernatural, mythic qualities of the book.
Best Publisher/Imprint: Boom! Studios repeatedly impressed with its penchant for bringing talented international creators and new homegrown voices to the attention of the North American marketplace. Petals, A Girl in the Himalayas, Alice from Dream to Dream, I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation, About Betty’s Boob, Form of a Question — they delivered novel and moving books. I also truly appreciated how AHOY Comics really made a splash on the comics scene in 2018, spearheaded by The Wrong Earth. By satirizing and celebrating an iconic archetype of the medium, it managed to say something different in comics while also paying tribute to the familiar.
When it comes to the super-hero genre, DC Comics was dominant force creatively in comics in 2018. Brian Michael Bendis re-energized the Superman titles, Tom King dazzled with Mister Miracle and Batman, and there were so many other great talents that came to the publisher as well. Bendis’ Jinxworld titles are almost universally strong, and DC announced a number of new publishing initiatives that ought to make 2019 quite interesting as well. Under the Image banner, Robert Kirkman’s Skybound imprint continued to entertain, not only with comics Kirkman wrote, but by expanding the brand to include other creators, such as Outpost Zero, Outer Darkness and Hardcore.
My selection as the best publisher of 2018 goes to Image Comics central. It has finally become what it always should have been: an outfit that publishes comics featuring the widest variety of genres and creativity possible. It’s home to the top-tier talent in the industry, as well as new and up-and-coming voices. I thoroughly enjoy Brian K. Vaughan’s and Mark Millar’s work through Image, as well as numerous other titles from some of the more prolific talents in comics, but last year, the publisher also introduced me to such fantastic emerging talents Jen Bartel, Christopher Sebela, Tee Franklin and so many more. My only problem with Image is that it’s producing so much new material, I can’t keep up with it all. Sometimes, it’s impossible to choose what to check out, what new adventure to take.
And that brings our return to the Glass Eye Awards to an end. I completely acknowledge that I’ve overlooked some tremendous talents and cool comics in these lists for various reasons, from exposure to memory lapses to just plain differences in taste. Also, you may have noticed I’ve omitted categories I’ve explored in the past, including cover artists and letterers. It’s not that there weren’t noteworthy talents in those fields, just as it’s not as though there weren’t innumerable comics and creators that merited mention here as well. These are just those I chose to highlight.
Suffice it to say, 2018 was a wonderful year in comics, and I know 2019 will have some treasures in store for us as well.