Welcome back to the first annual Glass Eye Awards (click here to check out Part One). Everybody who is anybody in the world of comics is… well, not here but somewhere else, probably getting soused on holiday eggnog and rum. And I think I’ll join them (hold the eggnog, please). As I pour liquor over the pain of the past 12 months, I’ll reflect back on the comics creators who stood out as the best in the industry in 2006. Bear in mind, there’s no way for one person to read all that the comic-book industry had to offer in the course of a single month, let alone a full year. This is by no means a definitive list, just my two cents’ worth. But hey, people seem to like these “Best of” lists.
Best Writer: As I’ve noted in the past, while comics is a visual medium, I tend to be much more captivated by strong writing. I follow writers, not characters. While good writing can often overcome poor artwork in comics, it doesn’t matter how pretty a book is if the story and characters aren’t interesting. Bill Willingham is someone who knows how to craft strong stories and characters. Fables remains a thoroughly entertaining series, considerably lighter in tone than other DC/Vertigo books but just as cerebral. Jack of Fables is proving to be just as entertaining, and the Fables OGN — 1,001 Nights of Snowfall — was a well-done anthology and a great payoff for Fables fans. Former Oni Press editor-in-chief Jamie S. Rich had a good year as well with two strong romance stories, released by his former employer. Love the Way You Love and 12 Reasons Why I Love Her may both be in the romance genre, but the approaches to the storytelling and the content are radically different in tone.
Warren Ellis has made my best-of-the-year lists several times before, and 2006 proves to be no exception. Fell stood out as my favorite Ellis oeuvre of the year, but I was a huge fan of Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. as well. Furthermore, Ellis brought his landmark pop-culture commentary series Planetary to a close in 2006, and he launched his vision of a retooled New Universe in newuniversal, which is off to a promising start. Brian Wood stood out once again. Wood’s work on Local continues to demonstrate that no other writer in comics does self-contained, single-issue stories better, and DMZ showed that he can also tackle more ambitious, larger stories as well. DMZ‘s strong characterization is as strong a draw as its political commentary. Wood’s Supermarket, from IDW Publishing, didn’t draw as much attention as his other titles in 2006, but it was solid work as well; the writer showed off a more playful side with Supermarket while maintaining his edge.
As much as I enjoyed those writers’ words and ideas in 2006, one comics scribe’s efforts consistently blew me away. Brian K. Vaughan impressed as much with the power and depth of his writing this past year as he did with the volume of his output this year. Three ongoing titles – Runaways, Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina. Two limited series – The Escapists and Dr. Strange: The Oath. And one graphic novel that attracted a fair bit of mainstream-media attention – Pride of Baghdad. Any two or three of those various projects would have made for a landmark year. All of those strong, well-crafted stories together make BKV an easy pick for the best writer of 2006.
Best Penciller/Artist: Some of my favorite artists didn’t produce a lot of work in 2006, but what they did offer up was amazing. Case in point: Tim Sale. He not only became an industry ambassador thanks to the incorporation of his art on NBC’s new hit show, Heroes, he also delivered some great Superman art. The first two issues of Superman: Confidential have been stunning, and the story he illustrated for Superman/Batman #26 — the special issue dedicated to writer Jeph Loeb’s late son, Sam — boasts some quiet but emotionally moving visuals. Cameron Stewart only produced three issues’ worth of comic art in 2006, but man, what a sight that artwork is to behold. It’s well known that Stewart travelled to Vietnam to research and prepare for his contributions to The Other Side. The research clearly paid off. The art is often grisly and always powerful. Darwyn Cooke‘s new work in 2006 was limited to the end of the year as well, but he made quite a splash with his artwork on Batman/The Spirit and The Spirit #1. He proved the late Will Eisner’s legacy is in good hands, and I predict that in 2007, he’ll be topping not only people’s “Best of” lists for comic artist, but as a writer as well.
The next two artists on my list produced more regular work in 2006. Ryan Kelly‘s black-and-white artwork on Local really brought Brian Wood’s dark, sad stories of youth to life. By all accounts, Kelly not only captured human emotion quite well but the varied real-world settings, which changed with each issue. Stuart Immonen brought Warren Ellis’s mad energy to life on Nextwave; the designs for the bizarre monsters, villains and military weapons never failed to entertain in their over-the-top qualities. Immonen brought that same inventive energy to Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual #2. And the 10th issue of Nextwave allowed him to show off the diversity of styles of which he’s more than capable; that sort of adaptability is always impressive.
There’s one artist whose work in 2006 really packed a punch, that had that “wow” factor that help to set a comic book apart from others on the stands. Frank Quitely‘s work on All-Star Superman offers up an unconventional view of the Man of Steel, but somehow, it also conveys an old-fashioned touch. Quitely’s work elicits memories of the late Curt Swan’s work on Superman and Action Comics in the 1970s and ’80s. With All-Star Superman, Frank Quitely takes us to Mount Olympus; there’s a mythical, god-like look to the characters that’s more than a little memorable.
Best Cover Artist: They say one isn’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but as folks in the comics industry know, cover art and design are significantly powerful and important marketing tools. Alex Ross has been one of the most popular cover artists in the industry since he made a splash in the mid 1990s with Marvels. His realistic paintings of super-hero icons immediately grab the eye, and I found his cover art on Justice to be particularly effective at garnering attention on its own. He also did great work on Kurt Busiek’s Astro City comics in 2006 as well, just as he always has in the past. Frank Quitely‘s covers for All-Star Superman have boasted a wonderful, campy flair; those covers — always dynamic and eye-catching — shine with their Silver-Age sensibilities. And he demonstrated a more mature edge with his cover art for the first two issues of American Virgin.
Cover art and cover design are slightly different concepts, and I’d like to take a moment to discuss some winning cover designs and motifs that stood out in 2006. Marvel’s half-cover-art approach for its entire Civil War line — the core limited series, spinoffs and tie-ins — was simple but striking. I have no doubt that retailers sold extra copies of multiple Marvel titles because they were so easily identifiable as Civil War tie-ins thanks to that bottom color-bar motif. Also meriting mention is J.G. Jones‘s work on 52. First of all, the incorporation of the weekly title’s logo as in frame for each piece of cover art was great, but I loved how Jones played around with art styles for the various cover images. One issuer looked like a tabloid newspaper, another like a 1950s B-movie horror flick and another like an iconic 1920s pop-art poster. Jones not only sums up each issue’s events nicely but entertains with some experimental images and styles.
The artist and designer who never failed to grab my attention and hold onto it, with his stark artwork combined with photo collage and bold fonts, was Brian Wood. DMZ‘s covers scream of revolution and relevance. When I see an issue of the DC/Vertigo series, I don’t just want to read it — I feel I need to read it. Wood also provided the designs for the covers for his Local limited series from Oni Press, and they’re always striking. I love the incorporation of a state/provincial map for each issue’s setting, as well as more specific visuals from each story. Ryan Kelly provides the line art for the covers, but it’s Wood’s vision, as he merits as much credit, if not moreso. His influence in the composition of those covers is clear.
Best Publisher/Imprint: It seems as though every issue of Previews, the monthly catalog of comics from Diamond Comic Distributors, contains as many new publishers as small outfits that drop off the radar. It’s not easy for publishers to stand out from the crowd, even the bigger companies, but there were a few in 2006 that shone.
By all accounts, First Second Books is a powerful new force in graphic novels. I’ve heard nothing but praise for this publisher, but as of yet, I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy of any of their books (my local comic shop has had trouble getting in American Born Chinese, for example). I can’t offer opinions as to the quality of their books, but to overlook the impact they’ve had would be glaring. Archaia Studios Press was primarily known as the home of the Artesia comics, but in 2006, it broadened its appeal significantly with what was probably the biggest small-press hit of the year: Mouse Guard. Archaia’s importation of a strong European title — The Killer — also helped them to stand out. Boom! Studios had another boom year, as it began to go beyond the super-hero satire and anthologies books upon which it first established itself. With such strong limited series as Talent, Savage Brothers, Tag and X Isle, Boom! had a lot to boast about in 2006.
I was most impressed with Oni Press and Image Comics for the number of strong graphic novels they produced in 2006. Oni’s fare was much more grounded, not surprisingly, but I enjoyed such varied titles as 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, Borrowed Time, Northwest Passage, Gray Horses and Love the Way You Love. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books tend to be the most lauded fare Oni offers, but there are so many more great titles added to the publisher’s library of offerings each year. Image Comics also demonstrated a greater faith in the original graphic novel format, not only bringing forgotten series back into print (such as Outlaw Nation) with collected editions but introducing its readers to all-new material in the OGN format. Night Trippers was one of my favorites. Image also offered a second title in its Fell/Slimline format, Casanova, which leads one to expect and/or hope for more affordable comics to come.
But which publisher had the best year in 2006? In my opinion, there’s no question it was DC’s Vertigo imprint. Vertigo has been revitalized with a number of new ongoing titles with a real chance to last for years, such as DMZ, Jack of Fables and American Virgin. 2006 was a successful year for Vertigo in terms of original graphic novels as well, with The Fountain, Pride of Baghdad and Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall standing out as shining examples. And the imprint’s upperclassmen titles — Y: The Last Man, 100 Bullets and Fables — remained strong and thought-provoking. Another milestone for Vertigo in 2006 was the launch of a limited series about the real-world horror of the Vietnam War, The Other Side. While 2006 wasn’t a pinnacle for DC’s central line of super-hero titles, Vertigo stood out as victorious.
And thus ends the first annual Glass Eyes. Be sure to share your post-awards gala thoughts below!