AISLE SEAT 2.0.80: FIVE FOR 2013

By Marc Mason

2013 is coming to a close. Let us pause and be grateful for that.

Good, now that that’s over… let’s talk the best of what happened in graphic novels this year, along with a couple of notes on comics.

As usual, I had the opportunity to read a staggering number of comics and graphic novels this year, yet for all that, I feel as though I barely scratch the surface of what actually hits the stands. Thus, I feel like I cannot truly offer up a “Best Of” list that would be comprehensive enough. I can, however, offer you a list of five absolutely great books that arrived on shelves this year. These are books that, even if I read another 200 books that came out this year, I feel strongly would still make a top-10 list if I made one.

MARCH vol. 1 (Top Shelf): Congressman John Lewis, a legendary figure in the civil rights movement, worked with writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to deliver a powerhouse memoir of growing up in the turbulent mid-20th century and finding purpose in civil disobedience as the American South was dragged kicking and screaming towards acknowledging racial equality. Captivating, fascinating, and educational, MARCH illuminates one of the most important human stories of the past few generations, and does so in a manner that enthralls and educates the modern reader. A powerful work.

BOXERS & SAINTS (First Second): writer/artist Gene Yang spent seven years putting together this two-volume work focused on the Boxer Rebellion in China, and the astonishing level of detail demonstrates every bit of his effort. BOXERS focuses on a young Chinese man driven to defend his land from foreign interests, while SAINTS finds a nameless Chinese girl given a name and a purpose by missionaries. As their stories parallel, you can’t help but feel like tragedy lies ahead if they meet, and meet they do. Ambitious, stunningly drawn, and intelligent, this two-volume work astonishes.

THE GREAT WAR (W.W. Norton): There are few accolades left that writer/artist Joe Sacco has not earned, so it would be easy for him to rest on his laurels. Instead, he produced his most ambitious and unusual work yet, this massive battlefield scene demonstrating one of the pivotal days in World War I. Drawn in excruciating detail and annotated like the finest textbooks, THE GREAT WAR offers up a fascinating look at the sheer scale that war encompasses, in space used, in terms of human lives lost, and in emotional toll.

RED HANDED (First Second): writer/artist Matt Kindt has been turning out spectacular work almost non-stop for the past five years, but this wonderful graphic novel really stood out this year. Set up as an homage to classic Dick Tracy comics, Kindt could have rested easy and let the entire book play out on a surface level. Instead, he delivered a bravura performance wherein he mixed plotlines, time, artistic styles, and snappy dialogue together until he had created a work that rose above the rest. It’s magnificent.

THE INITIATES (NBM): A book that deserved a far louder response when it hit, THE INITIATES is the finest piece of immersion journalism to hit graphic novel shelves… well, ever. Writer/artist Etienne Davodeau’s decision to spend a year working at a friend’s vineyard, learning the process of making wine, turned out to be a richly fascinating one. At the same time, he begins teaching his wine-making friend about the business and greatness of graphic novels. Two worlds don’t so much collide here as much as they come together in beautiful friendship and understanding. An astonishing piece of work.

Of course, I don’t just spend my time reading graphic novels.

I read hundreds of traditional comics every year, and certainly some of those are worth one last look.

BEST SINGLE ISSUE OF 2013: SEX CRIMINALS #1 (Image Comics): “People with the power to stop time by having sex decide to rob banks.” When I saw this book described that way, I almost skipped right past it. Thankfully, that description barely has anything to do with this incredible first issue, which is really about a young woman trying to navigate and explore her sexuality as she grows up. Writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky delivered the best character piece of the year in issue one, no question; a few pages in and I forgot about the robbery stuff and was completely sucked into the lead character’s story of growing up confused. Filled with an unusual level of pathos, it was one of the few comics I read this year that I wanted to read more than once, and it rewarded me for reading it again. And again.

BEST BOOK THAT NEEDS A BIGGER AUDIENCE: THE SHADOW (Dynamite): I’ve never been a huge lover of pulp; it’s a very hit-or-miss genre for me. But THE SHADOW changed all that with issue #13 and the arrival of writer Chris Roberson. Instead of street thugs and mobsters, Roberson gave The Shadow the best villain the character has seen since the 80s in The Light. An Easterner raised and trained in the West, she arrived to dispense justice in harsher and crueler ways than even The Shadow could tolerate. The rare occasion where a character meets his true “opposite” or “mirror” and the results elevate above everything that has come before, the six-issue arc delivered some epic thrills and excitement, and it made me like the character in a way I never had before.

And… that feels like enough. I’ll be back next year to talk more comics and graphic novels with you all. Until then, have an excellent holiday season and a safe and sound turn of the new year.


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