Wayfarer Special : Top 10 Indie Comics of 2011 (part 2 of 2)

And so once more into the breach dear friends, as I bring us to the second half of this happy little countdown of the Indie comics that I loved the most this past year. Yes, I know, it’s been a long gap since Part 1 of this little countdown and the New Year is well into it’s first quarter, but it is what it is – I felt that coverage of our Comic Con in Delhi and all that came out of it took precedence and this could wait just a bit.

Before I get to the final leg of the countdown, a quick listing of the books that almost made it to this top ten but fell just shy. I wish I could have made this list longer and perhaps I will review them all in the near future, but in the meantime I think they all deserve an Honourable mention:

  • The Goon (Writer/Artist: Eric Powell)
  • G.I.Joe Cobra (Writer: Christos Gage and Mike Costa, Artist: Antonio Fuso)
  • Scarlet (Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Artist: Alex Maleev)
  • Scalped (Writer: Jason Aaron, Artist: R. M. Guéra)
  • Artifacts (Writers: Ron Marz, Marc Silvestri & Matt Hawkins, Artists: Michael Broussard, Stjepan Sejic)
  • Super Dinosaur (Writer: Robert Kirkman, Artist: Jason Howard)
  • Fallen Angel: Return of the Son (Writer: Peter David, Artist: J.K.Woodward)

So thank you for your patience and now without any further rambling along on my part, lets just get to it shall we?

05. HELLBOY

Writer: Mike Mignola w/ John Arcudi

Artist: Various

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

For those of you that have been following Mike Mignola’s worlds as they’ve evolved in the Hellboy, B.P.R.D and related series, I think you know what I mean when I say that for so many years now they have been the most consistent, creative and amazingly put together comics – among the best comics as a medium have to offer in a sense. For those that have not, you are really missing out on something special.

The various story arcs and such together form such an amazing, long-running and vast story-line and world that it’s amazing they’ve managed it for such a long period of time – and the hand of creator Mike Mignola is definitely visible in every single book, even the one’s he has not directly scripted himself. Of course credit where it’s due to the talents who’ve worked with him and been able to strike a nice balance between their own work and style but ever retaining the unique look and feel that Mignola brought to the comic-medium. The truly awesome part being that it remains this damn good even after 17 years!

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This past year we’ve seen the B.P.R.D books go through hell and I was torn about whether to put that book or Hellboy on this list, but in the end the saga of the titular -struggling hero and the last few adventure that he’s had which led to his [CAPTAIN!!! SPOILER AHEAD!!] that last great battle which Hellboy won but for which he ended up paying the ultimate price… well all that was so amazingly wrought that I had to give this book the edge, and besides, the torment and adventures of his friends goes on so maybe they’ll be on next year’s list!

We saw Hellboy face The Wild Hunt, The Storm and The Fury (to name a few), lose all direction and faith, find his inner strength and a new love and in the end prove himself the hero everyone always believed him to be, and unlike many such tales that fall victim to cliché and the like, Mignola and his team really dug deep into folklore and detail and created visual feasts to draw us into this terrible battle for the future of the world itself.

Drama, intrigue, conspiracy, the supernatural, raw action and basic humanity, all these and more could be found in the pages of Hellboy this past year and for that I salute the people behind it and recommend you all give them a read.

04. THE STUFF OF LEGEND v3 : A Jester’s Tale

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Writer: Mike Raicht, Brian Smith

Artist: Charles Paul Wilson III

Publisher: Th3rd World Studios

When I first picked up a copy of the first issue of The Stuff of Legend v1, it was purely on a whim and because it simply sounded like something different and I love to try my hand at the unfamiliar. I expected a simple and entertaining story to be read and the move on from, but instead I found a world so unique and amazingly realised that this book has been a constant favourite without fail ever since and every issue has done nothing but get better and better.

The initial premise was a simple one, a young Boy is kidnapped by the Boogeyman and his toys which are secretly alive (that part makes you think of Toy Story doesn’t it!) spring into action and decide to bravely try and rescue him from the dark and evil armies of the Boogeyman. From that starting point the tale veered into territory I think no reader would have expected and evolved very fast into a truly dark and epic fantasy tale in this strange new land filled with surreal characters that our heroes travelled and fought their way through. What made it even more astounding was the depth and richness that Raicht and Smith have brought to each and every character that just makes this one of the most remarkable comic experiences I’ve ever had in all my years.

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This, the third mini-series in this saga follows the character of Jester who formerly was a Jack-in-the-box but when he came alive and went into the fabled lands of The Dark, he was transformed into a clever and somewhat swashbuckling warrior that almost makes one think of a darker Errol Flynn. Ever ready with a quip and a one-liner, he was without a doubt one of the most interesting characters in the group and this solo series follows his adventures as he leaves the group after the devastating events of The Jungle (volume 2) and ventures into the Indian Lands to rescue his beloved who has been lost. He is given a sidekick of sorts in the form of a bumbling fellow known as the Mayor and together they have traversed and survived many lands and many perils including giant sea-serpents. Additionally, we get a side-story that is shown alongside the main story which reveals the origin of the Jester, so to speak, where we learn how he came to belong to the Boy and his life before this grand adventure began. In the end he never wavers and stays on his path to rescue the princess, but to learn the eventual fate of all, go read this book.

And I promise you, you will not regret it for an instant. Not only is the story absolutely amazing, but you also have the utterly astounding Charles Paul Wilson on art duties and the sepia-toned world that he renders is beautiful beyond simple words – in a sense it evokes a feeling of something old and long-gone and it has been suggested that it touches on the the long-lost childhood and days of ones youth.

This mini-series is a great jumping-on point for any new readers and if you look for truly creative new material that engages and challenges you as a fan of fiction, this book should most definitely be on your To-Read list.

03. CHEW

(Click to enlarge!)

Writer: John Layman

Artist: Rob Guillory

Publisher: Image Comics

This series was a hard call in terms of where to put it on this list, but it was the overall nature and execution that brought it to #3 for me. For the uninitiated, the story is set in a world where all poultry and bird-meat in general is considered illegal after some catastrophic bird-flu outbreak that resulted in several million deaths – it does indeed strike a familiar chord to real world events.

The protagonist of the series is a cop named Tony Chu who we learn in the first issue itself is a “Cibopath” which is essentially a person who gets psychic impressions and images from things that they take a bite from and eat. Yes it is indeed a strange concept and it actually lent itself to some really entertaining and funny stuff in the initial issues.

But this is a series that has been running for 23 issues since it began in 2009 and the thing that stands out for me is that Layman has managed to avoid the pitfall that frequently kills concepts like this one – wearing out the primary gimmick. Now I don’t say gimmick in a bad way, it’s just the thing, the concept that separates this book from all others and in this still entertaining and exceedingly bizarre book the development of the story, the world and all the dilemmas and adventures has been consistently entertaining. I give this book a hell of a lot of points for that alone and the fact that there is a constant undertone of cleverness and quite a quirky and wild imagination throughout the series, it lends itself well to keeping it all interesting and not taking itself too seriously.

The art is not the most fantastic, but whatever else it might fall short in, the style and feel of the characters and the basic art of the book works well with the odd-ball and often surreal stories that we are reading and so is equally enjoyable in its own way. The biggest plus seems to be that as a team I think Layman and Guillory have a great dynamic and understanding that shows through in the final pages and makes this one of the better creator-owned books in the market.

02. THE UNWRITTEN

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Writer: Mike Carey

Artist: Peter Gross

Publisher: Vertigo (DC)

First things first, I have to admit that I only started reading this series around it’s 10th issue and that too because I had been hearing and reading great reviews for it. This is something that I have beaten myself up for a lot since then and made it a point to never miss a single issue of this mind-bending tale.

In today’s day and age with technology and accessibility of information and people, this story strangely has a lot of relevance if you think on it. Following the journey of Tommy Taylor who is the son of a world-famous and beloved author who created a series much akin to Harry Potter, using his sons name for the titular character, this series resonates yet again on the culture of obsession with fictional characters and the fervour of fans.

We get to see the journey Tommy must undertake now that he is much older after the death of his father and as strange things start to happen to him. His nature, his identity and his very purpose and existence begin being called into question and before long his world becomes turned upside down as fact, fiction and everything in between starts to blend and intrude on his own life and reality. This past year Tommy’s adventures got kicked into a higher gear as he began to come into his own and take charge instead of just trying to keep it together in the torrents around him, soon becoming almost like a new man as he starts to put together what it was his father was up to over all those years and more. All this growth of course leads to the story as a whole moving further from the simpler real world with fantasy intruding into it, to a wild mix of the two with fantasy aspects getting much more room to thrive and entertain us.

With every mystery, conspiracy and dilemma from the early issues slowly leading to answers, Carey ups the ante and brings in a new question and a new mystery with shocking new twists and reveals that just keep you utterly absorbed in what you are reading. Of course the mind-bending artwork by Gross goes a long way in taking this fantastic story to a whole other level as his layouts and designs breathe an even greater energy into an already fantastic story and provides a visual feast for you to devour on every single page.

In the end though, this book at its core is essentially a testament and homage to the wonder and power of story-telling and the stories themselves and what they mean to people and the world, their impact and relevance. For anyone who is a reader and loves books and exploring the imagination frontiers, this will be a treat that you shouldn’t miss under any circumstances.

01. THE LI’L DEPRESSED BOY

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Writer: S. Steven Struble

Artist: Sina Grace

Publisher: Image Comics

I honestly don’t know what to say about this book folks. I mean I could babble on about it for ages and yet it would feel like overkill really because this is possibly the simplest little tale I’ve read in ages and unlike every other comic on my list (and most every other comic out there) there is very little “happening” as such. Yet within two issues it has become one of my favourite comics of all time and I wait like a junkie for his fix for the new issues of this series.

This comic is utterly brilliant in its simplicity and the emotion and humour that creator S. Steven Struble and artist Sina Grace have filled this book makes it something truly unique. I honestly believe that this is one of those comics that you will either love instantly or just not get at all, if you’re like me and will like it then you are truly in for something special.

To put it simply: this comic follows the life and times of the titles Lil Depressed Boy (known in-comic as LDB), who is rendered as effectively a blank slate that strangely makes it so much easier to allow the reader to relate to him and sink into the character. LDB is an everyman, not a sports-star or a hero of anything or rich and successful or surrounded by girls fighting for his attention. He is just an average guy, a somewhat sad kid making his way through life’s ups and downs and so much of what he goes through will resonate with many of us – a reason I attribute to the success that this series has found since its launch. He falls in love, gets his heart broken, hangs with his friends, reads comics and listens to great music – who amongst us cannot relate to that? This is a very human story, one that stays away from all the things that stories often tend to rely on and simply engages the reader at the most basic, most simple and most human level. I think pretty much every nerd alive will love this book if he gives it a chance and before you know it, you’ll be rooting for LDB and sharing his joy and sorrow from issue to issue.

Filled with lots of pop-culture, indie music references and cameos and a very real feel to it all, this book deserves every ounce of praise it gets for accomplishing what it has in under 10 issues. And what makes it even better is that Struble has managed to not only accomplish all this, but he has done it while retaining just the very barest thread of optimism instead of going the full-cynic or negative as would have been the easier way to write this and end up turning it into a tale of melancholy. Despite its name, this series is never depressing, it is VERY cautiously optimistic (like LDB) but never completely loses hope, a trait that I think a great many of us share when it comes to looking at the world at large. If you live in a bubble of happiness, away from the real world around us then I wish you well and good luck, for everyone else who see’s the good and the bad and has faced all the little peaks and valleys of life – you should give this little comic that could a try, I think you might like it.

And just because it bears saying, any comic that has a bowling match where you’ve decided to add “style points” to make it more fun (you know you’ve either tried it or want to now!) and leads to a bowling ball being launched Hadouken style to predictably disastrous but undeniably hilarious results is something special.

So there it is folks, the end of this little attempt – my first comic countdown as it were.

I do hope you enjoyed this and that you were inspired to pick up at least one or two of these treasures that deserve to be seen and spread around.

I will be back soon enough for 0-day reviews next week and then some more wayfaring for your reading pleasure, in the meantime have a good week and a great weekend ahead folks.
Cheers!

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