Some of the best comics of 2017

Well, damp sack of Krampus, 2017 has sucked, huh? But it turns out that in between the crying and general existential dread, comics creators have still found time to pen responses to the rising ambient horror, or delightful escapes from it. 

We've been on hiatus for a while, and there's no best-of podcast this year. But apparently Roger wrote his 2017 list anyway. Muscle memory or something, we don't know.

Anyway, here's a quick roundup of the books we really, really liked, out of the reading we did get round to in 2017

Pantheon - Hamish Steele

Mythopoeia with the mind of a smutty schoolboy. Calling this an irreverent retelling of Egyptian myth doesn't quite cut it. This book is a big daft delight. 

The art style is this brash, side-on valley-of-the-kings-papyrus pastiche, via Saturday morning cartoons (leading to an amazing visual gag), and it covers the (mis)adventures of the ancient pantheon. From Atum wanking the world into being to the rise of man. 

It helps that the source material really is that weird - this is a well-researched piece, and also the funniest thing I have read in years. Pantheon has pitch-perfect comic timing and a real ear for change-of-register gags. 

Livestock - Hannah Berry

You know how we mentioned that the world is like a special recursive trash fire somehow made of other trash fires? This is a response. An indignant howl at the sickness of where we might be headed and the injustices of quite how.

A government department just let slip that they quietly legalised human cloning in a PFI blunder, and are now trying to clear up their mess. The public of course are more interested in the antics of suspiciously squeaky-clean, childlike, and on-message pop star Clementine Darling. 

Livestock really lets its world emerge, without ever feeling quite hectoring or overly on-the-nose. It's interspersed with social media splashes and tabloid fragments, and it opens deep in its own celeb-culture narrative, letting the reader slowly realize (and  want to scream at its characters for not caring about) what's going on. It's brilliantly constructed.

Hannah Berry's visual style here is soft, really letting the faux-cheery plastic monstrosity of it all unwind as you read. It's things astonishingly loudly unsaid, around completely plausible cynicism. It's media manipulation, energy companies lionized like sports teams, people like fungible meat. Read it with a stiff drink, but read it. 

Something City - Ellice Weaver

Beautiful life-vignettes in a colourful pseudo-pace. Ten intertwined stories in a strange city. We reviewed it here, and enjoyed it tremendously.

In particular, Weaver's visual style here feels really fresh. Layered-up screen prints give a feels that's both blocky/architectural and loose and casual. Again, check out the review for a bit more.

The Backstagers - James Tynion (writer), Rian Sygh (artist)

Actually lovely. You entirely can do sincere charm while winking to the reader a little and this does that. Who'd look backstage at a high school drama club? Surely the techies and prop makers couldn't be up to anything as interesting as the actors

Yeah, so, obviously there's an interdimensional portal to a world of confusing wonder and mild peril that must be kept at bay by endearing misfits. And such endearing misfits. Did I mention lovely? Backstagers is warm and kind, and kinda queer and inclusive. It's got a cartoony feel occasionally breaking into intricacy, and really good use of light. We did a podcast on what feels like a new wave of sincerity and this was front and centre in my picks.

Spinning - Tillie Walden

Tillie Walden excels at filling little spatial scenes with emotion and felt life. Her figure skating memoir is no different. Changing high schools, the pressure of competition, coming out and finding first loves, it's all there with her charged use of light and shade, and the movement of space around her.

Godshaper - Simon Spurrier (writer), Jonas Goonface (artist)

It's a neo-dustbowl bluesman future future. Technology doesn't work, and money doesn't exist, but everybody has their own personal god. Or almost everybody. Also, the colours are gorgeous. 

Spurrier has a history of bloody nailing high concept and this is no exception. 

It's the story of Ennay, a "godshaper" - a pariah with no god of his own, but the ability to shape the gods of others, and Bud, a god (fittingly) without a person. Also: a kind of weird fantasy skiffle/blues/something alt music genre, mobsters, pansexual nomads, and beautifully, gloriously weird visuals. A little bit like Carnivàle but funny and not relentlessly depressing. 

Things everybody else thinks are great but we haven't read yet 

Well, if anyone wants to buy us presents...

What? Of course it's just Zainab's list.

Still good!

The series we already loved and have carried on loving this year:

Other lists

Don't just take our word for it. Look:

So, yeah, 2017 had some comics, huh. What did we miss? Can haz comments? 

Six-Gun Gorilla by Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely

Subtext is all well and good, but sometimes it's just better when it's shouted at you by a massive, heavily-armed primate.

Six-Gun Gorilla is something I’ve wanted to write about for a while, but I've been holding off for the last issue. Throughout its run Six-Gun Gorilla has stressed the importance of ending a story, and it seemed only fair to hold off for an ending. I’ll be honest - I didn’t expect or even necessarily want something clever from this book. It’s called Six-Gun Gorilla, for heaven’s sake. It should be the best-selling comic on that alone. And yes, I bought it because of the title, and the artwork appealed, and it seemed a good fit for me. And while Six-Gun Gorilla (6GG from here on out) is a Western with a heavily-armed monkey, that's really the set dressing for a story about the value and nature of fiction, and how fictional and real-world narratives differ.

Six Gun Gorilla

About that art: Jeff Stokely is a revelation. His style jumps between cartoonish and highly-detailed from panel to panel, with an assurance that belies the fact that he's only been working as a comics artist for a short time. The level of detail controls the pacing of a scene just as surely as panel structure does, the more complex panels holding the eye for far longer than the more simplistic ones. The scene below is a good example.

Six Gun Gorilla Panel Progression

Aggressive foreshortening and movement recall classic comic artists, and dream / subconscious sequences allow for some nods to other comics, notably Lupin III. Basically, if you value versatile, inventive and assured comic art, Jeff Stokely is your guy.

So, that story. There’s a parallel universe called the Blister, where government and rebel forces fight for control, as they have for generations. Into this are thrust Blues, people drawn from the ranks of the desperate and the suicidal with the promise of money for their families, or a chance to die in dramatic fashion. Implanted with a ‘psychic tumour’, they broadcast the war back to Earth for hungry, bovine audiences. We follow a man just known as Blue, as he negotiates this powerfully hostile environment and decides he wants to live after all.

Six Gun Gorilla BoomBlue is a librarian, a genre / pulp specialist whose obsessive cataloguing of old stories drove him apart from his wife, leaving him ready to die. His awareness of genre is key to the tale, as Spurrier takes the opportunity to berate him, and by implication the reader, for importing pulp and Western tropes to the story that is, after all, just about a sandy frontier full of settlers, warring factions and treachery. Story - Spurrier's Story, possibly all stories - is far too important to leave to lazy clichés to fill in. There's a fantastic scene where Blue "wins" - for an incredibly simplistic version of winning. Bad guys are killed, Blue is left rich, but as perspective draws further and further back, leaving him a speck, he realises how empty this matinee-movie ending is.

Blue sees the world purely through stories, but everyone else in 6GG only watches the never-ending narrative of the war. This is at the core of the tale - Blue must learn focus on his real life, learn that he's not necessarily the protagonist, but his actions also teach others the value that lies in fictional narratives. There is, of course, a certain amount of sci-fi hand-waving needed to create a framework in which this is possible, but it means the story can be told, albeit a touch incoherently at times.

Lies to make you feel

Would it be too much to read that the two forces fighting to continue a story far beyond its natural ending represent Marvel and DC, trotting out unending stories of uncomplicated heroes for fun and profit? Probably, but I’d be surprised if it hadn’t crossed Spurrier’s mind.