Top Ten Countdown Continues
Copyright © 2013 Mark London Williams and Rick Klaw
And welcome to the conclusion of our conclusion -- our year's end two-parter, where Rick and I each run
down our a "top ten" out of all that we've read and written about this past year.
As Rick noted last time out, our lists diverge wildly (once again). This isn't because we have diametrically
different tastes (though, you know, that'd be okay). It's more a function of Rick and I reading different
things throughout the year, in order to be able to write about different things… throughout the year.
There's usually a wee bit of overlap though, and as you will see, we were both quite impressed by
a "graphical recounting" of a key moment in America's recent history.
And now, the envelopes please!
Primates by Jim Ottaviani (words) and Maris Wicks (pictures) (First Second)
If I ever wind up teaching a science class, I may populate the syllabus with Jim Ottaviani's work. I was a fan of his writing
in Feynman, also from First Second (and which made my "ten best" list that year), and here he takes on the trio known
as "Leakey's Angels," back in the Mad Men era -- those three accomplished primatologists, none "classically trained,"
each initially funded by famed archaeologist Louis Leakey: Jane Goodall (now "Dame"), with her studies of chimps, Dian Fossey and her
observations of -- and love for -- gorillas, and Birute Galdikas, and her pioneering observations of orangutans. Maris Wicks' playful
artwork does justice both to these environmental pioneers, and to all our endangered cousins, who these women studied, watched, and
advocated for. And in Fossey's case, died for. I found the thing entirely captivating, and it made me start looking up more
background on these "fearless" scientists (as they are called in the subtitle). And what better for a science-based work than to
make you ever more curious about the world around you?
The Secret History of D.B. Cooper by Brian Churilla (Oni)
After parachuting from a Boeing 747 with $200,000 in 1971, the never-caught D.B. Cooper entered into the late 20th century American
mythology, the impetus for numerous stories including Churilla's surreal comic The Secret History of D.B. Cooper. In a
conspiracy theorist twisted dream of reality, Cooper with the aid of a talking one-eared teddy bear wages a psychic war against
the Soviet enemies of the United States. Alongside his government assigned mission, Cooper hunts for his missing daughter, whom
he believes resides in a mysterious dimension known as the Glut. Meanwhile, enemy agents and even supposed allies attempt to
destroy the troubled Cooper. Churilla further enhances the uniqueness of his tale by relying on a non-linear framework and art
that ranges from cartoony to terrifying. The Secret History of D.B. Cooper, at times creepy and disturbing but always
intriguing, delivers a magnificent and original revisionist history.
March: Book One written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, art by Nate Powell (Top Shelf)
This may be the widest "gap" between a book that both Rick and I were moved by, during the year (and you can see where it wound
up on his list). And it calls up, really, the ridiculous nature of "ranking" or "besting" things. Never can I recall a top
four, for me, having such hair-breadth differences between them at the "finish line." They were all affecting, moving works,
speaking to different moments and aspects of history, and the human condition. Here, Congressman Lewis -- one of the few
remaining admirable figures, alas, in what is clearly an increasingly incompetent and corrupt legislative body -- documents
his own history in the Civil Rights movement, culminating in the March on Washington, and the single finest oration in the
nation's history. How sad, now, that this book becomes more necessary as a cautionary tale for the present, rather that
something we can merely consign to "history."
Mind Mgmt Volume One: The Manager by Matt Kindt (Dark Horse)
Over the past decade, Matt Kindt with works such as Pistolwhip, Super Spy, and Revolver emerged as a prominent alternative
cartoonist. His latest endeavor Mind Mgmt further enhances this worthy perception. Everyone aboard Flight 815
lose their memories. The event fascinates bestselling true crime writer Meru, who begins a life-altering journey for the
truth. Where is the missing passenger? Who are the mysterious Immortals that dog her every step? Why is the CIA interested? What
is the Mind Mgmt? And how does this all relate to Meru's existence? In Mind Mgmt Volume One: The Manager, a collection
of the first six issues of the ongoing series, Kindt evokes the best of Fringe in a dizzying tale of red herrings, conspiracy,
and mind-bending reality.
Jerusalem by Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi (First Second)
Boaz Yakin's Jerusalem, with art by Nick Bertozzi -- whose work I dug so much in the earlier Lewis & Clark opus
from the same publisher -- is a multi-generational epic about the founding of modern Jerusalem, as it passes from British hands
to Jordanian, and finally, to Israel. Here, Bertozzi's artwork seems even more assured in the service of Yakin's script,
with the author (a noted TV/film director) working off stories passed down in his own family. They show the
various "splinters" in Jewish culture, from the right wing Irgun and Haganah factions (guerrilla groups that were forebears
of today's ruling Likud party) to the left-leaning Marxists with dreams of Jewish and Arab equality in a worker's
utopia, to the effects that World War II, and the Holocaust, had on everyone's view of what was possible, and what was
necessary. Yakin also tackles the range of Jewish responses to Judaism itself -- from non-believers to pious hypocrites,
to devote worshippers willing to risk their lives for Zion, and everyone in between. Yakin has taken what is, in many
ways, an "epic historical script" -- one can see how this could easily make a TV mini-series, given its structure. Would
it have affected me as much had I not read in the same year I actually visited Jerusalem for the first time? Who knows? One
affected my experience of the other -- and isn't that the kind of power we always want our stories to have?
Punk Rock Jesus by Sean Murphy (Vertigo)
In the near future, a clone of Jesus stars in the reality show J2. After an American Idol-style determination
process, the young virgin Gwen is implanted with a fetus grown from genetic material supposedly cobbled together from
the fabled Shroud of Turin, and gives birth to the childhood on live TV. Troubled, former IRA operative Thomas McKae
protects the newborn and his mother from various attacks, primarily spearheaded by religious fanatics. As the conflicted
Chris, the name chosen by Gwen for her child, ages, he grapples with his televised reality. The teen "messiah" eventually
joins a punk rock band in an attempt to construct his own destiny. Murphy's scratchy, Ralph Steadman-influenced art and his
Hunter Thompson-infused script further enhance the alternative and edgy subject. Similar to the best of punk music, the
tale overcomes the seeming rough edges, revealing a better understanding of the world around us. Blasphemous, irreverent
and full of violent imagery, Murphy's brilliant, heretical Punk Rock Jesus expertly examines the role of religion in our
technological-driven 21st century society.
And here's where I finesse it. In trying to figure out the shades of difference in my top finishers, in terms of which
stayed with me more, I kept going back and forth. My #3 pick could even be my #1 this year, really (like the case to be
made for #4). In the end, for the first time, I'm keeping the second spot blank, and declaring a first-place tie. I'm
taking that as an indicator it was a very strong year for the work, indeed.
Hyperbole & A Half by Allie Brosh (Touchstone)
Compiled under the subheading of "unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that
happened," the masterful Hyperbole & A Half collects Allie Brosh's often humorous, sometimes poignant, but always
insightful illustrated essays from her award-winning website plus
new material. The funniest selections center around her two dogs, identified just as "simple dog" and "helper dog." Brosh's
revelations of the world from the canine perspective will ring true to any dog person. "Dogs Don't Understand Basic
Concepts Like Moving" ranks alongside some of the best absurdist works of David Sedaris. The unsettling tales from her
odd childhood range from laugh-out-loud funny to uncomfortably sad, often within the same story. Brosh's chronicles
of her battles with clinical depression offer powerful insights into the much-maligned and misunderstood disorder. At
first glance the art appears childish, but quickly reveals a construct that is purposefully child-like and works
perfectly in conjunction with Brosh's words.
On the Ropes, James Vance and Dan E. Burr (W.W. Norton)
This is the duo's sequel to their great, Depression-set Kings In Disguise. The new tale -- coming more than two decades
after the original -- finds the Ishmael-like wanderer, Fred Bloch, hitting the age of 17, and working at a WPA-funded circus,
with an escape artist named Gordon Corey. He's taken some blows -- literally -- since the last book, and in addition to the
circus work, finds himself in middle of some very violent labor upheavals. The story reads like a combination of Clifford Odets
and James M. Cain, with the plot barreling along at a mystery/thriller pace (replete with the bloodshed endemic to the
genre), along with Burr's Dorothea Lange-like art, providing stark, B&W images as the book moves toward its heartbreaking
reckoning. That might be one of Vance's main points -- that we continue in spite of our heartbreak. Or in spite of living in
heartbreaking times. Which people did then. And which people do now. As with my other "number 1" of the year, the book had so
much to say about not only where we've been, but where we are, that I just couldn't shake it.
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang (First Second)
Since this is really two books, I suppose you could argue I have a three-way tie for first! Each of these volumes
forms a "diptych" as the publisher calls it, each set during China's Boxer rebellion. In Boxers, we follow a male
character, Bao, who is on the opposite side of the conflict from Four-Girl, our protagonist in Saints. They briefly figure in
each other's story, in a harrowing way, and "moving the camera" between books actually makes that intersection more harrowing
still (since we already know what's coming). And Bao, really, is an even more tragic figure than Four-Girl, who is taken
with being a kind of mystically-empowered Joan of Arc for her people (as we remember how Joan ended up), though Bao,
ultimately, proves the more tragic figure. Caught up in trying to do the right thing by standing up to foreign imperialism
and occupation, and becoming part of a guerrilla army, he also becomes, essentially, a monster, capable of the same cruelties
he insists he's fighting against.No one is going to "win," in any meaningful sense of the word, in this conflict.
Yang, in these two books gives us history as tragedy, with little farce to lighten the mood, though he always has a deft
touch -- both as writer and artist -- with his characters.
And though you can read the books in any order, I think that sense of tragedy is heightened by reading Saints first,
and then Boxers. Though I'd be curious to hear from someone who read them in reverse order. Either they, they are
unshakeable works of comic art, showing brilliantly what the medium can do.
March: Book One written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, art by Nate Powell (Top Shelf)
Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) lead an extraordinary life at the forefront of the civil rights. With the aid of co-writer Andrew
Aydin and artist Nate Powell, Lewis recounts his early life as a sharecropper's son, his first meeting with Martin
Luther King, Jr., and the formation of the Nashville Student Movement. Powell expertly portrays the important personal -- stories
that include Lewis' childhood obsession with chickens -- and historical -- the terrifying moments of the nonviolent lunch
counter sit-ins and others -- events. Far more than an autobiography, March: Book One, told in a series of unforgettable
vignettes, relives a shameful era of institutionalized racism, the struggles for change, and the brave people involved.
And there you have the year that was. Comics keep "arriving" as stalwart, necessary contributors to the storytelling canon. As
for whether 2014 can top this year, for powerful work and breakthroughs -- well, we're about it find out!
Be well, and thrive much in the new year. May good holiday wishes keep coming true even on the most prosaic of afternoons...
Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series,
and a contributor to the fiction anthology Magical Mayhem Info on his work can be found at marklondonwilliams.com.
His horror novella for adults, Ghostdance: Showdown at Carthay Circle was recently released on eBook platforms.
Mark gets Twittery @mlondonwmz, and wishes you & your years a surprisingly splendid new year.
Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied
countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications
The Austin Chronicle,
The San Antonio Current,
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures
RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations
With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains
Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews,
and other things Klaw, Geek
Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century.
He can often be found pontificating on Twitter
and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.