THE DCN FAVORITES OF 2020
Here we go again! (as a reminder, here’s how things shaped up last year: https://drivingcreators.net/top-ten/favorite-comics-2019/)
NOTE: White Ash is being published through Scout but also crowdfunded issue 5. The series doesn’t match up 1 for 1 between the crowdfunded and published issues. No matter, it is fantastic and is still a favorite (our favorite creator title last year) regardless of means of consumption. It sits between the criteria though so I’m mentioning it up front here along with its Scout library brethren Atlantis Wasn’t Built for Tourists. Originally crowdfunded as an OGN it is being given the single issue treatment now. These titles in particular epitomize one of the strategies that has helped propel Scout into the mainstream conversation. Excellent titles from fantastic creators that have a proven fan base isn’t something that is built into comic publishing. Given how consumption and availability have changed over the course of 2020 this means to an end has inserted itself into the conversation and is proving very successful. Both of these books may land outside of the two categories but absolutely land firmly on the 2020 Favorites list.
We kick things off with books put out by those fancy publishers we all love. There are several quality imprints from which to choose and our favorites of 2020 showcase this. Perhaps more so than ever the independent publishers have produced top tier books. No matter where you look on the rack you can find a comic that deserves to be not just on your pull list, but in your keeper box or on your keeper shelf. Truly you can look just about anywhere today and you’ll see a book from an indie publisher that, if there were no logo on the book, you’d swear was from a “top” brand or team. That’s the thing though. This year more than ever has shown that top brands and creative teams are finding and creating homes where THEY FIT and with imprints that are THE RIGHT HOME for their projects.
The book that began the acclaim for Vault came to an end in 2020. That end wrapped a truly magnificent book. Using Norse mythology to craft a tale that fights for the outcast and exiled was a stroke of brilliance. Deeply meaningful and executed to the point of importance, rather than preaching, Heathen is one of the most important books of the last decade.
SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN (Boom)
Fantasy and horror collide in the dark pages of SIKTC. Children are being slaughtered and a fantastical savior is all the town has to battle the evil. Just as horrific as the killings, the tales the children that survive tell are even more unnerving. The true brilliance in the book is the in-between though, as people try to process and reconcile what’s happening.
NO HEROINE (Scource Point Press)
Take Buffy, sprinkle in drugs and mash until you get an excellent redemption story. This is No Heroine. The dark gritty truth of recovering from addiction plays out literally and metaphorically in this book and it is beyond excellent. The battles against the Vampires is but the surface of the war that must be waged in order to come out the other side. Very well done.
DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN (Ahoy)
Campy comic goodness with some drama tossed in is exactly what superhero books need. Ahoy delivers with the second installment of the love letter to yesteryear. A second read through provides even more as commentary on the superhero narrative becomes quite clear, and is expertly done. And come on there’s a mystery right out of the Silver Age to boot!
Pulp is a dominant statement on the brilliance of this partnership. A departure from their norm, this reflection of life connects two times that both were and weren’t worlds apart. Bridged by an aging gunslinger turned comic writer, the Wild West and bustling 1930’s New York tell the tale of a violent life and the reality of its end.
SHADOW SERVICE (Vault)
Black Ops collides with Black Magic. Diving right into the moral questioning of doing right in both the personal and bigger picture senses, this book immediately establishes itself as more than just a supernatural detective book (which it is). Stunning visuals help punctuate the horrors involved. Excellent storytelling gives a sense of how deep this world is. Exploring it is both fun and frightful.
MONEY SHOT (Vault)
Through the universal language of sex Money Shot tells the awkward, comedic, tragic, empowering and revealing act of being real. Everyone has guilty pleasures and we’re all perverts in our own ways. Whether it’s actual porn, or a pornographic need for something, we’ve all got to get things done. If sex pays the bills for space travel and intergalactic heroism, why the hell not?
I love throwbacks and especially so in the horror genre. The classic interconnected tales of doom are on full display at the Pierrot Courts Hotel. While anthological in storytelling the creative team is consistent across the series which really seals the deal (and doom for some poor saps) for the book. Not just an update, but a very nice modernization of the Hitchcockian tale.
IT EATS WHAT FEEDS IT (Scout)
The perfect example of simple and to the point can be the most effective approach. Seducing in its tension and inviting in its terror, this book is powerful. Knowing you’re going someplace dark and terrible you reach out and take the hand it extends from the page anyway. The look of the book sets an atmosphere that genuinely sinks in and gets under your skin. There’s definitely a mood set between the covers.
SEA OF SORROWS (IDW)
Darkness hides all sorts of dangers and threats. Instead of the still of night it is the depth of the ocean that keeps the real danger hidden. Usually with anything involving Nazi anything things go sour. No different here except the how and by what means. These waters are not just icy, but filled with terror. As terrible as we are there’s something even worse waiting down below. Jump in, the water is cold and deadly as hell!
GOING TO THE CHAPEL (Action Lab)
It’s hilarious and absurd in all the right ways. Ultimately a love story by way of Tarantino and heist flick, mastery in comic making is on full display. Finally revealing just how good it is when it wraps, you’re going to wish it was more than four issues. We always hate how things never quite go how we’d like but that certainly doesn’t mean they don’t go as their supposed to. GTTC reminds us of that.
Small town big secret amirite? I am, and of course if it’s too good to be true then it isn’t. Horror works best when it is familiar and the setting for this book is just that. Even better, we get an over the top visual horror that is disturbingly perfect for the gurgling underbelly of our setting. Every type of ugly is given face time whether real, imagined, in the shadows, or in our face. Toss in satire that fits perfectly because why not?
CANTO II: The Hollow Men 2020 FAVORITE PUBLISHED BOOK
(The original Canto series was on our 2019 favorites list) The follow up to the epic all ages saga has landed as our favorite published book of 2020. As I’ve stated before, This is a brilliant piece of work. The real world emotion is still just as much of a driving force as the fantasy world that Canto resides in. The second installment delivers equally for both younger readers, and those of us that have been at this a while, just like the first one did. That’s part of the mastery of this book. Continuing their love for creation the creative team inadvertently (or perhaps on purpose) gave us the exact thing we have all needed this past year. There have been nothing but questions and fears about who we are, what we are, what we’ve done, and where we’re going. Inspiring and frighteningly poignant messages can be lifted directly from the pages of The Hollow Men and applied directly to this past year. Hope is one of the most powerful simultaneously dangerous things one can posses. This book takes the fine line we walk with hope and paints a tapestry of uplifting revelation that all of us need whether we realize it or not. As much as there is on the surface of Canto II, there is infinitely more being given to us in this book. Representative of the systemic chains that bind us (both literally and figuratively) the crux of this book’s storyline resonates with the social revolution we’ve seen across the world this past year. It is the perfect book, with the perfect message, in perhaps the most socially imperfect time we’ve ever had.
CREATOR FUNDED BOOKS
The creator funded books are powerful expressions of the true vision of those that make them. Year after year this route of comic making is producing works that not just equal, but in many cases far exceed what any known publisher is putting on the shelves. What’s more, is that the intimacy and involvement in the creation of these books that we the readers get is something that simply cannot be matched by a book done traditionally. These truly are the creations of the team behind them.
ELLA UPGRADED (Fair Spark)
Yes, Fair Spark has this title now but it was Kickstarted first! A gaming console for a brain is one heck of a tag line. There’s a nostalgic pull for older folks and an empathetic connection for younger ones that makes this story accessible to anyone that wants to give it a go. It isn’t just trope playing though as a very heartfelt story comes through.
KNIGHTS VS PIRATES (Reckless Hero)
Fantastic usage of existing legends and lore to create an entirely new adventure! Arthur and the KOTRT against Blackbeard and his band of misfits? Yes please. But there’s also the Holy Grail, a wormhole in the Bermuda Triangle, and uh the King of Atlantis? It’s a straight to the point wild ride of historical fiction and legend.
ACCEPTABLE LOSSES (Queer Comix)
Poignant delivery dealing with heroism and politicism. A far cry from its sibling works, this level headed statement on world affairs shows that messages can be delivered without campaigning an agenda. It works as a superhero book in just the same fashion by marrying real world events and struggles to characters that many can relate to.
THE SHOW (Jed McPherson)
The Black Mirror Truman Show is one hell of a social commentary. It pulls no punches in tearing down societal issues and reality tv’s connection to them. Raw and slightly disturbing but only because the truth of it can be seen, this book entertains while throwing its punches. That truth is uncomfortable but makes a great comic.
GIANTKILLER (Dan Brereton)
Yes it is an ‘old’ story, but this remastered homage to Godzilla and Kaiju inspired fantasy delivers all new fun. Absolutely gorgeous, GK can stand alone as an art book. When a volcanic wormhole rips open an unapologetic love letter of all things monstery is written. It reads like a movie and looks like a dream.
COMMANDER RAO (Hound Studios)
Expertly put together and visually fantastic RAO is a compelling tale of redemption. It begins with the ending and relives the tragic and heroic events. Folding the past and present together enriches the reading experience. Beautiful imagery guides us all through this captivating emotional tale that hits on a personal level.
20 FISTS (Frankee White)
A book about love and connection when the world needs it most. With vibes of cult classic movies the queer romaction uses the familiar storytelling devices to go back and forth in time to really set up the stakes for our main characters. Ultimately the books is about love and how sometimes even that isn’t enough. Or is it? Either way the tale avoids cliche trappings and delivers.
PALOMINO (Dark Planet Comics)
This noir infused trip back in time does well in creating a timeless feel to a place you thought you knew. The gritty in-between of the 80s Country Music scene is just as lively, and deadly as the stories you’ve already heard. There was a time when the Cowboy was an icon for all that was American, and this book dives into the crooked lines that many lives travelled.
REANIMATOR INCORPORATED (Andy Perry)
A fascinating re-imagination of a tale that continues to be an outlet for people to learn about their own humanity and what it means. You will find a scientific, philosophic and theological exploration using Lovecraft’s characters and concepts. This book pushes the boundaries of what we can imagine (just as Lovecraft initially did) while rooting our exploration in comprehension.
THE O.Z. (David Pepose)
The emerald land reimagined as a fantasy warzone? Not too far fetched if you remember the actual tale of Oz. Sticking to the hook of personal connection and every day relatability the O.Z. smashes together the beloved fairy tale and the cold hard truth of actual war. Even with the gritty real life overlay there’s plenty flying monkey fantasy still there from the source. It is a masterful blend of genres that brings about an engrossing dose of truth.
TALES FROM THE PANDEMIC (Mario Candelaria)
Old school comic love with seamless application of a modern look has born an expertly done period piece that certainly won’t be restrained by the times. The emotional gambit we’ve faced during this crisis gets a full discourse. All of us face our own demons and challenges when things are “normal” but tossing a global pandemic into the mix tests the resolve of even the best of us. A bevy of top notch artists tell Mario’s Twilight Zone-esque stories.
QUARANTINE (Jordan Thomas)
A unique approach to our common problem sees a singular story told by one and illustrated by 28. A family trapped in their apartment with limited info and their imagination running wild is the stuff of tall tales, except it was reality this year. Playing on that reality we’re given a glimpse at ourselves and just how far we’ll let our imaginations run in order to try and pacify the voice of clarity in our heads. Captivating and distubring, just like 2020.
ANCIENT NOISE 2020 FAVORITE CREATOR PUBLISHED BOOK
(Ancient Noise was a 2018 favorite but the third and fourth issues were delayed to 2020) I can’t get enough of the big lug SILVER. Wrapped in an entertaining package is a thought provoking tale of warning. Yes we are doomed to fall victim of the machinations of being human, and we all know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That’s a kind of summation of the events that have lead us to issues three and four in this series (with one more coming). It’s a little outrageous but it’s well written and down right beautiful. As a reminder there’s time travel, space bending, and a sentient gorilla named Silver. Of course there’s all sorts of goings on when the time travel mission goes awry. The nature of the book is quite simple really. It drops the pretense of what time could be and gets right to the ugly truth of what it absolutely will be would be should it ever become a thing. GREED AND PROFIT folks. It’s viewed through a lens of slapstick and dark humor while delivering an important message. Visually it is an absolute treat as well. Big splashes and vibrant imagery really hammer home the zaniness of approach to this book. Some of my favorite double pagers are in these books. It’s got a dynamic pop and is worth flipping through just to look at after you’ve read it through. I can’t wait for issue 5.
Truly an imprint for all ages, IDW has found a very nice niche in providing the perfect bridges and on ramps for comic reading. Yesteryear calls loudly with TMNT, Transformers, GI Joe and several other licensed hits. Cooperation with Disney/Marvel has also helped provide impressive titles/names to the stable of available books. Every age and type of reader can easily find a favorite book. That doesn’t tell the whole story though as they have added the likes of Usagi Yojimbo to the ranks. For me it is their willingness to embrace the breadth of comic making that has me looking over their releases. Hits such as Locke & Key, Wynonna Earp and October Faction have given rise to the likes of CANTO, Mountainhead and Sea of Sorrows. Diverse and open to all ages is one hell of a way to present yourself as a publisher. Other media outlets continue to take notice. Remember 30 Days of Night? That was IDW as was V Wars. For my money CANTO would be a dream as an animated series, and the Road of Bones/Sea of Sorrows ‘tied’ series would absolutely crush as an American Horror Story kind of show. Currently there are no less than five (that I can confirm) IDW properties that have been optioned. Right now IDW is nailing it.
VAULT COMICS (2020 FAVORITE PUBLISHER)
It’s no secret I’ve been a fan of Vault since day one (perhaps slightly before day one). They’ve only had books on the shelves for three years yet Vault is LEADING the evolution of comic publishing. One would think that honing in on a couple of specific genres would artificially limit what Vault could do. Nothing could be farther from the truth however, and in fact, it has been that razor sharp focus that has allowed them to blow the doors off conventional thinking in regard to comics. You can’t help but be grabbed by Vault books as you look down the shelves at your LCS. The demand your notice thanks to an absolute living legend of Design in Tim Daniel. What his designs represent on the outside is the care and love that Adrian Wassel employs in helping craft the stories inside. I’ve not seen as many creators openly and genuinely state their appreciation and admiration for members of the publishing team as have for these two folks. The rest of the Vault team puts in the work as well as is seen by partnerships like those with Heavy Metal and Brandon Sanderson, as well as seeing Vagrant Queen on SyFy! The tag line: Icons for Now, Iconic Forever Honestly it feels like they’re underselling pretty steeply. I’ve stated since forever that you can just about count on the latest book they put out as being their best. This has been illustrated by recent release GIGA nabbing 28,000+ pre-orders. It seems that the wider comic reading audience is finally tuning in to the critical acclaim Vault has been collecting since their launch with Heathen. They aren’t stopping either. Their YA graphic novel line WONDERBOUND launches in 2021, they announced that NIGHTFALL will be an imprint of sorts rather than a special seasonal line, and they’ve also started to really give collectors a reason to head on over to the selection with foil, variant, and special edition covers as well as the announcement of their second statue. Vault is the most mature 4yr old ever.
Good luck finding a publisher that has taken as many steps forward in a short amount of time as Scout did this last year. The executive shake ups and behind the scenes hires have been coupled with a shift in focus on creator curated titles shows their intent and capability to be a major player in comics. With books from Eric Palicki, the WordBros, and one from Mario Candelaria on deck you’d be smart to have a look. Innovative outreaching to the readers has helped Scout gain traction very quickly. Their monthly subscription box is a huge hit and allows easy, instant access to the entirety of their current releases. On top of that NOBODY does merchandise for their books like they do. They also directly interact with the readers and offer up exclusive partnerships for variants with the likes of ComicTom101 and CBSN. Oh, that’s on top of their own webstore exclusives. The first person to believe in a successful person, is themselves. Scout absolutely believes in itself and acts accordingly. They have good reason to believe. If you’re looking for something to believe in then look no further than Scout.