January 4, 2012 at 10:38 am By:

If superhero books in 2011 largely focused on both sweeping company-wide changes and numerous relaunches, what can we say about indie and genre books of the recently past year?  A few years ago the industry was rightly blown away by the genius work of David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp.  2011 didn’t necessarily have a single book that was hands down an instant classic, but if you had to choose one book that impacted the industry, it was Love and Rockets: New Stories volume 4Jaime Hernandez has been telling the story of Maggie and her friends in real time for over 30 years, always entertaining us with how he has chosen to develop his characters, always impressing us with his ever-focused art.  Volume 4 was one of the first times I can remember where creators and fans were open about how emotionally moved they were by a comic.  This is a tribute to Hernandez’s ability to tell stories that are not only practical and appropriate, but also unafraid to themselves be actively emotional in an unforced way.  If you’ve not experienced Love and Rockets before, you are doing yourself a great disservice.  This is genuinely one of the finest comics of 2011.

Elsewhere in “Indie” books of 2011 we saw the long awaited release of Craig Thompson’s Habibi.  A book nearly 8 years in the making, Habibi was a powerful statement from an artist who has spent his career constantly pushing his own boundaries and the boundaries of the comics form.  Standing tall at over 650 pages, Habibi exemplifies the work of a still hungry artist who is not content to fall into repeating patterns.  While Habibi was rightly controversial, any person would be hard pressed to walk away from reading the book without a greater sense of respect for Thompson as a creator and the potential of comics as a whole.

Unlike Thompson, Dan Clowes is an artist who has regularly released new comics every few years.  2011 was one of Clowes’ most prolific years to date.  Following up 2010’s acclaimed Wilson, Clowes offered up Mister Wonderful, which can be seen as a bookend of sorts to Wilson, or perhaps the flip side of the Wilson coin.  In addition to Mister Wonderful, Clowes released a deluxe, expanded version of his classic The Death-Ray, which contains one of the most interesting explorations of the superhero genre we’ve seen from a non-superhero artist.

Big Questions was finally released in a single format this past year.  Collecting all ten years and 600+ pages of work from Anders Nilsen, Big Questions is a great example of an artist’s development over a decade.  It’s also one of modern comics finest examples of the employment of fable as a commentary on humanity.  Nilsen’s magnum opus was always well received as it was released in single issue format, but there’s something about seeing and experiencing the completed book in a single published volume that makes you realize how significant the book is to comics of the past decade.

On the non-Indie genre side of things, one of the biggest stories of 2011 was the success of AMC’s Walking Dead t.v. series.  What does a t.v. show have to do with comics in 2011?  Suffice to say, the television adaptation and reworking of Image’s Walking Dead comic brought lots of new readers into comic shops, many undoubtedly for the first time.  I’m still surprised when someone comes into the store to buy a gift for a niece or nephew, sees a Walking Dead collection, and remarks ‘Wow, they made a comic of the show?’  Numerous people who realized the comics came first have subsequently made return trips to the store to continue reading Robert Kirkman’s monthly comics.  The Walking Dead phenomenon has brought up some interesting prospects for television and comics, and how the two mediums can work together to inform new audiences.

One of 2011’s other significant genre happenings had to be Mike Mignola’s decision to kill off his ever popular character Hellboy.  While Hellboy will continue in 2012 in the Mignola-penned and illustrated “Hellboy in Hell” storyline, the creator has spoken about how important it is to allow characters and stories to develop, change, and grow over time.  He has always made a point of stating that when characters in his books die, they stay dead.  It’s a testament to Mignola that he works hard to eschew creative stagnation by allowing ideas and themes to run their course.  One need only look at Mignola’s numerous other properties like B.P.R.D., Lobster Johnson, and the Amazing Screw On Head to see that his work always operates within this dictum.  Fans have been clamoring for more Amazing Screw On Head stories,but he won’t make them because he feels that he already achieved what he hoped to within the one book.  These books are also exemplary of how Mignola surrounds himself with quality storytellers and lets the characters progress in their natural state.  When a creator cares more about staying true to his characters and stories than he does about regurgitating material, the industry is all the better for it.

As with my post about superhero comics in 2011, there were just far too many indie and genre books to talk about here.  Many others made a big impact on readers and the industry as a whole.  So, what indie and genre books from 2011 really impressed you?  Did you discover a new creator whose works you’ve gone on to seek out?  With 2012 just starting, are there any big indie or genre books coming out this year that you’re excited about?  This is your blog too, and we’d love to hear your thoughts!


Filed Under: DISCUSS, Looking Ahead, Opinion, Reviews

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