Monday, January 4, 2016

2015: The Year I Got Real Into Comics.


It's strange to me that in old school (or sometimes, misguided modern day) books or movies or TV shows, kids that are super into comic books are depicted as the uber-nerds. And being a nerd in these tropes is always a BAD thing. The kid is always a loner, an outcast, or some other version of Different. Because to me, and especially these days, folks that are super knowledgeable about comics are, in fact, the UBER COOLEST. The kind of cool that knows using uber as an adverb isn't hip anymore! The kind of cool that I will likely never fully attain but that I am uber jealous of!

2015 was the year I started my attempt to casually meld into the comics world. Of course, it all started with Lumberjanes. I enjoyed the experience of Lumberjanes so much that I wanted more, more, more to help fill in the spaces between Lumberjanes issues. I started to learn some comics-world lingo--because there is totally a whole lexicon--and I started to learn that each comic shop is its whole little universe with its own quirks. I created a pull list at my local shop, felt less intimidated each time I went in, and by the end of the year, achieved my greatest comic nerd triumph: added so many titles to my pull list that I'm now on their Tier One discount level! PROCEED TO HOME, COLLECT $200!

I also learned that a comics habit can be a very expensive habit.

Since I mostly have the emotional sensitivities of either a very tender 11-year-old or a mostly conservative 86-year-old grandma, sometimes comics can be hard for me. I tried but quickly gave up on series that I heard nothing but rave reviews of (Rat Queens; The Wicked and the Divine) because I knew the violence was going to be too much. I braved through a few titles that were often too violent for me (Bitch Planet; Black Widow) but I stuck them out because my feminism overruled my fear (as it always does and should). 

But here are my Top 5 of 2015, the series that are almost never hard for me, the ones I always looked forward to seeing in my box at the comic book store, which I am absolutely cool enough to now have:

#5: Sex Criminals
Matt Fraction / Chip Zdarsky (Image)

As a youth librarian who sometimes has a hard time straightening out the life/work divide, reading books like this is so hard for me because it is SO GOOD but I can't tell students about it EVER or I will totally get fired. But I like to keep my blog squarely in my Personal Life Brain, so if a student somehow ends up reading this, I'm sorry (but not really).

Sex Criminals introduces us to Suzie and Jon, who hook up at a party and soon realize they hold the same secret: when they orgasm, time stops and magical stuff happens. 

In the first arc, they use this frozen-sex-time to plot robbing the bank where Jon works in order to attempt to save the library where Suzie works, which is about to be shut down. What makes Sex Criminals so good though is that while that premise alone sounds pretty freaking fantastic, there's so much else at play here. Sometimes I actually leave these issues to read last from my current stack of new comics because it's probably the heaviest comic I read, at least at times. Fraction joked once in the (extensive) notes at the back of each issue that people show up for Sex Criminals expecting the sex and then BOOM are hit with story lines about depression instead! Suzie and Jon's relationship can be hard and real as they both struggle with their own demons. But aside from relationships, there's also a ton of stuff in here about sexuality, morality, society, and feminism.

And, you know, a LOT of sex jokes. (A lot.) 

#4: Hawkeye
Matt Fraction / David Aja
Jeff Lemire / Ramon Perez (Marvel)

Hawk-guy! Of all the classic(ish) Marvel characters I attempted to introduce myself to this year, this series is just so freaking fun and fantastic. I love the art, the storytelling, I love Clint Barton, and I LOVE KATE BISHOP. I love Kate Bishop SO HARD. Kate Bishop is MY GIRL.

The Fraction/Aja Hawkeye that ran from 2012 until its final issue this year garnered about as much praise as it seems you can probably get in the comics world, and it's well deserved. I've also started reading the Lemire/Perez All-New Hawkeye series that picked up since then and I'm loving it just as much. I personally love the interweaving water colors of Clint and Barney's back story, and the humor is still totally spot on. And it's the humor of Hawkeye that draws me in the most.

Marvel editor extraordinaire Sana Amanat put it really well in her letter at the end of the Fraction/Aja series (don't worry, no real spoilers here), about why we all love Hawkeye so much:
"It focused on a character with no super-powers, who keeps getting the crap beaten out of him, who can't quite get his life right, but keeps trying to make others' better. While he may not have the power of Thor or the muscle of Steve Rogers, Clint Barton's character lies at the very heart of what makes Marvel Comics so great: He's so futzing relatable. Maybe we don't have those archery skills, the perfect aim, or the ability to take that many punches--but when we do get knocked down, we all want to have the invincible determination to get back up. And man, Clint had to do that a lot in this story." (He sure did.)

#3: Paper Girls
Brian K. Vaughan / Cliff Chiang (Image)

Considering there have only been three issues of Paper Girls so far versus alllll those issues of Hawkeye I read last year, maybe it seems unfair to put it ahead, but you guys, THOSE THREE ISSUES HAVE BEEN SO GOOD. A girl gang of teens in Ohio in the 1980s are delivering the morning paper in Cleveland, kicking ass, and then...well, then some alien shit starts happening. Even that might be too spoiler-y. The guy at my comic shop basically just told us we HAD to read this when it first came out: "They're paper girls...I really can't tell you anything else. BUT JUST READ IT, IT IS SO GOOD." Thank you, guy at my comic shop!

Even in just three issues, the character development of these girls is so awesome and I love all of them. I think I would read a comic about them even without the alien stuff. But the alien stuff is real good, too. (And creepy, which I am pushing past my grandma sensitivities to enjoy. I am very proud of myself.) I am so pumped about continuing to read this in 2016.

#2: Ms. Marvel
G. Willow Wilson / Adrian Alphona (Marvel...but duh)

There are almost no words to describe the depth of my love for Ms. Marvel. If you haven't heard of Kamala Khan in the past year I feel like you probably don't care much about reading. And in which case, I think you should really give reading a second chance for Kamala Khan. Here's the scoop: she's a Pakistani-American teen living in Jersey City and one day a terrigen mist takes over the town and gives her funky but awesome polymorph powers. She's the first Muslim to ever headline a Marvel comic, and she's the best. She's geeky and fangirl-y and smart and righteous. She struggles under her family's expectations at the same time that she's loyal to them. She is insecure sometimes but always infectious.

And then there is BRUNO! I have major Bruno feelings, you guys. On top of Kamala-discovering-her-super-powers fun and Bruno feelings, other famous Marvel characters appear here and there, and the bad guys are alwas fun to hate. Everything about this series is solid.

#1: Lumberjanes
Shannon Watters / Grace Ellis / Noelle Stevenson / Brooke Allen (BOOM Box!)

I think it takes a tremendous amount of talent to create something that appeals to literally every age of humanness. Reading this series over the past year, it felt like something that was created just for me, perfectly right now, in my 30s. I also feel great about buying it for my high schoolers, and it's also featured in Scholastic Book Fairs making their way through elementary schools this year. Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types is the summer camp every kickass lady or queer kid or human being who's always felt a little quirky has longed for. If I was able to attend it, would I handle all the monsters and adventure with the same pluck and courage that the Lumberjanes do? I don't know, but I like to hope so. 

The Lumberjanes, every last one of them, feel like your friends from Issue One, and finding friendship and joy and comfort in the pages of a book--or comic--is exactly what literature is meant to do. The world is a better place now that this comic exists.