[Outside the Frame] My Favorite Comics of 2012

The holidays are a time to be thankful, to remember what was good about the year, and to give to others. Personally, I am thankful that I get to read ground-breaking comic books and talk about them every week on a Hugo-award winning fan site. While fans of mainstream comics had several reasons to be disappointed with the decisions made by the DC and Marvel – Before Watchmen, the New 52Marvel Now!, and the Batgirl firing/rehiring of Gail Simone are just a few of the controversial choices – 2012 was a great year for independent and small press comics. I looked back over my notes and put together a list of my favorite comics in case you missed something you’d love.

If you didn’t happen to find these great titles under the tree, you can always get them for yourself now (I won’t tell).

They’re listed in alphabetical order because all of these books are amazing, and it’d be difficult to rank them any other way. I’ve already reviewed a couple here at SF Signal (Click on the links to read my full reviews):


Atomic Robo, Ghost of Station X written by Brian Clevinger, drawn by Scott Wegener. Published by Red 5 Comics. (Jun 27, 2012)

It follows Robo as he tries to unravel the mystery of a missing building, escape multiple perils, and discover which shadowy organization is trying to kill him this time. What I love about this story arc is that it goes back to what I think makes Atomic Robo great – the creators take something mundane, average, like a convoy of truckers, and shows that everyone has the potential to be great. You don’t have to be rich to love science, and you don’t have to be “normal” to be cool.

Tails, Book 1 by Ethan Young. Published by Hermes Press. (Sep 4, 2012)

Young’s deft handling of the story leaves one surprised and deeply moved. The character is unreliable as a boyfriend, a son, and a narrator, and Young lets us see the vast difference between Ethan’s perception and the actions of everyone around him. The character is insecure, and dark, but at the same time, there is just enough vulnerability to him that you don’t want to give up on him. He’s broken, and the reasons for that are told in flashbacks and family arguments all throughout the story, but he also wants to be loved.

He just doesn’t know how to make that happen.

Because I started my column late in the year, I couldn’t review everything I read. There are other wonderful titles I haven’t gotten to talk about yet:

Fatale, Book 1: Death Chases Me, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Published by Image Comics. (Jul 10, 2012)

Though I don’t cover Image titles in my regular column, they produce some of my favorite work. Because they’re creator-owned, each title is envisioned and directed by the people who write and draw it.  Fatale has a disconcerting familiarity for anyone who knows Brubaker’s work, or who’s a fan of Lovecraft’s Mythos fiction. Since I fall into both categories, this story of a timeless woman wrecking havoc – complete with weird cults, Hollywood directors, and a gritty noir style – makes me very happy.

Last Days of an Immortal by Fabien Vehlmann and Gwen de Bonneval. Published by Archaia Entertainment. (Dec 4, 2012)

What if we could make echoes of ourselves, and create new bodies to house our minds when our old body dies? In a society where everyone is immortal, this book looks at what happens to death when it’s a choice. Add to that the interaction with alien life and it’s clear why future humans developed ‘Philosophical Police’ to solve conflicts that otherwise might have ended in death but now … don’t end. Police agent Elijah has to stop two alien races from going to war, save the universe, and deal with his close friends deciding that being an immortal isn’t so wonderful after all.

Ralph Azham 1: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love? by Lewis Trondheim. Published by Fantagraphics Books. (Oct 24, 2012)

The only 8.5″ x 6.625″ sized comic on this list, Ralph Azham has more of a cartoon feel than my other choices too, which is influence by the shape of the pages but also the rounded characters and color choices. The cute cat and duck people inhabit a story that is dark, magical, and dangerous. Everyone, it seems, is hiding the truth. But, why?

Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology, edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow and Jerry Ma. Published by The New Press. (Nov 6, 2012)

Shattered is the second in a series which features  stories and art entirely by Asian American creators. This volume features work from Roger Ma (author of the Vampire Combat Club), Tak Toyoshima (Secret Asian Man), G.B. Tran (Vietnamerica), Gene Yang (American Born Chinese), Bernard Chang (Supergirl) and Sean Chen (Iron Man), among others. It improves on the first volume with better art, a more cohesive overall theme, and sharper criticism of the “role” of Asians in comics.

The Hive by Charles Burns. Published by Pantheon. (Oct 9, 2012)

Sequel to the brilliant X’ed Out, this personal – and very weird – story is told in layers of dreams, flashbacks, and hallucinations, mixed into a much-praised homage to Tintin.

Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe Doug, the amnesiac main character, has been kidnapped by aliens who had a distinct lack of menial laborers on their planet.

Or, maybe…

Tune: Vanishing Point by Derek Dirk Kim. Published by First Second. (Nov 13, 2012)

Kim is the author of the award-winning Same Difference and the director of the popular web series Mythomania. Kim calls Tune a “a sci-fi slice-of-life romantic comedy adventure of interdimensional proportions.” Featuring an art school drop outwho takes a job as a zoo exhibit in a parallel universe, it somehow still manages to encompass a very real and very sweet look at first love and missed chances.

Next week: Tale of Sand, written by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl, illustrated by Ramon K. Perez.

Want me to review your work? I’m primarily looking for comics with a speculative fiction element, in keeping with the theme of SF Signal, but if your comic is fantasy, science fiction, horror, weird, magic realism, or some other style of “strange”, let me know! You can reach me at carriecuinn@gmail.com, or leave a comment below.

4 thoughts on “[Outside the Frame] My Favorite Comics of 2012”

  1. Lot of great stuff to check out here Carrie, thanks. It is a nice change to see less well-known comics get a chance to shine. I hadn’t heard of Fatale but the cover grabbed my attention and the story inspirations are right up my alley. I’ll be taking a look for this at my local comic shop on Wednesday. Several of the others I’m going to have to note to try to track down from the library as they are intriguing.

    1. Thank you for reading. Fatale is dark and brilliant, and appeals to a certain kind of person (me, for example). You should adore it. The rest are great too, all worth looking for.

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