The 11 of '11
With 2011 coming to a close we at 22 Pages decided to band together and discuss this year's most talked about and impactful events in the world of the comic book medium. As usual, it's been a year fraught with big ideas, revolutionary work and, of course, controversy. To witness this tremendous year in comics leaves quite a bit to reflect on and contemplate what is yet to comic from this versatile art form. With that in mind, we will start with our list of comic book events of 2011 with number 11 and count down daily until we reach number one.
1. Comics Turn to Digital
by Alex Correa
Paper cuts versus red eyes. Difficult to store versus easy to lose. We've all heard both sides of the debate between print and digital but has this year really decided a winner? This year's most popular stocking stuffer, and badge of the tech geek - the tablet computer - has helped define the digital medium and makes for a compelling case. Typically associated with print, comic books have a longstanding tradition of attracting readers to stores on Wednesdays (almost like a pilgrimage) as the only way to keep up with their favourites. 2011 may have been the catalyst in changing this custom with the huge push of digital. Comic book companies have caught on to this trend and have chosen this year to make some bold decisions.
August not only saw the debut of DC's 52 but was also the month that DC Comics began to offer day-and-date digital comics. Marvel also jumped on board this year by offering a redeemable code for a digital download along with Avenging Spider-Man #1, marking the first time that a publisher provided a free digital copy as part of the print copy of the comic book. Other imprints, such as Image and Dark Horse, also offer day-to-date digitals downloads for your fix of Hellboy, The Walking Dead, Umbrella Academy, Invincible, etc.
In addition to the major comic companies dedicating themselves to the new medium, the response to the digital comic format has been overwhelming. Among the top grossing apps of the year are DC, Marvel, The Walking Dead and, leading the pack, comiXology which offers reads from all major companies for free.
It's difficult to argue against the digital format now that publishers are standing firmly behind it. Even loyalists would admit that being able to get your comics at home for a cheaper price is a better deal. Whether the trend continues to grow into 2012 or regress back to print only, 2011 has undoubtedly been the year of digital.
2. DC's 52
by Alex Correa
For many years one of the biggest problems in mainstream comic books (Marvel and DC) has been its inaccessibility to new readers, both young and old. Prospective buyers would feel bogged down by that frightening concept known as "continuity." With good cause, too. Wolverine, for example, would have his own monthly comic, a mini-series, spots in three main X-Men comic books, the Avengers, X-Force, and any random guest appearances. Keeping up with a favourite character would just be too difficult.
Now just imagine a reset switch that would wipe out all pre-existing stories so that a character can start anew, free of that dreaded continuity. Although it sounds simple, this move runs the risk of alienating long-time readers, therefore driving off a crucial demographic of comic reader.
In 2011, DC Comics, not known for taking many bold risks took the boldest of them all and cancelled all their books only to start up a new line of 52 titles aptly dubbed "the 52." Gone was the long-standing marriage of Superman and Lois Lane. No more were the dense and complicated stories about multiverses or crises. DC Comics had taken this great gamble and it paid off: their books were accessible.
The payoff? Absolutely decimating their rival Marvel Comics in sales for three months straight. DC is finally back on top and shows no signs of relinquishing that top spot.
Personally, I'm just glad that I can read about a Justice League whose members haven't died and resurrected at least once. Continuity, we hardly knew ye.
3. Comic Creators' Deaths
by Alex Correa
2011 saw the losses of two great talents at two different epochs of their careers: Joe Simon, 98, and Dwayne McDuffie, 49. As with every death, it gives us a moment to reflect on the life and accomplishments of the deceased.
Back when Marvel Comics was known as "Timely Comics," writer/artist Joe Simon served as their first editor, helping out with titles like Fiery Mask and Daring Mystery Comics. Along with comic artist and legend, the late Jack Kirby, Simon delivered Young Romance, which is remembered as the first romance comic, paving the way for the success of other unlikely genres. His greatest accomplishment, however, could have been seen in theatres earlier this year: Captain America. Predating other propaganda-type comics of the 40's, Joe Simon decided to take the fight to Germany even before the United States even entered World War II by having his flagship character punch Adolf Hitler on the cover of Captain America #1. Viewed by many as having a life full of accomplishments and quite a tremendous impact on the industry, the loss of Joe Simon will be felt by many.
Arguably the more tragic loss came in February with Dwayne McDuffie's death due to complications from emergency heart surgery. An African American, McDuffie sought to bring ethnic diversity to a medium that was, at the time, suffering from severe stereotyping of minorities. In 1993, he co-founded Milestone Media, a comics imprint featuring minority superheroes such as Static, Icon and Xombi -- all of which are still around, currently in DC Comics. In recent years he has had a hand in adapting several DC direct to DVD animated films.
Both Joe Simon and Dwayne McDuffie have left admirable legacies and have each taken paths that are impossible to be repeated. Before 2012 begins take a moment to research about both these great talents, find out more about their work and see for yourself why their deaths will never be forgotten.
4. The New Ultimate Spider-Man
by Khaiam Dar
For a blip on the mainstream news radar in 2011 people cared that there was a new Spider-Man with black skin. Many of us regular comic readers didn't really flinch at the news. However, for Peter Parker loyalists, the protest wasn't that he was black but the fact that Peter Parker had always been Spider-Man, including his clone replacement in the 90's (technically speaking). Although this is the Ultimate Marvel Universe (a modern day retelling of Marvel heroes) this change came as quite a shock, even under the pen of Brian Michael Bendis, who has been writing Ultimate Spider-Man book from its start in 2000.
When Bendis found out that Community actor Donald Glover expressed interest in playing Peter Parker for the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man movie, but was passed for fellow uber geek Andrew Garfield, the prolific writer decided that a black Spiderman could work. Enter Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino inner city youth who received his powers months before the death of the Ultimate Marvel Universe's Peter Parker. Miles' story deals not only with coming to terms with his new found powers, but the hesitation and fear to fill the shoes of a real hero. He is in no way a Parker ripoff. His brilliantly written story pays homage to the struggles of being the outcast, like Parker, but piles on more troubles for the young Miles Morales. Academics may be tempted to put Ultimate Spider-Man under the lens of race, politics or whatever, but none of that matters. All you need to know is Ultimate Spider-Man is just a fine read. Pick it up.
5. The Release of Habibi
by Khaiam Dar
Fact: a follow up to something as well received as Blankets is no easy task. Let's add the fact that the project was pushed back almost seven years. Let's also add that it deals with incredibly sensitive subjects like religion, primarily the shared history between Christianity and Islam. However, when you take into account Craig Thompson's brilliant art and his ability to create an incredibly layered story, Habibi's success is no surprise. Thompson openly plays with the story tropes and stereotypes of orientalism while presenting a well-researched history of the connections within scripture. This is reflected well through the artwork (mostly non-digital, using ink on paper) as he tastefully illustrates metaphors (figureless metaphors) from the Quran, and pays homage to the intricacies of Arabic calligraphy. Habibi is yet another masterpiece which has Thompson at his best fearlessly portraying love, loss, faith, heartbreak, and hope.
6. The Watchmen Prequel
by Daniel Reynolds
The talk has been out there for awhile now. Have you heard? DC Comics has been firming up details for a big project that will involve some big names: Andy Kubert, Joseph Michael Straczynski, JG Jones, Darwyn Cooke, to name a few. This is a lot of talent. The names alone pique interest and create buzz. It would be enough for DC to sell a project on those names alone. However, the reason for the growing excitement is not the name of another talented person, but rather it is due to the title of the project itself.
No single word in comics seems to loom larger. Along with perhaps, The Dark Knight Returns, it stands as one of the key rites of passage for most comic fans. So, when rumblings first emerged that DC was planning a series of prequels, well, fans have been fired up. As the creative names attached have been rolled out and confirmed, anticipation has only continued to build.
There is baggage, however. A prequel? Really? Do we need to read more stories about Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach? Are people clamouring for more details of the Comedian's exploits? Would a Nite Owl story feature the junior and senior Owls bonding over a cup of Ovaltine?
But more significantly, how will the project fare without Alan Moore? Sure, those aforementioned names are talented, but Moore's work continues to stand, even 25 years later, as a singular achievement. Can more stories set in the Watchmen universe measure up without his deft touch? Is DC just continuing to cash-in on one of their more successful movie properties? Will this just dilute the unique power and mystique of the word Watchmen in the minds of comic fans? 2011 gave us a lot of time to ponder these questions and we'll have to wait and see for the answers.
7. The Ongoing Success of The Walking Dead
by Daniel Reynolds
The Walking Dead comic series started way back in 2003. In the intervening years, critical buzz for the series has spread, zombie appreciation in general has blossomed, and culture presence for zombies is at a high. To perhaps capitalize, in 2010, AMC decided it was going to get in on the ground floor of the new zombie craze and produce an adaption of the Walking Dead comic for the small screen. At the time of the announcement, it sounded like a gamble. Where was the precedent for success surrounding live action comic book adaptations for TV? Could a show based on a comic with a relatively small readership, built around a seemingly pointless crawl through a mountain of zombies be a hit? (Ok, admittedly, that part did sound cool).
Undeterred, the show debuted in 2010 with a mini season of six episodes. The ratings were better than expected. In fact, momentum would continue to build and the show would become the biggest ratings smash for any cable network (in the key 18-45 demographic) and something of a small saviour for AMC, as they saw meagre returns on any show without Mad or Bad in the title.
As the series returned in 2011 to much fanfare, the ratings bonanza continued. Like HBO's Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead has seemingly emerged at the right time with subject matter that is ready to be wholly embraced by mass audiences. At the end of the initial arc of the second season, the well-noted narrative problems for the series are continuing to be overlooked, the sometimes troubling behind the scenes shuffling (including the disappearance of original show runner Frank Darabont) has been largely forgotten, but the all-important big ratings remain.
In an interesting and unlikely twist, AMC's gamble has paid off and they have found their conduit to the masses. And it involves a black and white comic book about an endless zombie slog. On to 2012!
8. Comic Creator Battles
by Jordan Ferguson
The internet has bettered our lives in so many ways, but you know the real reason to thank the internet? Because it allows comics creators to engage in the same sort of ill-impulsive dumbshittery usually engaged in by readers. All the shit talking and passive-aggressive snark that used to get whispered in the hotel bars at convention is suddenly broadcast on Twitter for fans and haters to giggle over for eternity, and 2011 provided some banner examples.
From Rob Liefeld bitching at Marvel for refusing to solicit his unfinished work (while soliciting the unfinished work of others), to Alan Moore taking shots at Frank Miller for his infamous Occupy Wall Street rant, to Joe Michael Straczynksi's gleeful middle finger at the current state of Amazing Spider-Man and the subsequent bitchslapping he took from Mark Waid, comics creators publicly embraced their inner fanboys in all sorts of irresponsible fashion. And it was glorious.
9. Wizard Magazine folding
by Jordan Ferguson
There was no small amount of schadenfreude running through fandom when Wizard founder Gareb Shamus annouced last winter that the magazine had succumbed to the realities of the industry and was ceasing publication, making the transition to an online portal and running the successful series of WizardWorld conventions.
There were many reasons to find Wizard distasteful. The rag once called a "monthly vulgarity," by Frank Miller in his infamous Harvey Awards speech and almost drove Comic Foundry's Tim Leong to tears, made a lot of careers over its 20-year history. It also shamelessly hyped every event put forth by DC and Marvel regardless of quality and fueled the 90s speculator boom that almost killed the industry: the publishers were the ones putting out the Chromium/Holographic covers with coupons for Issue #0, yes, but Wizard was the one telling you that you had to have it, in their signature voice, a combination of fratboy posturing and fanboy toadying to their industry masters.
But you have to acknowledge, even begrudgingly, what Shamus accomplished. He took a glorified fanzine he published in his mother's garage and turned it into the dominating voice of the industry at a time when it had none. It may not have been the voice all of us wanted to hear, but it was necessary in its way, and its disappearance marks the end of an era, leaving fans worldwide bemoaning the loss of one more thing to complain about.
10. The return of Joe Madureira
by Khaiam Dar
As the most prominent comic book artist responsible for infusing a Japanese manga style art with the traditional American style, Joe Madureira was a powerhouse in the mid- to late-nineties at Marvel Comics working on their flagship book, Uncanny X-Men. After being gone from full time duties for over a decade he returns to the company that helped him get established. Despite only being two issues into the Avenging Spider-Man, Joe Mad brings back something to comics for nostalgic 90s readers: pure comic action fun. With new colouring techniques being applied without a traditional inker his style takes on and even more kinetic vibrancy and elasticity, perfect for the off-the-wall adventures about everyone's favourite wall crawler. The modern legend has come back, and with him returns the fast-paced, action-packed, cartoonish style that drew in so many readers in the 90s.
11. The release of Hark! A Vagrant
by Alex Correa
Written and drawn by Canada's own Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant is a humour publication of the highest order, satirising various historical people and events as well as classic literature. After having some of her work published at Marvel Comics, Kate Beaton won this year's Harvey Award for Best Online Comics Work and even had her publication listed in Time Magazine's top ten best fiction books of 2011. But why is it on this list of major comic book events? Well, this fellow Canadian proves to be an inspiration to those aspiring would-be comic creators at 22 Pages and she has managed to open doors in the mainstream through the versatility of her work and just by how damn funny her comics are.