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Winter's Orphans: 8 Comics That Barely Missed Our Best Ofs

January 24, 2014  |  10:00am
Winter's Orphans: 8 Comics That Barely Missed Our Best Ofs

Last year produced some truly exceptional comics and artists, but there was still some cognitive dissonance when Paste decided to push the publish button on our best-of-the-year lists. Almost the opposite of “Oscar Season,” in which studios release their films in the Fall so voters and their goldfish memories select only the freshest pics, Paste tends to give more adoration to comics that have established a solid, consistent rhythm. Call it a strong appreciation for the long game.

Is this fair to the upstarts that bust out in Fall and Winter with superb opening arcs? Sure — we’ll still be around in 2014 with more arbitrary ranking hijinks. That said, there were some comics that challenged us to our core on this very issue. To avoid the politics of seasonality and shine some light on the late-year births, Paste presents its favorite comics from the latter half of 2013, as well as some that flat-out snuck past our radar.

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Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant
Writer/Artist: Tony Cliff
Publisher: First Second

Published in print this year after life as an acclaimed webcomic, there is nothing disappointing about Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, the kind of romp-through-lands-afar-and-times-past adventure that Hollywood did a fantastic job producing in the 1930s. The story moves with speed and grace, with little time given to sitting around and chatting. Instead, characters exchange witty repartee while flying a boat-plane, climbing an aqueduct or escaping from terrible pirates at high speed. Ms. Dirk herself is a whirlwind of wonderfulness, marrying skill at everything she attempts with a completely winning personality, due to both sharp writing and the variety of expressions writer/artist Tony Cliff puts on her face. What the man can do with a nose is lovely. A true all-ages comic, the book is the kind of thing that will leave you hungry for more. Hillary Brown




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Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists
Editor: Chris Duffy
Publisher: First Second

Just like First Second’s previous compilation of nursery rhymes rendered in sequential art, this anthology is nothing but quality. It trends a little older than toddlers, as some of the cartoonists opt for scarier versions of their tales. Explaining to your 3-year-old why Jaime Hernandez’s wicked queen wants to eat Snow White’s heart might be difficult, but that warning aside, the work is strong, diverse and interesting. Overall, this tome is perfect for the older elementary ages as well as for adults. Some chapters are cartoony and image-reliant, as with Graham Annable’s “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and Luke Pearson’s stellar “The Boy Who Drew Cats.” Others are more lyrical and word heavy. Gilbert Hernandez contributes a snappy “Hansel and Gretel,” and Charise Mericle Harper highlights a more obscure story with “The Small-Tooth Dog.” Hillary Brown




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Kitaro
Writer/Artist: Shigeru Mizuki (translation by Jocelyne Allen)
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Drawn & Quarterly’s compilation of late ‘60s supernatural manga by Shigeru Mizuki, Kitaro, is a delight. Somewhere between Tales from the Crypt and Scooby-Doo, these stories combine a mild spookiness with an entertaining taxonomy of monsters (plus some cameos by Westerners like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster). Mizuki’s stories are an important part of Japanese manga culture, but they’re not homework. They’re goofy and cozy in equal parts, in a formula that can be found in some of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. D+Q previously issued NonNonBa, Mizuki’s autobiographical comic about his grandmother who taught him everything about yokai (supernatural beings), but Kitaro is more fun. If you enjoy the EC compilations, this is a considerably less gory and worldly version of the same material. Hillary Brown




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Lazarus
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
Publisher: Image

Lazarus begins with your basic pre-apocalypitc premise: a handful of powerful families rule a crumbling earth in the future. If merely depicting the struggles of the have-nots or the evils of oligarchical governments were Rucka’s priorities, we’d relegate Lazarus to the ocean of dystopian tales flooding our Hunger Games-obsessed culture. But Rucka crafts a narrative centered on family loyalty and identity. Don’t be fooled — “family” is not synonymous with healthy relationships or charming dinner table scenes, and familial conflict catalyzes its fair share of explosions and kick-ass fight sequences (made all the more thrilling through artist Michael Lark’s sharply-detailed artwork). Rucka tosses characters into the proverbial fire to reveal their base motivations, and the 3-dimensional personalities populating Lazarus make it a world you’ll want to explore endlessly. Frannie Jackson




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Rage of Poseidon
Writer/Artist: Anders Nilsen
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Originally issued as a handmade book, meaning there were scant copies, Rage of Poseidon debuted to the masses last year in an affordable (but still beautiful) format. Creator Anders Nilsen is a philosophical writer and, indeed, a philosophical artist, but he likes to interject moments of shock, either comedic or violent, into his calm, clear meditations. This book isn’t as strong as some of Nilsen’s other work, but it’s a quick read that calls for return visits. A loose series of short narratives that envision the Greek gods walking among us and the transition between the Greco-Roman world and the Judeo-Christian one, Rage of Poseidon unfolds like an accordion, visually suggesting the unbroken story of history and mythology. Nilsen’s images, rendered as silhouettes, are stark and lovely, readying the reader’s mind for contemplation. Hillary Brown




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Sex Criminals
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Chip Zdarsky
Publisher: Image
Sex Criminals #1 is a splendid introduction to an immediately likable character, and the final twist is both genuinely unexpected and an intriguing set-up for the book’s true plot. I wouldn’t trust most comic creators to turn a sexual awakening into compelling pulp fiction, but Fraction and Zdarsky pull it off masterfully. Garrett Martin




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School Spirits
Writer/Artist: Anya Davidson
Publisher: PictureBox

Lost in the flurry of books PictureBox put out this fall before shuttering in December, Anya Davidson’s awesome, loopy graphic novel School Spirits is eminently memorable. Oola, a high school metalhead, daydreams her way through her classes, moons over famous musician Hrothgar, shoplifts and hangs out with her only friend; but to describe the book in such prosaic terms does it a disservice. These flights of fancy are similar to those of a profanely-minded Walter Mitty, as Oola’s surroundings (school, often) influence where her mind goes. Long, wordless sections of the book jump off from history or biology lessons into a surrealism that never telegraphs where it’s heading. School Spirits is unlike anything else that came out last year. Hillary Brown




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Tüki
Writer & Artist: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books

Cartoon laureate Jeff Smith returns to whimsical adventure with mythological undertones in Tüki (sometimes called Tüki Save the Humans), a new webcomic about the first human who attempts to leave Africa with the help of some ancestral primate friends. Tüki strikes a sublime balance between expertly-choreographed comedy and sweeping intrigue that should ring familiar to anyone who devoured Bone or Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil. The epic is still in its infancy, but it bears the natural grace and flow that Smith’s panels have traditionally exuded. Reading these comics is like absorbing a glacial morphine drip, and the fact that they’re organized into seasons à la Saga adds a new degree of delayed gratification. But anything Smith produces is worth waiting for, and Tüki will make one hell of an omnibus whenever it inevitably goes to print. Sean Edgar

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