Guttergeek Column: EISNERS FORUM CONT’D

Posted by on April 28th, 2010 at 9:35 PM

The nominations for Best New Series reveal two things: First, this is the closest contest of all the Eisner categories. The committee did a good job of identifying the best new comics of the year and recognizing a good variety of material. Second, this was a pretty good year for morbid comics. I’m not sure what it says about the comics industry, but it’s strange (and frankly disconcerting) that Obama’s first full year as president yielded such a great new crop of dystopian comic books. In any case, here are the contenders:

Best New Series

  • Chew, by John Layman and Rob Guillory (Image)
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick, art by Tony Parker (BOOM!)
  • Ireedeemable, by Mark Waid and Peter Krause (BOOM!)
  • Sweet Tooth, by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo/DC)
  • The Unwritten, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (Vertigo/DC)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a great book and an incredibly ambitious project, but it’s probably not going to win this award. When BOOM! Studios announced their plans to adapt Philip K. Dick’s classic sci-fi story (on which Blade Runner was based) in graphic form, I didn’t think much of it. Comics adaptations come, go, and rarely register. But when BOOM! said it would be a 24-issue, word-for-word adaptation of the story, I was genuinely surprised and impressed. Tony Parker’s art has been solid throughout the first ten issues of the book, and the new back-matter at the end of each issue (supplied by a wide range of creative artists working in prose fiction, comics, and film) provides added value that makes the cost of each issue seem worth it. This is an archival project like none we’ve seen in comics before. But over the long term, it’s also a cost-prohibitive project—especially for a story that’s been available in prose for decades. It’s not like casual readers are following the book to see what happens; we know what happens. And for that reason, despite Dick’s visceral prose and Parker’s fresh rendering, this book has trouble completely living up to the “New Series” label.

Sweet Tooth is the biggest wild card in this category. It could win or it could come in last. I really don’t know how voters are going to perceive this book. I will say that, of all the books in this category, Sweet Tooth is the one that resonates most with me emotionally. It’s not my favorite new series, but it’s the one that sits in my head the longest after I’ve read an issue. If The Unwritten is Vertigo’s best new logos, then Sweet Tooth is its best new pathos. Lemire’s coarse rendering of posture, anatomy, and landscape are well-suited to this post-apocalyptic story about a mutant deer-horned boy on a road trip. (Lemire describes it as “Bambi meets Mad Max.”) What he does with characters’ eyes is extraordinary. This is a bare and quiet story, but one that carries great emotional heft. The fact that Lemire provides both the writing and the art for the book (a cartoonist in comics? what?!?) also wins points with me. The problem is that the story is becoming more predictable and a little too familiar as it unfolds. I also don’t know if it’s deep enough to win out over the structural complexity of some of the other books in this category.

Irredeemable is one of those books that seems built to last. I’m not going to dispute Jared’s statement that the first six issues were stronger than its last six (and the recent Special), which at times have felt stilted. But I do think Waid has this series pretty well planned out, and the overall structure allows for a good mix of forward movement and flashback revelation. Waid is writing a really compelling (at times horrifying) anti-Astro City, and the fact that Peter Krause’s art is strikingly similar to Brent Anderson’s makes the book’s dark mirroring of Astro City even more effective. I’ve enjoyed this book enough since it began last year that I’ll probably stay with it for the long haul. But the fact that Irredeemable started out so tightly and is getting looser as it goes along might work against it in this category.

Chew seems to be the favorite to win. I’m not going to say odds-on favorite, because this contest is too close to call definitively. But Chew seems to offer the clearest example of something “New” in this category. I’m not sure how to describe this book’s premise, so I’m just going to let it speak for itself:

This series is bizarre, disturbing, hilarious, and entirely unpredictable. Sometimes these characteristics work against it, and I find it hard to take the story seriously. But that’s kind of the point. Layman and Guillory don’t take much of anything seriously, so Chew ends up being a lot of fun to read. (Profane and occasionally nauseating, but fun.) Its tone and aesthetic are similar to that of Eric Powell’s The Goon (which I love), even if its plot and influences are completely different. Another one of Chew’s strengths is that it truly is a collaborative book in which the writer and artist are equally integral. Layman’s morbid sense of dark humor is reflected well in Guillory’s use of tortured facial expressions, frenzied layouts, and a seemingly endless series of sight gags. Of all the series that debuted last year, Chew seems to best exemplify material that’s wholly original and peculiar. It also probably appeals to the widest spectrum of comics readers (both mainstream and indie).

That said, I don’t think Chew is this year’s best new series. Of all the books nominated for this award, The Unwritten is the one that I won’t hesitate to read the day it is released every month. Mike Carey is turning in the best work of his career, and Peter Gross’ artistic versatility makes every story—every story within every story—seem new and vibrant. Many Vertigo books have been proclaimed the “Heir to Sandman” since 1996 (most notably Fables, which does come close), but The Unwritten is the first book I actually believe has the potential to live up to that title. It’s a deeply layered book—one that tucks stories into stories in an attempt to understand how fictional narrative functions in cultural consciousness. The Unwritten is also very much of its age. It’s a hyper-modern book that embraces contemporary media and shows how our perceptions of storytelling are influenced by—and reflected in—the ways we communicate in the 21st century. The main storyline is intriguing (even if some have dismissed it as being derivative of concepts like Harry Potter and Books of Magic), but the one-shot side-issues (#5 and #12) suggest that there’s much more going on behind the scenes in Tom Taylor’s world. It’s going to take some time to figure out where it’s all heading, but that’s fine. There’s no real filler in The Unwritten. It’s all significant, it’s all good, and it’s incredibly rewarding.

  • Will Win: Chew
  • Should Win: The Unwritten
  • My Pick If Asked At Random On An Overcast Day: Sweet Tooth
  • Shoulda Been Nominated: The committee nailed this one. These are the best new books of the year.
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