AISLE SEAT 2.0.68: TEN FOR 2011

By Marc Mason

Even though it seems like it, I have not read every graphic novel released in the past year. So it would be foolish, not to mention arrogant, to put together a “ten best” list. What I can do, however, is give you a list of ten outstanding books and point you in their direction. With this list, I can at least guarantee you a reading experience that is more than worth your time and money. Oh, and I will, at least, name a “book of the year.” Again, this is all my opinion- and I am more than happy to argue with you!

DAYTRIPPER (DC/Vertigo) collects the award-winning miniseries under one cover. Writer/artist/wonder twin combo Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba had long been proving how amazing they are, but DAYTRIPPER represented a leap even further forward into greatness.

ANYA’S GHOST (First Second) by writer/artist Vera Brosgol was the most stunning rookie debut that I saw this year. By turns humorous and flat-out frightening, this was also the best book for teen girls that I read this year as well.

LITTLE NOTHINGS VOL. 4 (NBM) is another amazing installment in writer/artist Lewis Trondheim’s art blog. I consider Trondheim to be the great living comics creator in the world right now, and this book shows him at the height of his powers.

THOR BY WALT SIMONSON OMNIBUS (Marvel) is not only an outstanding book, but also a potential murder weapon. This 1200 page beast collects the defining run on the character by the character’s defining creator. Great stories, great art, don’t drop it on your foot.

LEVEL UP (First Second) by writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Thien Pham captures the angst of young adulthood perfectly, throws in an interesting conceit involving the nature of spirituality and death, and also tickles the funny bone a bit. Yang is a force to be reckoned with.

SIXTH GUN VOL. 1-2 (Oni Press) is the cream of the crop when it comes to Western horror right now. Exciting stories, great characters… writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt have sucked me into their world in a genre I tend to ignore. I read the first two trades back-to-back, not able to put them down.

RASL VOL. 3 (Cartoon Books) propels writer/artist Jeff Smith’s latest epic into the stratosphere. Sexy, action-packed, inventive… and he makes you think about what’s going on. The over-sized trade paperbacks allow the gorgeous art to breathe. One volume to go, and I can’t wait.

CHEW OMNIVORE EDITION 2 (Image Comics) won the Eisner for Best Continuing Series, and it isn’t hard to see why. Writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory are telling one of the most complex stories on the stands, and the book rewards you at every turn for paying attention. Funny, romantic, sick, and twisted. Brilliant.

ASTRONAUT ACADEMY (First Second) by writer/artist Dave Roman was the best all-ages book I read this year. Period. I have managed to give away both of my copies and need a new one. Great stories, great characters, great art, clever payoffs… there is nothing here to not love.

And… my book of the year:

HABIBI (Pantheon) by writer/artist Craig Thompson. It had been seven long years since Thompson had released new work, but it was worth the wait. Staggering in scope and ambition, this massive book (700 pages) delivers page after page of art that your eyes can get lost in. The love story at its core is warm, yet also horribly tragic, and while many will quibble with aspects of the tale focused on religion and culture (and I would agree with some of those quibbles) you cannot deny the sheer power that the book carries in its pages. Thompson carries you to someplace new and different, asking for your trust in his pen and ink, and if you give it to him, the rewards are grand.

Read my interview with Thompson here.

Looking over my list, I suppose I have a “publisher of the year” as well. First Second had another outstanding year- just another in a remarkable run as of late. I can’t remember the last time I read one of their books and felt “bleah” or “meh” about it. They don’t get a lot of play in the mainstream comics media, but that doesn’t matter- they just produce great books.


Written and Drawn by Rick Geary and Lewis Trondheim
Published by NBM

Reviewed by Marc Mason

I’ve been asked on many occasions about what it was like to work as the P.R. person for NBM Publishing. I held that job from August 2009 through December 2010, and though that isn’t exactly an eternity, I certainly spent enough time doing the job to see some wonderful highs and some occasional lows- as it is with any type of employment, really, not just working for a comics publisher. But when pressed for my absolute favorite thing about being a part of the NBM family, the answer always comes easy: getting to play a small part in getting books by true comics greats into peoples’ hands. The roster of talent at NBM is extraordinary, and a couple of recent review books arriving in my mailbox only serve to remind me what I love so much about this publisher.

First THE LIVES OF SACCO AND VANZETTI showed up, which just happens to be the latest effort in the TREASURY OF XXTH CENTURY MURDER series by the amazing Rick Geary. This time around he tackles what was, until the O.J. Simpson trial, the most famous murder trial of the century. Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants with radical leanings were arrested and tried for robbery and murder in a case that gathered the interest of the entire world. The duo were railroaded by a judge who had it out for them, witnesses who were coerced by the police and district attorney’s office, and early public sentiment that arose because of the fear of communism. Of course, Geary doesn’t specifically lead you to that conclusion- as with all the books he’s done in this series, he does his research, lays out the facts and evidence, and allows you to decide for yourself. That’s not only a hallmark of strong storytelling, but of confidence by the storyteller. He doesn’t need to pull you around by the nose if he has done his job right, and no one does the job right like Rick Geary. This is another incredible effort by a creator who simply seems to never swing and miss.

On the heels of Geary, LITTLE NOTHINGS VOL.4 arrived, and that’s about as happy as I get when it comes to comics. LITTLE NOTHINGS is the collected art blog of Lewis Trondheim, the man I consider to be the greatest living comics creator on the planet right now. In these books we get a glimpse inside the man’s head, and as good as he is when whipping up wonderful tales of fiction, he is just as strong when navigating the reader through the ebb and flow of his life. Can he make the mundane interesting? Absolutely. One of the best pieces in this volume focuses on his mishap in trying to determine which knobs in the shower do what- a universal problem, and one with a hilarious solution for Trondheim. But he can also deliver insightful looks at the extraordinary, as he does in navigating the reader through the many journeys he takes across the world to promote his books or to just find peace and quiet. LITTLE NOTHINGS shows us a phenomenal talent at the peak of his powers. What more could you want?


Written by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim and Drawn by Jean-Emmanuel Vermot-Desroches and Yoann
Published by NBM

Reviewed by Marc Mason

The DUNGEON graphic novels are perhaps the most underrated series books you’ll find on the shelves today. By my count, this marks the 13th volume to be translated for North American audiences, giving us well over a thousand pages of amazing characters, incredibly imaginative plots, and astonishing worlds. If you’re looking for something to demonstrate exactly how powerfully imagination can be melded with sequential art.

This latest volume of MONSTRES focuses a bit more on the funny, after the darkness of the prior effort. In the first story, young Horus (a sorcerer) finds himself vexed when a number of women that he has never met arrive on his doorstep claiming that he is the father of their unborn children. Soon he discovers an unusually strange plot set in motion against him and must use every bit of intelligence and guile in order to clear his name and continue to learn what he needs to in order to tap his great potential. In the second story, moronic monster Gro-Gro is given a quest that even he shouldn’t be able to screw up: go on a beer run. But unfortunately, it certainly does give him plenty of latitude to do something stupid, and so he does. Hilarity ensues, as it also does in Horus’ tale. Using incredible artwork, snicker-worthy dialogue, and snappy pacing, each story delivers and delivers big on its promise.

I’ve now spent years proclaiming my love for Trondheim, and in particular this series. The DUNGEON books never let the reader down- they show you grand ideas, they make you laugh, they hold your interest, they put the work of amazing artists in front of you- to ask more of comics would be greedy. If there’s a sure bet in the world of graphic novels, DUNGEON is it. Volume four of MONSTRES is as good a place to start as any.


AISLE SEAT 2.0.60: 10 FOR 2010

By Marc Mason

I wasn’t going to do a “best of” or “top ten” list this year. I really wasn’t. But my old pal Doc Beechler ran his own list, and when I saw it, I had to challenge it for what I felt was a very incomplete look at this year’s work. Then I realized that I could come up with ten great books (not necessarily the ten best published this year- I didn’t read everything, obviously) that I could easily point to and saw “people of Earth- READ THESE.”

So, people of Earth, if you’re looking for some awesome graphic novels to spend some time with: READ THESE.

The first thing that comes to mind is ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS from Top Shelf. This massive 600+ page omnibus collects almost every single bit of Eddie Campbell’s amazing autobiographical comics under one cover. I can’t think of a more consistently excellent autobiographical work ever produced in the medium- it’s deep and richly thought out without diving too far into its own navel and shows the growth of the man and the artist across a lengthy period of time. As usual, Top Shelf brings superior production values to the table, and that makes this book tough to beat.

If you’re looking for artistic ambition, go no further than RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN from Archaia. Janet Lee’s stunning art illustrates Jim McCann’s modern fable in a way never really seen before in comics. The success of this book demonstrates the strength of the graphic novel to challenge and amaze and succeed in the marketplace, even when it isn’t from Marvel or DC. Produce something that exudes greatness and the people will find you. If you haven’t found this on your shelf yet, get cracking.

Speaking of high sales, Oni Press’ SCOTT PILGRIM VOL. 6 (and the entire series, really) dominated the charts this year, and with good reason. Bryan O’Malley’s series had been growing in popularity with each new release, and having the last part arrive to coincide with the film adaptation was exquisite timing. Of course, it helped that the resolution we got was immensely satisfying. Scott finally pulled himself together, gained some self-awareness, and became a person worthy of love- not just worthy of Ramona. Readers’ patience was rewarded, and that’s a rare thing, indeed.

John Layman and Rob Guillory’s CHEW (Image Comics) is definitely a book that pays off for readers that stick with it and pay close attention. From Layman’s twisting and turning plot mechanics to Guillory’s gift for planting Easter eggs in the backgrounds of his wonderfully detailed pages, CHEW delights with wit both verbal and visual. It walked off with awards at both the Eisners and the Harveys this year, and they were well-deserved. No one else in “mainstream” comics is doing anything as challenging or unfettered. One of the few comics that comes out monthly that is legitimately worth your money.

That said, if I was going to steer you toward another book that came out monthly and was worth your time and effort, it would be the second volume of BATTLEFIELDS from Dynamite Entertainment. This year we got another nine issues of Garth Ennis’ incredible World War II comics, and while they weren’t the equal of volume one, they were still absolutely amazing. No one in the past twenty years has even come close to matching Ennis’ prowess at depicting aspects of that conflict and in finding stories with a rich emotional core that fit within its parameters. One of the gutsiest things an author must do is provide the ending that works and is deserved, not the one the reader wants. This book gives you the endings that are earned.

On the subject of war comics, Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’ LIFE AND TIMES OF MARTHA WASHINGTON (Dark Horse) is full of terrible conflict indeed. This massive omnibus edition includes every story featuring Martha, including some stuff not previously collected. This book initially came out as a hundred dollar hardcover, making it way out of my budget, but we finally got a paperback version this year, a happy occasion indeed. MARTHA was a book that Miller wrote when he was still taking comics seriously, and Gibbons puts just the right amount of softness on the satirical edges. Violent, profane, sexy, and smart, this character’s adventures were always something to appreciate and treasure. I’ll miss her, but having this book around makes that much easier to bear.

Dialing back to material before Martha (who debuted in 1991), IDW delivered the best archival project of the year- of the past few years, really- with THE BLOOM COUNTY LIBRARY. These beautiful hardcover editions of Berke Breathed’s classic cartoon strip send me spiraling back to my teen years, smiling all the way. Using restored versions of the strips, the series lets us see the characters (Opus, Milo, Steve Dallas, Bill the Cat, and friends) in ways we haven’t seen since some of the strips actually appeared in newspapers. Material is uncensored and/or restored from edits made for previous print collections. Breathed pipes in with observations and to explain some story moments and jokes. Background work is reproduced. This series is essential for any serious fan of great strip work.

Few anthology series could ever be considered essential, because they’re usually way too hit-or-miss to merit serious consideration. Not so for FLIGHT VOL.7 (Villard) which continues to be the single best anthology on shelves today. Editor Kazu Kibuishi has a gift for bringing together talent and getting the best from it- and that includes his own work as well. FLIGHT offers amazing storytelling, stunning art, superior production value… no mean feat for a book on its seventh try. But a scan across the series shows that virtually nothing has changed since book one. They’ve all been this good.

Another series that has been good from the start and never wavered in quality is Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s DUNGEON (NBM) which saw a couple of volumes translated for North American audiences. The standout was DUNGEON: MONSTRES VOL. 3; the series turned its eye upon the female characters of the Dungeon world, and the results were powerful and moving. The pair put in the spotlight found challenges that were emotionally unsettling as well as violent and gut-wrenching, showing a darker side of the world that reminded us that it is not a world of light and happiness. These books have their amusements, but they are also full of war and death. I have repeatedly stated that I believe Trondheim is the world’s greatest living comics creator. Check out these books to find out why.

Amusement can be found, though, in massive amounts by looking in the right place. That place would be AFRODISIAC (AdHouse) by Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg. This book is a glorious tribute to many things- the history of comics, blaxploitation filmmaking… but mostly it’s just hilarious. The character, Afrodisiac, is shown in various incarnations, each drawn in the style of different eras in comics production, with multiple changes in name and origin, just as characters have been treated by their publishers across the decades. The results are stunning- few books this funny are this intelligent in their execution. The creative duo were the gents behind STREET ANGEL a few years ago, and this book demonstrates, once again, that together, they make material that is worth its weight in gold.

And there you go. Ten great comics and graphic novels for 2010. Click a link below and go buy a couple. Trust me- you’ll be glad you did! See you in 2011!


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by NBM and Papercutz

Let’s take a look at a couple of new books from the folks at NBM and their Papercutz subsidiary, shall we?

I’ve been enjoying Papercutz’ resurrection of the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED books, so I had high hopes when the latest edition, THE RAVEN AND OTHER POEMS by Edgar Allan Poe arrived in my mailbox. Seeing the name of Gahan Wilson attached as the artist only whetted my appetite even more. So I was rather surprised to put the book down upon finishing and realize that I felt somewhat disappointed by this effort. Certainly, Wilson’s illustration work is excellent; the problem comes in that this book feels like a cheat to its format. The CI brand is known for turning into comics some of the great works of literature; however, Wilson does not do this at all. Instead, he simply adds evocative illustrations alongside the text of Poe’s work. If the book weren’t part of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED, I’d have had no problem with that; but because it is, I cannot give it my full endorsement- this is not really CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED as it is supposed to work. If you’re just looking for an accessible book of Poe’s work, this will work fine for you. But if you’re expecting a comic or graphic novel, you’ll be disappointed.

On the flip side comes a third installment from the Zenith Era of DUNGEON. “Back In Style” is written by the always amazing team of Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim and drawn by Boulet, and puts the focus squarely on Herbert the warrior duck. The Dungeon Keeper loses ownership of the facility, sending Herbert and Marvin on a mission back to the city of Herbert’s birth on a perilous mission… which is doubly more perilous since there is an order to behead Herbert if he ever sets foot in the town again. Throw in a funny love story, a powerful battle that finds Marvin up against impossible odds, and a fight to overthrow a Duke-dom, and you get one of the best DUNGEON books yet. The Zenith books have been my favorite in the series, though they are a bit lighter in spirit than the melancholy and emotionally more powerful efforts in the Twilight era. I’ve never done anything less than offer my maximum recommendation for any DUNGEON book, though, and I’m not about to stop now. These books are as good as comics gets.

Marc Mason


Written and Drawn by Lewis Trondheim
Published by NBM

Anyone who’s read CWR long enough knows that I consider Lewis Trondheim to be one of the greatest living comics talents, a man whose work is almost always transcendent ins some way. In 2008, NBM published the first collection of works from Trondheim’s art blog, and it was easily one of the finest books of the year. Now they’ve graced us with a second volume, and that’s some of the best possible news you could ask for on the graphic novel front.

THE PRISONER SYNDROME follows Trondheim on a succession of trips abroad, both for vacations and for comic conventions. What jumps out immediately is the focus on the minutiae at these stops; we open on him simply trying to avoid burning his feet on beach sand, a universal problem that Trondheim takes from the banal to the epic, laughing at his own (lack) of bravery and toughness. It’s an amusing burst of normal humanity, setting the tone for the funny stuff ahead.

What stood out for me here overall, though, was the observational quality of the writing. Trondheim is one of the most accomplished artists in the world, but he has a poetic soul with the pen. When he ruminates on what it feels like to see the moon while the sun is shining, or the certain death that awaits him if he makes one bad step to the left on the mountain trail he’s walking, or being somewhat vengeful towards a hotel that didn’t deliver on promises made, he gives you an opportunity to see who he really is as a person. The author is giving the reader a gift here; it would be rude not to accept it.

There wasn’t a single thing about this second volume of LITTLE NOTHINGS that didn’t work for me, except for the fact that there’s likely to be a wait for a third volume. Excellence.

Marc Mason


Written by Appollo and Lewis Trondheim and Drawn by Lewis Trondheim
Published by
First Second

Two ornithologists arrive on an island of Madagascar in the early part of the eighteenth century hoping to find the supposedly extinct dodo. But what they find is far more intriguing: retired pirates, the remnants of a slave-driven society fraying at the edges, and the growing sentiment that the final active pirate must be saved from the gallows, no matter the cost in property, lives, and violence. However, to the younger bird watcher, Raphael, that all sounds pretty exciting- at least much more exciting than hunting for a bird he never believes he’ll see.

Those familiar with my tastes know that I revere Lewis Trondheim as one of the great living masters of the comic art form, so you can imagine that I was pleased to see another new book of material from the amazing Frenchman. What surprised me, however, was the tone of the project. Most Americans will be familiar with Trondheim as a master of the comedic- MISTER I, DUNGEON, ASTRONAUTS OF THE FUTURE, KAPUT AND ZOSKY among others display his wicked sense of humor. But BOURBON is played pretty straight.

There are genuine stakes in this well-researched and cited piece of work. The cruel reality of slavery and piracy were both raging at this point in history, and the number of dead was extraordinary. Yet through all the hatred, and all the hunting of human beings that was going on, there was also a smidgen of progress, particularly amongst the pirates, who were not afraid or averse to taking a wife with a different skin color than theirs.

Trondheim’s choice of artistic styles here is quite interesting, as he eschews graytones and shading for strictly line-driven work. Large chunks of black ink function solely to delineate either nighttime or shadows.

I had to ruminate on this book a bit, as startled as I was by its content and look, but ultimately, I found it to be an interesting and expressionistic piece of work. Appollo and Trondheim do their best to deliver a narrative that isn’t so much about a character or group of characters, but about a particular moment in history. One that we shouldn’t forget, by any means.

Marc Mason


Written by Johann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim and Drawn by Jean-Christophe Menu and Mazan
Published by

My favorite Euro import, the DUNGEON series, returns with an all-new volume, but this time with a little bit of a twist. Rather than leaving the focus on Herbert and Marvin, Sfar and Trondheim bring in a couple of guest artists and put the focus on a few of the ancillary characters related to the dungeon mythos. In story one, “John-John the Terror,” a group of monsters who run an inn with the hopes of eating random travelers finds themselves mixed up with a sleazy duck named William Delacour. Looking to save himself from being eaten, Delacour suckers the monsters into accompanying him to the Dungeon… of course, he has a few stops he needs to make along the way first. Trouble and hilarity ensue. Story two, “The Crying Giant,” finds Alcibiades and Horus (two birds hardly of a feather) hitting the road to find the giant from whom Alcibiades once stole an eye. Turns out the eye still sobs when the giant does, and he seems pretty upset these days and is flooding the dungeon in the process. Not good.

I have been perhaps the loudest trumpeter for Trondheim on these shores, so I won’t belabor the point again right now. This book is a bit different in that Trondheim only co-writes with Sfar, but that affects the quality not one bit; the pair have always turned in astonishing work on this series, and MONSTRES is as good as any that’s come before. Actually, it works to show just how versatile the DUNGEON series truly is; not only have they told tales across decades and kept the books exciting and fresh, now thewy’re expanding the universe and tapping the depth of its potential.

The two artists brought in to work on these stories, Menu and Mazan, slide into their roles with ease. The work looks unique compared to earlier pieces, yet maintains a stylist quality about it that is very consistent and attractive. Honestly, any new effort in the DUNGEON series is cause for celebration at this point.

Marc Mason


Written and Drawn by Lewis Trondheim and Eric Cartier
Translated by Edward Gauvin
Published by
First Second

Kaput and Zosky are evil, bad, bad guys. Just ask them. They travel through outer space looking for planets to conquer and populations to turn their blasters on. They live solely to subjugate worlds. Unfortunately… they really, really suck at it. In fact, the hilariously inept duo never seem to be able to quite figure out how to pick a planet to rule that won’t put their own lives and sanity at risk. But they’ll never stop trying… even if it kills them.

Ahh. Another sweet piece of the great Lewis Trondheim’s backlist gets translated for North American audiences, and comics fans get the benefit. KAPUT AND ZOSKY is a hilarious bit of the master’s archive, one wonderfully outlandish story after another for the moronic pair of would-be evildoers to pop through, and not a dud in the bunch. On one planet, they win the local elections but are forced to run because they made too many impossible promises for the votes. On another, they learn a hard lesson about military escalation. A different planet welcomes their new conquerors… but there’s a price to be paid for that acquiescence. It’s all laugh-a-minute stuff.

In fact, as I read it, I realized that Kaput and Zosky are, in many ways, Trondheim’s way of tapping into his inner Dr. Seuss. Throughout the hilarity and nonsense, there is a subtle lesson being presented in each tale (even if the characters never learn it). Once again, that’s what makes the man one of the greatest talents in comics. It may get tiring coming from me, but what can I say? It’s the truth. Buy this.

Marc Mason


Written and Drawn by Lewis Trondheim
Translated by Joe Johnson
Published by

Anyone who has followed my reviews for any amount of time knows how I feel about Lewis Trondheim: I think he’s one of the greatest talents in the world today, and I’ll pick up pretty much anything with his name on it. But as good as Trondheim’s work can be (DUNGEON, MR. I), sometimes you get something from the man that’s transcendent. LITTLE NOTHINGS is such a book.

LITTLE NOTHINGS is the first collection drawn by Trondheim’s art blog, and it offers up a hug plate-glass window into the world of one of the great artists. By turns funny, paranoid, and self-effacing, NOTHINGS is a portrait of a man who is somewhat baffled by his life, yet intensely in love with simply waking up every day and enjoying the oxygen. In doing so, these single page strips run the gamut: in one, he argues with his wife about his choice of shirts; in another, he pulls out one of the collapsible light-sabers that were sold when the STAR WARS prequels came out and amuses himself by playing Jedi when his wife and children aren’t home, acknowledging the silliness of a man his age engaging in that kind of behavior. One series of strips focuses on a trip he took to the tropical island of Reunion and the paranoia he felt the entire time he was there, due to a mosquito-borne illness that was going around. Another series deals with his election to the Angouleme Festival’s Grand Prize for his body of work. Husband, father, paranoid, traveler, artist, child at heart… every bit of Trondheim is in these pages.

Unlike too many American artists, you also get a rounded picture of Trondheim as a man with a strong work ethic. This isn’t a written blog; this is done in pen and watercolors.

It’s rare for an artist to show his human side as Trondheim does here, which makes it all the more amusing that he anthropomorphizes himself and the rest of his world. Lewis himself is presented as a duck, making him essentially look like Herbert the Warrior Duck from the DUNGEON series. What makes that curious is that we know Herbert goes bad at some point late in the series. I wonder if that’s Trondheim’s quietest acknowledgement of his own insecurities, worried that he can’t keep up the standards he’s set for himself at this point. Whether or not that’s true, I can tell you only one thing for sure: there’s not a damned thing about this book that’s “bad.” LITTLE NOTHINGS is easily one of the best books we’ll see in 2008.

Marc Mason