While there has certainly been something an uptick in negativity online regarding “best of” lists in recent weeks, with people questioning their value or criticising their lack of inclusivity, we’re still happily celebrating our favourite books of the last year, because – well, that’s precisely why the Big Comic Page exists in the first place.
Our mission statement has always been to let as many people as possible know about great books they may have otherwise missed out on, and while the lists we put out at this time of year are entirely subjective and nowhere near exhaustive, they’re still books and creators we absolutely love, and as such, we’ll never tire of shouting their praises from the rooftops.
So, with that said, Ceej is up next as he takes some time to once again break down the creators and titles he has enjoyed most this past year.
Best Publisher – BOOM! Studios
This was an incredibly challenging decision, and there’s no denying that a lot of publishers have had a really impressive 2019. However, simply by virtue of managing to churn out so many books that I absolutely loved over the last twelve months, BOOM! snags my “Publisher of the Year” gong for the second year running. While CODA stands as one of my favourite books in recent memory, BOOM! were also responsible for several other stellar offerings this year, including the likes of ONCE & FUTURE, BLACK BADGE, SPARROWHAWK and SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN. They’re also responsible for a succession of eminently readable licensed properties, such as their cracking FIREFLY series and the incredibly entertaining ANGEL and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER reboots. And that’s before we even begin to start dipping into their wealth of all-ages and young adult offerings through their BOOM! Box and KaBOOM! Imprints. Another fantastic year for BOOM! then, and long may it continue.
Honourable Mention(s): Image Comics (DIE, Little Bird, Black Science, Assassin Nation), Vault Comics (Wasted Space, These Savage Shores, Plot)
BEST WRITER – Kieron Gillen
I’ll admit, I went back and forth a good few times when deciding the winner of most of this year’s awards, but thankfully the last few issues of DIE from Image Comics were more than enough for me to justify putting Gillen in the number one writer slot for the year. As I mention below, Gillen and Stephanie Hans’ “Goth Jumanji” is an absolute triumph, and the blend of fanboy passion and exhaustive research that Gillen continually brings to the page with the series – not to mention his stellar work on the slightly less serious but no less entertaining “monster hunting Granny” series ONCE & FUTURE – makes him a well-deserved choice for my Writer of the Year.
Honourable Mentions: Si Spurrier (Coda, Books of Magic), Jason Aaron (Conan The Barbarian, War of the Realms), Michael Moreci (Wasted Space, Plot)
BEST ARTIST – Matias Bergara
Another award where I held off my decision until the very last minute, and a winner who perhaps hasn’t been quite as prolific as some of his peers, at least in terms of working on different titles. However, and put as succinctly as possible, Matias Bergara’s work on CODA has been an absolute revelation. Quirky, dynamic, expressive and undeniably epic, Bergara helped inject the cynical fantasy series with an unmistakable visual style, with some of the most ambitious character and landscape designs I’ve seen in a long, long time. His stellar efforts earned him an Eisner Award nomination, but – perhaps more importantly – they also helped cement him as my #1 artist of 2019.
Honourable Mentions: Hayden Sherman (Wasted Space, Thumbs), Alex Cormack (SINK, Road of Bones), Ian Bertram (Little Bird)
BEST LETTERER – Jim Campbell
One of the most prolific letterers in the game today, Campbell’s name on the cover of a comic (or unfortunately sometimes only on the inside cover – sort yourself out, comics industry!) is a true hallmark of quality. Always slick, unobtrusive and feeding into the narrative flow beautifully, Campbell’s work hit a real high point with CODA, perfectly conveying Si Spurrier’s razor-sharp dialogue, packed with muttered asides and emphatic exclamation, and proving to be every bit as valuable to the visual package as Bergara himself.
Top 5 Comics of 2019 (in no particular order)
DIE (Image Comics) – A series that just keeps getting better and better with each passing issue, Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans’ fantasy series follows a group of friends who are sucked into a D&D style roleplaying game as children, barely escape with their lives, and are then forced to return as adults to rescue the friend they left behind. Filled with subtext and subtle (and not-so-subtle) fantasy homages, as well as some truly striking watercoloured artwork from Hans, the series keeps drawing the reader in deeper and deeper as the simmering resentments and shocking consequences of their youthful actions gradually tear this group of friends to shreds.
Coda (BOOM! Studios) – Two years on the bounce in my Top 5 for CODA, and while the 12-part fantasy series wrapped up in May, it made such a strong impression, both visually and narratively, that it was never out of contention for my annual list. Featuring Si Spurrier, Matias Bergara and Jim Campbell working about as well together as any creative team I can think of in recent memory, the darkly comic and sarcastically world-weary fantasy series capitalised on a strong first volume to sprint to an absolutely stunning conclusion. A legitimate masterpiece, in my opinion.
Conan The Barbarian (Marvel Comics) – I’ve made no secret of my unbridled love for Marvel’s recent Conan reboot, with Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar’s relentlessly dynamic take on the iconic Cimmerian earning both critical and commercial acclaim over the past twelve months. Each of the effectively stand-alone issues are tied together skilfully by an overarching plot featuring an evil witch and her offspring watching Conan throughout the years, poised to harvest his blood to release their dark god. It’s mesmerizing stuff, with Aaron’s lifelong love of fantasy helping him concoct some truly gripping situations for Asrar to bring to life on the page.
Wasted Space (Vault Comics) – Blending high drama with black comedy and gritty science fiction, Wasted Space is another absolute triumph from Michael Moreci (my 2015 Writer of the Year) and Hayden Sherman, one of my absolute favourite artists of the last few years. A grungy, dystopian space opera with as many jaw-dropping moments as laugh-out-loud ones, this series just keeps ratcheting up the momentum as Billy Bane and his rag-tag crew’s mission to kill “The Creator” surges ever forwards.
Little Bird (Image Comics) – Any time Ian Bertram (my 2016 Artist of the Year) puts pen to paper on a new series, it immediately grabs my attention. But while Bertram’s typically unique, almost mesmerising artwork certainly carried a lot of the load with Little Bird, Darcy Van Poelgeest’s story – featuring the Canadian Resistance and one young girl going to war against the fiercely theocratic United Nations of America – helped push this series into “classic” status. Strikingly original from start to finish, and packed with emotion, gore and boundless creativity.
Honourable Mentions: SINK, Assassin Nation, Black Science, Sparrowhawk, Once & Future, Savage Sword of Conan, These Savage Shores, Aquaman, Animosity