In today’s Leaving Proof: In the final Leaving Proof column of the year, we list our favorite ongoing comics titles, original graphic novels, and translated comics of 2014.
2014 was as good a year for comics as any I can remember, at least as far as quality and diversity of content were concerned. The Internet can be an echo chamber of negativity and sure, Marvel and DC doubled down yet again on crossovers and “events” to the frustration of long-time readers and veteran comics professionals alike, but taking a step back and looking beyond the so-called “Big Two,” I’m actually quite happy with how the year turned out comics-wise.
Yes, there were controversies both real and of the “tempest in a teapot” variety—I hope readers understand if I’d rather not spend any energy recounting or linking to them here—but community discord isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If nothing else, the fact that certain comics, comics creators, publishers, and industry/creative trends provoked so much charged discussion throughout the year means that readers and industry pros still care about the funnybooks and that the comics community continues to change and grow, if in fits and starts (and not without some resistance from its more reactionary elements).
Last week, we ran down our list of our favorite new comics series of 2014. This week, we close our retrospective by enumerating our favorite ongoing comics series (pre-2014 debut), original graphic novels, and English-language editions of non-English comics.
Favorite Ongoing Series (pre-2014 debut)
As has been the case these past few years, my personal comics reading list for the 2014 calendar year was dominated largely by titles published by Image Comics. This isn’t to suggest that the Image Comics “brand” is an imprimatur of superior quality—some of my least liked comics of the year were also Image Comics publications—but the company publishes such a wide array of material made by creators with such a variety of distinct styles and voices that it’s almost a statistical certainty that at least some of their books will end up with a combination of talent, execution, genre, and subject matter that aligns with my tastes and preferences in comics.
Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas’ “pre-apocalyptic” action-drama Sheltered, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s character-driven espionage comic Velvet, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s futuristic Weird West series East of West, Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn’s science-fiction romance comic Alex + Ada, Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins’ World War II-meets-JM Barrie title Peter Panzerfaust, Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts’ alternative history comic Manifest Destiny, John Layman and Rob Guillory’s supernatural police procedural/comedy Chew, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ space dramedy Saga, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s thought-provoking and hilarious Sex Criminals, Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten’s compelling fantasy title Umbral—all of these Image Comics titles reached new creative heights or sustained an elevated level of craft worthy of year-end recognition in my mind, and if it were any other year, I would have no problem singling out any one of them as my absolute favorite continuing series of the past twelve months.
Outside of Image Comics’ slate of long-running series, I was also very impressed by the continuing dystopian future saga Wasteland (by Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, and others), which is set to conclude next month after an almost nine-year publication run, and the supernatural western series The Sixth Gun (by Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt, and others), both titles published by Oregon-based independent outfit Oni Press. And while the aforementioned Saga might be earning writer Brian K. Vaughan the bulk of his current accolades, I think the future noir comic The Private Eye, self-published by Vaughan and artist Marcos Martin under their Panel Syndicate digital comics imprint, is just as deserving of acclaim for its mix of socio-cultural commentary and stylish sci-fi.
2014, however, was the year that Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Image Comics-published science-fiction comic Lazarus really started firing on all cylinders. The series’ combination of informed themes and future tech speculation, obsessive wordbuilding and design detail, repurposed traditional symbolism, spy and political thriller genre intrigue, Lark’s naturalistic flair in his illustrations, and Rucka’s talent for character development makes for a very riveting, entertaining, and relevant comic, and it is my favorite continuing series of the year.
Favorite original graphic novel (OGN)
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury) by Roz Chast is a funny, touching, and occasionally heart-wrenching account of how the long-time cartoonist dealt with her parents’ ill health in their old age and her attempts to find some sense of closure with her overbearing mother, with whom she had always had a complicated relationship. As a thoughtful memoir detailing her experience dealing with the infirmity, senility, and inevitable death of her aging parents, the book is reminiscent of Joyce Farmer’s 2010 graphic novel Special Exits and like that book is sure to be recognized with Eisner and Harvey nominations for Best Graphic Novel come awards season next year.
Besides offering a genuinely affecting narrative, the book is also uncompromisingly frank in its depictions of the difficulties of caring for one’s parents and the emotional and financial toll it can take on all those involved. There’s a lot of practical life advice scattered throughout the volume, as well—I don’t know if the book meets the Common Core criteria for high school readers, but I think it could be a good option for teachers looking to equip students with coping skills that will be more important than ever as the average life expectancy becomes longer and the proportion of the general population composed of seniors becomes larger. Perhaps the best thing I can say about the work, however, is that reading it helped me get through my inner bereavement process after my father passed away earlier this year.
Other all-new original graphic novels I enjoyed reading this year were Shoplifter (Pantheon Books) by Michael Cho, City in the Desert, Vol. 2: The Serpent Crown (BOOM!/Archaia) by Moro Rogers, Mandala (Dark Horse Books) by Stuart Moore and Bruce Zick, and Through the Woods (Fantagraphics Books) by Emily Carroll (although if we’re to be pedantic about it, Through the Woods is actually an anthology, not a graphic novel).
Favorite English-language editions of non-English comics
Anyone who has been reading Leaving Proof all these years will probably find it no surprise that Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal (Dark Horse Manga) series of trades sits atop my list of favorite translated comics this year. I’ve been following the supernatural samurai epic for almost half my life now, but I’m still as excited about new Blade of the Immortal releases today—2014 saw Dark Horse publish three volumes of the manga—as I was back when I first fell under the spell of Samura’s pencil in the 1990s.
Blade of the Immortal‘s long-awaited English-language finale is scheduled for a March 2015 release (the series ended publication in Japan in 2012), and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out in the end.
Other translated comics works published in 2014 that I notably enjoyed include The Collector (BOOM!/Archaia) by the late Italian master illustrator Sergio Toppi, Meka (Magnetic Press) by the Franco-Belgian comics duo of JD Morvan and Bengal, Siegfried II: The Valkyrie (BOOM!/Archaia) by France’s Alex Alice, and Wolf Children Ame & Yuki (Yen Press) by Mamoru Hosoda, Yu, and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, an adaptation of the beloved, award-winning 2012 animated feature film co-written and directed by Hosoda.