Hello readers, and welcome to our all-ages comics column, From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays! This week we take a moment to do our annual “best of” column, where we look at the best 15 all-ages comics published throughout year, this year being 2012! Few notes on this column, our decision on what made the column was based upon of course me reading the gamut of kids comics published this year, editor input, and reader feed back. Note, to make the list: an ongoing series needs at least three issues published (unless the title faced early cancellation); for graphic novels part of a series, a minimum of two in that series had to be published; and for mini-series the entire thing had to be published (although part could be published the previous year and finishing this year). If it’s old material that is being translated for the first time in English, it’s grouped together with new materials and not reprints, since it is the first English release ever. Let’s get down to it — The Best 15 Kids Comics of 2012!
REPRINTS OF THE YEAR
There were a lot of amazing all-ages reprints this year, however, two of them stood out above and the beyond the others as not just examples of wonderful editions of the material that made them beyond self-worthy, but also the material itself being timeless works of art, this year our pieces both being museum worthy:
PRINCE VALIANT (Fantagraphics)
Hal Foster’s life work, a masterpiece of fantasy splendor, keeps being published in wonderful editions of pristine quality from Fantagraphics! Prince Valiant is a title that honestly is more than just one of the greatest newspaper adventure strips ever published, the detail and quality of the art alone along with the more literary form of narration provided the base and inspiration for dozens of artists and imitators after that, all these years still being just as entertaining as when first published, here from Fantagraphics never looking as good as collected before.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Viz Media)
Hayao Miyzaki may be the greatest living animation director today, but aside from inspiring numerous legions of artists and writers in the Japanese, and later American, industry, he also created a manga which served both as the basis of his first directorial film and spawned countless imitators who were blown away by Miyazaki’s work. Some say this is the greatest Miyazaki work he has ever done, and although I would contest that being I favor some of his animated films more, this is still certainly a masterpiece and one of the greatest epic manga ever printed. This year we got it in an amazing edition from Viz, hardcover and in all its glory, for an affordable price that any Miyazaki fan/enthusiast can pick up and display on their bookshelves in all its coolness.
THE BEST 15 ALL-AGES TITLES OF 2012
KAMEN RIDER (Ishimori Productions)
This title was one of the biggest surprises of 2012! Originally published in Japan in 1971, Kamen Rider never made it here to the States outside a broadcast in Hawaii. Years later it would be butchered into a forgettable American version called Masked Rider that wouldn’t be anything like its Japanese material. However, this year comiXology surprised everyone and announced they were releasing all the titles in Ishimori Productions’ catalog by manga master Ishinomori. Kamen Rider certainly is vintage, but surprisingly action packed, entertaining, and not afraid to take the occasional weird twist unexpectedly as it did in its second volume. The only shame is these are only available digital right now when some folks would like a physical release, however, it’s a start, and more importantly an amazing title in which all three volumes can be found only on comiXology, finally here in its first time in English.
These little guys were born from the pen of Peyo way back in 1958, and still all these years later are some of the most funny, heart-warming, endearing comic titles out there. Peyo really hit on something when he created these guys and their magic still lives on. For some time now, Papercutz has been doing amazing editions of these comics for their first time in English, available in both hard and softcover, as well as digital! So no matter what format you like, you can get your Smurfs fix safe and sound!
NEW CRUSADERS (Archie)
I had high hopes for this relaunch when we heard about Archie rebooting their Red Circle superheroes this year as a digital first title, and for the most part it has paid off just as we hoped. The story and art is great, and the characters tie into the Red Circle comics, yet you don’t need to read those comics to enjoy it. For those who want to read the comics, they made the App function like Netflix where you pay a buck every week and have access to a huge back catalog of old comics to download and read, which was neat. Its a new world, and Archie seems to be figuring this one out as it goes. Recently the title finished its first story, and the second arc is not coming out until spring, to be released day and date with the print, no longer ahead. Still, the scheduling headaches aside, the title itself is fresh and enjoyable mask ‘n cape all-ages fair for those who want something outside of DC or Marvel.
AESOP’S ARK (Monkeybrain)
This title was the other big surprise that struck out of nowhere this year. Almost overnight, Monkeybrain Comics launched as a digital-only comics label on comiXology, providing us with a mix of affordable and kick-ass titles. Aesop’s Ark is just an incredible all-ages book, that is just its own thing and rocks hard. The art style on how it tells its story as well as the character interactions are just something to sit down and bask in, enjoyable for multiple reads. They took the concept of all the animals on Noah’s Ark telling stories to each other to pass time, and turned it into something just a little bit more than that.
FLUFFY, FLUFFY CINNAMOROLL (Viz Media)
This manga is mind-blowingly sugar-coated cuteness cranked up to the max, yet so packed full of laughs and random oddness that there is nothing not to love. Cinnamoroll may have started as just another Sanrio character in the Hello Kitty universe, but in this title he and his friends take on a life of their own on some the oddest adventures that just make any one of any age filled with laughter as they read them! It’s one of those all-ages things I just couldn’t get enough of this year.
ERNEST AND REBECCA (Papercutz)
Sadly, this is probably one of the most over looked titles of 2012, and I really wish more folks would take notice, because it is really good. Ernest and Rebecca is hysterical, heart-breaking, and everything in between, each and every volume. It is possibly the European equivalent of Calvin and Hobbes, but with a slightly different message as it concentrates on young Rebecca dealing with her parents’ separation as she has fun with her imaginary best friend, Ernest, the germ that lives in her body who appears before her in a series of wacky and always entertaining ways.
This series has been getting better and better. The relaunch last year was a different take that some fans embraced and other old-school fans rejected, but IDW has proved this past year that a new and different take is not a bad thing. IDW has been trying a mix of new characters with classic characters, from both the Mirage series universe and the 1990s animated series universe, with a reincarnation subplot/origin, all of it creating an intriguing all-ages title, that has a little bit more flair than other superhero based all-ages books out there.
What a great year for Archie! It is the flagship title for Archie Comics, yet over the past two years it’s been Life With Archie that’s stolen all the mojo and attention. This year, though, Archie Comics finally whipped it into shape and whipped it good as the title Archie just rocked. We had them meet up and battle demons with rock band Kiss, we got to see what Archie’s future would be like if he married Valerie from Josie and the Pussycats, heck, it even got a little political as the Occupy-Movement moved into Riverdale. Sounds like this won’t be a one time fluke either with next year sounding promising already, including stories that crossover with the cast of Glee and a re-team with Kiss.
ADVENTURE TIME (Boom!)
To say Adventure Time has become both a cult and mainstream hit over the past few years would be only the tip of the iceberg for this franchise. I still remember discovering it on a plane ride to L.A. a few years back and becoming smitten myself. Boom! has done a just job for fans with this title and the spin-off mini-series this year. It looks and sounds like the show (although it’s comic pacing obviously instead of TV pacing), and surprisingly the back-up stories are these golden gems of the book (not that the main story is bad, the back-ups just are amazingly solid). I don’t think this title is going anywhere soon if the readers have anything to say about it.
This was a title that I was worried about how it would translate into being a comic book, just because there are so many things that could’ve gone wrong. The good news and surprise over the year was that nothing went wrong, and maybe even better was the fact we had a ton of great, not just good, stories come out of this series that made us laugh, keeping Snoopy alive for us and a new generation of readers, and 100% have re-read value.
SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES (DC Comics)
Need a gateway drug to suck a young one into the world of superhero based comic books? Look no further than Superman Family Adventures, which is the best title DC has published since it started to do a re-push on their kids’ line over four years back. This is not just a solid title, but a really fun title. It will have you laughing, it’ll make you cheer on the heroes to save the day, and even make some nostalgic to read some Silver Age titles that had this realm of adventure to them. Art and Franco have bottled lighting here, folks, read it.
REED GUNTHER (Image)
This is one title that finished its run this year that I will miss. The Houghton brothers created something amazing with Reed Gunther and friends that I think in the future will be looked at as a Blade Runner for all-ages titles. Cowboys, riding on bears, fighting every type of monster you can think of, what more did you really need in a title? It was great writing, it was great art. The brothers have moved on to a variety of other titles, and hopefully their sophomore title together, all-ages or something for adults, will be just as charming as Reed Gunther was.
PRINCELESS (Action Lab)
Last year around this time this mini quietly struck, and as it finished up early 2012, it proved to be a bit of gold, leaving us wanting more. Luckily, Action Lab put out a micro-series to hold us over, and a second mini-series is now starting up for us so we can continue the adventures of Adrienne, who has become our favorite princess, who goes off with her dragon to make her own mark on the world. The writing is really great on this title, and it is so much more than just a rebellion against the classic Disney-princess, it is its own perfect little fantasy title that is sure to please.
Comic strips being made into comic books, one of the trends we saw this year along with 1980s cartoons being made again into hit books. However, Garfield was the best out of all these comic strip into book titles. Not just that, it also is one of the best all-ages titles of 2012. It never fails to make us laugh and crack a smile ear-to-ear by the end of every issue. The teams behind this have done an amazing job translating Garfield’s look and humor to the comic book page, as well as giving us a ton of stories that tie into the world of comics themselves, that are not self indulgent but hysterical panels of joy that no one who has ever picked up a comic can deny are quality stories.
Xoc claims our number one spot this year. It is a graphic novel that not only rose above the majority of the all-ages titles, but rose above the mass amount of all comics titles across the board! Dembecki managed to created a perfectly sized story that follows the life of a shark on its way to give birth, and the dangers it faces along the way. It’s real life stuff, but done amazingly well and with class. This graphic novel gets our highest recommendation this year. Go out and buy this book!
And that’s it for this year, folks! There were a handful of titles which came close to making it on the list. Titles like Dance Class (Papercutz) and Popeye (IDW), or the 80s nostalgia wave of Masters of the Universe (DC) and Transformers: Autocracy (IDW), were entertaining and should definitely have some honorable mentions here for folks to check out when they get some spare bucks. Last year titles like Super Dinosaur (Image), Mega Man (Archie), and Life With Archie (Archie) were rocking hard, but this year, although still good, they have mellowed out a bit, losing some spark and appeal. The biggest loser this year was surprisingly Marvel Comics, having zero titles that made our ranking! Dunno what’s going on over there at Marvel, but aside from another mini-series based off the Oz book series, their all-ages fair was forgettable, and hopefully they will up their game next year.
It’s been a busy one here! Next week we are off for a holiday break, but we will return to you just two weeks from now in January! See you then in 2013. Until then, take care and stay warm!