By Patrick Maloney
It seems that everywhere you look nowadays, comic books and comic culture have seeped into our collective consciousness. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominates the box office, Netflix is busy throwing wads of cash at every indie property that has even the slightest promise of becoming the next big thing. If you somehow live in a town whose mall isn’t a complete and total ghost town by now, comic book t-shirts and accessories are essentially the only thing keeping Hot Topic alive, while dramatic catchphrases and comic book memes have infiltrated our vernacular in a big way. I’ll be the first to tell you that it hasn’t always been like this, but it’s safe to say that this phenomenon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and hopefully your library already has an impressive comic/graphic novel collection. As one of the perks of my job as a library associate, I was given the opportunity to attend Day 1 of the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) this past weekend, held at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago. As a comic book enthusiast myself, I loved every second, and made sure to make a small list of some of my most anticipated titles coming out this year. If these titles aren’t already on your radar, make it a point to get acquainted with them. Your patrons will be happy you did.
Rusty Brown by Chris Ware. Pantheon Books, September 2019
As I may have hinted at a little before, it’s only semi-recently that I could even write about comics for adults. Long maligned as a medium for children, it is only semi-recently that graphic novels have begun to be taken seriously as an art form. Leading the pack is a title that has already been available for a few months, but deserves to be on this list arguably more than any other, and that is Rusty Brown. Described as a “fully interactive, full-color articulation of the time-space interrelationships of three complete consciousnesses in the first half of a single midwestern American day and the tiny piece of human grit about which they involuntarily orbit. A sprawling, special snowflake accumulation of the biggest themes and the smallest moments of life”, this isn’t your grandfather’s Sunday funnies. Often described as one of the first truly “highbrow” comics, Rusty Brown will take you on a trip. Anything Chris Ware has ever written should be part of your collection.
Venom by Donny Cates. Marvel Enterprises, Ongoing
Donny Cates is currently one of the most sought after names in comics, and for good reason. Rather than playing it safe or rehashing the same tired storylines, Donny likes to think outside the box and really push his characters to the limit. He is currently doing a run on Marvel Arch-villain Venom, and it is slowly becoming one of my favorite interpretations of the character. The first two issues are already available, with plenty more where that came from as the year goes on.
My Hero Academia – Vigilantes by Hideyuki Furuhashi. Viz, Ongoing
Manga/Anime seems to be the name of the game with teens these days, and My Hero Academia is an absolute juggernaut. The anime is a smash hit all across the globe, and it would certainly behoove your library to have it on DVD, but I would argue that the manga is even better. A lot of action, a little bit of satire, and some subtle jabs at the current political landscape make up one of the hottest manga properties on shelves today. Another title that is already well into the series, with new issues spread out throughout the year.
I Am Not Okay With This by Charles Forsman. Fantagraphics Books, December 2017/February 2020
Fantagraphics was notably absent from the vendor list this weekend, but I managed to finally grab a copy of this gem at the Chicago Comics booth. This is another one that has been out for a while, but has been reinvigorated by a new Netflix adaptation. It’s an interesting look at the phenomenon of having super powers rolled up into a teenage coming of age story. Nostalgic nods to 80’s teen movies abound, but are done really well without any corniness. The combination of strong 80’s nostalgia and the fact that retro fashion and technology is so trendy right now has me halfway through and not exactly sure when the story takes place, which may or may not have been done on purpose, and really highlights the fact that some things truly never do change.
The Adventure Zone – Petals to the Metal/ The Adventure Zone Set by Various Authors. First Second, July 2020/October 2020
By far the biggest and most populated children’s comics vendor this weekend was First Second. You may know them from Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s smash hit Real Friends book series, but 2020 is geared towards their OTHER mega successful property, The Adventure Zone. It’s a podcast, it’s a cartoon, and it’s a comic. It’s family friendly and fun for all ages. Anyone who loves DnD or a good old fashioned fantasy epic will love The Adventure Zone, and if your library doesn’t already have a ton of copies, you’ve got some catching up to do. Petals to the Metal, their latest installment, hits shelves in July, while the full box set with lots of extra goodies is expected in October.
DC Super Hero Girls by Amy Wolfram. DC Comics, ongoing
I would be remiss if I didn’t include any offerings from the other member of “the big two”, and as far as children’s comics go, DC is absolutely crushing it out of the park. Depending on how much time you spend on the internet, the comic community can sometimes feel like a bit of a “boys club”. DC seeks to nip that in the bud as early as possible with young readers by highlighting their female superheroes in their DC Super Hero Girls series. Already a smash hit Cartoon Network series, these comics are a great starting point for young readers just getting into the DC lore. The newest issue hit shelves on March 17.
All in all, these are just a small fraction of the great titles coming out this year. If you are in any way unfamiliar with comics and/or graphic novels, I would encourage you to take a deep dive. There truly is something for everyone in the world of comics, and they will only be increasing in quality as more and more writers and artists push themselves to their limits. It’s a great time to be a comic book fan, and an even better time to be a librarian with a fully stocked graphic novel section at their disposal. Happy hunting, and in the words of the late, great comics legend Stan Lee: Excelsior!