Last week, for the first time in over a month, I went into my local comic shop. Ever the optimist, I always anticipate shelves full of fantastical bounty (despite frequent disappointments), but on this occasion the offerings were truly pitiful.
Of course there were all the classic graphic novels and collections - the ones I keep meaning to get around to: the complete Zot and Bone, various collections of Love & Rockets, Queen and Country and The Age of Bronze - but the regular monthly comics were expensive and boring.
To be fair, they may not be boring comics, but they looked dull. Many of the comics I browsed looked generic, lacking in passion. It seemed like all the artists had been to the same school; lots of competent (some excellent) draughtsmanship, plenty of technical polish, but little style.
And style is important. In comics it might be the most important: it is the story.
I’ve always found that if I respond to a comic’s artwork, I’ll give its story a chance. Conversely, I seldom get into a comic if I don’t respond to the artwork. This means a) the artwork must be good (draughtsmanship competent, style compelling) b) the story must be as good or better than the artwork.
Why is this a big ask? Frank Miller, Dave Gibbons, Paul Pope are all celebrated because of their distinctive styles.
The only ray of light I found, in the gloomy basement of the comic shop, was the new Hellboy comic: The Wild Hunt.
Hellboy has now been running for over a decade. The series has not only produced a couple of interesting spin-offs (BPRD and Lobster Johnson), but sustained it’s high quality on several levels: engaging stories, a rich cast of characters and atmospheric artwork that totally ‘belongs’ to the story.
While Hellboy himself is a great character, who wrestles with questions of fate/destiny, free will and human (er, demon) nature, it is Mike Mignola's amazing artwork that brings this world to life.
Hellboy has managed to stay interesting because of its characters and story and exciting because of its artwork. (It's perfectly possible to present 'dramatic' events in totally dull way. Look on the shelves of the comic shop, if you don't believe me.)
I never thought Mignola could be replaced - he’s such a unique stylist and by far my favourite comics artist - but Duncan Fegredo is faithful to Mignola’s style, without being slavish. Mignola continues to write the stories and the comic is every bit as good as ever.
As for the rest... just as well Drawn posted a list of the best comics of 2008 - which I may investigate - or I’d be really depressed.