Leave Your Spandex @t the Door: The Nexus 2004 Indie Comics Awards!

Welcome to the 46th edition of Leave Your spandex @t the Door! I’m sorry there was no column last week, but I was among the casualties of the British tonsillitis epidemic, forcing the first delay of the year sooner than expected.

This week, as promised, I’m looking through the Indie and Mature Readers (MR) comics that shipped in 2004 to nominate my top ten favourites in each category. Although this column coincides with the Nexus Awards week, unlike those awards, the Nexus Indie and MR Awards weren’t voted on by the whole staff, but were decided by yours truly (why should Starman Matt hog all the fun, eh?). If you have a favourite title that you feel should have been included in these Awards, send me an e-mail explaining why and I’ll include it in next week’s column.

Let’s kick things off:

THE NEXUS 2004 INDIE COMICS AWARDS

1. DEMO
by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan (AIT/PLANETLAR)

(part of the following taken from my DEMO#9 review)

It doesn’t occur often to me, to find a comic book that I want to read and re-read until the pages fall apart. DEMO is such a book.

It’s happened several times so far, when I’m talking with a friend on chat and the subject of DEMO comes up, we both smile wicked emoticon all-knowing grins for our shared good taste. We start discussing what our favorite issue is and why, and how sad it’ll be when the 12th issue comes out and there won’t be any more after it. But then I think, when all is said and done, I’ll have 12 DEMOs lovingly tucked away on my shelf to revisit endlessly or a long time to come.

DEMO is a series of 12 self-contained issues, with stories completely unrelated to each other except for one uniting strand: that one of the protagonists has some sort of out-of-the-ordinary ability. None of the stories are spandex-related though, they’re all set in the real world and deal with the turmoil these characters undergo as a direct or indirect result of their powers.

Becky Cloonan impressed me with project by showing how truly versatile she is, adapting her penciling and inking style to fit the mood of each story, changing from wild broad strokes to smooth Manga curves and refined bold lines. Reading through the DEMO Scriptbook that was released last week, I was amazed at how well Brian and Becky work together and how much Brian trusts her to set up the story on the page without restrictions in the script.

Through the 12 issues Brian and Becky have introduced us to an amazing array of characters; we’ve seen them suffer and struggle, overcome their difficulties and realize their dreams, fall in and out of love, confront their past and get a second leash on life. We’ve watched them live and fallen in love with every one of them. Thank you Brian, thank you Becky for breathing life, heart and soul into these ink blots and completing such a monumental series.

2. LOVE FIGHTS
By Andi Watson (ONIPRESS)

A superhero romance comic like no other before it, LOVE FIGHTS introduced us to Jack and Nora, two people hopelessly in love in the middle of a superheroic Crisis which tries to tear them apart.

It all seems to revolve around the Flamer. Jack is the penciller on the flame’s monthly comic. Nora is a journalist for a superhero gossip rag. The hot story of the Flame’s alleged abandoned baby will bring them closer, but it will not be an easy ride, as Jack’s pet cat Guthrie becomes a super-villain and reveals that not only is the baby Flame’s, but Nora might be closer involved to the story than anyone imagined.

Andi Watson offers the yea’s most heart-warming love story, and manages to wrap it around a superhero plot that is amazingly both a parody and a tribute to DC’s classic Crisis storyline. His art remains simplistic and stylish, but with such an energy and emotion that makes me rate him above most of the current comics artists. His covers for the series especially are the best I’ve seen this year, and I’ve even bought some Love Fights t-shirts and printed some of my own to strut my Geek outdoors.

3. PETSHOP OF HORRORS
By Matsuri Akino (TOKYOPOP)

I’ve only been introduced to Manga comics this year, first through the Hikaru No Go and Gravitation anime series and then through the Naruto anime and manga and FAKE. PETSHOP OF HORRORS was a book I bought on a whim during the October London Comics Con as I was browsing through the TokyoPop booth as the art on the cover really grabbed my attention.

Count D is the proprietor of a most special petshop in the heart of Chinatown that deals only in the most extraordinairy and rare animal species. Each story is self-contained and features a different animal every time. Each customer has to sign a contract with Count D, to follow some rules, keep their pets hidden and not hold him responsible for what will happen to them if they fail to follow the instructions. The animals take on human or humanoid form in the eyes of their owners, but may appear like normal animals to anyone else. The Count selects each pet to help the owner with a problem they’re facing or to teach them a lesson.

The Count himself is a particular oddity. He may or may not be human, as his hermaphrodite appearance, mismatched eyes, peculiar abilities and uncanny addiction to sugar may hint at, but he’s certainly a mysterious ravishing creature. Apart from the Count, the other main character is Detective Orcot, who first me the Count while investigating pet-related homicides and they soon became friends. The friendship-romance between the two characters is an ongoing plot across the stories.

4. DEEP SLEEPER
By Phil Hester and Mike Huddleston (ONIPRESS and IMAGE COMICS)

Cole is a struggling writer and family man who is plagued by weird dreams and finds himself writing stories about monks who gain superhuman abilities by using their bodies to imprison demons. He soon discovers that his stories are real and that he is the pawn in a fight involving a renegade monk from his story and that he has the ability to leave his body in his sleep. What he hadn’t expected or been warned about was that while he’s away from his body, someone else can creep in, take over his life and threaten to hurt his wife and children”¦

DEEP SLEEPER is a captivating story, full of twists and turns, until the very end with the surprise resolution to the conflict. It is fueled by Cole’s horror and agony over the safety of his family as he watches another man pretend to be him, but has no way of warning them.

The book started its life under the OniPress banner (hence it receives an award in the Indies category), but moved to Image with issue 3 after some dispute over the film rights. Thankfully, the move didn’t cause it to lose any of its steam, and gave it a wider spotlight.

5. TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD
By Tom Beland (CRIB’S BOY COMICS and AIT/PLANETLAR)

As the title plainly states, this is indeed A TRUE STORY, SWEAR TO GOD! It’s the story of how Tom Beland met his wife Lily, how they fell in love and struggled with their romance flying between Puertp Rico and Napa Valley to be together, and how, finally, Tom decided to move to Puerto Rico to start a new life together.

Tom doesn’t hold back in this endeavor to transfer his life on the paper, and at times he can be brutally honest about his shortcomings and insecurities, but he never underplays his great motivation for everything that happens in these stories: his love for his wife.

6. OJO
By Sam Kieth (ONIPRESS)

Annie lost her mother years ago and now lives with her older sister and grandfather in a trailer. She loves keeping pets, but they all have an unfortunate tendency to die early and horribly. Her newest pet is unlike any before it, a weird tentacled feathered creature she names ‘’OJO”. When Annie finds Ojo’s mom (a hulking monstrous version of baby Ojo) in a sewer drainage pipe, she becomes convinced that it is really her own mom, returned to her.

OJO follows the standards of Sam Kiet’s work, delivering a bizarre beautifully-illustrated story which conceals a simple heart-felt human story. In this case, it’s Annie missing her mother, and transferring that grief and need for nurturing onto her pets and now Ojo and its monster mom.

7. MIRROR OF LOVE

By Alan Moore and Jose Villarubia (TOP SHELF COMICS)

MIRROR OF LOVE is the most personal book I’ve read this year. Alan Moore writes a love letter, a poem, looking back through to the start of history at men who have loved men and women who loved women, and how this same sex love has been welcomed by society: accepted or outlawed, punished or celebrated, hidden or immortalised through literature and art.

Jose Villarubia came into the equation years after the poem’s first publication and gave it new life, by breathing in his own love and illustrating the poem with forty photographs that touch on the emotion which the original poem stirred. Jose’ images mate flawlessly with the words to bear a child of love that can’t be suppressed by etiquettes and boundaries.

Despite its strong message, MIRROR OF LOVE doesn’t preach (as your humble reviewer has a tendency to), but simply remembers, and dreams. Especially in our day, when great freedoms have been won, but a great amount of the public and the world’s governments still frown upon same-sex love, this book should be in every library and every home, to remind people that all forms of love should be accepted, as they used to be.

8. TOO MUCH HOPELESS SAVAGES
By Jen Van Meter, Christine Norrie and Ross Campbell (ONIPRESS)

The HOPELESS SAVAGES line of titles is my favourite from OniPress’ staple of ongoing/continuing titles. Each of the mini-series so far has focused on one of the kids of punk rock stars Nikki Savage and Dirk Hopeless. After the prodigal Rat Bastard and the youngest of the clan Skank Zero, the third installment of the title aims the spotlight on the oldest daughter, the fighting-mad Arsenal Fierce Hopeless-Savage takes center-stage.

The storyline constantly shifts between the present (Arsenal and her brother Twitch travel to Hong Kong to meet the grandmother of their new boyfriends, the brothers Claude and Henry Shi, and become involved in a high-adrenaline chase from smugglers and brit spies) and the past (showing Arsenal’s ‘origin’ and all her failed relationships and dealings with the opposite gender), all serving to really flesh Arsenal out as one of the most interesting characters in comics.

Christine Norrie, Hopeless Savages co-creator, returned here to illustrate 3 of the 4 issues, but the big revelation was Oni newcomer Ross Campbell, with an original moody and ‘meaty’ art style ho is bound to make a big splash, very soon!

9. HEROES ANONYMOUS
By Scott M. Gimple and various (BONGO COMICS)

A traditional 60s feel superhero book is the last thing someone would expect to see under the banner of Bongo Comics, famous for its successful adaptation of the Matt Groening cartoon properties. But HEROES ANONYMOUS is just that, a series of one-shots focusing on different unlikely superheroes, framed around the concept of superheroes group therapy in the vein of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Scott Gimple is in charge of the writing on all the issues, joined by various ‘’cartoon” artists, with the most noteworthy being Pia Guerra (Y the last man), who was the reason I was first drawn to this series, through her issue starring the (not so much homosexual, as cheerful) ‘Gay Avenger‘. The entire series featured a novel monochromatic colouring approach, with each issue illustrated in different tones of the same colour: yellow for the sidekick drop-out Attaboy, blue for the Gay Avenger, red for Beelzebella (the confused daughter of Satan and a born again Christian) and so on. This approach reminded me the Greek comics reprints of spiderman and the Avengers which were all done using the same method to save costs.

10. SEAMONSTERS AND SUPERHEROES
By Scott Mills (SLAVE LABOUR GRAPHICS)

What a strange little book. It’s a 7-issue anthology written and drawn by Scott Mills, and as he says in the intro to the first issue: “It’s about Seamonsters. It’s about Superheroes. It’s about throwing them together into an anthology of one creator and hoping to God something good comes of it”. And it has.

S&S is largely a fun experimentation on the comic book form. Scott Mills is clearly having the time of his life here, doing small 3-panel to large full-issue stories, flip-books, stories read in spiral, seamonster love stories, redneck hillbillie zombie stories, alternate realities, social critique, fart jokes and superhero sitcoms, and closing the series off with a special issue with each page drawn in the style of a different artist, including Miller, Kirby, Mignola and Liefeld! Although Mills’s linework comes off as amateurish and rushed, he more than makes up for it with his creativity and originality, and it’s the reason I chose this work to round up my top ten of the past year.

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As always, I’m waiting for your comments through email or in the new official LYS@D discussion thread.

Manolis Vamvounis
a.k.a. Doc Dooplove

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