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“I have had many talented people ask me how to get into the comic book business. If they were talented enough the first answer I would give them is,‘Why would you want to get into the comic book business?’ Because even if you succeed, even if you reach what might be considered the pinnacle of success in comics, you will be less successful, less secure and less effective than if you are just an average practitioner of your art in television, radio, movies or what have you.” — Stan Lee, 1971 1

“I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything . . . It wasn’t possible for a man like Stan Lee to come up with new things – or old things for that matter. Stan Lee wasn’t a guy that read or that told stories. Stan Lee was a guy that knew where the papers were or who was coming to visit that day.” — Jack Kirby, 1989 2

It’s a complex world out there, filled with millions of people creating millions of things and influencing our lives and culture in ways we can’t always fully grasp. But we’re a simple species, barely able to keep it together long enough to pay the bills and get the kids to soccer practice. So we create some shorthand myths and mnemonics for those aspects of our world that might not interest us much beyond acknowledging their existence. To wit: fine art means Picasso and Da Vinci. Classical music is Mozart and Beethoven. Napoleon was a short French guy in a funny hat. And Stan Lee created Marvel Comics

Except that he didn’t. At least, not entirely. But for those uninterested in the history of the American comics industry (i.e. most people), the complex debate about who exactly was responsible for the creation of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and whatever else is coming soon to a theater near you, probably comes off as so much nerd talk — it’s easier to just say Stan Lee did it. He was the one who kept showing up in the movies after all, displaying a loveable cornball character of his own devising. More… “The Problem with Stan Lee”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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Superhero comics love a good analog. Captain Marvel is Superman, but more boyish, and with magic words instead of Krypton. Moon Knight is Batman but with a mercenary past. Watchmen is just a riff on the Charlton heroes. Marvel has Mister Fantastic, while DC has Plastic Man and the Elongated Man. And so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

This is all terribly reductive, of course, focusing on the core extrapolation point rather than what is done with the material afterward. Sure, many times these caped correlations show little creativity beyond tired parody, but there are occasions where, as in Watchmen, they blossom into something entirely different and delightful in their own right. More… “Unrestrained Analogs”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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This essay concerns a graphic novel that actively engages with racist rhetoric, post-colonialism, and oppression. As such, certain language and terms are incorporated in the book and within this review.

The cover of Yellow Negroes and other Imaginary Creatures by Yvan Alagbé shows the profile of a young African man with his eyes closed. A pair of light-skinned hands encircles his neck. On the back cover, we see an older, seemingly Caucasian man, balding and with a mustache, his mouth ajar. A pair of dark-skinned hands lies on the man’s shoulders (perhaps belonging to the figure on the front) suggestively seeming to also be inching their way up to the neck.

These two men are Alain and Mario, respectively, the two central figures in the book’s title story. This pair of images might suggest that within lies an overly simplistic story of racial animus, but  “Yellow Negroes” (or “Negres Jaunes” in French) is far more complex and haunting than that fleeting impression would suggest. The story has long been regarded as a masterwork in Europe, one of the seminal French comics of the 1990s. Now it’s available in English for the first time, and, despite the considerable span of years and cultures, it — along with the other stories in this slim volume — remains as trenchant and relevant as when it was first published. More… “Yvan Alagbé’s Political Menagerie”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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There was a time way back when, if you were a serious comics fan, you could keep up with everything being published in a reasonable manner. Maybe not read everything per se, but you could at least be aware of all the movers and shakers and titles of note within a given year.

That era has long since passed. There are so many genres, markets, and subcategories of the comics industry these days — webcomics, art comics, kids’ comics, superheroes, manga, manwha, comic strips — that keeping track of it all is a flat-out impossible task.

So a caveat is in order: I have no blessed idea if these are in fact the best comics of 2017. Perhaps there are other comics out there that, had they been waved under my nose, I would have liked more than what’s listed below. What we have here are merely my favorite comics that came out in 2017 that I actually read. At least for the nonce. Who knows how I’ll feel about anything, comics or otherwise, come the morrow? More… “Comic Countdown”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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The release of the first issue of DC’s Mister Miracle, a 12-issue limited series written by Tom King and illustrated by Mitch Gerads, was heralded with the sort of hosannas that are normally reserved for church. The A.V. Club called it “dazzling” and “emotionally wrenching.” Entertainment Weekly declared it “by far the best comic on stands right now.” io9 dubbed it “one of the best comics of the year” and, in another article, said there was “no better way to honor [Jack] Kirby’s contribution to the comics world.” And Comic Book Resources went as far to breathlessly declare that “King & Gerads Have Redefined Mister Miracle, and Possibly Comics.” More… Mister Miracle

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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Back in the alleged halcyon days when you could actually make a living making comic books (but had to hide your profession from everyone for fear of censure), one of the titles used in an attempt to mollify the sneering intelligentsia and bourgeoisie was Classics Illustrated, a lengthy series that by and large set about adapting classic literature — Shakespeare, Poe, Hawthorne, etc. — in the most mundane and unimaginative way possible.

As the medium’s status has risen over the past decade and a half, these kinds of adaptations have made a comeback of sorts. And while they might not bear the official Classics Illustrated moniker, they are, with few exceptions, plodding affairs, displaying little in the way of intelligence, wit, or imagination. Looking over the bulk of them, you might well wonder whether there are any cartoonists capable of adapting prose in a manner that avoids mere rote recapitulation of the original text.

More… Songy

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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In a certain way, Punpun seems like a normal, if rather put-upon, kid. Sure, his dad is an abusive ne’er-do-well who abandons his family and his mom is a neglectful lush, but Punpun himself seems like a rather average, likeable youth. He craves sweets, is both curious and terrified about sex, enjoys hanging out with his friends, and pines arduously for Aiko, the cute girl in his class.

Of course, one glance at Punpun will instantly show you what separates him from the rest of the crowd. Unlike most of the cast in Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun (two volumes thus far), who are drawn in a relatively realistic fashion, Punpun and his immediate family are delineated as what could best be described as little bird ghosts: two stick legs, an upside down U for a body, two dots for eyes and pointy little beak nose — a childish scrawl interacting with a photorealistic world. It’s not necessarily the most original way to convey a character’s alienated relationship with society, but in Asano’s hands it remains an odd and striking method.
More… “The Passion of Punpun”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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