Power Pack by Louise Simonson and June Brigman
The first Marvel comic by a female creative team, Louise Simonson and June Brigman’s Power Pack was also unique in its depiction of the child stars. The Power siblings — Alex, Julie, Jack and Katie — weren’t just junior adults, like the New Mutants. They were honest-to-goodness kids who acted like kids, squabbled like kids and talked like kids. Well, mostly.
Simonson, who previously edited Uncanny X-Men and would go on to write X-Factor and New Mutants, created a believable family at the heart of Power Pack. The flashy abilities — gravity control, super speed, molecule control and energy blasts — alien races, and sentient spaceships were only the hook; the sibling interaction is what kept you reading. Even when the series ventured into ABC After School Special territory (and it frequently did, dealing with social issues like drug abuse, sexual abuse, runaways and homelessness). Simonson also brought Franklin Richards into the cast, rescuing the tot from the realm of plot device and occasional deus ex machina.
And Brigman knew how to draw realistic kids, helping to ground the characters even when they were flying through space, battling extraterrestrial reptiles or encountering the Morlocks.
In recent years, Marvel has published several miniseries starring Power Pack, usually teaming the kids with more popular characters like The Avengers, or X-Men, or Spider-Man. The publisher has yet to collect those original Simonson-Brigman stories, but I’m hoping one day to see them in trade paperback. -–Kevin Melrose
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
You can’t talk about the recent surge of female comic creators, or really the recent boom in graphic novels in general, without mentioning Persepolis, that shining city on a hill. There’s a reason this two-part memoir continues to win plaudits and praise from literary and comic circles. It’s an incredibly moving, fascinating account of what it’s like to both live under an oppressive, totalitarian regime and outside of your home country as a shunned expatriate. Yes, her art is heavily simplified (and yes, heavily influenced by David B.), but I prefer to see that as one of her strengths. She’s a consummate storyteller, able to get to the meat of her tale powerfully and directly, with a minimum of fuss.
A more “realistic” artist would have much less gripping book. No doubt a good deal of the book’s popularity is due to the fact that Iran is a topical subject these days, but that in and of itself what sets her work above many of the other comic memoirs. She’s one of the most interesting and talented people working in comics today and I have strong faith that her film adaptation will be just as powerful as the book. –Chris Mautner
Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa
There is only series I’ve passed to over a dozen people. My brothers, my sister, my boyfriend, and my mom. It’s made it’s way around my workplace and friends of friends have picked it up. That series is Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa.
On the surface, you’d think this is just another manga series for teenaged girls. Paradise Kiss is about Yukari, a typical high school student, stressed out about her marks and entrance exams. While walking the streets, the punk Arashi stops her and tells her she’s perfect. A bit freaked out, she runs away, only to bump into the flamboyant Isabella, and faints.
She awakens to see the very cute, pink haired Miwako. Isabella, Arashi and Miwako explain to Yukari they are fashion students looking for a model for their projects. Yukari flat out refuses and leaves. The leader of the group, George, tracks down Yukari, convinces her to model for them, and pulls her into his bizarre world of fashion.
Paradise Kiss really has a great balance of drama and humor. Ai Yazawa’s take on fashion was so good As for the story, on the one hand, the situations seem a bit impossible, but at the same time it’s very realistic with the development of the characters and the emotions. It probably has one of the most realistic deflowering I’ve ever seen in any media. The artwork is impressive and expressive, changing easily from a very dramatic moment to humorous. When the anime was produced, they hired a professional designer to rework then designs, only to find Ai Yazawa’s take on fashion was so good, not much work had to be done.
If you want to be lazy and opt for the anime instead, the animation is very good and the story is fairly accurate to the manga, but I find the pacing to be a bit off. The manga seems to interject the humorous moments a little better.
My only real problem with Paradise Kiss is my copies keep disappearing! I actually don’t have a copy of the manga in my house at all! I’m pretty sure I’ll have to re-buy the series again.
I have to admit I was surprised that so many people I know got into it. I wouldn’t have thought it would have such a wide appeal, but my family and friends really enjoyed it. So much so that my youngest brother even decorated his Wii with an image of Yukari. –-Stephanie Chan
We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin
Because I can’t get enough of the memoirs, here’s a book that grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go. In stunning, heart-wrenching detail, Katin tells of how three-year-old Katin and her mother managed to avoid the Nazi by fleeing their home in Prague and living hand to mouth in the Czech countryside. Dependent entirely upon the kindness of strangers, Katin’s mother is forced to make some truly harrowing choices in order to ensure their survival. It’s truly a book you won’t forget and one that didn’t nearly get enough mention last year. -–Chris Mautner
Fullmetal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa
At a glance, Fullmetal Alchemist looks like just another light fantasy-adventure, in part because of Hiromu Arakawa’s cartoonish and expressive art. But scratch the surface and FMA reveals itself to be a dark and complex tragedy that grapples with issues of family, home, loss, regret, sacrifice, and the cost of getting what you want. Still, Arakawa infuses her epic story with moments of over-the-top humor and tug-at-the-heartstrings tenderness.
When their mother dies, brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric turn to alchemy to bring her back to life. But they neglect to consider the concept of Equivalent Exchange, causing Edward to lose his left leg and Alphonse’s entire body. Edward then sacrifices his right arm in trade for his brother’s soul, which adheres to a suit of armor. The story then becomes the brothers’ quest to find the fabled Philosopher’s Stone as a way to restore their bodies. See? Tragic — yet completely engrossing. –-Kevin Melrose
30 Days of Night: Eben and Stella by Kelly Sue DeConnick
I first ran into Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work when she interviewed Steve Niles for Sequential Tart a few years ago. It was one of those rare interviews where I just really fell in love with the interviewer’s voice and I’ve been more or less stalking her career ever since. In the “less” sense, I haven’t kept up with the copious amount of manga translating she’s done, but read any interview with her about it and you’ll see how much thought and care she puts into that part of her work.
The first fiction I read of hers was a short horror story she wrote titled “Fight” that appeared in the back of a bunch of IDW comics (30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales #2, Desperadoes: Banners of Gold #1, The Lurkers #3 and CVO #2, if you’re interested in tracking it down.) When I’m reading comics, I’m usually reading one right after the other and have a hard time slowing down to read long text pieces in the back. But, as she told me at the time, “Fight” is just the right length of story to read while you’re on the can. And it was a story worth taking an issue out of my usual reading pile and sticking it in the bathroom for later. It was action-packed, funny and scary all at the same time.
Nowadays, Kelly Sue’s in the front of the comic, co-writing 30 Days of Night: Eben and Stella with the subject of her Sequential Tart interview. I remember thinking when I first learned that she was going to do that how genius a decision it was. I’ve always felt that 30 Days of Night was at its best when it focused on the love story between Eben and Stella and apart from just being happy to see that explored some more, having Kelly Sue write it seemed perfect. In the ways that matter, Kelly Sue is Stella Olemaun. She’s as strong, intelligent and independent as she is completely devoted to her husband (TV’s Matt Fraction). I couldn’t wait to see how she told this story. I usually get funny looks when I tell people that I think of 30 Days of Night as a love story, but Kelly Sue gets it. I still can’t wait to see where she goes with it.
In addition to Eben and Stella, Kelly Sue’s contributed stories to both volumes of Image’s 24Seven anthology. But I’ll probably talk more about that when I interview her for my “Fringe Benefits” column. –Michael May
Girl Stories by Lauren Weinstein
In Weinstein we have one of the freshest, funniest humorists to come onto the scene in quite some time as Girl Stories so strongly illuminates. Yes, it’s another autobiography/memoir, this time of the author’s high school years, but Weinstein is no mopey emo girl. She’s too sly and knowing to fall into that trap. She’s not above mocking her own adolescent self-absorption and cluelessness for maximum comic effect, not to mention the foibles of her various friends and enemies. Filled to the brim with hilarious “cringe” moments, Girl Stories was one of my favorite books of last year. –-Chris Mautner
Daredevil by Ann Nocenti
Throughout junior high and high school, my brother and I each had our own particular favorite books and creators … our own territories, you might say, when it came to buying comics. Anything X-Men-related was mine, anything Avengers-related was his. Spider-Man was split between us; I had Amazing and Marvel Team-Up, he bought Peter Parker. And if I knew what was good for me, I’d stay away from anything by Frank Miller, so Daredevil, naturally, fell into his camp.
It was a cosmic alignment of sorts, then, that brought me to Ann Nocenti’s work on Daredevil. The unspoken arrangement my brother and I had about certain books came to an end when he went away to college, as he was several states away and I was left with our collection. Frank Miller’s legendary “Born Again” story had come to an end, and after a few fill-in issues Ann Nocenti came on board and took the book in a totally different direction. I was a big fan of her Longshot mini-series, so I had high hopes for Daredevil – hopes she met and exceeded.
Following Frank Miller can’t be easy, and Nocenti had the right idea going in. “I just assumed everyone would hate everything I did and they’d throw my ass right off the book, so that mindset actually liberated me to do whatever I wanted and have fun for the short party I thought it would be,” she told the website manwithoutfear.com. “I wrote with a ‘last meal on death row’ mentality.”
And what a meal it was. Besides introducing readers to characters like Typhoid Mary and Blackheart, she also took Daredevil out of Hell’s Kitchen and into, literally, Hell itself. In some of the best stories of her run — which lasted almost 60 issues, I believe — Matt Murdock and several companions were tested by Mephisto. It was a bold move away from the street-level action that fans expected from the book, and one that I thought worked out brilliantly. She also introduced Typhoid Mary, a compelling nemesis/love interest for Murdock.
The Nocenti/Romita Jr. run on Daredevil ranks up there as one of my favorites, right next to Miller’s original run. She filled some pretty big shoes, and she did it well. –JK Parkin
No doubt you’ll have your own favorites, so feel free to share yours in our comments field.