Empire State

By Jason Shiga
144 pages, color
Published by Abrams Comicarts

Jason Shiga is the sort of comic creator with whom you never know what you’re going to get next. Sometimes he plays with format and linearity, in books like Meanwhile and Hello World. Other times they’re more grounded but twist the world around them, telling crime investigation stories with librarians in Bookhunter or a unique locked-room mystery in Fleep. Empire State is probably his most standard, by-the-book comic since his Xeric Grant funded Double Happiness. But even here, it feels like Shiga can’t help but tinker with the story a bit and make something stand out from the rest. And in the case of Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not), it’s the first time where I feel like that spark of difference doesn’t quite work.

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Rainy Day Recess: The Complete Steven’s Comics

By David Kelly
120 pages, black and white
Published by Northwest Press

It was in the ’90s when I first encountered David Kelly’s Steven’s Comics. The Xeric Foundation had given Kelly a grant to publish a collection of some of his comic strips, and I fell in love with Kelly’s stories of a young gay boy growing up in the ’70s and struggling with the world around him. This past year, Northwest Press published a compilation of all of the Steven’s Comics strips into a single book, and going back and re-reading them made me realize two things. First, Kelly was way ahead of his time. And second, these strips are just as good now as they were then.

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A Waste of Time

By Rick Worley
136 pages, black and white
Published by Northwest Press

Rick Worley’s A Waste of Time is another in a long line of web comics that has made the leap to a collected print edition. In doing so, I think that A Waste of Time has shown both the strength and weakness of the online delivery system; this is a collection that weaves all over the place (figuratively and literally), and even as some stories improve by being collected together, others fall a tiny bit short.

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Taroch #1

Written by Clint Green
Art by Luke Orrin
24 pages, color
Published by Bad Imprint

Every now and then a random comic makes it across my desk, and to that list I get to add Taroch #1 by Clint Green and Luke Orrin. It’s funny because if you look at its contents on a clinical level, it’s a comic with two standard, by-the-numbers stories (one an ongoing story, the other a self-contained short). When you read it, though, it’s the execution of those stories that makes it ultimately stand out.

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Freddy Stories

By Melissa Mendes
112 pages, black and white

"Sweet" is often used as a negative adjective these days. You can almost hear the disdain dripping off the words in some reviews, as the person talking about the work tosses it aside with a simple, throw-away word. The sad thing is, it doesn’t need to be. There are things out there where sweet is not only the best word to describe it, but it’s a positive. And to that list, I would most definitely add Melissa Mendes’ Freddy Stories, her collection of short comics about a young and headstrong girl named Freddy making her way through life.

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Picket Line

By Breena Wiederhoeft
272 pages, black and white
Published by Easel Ain’t Easy

A 272-page graphic novel isn’t going to be written and drawn overnight, so it’s all the more impressive when you think about how timely Breena Wiederhoeft’s Picket Line is. With a young woman struggling to find a job, her place in the world, and figure out at what point working for a large company isn’t worth the financial security, it’s a book that hits a lot of the ideas currently gaining national traction on the news. And while there are some peculiar portions of the plot, Picket Line is ultimately a satisfying book that might not have a lot of answers for its readers, but will ask a lot of questions.

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Three #2

Written by Sina Evil, Jennifer Camper, Michael Fahy, Craig Bostick, and David Kelly
Art by Jon Macy, Jennifer Camper, Michael Fahy, Craig Bostick, and David Kelly
32 pages, color
Published by Rob Kirby Comics

One of my favorite anthologies from last year was Three #1, so having a second issue in 2011 was definitely reason to celebrate. After the first issue’s strong debut (and with Eric Orner’s "Weekends Abroad" garnering an Ignatz nomination as well as inclusion in Best American Comics 2011, as well as a second Ignatz nomination for the entire anthology), I’ll admit I was slightly worried that the second issue might not be able to keep up the high level of quality. What I got, though, was three new short stories that each provided something very different from one another, but all of which kept my attention from start to finish.

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52 Weeks Project

By Greg Ruth
120 pages, black and white
Published by Allen Spiegel Fine Arts

By now, you’ve probably heard of Kickstarter, a website that allows people to try and find funding for projects, and offer as incentive various premiums for different levels. (Often starting out with a copy of the project, and then going up in scale from there.) One Kickstarter project I did help fund earlier this year recently arrived at my door. And now that I’ve got it, well, here’s hoping that people who missed the Kickstarter train for Greg Ruth’s The 52 Weeks Project will eventually get another chance to buy this book.

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Sailor Moon Vol. 1

By Naoko Takeuchi
240 pages, black and white
Published by Kodansha Comics

Sailor Moon (or rather, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon as the cover states) is one of those comics that up until now, I knew a lot about but had never actually read. When both the manga and the anime were translated to English and brought to North America in the ’90s, saying it was a hit was an understatement. It’s probably safe to say that the amazing success of Sailor Moon is what helped position TokyoPop (then Mixx Entertainment) into a position of publishing strength for most of the last decade. And of course, I knew that Sailor Moon‘s target audience was teenage girls, something I’ve never had a problem reading in the past. But actually reading Sailor Moon? I must admit that this was not at all what I expected.

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Holy Terror

By Frank Miller
120 pages, black and white, with spot color
Published by Legendary Comics

Frank Miller made his name on comics like Daredevil, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, and Sin City. Since then, though, his career has been anything but predictable; comics like 300, All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, and Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Back have all had their share of both praise and hate, plus his forays into directing with Sin City and The Spirit. So when Holy Terror was first announced, the idea sent eyebrows shooting up for miles. The actual book, I suspect, won’t let those eyebrows go down any time soon.

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