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2017 in Review: Best Publisher

By | December 15th, 2017
Posted in Columns | 3 Comments
Logo by Benjamin Birdie

It’s that time of year! The Multiversity Year in Review is here, and from now until Friday, December 22, we will be talking about favorites in a variety of categories. Let us know what we missed in the comments!

5 (Tie). Black Mask Studios

Black Mask continues to prove itself as a publisher to watch, and the simple reason for that is also the purest reason you could possibly have: it produces brilliant content. It’s growing catalog is a testament to the innovation and creativity that is just one more reason why we are in a new Golden Age of comics. Books like “The Dregs,” “Calexit,” “There’s Nothing There,” “Black” and “Beautiful Canvas” are as diverse and unique as you can get, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they are all aiming to push the medium forward.

“The Dregs” alone would have ensured Black Mask a place on this list. The four issue mini-series kicked off 2017 in style back in January, written by Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, with art by Eric Zawadzki and Dee Cunniffe. The book was a meta-noir centered around a homeless amateur detective trying to solve the mystery of his disappearing friends. The truth is far more gruesome than he ever imagined, but the destination was always secondary to his journey, one portrayed with stunningly inventive layouts by Zawadzki, and driven by a smart, self-aware script. It’s a perfect example of what Black Mask does best: simple concepts that explore universal themes with a raw intensity rarely seen from bigger publishers.

Look at “Calexit,” a biting dystopic satire about a California refusing to be part of the United States, a book that could only be written and only have the impact it does in our current political climate. Or how about “BLACK,” a book that explores the persecution and racism systemic in our society through a simple question: what if only Black people had superpowers? “Beautiful Canvas,” a visceral, vibrant character study about the choices we make and the consequences of our actions, and “There’s Nothing There,” which looks at the terrifying occult power of celebrity, similarly push the boundaries within the reach of comics and all help to cement Black Mask as a publisher on the forefront of originality, and deserving of our recognition. -Matt Lune

5 (tie). Valiant Entertainment

Next time you open a comic review website, go and check the highest rated issues; you will surely find at least one book from Valiant Entertainment. The company is steadily getting more recognition since they came back five years ago. And this year they managed to be on the top of their game at every opportunity, with titles like “Harbinger,” “Bloodshot” (currently ‘Salvation’), “Faith” (and her ‘Future Force’), “Ninjak,” and “X-O Manowar,” where they gave us quality content in every issue.

Great creators showed us the meaning of creative freedom on a comic universe, Matt Kindt reshaped the world in “Divinity III: Stalinverse” he is creating a whole galaxy in “X-O Manowar” and is already altering reality itself in “Eternity”. Rafer Roberts and Darick Robertson got to kill an entire team in “Harbinger: Renegade.” Eric Heisserer and Raul Állen made a beautifully intimate story with Secret Weapons. As a reader, you can feel that every story has a heart, every story was made with passion and creativity.

The Valiant team knows how to sell a book, and in 2017 they used every weapon in their arsenal. They appeared on the Vans Warped Tour. Their gimmick game this year was on-point, those brushed metal-covers are amazing, and the upcoming “Quantum and Woody!” is going to bring back that 90’s foil (plus, that weird thing they are frenkensteining); their Prestige and Premium formats are making a standard in quality. This year they unveiled Pre-Order edition bundles, giving extra pages to their blockbuster titles, and even an exclusive “Bloodshot Salvation” extra issue.

And people noticed, they say “X-O Manowar” #1 is the best-selling independent book of the year, with around 100,000 copies sold between three printings, and “Secret Weapons” #1 is the best-selling independent mini-series with 36,000 copies. Valiant fans are a close community with a lot of diversity, from Faith’s female empowerment to Britannia’s gore, this is a community where everybody is welcome, and it’s growing bigger with every book, thanks to the palpable quality of this year’s titles. -Ramon Piña

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4. Dark Horse

It is a little cliche to say, but the motto “Dark Horse Builds Characters” really holds true for 2017. This can be seen from stories like John Arcudi’s “Dead Inside,” Jeff Lemire’s “Black Hammer,” Chris Roberson’s “The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed,” and many others. In addition, the stand-out original graphic novel of year was “Mr. Higgins Comes Home.” This was a perfect, quirky vampire book with amazing art by Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, and was everything that a comic book should be.

To take it to the next level, Dark Horse continues to publish some of the best library editions and omnibi on the market. The Dark Horse library edition to look for this year is Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy in Hell.” It contains the entire run of the series, has an expanded sketch book section, and is a must read in it’s oversized, library format. Let’s not also forget some of the other great books released this year like the Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible omnibus, the final Goon library edition, the oversized Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign hardcover, and the reprinting of Frank Miller’s classic Hard Boiled; just to name a few.

Outside of books, Dark Horse has had a major change in leadership with Scott Allie leaving the company. Scott has been an integral part of the publisher since the early 1990s and has worked considerably with Mike Mignola on the “Hellboy,” “Abe Sapien,” and “B.P.R.D.” series’. While Scott will stay on as writer for “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know,” he is now be an independent contractor writing and editing for hire with other publishers.

Overall, thank you Dark Horse for the amazing books you published during the year, and I look forward to seeing what will come out in 2018. – Christopher Lewis

3. BOOM! Studios

BOOM! cares about comics. Even though the publisher is a business, they’re not in it to screw customers over and push endless cash grabs on them. They have cultivated an environment where the stories matter, where the creators matter, and where truly unique ideas can flourish. In a world of endless high concept superhero, crime, and fantasy books from the same stable of creators, BOOM! just wants to let new voices share their perspective with the world. It’s worth noting their four separate lines: the general BOOM! Studios, which publishes comics with wider appeal in today’s market, KaBoom!, the all-ages line that publishes a healthy mix of original content and adaptations (including their first-dibs rule on Cartoon Network properties), BOOM! Box, which is an experimental line dedicated to passion projects and nurturing new creators and creators from other mediums, and Archaia, which mostly publishes full-length graphic novels for the book market. Through all this, they’re doing a lot to appeal to a wide variety of consumers across age, taste, and availability barriers. The only thing I feel that unites all of BOOM!’s books is the dedication to passionate storytelling. And that’s wonderful.

2017 saw the start of some great new series, including the well-received drama “Grass Kings,” supernatural horror “The Unsound,” and giant robot tale “Mech Cadet Yu,” the last of which became so popular that it was extended from a four-issue miniseries into an ongoing. BOOM!’s Cartoon Network properties are also still going strong, including the ongoing “Adventure Time” and “Over the Garden Wall” books, as are their many continuing BOOM! Box titles, including “Giant Days,” “Lumberjanes,” and “Goldie Vance,” the final of which moved from single issues to graphic novel releases in order to better appeal to the book’s market. This year also saw the first published comics work of some writers from other mediums, including “Hi-Fi Fight Club” from film director Carly Usdin, “Misfit City” from live action screenwriters Kiwi Smith and Kurt Lustgarten, and ongoing title “Fence” from YA novelist C.S. Pacat. Further, these books also contain the first published full-length comics work for the pencilers of all three series: Nina Vakueva, Naomi Franquiz, and Johanna the Mad, respectively.

BOOM! is the publisher where new readers of any age can easily find a favorite series, and it’s where Wednesday warriors can turn when they desire a change of pace from the “big three” publishers (DC, Marvel, and Image). Most importantly, thanks to their hard work this year, previous years, and in their plans for the future, BOOM! ensures a healthy future for the comics medium. -Nick Palmierei

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2. Image Comics

As a librarian, one of our cardinal rules of the profession is “every book its reader.” When I think of Image Comics, that’s what immediately comes to mind: there is something for everyone in the catalogue. It’s no surprise that they rank in our top 5 for the sixth consecutive year.

Want no holds barred laugh out loud humor that ignores all the rules? Try “Shirtless Bear-Fighter,” a book so unabashedly fun it’s my favorite book of 2017. Looking for a new take on some established urban legends? Read an issue of “Elsewhere,” which breathes fresh life into the legends of Amelia Earhart and D.B. Cooper. Kids not doing their mythology homework? Slip them some “Kill the Minotaur” to jump start their interest into the world of Greek myths. Been watching The Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead and want to see where it all began? Issue number one of “The Walking Dead” is waiting for you right at Image.

Image is not without its faults. They still tend to rely heavily on science fiction, but with established properties like “Saga” and “East of West” and the aforementioned “The Walking Dead” bringing in the profits, it’s hard to argue against fixing something that isn’t broken. Their comics also tend to run heavy on adult themes (see the recently concluded “Sex Criminals” and the new “Gasolina”) which makes it hard to introduce younger fans to their body of work. The new title “The Family Trade” is an all-ages tale set in a maritime steampunk land with a young woman whose passion and strength could give Wonder Woman a run for her money. Let’s hope we see more all ages books like this from Image in the coming year.

I also continue to be impressed with Image’s commitment to social justice causes. Their Pride month variant covers raised over $85,000 for the Human Rights Campaign, and 100 percent of their proceeds from their Women’s History Month variants went to Planned Parenthood. The Thought Bubble 2017 anthology raised funds for children’s charity Barnados, and they rushed a special variant of “Redneck” #7 to print to raise funds for the Houston Coalition for the Homeless and victims of Hurricane Harvey.They continue to upend the status quo by using their creativity to give back to the community. It’s easy enough in your 25th anniversary year to sit back on your laurels and celebrate, but Image knows that they would have never made it to 25 years of business without fans of all shapes and sizes having their back — so when the fans need help, they deliver.

If Marvel and DC are the Big 2, Image is nipping at their heels. And with some of the missteps that Marvel made this year, I would not be surprised if Image knocks them out of the top spot. – Kate Kosturski

1. DC

You don’t top this list of illustrious publishers without doing many things right. And you don’t thoroughly stomp your MAin RiVaL– who didn’t even make our list, despite their (diminishing) sales lead – without multiple good decisions. It’s true, DC had some missteps and egregious errors this year, peaking with the all-too-late reprisals for the worst-kept-secret of Eddie Berganza’s poisonous harassment, but extending to controversial or poor treatments of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s “Watchmen,” Dwayne McDuffie’s estate, and everyone who waited for the Mr. Oz reveal.

So what did DC accomplish in 2017 to bump it over six-time reigning Multiversity “Best Publisher” Image Comics? First and foremost, rather than the letdown that crept throughout much of the New 52 line by year two, the Rebirth Rebound has proven quite resilient. Fans differ if they prefer “Action” or “Superman,” if they’re feeling “Detective” or “Batman,” but there’s something for everyone… and nearly everyone loves the Jorge Jimenez-drawn joy of “Super Sons.” Titles like the Priest-written “Deathstroke” and Yang-written “New Super-Man” maintain quality storytelling, and others like “Batgirl” and “Aquaman” received fresh injections of artistic energy (Wildgoose and Sejic, respectively). DC knows its new ventures need anchoring in a solid meat-and-potatoes superhero line, and tweaking creative teams, ending double-shipping on certain titles, and sunsetting some books have all been moves that have felt calm, considered, and canny.

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Where DC really stands out in 2017, though, is the extent to which the company has let its creatives soar, giving DC an edge that bumps Image, shames Marvel, and rides the crest of the other publishers on this list. Cultivating Young Animal’s (re)inventive spirit of pop punk resuscitation for Doom Patrol and dark Gotham, Shade and Cave, by unleashing Way, Castellucci and Zarcone, Houser, and Allreds. Setting Tom King and Mitch Gerads loose on “Mister Miracle,” the post-Obama era New Gods resurrection that honors Kirby by refusing simple imitation. That honor tonally aligned with the rest of DC’s celebration of the King’s centenary, from “Kamandi Challenge” to a startlingly good “Black Racer and Shilo Norman Special” by Hudlin, Sienkewicz, and Cowan. They plugged crowd-pleasers Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo into the distortion pedal anthem of “Dark Nights: Metal,” running roughshod over the universe in an event that felt oddly both rebellious and reverential, both Judas and Priest, Black and Sabbath.

The list goes on. The surprisingly competent crossovers, from Batman/Flash’s “Button” to “Batman/The Shadow” to “Batman/Elmer Fudd.” The slow and thunderous roll of the Warren Ellis “Wild Storm.” The centering of rising stars like Joëlle Jones and Viktor Bogdanovich. Events that felt consequential but contained, like “The Button” and “The Lazarus Contract.” And then, the victory laps, done with reasonable grace. A coup of nabbing Brian Michael Bendis from Marvel, not to mention the James Robinson and Jeff Lemire homecomings. A teased “New Age of DC Heroes” that shows promise to credit artist creators. Milestone and Vertigo are poised for returns. And lest we fail to see the real carriers of the comics torch in our midst, the readers flocking to the likes of “Gotham City Garage” and “DC Superhero Girls,” streaming from the most resounding mic drop of all: not from a comic book, but Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot’s revelatory Wonder Woman. And maybe also Lego Batman.

Sure, the jury’s still out on “Doomsday Clock” and the returns aren’t great for the Justice League movie. Yet it feels more true than it has in a long time that the DC mythology is too big to fail, its future is promising, and if it can keep cleaning house and facing forward, the company’s Broadway-to-Burbank move two years ago will stand as a marker of a rebirth. – Paul Lai


Editors’ Commentary:

Brian: As the resident DC boy, this feels like a vindication for sticking out the New 52. But I also try to be an honest fan, and I can’t remember a year when DC has fired on this many cylinders in quite some time. With the Vertigo relaunch coming in August and the New Age of Heroes arriving in January, DC is both doubling down on its past and trying to do new things, all the while keeping pace with the behemoth that is Marvel. This was a good year for DC, but if they’re smart, the model they’ve established can lead to not just another good year or two, but a nice, long run.

Matt: DC breaks the Image Comics streak for Best Publisher on Multiversity Comics. Not being the biggest fan of modern corporate superheroes, it’s easy to go off on the cycle of these things, but they did put out some great stuff. I really dig Young Animal. I love “Batgirl.” They’re finding a balance between appeasing old fanboys while attracting new audiences. Don’t get me wrong, not a single one of these publishers has anything on GRAPHIX, but hey, they can dominate the Direct Market just fine.

Alice: This isn’t surprising to me. DC went from the class clown of the mid-2010s to the leader of the pack when it came to major corporate comics in the West. Flipping their entire model on its head to bring creator-centric stories not just in the imprints like Young Animal and the “still trying to remain relevant” Vertigo, but also in the DC Universe proper. Like it or lump it, but the Tom King/David Finch/Mikel Janin/Mitch Gerads/Jordie Bellaire run on “Batman” is more about who’s behind the page than on it and that’s a good thing to see at a publisher like DC. That, and I’m glad we’re giving more props to BOOM! Studios for quietly being the greatest workhorse publisher in comics.

//TAGS | 2017 Year in Review

Multiversity Staff

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