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2018 in Review: Best Publisher

By | December 14th, 2018
Posted in Columns | % Comments

Despite webcomics and self-publishing, the comics industry is still based around publishers. While new ones keep popping up, the six represented here have all been in the game a little while, and have all adapted a bit in the current comics market.

5. First Second

First Second publishes some of the most in-demand, most-read comics at the moment. They’re right up there with Scholastic’s Graphix line in turning out innovative, diverse books people want to read, that don’t exist simply to maintain an IP. An imprint of Macmillian, one of the biggest book publishers in the world, they’re able to use their considerable resources to gather some of the strongest cartoonists to create some of the most memorable modern comics. From what I’ve seen, said cartoonists are given the space, freedom, and support to weave their stories, to push themselves in their art, and to create books that linger. It’s no so much adhering to a continuity or demands of editorial leadership, but delivering an honest and true expression through the medium. In 2018, First Second released new work from Vera Brosgol, Hope Larson, and Faith Erin Hicks, Tony Cliff, and Gene Luen Yang. One of their favorite moves is to bring webcomics to print and you bet we saw that with Ngozi Ukazu, Tillie Walden, and Drew Weing. We even saw them try adapting a podcast.

The moment we see the colophon for First Second, the moment one of their new graphic novels hits the stands, we know we’re going to get some interesting, innovative, honest, and fun. Comics are a broad medium and First Second has been regularly attracting the people who made it such a wonderful playground. – Matt Garcia

4. Dark Horse

It has been quite the year for the house of “Hellboy.” That flagship character nabbed the Eisner award for “Best Single Issue/One-Shot” with its ‘Krampusnacht’ special. That’s not the only good news for fans of “Brother Red.” The upcoming 2019 film was recently screened to what is being reported as a “hugely positive” response.

“Hellboy” is far from being Dark Horse’s only success story, though, especially as of late. The wildly successful “Black Hammer” series returned this year with “Age of Doom,” along with the spin-off minis “Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows,” “The Quantum Age,” and the “Cthu-Louise” one-shot which debuts December 12. All of this on the back of the movie and TV deals having been signed make this quite the year to be a fan of Jeff Lemire’s universe of characters.

These aren’t the only high-profile opportunities for the company in 2018, either. Gerard Way’s “Umbrella Academy” had been announced last year as a new “Netflix” show to release in 2019, and the first trailer just dropped to quite a bit of buzz. Dark Horse also managed to snag the license for the runaway “Neflix” success “Stranger Things” and released their first issue in September to sales of over 60k, landing it in the top 20 books for the month.

This year also saw the release of the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s graphic novel “Hungry Ghosts.” Bourdain tragically took his own life in June. “Hungry Ghosts” was one of his last writings and was released in January.

There was so much more from the publisher this year that it is too much to note in a round-up like this, but we would be remiss to not mention the successes of the “Berger Books” imprint, which launched in 2017 under the “Dark Horse” umbrella. The imprint has released a slew of well-received titles already which just this year include “Incognegro: Renaissance”, “Olivia Twist”, “Mata Hari”, the previously-mentioned “Hungry Ghosts”, and the critically-acclaimed “She Could Fly” and “The Seeds.”

All in all, it is a good time to be a fan of the indie darling publisher that had already given us a wealth of stories for over 30 years. – Dexter Arnold

3. Marvel

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been solid for a long while now. We all know that each new trailer is going to trend, the movies all perform financially and even the worst offerings are okay. On the other hand, Marvel Comics has been pretty shaky in recent history. They have been scattered or all over the place and don’t get me started on the relaunches… I’ve been hoping that Marvel Comics would finally find its footing and get solid again. Well, they may have done it. This was a very good year and the ‘House of Ideas’ got a lot of things right.

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Marvel has struck a good balance between the familiar and the new. The Avengers feel like Earth’s Mightiest Heroes again. They kicked off the year with the weekly epic ‘No Surrender’ and Jason Aaron has continued that big blockbuster feel now that he’s in the driver’s seat. Spider-Man is back with Mary Jane, which is long overdue. They were treated like redheaded stepchildren for a while, but the Fantastic Four and the X-Men are back in full force. The mutants especially. Jean Grey returned and unlike Batman, the X-Men delivered a wedding event that fans approved of.

Marvel has shown a lot of love to its younger heroes in 2018. Under Jim Zub’s pen, “Champions” has come into its own. “West Coast Avengers” is fun and the Runaways are back. This year, Marvel has really taken risks with their big characters. They’ve given Ed Piskor free reign over “X-Men: Grand Design” and “Second Genesis” and its paid off. “Immortal Hulk” by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett is scary good, taking the jade giant in a completely new direction. This year marks Evan Narcisse first time writing a comic and he absolutely knocked it out of the park with “Rise of Black Panther”. T’Challa was sent into outer space by Ta-Nehisi Coates and, in a move I never would have saw coming, Coates now writes “Captain America”…and it works. Now all we need is for them to take this momentum into the new year. Excelsior! – Michael Govan

2. BOOM! Studios

At New York Comic Con this year, I had the pleasure of attending the BOOM! panel, where Boom’s greatest attributes were exemplified by the two presenters: Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon and President of Publishing and Marketing Filip Sablik. The two had such a strong dynamic that was at all times clear, fun, informative, and exciting. Gagnon manned the podium and presented the creative guests, while Sablik attentively ran around the room, stoking the audience with participatory questions and giveaways. The announcements presented themselves with just the right amount of excitement, and each of the creators were given a platform to strut their stuff. Gagnon and Sablik aren’t the only people who run BOOM!, but given that they’re the two biggest names at the publisher besides the CEO, I can see how their dynamic trickles down into the publisher’s overall image.

Like Gagnon and Sablik, BOOM!’s line is at all times fun and exciting, and its presentation is always clear and informative. Their four lines couldn’t be easier to understand: KaBoom for younger readers, BOOM! Box for young adults, BOOM! for adults, and Archaia for readers of original graphic novels with a literary bent. As an adult with wide-ranging interests, I can find something exciting in every category, and BOOM! has had an incredible year.

KaBOOM!’s adaptations of both new and old cartoons like “Adventure Time” and “Rugrats” aren’t content to stick any creative team on a run-of-the-mill book, leading the Adventure Time series to explore the nooks and crannies of that universe with up-and-coming independent creators, and leading the Rugrats book to explore modern-day parenting under the pen of Ignatz award-winning graphic biographer Box Brown. As for their original content, one can always find a new favorite in the Boom! Box line that tends to bring in creators from other mediums, with books like novelist C.S. Pacat’s and artist Johanna the Mad’s “Fence,” or the long-running sitcom “Giant Days” from webcomics creator John Allison and artist Max Sarin. The titular Boom line lets creators specialize in exactly what they want to do, with books like auteur Matt Kindt’s black-ops boy scout book “Black Badge” or Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa’s heartwarming mecha series “Mech Cadet Yu.” Over in Archaia, the long-form graphic novel format allows for books like “About Betty’s Boob,” where Vero Cazot and Julie Rocheleau explore of the emotional cost of a masectomy.

In all honesty, the clarity and excitement mentioned above have been staples of BOOM!’s brand for at least a few years, meaning consistency is another of their strengths. But in an effort to further expand the medium, the publisher has played a lot with formats this year. The aforementioned “Fence” was chosen to continue life as a series of original graphic novels, “The Backstagers” and “Rugrats” have continued on in the form of the occasional one-shot even though their ongoings have ended, and books like “Mech Cadet Yu” were allowed to continue on past their four-issue beginnings into a full series. There’s a real sense that Boom’s stories are allowed to last the lengths that the stories desire, with the ultimate goal being happy creators and a happy readership. Really, you can see that desire to please in all aspects of the line, going right back to the way Gagnon and Sablik effortlessly presented that NYCC panel. And at the end of the day, I can’t think of a better thing for a comics publisher to strive for. – Nick Palmieri

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1. Image (tie)

Image tied with DC comics for the top slot this year with the Multiversity Staff, surely for everyone that voted that way it was because something personally resonated with them. Not being wedded to a single unifying shared setting or even genre Image Comics has the real potential flexibility to appeal to just about anyone. 2018 saw the launch of lots of new series, the end of a few and critical acclaim for one in particular. Many of the books image launched in 2018 had such strong initial sales that they went back to print in the day of release if not seen there after.

A lot of the new series play to Images strength in original science fiction. “VS,” “The Weatherman, ”Outer Darkness,” “Prism Stalker,” and “Oblivion Song,” are just a few of the new SF offerings. They are all so very different from one another yet still fit well on a comic shelf together. On the fantasy side of things Brendan Fletcher and Karl Kerschl’s highly anticipated “Isola” started this yet delivering all the Miyazaki influenced fantasy they promised. In addition to bringing more of Bengal’s artwork to the US with “Death or Glory” Image is publishing Mirka Andolfo’s weird dystopian romance title “Unnatural” in English. Speaking of Romance, In February 2018 Image did their first publishing run of “Bingo Love” from Tee Franklin and Jenn St Onge that they recently published an expanded edition. They also published Alex De Campi’s genre defying anthology “Twisted Romance” that exposed a lot on new and interesting talent.

Multiversity’s Pick of the Week column frequently featured an Image title during the last year, as a matter of fact 10 weeks picks were from Image. A few of those, “Oblivion Song” and “Man-Eater” for instance, were ones you might have predicted most of them though were less high profile. The books spotlighted included the new SciFi title “The Warning,” the historical urban fantasy “Bitter Root,” the deeply researched historical drama “Shanghai Red,” and a couple of humorous monster hunter Books “ExorSisters” and “Murder Falcon.”

A couple of books with strong fan followings, “Motor Crush” and “Moonstruck,” decided to change publishing format. Where this move will be positive or not we will have to wait and see but having the flexibility to do so at Image may be a plus. The readers of both might be better served from the longer format. If this works it may open a different option for some creators in the US.

1. DC (tie)

2018 was not nearly as great for DC as 2017 was, in terms of the overall quality of the average book. In 2017, it seemed like DC was firing on all cylinders, with very few misses among the hits, either in terms of critical or commercial success. Specifically, 2018 saw the flawed roll out of the ‘New Age of Heroes,’ a failure so clear that just a year or so after launching, only a handful of the titles are continuing. And DC’s Black Label, its mature line, stepped in it when the “Batman Damned” nudity controversy made the company national news.

But, despite all of that, DC still took the top spot. Why?

Well, for one, because DC keeps diversifying its product. This year saw the “Super Hero Girls” OGN line really take off and, as someone whose daughter loves those books, I can attest for their effectiveness. While ‘Young Animal’ took its hiatus towards the end of the year, the ‘Milk Wars’ crossover and the second run of titles continued to push the books into weird and interesting places. Warren Ellis’s small but fledgling Wild Storm corner of the universe was absolutely fantastic. The Vertigo relaunch, though marred by this week’s news, has produced really odd and fun books.

But the big one was that DC brought in Brian Michael Bendis and, despite many vocal naysayers, myself included, Bendis has absolutely killed it at DC. Writing the Superman titles, participating in the odd, but seemingly smart Walmart 100 Page Giants, and bringing Jinxworld to DC all could have been major missteps if handled incorrectly. But Bendis and DC put their nose to the grindstone and figured out a plan that worked.

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Couple that with Scott Snyder taking over the Justice League titles, and the continued long runs of some really interesting titles – specifically “Deathstroke” and “The Flash,” – and the mainline DC looks maybe not quite as strong as it did in the immediate ‘Rebirth’ afterglow, but not too much worse for wear, either.

With Bendis’s ‘Wonder Comics’ imprint launching in January, and the middle grades DC Zoom and young adult DC Ink lines launching later in the year (along with the ever present rumors of Milestone getting back off the ground), DC looks to further diversify their output in 2019. If DC wants to compete with the giant that is Marvel, this seems like a really solid plan to do so. – Brian Salvatore

Editors’ Notes:

Matt: I think the best comics publishers are the ones who give their creators the most freedom. To tell a story, to play with format, to get their work out there. Although I’m not big on the corporately-owned superhero powerhouses, it’s difficult to ignore their influence on the Direct Market and how that influence steers the conversation around the medium. I’m glad Dark Horse is still kicking, especially because it seems like they’re getting beaten down at every turn (they just lost Buffy this year), but the work they produce runs the gamut of expressionistic to licensed. BOOM! has really found their target audience and First Second continues to be great.

Brian: I love seeing First Second and DC on the same list, because I think it shows how diverse the world of comics is in 2018. Different comics scratch different itches, and this list represents just some of the types of comics that can be enjoyed without too much difficulty and hunting in 2018.

With Viz changing their delivery system for manga, I think 2019 may be the easiest year yet for new readers to jump into comics. And with all the toxic shit happening in our world, there’s at least that, right?

//TAGS | 2018 Year in Review

Multiversity Staff

We are the Multiversity Staff, and we love you very much.


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