Top Ten Online Comics of 2012

A column article, Top Ten by: Logan Beaver, Danny Djeljosevic, Steve Morris, Nick Boisson, Jamil Scalese, Chris Kiser

Hi. Our endless year-end coverage continues with a bunch of comics you could read for free online. That's right, we're doing The Best Online Comics of 2012.

There are roughly 7 million online comics, so in choosing ten we left out lots of really good ones -- probably some of your favorites. I chose a bunch of one-off stories while my peers chose their favorite longform webcomics. Please accept the weird variety in lieu of us not talking about Hark, a Vagrant! or whatever.

I really wanted to put Eat More Bikes on here but there wasn't room, so enjoy that as a secret eleventh entry.

- Danny Djeljosevic




Bouletcorp is a French journal webcomic by French cartoonist Boulet (which I thought was pronounced "Booleh" like someone vomiting, but it's actually "Boo-Lay" like a strange kind of cheering noise), and by now he has made nearly every sort of comic you can within that format. He has travelogues from his trips to Seoul and Cameroon, sketches of people he saw in Paris, comics about his thoughts on imagination (and talent and noise complaints),  and a bunch of other crap that would be boring as hell to read if anyone else tried it. Boulet makes great comics out of that crap with his utterly childlike imagination. Boulet would hate the comparison (see his comic Fuck Peter Pan), but there's no better way to describe it. A creative "adult-like" imagination might come up with something like, say, Invisibles, which is weird, amazing, and powerful in it's own right, but it doesn't have the sense of play that is the overriding creative force in the comics of Bouletcorp. The Saga of the Slugs is probably the best example of this: a story about a mundane bug infestation told with a bunch of pop culture references but fueled by pure whimsy. These are not stories that NEED TO BE TOLD, but stories Boulet told because he felt like it, in that moment, and that's as refreshing as it is rare. 



Boulet has the artistic chops to change his style radically from story to story, or even panel to panel, and if you dig through the archives you'll see comics so different from each other you'll think that they were made by different people (and no, they weren't guest comics). Actually, speaking of artistic chops, if you dig through the archives for long enough, you'll find some of his improvisational pieces, where he films himself drawing these highly detailed pictures within a few hours, completely without pencils or any apparent planning other than thinking "Let's draw the entire cast of One Piece today," or "Let's draw a pterodactyl being flown by a terrified raccoon." Improvisation seems to be second nature to Boulet, given his utterly terrific 24-hour comics. I'm not sure I have enough adverb+superlative combinations for how I feel about his 24 comics. Just go look at Darkness, Mermaids, and L'Odalisque. What other cartoonist could pull off such a wide variety of stories so flawlessly? There's no one like Boulet in American comics right now. 

- Logan Beaver



(Sam Humphries, Pete Toms; Study Group)

"Why do I make drawings when they make me feel wicked terrible?"

The above line is the Rosetta Stone for Sam Humphries and Pete Toms' "Virginia,"  a comic about a young woman who creates oddball comics under the belief that she's a being from another dimension, trapped in our world. It doesn't matter whether she is or not; what matters is that she creates. And, as anyone who does anything creative knows, you partially do it because you're insane and can't do anything else. There's also that crippling fear of rejection -- that putting yourself on the page will just be met with ridicule like so:



But don't worry, Virginia. They might not understand, but comics would love to have you.



Beautifully illustrated by Pete Toms with vibrant colors and surrealist imagery, "Virginia" dropped the year that Humphries began putting out Marvel Comics work, following his breakout one-shot Our Love is Real and "Joy Division meets Aztecs" miniseries Sacrifice. It's amazing to know that, as he's writing the more mainstream-friendly adventures of the Ultimates, he's also still cooking up more idiosyncratic work like this.

It's a glorious, dreamlike work that works as well as a metaphor for escaping into one's own fictional worlds as it is for  -- so much that using words to describe it is difficult. Just go read it.

- Danny Djeljosevic


Bad Machinery

(John Allison)

Bad Machinery is written and drawn by John Allison (or should that be, the British Comic Award-winning John Allison? Yes, yes it should be, because this year he won a British Comic Award). Updating several times a week, Bad Machinery tells mystery stories, essentially, with each story lasting for months at a time. The current storyline dates back to August, for example, although the majority of this year was taken up with "The Case of the Fire Inside!"

Allison’s charm is in his writing, which is never anything less than charming and warm. His characters all come from a place of depth, even the ones who are used mainly as punch-lines for the others to jump off -- this isn’t a comic where people are friends for no reason. Bad Machinery takes the time to establish everyone in relation to each other, creating a web of friendships and enmity which creates a solid structure right at the heart of each story.  As a result, Bad Machinery works best when you start right at the beginning of a story and race through it in on solid go, building up the characters and world as you go.



Although it does work episodically, the charm of Allison’s work really comes across when you read a chunk at a time. I’d be remiss if I ignored the other massively important aspects of the comic, of course – his lettering, for a start, has a structure all of its own. Emphasis comes either from italics, when people are being sarcastic, or all caps, when people BREAK SUBTEXT. It’s a simple change, but it adds a unique style to the way you read each panel. And the art, oh boy. Allison’s work is delightfully expressive, with characters running the gamut from pangs of unrequited love right through to insane rage time.

Bad Machinery is a lovely comic, silly and fun but with real heart and soul to it. YOU would be remiss if you DIDN’T read it! If you see what I’m doing there.

- Steve Morris


Anything Johnny Ryan did for Vice this year and probably ever

(Johnny Ryan; Vice)

Transgression is an essential part of art. Boundaries need to be pushed -- both to see how far they can be pushed, and also so regular folk can see their limits and decide how happy they are living drug-free with NCIS: Los Angeles. Which is where Johnny Ryan comes in -- not only does he do crazy shit like Prison Pit and drawings of sexy Garfields, but he also does comics for Vice.



Vice itself describes Johnny Ryan's comics as "bigoted, mean-spirited drawings of anthropomorphic genitals and surprisingly accurate adaptations of literary classics" illustrated in the back of their print edition, but now they're online and I don't have to write a description of Ryan's work. Thanks Vice!



Ryan's work is gross, smutty and hyperviolent; he doesn't give a fuck about being offensive and the result is some seriously funny comics that I never feel bad for reading. It's got that transgressive underground comix spirit from back when sexual deviants in the '60s were drawing every horrible thing they thought of and then being surprised when Disney sued them, but with bright colors and the added benefit of knowing that, unlike them, Johnny Ryan doesn't have a mustache.

- Danny Djeljosevic


Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

(Prudence Shen, Faith Erin Hicks)

Thanks to none other than Comics Bulletin’s own co-managing editor, Danny Djeljosevic, introducing me to Degrassi: The Next Generation, I have rediscovered my affinity for high school melodrama that I had lost after Beverly Hills, 90210 was cancelled. But since I have opted to no longer pay for cable television, I have been going through withdrawals. So when I heard that Faith Erin Hicks was going to be drawing a webcomic set in a high school, I figured that I might slowly curb the shakes I get when I don’t get my stories. That said, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is not what I was expecting, and for that, I love it all the more.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is about two childhood friends -- Nate (the geek) and Charlie (the jock) -- who are pitted against one another when Nate’s Science Club funding to attend the Annual National Robotics Competition may disappear to give the cheerleading squad new uniforms. Why is Charlie involved, you ask? Because the head cheerleader, Holly, is Charlie’s girlfriend. Well, ex-girlfriend, but Holly manages to still find ways to manipulate Charlie despite the breakup. So, when the funding is left to the decision of the student government, Nate decides to run for student body president. And let’s just say that it all goes downhill from there.



Not the comic, though. It only gets better! Prudence Shen’s tale takes the archetypes used in many teenage movies and television shows, but has created such a wonderful story that it all feels quite fresh. While the plot is fun and the situations are hilarious, it is the characters that make this comic worth reading after you get home from the minutiae of the average weekday. And while the dialogue is snappy and droll, it is the moments when the characters don’t speak that end up being the moments which stand out most. To that, the credit goes to Faith Erin Hicks’ gorgeous black-and-white art.

Shen and Hicks have put so much into this story and one cannot help but take it all in. A new page from this online graphic novel goes up five time a week -- Monday through Friday -- and 120 pages are already up for you to enjoy on the page. While I cannot wait to see how Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong ends, I weep for the evening when I won’t be reading it after a rough day.

- Nick Boisson


This is Wild Dog!

(Kyle Starks)

2012 was the year I became such a prick that I've started to prefer bootleg comics over the real thing. Regardless of quality -- and there's some really good shit coming out that I pay money for -- corporate comics are designed to perpetuate characters, with editorial in place to ensure that IP isn't being fucked with beyond repair or disrupting a property's chance of becoming a movie. Meanwhile, the bootleg shit exists because somebody wanted to tell a story featuring a character they're interested in. I know which one sounds more palatable to me.



For example, we have This is Wild Dog! by Legend of Ricky Thunder creator Kyle Starks, a thing he made for a laff because he hit 200 followers on Twitter. Wild Dog, for those unaware, is a vigilante who wears a hockey mask, camo pants and a football jersey with a dog on it. Created by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty, Wild Dog got a four-issue miniseries in 1987, a stint in Action Comics Weekly and intermittent appearances in stuff like Booster Gold #8. Shit's goofy as hell, but totally lovable.



With This is Wild Dog! Starks has a perfect handle on how a character like this should be treated -- with the awareness that he's inherently ridiculous, but also knowing that he should probably be killing terrorist-type guys so it doesn't feel like some jerk's snarky gag. The result is one of the funniest action comics you'll read this year -- a vision for a world where corporate comics is a collection of diverse creators lovingly interpreting their favorite characters in their respective styles, no matter how idiosyncratic or "cartoony."

TL;DR -- at one point Wild Dog says this:



- Danny Djeljosevic


Sin Titulo

(Cameron Stewart)

It was 2009. Someone sent me a link to a pretty cool webcomic with a weird name. It had a beach, a confused main character, a distinct art style and no ending.



Cameron Stewart's Sin Titulo debuted in 2007 as a hobby project, a perfect example of the functionality of webcomics. Posting pages in his spare time, Stewart slowly drew a considerable following for his part thriller, part memoir that toys with the nature of reality and the perception of art. The comic updated sporadically over five years until this summer when Stewart began  posting several pages a week and, bam, the wild ride finally started to make sense. Already a multiple award winning comic coming into this year, the fact that Sin Titulo completed in 2012 makes it a worthy entry for our list of best online reads.



The comic is aesthetically delicious, a tour-de-force of great style, color and lettering choices. Stewart's uncluttered, simplistic approach feeds into the main character Alex Mackay and his feelings of failure and banality, and it is a work that's both memorable and stimulating. This is a project I thought I would be in a rocker before I saw finish, but it got to an ending, and whoa, it's a doozy.

- Jamil Scalese


Hottest Chick in the Game

(Sean T. Collins, Andrew White)

Shit like "Hottest Chick in the Game" is why I love comics as a medium. A comic about an depressed, unfulfilled Drake -- the overly sensitive rapper and erstwhile Wheelchair Jimmy -- venturing into strange science and opposing the Illuminati, "Hottest Chick in the Game" is so weird and niche that you couldn't persuade enough people to make it a movie, least of all the celebs depicted within it. But as a comic by two people working on their own, it finds the perfect form to exist.



In terms of premise, "Hottest Chick in the Game" is deeply funny -- just describe the plot and some of the tangible details to somebody and listen to the guffaws of rejection -- but Sean T. Collins' story actually takes the whole thing seriously, using the themes of Drake's album Take Care as a springboard for a story about the destructiveness of seeking fulfillment through seemingly endless means with all sorts of amazing bizarro details like Kanye, Jay-Z and Beyonce as "illuminated seers and" Chris "Human Garbage" Brown being mysteriously vanished -- all illustrated in Andrew White's faint tones that underscore the unsettling nebulousness of Collins' world.



What's even better is that "Hottest Chick in the Game" is so specific -- regular comics readers are likely too square to appreciate Collins/White's choice of subject and the pop culturally aware may balk (and have balked) at Collins' unconventional story and White's art comix style. But this is comics, where budgets are low and creativity is high, where you can create something special and distinct and put it on the Internet at a low risk, in the hopes that it will find its audience. And it has.

- Danny Djeljosevic


The Abaddon

(Koren Shadmi)



For its first year of existence in 2011, The Abaddon did a phenomenal job luring readers into the heart of a compelling mystery surrounding a head-bandaged protagonist named Ter and the bizarre cast of characters he encountered in a rented apartment. 2012 was the year in which the curtains were peeled back just a bit and some of the weirdness began to be explained (or, at least, given greater context), and, while some lesser works tend to lose their intrigue once this revelatory narrative corner is turned, Koren Shadmi's brilliant two-toned webcomic has consistently bucked the trend. The Abaddon continues to be as riveting as ever, dragging its lucky audience through a spiraling tale of guilt, fear, longing and lust. And it doesn't hurt that Shadmi likely hasn't shown us all of his cards just yet.



In the past 12 months, Ter has come up against a narcoleptic lover, a way too generous couple and a bodybuilding dominatrix, not to mention the images of an enigmatic hooded nudie model that he can't get out of his head. Each of these run-ins feels equal parts revolting and seductive, as Shadmi captures the self-conflicting nature of the human psyche as expertly as anyone I've ever read. If I had to put my money on the table right now, I'd wager that the comic is meant to be a rumination on how the loss and regret of this present life might follow us into the next, though I'll readily admit that The Abaddon could resemble something else entirely by the time it's through. What I can say with 100 percent surety, however, is that I can't stop reading.

- Chris Kiser



(Chris Onstad)

Look, I don't have to tell you that Achewood is good. It's been around for 11 years. If you're reading Comics Bulletin these days you probably know it in all its absurdist, hilarious glory. It's a very funny webcomic about these pets that live together in Chris Onstad's house, but that hardly explains it at all. The best way I could ever explain Achewood to you is if you just keep clicking "Random Comic" until you get it. Chris Onstad's output through Achewood has been infrequent compared to most webcomics in recent years as he's chosen to adopt a schedule that seems to be "whenever I finish one," makin the comic all the more special in its rarity.

While it's all been great, February 20's "Street Sheet" is the standout installment of the year, where Onstand writes a superbly written, dense bit of comedy even by Achewood standards. At the risk of explaining the joke, you have the identifiable situation of the unavoidable homeless solicitor, hobo jokes within the newspaper panels and a final gag that resonates because, well, who's actually read a homeless newspaper?



Achewood started as a three-panel sort of deal, but it seems that Onstad got bored with the form and expanded to a "full-page" style to further live up to the bar set by George Herriman. As a result, Onstand gets to have more room to do things like a silent top tier of Roast Beef walking down the sidewalk or spend time setting up the jokes instead of rocketing the reader to the next panel because you only get three. It reaps the artistic rewards of the Infinite Canvas, but the page is still technically divided in three -- it's just that they're tiers instead of panels.

This installment in particular offers rewards for rereads, because chances are you missed details like the "Winter/February" thing -- which is maybe the smartest, most clever joke I've ever read -- or subtle cues like imagined newspaper is a thought bubble while the real one is indicated by a speech balloon. Just a couple examples of Achewood's shockingly deft handle on the language of comics.

- Danny Djeljosevic



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