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Brett’s Best Comics of 2015

It’s the first day of a new year and so that means I’m posting my “best of” listing of the top comic books for 2015. Generally these are comic books that came out in 2015, though some are from earlier times and I got around to reading them, or limited series that continued. Keep in mind, this is what I have read (and does not reflect what other contributors to this site might think). If it’s not on here, I just might not have read it.

This was a particularly tough year of choices with some categories easily having their own top ten or twenty-five. Check out below what made the cut!

Best Super Hero Comic – Captain Canuck

Captain.Canuck 1 cover2015 continued the diversification of the comic industry and we saw an explosion of new comic characters and series that looked a lot more like us, the readers. But, for all of that, many of those series brought with them over the top violence or were aimed at specific audiences. That’s why Chapter House Comics‘ relaunch of Captain Canuck was such a fresh series and hero in 2015.

The comic series and character seem to embody Canadian ideals well and the series is a perfect example of a superhero series that can be enjoyed by both adults and kids alike.

Within its pages, there’s action and fighting, but what’s shown isn’t over the top, taking on a more PG/PG-13 tone compared to a lot of what else is out there. The series also celebrates the diversity that is Canada with characters from numerous backgrounds, including First Nations, and regularly uses French (without translation) to great affect. Plus that design is badass.

Each issue also gives you two-for-one, with a back-up story of equally high quality and fun. A retro tale of a Captain Canuck of the past, I’ve enjoyed these stories so much, I’m hoping Chapter House spins them out in to their own sister series or a regular anthology.

This is a series where the hero is one who not only wants to stop the bad guy, but also won’t put innocents at risk and go out of his way to protect them. Add on to the fact that he’s surrounded by a diverse cast, with actual depth, and we have a comic that can be enjoyed by all. This is a series to watch in 2016.

Runners Up:

  • COPRA – There’s some arguments to be made that Michel Fiffe‘s indie series about a group of raftag characters should be the top pick, and there was long thought about if it should, it’s that good. Out of all of the series I read this year, this is one that delivered with every single issue. This is a comic that shows that superheroes aren’t the domain of just two companies anymore.
  • Midnighter – Writer Steve Orlando‘s series has gotten me interested in a character I seriously had little interest in before. He’s take a one note character and added tons of depth showing that superheroes can be more than just punching.
  • The Omega Men – Writer Tom King took this ragtag group of characters and has given us a maxiseries that explores revolution/terrorism in so many ways. This is one to read once collected if you haven’t started yet.
  • Plutona – Is it a superhero comic? So far I’d say yes. Jeff Lemire is a master writer and Emi Lenox‘s art is fantastic. This is basically Stand By Me with superheroes and it’s a series that I want to see what happens next. With just a few issues so far, it has completely sucked me in.

 

Best Non-Super Hero Comic – Southern Bastards

southern bastardsWelcome to Craw County, Alabama, home of Boss BBQ, the state champion Runnin’ Rebs football team…and more bastards than you’ve ever seen.

Jason Aaron and Jason Latour have created a Southern gothic noir series that once you think you’ve got it down, pulls the rug right out from under you.

This series was my top pick last year, and it has continued to show with each issue why it deserves to continue to be so praised. Each volume has given us a new twist and new perspective on the greater world they’ve put together and Aaron and Latour aren’t afraid to bring the violence and make us wince.

It’s a brilliant exploration of the Southern community, especially its focus on sports and football. This is one of my first reads with each issue that comes out, and I have never known where it was going next. An original in every way.

Runners Ups:

  • Archie – I care about an Archie comic!? Archie took a gutsy chance and reworked their entire line. While it has failed with two other relaunches this year, this series (as well as Jughead) has been a standout for it’s new take on the classic character.
  • Bitch Planet- The series continues to explore tough topics and continues to entertain while doing so. This is a comic with a message, and it pulls it off with every single issue.
  • Descender- Jeff Lemire makes it on the list again, but this time with art by Dustin Nguyen. This sci-fi series is so hard to describe revolving around an android that looks like a little boy. Every issue is a treat to read, and Nguyen’s art helps with beautiful visuals.
  • Fresh Romance – Romance comics are dead! Who’d read them?! Well Janelle Asselin (a some times contributor to this site) proved folks wrong Kickstarting this line of comics that’s a romance anthology. Every issue has delivered with fantastic stories and extras like advice columns. Expect this series to be copied (poorly) in 2016.

 

Best Limited Series or One Shot – Secret Wars: Secret Love

secret wars secret love 1 coverMarvel’s Secret Wars as a whole was an event that started off strong and then sputtered along the way. However it did give us at least one highlight, and that’s Secret Wars: Secret Love.

Four stories that vary in tone and look, this comic is a spotlight on so many creators that should have been at the forefront of the All-New, All-Different Marvel.

Secret Wars: Secret Love was so good, with so many varied talented creators, it was a reminder how much Marvel dropped the ball with its relaunch just a few months. Whitley not on a Misty Knight series? Cmon! Michel Fiffe not being given something! Marguerite Bennet, Katie Cook, Felipe Smith, Gurihiru, Kris Anka, this comic was filled with folks who are comic stars. This is the type of creative line-up I’d be building a line around.

It was just a one shot, but when I was done it was clear I want more of this!

Runners Up:

  • The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage – Valiant cranked out so many good series this year, their miniseries especially were good. This one took on the new Doctor Mirage in a series that had her going to the other side and exploring her own past. This was a miniseries that in a short time gave us lots of depth, entertained, looked so good, and did it all in a short period of time.
  • Justice League: Darkseid War: Green Lantern – DC Comics released a series of one-shots for “Darkseid War,” and one stood above all others. The comics were supposed to explore what happens when regular humans get godlike powers, and this one did an amazing job as Hal Jordan was presented withed difficult choices. A great read all on its own.
  • Lady Killer – A suburban housewife is actually a contract killer. The comics was entertaining with a kick-ass female lead. The miniseries was fantastic playing with so many stereotypes and genres. This is Mrs. Smith, without the Mr.
  • The Paybacks – Mixing superheroes and comedy this miniseries has delivered. This comic has gotten me to laugh with every single issue and one of the downer moments of the year was the fact this wasn’t an ongoing series.

 

Best Graphic Novel/Trade Paperback – Mike’s Place

MikesPlace-300RGB

There was one graphic novel that haunted me for a good chunk of 2015, and that’d be Mike’s Place: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv.

Written by Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem, Mike’s Place is a graphic novel spun out of their experience that you can see in the documentary Blues by the Beach. What was supposed to be a movie celebrating Israeli life, and the peace found between Israelis, Palestinians, folks of all different backgrounds, who come together in a bar, instead it captures tragedy, and perseverance.

The graphic novel grips and effects you at a personal level. Part of that is due to the fact it’s both tragic and uplifting. The lead up, and post event accounting of what happened shows strength in tragedy, it’s a mesmerizing, and in ways uplifting, story.

Beautifully haunting, Mike’s Place is a graphic novel that sticks with you for days and weeks.

Runners Up:

  • The Arab of the Future – A biography of Riad Sattouf’s life as he navigates between Libya, France, and Syria. The graphic novel originally came out in French in 2014 and was released in English in 2015. The graphic novel is absolutely fascinating, and makes Sattouf’s life entertaining.
  • The Fall of the House of West – The latest entry in Paul Pope‘s Battling Boy line of comics, this has the early years of the West family and everything from its pint sized hero to pint sized format is a win. This is fun pulp comics.
  • March: Book Two – The second volume of Congressman Lewis‘ biography recounting his life in the Civil Rights movement. Much like the first, the second volume will be taught in classes for decades to come.
  • The SculptorScott McCloud‘s latest graphic novel has its fans and haters. The graphic novel follows an artist who makes a deal with death and has a finite time to live. The story is haunting and one that’ll have you debating with your book club.

 

Best New Series – Monstress

Monstress01_Cover

Monstress kicked off with a triple-sized first issue (60 pages!), and even when you got to that last page, it didn’t feel like enough. The series is a magical world (pun intended) that mixes so many genres that there’s a little something for so many. Fantasy, steampunk, Kaiju, anime, it’s all here mixed together in an amazing combination that seamlessly flows together.

I think what’s more impressive is the inclusion of political and societal commentary within, and doing so in a way that doesn’t come of as preachy, and is almost not noticeable. The story at it’s core is about a woman, a minority, fighting against the oppressive majority. Choices to have what seems like a matriarchal society changes that context into something more than a woman fighting the patriarchy which the series could have easily been (and it still would have been great I’m sure). Instead it gives us women who are good, evil, and somewhere in between painting a broad swath that can be debated for hours on end. It’s this type of layering of ideas, themes, and concepts that has created one of the richest debuts of the year.

In two issues Monstress feels like a thought out world with a history that goes back decades. Battles are referenced, events mentioned, it all feels like its been thought out and meticulously put together. Add on top of that women (well character really) of all types, shapes, sizes, skin color, and you have what is a diverse, in many ways, debut. All of that together creates the best debut of the year.

 

Best Single Issue – Batman #44

Batman #44 CoverBatman has gone through a fascinating shift this year as Bruce Wayne lost his memory and James Gordon stepped in as the iconic hero in a new mechanized suit that’s more anime fighting robot than the great detective we’ve known.

The series has also brought us a new villain in Mr. Bloom who is a great addition to Batman’s rogues and feels like a worthy adversary.

Through all of that, this comic, which focuses on Bruce Wayne’s Batman, is the best single issue of the year of any comic as it shows us something we’ve never seen before in comics, a Batman who actually focuses on the interplay between institutional racism and economic injustice.

Titled “A Simple Case,” the issue was written by regular series writer Scott Snyder who was joined by Brian Azzarello, we find out the issues Batman faces here are anything but simple and more complicated than any villain he’s faced.

For an issue we see how superhero comics can address actual social and economic issues we face today such as gentrification, institutional racism and bank’s disinvestment in communities. But, more importantly, addressing those issues and entertain at the same time.

Add on top of that the usual beautiful art, this time by Jock, and you have a comic you can read on its own, and the best single issue this year.

 

Best Event of the Year – Book of Death

BOD_TPB_COVER_GILLWho has the best superhero universe out there today? That’s not the big two, the answer actually is Valiant who continued in 2015 to show off quality comics filled with quality writing and art.

Not only does the publisher put out great comics every month, but they also have figured out how to weave in major events in to their universe and make it new reader friendly.

Book of Death saw the Eternal Warrior with the newest Geomancer from the future on the run trying to both dodge and take on a great evil pursuing them. Along with the main series, we got a glimpse in to Valiant’s future along with the end of many of its heroes.

The battles felt epic, the use of characters were great, the story progressed at a nice pace with each issue being vital. Add on top a series of one-shots all of which were at least good, and you have the making of an epic tale.

But, what’s even more impressive is the fact that Valiant has figured out the outro in many ways with their events leading in to natural changes for their line of comics and characters.

They’ve consistently put out quality, and continue to do so with their events. I usually shudder when I hear some major comic event is coming, but with Valiant, I look forward to it in anticipation.

Runners Up:

  • Darkseid War – A good event should be epic, and DC’s storyline event currently running through Justice League qualifies. The story has been building for some time, but the Anti-Monitor has arrived to battle Darkseid, and many of the issues have left us with imagery that feels massive in scale. Hopefully the second half delivers as much as the first.
  • Secret Wars – So much good, and so much bad here. Delays and the second half that hasn’t quite delivered as much as the first has tarnished what started off as Marvel’s best event in some time. Still, there’s absolutely this world changing event hasn’t been absolutely huge touching every corner of the Marvel Universe. With one issue to go, the series isn’t perfect, but it does deliver a game changing event.
  • Transformers: Combiner Wars – This was a story that hit so much nostalgia, but what I think as really impressive was the synergy across platforms. Comics, toys, video games, they were all in sync and it all worked together very well.
  • The Valiant – Did you read about Book of Death above? Everything there can be applied here in what is the prequel that eventually led in to Book of Death.

 

Best Genre of the Year – Indie Comics/Small Publishers

Is it a “genre”? We can argue about that, but lets face it, 2015 was a year we saw major creators continue to shrug off the big two, instead launching creator owned series at other publishers, digitally or through Kickstarter. We saw more comics, in more varieties, on more subjects and more ways to consume them, than any time before. It really wasn’t the year of the Big Two, this was a year that we as consumers could continue to find something that would fit our varied tastes.

With more channels for distribution and more ways to produce comics, we’re in a golden age where the old ways of publishing no longer hold back the creativity that abounds.

We named Indie Comics “it” in 2013 and 2014, and nothing changed in 2015. There’s a massive opening for someone to step in and be a mainstream breakout, maybe 2016 will be the year we see it.

 

Best Surprise of the Year – DC Comics

dc-logo-252x3002015 was a year that it was cool to shit on DC Comics. But, for the bad, their best is some of the best. Batman, Batgirl, The Omega Men, Justice League, Midnighter, Prez, Bizarro, Doctor Fate, We Are Robin, Grayson, Black Canary, Constantine the Hellblazer, Cyborg, DC Comics Bombshells, Martian Manhunter, and lots more hit the shelves each week and show off the new quality of a publisher that has been in second place for so long. Add on top of that a resurgence and reinvigoration of Vertigo.

After sputtering for some time, the company shook up their line of comics with Convergence which saw the recreation of the multiverse and opened up the possibilities to tell stories out of continuity and with numerous versions of classic characters.

The company also decided to expand of the success they saw with Gotham Academy and Batgirl, trying new things with new series many receiving critical praise though middling sales.

The company continued to expand upon its digital first program, and has begun to look towards expanding its market with its DC Super Hero Girls line. 2016 sees the real launch of their new movie universe after dominating on television.

The company has really turned the ship around and 2015 was a stellar year that you can see them right the ship while continuing to be faced with criticism from armchair experts.

The dots are all there, now we’ll see if the company has the vision to connect them all.

 

Biggest Disappointment of the Year – Kickstarter

KickstarterLast year’s disappointment continued to be so, as projects were delayed, vapor ware, or not as advertised. Also add in issues on the creator end of folks pledging high amounts and then disputing the charges, at times getting the goods. Add in the platform’s unwillingness to step in to deal with either situation and you get a tech company showing off it’s greed. What was once the toast of the town has shown its cracks which will only get worse.

The crowdfunding platform became a way for creators to raise funds for projects, only to get picked up by publishers, at times delaying projects and leaving bad tastes in the mouths of fans. If all creators were held to the standards of some of the best users of the system, there’d be no issue, but over 90% of the projects I’ve pledged to have been delayed or non-existent only creating angry backers and fans.

These issues have lead this site to rethink what we promote and how we do so, no longer choosing comics to promote, as we feel some responsibility for things gone wrong and your dollars being held hostage.

Kickstarter continues to be tone-deaf, and it’s only a matter of time before someone stands up and challenges the platform with a system that’s fair to creators, and protects those who pledge.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

 

Publisher of the Year – None of the Above

This one I’ve thought about the most out of all of the categories on the list. I keep going back and forth between Image, BOOM! Studios, Valiant, Action Lab, IDW, First Second, and so many more. For each strength one brings to the table, they also have major weaknesses. Whether it’s a focus on a genre, pigeonholing themselves with adults, failure in digital, a mix of quality of comics, none of them are at least good everywhere. But, the comic industry has really grown in 2015 with no one breaking out as THE publisher to rival the big two. Partially that’s because so many have stood out with some of what they’ve done.

Both DC and Marvel have stumbled in 2015 (though DC has shown improvement in many ways, see above), and it’s everyone else that has stepped up in an attempt to fill the gap left by the big two.

Image has become of the home of amazing indie comics by big name creators, but they generally lack a kids line that gets the next generation of readers. BOOM! has had a great mix of comics, but they’re missing that ongoing series that goes on for 30 to 50 issues. Valiant is quality all around and have tried some interesting market tactics, but you have to like superhero comics, Action Lab is a solid up and comer with good consistent releases. IDW has shown its possible to do great licensed comics, while First Second has fantastic graphic novels of all sorts. The year also saw newcomers like 451 Media, Aftershock, and Double Take, but each are having issues getting the word out.

Out of all of that, where’s the standout above everyone else? They’re all good in their own ways, but each have some flaws, with some of those flaws being pretty big. After a lot of deliberation, I couldn’t decide on one, so I chose none.

Much like I said about DC, each publisher is close to going huge, it’s just taking someone to connect those dots. Or maybe no one will, and it’ll be up to the individual creators to fill up the gap.

Graphic Policy’s Top Comic Picks this Week!

Starve01Wednesdays are new comic book day! Each week hundreds of comics are released, and that can be pretty daunting to go over and choose what to buy. That’s where we come in!

We’re bringing back something we haven’t done for a while, what the team thinks. Our contributors are choosing up to five books each week and why they’re choosing the books.

Find out what folks think below, and what comics you should be looking out for this Wednesday.

Brett

Top Pick: Mike’s Place: A True Story of Love, Blues and Terror in Tel Aviv (First Second) – The graphic novel recounts the true story of a suicide bombing at Mike’s Place, a bar where people of all persuasions get together to enjoy music and beer. It’s beyond moving, and hits you with a punch to the gut. Just an amazing example of using graphic novels to recount real life and history.

Batman #41 (DC Comics) – James Gordon in a robot/mech Batman suit? Yes please! Scott Snyder has been an amazing writer on Batman and it’s sure to look amazing with Greg Capullo on art. The all-new Batman makes his debut! What happens next? This is the new era in Gotham and it looks awesome.

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #1 (Marvel) – They are the elite. The best of the best. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson take Carol Danvers and her team of elite pilots into Secret Wars. It looks awesome. Beyond awesome.

The Disciples #1 (Black Mask Studios) – In the near future, Dagmar, Rick, and Jules, intrepid private eyes/bounty hunters, have been hired by a high ranking Senator to retrieve his teenage daughter who’s run off to join a mysterious religious cult. The latest from Steve Niles and Christopher Mitten.

Starve #1 (Image) – In a world torn apart by starvation and rising water, Chef’s are stars, especially one. This is the story of a popular cooking competition television show, and its star who wants to bring it down.

Edward

Top Pick: Gotham Academy #7 (DC Comics) – This title was an unexpected standout before Convergence, and while the crossover might have lost a bit of momentum for the title, it remains to be seen where the series can go from here, especially with the addition of Damian Wayne.

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #1 (Marvel) – Marvel has to get the ball rolling after giving Carol her own movie, but previous attempts have not always gone so well.  With budding superstar writers Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson on board this might be the vehicle to put Carol where she belongs.

Silk #5 (Marvel) –  Flying under most people’s radar is the most engaging of all the Spider-books, and Marvel’s most intriguing Spider-Woman.

Starfire #1 (DC Comics) – Starfire gets her own ongoing series for the first time ever. It will be interesting to see if the series’ less serious tone can stand a chance against other titles.

Starve #1 (Image Comics) – From a near future where humanity is obsessed with celebrity and looser with the laws, a celebrity chef returns to an unexpected challenge.

Elana

Constantine the Hellblazer #1 (DC Comics) – I’m going to have to come clean: I never read Hellblazer. I mostly know John Constantine via Swamp Thing and his various guest appearances over the years plus the recent television show which we reviewed the earlier part of. Occult detective/conman/former punk band frontman is a great logline if I ever heard one. He’s just the sort of character I’d enjoy reading (and not only because we have a good amount of music collection overlap and bi-solidarity and whatnot).

So, I can’t wait to check out this series premiere by artist and now writer, Ming Doyle. She’ll be our podcast guest on Monday! Doyle’s created some of the most beautiful and singular art in comics so while I’m a bit sad that there’s someone else on art duties, Riley Rossmo‘s art looks evocative and unique too. Co-writer is James Tynion IV.

1602 Witchunter: Angela #1 (Marvel) – Now here’s an alternate history Secret Wars book I can’t wait to read! It sounds sword and sworcery-ish and a whole lot of fun. Writers Marguerite Bennett, Kieron Gillen and artists Stephanie Hans and Marguerite Sauvage set up what looks to be a lovely package of King James England era heroics. I found the story in the other costume period drama Secret Wars book underwhelming: a faux Medieval themed Young Avengers-y book. But I have faith in these creators to put together something worthy of this stunning cover.

Gotham Academy #7 (DC Comics) – Did you hear? Bruce Wayne’s son Damian is now enrolled in Gotham Academy! He’s going to keep tabs on our misadventuring cohort of rebellious and lovable kids and keep them out of trouble. Or maybe just scowl and act aloof. It’s anyone’s guess!

Jack Kirby: Kamandi Artist Edition (IDW Publishing) – You really love me, right? You know how happy it would make me to get this gorgeously put together compendium of one of Kirby’s later masterpieces? Kamandi is/was “The Last Boy on Earth!” an inspiration for characters like the beloved Finn the Human of Adventure Time. Put it on your gift lists now because it’s going to be beautiful.

Silver Surfer #12 (Marvel) – This series has been fantastical with some of Allred’s most creative art in years. But the series is about to end. The previews make this story look like our heroes are trapped in a dream of some kind. Lots of time and space paradoxes have sprung up of late in this book. I feel like the previews are lampshading Dawn becoming the new Silver Surfer. That would be a pretty wild conclusion!

Pharoah

Top Pick: Ghost Racers #1 (Marvel) – This the title I have been looking forward to since it was first announced, as every Ghost Rider that has ever existed or ever even mentioned now compete against each other against all odds for freedom.

Injection #2 (Image) – When Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey left Marvel’s Moon Knight last year, one could only wonder hat this dynamic duo would be doing next. I can only say they did not disappoint ,  with this series so far, the first issue was a gut punch, the second issue , can only be an uppercut.

Red Hood & Arsenal #1 (DC Comics) – Out of the DC YOU reboot going on at DC, this sounds like one of the more promising titles, as Red Hood has become a fan favorite, now teamed with rogue hero, Arsenal, definitely sounds like a lot of fun, as these two  fight against the underworld of the DC Universe.

Starve #1 (Image) – I have been interested in this series since it was first introduced at Image Expo and Brian Wood has never disappointed since his days working on the landmark, DMZ. A story that sounds like Masterchef meets Survivor, pretty cool.

Weirdworld #1 (Marvel) –  Part of the Secret Wars titles , but written by Jason Aaron of Southern Bastards fame and art by Mike Del Mundo, defintely  one of the more interesting series to crop out of this Marvel event about a new character named Arkon, a medieval warrior type.

Jack Baxter Discusses Mike’s Place

Jack.Baxter1.credit.Gerry.LernerThere’s a rule at Mike’s Place: never, ever talk politics or religion. At this blues bar on the Tel Aviv beachfront, an international cast of characters mingles with the locals, and everyone is welcome to grab a beer and forget the conflict outside. At least, that’s the story Jack and Joshua want to tell in their documentary.

But less than a month after they begin filming, Mike’s Place is the target of a deadly suicide bombing. Jack, Joshua, and the Mike’s Place family survive the only way they know how-by keeping the camera rolling.

Written by filmmakers Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem and illustrated by award-winning cartoonist Koren Shadmi, Mike’s Place chronicles the true story of an infamous terrorist attack in painstaking detail.

With the release of the graphic novel by First Second this week, we got a chance to chat with filmmaker and writer Jack Baxter about Mike’s Place.

Graphic Policy: I feel like the first place to start is, how are you doing now?

Jack Baxter: I’m doing the best I can with the tools I have, which are diminishing as I speak – Seriously, I’m doing okay, and I’m looking forward to Mike’s Place being successful around the world.

MikesPlace-300RGBGP: You went to Israel to film a documentary, and after that initial project didn’t work, you did one about Mike’s Place. How did the graphic novel spin out of the documentary?

JB: I originally went to Israel at the beginning of the Iraq War in April 2003 with hope of doing a documentary about Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian who was going on trial in Tel Aviv on terrorism charges. Many people in the Israeli and Arab peace movement think of Barghouti as a potential “Palestinian Mandela” who could be the one to unite the factions and help broker a real and lasting Middle East deal.

Anyway, when that didn’t work, I found Mike’s Place and shifted gears.

The documentary my wife Fran and I produced about Mike’s Place, Blues by the Beach, has won awards at film festivals and even qualified for a 2005 Best Documentary Academy Award nomination.

My co-writer, Joshua Faudem, the director of “Blues”, and I took the Hollywood route and wrote a screenplay in 2010-2011. In early 2012, Mark Siegel saw the documentary, read the screenplay, and then took Fran and me out to lunch at a great restaurant – and the rest is history.

MikesPlace_combined_100-27GP: What were the differences for you when it came to putting together “the story” presented in the documentary versus what you put together in the graphic novel?

JB: Blues by the Beach becomes a cinéma vérité style documentary because of the suicide bombing. In the screenplay and especially in the graphic novel format, we delve into the bigger story of the actual plot to attack the bar and the travels and mindset of the two British terrorists. We could also show more of what was happening to the characters when the camera was turned off. We could never do that in our film because we were operating on what we knew at the time and what footage we shot.

GP: How long did it take for you to put together the film? How long was the process for the graphic novel?

JB: First, we edited a rough-cut in New York City for eight weeks – all of October and November 2003. A week in the studio with our Czech editor Matouš Outrata in Prague in April 2004; a week back in Manhattan in October 2004; then to Prague again for a week in February 2005. We put our final brush to it when we made our 35MM print to submit for the Academy Award nomination – that was two more weeks at DuArt Film Labs on West 55thStreet.

All told, two years editing the film. I’m exhausted just remembering all of it.

Joshua Faudem and I adapted the screenplay to the classic-style comic panels format template that editor/publisher Mark Siegel and First Second supplied us with. We took Mark’s direction and streamlined certain scenes, beefed-up a few others, wrote some new dialogue. The Mike’s Place screenplay is fast-paced, so it lends itself for graphic novel adaptation and movie storyboarding. Koren Shadmi breathed life into the plot with his tremendous art, and voilà, here we are almost three years later.

MikesPlace_combined_100-28.1GP: What are the advantages or disadvantages film has over graphic novels when it comes to storytelling and vice versa?

JB: With film there is sound – that’s the biggest advantage. However, in a graphic novel or book or any fixed artwork for that matter, the nature of its particular medium forces you to concentrate in order to comprehend, instead of with a film where the work is already done for the audience.

I’ll tell you, graphic novels are going to take over the world in the 21st century. Well, at least I hope Mike’s Place finds a worldwide audience.

GP: I noticed you also produced and directed Brother Minister: The Assassination of Malcolm X. I have seen the film, but it seems to have the same sort of “political” nature as Blues by the Beach and the documentary you initially wanted to film. Is there something about that type of subject that interests you?

JB: Brother Minister was a long and winding road too – life became art, tragedy struck, you name it. I thought I had a good grasp of Islam because of my experience with the Muslims I’d met and become friends with while making the documentary. After 9/11, I traveled to Israel for the first time in June of 2002. I rented a car and traveled all over and into the West Bank to the outskirts of Hebron. Let’s just say things got a little hairy for me down there and I hightailed it back to the Israeli checkpoint pronto. I vowed I’d never go anywhere near the Middle East again. But after reading that the American-backed Road Map Peace Plan was going down at the end of April 2003, and finding Marwan Barghouti’s compelling story that could put things in context for an interesting doc, I changed my mind and went back there again. Seems like I can never get away from politics and religion. That’s what I was trying to do by filming at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv – when they found me there on April 30, 2003.

MikesPlace_combined_100-28GP: The thing that struck me about the comic is how well it flows, building up to the tragic event we know is coming. How’d you work through as to what info to include, or not include, as you wrote the story?

JB: We already had our characters, knew the plot, and used the travels of the two British terrorists as our “time clock” to make it a page-turner. Anything that got in the way of story or made us yawn never saw daylight. Those scenes never even made it to the treatment stage of the screenplay. What’s on the page is exactly what we intended.

GP: Comics seem to be playing a pretty prominent role right now in shaping the debate in the Middle East and chronicling current events, especially over the last few years. What do you think about comics that they’re being used so much more to talk about politics, life, and current events in that region?

JB: I think it’s great. Effective and well-drawn comics can bring cultures together…I guess. But let’s face it; comics are provocative and meant to get immediate response. Making comics can get you killed and/or maybe help put things in perspective by holding up a mirror to the world. Doesn’t matter if you’re an Arab or an Israeli ­– who doesn’t like comics? Well, besides the intolerant fundamentalists of every persuasion.

GP: Have you been back to Mike’s Place since? How are they doing?

JB: I went back to Israel in 2006 for medical treatments and stayed for two months at Gal Ganzman’s bachelor pad in Tel Aviv and with Joshua’s parents Burt and Arlene Faudem up in Jerusalem. Fran and I went back to Israel together for a week in 2008. Everybody seems good. Mike’s Place has expanded to other locations. Besides the original Tel Aviv beachfront bar they have two more within Tel Aviv, and Herzliya, and Eilat. They franchised their Jerusalem location and it now serves kosher food, cold beers, and live rock and blues music. They even opened up a Mike’s Place Pizza joint next to the bar where I got blown up. Israelis are a strong crew – they’re not going anywhere. And now everybody over there is getting married and having kids.

GP: What’s the reaction been like to the documentary, or the graphic novel, for those in the region?

JB: Everybody at Mike’s Place loves the film and the graphic novel. But somehow, we still don’t have it published yet in Israel. You’d think somebody over there would jump on it. Joshua and I would really like to see it translated into Hebrew and Arabic and Farsi. Who knows, maybe graphic novels are the way to solve the Middle East Conflict.

GP: Have you thought about doing any more graphic novels or comics in the future?

JB: If I can get someone with the talent, patience, and genius of a Koren Shadmi, and if I get the same team at First Second – CHEERS!

Review: Mike’s Place

MikesPlace-300RGBThere’s a rule at Mike’s Place: never, ever talk politics or religion. At this blues bar on the Tel Aviv beachfront, an international cast of characters mingles with the locals, and everyone is welcome to grab a beer and forget the conflict outside. At least, that’s the story Jack and Joshua want to tell in their documentary.

But less than a month after they begin filming, Mike’s Place is the target of a deadly suicide bombing. Jack, Joshua, and the Mike’s Place family survive the only way they know how-by keeping the camera rolling.

Written by Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem, Mike’s Place is a graphic novel spun out of their experience that you can see in the documentary Blues by the Beach. What was supposed to be a movie celebrating Israeli life, and the peace found between Israelis, Palestinians, folks of all different backgrounds, who come together in a bar, instead it captures tragedy, and perseverance.

Going into reading Mike’s Place, you know the tragedy that will befall everyone at some point in the book. The tense vibe flows off the pages and builds as you get closer and closer to the event. Rarely has the slow build to tragedy, and the rebirth that follows, been captured with such a compassionate and unflinching eye. That’s primarily because Baxter and Faudem were at the event, witnessing it first hand, and don’t hold back details or showing us what transpired. Still, knowing what’s to come, the actual terrorist act, and what follows is a gut punch that can’t help cause you to tear up.

The graphic novel grips and effects you at a personal level. Part of that is due to the fact it’s both tragic and uplifting. The lead up, and post event accounting of what happened shows strength in tragedy, it’s a mesmerizing, and in ways uplifting, story. The attitudes displayed throughout the ordinary people show you some of the best of humanity, through all of their personal, relatable, flaws. It also shows the raw reality of Israeli life, some of which we don’t see here in the United States.

Baxter and Faudem are helped on art by Koren Shadmi whose style feels right for the region the story takes place. It’s a worldly style that’s not too detailed, but detailed enough to suck you into the Israeli world.

Beautifully haunting, Mike’s Place is a graphic novel that sticks with you for days and weeks. It’s absolutely Eisner material, and expect it to be nominated for numerous awards come time. One of the best graphic novels of the year so far.

Story: Jack Baxter, Joshua Faudem Art: Koren Shadmi
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

First Second provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review