The Middle Ground #55: 5 Oni Press books you should probably read
As part of the Wait, What? podcast I do for the Savage Critics – You do listen, right? If not, shame on you – someone asked the other week what I thought of Oni Press, and I admitted that I am a fan of pretty much everything Oni puts out. It was a thought that reappeared in my head this weekend, re-reading Sarah Oleksyk’s spectacular Ivy and thinking, “Man, Oni owns the YA comic market, doesn’t it?” – even though Oni themselves call the book for Older Readers, for obvious reasons if you’ve read it… but as a YA book, it’s just so, so good. So, this week: Five Oni Press books you should really make a point of reading, if you haven’t already.
#0, Because You All Know About This One Already, Right?: Scott Pilgrim
One of those rare things that not only lives up to, but surpasses, the massive amount of hype surrounding it, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series remain some of the best comics of the last ten years: Funny, smart and with surprising heart, the six volumes in the series are really must-reads for anyone who’s interested in comics, or wants to see one of the most accomplished cartoonists of his generation at work.
Picking up from his own Demo, Brian Wood’s twelve issue series (with art by Ryan Kelly, who comes up with some lovely, understated but beautiful, stuff) unfolded, at first, like a series of unrelated interludes before building to something unexpectedly affecting, and intensely personal. Up until this point, I’d been interested in Wood’s writing more than actually loving it, but there was something about the way this series transcended even his own ideas for it that really convinced me. As a plus for the aesthete snobs amongst you, the collection is worth it for the design alone.
If there are two genres that, generally, do nothing for me, it’s “Post-Apocalyptic Dystopia” and “Fantasy”. Why, then, do I find myself loving Wasteland so much? It’s probably that Antony Johnston and Chris Mitten take the book so far beyond what you’d expect from a mash-up of those genres, and instead offer up one of the best examples of world-building and grandscale drama that you’ve seen in comics for a long time. Ignore the events of the Big Two and head over here for some of the best epic storytelling that you’ll find (And, while you’re at it, introduce yourself to the astoundingly underrated Mitten, whose art is just jawdroppingly good).
#3: Breakfast After Noon
I think we call all agree that Andi Watson should be lionized as an Official Comics Treasure, right? There’s just something about his comics – whether he’s writing, drawing or, in the case of this romantic comedy, both – that is at once true to life and so attractively stylized that you can only wish that life really was like that. There’re a lot of good Watson comics from Oni – I wouldn’t be surprised if some would prefer Love Fights, his quasi-attempt at a superhero comic – but Breakfast has always felt like the most Andi Watson-y Andi Watson comic to me, if that makes any sense. This is the good stuff.
#4: Queen & Country
Greg Rucka’s had a great run with Oni – His Whiteout and Stumptown could both easily have made his list, and Whiteout almost did, entirely thanks to my love of Steve Lieber’s art on it, because… well, it’s just amazing stuff. But, instead, I went for Queen & Country because it’s the longest-running of his series with the company, and because of that, offers the most satisfying character development across the whole series. As well as some impressive art (Jason Alexander’s run is my favorite, but I know that I am significantly in the minority on that one), this series offers some of Rucka’s best writing in comics, and the kind of plotting that you can only really get away with when you own the characters you’re screwing with.
I mentioned this above, and there’s every chance you saw some of the reviews when it was released earlier this year, but if you didn’t: Read this book. There is such sensitivity and subtlety and humanity in Ivy that deserves to be seen, admired and just plain loved, and yet I feel as if it’s a book that’s still flying under most people’s radars, somehow. Less a “coming of age” story as one that shows that that idea up as too simple and unrealistic, there’s a beauty here that nonetheless reflects the messiness and inexplicableness of life as we know it even as it punctures romantic notions of outsiders on the run from a world that doesn’t understand them. It’s the kind of book that you wish everyone could read, in a way, and one that, if I were kind benign ruler of the world, I would make essential reading in every high school across America.