Comicon’s Most Progressive Comics: 2017

by Hannah Means Shannon

Welcome to Comicon.com’s inaugural Best of the Year Awards, gathering the best comics and comics talent of 2017. This year we will be awarding in the following categories: Best Original Graphic Novels, Best Comic Series, Best Single Comic Issues, Best Writers, Best Artists, Best Cover Artists, Best Colorists, Best Letterers, Best Webcomics, Most Progressive Comics, and lastly, Comicon’s People of The Year: 2017.

Contributors to Comicon’s Best of the Year Awards this year include: Alan Stewart, Alex Schumacher, Brendan Allen, Gary Catig, James Ferguson, Kieran Fisher, Oliver MacNamee, Noah Sharma, Rachel Bellwoar, Tito James, Angel Carreras, and Hannah Means-Shannon.

The following are Comicon’s 8 Most Progressive* Comics of 2017.

*The “Most Progressive” award is designed to honor excellence in comics that present a world we recognize and life as lived reflected in storytelling, including diversity in race, creed, religion, orientation, ability, and perspectives. While there are many books from 2017 worthy of attention, this year we chose to focus on fictional works that integrate progressive themes in a way that has the potential to influence trends in indie and mainstream comics.

5. The Once and Future Queen, published by Dark Horse, written by Adam P. Knave and D. J. Kirkbride, drawn and colored by Nick Brokenshire, lettered by Frank Cvetkovic

Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland’s 1982-85 “sequel” to the Arthurian legend, Camelot 3000, was highly progressive for its time, featuring several of King Arthur’s knights being reincarnated as people of color and, in one case, a woman (leading to what was probably the first lesbian kiss in mainstream comics). The Once and Future Queen continues in that tradition and takes it quite a bit further, with a young desi bisexual (or perhaps pansexual) woman in the role of Arthur, and a black, asexual Lancelot. Oh, and Guinevere is a blond white girl, but she’s also queer, so that’s all sorted (as they say in the U.K.) How does the classic, tragic love triangle between these three characters play out in this scenario?  Well, so far, they’re all on board with giving polyamory a go. If that solution makes you feel a little uncomfortable, you’re not the only one; but gently pricking at its audience’s preconceived notions of “proper” lifestyle choices is a big part of what this fast-paced, big-hearted contemporary fantasy epic is all about.

4. Five Worlds: The Sand Warrior, published by Random House Books for Young Readers, Written by Mark & Alexis Siegel, illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockfeller, and Boya Sun

As the first book in series, Five Worlds: The Sand Warrior sets up a diverse cast of characters in a fantasy world rich with cultural variety. In this world, morality isn’t as simple as having the beautiful elves fight the ugly trolls. The blue-skinned Toki have their own reasons for rebelling against the status quo and our protagonists may not know which side they are on. This is a story that can only have been developed right now, and needs to be told right now. In times of great strife, the greatest stories are born.

3. Mister Miracle, published by DC Comics, written by Tom King, drawn and colored by Mitch Gerads, lettered by Clayton Cowles

This has been a tough year. The gulf between the left and right of the political spectrum has widened considerably, mass shootings have reached record highs, and the President’s itchy Twitter fingers are a cause for concern when he’s threatening nuclear war. Mister Miracle, based on a Jack Kirby superhero character created in 1971, has managed to channel the craziness and paranoia of current times and turn it into quality, thought-provoking art. Writer Tom King’s approach is nuanced, and while it serves as a reflection of how sucky our times are, the underlying message is one of optimism: No matter how awful things are at the moment, life goes on and we persevere. It’s a universal message that can be applied to a number of problems. The best art acknowledges the big issues, but it also encourages hope and perseverance. Maybe we can’t make sense of what’s happening right now, but it’s a mess we’re all in together and we’ll see it through eventually.

2. Quince, Published by Fanbase Press, written by Kit Steinkellner, drawn by Emma Steinkellner, created by Sebastian Kadlecik

If Lupe wasn’t worried about her quinceañera already, finding out she has super powers at the party doesn’t alleviate her fears. Created by Sebastian Kadlecik and written by Kit Steinkellner, Quince is the story of Lupe, who develops abilities on her fifteenth birthday that will expire when she turns sixteen. With added pressure to use those powers while she can, there’s no slacking when you have Abuela as your coach. Lupe isn’t ecstatic about the crazy hours or the strenuous training to build up stamina, but her big heart and work ethic always step up to the challenge. Because the book takes place over the course of a year, Lupe experiences the challenges every superhero faces, like maintaining a secret identity and clashing with a supervillain, but she also deals with struggles that are personal to her, like body shaming, anxiety, and depression. Artist Emma Steinkellner, captures every unglamorous emotion of being in high school without falling back on clichés, and the book’s therapeutic positive message about asking for help is handled with honesty and warmth. Available in both English and Spanish by translator Valeria Tranier, you won’t need a costume to be a hero in this diverse, multi-generational world.

1. The Flintstones, written by Mark Russell, drawn by Steve Pugh, colored by Chris Chuckry, lettered by Dave Sharpe, published by DC Comics

What on earth did we as humans do to deserve DC Comics’ reboot of The Flintstones? At the end of each issue, I find my jaw agape, wondering how this comic is even REAL. Absolute kudos to the creative team of Russell, Pugh, Chuckry, and Sharpe for taking what could’ve been a soulless Brand Recognition™ cash-in and made something lasting, thoughtful, and dare I say, haunting. This isn’t the “Aww, shucks” Hanna-Barbera version of Barney and Fred, this is a philosophical #WOKE version of the Flintstones.

There are cutesy jokes to be had within this series (“Fred, I’ve been calling you on your shell phone” and Stone Age’d celebrity names such as “Andy Warthog” still make me laugh), but this series should be labeled the most progressive because it will CHALLENGE YOU.

Russell wrestles with issues ranging from racism, PTSD (the internet famous “we committed genocide, Barney” is a comment on colonialism), the emptiness of capitalism and consumerism (“What’s this?” “Money.” “What am I supposed to do with this?” “I don’t know. Buy something someone else hated making.”), and eventually goes into full blown existential pondering (that “Plato’s Cave” in the series is more than just a pun-y name, it’s foreshadowing done well). It’s a brilliant satire that delves into our humanity, asking us to question what we know or think we know, a call to arms to make a better tomorrow, today. It’s scathing social commentary, wrapped and delivered to us in cartoony artifice. It’s, plainly, the most progressive comic of 2017.