Subscriber OnlyBooksReview

Best Irish comic books of 2022

The Irish Times presents a selection of the year’s standouts by native artists, writers and creators

A few years back, it might have been observed that Irish writers and artists were flooding the global comics scene. In 2022, however, it’s more of a torrential wave. Irish comics creators are enjoying such a boom that their once remarkable ubiquity in the industry is now commonplace. All of which presents a blessing and a curse for anyone foolhardy enough to present an overview of Irish creators to look out for.

So, with a bravery that puts war photographers very much in the ha’penny place, we present just a few of the standout comics of 2022 by Irish artists, writers and creators, in the full knowledge that we will likely leave out loads and upset everyone in the process. To begin with, Irish representation at the traditional heavy hitters of comics resumes unabated.

At DC, Cian Tormey and Ruari Coleman have been summiting new heights with their art on the Tom Taylor scripted Superman: Son of Kal El, which continues to be an open-hearted and empathetic delight of a book, and one of the finest additions to the Superman mythos in modern memory. Stephen Mooney has paired work on Marvel’s Shang-Chi and Doctor Strange with the glorious reboot, The Rocketeer: The Great Race at IDW Comics, serving up nostalgic thrills in chrome-plated spades. Meanwhile, both Ennis’ Declan Shalvey and Ballycotton’s Will Sliney continue to do high-profile work for Marvel while also helming their own projects at Image.

The Mignolaverse are my favourite comics, but I’m most proud of the long-running creator comics I colour, Ice Cream Man and Time Before Time

—  Chris O'Halloran

In Shalvey’s case, writing and drawing the granite-hewn spy-fi series Old Dog which has been described as a cross between The Winter Soldier and Mission Impossible, while Sliney provides exquisite art for the Charles Soule-scripted Hell To Pay, described as Hellboy meets Indiana Jones. Both descriptions are excellent as an entrée, but fail to capture the scope and swagger of talents acting at the peak of their powers, on creator-owned titles bursting with personality and verve.

READ MORE

Shalvey’s also to be found on the brain-bending chrono-caper, Time Before Time alongside Cork’s Rory McConville, who continues to do excellent work for Spawn and 2000AD. Time Before Time boasts the bustling, thready worldbuilding of a truly great sci-fi novel, with just enough timey-wimey complexity to have you flipping back a few pages every now and then to see how their plots have come together.

Colours on that are ably supplied by Chris O’Halloran, who’s been working on several Hellboy series at Dark Horse — a thrill for the veteran colourist.

“I’m quite delighted to be working on Hellboy comics,” he tells me, “The Mignolaverse are my favourite comics, but I’m most proud of the long-running creator comics I colour, Ice Cream Man and Time Before Time”. The latter continues to be the finest horror comic on the shelves, but also of note for the completist is the Nick Roche-scripted Scarenthood, an Irish-set horror/comedy/parenting guidebook, that’s always worth a revisit.

A more recent entry into the canon has been Ellie Wright, notable for this year’s 1930s Jewish mobster drama We Only Kill Each Other, written by Stephanie Philips with art by Peter Krause

Colourists deserve special mention, as Dearbhla Kelly, Dee Cunnife and Rebecca Nalty continue to do excellent work across the industry. Kelly’s deep and emotive work on Vault’s I Walk With Monsters remains a standout in its ability to set the tone of that hooky, thrilling horror story. Cunnife has coloured everything from Marvel’s Blade to DC’s House of El, while Nalty has coloured across several Transformers, and Star Wars titles as well as Image’s forthcoming raucous, gaming streamer-turned-teleporting-superhero tale, Radiant Pink.

A more recent entry into the canon has been Ellie Wright, notable for this year’s 1930s Jewish mobster drama We Only Kill Each Other, written by Stephanie Philips with art by Peter Krause. “I haven’t actually been colouring for too long,” she tells me. “I started getting professional gigs only a few months after I started doing it for fun. I don’t say that to brag; the opposite actually. As an artist with a self-critical eye, I have to be honest with myself and figure out where I need to improve.” She sees the roots of Ireland’s current boom in fairly straightforward terms. “One of the main reasons so many creators here are working with international publications is because we have a lot of talent in a small pond.”

Elsewhere, quite a few of the year’s most intriguing books have a local, and resolutely mythological, tinge. Ploughman sees Aaron Losty, JP Jordan and Becca Carey riffing on the Irish myths of Hy-Brasil, albeit transposed into a post-apocalyptic Irish future. The result is a knotty, earthy take on a classic strand of ancient folklore, that has all the punch and economy of Losty’s earlier 2022 work, Blaze Beyond the Pale, an unvarnished teenage coming-of-age story set, like so many great narratives, in Finglas.

For a marginally more faithful take on the old lore, Andrew Pope’s Warp Spasm tells the story of Cú Chulainn in a toothsomely dynamic presentation that recalls the vibrant speckled art of the aforementioned Mike Mignola, and the clean, toony lines of Head Lopper’s Andrew MacLean. Meanwhile, drawing on tales from further afield, Down Below is an anthology of Greek myths filtered through a lens of noir, written and drawn by an embarrassment of Irish and international creators for Dublin based comics collective, Limit Break. Edited by Paul Caroll and Gary Moloney, it’s a sumptuous melange of styles and voices, every bit as tantalising as their 2020 collection that spun off Irish myths, Turning Roads.

Moloney is evangelical about the current crop of Irish creators leading the line in comics, at home and abroad. “I think what you’re seeing at the moment is the culmination of a movement that began about 10 or 15 years ago,” he tells me, “when the Eclectic Micks (Stephen Mooney, Will Sliney, Declan Shalvey, Nick Roche etc), broke into the mainstream comic market. That coincided with the emergence of social media, so the fact that Irish creators were getting work at the likes of Marvel, DC, Image, etc, became more readily known. Suddenly, fledgling creators understood that there was a pathway to making comics and getting them published. You don’t have to be based in the {United] States and attending every con under the sun. You just have to be producing solid work and making it accessible.”

What better notice of your talents could you have than being included on the school curriculum? This year, Kevin M Smith’s rollicking superhero melange Marco the Demon Dude received just such an accolade when its panels were dissected for the Junior Cert English syllabus. Pitched somewhere between Invincible and Dragon Ball Z, the series is an action-packed delight of frenetic, motion-lined mayhem.

There’s also Hellfire by Danny Earls, a grisly horror retelling of the classic folk tale of Loftus Hall in Wexford

Rogue Comics — who you might recall from Wayne Talbot and Kevin Keane’s excellent second World War vampire romp, Nazferatu — are still producing all-Irish content in healthy numbers. Some highlights this year include Jumpsuit Johnson by Colm Griffin and Bernard Dowling, arguably the first media of any type to meld the worlds of Blaxploitation and the Carlow branch of An Garda Síochána. There’s also Hellfire by Danny Earls, a grisly horror retelling of the classic folk tale of Loftus Hall in Wexford. A personal favourite from this year’s crop is By Proxy by Richard Gaynor, Brian Corcoran and Matt Soffe, which might best be described as an assassin procedural, centred on hitman Al Burden, attempting to get out from under the classic “one last job” that men in his profession always seem to have trouble with. Full of hardboiled, pulpy thrills, all delivered with great panache, By Proxy is sparingly scripted and beautifully drawn, a seedy little gem of a book.

On a completely different end of the spectrum, Total Action Force by Brian Hickey, Paddy Lennon and David McDonald isn’t even a comic, so much as a coffee-table book about the GI Joe off-shoot Action Force, which splits its voluminous page count between talk of the toys themselves, and the comics which accompanied them. This exquisitely designed tome delivers weapons-grade hits of nostalgia, with its extensive interviews with the artists and creators who crafted these toys, alongside faithfully restored full-colour spreads of the toys and comics. Altogether, the end result approaches something like that heroin fix of childhood evenings spent poring over the Argos catalogue, in covetous, green-eyed bliss.

Far from any such material concerns is Breathe by Clare Foley, a short, familial memoir of her childhood in Mexico, that’s as quiet and reflective as the Mayan sinkholes that form the setting for her bittersweet tale of daughterly love. Clare’s IrishComics.ie colleague Hugh Madden has also continued his unbeaten run of charming historical adaptation with his The Death of Postumus, a retelling of the assassination of Emperor Augustus’ grandchild, Postumus, by his own centurions. As with his previous takes on Treasure Island and Mr and Mrs Van Helsing, Madden’s joyously cartoony visuals and deft storytelling breathe new life into old tales.

Finally, few comics feel as uniquely Irish, or as funny, as two solo projects which saw release this year. Luke Healy’s gorgeous graphic novel The Con Artists spins hilarity and heartbreak from the premise of protagonist Frank, a struggling stand-up comic caught in a co-dependent relationship with his scamming best friend. Last but not least, Ruan Van Vliet’s riotously silly Gas Comics #1 might well win the crown for most laughs per page. In a world of giant galaxies and universe-spanning melodrama, this short sequence of hilarious vignettes shows the power of comics at their most, well, comical. To be enjoyed by anyone with eyes, or a pulse.

  • Séamas O’Reilly is the author of Did Ye Hear Mummy Died?