I’ve already published my lists of the best serial comic books and graphic novels of this year, but the joys of comics go well beyond the best specific publications. Comics are a publishing category, an aesthetic discipline, a range of intersecting subcultures; they’re also a hobby, and I can’t imagine that there’s a more consistently rewarding hobby in the world. Here are some of the things that I’m grateful for this year that don’t show up on a best-of list.
*The state of writing about comics has never been anywhere near this good–in particular, the comics blogosphere has been stepping their game up over the past year. The whole Comics Comics crew! Laura Hudson on “Scott Pilgrim”! RetroWarbird’s Batman commentary! Matt Seneca’s rookie-of-the-year “Death to the Universe” blog! The reliable marvel that is Tom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter! I could go on and on.
(More on TIME.com: The Best Graphic Novels of 2010)
*The comics convention circuit has been shifting, slowly but steadily, into something a lot more fun to be part of. In particular, there’s now a string of smaller, indie-focused cons–Stumptown Comics Fest, TCAF, MoCCA, and more–where the fun-to-slog ratio is a lot higher than it ever used to be at conventions.
*It’s been neat to watch the return of the multiple-feature American comic book, as mainstream creators figure out how to get a story across in a few pages again. (That Matt Fraction/Jamie McKelvie backup story in this week’s Invincible Iron Man #33 is a delight.)
*I love the way the Internet has brought mainstream creators and readers into new and fruitful kinds of contact. From Gail Simone’s Tumblr to Tom Brevoort’s Formspring to several hundred cartoonists’ Twitter streams, there’s a lot of stuff happening online that makes it feel like everyone involved in the production and consumption of comic books is part of a larger community.
*Lots of long-gone creators have been returning to the new-comics trenches, and many of them are as limber and powerful as ever. If you’d told me in 2000 that Neal Adams would be writing and drawing a series in 2010 that would actually come out just about monthly, I’d just have shaken my head. I also wouldn’t have imagined that Joyce Farmer would be doing the best work of her career in 2010, but Special Exits knocked me flat.
*The slow deflation of the back-issue market means that not only is it possible to find practically any comic book from the past 30 years at floor-scraping prices with a quick online search, but dollar bins (and quarter bins) are often stuffed with complete runs of fine recent serials. I realize that this isn’t particularly a source of gratitude for people who run comic book stores, but for people like me who patronize them, it’s good news.
*Speaking of which: Comic book stores. The fact that there’s a national network of independently owned, often crazily eccentric stores, staffed by experts, that cater directly to my particular interests? It’s a ceaseless wonder.
*The general shift toward the rights of individual creators is a very good long-term sign. The most talked-about comics-inspired projects in other media this year were Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead–all of which are properties owned by the particular people who created them. That’s a huge change.
(More on TIME.com: The Best Comic Books of 2010)
*The peculiar economics of comics mean that there are some intensely idiosyncratic artists who can make a living doing whatever it is they do. The fact that Jason puts out a book every nine months or so and has a substantical, enthusiastic readership makes me proud of the entire economic structure that makes that possible.
*There is now an entire generation of art cartoonists to whom superhero comics are not an implacable oppressor but simply irrelevant. That is awesome.
*There is also also now an entire generation of art cartoonists to whom superhero comics are really, really important. That is also awesome.
*Book-format comics are much better designed now than they’ve ever been before. When I look at graphic novels from even ten or fifteen years ago that looked perfectly fine then, their design seems unutterably clunky now. When I look at the new-releases shelf at a good comics store, every new book cries out to be picked up.
*Nearly every classic American comic book and comic strip of the past has been reprinted in a (beautifully designed!) book in the past few years, or is about to be. I’ve always been curious about Crockett Johnson’s “Barnaby” and Floyd Gottfredson’s “Mickey Mouse” and Cliff Sterrett’s “Polly and her Pals”; now I’m going to get to read them all.
*Comics are now so enormous that I read at least one graphic novel or the equivalent every day, and there are still entire divisions of the field of which I’m almost totally ignorant. I’m working on that.