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The Biggest Comics at Comic-Con

Cooke's "The Hunter" and Powell's "Swallow Me Whole," plus Marvel and DC's main events

July 27, 2009 7:15 AM ET

The buzz around movies and TV shows and video games at Comic-Con International gets louder every year as the convention gets bigger. But the soul of the convention is comics of every kind, and the middle of the show floor — where virtually every English-language comics publisher comes to show off their wares, and cartoonists of every stripe come to meet their readers — has been so packed at this year's show that it's often hard to move around.

The centerpiece of Comic-Con is the Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards — the comics equivalent of the Oscars. This year's Eisners had a handful of welcome surprises: young cartoonist Nate Powell's independently published "Swallow Me Whole," a chilling, bleakly atmospheric tale of two half-siblings trying to fight their way out of mental illness, took top honors in the graphic novel category, and Best Webcomic went to Carla Speed McNeil's ingenious, eccentric science-fiction series "Finder." A few winners were easy to predict, though: James Jean's covers for Fables and The Umbrella Academy seem to win Best Cover Artist every year like clockwork, and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's universally adored All Star Superman was a shoe-in for Best Continuing Series. And the night's big winner was the Mike Mignola-created Hellboy/BPRD universe, various iterations of which took home five Eisners.

Independent comics publishers always take advantage of Comic-Con to debut major books, and the talk of the show is star artist Darwyn Cooke's "The Hunter," a gorgeous noir graphic novel based on Richard Stark's first Parker novel. Jeff Smith was on hand to sign copies of Bone and RASL; Scott McCloud (of Understanding Comics fame) was wandering from booth to booth and talking up David Mazzucchelli's brilliant, design-intensive new graphic novel Asterios Polyp; R. Sikoryak premiered his long-awaited Masterpiece Comics, a collection of his deliciously clever condensations of classic literature in the form of classic comics (like Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" rendered as a series of "Peanuts" strips). Over at the Fantagraphics Books table, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez were signing copies of their new volume of the beloved Love and Rockets series, as well as two handsome new hardcover collections: Jaime's Locas II and Gilbert's Luba.

As far as mainstream superhero comics go, two huge "event comics" have dominated this year's convention: Marvel's "Dark Reign" (in which supervillains seize power in America and take over the roles of the superhero community) and DC's "Blackest Night" (in which every DC hero or villain who's ever died rises from the grave as a murderous zombie). The latter has its own wave of merchandising as viral advertising: a line of T-shirts with the symbols and colors of the eight armies in the "war of light," each representing a particular emotion, are by far the most popular clothing for the show's attendees. It's some kind of good sign that the best-selling shirts are the "blue lantern," a symbol that stands for hope.

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