Time for a belated list of 2020 favorites from Fantagraphics Bookstore curator Larry Reid. This was a tumultuous year and the independent comix community was hit particularly hard. New titles were delayed and some were simply overlooked. In the struggle to keep the bookstore viable, I missed a lot of new titles completely. As a result, this list is far from comprehensive. Still, some stellar work appeared despite the dire circumstances. Below, in no particular order, is a baker’s dozen of the books that most appealed to me
Daniel Clowes: Original Art. The latest in Fantagraphics’ series of deluxe studio editions provides a revealing look into the creative process of one of the masters of contemporary comix. In addition to meticulous reproductions of original artwork and production pages, this volume includes a tantalizing segment of an alluring work-in-progress. We had the pleasure of hosting Clowes at our last book signing before the pandemic.
Complete Works of Fante Bukowski. Noah Van Sciver should get a medal as the most prolific cartoonist of the year. This expanded collection of his Fante Bukowski series is a crowning achievement. As a searing parody of literary pretension, it serves as a cautionary tale to anyone involved in creative endeavors.
The Rough Pearl. Cartoonist Kevin Mutch satirizes the art world in much the same manner Van Sciver takes on lit. One gets the sense there are elements of autobiography incorporated into this surreal story about an aspiring artist haunted by his ambition. Bonus: Glow in the dark cover!
Bug Boys. I’ve followed the work of Laura Knetzger since she completed studies at SVA. This collection of her Bug Boys minicomics serial is among the initial offerings from our friend Gina Gagliano’s Random House Graphic imprint, launched in February. Appearing for the first time in color, these stories give meaning to the term all ages comix, certain to appeal to everyone.
The Complete Hate. Peter Bagge’s Hate helped shape the grunge era in the Northwest and became of global pop culture phenomenon throughout the 1990s. This definitive three-volume slipcase collection is essential for anyone interested in the alternative comix movement.
J & K. John Pham is known for his exquisite production qualities and his latest book doesn’t disappoint. The seductive palette and seamless narrative of J & K lifts his work to a new level. Comes complete with stickers, cards, and a miniature vinyl record.
Tears of the Leather-bound Saints. It took me a while to catch onto the work of Casanova Frankenstein when it first appeared. My early ambivalence has transformed to unbridled enthusiasm in recent years. His vernacular rendering style perfectly complements these autobiographical stories of alienation as a Black punk rocker and outsider artist.
Love & Rockers Vol. IV, #8. Jaime’s prescient cover illustration perfectly captured the social isolation that was imposed upon us at precisely the time this issue was released. The two issues of Love & Rockets released this year demonstrate, yet again, that Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez remain at the top of their game.
Winter of the Cartoonist Winter of the Cartoonist. Paco Roca offers a cinematic portrait of the plight of five dissident cartoonists pushing back against draconian censorship under the rule of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. These heroic artists faced imprisonment, blacklisting, and betrayal in the service of a free press and unfettered creative expression.
The Cloven. The first of the three-part story by the dream team of artist Matthew Southworth (Stumptown) and writer Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain) takes place in the Northwest – some of it right by the bookstore. Atmospheric and fun.
Seeds and Stems. This wildly amusing collection of minis by Simon Hanselmann includes several stories I’ve never seen. Essential for fans of Simon. Aren’t we all?
And Now, Sir – Is This Your Missing Gonad? This lovely book places Jim Woodring’s familiar cast of mythical characters in the unlikely context of gag cartoons. These drawings shed new light on Woodring’s idiosyncratic and transcendent body of work.
In Spite of Ourselves. Natalie Dupille wins my award for breakout cartoonist of the year. Her self-published biking adventure, In Spite of Ourselves, was the crowning achievement in a year that saw her clever cartoons appear in prestigious publications like the New Yorker and Playboy. It also has the distinction of being the bestselling book in our store last year.
These books, as well as many more I undoubtedly forgot, are available at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, located at 1201 S. Vale Street, only minutes south of downtown Seattle. Open daily 11:30 to 8:00 PM, Sundays until 5:00. Phone 206-557-4910.