What’s in Store: A Very Good Year!

It’s come that time when Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery curator Larry Reid chooses his favorite comix of the year. I customarily select about a dozen outstanding titles. This being a banner year for contemporary comix, I’ll be more expansive this time, listing my top twenty. This exercise is subjective by nature. I try to avoid the term “best,” preferring instead to name the books that most appealed to me. 

20. Doukhobor Comics by Rose Driver. What’s not to like about an eccentric anarchist/nudist/arsonist religious cult that, with the help of Leo Tolstoy, made their way from Russia to the Pacific Northwest? Hilarious havoc ensues in this well-researched historical mini.

19. Fried Bananas. Natalie Dupille’s pleasingly produced travelogue about a recent trip to Southeast Asia provides a revealing personal perspective on cultural tourism.

18. From Crust Till Dawn. The further adventures of Sarah Romano Diehl’s early employment in pizza delivery is an amusing and perceptive document of unfulfilling day jobs (or night jobs, as the case may be.) 

17. Blue. Mita Mahato’s matchbook-sized mini is an elegant expression of print, poetry, and fine art. (While this diminutive work was technically published in 2017, it somehow escaped my attention until recently.)

16, 15. Vantage 3. The Wilds.  Eroyn Franklin’s incredibly inventive dimensional comix are simply breathtaking. Experimental yet accessible, this work continues to expand the possibilities of the medium.

14. Rookie Moves. November Garcia is my favorite new artist of the year.  (New to me, anyway.) Her self-deprecating diary comix deliver extraordinary insight into her creative process and compelling personality.  Garcia’s Malarkey minis are equally impressive. Exceptional work.

13. Drawn to Berlin: Comic Workshops in Refugee Shelters and Other Stories from a New Europe. Ali Fitzgerald’s authentic and tender tales of migrants escaping unspeakable cruelty are truly inspiring. This book serves as a reminder that nationalist xenophobia isn’t confined to America.

12. The Muse.  I remain fascinated by Berlin artist Lilli Loge’s deconstruction of the anachronistic American idiom of Tijuana Bibles. This homage to German artist Max Ernst is her most successful to date. 

11, 10. Fab 4 Mania. I Am Young. The legacy of the Beatles lives on in new graphic novels by Carol Tyler and M. DeanFab4 Mania, Tyler’s graphic memoir of her adolescent infatuation with the British invaders culminates with a frenzied live performance at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on August 20, 1965.  A contemporaneous journal allowed Tyler to document the proceedings in minute detail, including her seat location, setlist, and opening acts Cannibal & the Headhunters, Brenda Holloway, and the King Curtis Orchestra, which that year occasionally featured Seattle guitarist Jimi Hendrix. (Sorry, he’s my obsession.) Beatlemania also plays a central role in I Am Young, M. Dean’s atmospheric examination of two young English lovers drawn together at a 1964 Beatles concert.  With music as a bond, the story follows the couple’s relationship arc in a charming cultural context.

9. Tongues #2. The second installment of Anders Nilsen’s alluring serial is among the best in his already impressive body of work. His meticulous yet fluid renderings drive the narrative in what promises to become a masterwork of contemporary comix.

8. Parallel Lives. Olivier Schrauwen’s imaginative surrealism reaches a high point here. His lysergic use of color complements the otherworldly context of the stories. A cohesive and complex work of art.

7, 6. Dumb. Rock Steady. Graphic medicine has come into its own as a powerful voice in comix. Or, in the case of Georgia Webber, no voice. Dumb, the artist’s expressive memoir of her voiceless medical condition serves as a metaphor for involuntary solitude and social marginalization. Rock Steady, Ellen Forney’s sequel to Marbles, her groundbreaking examination of bipolar disorder, continues to demystify the ailment and offer coping mechanisms with a degree of levity that renders this difficult discussion accessible.

5, 4. Best American Comics 2018. Now #4, #5. Guest edited by Phoebe Gloeckner, Best American Comics 2018 is the most successful in the series so far. A perfect mix of emerging and veteran cartoonists. It was wonderful to discover engaging work by so many small press and self-published artists. Recent issues of  the adventurous Now anthology, edited by Eric Reynolds, continue to experiment with short form comix. They get better with each successive issue.

3. Poochytown. Jim Woodring has perfected the art of wordless narratives. The fourth book in this series of sublime stories featuring his now-familiar cast of characters represents a mystical quest for enlightenment.  At least that’s how I interpret it. One of the enduring pleasures of Woodring’s work is his willingness to allow readers to appreciate his parables from a personal perspective. Essential.

2. Maxon: Art Out of Chaos. Malcolm Whyte examines the work of Maxon Crumb, the idiosyncratic sibling of comix genius R. Crumb. Maxon’s remarkably sophisticated modernist work stands in stark contrast to his outsider status, as portrayed in Terry Zwigoff’s documentary Crumb. I came away with a deep appreciation of this reclusive, visionary artist.

1. Karl Marx Bolan (Spaceball Ricochet Alt. Take.) Full disclosure: I believe Marc Bolan is a criminally underappreciated maestro of modern music.The same might be said for comix creators Peter and Maria Hoey of Coin-Op Books.Their long-running series of 7 inch “singles” explore pop music of the past employing a clever, postmodern approach.  The latest issue imagines an improbable scenario where Bolan escapes his fate with the help of Eddie  Cochrane, Gene Vincent, and Karl Marx.

Book after book/ I get hooked/ Everytime the writer talks to me like a friend/What can I do/ We just live in a zoo /All I do is play/ The Spaceball Ricochet. – Marc Bolan. RIP.

Special mention goes to: Marc Palm for illustrating “The Ghastlygun Tinies” in the December issue of MAD; Fantagraphics Books for the ongoing EC Artists Library project; Kelly Froh for her seamless transition to solo director of Short Run Comix & Arts Festival; Brandon Lehmann for his hilarious series of minicomics on nerd culture; and Zak Sally for the second volume of his riveting memoir Folrath