What’s in Store: Best Comix of 2019

It’s come the time that Fantagraphics Bookstore curator Larry Reid selects his favorite comix of the year. If this list seems somehow less cohesive than in the past, it’s testament to the creative and cultural diversity in current contemporary comix. That’s a good thing. These wonderful books, and many more amazing new titles that I absentmindedly overlooked here, can be found at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, located at 1201 S. Vale Street in the heart of Seattle’s historic Georgetown arts community. Open daily 11:30 to 8:00 PM, Sundays until 5:00 PM. Phone 206-557-4910.

20. Book of Weirdo. This oral history of the influential anthology is at its best when examining the Hegelian dichotomy between RAW and Weirdo.  An entertaining and informative read, edited by Jon Cooke, featuring some of the greatest misfits in comix.

19. Bezimena. Nina Bunjevac’s atmospheric tale of sexual obsession is rendered with magnificent precision. The story comes into sharp focus upon reading the artist’s afterword, but don’t skip to the end. (That’s why they call it an “afterword.”)

18. Brain Bats of Venus: The Life and Conics of Basil Wolverton, 1942-1952.  The second installment of Greg Sadowski’s illustrated Wolverton biography finds the prolific artist at the peak of his considerable powers. Wolverton’s work of this era left an indelible impression on the Underground Comix movement that would emerge a decade later.

17. Anthology of Mind. The eclectic aesthetic of Finnish cartoonist Tommi Musturi is on full display in this colorful collection.  The artist addresses his idiosyncratic approach in an afterword, “The Prison of Style (and an Escape Plan”). If you’re unfamiliar with Musturi’s prolific body of work, this is a great introduction.

16. Fruit of Knowledge. Liv Strömquist’s feminist examination of patriarchal perceptions of female anatomy is enlightening for readers of any gender.

15. Malarkey #4. November Garcia returns to this list with yet another hilariously self-deprecating memoir, which includes the most memorable two-word punch line ever (courtesy of Peter Bagge.)  With this publication, Garcia proves she’s no fluke.

14.  Alienation. Inés Estrada’s dystopian future is at once alluring and dispiriting. And any book that seamlessly references the Germs, Jimi Hendrix, and the Heartbreakers is a must read.  

13. Kramer’s Ergot 10. Here’s all you need to know about the 10th edition of Sammy Harkham’s essential anthology: R. Crumb, Dash Shaw, David Collier, Anouk Ricard, C.F., Jason Murphy, Blutch, Shary Flenniken (!), Johnny Ryan, John Pham, Ron Regé Jr., Simon Hanselmann, Anna Haifisch, Ivan Brunetti, David Amram, Helge Reumann, Frank King, Steve Weissman, Aisha Franz, Leon Sadler, Adam Buttrick, Archer Prewitt, Connor Willumsen, Bendik Kaltenborn, Will Sweeney, Rick Altergott, Kim Deitch, and Marc Bell. Get it!

12. Coin-Op #8. Bookstore visitors are likely aware of my fondness for Peter and Maria Hoey’s postmodern publications. They hit the mark again with their latest offering.  

11. Rooftop Stew. Max Clotfelter’s delightfully amusing collection is perfectly described by Jim Blanchard on the back cover: “A cartoon Naked Lunch drawn by a drunk and stoned hillbilly.” Kudos to Clotfelter for keeping the flame of underground comix burning bright.

10.  The Scar: Graphic Reportage from the U. S. – Mexican Border.  This topical work by Andrea Ferraris and Renato Chiocca documents the tragic killing of a young Mexican national at the hands of a border patrol agent. An author’s note explains of their visit to the region, “We discovered a humanity that lives in fear of foreigners and treats them with senseless cruelty – but also a humanity capable of generosity, fighting so that the weakest may have their chance.”

9. Walking Uphill. Anyone coming of age in the 90s will relate to this anxiously anticipated long-form graphic novel by Kelly Froh. She also self-published an ambitious mini, The Downed Deer when she wasn’t busy as director of Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. One of the hardest working artists anywhere and a pivotal figure in the national comix community.

8. This Never Happened. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Seattle’s sometimes-incestuous comix community, Alex Graham’s two-part semi-memoir will resonate. Employing clever narrative devices and appealing drawings, these comix, as well as her recent paintings, represent a remarkable development in her career. In fact, 2019 may well be remembered as the year Alex Graham joined the top tier of contemporary cartoonists.

7. I, Renee Tardi, Prisoner of Stalag 11B: My Return Home. Jacques Tardi is considered by many to be the world’s greatest living cartoonist. This true story of his father’s ordeal as a French prisoner during World War II makes a strong argument in support of that view. A compelling and important document of an often-overlooked chapter in the history of the Second World War.

6. Free S**t. This anthology of rarities by Charles Burns is neither free nor scatological. Any year with a new book by Burns is a very good year indeed.

5. I Was Their American Dream. Malaka Gharib’s chronicle of her experiences as a child of immigrants is delightful. Her fluid rendering style complements the engaging narrative perfectly. This book makes her my favorite new artist. (New to me, anyway.)

4. Atom Bomb and Other Stories. Perhaps the most ambitious volume yet in Fantagraphics ongoing EC Artists’ Library series, this book collects war stories illustrated by paratrooper Wallace Wood, as told by Harvey Kurtzman. Combat comics of this era were typically little more than propaganda, but Kurtzman’s approach was subtly subversive, illustrating the unvarnished horrors of armed conflict. The title story recounts the bombing of Nagasaki from the victims’ perspective and remains moving.  Kurtzman and Wood at the peak of their impressive careers.

3. I Know What I Am: The Life & Times of Artemisia Gentileschi. Gina Siciliano’s decade of meticulous research and drawing pays off handsomely in this amazing biography of Gentileschi, until recently a criminally marginalized master of the High Renaissance. Her Herculean effort shows in this amazing book.

2.  Is This How You See Me?  The cast of Jaime Hernandez’s Love & Rockets stories are so fully realized that they’ve become real to me – none more so than Maggie and Hopey.  The punk rock reunion here allowed me to relive their, and my own, misspent youth.  It’s simply breathtaking.

1. Bad Gateway. This one was easy. The fourth book in Simon Hanselmann’s Megg and Mogg series maintains its dark humor while adding thinly fictionalized autobiographical elements to the story arc. There’s often an impulse to play it safe when an artist develops a successful brand. It was great to see Hanselmann successfully stretch. For added context see his feature interview with Gary Groth in The Comics Journal #304.