It’s come time for Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery curator Larry Reid to name my choices for the best comix of the past year. This list is customarily limited to the top 10 publications plus a handful of honorable mentions. This being a banner year for contemporary comix, I’ve expanded my subjective selections to an even dozen, together with an equal number of alternatives – any one of which could be included among the best.
12. Chris Ware: Monograph
This comprehensive collection of Ware’s art, comix, and ephemera does justice to the remarkable career of one of the most innovative cartoonists of our time. I’m reminded of my early days as marketing director at Fantagraphics in 1991, when Kim Thompson enthusiastically presented me with a binder of Ware’s duo-tone strips from a forgotten Chicago tabloid. Remarkable work, I thought, with little commercial potential. Wrong.
Spanish cartoonist Joan Cornellà follows his sensational Mox Nox debut with another blend of alluring art and unsettling sight gags – a triumph of grotesque horror and laugh-out-loud absurdist humor.
10. Spain: Street Fighting Men
The first of an epic series by Patrick Rosenkranz on the life and times of legendary cartoonist and radical activist Spain Rodriguez examines his early days as an art school dropout and biker-gang outlaw, through his involvement with early underground comix culture in New York’s Lower East Side. His collaborations with Vaughn Bode, Kim Deitch, Robert Crumb, and Trina Robbins, as well as his emerging association with revolutionary politics, is documented with insightful interviews, photographs and Spain’s signature comix.
Trina Robbins’ memoir as a feminist artist in the notoriously male-dominated underground comix movement provides an important and refreshing counterpoint to the prevailing history of underground comix in the East Village and San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district. While at times veering perilously close to unbecoming score settling, Last Girl Standing is recommend reading together with the Spain biography above.
8. So Pretty, Very Rotten
Jane Mai returns with hilariously disturbing meditations on J-Pop cute culture. Her gothic take on Lolita fashion and the “kawaii” phenomenon is wildly entertaining. Mai is among my favorites of the new generation of women cartoonists and Koyama Press continues to nurture wonderfully diverse artists.
Charles Forsman continues his examination of adolescent alienation with his signature deadpan delivery. A perfect follow-up to The End of the Fucking World. Look for the small screen adaptation of TEOTFW, in the black comedy tradition of Badlands and True Romance. Available from Netflix on January 4.
6. Now #1
This colorful new anthology, edited by Eric Reynolds, is a flawless mix of established and emerging young cartoonists. Featuring Elanor Davis, Dash Shaw, Gabrielle Bell, Noah Van Sciver, Sammy Harkham, and more, it’s a wonderful reminder of the bright future ahead for contemporary comix.
Anders Nilsen’s sublime adaptation of Greek mythology taps into our collective unconscious with a seamless narrative and stunning artwork. At once timeless and topical, this promises to be an epic series from a master of modern comix.
5. Michael Dormer and the Legend of Hot Curl
This title plays to the strengths of Fantagraphics Books. The late Michael Dormer was largely unheralded outside Southern California, yet his influence was profound. His signature cartoon character, Hot Curl, became synonymous with the California beatnik/surf scene of the 60s, but he’s perhaps best known for his contributions to the 1964 cult classic, Muscle Beach Party. Dormer designed the animated opening sequence and his murals adorned the sets, providing a colorful backdrop for Little Stevie Wonder’s dazzling appearance with Dick Dale and the Del Tones. A fascinating story from beginning to end.
This is one of those rare sequels that fares better than the original. Noah Van Sciver’s obnoxious, yet strangely sympathetic protagonist is emblematic of the folly faced by many involved in creative endeavors. Might be the best work yet from one of the most prolific artists in the indie comix movement.
2. My Favorite Thing is Monsters
The debut graphic novel by Emil Ferris is astonishing on every level. From the beautifully unorthodox rendering technique to the equally experimental yet fluid narrative approach, this represents an impeccable effort from an artist that promises to remain a profound presence in the comix community.
Simon Hanselmann’s third hardcover collection of Megg & Mogg stories cements his position as a driving force in alternative comix. The opening chapter, “Jobs,” is possibly the most brutally funny comix piece I’ve ever read. Hanselmann’s artwork is meticulously rendered and his narratives deceptively layered. The body of work created by this exceptional artist in the recent past is extraordinary. Can’t wait to see what he has in store in 2018.
And 12 more must-reads of 2017…
Mountebank by D. W. combines obsessively detailed drawing and found text in this visionary work. Similarly, Mita Mahato’s In Between employs cut paper and collage elements in an intuitive mix of fine art, comix, and poetry. Cartoon Clouds by Joseph Remnant is a brilliant coming-of-age story focusing on the struggles of recent art school grads finding their way in the world. I Wish I Was Joking by Tom van Duesen is yet another example of his self-deprecating storytelling and gloriously appealing artwork. Farmer Ned’s Comic Barn is best described by the opening line of Jim Woodring’s introduction: “I don’t know Gerald Jablonski well enough to say whether he’s crazy or not, but if he isn’t he’s the most gifted mimic since the leaf hopper.” The Warlock Story by Max Clotfelter is a depraved memoir of youthful indiscretion with an unmistakable ring of authenticity. Fantagraphics’ Free Comic Book Day offering, World’s Greatest Cartoonists, stole the show with a stunning anthology of previously unpublished works from, well, the world’s greatest cartoonists. Trailer Blaze 2017 anthology documents a women’s comix retreat that achieves far more than its modest premise might suggest. Crust by Sarah Romano Diehl recounts her comical days working at a pizza parlor. Along related lines, Mimi Pond’s The Customer is Always Wrong chronicles the artist’s transition from waitress to professional cartoonist with dramatic turns both triumphant and tragic. Grab Back Comics is a fierce feminist anthology responding to sexual abuse and harassment. And finally, The Fang by Marc Palm might be the most fully realized minicomic I’ve seen since the bookstore opened in 2006 – accessibly deviant with exquisite production values, which perfectly conveys the artist’s intent. Oh, and please read Unreal City by D. J. Bryant.