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Thursday, January 23, 2014

(Some of my) FAVORITE COMICS OF 2013


Everybody who knows comics knows we're living in a true Golden Age -- never before have there been as many varied, high quality comics coming out of the woodwork as right now, and that includes self-published work, so-called "Graphic Novels", the new wave of Independent Floppies, books of historical research, and reprints of classic newspaper and comic book comics that have been shrouded in mystery for decades and decades.

Last year I felt overwhelmed with the amount of stuff-- good, readable, must-read stuff.  This year there was as much as before, if not more, but maybe I'm adjusting.  More than anything I'm just blown away by the amount of good comics I read this year.  What follows is only a partial list, in no particular order.

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Cartoonshow (series) by Derek M. Ballard (Drippy Bone)

In these twisted sex, non-sequiter, sci-fi comics, Ballard breaks down our fears, obsessions and manias into short, cold, beautifully grotesque, and confounding slices of right now.





Bittersweet Romance by Bald Eagles (Drippy Bone)

Bald Eagles throws all of our uncontrollable fixations into panel after panel, page after page.  In this splatter-filled grotesquerie he delves with serious and unblinking focus into the "Battle of the Sexes" and comes up stunned, confused and bloody-handed.



La Montagne de Sucre by Sandrine Martin (L 'Apocalyse)

This beautiful wordless book gives us a series of mesmerizing, lush, black and white pencil drawings that may or may not have any narrative qualities.  That said, cumulatively they describe the joys, fears, dangers, and ecstasy of love...  Surreal, hypnotizing, erotic.  One of the most intriguing and gorgeous books I've seen in recent times.


31 Drawings That Have Something To Do With Being In Love And Not Being In Love by Eleanor Davis (self-published)

Beautiful, sad, joyous, wordless drawings:  trees, couples, peeing, music, chimneys.  Davis' seemingly effortlessly perfect drawing is exquisite, while never losing its menacing edge, and is the kind of drawing I've been aspiring to all my life.  I don't know what to say really, just this is one of my favorite books of the year. 


Mad Artists Edition by the Usual Gang of Idiots (IDW)

When I was a kid, it was Mad Magazine that turned me on to to the subversive power of comics.  I began scouring the 7-11s and grocery store magazine racks for anything Mad related.  It was when I found the Super Specials known as The Nostalgic Mad, which bound in facsimile reproductions of issues from the original comic-book sized MAD run of the 1950's, that my mind was truly blown.  I certainly didn't understand half the references in these old MADs, but my fascination with them as broadcasts from another, lost, and very weird world drilled me to the core.  They were my gateway into the world of COMICS, the ubiquitous yet secret world in which I was going to devote my life.

So when IDW announced they were releasing selections from the early MADs in their Artists Edition series, I was overcome with delight.  The AEs reproduce original art from old comics at full-size, in hi-resolution full-color scans.  When the book arrived in the mail I was amazed at the size of the box, and when I opened it up tears formed in my eyes.  What a thing of beauty. I felt everything I'd ever loved in comics come full circle for one brief moment.  And for one brief moment the whole Universe was all right.


Powdered Milk (series) by Keiler Roberts (self-published)

In short, quietly stated passages, Roberts depicts the day-to-day realities of raising her daughter, and its attendant domestic scenery, in gently rendered, funny, and brilliantly deadpan comics.  Lurking beneath the surface, though, lie all kinds of anxieties and pain, and taken as a whole the comics resonate with a kind of mournful but joyous vision-- the knowledge that we are right here right now, but not for long.  Perhaps my favorite new comics artist of recent times.


Scrooge McDuck: "Just a Poor Old Man" by Carl Barks (Fantagraphics)

Being a cartoonist, I've heard over and over about this guy Carl Barks, the so-called "good duck artist." And it was always something I meant to get to someday, but never felt too serious about. Like when my friends twenty years ago would try to get me into the Beach Boys, and I'd be like, "Sure, but it's still songs about cars and surfing!" And then I finally heard Pet Sounds and became the biggest Beach Boy fan around.

Well, I finally read Carl Barks! There's nothing about this collection that doesn't absolutely impress. The writing is stellar -- hilarious, sly, thoughtful, and fun. The art is so beautiful it feels like you're looking at the real world -- a real world full of ducks and beagle boys! Everything that needs to be there, is there, in its proper place.

Throw in the impeccable production values Fanta has bestowed on this work -- beautiful coloring that never detracts, solid printing, nice soft paper, and helpful and interesting endnotes that put these duck stories in the context of Barks' career, and the larger world of comics, and there's nothing more I could ask for. This book is perfect!


Strange Tales Marvel Masterworks Vol 5 by Various (Marvel Comics)

In this first volume of the Strange Tales Masterworks series to include all post-code work, we're given luminous, wonderful artwork by such geniuses as Joe Maneely, Dick Ayers, Joe Sinnott, Bernie Krigstein, and, in his first work for Atlas/Marvel, Steve Ditko.

The writers were definitely struggling to conform to the restrictive limits the code had shackled them with, and many of the stories simply fade away, or even feature endings that will leave you scratching your head, but to me that's part of the charm. On the other hand, the artwork is stellar, and I'd go so far as to say that this period in the mid-fifties was really the true Golden Age of Comic Book Art. The artists had defined themselves, found their voices, and were consistently producing incredibly strong, idiosyncratic work.

The great thing about this series, and its sister series, Journey Into Mystery, is that with each new volume we are witness to the evolution of 1950's comics, from start to finish, which was a wild ride. And now we're only one volume away from the first appearance of Jack Kirby, who laid the groundwork in these titles for the Marvel Superhero revival of the 1960's. 


Nancy is Happy by Ernie Bushmiller (Fantagraphics)

I've been a big Bushmiller fan for a long time (I got a Nancy tattoo on my 21st birthday!) but have never had the chance to read big chunks of the strip in chronological order before. That old adage about Nancy being easier to read than to not read is kind of true. Each strip is perfectly balanced, rendered, and expressed. I found myself staring at panel after panel with my mouth hanging open -- just absolutely impeccable cartooning!


Young Dumb and Full of Cum by Nick Drnaso (Oily Comics)

This brilliant autobiographical collection features short vignettes from Nick's life, including his First Memory, "How to Dress Up Like Me on Halloween", The Wonder Years, Crushes, and more.  Brilliantly deadpan, with gorgeous clear line artwork, this is a perfect little comic.  


Tusen Hjärten Stark #1 by Various (Domino Books)

This newsprint tabloid anthology features some of the best cartoonists out there today, including Warren Craghead's abstracted poetry comics; amazing penciled comics by Swedish artist Joanna Hellgren; and Elizabeth Bethea's lucid, dreamy stories of prostitutes, shadows, and Malcolm X.  There are a lot of these tabloid comics anthologies making the rounds nowadays, but Tusen feels different in that each artist gets plenty of room to shine, and the work itself is compelling and challenging, not the throwaway fluff that too often plagues these endeavors.  This is a stunning collection of contemporary comics that should be in the hands of anyone in love with the medium.


Real Rap (series) by Benjamin Urkowitz (Oily)

Da Studge is a subway worker who lives with one cat he thinks is two and his mom's ashes, and one day, fed up with wack mc's, he starts making his own rap records.  Real Rap is Duh Studge's story, genuinely funny and surprisingly poignant, as he blunders his way through this questionable world.  Few minicomics present a milieu as solidly hewn and yet unpredictably creative as this one.  Masterful.


Captain America (and the Falcon) Omnibus by Jack Kirby (Marvel Comics)

In 1976 and '77, The King of Comics, Jack Kirby, returned to Marvel, the publisher he carried on his back for a decade, and to one of his original characters, Captain America. This giant collection compiles a couple extra-length Annuals, the epic (and originally oversized) Bicentennial Battles, and his complete work on the monthly Captain America and The Falcon series. This is Kirby Unleashed, from the period where he was writing, drawing, and editing his books, and this run on Captain America is everything we've come to expect from him-- nutty dialogue ("I'm going to do what SHIELD expects of me--! But not before I've had a new hair-do!"), crazy villains and monsters, giant, beastly machinery, and delightful double-splashes all over the place. Cap and his buddy The Falcon tangle with The Night People, The Red Skull, and bio-engineer Arnim Zola (the man with an ESP Box for a head), and every page is a delight.


The Hypo by Noah Van Sciver (Fantagraphics)

Slowly but surely, through incipient gift combined with constant effort, Noah Van Sciver has become one of the best cartoonists working today.  Laughing in the face of fads, fly-by-night hipsterisms, and irony, Noah has become a real cartoonist, unafraid to take on whatever his muse throws at him.  It's remarkable to think that this brilliantly portrayed biographical look at Lincoln -- before he was Lincoln -- when he was a conflicted, depressed, emotionally ravaged young man -- as good as it is, seems like a warm-up lap for the comics Noah's producing NOW, only a year later.


Blammo #8 by Noah Van Sciver (Kilgore Books)

A combination of various economic forces led the Alternative comics publishers to leave the comic book format behind, but what about those cartoonists who love that form, and actually thrive in that form?  They've found ways to carry it on, and even invigorate it.  Look no further than Blammo, which features each issue ruminative comics fictions, true stories, renderings of old folk tales, the belovedly hated Chicken Strips, letters, and funny cut and paste fumetti.  Like one of those stews made from whatever happens to be in the fridge at the time, Blammo is A COMIC BOOK.  It's fun, funny, heartbreaking and weird.  God Bless Blammo.


St. Cole #1 by Noah Van Sciver (Kilgore Books)

Noah's latest project, serialized online and reproduced here on paper, is another tale of a misfit stuck in a low-wage struggle with life and love.  Noah has mined this territory before (I guess it's close to his heart) but never with the force and inherent power found in St. Cole.  Excellent.


Three New Stories by Dash Shaw (Fantagraphics)

As Amerika continued its descent into utter madness and oblivion, I kept waiting for some cartoonist to climb aboard and ride the sinking ship at last, to acknowledge and reflect back the chaos, selfishness, amorality, and viciousness of our dying empire.  And to do it in a smart, sincere way.  And I'm really glad Dash Shaw did it.


New Jobs by Dash Shaw (Uncivilized Books)

More brutal, brilliant tales from the sinking ship.  You have to laugh to keep from crying.


Missy by Daryl Seitchik (Oily)

I'm not that hip when it comes to the whippersnappers, and honestly I was not expecting much when I cracked open this recent little Oily release.  I certainly wasn't expecting a moving, sincere, smartly observed and rendered look at a lonely mysterious childhood, fully formed in 12 unassuming pages.


Real Good Stuff by Dennis P. Eichhorn (Poochie Press)

I guess I'm old, but I don't care.  I remember when comics weren't afraid to be really wild, not just MTV wild.  In the 80's and 90's Dennis Eichhorn's no-holds-barred comics stories, illustrated by some of the greatest underground cartoonists of that generation, were always a satisfying read.  And now, there are more.  Crazy, true-life stories of fistfights, raw sex, boozing, drugs, and the road, this time illustrated by the next generation of underground heroes: Max Clotfelter, Tom Van Deusen, Noah Van Sciver, Aaron Lange, and many more, plus old standbys like Mary Fleener.  Like I said-- satisfying.

Black is the Color by Julia Gfrörer (Fantagraphics)

Julia's latest weird tale of supernatural love features a 19th Century sailor adrift at sea.  Sure enough, it's not long before the mermaids show up.  Funny, frightening, lovestruck and warm, all rendered in her usual inky, delicious linework.  A Modern Classic.


Couch Tag by Jesse Reklaw (Fantagraphics)

How Jesse has remained so deeply underground up to now is beyond me, but there are few books I've looked forward to and waited longer for than this collection of his stunning, very sad and powerful comics about his childhood, and his life growing up in a mentally and emotionally unbalanced family.  Reklaw has the chops to draw anything, and the skill and taste to write with an understated grace that allows emotions and experiences to well up and breathe on their own.

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There are of course multitudes of books that came out last year that no doubt would have made it to this list had I had the money/time to purchase them/read them.  But I guess that's what 2014 is for!


1 comment:

  1. That's an interesting list of interesting perspectives. I'm drawn to Eleanor Davis trumpet image. Striking and pleasant. Seems to convey a beauty of letting one's music out, to me. An innate truth and pursuit, perhaps. I'm bewildered. I think I'll pursue.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and their images on the matters.

    ReplyDelete