Updated weakly.

John P. has a PATREON. / King-Cat 82 is OUT.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

(Some of my) FAVORITE COMICS OF 2014

It was a long year for me, that 2014, spent mostly drawing and prepping my own book The Hospital Suite (D+Q), and then travelling around the country promoting it.  By the time I got home it was December, and I had a lot of catching up to do.

I barely managed to do any comics reading last year, though that didn't stop the weekly onslaught of great, interesting, beautiful books.  So there's a lot of stuff that no doubt would have made this list had I had a chance to sit down and read it.  Well, that's what 2015 is for.  Meanwhile, here's a small and by no means comprehensive list of some of my favorite comics of 2014:

Black Light: The Art of L.B. Cole (Fantagraphics)

I waited for what seemed like forever for this wonderful collection of LB Cole's eye-splitting, weird and wonderful artwork: Proto-psychedelic covers for pulps and comics, pin-ups, men's magazines and more, all printed on deliciously oversized pages.

Dessins by Pascal Girard (Editions Pow Pow)

A collection of Pascal's sketchbook pages, this book is everything I love about small press comics.

Chronologie by Dominique Goblet and Nikita Fossoul (Fremok)

I heard about this book years ago when it first came out, but at $50 plus a hefty international shipping charge, I held off.  Then in 2013 at the Pierre Feuille Ciseaux retreat, I saw a copy of the book in the flesh.  This only hurt more as it was even better in person than I'd imagined.  When I saw that author Dominique Goblet was coming to SPX 2014, I hurriedly wrote her an email asking if there was any way she could stow a copy in her luggage for me.

At SPX I immediately went up to her table and introduced myself.  She turned and pulled the book out of her suitcase.  VOILÀ!

Chronologie is a series of daily portraits she did every morning with her daughter Nikita, where she drew Nikita and vice versa.  The drawings are in a variety of media, from simple pencil studies to lush painted portraits, and move through ten years, so, in effect, we see Dominique's daughter grow up before her mother's own eyes.  A remarkable book, and one I'm very glad to have on my bookshelf!

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

Keiler continued her charming series of domestic comics, focusing on her everyday interactions with her daughter Xia, husband Scott, and their dog Crooky.  On their own, these comics are beautiful slice of life stories, told with sharp but deadpan humor.  But underneath runs a darker current of melancholy, which  draws Powdered Milk into the realm of real, powerfully human art.

What Nerve! ed. by Dan Nadel (DAP)

I grew up in love with the "Hairy Who": the group of Chicago artists known also as the Imagists, who made their deepest mark on the culture from the late sixties through the eighties.  Thankfully, their remarkably diverse and challenging, yet down to earth and funny work has seen something of a reassessment in recent times, both with the release of the Hairy Who documentary, and this great show curated by Dan Nadel, which combines the work of the Imagists with other outsiders like the Cailfornia Funk Artists, HC Westermann, Jack Kirby, Destroy All Monsters and the Fort Thunder crew.  I was lucky enough to see the the exhibit in Providence when on tour last fall.  The show was overwhelming to me, and I was happy that the accompanying catalog was as good as it was, allowing me to take the exhibit home to peruse for years to come.

Heroical # 1 and 2 by David Plunkert (Spur Design)

I saw these at Jim Rugg's house and had to have them.  (They're available online.)  Plunkert's designerly but raw and charming comics and art harken back to the glory days of RAW, when weirdness and smart production skills combined to form the first real Objets d'art of the comics world.  Full of robots, Lucha Libre, cut and paste, and action lines, these comics are a breath of fresh air-- fun, funky, unpretentious and amazingly well-done.

Facility Integrity by Nick Maandag (Pigeon Press)

It's been to my delight and relief that finally some cartoonists out there (like Dash Shaw) have begun to confront the Death Spiral of Late Capital in smart, funny, and brutally honest ways.  This new, viciously funny satire of the stupidity of corporate control describes a boss determined to increase productivity through manipulating his employees' bathroom habits.  Maandag's Streakers from 2011 was my book of the year, and somehow Facility Integrity takes the absurdist but pitch perfect satire of Streakers and improves on it.   BOOK OF THE YEAR!

Rudy by Mark Connery (2D Cloud)

Great to see a humble and truly underground comics talent get his due, in this career spanning collection edited by Marc Bell.  Connery's Rudy the Magic Cat was a mainstay of the 90's underground zine scene, and here his absurd, lysergic stories and doodles have retained the freshness of their wild-eyed, thoroughly un-commercial origins.  Printed in tiny quantities and usually given away or left in public places for passers-by, Rudy zines had a mystery and a charm to them that comes clearly across in this nicely produced collection.

Strange Growths #16 by Jenny Zervakis (Self-published)

One of the greatest, criminally unsung cartoonists of the 90's continues to produce her work in small batches, on her own schedule.  This issue features comics about placemats, snow, dreams, and lost dogs, alongside short, weird illustrated stories.  Jenny's poetic work is soft, but sad, and plain, but deeply rewarding.

I Don't Hate Your Guts by Noah Van Sciver (2D Cloud)

The prolific Van Sciver released a number of books in 2014, all of which could have and should have made this list, but I Don't Hate Your Guts, a scratchy, improvised, full color 30 day diary comic, sums up the confidence that Noah has developed through sheer hard work, exploring and refining his talent.  Funny, tragic, real, and absurd in equal measures, no one's doing what Noah does.

Recidivist IV by Zak Sally (La Mano 21)

Harkening back to the fuck all days of alternative comics, when the integrity of one's personal expression was the all-consuming goal of our art, Recidivist IV is a deeply intense, dense, and difficult guide to one person's battle with his life and art.  Reading the book requires that you sweat it out in the trenches with the author, and when you finally come out the other side you've had an undeniable taste of his struggle.  A real achievement in a world where ho-hum is often the most one can expect from comics.

Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio (Abrams)

Edited by Mark Evanier, this oversized collection of original art scans tells the tale of the years Jack Kirby and his partner Joe Simon ran their own comics studio, producing gripping war stories, horror, crime, romance, and superhero comics for outside publishers.  It's fascinating to see Kirby's iconic style refine itself through the years, but the real surprise for me were the examples of work by other talented members of the studio, like Mort Meskin, Al Williamson, and Bill Draut, whose rock solid crime and war stories contained herein are the definition of 50's Comics Art.

La Rêve Américain by Laurent Lolmède (Alain Beaulet)

One of my all-time favorites, Lolmède, visits America and fills his sketchbook with US scenes, all drawn in his wild, grotesque and expressive style. Ouais!

The Lonesome Go by Tim Lane (Fantagraphics)

One of the most original cartoonists working today, Tim Lane makes comics that, while drawing from a similar stylistic well as Charles Burns, John Hankiewicz, and the Beats, are thoroughly his own.  The Lonesome Go mixes multiple episodic storylines into sketchbook musings, photographs, epigraphs and lyrics that dart at and subtly reveal aspects of his "Great American Mythological Drama":  a surreal mélange of identity, darkness, love, loneliness and betrayal.  In a comics scene rife with copycats and half-baked effort, this book successfully carves its own space, on its own terms. There's never been another one like it.

Monday, February 2, 2015


Hal the Groundhog

So, if you've read King-Cat for awhile, you know that the Groundhog, AKA the North American Woodchuck (Marmota monax), is sort of my totem animal.  I've been canoodling with them ever since my family moved out to the wilds of Hoffman Estates in 1979.  And for all those years, I held within a deep wish-- to touch a groundhog.

Thoreau famously sat with one until it felt comfortable enough to let him touch it, but the closest I ever got to a groundhog in recent years was probably ten feet or so.

So it was much to my delight when Stephanie told me that the Big Run Wolf Ranch in Lockport, IL was holding an upcoming open house, at which their very own Hal the Groundhog was scheduled to make his first Winter Prognostication.

We drove in towards the city, picked up my pal Ray, and headed down to Scenic, Historic Lockport.  (Lockport was headquarters to the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which I wrote about in King-Cat #60.)  We pulled in at the Wolf Ranch and walked around, over the stream and past the weird ducks and chickens.  We met Charlie the Cougar and Khan the Siberian Tiger, and a bunch of lovely wolves.  Two delightful porcupines, and a skunk named Kirby (!).

The porcupine's nose was very charming.

Kirby the Skunk

He put his cheek against mine!

JP, Kirby, and Ray Rehayem; with volunteer.

Hal wasn't scheduled to make his appearance until 1 PM, so we got back in the car, drove downtown, and had a great lunch at the local raw, organic, gluten-free cafe (!!!).  It was so good we had Key Lime Pie for dessert and had to hustle back to the Ranch for Hal's appearance.

When we got there, Hal was in his Pet Carrier, and the volunteers were explaining the habits of this wily creature, including a brief history of the lore behind the only major* holiday named for a rodent.  Finally they opened the cage, and coaxed Kirby out onto the tabletop...  did he see his shadow?  I don't know, but he did leap off the table and hustle across the yard, past the barbecue, and into the open garage.  Presently they rounded him up again and brought him back out for all the kids to see.

Hal enjoying some string cheese.

He was just a little guy, about 10 months old, a Minnesotan by birth.  He was very cute, and seemed nonplussed by all the goo-gooing children.  After some time with the kids, he went back inside to relax, and then... the main attraction:

A month or so before out visit, Stephanie had gotten in touch with the Ranch Manager, Renee, and had arranged for me to have a bit of private time with Hal afterwards.  We huddled in the cold garage while Renee went back and brought him out.  He was adorable.  We fed him some string cheese to calm him down a bit and Renee picked him up.  I got to pet him a little, stroking his neck and ears.  He was soft.  I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to actually hold him, but she held him up for me and I picked him up.

He was lighter than I expected, and felt just like a big squirrel-- soft, loose fur, and a warm muscular body beneath.  He trembled a bit like a squirrel.  His nails felt long and quite sharp, as he held on to my jacket and squirmed.  It was all happening so fast!  Renee took him from me again to calm him down, and then I got to hold him one more time.  This time he felt a little more settled and I got to look down at him and really try to remember the moment.

She took him from me once again and brought him back inside.  He'd had a long day.  And so had we...

We said our thank yous and got back in the car for the ride home.  A dream of mine, come true.

*If I say it's major, it's major.

All photos by Stephanie Dorman
Special thanks to Stephanie, Hal, and Renee