Dedicated to Dylan Williams
As has become tradition over the last couple of years, I’ll issue my standard disclaimer about how difficult it is culling this list down to just 10 entries. It’s a rigorous mental exercise that has me staring at my screen for abnormally long periods of time, pitting title against title based on inexplicable personal criteria, and weighing artistic merit and entertainment value for what feels like an eternity.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning a few other selections that I enjoyed, which also valiantly fought for a place on the list. These recommended titles include BEING by Martins Zutis, THE STORY OF GARDENS by Kuba Woynarowski, CHICKENBOT’S ODD JOBS #3 by Eric H., NIGHT ANIMALS by Brecht Evens, I WILL BITE YOU by Joseph Lambert, VIETNAMERICA by GB Tran, OPTIC NERVE #12 by Adrian Tomine, HABITAT #2 by Dunja Jankovic, BLAMMO #7 by Noah Van Sciver, THE WHALE by Aidan Koch, THREE #2 Edited by Rob Kirby, BY THE SLICE by Giulie Speziani & Cecilia Latella, and PASSAGE by Tessa Brunton.
SOLDIERS OF GOD by Kelly Clancy: This coming of age tale diverges from the typical point of view of relatively insular Western Culture, taking cues from creators like Marjane Satrapi, Art Spiegelman, and Joe Sacco. It’s educational while never ceasing to entertain, and exhibits remarkable craftsmanship in the process, from someone who is early into what I hope is a very long and prolific career.
TOO DARK TO SEE by Julia Gfrorer: One of my favorite new creators has crafted a revealing confluence of the unsettling and the erotic. It’s an emotionally frank closed-room examination of basic human nature and the underpinnings of interpersonal dynamics.
THE DEATH OF ELIJAH LOVEJOY by Noah Van Sciver: I still don’t understand why Noah isn’t a superstar. He’s a talented creator who seems intent on pushing himself beyond the confines of his autobiographical roots, this time addressing speculative historical fiction merged with an outright biographical account of a figure that should be important for anyone who believes in Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. Van Sciver is one of the small elite cadre of creators who make me yearn to still be reviewing comics 10 years from now just so I can see what he’ll do next. Noah, you might be an “Ignatz Award Loser!” but you’re a winner in my book. More precisely, Noah is the Robert Crumb of our generation.
THE WOLF by Tom Neely: The Wolf is a beautifully modern dissertation on sex, violence, and humanity, with painterly gallery worthy images capable of haunting you long after put the book down. Imagine a mash up that’s equal parts Floyd Gottfredson and Lon Chaney. It’s the fusion of early Disney ornamentation and Neely’s almost fetishistic fascination with horror imagery converging in a silent film concoction that perfectly controls the pace of the transformative experience. There’s nothing like it. It’s so damn good.
BLACK EYE Edited by Ryan Standfest: Applying the critical curatorial eye to humor-functionality-as-genre in the comics medium! Academic precision balanced with liberated artistic voices! Banned in Canada!
GANGES #4 by Kevin Huizenga: It’s the continuing adventures of Glenn Ganges and his latest nocturnal outing, as he navigates his sleepless existence on a seemingly endless night. With the degree of interactivity occurring between the page and the readers, there’s as much technique on display here as there is original storytelling.
BATUMAN #1 by Mari Ahokoivu: The only truly fresh Batman riff in recent memory. It cuts to the heart of the property’s psychological insecurities and transcends its origins to become something wholly unique. If Joe Matt, Chester Brown, or Seth did Batman, it would have come out looking like this VERY low budget Dark Knight that takes the familiar tropes of chummy partnership, playboy flirtation, enigmatic hero, and maniacal villain, and subtly upends every single one of them to reveal a brilliant new examination of a 70 year old character.
EVERYTHING UNSEEN: PARTS 4 & 5 by Drew Beckmeyer: There are more ideas present per page in Beckmeyer’s saga than most comics have in the entire issue. The sketchy lines drag us kicking and screaming through 40 days adrift in the desert. The contemplation ranges from pure existential dilemma to allegorical misgivings about our current culture of desert campaigns and pre-emptive strikes. Beckmeyer seems to eschew all the traditional narrative tools, common visual cues, and linear sets of logic. This book doesn’t do anything right by conventional standards, and for that it is perfect. As a reviewer, you seldom see such unharnessed energy reverberating off the page. It’s an absolute triumph from start to finish.
TRIGGER #2 by Mike Bertino: This is the second book in a little double-tap this year from Revival House Press. It’s got the primal visceral aesthetic appeal of Gary Panter, using colors and shapes that shouldn’t work together so well, but miraculously do. Along with his pure technical ability, Bertino’s narrative range is impressive. From faux autobio to humor to inventive sci-fi and other genre mash-ups, Bertino shares the lens through which he views the world and invents his own mythology and internal storytelling rules in the process. Some creators strive for world-building; Bertino is reality-building.
THE DISGUSTING ROOM by Austin English: Though some of the creators on this list are loosely affiliated with the publisher, this is the lone entry published (not just distributed) by Sparkplug Comic Books. The Disgusting Room is another foray into what I’ve been terming the “Newsprint Revivalist Movement” for a couple of years now. English’s work is about the impurity of the human condition, it rewards repeated reading, and although you might initially assume there’s a limited market for this odd abstract expressionistic style, its very existence sings about the versatility of the medium. It’s impossible for me not to acknowledge the loss of Dylan Williams in a project like this. In many ways, it’s a perfect example of why Dylan’s legacy continues to be so vital. The Disgusting Room is just the type of book he wanted to read. It’s just the type of book that probably couldn’t exist anywhere else. So, it’s just the type of book that Dylan went and published. He did that not to make money or to curry favor with anybody, but followed his entrepreneurial sensibility and punk DIY heart, just to ensure it was put out into the world and available for more widespread reader exposure. It’s selfless. It’s empowering. It’s about building something called “connoisseurship” in an audience. It breaks my heart that this is the first time he won’t be able to share his thoughts on one of my annual lists.