[Previously Published @ Thirteen Minutes]
Dedicated to Dylan Williams
It was such a great year. Make no mistake, there’s a Small Press Renaissance happening as we speak. While you could certainly make the argument that it’s largely centered around New York City, the phenomenon engulfs every corner of the cross-pollinated globe, even as far away as Latvia, where an artfully produced Baltic Comics Magazine featuring a host of European and North American creators can win the Alternative Comics Award in Angouleme, France. My favorites were from a dizzying array of publishers that included Sparkplug Comic Books, Domino Books, Hic & Hoc Publications, 2D Cloud, Kus! Comics, Retrofit Comics, Grimalkin Press, Secret Acres, Microcosm Publishing, Closed Caption Comics, Revival House Press, and old reliable Fantagraphics. As is becoming increasingly the case, there are far too many contenders and it’s harder every year to work the list down. I’d be remiss in not mentioning some other great comics that were up for consideration, including the fanciful flourish that was The Complete Talamaroo (Hic & Hoc Publications) by Alabaster, the documentarian nature of Mark Twain Was Right: The 2001 Cincinnati Riots (Microcosm Publishing) by Dan P. Moore, the large scale rural mystery of Only Skin (Secret Acres) by Sean Ford, the primal forces of The Offering (Self-Published) by Anna Bongiovanni, the modernized horror of Identity Thief (Fanboy Comics) by Bryant Dillon & Meaghan O’Keefe, the off-kilter zeal of Important Comics (Self-Published) by Dina Kelberman, the environmental magic of The Flames (Kus! Comics) by Akvile Miseviciute, man’s contention with space and time in Everything Unseen: Parts 6 & 7 (Revival House Press) by Drew Beckmeyer, the coolest wedding favor ever in the form of Better Together (Elephant Eater Comics) by Ryan Claytor, and the trippy comics of the future in the house anthology s! #12 (Kus! Comics). Without further preamble, and in no particular order, here are the Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2012.
SF Supplementary File (Closed Caption Comics) by Ryan Cecil Smith: This stark and ethereal reinterpretation of 1979 Japanese sci-fi comics was the most impressive objet d’art I’ve encountered in a long time. Issues of this series ended up getting passed around the contemporary art museum I work at and functioned as endless conversation starters.
Bowman 2016 (Hic & Hoc Publications) by Pat Aulisio: Perhaps best described as an alternate reality spin-off featuring astronaut Dave Bowman’s filmic escapades. It was wild-eyed, raucous, and unpredictable, but never ceased to offer an energized artistic vision.
Killman (Kus! Comics) by Box Brown: Killman unleashes a set of primal storytelling tropes that merge the garish science of Jack Kirby’s cosmic affairs, Leiji Matsumoto’s dreamlike space-faring nature, and the brash clang of old 2000AD Euro adventures, all packed in a slick Latvian indie box.
The Hypo (Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver: I feel like Noah has finally reached some important crescendo in his career, having slowly transitioned from the confines of traditional autobiography to pure historical biography. This slice of Americana is the life and times of a downtrodden, lovelorn, not-terribly-successful pre-Presidential Abe Lincoln in Van Sciver’s unmistakably self-deprecating aesthetic.
Nurse Nurse (Sparkplug Comic Books) by Katie Skelly: Playing like some lost piece of 70’s punk sci-fi psychedelia, Nurse Nurse is a feature-length story about the titular nurses on extended space missions, full of subtle sexuality and a fun level of unpredictability that keeps you on your toes.
Prizon Food (2D Cloud) by Eric Schuster & Joseph Gillette: These guys just bring the funny non-stop with a distinct style of 32-bit effervescence, proving that in a year of astonishing small press contenders, 2D Cloud is not only on the map, but a force to be reckoned with.
Real Life (Revival House Press) by Malachi Ward: If you want a real Christmas miracle, look no further than Ward somehow channeling the better bits of narrative output and visual style from Charles Burns, Adrian Tomine, and Kevin Huizenga, and distilling it all down into one package. Real Life transposes a covert alien invasion for our own social paranoia with voluptuous lines and a small town slice of intimate horror.
Cold Wind (Ninth Art Press) by Dan Mazur & Jesse Lonergan: As one of the best examples of indie world-building, I was immediately captivated by the forces of Spring and Winter converging (along with Summer and Fall, quickly projected in my mind). With fresh hitmen, polar sentries, and silent usurpers, if you could somehow make a children’s book out of Game of Thrones or Matz & Jacamon’s The Killer, it might look something like this.
Face Man (Domino Books) by Clara Bessijelle: Face Man is a tantalizing near-perfect example of modern art comix. It favors reader interpretation over directly prescribing meaning, it values presentation diversity over bland conformity, and contends with the challenges of real life vs. anything more fantastical. Face Man taps into the raw unbridled power lurking just below the surface of the human condition.
The Furry Trap (Fantagraphics) by Josh Simmons: The Furry Trap is so good that it actually disgusts me; it’s full of genre mash-ups, horror fantasy, and sexual repression. The nightmare catalyst imagery is a versatile aesthetic that apes the apocryphal alt mythologies of Charles Burns, Kevin Huizenga, Mari Ahokoivu, Chris Ware, Levon Jihanian, James Stokoe, Sammy Harkham, and– holy shit can this list get any longer is there anything Josh Simmons *can’t* do I’m losing my mind over here?! Simmons also offers a subversion of fetish superhero tropes at will; witness his Batman strips, which are simply the best in the business. I’d rather read these forever than any of the recycled tripe that DC Entertainment seems intent on publishing.
Ci Vediamo (Self-Published) by Hazel Newlevant: Newlevant’s construction technique and use of vellum to alter perception and storytelling dynamics is worth a mention alone. This silent story of love, loss, and trying to move past the lingering emotional scars is a haunting portrayal of the nostalgia we feel deeply tied to people and places.
March 29, 1912 (Grimalkin Press) by Jordan Shiveley: Shiveley harnesses the reductive power of representational minimalism in the story of an Antarctic expedition gone awry. He’s able to expertly control the pace, push and pull the reader’s eye around the page, and upend audience expectations, using the medium to its full potential by relying solely on visual clues to propel the narrative.
Demon Tears (Hic & Hic Publications) by Bernie McGovern: With kinetic illustration and heavy emotional resonance from heartbreaking to uplifting, McGovern isolates the internal conflict of man through a descent into alcoholism. By unlocking the game of contradictions that is the puzzle of the psyche, McGovern’s forthcoming journey also reveals the mystery of his life in spite of his sickness.