[Dedicated To Dylan Williams]
Post York by James Romberger: Set in a post-apocalyptic New York City that thematically values humanitarianism over sheer survival, Post York seeks to re-examine man’s relationship to the natural world. This was the offering from Uncivilized Books that grabbed me by the throat and made me pay full attention to this bold new publishing house helmed by Tom Kaczynski.
Last Train to Old Town by Kenan Rubenstein: It’s a perfect dichotomy of suburban squalor and urban intrigue, with an identifiable outsider steeped in the mysteries of social isolation. The breakdown of reality gives way to a fantastical escape. Old Town operates with a creative zeal evidenced in the hand-lettering, mounted panels, inserted maps, and assorted accoutrements allowing you to sense the might of the craft on display, to sense the very hand of the artist on every single page. This is the book you want to watch out for as future installments are released.
Eel Mansions by Derek Van Gieson: It’s like David Lynch on paper, flirtatious, mysterious, and dangerous. Van Gieson laces this burgeoning series with so much addictive critical bait, from cinema, to music, to cultural anthropology observations, that it quickly becomes an irresistible entryway to a never-ending conversation between the handful of people who can keep up with what Van Gieson is slinging with so much affection.
Burning Building Comix by Jeff Zwirek: Any “best of” list that doesn’t at least seriously consider Zwirek’s creation for its sheer design ingenuity is questionable. It’s a foldout experience that follows a fire racing its way through an apartment building and the actions of its various inhabitants, one that’s concerned with how format and story (that’s form and function) each impact the other. It’s builds to become quite an experience, which can be read up, down, and all around.
Deep In The Woods by Noah Van Sciver & Nic Breutzman: This is your latest entry in the “Newsprint Revivalist” movement, with modern horror at the hands of Breutzman extrapolated from the breakdown of social units. The other half of this 2D Cloud offering is a modern parable about a girl lost in the woods. Van Sciver uses a dismembered floating cow head(!) to remind us about integrity and doing what’s right, even if it’s not popular, easy, or quick. Noah Van Sciver represents the strength of his generation of creators. His is an uncomfortable realism, unafraid to dwell on the paupers, while most stories only want to acknowledge the princes.
The End of The Fucking World by Charles Forsman: Fantagraphics wisely collected Forsman’s series of mini-comics centering on the apathy, longing, and lack of belonging for the new generation. The End of The Fucking World is a book concerned with the misunderstood dynamic of the Millenials, highlighting their inherited cultural attachment disorder in a way that us Gen X’ers, and even our aging-out Baby Boomer parents, might finally comprehend.
New School by Dash Shaw: One of the hallmarks of Contemporary Art is the recontextualization of found objects, and Shaw employs a strong sensory experience using that style of visual and narrative shorthand. Aside from the rich family dynamics and subtle sci-fi exploration of the new, New School is largely a paradigmatic tale about willfully crafting a cultural sense of identity. It’s the best work so far from a daring creator who just gets better and better with each successive project.
Homesick by Jason Walz: Homesick showcases a dual narrative structure, one track following the autobiographical account of Walz dealing with the news of his very sick mother, while the other focuses on a seemingly unrelated lost Russian Cosmonaut, until the two threads invariably converge. Like the great Craig Thompson, Walz uses visual symbology to help convey complex emotional content, suggesting the fleeting nature of happiness in the process, and that we should instead look for the stasis found in true peace in order to be content.
Charles Bukowski’s Post Office by Bart King: The construction technique is pure tactile objet d’art, using that meme’d procedure where you print on a large sheet, fold it in half lengthwise to double it over, and then slice the interior channel atop, fold, fold, fold, and voila, you have yourself a hand assembled mini-comic with zero staples. Post Office operates with a somehow effervescent sense of drudgery, because whether times are up, or times are down, the postman cometh, and it’s a hard realization that *you* are often the source of your own undoing.
All You Need Is Love by Emmi Valve: Kus! Comics delivers their 11th mini, and it’s an emotional knockout. All You Need Is Love is a sequential art lesson in wanting what you’ve got, rather than getting what you want. Valve is in the process of learning to appreciate what she has, to be present and experience it, rather than seeking another arrangement which may never actually materialize. It’s an irresistible autobiographical aesthetic from one of my favorite publishers. Kus! Comics is an international sensation waiting to explode as awareness builds.
The Outliers by Erik T. Johnson: Playing like an alt comics guide to primal fears, the story involves a boy who is a societal outlier in danger of getting lost in the shuffle. Instead, he just gets lost in the woods and makes a startling discovery. The Outliers is a careful exploration of our prejudices and jingoistic attitudes, not to mention the fact that you just never know what’s going on behind the scenes with most people. Johnson is able to effectively evoke mood and place, on the fringe between a sense wonder and a sense of discovery.
An Afternoon In Ueno by Graeme McNee: I joked with McNee that he inadvertently created a Japanese comics version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, awakening a young person’s ability to discover the type of truths that can’t be taught by schools or parents, and can only be experienced firsthand. Ueno employs a devastatingly effective use of the minimalist approach, and along with creators like Ryan Cecil Smith, highlights the growing presence of expat comics practitioners living and working in Japan, creating a startling fusion between culture and craft.
Xeno Kaiju by Pat Aulisio: I never met a Hic & Hoc Publication that I didn’t like, and Xeno Kaiju continues this tradition with a brawling, in-your-face, monster jam comic that I cited as “the best sequential art hangover I’ve had in years.” Squarely in the “Newsprint Revivalist” category, Aulisio eschews words in order to fill nearly every crevice of the page with textures, patterns, technology, and ink matter, swirls of the stuff coalescing to form nascent imagery. It’s a dance rife with bizarre death metal calligraphy, the great wallpaper extravaganza of 2013, and I guarantee you that your comics year isn’t complete until you partake in the raw energy that is Xeno Kaiju.
It was a very competitive year, so I have a few honorable mentions that I would feel remiss in not drawing some attention to. These included: a totalitarian regime counterbalanced by Freedom of The Press in Our Library by Amanda Baeza, the dark sensory experience of Out of Hollow Water by Anna Bongiovanni, the sprawling travelogue about young people being allowed to make their own mistakes in Today Is The Last Day of The Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust, the cumulative effects of marginalization on the psyche in Look Straight Ahead by Elaine M. Will, and the haunting novella about love and isolation found in Sorry Sheets by Eroyn Franklin.