NUCLEAR BOUQUET: 10^2013
The best comics of the year are these ones. I really like that only one is published by a “comic book company” that has new releases on the walls every Wednesday, and only one is published by a “graphic novel company” that gets into Barnes and Noble. Comics are my favorite when they’re just somebody with a vision bringing their dreams into reality, one set of hands from pencils to printing. In a collapsing industry that never was an industry to begin with, that’s the model that’s ultimately going to survive.
J-1138, by Antoine Cosse. When people ask what your favorite genre of movies is, do you say “foreign films”? Me too. A peerless example of that black-and-white-art-movie-in-a-language-you-don’t-speak ambiance, Cosse’s album length book is remarkable for just how luxuriously cerebral it makes a story about robot celebrities evading government assassins feel. Imagine Bela Tarr drunk enough to get talked into doing Blade Runner and you’re getting there. Gorgeous, wavery ink-washed art too!
Dry County, by Rich Tommaso. “Afterwards, I made myself a roast beef on pumpernickel with a side of potato salad, some BBQ chips and a kosher dill pickle. I cracked open a Miller High Life (the first of five that evening)." Is it weird if that was my favorite line from a comic this year? Maybe I was just hungry, but I don’t think so: in an other-comics market that’s swung 180 degrees away from quieter slice of life stuff, Tommaso is a revelation, pitching his beautifully observed suspense stories as nothing more than unusual events in the lives of painstakingly drawn characters. Everything his Recoil Graphic Novels line put out this year was fantastic; Dry County, with its low-rent Miami setting and compulsively readable romance subplot, was only the first among equals.
Big Busty Psychic Celeb Votes Satan, by Ben Urkowitz. It’s as weird as that title, and as the modern celebrity culture it parodies (or maybe glorifies?). I dunno, it’s a super well drawn comic (if you want a dictionary definition for “fluid linework”, check here) about how Kim Kardashian is the most powerful person in the world, and if that’s not yer bag you aren’t my bag, so there.
Copra, by Michel Fiffe. Basically, Fiffe took all the advances that “intelligent” comics made since Dark Knight and Watchmen as the superhero stuff sat stale, and injected every last one of them into capes-and-cowls over 12 visionary, monthly (!!) issues. If you want a primer on what comics are formally capable of right now, there’s no better destination. And if you want dudes getting their fucking faces smashed in by giant robots, same goes.
Aerosol, by CF. The most trip-tarded comic of the year always deserves a top 10 spot. This year, it’s what might be the best release yet from the best American cartoonist out there right now, a truly inspired story about how death is really just initiation into a sport that culminates in being “sprayed out of an interdimensional proboscis”. It’s hilarious and weird and deep, but it’s also the most elegant expression yet of CF’s skill at turning the frightening unknown into something beatific.
Blonde Cobra, by Jonny Negron. This one covers so much space in only a few pages: the lyricism of John Cassavetes movies, the horrifying ugliness that lurks beneath the dating scene, and dudes getting their asses beat by a badass avenger-chick straight out of the best ’70s exploitation movies, plus. Comics this acrobatic and far-reaching are worth their weight in gold, and Jonny’s art continues to mix beauty and grotesquerie in unmatched fashion.
World Map Room, by Yuichi Yokoyama. The master of emotionless storytelling adds emotion to his formula - like, a single grain of sand’s worth - and by leaving it as unexplained and enigmatic as everything else in his comics, brings more beauty out of that little speck than most cartoonists could cram in ten thousand word balloons. The Yokoyama comic for people who like to read about motherfuckers straight pulling out the heat. Also contains the best drawing of a plane flying over a skyscraper in comic book history.
Jupiter’s Legacy, by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely. This is my platonic ideal of superhero comics. A little exploitation movie, a little crackpot CNN-comments-thread contemporary politics, a little torture-porn violence, a little mystery, and a lot of celebrities partying. Millar and Quitely are playing the same riff we’ve all heard a million times (what if superheroes were like actually real bro?), but the power and authority with which they’re telling this story make Jupiter’s Legacy the first time it’s felt like something that could actually happen. Unmissable.
Epoxy 4, by John Pham. The best production value of the year by leaps and bounds. If you have a risograph and you didn’t make this comic, you’re second place by a long shot. It’s so much more than a beautiful object, though. In two stories printed at two vastly different sizes, Pham gives us the two far ends of how comics can work: hilarious and sugar-high, with readymade characters and gross gags; and glacially paced and enigmatic, with drawings that nearly crack under their own weight. Both halves of this comic are astonishing on their own. Together they’re mind blowing, and the fact that the same dude made both of them is about as inspiring as it gets.
Arsene Schrauwen Part Two, by Olivier Schrauwen. For the second year running, Schrauwen’s epic biography of his colonialist grandfather tops the list. This book takes on some huge topics - love, racism, inertia, imagination, man’s attempts to rebuild the world he’s been given - but it’s also completely hilarious, and never gives its concrete characters up in favor of abstract conceptualizing. Every page in this comic is a construction of great delicacy, with motifs running through and drawing to crescendoes before giving way to new ones, while always remaining as readable as the simplest sequential art. Arsene Schrauwen is an arrow pointed forward, a story with a great novel’s depth and nuance and great visual art’s overwhelming appeal to the senses. It is a reminder that comics, in the hands of a talented enough practitioner, can be the greatest art of all.
Honorable mentions: Frontier, Fury Max, Panorama Island, SF #3. Get those ones too, they’re great!! And as ever, the comics I made are my favorite comics of the year, because they’re doing everything I wish this medium would do all the time. Buy ‘em? You better.