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venerdì 26 dicembre 2014

Best Comics of 2014: The List

In 2014 I read enough comics and so I think I can do a classic "Best Of" list. I didn't make any distinction between mini-comics, new releases and collections of things already published elsewhere. I simply chose my favorite comics among the ones I managed to read this year and put them in alphabetical order. Thanks for your attention and happy 2015.

The Amateurs, Generous Bosom, Glancing - Conor Stechschulte is the best kept secret of American contemporary comics. Even if The Amateurs, initially self-published in 2011 in a limited edition of 300 copies, has been reprinted in an improved and updated version from Fantagraphics, it still didn't receive the attention it deserves. Too bad, because this story of two butchers who forget how to do their job is one of the most powerful comics in recent years. And the first part of Stechschulte's new work, Generous Bosom, which made its debut in a 70-page comic book published this November by Breakdown Press, isn't less so. A man is coming back home driving in the rain at night. When two tires broke, he asks for help in a house where a married couple involves him in a strange and perverse situation, which culminates in a long sex scene represented with impressive realism. Even the rain is rendered with a wonderful series of detailed lines. Glancing is instead a self-published book made in dark and cloudy watercolors, where Stechschulte doesn't use text but through the gazes of three characters bathing at night manages to convey their desires and interpersonal dynamics. This isn't a minor work in the artist's production, but another expression of a unique talent. I talked briefly about Conor Stechschulte here.

Arsène Schrauwen - A fake biography of the author's grandfather, this elegant hardcover book published by Fantagraphics collects the story printed in risography by the same Olivier Schrauwen. The Belgian cartoonist has already revealed himself as a master of the fake documentary (I think of his contributions to Mould Map and to the Spanish anthology Terry), able to combine refined narrative mechanisms with an anti-realistic graphic style and suggestive coloring techniques. This visionary journey in colonial Africa is also a Bildungsroman that explores the instincts of a young man and a satirical reflection on themes such as colonialism and the unlimited faith in the progress typical of the 20th Century man. Highly recommended.

Felony Comics - Four paranoid crime stories by Alex Degen, Lale Westvind, Pete Toms and Benjamin Urkowitz, a cover by Benjamin Marra and a back-cover by Karissa Sakumoto. The anthology published by Harris Smith's Negative Pleasure does in 32 pages all that a good anthology should do, mixing well-thought-out stories, strong ideas, pop art and visionary features. For further details have a look at my review.

The Inside Case - After This No Place to Stay (here my review), the German Michael Jordan offers another mind-blowing trip in the underground with this 16-page comic book published by Space Face. There's something of Kafka, Lynch and Cronenberg here, a vintage drawing style remembering the EC Comics era, odd conversations, a bit of surrealism and psychoanalysis. Jordan is still able to intrigue, unsettle and excite the reader.

Irene #4 - Irene is one of the best anthologies of our days. The three editors dw, Dakota McFadzean and Andy Warner collaborate every time in a different way and are also good at finding outstanding new talents. This fourth issue, dating back to last April, gave me the opportunity to know two artists to absolutely keep an eye on as Carlista Martin and Mazen Kerbaj. I still couldn't read the fifth issue, released in October, but I'm sure it won't disappoint me. I reviewed Irene # 4 here.

It Never Happened Again and Wicked Chicken Queen  - I already reviewed It Never Happened Again, a collection of two comics by Sam Alden published by Uncivilized Books, in this post, and I also talked about Wicked Chicken Queen, another excellent Alden's output in this 2014, here. Alden is an artist in constant motion, who always feels like telling and experimenting. Intimate, moving but sometimes also harsh, his stories exploit the different potentialities of comics and lead the medium to new horizons.

Lose #6 - The Canadian Michael DeForge is an old friend of this blog, since the review of Lose #5 has been one of my early posts (I also briefly reviewed his Very Casual here). Among the various things published this year by the prolific DeForge, the new issue of Lose, his series for Koyama Press, contains what at the moment looks like his most accomplished narrative effort, Me As A Baby. The story, raw and ironic at the same time, follows the protagonist Cherelle going to any length to recover the stolen clarinet of her niece. And she'll be ready even to join the Mafia, a criminal organization very different from the one we know from news stories and movies...

Megahex - A big collection of Megg, Mogg and Owl stories already published on Tumblr with 69 pages of never before seen episodes, this hardcover book by Simon Hanselmann has been one of the events of this year and a bestseller for Fantagraphics. I already talked about Hanselmann reviewing Life Zone, so if you still don't know his work you can give a look there. Here I'll only say that his comics more than simply entertaining are unsettling, since themes such as rape, violence, depression and paranoia emerge between a laugh and the other. Just like DeForge, Hanselmann blends humor and brutal realism, leaving the reader amused, amazed and admired. You can't miss it.

Middle School Missy - Missy is Daryl Seitchik's series, a seemingly autobiographical diary of a sharp, edgy and rebel little girl. Middle School Missy, self-published by the cartoonist after two mini-comics printed by Oily, is the most recent chapter, where we follow the passage from childhood to adolescence, marked by the red coming between the usual black and white when the protagonist has her first period. Funny as only brilliant works can be, Missy deals with children in the same way Megahex deals with stoners. For some other words you can go here.

Mould Map #3 - If you were looking for an heir of Kramers Ergot, here you're served. This large volume with glossy pages showcases comics focused on future, street riots, technology and sex, seemingly different topics merged into a well-cohesive anthology, with works by Viktor Hachmang & GHXYK2, Noel Freibert, C.F., Sam Alden, Olivier Schrauwen, Lala Albert, Joseph P Kelly, Blaise Larmee, Lando, Gabriel Corbera, Sammy Harkham, Jacob Ciocci, Joe Kessler. Edited by Hugh Frost and Leon Sadler, Mould Map is published by Landfill Editions. For a few more words you can give a look here.

Now and Here Avantgarde as a few others, Lale Westvind's comics are a genre of their own and could be the equivalent of Thomas Pynchon's novels, with their recurring suggestions and an experimental attitude crossing storytelling and drawings to the point of transforming facts into metaphysical elements. The latest works of the New York based cartoonist are the three issues of Now and Here, a new series started a few months ago. The first two are relatively conventional comic books, while the third has more pages and the form of an illustrated text. However the themes remain the same, time and space, represented by human and not human figures looking, perceiving, chasing each other, while the echoes of other dimensions and realities hover in the background.

Nowt/Aktion #4 - While I'm still looking forward to read the new and unmissable Days Longer Than Long Pork Sausages, released a few months ago from Space Face Books, I choose this mini-comic printed in a hundred copies to put Gabriel Corbera in this list. The Spanish cartoonist has persistently built his own narrative universe made of recurring archetypes, where shotguns, chains, tigers, cobwebs, caves, destroyed buildings and desolate landscapes return the oppression of the society towards heroic but always exhausted characters. For further details read here.

Le ragazzine stanno perdendo il controllo - Ratigher's comic is in my opinion the best Italian comic of the year and I can't leave it out of this list. I hope it'll be translated soon in other languages, because I think it could have a good success even outside Italy. Balanced and mature but also full of inventiveness and never ordinary, Le ragazzine is characterized by a manga style of drawing, a story recalling Ghost World and above all by the unmistakable mark of its author, as we've known it in Trama and in his work for Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds.

Rav - Unfortunately I haven't found the time to talk more extensively of this book, but it would have really deserved a review. Maybe I can catch up with the second chapter, scheduled for next year. Youth In Decline has collected in a beautiful paperback the first issues of Rav by Mickey Zacchilli, an amazing and funny journey in underground basements and hellish bars, full of violence, sex and genuine sense of wonder. Zacchilli uses a unique style, characterized by lines that cross the borders of bodies and objects, creating a chaotic universe where spontaneity and experimentation are at the service of narration.

Ritual #3 - Enigmatic and fascinating, the new issue of Ritual published by Revival House Press confirms the talent of Malachi Ward. In an unspecified future an old woman tells her grandson why everything went from bad to worse. We don't know what happened to this world, but watching a riot in the streets happened 62 years before we understand that the reality depicted by Ward isn't so far from our own. The more and more personal drawing style and the excellent mix between the two colors complete a short story that is also one of the greatest comics of this year.

Rudy - Praiseworthy initiative of 2D Cloud from Minneapolis, this paperback edited by Marc Bell assembles the best strips of Rudy, the anthropomorphic cat created by Canadian Mark Connery. The bulk of the material dates back to the '90s and is taken from eight-page self-published mini-comics. Brilliant, irreverent, hilarious, full of absurd dialogues and bright metanarrative solutions, the book lines up a lot of irresistible gags starring also Ken the fish with pants, Phil the triangle with legs and Trudy "the lady Rudy". I bought it at the SPX and since then I've never stopped reading it.

Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds #1-2 - One of the best news of the year was the birth of this new biannual anthology, published in English by the Italian Hollow Press. Michele Nitri, editor and publisher, managed to convince Mat Brinkman to make again a comic and put together a diversified international team of artists including Miguel Angel Martin, Tetsunori Tawaraya, Ratigher and Paolo Massagli. If you still don't have them, you must catch up the first two issues, waiting for the third, due next March. I talked about UDWFG here and here (the last one is only in Italian, sorry!).

Vortex - Let yourself be dragged away by William Cardini's lo-fi sci-fi, so you can start this trip in a land made of pixels, between Tron, Jack Kirby and Mat Brinkman. Find the Miizzzard anywhere near the Hypercastle, even if he'll probably be engaged in freeing the Vortex from slavery to the Empire of Tolx. Enjoy the marvels of the Hyperverse in this book published by Sparkplug, which collects the four mini-comics from the same name. I reviewed Vortex here.

Youth Is Wasted, The Lizard Laughed, I Don't Hate Your Guts - The collection of short stories Youth Is Wasted (here my review) is an excellent starting point to enter the world of Noah Van Sciver, but the cartoonist from Denver created a lot of interesting comics this year, as the bitter confrontation between father and son of The Lizard Laughed and the outstanding diary comic I Don't Hate Your Guts. Blessed at Lucca Comics by Mr. Robert Crumb in person, who defined him as one of the cartoonists he appreciates more at the moment, Van Sciver is now ready to go beyond the boundaries of indie comics. In the meantime we can wait for the new issue of Blammo and for the book editions of Saint Cole and Fante Bukowski.

lunedì 8 dicembre 2014


Nathan Ward is a cartoonist based in Cleveland, Ohio, and despite his 22 years he doesn't try to be up-to-date but draws dirty and round figures looking at the underground humorous tradition. The first name that comes to mind watching his mutant humanoids with heads similar to a pitbull, wide mouths and prominent teeth is Basil Wolverton, perhaps filtered through the art of Michael Roden, one of Wolverton's heirs in the indie scene, died prematurely in 2007. And if we also add the deliberately soft colors and the rough paper used to pack the 32 pages of this debut, you can well understand that Fun-O-Planet seems to come out at least from the Eighties. The story is set in space but it tells the adventures of three typical suburban losers, inhabitants of an unspecified planet quite similar to Earth. Tortured and abducted by a tentacular alien, they're brought on Fun-O-Planet, where another monstrous being awaits to take possession of their brains, necessary to the survival of its species. 
Ward's art is full of funny jokes and bizarre details: the three losers are lobotomized with a tongue penetrating into their eyes, break the TV with headshots and then, completely dazed, spend time looking at the shattered screen, talk to each other using cell phones popping out of their craniums. The second part is the most visually rich, so that the space travel has a lot of visionary moments recalling the musical interludes of the old Disney cartoons, including amusement parks, clapping hands and spaghetti. And the second issue promises great things too, because at the end of this first chapter the three fools, by now without their brains, get on a bus to take a ride in the toxic and devastated lands of Fun-O-Planet.