As we continue examining the best of the year that was, we come to the category that, year in and year out, seems to confuse the largest number of people, not least myself when I first came up with it : Top 10 Special Mentions. Basically, this is a clearinghouse for everything comics-related that isn’t strictly a comic, per se : ‘zines about comics, books about comics, art books, sketchbooks, unorthodox sequential narratives, collections of single-panel or “gag” strips — they’re all fair game here. Read on, and hopefully it will all become clear —
10. Bubbles Edited By Brian Baynes (Self-Published) – In no time flat, Baynes not only proved that there was still a place for old-school print fanzines, he turned his into the most essential one in recent memory. I’m not sure how he keeps up what I surmise to be a grueling production schedule, but he manages to put out three or four issues a year, and the quality doesn’t merely remain high — more often than not, it keeps going up. Everyone interested in the small press and self-publishing scenes should be reading this. It’s a little bit “fannish” in its editorial outlook, true, but what of it? Last I checked, they don’t call these things fanzines for nothing.
9. Mindviscosity By Matt Furie (Fantagraphics) – Over the past few years as he lost control of, and subsequently killed off, Pepe The Frog, Matt Furie has been channeling his creative energy into a series of phantasmagoric paintings that, as the cliche goes, “will blow your mind” — only in this case that’s the absolute truth. Having so many of them together in one collection like this is a legitimately heady experience, a dare for your conscious mind to process everything coming at it at once, and a giant “I won’t be intimated by you” middle finger to the Alt Right, all in one gorgeously-produced volume.
8. American Daredevil : Comics, Communism, And The Battles Of Lev Gleason (Chapterhouse) – A fascinating biographical portrait of one of the most important — -and unsung — publishers of comics’ so-called “Golden Age,” Dakin (who is Gleason’s nephew) here offers an engaging and well-rounded look at a man who put it all on the line not just for his comic books, but for his ideals, as well.. A compulsive page-turner that’s all the more provocative because every words is true.
7. And Now, Sir – Is THIS Your Missing Gonad? By Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics) – In these crazy times, I find the fact that Woodring is still, after all these decades, mining the wellspring of creativity that is his “Unifactor” universe to be heartening in the extreme, and this collection of single-panel cartoons effectively distills the uneasily magical essence of Frank and his pals down to its purest form. Is it funny? Absolutely. Is it easy to articulate why it is, though? Absolutely not. And that’s the genius of Woodring — he taps into his subconscious and just goes wherever it takes him.
6. The Marchenoir Library By Alex Degen (Secret Acres) – A graphic novel of sorts, yes, but hardly a traditional one, in that Degen pieces together the mysterious history of his model/singer/superheroine protagonist via the the covers of a defunct magazine. High fashion meets high art meets high absurdity at the intersection of dreams and dusty memories, with little to differentiate one from the other — and isn’t that how our own past frequently plays out in our minds?
5. EC Comics : Race, Shock, And Social Protest By Qiana Whitted (Rutgers University Press) – A thorough-going examination of legendary publisher EC’s ahead-of-its-time editorial stance on matters of racial justice, Whitted’s tight focus on the so-called “preachie” strips and their relation to then-contemporary America is accessible comics scholarship at its finest. Too many academic texts have their head up their ass and are so convinced of their righteousness that they take it as a given, but Whitted does things old school , developing her highly-informed opinions on the work based on the evidence offered by it. As such, her conclusions are air-tight, and in this day and age of self-declared expertise in 140 characters or less, that’s very refreshing indeed.
4. High Socks New Jersey 1950 By Paula Lawrie (Marvin Gardens/Pacific) – Presenting Lawrie’s gallery exhibition of 36 graphite images in book form proves to be an inspired move as her delicate childhood narrative very much reads like it was constructed with publication in mind, even if it wasn’t. Sumptuous art meets economic but emotive prose to weave together perhaps the most affecting “new kid in town” story I’ve ever come across.
3. The Dairy Restaurant By Ben Katchor (Schocken) – Moving away from traditional comics to illustrated prose storytelling, Katchor draws upon over two decades of research and interviews to trace the history of New York’s meatless Jewish eateries specifically, but more broadly the history of restaurants in general, as well as the development of something called the “milekhdike personality.” It only sounds hopelessly arcane, trust me. This is one of those projects that only Katchor could make work and that only he’d ever think of in the first place — and that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without once you’ve finished reading it.
2. Toybox Americana : Characters Met Along The Way By Tim Lane (Fantagraphics) – Lane combines prose, illustrations, and yes, some comics, to give his most complete chronicling yet of the hobos, winos, derelicts, and down-and-outers that are trampled underneath — yet also form the backbone of — his career-spanning “great American mythological drama.” One of the most skilled illustrators on the face of the planet, you feel every year that formed every line on every face in Lane’s menagerie of archetypal has-beens and never-weres, and his proto-Beat writing style is sharp and inherently compassionate in equal measure. Proof positive that faded romanticism may not burn all that brightly, but it smolders away within the human heart forever.
1. Art Young’s Inferno By Art Young (Fantagraphics) – Young’s 1934 prose-and-pictures satirical re-imagining of Dante’s Inferno as the inevitable endpoint of capitalism is damning, hilarious, disturbing — and perhaps more relevant than ever in this day and age. It’s also flat-out gorgeous in this new edition reproduced directly from the original art, the amount of creativity and ingenuity that went into making the book in the first place here matched by the sheer care and attention to detail of absolutely second-to-none production values. There are labors of love, and then there are labors of eternal love — this is most definitely the latter.
Next up – the Top 10 Vintage Collections of the past year! See you here for that one in the next day or two!
Review wrist check – Longines “Legend Diver” riding an olive green NATO strap from Crown & Buckle’s “Supreme NATO” line.
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