After this, we’ve got two year-end lists to go — but we haven’t even done this one yet, so perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. My definition of “contemporary” collections is anything published from the year 2000 right up to the present day, and while many of the books that follow may very well fit your — or even my — definition of a “graphic novel,” the fact is that if they were originally published as serialized works, either in comics titles of their own or as part of anthologies, or if the strips presented in these books were culled from sources various and sundry, then this is the category they fall into by my entirely-unofficial rules. And with that, away we go —
10. The Sleep Gas By Chris Cajero Cilla (Fantagraphics Underground) – The spiritual successor to the likes of Doug Allen and Gary Leib, this welcome collection of Cilla’s often tough-to-find short works showcases precisely what he does best, namely crafting tales that are set in a world (or worlds) that are agonizingly familiar yet altogether alien, charming in the extreme but not without an element of the eerie to them. One of comics’ truly idiosyncratic talents who never produces anything less than “must-read” material, so yeah — this is a “must-read” book.
9. Rust Belt By Sean Knickerbocker (Secret Acres) – Nobody has their finger on the pulse of “flyover country” quite like Knickerbocker, and this slim but powerful collection showcases the best of his self-published series, introducing us to the dead end communities full of dead end jobs and dead end lives that find their only release valves via alcohol, opioids, crystal meth, and right-wing political demagogues. Read it and weep, but read it you most definitely should.
8. Rooftop Stew By Max Clotfelter (Birdcage Bottom Books) – It’s about goddamn time. Long one of the funniest, grossest, and most honest cartoonists around, Clotfelter can do everything from post-apocalyptic mutant humor strips to painfully resonant dysfunctional family autobio, and this collection is as seriously overdue as it is seriously amazing.
7. The Follies Of Richard Wadsworth By Nick Maandag (Drawn+Quarterly) – Nobody makes you laugh and squirm uncomfortably at the same time quite like Maandag, and his latest features everything from would-be college professors oblivious to their numerous and painfully obvious shortcomings to randy monks out to “enlighten” their co-ed monastery via decidedly earthly methods. Quite possibly the year’s funniest comic, yet painful to sit through in its own unique way at the same time.
6. Kramers Ergot 10 Edited By Sammy Harkham (Fantagraphics) – The venerable anthology returns in a generously oversized format and with an eclectic mix of the old and the new — from Frank King to R. Crumb to Kim Deitch to Anna Haifisch, it’s a tour through comics’ history and present. The single-strongest entry may come from editor Harkham himself, though, who provides a side-step to his long-running “Blood Of The Virgin” serial that actually turns out to be downright essential. There’s some questionable inclusions in here, sure, but if this turns out to be the end of the road for this title as has been rumored, then it’s definitely leaving on a high note.
5. The Anthology Of Mind By Tommi Musturi (Fantagraphics) – A truly gorgeous and equally truly subversive collection from one of the most multi-faceted talents in comics today, presenting everything from surrealist abstraction to lush painting to computerized pixelation to precise realism, all in service of narrative or non-narrative subject matter that’s never quite what you think it is — to the extent that you can even go into any given strip in this book with a preconceived idea, prepare for it to be dispensed with quickly and replaced with something altogether more wonderful and mysterious.
4. The Tad Martin Omnibus Edition By Casanova Frankenstein (Spook City/Lulu) – Okay, yes, including this one may be a bit of a “cheat” since the material it presents goes all the way back to the early ’90s, but the strongest section of the book is Frankenstein’s already-legendary #sicksicksix issue from just a few years ago, so —leave it to this one to defy my category classifications as easily as it defies just about anything and everything else. An exercise in constant re-invention, having this entire series (minus its just-published seventh installment) bound together in one volume is a gift from the cartooning gods that none of us deserve. Well and truly beneath the underground.
3. Glenn Ganges In : The River At Night By Kevin Huizenga (Drawn+Quarterly) – Springboarding off simple — or not so simple — insomnia, formalist master Huizenga takes us on a visually and thematically spectacular tour of consciousness, time, and everything it means to be a joyously, deliriously imperfect being. His finest outing with his stand-in protagonist yet, this is a clinic in how to engage audiences with the “heaviest” of topics while alienating or intimidating absolutely no one.
2. Press Enter To Continue By Ana Galvan (Fantagraphics) – Limning the entirety of the shape of things to come, Galvan’s all-too-plausible speculative strips combine innovate geometric design work, boldly incongruous color choices, corporate ownership of humans down to the cellular level, and the data-mining of consciousness itself to present a visually marvelous dystopia that’s as impossible to stop looking at as it is terrifying to consider.
1. Alienation By Ines Estrada (Fantagraphics) – A bold yet subtle exploration of what it means to be human in the digital age, Estrada’s rich graphite illustration looks even more gorgeous presented in the blue ink of this collected edition than it did in the black-and-white single issues, and the color “correction” also adds an extra emotive touch to what is both the most compelling comics love story in some time and a monumental and exhaustively-thought-through exercise in “world-building” — yet for all its narrative and visual sophistication, this book retains the core punk/DIY attitude and aesthetics that its creator is justly lauded for. Brimming with confidence as well as singularity of purpose and vision, this is an instant modern classic of the medium.
Up net we’ve got the top ten special mentions of the year, which is the category for all “comics adjacent” works, but until then please consider supporting my ongoing work by subscribing to my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. It’s the best value going in original online writing and hey, it at least helps yours truly with a little beer money, so do check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse