10 Comics from 2014 to Read in the New Year
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When I was asked to compile a comics best of for 2014, my first thought was that there’s no way I’ve read enough of the comics published this year to judge which were “the best.” Then I realized that I didn’t read a whole lot of new comics in 2014 at all. Barely any. I spent too much time drawing, not enough reading. And a panic set in. Am I ignorant? Am I out of touch? So I reached out to my friends and asked them to recommend one comic they loved in 2014. Below are their recommendations (and one of my own), a list that makes me feel secure I’ll be a comics literate once again. This is my reading list for the new year. Might as well make it yours too.
The title might not suggest it, nor does the content, but Jules Feiffer’s newest graphic novel is all about hope. The freshness, the looseness, the newness of Feiffer’s work, in the seventh decade of his career (ninth of his life), shows us that talent need not atrophy, and artists don’t have to stop growing. The inventiveness of his layouts and vitality of his line are as bold as any formal experimentation in the work of Dash Shaw and Frank Santoro. This book, an unruly, globe-spanning story of greed, family, and betrayal, is Feiffer’s first foray in noir.
Michael DeForge’s work has been mixing dreams with boredom and elaborate systems in these just real breathtaking ways for years, but Ant Colony is the first sustained narrative he’s done that you can hold in your hands. Ostensibly it’s about a colony of black ants who jerk off into their queen in order to propagate their colony, and also red ants, who are crazy because that’s what the other is right?, and spider milk, which makes you crazy, and a little boy whose father makes him eat a blended up earthworm that gives him visions and turns him into a prophet covered in bee pollen, also his dad who is kind of a dick, and two gay black ants who maybe really don’t get along real well and should at least see a relationship therapist or something, and some cops who are ants, and what we do when the systems that have defined our lives completely collapse. Also there is a centipede who is just a real asshole.
Kristen Radtke’s essay, “City of the Century” (The Normal School) from her graphic memoir in progress on abandoned places is defined by spare, elliptical, and lyrical prose, almost minimalist in its precision and punch, augmented by haunting visual triptychs of abandoned places. In a high-wire conversation between word and image, Radtke reveals how, “Indiana was a place where you could drown and dry up at once.”
For over 30 years, Jaime Hernandez has been writing and drawing Locas, the greatest serial in American literature. It’s a testament to his talents that the latest installment, The Love Bunglers (Fantagraphics), is also one of the very best. It reveals the childhood secrets of longtime heroine Maggie and brings her on-and-off relationship with Ray D. to a startling climax. The story moves masterfully between time periods, compressing and dilating key moments so that you’re never sure what’s around the next panel. It packs an emotional wallop even if you’re not familiar with the characters. Newcomers are still advised to start from the beginning before tackling The Love Bunglers, while longtime readers will have another reason to be glad they’ve followed Hernandez’s epic, which seems to grow richer and more indelible with each episode.
There is a reason everyone loves Roz Chast. Her graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, unsparingly chronicles the last years of her parents’ lives while also attempting to make sense of the mechanics of her own psyche and heart. Read this book with dread and gratitude. Dread for its portrayal of what awaits all of us — aging parents, aging selves and, of course, the inevitable, what no one wants to talk about — death. Gratitude for the generosity of Roz Chast’s unstinting details, for her genius and for her amazing wit and line that make this book about a most difficult subject a fun and absolutely necessary read.
I’ve always seen the Silver Surfer as a kind of guru, the essence of humanity laid bare, a seeker in the universe. No adornments or crazy costumes. He rides his board through the cosmos and just tries to do the best he can. In this new series, Dan Slott and Michael Allred are emphasizing the zany wonder of infinite space and I can’t deny that it’s a ton of fun to read — and look at! Allred unleashes a new mode here, a kind of Kirby/Ditko hybrid passed through Frank Brunner with every issue delivering some kind of visual headtrip that you have to see on the page to believe.
If you haven’t already picked up one of Jesse Jacobs’s books you should do so immediately. One of the most beautiful books I have read this year, Safari Honeymoon (Koyama, 2014) continues Jacobs’s obsession with the weird, following a honeymooning couple as they traverse a strange land where they encounter multi-limbed monsters (they adopt and name one Winston!), odd hogs, humming plant creatures, and creepy parasites (including a parasite that eats and replaces the tongue of their guide!). Jacobs uses a minimal green color palette, which gives the book a self-contained, lush, otherworldly quality, and shows off the beauty of his composition and line work. Every page of this book could be torn out and framed. Seriously.
Fred Rogers said in a 1994 interview: “And so, for me, being quiet and slow is being myself, and that is my gift.” In this and other ways, Rachel and Ben is the comic for the Mister Rogers fan who has grown up. It is quiet and slow. There is a neighborhood. And it has a lot of the same colors as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. And Edward Mullany has, and is, a gift.
My first encounter with Farel Dalrymple’s work was his graphic novel Pop Gun War, which blended philosophical musings, magic realist elements, a touch of metafiction, and a fondness for punk rock. His latest work, The Wrenchies, takes all that I admired there and cubes it. There’s a sprawling quest, heroic journeys, and some truly nightmarish images, all wrapped in a pair of emotionally harrowing coming-of-age stories.
Funny, disarming, and observant, Gabrielle Bell’s new collection of travel and diary comics, Truth Is Fragmentary, offers the quotidian and the surreal — occasionally at the same time — from befriending bears in a post-apocalyptic zombie world to navigating the awkwardnesses of Comic-Con, from rooftops in Brooklyn to cab rides in Colombia, to airports and airplanes around the world. With her wild imagination, self-effacing humor, and seemingly limitless supply of stories, quotes, queries, and insights, Bell is the ideal travel companion.