Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Comics 2014: Church, State, Food, Morals

No substantial Ware comic out in 2014, no new Woodring or Tomine, and nary a Love and Rockets or Pope Hats in sight; still, among the comics I read this year, there were a few memorable ones. 

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7: CROSSED + ONE HUNDRED #1
by Alan Moore, Gabriel Andrade and Digikore Studios
Avatar Press, 24 pages, comic book, $3.99

A.k.a. Post-Apocalypse2. Granted, putting this comic—the first and hitherto only episode in a six-issue miniseries—on any “Best of 2014” list is a bit like giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama, but at least wizards like Alan Moore are not known to remote-kill people with drones. (Curses, however, are another matter entirely.) If there’s one thing Moore is good at, after all, it’s meat-and-potatoes genre stories. The stuff he’s doing here—slow world-building, establishing the Crossed Universe one hundred years after the start of the epidemic, complete with its own slang and other cultural and social shifts—we’ve seen before in comics, even recently, in books like Spaceman or Wasteland, but it’s rarely as well-executed as it is here. It’s enjoyable to watch this master ply his trade. Andrade’s art also delivers; it’s detailed enough to sell this world and pleasurable to look at, and it brings the bells and whistles when a double-page splash is called for.

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6: BLACK KISS
by Howard Chaykin
with Marc-Oliver Frisch and Lucia Truccone

Panini Comics, 120 pages, hardcover, €19.99
 
A.k.a. The Conflict-of-Interest Title. Ahem, disclosure: Mine was the tremendous pleasure of translating and co-editing this new German edition of Chaykin’s vampire porno thriller that came out in August. The endless cascades of chopped-up staccato dialogue nearly killed me at times and the content proved frequently, um, distracting, but: If I had to pick the book that was most fun to translate this year, this would probably be it. I like transgressive works, and I like creative people who are pissed, and this fits both bills, and then some. There’s no pussyfooting here, and it seems we’re well into a period in which books like Black Kiss are perceived to be as outrageous as they were 25 years ago, if not more so. This is prime Chaykin—angry, dark and bold—and having contributed to it will remain a personal comics highlight.
 
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5: LOSE #6
by Michael DeForge
Koyama Press, 50 pages, paperback, $8.00

As Michael DeForge’s artwork becomes less elaborate and more abstract, his stories turn evermore sprawling. “Me as a Baby,” the 41-page centerpiece of this year’s Lose, is his longest published-in-one-go piece yet, I think (it beats last year’s “Living Outdoors” by two pages, at any rate), and it’s among his most immersive and depressing ones. Trying to convey what it’s “about” by talking about the plot, as always with DeForge’s work, would be an exercise in futility. The author’s trademark body horror is dialed back here, giving way to a mixture of everyday mundaneness and absurdity that, like all of DeForge’s best stories, always teeters on the brink of being too silly for its own good, but never tips over. DeForge is a storyteller who instinctively knows how to cut to the dirty little truths that will hurt us, and now he’s figuring out how to do it without visually disgusting images. We should be very afraid.

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4: COPRA #14
by Michel Fiffe
Copra Press, 24 pages, comic book, $5.00

In each of the the most recent six issues of his Suicide Squad homage, Fiffe focuses on one of his paramilitary black-ops superhero feature characters as they spend some time away from the dealings of the chaotic Copra group. In issue #14, it’s the armored Wir’s turn. Patrick, Wir’s long-haired working-class alter ego, visits his family and hangs out with his buddies, and all points to one of those typical downtime stories in which the heroes are grounded by a civilian supporting cast and leave newly energized for their next big adventures. But that’s not quite how this one goes. I’ve liked Copra for its manic creative zest, its sense of visual invention and its uncompromising publication pace, and this is where I’m starting to connect with the characters. It’s an eye-opener, and the strongest issue of Copra yet. It’s also a blueprint for genre stories that I can get behind: This is your daddy’s genre formula right there, but from inside of it explodes a wholesome and unique authorial vision that sets the book starkly apart from any other superhero comics we’ve seen.

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3: HAUNTER
by Sam Alden
Study Group Comics, 72 pages, paperback, $15.00

I was worried this print collection of a story first published online in 2013 (part 1, part 2) might lose some of the brightness, distinction and immediacy of Sam Alden’s stellar color work, as is sadly not unusual when comics are transferred from an electronic medium to good, old-fashioned paper. But Haunter looks every bit as spectacular in book form as it does on the Internet. This wordless, fast-paced tale of a young hunter getting in over her head in a wondrous-yet-hostile futuristic forest and cave environment has some of the most amazing colors I’ve ever seen in the pages of a comic, and it’s the best and most exciting adventure story I’ve read all year. The way Alden uses watercolors and a four-panel grid to emulate the immersive experience of a visually and narratively engrossing first-person video-game establishes him as one of the world’s most promising cartoonists. You need to see this.

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2: PALM ASH
by Julia Gfrörer
Thuban Press, 18 pages, comic book, $5.00

This is about faith. The faith of the Christian man who is forced to face the lions by his Roman captors and might just survive one more time. The faith of the woman who sweeps his cell and sees in him her only hope for a better life—or afterlife—for herself and her son. And, of course, Gfrörer’s breathtaking faith in her ability as a storyteller, which this stunningly surefooted and multifaceted examination of the human condition emanates on every page. There’s nothing random here, and each page, panel and gesture is part of a narrative that feels tight as a drum and, at the same time, lyrical as a poem. It draws you in, it makes you feel and think, and it won’t let you go.

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1: BUMF VOL. 1
by Joe Sacco
Fantagraphics Books, 120 pages, paperback, $14.99

A.k.a. Joe Sacco’s Avatar Press comic. Holy shit, did I underestimate this one; I left Bumf in the pile for a few months, not expecting a great deal. And if anybody else had made this book, it might have been a cynical and bitter satire with some extremely sharp cartooning—but, ultimately, probably no more than a fleeting fit of rage. This, however, is different. The book’s earliest pages date back to 2006, according to Sacco’s signatures, and the first 44 were drawn piecemeal until 2013; the remaining 76 pages were completed from January through May 2014. So this material has been on its author’s mind for a long time. Knowing where Sacco has been, knowing what he’s seen and drawn humans do to each other, and having seen him talk about his experiences in conflict areas when he was at Erlangen this June, makes this furious indictment of the United States’s human-rights violations infinitely more terrifying and disturbing. This is satire all right, but not the funny kind. It’s ugly, it’s haunting and it’s going to send chills down your spine.

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THE BEST 14 SURE-TO-BE-EXCELLENT 2014 COLLECTIONS OF PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED MATERIAL I BOUGHT BUT, ALAS, DID NOT HAVE TIME TO READ AS OF THIS WRITING:

o Emily Carroll: Through the Woods (Faber & Faber)
o Geof Darrow: The Shaolin Cowboy (Burlyman)
o Eleanor Davis: How to Be Happy (Fantagraphics)
o Michael DeForge: Ant Colony (Drawn and Quarterly)
o Brandon Graham: The Complete Multiple Warheads (Image)
o Simon Hanselmann: Megahex (Fantagraphics)
o Jack Kirby: Devil Dinosaur: The Complete Collection (Marvel)
o Taiyō Matsumoto: Sunny, Vols. 3 and 4 (Viz)
o Morrison/Yeowell: Zenith, Phases 1and 2 (Rebellion)
o Paul Pope: Escapo (Z2)
o Rugg/Maruca: Street Angel (AdHouse)
o James Stokoe: Wonton Soup (Oni)
o Noah Van Sciver: Youth Is Wasted (AdHouse)
o Wachowski/Wachowski/Skroce: Doc Frankenstein (Dark Horse)

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THE BEST 14 COMMERCIAL COMICS SERIALS I MOSTLY ENJOYED READING AND/OR LOOKING AT IN 2014 BUT MAY NOT BE ALTOGETHER UP-TO-DATE ON:

o Brubaker/Phillips: The Fade Out (Image)
o Busiek/Anderson: Astro City (DC)
o Casey/Fox/various: Captain Victory (Dynamite)
o Casey/Kowalski/various: Sex (Image)
o Ennis/DiPascale: Rover Red Charlie (Avatar)
o Fraction/Zdarsky: Sex Criminals (Image)
o Gillen/White/various: Über and Über Special (Avatar)
o Graham/Roy/various: Prophet and Prophet Strikefile (Image)
o Graupner/Wüstefeld: Das UPgrade (Graufeld)
o Remender/Craig: Deadly Class (Image)
o Simonson: Ragnarök (IDW)
o Spurrier/Melek: Crossed: Wish You Were Here (Avatar)
o Vaughan/Martín: The Private Eye (Panel Syndicate)
o Vaughan/Staples: Saga (Image)

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Thanks for reading, and have a good 2015.

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