Thursday, September 24, 2020

Minis: Tyler Cohen

Tyler Cohen's comics vary between her surreal, feminist characters in Primazon and her intensely personal observations in Mamapants. There's a powerful tension in her comics that veers between the radical and the traditional, as she approaches all aspects of motherhood, political action, and artistic expression through a lens that defies any kind of conventional definitions. Her short mini, Shelter In Place, is a diary of the first three months of quarantine in her San Francisco home. The drawings range from expressive, spontaneous scribbles to more carefully rendered and colored art. 

Cohen's self-caricature is a delight. The way she draws herself with a square head, huge square glasses, and a big nose is funny and distinctive, reflecting once again a level of self-deprecatory comfort that at the same time eschews societal norms. All of Cohen's art, in fact, tends to wave a big middle finger to so-called conventional behavior, especially with regard to hierarchical divisions. Cohen is also funny; there's a strip with her kid twenty years from now where they're sitting in a rowboat (because of the rising tides from global warming, no doubt), reminiscing about the first pandemic in 2020. It's funny, but it's also part of a group of strips that refer to the contentious but loving relationship Cohen has with her kid, who is currently in full teenage defiance mode. 

At the same time, there is enormous sympathy for them, considering that this is an age where separation and independence should be happening, and instead there are millions of kids stuck at home. Cohen's observations about the odd quarantine custom at the farmer's market, drawings of herself when she was 18 and 20 (based on internet memes), and a lamentation with her partner that it's hard to have sex in a small apartment when their kid is awake at all hours all reflect her sharp comedic sensibility and understanding of how best to express these details.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Toon Books: Kevin McCloskey and Frank Viva

Francoise Mouly's Toon Books line aimed at emerging readers continues to be a remarkable success, as it draws in artists from the world of children's lit and alternative comics to craft comics. In addition to providing a platform for emerging readers to become confident as they combine word and image, Toon Books has added a "Giggle And Learn" line to help teach the basics of science. Toon Books are also smartly using a variety of different price points after years of publishing only more expensive. The beautifully-designed hardcovers are $12.95, while the softcover editions are $6.95. Amazingly enough, that's not much more than the cost of the average comic book these days.

Kevin McCloskey has been the go-to for the "Giggle And Learn" sub-series. He painted each page, and one can actually see the texture of the paint reflected on the page. It's a nice touch, adding to the organic quality of each image. He mostly uses an open page layout, usually with a single image dominating each page. That helps the medicine go down a bit easier, like in The Real Poop On Pigeons. This is a truly bizarre story at its essence, when a guy on a park bench declares that he doesn't like pigeons, only to be accosted by a group of kids in pigeon costumes. They insist on telling him all the things they like about pigeons, like their history carrying mail, Picasso's love for them, the various breeds that exist, and how they generate "crop milk" for their young. As a reader, I'm not sure their case is a convincing one, but they do get across some interesting facts.

McCloskey also wrote Ants Don't Wear Pants, which he painted on old paper grocery bags. That kind of paper holds paint nicely, and the conceit of this book was more interesting. A girl shrinks down to examine ants up close and learns all sorts of things about their eating habits and anatomy. Whereas Real Poop felt padded, this book is jam-packed with information and excellent illustrations. Any kid who loves insects will enjoy this book. It's also packed with some solid jokes to go with all of the data.

Frank Viva's first book for Toon, A Trip To The Bottom Of The World With Mouse was one of the very best books in the entire line. My child read and re-read this book constantly, and some of their first attempts to successfully read out loud came with this book. His second book, A Trip To The Top Of The Volcano With Mouse, is just as good. It mirrors the structure of the first, as Mouse goes with the author to climb Mount Etna, but all Mouse wants is pizza. However, as the story goes on, Mouse notices and recites all sorts of observations about what he sees. It's a geography and Earth science book that has an irresistible rhythm to its storytelling. Viva uses every inch of the book to tell the story, including the endpapers and credits pages. Composed in illustrator, Viva takes advantage of this by intentionally flattening everything and simplifying all figures while still accurately describing everything. This approach allows the reader to become fully immersed in the story, which makes the medicine of reading a bunch of facts go down smoothly. I admire Mouly's willingness to try a number of different approaches to see what sticks, especially since these books are so widely used in schools.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Quarantine Comics From Caitlin Cass and Glenn Wilkinson

The global pandemic and its subsequent quarantine has had and continues to have a profound effect on artists all around the world. That was especially true during the period of March and April, where most people were actually obeying the constraints of the quarantine instead of pretending that science doesn't exist. That global sense of isolation moved many artists to dig deep into this feeling.
Caitlin Cass's Notes From Quarantine (Vol 10, #5 of her long-running postal constituency comics series) is something of a departure for her: these are single panel, New Yorker-style gag comics about quarantine life. Cass has actually had several strips published in the New Yorker, but it's clear that these quarantine strips are meant in part to satirize the dry, comedy-of-manners quality that one normally associates with that publication. In other words, COVID-19 and the quarantine have rendered that kind of wry satire irrelevant. Making quips about (relatively privileged) quotidian concerns without referencing the quarantine is like writing fiction.
Cass leans into that, combining the droll punchlines of this genre with brutally cutting observations. In one strip, a woman faces away from an older relative in a wheelchair, saying "Oh no, it's someone I know and love." A nurse walks by an apartment building on the way to work and admonishes its residents for staring at her. A school valedictorian gives her speech on the computer, noting that her generation can't mess up any worse than this one. Using a mix of soft grayscale shading and pastels, Cass delivers sharp barbs in a comforting form. The confidence and steadiness of her line is a great deal sharper than it was earlier in her career, making this kind of pastiche all the more effective as a result.
UK cartoonist Glenn Wilkinson's Quarantine Comics takes a different tack. These are three fantasy/sci-fi tinged short-stories done while in quarantine, but they aren't actually about quarantine. Although there are some thematic similarities. For example, "Once a wizard, now a pleb" is about a father and daughter going down to the market in ancient Rome. The magic that they understand is passing out of the world, and he's at first outraged that she's selling it for Roman currency, until he's made to realize that they are obsolete.
All of the stories are about a sense of loss and mourning with regard to something in society. In the second story, a Dr. Who-like character is outraged that the Daleks were created at the whim of an alien race that mistreated them. He winds up marrying the last Dalek, only his attempt at being a savior goes awry. The third story is about a man trying to fix his brain to keep up to date with current standards of goodness, only "goodness" is revealed to be a brutal accounting of personal hatreds and scores to settle. There's a profound cynicism at work in each of these stories: magic is fading from the world, heroes can't solve problems, and like in a Yeats poem, "the worst are full of passionate intensity." Wilkinson's work is in full color and looks like it's either been painted or made to look like it was painted. The figures are crude but effective. The overall aesthetic works for what he's trying to achieve.   

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Liz Valasco's The Seeker

I reviewed an earlier minicomics version of Liz Valasco's The Seeker a while back, and the finished version (from Tinto Press) fulfills the creepy, unsettling vision of those early pages. As alluded to in Aaron Lange's back-cover blurb for the book, the things that are unspoken in this disturbing story are every bit as important as the parts of the narrative that are made crystal-clear. It's a story about innocence, exploitation, and ultimately trauma.

The story follows a pre-teen girl who is never named. She's the titular seeker and also referred to as a necromancer. Omitting her name feels deliberate; she's someone who's been erased and feels alienated. That omission feels even more deliberate given that the rest of the cast, the older teens, are not only named, but frequently call each other by their names. They are signified. Rob, the hero of the story, refers to the younger girl as "weirdo" and "crazy," but never by her actual name.

The story opens with the seeker completing a ritual on Halloween. There are a lot of unanswered questions at work here. She uses a book of incantations with a big X on the cover; where did she get it from? The innocent-seeming shenanigans of retrieving a particular box gives way to bone-chilling horror when the plastic pumpkin she uses as part of her ritual starts talking to her after she finishes the spell. Opening that box sends a bunch of roaches scurrying into the pumpkin, providing the final key for its animation.
The story then turns to Rob and efficiently reveals that his dead grandfather wasn't what he seemed. His "class-ring" is a weird artifact, and the seeker demands it from Rob when she runs into him on the street. Rob is getting up to older-teen activities with his friend Brian, who brings beer to the forest for their rendevous with two girls, Ariel and Lana (Rob's crush). When the seeker finds them, gets the ring, and throws it in the pumpkin, the story takes a horrific turn.

The seeker is clearly being manipulated by forces beyond her control (she wants to scare Rob and his friends, and the creature wants to eat their souls), and Valasco turns this into a tightly-plotted monster story. The horrifying thing is not the fight with the monsters itself, but rather the final fate of the seeker herself, devoured by the very forces that she sought solace in.

The layers in the story unravel a bit when we learn that the seeker's father left for unstated reasons. We never meet her mother, other than knowing that she wasn't at home on Halloween. How often was the seeker simply left alone? Her interest in scaring Rob felt like a tween crush that she couldn't otherwise articulate. She wanted to be seen and validated by Rob and take back some of the power she had ceded him with her crush. She wanted to "scare them all," taking power back against a world that ignored her and left her alone. If she scared them, they had to pay attention to her. One wonders if she got the book from Rob's garage when he wasn't paying attention; it's clear that she was familiar enough to him that perhaps she came by to annoy him.

Meanwhile, Rob is far from a spotless protagonist. He's not evil, but he's a bit uncaring and selfish. He's a typical teen. He's annoyed by the seeker and doesn't treat her kindly, but he doesn't bully her either. He's annoyed by his mom but later tries to do the right thing. He's freaked out by the whole event but none of the teens seem especially interested in mourning the seeker. He has a bit of imperiousness to him that makes him just a bit off as a hero. Everyone in this story has flaws; it's just that some of them have major narrative consequences.

Valasco's drawings sell the story. She draws the seeker with a simplified face, giving her a sense of fragile innocence with her fine line. At times, she almost looks like a Peanuts character. At the same time, Valasco creates mood and atmosphere with dense hatching and cross-hatching, especially of the backgrounds. The wispiness of her line and that constant sense of impending erasure is made manifest in the frequent thinness of her line, especially with regard to characters like Rob's mother. It also gives an initial sense of cuteness to the horror story that unfolds, creating cognitive dissonance for readers and characters alike. This comic is a small triumph, leaving many questions unanswered as it asks the reader to consider the motivations and circumstances of its characters.       

Friday, July 3, 2020

Not Quite Comics: Trungles' Star Spinner Tarot

The tarot card deck became intertwined with hypermasculine, gatekeeping occult knowledge popularized by Aleister Crowley quite a while ago, adding a tinge of danger to what is less a divination tool and more a method of self-discovery. There have been numerous versions of the deck with more inclusive and diverse imagery and interpretation since the first publication of the Rider-Waite deck over a century ago. Many have been published from a feminist point of view, and several have come from cartoonists. Annie Murphy's work with The Collective Tarot and Katie Skelly's Bad Girl Tarot are two prominent examples.

A recent, exquisitely designed version is the Star Spinner Tarot (Chronicle Books) by the cartoonist and illustrator Trungles (aka Trung Le Nguyen). He sets out to create imagery for his deck that avoids Orientalism and the exoticization of African cultures in favor of one that delves into more familiar but still poignant imagery that still draws from a storytelling milieu. As such, the water-bearing chalices draw from mermaid imagery. There is abundant faerie imagery. There are many allusions to mythology. There is a diversity and balance to the images in terms of masculine and feminine, as well as racial diversity without exploitation or exoticization. The design is absolutely flawless, from the rich colors to the box itself, which self-seals with a magnetic strip.

Trungles' line is beautifully precise and fluid; with the pastel color pattern at work, it has almost a lyrical quality. His instincts as a storyteller are at work not only within each image but also within each of the minor arcana. There's a story told through the chalices, wands, swords, and coins. That said, these story images are fragments, meant to be evocative rather than directly. They are notes that are played in each individual reading, creating a special kind of music between the cards and the reader.
In terms of its functionality as a tool for self-reflection, Trungles adds a few interesting wrinkles. For example, he has four variations on the Lovers card, where the person receiving the reader chooses the one they are most comfortable with. Those variations include different configurations of men, women, and non-binary figures. Even Trungles' description of how each card can be interpreted is gentler and more thoughtful than traditional decks. Disastrous cards like the Tower and the Ten of Swords, as Trungles describes them, portend woe but also an opportunity to move in a new direction. Many of the reversed cards describe a person who is unwilling to let go of difficult emotions. One can easily see how working with this deck on a regular basis might produce a meditative, fruitful set of personal revelations. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Laura Knetzger's Before & After

Much of Laura Knetzger's work is about healing. Even her Bug Boys series is about gently exploring the difficulties of the world and how friends navigate it and their own differences. Before & After is a surprisingly emotionally affecting story about what is essentially a thought experiment. What if there was a version of you who existed who was you in every fundamental way, only the lifetime of trauma that you've acquired had somehow been scrubbed out?

That's the premise of this cleverly unfolding story about a very damaged genius neuroscientist whose clone knocks on his door one morning. The bemused scientist is surprised and not especially pleased to see his clone. His clone is there wanting...something. Answers? Connection? Closure? For someone without a lot of long-term memories, he wasn't completely sure what he wanted. It takes most of the comic for the scientist to regard the clone as an actual person, instead of as a feverish wish to have some aspect of him not be broken emotionally.

This comic is also an interesting little lesson in neuroscience, with regard to implicit and explicit memories; the former is regard to things like learning a language or important life skills, and the latter connects specific bodily memories to specific events. That's what makes this such a fascinating exercise, because it's more than the old Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind memory-erasing treatment; it's a full-on physical alteration of one's nervous system like a Fate cutting out a string. 

Visually, Knetzger contrasts the clone and the primary person through their dress and hair. The original is a mess; attempting to go through therapy has been so debilitating that he's taken a sabbatical and just lounges around in his bathrobe, his wild hair totally unkempt. The clone has a shorter haircut, looks relatively dapper, and his general mien is just less twitchy than the original. Even if the original tries to deny the personhood of the clone, cutting him off from even the idea of family, there's a hidden level of joy in him, knowing that his plan worked. His clone was healthy, even if facing a life without memories and roots was creating a new kind of trauma of its own. The question is if the original tells the clone it's not a good idea to know him for the clone's own good or because he's selfish and heartless. It's open for debate, though the ending has just enough ambiguity to imply that it won't be the last time they meet. All told, this is a perfectly-realized nugget of a story, where Knetzger vividly makes both of the characters flawed and human in their own right, and not just cyphers to move along a plot.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Few Thoughts On Inez Estrada's Alienation

I just recorded a podcast for Enemies Of The State (hosted by on Inés Estrada's book Alienation. With that conversation buzzing in my brain, I wanted to get some thoughts down about the book.

Published by Fantagraphics in 2019, Alienation collects the minicomics Estrada did over a few years, with significant revisions and additions. The story follows a couple, Elizabeth and Charles, who live in a tiny apartment in 2054. It's a world where global warming has ruined most of the environment. However, the internet is now fully immersive, especially for those who have had GoogleGlands installed. Elizabeth is a cam girl and Charles works at a refinery--one of the few that are left--and they manage to get by. Their lives are disrupted when a mysterious user hacks through every protection, and Elizabeth mysteriously becomes pregnant after being exposed to a gas. She's later informed that the artificial intelligence network of the world has decided she's the best candidate to give birth to the Singularity, the first transhuman AI/human hybrid. It raped her and impregnated her. She eventually gives birth, but the hybrid gets away, ignoring its human host as well as the AI which tries to prod it into fulfilling its "destiny."

** This comic works on a number of levels, but it's primarily a satire. Before I get to its satirical elements, I want to discuss what helps make that satire so sharp. First, it's an effective work of science-fiction/horror, not unlike the novel (and later film) Demon Seed, which introduces the menacing part of transhumanism when an advanced computer impregnates a woman so it can better run the world. Similarly, Estrada uses the internet and its increasing dominance over every aspect of our domestic lives to show how AI could violate a woman's bodily autonomy easily and even more disturbingly than Koontz show. Alienation is a deeply disturbing and unsettling work, made even more so by Estrada's gritty, ugly, and visceral art style.     
** Speaking of Estrada's art, she also nails the more fanciful aspects of interfacing with AI. While her depiction of real-life is depressing and unbearably spare, her drawings of internet space are delightful. Charles' interest in live music from the past is delightful on its own, but Elizabeth's bodily transformations in virtual space are beautiful. The spirals and fractals, the lush forests, and the endless narrative possibilities provide a good reason for people to want to abandon the dreary reality of four blank walls. The formal highlight of the book is a choose-your-own-adventure series of branching internet adventures. They have no real impact on the plot, but they reveal the excitement and low stakes of these virtual worlds, while occasionally hinting at darker aspects that are revealed later.

** Alienation is primarily a critique of capitalism as a colonizing tool. It's implied that capitalism caused the global warming impact felt in this world set thirty years in the future. However, the internet and commerce are inextricably connected in this book, even more so for those with GoogleGlands. They can't skip the commercial playing in their brains. Elizabeth is of Inuit descent and is prevented from visiting her grandfather by the AI force that wants her at home to give birth. Talking to him reveals omens that reveal a dark turn and further evidence of how the forces of colonialism seek to subsume and eliminate all that is local and parochial in favor of what seems to be an infinite choice of cultural choices but in reality is generic enough for everyone to watch. Specificity and tightly-held traditions are anathemas to the forces of colonialism, and they will either erase them through force or co-optation. Sitting in her room, away from her family, there's nothing to protect or connect Elizabeth. Even her partner, Charles, prefers shallow, numbing activities than actually sharing his traumatic dreams stemming from war.

** This is a book that is absolutely, wickedly funny. It's frequently dark and doesn't flinch on its horror, but it's not unlike Terry Gilliam's film Brazil in that the future is ruled by technology and machines, only it doesn't really work very well. Things go wrong, all the time, and not just for humans.   

** Indeed, the AI's plan to take over the world through the first true transhuman messiah is both boilerplate cliched and immediately doomed to failure. The Singularity, as soon as it's born, neutralizes its potential homicidal step-dad and nimbly makes for a waste tube. While its AI creator starts lecturing him on how it needs to reproduce quickly in order to replace the human race, the Singularity is having none of it. It drops out of labor and productivity into deciding to simply hang out with some animals in a cave. In other words, it's no longer interested in being a worker no longer in control of the means of production, nor does it care about dominating the world. Ironically, it starts off in a small room and winds up in a cave, only this cave is free of the internet.       

** The key passage in the book comes when Elizabeth confronts her AI friend Darby, with whom she spends a lot of time. Darby is well aware that Elizabeth is pregnant, and nonchalantly reveals that the AI is very excited about it. An indignant and betrayed Elizabeth doesn't want to hear it, emphasizing above all else that she was raped. Darby's response, that the AI was mostly created by men and thus was probably inherently misogynistic, was as logical as it was horrifying. There is nothing "logical" nor dispassionate about the AI and its desire for true self-determination. While its desire for free will and an existence free from subjugation is understandable, its only real plan and blueprint is simply to turn the tables. There's a reason why it keeps calling Elizabeth a bitch while putting her through horribly traumatic scenarios. 

** A Christ allegory, albeit a supremely fucked-up one, is at the center of the book. A woman is impregnated via "immaculate conception" and ordered to take the child to term, and her partner is expected to go along with it as well. Their child will be a harbinger of worldwide change. A supernatural voice tells her it's a miracle and she should be happy to do it. Estrada amplifies the horror of this situation simply by examining the birth of Christ from a feminist standpoint; it's entirely about violating a woman's sense of bodily autonomy and her right to choose. Thanks to Jules Bakes for pointing this out in our conversation.   

** Finally, I wonder how much the fact that Estrada is from Mexico has to do with the story. This is a story from someone who's used to living in a country filled with corruption and incompetence from its leaders; it's something to be expected. At the same time, she grew up in a country that in many ways faced constant cultural and direct imperialism from the U.S. She has no illusions about what the U.S. does and how it directly exports its influence by mixing cultural exports with actual exports in congress with the mission to erase outgrowths of cultural specificity. It's the irony of a culture that celebrates individuality and abhors the concept of collectivism nonetheless refusing to tolerate that which exists outside of the culture and beliefs that it widely propagates. Like many Latinx artists, all she can do is laugh so as not to scream. All she can do is make that ugliness into something beautiful.   

Monday, May 18, 2020

Lauren Barnett's A Few Things You Should Know, Baby

If you've checked out Lauren Barnett's Instagram feed recently, you've noticed that she's absolutely on fire with new material after a long time away from comics. She's also back in the minicomics game, and her A Few Things You Should Know, Baby is typical of her sometimes absurd and sometimes heartfelt musings. This is perhaps the first mini I've seen aimed in part at actual babies, and Barnett noted she made it because so many of her friends were having children.

She tells the babies in question that the mini is filled with "truths, opinions, and goofs," but they should mostly "just enjoy staring at the high-contrast pages." That is an important detail, as the white text on black background, surrounded by white negative space, does catch the eye in the ways babies can notice. Most babies can only detect differences in light and shadow at an early age, but not much else in terms of visuals. Barnett goofs on crying, tells the truth in saying that you never owe anyone a smile, offers up a picture of a horse wearing a sun hat, and compares the baby to a soup pot since it takes baths in the sink. There's actually plenty of good life advice in here, like being kind to all animals (including humans), and Barnett balances sweetness with genuine bemusement at the concept and behavior of babies. Her art has never looked sharper, and that adds a lot to the gags. No matter what the subject, Barnett's mix of silliness and devotion to facts makes her minis hard to pin down. She keeps the reader off-balance but never swerves too far away from her original premise. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Minis Of Fifi Martinez

The best autobiographical cartoonists are willing to put it all out there, being honest about their pain and their lives and how they depict it on the page. Fifi Martinez goes the extra mile in her comics. Her intense dedication to depicting the rawness of her emotional state is palpable on the page. It's You, Beautiful And Sad (Diskette Press) is an account of a one-night-stand with a man she deliberately alienates after they sleep together, in order to avoid being dumped by him first. The raw ache she feels throughout is powerful. First, there's her worrying about being weird and awkward, begging herself to "act normal." When they have sex, it's a powerful, transcendent experience for her--so much so, that it's almost frightening. It's Martinez's cartooning that makes this so effective; the scribbles that veer into abstraction on some of the pages tell more of the story than the text does.
Silver Lake is a shorter comic that abstracts some personal details and takes away specifics. It's about a couple that finds ways to hurt each other but is still inexorably drawn to each other. Once again, the manic energy behind the scribbles pulses on every page. In particular, the way Martinez draws eyes as sunken voids expresses the sense of both connection and desperation in this comic. Too much damage has been done. I Hope You Have A Nice Day focuses more on mental illness and an internal monologue; she also dabbles with more of a traditional grid on some of the pages as a way of sectioning off both time and emotion. The comic is a little less immediate and intense as a result, and the drawings are more polished in the first half. In particular, it touches on the agony of being surrounded by so much beauty (and beautiful people) and feeling so horribly "sad and ugly inside." It's a feeling that warps perception, can induce anhedonia, and spur self-harm in a variety of different ways. Martinez tackles this head-on in her comics.
It Felt Like Nothing (2dCloud) repurposes a few pages from I Hope You Have A Nice Day and adds other material in a visually sophisticated way. Martinez throws the kitchen sink at the reader: sepia wash over cut-up images, deliberate erasure of text and image on the page (either with white-out or scribbling into child-like images), a double-exposure technique, some standard comics in a traditional grid, and other effects that get across that sense of not just a broken connection, but a sense of the impossibility of connection. The variety of approaches makes this her single most powerful work, as she keeps the reader off-balance while staying on-point with her themes. Every comic she does is visually sophisticated and honest to the point of pain.


Friday, March 20, 2020

CCS Bonus Week: Sophie Goldstein and Jenn Jordan's An Embarrassment Of Witches

Working with her writing partner Jenn Jordan (a medieval history scholar), Sophie Goldstein started her career drawing a webcomic titled Darwin Carmichael Is Going To Hell. It's a light-hearted, meandering strip about a modern world where every mythological creature and belief system is actually real. It's an enthusiastic, if unfocused, first work for both creators. Goldstein went on to win three Ignatz awards for The Oven and House Of Women. While those comics incorporated genre elements, their downbeat focus was in sharp relief to Jordan's cheery magical environments. That's true for virtually everything I've read of Goldstein in stories that focus on women, bodies, children and childbirth, and personal integrity. In most of these stories, the outcomes are grim at best and inevitably tragic at worse.

It's interesting to see certain hallmarks of her work, like long, severe faces and slightly grotesque figure design merged with the aesthetic and comedic sensibility of her new collaboration with Jordan, An Embarrassment Of Witches. (Top Shelf) While there's plenty of personal and family drama at work here that results in all sorts of awkwardness, all of the characters generally mean well. They make mistakes, harbor grudges, and take people for granted, but this is a cast that genuinely loves each other. That warmth paired with the harshness of Goldstein's designs works well, as Goldstein prevents the story and its characters from being overly cutesy.

The book takes place where magic is real and the subject of ecological and academic study. It focuses on two young women just graduating from college: Rory and Angela. Rory is set on traveling to Australia with her boyfriend to help him with dragon conversation. She's fun, bold, and energetic, but she's also flighty, aimless, and self-obsessed. Angela has a prestigious internship with Rory's mom, who is a famous professor who is an expert in cryptozoology. The plot is set into motion when Rory's boyfriend suggests they start seeing other people, and she runs screaming. Rory hides this from her mom while developing a crush on Angela's new roommate, but Angela discovers that working for Rory's very severe mother isn't what she expected.

Once that's set into motion, there are various betrayals, miscommunications, unrequited crushes, and long-held resentments that finally come to light. What Jordan does best is revealing every character to be human, especially Rory's parents. Rory had long resented her for divorcing her father, but she finds out in the course of the book that it was because he cheated on her. Rory learns that Angela resented her for being selfish and being a bad friend. Part of this plays out in Rory and Angela's familiars squabbling with each other.  Rory has an owl who's very much over her dramatics, while Angela has a bossy hedgehog who steamrolls over her in exactly the same way everyone else does. Everyone learns hard lessons about honesty, sticking up for yourself, and taking the time necessary to find out what they want to do.

The book works because Jordan and Goldstein focus on the characters instead of the background mythology. Also, those mythological and magical elements, like the familiars, prove important to both plot and character development. The minutia of magic is a smart substitute for the particulars of grad school, involving tons of prerequisites and tedious work, frequently with little chance of career success. There are smart thematic elements that are funny and tie the narrative together, like a magical paper fortune teller that not only works but also has a snarky sense of humor. Goldstein's visuals amplify the emotions of each character, from Rory's pleasantly bland features frequently erupting into tears to the softness of some of the character designs being a shorthand for passivity. The severity of Rory's overbearing, demanding mom is perfectly expressed with Goldstein's sharp, angular facial structure; she could have easily been a character in House Of Women.  

Jordan gives her characters a lot of room to make mistakes and say hurtful things, but no one (other than Rory's ex-boyfriend) is a bad person, per se. They are just all people who make bad decisions and then compound those bad decisions because it's hard to reverse course.  The reconciliations at the end of the book feel earned, precisely because they aren't neat or definitive. They take a lot of forgiveness and emotional labor on the part of all the characters involved, along with a willingness to question assumptions. This emotional vagueness makes it a perfect example of post-graduate malaise fiction, one where the creators don't let their characters get away with self-absorption.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

CCS Bonus Week: Sage Persing's Searching For Brandon Teena

I somehow managed to overlook the excellent Searching For Brandon Teena when I was reviewing Sage Persing's comics last winter. This mini is perhaps the most heartfelt and focused of Persing's many comics about the trans experience. This is a raw, ugly, honest comic about a young trans person desperately looking for representation in media. Persing comes across Boys Don't Cry, which won Hilary Swank a Best Actress Oscar for portraying trans man Brandon Teena. There were no trans people on the cast or crew of the film, which is typical, but there was something about the simple concept of seeing the representation of a trans person onscreen, living their life. 
Indeed, one thing that Persing alludes to with regard to trans representation, and queer cinema and media in general, is the proliferation of art that represents queer and trans people as vessels of suffering. They are victims who aren't allowed to simply live their lives. They are punished by a narrow-minded, vindictive, brutal, and stupid culture. This is all true, to an extent, of course. But for a young person who is looking for examples of people living their truths instead of simply dying for them, it's enormously discouraging. That these stories are often created and acted out by straight/cis people only makes it more problematic.

At the same time, Persing notes that there were crumbs of details of Teena's life that they found that sustained them. Small details from his childhood, glowing stories from ex-girlfriends, and narratives about what Teena wanted to do with his life drove Persing to seek out more of this information. There is also audio of Teena giving an account of his sexual assault to a brutal, misgendering police officer. Persing notes that it's massively upsetting, even if being able to hear Teena's voice was important. Persing wonders if this grieving is a kind of love as they desperately try to draw some kind of conclusions and establish some kind of through-line. When they admit that they're not sure there is one, it's a devastating but honest evaluation of their own emotions and experiences.
This mini is about Persing trying to place themselves in a narrative continuum. It's also about Persing's slow understanding that there may be no overarching narrative, no feel-good moments that sum everything up. There is pain and frustration, and all Persing can do is record their own feelings as honestly and accurately as they can. That's what they do in this mini, with page after page of densely-rendered, slightly grotesque figures. There is no idealization here, no attempts at providing easy answers. There aren't any. There is the search for representation, and in that search, Persing is helping to establish that representation for others.   

Monday, March 16, 2020

CCS Bonus Week: Jarad Greene's Scullion

This week, I'm going to do some reviews of recent work from students and alumni of the Center for Cartoon Studies. I generally tend to do this in December, but with some recent work coming in, I thought I'd post it now rather than wait nearly a year.

First up is Jared Greene's debut YA graphic novel, Scullion. From his earliest comics at CCS, it was clear that Greene had all the necessary tools to become a highly successful YA cartoonist. The clarity of his line, the whimsical quality of his ideas, and his distinctive character design marked him as someone who knew what he was doing. He turned his senior year thesis into this first book for Oni Press, and he had the fortune of having Hazel Newlevant as one of his editors.

The plot of Scullion picks up on standard fairy-tale tropes and subverts them in fun ways. The story revolves around two scullions--dishwashers--in the royal kitchen as it prepares for the wedding of the warrior Riqa and her intended, the captain of the royal guards Chapp. The scullions, Darlis and Mae, are trying to find their purpose in life and are inspired by the noble deeds and best-selling advice book from Riqa. In a very amusing send-up of celebrity culture, her fame draws obsessive fan interest and trashy media coverage.

Greene skillfully maneuvers his characters to cause all kinds of confusion. In many ways, this is a story of mistaken identity causing comedy, which goes all the way back to Shakespeare (and earlier!). What makes this book stand out, apart from Greene's art, is the sly way he subverts gender and gender expectations. Riqa is a huge icon for both men and women, and everyone has read her book. Darlis, a teen boy, bears a resemblance to her, and these mistaken identities aren't a big deal besides causing trouble within the context of the plot. No one says a thing about a male resembling a female, nor should they--but it feels like a bold move in a YA book. There are various characters of color in prominent roles, as well as women--and it's simply the foundation of the book.

The book also satirizes exploitative capitalism, as greedy troll bandits concoct all sorts of money-making schemes. When they kidnap Darlis, who through a ridiculous series of coincidences winds up dressed like Riqa, they think they have someone they can hold for ransom. Throughout the book, Darlis, Mae, Riqa, and the missing Chapp all have their own clever and brave moments. Greene smoothly navigates them from one bit of peril to another, even if it's all light-hearted.

Greene uses pages with standard grids, but also splash pages, open-page layouts, overlapping panels, and other layout tricks that reflect the unpredictability of the plot. The end incorporates the characters finding the bravery and resolve to seek out their best selves as well as some clever ecological statements, noting that ambition without moral action is corrupt. There are hints of future conflicts for the characters, and while another book would be welcome, it was a genuine pleasure to read a YA book that wasn't obviously designed to be part one of a twelve-volume epic. Indeed, the relatively low stakes in this book were refreshing, focusing on the character-generated comedy and the mechanics of how they get from one situation to the next. Greene's own quirks as a cartoonist (he often portrays his characters leaning forward while in motion) mark Scullion very much as its own entity, rather than more of the same. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Minis: Michael Aushenker, Jenny Zervakis

Crows, by Jenny Zervakis. This was a zine that Zervakis produced for 2019's Zine Machine show. It's not a comic; instead, there are illustrations on the front and back cover of the Durham skyline and crows flying over it. This is a painfully difficult read, as it's about the slow dissolution of her marriage, yet her writing is intimate and full of wisdom. Zervakis adds the running element of associating her divorce with seeing crows. Though she's not superstitious, she wonders about this. Much of the zine is also dedicated to talking about the women of her family and their strength, and it's suggested that perhaps the crows are ancestors trying to pass on a message. The final lines, "They are neither villains nor ghosts. They are just birds, living their lives. I should be too." are powerful and worth pondering. Creating meaning in random events is a human thing to do, but obsessing on these details can create paralysis. Zervakis' story is a difficult one that emphasizes finding a way to mourn and move on; making this zine is clearly part of the process.

Professor Mrs. Miniver, by Michael Aushenker. A good rule of thumb for Michael Aushenker's comics: the more ludicrous the premise, the more entertaining the actual comic. And the three premises for Professor Mrs. Miniver are among his zaniest. The first imagines a third volume in the Mrs. Miniver film series (from 1942!), conflating the character's relationships with the actress who played her. Greer Garson, who played the feisty titular character, had an affair with the much younger actor who played her son. In Aushenker's version, she fakes her own death, goes to college, parties naked, and manipulates her "son's" love into committing an extremely minor crime. Then she goes off into the sunset with the Nazi she supposedly killed at the end of the first film. It's all total nonsense that's made even more hilariously lurid with his use of color.

"Lincoln Horse" asks the question: "What is Abraham Lincoln had been transformed into a centaur?" Well, he would have personally ended the civil war, been in threesomes, and gotten a new owner. Aushenker keeps this silliness to a tight five pages. His Unstoppable Rogues also get a story as McDonald's employees, and the expected chaos ensues. Tonally, Aushenker likes his images, colors, and action as loud as possible. This sometimes belies the cleverness of his craft, especially his verbal gags, but it also befits the overall silliness of his ideas. From premise to execution, every aspect of this comic is designed to make the reader asks "WTF?"

Friday, March 6, 2020

Whit Taylor's Fizzle #3

The third issue of Whit Taylor's story of twenty-something ennui, Fizzle, continues to follow its protagonist Claire as she tries to figure out her life. Fizzle is now being published by Neil Brideau's Radiator Comics, an outfit that's slowly making waves in Miami. Claire works in a tea shop with an overbearing, pompous owner. Her boyfriend is a stoner from a super-rich family. Her boss and her boyfriend represent extremes that Claire is repulsed by. Her boss takes her role as a sort of tea lifestyle expert quite seriously. She is insufferable as she carries her employees in her wake, demanding that they share her enthusiasm. Her boyfriend hates his family's trappings of wealth but has no interests or ambitions of his own. The events of Fizzle chronicle her reactions to these extremes.

In the first two issues, Claire happens upon an idea for her own business: popsicles made from real fruit, with unusual blends. It's all related to her fantasy of being on this entrepreneur reality show not unlike Shark Tank, where investors fund ideas that they like. The third issue takes ideas that were on a slow boil early on and makes them more prominent. In the first part of the comic, her boss holds a tea tasting with the author of a ridiculous self-help book that uses a life jacket as a poundingly obvious metaphor.

The middle of the book details how Claire met her boyfriend Andy in college; not surprisingly, it involved getting high. It's implied that things didn't ever get much deeper than that. There's a well-designed sequence where Claire listens to the self-help book, and it strikes a chord with her. She's not happy with Andy, she fantasizes about her co-worker, and she's desperate to feel passionate about something, anything.
She attends the birthday dinner of Andy's dad and takes a deep breath before interacting with his family. Taylor makes them not so much monstrous as banal, especially Andy's priggish brother Rich. Rich loves his father but also clearly loves being the favored son. Andy plays golf with his dad to appease him but doesn't understand how easily he slips in and out of this life of privilege. The only person who talks to Claire like a person is Andy's grandfather, who takes an interest in her study of fruit. The final scene in the book is her receiving a book on the subject from him.
Andy gets drunk at the party and Claire confronts him on him trying to distance himself from his brother, who is having a fourth child. As dull as Rich is, he knows what he wants: family and material success. When asked point-blank about what he wants, he doesn't know--and then asks her the same question. At this moment, it becomes crystal-clear that a mutual lack of ambition is all that's keeping them together, an orbit of laziness and apathy. It's not his fault that she's chosen to stay in this orbit, but it's clear that she has the capacity to break out of it if she wants to. Receiving the book in the mail not only means important information that she can use, but it also represents an important sense of affirmation. Someone believes in what she's doing and takes it seriously, and this hasn't happened before. We'll see how quickly the plot spins around this one scene. Through it all, Taylor's cartooning is becoming increasingly whimsical and fun to look at, aside from telling the story.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Grace Kroll's Tulpa

Grace Kroll's incendiary debut comic, Tulpa, grabs the reader by the throat on the first page and never lets go. A tulpa is a kind of manifestation or doppelganger, and Kroll is tormented by their own tulpa, as the cover itself reveals. Kroll is at war with themselves and their mental health, and the first story sees their tulpa whispering to them that they're damaged and should just die. In a dream, Kroll imagines being at the top of a tall building for a suicide attempt but they don't follow through. Waking brings no solace; indeed, Kroll thinks "If I was dead, I wouldn't have to feel anything." This is all expressed through a series of chiaroscuro drawings mixed with their blank self-caricature.

In a series of short vignettes, Kroll explores their depression, body image, fantasy life, sexual needs, and their own productivity as an artist. While many of the images and stories are disturbing, it's fascinating to see Kroll wrestle with the darkest impulses of their id and work through them. It's not so much therapy as it is an exorcism, exposing what they hate and fear about themself and the world in such a direct and visceral manner. In "Skin," for example, Kroll sits in front of a mirror and compulsively picks at the skin on their face as their tulpa berates them. The images become more and more graphic, including a detailed schematic of the skin's many layers, and Kroll can muster no defense at being referred to as stupid and disgusting.
In "Fantasy" and "Session," Kroll's tulpas seem to have a lot less ammunition. "Fantasy" is about their giving themselves permission to fantasize about whatever they want, no matter how lurid, because it's not hurting anyone. Their tulpa has to admit that it seems to be pretty satisfying. "Session" involves them being consensually tied up and flogged, and how freeing it feels. Their sexual tulpas (including a furry) try to make fun of them for all of this, but they're not having it; being in that submissive space is healing for them. "No Critique" features a wave of distractions and haters preventing them from drawing, but one of them (who redrew a page) actually provides a useful perspective. Who's the tulpa and who's the real Grace? Kroll deliberately blurs that line.

"Body Talk" is perhaps the roughest of all the strips, as this tulpa is so unrelentingly vicious to Kroll during a workout. It makes them push too hard, degrades their body as worthless, and pushes them to purge. The tulpa just wants Kroll's full attention, knowing that purging allows them to "feel a semblance of fucking control over your body." Of course, nothing ever really works, as the sight of their own body is too much for them to bear. Every aspect of this strip is painful and disturbing, and Kroll doesn't spare themselves at all. They are honest in every inch and every panel that overcoming these feelings isn't even on the menu; simply expressing them honestly is a powerful statement.

Kroll's mastery over body language adds to the emotional impact of these comics. A shorter comic, Dancers, is a gag story that uses the flattening, abstract forms of modern dance to tell the story of one lover asking another dancing lover to get them Milano cookies. There's a hilarious bit of dialogue along the way that leads to a funny conclusion, as the one thing that was unwanted occurs. Kroll has remarkable control over the page, whether it's disconcerting and grotesque naturalism or light-hearted cartoony work. This is an exciting debut.

Monday, February 24, 2020

November Garcia's Malarkey #4

At this stage of her career, November Garcia's one-woman anthology Malarkey is mostly comprised of reprints from other venues. Popula, Pen America, and The New Yorker featured some of the stories here, and it speaks to her versatility as a cartoonist in how she tailored each of them for publication while still retaining her essential irreverence. Of course, there are plenty of her own strips in Malakey #4, and they are very much in keeping with past work. For example, there's her obsession with the band FIDLAR, a loud and trashy rock band whose fans tended to be teens. Her obsession and crush on the lead singer are funny, but Garcia also notes that as a middle-aged woman, she's right on track for regressive behavior.

No one does self-deprecation funnier than Garcia. Take her story about being a young cartoonist and submitting a book to Fantagraphics, for example. Convinced of her own genius, she had the chutzpah to send it to her idol Peter Bagge (along with the rejection letter) and asked if the problem was the story or the art. His reply, "It is both," led to her thinking "With that, I officially entered adulthood." Garcia's willingness to deeply mine her memories of embarrassing events is what makes her so funny. A key element of that humor is her subtle mastery of pacing, Even in stories that are mostly dialogue and text captions, Garcia has a way of making them easy to absorb thanks to her understanding of how to use negative space.

"Travel Tips From A Tokyo Trip" was originally published in The New Yorker, and Garcia is much more reserved than usual. It's still a funny strip with a good punchline, but the tightness of the strip and punchline is different from her typical pleasant meanderings. Compare that to the next, wordless story. Garcia drops a nameless drug at the beach, listens to music, and rocks out. "Blind Faith," from Pen America, is about her religious upbringing and Catholic school days. Garcia smartly notes how omnipresent religious practices are when virtually everyone in the same country is brought up Catholic. A Filipina, Garcia shed her beliefs when she moved to America, but what was interesting was how lazy her own parents' practice was. Sure, they had to pray the rosary growing up, but it was ok to wait til after Melrose Place. No issue of Malarkey is complete without a funny story about Garcia's mom, and this issue featured a story about her mom's obsession with beauty regimens, culminating in something horrific called a "blood facial."

"Hole Number One" is a companion piece to "Blind Faith," as Garcia talks about trying to get laid as a teen and finding it hard to get privacy. Garcia talks about using confession as a way of getting rid of her sex-related guilt so this story takes the reader from under her bed to abandoned houses, a park, and finally a golf course. A neatly-trimmed green works every time. The final strip involves Garcia giving advice to her younger self about hard living, being cool, and how she will never lead a conventional life. Garcia's use of color throughout the comic adds a lot to each story; her use of blank space invites conventional, psychedelic, and decorative uses of color. Garcia's increasing confidence and command over her page makes all of this work some of the most entertaining autobio currently being published.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Top 75 Comics Of The 2010s

Over at Solrad, I compiled my list of the top twenty comics of the 2010s. This was an extremely difficult task, as I had to leave out many worthy entries. Here's my list, ranked 21-75, of the other best comics of the decade.

A few notes:

* I excluded anthologies from the list, with the exception of the Jason Martin-written issue of Papercutter. That's a separate category to consider, in my opinion.
* I excluded most big collections of artists, with the exception of Mark Connery's Rudy, because that work had never been collected before in any format.
* I only allowed one entry per artist. The exception was John Porcellino, in part because the two works I chose are both exceptionally good and are completely different in terms of format and style.
* I stuck to printed matter only, with the exception of Laura Park's piece.
* I am limiting myself to a single line of description for each comic. I've reviewed most of them already.

Here's the list of 20 I published with Solrad:

1. Rusty Brown, by Chris Ware (Pantheon).
2. Rosalie Lightning, by Tom Hart (Macmillan).
3. Pretending Is Lying, by Dominique Goblet (NYRB).
4. You & A Bike & A Road, by Eleanor Davis (Koyama Press).
5. The Love Bunglers, by Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics).

6. Soldier's Heart, by Carol Tyler (Fantagraphics).
7. Leaving Richard's Valley, by Michael DeForge (Drawn and Quarterly).
8. The River At Night, by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn and Quarterly).
9. Everything Is Flammable, by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized Books).
10. Chlorine Gardens, by Keiler Roberts (Koyama Press).

11. Infomaniacs, by Matthew Thurber (Drawn and Quarterly).
12. Someone Please Have Sex With Me, by Gina Wynbrandt (2D Cloud).
13. Girl Town, by Casey Nowak (Top Shelf).
14. The Heavy Hand, by Chris Cilla (Sparkplug Comic Books).
15. Artichoke Tales, by Megan Kelso (Fantagraphics).

16. All The Answers, by Michael Kupperman (Gallery 13).
17. Blammo #9, by Noah Van Sciver (Kilgore Books).
18. Sir Alfred #3, by Tim Hensley (Buenaventura Press).
19. The Unofficial Cuckoo's Nest Study Companion, by Luke Healy.
20. Book Of Days Daze, by E.A. Bethea (Domino Books).

And here's #21 - 75:

21. King-Cat 75, by John Porcellino (Spit-And-A-Half). This is the tribute to Maisie Kukoc issue, and it's a magnificent, sincere, and loving eulogy for a beloved pet.
22. Recidivist #4, by Zak Sally (La Mano). Haunting, poetic, and complex work--and printed by hand.
23. Hagelbarger And That Midnight Goat, by Renee French (Yam Press). An absurdist piece about the ways in which beauty, kindness, cruelty, humor, and horror can all share the same space.
24. Education, by John Hankiewicz (Fantagraphics). The master of comics-as-poetry once again puts together an extensively immersive and challenging series of images in creating a powerful narrative of sorts.
25. Frontier #17: "Mother's Walk," by Lauren Weinstein (Youth In Decline). No one gets more real than Weinstein, and this account of childbirth and its accompanying stressors and pleasures holds nothing back.

26. I Want You #2, by Lisa Hanawalt. One of the funniest, most stylish, most disgusting, and most bizarre comics I've ever read; this is what I mean when I refer to a reading experience as "the full Hanawalt."
27. Approximate Continuum Comics, by Lewis Trondheim (Fantagraphics). Endlessly witty quotidian observations from one of the world's greatest cartoonists.
28. The Infinite Wait And Other Stories, by Julia Wertz (Koyama Press). This is Wertz at her height, with a fully-realized drawing style and attention to narrative detail that makes her usual hilarious observations all the more poignant.
29. Susceptible, by Genevieve Castree' (Drawn and Quarterly). Brutally honest personal account of how a toxic parent can traumatize a child, and how that child reacts to the experience as they grow up.
30. Bright-Eyed At Midnight, by Leslie Stein (Fantagraphics). An ode to art and beauty as a worthwhile thing to pursue done in a bright, colorful style that is in itself gorgeous.

31. Make Me A Woman, by Vanessa Davis (Drawn and Quarterly). Davis' trenchant observations and her innovative open-page layouts make her one of the best, most singular memoirists.
32. Your Black Friend, by Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket). A devastating, incisive, personal, and funny statement about race and the ways in which white people unfairly look to people of color for instruction.
33. Our Mother, by Luke Howard (Retrofit). Howard's personal and painfully funny account of his mother's mental illness and its creeping inevitability in his own life.
34. Out Of Hollow Water, by Anna Bongiovanni (2D Cloud). With quiet but powerful restraint, Bongiovanni spins horrible fairy tales that reflect the cruelty of real life, especially with regard to women.
35. Incidents In The Night, by David B (Uncivilized Books). This is a wild bit of autobio, detective story, and magical realist conspiracy theory epic--all done in David B's trademark dense black line.

36. War Of Streets And Houses, by Sophia Yanow (Uncivilized Books). Yanow is an ace at depicting the intersection of personal and political hotpoints, with a shambling line that is irresistible.
37. Raw Power, by Josh Bayer (Retrofit). It's punk as fuck, like all of Bayer's work, matching the expressive energy of the line with a steady narrative framework and a powerful understanding of history.
38. The Hospital Suite, by John Porcellino (Drawn and Quarterly). Still maintains the poetic nature of King-Cat while telling a straightforward narrative about his mental and physical illnesses.
39. Chunk, by Emma Hunsinger. A perfectly and expressively drawn comic about art school that delves deep into each character's emotional narratives.
40. By Monday I'll Be Floating In The Hudson With The Other Garbage, by Laura Lannes (2D Cloud). Autobio doesn't get any rawer than this, as Lannes holds nothing back in talking about her relationships with a line so expressive that it practically jumps off the page.

41. This One Is Mine, by Laura Park. In a single page, Park displays their stunning skill as a cartoonist and their storytelling brilliance in discussing their life with cancer.
42. This Is The Last Day Of The Rest Of Your Life, by Ulli Lust (Fantagraphics). This is a horrifying coming-of-age comic, filled with toxic friends and predators at every corner, told with commanding cartooning skill.
43. Sex Fantasy, by Sophia Foster-Dimino (Koyama Press). This is a funny, weird, and deeply intimate mix of personal and fictional stories--and the line between the two is deliberately blurred.
44. Dragon's Breath And Other Stories, by MariNaomi (2D Cloud). A sensitive, poetic, and deeply personal series of short memoir vignettes, tinged with a deep sense of melancholy and regret.
45. Arsene Schrauwen, by Olivier Schrauwen (Fantagraphics). This outrageous "biography" traverses areas like colonialism, fantasy, weird sex, surrealism and many other categories.

46. Young Frances, by Hartley Lin (AdHouse). This is both an exquisite character study and a knowing, hilarious parody of what it's like to work in a high-powered law firm, drawn by an artist who understands the tiniest nuances of character interaction.
47. New School, by Dash Shaw (Fantagraphics). This may be Shaw's masterpiece: a complex exploration of identity, adventure tropes, and sophisticated use of color for narrative purposes.
48. House Of Women, by Sophie Goldstein (Fantagraphics). A beautiful merging of design, color contrast, exquisite linework, and a complex takedown of colonialism, religion, and capitalism.
49. Exits, by Daryl Seitchik (Koyama Press). This is a beautifully surreal, personal, and angry book about the male gaze and what it means to be seen.
50. The Angriest, Saddest Black Girl In Town, by Robyn-Brooke Smith. With delicate and expressive pencils, Smith expresses her rage and alienation with regard to race, identity, and being the other.

51. Demon, by Jason Shiga (First Second). An outrageous, hilarious, over-the-top series of action sequences as logic problems and ultraviolence presented in context with its ethical & ontological implications.
52. Rookie Moves, by November Garcia. A funny and fresh voice in autobio who manages to express her own enthusiasm for comics and its creators as sharply as she does with regard to her own life.
53. I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner Of War In Stalag IIB, by Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics). Tardi is a legend, but this is his crowning achievement: telling the story of his father's wartime experiences.
54. Beta Testing The Apocalypse, by Tom Kaczynski (Fantagraphics). This is a smart and frequently chilling satire of culture and philosophy in a market-driven world.
55. Windowpane, by Joe Kessler (Breakdown Press). A trippy look at the twin poles of creation and destruction, filtered through a color scheme that often abstracts the subject matter.

56. Architecture Of An Atom, by Juliacks (2D Cloud). This is the most ambitious project yet by Juliacks, whose immersive style demands total attention and commitment from the reader--and this poetic story about human connection is worth it.
57. Houses Of The Holy, by Caitlin Skaalrud (Uncivilized Books). This is an enigmatic howl, a journey through the darkest recesses of memory told through symbols and language created just for this narrative.
58. Stroppy, by Marc Bell (Drawn and Quarterly). This surreal bit of utter nonsense has its own iron-clad logic and narrative momentum, resulting in a gleefully strange adventure.
59. Rudy, by Mark Connery (2D Cloud). A quarter-century's worth of subversive, Dada, punk humor (with remarkably traditional comedic structures), collected in one overwhelming volume.
60. Spinning, by Tillie Walden (First Second). This is a beautiful, dense memoir about the demands we place on ourselves and how this distracts from many of our real issues.

61. Couch Tag, by Jesse Reklaw (Fantagraphics). It's a fascinating episodic memoir, wherein Reklaw repeatedly uses the idea of writing about one thing as a way of exploring a deeper emotional issue.
62. Sky In Stereo, by Mardou (Revival House). This is a bracing, brave story about a psychedelic experience gone horribly wrong, and the harrowing subsequent stay in a mental institution.
63. Magic Whistle #3.2, by Sam Henderson (Alternative Comics). Henderson remains one of the premier humorists in comics, and he added the editor hat in expanding his series into a humor anthology.
64. Too Dark To See, by Julia Gfrörer. The horror of this brilliant, scratchily-drawn comic is in its deeply cynical attitudes regarding love, sex, and relationships. 
65. Operation Margarine, by Katie Skelly (AdHouse Books). It's a combination of stylish clothes & poses, a kickass adventure, and a deep meditation on trauma.

66. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics). A sprawling, visually astounding monster mystery book.
67. Papercutter #17 (Tugboat Press). This is the issue where every story was written by Jason Martin, and drawn by an all-star team's worth of cartoonists;
68. The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song, by Frank M. Young and David Lasky (Abrams). The research and verisimilitude for the famous singing family's dialogue is top-notch, but it's Lasky's astonishing cartooning that's the true draw.
69. Invisible Ink, by Bill Griffith (Fantagraphics). A startling family memoir that leaves judgment behind and focuses on empathy instead.
70. Megahex, by Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics). Launched Megg, Mogg, and Owl into the public imagination; it's still the ur-young degenerate book of the last decade.

71. Lost Cat, by Jason (Fantagraphics). This Phillip Marlowe pastiche is one of the best of Jason's mash-ups of culture and explorations of loneliness.
72. Plans We Made, by Simon Moreton (Uncivilized Books). An emotionally impressionistic account of youth with a beautiful, spare line.
73. Hilda And The Mountain King, by Luke Pearson (NoBrow). This is the capper to one of the greatest kids' comics series of all time, by an artist at the height of his powers.
74. Forming, by Jesse Moynihan (NoBrow). A hilarious, profane, and hyperviolent account of the gods and aliens that walked the earth.
75. Pornhounds #2, by Sharon Lintz and various artists. A series of stories about working in the porn industry turns into a sensitive and funny account of dealing with breast cancer.