The more I read, the less clear I am about the difference between mini-comics and other comics. Consider the output from Retrofit, for example: are these mini-comics, standard comics, or something else? How much does the length of a mini-comic impact this classification? I will use Kurt Wolfgang’s instructive slogan (“Mini-Comics: You Know ‘Em When You See ‘Em”) and present my top short-form comics of the year, be they self-published, published by someone else, or (in a few cases) appearing on the web. The usual caveats apply here, as I’ve not read a bunch of key short-form comics from 2016 yet (Ganges 5, the latest Uptight, King Cat 76, Frontier #12 and #13, , Your Black Friend, and minis from Simon Moreton, for example.)
1. Blammo #9, by Noah Van Sciver. A perfect blend of autobio, semi-autobio played for comedic effect, and darkly humorous fiction from an artist making the leap from good to great.
2. The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion, by Luke Healy. A comic about the difficulty of adapting a novel light on action to the stage, with incredibly clever formal techniques and heartbreaking but humane story and character beats.
3. Our Mother, by Luke Howard. A series of comics metaphors about the experience of growing up with a mother with crippling depression and anxiety, mixing in equal parts despair, matter-of-factness and a pitch-black sense of humor.
4. The angriest saddest black girl in town, by Robyn Smith. Delicate and expressive pencils are used to subtle effect in this autobiographical howl against forces external (racism) and internal (anxiety) alike.
5. House of Women #3, by Sophie Goldstein. The conclusion of Goldstein’s sci-fi/religion story; its most dramatic sequences are staged with dazzling decorative qualities that often serve as a sort of visual Greek chorus in the way they provide information and judgment.
6. The Nincompoop #1, by Christoph Mueller. This is a hilarious and beautifully drawn collection of surreal autobio, fiction and existential stories by an emerging talent.
7. How To Make Comics, by Caitlin Skaalrud. A poetic, bleakly humorous and smartly written examination of the heartbreak and stress of creation and its context within the struggles of everyday life.
8. Frontier #11 (“BDSM”), by Eleanor Davis. The angular lines used in the character designs outline the sharpness of the nature of power in the context of relationships, as both an on-screen porn relationship and a real-life relationship feature BDSM not so much as a mere fetish, but more of a way of exploring power relationships.
9. Libby’s Dad, by Eleanor Davis. Davis uses a completely different visual approach with colored pencils in a story about another kind of power relationship and about how abuse in relationships filters down to children in unexpected and damaging ways.
10. This One Is Mine, by Laura Park. This is from Park’s Flickr account and it’s a sobering parody of the US Marine Corps’ famous Rifleman’s Creed, recontextualized to reflect her ongoing health struggles in a powerful but restrained manner, with her precise but wildly expressive line.
11. I Feel Weird #1, by Haleigh Buck. This rambling, expressively scrawled, and frequently hilarious & entertaining comic is Buck’s attempt to process a severe mental & emotional breakdown that led to a near-suicide attempt.
12. Jetty #4, by Rio Aubry Taylor. This story about a cyborg cursed to constantly change form features dense & intense linework as it acts as a metaphor for being trans and desperately seeking companionship and stability.
13. Pregs Again, by Lauren Weinstein. Featured in her Normel Person strip in the Village Voice, Weinstein both hilariously chides herself for getting pregnant again as well as other dumb decisions surrounding it while accepting the many ways it’s a gift in her inimitable, bluntly funny manner.
14. The Bridge, by Leslie Stein. From Stein’s Vice column, this is a typically gorgeous, autobiographical bit of self-reflection that goes to some very dark places and finds laughter there.
15. Silver Wire, by Jordan Shiveley. In the many darkly humorous comics I’ve included on this list, the story about a mouse trying to save his partner from self-annihilation drawn in a simple line is certainly the darkest.
16. Magic Whistle #3.2, by Sam Henderson. One of comics’ greatest humorists returns in full force with single-panel gags, extended shaggy dog stories and a variety of other humorists as this comic has become an excellent humor anthology.
17. Fool’s Errand, by Vanessa Davis. This is one of many excellent comics from Davis’ run in The Paris Review, and it takes a meandering path from time spent in Guatemala to the soul-crushing experience of managing an apartment building.
18. Hellbound Lifestyle, by Kaeleigh Forsythe & Alabaster Pizzo. Pizzo’s beautifully expressive and simple line is a perfect match for Forsythe’s amusingly self-deprecating journey through constant and sometimes manic self-reflection.
19. Pale, Sick and Magic, by Audra Stang. Stang’s loose and energetic line and sharp dialogue fuel this high school story of a bully and the bullied from the bully’s point of view a few years later, as she is unwittingly contacted from beyond the grave by a mutual acquaintance.
20. Medieval War Scene, by Aaron Cockle. This is part of Czap Books’ Ley Lines series, wherein Cockle ponders the relationship between creation and destruction, and how both war and time conspire against creating a cultural sense of continuity over time.
21. If Only Once, If Only For A Little While, by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. This is an exquisitely rendered and staged story about learning how to live in the real world and let go of the past by a cartoonist with total command over her line.
22. Malarkey, by November Garcia. These are funny, plainly-drawn accounts of the Filipina cartoonist’s daily life, adventures while drinking, and the frequently bizarre conversations she has with her mother.
23. Sex Fantasy #7, by Sophia Foster-Dimino. This is a heart-breaking, fascinating account of a relationship falling apart during a vacation to Hawai’i, rendered in her usual clear but cartoony style.
24. The Experts, by Sophie Franz. This is a vividly drawn horror-mystery story about a group of scientists isolated in an ocean facility. No explanations, no solutions, and no happy ending.
25. Wallpaper, by Whit Taylor. This mix of illustrated patterns and designs cleverly reflects the emotional states and events of the characters on each page.
26. Faded Frankenstein, by E.A. Bethea. Bethea’s scratchy, scrawled line is a perfect complement for her poetic and heartfelt prose about missing friends, fading memories, and the images of jobs past.
27. Zebidiah Part 3, by Asher Z. Craw. Part autobio story about embracing one’s identity as a trans person, and part magical realist adventure, the genius of the story is the way Craw wrapped both up together in telling the tale of Zebediah and Eula-Lee, who were pursued by the forces of evil into their modern-day incarnations as Asher and Lillie (Craw’s actual wife) Craw.
28. Paper Pencil Life #4, by Summer Pierre. This is a clearly written and cartooned collection of diary strips about life as an artist, a mother and sharp observer of the world around her.
29. Sorgin, by Amelia Onorato. This is an immaculately constructed and heartbreaking story about genocide and resistance, told with a humane and restrained touch.
30. Self, by Meghan Turbitt. This is a warped, hilarious deconstruction of trashy women’s magazines reorganized around Tubitt’s own personal obsessions.