Today on the site, Rob Clough's High-Low column returns with a look at the comics of E.A. Bethea.
E.A. Bethea's comics read as detailed, confessional fever dreams. Her comics have the cadence of poetry, the text and images coalescing into commentaries on visual detritus, hilarious observations, charged and frequently sexual memories, and fascinating personal and cultural details. She's been fairly prolific of late, and Domino Books published a collection of her work titled Book of
DaysDaze. It is unfortunately printed on cheap newsprint instead of the thicker paper stock she's used in self-published comics like Faded Frankenstein and All Killer, No Filler. That said, those latter two comics had limited print runs, so the Domino edition is most people's best chance to read Bethea's work. Despite its limitations in this format, it is my choice for the single best single-issue minicomic/zine of 2018.
Faded Frankenstein, from 2016, is my favorite of her collections. Bethea ranges from nine to twelve panels per page, shakily hand-drawn as though she had no time to indulge in precision. There's a furious flow to her writing that makes it seem as though it's bursting out of her pen, each page a separate explosion of images and memories that demand to be expressed. Sometimes a page will have a single image. Other pages are illustrated text in an open-page format. Some of her stories have a conversational feel, as though she was confessing them to the reader at one of the hole-in-the-wall bars that she favors. Others are directly poetic, didactic or purely observational. All of them are dense and immersive, demanding a reader's full attention.
We also have a preview excerpt from Alexander Utkin's The Water Spirit.
Finally, one correction. As a reader kindly pointed out, an apparent excess of eggnog and fruitcake during the holiday season led to tabulation errors when we tallied votes from participants' lists of the best comics of 2018.
The actual combined votes lead to the following consensus list for 2018:
1. Jason Lutes, Berlin (Drawn & Quarterly), 16 votes
2. Julie Doucet, Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly), 13 votes
3. Eleanor Davis, Why Art? (Fantagraphics), 12 votes
4. Lauren R. Weinstein, Frontier #17: Mother's Walk (Youth in Decline), 11 votes
5. (tie) Tommi Parrish, The Lie and How We Told It (Fantagraphics), Tillie Walden, On a Sunbeam (First Second/Avery Hill/self-published), and Lale Westvind, Grip Vol. 1 (Perfectly Acceptable Press), 9 votes each
8. (tie) Yvan Alagbé, Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures (NYRC), Nick Drnaso, Sabrina (D&Q), Hartley Lin, Young Frances (AdHouse), Olivier Schrauwen, Parallel Lives (Fantagraphics), Noah Van Sciver, One Dirty Tree (Uncivilized), and Jim Woodring, Poochytown (Fantagraphics), 8 votes each
Note: If all votes for works by Olivier Schrauwen, Noah Van Sciver, and Lauren R. Weinstein were added together (each artist received multiple votes for multiple works), the list would have been somewhat different. The top 13 artists of 2018 would then be 1. Lutes, 2. Van Sciver, 3. Weinstein, 4. Doucet, 5. Davis, 6. Schrauwen, 7. (tie) Parrish & Walden & Westvind, and 10. (tie) Alagbé & Drnaso & Lin & Woodring.
Apologies to all affected artists and publishers.
—Interviews & Profiles. David Foster Wallace biographer D.T. Max profiled Nick Drnaso for The New Yorker.
Drnaso is as composed as his panels, which are rendered in crisp, almost rigid lines. He had only complimentary things to tell me about other cartoonists, and insisted that he wasn’t bothered by the fact that Drawn & Quarterly, which specializes in indie comics, had greatly underestimated the demand for “Sabrina.” “I don’t care in the least,” he said. “I never thought there was some sales goal I needed to hit.” He is so modest that, at one point, he offered an apology for his modesty, observing that “self-deprecation can be a little bit overbearing on the person who is forced to listen to it.” The only time I saw him express an impolite emotion was a few weeks after the book fair, when we were in a minor car accident on Milwaukee Avenue, in Chicago. He was taking me on a tour of Logan Square, a fast-gentrifying neighborhood about which he has “mixed feelings.” It is not far from where he lives with his wife, Sarah, and their three cats. We had just eaten a meat-heavy breakfast at a favored diner—“It does the job,” he commented—when a minivan rear-ended us. Drnaso’s car had barely budged, but he was clearly upset. “What the fuck was that?” he said.
The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Peter Kuper.
—Reviews & Commentary. Gary Panter celebrates the comics of Gene Ahern.
Some things don’t become particularly interesting until they’ve survived their own era, outlasted the competition; they’re bizarre remnants. In the early ’60s, among the Sunday comic strips abandoned at the local laundromat that I most enjoyed reading were reprints of Gene Ahern’s Our Boarding House (1921–1936) and Room and Board (1936–1953). I found the prehistoric quality of these strips, both of which were set in dumpy boarding houses featuring patched couches and worn-out lamps, and a cast of layabouts who looked like beaten boxers with misshapen noses, very compelling.
Brian Nicholson looks back at the Batman comics of Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle.
The Breyfogle stuff is so dynamic, and the plotting is so straightforward that publishing it alongside an annual by different people and a 16-page “Bonus book” that tried out new creators is basically only useful as a point of contrast, but everyone reading this collection will be immediately aware of much better the Grant/Breyfogle stuff is compared to pretty much everything else without needing any help. (Good lord, imagine someone who willingly reads the Batman comics DC currently puts out monthly reading this!)
—Misc. John Porcellino has launched a new weekly strip at The Chicago Reader.
And Michael Kupperman gave a presentation for Google: