Against our better judgment and the will of this world, we have returned with another wild ride through the best comics of 2022. Earnestly, passionately, we thank these dozens of volunteers for their viewpoints on the topic. The narrative formats below will differ, and opinions will contradict: we urge you, sweet reader, to indulge this post as a cartographic tour, in a less-than-straight line.
* * *
Cast of Characters
(click for fast travel)
Jean Marc Ah-Sen
* * *
Jean Marc Ah-Sen
My favorite comic releases and reissues of the year, in no particular order:
Vuzz - Philippe Druillet, translated by Christopher Pope (Titan Comics)
The Silver Coin - Michael Walsh & various (Image Comics)
Defenders - Al Ewing & Javier Rodríguez, with Álvaro López & VC's Joe Caramagna (Marvel Comics)
Damn Them All - Si Spurrier, Charlie Adlard & Sofie Dodgson, with Shayne Hannah Cui & Jim Campbell (BOOM! Studios)
Lance Stanton - Wayward Warrior - James MacNaughton III & Dave Bamford (Floating World Comics)
Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow - Tom King, Bilquis Evely, Matheus Lopes & Clayton Cowles (DC Comics)
Sir Alfred No. 3 - Tim Hensley (Fantagraphics)
Iron Man - Christopher Cantwell, Angel Unzueta & various (Marvel Comics)
Old Dog - Declan Shalvey, with Clayton Cowles (Image Comics)
A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance - Rick Remender & André Lima Araújo, with Chris O'Halloran & Rus Wooton (Image Comics)
Faithless III - Brian Azzarello & Maria Llovet, with AndWorld Design (BOOM! Studios)
Two Moons - John Arcudi & Valerio Giangiordano, with Bill Crabtree, Giovanna Niro, Jeromy Cox & Michael Heisler (Image Comics)
Talk to My Back - Yamada Murasaki, translated by Ryan Holmberg (Drawn & Quarterly)
Schappi - Anna Haifisch (Fantagraphics)
The Nice House on the Lake - James Tynion IV, Álvaro Martínez Bueno & Jordie Bellaire, with AndWorld Design (DC Comics)
Prison Pit: The Complete Collection - Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics)
Disciples - David Birke, Nicholas McCarthy & Benjamin Marra (Fantagraphics)
* * *
Wowwee Zowwee and Holy Hell! These are the kinds of well-articulated thoughts that zip through my mind when I’m holding Blood of the Virgin: Crickets Colour Special Number One by the one and only Sammy Harkham. Herein contained are page after page of cartooning at the highest level. I mean, damn. More learned comics scholars can tell you better than I which early 20th century cartoonists are being referenced, what styles are being invoked, and so on... suffice it to say that Harkham is a cartoonist’s cartoonist. His incredible skill and love of the medium fairly drips from the panels.
This handsome 11" x 14" edition features new covers and artwork, as well as remastered coloring of a story first published in Kramers Ergot 10 from Fantagraphics. I hesitate to even give scant details of the story here, simply because whatever I write will fall short of the actual object and may prejudice some readers away from picking it up for fear that it isn’t their thing. Well, let me do what I can to disabuse you of that notion here and now. If you love comics, Blood of the Virgin is for you.
Dare to read about a young cowboy named Joe who gets into the moviemaking biz near its inception and stays with it as the decades pass and the industry changes and evolves. Experience the widening triumphs and bitter disappointments that shape Joe into a jagged edge. Luxuriate in the scenic Western idyll both rural and urban. Lap up the early Hollywood nonchalance and quiet studies of Los Angeles Harkham excels at here as he does throughout Crickets. All this and a bumper sticker can be yours for the low, low price of $14.00 available from The Secret Headquarters, which published this item in collaboration with Commonwealth Comics Co. Don’t hesitate, buy your copy and support one of the best working cartoonists and independent comic book stores in existence today. Not to be missed.
* * *
Comics this year had a great deal to talk about and think about. From the arrival of Kate Beaton's tome on the Canadian oil sands to the English publication of Hitoshi Ashinano's joyous sci-fi classic, there was a great deal to like and enjoy. Jonathan Case came in strong this year, delivering one of the year's very best, while Zoe Thorogood seemed to create a profound creative refinement and synthesis. Juni Ba's work built onward and elevated itself from his spellbinding Djeliya, and we finally got a newly translated Vincent Perriot in English. And we also saw tremendous work this year from the likes of Pornsak Pichetshote, Ram V, and Linnea Sterte, who only seem to have grown over time.
Evolution has been the defining motif of the year for me, which shows perhaps in both Beaton's and Thorogood's works as well, reflective memoirs meditating upon transformations and change. Even Molly Mendoza's reflection on love and relationships feels like it fits into that. Everywhere we've been, and everywhere that we haven't... but yearn to be. It feels true looking even at something like Marjorie Liu's and Sana Takeda's tremendous kickoff of a graphic novel trilogy in the form of The Night Eaters (Abrams ComicArts), which marks a new endeavor for the longstanding Monstress duo. But I want to mention two creators in particular who really stood out for me and made a mark this year: Deniz Camp and Nadia Shammas. Both have been doing terrific work for some time now, but really cut loose and delivered in multiple bursts this year. Shammas with her OGNs with terrific collaborators Sara Alfageeh (Squire, Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins) and Marie Enger (Where Black Stars Rise, Tor Nightfire), and Camp with his periodicals alongside his striking collaborators Stipan Morian (20th Century Men, Image Comics), Filya Bratukhin (Agent of W.O.R.L.D.E., Scout Comics), and John Davis-Hunt (Bloodshot Unleashed, Valiant Comics). It felt like it was really their year of tremendous evolution, as what emerged was a far sharper expression of much of what their work had been reckoning with.
Beyond that, I loved Jump's best new manga series (the new Chainsaw Man is merely a sequel/continuation) of the year in the form of Yūki Suenaga's & Takamasa Moue's rakugo drama Akane-banashi (VIZ, translated by Stephen Paul). And I particularly enjoyed works like Jamila Rowser's & Robyn Smith's Wash Day Diaries (Chronicle Books) and Claribel Ortega's & Rose Bousamra's Frizzy (First Second), both of which center Black women and reckon with hair care. And like many, I too adored the new Cliff Chiang solo cartooning joint in Catwoman: Lonely City (DC Comics), which feels and reads like a breath of fresh air.
All in all? It was a fun year for the form. Here are the books I dug most:
-Ducks by Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly)
-Little Monarchs by Jonathan Case (Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House)
-Monkey Meat by Juni Ba (Image Comics)
-20th Century Men by Deniz Camp, Stipan Morian & Aditya Bidikar (Image Comics)
-A Frog In The Fall (And Later On) by Linnea Sterte (Peow)
-Negalyod: The God Network by Vincent Perriot with Florence Breton, translated by Montana Kane (Titan Books)
-Stray by Molly Mendoza (Bulgihan Press)
-The Swamp Thing by Ram V, Mike Perkins, Mike Spicer & Aditya Bidikar (DC Comics)
-The Good Asian by Pornsak Pichetshote, Alexandre Tefenkgi, Lee Loughridge & Jeff Powell (Image Comics)
-Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou by Hitoshi Ashinano, translated by Daniel Komen, adaptation by Dawn Davis (Seven Seas Entertainment)
-Squire by Nadia Shammas & Sara Alfageeh (Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins)
-Where Black Stars Rise by Nadia Shammas & Marie Enger (Tor Nightfire)
-It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth by Zoe Thorogood (Image Comics)
* * *
1. Running Numbers (Pittsburgh 2) by Frank Santoro: An ongoing joy this year was regular mail from Frank, topped off at the end of the year by a hand-bound hardcover collection of this series of comics/zines. Ostensibly a sequel to his Pittsburgh, this is less structured and refined, an autobio zine that mixes neighborhood and family history alongside contemporary events. It's loose and beautiful, typed (as in typewriter) text on the verso with brightly sketched panels and images on the recto, all printed out on color xerox at home. It has the heart of an old school zine with the skill and style of experience.
2. King-Cat by John Porcellino: A perennial favorite, John never really surprises but he never disappoints either; simple drawings, wrapped in complicated feelings. There's always a strong sense of time for the reader of King-Cat, as the weight of decades of previous issues (and books) make John feel like an old friend one is catching up with at irregular intervals.
3. Speedy by Warren Craghead: Warren revived the name of his old Xeric-winning comic for a new series of his sui generis art. Issue 2 features brightly colored sketches from the Jan 6th coup attempt in a mode Warren's been using with a variety of other contemporary and historical political events, a kind of processing via pencil of trauma and sadness and anger. Issue 3 moves to the more personal and observational mode, with short comics and sketches of bike roads, family, and the beach - often attempts at capturing all the senses and feelings of life in images and (a sprinkling of) words.
4. Love & Rockets by Jaime Hernandez: I reread all of Jaime's "Locas" stories over a few weekends, from the early verbose sci-fi adventure stories to the most recent stories (that came out this year) of middle-agers dealing with changes in their lives. The overall effect is astounding; reading decades of comics in a short period of time compresses and accentuates the almost real-time aging of the characters. Sometimes I'd read a story, thinking how it seemed so recent, then see the date at the bottom and realize it was already 20 years old. There's always something new to see as one rereads old favorites; this time I was struck by the gaps Jaime inserts between some of the storylines. Suddenly time has passed (years even) and we only slowly (if at all) begin to understand how the characters and situations have changed in the interim, that missing gap of information often providing impetus for storylines.
* * *
My year in comics was largely informed by research I did for my interviews here at TCJ.
Rick Veitch's long-running Maximortal series is a history and satire of the comics industry, and Boy Maximortal (currently on issue 3) shows he still has something to say after all these years. He does so much work these days that it can be hard to keep track of it all, but I wish he would laser-focus on this series, because it's really the best work of his career.
Research for my interview with Mike Allred compelled me to go back and reread the entirety of Madman. While he hasn't created anything new in that series in many years, reading it all at once, I got a real sense of the arc of his life. It's rare to see someone work through their own personal issues on the page like that. I also read for the first time a sizable chunk of his Marvel work. His Silver Surfer series (written by Dan Slott) is the best kind of superhero book. Fun, gorgeously drawn, and utterly free of the confines of continuity.
Probably the best new book I read this year was Eric Powell's Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?, a collaboration with the true crime writer Harold Schechter (and also research for another interview). Powell has been a prolific and acclaimed creator for many years, but this is an exciting new direction for him. I loved everything about the book, from the gorgeous artwork to the conversational tone of the writing. Very much looking forward to their next collaboration.
I always use SPX as an excuse to hunt for new voices. This year I discovered the work of Elizabeth Pich, and have since been reading War and Peas, the webcomic she creates with Jonathan Kunz. I really appreciate the off-kilter humor in that one. Another SPX pickup was Aimée de Jongh's Days of Sand, a quiet and introspective book set during the Dust Bowl. That hadn't been on my radar before the show, and was definitely one of the best books I read this year. I met Caroline Cash at SPX, and picked up her Ignatz-winning book Pee Pee Poo Poo. She's young and still learning, but her work brought back memories of early Pete Bagge, Robert Crumb, and Roberta Gregory. She's got that same fearlessness, and is absolutely a talent to watch.
And lastly, 2022 was the year that Marvel finally started publishing Miracleman: The Silver Age by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham. While it comes with dread that the character is going to be merged into Marvel's continuity, I've been waiting nearly three decades for this story to be finished, so this was really the comics event of the year for me. I poured over the first two issues like arcane manuscripts, trying to decipher every change from my original Eclipse copies, and at the end of this month the first new issue comes out. I can't wait.
* * *
One of the fun things, with ‘fun’ being a completely subjective quality, about writing TCJ’s links round-up each week, is getting to see the narrative play out in real time of which comic really hit big with the mainstream for a given year, in terms of sheer column inches devoted to its publication: 2020’s having been The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly); 2021’s The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); and now 2022’s can be confirmed as Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly), as recommended by former President Barack Obama. But this is not about his choices, it is about mine, and so on with the show we go.
Four books didn’t leave my desk, once I had them in my possession, despite their combined size, so, I think by sheer weight of time spent picking them back up, and flicking through to re-read, they get special mention as my favourites of the year: The Projector and Elephant by Martin Vaughn-James (New York Review Comics), a completely unknown author to me until this appeared, and completely beguiling once it did; One Beautiful Spring Day by Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics), which will join The Frank Book on my shelves, once I take just one more look through it when I can’t sleep, and maybe one more after that; My Badly Drawn Life by Gipi (Fantagraphics, translated by Jamie Richards), which spoke to me as someone who was an idiot in his youth, and never really moved on from that mode of being; and The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror Ominous Omnibus Vol. 1: Scary Tales & Scarier Tentacles (Abrams ComicArts), which I really hope sold well enough for the remaining two volumes to be printed, because it’s a handsome collection of comics, and it bodied me with a tidal wave of nostalgia every time I opened it, by taking me right back to said idiot youth.
A pair of books I read during my festive break, which I didn’t want to discount purely due to recency bias, as I enjoyed them a lot for completely different reasons, despite both being ostensibly in the horror space: Acid Nun by Corinne Halbert (self-published in comic book form, collected by Silver Sprocket), the accompanying writing to which from each issue connected me deeply to the story; and I Hate This Place Vol. 1 by Kyle Starks, Artyom Topilin, Lee Loughridge & Pat Brosseau (Image Comics), which was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum vis-à-vis traumatic horror, but the laughs and the gore both hit well, and the mystery contained therein is very spooky indeed.
My spandex-focused reading was pared well back this year, and I fully bought into that prestige hardcover edition lifestyle with Fantastic Four: Full Circle by Alex Ross, Josh Johnson & Ariana Maher (Abrams ComicsArts) and Catwoman: Lonely City by Cliff Chiang (DC Comics), the latter of which was far more interesting as a story than the former, but both passing with flying colors the ‘did I resist looking at my phone while reading them?’ test that most books from the Big Two stumble and fall at these days. Props also to One-Star Squadron by Mark Russell, Steve Lieber, Dave Stewart & Dave Sharpe (DC Comics), which made me finally track down and replace my old Justice League International trades and do a full re-read.
A pair of goodbyes hit differently in 2022, with the final volume of Ex.Mag edited by Wren McDonald (Peow Studio) arriving as the publisher comes close to shuttering its operations for good; and Vattu by Evan Dahm (self-published), which I had been reading for the entirety of its 12 years of serialization on the internet, and had as satisfying a conclusion as a melancholy story about colonialism and imperialism can have, especially when read in concert with the video essay on its making, leaving me excited to see where Dahm’s newly-started 3rd Voice will take readers.
Finally, my ‘read a manga series in its entirety’ pick for the year was Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma (Yen Press, various translators), which was genuinely as funny as I’d been led to believe, and "Yotsuba & Vengeance" probably would have been the funniest comic I read in 2022, if not for the pure id of Blubber by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics).
* * *
10.) Andros #9 by Max Clotfelter (self-published)
9.) "Winds of Change" by Eleanor Davis (New York Times)
8.) Washington White by Adam Griffiths (Secret Acres)
7.) Men I Trust by Tommi Parrish (Fantagraphics)
6.) Talk to My Back by Yamada Murasaki, translated by Ryan Holmberg (Drawn & Quarterly)
5.) Gray Green by Connor Willumsen (self-published on Instagram)
4.) Hypermutt #1-4 by Max Huffman (self-published)
3.) Blah Blah Blah #2-3 by Juliette Collet (self-published)
2.) Wild Vol. 1 by Cristian Castelo (Oni Press)
1.) Crickets #7-8 by Sammy Harkham (Commonwealth Comics Co. & Secret Headquarters)
* * *
The list will always be there to inform, entertain and to keep track of things. I find lists to be very useful and post a best-of-the-year list on my blog, Comics Grinder. The funny thing about a list is that you can keep adding to it or revising it as much as you want. But you need to stop at some point. So, here’s my most recent take on 2022, pared down to a Top Ten:
Acting Class by Nick Drnaso (Drawn & Quarterly)
This work finds Mr. Drnaso in his prime, perhaps pretty much content with the final results. I have come around to really appreciating what he’s doing. I was on the fence for a while. Many of us have our own reasons. For me, I didn’t really get his dropping the “h” in his using the word, “yeah.” Maybe I still don’t.
Chivalry by Neil Gaiman, Colleen Doran & Todd Klein (Dark Horse Comics)
I’m thinking this book needs some more love. You’ve got the A-Team of Gaiman and Doran and this whimsical tale hardly disappoints. Maybe it deserves to be revisited with my giving it a review in the new year.
Trve Kvlt by Scott Bryan Wilson, Liana Kangas, Gab Contreras, Jamez Savage & DC Hopkins (IDW Publishing)
If we love comics, then surely there’s a place for this gem: a celebration of the misfit warrior out in the world, attempting to fit in while plotting his escape. The creative team of Wilson & Kangas deliver with noteworthy deadpan humor.
Public Domain by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
One more shoutout to the world of mainstream comic books. Zdarsky provides a satisfying low-key and offbeat tale of cartoonist underdogs taking on the big comic book publishing machine.
Domesticated Afterlife by Scott Finch (Antenna)
Here’s a fine example of a remarkable book that emerged one year and gained traction into the next. The many threads to this tale of worlds-within-worlds are masterfully handled by artist Scott Finch. My review is here.
Joseph Smith and the Mormons by Noah Van Sciver (Abrams)
Another monumental work that we’ll be talking about for many years to come. Van Sciver offers the reader the results of his lifelong searching on issues of faith.
G-G-G Ghost Stories by Brandon Lehmann (Bad Publisher Books)
Lehmann’s distinctive deadpan humor has been delighting a growing fanbase for years now. His star is rising and his work is available on various platforms. It was a pleasure to get a chance to interview him for my blog. My review is here.
Gnartoons by James the Stanton (Silver Sprocket)
A wonderful companion work to Lehmann's is this collection from fellow Seattle cartoonist James the Stanton. Zany and surreal stuff, just dripping with street cred.
Diego Rivera by Francisco de la Mora & José Luis Pescador, translated by Lawrence Schimel (SelfMadeHero)
This work is in the tradition of artful graphic novels about art and artists. It lives up to its promise and will transport the reader into the inner world of Diego Rivera. My review is here.
Schappi by Anna Haifisch (Fantagraphics)
It was my pleasure to delve into the work of Anna Haifisch and have an opportunity to share my findings with you earlier this year in my review. I also interviewed Haifisch for my blog. It was during our conversation that she mentioned the fact that cartoonists seem to be on a neverending treadmill of social media and she sort of envied the fact that Nick Drnaso doesn’t have any social media presence whatsoever. So, this brings us full circle back to Drnaso. I think he was spot on when he told the New York Times that he “fucking hated” his most popular book, Sabrina. I think what he meant was that he hated what can happen to cartoonists once they’re deemed worthy of notoriety. It becomes fair game to hype, overanalyze, tear down, and simply lose sight of the art form. But, with any luck, things have a way of falling into place.
* * *
This list is not in any particular order and is no way definitive. I have yet to have a year go by where I reached the end feeling that I had read every important new comic or every comic that might appeal to me. And then, of course, catching up the following year leads to me not reading enough new comics again! Shit. Anyway, I dashed this off pretty quickly so don’t take it too serious. Be well.
TIME ZONE J, Julie Doucet, Drawn & Quarterly
In a way this is the only comic. The story of a life.
DETENTION No. 2, Tim Hensley, Fantagraphics
A microcosm of history. We will be catching up with this for years to come.
IT HURTS UNTIL IT DOESN’T, Kahlil Kasir, Diskette Press
Deeply moving and emotionally honest self-portrait of a person living with chronic pain and traumatic grief. Kasir’s line is dissociative, distant, blunt and clinical, yet intimate and warm. If every Nick Drnaso book vanished overnight and was replaced by this little comic I think we would all be smarter and kinder people.
OROCHI, Kazuo Umezz, translated by Jocelyne Allen, adaptation by Molly Tanzer, VIZ Media
Comics about hysteria. Nobody depicts the perspectives of children quite like Umezz.
PLAZA, Yuichi Yokoyama, translated by Ryan Holmberg, Living the Line
The noisiest comic of all time. More on this soon.
BIRDS OF MAINE, Michael DeForge, Drawn & Quarterly
One of the truly great “pandemic response” comics. I am actually not very far into this comic because it’s just so pleasant to return to on the occasional morning. DeForge is one of the greats.
BOAT LIFE, Tadao Tsuge, translated by Ryan Holmberg, Floating World Comics
Tadao Tsuge’s very own The Man Without Talent, only his man does have one talent - or at least, a hobby. A comic about being old and rooted in place as the mind wanders. I keep returning to its misty terrain.
URUSEI YATSURA Vol. 16, Rumiko Takahashi, translated by Camellia Nieh, VIZ Media
Some of Takahashi’s best art. I appreciate how she begins to hint at giving her characters closure, although Urusei Yatsura cannot really have closure.
THE MUSIC OF MARIE, Usamaru Furuya, translated by Laura Egan, One Peace Books
Really outstanding manga that takes Furuya’s obsession with cute girls to a unique extreme. Worth returning to.
KAMEN RIDER: THE CLASSIC COLLECTION, Shōtarō Ishinomori, translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian, Seven Seas Entertainment
Oh lordy, if I had forgotten to mention this one I would have been kicking myself for weeks. Some of the most furiously cartooned shit I’ve read in a hot minute, chock full of silhouettes, harsh textures, endless momentum and intense action violence. Incredibly kinetic and surprisingly bitter journey full of creativity and ANGER. The titular rider is reduced to a brain in a jar midway through and has a homoerotic friendship with his successor via telepathy. Kamen Rider is just awesome.
BOOTY ROYALE: NEVER GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT! Rui Takatō, translated by Jennifer Ward, adaptation by The Smut Whisperer, Ghost Ship/Seven Seas Entertainment
Wait what how did this get here? I’m sorry I am trying to delete it.
BOMBA!, Osamu Tezuka, translated by Polly Barton, Vertical/Kodansha
TALK TO MY BACK, Yamada Murasaki, translated by Ryan Holmberg, Drawn & Quarterly
A gekiga that I understand viscerally. A story about the claustrophobia of womanhood and the hope to transcend that life.
A FROG IN THE FALL (AND LATER ON), Linnea Sterte, Peow
Among other things, the best-designed book I encountered this year; work to be treasured.
INVISIBLE PARADE, MISSISSIPPI, translated by Anna Schnell, Jocelyne Allen, MISSISSIPPI, Andy Jenkins, Jun Kitamura and Emuh Ruh, Glacier Bay Books
I keep going back to these comics. MISSISSIPI is a very gentle and thoughtful artist.
MERMAID TOWN, Tomohiro Tsugawa, translated by Kristjan Rohde, Glacier Bay Books
Love love love love this. Dream comics are always special. Reminds me a bit of how Panpanya’s comics can wander out of place, or how Jim Woodring’s Jim treated dreams.
ONE BEAUTIFUL SPRING DAY, Jim Woodring, Fantagraphics
Speaking of Jim Woodring. Is it fair to call this a new comic? I hope it will not be overlooked. My only gripe is I do not understand why Weathercraft is not included; but then again, not understanding the Unifactor is part of the journey.
RIP MOU #2, V.A.L.I.S. Ortiz, Gatosaurio
I miss V.A.L.I.S. Ortiz. I hope she will be remembered.
* * *
1. Time Zone J by Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly)
In her last book, Carpet Sweeper Tales, Doucet told the audience to read the text out loud. In this book, she instructs you to read the bottom row of every page first and work your way upwards. And yet... Doucet isn't a cold formalist, she isn't making work that any honest person could label unapproachable - although even in progressive comics circles the book will be viewed as such, revealing layers of conservatism so ingrained in the medium's received ideas about itself that they are all but imperceptible to those who carry them. Doucet makes these choices not necessarily because they strengthen what she is trying to say, but, I suspect, because they make sense while creating her art, and allow the project to reach its conclusion. And this is important; it's important that this book was finished, because as a whole, it is the opposite of dry formalism, it is 'human' in a way that such a description can't do justice to. There is anger here, but not of the melodramatic sort; there's suspense but with imploded payoffs; there's beautiful drawing but none of it is meant to impress, exactly. It's a book about cycling through a particularly consequential encounter, and offering no resolution to it (because, though every other book of this type would deny it - honestly, how could you?). This withheld judgement does not bar a rich outpouring of genuine feeling, maybe from the author (I can only assume) but most notably for the reader. This comic doesn't rebuke most other comics for its formal daring, but instead shows how emotionally stunted most other works in this medium are in comparison. This might suggest that Doucet is 'wearing her heart on her sleeve'. No, instead she's expressing a complex range of thought and emotion in reaction to an event, the kind of complexity that this medium often tries to suggest is impossible even in the hands of the medium's greatest artists. We might recall Chris Ware wondering, decades ago, if it was possible to tell a story that approaches the emotional heft of Victorian novels in a medium designed to tell funny animal jokes. Well, this book answers the question, but obviously not through mimicry of other media. Many other graphic novels will top corporate publications' best-of lists and offer a play at adulthood; this book is made by someone who can only laugh against such a refusal of cartooning's capabilities.
2. Detention No. 2 by Tim Hensley (Fantagraphics)
Unlike Doucet, this work doesn't break with tradition. Instead it takes a trajectory 70 years in the making and tugs it so far ahead that the temptation, from a lesser artist, would be to explode things. Hensley comes close, but this is still a comic book. The book market is awash these days in Wikipedia-researched 'historical' graphic novels that flatly illustrate events in an uncritical manner, so committed to nothing in particular that they are almost avant-garde in their claim to be works of cartooning. Hensley, on the other side of the universe, is actually translating the texture of a novel into orthodox comic language... the panels here feel as if they are about to burst, overflowing with information and melodramatic charge, while (magically) eschewing excess.
3. Blood on the Tracks (ongoing) by Shuzo Oshimi (Vertical/Kodansha, translated by Daniel Komen)
Actually scary comics. North American non-superhero genre comics should take note of this series, as it sits on the shelves of every mainstream bookshop in the nation and offers more directly upsetting situations than decades of frustrated EC disciples have been able to provide.
4. Who Will Make the Pancakes by Megan Kelso (Fantagraphics)
Comics about internal compromise, the perceptible and imperceptible consequences of every single action you take, whether out of sacrifice or personal desire. Very sad, very hard-to-read, egoless comics that most people don't have the patience to make.
5. Blah Blah Blah #2 & #3 by Juliette Collet (self-published)
Genuinely exciting work that should appeal both to those who are deeply immersed in the promise of comics' potential and those who just want to read something exhilarating. While #2 was a very skillful black and white comic that would clearly impress even the stodgiest comics fan, #3 was full of artistic choices that showed a desire to make actual art rather than follow a predictable trajectory of radical-yet-sanctioned comics-making.
6. Orochi Vols. 1-3 by Kazuo Umezz (VIZ, translated by Jocelyne Allen, adapted by Molly Tanzer)
I read the Alex Ross Fantastic Four: Full Circle book this year, and while Ross finally managed to make his style breathe a bit more, I still felt dead after reading it. Skill in service of nostalgia, still, and the returns diminish, still. The example of an artist like Umezz, whose skill is unmistakable and vital, is more noteworthy than we might think. These are perfect worlds of cartooning that aren't stuffy or delicate but hyper-charged for involvement.
7. froggie.world by Allee Errico (Instagram)
Amazing comics that you can only read on Instagram. In a sane world there would be countless anthologies publishing Errico's work. I'm very intrigued by someone working at such a high level when the comics industry offers so few tangible rewards. Maybe 20 years ago this would be a weekly strip in alternative newspapers around the nation, with readers of all kinds encountering it without choosing to do so. As so many venues for viewing graphic work implode and tech apps soak up what's left (until they choose not to), work like this has an even stranger power. To make humane art at any moment in time in any venue is of value, but such a rich and rough work of art existing solely on social media is like a clip of German Expressionist cinema getting leaked onto the local evening news.
8. Cowlick Comics (ongoing), edited by Floyd Tangeman (Deadcrow)
The great Italian comics critic Gabriele Di Fazio described what Tangeman does with his anthologies in this way:
...for once we are not dealing with the copy of a copy, whether it’s of Olivier Schrauwen, Jesse Jacobs or Tara Booth. The feeling is that [these artists] have more to do than stay home reading the latest comic from Fantagraphics. And from these pages it comes exactly this, an incredible and unstoppable and irresistible urge to DO.
I run a company called Domino Books that tries to put many different visions of what cartooning can be in one place, in the hopes that all these different voices will destroy any coherent sense of rules that comics are supposed to live by. Comics are a form that can approach the idea 'art made by all' better than other kinds of art, but so rarely take this idea to heart. These anthologies do take such a notion to heart. They are essential publications to read if you feel your faith in comics dying, as there are dozens and dozens of artists in these pages that have already left you behind as you struggle to tell yourself you actually do like a copy of a copy.
9. Glaeolia 3, edited by Emuh Ruh & zhuchka (Glacier Bay)
I don't know how this publisher puts these anthologies together, but they are really doing English-speaking readers a great service by bringing together a wide section of highly beautiful alternative manga and printing it with real care.
10. Nightcore Energy by Morgan Vogel (Organ Bank)
This originally came out on 2019(?) and now the artist Pris Genet has re-published it. I've written about Morgan previously in these pages, but at that time it was all but impossible to direct unfamiliar readers to her work. I am extremely grateful to Genet for making this work available again, an unambiguously good thing to happen in 2022.
Richie Vegas Comics (ongoing) by Richard Alexander (self-published)
No one makes comics quite like this, I need to sit down and read this (now close to 1,000-page) saga before writing more about it, but I encourage everyone to take a closer look at this very unique cartoonist.
* * *
There were a lot of great books released in 2022, and it feels like creators are figuring out the work-life-pandemic balance and putting some Hall of Fame-caliber comics out there on a regular basis, and I love to see that. Here's a partial list of favorites from the past 12 months.
Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly) is topping all of the year-end lists, and with good reason. I'll let others weigh in on that, as well as Love and Rockets: The First Fifty by Los Bros Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books).
All Your Racial Problems Will Soon End: The Cartoons of Charles Johnson by Charles Johnson (New York Review Comics) was a revelation. I have a real soft spot for those collections that show up completely out of nowhere to shine a spotlight on a little-known or completely forgotten creator, and this one is terrific.
In that vein, Maverix and Lunatix: Icons of Underground Comix by Drew Friedman (Fantagraphics Books) is already an essential text. Yes, you get Friedman's incredible illustrations, yes, you get all the usual suspects like Crumb and Rodriguez and Robbins, but Friedman takes a deep dive into underground history and covers the lesser-known creators, publishers, and weirdos who made the movement what it was. And is. A living, breathing history from a creator who's been making such great artwork for such a long time that I hope nobody's going to take him and this book for granted.
Chivalry by Neil Gaiman, Colleen Doran & Todd Klein (Dark Horse) is a beautiful, beautiful book. I was privileged to curate an exhibition of Doran's original artwork for Chivalry at the Cartoon Art Museum earlier this year, and I really hope everyone manages to see her paintings in person if they're able to do so when the Society of Illustrators in New York hosts their Colleen Doran retrospective next year. The story's sweet, too.
Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser & Robyn Smith, with Bex Glendining & Kazimir Lee (Chronicle Books), was a sweet day-in-the-life comic, and I want to see more comics from Rowser and Smith, separately and together.
The Human Target by Tom King, Greg Smallwood & Clayton Cowles (DC Comics) reminds me that there's nothing like watching a smart, suspenseful mystery play out one installment at a time during its original serial release. Not surprised at all that I'm enjoying King's writing, but Greg Smallwood just came out of nowhere and made this one of the most striking DC books in recent memory.
The Last Mechanical Monster by Brian Fies (Abrams) was a standout webcomic, and I'm glad to see it in a really sharp print edition. If only all Superman-inspired comics could be this fun and inventive.
* * *
Some of the Best
Graphic Novels I Read in 2022
Featuring Queer Women
Flung Out of Space, by Grace Ellis & Hannah Templer (Abrams ComicArts)
Authors are some of the coolest people I know, so I’m always excited to come across a new author biography. (Especially when they’re about queer women. Especially especially when they’re queer women who are also comics authors. Especially especially especially when they’re in comics format!) Patricia Highsmith was extraordinarily cool, and Grace Ellis & Hannah Templer do a fantastic job depicting her life as an author - and her struggles to be the kind of author she wanted, and to live the kind of life she wanted.
(This book also contains a cameo from Stan Lee, if you like that sort of thing.)
The Real Riley Mayes, by Rachel Elliott (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)
You know how when you’re a kid and you’re queer and it’s really awkward and you don’t know what to do or how to behave? This book is that, right in your face all the time, as Riley figures out she likes girls, doesn’t know how to talk about it, and then ends up (accidentally) telling absolutely everyone. Luckily, with the help of some sleepover Pictionary, letters from a celebrity comedian, and good friends, everything turns out less stressful than expected.
Wash Day Diaries, by Jamila Rowser & Robyn Smith (Chronicle Books)
Jamila Rowser’s & Robyn Smith’s gorgeous, thoughtful book depicts a day in the life of four Black women - with stories that orbit around hair, but also romance, family, and friendship.
The character Cookie’s story in particular has some great intergenerational conversation (and long-awaited grandmotherly acceptance for her queerness). I love how this story shows a road from homophobia to understanding.
Still Sick, by Akashi (Tokyopop, translated by Katie Kimura)
This graphic novel is SO cute. So, so cute. Also it’s about what to do when your coworker discovers your side-career making very, very, very gay fancomics.
(The answer is: fall in love, and support her own comics-creating dreams.)
Thieves, by Lucie Bryon (Nobrow)
The premise of this book is, what do you do if you have a crush on a girl and get extremely drunk at a party at her house and then wake up at home to find out you’ve stolen some of her things? Many hijinks ensue from there (including friends, childhood bullies, and tutoring), and they’re all delightful.
The characters’ ears are especially good (all of Lucie Bryon’s art is lovely and adorable). Also there’s a heist. And they ride on a bicycle together.
Mamo, by Sas Milledge (BOOM!)
Sas Milledge’s art is absolutely fantastic!
This book is a story about coming home to figure out the best place to belong - and finding potentially sinister magic seeping into everything that it’s somehow your responsibility to resolve, all while dealing with a new friend (and possible crush).
Other Ever Afters, by Melanie Gillman (Random House Graphic)
This book has so many queer women. So, so many.
There are giants, mermaids, knights, princesses, goose girls, foresters - young women and older women, women starting out on quests and women staying home, royalty and tavern maids. It’s just the best, and everyone is drawn in Melanie’s gorgeous colored pencil artwork.
(Disclaimer: I edited this book, and I think Melanie is one of the most amazing cartoonists working today. All their work is fantastic, and you should check it out!)
* * *
Despite trying to keep up with what’s going on outside my little country, I read and write from Italy, and therefore I’m inevitably more in touch with our domestic production. So I thought I could try to do a brief personal list of “cool (not necessarily Italian) comics published in Italy during 2022”, knowing some things are yet to be translated in English (but hoping they’ll soon be!).
To be honest, this year Italians saw and read a lot of cool stuff: long-awaited masterpieces, such as Chris Ware’s Building Stories (Coconino Press/Fandango) and the last chapter of Joann Sfar's and Lewis Trondheim's La Fortezza, aka "Dungeon" (Bao Publishing); the return of great artists such as Manuele Fior with Hypericon (Coconino Press/Fandango) and Paolo Bacilieri, who adapted Giorgio Scerbanenco's noir novel Venere privata (Oblomov Edizioni); and Gipi taking a break from his more serious work and going full mad with the sci-fi divertissement Barbarone (Rulez). These books I did not included in the list - not because I didn’t like them, or because I don’t think they’re relevant (ça va sans dire), but maybe they’re in a way less surprising? For me, at least.
I also excluded a priori the comics I published myself, because it sounded too much like conflict of interest, but I’m nonetheless very proud of each of them and think they’d deserve at least a shoutout. So thank you Sara Garagnani, Linnea Sterte and M.S. Harkness for being the first blocks of an imprint I’m so happy to see growing every day!
With that said, here we go. In no particular order:
Keeping Two by Jordan Crane (Oblomov Edizioni; in English from Fantagraphics)
Such a great book! This visually stunning exploration of loss and the hysteria generated by the fear and anxiety of potential loss was, I think, one of the best things that happened to graphic novels this year. I understand Lane Yates' criticisms of the book–and I’d direct you to their very interesting critique–but I don’t quite share it, especially when it comes to the formal aspects of the book: its way of intertwining reality, hallucinations, fiction-within-fiction, regrets and (dark) desires. So elegant and on-point, so unapologetic in its seemingly (but just seemingly) basic use of the language, which conveys layered meaning without turning into a mannerist exercise.
Anche le cose hanno bisogno by Eliana Albertini (Rizzoli Lizard)
As a narrator of the provincia–that particular anthropologic and urbanistic state of being which is not city nor rural countryside–the author already proved her worth in her previous book, Malibu. But this one is just on another level.
Agnese, the protagonist, obsessively collects broken things. Actually, “obsessively” and “collects” are not the proper terms: she takes care of them. Hence the title of the book, which would roughly translate to something like “Even Things Need”. They don’t need this or that, they just need. Even though they are things. There’s this non-anthropomorphic humanizing feel in the way Agnese take care of broken things that’s simply moving. It’s a book that reminds me that everything needs. Even things. (Which implies: not just things.)
Eldorado by Tobias Tycho Schalken (Coconino Press/Fandango) & 2120 by George Wylesol (Coconino Press/Fandango; in English from Avery Hill Publishing)
Coconino Press has undergone a rebirth of sorts this year. And that’s partly because of a new sub-imprint called Brick, directed by former editor-in-chief Francesco D'Erminio, aka Ratigher. Paraphrasing the publisher: Brick’s books are meant to be metaphorical bricks thrown to the readers (in honor of the more literal bricks Ignatz throws at Krazy Kat). And let us have more bricks-in-the-face like these!
Eldorado, by Dutch artist Tobias Tycho Schalken, is a collection of short stories, photos, artistic instalments, and metaphysical reasonings. A book that looks like a conceptual artbook itself and reads like one of the most interesting, lateral and thought/emotion-provoking pieces on the ending of all things, on the meaning of it all.
2120 is a choose-your-own-adventure visual treat about a computer technician sent into a seemingly empty building from which escape feels impossible. The reader's convoluted navigation through the pages mimics the growing frustration of the protagonist, stuck inside a backroom - a liminal space that is, and at the same time isn’t. The book has this delicious hauntology vibe, this decadent vaporwave-meets-low key cyberpunk aesthetic, and it plays like a janky LucasArts point-and-click adventure... to which it can be equally frustrating, adding to the overall experience!
If Coconino’s Brick intends to show us what comics are, or can become, this is the right way.
Il grande vuoto by Léa Murawiec (Comicon Edizioni; forthcoming in English from Drawn & Quarterly)
I was particularly excited when Muraweic’s book was translated. Partly because it’s the first book by French publisher Éditions 2024 to be translated in Italian. (If we exclude Tom Gauld’s masterpiece Mooncop, which I think came out from Drawn & Quarterly first anyway.) And Éditions 2024 is a great, great publisher. Check it out! But I was also excited because Il grande vuoto, original title "Le grand vide", is a great book.
Visually stunning, with images strong enough to jump off the paper, Murawiec's debut(!!!) is the tale of a girl living in a world where notoriety literally means survival: your life expectancy is dependent on how many people know your name and think of you. As a reflection on societal narcissism with a touch of social network critique, it’s not exactly something new. But Murawiec takes the lesson of something like Andrew Niccol’s film In Time or Black Mirror’s start-of-the-decline episode "Nosedive" and simply… does it better.
Il grande vuoto reads amazing, is visually incredible, and is coherent in its worldbuilding and character development to a fault. Lastly, shout out to Comicon Edizioni for doing it the proper way: hardcover, and big as the original.
La tempesta by Marino Neri (Oblomov Edizioni)
I've always felt that comics, especially in their graphic novel form, have a problem with brevity. A lot of graphic novels lack the density and complexity of a novel, so they read more like diluted short stories that lack the clarity of scope that should characterize them. Marino Neri’s La tempesta nails it. It’s not a novel; it doesn’t try to be. We see characters we know little to nothing about at a pivotal moment of their lives - we see them change over one stormy night, and then we move on. It’s a strong, almost archetypal story that knows the power of the fragment and knows not to waste time and space to appear (but just to appear) more complex.
Flannery O’Connor defines a short story as a complete dramatic action, in which characters unveil themselves through the action itself. In this sense, La tempesta is a proper short story, one that draws strength from the unseen and the unspoken. A story to read and read again, to derive a meaning so clean and powerful, yet so elusive. A stunning book that shows us what the usual 140-something page graphic novel can be when it stops trying to be a novel.
Cervello di gallina by Silvia Righetti (Coconino Press/Fandango)
It’s kind of rare, at least in Italy, to see a debut work from a young author that deviates from the much more common autobiographical or autofiction, reality-based story. Silvia Righetti instead tells the story of an inventor who tries to connect to the mind of a chicken in order to communicate with aliens, and of his sister who is left to deal with this mess of an obsessive brother alongside a boyfriend probably dead in the bunker where he sheltered himself in fear of said aliens.
It’s a book about paranoia and conspiracies, about losing touch with reality, about ambition and… a lot of other stuff. A book that could’ve been a nightmare to read (given its complex and claustrophobic layout) and instead flows marvelously; a book that feels a bit like David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, and a bit like Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen.
Eternity Vol. 1 by Alessandro Bilotta, Sergio Gerasi & Adele Matera (Sergio Bonelli Editore)
It’s no surprise that Alessandro Bilotta is probably the most interesting of Bonelli’s writers. But this first volume of Eternity still exceeds expectations in every possible way. With the drawings of Sergio Gerasi and hard-to-believe colors by Adele Matera, this book is something like Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, but with no restraint.
Alceste Santacroce, a proper dandy, is a gossip journalist in a Rome so stylish you’d wish it existed. Through his shamelessly elegant and unapologetic lifestyle, and the series of encounters that follow, we witness a metacommentary on nihilism, on the thirst for meaning, on narcissism, on vengeance and retribution. It’s just the beginning of what I hope to be a long and fruitful series, but it’s a jaw-dropping beginning, with some of the most interesting sequences in terms of layout and reading flux I’ve seen in a while. Which is doubly surprising given Bonelli’s reputation as one of the most “aesthetically conservative” publishers out there.
* * *
Following is a baker’s dozen of personal faves from 2022. For me, it’s been a year marked by long-awaited works from revered creators: Doucet, Crane, Beaton, Woodring. Known alt-comix publishers, especially Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics, have drawn my attention - though certain small-press and self-published works have grabbed me too. While I’ve binged on a few series from DC and Marvel via their respective apps (late-night reading, with blurry eyes), none of those stand out as faves. Likewise, I’ve followed a few direct market serials, but only one leaps out as a keeper (see below). Frankly, I’m surprised that my list does not include any graphic novels aimed at children or young adults - something of a specialty of mine, but one I’ve sadly lost touch with lately. I’m also sheepish about the near lack of manga and total lack of webtoons here.
For sure, I’ve missed a lot of good stuff this year. This very week, just before my deadline for this piece, I hit up some of Los Angeles’ best book and comic shops and discovered a stunning bonanza of titles from 2022 that I ache to read. I took a lot of notes and photos. The sheer profusion of interesting comics on offer is intimidating. I often tell my students that “comics doesn’t sit still,” that I have a hard time keeping up, and that that is a good thing. Yes. But I feel a bit avalanched under this year - which means I feel an odd mix of delight and frustration. What I have been able to read in 2022 has been a gift.
Since I tend to binge on recent comics during the intersessions (I’m an academic), I expect that in a couple of weeks I’ll have a much longer list of faves from this past year. That’s how it goes. In the meantime, here’s that baker’s dozen:
Big Gorgeous Jazz Machine, by Nick Francis Potter (Driftwood Press). I greatly enjoy this collection of abstract, semi-abstract, and lyrical strips. The dozen works gathered here are disarmingly accessible - not so much hermetic headscratchers as invitations to engage. Many (not all) use the repetitiveness of regular grids to good effect; many (not all) scatter words and letters across their panels, discombobulating language more artfully than most comics do. The results are playful and disorienting, and usually yield some kind of synapse-crossing “Aha!” when I put in the effort. The book is an aesthetic delight: Some of the strips/poems are penciled only, while others boast vigorous colors (ink, crayon, paint). Some are simply about morphing shapes, while others are bursts of lyric, tending toward the observational and/or impish. “After the President”, an ironic “inauguration poem” conceived in 2016, is barbed and scary, a fevered political nightmare. Potter cites experimental cartoonists like Warren Craghead, Aidan Koch, and Simon Moreton as kindred spirits; Philip Guston is in the mix too, and at times I was reminded of Marc Bell (though I wouldn’t presume to say that he was an influence). To ask whether this is a book of comics or a book of poetry would be to miss the pleasure of mixing the two. From now on, I’ll follow Potter wherever.
Birds of Maine, by Michael DeForge (Drawn & Quarterly). This book collects DeForge’s webcomic, which I had missed. In this absurdist utopian satire, birds from Earth have settled in a colony on the moon, where they maintain their own complex society and technoculture while also, sometimes, researching the culture of humankind (which tends to appear stupid and sad by comparison). The arrival of a human astronaut seems to promise big changes, but no, the birds carry on in their own way, while DeForge takes whimsical narrative detours, chasing seemingly tossed-off ideas into profound territory. Spiky and minimalist art, sharp, flat colors, and an unvarying structure (each page is a separate strip, identically laid out) gradually build a thought-provoking secondary world that argues with our own. All this is dryly humorous, but then again queerly lovable, and mostly avoids the obvious in favor of the unexpected. I’ve never read another comic like it.
Career Shoplifter, by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized Books). A funny and affecting booklet about life in cafés, this mixes Bell’s observational autographic strips—about overhearing, spying on, or sometimes interacting with other café patrons—with beautiful spot drawings of such folks. Bell’s sharp eyes and unerring sensitivity imbue these mini-portraits with life, while her fretful, quietly desperate persona adds hilarious, but then again poignant, overtones. Occasional dreams or other nervous digressions punctuate these strips, but mainly this is about hanging out, maybe judging, maybe not, and sometimes just feeling awkward. The drawings comprise a terrific gallery of types, precisely rendered in Bell’s rumpled, unkempt, but in fact staggeringly accomplished style. I’ve spent many hours in cafés, mostly grading papers and watching other people write, read, scheme, and schmooze - Bell nails the odd intimacy, yet anonymity, of those places. Career Shoplifter reminds me of how guilty, yet entranced, I sometimes feel when riding shotgun on other people’s reveries or conversations. A weird gem.
Ducks, by Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly). Of course - this book is downright heroic! An autographic rendering of Beaton’s two years working in Canada’s oil sands, Ducks walks a wire between firsthand memoir and political indictment. It’s a tremendous leap for Beaton in terms of scope and ambition, demanding a huge range of individual likenesses and settings and a keen, selective eye for the telling detail. The book conveys both a melancholic longing for Beaton’s home (Cape Breton, here a focus of diasporic nostalgia) and a furious recognition of the inhumanity, especially the ambient misogyny, of the oil industry: one fueled by a rapacious, untrammeled capitalism that tears people from their social moorings in the name of profit and opportunity. This workplace culture clearly taught Beaton a great deal but also enraged and wounded her. Sad, often infuriating, sometimes wrenching, Ducks is miraculously funny too, with flavorful dialogue, wry absurdities, and stinging ironies. Beaton cartoons brilliantly, and works mightily to communicate a complex reality. The final scene is understated and ends in mid-air, but in context hits like a hammer. The book’s many passing characters and social subtleties practically beg for a rereading.
"I’m a Cop": Real-Life Horror Comics, by Johnny Damm (self-published). More comics poetry. Dreamlike and confounding, this booklet mashes up received materials in an unnerving way. Damm détourns images and layouts culled from pre-Code comics, giving them vague black-and-white photo backgrounds; then, crucially, he anchors the resulting pages with appalling quotations from current or recent police union leaders. Those statements, in their matter-of-fact authoritarianism and embrace of violence, freeze the blood. Damm’s combinatorial work recontextualizes and reactivates familiar genre tropes and twice-seen images; the results have a needling urgency. At once politically necessary and formally cool, "I’m a Cop" offers visual poetry with teeth. I’m teaching this next semester.
Joseph Smith and the Mormons, by Noah Van Sciver (Abrams). Treading the proverbial knife’s edge between sympathy and judgment, this graphic biography is a remarkable feat of dispassion, insinuation, and, above all, aggrieved tenderness. Van Sciver’s own childhood history with the Church of Latter-day Saints seems to animate this project, but the result is neither a saint’s life nor a polemic. Avoiding intrusive narration, Van Sciver lets us draw our own conclusions. At times, I sympathized; at times, I fretted or raged. I would call the book a debunking, but that isn’t accurate; it’s more of a demystifying (while still granting space to mystery). The story it tells is morally confounding, and in that sense challenging; its quiet epilogue slays me. Beautifully drawn, this is the best book yet from a great and underrated cartoonist.
Keeping Two, by Jordan Crane (Fantagraphics). A single evening’s story, disarmingly intimate, about invasive thoughts and anxious fantasies that coalesce into a few frightful hours of imagined losses and real terror. A young couple, home from travel, exhausted and tense, in love but also at odds with each other, experiences a night of emotional turbulence - even though, outwardly, nothing seems to happen (at first). Classical and restrained, governed by certain firm house rules, this graphic novel nonetheless overflows with tenderness, harrowing suspense, and gorgeous design and drawing. The color green has never looked so versatile. I’ve read chapters of this story over the years, but what a gift it is to have all the story gathered into one volume, at last. The story’s home stretch makes my pulse race, and, overall, the book wrings me out like a rag. That’s what I call a real reading experience. I taught Keeping Two this past semester, and I’m teaching it again in the spring.
One Beautiful Spring Day, by Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics). Improbably, Woodring has expanded three existing books in his Frank series, reshaping them into one sprawling epic that feels different. This shouldn’t work: famously, the wordless Frank yarns come to Woodring semi-automatically, and past efforts to discipline that particular muse haven’t worked out well for him. But One Beautiful Spring Day, a 400-page pantomime full of callbacks and narrative recursions, somehow reconciles automatism and craft beautifully, and makes old work feel new. I sat down with this one on Boxing Day and re-gifted it to myself. I chuckled, I guffawed at times, and, then again, I blanched with horror, repulsed by the offhand violence and continual suffering of Frank and his fellow critters. It was all so pleasurable - and I felt sort of guilty for the pleasure I took. The book is cruelly hilarious: such terrors for Frank and company; such anguish and confusion. Woodring’s drawing is, as ever, hypnotic and splendid, full of staring eyeballs, dream architecture, and blessedly ugly creatures. The terrors and shocks come like Satori moments, piercing and transformative, but are followed by, of course, more passages of blind stumbling and obtuseness, since Frank does not know what the hell he is doing or why it matters. Glory! I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about Woodring lately, so this book really does feel like a gift.
Sea of Time #1, by T Edward Bak (Floating World Comics). I can’t tell whether this is a continuation, companion, or sequel to Bak’s Island of Memory, a nearly decade-old (2013) graphic novella with the same subject: Georg Steller, the 18th-century German naturalist who traveled under the aegis of the Russian Empire and explored Alaska and Kamchatka. Bak has been obsessed with Steller for years, and has long promised a complete graphic biography of him under the title Wild Man. He has referred to Sea of Time as the second volume of Wild Man, but also as “the serialized graphic novel follow-up to Island of Memory.” I don’t get how the two books fit together, or what is supposed to come next. What I do know is that both books are lovely, and that, taken by itself, Sea of Time is hermetic and hard to parse, but stunningly beautiful and transporting. I’m glad that more Sea of Time is promised, because no one else is doing quite what Bak is doing at the intersection of comics, history, and the natural sciences. He treats comics as a way to feed his knowledge of the natural world yet is likewise alert to the political and cultural snares inherent in his subject matter, especially the fraught interchange between imperial and Indigenous ways of knowing. Bak’s sharp, rugged style somewhat evokes the woodcut technique of early Russian lubki, which could be either an apt or ironic framing of the imperial adventurism that underlies Steller’s story. In any case, Bak’s art is getting lovelier, and his graphic worldmaking is something to behold. At only 24 pages, this booklet makes me impatient to see more!
Step by Bloody Step, by Si Spurrier, Matías Bergara & Matheus Lopes (Image Comics). More wordless storytelling. This was my craftalicious DM serial of early 2022: a mute fable about the wanderings of a ragged, vulnerable child and her huge, armored guardian in a cruel and colorful fantasy world. Graphically lovely, it has pages worth putting the brakes on for - or, more to the point, worth rereading and gawking at. The story is ambitious, meaning that it attempts some very complicated plotting despite its wordlessness. Family, growing up, desire, and regret are involved. War and slaughter too. There is dialogue, in the form of teasing hieroglyphs that read as asemic to me but may be code. Does it all work? I can’t be sure. In the home stretch, the tale twists and gets harder for me to follow; the plot impels me to replay and reconsider what has come before. The ending bewilders, a bit, though in that intriguing way that makes me glad for the experience. The drawings, by Bergara, and the coloring, by Lopes, stun.
The Stoneware Jug, by Stefan Lorenzutti & John Porcellino (co-published by Nieves, Bored Wolves, and Spit and a Half). Poetry again! I’m always gladdened by a new dose of John P., and this year has brought three: the latest issue of his enduring King-Cat (#81); then The Collected Prairie Pothole (from Uncivilized Books), a gathering of his short Midwestern memory strips; and, most recently, this beautifully spare 24-page booklet made up of collaborations with the Poland-based poet and micro-press publisher Stefan Lorenzutti. It marks an unusual publishing collaboration between Porcellino, based in Illinois; Nieves, a micro-press out of Zurich; and Lorenzutti’s Bored Wolves, more or less based in Kraków. Consisting of 13 of Lorenzutti’s short poems, adapted into comics by John P., The Stoneware Jug is plainspoken, lyrical, and lovely. Poet and cartoonist are the proverbial match made in heaven. The resulting visual poetry, observant, wry, and epiphanic, hits close to home. The sheer emptiness and quiet of the pages amaze me. This feels like art for cool gray days, or biting cold nights, but it’s full of life, and I could read it over and over with pleasure. In fact, I have.
Talk to My Back, by Yamada Murasaki (Drawn & Quarterly, translated by Ryan Holmberg). Serialized in the now-legendary Garo between 1981 and 1984, this manga captures the mature style of Yamada, a mix of airy minimalism and unerring observation. The stories, or episodes, concern motherhood and marriage - more to the point, the struggle to reclaim a self within an institution that is patriarchal, hopelessly idealized, and suffocating. These were radical comics despite, or rather because of, their unvarying domesticity, visual understatement, and minute evocation of everyday things. They remain pointed and convincing, startling in their frankness, and beautiful. Yamada writes complexly about relationships; she has much to say about the naïve expectations men and women have of each other and the crushing unevenness of responsibilities within marriage. She also has a sharp eye for the complex tenderness between parents and children, the ethics of parenting, and the heavy toll that intensive parenting can take. Talk to My Back is about “waking from the dream” - I’d say about claiming a kind of freedom. Yamada claims her own freedom with pages so spare that they border on emptiness; physical settings are merely gestured at, and faces often disappear. But the cartooning is sharp. This is a wonderful volume of manga and manga history, superbly rendered into English and contextualized by translator-essayist Ryan Holmberg.
Time Zone J, by Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly). A dizzying experiment in form, bookness, and autobiographic presence - in fact, a genuinely new approach to autobiographical comics, in the form of one continuous drawing, folded and bound into a nonstop canvas that we can never see all at once. Doucet’s drawn avatar multiplies on the page(s), reminding us that memory takes place in the here and now. Past and present blur, confounding any straightforward reading. The pages read peculiarly, defying standard directionality and demanding a very self-conscious kind of navigation. The paraphrasable content of the story, romantic and desperate, says less to me than the way the book’s format defamiliarizes the reading experience - but of course that has everything to do with the story too. On top of everything else, this is a great feast of drawing, teeming with particularized portraits of diverse women, overlapping, vivid, and charged with life. This book, which fairly bent my head, fulfills one of the maxims I like to repeat in my classes: comics is about making reading strange again.
* * *
*Olympia (Fantagraphics, translated by Montana Kane)
The story from The Grande Odalisque by Jérôme Mulot, Florent Ruppert and Bastien Vivès continues into what Netflix would call Season Two if it had signed Adèle Exarchopoulos to play high-strung heartbroken thief Alex for a sexy Francophone binge watch, Luc Besson's lewd lesbian Lupin. Horny criminals doing horny crime on a horny continent means horny comics.
*Project MK-Ultra: Sex, Drugs & the CIA Vols. 1 and 2 (Clover Press)
Based to some degree on a film script by others but turned firmly into a comic by writer/artist Stewart K. Moore. Political comics don't have to look like photocopied modernism Sellotaped to the walls of a basement; this one is lush bulbous chromatics and Jack Davis caricature and Spike Milligan absurdity at the rotten heart of the American century.
*Graveneye (TKO Studios)
Sloane Leong's 2017 comic A Hollowing was Gothic horror wielding a scalpel. Graveneye, written by Leong and drawn by Anna Bowles, is Gothic horror wielding a wood chisel.
*Kris Kool (Passenger Press, translated by Clara Longhi) and Doctor Strange: Fall Sunrise (Marvel)
Caza's 1970 psychedelic trip, reissued for our moment of total subjectivity and culture war and environmental collapse. Art piling on visual resonances and amplifiers of consciousness; art saying that another world is possible, not by trying to draw one, but by summoning up the principle in a reader's mind. Doctor Strange: Fall Sunrise materializes in 2022 as if called forth in response, Tradd Moore (colored by Heather Moore) seeing how a Caza covers band sounds; still a great tune, but the original has the soul.
*Cosmic Comics 2nd Edition (Hibernia Comics, by arrangement with Rebellion)
A Kevin O'Neill miscellany, published before his death but including first-person commentary from the artist that adds to his legacy now. The best perspective on O'Neill's art is through things like the humor strip "Captain Klep" in Tornado, and the fact that, having put a graphic decapitation image on a fanzine cover for Dez Skinn in 1973, he reused the idea on a commercial magazine in 1976 and got into trouble long before the Comics Code Authority, or practically anyone else, knew who he was.
*Gutter Hunter #2 (self-published)
The movie streaming platform MUBI publishes a magazine of film criticism that costs £30 for two issues, presents material such as the travel diaries of Michelangelo Antonioni, and is so flamboyant in physical presentation that there are unboxing videos with people cooing on the soundtrack. Robin Bougie's Gutter Hunter is designed to mimic a comics fanzine–is a comics fanzine–and has the air of something you should smuggle into the house, with appreciations for things like the cover art of Amputee Love #1. One of these ventures in arts criticism has more honor than the other.
*The Legacy of Luther Arkwright (Jonathan Cape, forthcoming from Dark Horse Books)
Bryan Talbot's Luther Arkwright stories have appeared at widely spaced intervals over several decades and reflected the mood of the British Left at each moment in time. So the new one is deeply pessimistic and conflicted and suspicious of everything and not sure what to do about it.
*UFO Comic Anthology Vol. Two (Anderson Entertainment)
Being in practice 200-odd pages of art by John Burns (John M. Burns at the time) from the UK's TV Action/Countdown title circa 1972. Lowered into Britain's comics archive on ropes, the Gerry Anderson company emerges with one of its many licensed strips republished as a hefty hardback that manages not to put its contents on a pedestal, despite a price tag that could have bought a package holiday in 1972. Burns' figure work and choreography has remained almost unchanged and is instantly recognizable, even in the panels where he might have been drawing it on the bus - a rock-solid compliment.
* * *
This isn't so much a "Best of 2022" as a gathering of some brief thoughts about the past year.
In fact, it feels a little perverse to write a "Best of 2022" when it was a year in which I wrote an awful lot–far too much–about death. Justin Green died on April 23rd, which was a shock, even though I knew he was ill. To me, he was the greatest of the UG comic artists, the one whose work genuinely moved me the most. Then Simon Deitch on June 21st. Around that time I began hearing word that Diane Noomin was not doing well, which saddened me greatly. I loved her work and she had always been so nice to me the few times that we had met. When she died on September 1st, cruel was the word that came to mind. And then I heard the news that Aline Kominsky-Crumb was also sick, and it was impossible to believe that she would soon be next. But she was, and Aline died on November 29th.
At some point, between writing obituaries and memorial pieces about Diane and Aline, I received a copy of Drew Friedman's wonderful Maverix and Lunatix: Icons of Underground Comix (Fantagraphics) in which he delivers dignified portraits and brief bios of those four artists and many more (101 in total). I wrote extensively about the book–my favorite of Friedman's portrait series–here. You can also learn more about those same artists and their UG contemporaries in Brian Doherty's history of the time, Dirty Pictures: How an Underground Network of Nerds, Feminists, Misfits, Geniuses, Bikers, Potheads, Printers, Intellectuals, and Art School Rebels Revolutionized Art and Invented Comix (Abrams Books). My thoughts about that book–and my conversations with the author–can be found here.
And while much of my comics-related reading consisted of work by and about those I was writing obituaries for and compiling tributes about, not all of it was. My favorite book of the year, comics or otherwise, remains Jim Woodring's masterful One Beautiful Spring Spring Day (Fantagraphics), which I gushed–and asked Jim a million questions–about in this longish piece.
By far, the heaviest book(s) I received this year was Love and Rockets: The First Fifty (Fantagraphics), an ultra-handsome boxed set which weighs just under 30 pounds. It has been a joy to go back and re-read these stories in chronological order in the way I first discovered them. I haven't even come close to getting through this gift, but I know it will bring pleasure for many more years.
My biggest surprise of the year, by far, was Norwegian cartoonist Jason's Upside Dawn (Fantagraphics), which finds him working at his sharpest, cleanest and most Surreal. I greatly enjoyed these stories and maybe will write about them down the road.
A few other things that I liked very much in 2022 include:
Joseph Smith and the Mormons (Abrams Books) by Noah Van Sciver
Who Will Make the Pancakes (Fantagraphics) by Megan Kelso
Clutter: A Scatterbrained Sexual Assault Memoir (Fieldmouse Press) by Ariel Bordeaux
Ed Piskor's continuing Red Room series (Fantagraphics)
The (thankfully) ongoing existence of the Bubbles zine by Brian Baynes.
And while it won't be released for a while, I did get a chance to read Kayla E.'s extraordinary and painful collection, Precious Rubbish (Fantagraphics), which is sure to top many "Best of" lists when collected in 2024.
* * *
Acid Nun by Corinne Halbert (Silver Sprocket, 128 pages, color): A psychedelic, erotic and violent descent into Halbert’s id with Eleanor (a she-devil with retractable fangs), Annie (our beloved nun) and Baphomet. While exploring some wild trauma and grief, the tone of this book gratifyingly remains fun and energetic. Perfectly satisfies fans of the occult, tarot, and tits.
The Archway by Emma Jon-Michael Frank & Patrick Kyle (self-published, 102 pages, black and white): The story of absurd happenings on either side of a wall as a girl and two thieves struggle with their own separate worries and emotional voyages. It’s silly, sweet and heartbreaking, and despite the unusual process for the book (both artists working separately on what became facing pages) really hangs together as a joy to look at. I’d love to see more collaborative projects like this from other artists, it’s nice.
Dear, (A Superhero Comic Book) by Ina Parsons (self-published, 6 pages, color): Parson’s series of Superhero Comic Books (there’s at least 5 at the time of this writing) read like funny clues for a sad mystery you will never solve. The books are excruciatingly assembled cardstock on little cardboard planks, tiny and irresistible, not overdone, just worthy of the work inside.
The Devil’s Grin #2 by Alex Graham (self-published, 62 pages, black & white): Hail Satan for Alex Graham, the choice to not only have the issues of this comic double the length of your average publication, but also features a recap of #1 on the inside cover: life-saving. We continue our journey with Robert, living the lousy unkempt life of a poet; stories made of paranoia, hallucinations and our dicey relationships with the other people in the apartment building. Graham definitely adds to the roster of cartoonists resurrecting the legacy of American underground comics, I was such an idiot to think it had gone away.
Fondant #3 by J. Webster Sharp (self-published, 24 pages, black & white): While you may try to avoid eye contact with Sharp’s unnerving, grotesque, decadent drawings - the pages will look back at you, there is no escape. These silent comics have an insanely high level of draftsmanship and look as if they were a pleasure to draw; Sharp remains a heart-stopping master of texture. Plenty of body modification and exciting fashion lies within these pages that, I cannot begin to stress, are not for everyone.
Give My Best to Your Kind, Part One: I’m Sympathetic to Your Situation, Friend! by Frances Cordelia Beaver (self-published, 109 pages, black & white): The story of a creature declaring itself the first human; other animals feel a bit skeptical. Beaver’s characters remain as adorable as any Powerpuff Girl (this is the follow-up to her lovable debut graphic novel, On a Cute One), revealing mundane, amusing and painful moments, always with a tender touch. The illustrations are exclusively in a Prismacolor Ebony pencil that Beaver is working for every ounce of mark-making capability: smudging, smearing, shading. There’s a sequence where the creature lies down in the shallows and pulls the ocean water over themselves like a blanket, my eyes are welling up with tears just thinking of it.
Heaven #3 by Katie Skelly (self-published, 12 pages, color): This ongoing story of teen girls and a haunted strip club really allows Skelly to make the sexy, stupid, over-the-top action I know she’s capable of. This reads like a drive-in movie you’re not sure you should be watching, but you get more popcorn anyway. The closing sequence of this issue makes me sick.
Late Harvest by Noel Freibert, with Leomi Sadler (self-published, 20 pages, black & white): This zine is too much fun! Freibert made two stories using a nice cast of Sadler’s character designs, including the lovable ‘Mr Birthday Cake’. “Mommy Knows Best” covers the too-little-discussed anguish of a reaper hoping to avoid assignment to reaping inanimate objects or plants. “Furniture As Family” is a delightful continuation of the reaper narrative, featuring one of the great joys of the illustration world: inanimate objects with absolutely outstanding big naturals. *This was originally construed as a secret bootleg zine, this review was written with permission of the artist.
Romantic 3-D Sci-Fi Nightmare Goes to War #2 by Brad McGinty (Glorp Gum, 28 pages, color): This brilliant parody of midcentury American comics features (as promised on the cover) romance, 3D sci-fi, horror and “war stuff”. Dr. Derusto can’t stop going to bad 3D movies, can’t stop crying, but can she find a date? Who truly benefits from the intergalactic war between aliens and dinosaurs? Many questions lie in these pages, most of which are answered by chewing gum. Even re-reads had me laughing until I was dehydrated.
Santos Sisters #2 by Greg & Fake (American Nature Comics, 32 pages, color): Is this level of enchantment sustainable? Ambar and Alana are back, trying to go to the movies or out for cocktails in their Archie-styled world, only to find repeated interruption by bad guys only they can vanquish. As in #1, the stories are so gag-saturated, you have to make a second or third pass to find all of the references - the understanding of which are not necessary to enjoy the comic, but it’s a nice touch and probably way too much work.
Sauve-Qui-Peut Comics by Sophie Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb & R. Crumb (David Zwirner Books, 44 pages, black & white and color): Short autobio story-conversations from our favorite paranoid family. My favorite laffer, “4 Shades of Abortion”, has a terrific panel of Aline and Sophie calculating the number of children they collectively would have if not for their abortions with the caption, “Just what the world needs, an army of us!” Mother and daughter are great together, but there’s also quite a few pages of R. going way too deep into his own psychosis, often with Aline charmingly ignoring him alongside. Almost half of this comic is a reprint of the "Euro Dirty Laundry" comics from 1992, but hey, they’re still good! Sophie and Aline always elevate R. into a more loveable character; it was pleasant to see this title show up with the gang back together, even if this is sadly to be their final heist.
Void Packer by Lale Westvind (self-published, 22 pages, black & white): A collection of short comics, including a silent comic about a mysterious encounter on a late-night drive and a sci-fi story that seems like it could just be the sci-future we’re barreling towards. Good news: there’s lots of lizards! Westvind draws movement like no other - the draftsmanship is through the roof, as always, but the linework really shines in the the driving-in-a-torrential-downpour sequence in “Life & Limb”. It feels like bumping around the cab of an old pickup with no seatbelt; this zine could stand to come with a little Advil snack after all that jostling.
* * *
Mardou’s top ten comics of 2022:
Let There Be Light by Liana Finck (Random House Books)
Finck is such an ingenious storyteller and this book was a fascinating and gleeful reimagining of the Old Testament God(dess)’s impish and darker days.
It Won’t Always Be Like This by Malaka Gharib (Ten Speed Press)
I thought about this book for days after I finished it and its sweet potent power lingered on. It’s a touching memoir of Gharib’s teenage years clashing against her cultures and the intractable love for a stepparent that you can only really figure out as an adult. This book was really amazing to me.
Joseph Smith and the Mormons by Noah Van Sciver (Abrams ComicArts)
This is such an immense and impressive book, depicting the libidinous life of the original Latter-day Saint, Joseph Smith. But more than that, it shows his 19th century followers trying to define their place in the story of Christianity as Americans. Most impressive of all, Van Sciver manages all this without any third-person narration. I mean, come on?! It’s an impressive feat of skill and I ate this book up.
As a Cartoonist by Noah Van Sciver (Fantagraphics)
And then he goes and ruins it all by releasing this funny faux-autobiography in the same damn year. This collection of comics is so great, but please Noah, slow down! You’re making the rest of us feel bad!
Keeping Two by Jordan Crane (Fantagraphics)
This electrifying graphic novel was hypnotic and slippery as the narrative alternates between dark imagination and reality. It left me a little breathless as I raced to the end to find out if the protagonist made it out alive, and was made dizzy too by the spectacular psychedelic visuals. Loved this!
Walk Me to the Corner by Anneli Furmark (Drawn & Quarterly, translated by Hanna Strömberg)
Furmark’s follow-up to Red Winter (which I also loved) is a beautifully drawn, beautifully told story of a middle-aged love implosion. Heartbreaking and human, Furmark is so fantastic.
Who Will Make the Pancakes by Megan Kelso (Fantagraphics)
Kelso is the queen of the long-short comics story, and this quintet showcases the artist at the height of her powers. The complicated dissatisfactions and disappointments of midlife and motherhood are all unfolded here with grace and humanity. So good!
Summer Fires by Giulia Sagramola (Dark Horse, translated by Brahm Revel)
I loved how recognizable this coming of age tale felt, and yet the familiar milestones of school, sex, drugs and friendships backfiring all took place against the unfamiliar terrain of a small hillside town in Italy. It was so cool and fun in its Euro-chic naïveté.
Time Zone J by Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly)
Oh my god, I’m in love with the luscious, inky scramble-mind of Julie Doucet! In Time Zone J, a transatlantic love affair borne of fandom and fascination takes dark and murky turns, but it’s not told like any story I’ve read before. Everything Julie Doucet does has a permanent place on my bookshelf, and this book was glorious.
Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly)
It’s a heavy and slow read recounting the dull days laboring in Canada's oil reserves, but the book is beautifully drawn and Beaton’s depiction of the disassociation of the trauma around sexual assault was haunting and unforgettable.
* * *
Here are 10 comics that I enjoyed immensely in 2022:
Talk to My Back by Yamada Murasaki, translated by Ryan Holmberg (Drawn & Quarterly)
Detention No. 2 by Tim Hensley (Fantagraphics)
Crickets #7-8 by Sammy Harkham (Commonwealth Comics Co. & Secret Headquarters)
Time Zone J by Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly)
Catwoman: Lonely City by Cliff Chiang (DC)
The Projector and Elephant by Martin Vaughn-James (New York Review Comics)
Orochi by Kazuo Umezz, translated by Jocelyne Allen, adapted by Molly Tanzer (VIZ)
Infinite Cuck by Josh Cotter (self-published)
Tongues #5 by Anders Nilsen (self-published)
The Instagram comics of Derek M. Ballard
* * *
In alphabetical order:
"Blood of the Virgin" from Crickets, Sammy Harkham (Commonwealth Comics Co. & Secret Headquarters): On one prominent page in these final chapters of Sammy Harkham's longest study of maybe-inspired people engaging in self-destruction, a theater marquee displays modified titles for auteur 'cult' horror films by Ted V. Mikels (The Corpse Grinders) and Andy Milligan (Torture Dungeon). Harkham's protagonist, Seymour, has been trying to make a horror film throughout the "Blood of the Virgin" serial, and this marquee might be read as a diverging path for him. Mikels leaned firmly into his cult reputation and became a beaming, beloved cliché of a virile no-nonsense genre filmmaker, while Milligan, embittered, remained doggedly on the margins of society, insistent upon himself until his death from AIDS complications. Perhaps Seymour could become like either of these men. Or perhaps he will stay in the middle, between these names, and find something else that is important. Such is the empty promise at the end of the process of making things, where you are left again with just yourself.
Detention No. 2, Tim Hensley (Fantagraphics): I laughed when the piano killed them.
"Kids Rule O.K." & "Bonjo from Beyond the Stars in: Solids in the Bile Tube", Kevin O'Neill, Garth Ennis & Rob Steen (Rebellion): These are, respectively, the last comic drawn by Kevin O'Neill to be published in his lifetime, and the first to be published after his death this past November. They are both Garth Ennis-written short stories from Rebellion anthologies (the standalone Battle Action hardcover and issue #2312 of the venerable 2000 AD), and they are both lamentations for British comics history. "Kids Rule O.K.", named for a Chris Lowder/Mike White 'all the grown-ups died, youth gangs at war' strip in the ill-fated weekly comic Action, juxtaposes scenes from 1976 & 1977 in which the magazine's staff deals with the controversy surrounding an especially rude cover with an imaginary story from inside the magazine: a transfigured "Kids Rule O.K." in which the looming adult-killing pandemic at the center of its premise offers a slim, grim hint of salvation for desperate, murderous street teens hunted and slaughtered by vigilante cops. Which is to say, an Action allowed the adolescence that 2000 AD was made to bear. "Solids in the Bile Tube", meanwhile, sees O'Neill revisit a giant monster character he created for 2000 AD in 1977, drawn here as a sort of avatar for UK children's comics: O'Neill celebrating his Ken Reid/Leo Baxendale roots as big Bonjo bursts loose from the magazine's archives just as alien editor Tharg is about to sell some awful superhero money people on a big crossover. Bonjo is a threat to Tharg because he is childish and silly, and 'nerd' things today all have to comport to the Hollywood idea of how comic book media is supposed to look - but to erase Bonjo is to erase the character of British comics, the young anarchy that is its heritage: that which birthed Kevin O'Neill. Will there ever be another?
Nightcore Energy, Morgan Vogel (Organ Bank): This is a straight reprint of a 24-page horror minicomic from 2019. Your chances of buying it are better now. It is a very straightforward piece of storytelling about a young person whose troubled life is upended by advertisers disguised as therapists. It is the only comic I have read that completely understands the situation of being online in the present day, and how it translates to money and violence in the wider world.
One Beautiful Spring Day, Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics): Given that Woodring composes these comics through a subconscious algebra that dictates their own progression and resolution, this omnibus collection of three preexisting books–which adds the page count equivalent of a fourth totally new book and thereby warps the parameters of the other three so that are, in effect, representing new values–sees him fill the entire blackboard with an eerie and intuitive equation encompassing love, work, disaster, infirmity, abandonment, compassion, and other ideas so big and so intimate that unspeaking cartoon critters are really the best way to get it across, right? I can't believe I got to spend time on this planet while Jim Woodring was drawing.
Orochi Vols. 1-3, Kazuo Umezz (VIZ, translated by Jocelyne Allen, adapted by Molly Tanzer): What do you do when you find out your dad ate human flesh in the Battle of Guadalcanal? What if you knew down to the bottom of your heart that you would grow up to be hideously ugly? Would you care about basic compassion in a world you know will deny it to you? What if your mom isn't making you study so you'll become a better person but because she fucking hates you because you remind her of the day her life was ruined and she knows you're going to fail because you're a stupid piece of shit? What if you're a bad little kid, a liar, and you look out the window one day and you see the lady next door strangling, like full-throttle double-handed choking out her sick baby daughter? Who is going to care? You are a bad little kid. Drawn at reckless high speed, equal parts funny and upsetting and profound and contrived–hey, not every Dick Tracy was a winner either–Umezz here cuts opens his knuckles and paints the psychological landscape of postwar Shōwa Japan as bloody children's horror comics.
Plaza, Yuichi Yokoyama (Living the Line, translated by Ryan Holmberg): Noisy avant-garde part 1, in which Yokoyama once again summons a thrilling variation on a conceptual idea of comics which a less dedicated practitioner would have totally surrendered to predictability eons ago. Once again, characters are studied in motion across a series of painterly compositions, one extrapolated from the next, backwards or forwards in sequence, prioritizing an inhuman point of view: drawings without cultural understanding or sympathetic recognition. And somehow, once again, it feels completely refreshed from its own prior iterations. Plaza pans across a vast crowd celebrating a parade, a carnival, a religious rite - the floats and effigies and gizmos of which are in a perpetual state of eruption, explosion, often seeming to attack or kill the onlookers. Is this the Spectacle? We can barely even see it, so large and jagged are Yokoyama's sound effects, slicing across every page of prisoners in a cage of sound.
Schappi, Anna Haifisch (Fantagraphics): I am starting to worry that Haifisch is falling into that critical null zone where she is predominantly 'respected' in terms of default rhetoric–yes, Anna Haifisch, of course she's excellent–but not so actively examined in terms of real engagement of her work. Ironic, in that Haifisch's comics so impolitely insist upon the culpability of editors, critics, curators, learned audiences in complicating the existence of that which they consume. Let Schappi, a suite of short comics which I will reductively summarize as being about the ecstasy of life racing fervently alongside the agonizing process of living, stand as a best summary of the Haifisch worldview, broadcast through gestural cartooning like nothing else around.
Time Zone J, Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly): Noisy avant-garde part 2, in which we might imagine Doucet pressing her hands onto her pages until the panels have been crushed to dust and all the images have begun leaking into one another. This is memory, she says: a collage of personal and unexplained icons swarming around a thousand drawings of herself, gradually recalling something that happened long ago; memories lucid only under a swarm of feeling. As Yokoyama dives in, Doucet climbs out.
* * *
These are my five favorite comics released this year, not including those I’ve already reviewed for this site. Keep an eye out for a future print issue of The Comics Journal to learn my least favorite graphic novel of the year!
Malgré une fin proche, Paz Boïra (Fremok)
This book is in French, and besides not knowing what the title means, the book’s use of the language is limited enough I could basically follow along: it’s dedicated to women who struggle with their periods, and a newspaper headline, seen within the story, declares the end of civilization. Boïra’s images are beautiful by themselves, the printing so rich I can scarcely believe it, and stacked two to a page they seem to storyboard a film consisting entirely of soul-searing paintings. The edge of abstraction is skirted at certain points, but communication is perfectly clear in others: the impact of a scene where two people on a train have the landscape out their window blur, only for the shape of a skull to emerge from the strobing greenery, was so great it was like making eye contact with death itself. This is my book of the year in that it is the work I most want the comics artists I’m interested in to see and reckon with.
Detention No. 2, Tim Hensley (Fantagraphics)
Tim Hensley practices such a distilled form of comics that it seems impossible to explain the appeal to non-initiates; it is strictly a proposition for those who’ve spent so much time reading and thinking about comics that they are completely insane. Joe’s review does a great job of explicating what this comic does; my own reaction was limited to “damn that’s wild.” After this book’s brief gag invoking Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s "The Yellow Wallpaper", I learned about a book called Shadows from the Walls of Death which included 86 samples of wallpaper made with arsenic pigment, making it so dangerous to touch that most copies were destroyed. My brain then associated the two books together, thinking of this as a book whose pages are made of psychoactive substances: that puts it in the top five.
Hive: The Coronation, Miles MacDiarmid (Freak)
If you’re old enough to remember when Kevin Smith characters were on the cover of the SPX anthology, this will seem like a crowd-pleaser of the sort publishers clamor for: funny, tightly drawn, assuredly paced, just weird enough to be endearing, with well-executed action sequences. The combination of slacker sitcom and escalating apocalypse this book offers feels perfectly accessible to me, but it is, admittedly, demanding of a reader’s attention, fast-paced even at its most dialogue-driven, building to a cliffhanger that makes you wonder how a sequel would be able to maintain the leisurely character-based comedy feel that seems to constitute the core of MacDiarmid’s approach. It feels almost European - not in the European comics sense, but in the way that, say, combining a cup of coffee and a shot of brandy is more suited to a European pedestrian culture than our car-driven one, which believes in a “work hard, play hard” dichotomy where one needs a coffee to wake before work and a series of drinks to unwind after. A book like this—slightly tipsy, albeit enervated—feels like the perfect cocktail, an amiable companion with which to spend an afternoon.
Oboy Comics, Shaheen Beardsley (Freak)
Kinda want to say “imagine if Johnny Ryan was good,” but a better point of comparison is probably “what if Christophe Blain was evil?” Shaheen Beardsley’s drawing is incredible: so loosely cartooned and expressive, while still giving figures proportion and mass within realized settings, and it’s all in service of a superhero parody thing where the gags are rife with ejaculating cocks and peeling the skin off murder victims. It’s so over the top in how well-executed and charming it is that the possibility it’s actually trying to be abrasive and rude barely even registers. I wish more comics aspired to walk this type of tightrope, but it wouldn’t be a tightrope if it weren’t hundreds of feet above the rest of the circus.
Career Shoplifter, Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized)
This presents sketchbook drawings of random people alongside diary strips about the author’s days spent in cafés drawing strangers in her sketchbook. While presented casually, there’s a layered nature to how detailed the observational drawing done in the moment is, compared to the reconstruction of characters within Bell’s narrative comics style, likely recollected and constructed only a few hours later, that conjures an effect autobiographical prose could never match. Likewise, reflections on what it means to have low-level literary fame are far more interesting when not buttressed by any degree of prestige conferred by major publishers or tenured faculty positions, because it highlights the author as just another person existing within the weird panopticon of social media. That all of this is presented in the personable format of a staple-bound minicomic flatters the authorial voice, and so all this strikes me as career-best work from an author who has been working consistently for over 20 years.
* * *
Keeping Two by Jordan Crane
"Blood of the Virgin" from Crickets by Sammy Harkham
Ducks by Kate Beaton
The Liminal Zone by Junji Itō, translated by Jocelyne Allen
Rave by Jessica Campbell
Walk Me to the Corner by Anneli Furmark, translated by Hanna Strömberg
Acting Class by Nick Drnaso
Men I Trust by Tommi Parrish
Talk to My Back by Yamada Murasaki, translated by Ryan Holmberg
Birds of Maine by Michael DeForge
The Joy of Quitting by Keiler Roberts
Hummingbird Heart by Travis Dandro
* * *
What is best in comics? To crush your genre conventions, to see them laid in four colors before you, and to hear the lamentations of your publishers. So said our forebears in days of old, when the Eisner and the Kirby still walked upon this land, and the pencil stroke of the Liefeld was not yet known. But 2022 was a long way from those wild and carefree days of our cultural youth. Here, in the shadow of a millennium still struggling to be born, we can be forgiven for an occasional sense that each year in review is another chronicle of the death pangs of a once-great culture; the final, throaty wheeze of a medium and an industry of youthful exuberance.
This past year, the death rattle was emanating most clearly from those places which still remain the center of the comic industry as we know it: the Big Two behemoths of Marvel and DC, where the story of the year was the conspicuous absence of any stories of the year. If 2021 was a year of buoyant recovery from the shutdown year of COVID, 2022 was the moment after the last scene in The Graduate - a long, uncertain shrug of “what now?”
True, there was the occasional glimmer of inspiration as a real honest-to-goodness writer or artist had the grace to bestow us with a limited series or two: the neo-Silver Age fantasia of Walter Mosley’s and Tom Reilly’s The Thing: The Next Big Thing, or the Alex Toth kineticism of Cliff Chiang’s Catwoman: Lonely City. But these were treated as sideshows for the future bookstore market, rather than the centerpieces of the respective publishing lines they should surely have been - they had little in common with the monthly grind of the true cape comic economy.
There, it was just the usual story of multiverses and quarterly crossovers, cashing in on a superhero movie craze that feels increasingly like it’s running on the faint whiff of nostalgia for the fun we were having 15 years ago. Couple it with another year of declining freelance page rates, even from publishers owned by multibillion-dollar corporate conglomerates, and it all starts to feel a bit joyless for everyone on both sides of the publishing fence.
But we would be wrong to think that these moribund fields of corporate IP were all that remains of the comic medium. All we had to do to find vital, thriving life was look slightly farther afield. Even, indeed, to the mainstream auxiliaries of Image Comics and Oni Press, where the slate was filled with young, passionate, and dedicated creators pushing accessible storytelling into new and unexplored territories. We saw it in the cerebral, delicately-constructed alternate history of Deniz Camp’s and Stipan Morian’s 20th Century Men, with its structure redolent of Tolstoy, and its mood channeled through the lenses of imperialism, authoritarianism, and the shadow of Soviet history. We saw it in Juni Ba’s Monkey Meat, a sui generis (and roundly successful) effort to yolk the spirit and aesthetic of underground comix to the more straight-ahead storytelling of the mass market, all bound to a biting and vicious political point of view. We saw it too in the Mike Allred energy and gorgeous flat-colored panels of Nick Cagnetti’s delightful Pink Lemonade, and (a late entrant in the year) in the pastel nightmare-scape and terrifying sci-fi fantasy of Alex Paknadel’s and Caspar Wijngaard’s All Against All.
What these books all have in common are a willingness to bring a genuine and broad-minded range of unexplored influences into the language of mainstream comic storytelling, too often frozen in the comfortable beats and patterns of decades past. In an earlier era, these creators would have been the vanguard of how all mainstream comics would look five years from now. As it is, the optimal outcome for the world would be a fat Marvel or DC contract to phone in a bit of Batman, before they can return to more fruitful and worthy projects of their own.
Over in the world of bookshelf comics, things were equally inspiring. I would not be the first to call Kate Beaton’s Ducks a masterpiece, but the statement doesn’t become less true with the saying of it. Beaton’s book was a thoughtful, gripping meditation on youth, on the economy, on loneliness, on the bonds and the handcuffs between generations, and on the ways we connect and separate from one another. In pure, effective, heartbreaking impact there were few works of fiction in any medium that equaled it this year.
That’s not to say that some didn’t come close, in their own way. If Zoe Thorogood’s It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth lacked Ducks’ breadth of literary ambition (it is, when all is said and done, the kind of self-regarding twentysomething autobiography virtually guaranteed a spot on newspaper year-end lists), it exceeded it in the dizzying experimentalism of its art and structure. Michael DeForge’s Birds of Maine was a trenchant and often wryly funny side-eye to modern capitalism that would have made Aristophanes proud. And both Conor Stechschulte’s Ultrasound and Nick Drnaso’s Acting Class were, in entirely different ways, tense and unrelenting dramas that linger unnervingly after the reading is done. Wildly different books, each a pleasing indicator that this medium and its audiences are still willing to push into innovative terrain.
And that’s not even mentioning the true underground of the field - Nate Garcia (Muscle Horse was a sight to behold), and Josh Simmons (Dream of the Bat, a wicked masterpiece), and the psychedelically brilliant artists of Zine Panique, and all the minds and pens who will keep comics alive into the coming decade. No, comics didn’t die in 2022. They’re just ready, at last, to shed their old skin and become something new.
* * *
The always-reliable Latvian kuš! crew opened a still rather young 2022 with a quadruple slapshot. Once again an unerrible instinct for particular concepts got proven by tackling some of my most relevant interests, ranging from social realism and surreal fantasy to fashion and puzzle books. Especially the puzzle books - Li'l Jormly by Christopher Sperandio, didn't only work as a reminder of the rare Ware contribution of note to the medium by creating a board game accompanying the first Little Lit book by Art Spiegelman & Françoise Mouly, it served also as a welcome break from standardized narratives, as did Pedro Burgos when Shooting straight into the lens of stories common in fashion editorials.
February: a war in Europe arose, and as Frenchman L.L. de Mars mentioned in the afterword of Commentaires sur les sentences de Pierre Lombard, he got lost in the wrinkles of his drawings, thus urgently recommending readers find their own paths in still-unexplored depictions of landscapes and portrayals of the icon mother of God, both collective efforts of the human subconsciousness; or, if you so will, God. So it's clearly a comments comments situation: “Un commentaire sur les commentaires, sur le fait même de commenter - A comment on comments, on the very fact of commenting.” Or a try-out book for those in search of breast feeding.
Thankfully, for anyone lusting to cool off in the midsummer, Douglas Noble had initiated A Pocket Chiller series way before the temperature began its climb upwards; but sadly, at first those were just housed in digital pocket universes, not sewn ones. 2022 saw the first print releases, just in time for the summer, and I absolutely loved the eerie thrill of Jeff by Dan Cox & Fraser Geesin, as well as Ripple in the Dark by Mark Stafford & Noble himself. Some great stuff lurking in those pockets combed through, as in trying different point of views (especially Jeff) on already well-tried subjects, like ~er~ chocolate.
Well, autumn would all cool us down anyway, be it through continually raised prices on living or else, therefore forcing a majority of us to re-invent classic virtues like taking cold showers. A similar modus operandi got applied to some aged Disney protas, namely John D. Rockerduck and the Phantom Blot. Of course, they did that in Italy, and had already published these varying takes on traditional supporting cast/villains in 2021 - but the translations of those arrived in the Germany of 2022, so what am I supposed to do? In La ballata di John D. Rockerduck ("The Ballad of John D. Rockerduck"), Giorgio Cavazzano adds an amiable nature to an unlikable one, and in the end this might mean more than just a single person - looking at you, Scrooge McDuck! And Io sono Macchia Nera ("I Am the Phantom Blot") by Marco Nucci & Casty brings you not only a self-analytical Phantom Blot, but also one that raises a friendly smile. I have never seen that anywhere, and it grants a creepiness unfelt before.
Autumn means Hamburg's Comicfestival, and as in almost every other year I went down the foxhole with the guys, to hold that Hamburger Hill. But what really bombed me out was Inga-Lisa Burmester's small comic book of barely 10 pages and just 30 printed copies titled Der dunkle Partylord ("The Dark Partylord"), selling out in no time and presenting an amusingly funny tour de force into Berlin's nightlife with great costumes and background designs in unusual colors, like if Death Note was joining the Berghain, but without Elon, natch. Wish Twitter had that as an in-built feature, too, would've served this 30th anniversary of an annus horribilis all too well.
And with the Queen leaving and a pompous funeral broadcast worldwide, the time seemed right to enthrone a new regent at Marvel, Peach Momoko. The Japanese-born artist, connected to art collective NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst = "New Slovenian Art"), well-known because of its founders, the music project Laibach–the only ones to ever play the Democratic People's Republic of Korea–is the contemporary queen of variant covers, probably Marvel's most lucrative source of income next to doing manga-affiliated shit like Avengers: Tech-On or Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane (liked both). Editorial oversight on her re-telling of Marvel lore in Demon Days was provided by, of all people, Akira Yoshida. So Momoko's planting of a snake called Venom into a house of ideas ain't the baddest of the latter, not only in terms of hiding your messages as beautiful as an Azalea Napoleonic Excelsior.
Winter broke, and Japanese draftsman Ippatu launched his Tsugumi Project–published originally in Japanese in 2019–on the German market. With its hybrid made of a woman and a chicken getting thrown in an Escape from New York-like setting, it reminded me of the late Gerry Alanguilan's excellent anthropomorphic SF comic Elmer, for both ain't *comic*, as it's often the case with the usual suspects flogging the funny (animal) book genre.
Honorable mentions: Seven Sons marking the return of Jae Lee and June Chung with a bashing of religious gatherings and the best title logo in a long time.
Sola by Malwine Stauss is a watercolored depressive episode desperately reaching for light and finding solace in it, even in the artificial one.
Anne Simon's third installment in the Les Contes du Marylène ("The Tales of Marylène") series, Boris, l'enfant patte ("Boris the Potato Child"); Simon remains the funniest woman of French heritage next to Catherine Meurisse; the latter I met in Hamburg at said festival, which made my year in comics. Her latest, La jeune femme et la mer ("The Young Woman and the Sea"), too.
I spare you from lukewarm takes on Tim Hensley's Detention No. 2, though, not only because I've missed out on its preceding issue, but also since countless others contributing on here haven't, so. (It's good.)
Still dinnae finish the latest smash hit by Paul John Milne, Action Contender, a sports comic, thus a very British genre; see Al Ewing's and Paul Jason Holden's Apple-banned Murderdrome, for example. But I own every Milne work, he never fails to amaze me.
On the other hand, if you want scrollable AND uncensored comics, search for the comeback site of the year, Tumblr, and head for Tym Godek's presence. His #30dayscomics once more provides a feast for eyes tired from looking at too much paperwork. The punchline is, he's probably doing a print version.
* * *
Ten Tips from 2022
1. Pif Gadget et le Communisme (Maël Rannou, Editions PLG) is a portrait of Pif Gadget, the kids' mag spawned by Communists from the French Resistance. Pif was the name of its doggie protagonist; "Gadget" referred to the toy in every issue. At this year's SOBD Festival, it was shortlisted for the best work on comics.
2. Otoshiyori, trésors japonais (Isabelle Boinot, L'Association) Boinot's study of elders in Japan shows you their hangouts, their habits and their humor. It's delicate, refreshing and one of the loveliest books in years.
3. Philosophe magazine's special issue on Jean-Jacques Sempé (No. 55) features unseen drawings, homages from modern cartoonists and commentaries on Sempé's art by actual philosophers, with citations from Marx, Rousseau and Sartre.
4. Objectif pub ("Mission Publicity"; Alain Lachartre, Champaka Brussels) This is a new version of a 1986 work that explores comics in advertising. While not as seminal as 2016's De la caricature à l'affiche, it considers work up to the present day. It features countless funky pairings, such as Ted Benoit for Shell; Charles Burns for Cartier; and Serge Clerc for the French railways.
5. Céleste - "Bien sûr, monsieur Proust" Part 1 (Chloé Cruchaudet, Soleil) The story of Celeste Albaret, the uneducated maid who became Marcel Proust's close friend and assistant. Hers was a life so odd that nothing can really capture its weirdness. But Cruchaudet, who penned 2014's Mauvais genre, gives it an inventive try.
6. Nettoyage à sec ("Dry Cleaning"; Joris Mertens, Rue de Sèvres). The Prix Atomium winner Mertens makes this noir tale into a graphic tour de force.
7. Le monde merveilleux d'Amazon ("The Wonderful World of Amazon"; La Revue dessinée and Mediapart) was co-produced by a graphics quarterly and a news website. While its target is Amazon.com, the points made apply to the whole of our app-happy, 24/7 capitalism. The elephant in our room remains: why does no-one care enough to change?
8. L'art et la lettre (Audrey Dauxais, Citadelles & Mazenod). A history of how words and texts were invaded by visuals, from a design historian at the Gobelins School of Animation.
9. Cabu, La rafle du Vel d’Hiv ("Cabu, the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup", Editions Tallandier). In 1967, the magazine Le Nouveau Candide previewed an upcoming book. The drawings in its four installments were by Jean Cabut, then 29. Their subject was something of which no photo existed: the 1942 "Vel' d'Hiv Roundup". In this, Paris police captured 12,884 Jewish men, women and children, held them in a vélodrome, then sent them to the concentration camps. Cabu (1938-2015) went on to shape graphic reportage, but putting a face on this event marked his start.
10. This December, Catherine Meurisse became the first bédéiste ever admitted to the Institut de France. Her acceptance speech, a fervent homage to the 9th art's history, got a standing ovation. The same month, Meurisse released an album about her favourite philosophers: Humaine, trop humaine ("Human, Too Human"; Dargaud).
* * *
Mickey Mouse: Zombie Coffee, by Régis Loisel, translated by David Gerstein
This book is a gas, a romp, a lark, a delight. As thrilling for the energy Loisel makes visible on the page as it is for the quirks and snags of its plot, at its best Zombie Coffee rivals the heights scaled by Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson in their all-time classic Disney comics. Perfectly evoking the Depression era of both Disney's wild early days and the comic strip form's greatest cultural prominence, with a message that speaks loud and clear to the present, Loisel reanimates the calcified bodies of Mickey and the gang into crackling, electric life; both vital art and the most fun I had this year. Completely disposable and utterly essential at the same time - is there a better way for a comic to be?
Crickets #7-8 and Crickets Color Special #1, by Sammy Harkham
For the past decade-plus, a year where one new issue of Crickets comes out has been a treat. In 2022 Harkham drew his long-running magnum opus Blood of the Virgin to a close with no less than three installments, showcasing himself at the absolute top of his game, in total control of his form and his artistry. Between the three of them, these comics are as devastating, as entertaining, and as enigmatic as Harkham has ever been, a master class of pacing and plot whose visual stylings both perfectly match and dizzyingly elevate their content. As great as Blood of the Virgin will be to read as a collection, the way the story expanded and expanded in serialization, with each issue feeling like a definitive statement before opening onto a follow-up that cracked the story's world open once again... that's the whole reason the comic book is a perfect format, one I'll take over "graphic novels" any day. What a ride.
The Invisible Frontier, by François Schuiten & Benoît Peeters, translated by Edward Gauvin
This all-in-one IDW reprint of a two-volume saga from 2002-04 might or might not be the best showcase of Schuiten's & Peeters' slowly-paced, painstakingly considered, fusty-atmosphered style... but if you like this stuff, things like "best" don't really matter. There's a joy to simply living in Schuiten's soberly-drawn, fantastically inventive pages, exploring right alongside the characters one panel at a time. Schuiten is the equal of Moebius or Hayao Miyazaki in creating fully-realized environments with a logic unique unto themselves, the kind of worlds you wish you could somehow pass through the page into. (That happens in another one of the books in the series, though not this one.) Such is the simple pleasure of looking one's way through this book that it's easy to miss how shockingly relevant it feels 20 years after its initial publication. A world of rising European fascism, the destruction of publicly-funded academic inquiry, and—yes!—the encroaching specter of shitty AI art(!) boils just below the surface of The Invisible Frontier's wistful, dreamlike landscape and architectural drawings. Capping the book off is a conclusion that's almost Zen in its total negation of everything that built up to it. Did anything you just read matter? Better go back and read it again...
Detention No. 2, by Tim Hensley
As magnificent as Hensley's cartooning is, as hilariously rude as that dialogue coming out of those characters' mouths feels, and as mercilessly as these set pieces cut to the heart not just of comics but the entire visual language of humor, this silly-ass book still feels cold and complex, like its secrets run deeper. Hensley obsessively sifts through the leavings of the era and the idiom that gave birth to the 20th century mass media apparatus currently staggering into its grave. A relatively brief book packed with an overwhelming amount of stuff, one whose backmatter and footnotes carry more weight than most entire comics, Detention feels like an entry from the world's most hysteric encyclopedia, encapsulating "lowbrow publishing, 1890-1955" better than any lines of text could. This book is filled with ghosts and finds the machinery to make them dance in rhythm.
* * *
This is my third year participating in the TCJ best-of-the-year post, and this point I think some habits have officially become traditions. Traditions I plan to uphold (because, like many comics fans, I secretly fear and loathe change).
It will probably come as little surprise to those who follow me that there’s a 2000 AD-related choice on the list. 2022 was the year of Dan Abnett, with three very good science fiction serials that all have an equally warm place in my heart. His work includes the adventure travelogue The Out (with artist Mark Harrison); the paranoia thriller Brink (with artist I.N.J. Culbard); and the space western Lawless (with artist Phil Winslade). If you forced me at a gunpoint to pick one it’d probably be Lawless, but the current editors of this site are too cowardly to threaten death by firearm, so I’ll give Dan his triple crown instead.
Speaking of personal traditions - you won’t be surprised that John Alison kept making very good and funny comics on the web. I am a print person at heart, so for all his myriad works throughout 2022 I most enjoyed Steeple (Dark Horse) which just had its third volume published.
On the other side on the pond (but still deep in the heart of the mainstream) Juni Ba’s Monkey Meat (Image Comics) went a way toward fulfilling the promise of his earlier work Djeliya. Monkey Meat aims a bit higher, and is definitely meaner, with shot after shot at corporate culture and the self-sustaining ecosystem it creates around itself. Ba has proven to be an extremely agile artist, casually jumping from style to style with each issue while always remaining his identifiable self.
On the more indie side of the fence we have the new Jim Woodring book, One Beautiful Spring Day (Fantagraphics). Ok, most of this stuff isn’t actually ‘new’ in the strictest sense of the term. But it’s new to me. Plus, it's particularly slick package - the kind of book you want to paw at, to feel. You can enjoy it before you even start reading it.
In terms of reprints in English translation, we have been blessed on several fronts, starting with the first volume of Alvar Mayor (Epicenter Comics, translated by Vladimir Jovanovic), a classic of Argentinian adventure comics written by Carlos Trillo and drawn by the immensely talented Enrique Breccia. Laying somewhere between the cosmic visions of Toppi and the more politically astute Hugo Pratt is this volume (which is hopefully the first of many). Murasaki Yamada's Talk to My Back (Drawn & Quarterly, translated by Ryan Holmberg) is a very different beast, a finely-observed meditation on middle class life in Japan; Yamada has the ability to find the human in all of her characters, both good and ill. Finally, Keiichi Koike’s Heaven’s Door Extra Works (Last Gasp, translated by Ajani Oloye) is just as good-looking as you’ve heard. Possibly more.
Ursula by Lane Yates & Erika Price is the year’s single best horror story (and not just in comics), a Grand Guignol boat trip through human damnation, lust, love and hatred. It’s a big story of big themes and even bigger imagery. Paul Jon Milne released the third part of his 1970s horror/superhero kitchen sink drama Grave Horticulture, and while that is certainly the most noticeable of his recent works–what with the over-the-top action and even more-over-the-top sense of design–his best work, in my opinion, is the slim one-shot Action Contender, a science fiction sports drama that starts off ridiculous but finds a path into proper pathos.
Not a comic, but close enough, is Eike Exner’s Comics and the Origins of Manga: A Revisionist History (Rutgers University Press). I am not quite certain the book proves its claims about the intricate relationship between Japanese and American comics at the start of the 20th century, but the strength of Exner’s argumentation and scholarship is impossible to deny. Even if one doesn’t agree with every notion Exner brings up, it remains a fascinating study of Japanese culture at a crossroads. A vital book for anyone interested in comics history.
You've probably noticed that the list isn’t ranked. This both because I am lazy, and because I believe you shouldn’t rate or rank art with numbers. With that being said, the best comic of the year is certainly Detention No. 2 (Fantagraphics). A history of both the medium and America in 40 short (but large) pages, it manages to be uproariously funny while also being a grand tragedy, and reminds all who needed reminding that Tim Hensley is one of our greatest living cartoonists.
* * *
In no particular order.
Orochi Vol. 2 - Kazuo Umezz, translated by Jocelyne Allen, adaptation by Molly Tanzer (VIZ)
Orochi is back to her blue ribbon meddling, this time in the lives of exceptionally bad children. They had it coming!
The Complete Crepax Vol. 7: Erotic Stories, Part I - Guido Crepax, translated by Micol Arianna Beltramini (Fantagraphics)
While it can't boast the polished visuals of previous volumes (his Emmanuelle saga is slightly tepid compared to its realization by Just Jaeckin, R.I.P.), the bonus story notes and essays here are exceptional.
Rock Collector - Becca Tobin (Silver Sprocket)
Aliens looking for rocks. Just fucking delightful.
Love and Rockets Vol. IV #12 - Gilbert Hernandez & Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
The Frogmouth marries a toad... brilliant.
Fondant #2 & #3 - J. Webster Sharp (self-published)
A perfect splicing of Nina Bunjevac and John Willie. Scary, horny, striking stuff from an artist who's just getting started.
Meddle #1 - Marc Wagner (Strangers Fanzine)
A supernatural robbery with a great palette that builds tension quickly and easily. Another artist I'm excited to watch develop.
Crickets #7 - Sammy Harkham (Commonwealth Comics Co. & Secret Headquarters)
This has such a human and lived-in quality. It creeps into my mind a lot.
The Illustrators: Tove Jansson - Paul Gravett (Thames & Hudson)
A super-accessible inroad to the work of Tove Jansson with charm to spare.
* * *
A few noteworthy things:
E POI MUORI by Federica Ferraro (Sputnik Press). A true surprise for me. Bought this at an underground comics festival in Bologna, in a squat that lasted for just a couple of weeks and was evicted the day after the festival. With E poi muori (“And Then You Die”), her debut graphic novel, Federica Ferraro gives a glimpse of life on the streets of Naples. Using the words of a “neomelodic” love song (a pop music genre typical of Naples) as a fil rouge, she vividly portrays those who live an ordinary life on the edge of despair.
TONGUES #5 by Anders Nilsen (self-published). I have to admit I’m still waiting for the whole series to end before I start reading it. So far I’ve been enjoying the amazing art and its evolution towards a creative construction of the page and really surreal imagery. Anders sent me this after we met in Bologna for the release of Big Questions in Italian (translated by me for Eris Edizioni).
CINEMA ZENIT by Andrea Bruno (Canicola). Bruno is a great master of dark and anti-narrative comics, and Cinema Zenit is his latest effort. This story was previously published in three tabloid sized books, perfect to experience Bruno’s dense, gloomy and enveloping imaginary. It's now collected in a smaller format; however, it still works pretty good as a regular graphic novel.
METAX by Antoine Cossé (Fantagraphics). I was looking forward to reading the new book by London-based French artist Antoine Cossé. The story is a great visionary trip, with a rich imagination and some of the most gorgeous art out there.
RUNNING NUMBERS by Frank Santoro (self-published). This arrived at my door right before the holidays. Each copy of the book is carefully crafted by the artist himself (and bound with help from only one collaborator, Vince Curtis), printed in a very limited run. Haven’t read it yet, I’m still caressing its white and delicate hardcover. All written using an old typewriter; Frank warned me it’s in dialect.
Other books I recommend: Keeping Two by Jordan Crane (Oblomov Edizioni; in English from Fantagraphics); Gli assediati by Stefano Nardella & Vincenzo Bizzarri, published in Italy by Edizioni BD and in France (as "Les Assiégés") by Sarbacane; the second installment of Ukrainian Notebooks by Igort (Oblomov Edizioni); Barbarone by Gipi (Rulez); 2120 by George Wylesol (translated to Italian by me for Coconino Press; in English from Avery Hill); La tempesta by Marino Neri (Oblomov Edizioni); Together by Melek Zertal (Colorama); Hobby Comics 7 by Super Amici; Men I Trust by Tommi Parrish (Fantagraphics); Fastwalkers by Ilan Manouach & various (D Editore); and Anéantir by French novelist Michel Houellebecq, which is not a comic book, but at least has one (bad) drawing and it’s possibly the best thing I’ve read this year.
I’ve also developed a deep fascination for the old Italian magazine Corto Maltese, which ran during the '80s and featured all the great maestros of Italian and foreign comics of that time. That magazine was a true beauty. Also I enjoy everything my friend Maurizio Lacavalla draws; and all art posted by master of ink Marco Corona.
* * *
This year I continued to be impressed with the abstract world of Gizem Vural, especially her 'Burning City' print.
Still loving the work of Pierre-Henry Gomont too. I reviewed his Brain Drain in 2021, and this year dived deeper into his oeuvre. His stylish lines and use of color are wonderful. Europe Comics has both volumes of Malaterre available in English (translated by M.B. Valente). I loved the artwork so much I ordered the physical book in French just to behold the drawings. His new one, Slava, is due out in English in early 2023, and I can't wait.
I discovered the enthrallingly chaotic and humorously self-examining work of Zerocalcare. Review of his Forget My Name (Ablaze, translated by Carla Roncalli di Montorio) coming from me soon.
Also discovered Ulli Lust's work. I really enjoyed both Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life (Fantagraphics, translated by Kim Thompson) and How I Tried to Be a Good Person (Fantagraphics, translated by Nika Knight), especially the former. A punk rock feminist romp through 1980s Austria and Italy. Full of sex, drugs, rock 'n roll, hitchhiking, homelessness, and occasional grace. Really driving home the horrible things women have to put up with.
I also finally got around to reading Bitter Root (David F. Walker, Chuck Brown & Sanford Greene, w' various; Image Comics) and Bandette (Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover; Dark Horse), both of which I very much loved and wish I had read sooner. Bitter Root has everything - an excellent, hard-hitting and engaging story with rad artwork. And Bandette is so much fun!
My favorite books released this year were the new Blacksad (Juan Díaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido; Dark Horse, translated by Diana Schutz & Brandon Kander), of course, and Olympia (Jérôme Mulot, Florent Ruppert & Bastien Vivès; Fantagraphics, translated by Montana Kane).
My highlight of the year was a personal one, with one of my favorite artists, Hanco Kolk, illustrating the cover for my forthcoming novel.
* * *
Crickets #7-8 and Crickets Color Special #1, by Sammy Harkham, Commonwealth Comics Co. & Secret Headquarters
Another pleasant "well, that one is finally over" years-in-the-making comics saga is fit to join Seth and Huizenga alongside The Art of the Batcave and Friendshippery: Dogshit for Morons in the increasingly impossible to navigate section at Barnes & Noble where everything that isn't manga gets ignored. Say what you will about the bookstore publishers, but those advances sure help a deadline get met.
Verge Escapement by Michael Shea-Wright, Desert Island
Lots of good-to-great comics disappearing into social media holes or individual paywall financial support systems, but bemoaning that implies a solution no one has on hand. This was one of many things Shea-Wright drew in the past year that were wonderful: I guess by putting it here I'm labeling it the wonderful-est.
DC Horror Presents: Sgt Rock vs. The Army of the Dead #3 by Eduardo Risso, Kristian Rossi, Rob Leigh & Bruce Campbell, DC Comics
Eduardo Risso also drew a Batman comic this year, and as one of the few guys to draw a post-Aparo Batman comic that is memorable solely off the strength of the art, you'd think that him simply returning to the well in these dire days of DC going strictly G-League would see him making an arbitrary top five: unfortunately, Flashpoint Beyond #0 was another win for Geoff Johns in his never-ending battle To Make The Plot Important. (Which would be impressive if he'd pulled it off - we're talking, after all, about the zero issue of Flashpoint Beyond.) Thankfully, Risso was able to find more time for violence in his "no more moonshine werewolves with my friend Brian" schedule to draw this, the middle issue of a miniseries about Nazi zombies fighting Easy Company. Are the previous issues as good? It doesn't matter. This is the one that is stuffed with bloodshed and quips, the one where an artist is let loose on a concept that begs for excess despite said artist having spent the last two decades in love with whittling excess to restraint. Nobody has worked with Brian Azzarello as long as Risso, and the time spent there, learning to offset elliptical dialog amongst a squadron of characters who rarely say what they mean and mean less than they say, all the while growing more and more confident in how fine his line can get - which could, like the best-looking comics to have come out of Marvel & DC & Image in the last decade, be a classic example of inserting a Ferrari engine in a Honda Fit. And yet there's something else at play—and credit to Hollywood tourist Bruce Campbell, that "something else" may be his written contribution—but this comic, as brief as it is, moves. There's a lot of attempts by the elegant to make "grindhouse" media - I'd say too many. This inverted version—which reads like Alex Toth's contribution to Hot Wheels at times, the holy text for those of us looking less for intelligence, but instead chasing temporal sensation—makes for a more potent mix.
Freak Buck, edited by Alexi Zeren, Pig Roast Publishing
An old school brick of comics, complete with a hard-to-read table of contents, foreign genre comics for middle-aged guys with collapsed veins, and extremely obscene drawings set alongside atonal poetic work that's impossible to remember. Day-Glo, neon, gray paper, shoved together into a package that always looks dirty. The equivalent of going to Brooklyn—not the real Brooklyn, but every city in the world that has ever called itself "the Brooklyn of"—and having a big scoop of comics slopped into a plastic lunch tray. Every time one of these comes along, I think it's the last one I'll ever see - I've been wrong each time.
The Projector and Elephant by Martin Vaughn-James, NYRC
An unusual and challenging piece of comics history that points towards a direction no one else took at a time when few seemed to have an idea that direction exists. It reads like somebody designing landing gear for a plane that is also in the process of crashing, only for the camera to pull back and reveal its a cartoon short running in an empty museum. In a world as interconnected as ours has become, with imagination flattened over and over again by the self-censoring instinct to "make a living" or the self-serving compulsion to turn personal reflection into a promotional campaign, it's hard to imagine someone taking their own idea of comics out this far on a limb. Imagine if it were entertaining!
* * *
I read a lot of comics in 2022… and again and again I remember the true reason that for me exists to read comics, and they are closely linked with the reasons to make art, and are tied into the “reason” of being alive, or the question, the puzzle… it is because of this puzzling feeling that I am so much more attracted to comics than any other medium, it is simultaneously the ability to extract truth and confusion… it is also something that I feel is innate to the “underground,” whatever that has morphed into… Osamu Tezuka once told Yoshihiro Togashi to “create stories that could make children dream.” Underground comics, then, feel to me like the dreaming of conscious society and civilization. Even if they will never read them, underground comics are the narrative courses that the subconscious takes… at least to me, this is what continues to excite me the most.
So I want to use this opportunity to mention cartoonists and artists making comics this year who to me represent this ideal - many of these names may be purely out of a personal bias, but on a personal level, my friends in my life are also the people who encourage me to dream the most and who give meaning to my life, and that is probably the greatest gift comics has given me this year.
Andrew Alexander, Aneko, Sawyer Arkilic, Elliot Bech, Nick Bunch, Max Burlingame, Ashton Carless, Cristian Castelo, Juliette Collet, Ariel Cooper, Henry Crane, Angela Fanche, Nick Fowler, Nate Garcia, goodboyevil, Nazir Hedgepeth, Emil Kes, Sarah Kirby-Smidt, Deji Lasi, Maybe Later, Isaac Leahey-Leow, Miles MacDiarmid, Jade Mar, Kade McClements, Theresa Panyawai, Mara Ramirez, Kyle Ranson, Mike Reger, Sam Seigel, J. Webster Sharp, Minnie Slocum, Chaia Startz, Sophia Warden, Virgil Warren and Wyatt Warren are all exceptional cartoonists.
Also: Mr. Colostomy by Matthew Thurber, Career Shoplifter by Gabrielle Bell, and Meskin and Umezo by Austin English are comics that feel like artists at the peak of their powers, making work that is so uniquely philosophical and embedded with the life force of their creators, in ways that simultaneously appear extremely natural and yet the result of many hard-won battles, and that’s because they are.
My favorite comics I read this year that weren't released this year: Helem by Stanley Wany; Private Eye Grabote by Nicole Claveloux; Asthma by John Hankiewicz; Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth by Brian Bolland, Mike McMahon & Pat Mills (with John Wagner, Chris Lowder & Tom Frame); Animal Man #5, "The Coyote Gospel" by Grant Morrison, Chas Truog & Doug Hazlewood (with John Costanza & Tatjana Wood); NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki (translated by Jocelyne Allen); and The Summer of Love by Debbie Drechsler.
Also, there are many comics I should have read this year but didn't and for that, God of Comics, I apologize and I will try my best to have read all of the comics ASAP.
Really though, I read all of Vinland Saga in less than a week and that was pretty amazing and American cartoonists need to catch up.
Also the true most amazing thing in comics that happened in 2022 was the return to Hunter x Hunter by Yoshihiro Togashi, let us not take that for granted. God bless Togashi-sama.
[FOUR DAYS LATER...]
Time Zone J magically fell into my hands on December 30th, its obviously the best book of the year, it makes art and life so natural and symbiotic, and the reading of the book itself mirrors this experience, it is everything good art, life, and comics should aspire to be. #1!!!!! Read it in one sitting, couldn't stop.
* * *
I read a LOT of comics and graphic novels, both in French and in English; hopefully, you might not have heard about 3\4 of these artists and you’ll seek out their work!
1. One Beautiful Spring Day by Jim Woodring, Fantagraphics
A true modern comics masterpiece that you can read over and over and over…
2. Maxiplotte by Julie Doucet, edited by JC Menu, L'Association
D&Q put out a collection of Julie’s work but this one, edited by Jean-Christophe Menu, is perfection itself! It is there to remind people why Julie Doucet’s powerful stories and art still resonate today as they did 30 years ago.
3. La dernière comédie de Paolo Pinocchio by Lucas Varela, Éditions Tanibis
Venice with Fellini’s Casanova played by a selfish Pinocchio. A marriage of dark humour and luminous art.
4. Myth by Jérôme Berthier, self-published
Much like fellow Canadian comic artist Robert Pasternak, Jérôme Berthier proposes a wordless narrative exploring the language of comics. Exquisite.
5. Helem by Stanley Wany, Conundrum Press
Stanley Wany’s art and storytelling come straight from the id. A wordless dark narrative exploring grief and broken dreams. Breathtaking.
6. René·e aux bois dormants by Elene Usdin, Sarbacane
A story inspired by North American native myths. Few books can provide a narrative experience that makes you feel you’re dreaming while reading. This one does. A one of a kind immersive experience.
7. Football-Fantaisie by Zviane, POW POW
Award winning author Zviane's latest is a narrative tour de force. Inventing a new language that the reader has to decipher, she takes us on a truly wild escapade. Brilliant narrative by one of Québec's best comics storytellers.
8. Below Ambition by Simon Hanselmann, Fantagraphics
Well, he said it himself, this story will test the reader’s patience and it does. Where Crisis Zone was breakneck speed, this one feels like you’re trapped at a show with the worst band. A minor Hanselmann but still way above the rest.
9. La cité oblique by Christian Quesnel & Ariane Gélinas, Alto
A Québécois adaptation of a text by Lovecraft that he wrote on multiple visits to Quebec City. Quesnel's nightmarish vistas married to perfection with Ariane Gélinas’s words create a truly scary landscape chronicling an alternate history of a Québec filled with Lovecraftian monsters.
10. Jérémiades by Margaux Bigou, TXT Books
This small book, in riso, has multiple pages that unfold in a most ingenious way as you read through the narrative. It is the equivalent of a paper jewel.