The Top 30 Minicomics of 2011

30. Gag Rag, by Jeff Lok. Lok's comics have tended to feature funny animal characters engaged in dark, weird acts. There's a powerful dread that suffuses his work, ameliorated only slightly by a coal-black sense of humor. The comic starts with a great gag on the table of contents, flits through some single panel gags (the one with the nutcracker waiter in the diner full of squirrels is especially amusing), and then continues to the first of its two central narratives: "Blessings". This is an expanded version of a gag Lok did elsewhere of a couple on a desert island and the horrible things they do to get food. This is dark slapstick that Lok leavens with cartoony art amidst the hoariest of cartoon tropes (the island with a single palm tree). Lok's other central set of gags involves God going on a road trip and desperately finding ways to stave off boredom. Compared to "Blessings", these strips aren't nearly as fully formed, and the drawings aren't quite as sharp. However, Lok gets really weird with the last strip in the book, "The Roy Disney Story", which involves weird happenings with Ub Iwerks, the "Nine Old Men", and Walt keeping Roy tied up in his office naked, wearing a ball gag. This comic is a major step forward for Lok, who is still in the process of finding his voice as a humorist and cartoonist, but who shows an enormous amount of potential.

29. Sequential Vacation #1, by Sar Shahar. Here's my original review. This silent comic about a fast food worker and a woman he falls in love with after a one-night stand is visually powerful and witty. There's a nasty undercurrent related to the dehumanization of fast food workers, but that's a sideline to the alienating effect of city life in general. This is very promising work.

28. Jumbly Junkery #10, by L. Nichols. Nichols's one-woman anthology continues to expand in a number of different visual and narrative styles. From her highly-detailed autobio anecdotes to her comics-as-poetry stylizations to her deliberately distorted and grotesque bursts of expression, Nichols is getting better and better at realizing her own visions in a visually exciting manner. There's a lot to like in this issue, like "Belle of the Ball", a funny strip about a woman with a sausage body, and "All the boys wanted to stick their sausages in her." A densely-rendered strip called "The Journal of Hygenic Midwifery" winds up having a funny pun as its punchline. Meditations on scatology mix with her funny animal adventure story featuring "Outlaw Dog". Nichols is every bit as comfortable portraying quotidian observations as she is writing about deeply held feelings or telling silly jokes. At this point, she's certainly ready for more ambitious work.

27. Spaz! #4, by Emi Gennis. Here's my original review. Gennis's comic is the classic one-woman anthology, featuring autobio anecdotes, rants, lists, and stories about unusual deaths. Her clear, cartoony line is expressive and well-suited to the weirdness she reports.

26. The Gods Must Be Bastards, by Rob Jackson. Here's my original review. This is a fantasy/farce epic filled with all sorts of ridiculous characters and events, yet inspires a level of real pathos for the poor, doomed souls (and their asshole gods) who fill the book's pages. Jackson integrates genuine weirdness and deadpan humor as seamlessly as any other cartoonist.

25. Relax, by Dina Kelberman. There's no one doing comics quite like Kelberman, and this full-color, oversized mini is a sort of summing up of the issues her cartoon doppelganger grapples with in her The Regular Man minicomics series. The essential dilemma is that of relaxation/contentment vs stress/anxiousness. As always, her figures are deliberately crude but smash into elaborate and decorative lettering, unusual page and panel designs, and expressionistic swaths of color. What's funny is that Kelberman's fear of relaxation ("to be zombie?") is what prevents her from coming close to it, though she is able to get hints of it throughout the comic.

24. Sugar Baby, by Nomi Kane. Here's my original review. Kane's comics are a one-woman charm offensive. Her line is deliciously clear (and in fact could stand to add some thickening) and this story of her experiences with childhood diabetes is part PSA, part family story. The way she uses vignettes to drive her narrative allow her to jump around in time and focus on key events and how they made her feel, and the result is an appealing package that nonetheless hints that her best work is ahead of her.

23. True Swamp #1-2, by Jon Lewis. These minis from Tom Kaczynski's Uncivilized Books pick up where Lewis left off a decade ago on his widely-loved chronicle of the lives of an assortment of swamp critters. The format of these minis is a bit different from past editions of True Swamp, as Lewis keeps to a strict six-panel grid, with each page forming a discrete vignette. The reader is flipped back and forth between several different narratives, some of which are slice-of-life ramblings and others of which add up to a more coherent and somewhat ominous story. Despite the Pogo-esque trappings, these animals are not cute; indeed, they are not anthropomorphized, but instead act as animals who can speak. Lewis's line is spare in most places but detailed when he need to be, like when he draws certain birds or forest scenes. His cast of characters is remarkably diverse, with jokey characters, serious characters whose existence is part of the underpinnings of the religious aspects of the comic, and just plain strange characters like the walking fungus who looks like a human head with a lizard tail. What's remarkable about these comics is the way Lewis is able to make seemingly inconsequential events part of the overall narrative, such that every page becomes important even if it seems like a throwaway comedic vignette. Combining this winning formula with the typically beautiful format of a Kaczynski-designed comic made me want to read many more issues.

22. Old-Timey Hockey Tales, by Jeffrey Brown & Rob Ullman. Here's my original review. This is a good old fashioned sports comic by two cartoonists who are very much lifelong fans of the sport. The visceral nature of hockey, the colorful players throughout its rough and tumble history, and the varying visual & narrative strategies of the artists make this a thoroughly satisfying read.

21. I'm Here From The Government, by Susie Cagle. Here's my original review. This account of comics journalist Cagle's time as a census enumerator (aka, a census taker who goes door-to-door) is her most interesting, fully formed project to date. It's also one that asks the most questions of both Cagle as narrator and the project she's involved in. And it's the most aesthetically powerful comic of hers that I've read, with a variety of visual approaches and formal risks that pay off.

20. Morning Song, by Laura Terry. Here's my original review. This is a perfect marriage of form and content, as the reader unfolds the comic as Terry unfolds the narrative from day to night. This simple comic is an effective and beautiful art object.

19. (Agent of the) Counter-Revolution, by Max Mose. Here's my original review. This is a delightfully strange comic that turns the narrative on its ear on three separate occasions. It's a weird, lurid artifact of a comic by a cartoonist who isn't afraid to dip his toe into the more convoluted end of the genre pool.

18. Free Ice Cream (And Other Cartoons You Could Have Drawn), by Sam Henderson. This is forty pages of Sam Henderson gags, coming at the reader either two, three, four, or six to a page. This collects the last few years' worth of single-panel gags that Henderson has been featuring on his Magic Whistle website as well as stories from a few other places. I rarely mention price when I review comics, but the fact that it's just $3 makes this an incredible buy for your comics dollar, because the onslaught of jokes is unrelenting. Sure, the paper is incredibly cheap (tabloid quality, really), but it's almost fitting for Henderson's humor. His unmistakable drawing style (crude, distorted figures that are almost Cubist in the way they exploit the flatness of the page) adds power to every gag, as the reader must wonder what kind of joke is headed their way. Will the joke be conceptual (like Noah bringing pairs of fruit onto an ark and someone commenting "I don't think he gets it"), profane, scatological, pun-filled, silly, or just plain weird? Henderson is as comfortable with non sequiturs ("Peeing in the pool? That's so 2010!") as he is with more traditional punchlines (Shakespeare and Beethoven switching careers). I only wish he could have somehow published this in color.

17. Diary Comics 2, by Dustin Harbin. Here's my original review. Harbin's usual ebullience is on display in these autobio comics, but there's also some bracing and honest emotional self-examination as well. As always, his wit and line are both lively.

16. Moose 1-4, by Max De Radigues. Here are my original reviews. De Radigues uses a thin, fragile line to depict the hellish existence of a high school student tormented by a bully.