As is our annual tradition, we invited a number of our friends who are also cartoonists, comics publishers and editors to tell us what their favorite comics of 2013 were. We'll be publishing them all over the next few weeks.
J.T. Dockery came out with Despair Vol.1 this year. Visit his website.
This list is by no means operating under the pretense of being a definitive; it represents some of the things I've purchased, traded for with my own books with the creator, or been lucky enough to have had placed in my hand over the course of the year previous in my role as person who spends more time drawing my own comics than cultivating adept criticism and patronage of what I'd like to think of as my peers. I am avoiding anthologies for no other reason than that would be another list entirely, and I have to stop somewhere, so keeping it to works by individual creators is the path I have chosen, as even omitting anthologies it'd still be easy enough to make this list with the rules I have selected for myself expand into to twenty or thirty more artists/titles, and I don't even consider myself that complete of a new comics reader/collector. Many books from the last year I suspect should be on this list I simply haven't gotten around to procuring a copy to study. Did I mention comics are alive and well?
SONGS OF THE ABYSS by Eamon Espey (Secret Acres)
Released officially at the end of 2012 by Secret Acres, Espey puts together five vignettes/"songs" which operate as fables/distress signals: signi/fires uttered and burned to light in the "abyss" the title conjures. The artist's idiosyncratic sampled/mashed-up iconography translates to us as whispers to our eyeballs that the extinct/dissipated culture of the Aztecs or the Celts might very well be our own, if we squint real hard when we see. Before his end notes for the book, he quotes, I think instructively here, the Gospel of Thomas: "The kingdom is within you and it is without you." To view SONGS OF ABYSS as otherworldly and/or to read it as a kind one dimensional doom trip is to miss the nuance of the work which I perceive when engaging it; the artist is saying: "This is us, as were are now, as we have been, right now." It is beautiful and terrifying.
LITTLE TOMMY LOST by Cole Closser (Koyama Press)
Closser, like his more contemporary influences such as Tony Millionaire or R. Sykoriak, for example, puts together a book that feels as if it's from a bygone era. With Closser, this is not post modern revisionism, unlike his contemporary influences, or, rather, the revisionism or post modernism of it all is the moxy to do work in the style of classic newspaper adventure/'humor strips where the goal is no more or less than to tell a good story that works for both adults and children. Not so much that Closser is seeking to follow in the footsteps of the newspaper comic strip cartoonist heroes of the past, but. rather, he seeks the things they sought. TOMMY LOST could easily turn to corn, but the delicate balancing act between nostalgia and solid story telling is consistently maintained making it fresh and timeless, which is impressive. But more importantly: it's fun.
CAPACITY NUMBER EIGHT, LOGIC STORM, RELAX WE HAVE ALIEN VEHICLES by Theo Ellsworth
Ellsworth draws while standing firmly at an intersection where real world logic, whatever that is, and dream world logic, whatever that is, prevails: a poetic body of work rendered in dense but concise and clear lines and narrative that has no equal or rival in contemporary American comics, as abstract as it is personal as personal as it is universal. If that seems as hyperbole to the reader, then I'm reckoning the reader hasn't made a study of Ellsworth. The sketchbook/mini comics of LOGIC and RELAX along with the new installment of the ongoing CAPACITY title were only, to this reporter's eyes, more proof for and in and of the pudding towards my own self diagnosed lack of hyperbole.
ANNOTATED #1O and #11 by Aaron Cockle
Cockle's ongoing series that crisscrosses the dry landscape of a certain dystopia, crisp and minimal, without pyrotechnics, or at least the pyro is kind of hidden and muffled and more daunting for that fact. It has become one of the serialized/single creator "floppies" I eagerly look forward to reading. It doesn't beg you or hit you over the head: instead, Cockle creates a rhythm that both in the narrative and the individualistic designs for each issue drawing you in like the spider to the fly, as much about the spaces in between the panels as what is in within them. Makes me think of what John Porcellino might be doing if he was more influenced by Kafka, Borges, and/or Phillip k. Dick.
THE HALF MEN by Kevin Huizenga
If I knew what this comic was about, I probably wouldn't keep rereading it. "Second Attempt," a meditation on authorship, even authorship of reality/biology, or, heck, even authorship of reality in general, serves as preface to two pieces redrawn from late fifties/early sixties adventure/fantasy comics. Huizenga's authorship here is as much what's not in the pane, or rather just outside the panel, as opposed to what is. As an artist he makes me want to keep reading/looking, seeing/not seeing.
BRIGHT SPIRAL 1 by Christopher Judge
Judge, with this effort, along with sneak peeks into what will be volume 2 of this series, which I have peeped online, makes me very much interested in seeing how he develops, but, either way, I am captured in this comic as it stands. He works in the form in a manner more akin to Carl Jung's THE RED BOOK than any more typical approach to the form, as his approach also echoes in the back alleys of the most philosophical and visionary of the underground comix movement. He rides up against the over wrought but instead of teetering captures an elegance I admire. There's pain and mortality, a physicality in this book which works along symbolic lines in the sand of mystery.
OUT OF HOLLOW WATER by Anna Bongiovanni (2D Cloud)
As you are reading this in the order I am approaching my thinking/writing on these comics, I realize, in my own "real time" musings the wealth of artists active in the current landscape who deftly combine the deeply personal, even darkly personal, stories within a frame of metaphor that bends toward the fantasy/horror genre, but also at once each artist, in her own way, subverts genre tropes. I only became aware of Bongiovanni this year past, and it was almost breathtaking to look at her many zines I traded for, and to look at a past book like THE OFFERING in more or less one sitting, and then see her make this jump into extended story telling. She reminds me more of Shirley Jackson in HOLLOW WATER than any artist I'd directly connect her with in contemporary comics, except for perhaps Julia Gfrorer, which makes sense, as Gfrorer provides a blurb of endorsement for this nuanced collection from 2D Cloud.
A GREATER HELL BEYOND, HEATHEN Jeremy Baum
When I say visionary, I don't know of anyone outside of Theo Ellsworth who properly deserves such a title besides Mr. Baum. That said, Baum is intent on his own take concerning the traditions of Metal Hurlant, like with artists such as Moebius, etc. with a heavier bass line of the darker visions and of approach of, say, H.R. Giger; I see in him the capacity for some serious mainstream genre cross over recognition; we'll see. Of course, there are many artists influenced by this kind of fantasy/sci fi tradition, but few have personalized it/internalized it like Baum; he has an ear and and eye for visual poetics and simply just having in his command the plain old chops of craft. I can't even really wrap my own third eye around the prolific pace at which he's developing. Between MEMORY this last year and ARCADIA the year previous, he's also proving himself to be an editor of some of the most memorable/lovely anthologies of recent vintage.
HIDEOUS by Kevin Uehlein
Situated somewhere in the kind of neighborhoods each in his own way Kim Dietch, Gary Panter, and, more recently, Dane Martin inhabit, this compact example of adventurous, fast paced but serious comix compositions by Uehlein are self assured, comfortable in both cartooning iconography and daring to experiment; this comic translates itself as a cohesive statement. What we get here is the artist's experience of life as opposed to literal autobiographical narrative. It's exuberant, and even when it's exploring pain and anxiety, warms a spot right in the center of my skull. The collaborative comics Uehlein is concurrently composing with the artist known only as "dw," I suspect are feeding into this quantum hop skip and jump for him on his own I'm detecting here, which altogether comprises some of my favorite sheer eyeball kicks of the past year.
GODDESS HAND, YOU CAN'T PUT A CONDOM ON YOUR DREAMS by Matt Crabe
Scatological. Rude. Crude. But, also, hey: absurdly lovely. That's been my reaction to the work of Crabe, who fits more in with the example/tradition of S. Clay Wilson and Mike Diana with these two examples than just about any other artist I can think of right now. He also seems to have tapped into a kind of manic irreverence that, hailing from New Jersey, has more in common with what's going on in comics with northwesternly artists such as Chris Cilla, Tim Root, Max Clotfelter and Marc J. Palm. Crabe has the dexterity to offend the eyes and, really, all of the senses via the eyes, with lines on paper, but then suddenly in the flotsam and jetsam of the visual soup of the ages he's conjuring and cooking, or maybe he's just carving something into the school desk when the teacher's not looking...but, either way: he'll turn on a dime, or maybe you didn't even notice he was turning you the whole time, and make you sense that you are seeing fundamental truths, but ya know, with a lot of condoms. Or maybe he just dosed your soda pop at lunch when you weren't looking. School's out, forever.