I’m not a professional comics reviewer, so this list is simply based on personal preferences. I’m not looking for objective metrics of quality, I’m much more interested in how a specific work makes me feel or think, or if it surprises me. There are a LOT of 2018 comics I haven’t been able to read, so this also isn’t comprehensive. This list also doesn’t contain any Uncivilized Books titles (all of which I loved, naturally, but I’m biased), for obvious reasons. This list originally appeared as part of a massive round-up on The Comics Journal. There a some spoilers below. Here are my 10 favorite comics of 2018, in no particular order:
Young Frances by Hartley Lin (Adhouse)
Hartley Lin created a stunning graphic novel. The cartooning is flawless, with incredible attention to detail. The story is about Frances, a young legal clerk pulled into the orbit of the menacingly charismatic executive Castonguay. It has some familiar beats about trying to hold on to an authentic self without getting lost in a messy corporate world of petty power struggles. But the execution elevates the story. Hartley’s precise drawings, his framing, sly references (Castonguay as Daddy Warbucks), surreal touches, and great propulsive editing kept things alive and a pleasure to read.
Passing for Human by Liana Finck (Random House)
I was already a fan on Liana’s Instagram feed and her New Yorker cartoons. Passing for Human is beautifully told, via a series of re-starting narratives. One thing that stood out is Liana’s drawing ability. Her drawing style is raw and resembles doodles, but she is fearless and can draw anything with it. A complete world emerges: tiny houses, animals, humans and their lost shadows. Mythical, magical, and absorbing.
Brat by Michael DeForge (Koyama)
Brat contains the word art. One way to read DeForge’s Brat is to substitute Art for Brat; art performance for prank; critical cynicism for temper tantrum; artistic calling for juvenile delinquency. Brats are artists. The titular brat, Ms. D, is an juvenile delinquent/artist struggling with relevance. Once the hero of all brats, Ms. D finds herself older, and no longer a ‘juvenile’. Is she still relevant?
Ms. D embarks on a new project, that, at first glance, appears as a mysterious terrorist plot. Finally, her big performance turns the audience, an entire town, everyone, to become brats! The entire population of the city loses it’s collective mind. The results are at first predictable: graffiti, property damage, zoo animals on the loose, and at least one death (the Mayor gets eaten by a lion). But then, the loss of collective control produces a kind of utopia. In the aftermath, the town rids itself of instruments of control that turned out to be unnecessary. Banks and police? No longer necessary. Hunger? Gone. These things were just accrued, stratified historical layers of a society weighing us down. Once you release the brat, it all falls away. We don’t need these things.
What happens day after brat Armageddon? DeForge alludes to it. But things don’t seem to have changed much. Our hero remains rich, so even if some banks are gone, wealth remains. The world didn’t change all that much. Her former intern, Citrus, is now a star delinquent. Delinquency still exists. Maybe we need a bigger temper tantrum? Or the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Blammo by Noah Van Sciver (Kilgore)
No one does the one-artist anthology like Noah Van Sciver. Blammo is the heir of the 80-90’s single artist anthology comics like Eightball, Optic Nerve, or Dirty Plotte. Every issue fills me with joy and nostalgic pangs for that time.
Tinderella MS Harkness (Kilgore)
MS Harkness has emerged as a vital member of the Minneapolis comics scene. Her incredible work ethic has already yielded many mini-comics and her first graphic novel, Tinderella. Self-deprecating, self-abasing, fearless and fun, there are few books out the like it. It’s not a perfect book by any means, but it’s a promising foreshadowing of things to come.
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso (Drawn & Quarterly)
I didn’t know what to think of first when I to started read Sabrina. I was repelled by it’s quiet abandon, it’s cold artwork, and it’s meandering repetitions. But half way through, something flipped in my brain. I did a 180 and absolutely fell for this book. It reminded me of Tom McCarthy’s Remainder. Both books revolve around damaged characters trying to recapture something utterly lost and unrecoverable. It’s an impossible task. We’re placed in an uncomfortable voyeuristic position – watching the characters grasp at memories and fragments as they slowly evaporate – and we can’t look away.
The Complete Julie Doucet by Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly)
While working on Sweet Little Cunt: The Graphic Work of Julie Doucet with Anne Elizabeth Moore, I re-immersed myself in Julie Doucet’s comics of the 80’s and 90’s. It was another reminder of the incredible versatility of the one-artist anthology format. It enabled the artist to experiment, take detours, and continue on a primary narrative at the same time, while producing regular work, on a (somewhat) regular schedule. Julie filled every page of Dirty Plotte with incredible one-page bizarre experiments, ongoing stories (My New York Diary), and small one-off masterpieces of short comics. It’s really great D&Q brought this important work back into print.
Older Comics read in 2018:
Anti-Gone by Connor Williamsun (Koyama)
It took me a while to finally read this book. It was very much hyped after it’s release last year. When something is hyped, I tend to tune it out. I’m glad I finally read it. Connor’s minimalist cartooning is the perfect match for the absurd vacuous characters literally floating around a dystopic post apocalyptic world. It hits close to home. We are these characters. We are empty beings, getting stoned, floating easy as the world burns. Beautifully executed. Near perfect graphic novel.
Arsene Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen (Fantagraphics)
Olivier Schrawen has an incredible ability for the absurd. Arsene, ostensibly a Schrauwen ancestor – gets involved in an absurd folly – a Utopian city in the middle of a tropical jungle. The book comes with explicit instructions to pause reading between certain chapters: a week, two weeks. I followed the directions to the letter, and I must say it enhanced the reading enormously. By the time I’d return to read the next chapter, the previous chapter had receded in my mind, like a dream. It perfectly suited the book. Finally, when Arsene and crew reach the jungle site of the utopian city, the absurd world had wormed itself into my unconscious, providing the perfect imaginative fuel for the finale to come.