We get it, there’s a lot of stuff to look at while you’re maneuvering your way through the San Diego Convention Center in search of exclusive legos and exclusive Pokemon. Even at the illustrious Fantagraphics booth there are a lot of books for your eyeballs to take in, some new and some old. Which is why the esteemed staff at Fantagraphics is committed to making your journey through SDCC 2016 as painless as possible with this handy guide to staff picks that you should be on the look out for this year.
Debut: Otherworld Barbara by Moto Hagio
I must admit- my knowledge and interest in manga is somewhat limited- but I couldn’t help falling for Otherworld Barbara, a science fiction masterpiece from the mother of modern manga. I was immediately lured in by the surreal, near-future setting and a cast of complex characters. The story unfolds with the logic and pace of a strange dream. Moto Hagio’s worldbuilding creates a universe I wanted to immerse myself in; falling deeper down the rabbit hole to unravel a thrilling mystery. A nine year old girl named Aoba was discovered in a coma, next to the bodies of her deceased parents, with their hearts inside her stomach. A specialist enters her dreams to find out why. Essential reading for fans of Paprika.
Contemporary: How to be Happy by Eleanor Davis
The title How To Be Happy might invoke the self-help section, but this work from Eleanor Davis is far from it. Her short stories are emotionally resonant, subtly feminist and often imbued with a refreshing approach to science fiction. The book showcases Davis’ technical range, featuring sumptuous full-color paintings, gorgeous watercolors and thick, clear black lines. The diversity of art styles and narrative approaches presented gives the book an anthology-like feel, while collectively forming the gestalt of an incredibly talented artist’s voice. I felt a wide spectrum of emotions while reading How to Be Happy, and happiness that I had picked it up, chief among them.
Classic: The Complete Crepax: Dracula, Frankenstein and Other Horror Stories by Guido Crepax
Italian master Guido Crepax has a singular and sophisticated ability to blend the artistic zeitgeist of the swinging sixties- from pop art to mod fashion- with the sensual and surreal in his dizzying, experimental panels. Crepax is largely responsible for legitimizing erotic, avant-garde comics in Europe and this collection translates his work for English speaking audiences for the very first time. The fact that this first volume is themed by one of my favorite genres- horror!- makes it all the more appealing. Valentina, Crepax’s signature character, is a globetrotting fashion photographer with the eyes of Anna Karina, the bobbed hair of Louise Brooks and and the bondage-gear-covered body of Aeon Flux. If you’ve never made her acquaintance, there’s no better time to get to know her more intimately.
Debut: Blubber #3 by Gilbert Hernandez
The third issue of this series by Gilbert Hernandez, much like the first two, feels like you’re watching a nature documentary become sleazy, exploitative, and voyeuristic. Blubber is what would happen if Planet Earth dropped all pretense and just focused on the sloppy boning and cannibalistic devouring. Fun for the whole family!
Contemporary: Kramers Ergot 9 by Various Artists
Kramers Ergot has proven to be the most influential, if not the best, comics anthology of all-time and the new ninth volume takes no prisoners. After someone reads this book, I immediately ask about their favorite story. Is it the one-pager by Julia Gfrörer or Renee French? The wide-open Steven Weissman adventure? Or Kim Deitch? Or Matthew Thurber? The list goes on, of course. Read this book and let’s talk.
Classic: The Eternaut by Hector Oesterheld and Francisco Lopez
Many books claim to be capital-I Important, but The Eternaut has a long-standing and controversial track record to back it up. Sure, there is sci-fi adventure and over-the-top aliens in The Eternaut. There is also a heaviness; a knowing that this comic strip is straddling the line of dangerous transgression in 1950s Argentina. In Héctor Germán Oesterheld and Francisco Solano López, these are two artists, quite literally, writing and drawing for their lives and the future of their homeland.
Debut: Real Deal by Lawrence Hubbard and H.P. McElwee
Messy, complicated, and often problematic for 2016 readers looking for a quick hero and villain. There are few “good guys” in the pages of Real Deal Comics, making a read through these reprinted pages from the ‘80s and ‘90s a trip into a minefield of conflict juxtaposed with humor. Experiences and observations drawn from creators’ Lawrence Hubbard and H.P. McElwee growing up in Los Angeles during the same time, and combined with the genre specific exploits of blaxploitation give way to a gritty and over-the-top depiction of the lawlessness and chaos many felt during that time. A lot can be unpacked from this book, which is why I appreciate its candor, exaggerated as it may be, because it allows for room to enjoy the wildness of the story, and the underlying context that produced it.
Contemporary: The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez
Pulled from Love and Rockets New Stories, Love Bunglers drops you into the lives of iconic characters that have been 35 years in the making. Love and loss have always followed Maggie, and the culmination of years of both are at the forefront of this book. Family, lovers, friends, those relationships all compound and complicate as the years go on, and that joy and pain is presented nowhere better than by Jaime Hernandez. If you haven’t picked up Love and Rockets before, don’t fear! This book manages to feel like the greatest and longest storytelling pay off ever, while also existing wholly and completely outside of the series.
Classic: Forty Whacks and Other Stories by Jack Kamen and Al Feldstein
Old people love watching old people solve crimes. I grew up with my grandparents which is why I have a healthy love for Perry Mason, Matlock, Jessica Fletcher, Ms. Marple, Columbo, Dr. Sloan. I might not be old, but I love crime shows, and Forty Whacks, the latest from the EC collected series certainly fits that bill. Illustrated by Jack Kamen and written by Al Feldstein, the stories in this book feature high drama with moralistic expositions and irony a la the Twilight Zone. If you can’t find something in these stories to enjoy, you may be a pod person.
Debut: Garden of the Flesh by Gilbert Hernandez
A straight up retelling of the bible, highlighting the hyper-sexualized aspects of these stories. From the joyous erotic discoveries of Adam and Eve to the sinful spiral of their successors, Gilbert Hernandez lets the world see his very pornographic interpretation of “The Good Book.” Rendered with detailed lines and in full color, this pocket sized graphic novel packs a whole heap of good “alone time” reading. 😉
Contemporary: Disquiet by Noah Van Sciver
Disquiet is Noah Van Sciver’s collection of short stories that fully embody Noah as a cartoonist. Packed with angst, hard decisions, and dark linework, Noah showcases his ability to make a reader feel nervous and uncomfortable a few short pages at a time. With a range of genres and character-types, Disquiet is tied together by an ever-present tone of anxiety. One thing is certain, Van Sciver is shaping up to be one of the most prolific and important alternative cartoonists of his generation.
Classic: The Complete Peanuts Vol. 25 1999-2000 by Charles Schulz, introduction by Pres. Obama
Not only wrapping up the final year of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts daily and Sunday strips, but also collectingPeanuts predecessor strip L’il Folks. Funny, philosophical, and heart-breaking, these final Peanuts strips beautifully wrap up Charlie Brown’s 50 year adventure. Growing up but only minimally aging, it’s remarkable to see the Peanuts gang from their early conceptualized characters in L’il Folks to their fully realized selves in the last year of Schulz’s masterpiece. Also, the fucking President of the United States wrote the introduction!
Debut: Meat Cake Bible by Dame Darcy
She published her first issue of Meat Cake when she was only 21, and although he career has taken many different turns (actress, musician, fine artist, dollmaker, filmmaker, etc.), she was and is a cartoonist at heart, and Meat Cake remains the most distilled expression of her wonderfully anachronistic worldview. They are by turns playful and macabre, with preposterous plots and a wonderfully ridiculous cast of characters who populate Darcy’s neo-victorian settings. Her cartooning style perfectly suits her imagination: spindly and fragile, yet ornately decorated with baubles and filigrees that cause the eye to linger well after a panel or page has been read. Meat Cake Bible is, perhaps, the most densely packed collection of the year — as crass as it sounds, you won’t find a better rate of return on your investment in terms of the amount of reading pleasure awaiting you. All hail the Grande Dame of alternative comics.
Editors note: Eric loves all Fantagraphics books equally and couldn’t choose between the rest of our titles to write about.