Hey folks! Can’t wait to see all your beautiful shiny faces at this year’s show. Now is the time to start planning your shopping list! Need a little guidance as to this year’s best books? Fear not, the Fantagraphics staff is here to help with a list of our personal faves. Read on to find out what we’ve been reading!
Now: The New Comics Anthology #4 by Various Artists (Debut)
The NOW series of anthologies is in its second year of existence, bringing in cartoonists from all over the world, showcasing self-contained short stories, and coming in under $10. But, perhaps most importantly, it keeps getting better. Even though it’s a tall order, this fourth issue might take the top spot as my favorite to date. This issue has it all: the sweet sincerity of Julian Glander, Cynthia Alfonso’s geometric inquisitiveness, the anachronistic canines of Brian Blomerth, David Alvarado’s trademark merger of deep-seated shame and hilarity, María Medem’s otherworldly color palette, and more. NOW #4 is both esoteric and accessible, funny yet poignant, cutting but still empathetic. It’s what I want all comics to be.
Dull Margaret by Jim Broadbent, Dix (Debut)
Jim Broadbent and Dix’s Dull Margaret pulls you into a dark and strange world you won’t soon forget. It’s satisfying to see female comics characters who inhabit their worlds without charm or sex appeal, and Margaret is unapologetically real: filthy, angry, envious, and ready to take on her unsparing environment. From the moody coloring and bleak landscapes, to the oddly poetic mumblings of the title character, Dull Margaret leads you through a story that is violent, funny, and uncomfortable.
Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva Vs. The Patriarchy by Liv Strömquist (Debut)
With Fruit of Knowledge, Liv Stromquist has managed to create a comic about our obsession with menstruation and genitalia that is both rage-inducing and laugh-out loud hilarious. (No, really: as I was laying out this book, people passing by my desk would hear me shrieking with laughter and ask what was so funny.) Hugely informative and extensively researched, Fruit of Knowledge will have you spouting vulva-related trivia at your next party or get-together. Liv’s charming line work and biting wit shine through this first-ever English translation, making it a must-read for anyone who has, or knows someone who has, a vagina.
Blackbird Days by Manuele Fior
Manuele Fior is a cartoonist who is continually trying new things with his art, and it’s always fascinating to see what he’ll do next. And Blackbird Days, a wonderful sampler of Fior’s myriad styles and subjects, does not disappoint. You get a taste of his lush watercolors, his rough charcoals, and his more conventional pen-and-ink style. The stories range from charming slice-of-life vignettes to moving reportage of war and suffering, and all of them catch your eye and command your attention. Along the way, he’s even able to include a ridiculous story about two giant fighting robots, without missing a beat! Perfect for both fans of Fior and those new to his work.
Garlandia by Lorenzo Mattotti and Jerry Kramsky
Reading Garlandia feels a bit like watching a Miyazaki movie. From the first few pages, you’re whisked away on a breathtaking adventure through gorgeously-rendered landscapes, meeting a whole slew of strange and wondrous characters along the way. You’ll find yourself put through a roller coaster of emotions, as you’re immersed in a story that’s at turns silly, sweet, and legitimately scary (at one point a grotesque, disturbingly Trump-like swamp creature shows up to incite chaos), all the while marveling at Mattotti’s jaw-dropping pen-and-ink drawings. A tour de force by one of the most incredible cartoonists working today.
Dumb: Living Without a Voice by Georgia Webber
Dumb is at once literal and figurative in intriguing ways. On the face of it, the story is about a twenty-something woman who faces the daily frustrations that arise from having a mysterious medical condition that renders her unable to speak. Webber depicts her most vulnerable moments, allowing you to truly empathize with her plight. But Dumb also contains a biting feminist critique, as she calls out how, given her voicelessness, others try to speak for her or project their own assumptions onto her. An intimate, cleverly told look at what it feels like to be a young woman observed in the world.
Other Debut Books:
While many cartoonists in the freewheeling late ’60s and early ’70s were “turning on, turning in, and dropping out,” Jim Osborne was cut from a much different, much darker cloth.
A “cartoonist’s cartoonist” and Satanic High Priest who delved into the extreme underbelly of American pop culture, Jim Osborne drew unsettling comics about murder, conspiracy, and battling demons, both figurative and literal. Jim Osborne: The Black Prince of the Underground collects all of the artist’s intensely macabre stories and illustrations from formative publications like Yellow Dog, Bijou Funnies, and National Lampoon, many reprinted here for the first time in decades. Assembled by comics historian Patrick Rosenkranz and featuring a biography of Osborne by Dennis Dread, this book celebrates the morbid madness of the Armageddon Man of Underground Comix.
Told almost entirely without words, Penguins is one of the most playfully original graphic novels in recent memory. As author Nick Thorburn explains, “Penguins go through a lot of hell that could be avoided if they had the ability to fly. This cruel irony lends itself to humor, as well as sadness. Death and the desperate search for love and companionship seem so tethered to life as a penguin, as well as for humans, and so the goal was to bridge those two and make them funny.”
Relying on visual expression and the physical movement of his penguin characters, as well as the formal properties of sequential drawings (with penguins routinely moving within and without each page’s panel borders), Penguins is a series of interconnected short strips that, without words or human characters, does more to showcase the breadth of emotion we as humans experience than most prose novels.
This debut graphic novel by Brazilian cartoonist Daniel Semanas is a candy-colored, visual tour de force that draws from influences as diverse as American Pop Art, Korean “K-pop,” internet culture, and Manga. Set in South Korea in the near future, it tells the story of Phanta, a young Korean fighter who has a fiercely competitive relationship with her brother. In a effort to top his popularity on the internet, she embarks on a psychedelic journey into an underground drug cult in hopes of becoming the new member of a popular K-pop group. However, she ends up getting more than she bargained for.
Roly Poly is a story about faith and perception, and how believing in something can unconsciously influence the people around you and yield unexpected results—such as wishes coming true.