My favorite books of 2014 weren't ones that took me into new worlds. They were the books that changed the way that I look at the everyday world. Looking over this list, I think there are many ways to group these comics together into thematic chunks (the world as it is and the world as it could be, a macro and a micro view of existence, reality versus surrealism.) Instead of doing that, I’m just doing a simple list and I’ll let you all psychoanalyze my choices for me. But even looking at how they’re grouped here, you can start to see my list pair off into groups that I’m finding fascinating. The everyday existence of This One Summer and The Hospital Suite contrast nicely with the earthiness micro subrealities of Beautiful Darkness and Ant Colony. The skewed views of childhood in Nijagaraha Holograph and Bumperhead are very different from the fairytale-like worlds of Basewood and Sock Monkey. And maybe that’s why I have my top 10 and then another group of 10 honorable mentions. I don’t know if those honorable mentions can be grouped together like my top 10 (although I’m disappointed that I never got to do a piece on how Age of Licence and Truth is Fragmentary dialogue with each other.)
And just to let you know, I’m not so much writing reviews of these comics but I’m writing about the impression they’ve left on me,most of these months after I first read the comic. Some of these books I can’t remember much more than the thrill that I had in reading them. But that’s what’s stuck with me among the thousands of pages of comics that I’ve read in the last year.
And now, onto the list.
- This One Summer-- I read this book at the perfect time this year, while I was on my own summer vacation, far from home. Reading about two young girls on their summer vacation have colored the way I look at my vacation this summer. And it was a great vacation. Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki’s wonderful book shows us that no matter how old you are, there’s always a bit more growing up you can do. It's probably easy to categorize this as a "girl's" book but I got caught up in a story of these people who are older than children but not quite teenages yet. We've all experienced that thrilling and/or scary transition in life.
- Hospital Suite-- John Porcellino’s book is one that stays with you long after you’ve read it. One of the harder books of the year to get through, Porcellino pulls you into his illnesses, until you’re reading them and seeing how things in your own life are reflected in his sicknesses. Porcellino's simple artwork makes reader identification too easy until you're recounting your own forms of OCD while reading about his.
- Beautiful Darkness-- The title may be the best critique of this story-- beautiful darkness. It looks like it should be a children’s story of gnomes in the wood but as soon as you realize these gnomes are creating their society around the body of a dead girl, the story by Fabien Vehlmann and the art team of Kerascoet becomes one of the most sinisterly subversive books of the year. One of the loveliest looking books of the year and one of the most disturbing books too.
- Ant Colony-- Michael Deforge’s geometrically shaped ants were some of the most captivating creatures in comics this year. It would be easy to add A Body Beneath or Lose #6 to this list but Ant Colony as a whole was some of the most intricate cartooning in print this year. It’s the book that opened up the world of Deforge to me as his artwork is both grotesque and beautiful. How he constructs his images still don’t make complete sense to me but the way they coalesce into complete ideas just rocked my world this year.
- Basewood-- A lovely collection of Alec Longstreth’s minicomic, Basewood features the loveliest presentation of snow in a comic book this year. I got to pick this up from Longstreth at CAKE this year but only read it a month or two ago. This story about a lost and amnesiac man trapped in a fantasy world was full of wonderful cartooning. And that snow... That's really the thing I remember about the book because Longstreth drew the snowflakes as these distinct blobs that just filled the panels and you had to look beyond the snow to see what has happening with the characters. It was such a lovely way to slow down time in his story.
- Sock Monkey Treasury-- I feel like I discovered Tony Millionaire about 15 years later than I should have. His wonderful drawings evoke such great emotion out of these toys. The drawings are so joyful and simultaneously so sad. That's what I remember most when I really first looked at his stuff, projected up on a screen during his panel at CAKE. The simpleness of his characters, old and unsophisticated stuffed toys, tell stories in these lusciously illustrated worlds. There's just so much emotion that's conveyed through his mark making, making his artwork a true experience.
- Nijigaharo Holograph-- It feels like we’ve been waiting a long time for new Inio Asano and while Nijagaraho Holograph is so different from his past work, it was a revelation to see him work in the suspense/horror genre. His past work fell into the Bryan Lee O'Malley camp but this book is so much darker, as the world seems like a truly terrifying place for children. Even children themselves become mysterious and terrifying.
- Bumperhead-- I just feel that everyone overlooks Gilbert Hernandez nowadays. He may not be telling the same kind of universal stories that Jaime is but Gilbert is still the more fascinating cartoonist of the two. Like Tony Millionaire, there's something thrilling about the way that Gilbert lays lines down on the page. Gilbert lulls you into his stories with exquisitely smooth storytelling and the. He picks his moments to dazzle you with electric images and events.
- Wicked Chicken Queen-- I still don’t know quite what to make of Sam Alden’s story but his surreal pencil drawings in this fable continue to haunt me. It’s such a strange and odd story but his artwork here, so different than in his book It Never Happened Again, is so malleable and plump. I loved that it was mostly reproduced from his pencil because it gave the work an incomplete-yet-as-complete-as-it-needed-to-be feel.
- The Wrenchies-- I love Farel Dalrymple artwork, the sketchy and scratchy way that he creates his drawings. The Wrenchies was a story that moved forward and then bent back on itself, multiple times, as it just peeled away the labors. It’s the most Morrisonian book this year written by someone not born on the other side of the Atlantic as Dalrymple dives into fiction and metafiction with one of his characters quite literally where a fiction suit. And then there’s the kid with Cyclop’s visor. I love that kid. I want to be that kid.
And to cheat a bit, here are my honorable mentions,complete with two word reactions to them:
- Andre The Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown-- Disarmingly revealing.
- Hip Hop Family Tree V2 by Ed Piskor-- Kirby/Liefeldian beats.
- Satellite Sam Volume 2 by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin-- Grown up.
- The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez-- Master class.
- Hellboy In Hell V1 by Mike Mignola-- Surreal shadows.
- Ms Marvel V1 by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona-- Subversively inclusive.
- Pretty Deadly V1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios-- High-plains poetry.
- Age of License by Lucy Knisely-- Continentally delightful.
- Truth Is Fragmentary by Gabrielle Bell-- Self involved (but in a good way.)
- Celebrated Summer by Charles Forsman- Nostalgically trippy.