December 27, 2021

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Sean’s 2021 Favorites: the Long Box & Short Box


With rules made by no one other than me I managed to round up my favorite comics released during 2021 and put together for your reading pleasure.
Books listed as “long box” entries are the favorites that stuck with me throughout the year. Ones mentioned in the “short box” are in that same tier of personal impact, but had substantial meaning or relevance to my personal taste or managed to stop me in my tracks somehow. I am certain that everyone can find at least one book from my list to find curiosity about. Find a library or find a bookstore and check some of these out.

Without further delay, here is my 2021 list… in alpha order.

Long Box:

6 Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton 


Writer: Kyle Starks
Artist: Chris Schweizer
Color Assistant: Liz Trice Schweizer
Publisher: Skybound (Image)

Why It Went In The Long Box:

They say to never meet your idols, and Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton takes the forewarning of the infamous yet proverbial idol and turns it sideways into a story so bizarre you can’t help to wonder who it’s titular character is a cover for. Other times, reading a comic book needs to be none other than a good old fashioned who-dunnit sort of thing. From the minds of Kyle Starks and Chris Schweizer come this sometimes absurd but always hilarious slapstick action-comedy miniseries that uses the aging dilemma of toxic masculinity within Hollywood (or anywhere else, really) and turns it into a wild ride chock full of laugh-out-loud moments and unforgettable characters. It’s a bit of a swing and a miss realization that this series didn’t keep going beyond its six issues after the case was …”solved” (?). Though I’d be remiss to say that in spite of this, regardless of its short run, it packs a solid punch immediately on page one and doesn’t let up. Schweizer and Starks have brought to life six unforgettable and instantly likable characters, literally characterized by their given Keaton sidekick sequential, not to mention the newly deceased Trigger Keaton. This is a book that is nearly impossible to put down and leaves you (as I already mentioned) wanting more. Car chases, karate fights, a cast of unlikely cohorts, and a perfectly timed “yellow-bellied” repeat offender, this story has it all.

Abbott 1973


Writer: Saladin Ahmed
Artist: Sami Kivelä 
Colors: Mattia Iacono
Letters: Jim Campbell
Publisher: BOOM! Studios

Why It Went In The Long Box:

The story of Abbott continued this year with the sequel set in 1973, as it was aptly named Abbott 1973. Following events from the first arc things settle in rather quickly and writer Ahmed along with artist Kivelä do a fantastic job with this story. Kivelä linework is one of my current favorites and it is reminiscent of something from a very recent vintage just beyond an outstretched arms length. Not many illustrators pull off the modern vintage aesthetic as well as Sami does, and in Abbott it is done about as well as it can be. Saladin is telling a story with this comic that is uncomfortably relevant while also tipping cap to the stories that came before it. This is a story with a purpose, while also one to entertain and frighten. Scary things lurk in the dark and the shadows; those things are making pages turn, and I had a heckuva time turning them.

The Antifa Super Soldier Cookbook


Writer & Artist: Mattie Lubchansky
Publisher: Silver Sprocket 

Why It Went In The Long Box:

As if we were in need of more reason to laugh-out-loud at the subset of the right who think everyone and everything is against them trying to demoralize all that is theirs. (LMFAO. “Theirs”). Mattie Lubchansky writes and illustrates the hilarious graphic novella of which assumes everything that the right thinks about the left were true. This story centers around Max Marx as they get promoted to Super Soldier in order to take down and destroy everything the right deems sanctimonious. With tongue firmly planted in teeth (beside the pin recently removed from the grenade which is about to be thrown at fill-in-the-blank police department) Marx is us and we are Marx. So, if you haven’t yet, put down that voter registration form and pick up your non-conformity as you follow along this joyride of gender-bending, capitalism-ending, police-destroying, and American-way-of-life-corrupting of a comic book. The satire is too dense to mistake for anything other than what was intended. That is ..unless of course ..you are of the subset of America that this book pokes heavy-hearted fun at. Then it just becomes non-fiction. And THAT is what makes this book so friggin awesome. 

The Butchery 


Writer & Artist: Bastien Vivès
Translator: Jenna Allen
Publisher: Fantagraphics 

Why It Went In The Long Box:

Stories about broken hearts are always treacherous and convoluted. For the recently distraught these stories may even be too painful to endure. Bastien Vives tells the story of the heartbroken for the brokenhearted in The Butchery. To quote myself from my review earlier this year: “Love is warm. Love is essential. Love is hard. Love hurts. How should we expect ourselves to appreciate love if we aren't able to allow ourselves to also experience pain? The Butchery, whether it was intended to or not, exists to remind us of that. Choose love and be love, but expect pain. Expect hurt, and let love find you a way home.” As you can see from my reaction from the story, this painful story of the heartbroken is also a story that limits itself and defines its place not by its sadness but by the love that we all are so begrudgingly beholden to. If pain and sadness is inevitable, then so be it so as it can also be companion to the companionship of one’s love.

Conquer the Day


Writer & Artist: Josh Mecouch
Publisher: Harper Collins

Why It Went In The Long Box:

I have no recollection of where or when or how I came across this corner of the internet, but I am eternally glad for the connection. Twitter and Instagram users will appreciate this entry in my favorite’s list if they have ever seen a tweet or story from the acutely depreciative humor from @pants and @pantspants respectively. Whoever is the mastermind of these one-paneled slice of life strips has found a perfect niche for those of us who find themselves strangely amusing in the most awkward and weird ways possible. Conquer the Day is a collection of several instant classics and deserves to be on everyone’s coffee table, entry way table, glove compartment, etc etc because this is the kind of book that begs to be passed on infinitely. This is Hallmark, but pathetic. This is The Far Side, but relatable. This is Mister Rogers, with the puppets but without the trolly to justify subject transition.

The Department of Truth 


Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Martin Simmonds
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Image

Why It Went In The Long Box:

No surprises here. Tynion and Simmonds’ comic classic in the making has been making waves since it’s first issue late last year. In a time when conspiracy theories drive the narrative in politics and public opinion it seems silly to also be reading (and loving!) a comic series that assumes everything we think we know about the notoriety and turns it every which way sideways. Tynion is at his absolute best with this series! And, frankly, so is Simmonds. This book’s premise is so fresh and daring that I’d be surprised if every last writer isn’t kicking themselves as they internally scream the words “why didn’t I think of this one!?” to themself. Simmonds’ art is a necessary companion piece to this dark and eery nightmare of the fictional-nonsense disguised as nonfiction retelling of what we think we know. You’d be hard pressed to find someone to disagree that Simmonds is artist of the year with this book’s interiors. Department of Truth will be on a lot of best-of lists this year, and for good reason. I expect the trend to continue for as long as this book stays on the new release racks. Don’t get left behind. Be a believer. Read it.

Everfrost


Writer: Ryan K. Lindsay
Artist: Sami Kivelä 
Colors: Lauren Affe
Letters: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Black Mask

Why It Went In The Long Box:

What’s that? Another Sami Kivelä illustrated book? You better believe it. Kivelä, as previously said during my moments discussing Abbott 1973, is one of those up-and-coming artists that everyone should be keeping tabs on. That same modern classical style is with every book he illustrates. Everfrost is no different. This story is dense. It’s ambitious. It’s cold, and dark, and whimsical. The world building that happens in these four issues left me wanting more. The sword-carrying lead character, Van, quickly became one of my favorite new fictional characters of 2021. She’s resourceful, driven, and a badass with a sentiment that no one dare reckon with. Oh ..and there’s a talking, swearing monkey thing. 

The Grande Odalisque 


Story and Art: Bastien Vivés, Florent Ruppert and Jerome Mulot
Colors: Isabelle Merlet
Translator: Montana Kane
Publisher: Fantagraphics

Why It Went In The Long Box:

Earlier in the year I did a Quick Hit for the site after I read this one for the first time. I called it “the highlight of your reading year”, an “atmospheric joyride”, and “a sarcastic and sexy heist story that is fun as hell”. Alex, Carole, Clarence and Sam are a cast of characters that immediately bring urge for the traditional fan-casting. And when I say “traditional”, yes I do mean that I do this when I see the need for such things. Don’t question it and don’t argue. Just run with it and don’t look back. But as for this book, Bastien, Florent and Jerome are new to my reading arsenal and seem to be relatively new to western comic culture. Their eastern tradition of telling stories, both in narrative and with illustrations, are the welcomed addition to what’s already accustomed. If you read only one non-caped or cowled comic this year, make it be this one. 

The Hand of Black

Story and Art: Martin Cendreda
Publisher: Fantagraphics

Why It Went In The Long Box:

A silent horror anthology comic of sorts is what The Hand of Black is designed to be. Cendreda is an animator by trade who pays his bills working on popular syndicated cartoons, and this book is the first time his strips have been collected in this fashion. A series of vignettes drawn in red, white and black, these short stories have the perfect amount of fear instilled in the thread of each of the seven strange and eerie stories. As a fan of horror, I found this book to be particularly enjoyable due to its unique presentation while within this genre. Often times horror tends to rely on visual presentation to scare you; creating the scariest of monster and spookiest of backgrounds to jump-scare you. These stories by Cendreda rely far less on the art to make you scared out of your wits and a whole lot more on script to make you uncomfortable. Not so much in a way that will make you lose your lunch, but instead in a way that is smart and long-lasting. I highly recommend this to those of you who appreciate a good scary story. Not the gore and monster type, but the twisted Twilight-Zone crafted sub genre type.

Karmen


Story and Art: Guillem March
Publisher: Image


Why It Went In The Long Box:

Karmen was translated to English this year and was brought to us in five monthly issues by Image and man-oh-man was it a roller coaster of emotion. As I cautiously include this book to readers, and mention it as one of my year end favorites, I want also to highlight the subject matter it involves that may be too sensitive for some. From its onset this story holds no punches, and with a suicide begins a five issue long monologue disentangling the complex topic of life, it’s meaning and what comes of it afterward. Visually, this book is stunning. It takes you on an ethereal fantasy of living among the finitely tenuous quirks that become of it. This isn’t an easy read, but sometimes the best stories aren’t.

The Many Deaths of Laila Starr 

Writer: Ram V
Artist: Felipe Andrade
Publisher: BOOM! Studios

Why It Went In The Long Box:

Coincidentally, this next comic on my list is also about death. But instead of it being somber yet enlightening, it is quirky, light, and airy. Death loses her job when humanity learns of immortality. Now, cast away to earth to live out her days remaining, Death must now find way to change the fate of humanity so as to maintain her own destiny as Death herself. This absolutely bonkers premise paired to the surrealistic stylings of Andrade’s art are what made this such a fun read. Ram V always seems to find a way to make a story stick it’s landing. This one was no different and with Andrade pushing pencils and brushes doing the heavy lifting to tell the story with Death as it’s titular character was no small feat. I look forward to more collaborative work between these two.
 

The Nice House on the Lake


Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Álvaro Martínez Bueno
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Andworld Design
Publisher: DC Black Label

Why It Went In The Long Box:

Tynion flexes hard with his stories about the extraterrestrial and supernatural. As with the aforementioned Department of Truth, the Nice House on the Lake shows instant relevance as a modern classic. Nice House starts off as a serendipitous utopia down to its very fine detail; every moment accounted for and each attendee with a very strategic assignment designed by Walter, the friend responsible for coordinating this week long trip to the lake house. Abruptly, things reveal themselves as not what once was, but rather what will be. After having been invited to this too-good-to-be-true lake house, once there, the guests (all loosely or mutually connected in one way or another through the common thread that is Walter) discover that the world is ending and they are not only stuck there ..but also unaffected by what has suddenly happened throughout the rest of the world. Questions untangle. Panic unravels. Hilarity ensues. The horrors begin. The first volume of the two volume finite story is damn near the top of my list of must-reads. Don’t pass on this invitation to read one of the best end of the world fictional depictions in the modern era.

Porcelain 

Story and Art: Maria Llovet
Publisher: Ablaze

Why It Went In The Long Box:

Maria Llovet’s lines are damn near the best lines in comics right now. Llovet is quietly becoming the most prolific and underutilized illustrator around. Porcelain makes this heady proclamation in grandiose fashion as visuals are packed overwhelmingly tight on every single page within every last panel. Sideways becomes upside-down as the story moves forward. Story begins with a young girl putting one foot in front of the other as she does what most do when near her age; fantasizing about the who the what the when and the why-for. Eventually, magic surrealism appears and swift her away as she finds herself the newest fixture in a dollhouse with no doors. Every window is one to the next room, but none to the outside, she becomes trapped in a place a few paces past creepy without edging beyond despair. I found this story (which I later discovered it to be a colored version of the black & white original from 10 years ago) especially engaging visually; something I often admit to when reading a book by Llovet. Luckily for us, the story is also always nearly just as euphoric.

The Silver Coin

Writer: Michael Walsh
Artist: Chip Zdarsky, Kelly Thompson, Ed Brisson, Jeff Lemire, Josh Williamson & Ram V
Publisher: Image

Why It Went In The Long Box:

Ok. This one is arguably the best horror anthology from a mid-tier publisher being put out right now. Competition is sparse, while also steep within this personal favorite category at the moment. With few taking stab at this sub genre and fewer others making it scream issue after issue, it speaks volumes to be labeled the best in the category in any given year. If you know me on any personal level you probably are aware of which horror anthology The Silver Coin leapfrogged over, and I assure you that this-book-whom-will-remain-nameless is still among my favorites. It’s just that The Silver Coin has brought a fresh new trope to the horror anthology aisle and I am sitting here with my chin resting (and shivering) in both of my palms, elbows on knees. Walsh, sir, you have got my attention. Now, keep collaborating with these stellar writers and passing that scary coin around.

Vulnerability is my Superpower 

Story & Art: Jackie E. Davis
Publisher: Andrews McMeel

Why It Went In The Long Box:

I bought this one for my daughter. Turns out I loved it almost more than she did. This quirky collection of strips from comic newcomer Jackie Davis is the diary comic that we’ve all been waiting for. Oh? But you weren’t waiting for anything, you say? Visit underpants and overbites dot com then try to convince yourself of that same argument. Jackie’s relatable comics about everyday life are about as hilarious, if not awkward and embarrassing (but still hilarious) as they come. I still let my daughter keep this book in her bookshelf, but I made it clear that dad will be borrowing it from time to time. Because we all need a little reminder sometimes that the best way to get through a sticky situation is to find new perspective and laugh a little. Even if it is at yourself. Thanks, Jackie, for providing this reminder and letting people like my daughter and I into your corner of the world.

Short Box:

IN.

Story & Art: Will McPhail
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Why It Went In The Short Box:

Straighten your ties, folks. There’s a graphic novel on the list by a cartoonist from the New Yorker. All pretentiousness aside, Will McPhail’s IN. was a complete surprise for me. I knew I was going to enjoy this book going in as I was vaguely familiar with his single panel work, as was I also up to speed with the solicit when I saw the eye-catching cover art to this graphic novel. Turns out… Dude can knock you flat off your feet. This story hits hard and hits often. When the dialogue asks hard existential questions like “who are we performing for?” and pivots immediately to a moment of grief, turn the page and next up is an awkward conversation with the plumber in your bathroom. Turn a few more pages and you’re making friends with a stranger on the bus only to find some humor in self-depreciative hindsight after the coffee gets cold. This book is a roller coaster of a ride, but it’s a ride with a purpose. The solid ending to this story settled deeply intimate with me and I found it ironic I didn’t see it coming since the reason I picked this book up at all was because of the artwork on the cover.

Mountainhead

Writer: John Lees
Artist: Ryan Lee
Colors: Doug Garbark
Letters: Shawn Lee
Publisher: IDW

Why It Went In The Short Box:

John Lees is one of my favorite horror writers right now, and Ryan Lee is now one of my favorite illustrators. These two guys together told a story so far-fetched and monstrous that a global pandemic couldn’t even stop it from reaching at least my year-end favorites list. Sneaking in very early this year, the collected volume of Mountainhead brings zero controversy with it to be on this list to represent 2021 comics. That is, of course, your rules are different than mine which is besides the point since this is my time and not yours. This book is a riot. Things start off with a boy and his dad (but not his dad ..read the comic ..you’ll see) raiding a house right up to the point of them getting arrested . Then things get deep, they get twisted, and arms and legs become …octopus appendages. This isn’t like most of Lees’ other work. And I don’t imagine this could have been made without the collaboration with Ryan. The artistic style and character emotions that are infused throughout are nearly impossible to describe. I’m already reading pretty much anything that John Lees does. Now add to that any book I see with the name Ryan Lee on it also.

The Parakeet 


Story & Artist: Espé
Publisher: Graphic Mundi

Why It Went In The Short Box:

Get some Kleenex or soft dinner napkins for this one, because tears are guaranteed to flow. I picked this book up knowing nothing of the author or the publisher or the story. The cover alone is what drew me to it. That eerie illustration of a boy drawn in an outline of what I assumed to be a parakeet because that’s what was written underneath. Turns out that The Parakeet was the title and the boy had no commodore to an eerie sensibility, but instead, pain, loss, confusion, panic, love, and trauma. This story is a graphic memoir. It is a story of a young boy as he sees his mother deteriorating before his eyes. Vignettes paint the picture as the pages turn right to left and as our emotions melt into the boy’s this fragile story; the weight that it bares become nearly too heavy to simply hold in your hands. This story is not faint of heart. It does not necessarily have a conventional happy ending. What it does have is vulnerability, and it has truth. It expresses hope in ways never thought possible. As a strong contender for non-fiction of the year, The Parakeet is about as timely and as necessary as any picture book can ask to be.

Wasted Space 

Writer: Michael Moreci
Artist: Hayden Sherman
Colors: Jason Wordie
Letters: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Vault

Why It Went In The Short Box:

Reading Wasted Space from issue one until it’s recently published issue 25 was like watching a child grow into themself. Hayden Sherman has become a master at their craft. Panel layout and linework and overall presentation in their work has gone to levels unimaginable. I was a fan of Hayden’s long before this measurable difference in their craft, so to say these things should not suggest any previous mediocrity. Instead, this is a moment I’d prefer to take to acknowledge the heights of which Hayden has taken this space saga and let it soar. Hayden made this comic sing. They made it explore every page. Especially in the latter issues. Moreci always had a massive story to tell with Wasted Space. We should all feel fortunate that Vault decided early on to give this story the ..space! to get there by announcing during the first arc that it’d get 25 total issues. About three years later and we’ve reached the horizon. The story has ended, and from where I’m sitting I turned the final page with a smile on my face after seeing happen what I never even anticipated would. This series is a hidden gem, a modern sci-fi classic, among the best of all the planet-hoping masterpieces, and most of all it is a fictional story that makes you read Fuq-bot phonetically at least a dozen and a half times.

The Wrong Earth: Night and Day

Writer: Tom Peyer
Artist: Jamal Igle & Juan Castro
Colors: Andy Troy
Letters: Rob Steen
Publisher: Ahoy

Why It Went In The Short Box:

The only entry on my favorites list this year that lands wearing capes and cowls is the latest chapter in The Dragonfly and Dragonflyman saga. Tom Peyer scripts this acutely self-aware satire on the Silver Age of superhero comics. From sight gags to one-liners that even Galifianakis would tip hat to. Art team of Jamal Igle on pencils and Juan Castro on inks capture and complete the presentation by providing an aesthetic that’s hard to overlook. The previous chapter had the two hero’s swap Earths as we saw them attempt to fight crime in the environment opposite their own. This time we see them team up against a third dragonfly: Man-Dragonfly. If this list of my favorite comics from the year were listed in order of importance (which it is not) then we’d find this book at the end holding up the rear. But if this list of my favorites were of the wrong earth and it were listed in opposite order swapping places with those other books at the other end then I’ve probably confused enough of you by this point to believe that this was the best book of the year (which it was) now my job here is done.