It’s been tradition at Sequential State to run a series of microreview articles at the beginning of each calendar year. These articles are my “Comics That Challenged Me” lists, and they’re a function of how I think about the end of the year wrap ups that so many sites run during December as a way to solidify a year and to get those sweet sweet listicle dollars. I don’t really do best-of lists (although, to be fair dear reader, I did submit a selection of books to TCJ’s master list this year). Instead I try list is a list of books that challenged me as a reader, although the definition of challenge is nebulous, and the only requirement to get on the list is that I had to read the book this year. The list is 4 parts in total; 20 works, 5 works per part, spread over a week and a half.
I generally dislike the idea that any one book can be the consensus pick of any given year when there is so much art being made. There was a lot of talk about Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina this year, a book I haven’t yet read and probably won’t get to until much later in 2019. I dislike the implied authority critics claim when they make these lists. I haven’t read many of the works that folks are describing as “best,” and likely won’t. That’s the nature of the game, and any critic or list writer that says otherwise is a liar.
I think it’s better to celebrate the comics that made me work harder, the comics that opened my eyes, the comics that broadened my definitions, and the comics that showed me the breadth and depth of the artform. These are the comics that challenged me in 2018, and maybe they challenged you too. I hope you’ll find this list interesting, and I hope you’ll search out these books and read them yourself. I’d love to hear what you think about them.
Ley Lines #14: Skin to Skin – Jia Sung
I wrote about this remarkable comic in May this year, and I keep coming back to it as an example of how comics and poetry can intersect in fascinating ways. Skin to Skin is one of the best examples of comics poetry I’ve read this year, and having it as a part of the Ley Lines series was a delight. I think for me, Jia Sung’s Skin to Skin is a perfect example of how a text can be re-visioned in a meaningful, personal way. It is a comic that invites a sort of mental churn; I thought about it (think about it) months after reading it.
Cry – Yan Cong
Paradise Systems is opening up the alternative comics scene of China to the US, and one of the great talents they’ve published this year is Yan Cong. His comic Cry, about a discontented man whose partner leaves him, is a beautiful, atmospheric piece. His characters are bulbous cartoons but his backgrounds are sleek and beautiful, and all of it is done in a lush, deep charcoal. There’s a surrealism to the work that makes the whole piece click, but one look at Cong’s cartooning and you can see the appeal. Cong’s work was a surprise to me in 2018, and I am grateful to have more comics from differing artistic and cultural backgrounds making their way into English. Let’s hope for more of the same in 2019.
We Come From A Desert – Gloria Rivera
Gloria Rivera is one of the most talented practitioners from the Santoro school of cartooning, and her 2017 comic We Come From A Desert came across my desk last year. I started picking through it right at the end of December and didn’t really truly read it until January. It’s a lesbian romance story, and a truly remarkable comic. I found We Come From A Desert to be something that settles into you. Rivera’s work is a homage to shojo manga, and there are clear lines between the fundamentals of that genre and Rivera’s work, but also distinct differences. The way Rivera uses light and color is fascinating, very painterly despite the risograph printing. The comic was languid and slinky, and the deep blues and blacks Rivera uses throughout the book emphasizes its emotional tenor. At one point, a character notes that we manage the things we can’t handle and our greatest treasures in the same way – we bury them. There is so much going on in this book and I treasured reading it throughout the year.
Fluorescent Mud – Eli Howey
I wrote about Fluorescent Mud at the end of the year this year, so I’ll direct you to that review for a more in-depth set of thoughts, but this book has haunted me. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant read, and more so than other comics made me feel disconnected from my own body in a way that I didn’t want. But its influence over my mental state was remarkable, a testament to Howey’s skill at emphasizing the dissociation that is the central tenet of the book.
Bad Friends – Ancco
Ancco’s Bad Friends is a book I’ve been looking forward to since its release was announced by Drawn & Quarterly merely for the fact that it was from a South Korean cartoonist who has been widely published in Europe but hasn’t seen publication in English. I saw some pages without text and was intrigued. I wasn’t expecting the heartbreak or the finely observed moments of Bad Friends, nor was I expecting its violence and misogyny. Its gutwrenching storytelling is coupled with some of the most remarkable black and white drawings I’ve seen this year. Ancco’s drawing is beautiful, but it’s also in places, quite horrible. It brings its full weight down on you. Expect a review of this book sometime soon, it’s so powerful and so upsetting, and there wasn’t much discussion of the book out in the wider world of comics criticism. Bad Friends was an essential read in 2018, and likely will be in the years to come.
Five books down, 15 to go. The next installment of Comics That Challenged Me in 2018 will go up on Friday. Until then!
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