Comics 2001: Illustrated and Illest Rated

By Kevin Huizenga

These are a few of the comics I bought and liked in 2001.

"Hey Wait" by Jason, published by Fantagraphics

Hey Wait… is an extraordinary book. It’s funny, sad, beautiful, and perfectly told. It tells the story of a childhood tragedy that follows the main character into adulthood. The cartooning is the hard not to read kind. Maybe the best comic I read all year.

"Catch as Catch Can" by Greg Cook, published by Highwater Books

Catch as Catch Can took me by surprise. Glancing through it at the store, I anticipated a tolerable, cutesy, screwball kind of thing, but after taking it home and reading it, I remembered why I like reading comics. The story is basically one big crazy chase after the Gingerbread Man by the cops. But along the way Cook gives us good jokes, beautifully clumsy drawing, and plenty of curveballs I didn’t see coming. I got the sense reading that if you could have this much fun drawing a comic that’s still this smart and funny, then it’s going to be all right.

Abe: Wrong for all the Right Reasons by Glenn Dakin, published by Top Shelf

Collected here are 20 years of short, poetic comics and allegorical satires that make up as strong a body of work as you’re likely to find in comics. Some of Dakin’s short comics read like poems, with masterful, gracefully sloppy drawings punctuating the "lines." Comics-as-poetry is largely unexplored territory. These are some of the best examples of poem comics around. Running through Abe there’s a kind of vision or philosophy of life related in such a gentle, wry, beautiful way (cf. "Abe inherits the Moon" ) that you can’t help but see the world a little more Abe/Glenn’s way when you put the book down–and that’s great.

Golem’s Mighty Swing by James Sturm, published by Drawn and Quarterly

Really strong and excellent. A joy to read. When I picked it off the shelf at the store (Star Clipper in St. Louis, hi AJ) I turned right to the "dramatic" and funny page where the "golem" steps up to the plate, and I closed it immediately because I knew I’d buy it. The nods to Ray Gotto and baseball manga are wonderful reminders of some of the hidden wonders in the comics world, and the story–a 1920s Jewish baseball novelty act struggling to stay relatively true to themselves–is a beautiful reminder of the wonders of the larger world.

 

The usual:

Eightball 22 by Dan Clowes, published by Fantagraphics

Clowes' playful mastery of comics looks effortless here, and his love for the form is obvious and infectious.

Acme Novelty 15 by Chris Ware, published by Fantagraphics

Palookaville by Seth, published by Drawn and Quarterly

Japanese Sci-Fi/Horror

the Akira reprints published by Dark Horse

Uzumaki, by Junjo Ito, published by Pulp

Reprints

Jack Cole by Art Spiegleman and Chip Kidd, published by Chronicle Books

I’m grateful for the material, and the clear photographs, but not so much for the loud presentation. Kidd’s design at least makes sense in the Cole book–the manic energy of Cole’s Platic Man pages is mirrored by the except for the "finale," which didn’t work for me. I would have thought Spiegelman and Kidd would be beyond that kind of blunt artlessness.

Peanuts: The Art of Charles Schulz, Chip Kidd, published by Pantheon

The Peanuts book is a mixed blessing–beautiful photographs of Schulz’s originals and Sunday newsprints, dots and all, which are a joy to read, but are presented in a kind of "scrapbook" layout that made me seasick. My eyes scrambled for the calm and graceful drawing in the strips themselves, only to bang against the edge of the page because there are often no margins. Panel borders end millimeters from the edge of the page and the effect is claustrophobic and unpleasant. The design feels unkind, loud and even violent, (crop! crop CROP!) when softness and restraint would better fit the material.

Alec: The Three Piece Suit by Eddie Campbell

Tango with Death by Ulf K.

Reading both Alec and Ulf K. always makes me want to sit down and draw comics. They make it look easy and fun, which of course makes them liars, ha ha.

Minis:

The Halloween Paper Rad thing, self-published, small distribution

This is an anthology of drawings, collages, and comics put together around Halloween by Ben Jones, Brian Chippendale, Mat Brinkman, and others. It’s a casual display of perfect cartooning in the Gary Panter "tradition."

The BBQ flipbook thing, self-published, small distribution by Ben Jones and Keith Waters

You can read it here: http://www.paperrad.org/ben/bbq.html

The whole book has the feel of some of Crumb’s non-satirical Zap pages. Both halves of the book stand out to me as inspiring works of "free-cartooning." Neither story is credited, and no address or price is to be found anywhere on the booklet.