Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Cryptoscatology Top Ten: The Best Comic Books of 2018!


1.  MOON FACE by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Francois Boucq (published by Humanoids):

Most dystopian narratives support one political system over another (e.g., democracy over fascism, socialism over capitalism, etc.), but Moon Face is a metaphysical dystopian tale that critiques all existing political systems while simultaneously transcending them through its devilishly clever blend of surrealism, science fiction, and ruthless humor.  Moon Face is the futuristic tale of a pair of egg merchants who establish "an ovarian liberal democracy" and proceed to "counter totalitarianism with total terror," a social satire of the violent lengths to which ideologues are willing to go when their political goals are fueled by an unquestioning sense of righteousness.  Or as the brutal oppressor Oscar Lazo says early on in the story, "What's a little anal itching compared to our noble cause?"  Jodorowsky deftly exploits his deep knowledge of alchemy and qabbalism to bring this sprawling tale to life.  The hermetic overtones of Moon Face invites favorable comparisons to such previous metaphysical science fiction novels as Philip K. Dick's The Divine Invasion and Theodore Sturgeon's Godbody.

2.  AMNESIA:  THE LOST FILMS OF FRANCIS D. LONGFELLOW by Al Columbia (published by Floating World Comics):

Al Columbia's Amnesia:  The Lost Films of Francis D. Longfellow shares some similarities with a later entry in this list, namely Great Scott!: The Rare Imaginary Comic Book Covers of Larry Blamire, in the sense that Columbia's book purports to be a collection of ephemera--in this case movie posters that date back to the early twentieth century--advertising cultural artifacts that never even existed.  One could argue that the protagonist of Amnesia is director Francis Longfellow (though we never meet the venerable gentleman except through a series of posters for his short films), a fictional version of Max and Dave Fleischer whose legendary New York studio gave birth to such classic cartoons as Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, Bimbo, Koko the Clown, and Mr. Bug Goes to Town.  According to the fictional universe of Amnesia, Longfellow created a plethora of groundbreaking cartoons such as "Weirdo Psycho Jolly Boys," "Tip-toe Throo the Hatchet Chamber," "Revenge of the Black Angel Gang," and "Feast of the Oligarchs."  These phantasmagoric broadsides for nightmarish cartoons never seen by anyone (except, perhaps, Al Columbia) combine a wicked sense of humor, evil, beauty, and existential violence into an unrelenting series of set pieces that owe more to Hieronymus Bosch, Max Ernst, and Remedios Varo than Walt Disney.  If you want your eyeballs seared by 100% pure, undiluted High Strangeness, take a chance on the lost films of Mr. Francis D. Longfellow (as imagined and manifested into being by the peculiar brain of Mr. Al Columbia).

3.  MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (published by Image):

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies is a raw, realistic crime noir story about a young woman forced to commit questionable acts for altruistic reasons.  This tale of misplaced love and reluctant betrayal shares more in common with the classic 1950s psychological studies of such gritty crime writers as David Goodis, Jim Thompson, and Charles Willeford than the majority of recent comic books that attempt to replicate the amoral, shadowy world of classic noir.  Highly recommended! 

4.  WEEGEE:  SERIAL PHOTOGRAPHER by Max de Radigues and Wauter Mannaert (published by Conundrum International):

In Weegee:  Serial Photographer, the reader follows the professional ascent of real life 1940s New York newspaper reporter and photographer Weegee (AKA Arthur Fellig) in a fictionalized tale that explores the tenuous barrier separating the artist from his subjects, the reporter from the bloody scenes he documents.  How much of what we see in the news represents objective reality, and how much reflects the attitudes and artistic sensibilities of those who interpret the news?  This story is told in a black and white, atmospheric, noirish style that recalls the best of José Muñoz and Carlos Sampayo's classic detective graphic novel series, Sinner.  

5.  GREAT SCOTT!:  THE RARE IMAGINARY COMIC BOOK COVERS OF LARRY BLAMIRE by Larry Blamire (published by Bookaroonie Press):

Some might argue that Larry Blamire's Great Scott! could not be described as either a comic book or a graphic novel or anything in between... a position with which I would disagree vigorously.  In fact, I would argue that Great Scott! captures the imaginative wonder of the comic book medium more effectively than 90% of the comic books being published today.  Like Al Columbia's Amnesia, Great Scott! is a collection of ephemera related to cultural artifacts that never existed (at least not in our reality); it's a collection of mid-century covers for comic books no one will ever see or read.  Incredibly, some of these covers manage to tell a whole story in a single image.  In that sense, Great Scott! is more similar to the economical, fantastical prose poems of Jorge Luis Borges' The Book of Imaginary Beings or Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities than any mainstream comic book.  Though it would be wonderful to read the full-length stories implied by such insane titles as Jack Bolston, Lamp Detective or Unusual Pants in Our Time, I don't think any actual tale could compare to the strange joy of imagining the contents for such freaky comics on one's own.  What possible traditional beginning, middle, and end could match the sheer lunacy of the image that introduces us to "Plight of the Farm-Headed Man!!!" from Weird Confusion #18?  (Here's a sample of Blamire's deranged cover text:  "Great Scott!  That comet passing too close made that man's head turn into a farm!  Look at that tiny goat!")  In short, Larry Blamire's Great Scott! is the funniest comic book to be published since Michael Kupperman's Tales Designed to Thrizzle, no minor feat.

6.  DOCTOR STAR AND THE KINGDOM OF LOST TOMORROWS by Jeff Lemire and Max Fiumara (published by Dark Horse Books):

If you think a mere superhero comic book could never be as emotionally resonant as the best artistic offerings produced by those who work exclusively in prose or for the cinema, in poetry or for the stage, you should take a chance on Jeff Lemire and Max Fiumara's Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows.  Disguised as an outer space epic about an Earthman granted extraordinary powers by an alien race of do-gooders, in truth this is an unflinching character study about a long and regrettable series of bad decisions, the broken bonds between a father and his son, and a final, desperate, fruitless chance to make amends for past mistakes.  The gut-wrenching nature of the conclusion is difficult to convey in words.  Read the book for yourself and you'll understand why it's included on this list.

7.  FANTE BUKOWSKI THREE:  A PERFECT FAILURE by Noah Van Sciver (published by Fantagraphics):

Fante Bukowski Three more than fulfills the tremendous promise of the first two parts of this hilarious, satirical trilogy about literary pretension and big dreams gone ridiculously wrong.  If you consider yourself to be an emerging genius, this book is for YOU! 

8.  INSIDE MOEBIUS PART 1, INSIDE MOEBIUS PART 2, and INSIDE MOEBIUS PART 3 by Moebius (published by Dark Horse Books):

Since 2018 marks the first time this material has been made available in English, I think Moebius' seven-hundred-page, wildly ambitious, metafictional graphic novel Inside Moebius deserves a special place on this list.  Inside Moebius is both complex and simple at the same time, a meandering dream narrative that fits comfortably into a rare but vital sub-genre that includes other dream-based, hallucinatory tales such as Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, H.P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Carlos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan:  A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, Jonathan Carroll's Bones of the Moon, and William S. Burroughs' My Education:  A Book of Dreams.  Since the main character of this narrative is Moebius himself--who spends most of the story exploring the complex, troubling relationship between the artist and his imagination--it could be said that this graphic novel occupies the same metafictional sub-genre of such classic prose novels as Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds, and Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions.  As in those previous works, a delightful sense of anarchy teems within these pages.  There's always a certain joy in witnessing a veteran creator suddenly saying, "Aw, fuck it" and eschewing the traditional rules of storytelling.  Inside Moebius does precisely that, beginning its tale in a minimalist, sketchy style and building to an orgasm of finely detailed, surreal splash pages that conclude Moebius' dream journey on a high note of undiluted, hallucinatory weirdness.   

9.  PAPER GIRLS by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang (published by Image):

This endlessly complicated time travel story is composed of overlapping, tangled time lines that drag a quartet of thirteen-year-old paper delivery girls through century after century, from All-Hallows'-Eve (1988) to the unpredictable savagery of the prehistoric past all the way to the equally unpredictable savagery of the far future and back again... and did I mention the alien invasion that threatens to wipe out all life on Earth?  Underneath all the science fictional insanity, Paper Girls is--at its core--a peculiar coming-of-age story in which oppressive forces beyond the control of the main characters compel them to come to grips with their true selves in the midst of life-threatening chaos.  Paper Girls continues to be one of the most innovative comic book epics being published today.

10.  HEY KIDS! COMICS! by Howard Chaykin (published by Image) and COVER by Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack (published by Jinxworld):

I decided to list these two comic books side by side since they mirror each other in strange and unexpected ways.  Howard Chaykin's Hey Kids! Comics! is a roman à clef about the checkered past, present, and future of the comic book industry told from the point of view of a small cadre of comic book creators who eventually saw the debased industry in which they toiled for so long elevated to pop star status in the twilight years of their lives.  Through their weathered eyes, we see "the bare lies shine through," in the words of William S. Burroughs; we witness the decades of greed, racism, sexism, criminal behavior, and general debauchery upon which this multibillion dollar industry has been built, often to the detriment of those artists most responsible for creating it.  Hey Kids! Comics! presents a brutally honest history of the comic book industry in such an uninhibited manner that most comic book fans probably aren't equipped to process the ugly reality of it all.

In contrast, Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack's Cover is a slick, glossy espionage tale told from the point of view of a twenty-first century comic book creator who's so successful that his globetrotting jaunts to various conventions around the world make him a convenient recruit for top secret American intelligence work.  In fact, we soon learn that the protagonist of Cover is not the only comic book artist who's been recruited in such a covert manner.  No doubt inspired by Jack Kirby's unwitting service to the Central Intelligence Agency during the late 1970s (a real life tale of international intrigue that found its way into Ben Affleck's 2012 film Argo), Cover presents the reader with a thriving comic book industry quite different from the harsh realities documented in semi-fictional form in the pages of Hey Kids! Comics!  Read back to back, these two books form a hendiadys of comic book history:  on one hand a shameful legacy of broken promises and hypocritical power fantasies (Hey Kids! Comics!), and on the other a vision of a prosperous industry of dreamers exploited by faceless, powerful forces beyond their ken (Cover).  Perhaps, when viewed from that perspective, the creators featured in each of these books aren't all that dissimilar from one another.  

BONUS RECOMMENDATIONS:  Many important archival collections were released in 2018, all of which are worth your time....

ALACK SINNER:  THE AGE OF DISENCHANTMENT by Carlos Sampayo and José Muñoz (published by IDW):

REEFER MADNESS edited by Craig Yoe (published IDW):

FRANKENSTEIN ALIVE, ALIVE:  THE COMPLETE COLLECTION by Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson (published by IDW):

LOVECRAFT:  THE MYTH OF CTHULHU by Esteban Maroto (published by IDW):  

THE PRISONER:  ORIGINAL ART EDITION by Jack Kirby and Gil Kane (published by Titan Books): 

LOVE AND ROCKETS:  ANGELS AND MAGPIES by Jaime Hernandez (published by Fantagraphics):

THE SILENT INVASION:  RED SHADOWS by Larry Hancock and Michael Cherkas (published by NBM):

MARVEL MASTERWORKS:  CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 10 by Jack Kirby (published by Marvel):  

TOMB OF DRACULA:  THE COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL. 2 by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan (published by Marvel):

SWAMP THING:  THE BRONZE AGE VOL. 1 by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson: 



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