A short, subjective list of the best comix of 2011
What follows is a list of my “favorite” comix of 2011, as opposed the “best.” More important to me than any single title was the increasing profile of self-published comix in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. These handcrafted books are appearing in greater numbers and with higher production values than at any time in recent memory. The contents are delightfully uneven, but the level of enthusiasm from both cartoonists and consumers is refreshing. To varying degrees, my three selections from 2011 all emerge from this independent tradition.
Crickets #3 by Sammy Harkham (Self-published, distributed by Fantagraphics Books)
Like many comix enthusiasts, I was primarily aware of Sammy Harkham as the editor of the ambitious anthology Kramer’s Ergot. What little exposure I’d had to his comix work left little impression until the appearance of Crickets # 3 earlier this year. Maybe it was the alluring cover that attracted me to this magazine sized comic book. The “Sex Morons” subtitle was certainly intriguing. Once opened, the skillfully rendered, enigmatic endpapers were equally sensuous. The stories mostly deal with mundane indiscretions and infidelities of married men. While they may lack drama, the fluid narrative and engaging artwork made this one the pleasant surprises of last year.
Thunder in the Building #2 by Margaret Ashford-Trotter (Self-published)
Seattle resident Margaret Ashford-Trotter is a formally trained visual artist. My experience indicates that many cartoonists emerging from academic backgrounds sacrifice storytelling skills in favor of aesthetic considerations. Thankfully, Ashford-Trotter is in full possession of both. This single story, magazine sized comic with additional illustrations, is rooted in the Northwest Noir tradition. The fictional “Young Savage” tale has the authenticity of contemporary autobiographical comix; its believable narrative enhanced by realistic artwork. The work is sophisticated conceptually without a hint of condescension. Technically, the book was published in late 2010, but didn’t come to my attention until 2011. It was among the most memorable reads of the year.
Love & Rockets: New Stories #4 by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
Thirty years ago, brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez self-published the magazine sized Love & Rockets #1. In the process they altered comix culture in the U.S. and abroad. Their sensuous comix foreshadowed a multicultural society featuring determined women facing relevant situations. Three decades later, their work resonates with equal intensity. The conclusion of Jaime’s poignant “Love Bunglers” story alone made this book essential reading in 2011. Almost unfathomably, Love & Rockets keeps getting better with age.
Larry Reid is the curator of Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery in Seattle, WA.