December 22, 2017

Top 13 Small Press Comics (I Reviewed) of 2017

I don’t know about you guys, but for me, 2017 shot by like a rocket. Maybe it was the product of getting older, maybe it was a product of having to muster so much fucking outrage for 365 days in a row, maybe time is actually accelerating as the world comes undone. Whatever. It’s almost over, so I guess it’s time to put together another one of these lists. 

For a myriad of reasons (none of which should reflect the overall quality of books being published by the vibrant small press comics community), I reviewed a lot fewer comics this year, so putting this together was by far a more simple task than previously. So …. YAY for that, I guess. 

As in previous years, this list is only drawn from books published in 2017 that I reviewed. Rest assured, there were a number of outstanding books that I just couldn’t muster the energy to write about. Many of them have appeared on other people’s “Best Of…” lists. I’ll trust you to track them down on your own. I’m tired. 

To read my full reviews of each book, just click on the titles: 

Edited by Dan Stafford
Published by Kilgore Books
Dan Stafford has collected all these “orphans” and has given them a home in Kilgore Quarterly #7. They become a family by the proximity they share.” 

By Rozi Hathaway
Published by Good Comics 
More like comics-poetry than a straight narrative, this book demonstrates Hathaway’s evocative use of color and pacing to capture mood, tone, and theme.” 

By Tim Bird
Published by Avery Hill Publishing 
Bird speaks to these issues through his art in these pages: characters abstracted, objects tight in their lines, everything awash in greys and blues and browns, punctuated (always punctuated) by a crimson red. His theme plays out like a poem, lyrical and rhythmic, each artistic choice carefully considered, each panel full and absolutely necessary to the rest of the piece.” 

By Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Published by ShortBox 
Such a thing forces an acknowledgement of “the other” -- and Valero-O’Connell understands the uniqueness of such a thing -- the jarring singularity of such an event -- and her choice to bathe it in periwinkle and pink does more to connect this to the reader than any narrative choice could ever do.” 

By Scott Roberts
Published by Ubutopia Press 
In his ravishing Risographed red and blue pages, Roberts celebrates that which is within and gives it the opportunity to be without. In the layers and swirls that make up the pages of body magik, there is freedom to express, trust among a group, and foundational declarations of possibility.” 

By Tara Booth
Published by Retrofit/Big Planet 
In no way could I ever begin to imagine what it is like to be Tara Booth, but through her art I can connect to her on a fundamental level. She’s got her thing going on while I’ve got mine, but both of us, by the nature of our existence, battle the mundane in a quest to keep moving forward. Sure, we have different reasons and foundational reactions to the minute war of expectation vs reality, but Booth’s work here forces the acknowledgement of being in that crusade together.” 

By Steven Tillotson
Published by Avery Hill Publishing
Tillotson’s art expands the surreal nature of this epic adventure. There is a casualness to his line and a warmth to his palette that functions like well-worn, naugahyde barcalounger; it envelops you, lulling you into the snug comfort of the familiar, the soft support of the easily recognizable. Then, suddenly, perspective heaves or there is a flurry of panels on a page or, seemingly out of nowhere, Tillotson evokes Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. Each lurch in style jolts your reading, pulls you out of your idleness, as if someone, giggling, ran an electric current through your chair.” 

By Linnea Sterte
Published by Peow Studios 
Yet it is Sterte’s art that is the true focus of the experience. Vast landscapes breathe through her choices and the detailed minutiae of fauna and flora with which she populates this world fill it fully. World building is rarely this sumptuous. You linger as you read, breathing in each thinly inked brush stroke, immersed in the panorama, listening to the heartbeat of the ample life as it claws and floats, holding on to what it builds in the larger remains.” 

By Tommi Parrish
Published by 2dCloud 
Throughout Perfect Hair lingers ghosts, that vague feeling that something outside is looking in, adding to the voyeuristic sensibility inherent in a book of this type. Through the abstraction of the cartooning and the disjointed nature of the narrative, the reader is purposefully made to feel apart from what is happening, even as Parrish draws you in. Even moments of interior monologue allow for little access, even less connection. Yet somehow the book is still immersive, deeply engaging, recognizable in a deep-seated manner.” 

By Conor Stechschulte 
As if an eternal recurrence, each story follows a similar pattern, yet is sprung from a unique moment of aspiration. Still, Tintering is more meditation than narration, dealing with essence and objective rather than with storytelling. But even in this, through his choices, Stechschulte is telling a tale of himself as an artist.” 

By Freddy Carrasco
Published by Peow Studios 
As bildungsroman, Hot Summer Nights is that part of the story that occurs in the first act, right on the cusp between nescience and experience, fecund with that which comes next–the inevitable losses and heartbreaks and horrors that make up the rest of having to “grow up”. Hot Summer Nights is a moment encapsulated, throbbing and seething with the pregnancy of tomorrow. It’s comic book making at its best and a joy to read.” 

By Anders Brekhus Nilsen 
For my purposes, though, let me just say that this is a stage setting book -- world building, character creating, and plot pushing. It does everything a first issue should do, setting its hooks deep into a reader with a gorgeous and intricate visual style and pulling them onto the boat with unanswered question after unanswered question.” 

By Jonathan Djob Nkondo
Published by Shortbox 
Parsing story into sequential static images, as Nkondo does here, makes that which could be a passive experience,the act of viewing an unfolding as told by another, into an active engagement -- the reader lingers as long as they feel necessary on panel or page, focusing on whatever element that draws, each creating cadence of an intrinsically personal reflection. Then, in that moment of closure only found in the experience of comics, the reader ends up having a unique interaction with the text, revealing in that, themselves.” 

Honorable Mention: Casanova IV: Acedia #8 
“It’s like a little gift that comes out of nowhere for no particular reason other than to make you smile.” 

POSTSCRIPT: One thing I was especially proud of in 2017 was launching Your Chicken Enemy as a platform to publish smart, original criticism of great writers. As this is a recent change, so far I’ve only had the pleasure of offering: 

I vow to do more of this in 2018. If you’re interested getting PAID for a 1,000 word review about that spectacular comic published by a small press publisher you just read, pitch me either at Twitter (@DanielElkin) or email me:

Personally, 2018 is going to be a time of continued activism: locally, nationally, globally. This may mean even less time for comics, but I’m running on limited energy and I gotta focus it where I hope it will do the most good. 

Thanks to all of you who have come to YCE, liked what you saw, and gave it some love on social media. Getting the word out about the amazing art arising out of the small press community is a pleasure. Getting money into the pockets of those artists is a priority, so if anything you read here sparks your interest, go buy a copy from the artist or publisher directly. Then tell your network to do the same. 

So, finally, in the end, I raise a glass to you. 

Here’s to 2018. 

Let’s get powerful together. 

And, as always, remember the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.

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