December 14, 2018

BOOKS WE LIKED 2018: Matt Vadnais, Justin Giampaoli, Michael Bettendorf, and Daniel Elkin

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. That’s right -- it’s BEST OF season when comic sites large and small churn out their lists, anointing subjective BESTS and, thereby, relegating thousands upon thousands of unlisted comics to the long box of Misfit Toys.

We here at Your Chicken Enemy are uncomfortable with these implications of creating BEST OF lists. Instead, we focus on celebrating ALL that is good in small press/self-published comics. Our site is built on an appreciation for diversity, admiration of artists, respect for the craft, and, of course, sandwiches.  

So, in lieu of the traditional BEST OF list, Publisher and EiC of YCE, Daniel Elkin, has gathered his flock of (Chicken) Enemies and asked them for their contributions to Your Chicken Enemy’s inaugural
Today’s BOOKS WE LIKED 2018 features books liked by Matt Vadnais, Justin Giampaoli, Michael Bettendorf, and Daniel Elkin

Make sure to check out Thursday's Favorites from Francesca LynDavid FairbanksKawai Shen, and Josh Hicks

Wednesday's Favorites from Nick HanoverSara L. JewellJason Sacks, and Mark Stack

Tuesday's Favorites from Ryan CareyPhilippe LeBlancSteve Morris, and Austin Lanari.

And Monday's Favorites from Rob CloughKim JoohaAlex Hoffman, and Keith Silva.

Matt Vadnais:
Ruby Quartz Panic Room 
by Jay Edidin
Available HERE

In his TED talk, Jay Edidin describes ways in which his understanding of fictional forms and tropes has often been more developed than his ability to understand himself. Though challenges regarding self-reflexivity aren’t explicitly named in Edidin’s terrific short comic, Ruby Quartz Panic Room, his resolute commitment to write about the Marvel character Cyclops as a means of writing about himself functions to literally illustrate a thought process that amounts to self-reflection by proxy. For listeners of Jay’s podcast about granular obsession and the X-Men, nothing here will come as a surprise; there are familiar rants and lists that serve to codify Jay’s podcast work providing the very best bit of character analysis that Scott Summers could hope for.  And yet, the artifact itself is surprising, an astonishing prism of a prison refuge, refracting and reflecting a near-lifetime of obsession as a means of creating a present-tense status report of a living human who is more than his cognitive obsessions, even if he often relies on the latter to understand the former. Though he continues to imply struggles with self-reflection, this is probably my favorite confessional comic of the last decade. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also top notch comics criticism with a tremendous eye for page layout and intertextuality. 

Justin Giampaoli:
The Agency 
by Katie Skelly 
Published by Fantagraphics
Available HERE

I’m old enough to remember Nurse Nurse published as mini-comics by the great Dylan Williams at Sparkplug Books as my first exposure to Skelly’s work. If I had to describe her oeuvre in as few words as possible, I’d settle on “devilishly fun.” The Agency collects webcomics originally published at Slutist, taking somewhat disparate tales of Agents 8, 9, and 10, and swinging for cohesion. The Agency is sex-positive voyeurism into a secret agenthood that subverts and gender-flips the familiar 007 tropes. As Nurse Nurse wasn’t just about nurses in space on some great humanitarian crusade – but an exploration of personal sexual proclivities and drug-induced adventure -- The Agency too is more concerned with each agent’s approach to their consensual kink. Skelly’s wide-eyed lines have always relayed kinetic energy and the additional full-color amps up the vibrancy, helping liberate the sexual antics. Thematically, they telegraph the simple powerful message that whatever you’re into… is ok. The sexual freedom is right there in the title’s play on words. The Agency may refer to the organization the agents work for, but also reveals them each possessing their own degree of agency as women, which they gleefully ply against the world around them

A Perfect Failure: Fante Bukowski Three 
by Noah Van Sciver 
Published by Fantagraphics
Available HERE

A Perfect Failure is the final act in what I’d term Noah Van Sciver’s “Cipher Trilogy,” wherein he creates an alternate reality version of his id and runs that idea out to a conclusion. It’s part tongue-in-check take-down of the very industry he operates in, yet also an earnest semi-autobiographical examination of humanity’s fascination with fame. It’s not declarative, but process-oriented, showcasing a willingness to examine one’s own character in plain view. Van Sciver understands there’s no great revelation in admitting a fault’s existence, but there may be in inviting the audience in to learn why the fault exists. I’ve always maintained that NVS is the voice of his generation of cartoonists, awkwardly straddling a line between R. Crumb’s ability to reveal hidden truth in all its sweaty drippy uncomfortable glory, and the innocence lost in the Charles Schulzian dichotomy of kids trying to reconcile the way the world is vs. the way the world should be. A Perfect Failure wants to understand pretension as an aspect of the psyche, balanced with reality tamping down lofty expectations via the anti-climacticism of successfully landing gigs or tabling at shows. The fleeting nature of fame can be unfulfilling, mundane, or even ironically insignificant.

Dead Kings
by Steve Orlando, Matthew Dow Smith, Lauren Affe, and Thomas Mauer 
Published by Aftershock
Available HERE

This may not live up to Elkin’s parameters for small press, but labels are fluid, and I think Dead Kings qualifies as an indie comic not in the Venn Diagram of corporate capes, so may it suffice on its own more mainstream merits. The running gag among some friends is that I don’t like humor. I don’t like shiny. I like somber. I like it dark. It’s my penchant for the post-apocalyptic, and I admit there’s certainly great dramatic tension created when things break via dystopia. Dead Kings scratches an itch reminiscent of The Winter Men, which was a broken world inhabited by a failed superhero program. The world of Dead Kings uses post-war robotic husks littering the landscape as monoliths of a prior generation’s great cataclysm. The wreckage of Rus mirrors the old human soldiers scarred by their experiences, as they’re pulled into one last primal mission to save a family member and give their broken lives some measure of meaning. As small bands of decentralized secret police patrol fiefdoms, it’s easy to imagine this failed state occurring not on the streets of some quasi Eastern Bloc country, but overlaying that relevant paradigm on our own fractured political landscape. 

Michael Bettendorf:
The Great North Wood 
by Tim Bird
Published by Avery Hill Publishing
Available HERE

In our consumer-driven society, it’s easy to gorge ourselves on content without properly digesting and processing what we’ve ingested. There’s also a lot of forgettable content out there. Combine the two and we’re left stuffed on lukewarm appetizers long before the sandwiches get to the table. 

That’s why I loved the hell out of The Great North Wood by Tim Bird – it was stuck in my mind for weeks after I finished reading the book.

It tells the story of an ancient forest in Southern England and its constant state of flux throughout history. Guided by an eldritch, curious fox, readers are led through the forest and surrounding areas. We’re beckoned to slow down and become enveloped in the array of vibrant pastel hues Tim Bird uses to color The Great North Wood. It asks us to disconnect. Explore. Play. Experience.

It made a lasting impression on me, of being mindful of not just my surroundings, but how I interact with the world around me. To slow down and play a while.

Daniel Elkin:
by Tara Booth
Published by 2dCloud
Available HERE

When it’s all said and done, Tara Booth’s Nocturne is, at its heart, a dirty joke told in long form for 64 wordless pages of painted images that almost garishly swirl with undulating blues and reds that highlight Booth’s knack for self-mockery and heartfelt exploration of both the mundane and the surreal. In its telling, though, Nocturne touches upon issues of consent, sexual politics, gender norms, insomnia, pharmacology, and communal living. Even with all this, though, Booth has created a book that ultimately ends on a note of acceptance, joy, and positivity.

Your Mother’s Fox 
by Niv Sekar
Published by ShortBox
Available HERE

What Sekar has been able to create with Your Mother’s Fox is a dream that we can all have, as its lessons speak to the present in fundamentally transformative ways. This is not an easy story to read. It is suffused with a longing and sorrowfulness and it may make you cry, but the final moment of the journey is not only meant for the main character of the story. IT's meant for us all.

by Debbie Fong
Available HERE

Reading Brooklyn-based cartoonist Debbie Fong’s new risograph-printed mini-comic Greenhouse was a keenly visceral experience for me. In 24 pages of panels awash in black, white, gray, teal, and straw-colored art, Fong lays bare withdrawal and madness and delves deep into both obsession and botany with equal skill. In Greenhouse, Fong asks questions about the ramifications of a life steeped in a technology that allows us to disconnect from others as we connect to the world. When we no longer step outside, what becomes of our world within? If our inner self has collapsed in a world that asks little of us outside, where do we reach for help?

Greenhouse reminds the reader of the importance of connection, of the need to be seen, of the paramountcy of mattering to someone other than ourselves. It posits the truth that we grow best in the open among other flourishing things, not confined to a limited sphere, shut in, regulated, alone.

by Xia Gordon
Published by 2dCloud
Available HERE

Gordon’s art is gesticulation, indication. It allows just enough to appeal to the sense-making structures to operate as they do in order to make meaning, but its true impact is in the way it unwraps loose from the page as if almost to caress, to welcome, to enfold. Two-color risographed in a soft red and blue, Kindling at times hearkens to that 3D Anaglyph effect that requires those plastic glasses that you always end up losing at some point. This adds to the richness and depth of its communication, both upon thinking about and feeling through it. 

Kindling tells the story of journey. It tells a story of struggle. Ultimately, though, it tells a story of acceptance: acceptance of the self and acceptance that, even with this, the journey continues. Gordon makes the most of her title for this book. It serves as the building blocks to idea, to self, to community, and to affirmation.

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