December 15, 2018

BOOKS WE LIKED 2018: Special Saturday Edition

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 that have yet to be reviewed by any of the Enemies 

Make sure you check out Friday's Favorites from Matt VadnaisJustin GiampaoliMichael Bettendorf, and Daniel Elkin

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.

Follow Me In
By Katriona Chapman
Published by Avery Hill
Available HERE

This is a beautiful book. In Follow Me In, Chapman uses the format of a travelogue to not only explore the beauty and history of Mexico but also examine her own growth as an artist and her agency as a woman. Through voyage, Chapman outlines how she moves forward by exploring the past, expertly weaving her personal journey into the context of traveling through a foreign land.

This is also a book about dealing with an alcoholic partner -- and Chapman uses all the tools of the medium to both convey the turmoil of participating in that relationship and make that struggle real to the reader.

Finally, Chapman may well be one of the best cartoonists working today when it comes to conveying an incredible range of human emotion through gesture, expression, layout, and color.

Vanishing Act
By Roman Muradov
Published by Fantagraphics Books
Available HERE

Vanishing Act breaks apart all concepts of narrative and, in doing so, overlays a close resemblance to direct experience. Muradov is seemingly not interested in telling a story as much as he is trying to approximate Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. All the moments of a moment are laid out in sections, even though they happen simultaneously, consecutively, or in dreams -- “a single evening under a sidestepped temporal constraint

With Vanishing Act, Muradov once again proves himself to be one of the most maddening, talented, humorous, and thoughtful creative forces working in comics. In his work, everything comes down to gesture, even intent.

Ink Brick: The Journal of Comics Poetry No. 9
Edited by Alexander Rothman, Paul K. Tunis, Alexey Sokolin, and Matthea Harvey
Available HERE

Everyone contributing and editing this journal are constantly and consistently trying to define the concept of comics poetry, while at the same time expanding the medium of comics. The ninth issue of this series continues this mandate. When abstract images are presented in conjunction with poetic expression, each side opens up and the reader grabs for handholds unique to their own understanding. Ink Brick has been providing space for this sort of exploration -- and doing so in a way that never allows anyone to become complacent in any sense they have made -- never resting on a single characterization or delimitation of what constitutes Comics Poetry

Also of Note:

By Rozi Hathaway
Available HERE

Based on a conversation with a four-year-old, Moon is an original comics story with plenty of imagination, a look at familial relationships, and a nod the Chinese legend of Chang-e and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

By Jean Wei
Published by Peow
Available HERE

Beautiful slice-of-life centered on a naked 8-foot fire demon and farm life with an old Aunt and grand-niece. Sounds pretty spicy if you ask me. And you know what they say about spicy. Spicy is HEAT.”

No Better Words
By Carolyn Nowak
Published by Silver Sprocket
Available HERE

This is a porn comic that beautiful and viscerally captures desire in a safe story filled with agency and consent.

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.

December 13, 2018

BOOKS WE LIKED 2018: Francesca Lyn, David Fairbanks, Kawai Shen, and Josh Hicks

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 Francesca Lyn, David Fairbanks, Kawai Shen, and Josh Hicks

Make sure to check out 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.

Francesca Lyn:
Where Do You Go At Night?
by Miranda Harmon
More Information HERE

Where Do You Go At Night? is a charming, self-published 28-page collection of short autobiographical comics that center on Harmon’s move to Southern California. This is a humorous and sensitive comic from a cartoonist that radiates talent. Harmon, a graduate of the Sequential Arts Workshop (SAW), is a gifted storyteller who perfectly captures the daunting and exhilarating feeling of moving to a new place. In the comic, Harmon explores her new home, going on bad dates, making new friends, and pondering what it means to grow and change. Her strong drawing skills are revealed in her thoughtful character design and the care in which she renders her environments. In addition to a dose of whimsy, Harmon’s comics have a touch of the surreal. Whether she depicts herself as a human woman or as a busy cat going grocery shopping, her ability to communicate a nuanced mood shines through. I purchased this minicomic directly from Harmon at the Small Press Expo. At the time of this review Where Do You Go At Night? is out of print but will be reprinted next year. Several of Harmon’s other comics are available through Radiator Comics.

Battle Arc 2088
by Danny Djeljosevic (writer and letters) and Brett Marcus Cook (art)
Available HERE

Battle Arc 2088 is a tightly plotted comic set in a Day-Glo cyberpunk future. In this 40-page comic, Djeljosevic and Cook present a cautionary tale of what we may encounter when our biology becomes inextricably linked to proprietary technology. The story follows scientist turned crusader Zell as she navigates wearing a stolen experimental super suit called the Battle Arc. The suit allows Zell to fight people who have augmented her bodies through sophisticated biohacking. While Djeljosevic and Cook have created a fascinating future world where chaos rules, their biggest strength lies in creating a compelling protagonist with genuine pathos. Zell is a refreshingly heroic character with a strong moral compass. Her sincere desire to do what is right for all of humanity drives the story and this strong characterization adds heart and poignancy to what could have been a visually appealing but more general sci-fi story. I purchased Battle Arc 2088 by supporting the comic’s Kickstarter campaign, but it's now available on Gumroad for download.

David Fairbanks:
Did You See Me?
by Sophia Foster-Dimino
Published by ShortBox
Available HERE

The idea of a definitive, whole self has always been fantasy, but in 2018 we seem more capable than ever of fracturing, of presenting only select facets to select groups of people. Who are you on Twitter? On Facebook? At work? With your partner? When you dream? Where and in what ways do our collections of personae overlap, what does it mean to know someone, and what does it mean to be honest? These are heavy, complicated ideas that Foster-Dimino seems perfectly at home with. By using different styles for the waking world and the dream world, by presenting the spaces of Twitter and television via different layouts, she establishes firm boundaries between these areas, boundaries which are perfectly subverted by the narrative. 

On its surface, Did You See Me? is just a story about a person moving from one relationship to another, but the continued juxtaposition of uniform narrative and distinct artistic style begs the reader to question their own reality. What is a real relationship? Is a person being unfaithful if they dream about (or share dreams with) someone else? What if it feels like infidelity to the dreamer? How different is that dream space from the ether between two people's computer screens? Foster-Dimino encourages this kind of questioning in the reader while being brave enough to avoid offering a clear answer, which has left me thinking about Did You See Me? since it arrived in my mailbox earlier this year.

On a Sunbeam
by Tillie Walden
Published by Avery Hill Publishing
Available HERE

Yes, I am using the print publication of On a Sunbeam to justify mentioning it the year after it was finished. No, I do not feel guilty about finding a loophole to praise one of the best cartoonists working today. Tillie Walden has a knack for distilling emotion and expression into essential, smooth lines. Her faces are simple without sacrificing any human complexity. It may sound cold to describe it as "efficient," but I think it's apt. The style of Walden's characters allows the reader to quickly and easily read the human dynamics of a scene to then absorb her narrative, her worldbuilding, or even just her backgrounds.

While The End of Summer had its Little Nemo connection, On a Sunbeam more closely walks in the steps of Winsor McCay, with Walden giving herself permission to create and explore fantastical worlds unburdened by the small chunk of history we have carved out on Earth. Her limited color palettes somehow allow the comic to pop in a way that would be impossible with a full range, and they help clearly establish tone and time. It would be a joy simply to come along for the ride as Walden draws whatever world she sees fit, but the characters she gives us feel both familiar and wholly new. The relationships of a crew of scavengers/restorationists and a cadre of boarding school students would each be enough to carry a 500-page tome like On a Sunbeam, but here we get both as Walden weaves their timelines for a story of love and humanity that is epic in scope.

Kawai Shen:
Koreangry 3
By Eunsoo Jeong
More Information HERE

Koreangry 3 is the third issue of the Koreangry series, a self-published comic by Eunsoo Jeong. It features a series of photographs of a plasticine-like version of the author, bug-eyed with cartoonish foam hair, a crooked tooth, and a pair of irate, bushy brows furrowed into an acute “v”. Jeong then poses her model in miniature dioramas full of the most fantastic, tiny props: beer bottles on her bedside table, a basket full of Korean spa toiletries, a pot of a dead plant in her office, its leaves scattered on the floor.

True to its title, in a mere 24 pages, Jeong delivers a torrent of expletive-laden rants on weighty topics such as sexism, racism, work precarity, and anti-immigration in the US. Jeong's depictions of herself as outlandish and unfeminine are refreshing because she is never self-deprecating and has a great sense of comedic timing. The entire series is recommended.

By Victor Martins
Available HERE

Victor Martins' You Don't Have to Be Afraid of Me is a self-published, two-color riso, autobio comic. It employs a disarmingly cute cartooning style to Trojan-Horse you right into Martins' personal experiences in overcoming gender dysphoria, gendered violence, and self-harm.

Despite the comic's brevity, it manages to pack in a powerful mix of cultural critique, vulnerability, and a touch of humor. Do not be fooled by the simplicity of Martins' drawings. His economical linework is precise and his figures expressive. His use of text is also disarmingly casual, only to be deployed on one page in a memorably graphic manner to devastating effect.

All in all, it's a very personal story that reminds me how the autobio genre in comics can convey an immediacy, intimacy, and vibrancy that cannot be found in other mediums. It also shows us that there are still vibrant, fresh narratives to be found in autobio work.

Josh Hicks:
Dark Angels of Darkness
by Al Gofa
Published by Peow Studio
Available HERE
Sweden’s Peow Studio always put out beautiful comics (I reviewed their Ripples here last year) and Dark Angels of Darkness is no different. Al Gofa’s macho wasteland punching epic follows military mastermind Megan, superspy Garo and killing expert Symba in their quest to overthrow the dictatorial Imperius Rhâââ, an all-powerful being who has imposed a law making the act of fusion -- two beings combining and becoming one -- punishable by instant death. Gofa’s writing is self-aware and knowingly goofy, stopping just short of full-on parody, and the fusion-based conceit gives ample opportunity for him to bombard us with new characters (each with their own full-page pin-ups) and excuses for fight scenes. Despite the homage-heavy premise (Gofa’s admitted touchstones of video games, 90s action figures, and 80s manga are all well served) Darkness’ sense of humour, expressive brush lines and lush colouring -- all yellows, oranges, and purples -- make for a dynamic and fresh book that sits perfectly within Peow’s catalogue. The most metal comic I read this year!

Summer Break

by Lottie Pencheon
Published by ShortBox
Available HERE

Lottie Pencheon is making some of my favorite minicomics in the UK at the moment. A shift in tone from her shorter joke-driven work, Summer Break is a foray into heavier stuff, being explicitly autobiographical and dealing directly with depression, disassociation and a general, undiagnosable feeling of malaise. The book finds Lottie in the middle of a mental health crisis that she can’t begin to fathom or understand. Unsure as to whether her symptoms are indicative of larger issues or simply a vitamin B12 deficiency, she opts to continue with a planned family outing to the country -- where things only continue to get worse. The longer format allows Pencheon’s art pencils and colors really shine, and as Lottie’s mental state worsens, Pencheon’s world deteriorates with her: environments begin to fall apart, objects begin to trail, and interior discourses between two interior Lottie’s -- Summer Break’s equivalent of the classic angel and demon on the shoulder -- begin to erupt into chaos. Pencheon’s sense of humor and pure cartooning skill allow her to navigate the subject matter without veering into the self-exploitative or the twee, and it quickly becomes clear that Summer Break is a highly personal and cathartic work -- not to mention a compelling and affecting one.

Soft X-Ray/Mindhunters

by A. Degen

Published by Koyama Press
Available HERE

A. Degen is a weirdly formative figure in my comics reading and practice. His story in Snake Bomb Comix #2 was one of the first small press comics I ever read, and as a result, I feel almost genetically predisposed to like anything he puts out. Like much of his previous work, Soft X-Ray/Mindhunters is wordless, telling two stories — Mindhunters, about a pair of masked brain-based vigilantes, and Soft X-Ray, about a group of abstract god-beings — in tandem, using images alone. Degen tends to maintain an obscure bedrock of esoteric philosophical, religious and literary thought underneath what are essentially poppy and colorful sci-fi stories, and that continues here. He made his first work while living in Japan, and pop-art flavours of Tadanori Yokoo illustration, Sasaki Maki comics, and children’s live-action tokusatsu programming run throughout the book -- belying many of his more academic influences (i.e: the ones I am too stupid to ‘get’ without using google) -- while his clear line, detailed environments, and emphasis on purely visual storytelling work together to provide a lush, dense and satisfying read. In turns funny, dramatic, mysterious and incomprehensible, Soft X-Ray/Mindhunters is Degen’s most ambitious book to date and a comic that I fully recommend.

December 12, 2018

BOOKS WE LIKED 2018: Nick Hanover, Sara L. Jewell, Jason Sacks, and Mark Stack

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 Nick Hanover, Sara L. Jewell, Jason Sacks, and Mark Stack

Make sure to check out Tuesday's Favorites from Ryan CareyPhilippe LeBlancSteve Morris, and Austin Lanari.

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

Nick Hanover: 
Cartoon Dialectics #3
By Tom Kaczynski and Clara Jetsmark
Published by Uncivilized Books
Available HERE

Cartoon Dialectics #3 looks like a humble, unobtrusive work-- it’s packaged like a zine, printed in purple, black and white with an occasional splash of yellow on somewhat thick, matte paper. But what Tom Kaczynski and Clara Jetsmark provide between its covers is powerful, invigorating stuff, connecting the dots between our society’s retromania and the rise of neo-fascism, while also acknowledging how easy it is for anyone to fall prey to the dangerous allure of nostalgia. 

The written content itself is sharp and refreshingly clear, but it’s the contrast of Kaczynski’s architect eye and Jetsmark’s borderline cubist approach to design that makes the material triumph the way it does. Even the most detailed and complex analysis in Cartoon Dialectics goes down easy because of how eye-catching and blunt the art is, like a lecture carried out by performance artists. Bold in its aesthetic and literal simplicity and paradoxically educational and surreal, Cartoon Dialectics #3 did a far better job investigating where we are now and why in its few pages than the entirety of the New York Times this year.

Vampire Horse
By Madeline McGrane
Read It HERE

I had a hard time mustering up much enthusiasm for comics this year. Between the seemingly endless stories of sexual harassment and assault on both the mainstream and indie levels and the growing sense that we were living in the end times, I mostly wanted to do anything but read comics, let alone write about them. So whenever something popped up that felt, well, fun, it was like being thrown an oxygen mask and tank while sinking to the bottom of the sea.

Madeline McGrane’s Vampire Horse was perhaps my most unexpected comics salvation this year. Appearing on Twitter in March, and then magically reappearing on my feed at several dire points in the rest of my year, Vampire Horse provided exactly what it promised: the adventure of a horse turned into a vampire and the vampire cowgirl who befriends it. McGrane’s stark, unfussed over art is naturally relaxing but McGrane’s highly expressive character designs keep things exciting and complex, wringing far more depth and tension out what would be a one-note joke in lesser hands. Vampire Horse might prompt a reflexive snicker at first glance but read it and tell me it doesn’t feel like a lifesaver in this tire fire of a year.

An Actual Goblin
By Pete Toms
Available HERE

I suspect that satirists and surrealists are having a particularly difficult time creating material when reality itself feels like the bleakest possible joke. So props to Pete Toms for finding a way to stay inspired, relevant and, most importantly, goddamn funny here at the end of the world with An Actual Goblin.

Like most of Toms’ work, An Actual Goblin explores the absurdity of living multiple lives at once-- work, home, and social media. In this case, that’s through the perspective of a woman fired for being a little too woke at a Medieval Times-esque gimmick restaurant, whose drunken decision to release her equine coworkers on the town results in severed digits (swiftly becoming a signature Toms motif), escalating conspiracy theories from the local authorities and unnatural partnerships between human and animal (not in the way you’re thinking, you pervert). 

What makes An Actual Goblin standout in Toms’ work and otherwise is how masterfully it strikes a balance between constant laugh out loud entertainment and heady philosophizing. An Actual Goblin is heavily detailed, but not in a cluttered way, with Toms getting humor and tension out of things as simple and subtle as t-shirts characters wear (a favorite of mine just says “TOONS”) while also providing nauseating moments of body horror, ranging from worm infestations to melting faces. Put simply, An Actual Goblin is a disturbingly accurate representation of the headspace of this rotten age, in all its terror and all its comedy.

Sara L. Jewell:
Cave Dreams 
by Carta Monir 
Published on Polygon
Read It HERE

I discovered Monir’s excellent comics for the first time this year and eagerly sought out her work across the internet. Her comics frequently interrogate or utilize the ways in which modern-day experiences are increasingly mediated or deeply influenced by digital arenas and interfaces. Cave Dreams, a recent piece published on Polygon, explores video games as liminal spaces and “imperfect mirrors” through a childhood experience of a 1991 DOS game - Magic Pockets - with its own meta-dimensional mechanic: the protagonist can jump into his pant’s pocket and enter a different dimension. Monir’s effortless line and deliberate scrolled reveal of each subsequent panel draw the reader, not coincidentally, deeper into their screens as she captures the feeling of entering a virtual world that subsequently enters you, becoming entangled somewhere deep in your subconscious. One of the Monir’s great strengths as a cartoonist is her ability to evoke a sense of what being in a virtual world feels like. It’s never more evident than in Cave Dreams, a comic that rejects the idea of “perfect safety” in any space, real or imagined. 

by L. Nichols 
Published by Secret Acres
Available HERE

Nichols’ memoir about growing up queer in a conservative Christian community really struck a chord with me. Flocks rejects easy answers to the question of what to do when the communities you depend on to uplift you would just as soon strike you down if they knew who you truly were. Over the course of the book, wherein Nichols depicts himself as a doll with button-eyes, he belongs to many shepherded groups (as the title might suggest) and frequently feels the discomfort of not-quite-belonging. Nichols contention at one point, that we can belong to these communities in some ways but not others, that we can take what’s good from fellowship and leave the rest behind, is deeply poignant in the context of his life, as he charts his journey from ashamed young person to happy, confident father, artist, and graduate. 

Upgrade Soul 
by Ezra Claytan Daniels 
Published by Lion Forge
Available HERE

A disturbing look at how we define human potential, Daniels' superbly drawn science fiction opus follows Hank and Molly Nonnar, an elderly couple who undergo a cutting-edge procedure in the hopes of perfecting and rejuvenating themselves. Not merely a fountain of youth or a return to halcyon days, the treatment aims to genetically “perfect” the pair in every possible way, but instead creates two horrific, alien-looking clones, whose intellectual and emotional sophistication strains the claim that they could possibly, even with the pair’s memories, be Hank and Molly any longer. What follows is a tale rife with body horror that asks uncomfortable questions about what makes us who we are, what constitutes a flaw, and what it means to achieve our “best” selves. Daniels' narrative is unsettling, engaging, and frequently emotional. His characters are fully realized and feel completely authentic. Upgrade Soul is a book that absolutely does not shy away from the metaphysically intricate ideas it introduces. 

Jason Sacks:
Adult Crash Comix
By Jim Kettner
Available HERE

Jim Kettner’s Adult Crash Comix is a revelation. A work of technical and emotional precision, this is also a moving first chapter of an intriguing graphic novel.

Kettner’s linework is excellent, precise but loose enough to keep the focus on the humanity of the characters. His use of single-color highlights is well used to accentuate key settings like the bland pleasantness of hospital waiting rooms and the suffocating closeness of grandma's house. As well, his use of full- and two-page spreads does a powerful job of accentuating important story beats.

The aspect of the book that really resonates with me is the larger story Kettner depicts.

Kettner tells about how a hospital visit to his critically ill grandmother reminds him of a terrible childhood experience. In doing so, he helps to render universal an experience most of us feel throughout our lives: the tremendous disappointments our families visit upon us and the myriad ways human weakness becomes apparent as we become more cognizant of our world. Those themes then resonate as we are flip the story in order to provide sympathy for those who disappointed us. In the inversion of experience, we are moved to have a moment of revelation about our own weaknesses. That epiphany gives Adult Crash real emotional power.

The Secret Voice
By Zack Soto
Published by Study Group Comics
Available HERE

The Secret Voice is the most fun graphic novel I read in 2018. This epic fantasy offers thrilling action, fascinating characters, and thoughtful worldbuilding. This book is an exciting page-turner, but it also delivers more than is shown on the surface.

The independent vision of creator Zack Soto is what makes this book truly special. The Secret Voice mainly focuses on the bandaged mystery man, Doctor Gallapagos, as he battles the mysterious Red College. 

Gallapagos provides the true center of this book. Readers are shown from his first moments on the page that the bandaged man is a tenacious warrior. But as Soto pulls us along in his story, he shows readers the massive costs that fighting spirit has cost this great warrior. Gallapagos is beaten down in his body, his soul, and his love life. His weaknesses make him intriguing. His inner fragility pulls the reader in and encourages empathy.

Soto’s discursive wanderings are just as compelling: he places readers into troll villages which hint at a full society. He gives us intriguing, elusive references to past battles, old broken romances, and the implications of deep emotional and physical damage. The Secret Voice treads the elusive line between an improvisational indie vision and a fun epic fantasy.

That Box We Sit On
by Richie Pope
Available HERE

When I was in elementary school, my friends and I once found an odd box in the middle of a country field. We spent hours debating the box, its importance and where it came from. Ultimately the mystery evaporated when a neighbor told us it was just a piece from a milking machine. 

Richie Pope’s “That Box We Sit On” takes a similar experience and spins a beguiling comic from it. This smart mini presents a dialogue which seems to be about a mysterious box in the middle of a field but which actually is about friendship and the power of imagination.

Pope delivers his comic as six-panel grids which provide a metronomic beat to the conversation between two friends as they throw out ideas about the box’s composition. That rhythm gives the book its backbone and its sense of warmth, as the friends show their obvious affection for each other, share a few laughs, and go down tangents such as their love for spicy sunflower seeds.

“That Box” seems simple, but it is as complicated as the relationship between two friends. That emotional resonance makes this a memorable, powerful work of comics art.

Mark Stack:
Battery Acid Chapter 1 
Written by J Doyle, art by Y Zhou 
Find Out More HERE

The sports comic is bigger than the superhero comic from a global perspective. Unfortunately, the sports comic is not as big of a figure in the American comics industry, and thus the biggest successes in the genre in the States are with imported series such as Haruichi Furdudate’s Haikyu!. As with a lot of blockbuster comics, there’s a particular idiom that that series works within with the successful elements coming from the unique application of character dynamics. Battery Acid, a self-published North-American comic, is certainly working within that Japanese idiom while also striving to add dimension to the antagonistic relationship between the two players who lead the book. The first chapter of this comic sets up a larger ongoing, establishing the abusive dynamic between the timid Hasegawa and the hotheaded Ono when the former gives up a game-winning hit in a key baseball game before flashing forward two years. Visually, this comic sets itself apart from its North American peers with its deft visual vocabulary that, while lacking somewhat in detail at times, always accentuates the strengths of the book through the dynamic staging of the leads. The excitement for this book, functionally a standalone as a first chapter even as it leaves threads open to being developed in later chapters, comes in the way these two have changed since that important game. Their interactions tell a story of lingering fear and regret between them that will need to be resolved in order for them to create a functional team. It’s a potent cocktail.

by Kelsey Wroten 
Published by Pyrite Press
Available HERE

There probably isn’t enough said about how the cover, as more than a marketing tool, serves as the first taste of a comic. The cover for Crimes presents a melancholy so overbearing that it depresses at the onset even as the warm colors invite you in. You want to keep looking at it, but all it does is make you feel sadder. That’s the case for protagonist Willa as she falls for Bas, her best friend Simon’s younger girlfriend. Bas is at once extremely cool and unattainable from her work as an artist and detached attitude. Her aloofness vexes Willa as the two get closer as she remains unreadable with the poor girl worrying about what she is and isn’t projecting onto her. Willa, shaped by an upbringing in which her father seemed to go out of his way to prove that he was smarter than a child and then criticizing her in the next breath, sees herself in stark black and white. She is either good or bad, and there is a tremendous degree of shame wrapped up in her attraction to Bas (who, for her part, is much more comfortable with her sexuality, not using labels or attempting to define it within herself, than Willa who struggles to sputter out that she isn’t attracted to men). The crimes of the title may very well refer to the moments of intimacy between Willa and Bas as they embark on an affair that is at first intimate and suddenly sexual, leaving Willa to worry that her pursuing something that might make her feel good is a sin. As Bas asks Willa in the form of a poem, “You keep portraits of great thinkers by your bed/Black and white/Why are there no portraits of great thinkers in color?” The reader is prepared to see the color in Willa’s black and white world as the cover prepares them to read Willa and Bas’ hair as the same shade of platinum blonde and the colors of the beach that the finale is staged at as warmer than the events might indicate even as they are not visible within the pages themselves.

by M.S. Harkness 
Published by Kilgore Books
Available HERE

Much of Tinderella, as the name would suggest, follows Harkness through her (assumedly) autobiographical history of dating app hook-ups like she’s a horny Scott McCloud in a world full of inhospitable dick. The range of style found in this book really does recall the range shown in the quintessential comics textbook Understanding Comics, but with an exciting application into storytelling that even McCloud couldn’t quite achieve with works like The Sculptor. Harkness shifts the depiction of herself radically over the course of the book to fit the tone of her latest misadventure, almost always appearing a shade more “cartoony” than her scene partners. It’s a tremendous breath of fresh air to follow a woman who at times presents herself as gross and miserable without having to take brutal shots at herself to almost apologize or contextualize the portrayal. This is something men often get to do in their own work, but practically never this potently self-aware, good-humored, and considered. Harkness’ skill as a storyteller truly shines late in the book in a capstone sequence where the events of Wrestlemania X-Seven’s match between Vince and Shane McMahon are played out before being followed by a harrowing flashback to Harkness’ mother attempting to get her and her brother’s name’s changed following her ex-husband’s charge of sexual assault. It’s a bravura sequence as the absurdly presented story of righteous child versus scumbag father plays out with the former overcoming while the flashback to court shows him succeeding for the moment. A lesser work would play that wrestling match for catharsis. Instead, Harkness embraces the mess of emotions found in the story and the denial of a similar resolution in her own life. Expect to see Harkness on lists like this every year she puts out a book.