It's been awhile since I did one of these (holidays! family! work!) but as 2017 comes to an end I want to make sure I'm at least writing down what I've been digging lately. In a few weeks here I've got a big chunk of time off and a huge to-read pile to get through, so there's gonna be a bunch more of these soon. But! In the meantime, here's some of what I've been reading lately:
If you haven't already, check out the A.V. Club's Best of 2017 List, which I contributed to along with Oliver Sava and Shea Hennum. (If you're interested, we also have a Best of 2017 So Far from June, too.) My picks, in no particular order, are below. You should definitely go check out Oliver and Shea's recommendations, too. We all have very different taste, but that's part of what I love about working with them.
- All Star Batman (Scott Snyder, Raphael Albuquerque)
- Batman/The Shadow (Steve Orlando, Scott Snyder, Riley Rossmo)
- "The War of Jokes and Riddles" Batman arc (Tom King, Mikel Janin)
- Mister Miracle (Tom King, Mitch Gerads)
- Shipwreck (Warren Ellis, Phil Hester)
- Redlands (Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa Del Rey)
- Not Drunk Enough (Tess Stone)
- Wilde Life (Pascalle Lepas)
- Letters for Lucardo (Noora Heikkilä)
- Dinosaur Empire: Earth Before Us (Abby Howard)
About once a year at Ladies' Night at my LCS (Graham Crackers Comics in the Loop), we do something we call the Attack the Stack challenge. It's aimed at getting people to really try to get through their to-read pile. Whenever you catch up on a series or finish a graphic novel, you post a picture on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter and tag it with the #AttackTheStack hashtag, which means we all act as eachother's accountability buddies (and we try to have a prize for someone to win in a random drawing of folks who posted). I knew I wasn't going to completely finish my stack, but you can see what I read over on my Instagram. I did make a pretty big dent, and then immediately turned around and bought some more, because that's how book addiction works. Some standouts:
- I Hear the Sunspot by Yuki Fumino was a serious highlight for me. It's a beautiful, arty romance manga about two young men slowly falling for each other. One of them is hard of hearing, and the characterization is really wonderful. It scratches all the same itches that really well written fanfiction does, a little angsty with a lot of fluff and genuine emotional depth. I'm also bummed that books like that aren't really supported in western comics, while they're relatively easy to find in manga.
- The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld. This was a rough, slow-going read, mostly because there was so much information to get through. Gladstone (of NPR fame, she's one of the hosts of WNYC's On the Media) lays out the historical ways that media has been manipulated and done the manipulating since the beginning of the United States. It's a really info-heavy book, but excellently done, and Neufeld's art is great. The thing is, I'm not sure I'd call it a graphic novel so much as an illustrated novel. It's laid out like a comic, but it's incredibly text heavy and it feels like the illustrations were done after the prose was written. In fact, Neufeld is credited as an illustrator instead of the artist, so while I whole heartedly recommend the book, I'm not sure I'd call it a comic.
- Land of the Lustrous 1 by Haruko Ichikawa is sort of like Steven Universe, but leaning a bit harder into the magical girl tropes and a lot darker. Maybe Steven Universe meets Magical Girl Madoka/Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I'll admit that while I really liked the story, I found the art difficult to parse sometimes. One of the hardest things about reading manga is that it is almost always in grayscale, and because of the scope and ambition of the action sequences in particular, it was hard to tell exactly what was going on , particularly because it really does plop you right down in the middle without a lot of explanation. As a cartoon, or a full color comic, I think it would look absolutely stunning (and thankfully there is an anime that aired just a few months ago). It does leave me with the impression that this was always planned to be a show instead of a comic, and I'm not really a fan of that. As it is, it's pretty but I probably won't be picking it up as much and as often as I do stuff like Princess Jellyfish or Ōoku.
- My Brother's Husband Vol 1 by Gengoroh Tagame (translated by Anne Ishii). Tears. Tears streaming down my face the whole time. It's about a Japanese man struggling with meeting his dead brother's husband, and trying to understand how someone can love someone the same gender they are. It's sweet and beautiful and really heartbreaking and happy-making all at the same time.
- Ōoku: The Inner Chambers Vol 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga is one of the most beautiful mangas I've ever read, and it's all down to the fabric. Set in a universe where men are a commodity thanks to an illness that kills many of them, the (female) ruler of Japan has created what amounts to a harem for herself. Ōoku is largely set inside the confines of this space, telling the story of the shogun and her dozens of male companions, and it's lush with detail and fascinating characters. Plus, there's the added benefit of essentially getting a history lesson while you read, because besides the gender reversal it's fairly accurate to the period, as far as I can tell. It's basically clothing porn set in feudal Japan, it's super subversive and pretty queer and I love it.
- Taproot by Keezy Young. If there's one theme you can take from this list, it's that I needed some awesome LGBTQ+ love stories and boy did comics deliver. Taproot is, a lot like I Hear the Sunspot, the love story of two gay young men that gives me all of the same emotional investment as the best fanfiction does. Young's art is colorful and sweet and soft, just like the story, and it's one of the few times I thought I was going to get a sad ending for a gay couple and didn't. This book warmed my cold dead heart in the best ways.
I also stumbled upon a new (to me) webcomic last week: Banquet by A. Szabla. Like Wilde Life, it's an example of me feeling like a dummy for not recognizing a webcomic creator I already follow. Szabla also makes Bird Boy, but the styles on these two comics are really quite different so I don't feel too much like an idiot. Banquet is like if Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli) and Jim Henson (especially Labyrinth) had a love child in Pacific Rim. Without giving away too much, it is about a toddler that falls into a world populated by massive monsters with a strict hierarchy. I'm a sucker for big monsters and stolen children stories (thanks, too many stories about changelings as a kid) and I'm an extra sucker for a gay love story, which Banquet also includes. There's only a couple dozen pages up so far and it's really fun.