BEST MINI-COMICS & SMALL PRESS TITLES OF 2010 by Justin Giampaoli
This year was even more difficult than last year to down-select from so many appealing contenders. With 169 books reviewed here at Poopsheet Foundation alone, settling on the finalists was a grueling process. I spent hours reviewing and rethinking every selection vis-à-vis their competition. The first couple entries were relatively easy. I actually knew the moment I read them that they’d be contenders and other books would inevitably be chasing them all year long trying to knock them out of position. The other finalists ranged from some familiar mini-comics creators and small press publishers to those relatively unknown to me. For example, Patrick Keck seemed to come out of nowhere and made a strong and lasting impression. Some creators offered multiple projects. For example, Noah Van Sciver put out a terrific issue in the form of Blammo #6, but in this Sophie’s Choice style proposition, I ultimately settled on the purity of Complaints instead. Some publishers simply refused to be ignored; Sparkplug Comic Books ended the year with two very deserving finalists.
I would be remiss in not giving some honorable mentions to additional creators like Lauren Barnett (Secret Weirdo), Katie Skelly (Nurse Nurse), Ryan Claytor (And Then One Day), Ryan Standfest (Funny/not funny), Pete Hodapp (Yawning Void), Julia Gfrorer (Flesh And Bone), Jason Ciaccia & Aaron Norhanian (The Sinister Truth: MK Ultra), and the gang at the Boston Comics Roundtable (Inbound 5: The Food Issue), whose work I enjoyed immensely, but couldn’t seem to squeeze into a finite list no matter how many times I attempted to rework it. Without further preamble, here are the Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2010…
PTERODACTYL HUNTERS by Brendan Leach Ptero Hunters is the clever cornerstone in what I’m calling the “Newsprint Revivalist” movement, joining mainstream offerings like DC’s largely uneven Wednesday Comics and indie breakouts like Pete Hodapp’s Yawning Void. Leach presents a scraggly-lined story that’s epic in scope, utilizing the grand spectacle of action adventure that the name surely implies, but wisely roots it in the effortless accessibility of emotional family drama. It blew me away.
RAMBO 3.5 by Jim Rugg Honestly, without any hyperbolic ranting whatsoever… this is absolutely one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. In any year. In any medium. Jim Rugg has surreptitiously supplanted guys like Dennis Miller, Jon Stewart, and the crew of subversives responsible for the TV show Archer on FX; he is my new comedic guru. For those of us that politically lean toward the liberal left and feel that something has been deeply amiss in this country ever since that village in Texas lost its idiot a few years ago, then this is certainly for you.
COMPLAINTS by Noah Van Sciver I can unabashedly say that I love all of Noah’s work. Blammo is particularly amazing, and I sincerely hope that you all supported the grass roots Facebook Campaign to put him to work on Howard the Duck for Marvel’s Strange Tales anthology, because that’s something I want to see as a fan. That said, Complaints had a purity of spirit, a crystal clear aesthetic, and a POV that is among the best that modern DIY self-publishing has to offer. This is the future of the scene.
BURN COLLECTOR #14 by Al Burian Burn Collector operates in two hemispheres; it respects the past and had me typing missives like “Kirby crackle” in my review, but also looks to the future with a dystopian angst, where books might not exist, but the vibrancy of underground comics would still live on. Burian’s contemplation of our “visual symbolic language” is essential reading for the DIY crowd and their position in culture. Comics are holistically moving toward center, along with graffiti, music, and contemporary art, and this convergence of influences is occurring “beneath the radar of the curators of high culture.” It’s powerful stuff, a sobering call to arms for the creators who will rise up and usher in tomorrow.
THE RATNEST #2 by Patrick Keck The cover technique is simply exquisite. In one fell swoop, this lavishly designed book justified the existence of the tactile sensory experience of print comics and exposed one of the critical weaknesses of the drive to digital. On the storytelling side, it was an effective exercise in thematic cycle, and in the evolution of form. I called it back then, and nothing I can say today will be as heartfelt and intense; The Ratnest is a “refreshingly great” and “paradigm shattering objet d’art.”
BOGWITCH #3 Edited by Patrick Keck Yeah. Not only can he create, but he can also “herd cats” as I like to say, and curate an anthology style book. Patrick Keck’s editorial hand is as strong as his creative one. It’s got Chris Cilla. It’s got Malachi Ward. It’s got Thomas Stemrich and Joe Sobota delivering “Reds, Pinks, and Whites,” which is a fickle, honest, direct, and unflinching look at society. “Rescue Boat” by Weston Wilson amazed me with prose on par with Ernest Hemmingway. It’s about helpless desperation, fragile existence, and intricate contemplation. The intensity of purpose on display grabs you by the throat and never lets go.
BOUND AND GAGGED Edited by Tom Neely Speaking of herding cats being an additional talent… there’s Tom Neely. The Blot was my first exposure to Neely’s work and it catapulted itself into the position of being an all time favorite. It was the juxtaposition of two anachronistic aesthetics, a Floyd Gottfredson inspired Disney quirk, with Neely’s almost fetishistic appreciation of classic horror. As if I wasn’t seething with enough jealousy, he then turns in this amazing editorial effort. The entries include work from Tom Neely himself, Elijah Brubaker (Reich), Chris Cilla (The Heavy Hand), David King (Lemon Styles), Josh Simmons (Jessica Farm), Noah Van Sciver (Blammo), John Porcellino (King Cat), Dylan Williams (Reporter), and Ryan Standfest (Funny/not funny). The roster reads like a damn who’s who of who I consider industry leaders and personal favorites. This book is a perfect little snapshot in time of the best creators the industry has to offer.
LEMON STYLES by David King As we ultimately concluded here at Poopsheet Foundation, this is like “Charles Schulz for the 21st Century.” There’s no additional collegiate vocabulary word I can lay down, no clever turn of phrase I can construct, or witty analogy I can conjure to adequately express the praise. The work is a continual attempt to reconcile the way the world is with the way the world should be. Bravo to Dylan Williams and Sparkplug Comic Books for putting out so many great books this year in general, and specifically their strong support of King’s work!
THE HEAVY HAND by Chris Cilla Once again, I’ll reiterate my remarks about Sparkplug Comic Books and the general strength of their line. I’ve never met a Sparkplug Comic Book that I didn’t like. I felt so engrossed by the bizarre world-building and immersive nature of the experience reading The Heavy Hand. I haven’t felt such a visceral gut level reaction to a book since the first installment of Jessica Farm by Josh Simmons. Chris Cilla is like the wayward bastard lovechild of Robert Crumb and Charles Burns.
KARMIC BOOK by Carrie Taylor Carrie Taylor’s quiet little effort really deserves a “Special Prize” in the selections this year for stretching the definition of what a mini-comic can be. It graciously retains its status despite content that defies categorization, the blurring of mixed media influences, the lack of a specific genre, and beautifully textured technique that feels like Taylor’s own uniquely inventive intellectual property. It’s different from all that came before, and will likely remain so from all that comes after.