Top Indies, Small Press, and Webcomics of 2016

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I asked our small press comics fans to tell me not what the best comics of 2016 were, but which ones were their favourites. Here’s what they said:

Mattress Stiff With BloodMattress Stiff with Blood, Tom McHenry
Tom McHenry
Self-published

There’s something that’s incredibly natural about the cartooning Tom McHenry does in this work—everything flows so seamlessly from one topic to the next, from one scene to the next, from one panel to the next. Though the title holds a kind of ominousness to it, the book is a slice of life between two beaus—Coop the bird and Stucks the pig—from their outing to the beach to getting ready for bed. There’s a surreal quality to everything around them but the diaglogue is just like hanging out with two (queer) friends who have developed their own couple-dialect. They might be watching live Mario Kart races and laying eggs but it’s entirely grounded in subtle character work. It’s lowkey and kind of beautiful, the first comic in a long time that moved me to make something of my own.

— Kat Overland


Bones of the CoastBones of the Coast, Cloudscape Comics
Various
Cloudscape Comics

I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for my entire life, and few fictional stories have captured the strange beauty of the area as well as this anthology. Consisting of 22 horror comics based in the great northwest, Bones of the Coast is a beautiful combination of dark and spooky artwork, brilliant dialog, and the blend of technology and rustic living that makes this area so unique. While not every story is a winner, there’s some excellent work in this anthology, and it’s left a lasting impression on me. I’ll never look at those feet washing up on our coasts the same.

— Melissa Brinks


Spidey ZineSpidey Zine, Hannah Blumenreich
Hannah Blumenreich
Self-published

I wrote a review of this zine back in July because my love for it knew no bounds. I grew up with animated Spider-Man and the movies but found it hard to connect with the comics. Like I said in the review, Blumenreich’s art is “young, expressive, dorky and loose” and really captures the essence of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man.

She made the mainstream hero fun long before that first trailer of Spider-Man: Homecoming and it’s easily my overall favourite comic of 2016.

— Ardo Omer


WitchlightWitchlight, Czap Books
Jessi Zabarsky
Czap Books

I received the PDF of this book just in time to add it to this list, and I’m so delighted! Witchlight is about Lelek, a tough young witch traveling in search of her old mentor, and Sanja, a sweet, idealistic but strong girl who Lelek captures and convinces to teach her sword fighting. Zabarksy has built a gorgeous magical landscape that is diverse in all senses of the word. Zabarsky’s visual depictions of various kinds of magic in the world of Witchlight are absolutely stunning; each witch creates a kind of art utterly unique to their personality. The intimate moments are also wonderfully done. Zabarsky shows a loving conversation between characters entirely through their hand gestures, and reveals a character’s jealousy and emotional maturity through the way she observes her crush. I loved this story and these two beautiful, queer girls so much that I almost ugly cried at the end and immediately went back to page one to reread the story. Bonus—badass old ladies who can fight! My favorite thing!

— Alenka Figa


Fuck Off SquadFuck Off Squad, Spector Island
Nicole Goux, Gwendolyn Kim, Sonja Shoemaker, Holly Randall, Anne Lee (Artists), and Dave Baker (Writer)
Spector Island

Fuck Off Squad was first printed right at the end of 2015 so this may or may not be cheating to include it in my best of 2016, though Nicole and Dave predominantly sell their self-pubbed stuff at Cons so it was only this year at LA Comic Con that I managed to get my hands on this absolutely wonderful collection. The book follows a group of three young skateboarders hanging out at Venice Beach. For me, a girl who spent most of her teenage life sitting at Southbank watching people better than me skate, crushing on them, stacking hard and getting high with my friends, there was something profoundly moving about reading a comic that was centred on women who skateboard. The collection is a mix of beautiful touching comics and thoughtful  commentary with some seriously rad back ups. As with all of Dave and Nicole’s work, there’s beautiful production.

— Rosie Knight


Kim and KimKim & Kim, Black Mask Studios
Magdalene Visaggio (Writer), Eva Caberra (Artist), Claudia Aguirre (Colorist), Zak Saam (Lettering)
Black Mask Studios

Magdalene Visaggio is one of the brightest new writing talents around. Just like Magdalene, Claudia and Eva are at the very top of their respective fields. Kim and Kim is a rad punk book that is exactly what I want to become a thing in the market. We’ve got two queer ladies, one who happens to be trans, kicking butt in interdimensional space. It’s a real simple concept that lends itself to feeling like an adult-oriented animated show, if adult animated shows were allowed to be empowering for women.

Kim and Kim are both not the best people around but they are some of the most fun people to watch. This comic feels fresh and I know each creator on this project is going to do amazing things for the comics industry and it appears all of them are already getting even bigger work from it. Kim and Kim is a short 4 issue series; I really recommend you go buy it in trade and enjoy a fun quick story about badass girls.

— Sergio Alexis


Gunnerkrigg CourtGunnerkrigg Court, Thomas Siddell
Tom Siddell
Self-published

Gunnerkrigg Court is a webcomic that began in 2005, but as many webcomics do, it has evolved over the years into a beautiful, complex story that I love more with every page. The protagonists are Antimony (Annie), a very cool, controlled young girl with powerful magical abilities, and Kat, her genius, technologically-minded, and disarmingly charming best friend. Readers of the comic first met Kat and Annie when they were children, but their journey into their teenage years has been incredible. This year—and here I’ll issue a big SPOILER ALERT—Kat tackled some questions about her sexuality and began dating Paz, a Spanish-speaking student who can communicate with animals. However, what really made Gunnerkrigg Court stand out this year was Annie’s emotional journey. After a long and mysterious absence, her father returned and forced Annie to confront the negative effects of his presence. Her tendencies to hide her emotions in order to maintain a cool exterior stem from her father’s strange need for his daughter to be restrained and polite. To attempt to be the daughter her father requires she be, Annie literally cut her anger, passion, and seemingly “negative” emotion from herself. She has slowly confronted the emotions she repressed, and has begun to stand up for herself, but it has been a long, intense and relatable journey. My words are not doing Annie’s story justice; Siddell’s writing is excellent when it comes to character development, and his art grows more beautiful with every magical scene. I cannot recommend this comic enough!

— Alenka


Your Black FriendYour Black Friend, Ben Passmore
Ben Passmore
Silver Sprocket

Ben Passmore is the kind of artist who creates such a well-defined world that his work grabs you from the very first panel. Unique character silhouettes, smooth, rounded linework, and color palettes with beautifully balanced blues, pinks, and purples make up much of Passmore’s art, although Your Black Friend uses muted tones to pull readers into the protagonist’s thought processes. At a coffee shop—you know, one of those coffee shops where you go with your punk/anarchist/hippie friends, so everyone’s got blue hair and plugs and tattoos—two friends, one white and one black, overhear a white woman describe carelessly siccing police attention and, potentially, brutality on a black man because she assumed he was stealing his own bike, or breaking into his own house. In this moment, Passmore explores how the white people in the room could push this women to see her racism, but fail to do so. In the same moment, the black friend must reckon with the ways in which racism will cause the white woman to invalidate his own voice. It’s a powerful and poignant comic that packs several reflections on racist aggressions—micro and macro—into just 11 pages. Required reading for white people, especially if we hope to be useful allies and decent friends.

— Alenka


Immortal NerdImmortal Nerd, Hanna-Pirita Lehkonen
Hanna-Pirita Lehkonen
Self-published

2016 introduced me to many great webcomics that are better than most anything I’ve paid for in shops. One of the very best comics I’ve ever read is Immortal Nerd. Non-binary creator Hanna-Pirita Lehkonen has had me laughing better than a dank meme with her tale of a non-binary girl who just wants to be a meme artist. Set in a far future, Nokia just got her immortality when she leaves space to come to earth to study memes. The comic’s super funny; it is so inclusive with a vision of the future that is more important than ever to have. In these dark times we need something to work towards and I want a world where Nokia can be born. Go read it—it’s free on Webtoon—after you finish this list (it’s a good list, you’ll like the book listed above; I loved it).

— Sergio Alexis


Magical Beatdown Vol. 2Magical Beatdown #2
Jenn Woodall
Self-published/Silver Sprocket (2nd printing)

I saw Jenn tweeting about this the week before Canzine East and all but ran (all but because I was nursing a sprained ankle) to her table to pick it up. Based on the preview she shared it just looked so good. And it is. Magical Beatdown Vol. 2 is a kind of dark, funny twist on magical girl manga and fighting games. It’s like if Sailor Moon got trapped in Mortal Kombat and being surrounded by such low characters slowly depleted her moral fibre and class. The protagonist has all of the usual trappings of magical girls—a boring life, a makeover based transformation sequence, impractical winged weapons, nice hair—but too, all the over the top design elements that fighting game characters have. Her weapons are Too Much. Her clothes are strategically punk. She is, it seems, a totally unrepentant, murdering asshole. But it’s ok, friends, she only murders misogynists and fuckboys. Add to that one of the most effective uses of risograph’s signature two-colour intensity and you’ve got a delirious feast of misandry and good comicking.

— Megan Purdy


The Fever ClosingThe Fever Closing, Breakdown Press
Liam Cobb
Breakdown Press

I’ve never read anything else that felt so much like dreaming. In The Fever Closing a man visits an island to attend a party. That’s all. But the intensity of conviction in the weirdnesses of the journey, the po-faced total seriousness that accompanies small talk about hats and piss and guests of honour, and the affable, accepting glassiness of our protagonist as he travels, upsets people, gets misunderstood, drunk and finally in trouble…it feels exactly how it feels to dream, to me. The reduced palette and wallpapery backgrounds (trees, people, etc, in great numbers and low detail) add to the impression that the anonymous, Michelin-Man “hero” is being conveyed along some sort of low-key ghost train track. The tremendous accuracy of Cobb’s reproduction of dream logic has me captivated. What an achievement.

— Claire Napier


I Thought You Hated MeI Thought You Hated Me, MariNaomi, Retrofit/Big Planet
MariNaomi
Retrofit/Big Planet Comics

This is the perfect book if you have ever felt like the ugly friend but love your beautiful best friend no matter what anyway. For real, it is a familiar, painful, and funny examination of a particular dynamic in female friends that can be resentful, combative, and incredibly loving all at once—if you’ve ever had a friendship like this it will be like looking at scenes from your own life, or at least it was for me. If you’ve ever wondered about a friendship like this, I Thought You Hated Me might give you some insight.

— Kat Overland


Internal Affairs IIIInternal Affairs III, PEOW! Studio
Patrick Crotty
Peow! Studio

I read a lot of comics really fluent in (“modern”? “Millennial”? “pop”?) culture this year, but Internal Affairs III is the most beautiful object among them. Crotty’s command of line is fantastic—this is drawn in clearly pixelated, thin, scribble lines, as it it was made in Microsoft Paint, but it is beautiful. And incredibly easy to read; if you need to ruminate on composition and panel arrangement, please read and study this book. There are several double-page spreads at about halfway through that feature mechs in the mist (smoke, really), hardly any “real shape” among them, almost totally obscured. But you can see, tell, understand everything that is happening. It’s really phenomenal. Dialogue, too, is adept and poetic, using snippets of memefied video game (and video game style) dialogue; Onion the intern has to team up with his unpaid peers and an expensive freelancer to steal a marketing secret from a rival of the company that “employs” them all. “This is a sneaking mission” is not only literally true, it’s perfectly apt for the task of meeting unpaid interns right where they live: millennialtown. You love (or have heard of, picked up through pop osmosis) Solid Snake, and you don’t get paid enough for the job you’re doing? What an unlikely combination for Peow!’s audience… The confidence in Crotty’s evaluation of what readers will get is magnificent and relieving and validating. This comic is validating. And really good fun. And, as you’d expect from the description so far, pretty deep really.

— Claire Napier


Frontier #13. Fatherson. Richie Pope. Youth in Decline.Frontier 13: Fatherson
Richie Pope
Youth In Decline

You get your Fatherson through the mail, remove him from the package, put him in a bathtub of warm water and wait for him to grow. A Fatherson is a novelty collectable. Each one is different but you don’t have to catch them all. You don’t train them. You care for them and they care for you — they’re fathersons. But you can still exchange them if you aren’t satisfied. This conceit — mail order, pill pocket dads — and the motifs that go with it introduce distance to Richie Pope’s actually quite poignant exploration of black fatherhood. It’s a short comic, and lines “sometimes Fathersons get sick. Sometimes they don’t even know. Others just pretend like they’re ok and put cocoa butter on their sores” come quick and often. Meanwhile, the Fathersons have blocky, doll-like bodies in bright colours, pink or blue or orange and their expressions are simply rendered, occasionally glassy and always easy to read. What makes this comic work is that pairing — deceptively simple visuals and plain, knockout prose, said to the rhythm of an instructional booklet for kids. Fatherson is a comic that’s stayed with me since reading it. I think about it often, how skillfully Pope arranges all of those disparate things, how quickly Fatherson grabbed me. Read this excellent comic and be jealous of Pope’s economy.

— Megan Purdy

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About Author

Alenka Figa is a queer, feminist, wannabe librarian. She spends her days teaching people how to attach things to their email, watching Steven Universe, and twittering nonstop about comics and her cat at @alenkafiga.

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