Hey, y’all, it’s the last Trading Post of the year with us, your last The Trades of the year. We’re exactly the same great The Trades podcast hosts as the rest of the year, Aaron LaRoche and your faithful correspondent in this space, FST. To get your yule’s tiding and krises kringling, we did a
Hey, y’all, it’s the last Trading Post of the year with us, your last The Trades of the year. We’re exactly the same great The Trades podcast hosts as the rest of the year, Aaron LaRoche and your faithful correspondent in this space, FST.
To get your yule’s tiding and krises kringling, we did a Best Of List, probably technically in time to give you some festive purchasing suggestions for some of your holiday celebrations. It is the dark and freezing armpit of the year here in the Pacific Northwest, and probably wherever y’all are, too [what about Australia & her sister, NZ –Ed.], so it is my hope that some of the comics on this list can brighten your evenings, which start at 3:00 now, I guess. It’s going to be dark forever, send help.
All of these books are also great for gifting to relatives, or taking with you on trips to avoid talking to relatives. Whatever your lifestyle choice is in terms of engaging your relatives, The Trades supports you. You can listen to the episode here and read below for the closest The Trades is ever gonna do to a listicle. The list is in order of discussion rather than hierarchical preference, and odd numbered choices are my pick, while even are Aaron’s. I’ve tried to let Aaron speak for himself a little more on this one, so content in quotation marks is direct from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Aaron’s not a horse.
1. Liz Suburbia’s Cyanide Milkshake
This series–self published and available variously through Czap Books, Silver Sprocket, Spit and a Half, and other fine comics distributors–is the ziniest thing I’ve read this year, and no joke, a reminder of why I love comics during a moment when finding joy in the more entirely abstract and conceptually stretched comics was starting to feel like a little bit of a chore. This is sort of a grab bag of gag comics, personal statements, illustrations, and a serial about punks in and/or out of love at the end of the world, a theme possibly familiar to readers of Suburbia’s excellent Sacred Heart (Fantagraphics Books, 2015). Suburbia’s draws and writes with whimsy, empathy, and sometimes dry, sometimes messy humor, in a way that evokes the parts of DIY culture that I really longed for as a teen and young adult. Every time I read anything by Liz I want to start self publishing or start a band, which is frustrating because (so far) I never actually go through with those things. But it’s a feeling I like, and I like her comics on their own merits as well.
2. Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang
Aaron loves this series from Image, saying it’s “a great ’80s movie, but it takes itself seriously.” Read if you’re into girls finding themselves at the end of the world, plus a pastel neon color scheme that’s, like, so totally ‘80s.
3. Multiplex by Gordon McAlpin
This is a long running webcomic, which absolutely delivers on both of my favorite things: passionate art criticism and drawn out, years-long, gossipy slow-burn drama. You want a discussion about if novelty is necessary for excellent story telling? You bet. You want a years-long will-they-or-won’t-they best friends OR MORE story line? Yes, absolutely. You want topical movie jokes? Sure, you can have that, too. And it’ll be delivered by characters with excellently written relationships with each other, their more or less menial jobs, and movies as an art form. Multiplex was one of the earliest webcomics I read, so it’s been sort of amazing watching the comic evolve from a “customers suck lol” gag strip to a thoughtful and emotionally grounded work on friendship, growing up, and loving art. And sometimes how customers suck lol. I originally wasn’t going to include this on the list, because it’s not something I only started reading this year, but honestly the delight I got out of rereading the archives this year made it feel dishonest to leave off the list. It’s weird to say about a soap opera sort of laced with tediously researched information about Machiavellian movie theater capitalism, especially when I’m not really a movie buff, but I think Multiplex makes me want to be a better art critic.
4. The Last Halloween by Abby Howard
The Last Halloween is a survival story about kids and monsters and monster kids. Aaron compares the early art to a sort of Jhonen Vasquez inspired cartoon monster look, and especially praises how Howard’s really detailed and richly rendered monster art gets stronger and stronger as the comic goes on. Also, it’s a good goofy adventure story, which Aaron demands more of. He issues an ultimatum against comics with “people blabbing about their problems,” praising how the Last Halloween has “no talking about will they or won’t they, there are too many monsters for that” and finishing his review with “monsters are great.” I think he liked the monsters, y’all.
5. Limonchik (mini kuš! #34) by Mikkel Sommer
I really tried to limit myself to one MiniKuš for this list, because the series by Latvian comics publisher Kuš is so FST-tailor made it’s a little funny. Bite size premise comics, some abstract, some absurd, some interested in short story form, others less so. This one’s about Laika the space dog coming back to earth for revenge. It’s so short I can’t say more without spoiling it, but this is like a perfect little meringue of a comic- over quickly, but so skillful and bright you’ll want to cover a whole cake in it. Don’t, though. Comics aren’t for eating.
6. Doctors by Dash Shaw
Published by Fantagraphics in 2014. Aaron says Doctors is about a world in which there’s a “clinic where, if you have enough money, you can set up the afterlife you want” and the consequences for one family of trying to bring someone back from the dead. Shaw is a brilliant science fiction author, and, in the finest tradition of science fiction, excels at imagining other states of humanity. Effectively undermining the always dubiously valuable “hard” versus “soft” science fiction divide, Shaw proposes a technology which might change person-hood fundamentally, and follows through beautifully on how people might live with this new world. Also, his drawings are, like the prose of my favorite sci-fi authors, a little flat and a little alien but still sensitive and clear.
7. Resident Aliens by Anuj Shrestha
Anuj Shrestha can draw, y’all. I gave my copy of this to Aaron, so I can’t recap it really well, but it’s part illustrations, part short story collection, and entirely beautiful. Shrestha works at the intersection of body horror and social commentary, sometimes leaning more towards one than the other. His signature image is a plant growing out of, or supplanting, a human face. Sometimes, as in his ongoing series Genus on Study Group Comics, the horror of bodily change and intrusion, and the social implications of difference are realized through the plant-faces. The comics in Resident Aliens are “thematically linked” to Genus, per Shrestha’s website, but in the single illustrations, the relationship between the figures and the plants growing from them is more peaceful- he doesn’t make plant Laocoöns, basically. He does, however, write cleverly about belonging, difference, and family, so it’s absolutely worth your time.
8. Jonesy by Sam Humphries and Caitlyn Rose Boyle
Jonesy is a perfect compliment to the subscription to woke Teen Vogue you’re getting your cool younger cousin (or yourself, no judgement.) A series that’s smart, righteous, goofy, and full of heart, Aaron describes Jonesy as “one of the more put together comics that has come out in a long time.” As Jonesy, the dweeby-but-owning-it tween with cupid powers and her friends and family figure out growing up, they inhabit “a stable world that has interesting and vital characters; there’s nobody that’s a throwaway.” In short, “it’s just fun.” Aaron also loves “the reactions of the characters- the way (Boyle) draws characters expressions does more than any amount of dialog in any new DC or Marvel.” Jonesy melted Aaron’s heart, and it can melt yours, too.
9. Apocalypse Dad by Taylor Dow
The whole thing’s online, and it’s a very quick read, so just trust me. It starts out as the joke you think it is, and then it gets sad, which is the best kind of joke.
10. Fantasy Sports by Sam Bosma
Aaron’s a big fan of this whimsical adventure story published by Nobrow Press. “It’s exactly what it sounds like: a magic guild goes around making sure nobody’s messing with magic. They deal with the pragmatics and the rule making of that with sports. It’s great, it’s funny it’s cute.”
11. Diana’s Electric Tongue by Carolyn Nowak
This was available through ShortBox, and I can’t find another way to get a copy, so possibly you can’t gift this, after all. When I was a kid I re-read all the parts of the Star Trek novelizations I collected that had to do with Data’s positronic brain, because I was way too into “robots with souls.” I guess ultimately those were supposed to make us ask questions about human souls, but I just wanted it to be really true that a robot had a soul and was a person, for reasons now obscure to me, but definitely not because it would confer some kind of legitimacy onto human souls. Anyway imagine that but instead about dating a robot. Another science fiction story, and one which shines in the details. The ways that clothes, hair, and home furnishings are updated to fit this imaginary future is admirable and enjoyable.
12. 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa
We both loved this series about robots, nostalgia, friendship, and the end of the world, which I talked about with a friend on my other podcast, and Aaron also read, independently of either podcast. He feels it stands out for its “use of time, space, and destination as a key to memory.” Central concerns are “who do you trust, is your life worth the effort people put into it.” As the clock ticks down on a group of motley childhood friends, now turned middle aged mighta-beens, efforts to save the world from a cult leader enacting horrifying violence straight out of their own childhood fantasies, 20th C. Boys is basically “one dude’s obsession with this one dude- it’s revenge in its purest, most thoughtless- consuming form, it’s a consuming work.”
Hopefully, you like some or all of these comics as much as Aaron and I did, and please feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments, either here or on our Facebook page. See y’all next year, assuming civilization hasn’t crumbled by that point.