It’s been a busy semester, believe me, I know. Most of you so inclined have not had the time to read any comics, what with all assignments and studying, and guess what? Neither have I. But I have been able to pretend to have time on occasion, so with borrowed time I would like to recommend a few of the year’s best comics to brush up on when school’s out.
LEAVING RICHARD’S VALLEY by Michael Deforge
The Webcomic Pick
Many of you readers may have a sensitive wallet, so I thought I’d kick off this list with a comic you can read absolutely free of charge on a little place called the internet. Alt Comics enfant terrible Michael Deforge has been serializing Leaving Richard’s Valley on Twitter and Instagram in semi-daily updates with an improvisational energy that almost looks easy. The spiritual successor to his previous weird Canada webcomic Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero (now available in print and totally great), Leaving Richard’s Valley is the adventures of various cute forest critters living in a cultish commune on the outskirts of Toronto, led by the charismatic human Richard, who looks vaguely like Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle. As the title suggests, all is not well in Richard’s valley. Purity will be questioned, and animals will be exiled. Beyond the valley lies a world of gentrification and the anxieties of displaced identity that creates a concern familiar to anyone in proximity to Toronto’s arts scene, but also universal to modern city life. The strips are equal parts funny, relatable and tragic, chock full of memorable characters and whimsically melancholy situations fit for Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Also there’s a character named Julianne Napkin, a celeb squirrel who wears a spider on her head. Having just passed its 100th daily installment, now’s the perfect time to start reading.
BLUBBER by Gilbert Hernandez
The Edgy and Dank Pick
When the first issue of Blubber dropped two years ago, it hit me like an atomic bomb. Here was one of comics’ rare and great literary masters devoting his artistic abilities to off-the-cuff filth, weird short stories about cartoon animals… behaving physically with one another, in a curt little 35-page package. It’s manna from heaven. Then another issue came out, which had human characters, and it was somehow even more transgressive and excellent. This year saw two more issues of Blubber, which introduced readers to The Snowman, arguably the character find off the decade. Who is The Snowman? He is a monosyllabic, white-haired wrestler, whose struggles with incontinence always seem to lead him into trouble of a very graphic nature. Blubber is magical realism with the kid gloves off, a one-way ticket to depravity which I could not recommend more highly to those with the stomach.
ISLAND, edited by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios
The Anthology You Can Actually Find at Most Comic Stores
Lamentably cancelled following March’s issue 15, Island was an anthology of original and artistically compelling comics in the mold of Heavy Metal minus that parent’s basement whiff. With contributors hand-picked by cartoonists Brandon Graham and Emma Rios, Island forms a compelling snapshot of the best comics offers right now. The magazine featured askew takes on genre standards, crafted by up and coming and overlooked creators alike with personal vision and lush illustrations. Some of this years’ highlights were Grim Wilkins’ Mirenda, an eye-poppingly gorgeous wordless fantasy story, and Lando’s eerie sci-fi riff Island 3. Pick up an issue to find out why this series will be so sorely missed.
HAPPINESS by Shuzo Oshimi
The Angsty Teen Pick
An everyday teenage boy is bit by a mysterious female vampire, and begins to have weird cravings for blood. This plot may sound generic, but what makes Happiness unique is that the artist is Shuzo Oshimi. Oshimi first caught my attention with his manga Flowers of Evil, an all-over-the-place coming of age drama at times shockingly savage and strangely relatable. His latest work is a maturation of his ability to wring hyperbolic entertainment value out of teenage problems, married to genre elements with dreamy severity. It’s also really well drawn – Oshimi seems to have ditched screentones almost entirely for this book, giving the pages a freehand, wobbly quality that stands out in commercial manga professionalism. If you identified a little too much with Evangelion in your teens, you’re going to love this.
GOODNIGHT PUNPUN by Inio Asano
Probably the Best Comic of the Decade if We’re Gonna be Real
Have you ever felt out of place growing up? Did you ever feel alienated from your surroundings? Did you ever see yourself as more of a mute doodle of a bird than a person? If the last question resonates a bit less than the first two, it’s because you aren’t Punpun Onodera, the protagonist of Goodnight Punpun. Inio Asano’s sprawling magnum opus follows the eponymous scribble from early childhood through adolescence into adulthood, inhabiting a world of disenfranchised urban sprawl and doomed romantic obsession. Meanwhile in the background, weird cult called Good Vibrations grows in popularity. Punpun is a melodrama unafraid to take its readers to some truly dark, strange places, but Asano never loses sight of the humane. His subtle observations are so sublime in their beauty, and pain is made sweet as art. Goodnight Punpun is the comic that has haunted me most this year, and I can only hope that anyone who discovers the series through this article will be deeply moved as well.
Nathan Chazan is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. His column The Next Panel appears online at cornellsun.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.