Last year I posted my top ten comics of 2013 and it was far more popular than any of my other comics columns. I guess people really love lists that they can either get excited about or strongly criticize and disagree with. The comments section was full of people asking how I could have forgotten to mention a comic they liked or in some cases a shitty comic that they had made. Top ten lists are a crock of shit and I hope that all of you who read this understand that this list is just the opinion of me, Nick Gazin. You are free to make your own list of the best comics of 2014 and it will be more correct than mine because you made it.
Comics is a noble medium where no one makes any real money and it's incredibly hard to get attention and exposure. All these people worked really hard to make something great and they deserve our recognition—and if you haven't gotten a present yet for the comics fan in your life, consider this a gift guide.
Loose Joints 1
This neat little book is mostly made up of comics that originally appeared on this very website. I liked them when we ran them, and I like seeing them in print.
Jonny Negron is known best for drawing thick R. Crumb–style ladies. Picturebox published a great book of his that was mostly drawings with a few comics. This book is mostly comics with a few drawings.
Jonny has skill, vision, and a definite attitude he brings to the work. There's a lack of structure to his comics and they sort of start and stop without exposition or conclusions most of the time. This book shows Jonny trying a lot of different techniques and it's interesting to see him testing out who he is as an artist.
Transformers Vs. GI Joe #1–3
Tom Scioli and John Barber
It is ridiculous that a comic called Transformers Vs. GI Joe is this beautiful. Instead of trying to take 80s toy nostalgia and make it sexy and modern, Tom Scioli and John Barber have made a comic that feels like playing with action figures in your backyard and looks like Gary Panter, Jack Kirby, and Anya Davidson's art. All the panels and pages are just a joy to stare at; it's like a Sears Christmas catalogue.
This comic succeeds as very successful nostalgia while also being sophisticatedly drawn. The art is so beautiful that I sometimes find it difficult to follow the story but I don't mind. If you were a child in the 80s and remember playing with these toys this comic will work for you on that level. If you appreciate some of the most beautiful drawings currently being published in a comic book then this can work for you on that level too.
Alejandro Jodorowsky and Milo Manara
I thought Dark Horse had completed its Manara Library series of hardcover fancy books so this book is a nice surprise. This book collects the four-volume Borgias series that were written by fillmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and drawn by the very sexy Milo Manara.
It tells the supposedly true story of Italy's first crime family, the titular Borgias, in the 15th century, and centers around Rodrigo Borgia bribing and cheating his way into being the pope. The book explodes with sex and violence and every sort of perversion. There's incest and an old pope drinking the blood of boys to stay alive and poisoning. It's like Game of Thrones except it's based on real events and it's not boring. (I think Game of Thrones is really boring.)
Manara is known for painting sexy women, but really he makes the whole universe sexy and people just look at his work with tunnel vision. Jodorowsky is a genius and he deserves your money more than you do and you deserve this book if you like beautifully rendered violence and intrigue.
Dick Briefer is one of very few notable auteurs of the golden age of comics. Frankenstein was a comic he wrote and drew in the 40s that was based on the Boris Karloff movie and is probably largely responsible for people calling the monster "Frankenstein" instead of "Frankenstein's Creature" or something like that.
Briefer drew Frankenstein as this lovable local oddball and for some reason as a stylistic choice he has placed Frankenstein's nose above his eyeline in his forehead. The comic started as a humor comic but eventually turned into a horror comic. Or maybe it started as a horror comic and then turned funny and went back to scary. It's heavily influenced by Charles Addams's New Yorker cartoons and preceded a lot of the funny monster genre stuff like Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Briefer's brushlines are loose and full of energy and vitality, sort of like Jack Cole's. A lot of the jokes are still pretty funny 70 years later. This is the first time anyone has attempted to reprint all of the original Frankenstein comics in their entirety and this book is perfect except for two things. The first is that it's published in England and each book is $75. The second is that this book has 18 pages of advertisements for other books from the publisher, which is unbelievably tacky to put into a slipcased hardcover book like this. I guess you can't win 'em all, but this book is still entirely worth owning.
Michael DeForge put out a prestigious hardcover graphic novel called Ant Colony this year, and while Ant Colony is very good I think that his comic book series Lose is his best work. Right now he is the closest to approaching what Dan Clowes was achieving with Eightball in terms of making a perfectly crafted and designed comic book. Each issue is meticulous. Nothing seems like an accident. Pick up any issue of Lose and you will have a perfect and memorable comics experience.
The story of Lose #6 is about an angry woman who is taking her niece to her clarinet recital. The niece's clarinet is stolen by a member of the Mafia (in this comic the Mafia all wear black shrouds) and in order to get it back she smokes something given to her by an entity that lives in a brick wall and infiltrates the Mafia. No critical description of the story can prepare you for what actually reading it is like. You just have to do it.
Michael DeForge's Favorite Comic of 2014:
"The miscellaneous output of Noel Freibert is my favorite of the year!"
Forming I and II
These books are a big crazy Jodorowsky-style reinterpretation of Bible tales and mythology mixed in with lots of funny swearing and pretty colors. Jesse Moynihan is well known for making the more cerebral and weird Adventure Time stories. If you saw that and thought "I need more" then here is that "more" you wanted.
Jesse Moyninan's Favorite Comic of 2014:
"Maybe The Wrenchies."
Drawn & Quarterly
Gilbert Hernandez has been making consistently important work for 35 years so why would his new book be any different? Like almost everything he's done before, Bumperhead is great. It contains several familiar tropes of Beto storytelling but it doesn't detract from the experience.
The book tells the story of Bobby, the titular Bumperhead. The book begins with Bobby as the young son of a non–English speaking father and a mother who just doesn't speak. We see him go from boyhood to a sensitive teenager to a punk-obsessed person in his early 20s. He has good relationships and bad, gets fat and thin, and very quickly he gets old. Along the way he seems to never really make solid connections with the people around him.
There are odd and inexplicable meta elements too. Despite much of the story being set in the 70s and 80s Bobby's best friend has an iPad which he casually uses to find information from the future. The presence of aliens is also mentioned occasionally. Sometimes Bobby looks up into the sky and sees a bleak and dark face in the clouds.
I find it very difficult to really state anything definite about Gilbert's work. I just know that it is always entertaining and leaves me full of thoughts and feelings that I can explore for weeks.
"My fave book of comics this year so far (I haven't seen the Al Feldstein teen comics collection or the two- and three-pager Steve Ditko collection yet) is Dick Tracy 1956-1957 collection. The S. Clay Wilson collection, Wonder Wart-Hog collection, and the Eerie pubs reprints come close though."
Farel Dalrymple's confusing sci-fi/fantasy graphic novel is a lot of fun to read and look at. A bunch of kids traverse a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland where the adults are dead, and the characters viewed from different levels of reality. This chunky graphic novel delivers a lot of story to think about and each page is full of warmth and beauty.
Farel Dalrymple's Favorite Comic of 2014:
"Megahex and This One Summer were both great. The new Lose was pretty inspiring as well."
Hip Hop Family Tree #2
Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 2 is the second in a series of oversized trade paperbacks that tell the story of the birth of hip-hop culture, focusing mainly on rap music. The first book had some great moments in it and this one does too. Picking up in 1981 this book weaves in all the different stuff that was going on at the time. There's the beginnings of Def Jam, the Beastie Boys change from punks to rappers, the filming and response to Wild Style, "Planet Rock," "The Message"… and all of this is woven into an overarching saga that flows seamlessly and never feels like a collection of random anecdotes.
There have been a lot of comics that try to reference different music scenes and subcultures and they have all been terrible. If you told me that someone was making a comic about the history of rap I would just assume it would have to suck. This book is great though.
I interviewed the maker of this book, Ed Piskor, and here's that:
VICE: How long do you see HHFT continuing for? Will it ever catch up to present day?
Ed Piskor:I'm signed up for six books right now. I'm just going to let things breathe and the narrative will grow at its own pace. I hope to get to around 1987 with book six but that might not happen. There's a lot of ground to cover. I will die of old age before I could take the comic to present day.
Do you see a natural end to this series? Is the story over when hip-hop becomes completely mainstream?
At the end of book six I'd be happy if I get to DJ Scott La Rock's death. I think that's a profound moment where things in hip-hop took a dramatic turn. Even so, I'm sure I'm going to end that book with a "to be continued" type caption like the two existing volumes. The story never ends.
You portray Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons as being pretty clownish and manipulative. What's your take on those guys? Have they seen this?
We know Rubin and Simmons as these meditative, zen, vegan guys today but they were a couple of knucklehead kids. As the story grows they will both mature over time too. They've both seen the comic and dig it. Rick had a rep from Def Jam get in touch with me about some future work, and Russell is down too.
So Russell doesn't mind that he's constantly cross-eyed and lisping?
What sort of responses have you received from people who appear in the comics?
Unanimous praise. Now guys will get in touch to make sure that I have access to them for when their contribution to hip-hop takes place. They want their part done "right."
Who's been the most psyched on their appearance? Who's gotten in touch with you so far?
I'm not gonna name drop dudes, but probably more than two dozen guys have gotten in touch so far. I don't know who was most stoked but I can say I was pretty stoked when someone sent me a pic of Bambaataa holding his copy of book two.
How much planning goes into how you organize the flow of the stories and events in the book? You've been foreshadowing the coming of Run DMC for awhile.
I just work in two-page installments. I literally don't know what I do the following week. The history is already in stone, so I just have to curate things, basically. I'm like an archeologist.
Saying that the history is set in stone makes it sound like there's an objective truth. It seems like there would be disagreement about some events from of the participants of the story. That never happens?
No drama for yo' momma that I can speak of yet. It will happen at some point, I'm sure. Of course the history is not "in stone" in a dogmatic way. I sort of meant that as the existing records are in stone as existing at an exact time, which provides the spine for my narrative. These records came out in a very specific time frame so the historical moments I talk about happen in between the records.
The book ends with Run DMC having come into their own but not yet becoming the first major rap act and Dr. Dre having the impetus to form NWA. Wil we see the formation of NWA in the pages of HHFT 3?
Nah. No NWA in Vol 3, but book three will have the Fat Boys, Whodini, LL Cool J, and KRS finally becomes KRS, though he's not a signed recorded rapper yet.
I just looked at the sides of volumes one and two and realized that they each cover two-year periods. Is the plan to continue this or are things going to be slowing down?
Things are going to slow down in a big way probably. Like I said, I'm just going to let the narrative take whatever shape it's going to take. Book three will be 1983-1984. Book four may just complete 1984, because so much happens that year. Maybe we'll get to see a little piece of '85 in book four. Who knows?
One neat thing you do with this comic is that all the art appears to be on old newsprint so it looks more like an artifact from the era that the events in the comic actually took place. At what step in conceiving of HHFT did you decide to do that?
I always knew it was going to have to have this kind of production when it was time for it to be a book. The great thing about every comics publisher wanting it was that I could absolutely make sure the book turned out to be what I envisioned it. For instance, Dark Horse sent me a hardcover Space Family Robinson book to show me how they'd print the thing. The paper stock was great but they didn't want the yellowed look to the paper though. So I just ripped a page out of that book and sent it to Fantagraphics. "Can we print on this paper?" Fanta said "yeah" and I signed the contract. I'm not looking to compromise at all if I can help it.
What's the process for doing that?
It's all photoshop trickery. My version of "sampling." I basically just scan in color from old-ass comics and that is my palette, complete with the grit and grime that's accumulated over the books I scan from 40 years ago.
There are scenes in volume two where people from the modern day are describing the events of the early 80s and their colors are so different
Yeah, those panels are designed to take you completely out of the big narrative to provide a small aside, then you launch right back in. It's successful to most [people], but some readers are dummies and they think they got a faulty book or something.
Another thing that sets your book apart is the oversized dimensions. Tell me about that.
Growing up, most of my friends' parents had Superman vs. Muhammad Ali on their shelves. That was the only comic in the house. And it was beat to shit. I wanted my book to have the same dimensions and scale. I fantasize that my book will sit right next to their copies of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. I'm a romantic like that.
Who are you like right now in rap music? Who are you liking right now in comics?
I'm an unapologetic Jay-Z and Kanye West fan these days. I've really just discovered them for myself. In comics anything by Ben Marra, Farel's new book The Wrenchies, Jim Rugg's work. Tom Scioli's Transformers vs GI Joe. Tom Neely and Keenan Keller's The Humans. Jason Karns's Fukitor. Michel Fiffe's Copra.
When does volume three come out?
Book three will be out around August next year. It will be annual from now on. I have 20 more pages to draw and then I'll spend three months or so in the design/editing part of the process.
Get Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 2 here.
Ed Piskor's Favorite Comic of 2014:
"I think Farel's Wrenchies comic was my favorite but I've been anticipating it for a million years."
The appearance of our own Simon Hanselmann's Megahex should probably elicit a "no shit" response from most of our casually swearing readership. Simon has been toiling away in some Australian ghetto for what must have been eons honing his funny bone to a fine point. He's finally unleashed his full comics potency with this great collection of his online comics and it's melted everyone's faces off with how good it is.
Megahex collects Simon's comics about a bunch of terrible roommates. There's Megg (a witch), Mogg (a cat) , Owl (a giant owl), and Werewolf Jones. They all abuse each other and get high and deal with their depressions. Every page is a laugh and a half and pretty to look at.
Simon does comics for us every Monday. This book is like those comics but on paper. You should already have bought this. I commanded it.
Simons's Favorite Comic Of 2014:
"Megahex or Arsen Schrauwen. i actually didn't get to read enough stuff this year. i bought everything, i just didn't ever have any time to read anything."
Epoxy #5 excites me about the possibilities of comics and storytelling, art, paper, and printing in the way that few things do now that I'm 31 and I've seen it all.
This risograph-printed comic is a magazine-sized 18-page comic told from a first-person perspective about a ship that has crashed on a frozen planet. It is beautiful and lonely.
Stapled into the spine of the book is a smaller 44-page comic called Jay and Kay. It is also by John Pham but it is drawn in an entirely different, more cartoony and tells the story of two girls who seem to live in a shopping mall and their interactions with the other mall crawlers. The mall goths are called Glumpires and the kids listen to a cassette tape of music by a Morrissey parody named Pompa-dour. At one point the girls find a cache of issues of Cool magazine in a bookstore.
Stapled inside the small comic that's inside the large comic is an even smaller 16-page issue of Cool magazine. It even has a minuature subscription card and posters and things stapled into it. Cool Magazine has an interview with Pompa-dour's old band, Les Enfants. There's also Magic Juan's Animal Shelter Report, Count Dragula's Activity Corner, and more. It'll remind some of you of Hotdog magazine except if the theme was about being sad.
It's hard to explain with words how great this object is. This is something you could never download or replicate digitally. Every drawing is beautiful, every color is beautiful. The paper feels beautiful. The experience of discovering the little mini comic and even smaller mini-magazine elicit feelings that I thought had snapped off long ago.
If you would like to buy Epoxy #5 email John Pham at email@example.com and look at more of his work here.
John Pham's Favorite Comic of 2014: