The best sequential art of a given year tends to also be the best of years’ past, and for comics, the relationship between the web, social media and small print can make those semantics even murkier. A few weeks ago, we released The Best Comics of 2016 with a focus on work that was produced and released in the last 12 months. But with publishers renewing focus on translating international works (anyone notice more horror manga in the past few years?) and bringing web to print, we’d be faulty not to acknowledge the multi-form gold that hit shelves this year. From seminal voices like Lynda Barry to upstart genre-bender Benjamin Marra and…whatever the glorious lunacy of Brian Chippendale is, here are ten of our favorite reprints of 2016.
Cheap Novelties: The Pleasure of Urban Decay
Cartoonist Ben Katchor’s distinctive comic strips tell the singular story of a surreal city and the people who live and work there. His recurring character, real estate photographer Julius Knipl, lies at the heart of several of Katchor’s books, including Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay. Attempting to describe these strips isn’t easy: they broadcast on an exclusive frequency and, like the works of novelist Steven Millhauser, turn the odd minutiae of urban life into the stuff of strange and compelling narrative. Cheap Novelties funnels the passage of time and a cultural history rare for the medium.
The Greatest of Marlys
The Greatest of Marlys reintroduces a collection of Lynda Barry’s four-panel strips, which ran in alternative newspapers across the country from roughly 1980 to recently under the Ernie Pook’s Comeek moniker (she still makes work, but the newspaper business isn’t faring quite as well). Barry has remained reliably prolific for decades, and it wouldn’t be surprising if she gets her “complete works” in print someday, but for now they’re available in bits here and bits there. These specific 224 pages collect selections from the comic published from 1986—when she introduced the characters of Marlys, Arna, Arnold, Freddie and Maybonne—to 2000. If you grew up reading Barry’s output, sandwiched between copious local event listings, ads for sexy telephone lines and angry letters focused on city minutiae, opening this book will jolt you back to those days. It’s a fine brick of evidence in favor of Barry’s status as one of the greats.
As you slowly read Brian Chippendale’s webcomic compilation, Puke Force, wondering if you’ll grasp what in the hell the artist is getting at, bigger themes emerge. The cartoonist has things to say about Internet culture and its influence on original thought, about the way we think about terrorism, about lack of ambition and whether or not we should be attempting to change the way things are. The fact that he buries these thoughtful meditations in jokes and intricate, weird drawings makes them much stronger than your standard outrage-based internet long read, because they clearly spring from the mind of a person who isn’t very interested in your clicks or whether or not you agree with him. Puke Force is in no way perfect, but it is a fantastic and aggressive vomiting of contemporary culture that is both compelling and valuable.