Engaging with a work of fiction is, at its best, a daring process for both parties. The writer expects the reader's mind to be pried open, be it persuaded by a delightfully ticklish feather or forced by a cold rusty crowbar. No matter. The reader submits. But it better be worth it.
We have some lighter works in our favorites of 2019 -- the art of Joni Mitchell, the imagination of Elizabeth Gilbert -- we certainly need such sweetness to give light to these crushing times. But some of the best works of fiction here do not offer us a pretty view out of an open window; they drag us to the broken shards of glass scattered outside that window and force us to reflect upon each jagged piece.
Notably, graphic works straddle the non-fiction and fiction favorites this year. Perhaps for fiction that means that sometimes the best way to tell the truth is to show it with pictures.
What follows, in alphabetical order by title, are the best non-fiction works PopMatters' contributors read in 2019 and think you should know about. Trust us, it's worth it.
If you're used to the blood splatter of slasher films or the evil monsters of supernatural thrillers, be warned: Beautiful Darkness covers an abyss of horrors far deeper. Though each death vignette is effective, the horror of Beautiful Darkness is more than the picking off of cast members as expandable as any in a Friday the 13th film. They are literally their own worst enemies. It turns out methods for murdering cartoons include abandonment, cannibalism, and live burial. But that's not the disturbing part. While the apparent existence of naturalistic organs inside cartoon bodies is discordantly upsetting, the psychological ramifications echo deeper. It's one thing to find the flow of maggots across your feet ticklish. It's another to yank off the legs of a ladybug for fun.
It's rare to find such a horrifically eloquent concept executed so perfectly. - Chris Gavaler
Seth's inspiration for the epic story, Clyde Fans, grew from an empty storefront and photographs of two middle-aged men; thus it is imbued with palpable sadness and regret. The story C centers on the Matchcard brothers as they navigate their lives and family business through the decades from the 1950s to the 1990s. As we follow them over time, they exhibit obsessive behaviors that lead them to different paths in life.
Clyde Fans tells two stories simultaneously: it's a story of capitalism in the 20th century and a story about the complicated and bristly relationship between two brothers. They are intertwined seamlessly in ways that directly affect and inform one another, while also seeming quite separate at other times. It's one of Seth's gifts (and a gift of the medium) that he's able to immerse the reader so completely in the details of the story such that it feels as full and accomplished in any one of its five parts as it does as a completed story. - J.M. Suarez
The Hard Tomorrow
Eleanor Davis's The Hard Tomorrow is a full-sized and full-fledged graphic novel, complete with a main character, supporting cast, and plot points galore. (If you think it's odd to list those qualities, then you need to read Why Art?).
Davis likes to accent key moments through panel size. Big moments are literally bigger. How big varies: a full-width row, a full-width double row, a full page, a two-page spread. Size matters. When Johnny exhales from his weed pipe, the cloud fills a full-width panel, dwarfing the surrounding panels only half its size. We know Johnny's smoking is a problem, but not because Davis tells us (the page is almost wordless), and not even because she draws it, but because she uses layout as a way of making meaning.
Approaching The Hard Tomorrow from the same plot angle you would a movie or TV show is to miss the best parts. It's a comic, and like other great comics, it tells you how to read it while you're reading it. - Chris Gavaler