The Cryptoscatology Top Ten: The Best Comic Books of 2017!
by Robert Guffey on December 3
1. MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS VOL. 1 by Emil Ferris (published by Fantagraphics):
This compelling graphic novel was originally scheduled to be published in October of 2016, but bizarre shipping problems (as described in this Entertainment Weekly article) prevented its release until earlier this year, thus making it eligible for inclusion on this list. Emil Ferris’ debut graphic novel is a multilayered, psychologically complex narrative about an alienated ten-year-old girl named Karen Reyes whose life appears to be filled with nothing except emotionally damaged adults, one of whom draws her into an ill-advised (but irresistible) investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the murder of a beautiful woman who once lived in Karen’s dilapidated Chicago apartment building. The woman’s premature death leads Karen to learn far more about World War II and the Holocaust than any ten-year-old girl should ever know.
The second (and final) volume of this graphic novel is scheduled to be released in February of 2018.
2. BOY MAXIMORTAL #1 by Rick Veitch (published by King Hell Press/Sun Comics):
Upon finishing Part One of this ambitious limited series, one immediately recognizes that Rick Veitch is in the process of building a complex narrative that examines the true history and metaphysical nature of the comic book medium in a manner that will no doubt end up being far more illuminating than even the best nonfiction books on the subject such as Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Gerard Jones’ Men of Tomorrow. Those previous efforts do indeed provide valuable facts about the social milieu that gave birth to the comic book industry in the 1930s; however, Veitch’s epic story (the unfolding narrative of a Superman-like entity named Maximortal desperately trying to come to grips with his proper place in post-war America) explores the emotional truths underlying the frustrated lives of such visionary comic book creators as Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and Jack Kirby. The scenes in which we witness a Jack-Kirby-like comic book artist holed up in his suburban basement, drawing outrageously violent monster comics while doing his best to deal with bouts of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome triggered by vivid memories of his near-fatal stint in the U.S. Army killing Nazis during World War II are so extremely intense that one can only conclude these snapshots of a post-war Kirby are probably far closer to reality than any straight-forward biography that could ever be written about the man. These vivid scenes are worth the price of admission alone. Throw in special guest appearances by psychologist Carl Jung and CIA Director Allen Dulles, and what more could you want? So do yourself a favor and get in on the ground floor of what promises to be a post-postmodern superhero tale that could very well rival previous contributions to this ever-expanding subgenre such as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill’s Marshal Law, Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer, and Rick Veitch’s own groundbreaking graphic novel, The One.
3. THE BLOODY CARDINAL by Richard Sala (published by Fantagraphics):
Imagine Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler (a playfully self-reflective novel in which a pair of obsessed readers explore the interdependence of art and reality) mixed with an Italian giallo slasher film directed by Mario Bava, throw in a man dressed like a big red bird and a cast of innocent young women in danger of being the homicidal fowl’s next victims, and you won’t even come close to the treasure trove of strangeness awaiting you in Richard Sala’s perversely humorous graphic novel, The Bloody Cardinal.
4. THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA by Howard Chaykin (published by Image Comics):
Any comic book that manages to offend so many ignorant, irrational people without even trying deserves an extremely high position on any “Top Ten Reading List” of 2017. If Kurt Vonnegut and Sam Peckinpah had accidentally wandered into the experimental teleportation device featured in Kurt Neumann’s science fiction film The Fly and emerged as a single iconoclastic comic book artist, that artist might very well have produced the action/adventure-cum-social satire called The Divided States of Hysteria. Despite the fact that writer/artist Howard Chaykin claims this book cannot be described as “satire,” I would contend that there are indeed darkly humorous strains lurking throughout the narrative that could be seen as satirical by many readers; however, Chaykin’s violent tale of near-future covert ops performed by a ragtag team of prison lifers more closely resembles the in-your-face satire employed by William Burroughs in his quasi-science-fictional novels of the 1960s and ’70s such as Nova Express and The Wild Boys in which bald satire borders on pure, documentarian warnings regarding the authoritarian dangers waiting just around the corner to wipe out all vestiges of freedom from this planet. As Marshall McLuhan once said of Burroughs’ novels, “It is amusing to read reviews of Burroughs that try to classify his books as non-books or as failed science fiction. It is a little like trying to criticize the sartorial and verbal manifestations of a man who is knocking on the door to explain that flames are leaping from the roof of our home.” This very same quote could apply to almost all of Chaykin’s work in comic books, but it particularly applies to The Divided States of Hysteria. If you have the ominous feeling that your house is about to burst into flame, I suggest bailing out the window and finding the latest issue of The Divided States of Hysteria. You’ll no doubt discover that you’re right.
5. SAX ROHMER’S DOPE by Trina Robbins (published by IDW):
Though Sax Rohmer’s Dope was originally serialized in the anthology magazine Eclipse back in the early 1980s, this attractive hardcover represents the first time Trina Robbins’ unique adaptation has been collected in a single edition. Aside from a pair of nervous introductions by C. Spike Trotman and Trina Robbins herself (in which Trotman and Robbins bend over backwards to apologize for the racism inherent in this visual adaptation of Sax Rohmer’s 1919 novel, Dope, something for which neither of them need apologize), this is an excellent graphic novel featuring what could very well be Trina Robbins’ best artwork of her career–which, of course, is saying quite a lot indeed. Robbins’ clean line contrasts well with the luridness of Rohmer’s plot, which revolves primarily around opium addiction, murder, and early twentieth century xenophobia directed against Chinese immigrants. In a sober, decidedly non-apologetic afterword, artist Colleen Doran writes, “This entertaining, lurid tale by the author of The Mystery of Fu Manchu combines high society and low life, drama and drugs. Trina Robbins, in her vintage style, with charmingly simple drawings that highlight her love of period fashion, presents the story with straightforward felicity […]. Reading this comic has the same charm as watching a vintage film, a time machine of attitudes and social mores, both bizarre and compelling.”
6. FANTE BUKOWSKI TWO by Noah Van Sciver (published by Fantagraphics):
Fante Bukowski Two continues the sad and hilarious adventures of misanthropic poet “Fante Bukowski” (not his real name). I included Volume One of this ongoing series on a previous Top Ten list. In 2015 I wrote, in part, “Fante Bukowski is a hilarious and insightful satire about the vast gap between art and artifice, craftsmanship and pretentiousness, individuality and idolatry. At first Sciver seems to set up his protagonist as little more than the butt of an ongoing joke, running the risk of presenting ‘Bukowski’ as the shallowest stereotype possible, but as the episodic tale progresses the reader begins to sympathize more and more with ‘Bukowski’s’ naive and confused arrogance.” Volume Two of this series continues Bukowski’s odyssey by juxtaposing his extreme naivety with the world-weary trials of Bukowski’s ex-lover, Audrey Catron, a talented writer who has managed to achieve all the success that seems so outside the range of Bukowski’s limited abilities. When examined in excruciating detail, Audrey’s life as a writer who has actually “made it” seems far less exciting than Bukowski’s never-ending struggle to attain even the slightest scrap of recognition or acknowledgement. When one has nothing at all, perhaps the promise of success (no matter how unlikely it seems) is more satisfying than actually attaining it in reality.
Recently, in a post on Facebook, Van Sciver mentioned offhandedly that a reviewer of Fante Bukowski Two commented that she couldn’t quite get into this book because “no one like Fante Bukowski exists anymore.” I’d love to know the exact address of the moss-covered rock under which this reviewer has been living for so long; being a graduate of an MFA Program, and having taught numerous Creative Writing workshops, I can assure her and anyone else reading this that I’ve met so many people who act like Fante Bukowski that I could draw up a lengthy list as long as Milton Berle’s penis (if you’d like to learn more about Mr. Berle’s legendary penis, please click HERE). The characterization of Fante Bukowski, as presented in these two books, is nothing if not believable.
With Fante Bukowski Two, Noah Van Sciver has successfully improved upon the delicate tightrope act he began in Fante Bukowski One by combining a genuine character study with wide swaths of oddball humor worthy of Preston Sturges or the Cohen Brothers. I’m very eager to see where the inimitable Mr. Bukowski ends up in Volume Three of this most fascinating series.