ALL STAR RECOMMENDS: 2019 COMIC BOOK FORECAST EDITION!
By Cameron Ashley
Welcome to the latest installment of the annual All Star Recommends Comic Book Forecast, your one-stop source for 2019s most interesting comics (or at least as many as I could find).
This year’s Forecast was a trickier beast to wrangle than it usually is. I’m usually tripping over one amazing advance solicitation or PR release or publisher website update after another by late December. Not so much this year. I went *digging*. For example, I believe that this is the first time I’ve never listed any manga whatsoever in one of these things which is a bit strange and actually a little disappointing (where is Naoki Urasawa’s Billy Bat??).
Make no mistake however, I’m not poo-pooing what we can so far glean from the year ahead and you know that as soon as this thing goes live there will be 20 more killer announcements. But anyway, have a look at the forthcoming comics below and you’ll notice something really interesting – the vast majority is comprised of brand new material and each comic here is completely different from anything else on the list. It’s absolutely the strongest list of distinctly individual comics voices I’ve ever assembled and all them will be loudly yelling for your time in 2019. These are all vital, exciting comics, each doing their own thing both in the medium and to the page. Some adhere to traditional methods of comics storytelling, others smash the rules of the form and reassemble it as their creators see fit, but all of them are Art. If there’s a greater reason to feel excited about and invested in our favourite artform over the next twelve months and beyond, I have no idea what it could be.
I have a tiresome habit of touting particular comics as being poised to be the most visually beautiful of any given year. Please forgive me, because…poised to be 2019’s most visually beautiful comic is Nina Bunjevac’s Bezimena.
Bunjevac (Fatherland) is fond of obsessively rendered stippling, giving her pages an intricacy and delicacy virtually unmatched in comics. She’s also quite the writer and Bezimena looks to be her most narratively ambitious work to date, “an exploration of the delusional mind of the sexual predator” that uses the Greek myth of Artemis and Siproites for inspiration. In the myth Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, turns the boy Siproites into a girl for, depending on which version of the story you come across, either spying on her bathing or attempting a rape. Bezimena spins the latter version of the myth off into new turf as a deviant named Benny’s fantasy about a former classmate escalates to strange and disturbing levels. At her website, Bunjevac says that Bezimena is “mostly influenced by the 1942 noir classic Cat People, Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus trilogy and the television drama Singing Detective by Dennis Potter.” That’s a heady influence brew right there and, jeepers, look at the result:
Publisher Fantagraphics states that Bezimena“offers a radical examination of the misconceptions surrounding rape culture in an artistic and psychological tour de force.” Bunjevac is a skilled and thoughtful creator who, again, produces some of the loveliest comics pages around. I understand if the topic makes this a hard pass, but if you appreciate being challenged by your Literature, as well as the insane dedication needed to finish 228 pages that look like the above, Bezimena should most definitely be sought out in May.
Ezra Claytan Daniels & Ben Passmore
If you have not yet read Ezra Claytan Daniels’ Upgrade Soul (Lion Forge), I strongly suggest you do – it is one of the best comics of the year. Daniels returns in 2019 with BTTM FDRS (or Bottom Feeders, if you prefer), illustrated by Ignatz winner Ben Passmore. Described as something like Get Out and The Thing mashed together in a struggling Chicago neighborhood, BTTM FDRS promises goopy horror and strong political satire. Passmore produces lively cartooned characters and BTTM FDRS’ use of a striking palate of clashing colours ensures it will be one of the year’s most visually vibrant releases.
An “afro-futurist horror comedy,” BTTM FDRS is centered around a young fashion designer who moves into a run-down building that happens to also be home to a “dangerous symbiotic creature” but all of this SF-horror is a vehicle for the creators to explore themes of displacement and gentrification in modern urban life. Daniels has a number of pages for your perusal at his site and it looks like good fun. Daniels, however, is not afraid to get deep and his grasp on the rich complexities of interpersonal relationships (so deftly explored in Upgrade Soul) is also sure to come to fore in BTTM FDRS, even amongst the bouncy cartooning, the gags, the politics and the toilets filled with oozing monster bits.
THE CITY OF BELGIUM
Good grief, we are getting spoiled. Arriving in May is Belgian painter Brecht Evans’ fourth book from Canadian Publishers Drawn & Quarterly, The City of Belgium.
Three young strangers converge on a popular restaurant, unaware the night will devolve into a “series of adventures that reveal them to be teetering on the edge between lucid dream and tooth-grinding nightmare.” It almost sounds like the premise for a Gaspar Noe film and I’m probably not that far off the mark, particularly considering Evans’ dizzying skills with watercolour, near constant re-shaping of the conventions of the comics page and gift for awkward, uncomfortable encounters. Evans (Panther, The Wrong Place, The Making Of) is as singular a voice as you’ll find in comics, capable of stunning, off-kilter work. This, his largest project so far, is an arrival to be celebrated.
2018 brought us the conclusion of Jason Lutes’ Berlin, an essential piece of comics over twenty years in the making. 2019 brings us a similarly staggering achievement, the conclusion of Clyde Fans - another work two decades in the making - by Seth. Hailed by Chris Ware as “one of the greatest graphic novels ever written,” all 488 pages of this epic come to us in a single, slipcased edition this April.
Charting the decline of a business and the family that owns and runs it, Clyde Fans features beautiful period authenticity, a thorough examination and deconstruction of mid twentieth century life and the “…hopes and delusions of a middle-class that has long ceased to exist in North America” as seen primarily through two brothers struggling to keep a fan business operating in the face of oncoming air-conditioning technology. With lovely two-colour artwork and a narrative that takes us from the 1950s through to the 1970s, the conclusion and high-end compilation of Clyde Fans celebrates yet another incredible long form achievement in comics.
Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Ongoing from January
I don’t really need to write anything here, do I? I mean, it’s Criminal. It’s Brubaker & Phillips coming off the stunner that was their most recent work, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, freshly re-signed with Image Comics who again promise to let them do whatever it is they want for the next five years. It’s ongoing. The creators promise to make the most of the serialised comics format, with both stand-alone and multi-part stories planned. It’s going to be great. You’ve probably already pre-ordered it. Let’s just pretend we are not awaiting it breathlessly and move along…
GI JOE: SIERRA MUERTE
Ahh, Michel Fiffe – living the dream. Seriously, he must be one of the most contented creators in comics right now. Just imagine: there he is, chugging away at his exceptional Suicide Squad-goes-Arthouse monthly, Copra and Negativeland, his other serial online for Patreon uh…patrons. His inbox dings and the next thing he knows he’s also writing, drawing, lettering and colouring a Bloodstrike mini-series for Image, bringing his kinetic action, creative page design and beautiful colours to a washed up ‘90s title that he still holds a torch for. And it turns out pretty great. Then, ding again, it’s IDW and they go, hey, wanna do GI Joe?
Look, I know nothing about GI Joe, seriously – the comic was a real blind spot for me as a kid. I don’t know why, but it never really clicked. I’ve never seen the films or much of the cartoon, I never owned the toys, but any time Michel Fiffe picks up his coloured pencils, I’m in. Sierra Muerte features all those characters you probably know way more about than me: Snake Eyes, Baroness, that...uh…bald guy, and loads more. It’s a who’s who, IDW assures us, and I’m going to have to take their word for it. What’s guaranteed (by me) is some of the most uniquely presented comics action you’ve fixed your peepers on. Fiffe considered this project “impossible to resist” and this student of classic ‘80s action comics is sure to bring his A-game to the beloved property. So, Go, Joe!...or whatever it is they say.
Concerning two pop culture-obsessed morons trying to make their way in the world, John Pham’s J+K may in fact end up being regarded as 2019s ultimate comics art object. As the titular duo throw away reference after reference to all manner of pop culture ephemera existing in their world, Pham dutifully and creatively actualises it all by including, among other things, posters, stickers, an issue of “Cool Magazine” and, yes, even playable vinyl. It’s playful world-building to an extent not really seen in comics before that I can recall. Making the feat even more impressive, Pham has the cartooning chops to back it all up. Ostensibly a series of short gag strips (“Peanuts meets Seinfeld,” Fantagraphics informs us), the totality does in fact cohere into a whole. “Like it’s not a collection but one long story that makes sense even if it reads like individual puzzle pieces in places,” Frank Santoro wrote in his review of the original Spanish edition, later adding, “It’s a feat to put it all together and serve it up in a smooth package like this. I’ve never seen anything like it…”
There’s an unboxing video of the Spanish edition you can watch here if you like and see for yourself if, gimmickry aside, Pham’s book is worth a read. Judging by how his characters pop off the page thanks to those the eye-popping colours (Fanta promises three colour fluorescent ink), that’s a pretty easy decision to make.
Lucy Knisley’s newest comic-memoir details the struggles of her own pregnancy and birth, a journey filled with hormonal problems and unfortunate miscarriages before the eventual successful birth of a healthy son (who looks a crazy lot like his mother). Knisley, a beloved creator of autobiographical comics, continues to bravely put it all in her work, the good, the bad and the personally traumatic, and one imagines this was, at times, not an easy project to complete. It’s an important one, however, chiefly as a reminder that in the inevitably difficult times during a pregnancy, you and/or your partner are experiencing nothing unique - that no matter the difficulty that you can very well overcome. Trust me, we had a few of our own during my son’s arrival and even more soon after.
If that’s not enough to pick this up, Kid Gloves also contains a slew of medical information as well as the history of reproductive health and a run-down on some notable figures from medicine and midwifery.
If you’ve had kids, if you want to have kids, if you’re struggling to have kids or if you just want to see a very talented cartoonist boldly shine a light on a period of immense difficulty that led to one of the most transformative experiences of her life, Kid Gloves will be for you. It’s also quite likely going to be one of the year’s biggest releases – even Elle jumped on the comics bandwagon for this one with a lengthy excerpt showcasing a nice selection of Knisley’s charming, colourful and informative cartooning.
Darcy Van Poelgeest, Ian Bertram & Matt Hollingsworth
For months and months now, artist extraordinaire, Ian Bertram, has posted pages and images from a project called Little Bird on his Instagram page. The pages are, typical of the artist, sumptuously detailed and surreal, with Bertram’s strikingly designed, boggly-eyed characters inhabiting a richly detailed fantastical landscape. On and on the panels and pages went, with Bertram stating the project was written by a Vancouver-based filmmaker named Darcy Van Poelgeest and coloured by one of the best around, Matt Hollingsworth. The issue here =was the announcement that Little Bird was to be published in French by Glenat, with an English publisher "to follow." Thankfully the turnaround was not long at all and clearly, the project was destined for Image Comics. That's exactly where it ended up.
This March, Little Bird arrives in English in the form of a five-issue miniseries. The only downside here is that it's being serialised for English readers while the French get their trademark oversized album, but hey, they actually take their comics 100% seriously over there so more power to 'em. From the advance solicit, here's as much plot as we get - "Little Bird follows a young resistance fighter who battles against an oppressive American Empire and searches for her own identity in a world on fire." Yeah, yeah, seen it, read it, maybe even done it. Nah. This is the Ian Bertram show and if you're even passingly familiar with his work (check out House of Penance if you're not), then you'll know that Little Bird will hold it's own with all the visual heavyweights we've got coming out way in 2019.
MARVEL MASTERS OF SUSPENSE: STAN LEE & STEVE DITKO
Steve Ditko & Stan Lee
Back when this column was just a mere list of books I needed to write about, there was a little something jotted down called Detective Comics Before Batman, which collected all the pre-Batman issues of Detective Comics into a two volume, slipcased omnibus set. The solicitation for this set disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived, however, as someone at DC realised that some of these 1930’s stories were more than a little racist and the whole project got scrapped. Oh dear. Never mind, swooping in comes Marvel to save the day for fans of truly classic, previously uncollected, unbigoted comics fare with this gem – every single one of Steve Ditko’s pre-Superhero comics produced for the publisher. Yum.
Collecting stories from periodicals like Journey Into Mystery, Strange Tales and Tales of Suspense, along with work from titles you’ve probably never heard of like Astonishing, Gunsmoke Western and Spellbound, Marvel Masters of Suspense (split into two omnibus editions, I believe, sadly not slipcased) sees Ditko at arguably his best. That’s a controversial take, I know, but if you’ve ever seen Fantagraphics’ ongoing efforts to collect Ditko’s pre-Marvel comics, you’ll probably agree. Essential!
MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS VOLUME 2
It wouldn’t be one of these forecast columns without one title appearing for the second year straight, allowing me to do some sly cutting and pasting of my own long-forgotten hyperbole. This time around, the honour goes to My Favorite Thing Is Monsters volume 2, a book that is running at least a year late, but given just how special this project is, we should all be content to just sit tight and wait until creator Emil Ferris is good and ready to put down her coloured biros. This is not a project to be rushed: the second volume of Ferris’ saga could well cement My Favorite Thing Is Monsters legacy as an all-time great comicbook. In my opinion, the first volume alone is not only the comic of 2016, but the decade so far.
A spoiler-free synopsis for the newbie:
It's Chicago, 1968. A young misfit of a girl named Karen Reyes loves art, but her absolute favourite thing is monsters. Karen identifies with monsters on a deep level, she's able to distinguish between the good monsters and the bad, and the freak-loser-misfit tag she's saddled with socially gives her a degree of empathy for beings such as the Frankenstein Monster that others her age likely do not possess. She desperately wants to be turned into a literal monster, making her outsider status complete and giving her the power and strength she struggles to find day-to-day. She scribbles away in her notebooks, copying the covers to monster magazines of the period, and is taught to draw by her elder brother, Diego "Deeze" Reyes. Deeze is himself something of an outcast with his heavily tattooed skin and constant drinking, yet he easily maintains his status as the local heartthrob. He's an incessant womaniser, stringing along a parade of local women with his handsome features and "bad guy" rebel attitude. The Reyes siblings are raised by a single parent, a mother who is superstitious to the point of obsession, heavily religious, but also deeply loving. They are a weird but obviously tight-knit little family but there is secret, hidden family tragedy waiting to fracture their closeness.
Karen is not shown much kindness in her life outside of her little family. Her best friend (who she deeply loves) has turned her back on her in a quest for popularity and peer acceptance and her bullying is near constant. What little kindness there is comes in the form of her upstairs neighbour, the eccentric Anka Silverberg, a Jewish WWII survivor who nurtures Karen's artistic streak and gives her odd gifts such as balled up pieces of bread. When Anka is brutally murdered, Karen is determined to solve the mystery. She begins keeping the company of Anka's stern, elderly husband, Sam. Drunk and grief-stricken, Sam Silverberg pulls out a cassette tape on which Anka reveals her incredible life story, in which clues to her gruesome death abound.
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is told in the form of Karen's scribbled notebooks. The vast majority of it is drawn in biro, and pretty much the rest of it in fineliner, with the odd excursion into brush, wash and (possibly) colour pencil. Every page looks as though it's come from an A4 lined notepad, complete with red margin line running vertically down the page, evenly spaced blue lines horizontally and even faux hole punch marks and a spiral binding. There's urgency on the pages, but Ferris maintains deep control of her images throughout. Ferris is fond of cross-hatching a fine lattice of multi-coloured biro lines on her characters, creating soft yet striking contours and textures and depths. Karen herself is drawn almost totally throughout as a little werewolf girl, almost like something from Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are gone mystery-solver, her diminished, devolved image of herself near total even as she wears her "monstrous" outsider status as something of a badge of pride. Anka's story is engrossing, cutting across decades, and it's a testament to Ferris' writing skills just how easily her story flips between coming of age drama to mystery to horror and back again so seamlessly, never losing sight of her characters' humanity and keeping her story firmly on the tracks.
If you've yet to read My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, I genuinely envy you, you have a real treat ahead. Fantagraphics is wisely capitalising on the success and acclaim of the title with a preview of volume two, some all-new material and her autobiographical short, The Bite That Changed My Life, for this coming Free Comic Book Day, reinforcing the fact that My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is an absolute, top-of-the-list must-read. I can't really say any more about this masterpiece than that.
Jun, a female combat sniper, returns home to a sprawling metropolis (styled after Hong Kong) following a stint fighting in a near-future conflict. There, she faces not just the demons of war, but the demons within. Singelin, a French-Laotian artist, brings watercolours to his scratchy, hyper-detailed style, the paint brush adding an extra layer of realism to a world populated by cute, almost chibi-esque characters. Imagine Nausicaa-era Miyazaki doing a gritty near-future war comic, in full colour, and you’d be close.
From all reports, PTSD is a phenomenal book – its preview pages are gorgeous and cinematic, its meditations on war and the scars on both body and mind it leaves are apparently thoughtfully, evocatively described. A sleeper hit of the year, perhaps, and one where the juxtaposition between the gravity of subject and cartoonishness of the charactersonly further helps to create a unique vision of sprawling city and tortured mind. I do think that publishers First Second do need to break away from their small formatting, however, as Singelin’s superb, intricate illustration runs the risk of looking a touch cramped on the page. Still, PTSD looks so impressive I’d pick it up if it were formatted to the size of a matchbox. Kudos to First Second for bringing this title to an English audience. Look out for this one.
2017’s Starseeds was arguably the book of the moment, striking at the creeping fog of conspiracy, division and clandestine secrets like no other of the time. Mexican creator Charles Glaubitz somehow distilled everything from the power of Jack Kirby to the psychedelia of Terrence McKenna, to the spirituality of Ram Dass, to the paranoia of conspiracy-peddling scumbag Alex Jones and the divisiveness of the political spectrum in his superlative work. Glaubitz offered a mind-blowing, transcendentalist take on the grimness of the current zeitgeist, yet never forgot he was creating a highly entertaining and colourful comic. Starseeds is at its core the classic superhero myth gone New Age –with the Starseed children (“who are the end result of the evolution of revolution within our system of genetics, philosophy, science, and art”)versus the hooded members of the Illuminati who seek to bring darkness down upon us all. Yeah, it’s unashamedly mental. It’s good versus bad on *all* the drugs.
If anything, Starseeds 2 seems set to up the ante, with Glaubitz having honed his psychedelic pop art style to the potency of an acid tab in the period between books and now increases his cast to include “The Rainbow Twins” and somehow sandwiching in a retelling of The Big Bang. Oh yes. Beautiful, grim, but ultimately hopeful and with a sincere attempt at consciousness-expansion by the artist, Starseeds is a bold project, the artful, deliberately puzzling, philosophical, cosmic slugfest you need in your life.
Oh, what a writer Tim Lane is. From Pekar to Bukowski to Carver to Thompson to Kerouac, there is something purely, almost romantically Bygone-American about Lane’s writing. Do not mistake romance and nostalgia for sentimentality, however. Lane’s short stories of hard-luck everymen, musos, drifters, femme fatales and more feature voices from between the cracks of the American pavement – a patchwork of the disenfranchised and the glamorous and the profoundly ordinary. If he wrote novels he would probably be famous and lauded. But if he wrote novels, we would never see his drawing.
Oh, what an artist Tim Lane is, so thoughtful, so clever, so moody, so gifted with the use of stark black and white. He makes noir, real noir, not pastiche or “comic book noir,” it’s literate noir, both in story and art, all shadows and dark city streets and characters with hard-earned wrinkles and terrible postures side by side with portraits of glamorous long-gone celebrities like McQueen and Dean and it’s even sometimes paper doll collections of all-American archetypes or mock advertisements for long-gone fashion items. Tim Lane is Burns and Crumb jamming on everything from tales of train-hopping vagabonds seeing America by rail to just some average schmoe getting laid. There is also, miraculously, real, genuine feeling in every page he creates.
In totality, Lane’s work is American weirdness writ large in beautiful, delicately inked pages and Toybox Americana, his newest collection, following Abandoned Cars and The Lonesome Go, arrives in April as further proof of his talents. Publisher Fantagraphics says, “From jazz clubs and pool halls to ballparks and graveyards, from casinos and coffeehouses to back alleys and bus stops, Lane captures the uniquely raw and seedy charm of American culture.” Required reading.
Three volumes due 2019
Award-winning Melbourne cartoonist Chris Gooch (Bottled, Curse You Skullface!) returns in a big way next year with Under-Earth, a sprawling three-volume prison epic that will clock in at around 500 pages in total once completed. Having seen pages from both the recently released preview book and what’s to be the finished product, it’s clear Under-Earth is Gooch’s most ambitious work to date. Under-Earth is set in a shabby, sprawling, almost subterranean “trash prison” built in the ruins of a city and in the shadow of an ominous black tower. Convicts are thrown off helicopters into the complex below and there they face authority figures in the form of black latex-suited guards (fond of swinging their truncheons) and try to survive not these overlords, but also the strange, garbage dump of a landscape they occupy, a landscape filled with the refuse of the past.
Gooch appears to be having a lot of fun with this project despite its apparent heaviness of concept, embracing the speculative elements of his story and all the world building that’s required to best serve the visuals. There’s some real flair and energy in these dystopian pages too – from highly-detailed double page landscapes populated by ant like convicts all dressed in prison stripes to a very clever page featuring a new arrival being hurled from a helicopter but placed never quite where you expect him to be in the fixed space of each subsequent panel that charts his descent into Under-Earth. It’s on-point cartooning too, with Gooch’s distinctive, spindly-lined characters emoting wonderfully on the page.
Under-Earth is supported in part by Creative Victoria, which speaks volumes about Gooch’s reputation and the strength of his vision. Having read his work for several years now, I’ve been waiting for that real creative stretch, the commitment to a long-form project. 2016s Bottled, published by Top Shelf, provided that and with Under-Earth, he’s stretching even further. Here’s hoping it affords him the opportunity to never look back. This is, hands down, the Australian release of the year from a hardworking, prolific and dedicated talent.
WHEN I ARRIVED AT THE CASTLE
Rejoice! Emily Carroll returns in mid-2019 with When I Arrived At The Castle, 72 pages of new Gothic horror – the genre of which she’s the undisputed comics Queen. An unnamed female protagonist (at least in the solicits) embarks on a quest that many before her never returned from – eradicating the evil that lurks at the Countess’ castle. Carroll’s self-proclaimed experiment in “goth-erotic horror” will lead protagonist and reader both on undoubtedly a rich, symbolic journey and right into a web of shadows, secrets, hidden evil and creepy sexiness.
Carroll’s ever inventive with her layouts and her lush, sweeping lines and sumptuous colours are a constant treat, as easy on the eyes as comics get. Her acclaimed collection, Through The Woods gave readers a smart, stylish collection of Gothic horror treats flavoured with dashes of Shirley Jackson. When I Arrived At The Castle (a very Jackson-esque title) would seem to inject more than a thimbleful of subverted Hammer sexiness into the mix, all of which should make quite the comics cocktail indeed. Publisher Koyama boasts“eroticism that doesn’t just make your skin crawl, it crawls into it.”
See you later. Love your comics.