ALL STAR RECOMMENDS:
2021 COMIC BOOK FORECAST EDITION
Hello! Welcome to 2021.
We’ve had a bit of it now, just a little taste, and I don’t know about you but for whatever reason this particular writer is having a hard time shaking a kind of New Year’s malaise.
Whether you are like me right now or flying high with the arrival of the new year, either way I’ve got some good news:
There are some great, *great* comics on the way.
Here are a bunch them, alphabetically as always.
Release dates are fluid things so be sure to contact the store before you start swooning over goodies below. As a guy who has read comics for four decades now, a lifer if you will, I can honestly say that the art form brought me great comfort over the last year as I’m sure it did you. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for comics publishers (particularly the smaller ones) to look at their publishing slates, make adjustments and work like hell to get them out despite, well, everything. Here’s to them this year, the publishers. Let’s support them and cherish the fact that despite everything going on in the world right now we have the below, and many many other, comics to look forward to this year thanks to their efforts and the efforts of those working in shops not unlike the lovely store that runs this blog.
BOYS RUN THE RIOT
If anything has All Star Comics Sleeper Hit of 2021 written all over it, it’s Keto Gato’s Boys Run The Riot. Gato’s manga about a transgender teen named Ryuu will be compiled, in its entirety, over two large 400 page volumes beginning in August.
Vertical says: “High schooler Ryuu knows he’s transgender. But he doesn’t have anyone to confide in about the confusion he feels. He can’t tell his best friend, who he’s secretly got a crush on, and he can’t tell his mom, who’s constantly asking why Ryuu is always “dressing like a boy.” He certainly can’t tell Jin, the new transfer student who looks like just another bully. The only time Ryuu feels at ease is when he’s wearing his favorite clothes. Then, and only then, the world melts away, and he can be his true self. One day, while out shopping, Ryuu sees an unexpected sight: Jin. The kid who looked so tough in class is shopping for the same clothes that Ryuu loves. And Jin offers Ryuu a proposal: to start their own brand and create apparel to help everyone feel comfortable in their skin. At last, Ryuu has someone he can open up to–and the journey ahead might finally give him a way to express himself to everyone else.”
It’s fascinating to see this kind of manga, so different from the the speed lines, tough guys and monsters of the shonen fare that dominates the shelves, beginning to pop up more and more frequently and it’s always a treat to see the traditionally less open aspects of Japanese society explored through manga. For the curious, Gaku is a transgender man who lives in Japan and Boys Run The Riot, his debut work, is an award-winner. Kudos for Vertical for bringing Boys Run The Riot to print in English and in such a terrific, digestible format. I expect some buzz here closer to launch time, similar to that of Gengoroh Tegame’s My Brother’s Husband a few years back. I mean, who doesn’t want to read a transgender updating of fashion model comics, a genre that’s been around since the 1940s?
THE CITY OF BELGIUM
The first of our super-latecomers is Brecht Evens’ The City Of Belgium which was originally scheduled for release in (2019!). As is customary with the late arrivals, here’s what I wrote in the 2019 Forecast:
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. Evens (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.
It’s a double-dose of the legendary Gary Panter this February and March and I hope your brains and consciousnesses are ready to take the trip. First, Fantagraphics unleashes the oversized Crashpad in February. Described as a “fine art monograph/faux underground comic facsimile” that functions as “a psychedelic trip through the hippie movement,” Crashpad is the evolution of an art installation Panter created back in 2017 called “Hippie Trip,” now turned into a comic book that immerses its readers in not just the early days of psychedelia and counter culture but also “riffs” on the early Underground Comics movement and its practitioners. This massive hardcover edition features not only high quality reproductions of Panter’s pages on heavy stock but also the comic printed on newsprint in a kind of faux underground edition which fits perfectly in a special sleeve. Probably the year’s coolest comic-as-Art-Object, the early word is that Crashpad is a stunner, with Panter’s scratchy but ultra-detailed pages bursting off the pages of both editions included to melt those eyeballs out of your head.
If that’s not enough, NYRC is re-releasing Panter’s classic Jimbo: Adventures In Paradise in March. First appearing in Punk zine, Slash in the ‘70s, Panter’s “punk everyman” moved over to the pages of Raw. Originally published back in 1988, Jimbo In Paradise collects Jimbo’s adventures to that point and has thankfully been brought out of OOP purgatory by the fine folk at NYRC who say, “Amid a jumbled cityscape of rundown New York City streets and futuristic Los Angeles freeways, Jimbo crowd-surfs at a riot, makes amends with Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy, and rescues his pal Smoggo’s sister from giant cockroaches, all while the world teeters between extravagance and apocalypse.” The new NYRC edition looks tremendous (as always with this publisher), with re-coloured sections (Panter-approved - he seems thrilled with the edition) and essays also included.
A must have.
If there’s one good thing that came out of 2020, it was Simon Hanselmann’s Instagram webcomic, Crisis Zone. Running almost daily from March through to December, Hanselmann dove into his “real time” comic, dropping his regular cast of characters, Megg, Mogg, Owl, Werewolf Jones and friends right into the middle of the pandemic we were/are all living through. According to the author, it was only going to last a month but Hanselmann became “addicted” to producing it, uploading 10 or so panels day after day after day. It made numerous Top 10 of the year lists (I only make lists for physical books, otherwise it would’ve made mine) and exhausted its creator.
Easily the most hilarious art ever produced during a global pandemic, Crisis Zone became ever more ridiculous by the daily, spiralling out of control as characters live, characters die, characters get Netflix deals. David Choe even appears and part of the joy (for me anyway) of the reading experience was seeing Choe comment on his own exploits day after day in a weird piece of internet intertextuality.
The print version of Crisis Zone is due in August and contains an extra 500-plus panels originally culled from Hanselmann’s daily posting. Relive the horrible year that was and pretty much still is! Who would have thought that reflecting back on 2020 could be so much fun?
Due late 2021
It’s always a treat to see new work by the ever-versatile Dash Shaw and 2021 brings his latest, Discipline from the fab publishers NYRC. Clocking in at 300 pages, Discipline is six years in the making, according to NYRCs Instagram announcement, and is “the story of Charles Cox, a young Quaker who joins up with the Union in the Civil War, while his sister Fanny tries to hold their family together on the home front.”
Shaw has of Discipline online and he’s working in his clean and loose style, eschewing panel borders for open pages that readers eyes flow organically across. It’s striking work and it can’t come soon enough.
THE FIST OF THE NORTH STAR
Buronson and Testuo Hara
Out of print since I must have been….brrrrrrrrrrmmm…..fifteen?, Fist Of The North Star returns in big ol’ hardcover editions in 2021. A kind of gonzo martial arts Mad Max manga originally running from 1983-1988, Fist Of The North Star sees martial arts master, Kenshiro (who brutally kills opponents by striking secret vital spots) wandering a post-apocalyptic planet helping the little people in their struggles with all manner of nasty bad guys. Grimy, VIOLENT, gory and hilarious (come on, it really is), Fist Of The North Star returns to fulfil all your grindhouse/outlaw comics needs. It’s kind of bizarre that this was ever out of print. If anything, it feels like one of those perennial titles comic shops have too many copies of. I’m rambling now. I’ll shh. Here’s Kenshiro:
LET’S NOT TALK ANYMORE
The lives of five generations of women from are explored in Weng Pixin’s ambitious Let’s Not Talk Anymore. The Singaporean artist paints the tales of her great grandmother, her grandmother, her mother, herself and her future possible daughter all at the age of fifteen over 200 pages spanning a century’s worth of women in her family.
Drawn and Quarterly says, “As each story develops, generational traumas are revealed and fraught relationships passed on from mother to daughter. Creative impulses are stifled or nurtured. They struggle with poverty and neglect. And at some point each woman begins to separate herself from her situation and understand the woman she will become.”
Pixin’s pages are bright and lively.
Colourful tape acting as as panel borders is visible, as are brush strokes,
heightening the intimacy of the work and imbuing a kind of textural closeness.
Let’s Not Talk Anymore sounds like the kind of quiet, personal epic perfect for a peaceful day’s reading - something we all most certainly deserve.
The master of modern horror manga might not quite be firing on all cylinders anymore, but Junji Ito is still producing some of the most horrific and certainly bizarre comics around. Sensor is the latest Ito epic to come to English thanks to publisher Viz and looks to continue a vein of distinctly cosmic horror that the creator frequently taps, one that he is quite accomplished at.
Viz says, “A woman walks alone at the foot of Mount Sengoku. A man appears, saying he’s been waiting for her, and invites her to a nearby village. Surprisingly, the village is covered in hairlike volcanic glass fibers, and all of it shines a bright gold. At night, when the villagers perform their custom of gazing up at the starry sky, countless unidentified flying objects come raining down on them, the opening act for the terror about to occur.”
What kind of cosmic horror weirdness does Ito have in store for us this time? Tune in August to find out!
Want more Ito and want it before August? No problem! Viz unleashes the latest Junji Ito Story Collection, Lovesickness, in April which includes “strikingly bloody” titular story, “The Strange Hikizuri Siblings” and “The Rib Woman.” Viz promises “peak form” Ito which should thrill any long time readers.
It’s actually real. In the works for over 35 years. It was a 22 page story that was supposed to be about The Hulk and Bruce Banner’s abusive childhood. It didn’t work out. The story grew and was reworked. It went to Dark Horse. That didn’t work out. Apparently it was then going to DC. That didn’t work out. It grew and grew and gained extra layers of complexity. Monsters is now finished. Fantagraphics is publishing it this April.
In a world where the term “Event Comics” has become a catch-all for any and all crossover regardless of quality, the release of Barry Windsor-Smith’s Monsters is a true event, the absolute Event Comic of 2021 no matter what Previews might try and tell you. A 360 book by a temperamental master of comics is coming very, very soon and it looks gorgeous.
From Fantagraphics: “The year is 1964. Bobby Bailey doesn't realize he is about to fulfill his tragic destiny when he walks into a US Army recruitment office to join up. Close-mouthed, damaged, innocent, trying to forget a past and looking for a future, it turns out that Bailey is the perfect candidate for a secret U.S. government experimental program, an unholy continuation of a genetics program that was discovered in Nazi Germany nearly 20 years earlier in the waning days of World War II. Bailey's only ally and protector, Sergeant McFarland, intervenes, which sets off a chain of cascading events that spin out of everyone's control. As the titular monsters of the title multiply, becoming real and metaphorical, literal and ironic, the story reaches its emotional and moral reckoning.”
Consider this essential.
MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS VOLUME 2
Can it really be true? Are we finally, actually getting the second and concluding part of Emil Ferris’ jaw-dropping My Favourite Thing Is Monsters this year? As noted in previous years’ forecast columns, I am not complaining about any delays. 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 comic book. In my opinion, the first volume alone was not only the comic of 2016, but also the decade.
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. 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.
Well, well. Out of print in English since the early 2000s, here comes No. 5 by the incomparable Taiyo Matsumoto. Originally running in japan from 2000-2005, No. 5 sees Matsumoto in full-blown SF mode, a fairly tantalising prospect, I’m sure, for readers familiar with his fairly grounded works Ping Pong, Sunny and Go Go Monster. I’m convinced there’s nothing Matsumoto can’t do and having stared at lots of artwork from No. 5 over the years I’m not going to be proven wrong here either.
Only two volumes of No. 5 made it to print in English back in the early days of the century and it’s heartening to see Viz’s confidence in bringing it back as well as now there’s an audience for Matsumoto’s singular work to support the new editions. Also, it seems like a safe sales bet. Visually, No. 5 is Matsumoto’s Moebius comic, for lack of a more appropriate yardstick. Take a look at the last panel below:
No. 5 is an arthouse, clean-line, fashionable yarn about lovers on the run, full of deserts and forests and cityscapes and afros and crazy headgear and other clothing pulled from all sorts of cultural corners. Plot: there are 9 members of a Global Security group. Number 5 has done a runner. Number 1 has ordered the others to bring him back, dead or alive. No word on how many volumes this will end up being, but I wager Viz chunk them up like last year’s Ping Pong editions, so I’m guessing four. Stuff them into your eyeballs!
PARKER: THE MARTINI EDITION: LAST CALL
Originally scheduled for a late 2020 release was the second and concluding prestige collection of the late, great Darwyn Cooke’s adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. If you’re familiar with Cooke’s Parker comics you likely have the original Martini Edition which collected the first half of his Parker work. If you are not familiar, Cooke’s Parker adaptations stand as arguably the most stylish crime comics of all time. The Martini Edition: Last Call collects the previously published The Score and Slayground along with 100 unpublished pages of Cooke’s Parker art, a roundtable discussion and, tantalisingly, a new 17-page comic by the beloved team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Oversized, slipcased and printed on beautifully thick paper, the original Martini Edition is an essential tome for crime comics fans and this second and final companion volume not only completes the set but is perhaps the final word on Cooke’s lovingly crafted work on one of crime’s most legendary and mysterious tough guys. Classic comics given the ultimate treatment. A fitting tribute to Cooke and his timeless work.
Theo Ellsworth (adapting Jeff VanderMeer)
Due Late 2021
Theo Ellsworth is bringing some scratchy, organic lines to Award-Winning writer Jeff VanderMeer’s (Annihilation) short story, Secret Life and the results are wonderfully weird. I’ve not read the short story, but I’ve read much of VanderMeer’s work and the dispassionate narrative voices and growing unease of his writing is sure to translate seamlessly to comics.
D+Q says, “ To the west: trees. To the east: a mall. North: fast food. South: darkness. And at the centre is The Building, an office building wherein several factions vie for dominance. Inside, the walls are infiltrated with vines, a mischief of mice learn to speak English, and something eerie happens once a month on the fifth floor. In Secret Life, the Nebula and Shirley Jackson award-winning author Jeff VanderMeer’s ecological speculations overlap with Theo Ellsworth’s deep-layered style to create a mind-bending narrative that defamiliarizes the mundanity of office work and makes the arcane rituals of The Building home.
With deft insight, Secret Life observes the sinister individualism of bureaucratic settings in contrast with an unconcerned natural world. As the narrative progresses you may begin to suspect that the world Ellsworth has brought to life with hypnotic visuals is not so secret after all; in fact, it’s uncannily similar to our own.”
It’s been too long since we’ve had a great, unsettling read about how horrible work can be (the extraordinary Through The Habitrails by Jeff Nicholson is the last I can recall off the top of my head and that was 1994!) and Ellsworth has clearly thrown himself into the work; certain pages previewed look almost like woodcuts. Striking and strange, Secret Life could well be the most quietly enrapturing comic of the year.
Enormous congratulations to the enormously talented and Melbourne-born Lee Lai, whose debut work, Stone Fruit arrives this May from the greatest publisher of comics in the world, Fantagraphics. Hell of a way to make your arrival, particularly when the work is touted as “one of the most sophisticated graphic novel debuts in recent memory” by Fantagraphics.
Fantagraphics also says: “Bron and Ray are a queer couple who enjoy their role as the fun weirdo aunties for Ray’s niece Nessie. Their bi-weekly playdates are little oases of wildness, joy, and ease in daily lives that ping-pong between familial tensions and isolation. As their emotional intimacy erodes, Ray and Bron turn to repair their broken family ties. Taking a leap of faith, each opens up to their respective sisters and learns that they have more in common with their siblings than they ever knew. In time, the emptiness they feel after their break-up is supplanted with a deep sisterly love and understanding.”
Featuring some lovely, muted watercolours and Lai’s gorgeous clean lines, Stone Fruit seems poised to make a big splash for its young creator. Easily one of the great LITERARY arrivals by an Australian in the coming year, Stone Fruit hopefully not only cements Lai as a talent to watch but also, and perhaps even more importantly, pushes the increasing depth in Australian cartooning further into the general consciousness locally.
TROTS AND BONNIE
My only previous exposure to Shary Flennikan’s Trots and Bonnie came via a handful of pages drawn the late 1970s and early 1980s and found in 2019s Kramer Ergot volume 10. I was pretty blown away. I went into it expecting the cutesy adventures of a young girl named Bonnie and her adorable dog Trots. What I found was a total subversion of the Sunday comics page format, comics about shoe size equating to penis size, perverted therapists trying to initiate Bonnie into “womanhood,” and Bonnie’s mum giving her daughter the Sex Talk. It might all sound too outrageous and silly, but Flennikan’s comics are somehow, improbably, charming and her punch lines always land - it’s this contradiction that makes the strips more dizzyingly effective.
For the first time ever, NYRC is collecting the best Trots and Bonnie strips, compiled by Shary Flennikan herself. The publisher says, “Bonnie stumbles through the mysteries of adulthood, as Flennikan—one of the few female contributors to National Lampoon—dissects the harsh realities of American life. Dating, sex, politics, and violence are all confronted with fearlessness and outrageous humor, rendered in Flennikan’s timeless, gorgeous artwork. After all these years, they have lost none of their power to shock and amuse.”
Just when you thought you’ve seen it
all and read it all, Shary Flennikan is about to prove you wrong this May. A
really exciting collection that, presumably, will continue NYRCs run of
impeccably designed and presented comics.