This year I did something with novels, video games, and manga that I started doing with comics in 2020: documenting what I consume on a huge Google Spreadsheet. Why is this important for my top 5 reads of 2021? Because, damn, did it make it so much easier to pinpoint my favorite reads this year. Plus, I don’t have the best of memories.
A fair warning: my list does become a little unhinged the further we go on, so be warned.
Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood
2021, by Danny Trejo with Donal Logue
Bite-sized Synopsis: The amazing and legendary actor – Danny Trejo writes about his life and all of its turbulence.
First things first, I don’t much care for the rich and the famous. Honestly, I don’t waste any time or energy thinking or looking into them. But! And I stress “but” here, there are a key few that I do adore. This list is limited, yet I will be nice and tell you two names on this shortlist: Jack Black and Danny Trejo. Ever since I saw Trejo in Spy Kids I fell in love with him. A few years later, one of my good friend’s Grandpa (who was like family) told me all these stories about how he served time with Trejo. Now, I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve never been given a reason not to believe him.
I could go on about the Trejo himself, but we don’t have time for that. Instead, I’ll get back into the amazing book that is Trejo.
Being low on cash, like many others, I was lucky enough to get Trejo from my local library. Always support your local library! Little did I know, this autobiography would have me in tears. Trejo has lived a life many never would, and that many never would want to. The stuff he has done, seen, and been around is the stuff literal movies are made of. Yet through it all, he always stood up, pushed through, and was the kindest he could be. Everything in his life should’ve made a – pardon the word – villain of the man. However, he came out one of the best.
Reading through his stories and just how he got through all of it hit so close to home. No, I haven’t gone through a fraction of what he has, yet these last few years of life have been hard with mental and physical problems that make me legally handicapped. Be that as it may, reading Trejo was a life-changing experience, one that people always speak about. Seeing this stranger that I love, and would easily consider family going through all of the problems in his life, all while being as loving as he is (plus willing to admit and change when he was wrong) really helped me get through some personal problems.
Wow, hit you with some emotions on that one huh? Always good to start with some gut-wrenching stuff.
XX: A Novel, Graphic
2020, by Rian Hughes
Bite-sized Synopsis: Earth has its first contact with aliens, in one of the most fascinating and brain-twisting ways possible.
Rian Hughes not only has an interesting spelling of his first name, but he has a high count of jobs he has done; this includes graphic designer, illustrator, comic artist, author, and typographer, to name a few. His hand has touched many projects through many companies with one that always stood out to me; that being the logo for Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin. Fun fact: Morrison has multiple videos with Hughes where they talk about XX, the book we’re here to talk about.
XX may be one of the hardest books for someone to explain unless you have an hour. That said, it didn’t feel like reading a book, but more akin to having an out-of-body experience. Hughes uses his graphic design skills to make XX so unique that it’s hard to compare to another novel. The subtitle – A Novel, Graphic – fits XX elegantly. Although the uniqueness is one of the huge draws, how’s the story? Well, the story is just as phenomenal. There haven’t been many books I literally cannot put down, and that I stay up until stupid late for “just a few more pages.” It also helps that although the ideas and the plot are complex and stuff people normally wouldn’t think or know about, Hughes’ writing makes it easy to digest.
I can also attribute XX to my recent novel reading trend. I stopped reading novels for a while because I was reading comics/mangas. It just had been so long, and novels really didn’t interest me. Then I saw the announcement of XX and when the previews started dropping I got psyched. However, due to not reading a novel in so long I wanted to make sure I was up to the task. So I started falling in love with novels by reading more to get prepared. Not only was XX a memorable experience: it helped me get back into novels, and this year alone I’ve read 23 thus far.
2020 – 2021, by James Tynion IV, Tony S. Daniel, Guillem March, Jorge Jimenez, Guillem March, Danny Miki, Tomeu Morey, Clayton Cowles, and more!
Bite-sized Synopsis: After Tom King and team’s polarizing Batman run, James Tynion IV takes the reigns with a myriad of talent to introduce new characters and battles for the man who dresses as a bat!
Like a bat through a window, I’ll be abrupt with my honesty – as a huge Batman fan I really disliked the previous runs. The last time I remember liking the main Batman title was when Grant Morrison was the writer. Nonetheless, I wasn’t too excited about Tynion’s tenure. I do like a lot of his indie work, especially his horror, but I wasn’t the biggest fan of his Detective Comics which I read right before this. Nonetheless, I put his first Batman trade on my wishlist.. Luckily my wife bought it for Christmas. After cracking the hardcover open and reading it, I fell in love – hard.
How hard? Well, I wanted to pick up all the singles in that hardcover, then I could do a custom-bound hardcover once his whole run was over. Sadly, with his introduction of new characters, the issues weren’t cheap so I didn’t get them. Besides that sad point, Tynion’s Batman brought me back to the monthly floppy gang. Being low on money I stopped getting weekly floppies, but I went out the next day and got all of Joker War. Fun Fact about me: I hate Joker. Passionately. He is used way too much and I just don’t like his character, and absolutely hate how so many people think that Batman “needs” Joker and that it’s his ultimate villain.
Nonetheless, to my surprise, Tynion wrote a story I enjoyed immensely in Joker War.
Yet one of the constants that I’ve loved in this run is all of the new characters. I can’t remember the last time I have adored this many new characters and thought so highly of their designs. A lot of the designs for the new characters are co-created by Jorge Jiménez, whose art is top-notch to me. Jiménez’s art can instantly sell me on a comic, and boy did he do wonders for the character designs. Jiménez has an “anime” style (yes, I feel weird typing that) that I absolutely love, and can’t get enough of. It would be easy to gush about how I loved The Designer, and especially Ghost-Maker, Punchline, and Miracle Molly. I honestly hope we see more of this cast in the future, because I’ll be sad to see them go.
On a final note, 2021 Bat-Fam in total has been amazing to me. I’ve collected every title in the family and planned a huge multi-run custom bound hardcover because these single issues brought me out of my Trades only phase.
Okay, slow down before you see this title and go a little crazy. I know it may shock you, but please bear with me….
Dick Fight Island, Vol. 1
2021, By Reibun Ike, and English adaption by Adrienne Beck, Deborah Fisher, Alice Lewis, and Jennifer LeBlanc
Bite-sized Synopsis: In this one-of-a-kind Yaoi (Boys Love/BL) the Great Wyrm Tournament begins with the winner out of all the clans on the island becoming king: whoever comes first loses.
Yeah, you know, that probably didn’t help you think any better of the title huh? Well, here I will tell you why you shouldn’t judge something from its cover, although, Dick Fight Island VOL. 1 has an amazing one at that.
Dick Fight Island VOL. 1 wasn’t on my radar until its publisher Sublime (do you see the BL in the company? smart.) posted that they acquired the rights on Twitter. Not only did the cover pique my interest, but I fell in love with the title. A few months went by and we get a preview, that short preview sold me even more. Yet, I never thought the manga would blow me out of the water. Personally, I thought it would just be an entertaining Yaoi series with an okay plot. However, when I started reading it I couldn’t put it down, and while my wife was in Seattle, I was sending her pictures and updates about my love for this manga.
Looking at the synopsis, or even the cover, you wouldn’t believe that Dick Fight Island VOL. 1 is one of the most wholesome, welcoming, heartfelt, and just overall upbeat manga out there. Yeah, there is a lot of sexual parts, I mean, it’s a Yaoi about a tournament where men have to get the other off to win (there are some fantastic techniques used), but I can’t remember the last time a manga made me this happy with myself and my feelings. Although it’s a tough one to share with others, I absolutely want to. Plus, the premise of it is fascinating, and it has great humor and characters.
I really hope we get a follow-up, as I would be the first in line for it.
Mangaka Ike says it best with this quote, “This is a battle manga, but also a heartwarming story.”
Please Put Them on, Takamine-san VOL. 1
2021, by Yuichi Hiiragi, and English adaption by Lisa Coffman, and Chiho Christie
Bite-sized Synopsis: Takane Takamine is the perfect high schooler with amazing grades, immense beauty, athletic as hell, and is beloved by all. Male student, Koushi Shirota is the exact opposite in every way. But one day, Koushi Shirota stumbles upon the high school goddess’ best-kept secret – by taking off a piece of her underwear she can undo one of her past events.
I absolutely adore unique, obscure stories and plots. Even if it turns out bad, I can always applaud someone for trying something out of the box, and that’s exactly what happened with Please Put Them on, Takamine-san VOL. 1, which turned out to be much better than I could ever think. After reading the synopsis on the back at my LCS I was astounded! Being able to take off your underwear to literally rewrite a past event? That is so out there and dripping with unorthodoxy that I had to pick it up. It helps that the art is gorgeous as well.
Just like Dick Fight Island VOL.1, Please Put Them on, Takamine-san VOL. 1 was something I couldn’t stop talking about for days. As someone who tries to write and create things that are interesting and different, this simple yet amazing plot point of undoing a past mistake/action by removing one’s underwear left me flabbergasted. Yes, this is a “smut” manga and has some amazing adult-only scenes, but the plot it revolves around is phenomenal. It also helps that our main character, Takane Takamine is fun and stands out. With Koushi Shirota finding out her secret, she makes him be the one to put her fresh underwear back on (when she uses her power her underwear disappears.) This dynamic is a blast to read, with funny situations occurring. The only blemish is Koushi Shirota, who does the usual embarrassed by the female anatomy male trope that can easily get old.
If you’re okay with adult situations, and inappropriate humor, I would absolutely recommend Please Put Them on, Takamine-san VOL. 1. As someone who loves interesting ideas, I can’t recommend it enough and the further volumes are day one buys for me!
Join us next week for another GateCrasher’s top five books of 2021!