Top 5 Reads of 2021: Keigen

Our new end of the year article series continues with Keigen’s five favorite reads of 2021!

By Keigen

Favorite Star Wars Publishing Initiative:

(Art owned by Lucasfilm, by, I assume, a human person)

This year had me reading more prose than I have in years, and while I didn’t hit my reading goal, I still am proud of the number of novels I read. I probably still read more comics than I’d have liked, and didn’t play nearly enough games, or watched enough films, but my reading was something I can be proud of. 

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh were both highlights of my year, and made me want to read more, to try to find something like them. 

The first two Alphabet Squadron books had a similar effect, delivering a Star Wars experience set apart from anything being delivered elsewhere. 

Now, everything above is better than pretty much anything in the various High Republic media. I could probably continue listing things that I enjoyed more than even the best High Republic story, but what it delivers isn’t just a good story, and great characters, it exists as a publishing initiative that feels like a living story. Even with so many shared universes proliferating across the media landscape, The High Republic does so with great skill, creating something entertaining while still pushing forward so many plot lines and character arcs that I can feel fine ignoring, but it makes me want to keep up because it’s never really bad enough to drop. 

Highlights: Marvel’s The High Republic comic, Trail of Shadows comic, Light of the Jedi novel, Into the Dark novel, The Rising Storm novel

Favorite eBook:

Darker Than Blue Vol. 2
by David Brothers and cover by Emma Ríos

Everything David Brothers writes is a must read for me, and he’s done plenty this year, but his short story collections are especially so. This new short story collection is labeled volume 2, but is completely approachable on its own, and I highly encourage it! Each story is standalone, and is it’s own thing in an admirable and almost irritating way. Brothers has this way of distilling the media he loves into something that is recognizable, but still fresh and new. My favorites are a short story about twins doing different parts of the same job, and a kid genius solving a ghost murder, but it’s delightful end-to-end.

Favorite Comic:

The Many Deaths of Laila Starr 4
by Ram V and art by Filipe Andrad

Laila Starr was always a gorgeous book. Being by Filipe Andrade, that’s a given.

Laila Starr was always a good book. Being by Filipe Andrade and Ram V, that was a given. 

Still, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr hadn’t quite clicked for me until the fourth issue, but as soon as it did, it felt like the whole series unlocked for me.

Being about death, the series’ impact on me was always going to hinge on specific memories of death in my life, and their effects on me. When the series turned its focus on a man and his temple—or a temple and it’s man—it made me think of the communities I’m a part of, the deaths I’ve experienced therein, and the buildings I’ve “lost” along with them. It makes me think of the buildings that protect my family and friends, the people who care for them, how to do so, and the collaborative relationship there. It feels silly that that’s what made this click, not Death’s pettiness, or her fear, but this one relationship between a temple and a man, and the sadness of the loss, Death dying in the temple. It’s a beautiful moment in the year’s most beautiful comic.

Favorite Non-Comics Journalism:

This kind of reading isn’t the kind I typically focus on, or track my consumption at all, but there were multiple pieces that demanded my, and everyone’s, attention, and they had a profound effect on me this year, with two in particular standing out. 

Attack Helicopter is a piece at Vox that discusses the way that social media encourages bad-faith readings of, well everything, and the way that it impacts marginalized people, in this case a trans woman. It’s a brutal, and heartbreaking piece, and it made me think of my own activities on Twitter, and how I am perceived. There would be no reason for Isabel Fall to give me the benefit of the doubt, just as there’s no reason for anyone else of a marginalized race or gender to do so. 

Bad Art Friend, though, was something else, almost a Rorschach test of racial awareness, which, in all honesty, I didn’t pass. 

When I read this piece, I hadn’t totally processed it, but the race part of it definitely wasn’t at the fore, as much as the amazing pettiness of, uuuh, the white lady. It took one friend’s response (which is kinda funny because I sent it to him), and discussing it with them made it really click, along with seeing some discussion on Twitter. But missing it, or not processing it quickly enough, was something that didn’t sit right with me. How, after the last year of racial awareness, after the reading, the watching, the listening, how is it that I missed it? How am I still ignorant? 

It sucks, but c’mon. C’mon. 

I don’t want pats on the back or anything, I don’t need pity for my failure. I’m lucky I had my friend to point it out to me. I’m privileged to never have experienced racism that would have made it obvious. 
Both these pieces pointed out ways I have to be better. Hopefully I’m not just standing still, and I can be more proactive in noticing and helping others.

Favorite Comic Criticism:

I’ve been reading comics crit for at least the last decade, since Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy’s Captain Marvel relaunch in 2012. Since then I’ve paid for access to sites, and supported Patreons, but in the last couple years, I’ve slipped into actually writing a little bit of crit, and ending up in communities of comic critics. It’s greatly changed the way I interact with crit, it’s largely meant I’ve read less of it than in any year prior. 

But that closeness lead to two experiences that I am proud and joyful about, linked to two of my favorite people in comics-crit land. 

First was Guilherme Preusse’s article about Yara Flor, a ridiculous article, longer than I would ever ask for, but worth every word (7,000, allegedly, I stopped counting). The way Gui presented his disappointment in the way Brazil has been represented, his pain and anger, and the longing for it to be better, it was something only he could write. The piece alone was great, but being able to experience the reaction to it while being “near” Gui was that much more so. Getting to share in all of it, even just a little bit, was something that could only happen from my position in crit.

Later in the year was Lan M’s White Tokusatsu article, which again, I had no real hand in creating, but unlike Gui’s, I saw much more of its formation. I saw different conversations that Lan had where a new idea was presented, I saw him gradually work through different points, and eliminate a couple. I saw in real time as he made the Robocop connection, and how much energy he got from it. Seeing everything Lan put into this could have made the piece itself somewhat moot, which is a testament to the piece itself, which is fantastic. Seeing it develop, though, and seeing my friend work his ways through it? That’s enough to keep me making these silly articles.

Leave a Reply