By Thomas Maluck
2021, by Harmony Becker
This should not be one of my favorite reads of the year. There’s travel, family confessionals, language barriers, and several other personal factors that make me wary of an autobiographical therapy session. Instead, this story of four young foreign exchange students convening in one spot far from their respective homes pulls off the incredible feat of sticking every protagonist’s landing. Harmony Becker knows how to balance them just right, switching perspectives and moods so that their lives meld together for the reader like a bowl of hot pot where every bite tastes unique. Much like the protagonists, you start the book just getting to know everybody’s name and occupation, and before you know it you’re staring down the last few pages of the book unprepared to say goodbye. There will always be those glowing liminal spaces between work, study, and leaning on new friends.
The Crossroads At Midnight
2021, by Abby Howard
I would declare Abby Howard is on track to become the new Junji Ito, except I doubt that Junji Ito could do what Abby Howard does. This collection of short horror comics uses monsters and grotesque details as foils and metaphors for human relationships and failings. Maybe that description reminds you of a pretentious movie, but in Howard’s hands the horror is still real. Despair, rejection, loss of connection… there may be some solace among ghouls, but we could end up mutilated or spirited away anyway. Howard’s world of black and white reaches out to all walks of life – I like its organically diverse cast – that can always spiral out of control. That’s something Mr. Ito would probably enjoy, too.
2021, by N.K. Jemisin + illustrated by Jamal Campbell
Have you ever read a superhero arc and thought, “Isn’t this what the fandom keeps demanding? Where’s the love for it, already?” N.K. Jemisin and Jamal Campbell’s new Best Green Lantern Story deserves a lot more love, as it spoke to the never-ending moment of 2020 and ran right along into 2021 without missing a step. Leaders who deny their senses, public defenders tasked beyond their means, systems of privilege engineered to never change, an internet empowered by memes, and good god how is Campbell doing all these visuals on his own?? I’m one of those Green Lantern fans who holds up Mosaic as a singular reading experience while acknowledging Gerard Jones’s crimes. John Stewart got an incredible treatment that few stories have topped. This story (knocks on wood) requires no asterisk and establishes Sojourner Mullein right out the gate.
Blood On The Tracks
2020, by Shuzo Oshimi
Shuzo Oshimi is a top-shelf manga creator in my book, to the point that the pitch “Oshimi does dysfunctional suburban family” sends shivers up my spine. In this series and several others, there’s a vague dread over something horrible that is about to happen, and even when it does, you’re never sure when the next shockwave will hit or if there will be more collateral damage. Oshimi is able to steal more breath with a character’s facial expression than a hundred jumpscares. A loyal only child versus his controlling mother… who will crack beyond redemption first? What happy ending could possibly divide or reunite them? Who will be irreversibly damaged from getting between them? Look into these characters’ eyes and see there’s no safe landing. Have a nice fall.
2021, by Matthew Bogart + Jesse Holden
When people look back on the evolution of the internet of the 1990s, they might gawk in disbelief at the slow, chunky hardware. An undeniable truth lives in those boxy appliances, though: people who ached for connection actually found some. Today’s group chat or private messaging was… yesterday’s group chat or private messaging. The teenagers of Incredible Doom are facing parental abuse, bullying, and isolation, ills that are immediately wiped clear in the light of an honest, anonymous friendship with a username in a box. Everyone wants a friend within walking distance. Typing distance sometimes has to do, until that magic moment when someone who seemed like an imaginary ally against your issues turns out to be flesh and blood. Matthew Bogart and Jesse Holden respect the power of that moment and knows it transcends decades.