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While at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Md., earlier this month, I attended a panel entitled “Trans Memoir.” During the program, a small group of transgender cartoonists talked about how comics provided them with a mode of self-expression in which they could delineate their best, ideal selves and talk about issues and emotions — often difficult to articulate — that come with being trans.

Two recent books from the small press publisher Secret Acres — Flocks by L. Nichols and Little Stranger by Edie Fake — underscore what those cartoonists were saying. Both books examine the struggles of being transgender and dealing with dysphoria, albeit from very different perspectives and sense of aesthetics. More… “Translating Identity”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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About an hour west of my house is the Carlisle Barracks, where, from about 1879 to 1910 there existed something called the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. A boarding school designed to educate Native Americans, the school’s goal was to immerse its students in Western European culture, so they could fully integrate into American society.

To that end, its founder, Richard Henry Pratt, espoused a philosophy of “kill the Indian . . . and save the man.” Those enrolled in the school had to renounce their name, religion, and culture for the sake of integration. More than 10,000 American Indians were educated at the school from 50 different tribes and nations. Some were forced to attend. Others were sent by their families, hoping for a better life for their children. Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe, who was famously stripped of his medals, was a graduate of the school. More… “Socially Conscious Sci-Fi”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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Superhero comics love a good analog. Captain Marvel is Superman, but more boyish, and with magic words instead of Krypton. Moon Knight is Batman but with a mercenary past. Watchmen is just a riff on the Charlton heroes. Marvel has Mister Fantastic, while DC has Plastic Man and the Elongated Man. And so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

This is all terribly reductive, of course, focusing on the core extrapolation point rather than what is done with the material afterward. Sure, many times these caped correlations show little creativity beyond tired parody, but there are occasions where, as in Watchmen, they blossom into something entirely different and delightful in their own right. More… “Unrestrained Analogs”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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Was there ever a period of time in your life where you took a strange job in a peculiar place, somewhere perhaps far away from your hometown and previous routine? Did you ever return to that place several years later to find that everything had changed significantly? Did you try to track down old friends, only to find they had changed as well somehow, in a way you couldn’t quite describe? Did this make you distrust your memories, as though that period of your life had been little more than a dream? More… “Investigating Mauretania”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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When people ask me “Who is one of the best cartoonists working today?”, I always answer “Eleanor Davis.”

OK, nobody ever asks me that question. But if they did, that would be my answer all the same. At the risk of sounding like some back-cover, hyperbole-ridden hack, the intelligence, emotion, and pure, awe-inducing skill she continually exhibits in her comics make her one of the most significant creators to come out of the indie comics scene in the past 15 years. More… “Why Eleanor Davis?”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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This essay concerns a graphic novel that actively engages with racist rhetoric, post-colonialism, and oppression. As such, certain language and terms are incorporated in the book and within this review.

The cover of Yellow Negroes and other Imaginary Creatures by Yvan Alagbé shows the profile of a young African man with his eyes closed. A pair of light-skinned hands encircles his neck. On the back cover, we see an older, seemingly Caucasian man, balding and with a mustache, his mouth ajar. A pair of dark-skinned hands lies on the man’s shoulders (perhaps belonging to the figure on the front) suggestively seeming to also be inching their way up to the neck.

These two men are Alain and Mario, respectively, the two central figures in the book’s title story. This pair of images might suggest that within lies an overly simplistic story of racial animus, but  “Yellow Negroes” (or “Negres Jaunes” in French) is far more complex and haunting than that fleeting impression would suggest. The story has long been regarded as a masterwork in Europe, one of the seminal French comics of the 1990s. Now it’s available in English for the first time, and, despite the considerable span of years and cultures, it — along with the other stories in this slim volume — remains as trenchant and relevant as when it was first published. More… “Yvan Alagbé’s Political Menagerie”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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There’s a scene in Uzumaki, Junji Ito’s much-lauded horror series, that I think best exemplifies his particular style. The overarching story involves a secluded village in Japan whose residents become obsessed with spirals and usually meet grotesque and destructive ends as a result. In the third chapter, a scar on a teen girl’s forehead turns into a spiral black hole of sorts, eventually consuming her entire body. A horrific reveal shows the spiral hole extending back into her head, her right eye sitting gruesomely on the edge of her face. Then, in a series of smaller panels, the eye starts to roll back towards the vanishing point in the back of her skull.

It is, obviously, pretty horrific. It’s also very, very funny: a rimshot as we literally stare into the abyss, acknowledging the absurdity of the image while underscoring the gore. More… “Death by Balloon”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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Caricature and political cartooning is not some willy new form of expression. Ever since there has been someone ready to declare themselves in charge, there’s been someone equally willing to mock them via an unflattering portrait or two (though perhaps doing so in previous centuries shortened the artist’s lifespan considerably).

All that being said, there have been few political figures in American history that have invited as much ire and ridicule as much as our current president, Donald J. Trump (yes, I’m including other recent presidents). His policies, his offensive comments, and his seeming disregard for basic civility have resulted in an abundance of cartoons making fun of his hair, weight, speech patterns, and just about every other aspect of his persona. More… “The Tremendous Trump”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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There was a time way back when, if you were a serious comics fan, you could keep up with everything being published in a reasonable manner. Maybe not read everything per se, but you could at least be aware of all the movers and shakers and titles of note within a given year.

That era has long since passed. There are so many genres, markets, and subcategories of the comics industry these days — webcomics, art comics, kids’ comics, superheroes, manga, manwha, comic strips — that keeping track of it all is a flat-out impossible task.

So a caveat is in order: I have no blessed idea if these are in fact the best comics of 2017. Perhaps there are other comics out there that, had they been waved under my nose, I would have liked more than what’s listed below. What we have here are merely my favorite comics that came out in 2017 that I actually read. At least for the nonce. Who knows how I’ll feel about anything, comics or otherwise, come the morrow? More… “Comic Countdown”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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The release of the first issue of DC’s Mister Miracle, a 12-issue limited series written by Tom King and illustrated by Mitch Gerads, was heralded with the sort of hosannas that are normally reserved for church. The A.V. Club called it “dazzling” and “emotionally wrenching.” Entertainment Weekly declared it “by far the best comic on stands right now.” io9 dubbed it “one of the best comics of the year” and, in another article, said there was “no better way to honor [Jack] Kirby’s contribution to the comics world.” And Comic Book Resources went as far to breathlessly declare that “King & Gerads Have Redefined Mister Miracle, and Possibly Comics.” More… Mister Miracle

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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