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It begins and ends with the line. You start at one point and follow it along to whatever path it takes you, assuming you can find a way out at all. Sometimes the line is precise, authoritative and angular. Other times it is playful, chaotic and ornate. On one page, it is tightly wound and throbs with tension. Elsewhere, it is loose and light, daring you to make shapes out of the white void that surrounds it. Regardless, there is always the line.

The line in question belongs to none other than Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), the noted cartoonist (to paraphrase my friend Tom Spurgeon, I don’t know a better term that encompasses his considerable talents and rich, varied output). Steinberg is probably best known for his various New Yorker covers and illustrations, especially that one of a Manhattan denizen’s view of the world. You know the one. More… “Line of Sight”

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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Once again it’s time to look at all the “funnybooks” I read over the past 365 days and try to determine which are my most favorite of favorites. Many of the comics I wrote about for this column over the past year – Prism Stalker, Yellow Negroes, Why Art? – would easily make that short list. Not wanting to repeat myself, however, I thought instead I’d focus on some works that I didn’t have time to mention in this space. So here are 10 comics that I think are among some of the best of 2018 that I haven’t talked about here before. More… “Comic Countdown 2018”

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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It’s unusual for anyone to wish they could be as cool as a cartoonist, but Julie Doucet is the rare exception to that rule. In her groundbreaking 1990s series, Dirty Plotte, Doucet delineated an aesthetic that was brazen, clever, funny, and broke taboos like they were cheap ceramic plates. Reading her comics, you could be excused for wishing you had an ounce of her fearlessness, at least when it came to putting ink on paper.

Now, all 12 issues of that seminal series have been collected in the rather massive The Complete Dirty Plotte, an impressive two-volume slipcase that also includes stories done for anthologies, essays, interviews, and other esoterica. More… “Dirty Plots”

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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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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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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A feverish, drug-addled musician huddles on the floor of his room in Berlin, pecking out his first novel on a typewriter. He’s tormented by the protagonist he’s creating: a mute, misunderstood creature who expresses in violence what he’s unable to communicate in speech. At the same time, this Australian musician is inspired by the artful anarchy of the German bands around him. He abandons his own band, the influential post-punk group The Birthday Party. He seems intent on blowing up his life.

These are just a few of the scenes in Nick Cave: Mercy on Me, published September 19, 2017, in the U.S. A 300-page, black-and-white graphic novel about Nick Cave was never going to be a light read, but this is gripping stuff. More… “Have Mercy on Me

Christine Ro’s writing about books, music, and other topics is collected at ChristineRo.com.

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