Strangers Fanzine 2021 Comics Favorites
I probably should save this for the zine, but at the rate I’ve been putting out issues, this is article will be rather dated by the time another issue comes out. Last year I decided not to do a Top 10 list, maybe it’s indecisiveness, maybe it’s just me being too excited about things. In 2021, that trend is going to continue. I have around 20 or so books that I want to mention and I’ll write more extensively about a handful. These are all books that were not published under Strangers, I think it goes without saying that those were some of my favorites from the year as well!
Anyways, as those closer to me likely know- that past year or so has been me reading A LOT of manga, so- by way of that, I probably missed some of the bigger North American books this year, but they get enough love from the larger media outlets. With that in mind, this list skews mostly small press but I threw in a few standout books that I was enjoying incase you were looking for something new and easily accessible.
With all that out of the way, in no particular order- here are some books that I thought were really excellent this year!
Satan’s Library by Adam Falp (Self Published)
I’m not sure if this technically came out in 2021 but I remember selling it in the distro in the beginning of the year and I can’t find proof it was out earlier so we’re throwing it on the list. As long-time readers of the zine probably know by now, I am a big fan of Adam’s work- in particular his series with Tony Esmond, Atomic Hercules. Satan’s Library was something different though. Written and drawn by Adam over the course of 2019, the story is about a guy in a comic shop looking for a particular issue, a real tribute to the long box differs. What I particularly loved about this story was the way it was put together. The guy would ask the shopkeeper for a particular issue, they would find it and then stapled into the book was a copy of the comic that guy was looking for. So within this book, there are 2 additional mini comics, all created by Adam, that enhance the main storyline. All 3 drawn in vastly different styles, Satan’s Library just elevated Adam’s cartooning in my mind to a whole other level.
Aposimz by Tsutomu Nihei (Vertical/Kodansha)
So this series started coming out in 2018 and will be wrapping up in 2022, Aposimz might’ve been one of the best things I read all year. This was really the year of Nihei and me. I started with Aposimz, jumped into a little bit of Biomega, then a little bit of Knights of Sidonia and then I found myself on Black Friday buying every Master Edition of Blame! A science fiction/dark fantasy adventure- Aposimz is about a frozen planet where humans are overcome by Frame Disease which converts the majority of people into bio-mechanical zombies. There are some people that contain genetic code where the disease makes them much stronger and immortal. Thus begins the battle to take back the planet from the overlords. Feels a lot like Star Wars but if the setting was exclusively Hoth and a giant underground cave network.
Hell Is In Your Heart by Steven Thomas (Self Published)
If I were to declare anything as my favorite comic of the year, it’d probably be this. One of the few comics that made me want to reread it almost immediately. I remember I couldn’t wait to show my girlfriend when she came over as well, I made her read the companion zine and everything. What comes off as a pretty violent story about a girl fighting a demon with some beautiful art, is only enhanced by the aforementioned companion scene where Steve goes into details about some struggles with his mental health and relationship with his body. Often times I don’t think comics should be explained but in this case, I think it’s a great addition to the material and the reason why I felt it was important to sell the bundles together when I had it in the distro. It’s currently sold out but I believe Steven might be working on a reprint? Either way- check out Steven’s work because he’s got one of the most unique styles going right now.
Liquid Realm by Samuel Hickson (Self Published)
I would probably also consider this to be a Top 3 favorite of the year. Filled with whacky British humor and some beautiful art resembling Ditko, Clowes and some more classic cartoonists- Liquid Realm is a real standout. Misanthropic, surreal and just completely whacky- there are a couple longer stories throughout the 24 page collection but some of the smaller strips are what stood out to me most and I think bring out a lot more of Samuel’s personal feelings. From not caring whether a Q-Anon style boomer comes back from his mental crisis to some snark opinions on drug users, and a traditional ‘aliens can’t believe how badly we fucked up’ style strip, he really nails living in this 2021 hell.
Faster by Jesse Lonergan (Bulgihan Press)
I’m actually surprised this book has not been talked about more. Jesse has been doing some really interesting the work the past couple years through Image but this one didn’t seem to catch the same level of buzz as the other 2 books Jesse did. I don’t know if it being crowdfunded was to blame or what but regardless, I loved it. It was the simplest promise with the most interesting execution. Jesse utilizes his intricate page layouts to tell a story about a car race. It’s got a slight sci-fi bend to it but for the most part, it’s just a master class in panel composition. You’ve got everything from the racetrack leading your eye through the page to one of the drivers spinning their wheel and you follow the page through the motion of the wheel spinning. I just found the whole book to be so energetic and beautifully drawn. The whole thing is printed with 2 color riso on a really nice uncoated stock so the book itself is also well put together. If you’re a fan of movies like Red Line- this one is very much up your alley.
Corpse Star Cycle by Coco Paluck (Self Published)
I included this in my Mail-Call review section when I originally wrote about it in Strangers #6, but I’m unsure why I didn’t put it in the recommended reading section. Either way- it’s hitting my favorite books of the year list now so here is the justice it deserves. I still stand by my mention that this is Jill Thompson meets Tim Burton. Coco creates this very bizarre world where fallen stars take over the bodies of dolls. Stuck in this horrible world- things only get worse as the recent star struggles with who she is and who has control over her. Eventually this unsettling story falls into a series of single panel images where the doll is constantly manipulated and abused by the moon. I mentioned before that I don’t often read books more than once, I think I read Corpse Star Cycle 3 or 4 times since I got it. So unique to anything else out there right now, this one deserves a hell of a lot of praise.
Dai Dark by Q Hayashida (Seven Seas Entertainment)
If you asked me to give you an elevator pitch for this book, I’d fall completely flat. You’ve got a group of people in these whacked out costumes that are collecting bones of their enemies around space and they’re also on the run because the main character, Zaha Sanko, has the unfortunate rumor around him that whoever collects his bones gets their ultimate wish fulfilled. The world is incredibly dark, and the series, despite how violent it is, is also super funny. Big props to Seven Seas for this series, I imagine with how popular Dorohedoro has become, VIZ gotta be kicking themselves in the ass for not getting this one sooner. This series is also great because we’re pretty much up to date with the releases in Japan. The 4th volume came out in Japan in November of 2021 and we’ll expect it sometime mid next year.
Asadora by Naoki Urasawa (VIZ Media)
This is the closest I came all year to feeling like a Wednesday warrior. Asadora is the latest series by comics master, Naoki Urasawa, and it’s equally as good as anything else he’s put out previously. A young girl, Asadora, watches her entire family get destroyed by a mysterious Kaiju and the series takes off from there. It’s a government coverup, a series of natural disasters and honestly just perfect comics. I am usually one to just amass a bunch of books and then bounce back and forth between series with a constant to read pile but whenever Asadora comes out, I am pretty much reading it the day I get it. I’m sad we now have to wait until April of next year for volume 5 and assumedly a few months after that for #6. I read a lot of Urasawa this year- this was fantastic.
Some additional books I really enjoyed that I’d like to shoutout:
Goiter #6 by Josh Pettinger (Kilgore Books)
Santos Sisters by Greg & Fake (American Nature)
Night Hunters by Alexis Zirrit & Dave Baker (Floating World Comics)
Crash Site by Nathan Cowdry (Fantagraphics Books)
Dead Cells by Marc Wagner (Self Published)
Cankor: Anamnesis by Matthew Allison (Self Published)
Cover Not Final by Max Huffman (Adhouse Books)
Stramash by James Corcoran (Self Published)
Gun-Metal Affair #1 by Bryce Davidson (Self Published)
Clot Osborne Drank Too Much Last Night by Billy Bozell (Self Published)
Soraya Death by Mattchee (Self Published)
Atomic Hercules #3 & 4 by Tony Esmond & Adam Falp (Tribute Press)