Five comics for trying times

I usually write posts reviewing or analyzing comics – and more often than not, they’re rather naughty. Given recent events south of the border, I thought I’d change gears and write about some comics that I thought would be suitable reads for trying times.

I’ve avoided what I think are obvious suspects like Maus or any dystopic comics. If there is anything that ties all five reads together, it is a lack of easy narrative. Social uncertainty can make people vulnerable to cognitively predictable/emotionally satisfying narratives and I think it’s a vulnerability that is easily exploited. This is why, even as I appreciate how my social media feeds are exploding with explanations, I have stopped attempting to wrap things up – there is something unprecedented about what is happening that precludes me from doing so.

So without further ado, here are my five picks:


1. Laid Waste by Julia Gfrörer

Laid Waste takes place in a medieval city beset with the plague. Unlike most of the other comics I’ve read by Gfrörer, it eschews the contemporary dialogue and interpersonal cruelty that tinged those works with a postured emotional distance, belying the emo content of the stories. Laid Waste takes a different tack by delving into emo territory without armour – it neither veers into the safety of sentimentality or melodrama nor does it glance off the emotions of its characters through irony, cleverness or sadism. Life is suffering and there is no getting around it here; it must be embraced.

2. š! #23 by various artists

A collection of well researched, historical comics that tell the marginalized and forgotten stories of individuals who suffered the violence of National Socialism. Each serve to complicate mainstream Hollywood-ized narratives about the interwar period and the Holocaust by adding greater texture and friction – sometimes even contradiction – to those narratives. My favourite comic was Book to the Head which begins with a seemingly simple statement paired with seemingly simple graphics. The comic then returns to the original statement with the same graphics and colours repeatedly, adding more layers of meaning, leaving the reader with the impression that couched within each factual claim, there is an infinite wealth of information, like zooming into a fractal.

3. Don’t Leave Me Alone by GG

A short comic about a father and his young, imaginative daughter that leaves your typical questions unanswered. What is clear is that this beautifully rendered, cinematic comic doesn’t pity its marginalized characters – it humanizes them by putting them front and center. The print copy is gorgeous and well worth getting your hands on as well.

4. Yume no Q-Saku by Suehiro Maruo

I had to include some eroguro manga to the list. Why? Because I find what eroguro offers is penetratingly relevant to the modern condition. Its absurdity, its perversion, its violence, its misogyny – these all reveal, and revel in, the meaninglessness the modern subject is confronted with. I picked Yume no Q-Saku because it’s a collection of short comics rather than a more sustained narrative but really, many of the Maruos are worth reading.

5. Pajubá: The Language of Brazilian Travestis by B&D Press

This is a bit of a cheat because it’s an illustrated zine rather than a comic. However, this little introduction to a subcultural language paints a lively picture of what resistance can look like beyond traditional forms of political activism.