To look back at the last ten years of comics in Canada, Sequential asked a special panel of critics and retailers to come up with a list of ten memorable comics. We were not necessarily looking for a “Best of List” but rather a list of important comics, overlooked comics, or just comics the panelists wanted to talk about, made by Canadians between 2010-2019. What we got were four very eclectic lists that we think illustrate the depth and breadth of the Canadian comics world.
Best Canadian Comics of the Decade
Before listing my favourite Canadian comics of the decade, I want to raise some questions about Canadian comics.
What is a “Canadian comic”? A comic by Canadian person? What about a comic published by a Canadian publisher? Who is Canadian? A Canadian citizen? A permanent residence? What if a person has double citizenship? What if a person is neither but has been creating comics for years in Canada? What if a person is born in Canada or has Canadian parents, thus has a Canadian citizenship, but has never lived in Canada?
Next, the roles publishers play in alternative comics are too rarely discussed compared to their immensely critical part in the field and the importance is even greater for Canadian comics. I bet most of alternative comics artists mentioned not only my list but also others’ are and/or have been published by Canadian publishers.
Finally, I do not have adequate knowledge of the Quebecois comics scene compared to the English Canadian one and this is the case for many English-speaking Canadian people.
The list omits Jillian Tamaki, Patrick Kyle, and Mushbuh because I have selected them for the Best Comics of the Decade in a different essay.
Michael DeForge, Leaving Richard’s Valley, Drawn & Quarterly (2019)
Deforge is the most popular and acclaimed Canadian alternative comics artist of the decade. In his best work, influenced by another Canadian alternative comics titan Jillian Tamaki’s Supermutant Magic Academy, DeForge draws the virtual Toronto with synthesized photographs of actual Toronto and grainy textures.
Eli Howey, Fluorescent Mud, 2dcloud (2018)
In Fluorescent Mud, the body is dissociated as the perceived world is dissociated. Howey portraits Maurice Merleu-Ponty’s phenomenological relationship between the self, perception, and the world: “the body … organizes the surrounding space as a continuous extension of its own being. Within the same act that the body synthesizes its surroundings, moreover, it synthesizes itself.”
Michael Comeau, Hellberta, Koyama/Colour Code (2015)
It is not only artworks on pages that are collages in Comeau’s work. Characters are appropriated from comics or general culture. The primary method of production is collage, but the deployments are various: for example, one chapter is made of drawings, another is photo-collage that Comeau took pictures especially for this book, another is a collage of pre-reproduced materials, etc. Its narrative is also a collage. It is not a continuous story, but a collection of stories. When Comeau collected three zines to a graphic novel, he changed the order of zines: the collection as a whole is a collage too.
Tings Chak, Undocumented, Ad Astra Comics (2014)
Sylvia Nickerson, Creation, Drawn & Quarterly (2019)
While the interest in the relationship between architecture and comics are quite high, good comics with good architectural viewpoints — which of course is subjective — have been rare. These great Architecture Comics introduced a new language to both comics and architecture.
Elisha Lim, 100 Crushes, Koyama Press (2014)
Eric Kostiuk Williams, Hungry Bottom Comics, Colour Code (2014)
These are queer masterpieces (not only queer comics masterpieces) that epitomize the decade in queer culture. It’s a shame that these are not in print. Any publisher reading this, please note!
Nina Bunjevac, Heartless, Conundrum Press (2012), Fatherland, Jonathan Cape (2014), & Bezimena, Fantagraphics (2019)
Bunjevac published thee amazing graphic novels this decade but is criminally under-appreciated in the alternative comics scene.
Mark Laliberte, BrickBrickBrick, Book*hug Press (2010)
Laliberte draws brick walls from different cartoonists such as Schultz, Vaughn-James, Clowes, etc. Must-read for anyone interested in appropriation and poetry comics/comics poetry/visual poetry.
Fiona Smyth, Somnambulance, Koyama Press (2018) & The Never Weres (2011)
It was great to see Smyth being among “Big 4” — the other three are Julie Doucet, Chester Brown, and Seth — in This is Serious: Canadian Independence Comics exhibition in Art Gallery of Hamilton. Even though Smyth has tremendous influence in the field in many roles — as an artist, mentor, and teacher — she has been under-appreciated in her whole career. It seems that the situation is being changed after the publication of the collection Somnambulance: Smyth also recently was inducted to Giants of the North Hall of Fame for Canadian cartoonists and awarded the Kathy Aker award. I am jealous of children who can read popular sex (-ed) comics drawn by Smyth (What Makes a Baby (2013) & Sex is a Funny Word (2015)) at a young age and do not need to dig old comic book boxes out to find her works.
Henriette Valium, The Palace of Champions, Conundrum Press (2016)
I encountered Valium with his “Best Hits” collection from Macedonia in 2013. It is a shame as well as representative of English Canada’s ignorance on Quebecois comics that it is only 2016 that we got Valium in English.
Katherine Collins, Neil the Horse, Conundrum Press (2017)
Another great reprint project by Conundrum Press.
Mark Connery, Rudy, 2dcloud (2014)
Rudy is one of the best mini comics/zines ever in the world. We need to study more about Marc Bell’s editorship too.
Julie Doucet, Complete Dirty Plotte (2018) & Carpet Sweeper Tales (2016), both Drawn & Quarterly
Julie Doucet is the greatest. Period. It is great to see Drawn and Quarterly including contemporaneous works that were not in Dirty Plotte zine for readers, critics, researchers, and completionists like myself. It is also interesting that around the same time monographs on Doucet were published.
Carpet Sweeper Tales is an under-appreciated work that exploits the properties of collage. Collage utilizes already (re)produced work, so the repetition of the same words, phrases, or objects is natural.
Connor Willumsen, Swinespritzen (2014), 12 Lies for Seeing (2015), & Portraits (2016)
(Also Graphic Novels Anti-Gone (2017) and Bradley of Him (2019), both Koyama Press)
Willumsem’s graphic novels are deservingly appreciated, but his zines are not talked about enough. Willumsen’s oeuvre often studies about multiple perspectives and spacetimes, especially his zines. Comics is a great medium for this because comics is literally composed of juxtaposed images and Willumsen exquisitely exploit it.
Jenn Woodall, Magical Beatdown (2015 — )
We need more women-killing-men-in-horrific-ways-comics, as much as they are men-killing-women-in-horrific-ways. In many horror movies, manga, and comics are distorted, tortured, killed, disembodied, hurt women’s bodies. Woodall subverts the genre’s trope amusingly. The contrast between cute characters and pink production and the brutal way the protagonist kills men is humorous as well as smart.
Victor Martins, Hey, I don’t mean to be condescending or anything, but we’re friends, you don’t have to be afraid of me (2018)
A short mini-comic, but the emotional weight is huge. This is a comic that only transgender men can draw.
Kendra Yee, Rocky & Ruff Draft (2017)
Actually, everything Yee has created. I wrote about deskilled comics, comics that are intentionally drawn in ugly or amateurish way and have become popular in this decade which include Yee’s oeuvre.
Andrea Lukic, Journal of Smack (2017 — )
I am literally lost for words when I read Lukic’s comics. The narrative is not sensible and characters are confusing. I am wondering if Lukic creates comics by collage. But Lukic’s works are not confounding due to their magnetizing drawings and the sensation they yield. There is a certain sentiment these works produce that is ineffable, but its existence is unmistakable. This Deleuzian “affective” comics require your attention.
Ginette Lapalme, Climb-ing Mushrooms Fabric Zine (2019)
You need to physically see and touch it to feel the magic of this object/zine. I wrote about Lapalme’s work which studies the issue of reproduction.
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