The news spread rather rapidly over the comics blogs this week that Dylan Williams, cartoonist and publisher of Sparkplug Comic Books, is seriously ill and in need of financial aid (i.e. please purchase some Sparkplug books).
Though they arguably haven't always gotten as much attention as PictureBox or Drawn & Quarterly, Sparkplug has been one of the most interesting small press publishers in recent years, releasing challenging, striking work from many new and up and coming cartoonists.
Lots of people are making recommendations on what to get, but if you're on the fence about purchasing something from the Sparkplug shop, or just plain don't know what book to buy, I thought I'd add my own two cents with a short run down of some of my own personal favorites.
I really like Chris Wright‘s art style. I like his not quite-abstract, not-quite cubist characters, and the way they’re knocked down to basic geometric shapes that intersect at odd and slightly uncomfortable angles. I like the way his line squiggles, harking back to classic strip artists like E.C. Segar while at the same time suggesting a nervous, barely containable energy. I like that his dialogue frequently sounds as though it walked out of the second act of an Ibsen play to knock back a few at the pub across the street. I like that he frequently goes crazy with the cross-hatching.
Beyond his unique art, though, are some very emotionally dense tales about people (usually older men) desperately trying reach closure/happiness in their family and romantic relationships and often coming up short. Wright’s own self-deprecating humor leavens the despair a good deal and .
2. Whirlwind Wonderland by Rina Ayuyang. Again, at the risk constantly relinking to old articles, I'll repeat what I said here: "It’s easily one of the most notable debuts of 2010. Her art style can come off as crude at times (her Brad Pitt needs work) but she chronicles her family’s foibles, her obsessions with pop culture and her Filipino heritage with love, warmth and humor. Sparkplug published a lot of great books this year, but this one might have been my favorite." Looking at the book now, I still find it utterly charming.
3. Asthma by John Hankiewicz. Hankiewicz's work can be off-putting for the uninitiated at first glance. His odd juxtaposition of word and picture doesn't always jib together in neat, sensical ways and his flat, iconic style can seem (deliberately, I think) eerie and haunting. Once you get into the rhythm of his comics, however, you start to appreciate his work more and succumb to the stark beauty he presents. Let me put it this way: A lot of cartoonists attempt to do poetry. Hankiewicz is the only one who can do it well.
4. Reich by Elijah Brubaker. Brubaker's biography of controversial psychologist Wilhelm Reich owes an obvious influence to Chester Brown's Louis Reil, but Brubaker nevertheless manages to craft a compelling tale about a man obsessed with the role sex plays in human nature and his own life, and so obsessed with certitude that he was not only willing to face censorship, ridicule and ostracization, but also madness.
5. Flesh and Bone by Julia Gfrorer. Here's a wonderful, grim, lovely, dark and very, very disturbing book about ... well, it's about this guy who's distraught over his beloved's death and goes to see this witch so he can try and meet her in the afterlife and the witch ... well, let's just say that if you're the type who doesn't care for explicit sexual images or pictures of horrible things happening to children, then this book is probably not for you. If you're willing to steel yourself a bit, however, you'll find a memorable, captivating comic that delivers its jolts like a short, sharp shock to the system.
6. Service Industry by T. Edward Bak. It's not like Bak has become a cartooning superstar since the publication of this book, but I do feel comfortable in saying that Service Industry is the book that got him noticed, and led to stuff like his current story being serialized in Mome. It's easy to understand why people sat up and paid notice, Industry is a tight litte phantasmagoria, with Bak examining his own personal history and current menial labor job, only to artfully segue to a rich fantasy world. Despite its off-the-cuff feel, it's a very confident, assured work, that makes the reader aware that Bak is a cartoonist to be reckoned with.
Other books worth buying: The anthology Orchid; Christina and Charles by Austin English; The Heavy Hand by Chris Cilla; Lemon Styles by David King; and Bookhunter by Jason Shiga.