We're a little more than halfway through the year, which makes it the perfect time to pause and separate the truly exemplary comics from the merely mediocre.
Below are six of my favorite comics of the year thus far. Many of them will likely make their way into my final "best of 2014" list come December, but I reserve the right to completely change my mind between now and then.
In any case, let me know what comics you've enjoyed reading thus far (or how crazy I am for forgetting Graphic Novel X) in the comments section.
1. How to be Happy by Eleanor Davis (Fantagraphics). This collection of short stories about people desperately trying to suppress or embrace or just somehow deal with all the difficult emotions careening around in their brain just underscores what those who have seen Davis' work in scattered anthologies already suspected: that she is a tremendous talent, and one of the smartest voices working in comics today. I'm sure that seems like back-cover hyperbole to some, but any time spent with this volume will, I believe, cure doubters of that notion.
2. Safari Honeymoon by Jesse Jacobs (Koyama Press). What at first seems like a familiar story trope -- an older, rich lout and nubile, young wife go on safari led by a macho, knowledgeable guide -- becomes under Jacobs' hands something altogether strange, haunting, unexpected and altogether extraordinary. A lot of that has to do with the way Jacobs portrays the carnivorous, deadly jungle, filled with the most fantastic and surreal creatures this side of Basil Wolverton.
3. Over Easy by Mimi Pond (Drawn & Quarterly). Autobiography is so tricky a thing to get right, and Pond gets it so right here in her memoir of her time spent as a young waitress in a diner filled with all sorts of memorable characters. Part of why it works so well is that Pond doesn't make the book just about her, but opens it up to include the diners' denizens, thus creating an impression of a particular unique time and place rather than a solipsistic bout of navel-gazing.
4. Weapons of Mass Diplomacy by Abel Lanzac and Christophe Blain (SelfMade Hero). This isn't so much a book about the buildup to the Iraq war as much as it is a look at how the diplomatic sausages get made and fires get put out behind the scenes, at least in France. If that doesn't sound particularly exciting, keep in mind this is a diplomatic sausage factory designed by Chris Blain, who is all hurried motion, waving arms, exaggerated facial features and lots of carefully controlled frenzy, frenzy, frenzy. Books about failed foreign policy shouldn't be this fun.
5. Hilda and the Black Hound by Luke Pearson (Nobrow). Pearson's Hilda series has quickly proved to be one of the most charming and imaginative all-ages series to grace comic stores in years. This latest volume, concerning scouting adventures, a potentially pesky Nisse and the titular hound, might just well be the best in the series yet. (Full disclosure: This book was provided to me by Nobrow's sales and marketing director Tucker Stone, who, along with Joe McCulloch and Matt Seneca, does the Comic Books are Burning in Hell podcast with me.)
6. Wicked Chicken Queen by Sam Alden (Retrofit Press). I don't know what I was expecting with a title like that, but it sure as heck wasn't something as visual inventive, striking and surprisingly moving as Sam Alden seemingly simple (and comparatively short) comic proved to be.