“It’s been a tough year” is a major understatement. First and foremost, I’m happy to be here – at Multiversity, in comics at large, cosmically. There’s not much else to say about the state of the world except things were and continue to be hard in many ways, and I’m extremely lucky nonetheless.
My 2020 in comics isn’t easy to sum up. There’s no one event or piece of work that sticks out as extraordinary or thematic, but maybe that’s the theme. Chaos, or more positively put: small meanings. 2020 was a mishmash of confusion, frustration and trauma, both new and revealed in this industry.
One way to muddle through: some people made some truly exceptional stuff, and I had the keen pleasure of reading more than a few of those pieces this year.
Among them, “Transcription” by Véronique Emma Houxbois, “Disorder” by Erika Price and “Liminal State” By Maria Photinakis stand out as a trilogy of indie books that shine especially bright. I had the supreme fortune to read them all within a short period of time, and each reaffirmed my love for and fascination with what this medium can do. As I become increasingly unenthused with superhero comics as a steady diet, I turn to the people who’re out here doing comics their way, and these three artists were kind enough to share their work with me. Houxbois’s exploration of trans sexuality and jubilant, incisive joy helped me find a quiet kind of liberation. Price’s vision of torment and body horror resonated deeply with my own disconnected, fragmented, gendered self. Photinakis’s meditation on grief and creating life gave me insight into and empathy for an experience I’ve long since shelved for myself. Each of these creators makes work that is wildly different in aesthetic, but in spirit and practice is the essence of comics.
Good comics tell a story that cannot be told in any other medium. This is the only generalization I feel comfortable stating in this industry. “Transcription,” “Disorder” and “Liminal State” each could not be the stories they are with the effect they have in film, prose, etc. They are each sublime examples of sequential storytelling. They each take great risks that pay off. They each push the medium in different ways and stretch the cosmic gutter as wide and as deep as it can go. They each do so in a way that invites a full sensory experience. They’re each fantastic examples of their genre and aim. They each became firm favorites of mine this year, and now I get to see what these three amazing people do next. How cool is that?
Another way in, here: in the past couple years I’ve spent some time at a colleague’s home (travel for work) and had the good fortune to read his daughters a bedtime story the last time I was there. One of them was over the moon when her father told her that I write about comics, so she sent me one as part of my white elephant gift this year. My co-worker let me know that she’d had this idea for years but didn’t know what to do with it. When he told her he was getting me some comics for a gift exchange, she sat down and created a wonderful short about a rainbow bunny who activates her cosmic, color-changing powers with her ears. She’s kidnapped by a villain named Sir Fitzroy. Her parents bound it carefully with thread, and I have the only existing copy of this beautiful work. How cool is that?!
Comics can be anything we want them to be, and I’m continuously drawn to the edges of what’s possible. As I work on my own comic, blessedly miles away from the ponderous prose memoir of my grad school days, I’m deeply grateful for my ability to find rejuvenation and joy in struggle and darkness. None of this would be possible without the creators who’re brave enough to light the path and laugh in the face of despair, or the children whose unbounded ideas and joy remind us to loosen up a bit and have some fun. We’ve had plenty of comedy and horror and absurdity to fill the well this year, even as events conspired to drain it entirely. Good stories keep us going, remind us what’s possible and will be here long after we’re gone.
2020 taught me some simple wisdom: when in doubt, make cool shit. I’m grateful for the lesson and its lingering beauty, and excited to see where it takes me next.