If there’s one thing we’ve learned from our years of diligent procrastination since the birth of the commercial internet, it’s that deep down, all any of us really wants is someone to tell us what to buy. Because let’s face it: the life of an American consumer is hard. We want not merely to sink into crushing debt, but to do so in a fashion that expresses our individuality and good politics. It’s what separates us from the animals. Or at least from those people lined up outside box stores on Thanksgiving. I mean what is even up with that.
Well, dear readers, the Festival Season team is here to rescue you from the debilitating fear that you’re spending all wrong. We’ve assembled this list of super-indie, unassailably alternative, demonstrably artisinal, certifiably small-batch comics goodness for you to purchase, and paired each item with a precise description of the individual for whom you should purchase it.
We concede this was an unusual editorial decision, considering much of what’s listed below are events that can’t be wrapped and delivered. Worse, they’re mostly free events happening nowhere near the holiday for which you’re presumably shopping, so how you’re supposed to make a present out of them, we really couldn’t tell you. (Although we’d bet that, unless you’re some kind of seriously miserable wretch, most of the people on your Channukah list would rather spend an afternoon with you than have another novelty mug from which to drink tea alone while contemplating the crushing solitude you could have abated by taking poor sweet Aunt Zadie with you to a comics festival.) Worse, some of the comics listed are free web comics, and how on earth do you give someone that? Like, how is that at all helpful? Honestly, this has got to be the worst holiday gift guide ever.
But we know people and we are people and we know what people like. And the only thing people like better than an arbitrary year-end list is an arbitrary year-end list phrased as a capitalist imperative. And so, eager as ever to please, we offer you just such a list. Buy, my pretties.
The Festival Season 2014 Holiday Gift Guide
Some great new short comics from self-publishers and micropresses. Check out our minicomics review archive for more.
For the diary comics fan who has got to admit she’s getting a little sick of diary comics:
Paper Pencil Life #1 & #2
by Summer Pierre
The diary comics collected in Paper Pencil Life are a refreshing change from the typical twenty-something, anxiety-tinged accounts of heartbreaks, hangouts, and hangovers. There is anxiety, sure, but it is the anxiety a parent feels about her son getting hurt. Summer Pierre has the voice of a woman who is at different times a mother, a wife, and a daughter in these reflections on subjects like parenting, music, nudity, art, and childhood. She struggles against the race of time, a life spent on social media, and the “chronic chaos” of raising children. She yearns to slow down. She stops and admires a heron in the park. She soothes a migraine with the quiet beauty of a snow storm. She watches her son play with a cicada and ponders his future self’s perspective on his childhood.
There is real poetry in Pierre’s narration, like when she compares the death of Lou Reed to losing a building in a landscape she loved. The bad jobs and relationships that create conflict in contemporary diary comics are absent in Pierre’s work; she has been writing journals (if not comics) for 20 years, and is no longer struggling with the concept of adulthood. She is an adult, thoughtfully and singularly herself, making these comics unique and rewarding reads. –Jason
For the friend who swore you to secrecy when she drunkenly confessed she was a competitive fencer in middle school but freely admits to periodically checking to see if she can move stuff with her mind yet:
by Jessi Zabarsky
Two issues into this series and I am hooked! Lelek is a witch who is in search of half of her soul, which was separated from her. She cheats and steals to get by, and in one confrontation, she meets and fights Sanja, a farmer’s daughter who is a skilled swordsman. Lelek knocks Sanja out, and kidnaps her, in the hopes that Sanja will teach her how to use a sword. Over these first two issues, the relationship between Lelek and Sanja shifts from kidnapper & hostage to student & teacher, and seems to be heading toward friendship. We also get a brief glimpse into Lelek’s past, and the events that lead to her lost soul. This comics is full of really neat and scary forms of magic in this agrarian world. It’s an exciting all-ages adventure comic, with two strong female protagonists with unique personalities. –Neil
For the uncle who introduced you to Rainer Maria Rilke and Miles Davis and Ingmar Bergman and Susan Sontag but still can’t get his head around the idea that ambitious, paradigm-shifting work is happening in the pages of comic books:
InkBrick: A Journal of Comics Poetix
edited by Alexander Rothman and Paul K. Tunis
The first issue of this beautifully-produced, full-color anthology of comics poetry (perhaps a bit too stately to be called a minicomic, though it shares the basic form-factor) showcases a refreshingly broad range of vocabularies (both verbal and visual). Some of the eight pieces read like illustrated poems, some like metered drawings, while a couple float irreducibly between. Its curatorial touch is light but clearly aimed at demonstrating the possibilities of these forms in juxtaposition.
I’ll confess the presentation here is a little highbrow for my taste (you may have noticed the X’s where the riffraff would write C’s and S’s), so I was pleasantly surprised to find a collection of diverse but consistently appealing work, often playful and never obtuse for obtuseness’ sake. I was particularly taken with co-editor Alexander Rothman’s contribution, a delicate meditation on the exquisite boredoms of childhood, executed with an elegance and gentle sincerity which, in this era of artistic shock and cynicism, feels genuinely bold. –Kenan
Comics you don’t have to pay for but probably should.
For the cousin whose poor little heart would just break if you ever told him his Mitch Hedburg impression isn’t very good:
Joe Decie is the best deadpan comic artist in the industry. His delicate lines and carefully applied washes somehow make his comics seem very serious, but the words below those drawings give the gravitas away. This year, Decie released the hilarious I Blame Grandma, a comic written in 24 hours as part of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. At first read, the story is classic Decie – a hilarious tale that is nine-tenths reality and one-tenth ridiculousness. At second read, the whole thing becomes slightly unbelievable, simply because no one should be able to put together a comic this good and well thought-out in a single day. –Ann
Graphic Novels or Whatever You Want to Call Them.
Like minicomics without the mini. More in our book review archive.
For the giant fan of classic newspaper comic strips:
Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream
edited by Josh O’Neill, Andrew Carl, and Chris Stevens (Locust Moon Press)
And when I say “giant,” I mean a magical creature with super enlarged limbs. Sure, you could show some respect with Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend (First Second), but that book would probably just fit in the palm of his or her hand. Why not give something that will allow your favorite giant to read naturally, like this 16×21 inch hardcover anthology of over 100 tributes to Winsor McKay’s towering newspaper strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland? Sized to match the original broadsheet dimensions, the book contains an impressive array of talent, from new indie cartoonists to celebrated veterans.
The comics are all gorgeous; you can tell each cartoonist admires McKay deeply, to the point where some feel like love letters. Some artists mimic the look and tone of the original, some goof on it (Farel Dalrymple’s Imp speaks English now, openly suggesting that Nemo “used to be more racist” in his dreams), and some turn the formula on its head. Bishakh Som depicts his comics counterpart Anjali in Nemo’s place, lost inside of her graduate thesis project, while R. Sikoryak invites Freud in, who explains to Nemo how his desires are manifested into dream material even as it happens. The most remarkable strips transform the flow of the comic strip, as McKay’s often did, drawing our eye around the page on a path of images that serve multiple purposes – James Harvey’s, for example, moves us above, around, and below the space of a single street corner from dusk to dawn inside the frame of an arch across the street. This book will be treasured by students of both comics and design and will surely make the giant in your life feel a little more human. –Jason
For the mom that hate-reads smug mommy blogs but doesn’t want to hate any more:
by Keiler Roberts
This is a comic series I keep recommending to friends. Keiler is a clever artist with a deadpan sense of humor. After reading her comics the past few years, I would be interested in any subject she cared to explore. At present, her comics are often concerned with her family interactions. I especially enjoy her observations of her daughter Xia and their strange conversations. Keiler’s approach is frank, honest, and thoughtful. The balance of love, absurdity, and darkness in her work will make you laugh and feel. –Cara
For the friend who I mean look it’s none of your business but maybe isn’t making the best decisions right now and maybe isn’t in the healthiest relationship or is weirdly obsessed with that charismatic creep of a boss or just generally seems lost between childhood and adulthood:
Mimi and the Wolves (Acts I & II)
by Alabaster (Hic & Hoc)
“Ever since I was very young, I’ve had this recurring dream,” explains Mimi, a sphere-headed, Sanrio-adorable… cat? Mouse? Bunny, perhaps? It isn’t entirely clear. “It’s like a nightmare, actually,” she continues, telling us what we already know after three pages of free-floating, vaguely occult imagery which, while pretty grotesque, is still rendered with the round lines and playful proportions that characterize the book’s visuals. “Only I’m not afraid. I like it.”
This dichotomy between cute and scary, between sugar-sweetness and danger, between the childish and the decidedly adult is Mimi and the Wolves’ driving tension. Mimi is a young adult of the sort that has proliferated over the last couple decades; she lives with her “mate,” a dog named Bobo, in a sparsely furnished, whimsically decorated treehouse of a starter home on the outskirts of a major city (in what appears from the included map to be pre-industrial Park Slope). But they don’t have any income to speak of, and make excuses to visit Ceres and Cato, Mimi’s former guardians, in the hope of a more substantial dinner than the grilled cheese sandwiches they’d make themselves. When Mimi’s secret dreams lead her to start keeping company with a pair of deadly but alluring wolves, her herbivorous friends react with concern or vicarious excitement while Bobo succumbs to jealousy. It is unclear, to them, to the reader, and at times to Mimi herself, whether she is liberated or intoxicated by her new experiences, or whether there’s even a meaningful distinction to be made between the two.
With an unpretentious, OCD-highschool-notebook-doodle visual aesthetic and a pleasantly meandering narrative, Alabaster sews bits of familiar stories together into a Frankenstein’s Monster of a world with its own mythology and social structures, a world that feels at times like a nursery rhyme and at others like a deck of tarot cards. Nothing now will keep Mimi from the thrilling, treacherous path she’s chosen through that world, and wherever it may lead, this reader’s eager to follow. –Kenan
A few picks from next year’s festival calendar. (And you can always check our full calendar of indie-oriented comics events; chances are there’s something coming up in your neck of the proverbial woods.)
For the artistically-inclined niece whose parents can’t even pronounce her favorite author’s name, which, in their defense, is Telgemeier:
Late September or early October, 2015 in Cambridge, MA
I wasn’t able to attend the the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo in 2014 and the absence has made my heart grow fonder. MICE, my friendly hometown show, is a highlight of my year and an inspiration for my students (who created a high school version of a convention called Lexicon). The festival seems to be gaining momentum with more exhibitors and attendees each year. The vibe is fun and upbeat, with panels and activities catering to both adults and children. Zack Giallongo hosts a hilarious event called “Iron Cartoonist” in which artists compete against each other illustrating drawing prompts in front of a cheering audience. Boston is an academic city and the crowd tends to be interesting to talk to and interested in creators. I have made some wonderful friends as a result of exhibiting at MICE. Go there some day and be happy. –Cara
For the expats who always ask sincere if clueless questions about your comic “things” and whom you just happen to be visiting in November OMG what a fortuitous coincidence:
November, 2015 (date TBA) in Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK
One of the drawbacks of the indie comic scene, at least for me, is that it can be a bit of a scene. (Given the solitary nature of creating comics, the fact that there are ‘cool kids’ is baffling, but there you go.) Not so at Thought Bubble, which is the friendliest, most comic-positive convention I’ve ever been to. Yes, the cool kids are there, but so are actual kids who have published their first comics as part of school projects, as well as cosplayers and zinesters and families and people who happen to live in Leeds and are looking for something to do on a day out. It’s like a big comics party that anyone can attend and enjoy. –Ann
For pretty much anyone who enjoys culture of any sort:
August 8 & 9, 2015 in Minneapolis, MN
Autoptic is a two-day festival celebrating Independent Culture in the Twin Cities. Primarily organized by comics makers, Autoptic recognizes & celebrates that minicomics makers exist within a larger community of independent print making, filmmaking and music. The festival brings together artists across genres, to open niche groups up to more people. (Applications for Autoptic are open now!) –Neil
Just accept that this is the Stone Soup of year-end round-ups and bear with us.
For the high-minded art comics afficianado who conceals, even from herself, her origins as a Big Two fangirl:
My sister bought me a shirt at a convention that features two star-crossed lovers from the era when Rob Liefeld was big in comics. Today, I read comics like this with a highly critical eye – the art’s never quite right, or the costumes are absolutely ridiculous, or I’m just tired of the unattainable physical perfection of the characters – but this shirt brought me back to the time when I first started reading comics, because of the stories, because of the drama associated with a woman who loved a man. Loved him despite the fact that he had an over-the-top Cajun accent; despite the trench coat he wore over a perfectly serviceable superhero outfit; despite the half-helmet thing which bracketed his face but left his hair free to flop over his handsome eyes. (Seriously, what was that?) All I cared about was the utter unfairness of their story – the fact that she loved him so much, but could never be with him because her touch would destroy him. I could never read this comic without laughing today, but it showed me that the stories told by comics are worth reading. –Ann
Stuff by Festival Season contributors
Did you know that many of your brilliant, incisive Festival Season scribes are kick-ass artists in their own rights? Here’s some of the cool things they introduced into the world this year:
For the beloved aunt who talks with her hands, drinks too much mulled wine, overshares, and gives the family’s best hugs:
by Cara Bean, Rebecca Viola, & Jason Viola
The stories collected here, half by artist-eductaor Cara and half by comicking/inteviewing/critical-thinking/friend-feeding wife/husband superduo Jason and Rebecca, are everything we look for in autobio comics. They’re warm, honest, thoughtful, and immediate. They paint idiosyncratic portraits of their creators’ lives while suggesting broader themes and notions of consequence to general audiences. And they’re pretty cute, too. Covering subjects from nonsensical dreams about football stars to the way our work shapes our lives to the often heart-wrecking relationships we have with our pets, this collection will leave you feeling like these people could be dear friends, or, if you’re very lucky, being thankful that they are.
For the punk-as-fuck nephew with a guilty soft spot for slapstick:
edited by Rob Kirby
Rob assembled an all-star team of alternative comics stalwarts (John Porcellino, Noah Van Sciver, MariNaomi) along with lesser-known (TO SQUARES) talents (Becky Hawkins, Tessa Brunton, Tony Breed) for this unassuming collection of comedic (in hindsight) injury stories. Our own Cara and Jason contribute particularly charming anecdotes about class trips that go awry in ways that will induce empathetic cringes in anyone who’s ever survived middle school.
For the significant other you just haven’t been able to get into sci-fi, not like that’s a dealbreaker or anything, but, you know, it is, kinda:
by Jon Chad
This cosmic tale of war and friendship recounts the history of a robot named Maxer caught in eternal battle with a group called the “Moon Elders.” Much of this battle is fought through eccentric proxies, like Mumfot, a shirtless gladiator who treasures his relationship with his arch-nemesis, Ferls. Ferls finds that his power seems to drain when he’s near Maxer, and must rely on his trusty, self-aware flying robot companion, Bluebell. Meanwhile Warrock, a floating rock who, as his name suggests, is very fond of war, cannot wait to enter the fray!
These warriors, battle-hardened though they may be, posses child-like spirits and outsized personalities. The art reinforces this dichotomy with an uncommon mixture of joy and precision. It’s funny and fun and impressive and almost impossible not to enjoy.
For the daredevil who can’t be convinced to wear her freaking bike helmet:
Falling for Beginners
by Kenan Rubenstein
In the first of two comics collected within a hand-stamped cover, Kenan’s fiancée tells us about the time in college when she broke her tailbone in a bike accident, only to fall on it again while it was healing. The comic revolves around perception, and we witness most events twice: the accident is seen through the eyes of the tumbling cyclist and then the woman in the car that hit her; the second fall is witnessed by a small child who can’t understand why Cate is cursing up a storm. This comic is rendered in subtle ink-washes that evoke the unending frozen winters of its Midwest setting.
The second comic, drawn in stark black and white to great effect, is a short poem that captures the simultaneous significance and insignificance of existential crises. Two friends sit on a dock, ruminating on the potentiality of a million different realities, as the one they sit in continues to slip by.
For the comics nut, the DIY enthusiast, the picky reader, and/or the person who has everything:
As you may have heard, our boy Neil Brideau spent the year launching this minicomics distro and web store, where you can find a carefully curated but stylistically and thematically diverse selection of hundreds of hand-made, self-published marvels, all in one place. It is the freaking coolest. Take a look at the site’s “By Subject” menu, and you’ll find everything from “bank fraud” to “queer communities” to “General Winfield Scott.” You could likely cross every name off your list in a single checkout.
That’s all we’ve got. If you made it this far and still have presents left to buy, we recommend novelty mugs. Aunt Zadie will think of you every time she makes tea! That would be just the sweetest.
We’ll catch you in 2015. We have a lot of fun stuff planned, and a lot of comics to read. Keep ’em coming, and we’ll keep hurling ’em back atcha. But, like, thoughtfully.
Until then, share a comic you love with a person you love, and have a happy whatever you’re up to.
–The lot of us here at Festival Season