By Zack Quaintance — I’ve had a pretty broad experience with America in my life. I was born and raised outside Chicago; I went to college in rural Southern Illinois; after college I lived in Texas on the U.S.-Mexico Border; after that I lived in the hip enclave of Austin; and recently I moved to Sacramento, an odd hybrid of the San Francisco Bay Area and California's agriculture-heavy Central Valley, an obscure city where America’s culture wars often collide.
And all of this is relevant to comics how? Well, it connects to the books in this month’s New Comics Discoveries, which as always are comics I’ve read after having them recommended to me a billion times. This month's selections give us a broad vision of modern America, too, using a range of genres—from dystopian sci-fi warfare to subtle horror to jokey over-the-top detective adventure—to take closer looks at different parts of America, at Appalachia or withering towns abandoned by their youth or neighborhoods called Little Mexico.
These are all books that when taken together speak to the diversity of the American experience today, so excellently reflected through comics. These stories all have something uniquely 2018 to say, and I highly recommend seeking them out and reading them.
With all that in mind, let’s get to it now: August 2018 New Comic Discoveries!
Long Lost Vol. 1 by Matthew Erman & Lisa Sterle
This haunting book from Scout Comics is bold, complex, experimental, and abstract in a way mainstream books are often afraid to be. Long Lost is a story I will pass to friends who generally prefer literary fiction to sequential graphic storytelling. Basically, this is an incredibly smart comic with a deep tonal range that spans everything from sheer terror, to the malaise of routine, to the way we justify to ourselves (and others) the challenges life has dealt us...the way we grapple the past into being okay rather than actually dealing with root causes of deep-seeded pains and dysfunctions.
Lisa Sterle’s art in Long Lost is fittingly subdued and minimalistic, saving its greatest flourishes for moments that accentuate either horror or the role of setting in the story. Matthew Erman’s writing, meanwhile, is poignant and rich with poetic narration. Its dialogue is also telling without feeling forced. I jotted a number of favorite lines (some are listed below), because the prose on the pages kept demanding it. Ditto for screenshotting favorite panels.
There’s just something Lynchian at work in how this story withholds orienting information and accentuates the horrors of the mundane. Yet, there’s never a full dive made into bleakness or cynicism. A main conceit of Long Lost is revisiting the past, which in part means having our protagonists return to the forgotten rural town where they grew up. That kind of narrative can definitely lend itself to pessimism, but Long Lost never tips that way. The relationship between the two central sisters gives it way too much heart, making for a complex and haunting book that is equally human and relatable.
Some favorite lines:
Mom has been “missing” since we were kids. It’s only now that she has finally disappeared like everyone I know.
I see Hazel Patch like...you would see snakes gathered in overgrowth, maybe sleeping beneath blackberry bushes. And also, This was it though. This was Hazel Patch, in all its glory. Barely here, existing for no other reason than pure stubborness. An aimless void where people never leave because there is no where else to be except here. Nowhere.
I’ve had this foggy thing going on in my head, been like that for about a year now—I dunno. And I broke my arm learning to juggle.
Yesterday I woke up in a place I thought I knew but...it’s gone. The world is different. Everything has changed and all I feel is dread.
I dunno...I kind of loved this place growing up...or maybe I didn’t. It’s been so long I can’t seem to remember.
Warlords of Appalachia Vol. 1 by Phillip K. Johnson, Jonas Scharf, Doug Garbark, & Jim Campbell
Warlords of Appalachia imagines our current political years from now, taking it to vast and bleak extremes by depicting a situation in which Kentucky is a war-torn Chechnya-esque territory that the rest of the world leans on the U.S. government to leave alone. This is, without question, a prescient comic about individualism, about the power of religion as a motivator to justify drastic action or fighting in times of great poverty, and about the dangers of substituting macho cult personality for an actual leader with courage and integrity.
In terms of its DNA, this is a war comic, and the action sequences written by Phillip K. Johnson and drawn by Jonas Scharf are clear and intense, very well-done. Yet, that’s not really what makes this such a compelling comic. This is a good comic because of the ideology that surrounds the combat, the reasons the people fight, be it because they’re career soldiers, religious zealots, or members of fedup and oppressed communities.
This is also the type of comic that both sides of our very real raging ideological war could read and relate to heavily, which I think is likely also part of the point...not that this story is making the flawed argument that our current politics have two equal sides, but to remind us that once any political stance is corrupted enough, the end goals of those who are doing the corrupting start to look the same. I’ve only read the first volume of this book, but I heavily suspects that's where this story is heading.
Mashbone and Grifty #1 by Oscar Garza & Rolando Esquivel
Mashbone and Grifty from 5 Meats Comics was such a nice palate cleanser after the much heavier fare in the first two titles, but it’s still a great comic with a unique (and often hilarious) perspective. First about the funny: this is one of those comics that packs in visual and dialogue gags at a rapid clip, reminding of the work of my favorite funny-man in comics, Kyle Starks (whose Rock Candy Mountain was a previous New Discovery). To give you a sense of what to expect, this first issue is about a man who approaches our heroes because someone has stolen his cock (rooster) named Mango.
This book is super funny and also steeped in a Mexican-American perspective. At one point, a character asks why he has to do the dangerous undercover work in Little Mexico, and after another character tells him it’s because he’s Mexican...everyone goes silent and someone mumbles something about being uncomfortable. There’s also a funny interlude with a handy el dandy Spanish Glossary, plus a quick clip from Mashbone’s favorite movie, which uses an Indiana Jones type character (Dakota Dan) for a quick satire about immigration.
In other words, Mashbone and Grifty is a funny book with something unique to say, and if it makes you uncomfortable—good, because this comic is telling a ton of jokes-per-minute even if some of those jokes make you flinch.
See all our past months of new discoveries here. And check back to the site next week for our Best Debut Comics of August 2018 as well as our Top Comics of August 2018, too.