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Jeff Smith's Favorite Comics of 2013

December 31, 2013  |  11:00am
Jeff Smith's Favorite Comics of 2013

If Jeff Smith produces something, there’s a more than decent chance it’ll end up on a Paste Best Of list. As our beloved assistant editor Frannie says, “Kids, adults, forest creatures, and even the Kraken in the depths love Jeff Smith.” The editors here definitely lie somewhere in that Venn diagram, though it’s debatable where. Smith’s latest creation, the sweeping, mythical webcomic Tuki Save the Humans, missed our Best of 2013 lists since it only rolled out in November, so this year we were happy to recruit the Ohio cartoonist to unveil his personal favorites.
And who better?

Smith’s répertoire spans epic whimsy (Bone) to brawny heroics (Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil) to mature whiskey sci-fi (RASL). And that doesn’t even count his charming picture book for toddlers, Little Mouse Gets Ready, which is by far the most artful account of putting on socks in the history of graphic literature. With a wide appreciation for so many genres and styles, it’s no surprise that Smith’s favorite comics of 2013 range from autobiographical hip-hop love letters to South American childhood escapism. Thanks Jeff!

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You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack: Cartoons
Writer & Artist: Tom Gauld
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
I just like Tom Gauld’s stuff. He’s very smart and fresh. He did all these comics reprinted from The Guardian and his drawings are really funny, but it always has an ironic point to it, and there are some really dark points. His drawings are just funny. You can’t get any better than that.

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Fata Morgana
Writer & Artist: Jon Vermilyea
Publisher: Koyama Press
This is a book I just picked up two weekends ago at the Comics Arts Brooklyn Festival. It’s called Fata Morganna, as in Morgan Le Fay. It’s Jon Vermilyea, it’s published by Koyama Press, and it’s kind of like a European album-sized book, but every two pages lies a double-page spread. And it’s crazy. I can’t even describe it to you. Each one is a psychedelic poster from the ‘60s. Just candy colored, and things are melting. But at the center of each page is a little, really cute Calvin & Hobbes little boy, who’s just running through, and he gathers little companions as he goes. And every page is a brand new world you can just stare at for hours. It’s really amazing. I’m digging it. It must be my favorite one. It’s one of those things I didn’t know about till two weeks ago. That’s why it’s worth going on tour. Even though you get really tired and feel bad, you get to meet new cartoonists and find stuff you didn’t know about.

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The Big Wet Balloon
Writer & Artist: Ricardo Siri Liniers
Publisher: Toon Books
Here’s another one: it’s called The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers. It’s one of those Toon Books that Francois Mouly has in her line of young reader books. Liniers is an Argentinian cartoonist who’s made his American debut. He’s a really sweet guy; I met him at SPX and then picked up the book. I am influenced that way; if I meet someone who I really like, I am more predisposed to their art. The book is the story of two little girls trying to play outside on a day when it’s raining, and everything about it just rings true: what the kids do, what it’s like out in the yard. I just thought that was a really sweet, well-done book.

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Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story
Writer & Artist: Peter Bagge
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Here’s a book I just started. I haven’t finished it, but I’m going to mention it anyway. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge. That’s a pretty intense book. And Peter Bagge, who I’ve aways liked, is one of the cartoonists whose work I saw when I walked into a comic shop for the first time in the late ‘80s. His style is so bizarre. It’s like part rubber hose, part underground comics. And yes, he can tell a realistic story, because his style kind of separates you from true history, so you just fall into the story.

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Hip Hop Family Tree
Writer & Artist: Ed Piskor
Publisher: Fantagraphics
And there’s Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor. I enjoy everything about it. I enjoy how obviously enthusiastic the story is about the subject and the passion. Also, Piskor’s telling stories about things that happened in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He creates a printed page that looks like it’s on the 1970s Marvel print, with Ben-Day dots and pulp paper. The whole thing is just really amazing. And what’s interesting about it is how highly complicated the hip-hop industry is. Something (cool) about Woman Rebel and Hip Hop Family Tree is the research involved. I spent five years researching when I worked on RASL, where I tried to bring real physics and real history and Tesla into it. When I read something like these two books, I see the cartoonist working to take facts and turn them into comics. And I think these guys are nailing it.

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Battling Boy
Writer & Artist: Paul Pope
Publisher: First Second
I just think very few people can move images around on a page like that and get that dynamism in their work. Paul Pope’s style doesn’t look anything like Kirby’s, but that’s what I think of. When someone jumps or punches, you just really feel the force and explosion. It’s just so amazing to me that someone can ever do that. Plus, it has cool monsters.

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