First off, I just want to say I freaking hate year-end best-of lists. They are entirely subjective, plus they always ALWAYS leave out lots of people/events/books they shouldn’t. I mean, who has the time to read all the books that came out in one year? Nobody, that’s who. And I’m sure that the moment I publish this post I’ll remember a dozen more amazing things and books I encountered this year. So that’s my disclaimer.
With that said, here are some of the things that made 2014 special to me.
I’m not a baby person, but I’m pretty impressed that my sister pushed this funny little creature out of her lady parts. Good job, sis! And welcome to the universe, Liam! I look forward to corrupting you.
City Lights Bookstore Reading
Here’s Ray Shea, the author who was kind enough to write the foreword to my book, Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories. He’s reading one of his brilliant essays at my book release party at City Lights Bookstore. Holy shit. Life-long dream, accomplished!
Hello Kitty Con
I attended Hello Kitty Con with Twitter pal-turned-IRL-pal Rachel Kramer Bussel. What a spectacle! I think I enjoyed the Hello Kitty exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum next door even more. It’s up through April 2015. If you’re anywhere near Los Angeles, it’s totally worth a visit.
This is one of the best things (possibly the best!) I’ve ever gotten from a fan. Look at this dog! She’s a rescue named Darling in Portland. Sweet sigh. Thanks, Matthew!
This Lifeguard Beach Towel, by Massive for Opening Ceremony. It is so snuggly! It kept me warm when I was on the Pacific Northwest leg of my book tour. Thanks, Anne!
Ladies of Twin Peaks buttons by Sina Sparrow. Souvenir from my trip to London.
Note: I’m purposefully leaving out some books I enjoyed, such as Roz Chast’s graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? and Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist: Essays, since I’m seeing them on lots of best-of lists. And rightfully so! Clearly they don’t need any help from me. Good job, Roz and Roxane!
The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing Loh (W.W. Norton and Company)
A personal story from Sandra about going through The Change. I loved this audiobook so much, I made my husband listen to it right after I finished it. (He enjoyed it too, by the way.) And then I listened to it a third time. I could listen to Sandra Tsing Loh all day, every day.
Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man by Thomas Page McBee (City Lights Publishers)
Speaking of The Change, Thomas Page McBee goes through his own set of changes in this heartful memoir about transitioning to a male body and moving past childhood abuse. From my Goodreads review: If you’ve been in my vicinity for this past week or so, you’ve heard me go on and on about this book. Poignant, heartbreaking and so so so well-written and perfect. This guy is gonna be huge.
The Hospital Suite by John Porcellino (Drawn and Quarterly)
A graphic memoir about health problems, but it’s not what you might think. From my Goodreads review: This is one of the most gripping, tension-filled true stories I’ve read. An autobio masterpiece.
Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz (Future Tense Books)
A memoir about the author’s long-term relationship with a teacher of hers, starting in prepubescence. From my Goodreads review: Wendy C. Ortiz did a fantastic job at taking an uncomfortable subject and making it relatable on all sides. No demonization. Exactly what a memoir should be.
You Don’t Get There From Here # 31 by Carrie McNinch (self-published)
Yes, that’s right. This is #31. Carrie McNinch keeps plugging away at her daily diary comics, and they are never disappointing. These zines were what made me open to living in Los Angeles. She shows us a different side of LA than what we’re used to seeing in movies and on television. A sometimes quiet, strange place with a lot of beauty and nature. When is someone going to collect these into a book already? I will buy the hell out of that thing.
War of Streets and Houses by Sophie Yanow (Uncivilized Books)
An Ignatz-nominated graphic memoir about politics and city planning. It’s hard to describe, so you’d better just read it. From my Goodreads review: So simple but rich, complex. This is a book I know I will revisit again and again.
Saddest Vacation by Chris Tran (self-published)
This collection of diary comics was handed to me at the Short Run Seattle Comic & Arts Festival. In fact, lots of books were handed to me at Short Run. I’ve got a couple of boxes of unread zines from various shows, and I’ve barely scratched the surface, so there might be plenty of gems in there. I have no idea! But this book! After reading a few pages, I was absolutely charmed. For example, Chris is torn about lending money to a shady uncle, and worries that his decision may tear his family apart. And then a few pages later, he’s talking himself out of feeling guilty about all the internet porn he’s consuming. It’s heartbreakingly earnest, and so hilarious.
There are a ton of comics diaries out there, and to be honest, it’s hard to sell these to me (with the exception of the pros, such as Carrie McNinch, Gabrielle Bell and Noah Van Sciver). So often, the authors seem to be trying to convey to the reader a certain side of themselves, but rarely do they come across as authentic, especially in newcomers. But this guy. He’s so good! So sincere.
Here’s a peek of what first charmed me. As I turned the pages, I was shocked to see that he was PENCILING IN parts that got cut out by shoddy production values. What dedication!
Chris has a Tumblr site where he’s posting these comics, but if you can get your hands on a physical copy, I highly recommend it.
QU33R edited by Rob Kirby (Northwest Press)
Hey, I was in this anthology! Is it kosher to put this in my best-of-2014 post? Hahaha I don’t fucking care! This book was phenomenal, and it won an Ignatz Award if that will convince you. The first story in it, Porno by Eric Orner, will blow you away, and then the book keeps going. Rob Kirby really knows how to put together a collection. In addition to the brilliant comics he himself makes. And now he’s doing reviews too! The guy is a force.
Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever edited by Tom Neely (Microcosm Press)
Oh no, another anthology I was in! Can I tell you again that I don’t care if it’s wrong that I put this here? Because I’d put it here whether or not I was in it (same goes for QU33R). I fell in love with this series long before I even imagined being invited to contribute to it. The premise is that punk icons Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig are lovingly complacent in a cozy domestic situation. Hilarity, of course, ensues. I contributed a comic for the fourth issue, and now here it all is, collected in one wondrous anthology! A great gift for the old punk rocker in you.
Cringe: An Anthology of Embarrassment edited by Peter Conrad (Birdcage Bottom Books)
Speaking of anthologies I wasn’t in, this one was fantastic. From my Goodreads review: This was nasty and funny and great. Peter Conrad can really put together an anthology.
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown (Macmillan)
This is so great. Kind of dark. And who wouldn’t want to read a comics biography, chock-filled with very-human stories about Andre the Giant? By Box Brown! Whoever they are, I don’t want to meet them.
100 Crushes by Elisha Lim (Koyama Press)
Elisha does some great work, and their thoughts about writing race really added to my Writing of People Color (If You Happen to be a Person of Another Color) article on Midnight Breakfast.
Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa (Adams Media)
Yumi also made a great contribution to my PoC article. Moreover, she’s become a good friend in my new Los Angeles home, which was maybe why I put off reading this book for so long. I love her other work, but I’ve never been a fan of self-help or spirituality stuff. Which is why I’m so delighted that I LOVED this book. It doesn’t have the preachy qualities that have turned me off to self-help books in the past, nor is it religious at all. It’s just…beautiful. And a certain panel really got me through a rough time while on tour. Highly recommended.
Queer & Trans Artists of Color, Stories of Some of Our Lives, Interviews by Nia King (self-published)
I’m midway through this book, but I’ve read enough to know that this belongs on my list (and that I shouldn’t rush through it for the sake of rushing through). There’s a lot of important, thoughtful information here, about being queer, about being a person of color, about just trying to get by as an artist in a capitalist society.
Snackies by Nick Sumida (Youth In Decline)
I read this in one sitting while sitting on Virgina Paine’s couch in Portland, while her adorable cat taunted me with no-pets (kitty eventually gave in and snuggled me–but on her own terms). Nick Sumida’s brand of nutty, painful humor really jabs the knife into my funny bone. I immediately ran out and got my own copy.
A Waste of Time by Rick Worley (Northwest Press)
Rick’s got some bitter existentialism in his work, combined with gorgeous artwork and a dark sense of humor. And a Christian Fundamentalist teddy bear that gets it on with a queer robot (then gets all angsty about it afterward). What more could you want?
Domestic Times by Tessa Brunton (self-published)
Tessa has taken a break from her poignant, sometimes painful, memoir comics in order to make this visually lush, colorful, hilarious how-to-cohabitate-with-your-mate satire magazine. But don’t let the lighthearted prettiness fool you! There are some good stories in here, plus a little bit of history. And lots of humor. And beauty. It’s a bit of a detour from her usual fare, but her fans will not be disappointed.
Cat Person by Seo Kim (Koyama Press)
I love this book and I’ve read it several times. It’s cute, funny, and has a touch of darkness in it, but nothing I can put my finger on exactly. It’s also directly responsible for my current addiction to gummy vitamins (pictured).
The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin (Harper Perennial)
This is the final book of Armistead’s Tales of the City series, and it was amazing. I got addicted to the Tales series in the nineties (after watching the excellent PBS miniseries of the same name), and continued to read them over the years as they went from humorous tales to intense character studies. In this book, Anna Madrigal attends Burning Man, and we get a glimpse into her childhood. But don’t let BM discourage you (if that’s not your thing–because it’s not mine). The book is filled with hilarity and heart from beginning to end. From my Goodreads review: AAAAAHHHHH this was so good! So hilarious! And now I’m crying.
And here’s a photo I took of Dan Bachardy and Armistead Maupin shooting the shit at the Santa Monica Public Library.
Nochita by Dia Felix (City Lights Publishers)
This is a complex, densely poetic novel about a young woman whose mother is a famous spiritual guru. I had to read this in bits, it was so rich and vibrant.
Angie Bongiolatti by Mike Dawson (Secret Acres)
I consider this one of the most brilliant books of this year. It’s a graphic novel about a group of twenty-somethings struggling with their values shortly after 9-11. It’s something I definitely went through. Filled with creepy sexual tension and political philosophy. It’s so good, and more people need to read it.
Hairdresser on Fire by Daniel LeVesque (Manic D Press)
This is like David Sedaris with a soul. So so so funny. I couldn’t take a photo of it because I sent it to a friend, who promptly fell in writerly crush with Daniel LeVesque and his sweetly dark humor. A must-read!
It Never Happened Again by Sam Alden (Uncivilized Books)
My Goodreads review: I loved this so much, I read it twice in a sitting, and then I pored over individual panels. What delicate storytelling and beautiful artwork. Sam Alden is a comics god.
Follow Her Home and Beware Beware by Steph Cha (Minotaur Books)
I first encountered Steph Cha at a reading she did with Zoe Ruiz last year, and I was stunned by how captivated I was by the story she read. I don’t really remember the subject matter, just that her words grabbed me. I knew I had to read her books.
I’m not usually a devourer of mystery novels, but these kept me riveted, adding extra time on the exercise machine each day so I could see what happened next. But best of all, Steph’s characters are complicated. Her protagonist is a whiskey-swilling loner named Juniper Song, who doesn’t put up with creepy guys with yellow fever. (I drink whiskey! I’m put off by those guys too!) It’s so rare to see that stuff reflected in mainstream media, and when I saw it, I grabbed onto it. This is exactly why we need diversity in books. (So that I can laugh and nod while I’m on an elliptical trainer.)
So that’s it, folks. I guarantee you that I’ve left out some amazing events and books and things from this year. Oh well.
Also: SHAMELESS PLUG:
Buy my new book! It’s on some best-of-2014 lists too!
Oops, sorry. I swore I wouldn’t do that. Oh well. As an apology, here’s me with someone else’s baby (something else I said I’d never do too):
Happy holidays, everyone!