Eurocomics Spotlight : David Genchi’s “Castrovalva”

Projects that have complex and circuitous gestation processes and then emerge fully-formed into the world as something entirely other than that which they were originally intended to be are, as you’d expect, a hit-or-miss proposition, but when they hit sometimes they really hit : David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, for instance, famously began on paper as a TV pitch centered around Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey Horne character from Twin Peaks ditching the Pacific Northwest for the bright lights of Hollywood, while Jack Kirby’s amazingly prescient OMAC evolved from a scuttled re-boot of Captain America that was to be set in the far future. The lesson here being, I suppose, to never let a “course correction” — or even several of them — get you down. If your central conceit is strong enough, it’ll be able to survive many twists and turns before taking its final shape.

Now, we can add to that list of serendipitous reworkings-on-the-fly Italian cartoonist David Genchi’s Castrovalva, a visually and conceptually dense comic presented in an eight-page newspaper broadsheet format by Hollow Press that was initially supposed to be a game that Genchi and his brother William were going to roll out at the 2020 Lucca Comics festival. Then, of course, along came COVID.

The cancellation of more or less every comics festival, convention, and expo last year meant that this particular project was probably going to gather dust for some time, but editor Michele Nirti knew they had something special on their hands and that some sort of re-imagining of it would likely find an appreciative audience, and so here we are. My understanding is that the game itself is still very much a going concern and will more than likely see the light of day at some point, but until then Genchi has thrown the rules he was devising for this game that so far hasn’t materialized out the window and given us, instead, a heady meditation on the creative process itself that forms a kind of closed loop or ouroboros, an infinite recursion that starts and stops but can’t truthfully be said to have anything resembling a beginning, middle, or end.

In that respect, this comic has much in common with the old-school Doctor Who serial with which it shares a name, and there are enough knowing winks and nods to said show interspersed throughout to make me think this is no far-flung coincidence. Having two or more creative works named, say, Blade or Revenge is one thing, but when you’re talking about a title as utterly obscure and entirely invented as Castrovalva? That’s a deliberate hat-tip if ever I’ve seen one — and, as it turns out, it’s also an entirely appropriate one, as that particular Doctor Who adventure (the first featuring Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor) took the same idea of an endlessly recurring closed system, threw some charmingly low-rent M.C. Escher aesthetics, and set it all comfortably within a fairly traditional sci-fi framework. Genchi’s work is no less fantastic (in the strictest sense of the term) than its televised forebear, but the key distinction is that it is more nominally based in reality.

I say “nominally” because of the simple fact that anything that explores the nature of creativity is necessarily going to be about imagination itself, and to the extent that there even is any line between fantasy and reality in these pages, it’s fair to say it’s a blurry one — like Alan Moore, J.H, Williams III, and Mick Gray’s Promethea, the ways in which our individual and collective “actual” and “imagined” worlds inform and reflect off each other are at the heart of what Genchi is grappling with here, and while it’s accurate enough after a fashion to broadly categorize this as an “autobiographical” comic, it’s a pretty damn unique one in that much of what Genchi’s authorial stand-in experiences isn’t set in the real world physically — it’s set in the every-bit-as-real world of his subconscious.

Okay, sure, this entire thing no doubt sounds confusing by now, but there’s an internal logic to both the non-linear flow of Genchi’s narrative and to his outrageously imaginative page layouts that holds together — it would be wrong to call it coherent, I’ll grant you that, but it would be equally wrong to call it confounding. Like its richly-detailed, heavily-saturated art, the comics itself only appears impenetrable, while in reality (whatever that even means) it simply eschews logic in service of truths that run far deeper. You may love it as I did, or you may hate it, but one thing’s for certain : there’s no way you won’t be impressed by it.

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Castrovalva is available in both English and Italian versions and sells for the entirely reasonable price of four Euros or its USD equivalent. You can find it at the Hollow Press webstore by following this link : https://hollow-press.net/products/castrovalva

Review wrist check – Formex “Essence” brown dial chronometer model riding a blue Formex leather strap.

Two From Joey Tepedino : “Star Kisses From The Queen”

“Just let it go” is easy enough advice to give to anyone who is, as the popular vernacular would have it, going through some shit, but it’s considerably more difficult to follow. And when tragedy has befallen a person, deciding what to let go of becomes all the more impossible to figure out. I have, for instance, known people who got rid of all of any and reminders of an ex after a breakup, only to wish they had something — anything — of theirs back later, while on the other side of the coin, I’ve known people who have lost a loved one who simply can’t bear to part with a single reminder of them, no matter how inconsequential or trivial some of the crap they left behind may seem to the outside observer.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is, when it comes to traumatic experiences, there’s probably no “wrong” way to handle them, even if some methods of processing them are undeniably more healthy than others. Your brain is, after all, your own, and how you process bad things happening is going to vary a hell of a lot from person to person. Who are any of us to judge until we’ve been in precisely the same position?

Which brings us, finally, to our real reason for being here : Joey Tepedino’s self-published mini Star Kisses From The Queen, a gorgeous and ambitious little ‘zine that functions as both mirror image of, and response to, his The Kingdom Of Rasberry Blue Untitled, and mines similar conceptual and thematic territory to a degree while nevertheless offering readers a wholly different experience. The most notable point of demarcation between the two works is that this one is partially presented in color while the other is entirely — and starkly — black and white, but really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

While loss of self within the self is explored in this ‘zine as well as the previous (I think, at any rate — both works are undated) one, here that loss is part of a larger grieving process, with Tepedino’s protagonist figure (perhaps an authorial stand-in?) reeling from the death of someone close to them, all color literally draining from their world, all richness and intricacy giving way to unforgiving and austere simplicity. But soon enough complex, if foreboding, imagery returns to the fold, as do snippets of fiery color, and a kind of tension arises, as readers are left to ponder whether the dark void will solidify its claim on our erstwhile “hero,” or if he’ll integrate the pain he’s experienced into his life in such a way that allows for small steps of forward progress to be made. Hell, maybe both things will happen?

Don’t let its gloriously experimental nature fool you, however : this is very much a comic anchored by narrative, it just so happens that the pacing of that narrative is inventive, original, and quite authentic in terms of its representation of the grieving process. Jarring and potentially momentous occurrences pop up unexpectedly only to dissipate just as quickly, and instances of calm and perhaps even peace — or at the very least resignation — alternate between bursts of heavy and alarming visual/emotional peril. It’s all got a strange fluidity to it, with the emphasis on the “strange,” but anyone who’s lost someone can tell you that’s how the mind works when confronted with these situations : one minute you can maybe live with it, the next you’d sooner be dead yourself. Logic is out the window, but for entirely logical reasons, and Tepedino’s singular storytelling methodology reflects that dichotomy incredibly well.

In the end, then, what we’ve got here is something that both functions as a perfect companion piece to Tepedino’s other comic, while also standing entirely on its own. In addition, it manages to straddle the delicate line between avant-garde “art” comics and traditional, narratively-driven ones in a manner that should appeal to readers of both — all while grappling with difficult subject matter. It’s a highly accomplished piece of work that’s certain to impress you, no matter your sensibilities or aesthetic preferences.

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Star Kisses From The Queen is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/starkisses.html

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Two From Joey Tepedino : “The Kingdom Of Rasberry Blue Untitled”

Right off the bat, this ‘zine is wrapped in a pretty thick layer of mystery, beginning with : what, exactly, is its title? Is it called Rasberry Blue? Is it called Rasberry Blue Untitled, given the latter word appears at the bottom of the cover? Or is it, perhaps, Rasberry Blue/Untitled, meaning that it likely contains two stories/strips? It’s a head-scratcher, to be sure, but in the end I settled on the full name cartoonist Joey Tepedino gives it on the insider front cover, The Kingdom Of Rasberry Blue Untitled, since you really can’t lose by picking out the longest of several title “options” on offer. But, really, that’s just the beginning as far as the question marks go.

The year it came out, for instance, is nowhere to be found within — nor is any copyright information whatsoever, And a stickler for grammar such as myself has to wonder whether or not the word “Rasberry” in the title — whichever title you choose — is intentional or not. Here’s the thing, though : when it comes to evaluating this 16-page mini (self-published under Tepedino’s Wooshh Comics imprint) on its merits, consequential as all this may seem, the simple truth is that none of it really matters.

What matters, of course, is whether or not Tepedino can create a powerful piece of art, and while everything else about this ‘zine might be open to debate and/or conjecture, that much absolutely isn’t. Centered around a theme of losing oneself within oneself, and meeting one’s own “dark half” along the way, this is thematically ambitious work in the extreme, running the gamut from stick figures to painfully intricate linework to kaleidoscopic hellscapes to pure abstraction to, finally, an onslaught of total blackness rendered with what I very much believe to be magic marker. This is a visual descent into madness capped off by our nominal “protagonist” — who may be named “Rasberry” himself — being utterly subsumed by it. As such, then, it is by no means an “easy” read.

But hey — anyone who’s spent a fair amount of time on this blog knows that the “easy” read has never been what I’m about, nor will it ever be. Tepedino’s comic dragged me under right along with it, and while there’s no shortage of inspired dark visual delights to sink one’s teeth into on these pages, it’s nevertheless an utterly harrowing experience on the whole — which is exactly what it’s meant to be. Mission accomplished, then, and while I’m tempted to say “with flying colors,” this book is both about, and features, an absence of color in both the literal and metaphorical senses, and hey — it’s pretty tough to fly when you’re actually sinking.

What strikes me most about this comic, though, is how eminently relatable it all is, even for those of us who have been fortunate enough to never feel this lost and overwhelmed. We all know there’s a psychic and emotional void that any of us are capable of falling into, sometimes with only the slightest push or even no push at all, and while much of what’s happening here borders on the verbally indescribable, the feeling of that void luring you in before swallowing you whole is so expertly achieved that I can honestly say this is as close as I care to come to it myself. That’s high praise, no doubt, but it’s also very specific praise : if you’re one of those faint-of-heart types, or if re-living this kind of “incident” would be more likely to damage you emotionally as opposed to letting you know that you’re not alone in your suffering (both reactions being, of course, entirely valid), then this may very well be something you’re better off avoiding. Just being honest here.

If, on the other hand, you’re either up for a challenge (as well as some incredible cartooning), or have been down this road yourself and want to see your struggles reflected with honesty and authenticity, then this is an absolutely essential comic to experience firsthand. For my own part, I freely admit that I certainly can’t seem to shake its lingering effects no matter how hard I try.

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The Kingdom Of Rasberry Blue Untitled is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/rasberry.html

Review wrist check – Farer Universal “Beagle II” riding a Hirsch “Birch” deployant-clasp strap from their “Performance” series.

Two From David Craig : “Brick By Brick”

The surest sign you’ve hit on a winning idea comes in the form of staying power. Anybody can catch lightning in a bottle, or get a stroke of beginner’s luck or what have you, but longevity — well, that takes some real doing.

While I only have two of them myself (the other being 2019’s Brick Breaks Free, which I just reviewed), the just-released (and self-published) Brick By Brick is actually the fourth collection of strips featuring his anthropomorphic (to a degree, at any rate) Brick character from Toronto’s David Craig, and while logic might dictate that the premise would have worn itself thin by now, I feel it’s my duty to remind you that bricks themselves are, in fact, both thick and sturdy — and it appears the same can be said for Craig’s imagination.

Collecting strips that appeared over the last few years in the pages of Read More Comix (where, in fairness, I’d seen them before) and Taddle Creek (where, in fairness, I hadn’t), I (perhaps-mistakenly?) am also of the belief that at least some of the contents of this one are also seeing print for the first time, but hey — even if I’m wrong about that, it’s nice to have all this stuff together between two sturdy covers, as reading it all in one go is a sheer delight. This time out, among other things, Brick joins a band, hangs out with some skaters, tries its luck at skiing and archery, gets stranded in the desert, and comes down with the flu, among other (mis)adventures, and in two collaborative strips — the first done with fellow Read More “stablemate” Robb Mirsky, the second with Jordan R. Aelick — Brick “enjoys” the train-hopping hobo life and takes up agriculture, respectively. I’m frankly not sure how Craig manages to come up with one inventive scenario for his distinctly animated inanimate object after another, but he does — and for that, we should all be grateful.

In addition, although the differences between the earlier collection and this one are subtle to be sure, they’re nevertheless impossible not to pick up on, even for the most casual of observers : simply put, Craig’s confidence in both his abilities and the seemingly-endless flexibility of his premise is reflected in crisper linework, wittier employment of age-old tropes, more inspired and varied color choices, and an overall smoothing-out of rough edges. He’s firing on all cylinders in most of the strips in this handsomely-formatted ‘zine, and that invariably leads to a really fun reading experience.

There, I said it — fun. At the end of the day, that’s what all this Brick stuff is all about, really, and that’s as noble a thing to want to impart upon one’s readership as there is. You needn’t laugh out loud hysterically to have a really nice time with a humor comic, and Craig’s work doesn’t lend itself to that kind of openly jubilant response. It’s all about giving you a grin, getting you to nod along, and creating those “damn, I wish I’d though of that” moments. Judged by those standards, it’s the absolute honest truth to say that these Brick strips seldom fail, and when they hit home — which is far more often than not — they really hit home.

It’s a hard world — so hard it almost takes brick to survive it — and you’ve earned a good time. This comic will give you precisely that.

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Brick By Brick doesn’t appear to be available for sale quite yet, so don’t ask me what the price will be, but you can find out more by checking it out over on David Craig’s site at https://www.davidcraigcomics.com/product/brick-by-brick

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a minute to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Two From David Craig : “Brick Breaks Free”

Point one : it seems to me that if there’s one thing that a cartoonist needs if they want to be successful in the short humor strip game, it’s cleverness. I mean, yeah, you’ve gotta be able to draw, and an inherent sense of comic timing helps considerably, but without the added spark that cleverness brings to the equation, more often than not your strips are either going to miss the mark by that small but crucial degree, or else fail to land altogether. And the surest sign that you’re going to be reading a clever strip is if, of course, it has a clever premise. Which brings us to —

Point two : nothing is more utilitarian than a brick, yet they never seen to get the credit they deserve. For instance, last summer we had to re-do the brick walls on our house, and while the whole process — labor, materials, etc. — certainly wasn’t cheap, I felt like the bricks themselves somehow, I dunno, deserved better than to only cost about 50 cents apiece. I mean, come on — they were literally the backbone of the entire project, but they were the cheapest part about the whole thing. Where, I ask you, is the respect?

Okay, admittedly the preceding two paragraphs may seem to bear no relation to one another in any way, shape, or form, but here’s where I prove to you that I’m not, as the saying goes, one brick shy of a full load — Canadian cartoonist David Craig, one-third of the Read More Comix collective, has concocted an ingeniously clever premise that finally gives the brick (or a brick, at any rate) its due, and his collection Brick Breaks Free is pretty much guaranteed to leave you suitably impressed if you’re a humor strip fan — which I’m assuming most readers here are. So let’s talk about it a little.

Colorful, lively, well-illustrated, and perfectly paced for maximum comedic effect, the punchy little yarns in this ‘zine feature our protagonist brick — and, occasionally, other bricks — hitting the beach, playing golf, going to the carnival, bathing, bowling, and even exploring outer space, among other activities, and by inserting the most overlooked of objects into time-honored comic situations ranging from the everyday to the absurd, Craig manages to create a series of just-askew-enough takes on things we can all relate to without taxing our brains too heavily. It’s “comfort cartooning,” to be sure, but what of it? I mean, these are tough times, and if something comes along that gives me a non-stop supply of wry chuckles, I’m not gonna say no to that. Nor should you.

Where Craig proves he’s more than a one-brick — sorry, one-trick — pony, though, is with the nominally longer strips contained herein, such as the titular number, which actually makes some salient points about “redevelopment” and gentrification, and the volume’s closer, “Brick Lends Support,” which shows our erstwhile hero giving folks a helping hand (yes, Brick has two of them, just like me and you) simply because it’s the right thing to do. Bricks are utilitarian in the extreme as I mentioned earlier (not that you didn’t already know as much anyway), but seeing them utilized in new and unexpected ways takes some real ingenuity, and Craig consistently impresses on that score. Hell, it’s entirely fair to say that he’s made me respect bricks even more than I already did.

As will you if you do the smart thing and give this fun, smart, charming little brick-shaped comic a go. It features strips created between 2017-2019, but who are we kidding? It’s not like this concept really “ages” in any appreciable way — Read More has, in fact, recently published a second volume, as seen directly above, that I’ll deal with in my next review — which only goes to show that Craig has hit on a timeless idea here, one that’s obvious enough for probably anyone to think of, but also one that’s (here’s that word again) clever enough to make you wonder why no one ever did before.

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Brick Breaks Free is, curiously enough, not available on the Read More Comix website, but you can get it for $10 from Silver Sprocket at https://store.silversprocket.net/products/brick-breaks-free-by-david-craig

Review wrist check – Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 68 Saturation” in burnt orange.

Zodiac Of The Damned : Amy Brereton’s “Horrorscopes”

I’ve never put too much stock in astrology, myself, but for our purposes here that’s entirely immaterial : I know good art when I see it. And I know that when good art is presented within a strong conceptual framework, then you’ve got yourself the making of a really cool ‘zine. And if there’s one thing Amy Brereton’s self-published Horrorscopes is without question, it’s an exceptionally cool ‘zine indeed.

Getting the particulars out of the way first, it’s an impressive enough physical object in its own right, printed on a satin-finished heavyweight paper stock in gorgeous full color with a sturdy clear vinyl protector over its grimly gorgeous cover, the whole thing spiral-bound for ease of flipping through (it’s also signed, numbered, and dated on the back, published as it is in a limited run of 100 copies) — but “easy” isn’t a word we’ll be applying in any other context or for any other reason here, as this is clearly and obviously a labor of love on the part of Brereton and her collaborator, Psi Tallstar, all the way.

Interpreting each of the 12 signs of the zodiac through an imaginatively horrific — and, in turn, horrifying — lens is a great idea, in this critic’s humble estimation, but you’ve gotta have the chops to pull it off, and Brereton certainly has them, but the rich detail of her eyeball-searing illustration really only tells part of the story : she’s come up with pithy, and admirably sordid, descriptors to pair with each of her novel takes on the star signs, and when juxtaposed with each other the net effect is to produce a none-too-subtle exploration not only of our collective obsession with all things terrifying and grotesque, nor solely of our collective obsession (well, okay, your collective obsession) with the notion that our fates and personality traits are determined by the stars, but of the sub rosa points of convergence between both obsessions. What this says about us, then, is every bit as important as what it has to say about, say, Virgo, Sagittarius, and their most delightfully depraved manifestations.

Any linear narrative one may glean from this is purely a de facto one, to be sure, but I don’t think linearity is really the point : like the heavens (or should that be hells?) themselves, this more about coming back around, full circle, and starting over again, just as our planet does through the cosmos. If you head is spinning along the way, that’s entirely apropos as well — and it’ll only help you in terms of absorbing the full scope of demented visual delicacies on offer here. Don’t be afraid to read through it all several times in one go, and don’t be surprised if you feel the need to just to catch every nuance of illustration.

All of which is me saying that, yeah, Brereton’s sublime — dare I say luscious — art is the primary reason you’re going to want to buy this thing, but there’s plenty to do here over and above “ooh”ing and “aah”ing at some very pretty pictures. Somewhere along the way, subtly yet forcefully, you’re compelled to confront your own relationship with these subjects, to examine how their natural, yet no less unholy for that fact, union managed to exist for all this time without you consciously noticing it before. There’s a playfully sinister sensibility at work here that would — perhaps even should — be downright shocking, but it’s delivered with such a deft and clever touch that one can’t help but marvel at the obvious truths which Brereton teases out. “Gotcha” moments are cheap and easy — actual revelation is both considerably more difficult, and considerably more rewarding.

What it all means, in the end, will be up to your own intuition (and maybe even your own invocations and incantations) to determine, but know this much — you’ll be grateful for the journey no matter what. If you’ve ever felt tempted to ask the abyss “what’s your sign?,” this is the answer you’ve been waiting for.

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Horrorscopes is available for $15.00 from Amy Brereton’s bigcartel site at https://amybrereton.bigcartel.com/product/horrorscopes-zine

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative indeed if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Original Graphic Novels

And so we’ve arrived at the final “best of” list of 2020, the Top 10 Original Graphic Novels, which basically just means full-length original works specifically designed as such, or put perhaps more simply : self-contained graphic novels that weren’t serialized anywhere, in print or online, previously. Let’s not waste any time —

10. Desperate Pleasures By M.S. Harkness (Uncivilized) – Not so much a sequel to Harkness’ earlier Tinderella as a response to it — the party’s over, welcome to the hangover that is adulthood without a road map. Illustrated in a breathtaking array of styles and told in a manner both frank and expressive, this is the contemporary memoir against which all others will be judged for the next few years.

9. The Puerto Rican War By John Vasquez Mejias (Self-Published) – Hey, fair is fair : my Top 10 Single Issues list featured a couple of comics that were single issues formatted as books, and here we have a full-length graphic novel formatted as a hand-sewn, newsprint comic book — and damn, what a comic book it is. Mejias’ woodcut illustrations are positively astonishing, and his story of Puerto Rican revolutionaries standing up to American colonialism in 1950 is gripping and poignant. Oh, and there’s an assassination attempt on Harry Truman thrown in for good measure, too. Comics get no more compelling than this.

8. Portrait Of A Drunk By Olivier Shrauwen, Florent Ruppert, And Jerome Mulot, Translated By Jenna Alan (Fantagraphics) – A “dream team” of Eurocomics talents delivers a pirate’s tale unlike any other awash in allegory, tawdriness, and existential angst — but with a comic touch? A black comic touch, to be sure, but nevertheless, this is one of the most unforgivingly funny books in a long time — with a heavy emphasis on the “unforgiving,” of course.

7. Familiar Face By Michael DeForge (Drawn+Quarterly) – An ever-shifting, mad world is the perhaps the last place one would expect to find an entirely coherent meditation on identity, longing, and alienation, but here it is regardless. When everything and everyone is always being “upgraded,” can any place truly be called “home” — including our own bodies and minds?

6. Paying The Land By Joe Sacco (Metropolitan Books) – The undisputed master of comics not only as journalism, but as cultural exploration, returns with his most compelling work in years, chronicling the theft of the entire way of life of the Dene people of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Supremely well-illustrated and emotively recounted, if you’re looking for a book that will both educate you and stick with you long after reading, look no further.

5. Kent State : Four Dead In Ohio By Derf Backderf (Abrams) – Rising above the usual historical accounting of one of our nation’s darkest hours by setting it firmly within the broader social and cultural milieu of Ohio circa 1970 and by taking the time to let us really get to know all the people whose lives were cut short by National Guard bullets, Backderf has delivered a career-defining work here that will likely be required reading in many a college history course in the future. This book is also, sadly, more relevant than ever given the resurgence of our nation’s deep political divisions.

4. Bradley Of Him By Connor Willumsen (Koyama Press) – The most formally exciting and innovative book of the year bar none, Willumsen’s rumination on fame, celebrity, identity, and excess utilizes the page — and I mean the whole page — in consistently enthralling and surprising ways. This is a cartoonist who knows precisely where he’s going and what he’s doing, and keeping up with him is challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

3. MOAB By Mara Ramirez (Freak Comix) – Every year there’s a book that comes completely out of left field and knocks my socks off, and this year that honor goes to Ramirez’s remarkably full-length debut. Part travelogue, part landscape study, part relationship chronicle, and part indigenous peoples’ rights treatise, this is a work that is literally about a thousand times more fluid, even poetic, than any description can really convey — as well as being the most emotionally resonant story I read all year. I’ve seen the future of comics, and their name is Mara Ramirez.

2. Breakwater By Katriona Chapman (Avery Hill) – Authentic, lyrical, and humane, Chapman’s mid-life interpersonal drama is a must-have for anyone who’s ever loved someone who suffers from mental illness as well being a subtle rumination on what “growing up” even means for someone who’s already done it. Self-care and self-preservation always come at a cost — this is a book that really makes you feel it, in addition to being one of the most beautifully-illustrated stories of the year.

1. Boston Corbett By Andy Douglas Day (Sonatina) – A historical epic unlike any other told over three volumes, this isn’t really “about” the man who killed John Wilkes Booth (at at least claimed to have done so), it’s about the perseverance of belief, especially fanatical and uncompromising belief, in the face of anything and everything — among other things. Our perspective as readers is constantly changing, but the characters themselves remain almost admirably steadfast — even when there’s no solid ground, or even solid sense of reality, to set foot on. Except when they don’t, but please don’t tell them that. The most ambitious work of the year is also, undeniably, the most singular — and one that will be dissected, debated, and discussed for years, if not decades, to come.

Are we done? I think we’re done. Let’s do it again in 12 months, shall we?

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Review wrist check – Zodiac “Sea Dragon Deployant” black dial model, going “un-deployant” (or something like that, I dunno) by riding a Finwatchstraps “Vintage Suede” strap in green.

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Contemporary Collections

Moving right along with our next-to-last “best of” list, we come to the Top 10 Contemporary Collections of 2020. Simply put, this category is devoted to collected editions of work originally published, either physically or digitally, since the year 2000, including Manga, webcomics, and Eurocomics. In practice, though, I’ll be honest and admit it’s all fairly recent stuff. Read on and you’ll see what I mean —

10. Inappropriate By Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized) – How the hell spoiled are we these days, anyway? The modern master of disarmingly frank autobio released one of her strongest collections to date and it seemed as though it hardly got a mention in critical circles. Like the Hernandez brothers, Bell’s work is so consistently good that I fear we as readers take it for granted. We shouldn’t — this is a book to be downright thankful for.

9. Snake Creek By Drew Lerman (Self-Published) – Lerman’s first collection of his charming, idiosyncratic strip firmly establishes him as the closest thing we have to a successor to the likes of Charles Schulz and George Herriman. Rest assured I invoke neither name lightly, and that this book backs up the comparison.

8. Goblin Girl By Moa Romanova, Translated By Melissa Bowers (Fantagraphics) – It was a breakout year for Sweden’s Romanova, who cemented her status as a “talent to watch” with the first English-language publication of this unique memoir focused on mental health, self-image and, of course, relationships. If she continues to build on the strength of this astounding book, then the future of this art from we love is in very good hands, indeed.

7. Ghostwriter By Rayco Pulido, Translated By Andrea Rosenberg (Fantagraphics) – A classic Eurocomics mystery thriller set in 1943 Barcelona and featuring a frisson of both political tension and identity confusion, the English-language debut of Spain’s Pulido is a bona fide clinic on how to keep readers off-balance. You’ll be guessing right up to the very end — and left guessing even more afterwards as to how this book didn’t get about ten times more attention and recognition than it did.

6. The Winter Of The Cartoonist By Paco Roca, Translated By Erica Mena (Fantagraphics) – Damn if Fanta doesn’t keep putting out one more Roca masterwork after another, year after year, and this gripping drama about five cartoonists striking out on their own against the big publishing houses in 1957 fascist Spain is more than just a page-turner, it’s possibly the best creators’ rights treatise authored by anyone to date. Another essential read from one of the great auteurs of the medium.

5. J&K By John Pham (Fantagraphics) – A comprehensive collection of the misadventures of Pham’s lovable losers was long overdue, but it was also worth the wait, as this hardback compendium comes complete with more “extras” than you can shake a stick at, including posters, stickers, and a vinyl record! Nobody understands the relationship between printing, packaging, production, and content better than Pham, and this is the most seamlessly-integrated realization of his vision to date.

4. Grip By Lale Westvind (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – Westvind’s phantasmagoric, whirlwind paen to the strength and resolve of women working in the trades was a revelation in two parts, but reads even more seamlessly collected as a complete epic. It’s also arguably the best use of Riso printing to date in comics. A book of the ages and, even more importantly, for the ages.

3. The Contradictions By Sophie Yanow (Drawn+Quarterly) – Already celebrated as one of the best comics memoirs in recent memory, Yanow’s Eisner Award-winning webcomic gains added depth and emotion in this collected print volume. In fact, it looks and feels like something you’d bring with you on the very sort of European road trip that it documents with such frank and emotive sincerity.

2. Nineteen By Ancco, Translated By Janet Hong (Drawn+Quarterly) – A unique and heady mix of autobio and fiction, Korean cartoonist Ancco’s second book to be translated into English is a showcase for both her artistic versatility and her singular ability to transmute the angst and trauma of youth into truly unforgettable comics stories. If this one doesn’t rip your heart out at least a dozen times over, then you probably don’t have one.

1. Vision By Julia Gfrorer (Fantagraphics) – Originally self-published as a series of minis, Gfroer’s latest work, read in collected form, offers the most succinct and assured crystallization of her singular combination of concerns to date, blending historical “period-piece” storytelling with body horror with feminist theory with supernatural mystery with richly understated social commentary to remind us that what we fear most and what we desire most are often one and the same thing. Intimacy is a double-edged sword throughout Gfrorer’s remarkable body of work, and never more true than it is here, in what is surely the defining statement of her artistic career — so far.

Only one list to go — tomorrow we do the Top 10 Original Graphic Novels of 2020, and then it’s full steam ahead into the new year!

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This review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very gratified indeed if you’d take a moment to give it a look and, should you feel so inclined, join up.

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Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Vintage Collections

A new year may be upon us, but we’re not quite done talking about last year here at Four Color Apocalypse. My next “best of” list takes a look at my picks for the Top 10 Vintage Collections of 2020, which is to say : books that collect material originally published prior to the year 2000, including Manga and Eurocomics. Let’s dive right in —

10. Atom Bomb And Other Stories By Wallace Wood (Fantagraphics) – One of the best volumes yet in the long-running EC Artists’ Library series collects the very best of the Wally Wood/Harvey Kurtzman collaborations from Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, and as a special added bonus Wood’s strips with Archie Goodwin from Blazing Combat are included, as well. I love Marie Severin’s colors, to be sure, but this stuff has never looked better than it does here, in pristine black and white.

9. The Pits Of Hell By Ebisu Yoshikazu, Translated By Ryan Holmberg (Breakdown Press) – Grotesque, absurd, and darkly humorous to a degree that’s downright painful, Yoshikazu’s 1981 masterpiece takes the banalities of urban living to illogical extremes and gives no fucks as to who it offends along the way. A strong contender for the most subversive and outrageous book of the year.

8. Stuck Rubbery Baby 25th Anniversary Edition By Howard Cruse (First Second) – The autobiographical (for the most part) magnum opus by the late, great Cruse is more than just one of the great masterworks of LGBTQ comics and literature, it’s an important chronicle of a movement and an era, and a testament to the fact that “coming of age” lasts a lifetime. Arguably the most accomplished and pivotal graphic novel of the 1990s is as relevant today as it ever was.

7. Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love By Jack Kirby, Edited By John Morrow (TwoMorrows) – Collecting unpublished works by The King Of Comics originally produced during his early-’70s DC stint, there are no capes or tights to be found in the pages of True-Life Divorce, Soul Love, or the further adventures of the Dingbats Of Danger Street, but they all prove beyond a doubt that it was the humanity of Kirby’s work that was always its defining feature. Editor Morrow has gone above and beyond here, though, by including a wealth of scholarly essays, personal reminiscences, and early-stages art pages, as well, making this not just a “must-have” item for Kirby fans, but an indispensable historical artifact.

6. Perramus : The City And Oblivion By Alberto Breccia And Juan Sasturain (Fantagraphics) – Epic in scope yet never anything less than intensely personal, the latest volume in The Alberto Breccia Library is a hard-edged dystopian political thriller that accurately and acutely reflected the tensions and fears of life under the Argentinian military dictatorship its authors were subjected to. This is comics as a righteous act of resistance.

5. The Sky Is Blue With A Single Cloud By Kuniko Tsurita, Translated By Ryan Holmberg (Drawn+Quarterly) – Collecting the very best stories from Tsurita’s remarkable career, this book is, on the one hand, a tribute to a pioneering female Manga artist, but on the other, at least to English-speaking audiences, it’s a revelation. Delicate, surreal, and lyrical, these tales run the gamut from first-person accounts of Tokyo’s 1960s/70s Bohemian subculture to explorations of gender identity to harrowing works informed by the artist’s own fragile health. This is a collection that will stick with you forever.

4. From Hell Master Edition By Alan Moore And Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf) – A lot of people thought the addition of color to Moore and Campbell’s conspiratorial Jack The Ripper epic would ruin the whole thing, but they needn’t have worried : Campbell colored it himself, after all, and rather than subsume his line art, he found a way to complement it. I guess I’ll always prefer it in black and white, sure, but any excuse to re-visit this dense and intricate deconstruction of both Victorian England and the 20th Century is a welcome one.

3. The Man Without Talent By Yoshiharu Tsuge, Translated By Ryan Holmberg (New York Review Comics) – A standout in the history of autobiographical Manga, Tsuge’s unvarnished portrayal of himself as a habitual loser with no hope of changing his ways is both disarming and heartfelt — as well as remarkably raw, even for those of us well-accustomed to “warts and all” autobio and memoir. They saw “write what you know” — well, this is a case of writing and drawing what you know all too well, and turning it into a singularly powerful reading experience.

2. The Complete Hate By Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics) – It seems “Generation X’ will never die, but in point of fact Bagge, who wasn’t even a part of said generation, understood it better than any artist working in any medium. It wasn’t all “grunge” rock and postponing the responsibilities of adulthood — the lethargy, the casual disillusionment with everything, the fucked-up relationships — these are are all present and accounted for here in honest, and honestly hilarious, detail, as well. And the accidental stumbling into their 30s and 40s of Buddy Bradley, family, and friends makes for an astonishingly complete record of a series of fictitious lives that are among the most “real” in the history of the comics medium.

1. Gross Exaggerations : The Meshuga Comic Strips Of Milt Gross By Milt Gross, Edited By Peter Maresca (Sunday Press) – Not only do slapstick humor strips get no better than this, comic strips in general get no better than these meticulously-reproduced selections of Nize Baby, Dave’s Delicatessen, and Count Screwloose Of Tooloose. Sunday Press is setting the standard for vintage newspaper strip reprints, and this gorgeous collection of uniquely Yiddish comedy is not only their best book to date, it’s an object you will treasure forever.

Okay, that’s four lists down, with two lists still remaining. Next up : 2020’s Top 10 Contemporary Collections!

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Review wrist check – Tsao Baltimore “Torsk Diver” green dial model, riding an Ocean Crawler orange and black NATO strap.

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse