Four Color Apocalypse 2021 Year In Review : Top Ten Comics Series

As we trudge on with our year-end review, we come next to a category that’s fairly easy to explain : TOP TEN COMICS SERIES refers to any ongoing or limited comic book series that saw more than one issue released in the past calendar year. As you’re about to see, anthologies — both solo and multi-creator — ruled the roost in 2021, a trend I’d be most happy to see continue. But we’ll worry about that in the future, for now here are my personal picks for best comics series in the present :

10. Bubblegum Maelstrom By Ryan Alves (Awe Comics) – Alves just plain tore it up in 2021, producing two issues of this now-concluded solo anthology title, the last of which was an 80-plus-page monster. Fitting, I suppose, given that monstrosity itself was a core concern of so many of the strips in this series. Bu turns grotesque and exquisite, sometimes both, Alves really went for the conceptual jugular with this comic, and I’m more than anxious to see what he does next.

9. Flop Sweat By Lance Ward (Birdcage Bottom) – Don’t you dare say memoir is dead until you’re read this. Ward’s autobio series is harrowing, heartfelt, sometimes even humorous — but never less than painfully honest. When the abyss that gazes back is your own life, and you can still make compelling art from that? You’ve got guts to match your skills. Never doubt Ward’s abundance of both.

8. Love And Rockets By Gilbert And Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – If you find a best-of list that this title isn’t on, you’ve found yourself one lazy-ass critic. Or a stupid one. Down a few spots from where I normally place it simple because, sorry to say, Beto’s current stuff isn’t registering with me to the degree it usually does, but hey — Jaime is continuing to produce some of the best comics of his career.

7. Vacuum Decay, Edited By Harry Nordlinger (Self-Published) – The most uncompromising underground horror anthology in decades continued to push the envelope with issue three — and with issue four, it just plain wiped its ass with it. To quote my own tweet back at me (speaking of lazy critics) : this is a comic that goes there. Whether you want to go with it or not, well — that’s your call. I know I’m down for the ride.

6.Rust Belt Review, Edited By Sean Knickerbocker (Self-Published) – Knickerbocker’s own strips about the tribulations and travails of life in “flyover country” set the tone for this diverse, oversized anthology centered on the big dreams and big problems of people with so-called “small” lives. Quintessential reading for everyone who understands that neither neoliberalism nor Trumpian neofascism (nor, for that matter, ‘tech bro” libertariansim) offers any solutions to those ground under by the wheels of what some still laughably term “progress.” Real stories about real people are the order of the day here.
5. Goiter Comics By Josh Pettinger (Tinto Press/Kilgore Books) – Two issues in one year from two publishers? Pettinger was one busy cartoonist in 2021, and the increased workload seems to be agreeing with him — from his strongest character studies to the opening salvo of an OMAC-esque dystopian fable by way of the Amazon warehouse, this was the year this title well and truly came into its own and left any Clowes and Ware comparisons firmly in its rear view.

4. Acid Nun By Corinne Halbert (Self-Published) – Psychedelic cosmic interdimensional Satanic nunspolitation with a generous helping of BDSM fetishism not just on the side, but front and center? Sign me the fuck up for that any day, and when you factor in Halbert’s astonishing compositions and use of color what you’ve got is one of the most visually literate comics of the year as well as probably the most deliciously pervy. Plenty to turn your crank whether you’re gay, straight, somewhere in between, or completely undecided, but there’s something more going on here than erotic stimulation for its own sake (not that there’s anything wrong with that) — if you appreciate a cartoonist who’s clearly playing a “long game” of stimulating you libidinally as foreplay to stimulating you intellectually, you’ve come to the right place.

3 Future By Tommi Musturi (Self-Published) – A web that draws you in by continuing to expand outward, Musturi’s various (and variously-styled) narratives never cease to impress, even as they bob and weave between confounding and illuminating. Everything is building toward something here — a conceptual singularity, at least, and perhaps even a narrative one —but I’m enjoying the individual journeys far too much to be ready for a destination yet. It doesn’t get much more unique than this, folks — a series you already miss before it’s even over.

2. Reptile House, Edited By (I’m Assuming Here) Nick Bunch (Reptile House Comix) – Created and published by a de facto artistic collective out of Philly, this is exhibit B for my contention that locally-focused anthologies are the future of comics. A heady mix of long-form continuing narratives and hilariously visceral one-offs, 99% of the cartoonists appearing in these pages are folks that I’ve never heard of before, but their work — like this series itself — just gets stronger and stronger as it goes on. And they wrapped up an already amazingly strong year with a killer 3-D issue. This is grassroots comics-making the way you remember it — and the way you’ve never seen it before.

1. Tinfoil Comix, Edited By Floyd Tangeman With Co-Edits On #4 By Austin English (Dead Crow/Domino Books) – As for exhibit A for my contention about locally-based anthologies, this is it right here. Tangeman’s Bay Area anthology will, mark my words, go down as the most important signifier of not just where comics are, but where they’re going, since Kramers Ergot 4. This series burned as quickly and brightly as one can imagine, and the mark it left is going to be felt for years to come. We’ll see if the new bi-coastal “successor” series Tangeman and English are cooking up can keep the creative momentum going, but if the job they did together on #4 is any indication, we’ve got plenty to be excited about.

Next up we’ll do the “grab-bag” category that is TOP TEN SPECIAL MENTIONS, but in the meantime please consider helping me crank out more of this kind of theoretically enjoyable content by subscribing to my Patreon, 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. Here’s a link : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

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