Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Collected Editions (Vintage)

Another day, another year-end “top ten” list. This time out is the year’s best vintage collected editions, in this case “vintage” meaning that the books in question collect works originally published prior to the year 2000. One of these years I suppose I should push that “cut-off date” up a bit, but for now, we’ll play it as it lays. And so, without further ado —

10. Alay-Oop By William Gropper (New York Review Comics) – Arguably the first graphic novel ever published, Gropper’s 1930 wordless morality play/love triangle drama is a tour de force of fluid visual storytelling, and the fact that it’s now available for contemporary audiences to re-discover is nothing short of a miracle.

9. That Miyoko Asagaya Feeling By Shinichi Abe (Black Hook Press) – A trailblazer in the field of autobio Manga, Abe’s early-1970s GARO strips are a moving testament to the power of inspiration and obsession, an exploration of the fine line between the two, and a fascinating historical record of a Tokyo Bohemian subculture that by and large no longer exists.

8. Ink & Anguish : A Jay Lynch Anthology By Jay Lynch With Ed Piskor And Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics) – An exhaustive collection of the late, great underground legend’s works that’s as poignant as it is funny, sure — but also eerily prescient in many respects. They don’t make ’em like this anymore, and that’s a damn shame.

7. Return To Romance : The Strange Loves Stories Of Ogden Whitney Edited By Dan Nadel And Frank Santoro (New York Review Comics) – Love is a battlefield, sure, but in Whitney’s 1950s romance comics that battlefield is psychological, with women constantly battling their dueling inclinations toward freedom and domesticity, with the former leading to heartbreak, the latter to happiness. Exploding every one of the genre’s sexist tropes by taking them to their logical extremes, this is visionary stuff cleverly disguised as status quo reinforcement.

6. Tale Of The Beast By Tadao Tsuge (Black Hook Press) – The first English-language edition of Tsuge’s 1987 hard-boiled Manga noir is a visceral revelation that eschews typical “whodunnit?” structuring by showing us the guilty culprit from the outset — yet it never fails to surprise at every turn. A visual and narrative marvel that oozes darkness and menace from every panel.

5. In The Wilderness By Casanova Frankenstein (Fantagraphics Underground) – Before creating his stand-in (okay, sometime stand-in) character of Tad Martin, Frankenstein was churning out these late-1980s/early-1990s autobio strips that are imbued with such direct immediacy that the act of committing them to paper feels and reads more like an exorcism than anything else. DIY comics before the term was known, these stories breathe a kind of fire that time and distance can’t diminish.

4. Absolute Swamp Thing By Alan Moore Volume One By Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bissette, John Totleben, Rick Veitch, Shawn McManus, And Dan Day (DC/Vertigo) – This long-awaited deluxe presentation of one of the transformative works in the history of the medium is every bit as gorgeous as anyone could hope for, but I really wish DC (and some other publishers, to be fair) would get over this whole urge to re-color everything. Granted, if you’re gonna go the computer coloring route, Steve Oliff is the best there is, was, or will ever be — but rich and textured as his work here is, it still buries a lot of the detail in the inks that showed through in Tatjana Wood’s original hand-done colors, and there was absolutely no compelling reason to cast aside her terrific work, which frankly would really shine in this slick, oversized format. That being said — this is still a “must-own” book, and re-visiting this material never fails to yield new surprises and deepen one’s appreciation for its revolutionary approach to mainstream horror comics.

3. Walt And Skeezix : 1933 – 1934 By Frank King (Drawn+Quarterly) – Every volume in this wonderfully-restored chronological reprinting of Gasoline Alley has been sublime, but for my money this eighth installment in the series represents the period when King was absolutely firing on all cylinders. I think a lot of people probably owed their very survival during the Great Depression to this charmingly transcendent comic.

2. Doll By Guy Colwell (Fantagraphics Underground) – One of the overlooked gems in the history of the medium and arguably one of the last true undergrounds, Colwell’s late-1980s series remains perhaps the most smart and sensitive “sex comic” ever produced on this side of the Atlantic, his story not only accurately predicting the arrival of the “Real Doll” (Google it if you must), but addressing issues ranging from toxic masculinity to misogyny to female objectification and dehumanization at a time when many of his peers were still trading in all that crap for cheap laughs. Having this collected between two covers, with its gorgeous art reproduced at a generous size, is cause for genuine celebration.

1. DC Universe : The Bronze Age Omnibus By Jack Kirby (DC) – I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the “omnibus” format, generally finding it to be unwieldy in the extreme, but come on — who are we kidding? When you’ve got all of Kirby’s The DemonThe Losers, and OMAC collected together in one book, plus all kinds of one-offs and collaborations ranging from Dingbats Of Danger Street to Super Powers ? This one’s gonna win the top spot even if the damn thing weighs as much as a small child.

Next up we’ll do the year’s top ten contemporary collections, but until then please do your humble list-maker a favor and consider supporting my ongoing work by subscribing to 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. Check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

 

Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Ongoing Series

With my top ten single issues of 2019 in the rear view mirror, let’s move on to the top ten ongoing series. Any comic that saw two or more issues released in the past calendar year is eligible in this category and so, as you’d no doubt expect, the mainstream is represented much more on this list than it was in the last, given that most of their titles are still, theoretically, on a regular production schedule. There are a couple of elephants in the room that I’ll address at the very end, but let’s worry about that after you’ve read the “countdown,” shall we?

10. Wasted Space By Michael Moreci And Hayden Sherman (Vault Comics) – The first of two ensemble cast sci-fi series where every member of said ensemble is an asshole to make the “best of” cut this year, Moreci’s scripts for this book are heavy on the humor and class-conscious political messaging, while Sherman, who’s one of the busiest artists around these days, seems to bring an extra level inspiration and creativity to this title. Fun and smart in equal measure.

9. Go-Bots By Tom Scioli (IDW) – Perhaps the most surprising entry on the list simply because no one expected that a good comic about some third-rate Transformers knock-offs was even possible, but leave it to the great Scioli to make these robots seem more human than — well, humans, while cramming more ideas and visual “hooks” into any given page than most cartoonists can manage in an entire issue. IDW is onto something with this whole “give an indie guy a crack at a licensed property” idea, as we shall see as things go on.

8. All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape By Josh Bayer, Josh Simmons, Trevor Von Eeden, et. al. (Floating World Comics) – After an up-and-down first “season,” the aesthetic and thematic goals of the brothers Bayer (the other being Samuel)  are coming into pretty sharp focus in this late-Bronze Age homage. Some of that might be down to the addition of  Simmons as co-writer, and some of it is certainly down to the monumentally-underappreciated Von Eeden coming aboard as main artist and proving he certainly hasn’t lost a step, but whatever the case may be, this amalgamation of the over-and undergrounds is firing on all cylinders now.

7. Clue : Candlestick By Dash Shaw (IDW) – I told you we’d be getting back to IDW licensed books, and what a beauty this one was : the endlessly-inventive Shaw littered each of the three issues of this mini with clever puzzles and crafted one of the more compelling characters in comics this year with his iteration of Miss Scarlet. Innovative, engrossing, and consistently surprising, we’re talking about a legit gem here.

6. Outer Darkness By John Layman And Afu Chan (Image/Skybound) – Our second ensemble-cast-of-assholes science fiction series serves up at least one “pinch me, did I really just read that?” moment in each issue, as Layman crafts an epic that’s equal parts William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers, while Chan delivers the visually-arresting goods in a style that demonstrates some strong anime influence yet remains utterly unique. You may not like anyone in this book, but you’ll love the book itself.

5. The Immortal Hulk By Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, et. al. (Marvel) – The first time a Marvel book has made my year-end list, but anyone who doubts my judgment clearly hasn’t been reading this comic. Ewing is doing for the Hulk what Alan Moore did for Swamp Thing, and Bennett blends Bernie Wrightson and Kelly Jones with early-era Image and jaw-dropping character designs, ably abetted by Jose’s faithful, non-flashy inks . The best super-hero book in a decade or more.

4. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest By Alan Moore And Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – Every bit as self-indulgent and self-congratulatory as its detractors claim, this extended “farewell tour” by Moore and O’Neill is nevertheless a heartfelt love letter to the characters and the medium they’re leaving behind as well as (crucially) the creators who came before them, who gave voice to the dreams and imaginings of countless generations — and were, of course, unconscionably ripped off for their troubles. One of the funniest and angriest comics of the year, and prima facie evidence that the comics landscape will be a far poorer place with these two, dare I say it, extraordinary gentlemen no longer part of it.

3. Love And Rockets By Jaime And Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Los Bros. have been reaching new plateaus since switching back to their original magazine format with this, the fourth “volume” of their justly-legendary series, and while I hate to pick favorites, Jamie’s Maggie and Hopey stories are perhaps the best they have ever been right now. Which doesn’t mean Beto isn’t on a real creative “high” right now himself — he surely is. So let’s just admit what we all know : as readers of this tile, we’re not just spoiled — we’re spoiled to an embarrassing degree.

2. This Never Happened By Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Probably the most divisive title on this list, but also the bravest. Anyone who mines the worst period of their life for a creative “battery charge” is entering into combustible territory, and while Graham doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to her portrayal of other folks, her sharpest barbs are aimed at herself and the crucial part she played in her own personal downward spiral. And the only thing bolder than the script is the art, which is Graham’s most emotive and self-assured to date. I won’t kid you, after reading the first issue I was a little worried if the cartoonist was mentally and emotionally okay, but after two installments it really hit me : the work itself is proof that she emerged from her crisis not just relatively intact, but flat-out inspired.

1. From Hell : Master Edition By Alan Moore And Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – Anyone who has a problem with me choosing a reprint series as the year’s best ongoing, have at it — because while you can criticize me all you want, the work in question is pretty well above reproach. I was as skeptical as anyone else that adding color to the proceedings would massively detract from the look and flavor of Moore and Campbell’s grimy (and no doubt accurate) interpretation of the Victorian era, but with the artist himself in charge of the palette, the results have ranged from “unobtrusive” to “amazing,” and the absurd levels of income inequality in today’s world, as well as the return of leaders who seem to believe they come from the “divine right of kings” school of “thought,” make this conspiratorial examination of the Jack The Ripper murders more relevant than ever. Even if it’s all bullshit, it’s still true.

And now for those elephants in the room —

Astute readers may have noticed that two perennial favorites didn’t make the cut this year, those being Jeff Lemire and Dean Haspiel’s Black Hammer and Eric Reynolds’ avant-garde anthology series Now. The reason for that is simple : while Black Hammer : Age Of Doom ended in very satisfactory fashion, the issue leading up to it felt hopelessly padded and derivative, and while Now rebounded nicely with its seventh and most recent issue, volumes five and six didn’t come close to meeting the standard set by the title early on. I’d be shocked if that comic in particular didn’t find its was back onto the list next year, but we don’t deal in speculation around these parts. You wanna make the cut in any given 12-month period, you gotta earn it.

Next — the top ten vintage collections of 2019. See you for that in a couple of days! In the meantime, if you’d like to support my ongoing work, please consider subscribing to 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. Do a jobbing freelancer a favor and check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/14/2019 – 07/20/2019

What better place to start this week than with the end of an era?

Or three of ’em, to be precise, as The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest #6 marks not only the final installment of the long-running, if sporadic, series (or should that be “series of series”?), but also the much-publicized last comic ever written by Alan Moore and the less-well-publicized last comic ever drawn by Kevin O’Neill. Both (extraordinary, let’s be honest) gentlemen are off to greener pastures than this beleaguered medium has to offer, and they finish their epic in fun, smart, surprisingly understated style, having a go at just about everything on their way out the door, most notably themselves. This concluding arc, co-published by Top Shelf and Knockabout, has divided some — funny how these things always do — but for my part it was everything I’d been hoping it would be and then some, with obscure pop culture references flying at readers a mile a minute but never distracting from the crisp action, sharp storyline, and packed-to-the-gills-with-greatness artwork. It’s a bittersweet things to see these guys go — assuming either retirement actually sticks — but they’ve certainly more than earned a curtain call should they ever wish to take one, and they even manage to get a welcome dig in at the right-wing incel horde known as “comicsgate” on their way out the door via the letters page. More celebration than eulogy, this was the perfect way to wrap up a story over two decades in the making, as well as the careers of a pair of genuinely visionary and transformational talents. Yeah, I cried (wanna make something of it?) — but I laughed a lot, too. Effing sublime stuff, in addition to being an instant piece of comic book history.

And speaking of comic book history, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillps’ latest Image graphic novel, Bad Weekend, is positively steeped in it, relating as it does the story (originally serialized in their monthly Criminal series) of a composite character (with a good 75% of said “composite” apparently being based more or less directly on Gil Kane) who used to be a big shot artist in the funnybook game, but is now reduced to petty crime in order to make ends meet and settle old scores. The last couple Brubaker/Phillips projects came up short in my estimation, but this book — expanded to include something like eight new pages not included in the “floppies” — is proof positive that they’re still pretty well untouchable as a mainstream creative team when firing on all cylinders, and that those cylinders are far from burned out. Maybe not the one of the “best” book of the year as some are claiming, but I’ll happily go out on a limb and declare it to be one of the most enjoyable. Work for hire makes desperate fools of all who toil under its remorseless regime.

Also from Image comes Little Bird #5, the concluding act in Darcy Van Poelgeest and Ian Bertram’s five-part tale of resistance to a theocratic dystopia, and it’s a pretty solid send-off, loaded with cinematic battle scenes, smartly-executed characterization, and of course breathtaking, Moebius-esque artwork. I dunno, I guess it’s fair to say that some things come up a bit flat story-wise and not everything gets wrapped up with a bow, but these two are apparently working on a second series set in the same fictional world, and I’m ready to get in line for that already. Bertram is one of the most exciting artists in the mainstream right now, and as long as Van Poelgeest serves up scripts that give his collaborator plenty to sink his teeth into, that’s really all that matters. Decent enough to read, absolutely glorious to look at.

Lastly, DC serves up a thoroughly modern “throwback” comic with Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1. Fraction seems to be making a play for the title of Grant Morrison’s heir apparent with this one, brimming over as it is with a kind of deliberately nostalgic “high weirdness” that feels awfully calculated but nevertheless makes for fun storytelling, while Lieber, for his part, brings a lot more personality to the part than most “Big Two” comics artists these days could ever conceive of, much less get past editorial. This comic didn’t blow me away or anything, but I had a good time with it, there are surprises aplenty, and it’s determined to give readers value for their four bucks, which is a lot more than you can say for most things coming from the house Siegel and Shuster built — and had stolen from them.

And that was, as Walter Cronkite used to say, the week that was. Which means our only remaining order of business here is to remind you all that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon page, where I serve up three original and exclusive pieces of writing (bet you thought I was going to say “shit,” didn’t you?) on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics weekly in exchange for as little as a buck a month from you good readers. Any support I get helps ensure a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so please take a moment to check it out and consider joining at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Contemporary Collections

Once more into the breach — this time out, we take a look at my personal favorite contemporary collected editions of 2018, with “contemporary collected editions” specifically referring to books presenting work that was published somewhere else first, either as single issues, mini-comics, even just strips in various anthologies. The “contemporary” part of the equation means that these volumes need to present material that was published after the year 2000, as anything prior to that will fall into the “vintage collected editions” list that we’ll do in the next day or two. Final ground rule : English-language translations of Eurocomics and Manga are also eligible in this category (with the same chronological guidelines in play), since they  also, ya know, saw print somewhere else first. Let’s get right to it, then:

10. Compulsive Comics By Eric Haven (Fantagraphics) – Haven’s surreal strips appear far too infrequently, so getting two collections of them two years in a row like we have is genuine cause for celebration. Like Fletcher Hanks on bad acid with plenty of deadpan humor and gorgeous linework and color, the worlds Haven creates are what bad dreams would look and feel like — if they were fun. Plus, he accidentally kills a bunch of famous cartoonists in this one.

9. From Lone Mountain By John Porcellino (Drawn+Quarterly) – We all know that Porcellino’s King-Cat Comics is one the true treasures of this beleaguered medium we love, but what’s less well-known is what an absolute roll this series was on in the early-to-mid 2000s. This superb collection presents the very best of those years, when Porcellino was really getting a firm grip on the wistful, evocative, “tone poem” character that the series maintains to this day. Simply beautiful.

8. Red Winter By Anneli Furmark (Drawn+Quarterly) – One of the most heartfelt and stirring love stories to grace the comics world in some time, every forlorn glance and stolen moment these two doomed paramours share is a stake through the heart, lushly rendered against a backdrop of political intrigue and familial drama. Furmark’s strips are a national institution in Sweden — here’s your chance to see why.

7. Dumb By Georgia Webber (Fantagraphics) – The most harrowing and heartfelt autobio work of this year, Webber’s chronicle of her extended period without the use of her voice, originally self-published as a series on minis, is a privileged look at the challenges and daily practical demands of navigating through a hitherto-unforeseen health crisis. A very silent scream, indeed.

6. Somnabulance By Fiona Smyth (Koyama Press) – Long overdue, this massive retrospective of the work of one of Canada’s pioneering feminist cartoonists skirts our rules a bit by presenting material from both the previous century and this one (we’ll be breaking that again before this is over, fair warning), but who’s complaining? This is true auteur material, showcasing a world all its own, as foreign as it is immediately recognizable, inhabiting a space somewhere between dreams and reality. No one does it like Smyth, and no one else ever will.

5. Book Of Daze By E. A. Bethea (Domino Books) – By contrast, Bethea’s work has a way of making the actual, waking world we all know feel dreamlike, ethereal, and mysterious — even its dingiest corners. A slimmer collection than the others on this list (and the only one released as a magazine rather than a book), what this comic lacks in terms of physical heft it more than compensates for in the creation of a hermetically-sealed reality all its own.

4. The Song Of Aglaia By Anne Simon – French cartoonist Simon has long been admired “across the pond” for her detailed cross-hatching, inimitable facial expressions, and imaginative character designs, and as an “intro volume” for American readers, this feminist fairy tale is absolutely exemplary and painfully amusing. Lots of “Easter eggs” scatted throughout for Beatles fans as well in this amazingly charming, immersive volume.

3. Angloid By Alex Graham (Kilgore Books) – The mystical and mundane collide with results ranging from the heavy to the hilarious in Graham’s masterwork (to date, at any rate), culled from self-published minis and strips in her large format Cosmic BE-ING ‘zine. A sharp and wry take-down of both the art world and life on the economic margins, Graham will make you wish that you had some alien inter-dimensional helpers on your side just as her stand-in protagonist does, but you know what? You don’t need their assistance to recognize one of the most utterly unique and self-assured books of the year.

2. Providence : The Complete Slipcase Set By Alan Moore And Jacen Burrows (Avatar Press) – Superlatives aplenty have already been heaped upon Moore and Burrows’ Lovecraftian masterpiece, including from yours truly, so we needn’t revisit all that beyond saying that this isn’t simply one of the best horror comics ever made, but one of the best comics, period. Publisher Avatar has a reputation for producing some of their trade paperbacks and even hardcovers on the cheap, but this comprehensive collection, which also includes the prequel/sequel stories The Courtyard and Neonomicon, is very handsome indeed, and the inclusion of Dreadful Beauty : The Art Of Providence gives readers a fascinating look at Burrows’ criminally-underappreciated art in gorgeous black and white. An expensive set, to be sure, but more than worth every penny.

1. Berlin By Jason Lutes (Drawn+Quarterly) – Come on, what else was it going to be? Lutes’ sprawling, epic, highly personal tale of life in Weimar Berlin, over two decades in the making (told you we’d be skirting that “post-2000” rule again), stands as one of the high-water marks in the history of the medium, and this tremendous hardcover collection pulls out all the stops to present work this monumental in the format that it so richly deserves. A true masterpiece by any definition of the term.

And there we have it! Next up — Top 10 Vintage Collected Editions. I’m aiming to get that one up tomorrow, hope to have you along for the ride!

 

 

Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Ongoing Series

The 2018 ” Top 10″ train keeps rolling! This time out : my ten favorite ongoing series of the year. Open-ended or limited runs are fine, as long as the books in question adhere (however tenuously, in some cases) to a production schedule of some sort. Ongoings that release one issue a year (or less) are not eligible in this category, although many such series — like Sean Knickerbocker’s Rust Belt and Anders Nilsen’s Tongues, to name just a couple — were represented in my previously-posted “Top 10 Single Issues” list. And so, with all that out of the way —

10. Exit Stage Left : The Snagglepuss Chronicles By Mark Russell And Mike Feehan (DC) – While never quite reaching the same heights as Russell and Steve Pugh’s The Flintsones, this re-imagining of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon cat as, essentially, Tennessee Williams was still a superb take-down of McCarthyism, and was a topical, poignant, and fun read with obvious parallels to the Trump era. Feehan’s crisp art looks like a million bucks, and the flat-out superb coloring of Paul Mounts makes it look like two million.

9. Abbott By Saladin Ahmed And Sami Kivela (Boom! Studios) – Not since Sugar Hill have blaxploitation and the occult been paired this successfully, and besides featuring the breakout protagonist of the year, this 1970s-set series touched on a boatload of social problems that, you guessed it, still haven’t gone away. Both story and art were pitch-perfect for the material, and my sincere hope is that Ahmed and Kivela will be getting to work on a sequel sometime in the not-too-distant future.

8. Shanghai Red By Christopher Sebela And Joshua Hixson (Image) – A thoroughly engrossing historical fable of crimping, piracy, and gender-bending that flew well below most folks’ collective radar for some reason, this five-parter made damn sure you’ll never look at the history of Portland, Oregon the same way again. Lavishly illustrated and sharply written, this is one you absolutely need to seek out in trade if you took a pass on it in singles.

7. Daygloayhole Quarterly By Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket) – I’ll just come right out and say it : Passmore’s hilarious, absurd, and eminently relevant take on post-apocalyptic “life” probably deserves to be ranked as highly as second or third on this list, but — it’s a reprint series, and therefore I’m skirting my self-imposed ruled by even allowing it “through the door” in the first place. Still, it’s so damn good that I had to find a way to include it, even if it meant fudging things on the margins a bit. If you’re not reading this/haven’t already it, you’re missing out on something well and truly extarordinary. And yes, I use that term with precise intent.

6. Prism Stalker By Sloane Leong (Image) – Feminist sci-fi of the highest order and one of the most visually captivating comics of the year, Leong has created a work for the ages here, as well as a marvel simply to look at. An intoxicatingly beautiful marriage of form and function that defies easy categorization every bit as much as it defied the odds by getting published by one of the “major indie” outfits in the first place, this title knocks you back and leaves you reeling.

5. Black Hammer : Age Of Doom By Jeff Lemire And Dean Ormston (Dark Horse) – The second “season” of the last word in super-hero revisionism may not break new ground in the same way the first did, but even at 75% (roughly) of its initial glory, this is still absorbing, compelling stuff, that both creators are quite clearly pouring all kinds of heart and soul into. And when one of ’em needs a break, who the hell in their right mind is gonna argue about Rich Tommaso filling in on art for a couple of issues?

4. Hey Kids! Comics! By Howard Chaykin (Image) – Leave it to the biggest contrarian in comics to hit us from out of nowhere with his strongest work in decades hot on the heels of the most reviled book of his career. Chaykin pulls no punches and takes no prisoners in this warts-and-all look at comics’ decidedly sleazy ethical history, yet it’s all quite obviously coming from a place of absolute reverence for many of the masters of the medium that it’s taking entirely non-gratuitous “pot-shots” at. New Chaykin regular colorist Wil Quintana does a bang-up job providing stirring hues that make these pages absolutely sing, and goddamn if Ken Bruzenak’s lettering and “effects” still don’t look 20 years ahead of their time. Fuck all the naysayers — at his best, which this surely is, Chaykin still delivers a comics reading experience like no other.

3. Love And Rockets By Gilbert And Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Middle age isn’t something to be endured in the hands of Los Bros., it’s something to be celebrated, and this series’ return to its classic “magazine” format somehow accentuates the point that both brothers are making about “the more things change —.” This book is the reason you love comics. Pray it runs forever.

2. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest By Alan Moore And Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – The final comics project (or so we’re told) from both of these legendary creators is both a love letter and middle finger as they head for the exits. The love letter is to the art form itself, while the middle finger is stuck up high, proudly, and entirely justifiably to the industry. A new, all-female iteration of the League is a stroke of genius, as is the decision to up the “humor quotient” considerably after the rather dark turn taken in the last “volume.” How much do we all miss this comic before it’s even over?

1. Now Edited By Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) – 120-plus pages of the best in contemporary cartooning for ten bucks an issue? How do you beat that? Answer : by infusing the title itself with a distinct sense of purpose that goes beyond such simple and easy anthology premises as specific themes or shared aesthetic sensibilities in favor of selecting work by cartoonists that not only exemplify, but in may ways define where comics is at — errmmm — now. Dash Shaw, Nathan Cowdry, Antoine Cosse, Daria Tessler, Roam Muradov, Al Columbia, Eleanor Davis, Theo Ellsworth — just some of the “murder’s row” of talent to appear in the pages of what is, without question, the quintessential anthology of the decade. Everyone is bringing their “A game” to the party here so far, and the result is my favorite series of the year, as well as the most significant.

And so we reach the end of the second of our six lists! Next up : Top 10 Contemporary Collections, the category devoted to 2018 books that presented material originally serialized as single issues, anthology stories, etc., as well as English-language releases of international material such as Manga, Eurocomics, etc. I’m hoping to have that one ready in the next couple of days here, do stop by and check it out!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/08/2018 – 07/14/2018

It’s a veritable cavalcade of first issues this week, so let’s skip the stage-setting and get right down to the business of telling you which of these new series are worth your time (and, more importantly, money) to follow —

The major “event” book of the week is, of course, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest #1, which marks the beginning of the end not only for this two-plus-decade-old franchise, but for the legendary comics careers of the two creators behind it (although, at least in Moore’s case, we’ve heard that before). “Going out with a bang” seems to be the operative philosophy behind this six-parter, as well as settling every possible score on the way out the door, but this is, as you’d  no doubt expect, far more than simply a combination vanity project/victory lap — although elements of both are certainly present and accounted for. Roll call, then, of undeniably  positive attributes :  the latest all-female iteration of the League is certainly more than timely, one could even argue necessary, for the #MeToo era; nods to Shakespeare’s final work (from which, of course, the series takes its name) abound, particularly structurally; and our Bearded Wizard seems to want to use his last hurrah to, admirably, shed some light on the plights of various ripped-off cartoonists of years gone by. Throw in some heavy Silver Age references that look and read like a British version of 1963, a delicious deconstruction of the James Bond archetype, and Woody Allen getting shot through the head and what have you got? A comic as visually- and narratively-jam-packed as we’ve become accustomed to from this tandem, sure, but also something of a love letter both celebratory and somber to the medium they’re leaving behind. O’Neill’s art is deliriously good, of course, especially on the B&W comic-strip-style pages, where the detailed intricacy of his linework really shines through. Do you need this more than you need the $4.99 Top Shelf/IDW is asking for it? Oh, yes. Oh, God, yes.

Meanwhile, Moore’s former editor, Karen Berger, kicks off what’s being touted as the “second wave” of her Berger Books imprint at Dark Horse with writer Christopher Cantwell and artist Martin Morazzo’s She Could Fly #1, a four-part mini-series not so much about the flying female in question as it is about a teenage girl with an acute case of debilitating OCD who is the ostensible super-heroine’s biggest fan — and maybe even, somehow, connected to her in ways as yet to be determined. Or is that all in her head? The Berger Books output has been decidedly up-and-down to this point, but this is as “up” as it gets : a heartfelt rumination on adolescence and the pain of trying to “fit in,” a gripping and authentic family drama, and an honest exploration of mental illness, all prepared and persented with obvious care. Cantwell’s script is brisk and clutter-free, cutting right to the bone of every character and situation on hand, while Morazzo, whose work on Ice Cream Man over at Image has been blowing me away, delineates the proceedings with such a clean, polished, precise style that it’s honestly hard not to be taken aback by the leaps and bounds his art is making right before our eyes. This one, again, retails at $4.99 and is, again, more than worth every penny.

Speaking of Image (even if, fair enough, I mentioned it only in passing), our final two debuts for the week come our way via their publishing auspices, the first being Farmhand #1, written and drawn by former Chew artist Rob Guillory. I really wanted to like this one given my appreciation for Guillory’s bright, expressive, and decidedly tongue-in-cheek style of illustration, but it seems like he’s not entirely comfortable yet with his own admittedly creepy and inventive premise, that being some unethical corporate skullduggery taking place at a “factory farm” that organically grows human body parts and organs. Maybe layering a family estrangement subplot on top of it is too much, too fast, or maybe he’s just not sure how to translate a nifty (God, did I just say that?) idea into an actual story yet, but I found the plot here decidedly lacking, the characters less than involving, and the overall trajectory of the narrative haphazard at best. The art’s great, don’t get me wrong — Guillory is bound and determined to pull out all the stops on that score and manages to do so with considerable aplomb. But whatever chance I may have been willing to give this book going forward (I was thinking another issue, at least, before deciding whether or not to drop if from my “pull”) flew right out the window when this comic’s “climactic” three-page epilogue landed with a resounding thud. If I hear good things about future installments I may give the inevitable first-volume trade a go (from the library, mind you), but this marks the first and last time I fork over $3.99 of  my own cash for this series.

And, not to give away the game right at the outset, but — I felt much the same about Die! Die! Die! #1, a new Skybound/Image co-venture from writer Robert Kirkman (with a co-plotting credit going to Scott M. Gimple, former “show-runner” on The Walking Dead) and artist Chris Burnham better known at this point for its unorthodox marketing strategy (it was a “surprise” release unannounced until literally the day before it hit shops) than anything going on between its covers. Burnham’s a terrific choice to illustrate a bloody ultra-violent yarn about purportedly “strategic” assassins who work behind the scenes to murder key individuals in order to either set about or curtail key series of socio-political events, but Kirkman seems to have no real grasp on what he wants to do here story-wise other than his best Garth Ennis impersonation — which, as it turns out, is actually a really lousy Garth Ennis impersonation, given that this comic carries none of the philosophical heft or knowing self-deprecation of Ennis’ best works. It’s not that it takes itself seriously, mind you — it’s just that there’s no real brain or heart behind the OTT absurdity it wallows in, just forced pseudo-cleverness, and the fact that the Skybound titles have finally joined their other Image stable-mates at a $3.99 price point means that there’s absolutely no reason to pick this thing up, despite some pretty stellar artwork.

And, with that, we come to the end of another Round-Up column. Next week we’ll either talk about some new-ish minis that have come my way in recent days, or we’ll take a look at a book or two I’ve been looking forward to with a reasonable amount of anticipation that’s scheduled to hit shops this coming Wednesday (I’m looking at you in particular, Euthanauts). Maybe both? Join me back here in seven days and we’ll see.

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 12/24/2017 – 12/30/2017, Special “Fuck You Nick Gazin, We’ll Miss You Jim Baikie” Edition

I had this nice column all ready to go for you folks this week. We were gonna talk about Chuck Forsman’s Slasher. We were gonna talk about the final issue of Kamandi Challenge. We were gonna talk about the latest magnificent story from Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill in Cinema Purgatorio. We were gonna talk about Simon Hanselmann’s Performance broadsheet. And then a couple of things happened.

The first involves the pathetic aging hipster pictured above, who you’ve probably already guessed, based on his appearance alone, works for Vice. In fact, he’s their art editor, and his name is Nick Gazin. Before we go any further, take a look at this lazy fucking column he wrote : https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/paqaxk/the-ten-best-comics-of-2017

You’re back? Okay, good. Yes, according to Mr. Handlebar Mustache, only eight good comics came out in all of 2017. Three of them were reprints. One was a stapled-together selection of sketchbook doodles. Two were issues of Love And Rockets. In Gazin’s own words, almost everything else was “mostly worthless garbage.”

No, buddy, you’re describing yourself. Putting aside the fact that anyone with a waxed ‘stache — and for proof of this look no further than noxious Vice co-founder/racist nationalist Gavin McInnes — is a complete asshole, and that the site itself has recently been “outed,” to no one’s surprise, as a rat’s nest of sexual harassment and Trump-style “locker room” behavior, Gazin’s “best-of” list is proof of the calicified taste and fossilized sensibilities of a guy who can’t be bothered to read the work of new cartoonists and who mainly views comics as some sort of “security blanket” good only for wrapping himself in the nostalgic glow of either a) his childhood, or b)his early twenties. Comics have moved on, and Nick Gazin can’t handle it.

How fucking typical of Vice, is it not? No longer the “enfants terrible” they once were, their writers are desperately clinging to youth by stating, en masse, that they may be on the other side of 40, but goddamnit, they’re the youngest curmudgeons in the world. You can find more upbeat takes on life in a fucking hospice ward than you can on that site — but at least the old-timers on their last legs don’t give a shit whether or not anyone still thinks they’re cool. And “cool” — specifically, a dated version thereof — is what Gazin’s list is all about. Simon Hanselmann is a pretty good cartoonist, sure, but his shtick is extremely repetitive at this point, and One More Year is far from the best comic of 2017. In fact, it’s basically the same book his previous two were. The Hernandez brothers are still fantastic and very deserving of any spots they get on anyone’s list for any reason, but we do need to be honest and admit that their work is incredibly self-referential at this point and more or less impenetrable to anyone who hasn’t been immersed in it for a couple of decades. Johnny Ryan is basically another, more gleefully vulgar, version of Hanselmann, in that he’s a guy who’s carved out a certain territory and stays well within it. The inclusion of a big, fat collection of thoroughly mediocre Amazing Spider-Man reprints feels like a sop to super-hero fans, who actually get more credit in my book than Gazin does because at least they admit that their reading sensibilities remain stuck at the level of 14-year-olds and they don’t expect “cool points” for being a bunch of dorks. The Will Elder reprint book? Okay, that’s a solid call any way you slice it, as is the inclusion of the latest issue of Sammy Harkham’s Crickets, but that Jay Disbrow book? Sorry, that should be worthy of note, but Craig Yoe’s books are complete garbage. He rushes pages of old comics through his scanner, no re-mastering (or even basic “touch-up”) work is done to them, his introductions betray little to no knowledge of the work he’s collecting, and the “fun, wacky” packaging of his product is capable of reducing even the best work to looking and feeling like cheap, throwaway shit. I respect the hell out of Disbrow’s pre-Code horror comics, and that’s precisely why I’ll never buy this book — in fact, I feel sorry for the guy that a low-rent huckster like Yoe is the first to collect his stuff. He deserves much better.

Now, unlike the typical “wanna-be-edgy” Vice reader, I’m not gonna suggest that Nick Gazin needs to die, or that he should kill himself, or any other over-the-top bullshit like that. I don’t think anyone with any sense would mourn his passing if he were to shuffle off this mortal coil, but the most I’d like to see happen to him in terms of harm is for someone to wipe that “perma-smug” expression off his face — and that wouldn’t even actually constitute “harm,” it would constitute an improvement. Hell, I don’t even want to see him lose his job as art editor. We all gotta eat. But I do think he should be retired from his position as a comics critic and that Vice should hand that gig over to somebody who actually keeps up with what’s happening in the medium. I don’t think that Gazin is even more than aware-in-passing of the work done this year by Emil Ferris, Tommi Parrish, Gabrielle Bell, November Garcia, Keiler Roberts, Jesse Jacobs, Tillie Walden, Julia Wertz, Ben Passmore, Alex Graham, John Porcellino, Jillian Tamaki, Mimi Pond, Michael DeForge, Anders Nilsen, Connor Willumsen, Noel Freibert, Joseph Remnant, Tim Lane, Eric Haven, Anya Davidson, Eleanor Davis, Aaron Lange, Tom Van Deusen, Dominique Goblet, Charles Forsman, Benjamin Marra, Michel Fiffe, or any number of other cartoonists who busted their asses, usually for little or no money, to put out great comics in 2017. Hell, even the fact that Peter Bagge and Gary Panter released major new works seems to have escaped his notice.

Either that, or he saw and read all of their stuff and thought it was “mostly worthless garbage.” In which case, he has no idea what he’s talking about, or else his critical sensibilities are so deeply buried underneath his forced “contrarian” persona (which is no doubt as cynically calculated as everything else about his whole nauseating shtick) that he’s no longer an “honest broker” of opinion.  If that’s what’s going on, then Vice doesn’t need to find a new comics critic who keeps up with the medium, but one who actually respects it. Whatever the case may be, Nick Gazin clearly isn’t the man for the job. So, one more time for good measure — fuck you, buddy. And shave that stupid thing off your face while you’re at it.

From maddening news to saddening news, the other development that necessitated a last-second shift in focus for this column was when word came down the pipeline that the great British comics artist Jim Baikie passed away at the age of 77 yesterday. Baikie was a true lion of the UK scene whose work exemplified the mix of solid craftsmanship and just a little bit of grit that made 2000 A.D. so visually exciting and arresting in its early years, but he also brought a keen eye for panel design and page layout to his efforts that helped set them above many of his contemporaries. In short, he was a “pro’s pro,” but also had vision and inventiveness to spare, as these pages from what is, for my money, his finest series, New Statesmen, more than ably demonstrate :

That’s some straight-up dynamic stuff there, any way you slice it. Baikie is probably best known to American audiences for his collaborations with Alan Moore on Skizz, a superb two-part Vigilante story, and the First American strip in ABC’s Tomorrow Stories, but also had some fairly high-profile assignments at DC as a fill-in artist on Detective ComicsBatman, and The Spectre, and co-created the Electric Warrior mini-series with writer Doug Moench, in addition to writing and drawing Skizz II and Skizz III after Moore flew the 2000 A.D. coop — and incidentally, Skizz was collected in its entirety in TPB last year, and this decidedly British working-class take on the E.T. premise holds up remarkably well.

As already stated, though, for me Baikie’s finest hour came on New Statesmen, which originally ran in the pages of Fleetway anthology Crisis before being collected in “deluxe” format single-issues and as a now-OOP trade paperback. The brainchild of Baikie and a then-young John Smith (himself a criminally underappreciated, visionary talent), the intellectually lazy dismissed this strip as simply another in the vast array of Watchmen-esque “what if super-heroes were real?” stories flooding shelves in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but it was, in actuality, a smart, articulate, high-concept comic filled to bursting with intricately-considered ideas, seamless “world-building,” rich prose, strong characterization, memorable dialogue, and wonderfully inventive illustration. One of the best things to ever come out of the “mature readers” boom, and well worth tracking down. So do it! — and thank you, Jim, for everything. Our normal “Weekly Reading Round-Up” will return in seven days, so until then, Happy New Year one and all, see you on the other side of the calendar!

 

2017 Year In Review : Top 10 Collected Editions (Vintage)

We’re getting there, I promise! Next up in our 2017 year in review we come to the top 10 vintage collections of the year, a list which comprises reprint collections released over the past 12 months of material originally published prior to the year 2000. Not much preamble apart from that necessary other than the standard reminder that these selections won’t be accompanied by anything like “reviews,” just quick summations of why you, dear reader, should buy them :

10. Belgian Lace From Hell : The Mythology Of S. Clay Wilson Vol. 3, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics) – The final volume of Fantagraphics’ exhaustive half-biography, half-comics retrospective of the career of underground trailblazer S. Clay Wilson presents a terrific selection of strips that don’t just transgress, but utterly annihilate, any and all notions of good taste with recklessly gleeful abandon — but a handful of very noticeable production glitches (missing text paragraphs, etc.) hold this back from being ranked as highly as, frankly, it probably deserves to be.

9. Doom Patrol : The Silver Age Omnibus by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani (DC) – Who can argue with having the entire, and justly legendary, Drake/Premiani DP run collected between two covers? Not me, that’s for sure — and as a longtime fan, seeing the original “team of outcasts” finally getting their due in a deluxe volume such as this is cause for pure joy.

8. Soft City : The Lost Graphic Novel by Hariton Pushwagner (New York Review Comics) – Visionary Norwegian cartoonist Pushwagner’s dystopian sci-fi magnum opus, a labor of love undertaken from 1969 to 1975, was thought lost to the ages until its rediscovery in Oslo in 2002, and here finally receives the exhaustive and meticulous presentation so long overdue it. A visually and thematically insular world of its own, ready and waiting for you to get lost in.

7. The Complete Skizz by Alan Moore and Jim Baikie (2000 A.D.) – A largely-overlooked early entry in the Alan Moore canon that’s aged incredibly well, this decidedly Thatcherite take on E.T. is funny, fascinating, heartbreaking, heartwarming, and sharp as hell — and is here collected alongside its very worthy sequel that sees artist Jim Baikie (successfully, I might add) assume writing duties, as well.

6. Challengers Of The Unknown by Jack Kirby (DC) – 100 years after the birth of the undisputed King of Comics, fans were presented with an embarrassment of reprint riches in 2017 — and this list will, to no one’s surprise, reflect that fact. For too long the Challengers have largely been viewed as a historical curiosity above all else, given that they were an obvious Fantastic Four prototype, but now that their original run has finally been collected in a reasonably-priced trade paperback, a new generation of fans has the chance to appreciate the fact that these are well and truly outstanding adventure stories overflowing with heart and imagination. And where else are you going to get to see Jack Kirby inked by Wally Wood? The art in this book is flat-out gorgeous.

5. The Collected Neil The Horse by Katherine T. Collins (Conundrum Press) – The best thing to emerge from the 1980s black-and-white boom, having every issue of this smart, sprawling, richly-illustrated, witty musical comedy together in one volume feels like a little bit of a miracle, especially given the numerous starts and stops creator Collins’ career has taken over the years. Loaded with indispensable behind-the-scenes material, including a harrowing-but-ultimately-triumphant account of the author’s own life after she transitioned from her earlier identity as Arn Saba (resulting in a de facto blacklisting in the comics industry for decades), this book is more than everything the small-but-loyal legion of Neil fans could have ever asked for.

4. Street Fighting Men : Spain Vol. 1, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics) – Collecting all the “Trashman” strips ever produced is reason enough to buy this book, but this opening salvo in the long-awaited Spain Rodriguez career retrospective offers a whole lot more than that — the police-corruption strip “Manning” is absolutely superb, and underground historian Patrick Rosenkranz’ text material is detailed and exhaustive. If future volumes are produced with as much care and consideration as this one, we’re in for something really special with this series.

3. The Demon by Jack Kirby (DC) – A personal favorite of yours truly, the saga of Jason Blood and his demonic alter-ego, Etrigan, is one of Kirby’s most powerful and imaginative, and is here presented in its entirety. The King didn’t delve into the realms of the mystical and supernatural all that often, but when he did — the results were spectacular.

2. The Green Hand And Other Stories by Nicole Claveloux (New York Review Comics) – This outstanding volume presents the pinnacle 1970s works of one of France’s most singular cartooning talents (most from the pages of Metal Hurlant) to English-speaking audiences for the first time, and if you’re looking for a visually unforgettable book for someone on your holiday gift list, then this is the way to go.  Claveloux delineates worlds of unspeakable beauty and oddity, and whether her stories are in vibrant, hallucinatory color (as is the case with the title strip here) or black and white, they leave an indelible impression on your eyeballs and your mind. Talking shrubs, duplicitous genies, and morose birds are just some of the wonders to be found in the surreal, enchanted realms Claveloux guides us through in these exquisitely vivid pages.

1. The Fourth World Omnibus by Jack Kirby (DC) – Full disclosure : this book just came out and I don’t even have it yet — but I don’t need to in order to give its contents a full-throated endorsement. The Fourth World saga is arguably the greatest the comics medium has ever produced, and having all 1500-plus pages of it in your hands for under a hundred bucks (depending on where you get it)? Come on, you’re not gonna do any better than that.

Okay, one more list down — and only one more to go! Next up we’ll look at the top 10 original graphic novels of 2017  — and then, I think, a (short, I promise) holiday break is in order!

 

2017 Year In Review : Top 10 Collected Editions (Contemporary)

Let’s keep plugging away here, shall we? This time around on out year-end wrap we’re looking at the top 10 collected editions of 2017, with a slight change to my previously-announced methodology : rather than placing everything “Modern Age” (roughly the 1980s) and beyond in this category, I’ve narrowed it to collections of comics published post-2000, so that everything being referred to as “contemporary” at least comes from, ya know, this century. Apart from that, however, the category remains a fairly broad one : TPB or hardcover collections of single issues, webcomics collections, diary comics collections, and anthologies all fall into what I consider to be “collected editions” — in other words, a lot of this stuff is more or less brand new, and many critics who don’t share my OCD affliction might even call some of these “graphic novels.” I’m not gonna do it that way, though, because my list of the top 10 graphic novels is going to be just that : original graphic novels constructed from the outset to be published as a single volume.

That’s it for the particulars, then, apart from a reminder that there may be a couple of tail-end-2016 releases that make their way onto these lists because they hit shops too late to be properly reviewed by yours truly last year, and that each book will be summarized quickly — these are not proper “reviews” or anything of the sort. Okay, let’s do this!

10. Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero by Michael DeForge (Drawn+Quarterly) – DeForge revealed a more whimsical and even, dare I say it, “fun” side in these single-page webcomics, and they read very cohesively as a collection. Absurdist humor, an idiosyncratic protagonist, and a decidedly revisionist take on “funny animals” combine to form a typically singular (there’s a contradiction for you) DeForge reading experience.

9. Sunburning by Keiler Roberts (Koyama Press) – Roberts’ autobio webcomics are a stark look at life’s challenges and its subtle beauty and they balance the joys and drudgeries of parenting with a quiet and unassuming honesty that’s entirely un-sentimental, but not in any way clinical. In addition, her simple-but-detailed illustration draws the eye in to notice every little detail, and there are a lot of details to notice. It’s always a pleasure to see her work collected in print, and this is her strongest book yet.

8. A Process Of Drastically Reducing One’s Expectations by Gabby Schulz (Phase Eight Publishing) – If you know Schulz, you know that this collection of his diary comics won’t be an “easy” read — he doesn’t spell out the particulars of his life with any great specificity, but you can see his mental, physical, and financial deterioration playing out before your eyes in a manner as relentless as it is nonchalant. So, yeah, this is no “easy” read — but it’s a compelling and engrossing one, no doubt about it.

7. Band For Life by Anya Davidson (Fantagraphics) – These chronicles of a multi-species punk band in a sci-fi future Chicago sure seem an awful lot like those of people I knew in my 20s who were in bands, so I guess that means the themes here are timeless, indeed. And Davison herself reflects the never-say-die ethos of her protagonists : after fleeing Vice’s digital sweatshop, she continued posting these strips on her Tumblr page, and finally saw them through to completion in this magnificent hardback collection.

6. Boundless by Jillian Tamaki (Drawn+Quarterly) – Breathtaking illustration, ethereal themes, and naturalistic visual storytelling combine to make this collection of Tamaki’s strips a supremely memorable read, one that analyzes her female progatonists’ complex relationships with themselves, their bodies, their hopes and fears, and their self-image with disarming candor and incredible grace. Stirring, soul-searing stuff.

5. You & A Bike & A Road by Eleanor Davis (Koyama Press) – This travelogue composed of diary strips and single illustrations documenting Davis’ bicycle trip from her parents’ home in Arizona to her adoptive hometown of Athens, Ga. doesn’t chain itself to anything like a traditional narrative framework, instead providing an interpretive, experiential look at a journey every bit as philosophical, even spiritual, as it is physical. Another resoundingly resonant work from someone making a very strong case to be considered the cartoonist of her generation.

4. Mirror Mirror II , edited by Julia Gfrorer and Sean T. Collins (2dcloud) – The second volume of 2dcloud’s annual(-ish) anthology has a loose “horror” theme at its core, buy beyond that editors Gfrorer and Collins really do give their contributors free reign to explore the subject in wide-open, entirely unique ways. And what a group of contributors they’ve got! A unique mix of folks we see a lot of working in other genres (Simon Hanselmann, Josh Simmons), folks whose work typically does tend toward the horrific (Gfrorer, Noel Freibert, Clive Barker — yes, really!), and folks we just plain don’t get to see anywhere near enough of these days (Al Columbia, Renee French, Dame Darcy, Carol Swain, Nicole Claveloux), all presented in the kind of uncompromisingly high-quality package we’ve come to expect from this premier “boutique” art-comics publisher. This is a book overflowing with both dark beauty and artistic integrity.

3. Providence Acts Two And Three by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows (Avatar Press) – I’ve raved enough about this series over the last couple of years — but goddamn, it’s so good that I almost feel as if I’ve undersold it. Suffice to say, Moore and Burrows have created what  is undoubtedly the smartest, most richly-detailed, most multi-layered horror comic in history. Act Two collects issues 5-8, Act Three finishes the story off with issues 9-12.

2. True Swamp Book 2: Anywhere But In — by Jon Lewis (Uncivilized Books) – Finally collecting Lewis’ two “bumper-sized” issues from the early “aughts,” his second go-round with the foul-mouthed (but hyper-intelligent) Lenny the Frog and his bog-dwelling friends is, if anything, even more funny, smart, and endearing than the first, and far more visually accomplished and experimental. Matching the wit and charm of Walt Kelly’s Pogo with a distinct underground sensibility, there has simply never been another comic like True Swamp — and, chances are, there never will be again. I believe “sublime” is the word we’re looking for.

1. Farmer Ned’s Comics Barn by Gerald Jablonski (Fantagraphics Underground) – At last presented in the oversized format that these dense, information-packed (both visually and verbally) strips pretty much demand, this near-as-we’re-ever-likely-to-get-to-definitive collection of Jablonski’s work showcases his singular genius in a manner his small-but-dedicated legion of fans could only have dreamed of until it finally happened. Utterly unlike any other comics ever even conceived of — much less done — by anyone else, this is a hermetically-sealed universe unto itself where the rules of what “should” or “shouldn’t” work not only don’t apply, but simply don’t matter. Jablonski reigns supreme in his kingdom of one.

Okay, looks like that’ll do it! Again, this list seemed like a daunting thing to put together until I started doing it, and then it all came together almost on its own, as if it were just being channeled through me. Freaky, huh?

Next up : my picks for the top 10 collections of vintage (as in, pre-2000) comics released in 2017. Hope to see you back here in a couple of days for that one!

2017 Year In Review : Top 10 Single Issues

And so it’s that time of year again : let the debating begin, I suppose, as the various “Top 10” lists begin to hit the internet in earnest, but one thing I think we can all agree on — it’s been quite a year in the world of comics. The underground lost luminaries Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson, the mainstream lost Swamp Thing co-creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson — there have been some tough moments.

But there have also been a number of “highs,” as well — in fact, one could make a fairly convincing argument that 2017 has seen more really fucking good comics published than any year in recent memory. To that end, then, we’re splitting this annual “best of” round-up into several columns, the basics of which will proceed as follows :

The top 10 graphic novels list will be pretty much exactly what it sounds like — a survey of the best original graphic novels of the year. A lot of stuff gets serialized, in whole or in part, online these days, but books that collect pages that cartoonists have serialized in such a manner will be eligible in this category as long as they tell a single, long-form story with something akin to a beginning, a middle, and an end. Collections of serialized short strips, trade paperback collections of single issues and the like, however, will not be listed in this category, since they’ll be going into —

The top 10 collected editions (contemporary) list, which will be composed entirely of previously-published (physically or electronically) works post-Bronze Age, which means anything that collects stuff from the so-called “Modern Age” (roughly the late-1980s right up to the present day) is eligible here. As for the older stuff —

The top 10 collected editions (vintage) list will be the home for all that, with any book and/or periodical presenting material from the birth of the medium up through the aforementioned Bronze Age duking it out for supremacy in this category.

Okay, I hear you say, that’s all fine and good as far as books go, but what of “floppies”? I’m glad you asked, and I came prepared with an answer — one which, believe it or not, actually took a little bit of thinking on my part —

The top 10 comics series list will feature both ongoing and limited series, anything published in single-issue format, with one caveat : annual (or thereabouts) publications like Sammy Harkham’s Crickets or Ethan Rilly’s Pope Hats will not be eligible here, nor will any series that saw only two issues published in 2017, since it just seems inherently unfair to have any series that either wrapped very early in the year, or that lots and lots of attention and care are put into, competing against stuff that has to stick to a strict monthly (if not twice-monthly, thanks DC) deadline. These less-frequent publications are, however, eligible in the list that we’ll be starting things off with here —

The top 10 single issues list, which is also the list that mini-comics and one-shots of various stripes will be included in.

Whew! Got all that? Okay, good. I only need to include a couple final caveats, then, before we get started :

1. These will not be lenghty, or even “capsule,” reviews — just quick summations. A good chunk of this stuff I’ve written about in great detail earlier in the year, and some of it I haven’t, but I don’t have either the time or the inclination to get into a “nuts and bolts” analysis of any of it now, and

2. Some stuff that came out very late in 2016 will be sneaking its way onto these lists, not only because I didn’t get a chance to evaluate it before writing my wrap-up columns last year, but also because many comics, particularly small-press comics, don’t find their way into the hands of most readers until a good few months after they’re released due to the fact that they’re not distributed by Diamond to bookstores or comic shops. Self-publishers, especially, often sell their creative wares on personal websites for some time before “catching on” with small-press distros like Spit And A Half, etc. And then there’s the whole situation with My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, which rolled off Korean printing presses in October of last year — but only a small batch of advance review copies made it here to the US before 2016 was out, the rest remaining stuck in the Panama Canal Zone until March of 2017, since the guy who owned the cargo ship they were coming over on had some back bills to pay before he could get his vessel out of hock.

Alright, with all that out of the way, then, let’s get on with the show —

10. I Wish I Was Joking by Tom Van Deusen (Poochie Press) – Van Deusen has long been one of the out-and-out funniest cartoonists out there, and this may very well be his best comic yet since he makes his stand-in “alternative” newsweekly reporter actually likable for a change. Less caustic than his previous works, but much more — dare I say it — charming.

9. Cosmic BE-ING #5 by Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Graham’s serialized Angloid story has its strongest outing yet, and also its most, believe it or not, down to Earth. Still “trippy” and “New Age” as all get-go, but far more anchored in workaday bread-and-butter concerns than prior installments. Graham’s remarkable illustration skills are really hitting a creative stride now, as well.

8. Trim #5 by Aaron Lange (The Comix Company) – Probably the most compelling issue of Lange’s annually-issued “solo anthology” to date, with intriguing explorations of his family’s German ancestry and a “cool” pastor he knew as a kid among the highlights. Plenty of laugh-out-loud gag strips, as well, most centered around the cartoonist’s art school days.

7. Lovers In The Garden by Anya Davidson (Retrofit/Big Planet Comics) – Some might argue that this is a “graphic novel,” but I’d call it “novella” length at best. Categorize it however you want, though, there’s no doubting that Davisdon’s assured cartooning makes her ’70s-grindhouse-style tale of dope dealers and cops a highly memorable read that holds together way better than most “vignette”-centered comics manage to.

6. Malarkey #2 by November Garcia (Self-Published) – Not just the best thing going in autobio comics right now, but the best thing to happen to autobio comics in years — and Garcia’s slices of life look even better with a little bit of color added to the mix. Possibly the most endearing comic you’ll read this year, which still seems a bizarre thing to say given most of its contents deal with alcoholism and neuroses, but there you have it.

5. Now #1 (Fantagraphics) – Eric Reynolds’ new anthology gets off to a more-than-promising start, with standout contributions from Eleanor Davis, Noah Van Sciver, Kaela Graham, Dash Shaw, and many others. 128 pages of the best in contemporary cartooning for ten bucks? Come on, you can’t do better than that.

4. Crickets #6 by Sammy Harkham (Self-Published) – The most deliriously arresting chapter of “Blood Of The Virgin” yet, as Harkham delineates the immediate, and seemingly complete, ruination of his protagonist’s life in rapid-fire fashion with an intriguing mix of empathy and clinical distance. I get the distinct impression that he doesn’t like Seymour all that much, but feels bad about what he’s doing to him regardless. Visually literate to a degree that’s almost painful.

3. Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket) – The winner of the 2017 Ignatz award for “Best Comic Book,” Passmore’s monologue on the reality of black life in America is concise, superbly-illustrated, and absolutely compelling. 12 pages you’ll never forget — because you’ll be reading them again and again.

2. Providence #12 by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows (Avatar Press) – The conclusion to Moore and Burrows’ “Lovecraft Cycle” is every bit as harrowing and terrifying as the previous 11 issues had suggested it would be, and then some — in fact, it’s downright devastating. It’s well past time to put this series in the discussion of Moore’s all-time best works, and Burrows absolutely pulls out all the stops in bringing the existential horror of the dawn of this dark new age to life. A bona fide masterwork.

1. Songy Of Paradise by Gary Panter (Fantagraphics) – Okay, I admit this one’s a bit of a cheat given that it’s an oversized (to put it mildly) hardcover boasting a $35 cover price — but for all that, it’s still only 32 pages long, so that makes it a “single issue” in my book. And a damn engrossing one at that, as Panter finally puts his Paradise/Purgatory trilogy to bed with its most deceptively “simple” (as in, it’s anything but) segment yet. Rest assured, though, even if you haven’t read the other two books, this is an accessible, engaging, thought-provoking work that reveals more of its hiding-in-plain-sight secrets with every reading. A truly seminal effort from one of the most important cartoonists of his generation — or any other.

Trust me when I say you can’t go wrong with any of these comics, and I’m very comfortable with the “running order” I’ve placed them in. There were some damn close contenders that nearly made the cut, but time will tell if I get a chance to do an “honorable mentions” listing once the main event’s all said and done. One thing at a time, as they say. Speaking of which —

Next up I’ll be looking at my picks for the top 10 ongoing series of the year, so I’ll definitely look forward to seeing you good folks back here in a handful of days for that one. In the meantime, if you’ve got anything to say about this list, don’t be shy! What did I get right? What did I get wrong? What did I completely miss out on? Chime in and let me know!