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

Another day, another year end “Top 10” list! This time around we look at my favorite collected editions of vintage material published in the past year, “vintage” in this case being work originally produced prior to the year 2000. Eurocomics and Manga are both eligible here, as well, as long as they first saw print prior to all our computers failing, the electrical grid going dark, the food supply collapsing, and civilization falling apart on December 31st, 1999. Remember those crazy times?

10. Brat Pack By Rick Veitch (IDW) – Arguably the last great work of super-hero revisionism prior to Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer, Veitch’s bleak and unforgiving look at the teen sidekicks of Slumburg is as shocking, ugly, and mean-spirited as ever — not to mention gorgeously illustrated. IDW pulled out all the stops with this one, loading it up with “behind-the-scenes” bonus material that all crusty aficionados of this rank, but spot-on, unpleasantness will surely find illuminating and engrossing. I still feel like I need to take a shower after reading this book to get the stain off — and yes, I mean that as a compliment.

9. Death Stand And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 22) By Jack Davis And Harvey Kurtzman (Fantagraphics) – The harrowing reality of combat stress has arguably never been rendered in comics with more authenticity than in these classic EC strips illustrated by Davis and (largely) written by Kurtzman. Even people who think they probably don’t like war comics owe it to themselves to give this collection a shot and see what they’ve been missing out on all these years.

8. New Gods By Jack Kirby (DC) – This one probably deserves to be ranked higher purely on its merits, as many of the very best of Kirby’s Fourth World stories are in here, but considering that all of it was included in last year’s Fourth World Omnibus, this really just represents an essential purchase for absolute completists, or anyone who took a pass on the omnibus for budgetary or storage space (hey, it really is a beast!) reasons. Some of the finest comics ever made by anyone are found on these pages, though, so it earns a spot on the list even though it comes hot on the heels of a larger, more comprehensive collection.

7. Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground Edited By Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Underground) – Far and away the most disturbing book on this list, Osborne was probably the most grotesque and unsavory of the “first wave” of underground cartoonists — as well as one of the most talented, producing work so rich in detail and meticulous in its execution that it still literally boggles the mind. Editor Rosenkranz deserves tremendous credit for collecting all of this less-than-prolific artist’s work between two covers, and Dennis Dread’s detailed biographical sketch of Osborne’s troubled life is a terrific piece of comics scholarship. Not for all tastes and sensibilities to be sure — but if your “wiring” is as off-kilter as mine, this is an essential purchase.

6. Corto Maltese : The Golden House Of Samarkand By Hugo Pratt (IDW/Euro Comics) – One of Pratt’s finest and most ambitious Corto stories finally gets the deluxe treatment that has been lavished on the character’s previous adventures. If you’re a fan, that’s cause for celebration, and if you’re not — well, now’s the perfect time to become one! European genre comics simply don’t get any better than this.

5. best of witzend Edited By Bill Pearson And J. Michael Catron (Fantagraphics) – Anyone who couldn’t fork over the cash for the complete witzend slipcase collection a few years back will be overjoyed to find this well-curated collection of the finest strips to appear in Wally Wood’s legendary “pro-‘zine,” as editors Pearson and Catron present groundbreaking cartooning from artists that truly “run the gamut,” including Bernie Wrightson, Reed Crandall, Gray Morrow, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, Jim Steranko, P. Craig Russell, Art Spiegelman, Steve Ditko, Vaughn Bode — and, of course, Wood himself. A superb selection that will leave your head spinning and that, crucially, “ports over” the exhaustive historical essay work presented in the earlier, larger publication.

4. Master Race And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 21) By Bernard Krigstein (Fantagraphics) – The premier visual innovator in comics history, Krigstein’s astonishing work finally gets a truly deluxe presentation in this painstakingly-restored collection. The scope and grandeur of Krigstein’s imagination still positively boggles the mind, and its fruits have never looked better than they do in this sumptuous volume.

3. Love That Bunch By Aline Kominsky-Crumb (Drawn+Quarterly) – Okay, yeah, some of the material in this comprehensive retrospective came along after the year 2000, but the vast majority predates it, and it would be absolutely criminal not to find a list to include this on. I’ve always preferred Aline’s work to that of her more-famous husband, and these largely-autobiographical strips will probably go some way toward winning over even the most understandably reactionary fans who reflexively eschew anything with the “Crumb” name attached to it. I’m not here to judge how and why she can survive a marriage to one of the most talented-but-unsavory people in comics, only to state that her own work stands on its own merits and communicates a positive, empowering message in endearingly neurotic and self-deprecating fashion. I do, indeed, love that — meh, too obvious, right? Just buy the book, you’ll never regret it.

2. Kamandi Omnibus By Jack Kirby (DC) – Finally! The amazing adventures of the last boy on earth get the “omnibus treatment,” and the result — while hefty both physically and financially — is nothing less than magic. One of Kirby’s absolute best comics ever, this is also one of the most imaginative, rip-roaring, and just plain fun works in the entire history of the medium. Nothing short of comic book perfection.

1. Dirty Plotte : The Complete Julie Doucet By Julie Doucet (Drawn+Quarterly) – Pioneering feminist auteur Doucet finally gets her due with this beautiful, two-volume hardcover slipcase collection that features all of her work from her legendary Dirty Plotte series, as well as a good chunk of material that was published before and since, a wide-ranging interview with the artist, and essays of appreciation from top cartooning talents. This was one of the formative works of the 1990s that helped blaze a trail for any number of women cartoonists, and is every bit as powerful, authentic, idiosyncratic, and funny now as it ever was. Doucet is, simply put, one of the most outstanding talents to ever draw breath. Here’s all the evidence would could possibly need to buttress that assertion.

And that’s four lists down, with two yet to come! Next up : the top 10 “special mentions” of the year, an eclectic category of “comics-adjacent” work that includes no actual comics per se, but narrative works (illustrated or otherwise) either by cartoonists, or about comics. It’ll make much more sense when I post it (probably tomorrow), I promise!


You’re Going To “Love That Bunch”

Don’t look now, but Aline Kominsky-Crumb is having what the media has, in recent years, come to call “a moment” — and those of us who have been following her extraordinary cartooning career over the decades can only say : “it’s about fucking time.”

Through no fault of her own, Kominsky-Crumb has almost always operated in her (in?) famous husband’s shadow to one degree or another, and while the arcs of their respective careers have definitely either dove-tailed or run parallel to each other from time to time — they were both involved with (hell, they both edited, albeit at different points in its run) legendary underground anthology Weirdo, they collaborated on Self-Loathing Comics back in the 1990s, etc. — in truth their work, even though they both have figured as prominent characters in each other’s strips, focuses on entirely separate sets of concerns. Sort of.

Okay, yeah, their “co-starring” book referenced self-loathing in its title for a reason, but unlike Robert, Aline has, going all the way back, been more focused on how family, in particular, turned her into the entirely-relatable psychological “mess” that she is, and her cartooning confessionals have always felt more cathartic than her old man’s pained, at times even painful, exorcisms of psycho-sexual neuroses. In short, she seems far and away the more likeable of the pair.

But hey — don’t take my word for it, Drawn + Quarterly has just released a mammoth hardback collection of her strips from 1976 to the present, Love That Bunch, which nearly doubles the size of the 1990 softcover volume of the same name, and it’s all the evidence you need that Kominsky-Crumb’s cartooning stands alone as a vibrant and necessary body of work in its own right . This, in short, is as definitive as it gets — and that’s cause for celebration.

Kominsky-Crumb and(?) her alter-ego protagonist, The Bunch, have been through a lot over the years, from surviving a dysfunctional Lawn Guyland upbringing to indulging in hippie excess to living very nearly “off-the-grid” (before it was called that) to marriage to motherhood to moving to France to grandmotherhood — reading this book offers so much more than the average autobio comix experience, most of which focus on a particular time period or series of formative experiences in a given cartoonist’s existence. Love That Bunch is the (warts-and-all, of course) chronicle of a life, related in fits and spurts when time permitted over the course of forty-plus years. And while so much has changed for Bunch/Kominsky-Crumb, there are number of wonderfully idiosyncratic “quirks” that remain consistent throughout.

Misspellings, for instance, are a big one, and not all of them intentional. Horniness. Body shame/insecurity. A kind of creative restlessness that endures even during the more contented periods of her life. An “old before her time” mentality. A perpetually satirical outlook. All delivered with a kind of rushed immediacy (and I don’t mean that as an insult in any way, I know Kominsky-Crumb usually spends a lot of time on her strips, but they always feel very nearly “instant”) that somehow never loses its conversational, self-deprecating tone. Don’t ask me how that works, and by all rights maybe it shouldn’t, but it absolutely does.

Honestly, the toughest task you’re going to have in relation to this book is determining which strips are your favorite. Everyone agrees that “Of What Use Is A Bunch?” is an all-time classic, a pioneering entry in the history of the women’s underground, but “Up In The Air With The Bunch,” “Sex-Crazed Housewife,” and “The Schlep Set” are all favorites of yours truly, and you’re sure to have your own depending on whether or not you’re more “into”  (somewhat) exaggerated reminiscences of Jewish family life, tales of “wild years” partying, or ruminations on mid-life — and what comes after. I never say this, but in this case I will, and without hesitation at that — there’s something here for everyone.

Kominsky-Crumb has her critics, to be sure. There have always been those who contend that she “can’t draw,” for instance, and those who are understandably less-than-comfortable with her history of sometimes-curt dismissal of her husband’s critics, particularly his feminist critics. The latter is beyond the scope of what I have the time or inclination to get into, but I will say that many people who take her to task for this make some very valid, very cogent points. The folks who are “down on” her art, though, have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about — this book shows her adopting, and succeeding at, any number of highly-personal styles (not all of them in any way “primitive”) that perfectly complement the stories she’s telling. In short, she’s a master of her craft, and Love That Bunch is a fitting, and long-overdue, overview of the career of someone who may very well be the most under-appreciated cartoonist of her time — but hopefully won’t be any longer.