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!



Alex Graham’s “Angloid” : Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Wallflower

Say what you will for Alex Graham — and it better be good, or you’ll answer to me — she’s nothing if not absolutely dedicated to her work.

Consider the single-minded determination with which she pursued getting her first long-form graphic novel, Angloid, recently unleashed on an undeserving world from Kilgore Books, to the point it’s at now : she serialized roughly half of the installments that make up the whole of the volume in her self-published comics ‘zine, the always-staggering Cosmic BE-ING; concurrently released the other half as a series of stand-alone comics; collected and published the entirety under her own auspices (not to mention out of her own pocket); and then got herself a “proper” publisher and re-released the whole thing complete with a snazzy photo cover of a clay sculpture she craeted just for the occasion.

Whew! Did you follow all that? Would you have the requisite amount of sheer stamina to do what she’s done?

Or is it just a case of Graham having a hell of a lot of free time? If you take the protagonist of this book to be a stand-in for the artist herself, that’s actually not an unreasonable conclusion to draw — Angloid seems to lead one of those existences that those of us who date all the way back to “Generation X” were either once well-familiar with personally, or vicariously by means of our friends and/or acquaintances : intermittently employed, always broke, forever looking for something to do only to regret what it is we (or they) actually do end up doing. Lethargy is a near-constant, as is inebriation, poor decision-making, and self-loathing so extreme it borders on the suicidal. Fortunately for Angloid, she’s got some unseen allies.

Who would have though than an alcoholic, androgynous (it’s only after a couple of chapters that Angloid is decisively “tagged” as female), only sporadically-likable (but, bizarrely enough, almost always lovable — but then, I’ve always had a soft spot for folks written off as “lost causes” by the dull-witted majority) struggling artist would find herself eternally on the cusp of cosmic revelation? It’s not fair to say that she has anything so pedestrian as “guardian angels” looking over her shoulder, mind you, but she does have vaguely “New-Agey,” less-vaguely alien (or perhaps that should be inter-dimensional) companions that observe her constantly, and intercede at critical junctures — usually when the prospect of self-harm is close at hand.

By and large Angloid is blissfully unaware of the presence of these omniscient “Cosmic BE-INGs,” but when it counts, when it matters — she feels something. She knows something. Her awareness expands, or at least shifts, and even though Graham’s loose, unforced linework never really changes to signify this “other” breaking through into “reality” — melodrama being almost entirely absent from these proceedings, both narratively and visually, with matter-of-factness being privileged above all else no matter how surreal events become — when the story dictates that things need to become different, they do, even if the “language” of the cartooning remains entirely consistent.

Besides, it’s not like any number of encounters with the unknown are going to disrupt the deadpan “flow” of Angloid’s day-to-day existence : she’s still dependent on a scatterbrained gallery owner to try and sell her work; she still needs to get that cafe job; she still longs for companionship (be it in the form of older men at the bar, the stereotypical boy in a band, or even a toaster-headed woman — don’t ask, just read it!), if only to relieve the tedium of an existence seemingly forever-spent circling the drain. Yeah, the tone Graham adopts can often veer toward the bleak — but it’s never dull, never without its moments of keen observational wit, and never too far removed from the prospect of complete metaphysical transformation. It’s that juxtaposition of the mundane with the anything-but that makes this is a dizzyingly unpredictable and (get this) wholly original read from first page to last, and gives even the most seemingly-predictable scenarios a delectable frisson of the wholly exotic.

Of course, one can view this book as being as “meta” as one wishes, and the absolute authenticity with which Graham strings together her vignettes about the — say it with me now — “artist’s life” really do make me wonder whether or not she carries that straight-forward authorial view into all things depicted on these gloriously fluid, expressive pages, specifically : I’d love to know whether or not she believes her own life is observed, even influenced, by “Cosmic Be-INGs” of her own. Certainly a worldview (or maybe that should be a “cosmos-view”) this wonderfully unconventional, communicated (or, if you prefer, “channeled”) with this much naturalistic veracity, must come from somewhere — as must talent this singular. In short, if Alex Graham isn’t in touch with forces beyond our limited human understanding, and if those forces aren’t imparting her with some form of higher-dimensional artistic inspiration, shit — she sure could have fooled me.