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!


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/04/2018 – 02/10/2018

Once again, and against all odds, the new release racks at my LCS featured a pretty decent selection of stuff worth both reading and talking about this week, so give me a second to roll up my sleeves here and I’ll get into it —

Twisted Romance #1 is the first of a four-part weekly “supernatural love”-themed anthology published by Image and spearheaded by writer Alex De Campi, who is here joined on the main feature, “Old Flames,” by the incomparable Katie Skelly — who probably should have been been given free reign on both story and art, since this succubus-themed tale is a decent enough little throwaway yarn, but certainly no My Pretty Vampire by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a crisp, breezy read that wisely allows the stylish and sharp visuals to pull most of the weight, but ultimately rather forgettable.

Fortunately, though, things improve as the book trudges forward, first with  “Leather & Lace,” a pleasing-if-predictable prose story  about two Wendgio hunters (one human, one vampire) in love written by Megan Cubed that may not knock your socks off but gives you just enough of a handle on the characters to want a happy ending for them before proceeding to deliver precisely that, and then with a downright stunning impressionistic/interpretive backup (or first-up, depending on which of the “reversible” covers you flip to) strip, entitled “Red Medusa In Hell,” by visionary talent (not to mention damn fine critic) Sarah Horrocks that straight-up blew me away with its fatalistic high-energy visuals and daringly sparse scripting. The story looks and feels like a cry for help from a doomed lover for whom it’s already far too late, and touches on themes of anger, jealousy, rage — and even necrophilia! This is a direct shot of uncomfortably violent stimuli mainlined right into your brain via the optic nerve and a deliriously chaotic cacophony of all that can go wrong when love does go wrong. The book’s worth four bucks for this story alone — hell hath no fucking fury, indeed.

Shifting from “alpha” to “omega,” but sticking with Image, we come to Rock Candy Mountain #8, the finale of Kyle Starks’ superb love song to hobo culture, and yes, the mythical “promised land” of many an itinerant worker that the title alludes to is, indeed, found by our protagonist here — after a fashion, at any rate — but fear not : there’s still another gigantic hobo brawl to get through first and, oh yeah, the inclusion of the Spear of Destiny into the joyously-gummed-up proceedings finally pays off in quiet-but-major fashion. I’m really hoping that Starks and colorist supreme Chris Schweizer team up for another project sooner rather than later, as this has been a textbook example of first-rate cartooning from start to finish. If  you’ve been passing on it in singles then you definitely need to pick it up in trade (the second volume should be available shortly), and I’ll tell you what : even though financial suicide isn’t exactly my thing, if they collect the entire series in a handsome hardback at a fairly reasonable price, I’ll probably “double dip” and go for that, as well, since that would be a damn fine thing to have on my bookcase. I have nothing but love for this comic.

Speaking of love, that’s also an eminently fair description of how I felt about Incognegro : Renaissance #1, the second comic to come down the pike from editor Karen Berger’s new “Berger Books” line at Dark Horse. A prequel to writer Mat Johnson and artist Warren Pleece’s Incognegro graphic novel (which Dark Horse re-issued in hardback to coincide with this comic’s debut), this is immediately arresting stuff that sees our “light-skinned-enough-to-pass-for-white” protagonist stumble headfirst into a murder mystery set at the height of the Harlem Rensaissance (hence, ya know, the title) that is bursting at the seams with intrigue and any number of potential red herrings right from the outset. Johnson’s dialogue is witty, sly, and authentic, Pleece’s always-underappreciated art is frankly better than ever, and to say this comic “oozes atmosphere” is probably an understatement, but oh well, too late, I already said it. I was a little bit iffy about the direction Berger’s imprint was heading in after an underwhelming debut with Hungry Ghosts last week, but now I’m feeling decidedly more optimistic. This was a terrific read, and fuck you if you think a black-and-white comic ain’t worth $3.99.

DC wants eight of the dollars you work so hard for in exchange for Swamp Thing Winter Special #1, and whether or not you should give it to them probably depends on how big a fan of the character you are. The main feature by Tom King and Jason Fabok certainly pays loving homage to co-creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, but the AM sports radio framing sequence surrounding the “Swampy tries to keep a young boy safe from an unseen snow monster” tale falls flat, you’ll see the plot “twist” coming from at least ten miles away, the attempts at heartstring-tugging seem forced, and King’s hyper-stylized, “choppy” dialogue is beginning to make all the characters in all the books he writes sound exactly the same. And speaking of the same, he employs the identical “fast-forward” truncated timeline technique in this as he does in the latest issue of Batman. I guess Jason Fabok’s art is okay if you like standard-issue “New 52” superhero stuff, but I don’t, so count me as being fundamentally unimpressed with everything about this story.

Of somewhat more interest is the backup, which was to be the first issue of a new Wein/Kelley Jones Swampy mini-series. Their last six-parter was all kinds of retro fun, and the prospect of them re-teaming for another filled me something approaching joy, but Wein’s untimely passing cut that short, and so all we have is this glimpse of what could/should have been. Jones’ always-superb, Wrightson-esque art is here presented sans dialogue and narration, since Wein — whose script then follows — essentially wrote “Marvel-style,” providing his artist with what amounts to an extended synopsis that includes minimal specific panel instruction, very little dialogue, and lots of “leave me room for some caption boxes here”-type notations. It’s fascinating to see the level of (entirely well-placed) trust he had in Jones, and DC did absolutely the right thing (how often can you say that?) both in terms of deciding not to let somebody else step in and finish what Wein had started, and in making sure Jones’ sumptuously creepy art was able to see the light of day. Does it make me long for what could have been? Sure, but I’m glad we got this much, and its inclusion here provides a fine endcap for what is essentially a “tribute special” for Swamp Thing’s creators.

And on that note, I think we’ll call this a wrap. A couple packages — including one from friend of this website Brian Canini — arrived yesterday, so I’ll look forward to diving into that stuff and reporting back on it, plus whatever else strikes my fancy, when next we meet here in seven days!