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!

 

 

The World You Know, As You’ve Never Seen It Before : E.A. Bethea’s “Book Of Daze”

Cartoonist E.A. Bethea has been doing what she does in the way that only she can do it for a couple of decades now, and her late-2017 Domino Books collection, Book Of Daze, is a publication that reflects the aesthetic values and ethos of the strips contained within it, to wit : it feels like a found object —specifically, one you might come across in a dusty corner of an abandoned house, or on the table of a waterfront dive bar, complete with dried beer bottle “rings” caked into the cover. How it got there, who was reading it — these are questions no one can answer. Rather like the nature of life itself.

Bethea’s  drawing style is minimalist to the point of looking and feeling rushed, with key figures (up to and including the protagonists of most strips) frequently omitted from view in favor of presenting things from their perspective, yet far more evocative and personal for this (let’s be honest) gutsy choice, affording an intimate look into not just the thought processes of the characters themselves, but how they feel about things : where they’re at, what they’re doing, the circumstances that brought them there, physically and emotionally. Longing is a constant feature — for how things were, for what one was doing last time they were in a locale, yet simple and shallow nostalgia never enters into the equation, these stories (short as most are) primarily concerning themselves with something far deeper, far more universally-observed, but far less understood : a meditation on the nature and meaning of impermanence itself.

Which, in fairness, doesn’t mean that the book — appropriately presented on cheap newsprint that rubs off on your fingertips — isn’t without its lighter passages, even humor, but these are tinged with an understanding that even this moment is one that will be over with the instant it’s happened, never to be repeated again, and that this loss of time adds up, imperceptibly, the only proof that it — any “it” — ever existed a series of unreliable memories informed by one’s highly imperfect perceptive faculties.

And yet there is a perfect way to tell these tales, and Bethea has found, perhaps even stumbled into, it : whether she’s relating the story of a lovestruck young college woman in the 1940s, exploring her own memories of her impoverished former neighborhood in New Orleans, offering up a short-form biography of actress-turned-barmaid Veronica Lake, or pondering over the fate of a disappeared childhood friend, she focuses on the places and things that the people under her metaphorical microscope interacted with, came across, or called their own, the discarded detritus of lives presented as ultimately being of equal value to cherished objects, all of them part of a whole that you, the reader, are trusted enough to fill in the various, and intentional, “blanks” of. Bethea gives you enough information to get the general gist of things, sure, but so much of her strength as a storyteller lies in the fact she leaves many of the specifics up to you to intuit.

Varied subjects and subject matter aside, this is ultimately a remarkably cohesive ‘zine/comic, a feat that’s all the more remarkable for the fact that most of these strips have literally appeared “here and there” over the span of many years. It’s as if Bethea has always known more or less precisely what she wants to do, as well as how she wants to do it, from the beginning, and has simply been honing, refining, dare I say perfecting her technique ever since. These are the observations of a lifelong romantic, but one whose object of affection is human existence itself — with its foibles, its frailties, its finite nature seen not as flaws, but as the very things that make it worth living and loving; a lyrical expression, told in prose as precise as it is fluid, of the sad everyday magic that is found in times, places, and people forgotten; an appreciation of all things forlorn that loves them both for what they are and how they came to be that way. If you think there is no beauty to be found in desolation, 40 slim pages of panel-border-free, yet tightly-formatted, comics have the power to disabuse you of that notion once and for all.

Book Of Daze is something very far beyond simply “remarkable,” and it can — and absolutely should — be ordered for a paltry six bucks directly from its publisher, Domino Books, at http://dominobooks.org/bookofdaze.html