Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Single Issues

With the advent (ha! Get it?) of December, the time has come, once again, for our annual look back at some of the finest comics the year had to offer. We’ll be skipping the usual offerings for the next week or two around here, including the Weekly Reading Round-Up column, since re-reading is your humble emcee’s top priority for the next little while. A run-down, then, of the six different categories I’ve broken things down into is in order, and please keep in mind that I’m deliberately eschewing calling any of these lists a “best-of” simply because I haven’t read everything that’s out there — and who could? Think of these, then, as lists of the ten best entries in each category that I’ve read. Or my own personal favorites. Or something. Anyway, “brackets” are as follows:

Top Ten Single Issues – Pretty self-explanatory, I should think : this list focuses on individual comic books and minis, either stand-alones or part of an ongoing series.

Top Ten Comics Series – This list is designed to spotlight comics that are produced on some sort of production schedule and honors those of consistently high quality. Open-ended, ongoing series and finite mini-series both are eligible, the only qualification is that each series has to have released at least three issues over the course of the past year, since if they’ve only put out two, either one of them would represent 50% of said comic’s total “output” and should, by rights, probably land in the “Top 10 Single Issues” category.

Top Ten Contemporary Collections – This list will focus on collected editions of material previously released either as single issues or in anthologies, etc. English-language translations of Eurocomics, Manga, and the like are also eligible in this category. I have a fairly generous definition of “contemporary,” and have set an admittedly quite arbitrary “cut-off date” of the year 2000, since anything that presents work from the previous century will fall into the category of —

Top Ten Vintage Collections – Same rules as above, just for pre-2000 stuff.

Top Ten Special Mentions – This is a new one I’ve never done before and is somewhat amorphous by definition, so by way of explanation I’ll just say it’s a list designed to highlight my favorite comics-adjacent releases of the year : work that’s done by cartoonists but doesn’t fit the traditional sequential-art format, or else publications that are about comics, but aren’t actually comics themselves.

Top Ten Graphic Novels – Last but certainly not least, this category has fairly strict limitations : every work in it is one which was designed from the outset to be presented in the “graphic novel” format, and cannot have been serialized anywhere else, either in print or online, since those sorts of things are already covered by the “Top Ten Contemporary Collections” designation. These are long-form, wholly original works only.

Are we good? I think we’re good. So let’s jump right in with the Top Ten Single Issues list —

10. Goiter #3 By Josh Pettinger (Self-Published) – The strongest comic yet from one of the most promising “emerging” cartoonists out there, I’m glad to see Pettinger moving away from his Clowes/Ware roots and find an authentic perspective all his own with this superb story about a young woman in love with — a chronologically-displaced floating head? Moving, smart, authentic, and deeply emotive work.

9. Rookie Moves By November Garcia (Self-Published) – Probably my favorite autobio cartoonist working today is at her best in this fun and funny (not to mention endlessly charming) mini focused on her transition from star-struck fan girl to “professional” comic artist — who’s still a star-struck fan girl. One of the most earnest and refreshingly un-pretentious reads of the year.

8. Rust Belt #4 By Sean Knickerbocker (Self-Published) – We’ve heard a lot this year about comics that capture the current MAGA-poisoned “cultural moment,” but for my money none succeeded so well as the fourth issue of Knickerbocker’s ongoing “solo anthology” series, as he casts his increasingly-sharp observational eye on the dual personalities of a guy who’s an average enough husband at home, and a rising right-wing social media “star” in his spare time. You know the people in this comic — and while that’s a damn depressing thing to consider, it makes for utterly compelling reading.

7. By Monday I’ll be Floating In The Hudson With The Other Garbage By Laura Lannes (2dcloud) – The most exemplary collection of diary comics I had the pleasure to read in 2018, Lannes’ subtle and self-deprecating tone and smooth, fundamentally inventive cartooning chart the doomed trajectory of a Tinder “romance” in both real-time and a gorgeous, over-sized format. Remarkably restrained for something so personal, this one sticks in your mind long after     closing it.

6. From Crust Till Dawn By Sarah Romano Diehl (Self-Published) – The second chapter in Diehl’s ongoing memoir of her time as a pizza parlor employee unfolds with a dreamlike quality and ease that brings out the character, rather than the nuts-and-bolts specifics, of each instance it portrays — the end result being a joyously unique reading experience quite unlike anything else.

5. Cosmic BE-ING #6 By Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Graham enters her post-Angloid era with this awesomely bizarre and entirely singular look at the lives of the residents of her “Clown Castle” in the sky who will creep you out and crack you up in equal measure as they point out the absurdities of wage labor, group living, and other everyday taken-as-given situations large and small. The most assured effort yet from one of the most unique talents in cartooning today.

4. Tongues #2 By Anders Nilsen (Self-Published) – The most ambitious (thematically and visually) ongoing narrative in comics ups the mystery even as things come into view more clearly in its various and for-now-disparate plotlines. Gorgeously illustrated and colored, viscerally written, this is a true masterpiece-in-the-making that demands and rewards rigorous re-reading and examination.

3. Perfect Discipline And Unbending Loyalty By Tommi Parrish (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – In the space of just a couple of short years, Parrish has assumed comics’ mantle as the most astute chronicler of the emotional landscape of human interpersonal relations, and in this sumptuously-presented work they disarm, dissect, and ultimately empower their characters as they navigate generational differences with the same delicately understated honesty as they bring to their intuitive mapping of physical, sexual, and even mental intimacy between couples. Staggering, heartfelt, supremely confident work.

2. Frontier #17, Mother’s Walk By Lauren Weinstein (Youth In Decline) – Weinstein’s love letter to her newborn child is a testament to the power of motherhood and cartooning both as it traverses the eternal moment just before a new life enters this world in an elliptical fashion that encapsulates past, present, and future in an ever-present “now” that circles back in on itself and never ends — as is most certainly true of this comic itself, which breaks every pre-conceived notion still remaining as to what the medium is capable of. There’s been a lot of “hype” around this book recently — including from yours truly — but rest assured : none of it captures the full magnificence of all it contains, of all it is.

1. Now #4, Edited By Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) – The most significant ongoing anthology in well over a decade, Reynolds puts it all together in this issue (with plenty of help from cartoonists like Roman Muradov, Julian Glander, Nathan Cowdry, Matthias Lehmann, Walt Holcombe, Tommi Parrish, and Brian Blomerth, among others), more than living up to the “mission statement” in his book’s title, but going one step further in the process — this isn’t just where comics are at now, it also shows where they’re going in the future. The best, most varied, most effectively curated (I term I try not to use at all, but employ here with absolute precision) assemblage of sequential art you’re going to come across in this year and probably just about any other, this is a shot across the bow, a challenge for everyone to “raise the bar” and make comics that are as confidently-realized as those on offer here.

Whew! Okay! That’s quite the run-down! And we’re just getting started! 2018 really has been an amazing year for comics, and narrowing down each of these lists to just ten “winners” has been a very difficult task indeed. I feel bad about some of the books that didn’t “make the cut,” but I’m very confident in everything I settled on, as well as the specific places they earned. I hope you agree with my selections, sure, but more than that — I hope you’ve found some great new comics to add to your “must-buy” list!

Next up — Top Ten Ongoing Series! I’m aiming to have that list up tomorrow!

By The Time You’re Done With This Review You’ll Want To Read “By Monday I’ll Be Floating In The Hudson With The Other Garbage”

The work of cartoonist Laura Lannes is as raw as it gets. Rendered in tightly-framed watercolors that leave plenty of negative space for readers to fill in the “blanks” (both physical and metaphorical) for themselves, her 2dcloud-published graphic memoir By Monday I’ll Be Floating In The Hudson With The Other Garbage is something a whole lot more than the “simple” 30-day collection (covering the period of February-March, 2017) of diary strips it appears to be on the surface : it’s an examination not only of an emotionally turbulent period in the life of a 25-year-old New Yorker, but of how the process of putting these experiences down on paper allows its author/subject to regain control over the narrative of her own life — at precisely the moment when the parameters of said life seem entirely out of her control.

If you’re gonna “play” the autobio “game” successfully, sharp observational skills are indispensable, and Lannes certainly has hers honed to the point of glinting — she’s painfully frank in her depiction of others’ foibles, sure, but crucially she doesn’t spare herself, either, as the darkly humorous title of this spiral-bound collection (printed and bound with the level of exacting care we’ve come to expect from Perfectly Acceptable Press) makes plain from the outset. And yet, while you could be forgiven for making the assumption that self-pity is the main course on offer here, in truth it’s barely even on the menu.

To my mind, at any rate, that — in addition to just plain smart cartooning choices — is what gives Lannes’ work a “leg up” on most memoirists. Is everything in this book told from her own point of view? Absolutely. But that point of view isn’t afraid to lay its own process of becoming absolutely bare in front of readers. As Lannes navigates the perpetually-confused (and, from where this old married guy is sitting, perpetually confusing) landscape of Tinder dating, as she briefly re-connects (unsuccessfully) with an old flame, as she runs away from New York (to Mardi Gras, no less) with a guy who’s every bit as “on the rebound” as she is, as she dabbles her toes tentatively into involvement with local democratic socialist groups, as she falls for a guy named Francesco alarmingly quickly (and she knows it) only to ultimately add him to her mental list of guys who have let her down (he demands exclusivity from her while not being willing to return the “favor” — asshole), as she drifts from one doomed freelance gig to another — her honest thoughts and reflections are front, center, and immediate, but so is the internal debate within herself about how she’s going to present all this, to memorialize it, not only to herself, but to a readership composed largely of more or less complete strangers.

Following her quasi-breakup with Francesco, Lannes’ life takes on the character of the sort of downward spiral we’ve all seen before and perhaps even lived through ourselves, and while there are times when it seems like she can’t catch a break no matter what — the batteries in her vibrator are even dead! — she never loses sight of how inherently ridiculous, perhaps even pathetic, the search for love, sex, and romance (and she’s acutely aware of how interconnected all three are) is, and she also never drifts too far from her inherently (is it too soon to call it “trademark”?) self-deprecating wit. Is this all life and death stuff? It certainly seems to at the time to Lannes (as it would to most of us), but hey — that doesn’t mean you can’t see the funny side of it all, even while it’s still happening.

By the time all is said and done, Lannes’ down-to-Earth-and-maybe-even-beneath-it editorial POV becomes downright necessary, as she’s forced to open up the lines of communication with Francesco again to let him know that she may have, unbeknownst to her at the time, passed chlamydia on to him. There’s no “easy” way to delineate a scene like this, but Lannes at least manages to make it bearable to read, even if living through it was obviously anything but. You’ll cringe, but you won’t be able to stop reading — and you’ll find yourself bummed out that it’s all over when you get to the 30th, and final, page. Even if you’re somewhat relieved.

Names are changed to protect the “innocent” here, as you’d no doubt expect/hope for — hell, one of the characters is even (appropriately) given a dog’s head — but I’d still put By Monday I’ll Be Floating In The Hudson With The Other Garbage right up there with the most unflinchingly honest memoirs the comics medium has ever (no exaggeration) produced. It’s uncomfortable, it’s harrowing, it reads very much like a work produced from a place of compulsive need — and it’s hilarious. The overall experience of reading it can leave you feeling exhausted, at least mentally and emotionally (hell, maybe even physically, depending on what kind of shape you’re in), but you’ll walk away from it feeling damn impressed indeed. Maybe even something akin to floored.

Besides, what more do you need from a comic than sex, socialism, and self-reflection?

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Okay, admittedly $25.00 is a lot to pay for anything, much less a comic book, but By Monday I’ll Be Floating In The Hudson With The Other Garbage is an unforgettable read, and is sumptuously-produced, to boot. It can — and should — be ordered directly from the cartoonist at https://lauralannes.bigcartel.com/product/by-monday