Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Single Issues

It’s that time of the year — specifically, the end of it. Or near enough, at any rate, for my purposes — those “purposes” being to survey the comics landscape and pick my favorites from 2019’s slate of offerings. As per the norm, I’ll be dividing things up into a veritable boat-load of different categories — top ten single issues (stand-alone comics, or ongoing projects that saw only one installment published in the last calendar year), top ten ongoing series (any comic series or “limited” series that saw two or more issues come out in 2019), top ten vintage collections (books presenting material originally published prior to the year 2000), top ten contemporary collections (books presenting material originally published after the year 2000), top ten special mentions (“comics-adjacent” projects such as ‘zines, books about comics, art books, prose and/or visual works by cartoonists that aren’t exactly “comics” per se, etc.), and top ten original graphic novels (long-form original works never serialized in single issues) — and again, as per usual, we’ll kick things off with the top ten single issues list, with the others following in the coming days. Now, let’s stop dawdling and get down to business, shall we?

10. Kids With Guns #1 By Alex Nall (Self-Published) – The opening salvo of Nall’s first-ever ongoing serial instantly captured my attention with its strong characterization, sublime grasp on inter-generational relations, and oblique-but-effective social commentary, all rendered in his signature updated take on traditional “Sunday Funnies” cartooning. This project could go in any number of fascinating directions, and may or may not be about what its title implies. I’m looking forward to finding out.

9. Expelling My Truth By Tom Van Deusen (Kilgore Books) – Nobody employs exaggeration and absurdity to tell the “truth” about both modern life and themselves quite like Van Deusen, and in his latest, his trademark satirical wit has never been sharper while his line art has never been smoother. Always a study in contrasts, this guy, but he’s found an inimitable way to make his work’s deliberate and inherent contradictions become its raison d’etre.

8. Rodeo #1 By Evan Salazar (Self-Published) – Debuts don’t come much stronger than this one, as Salazar immediately establishes himself as a cartoonist with a unique perspective and a natural gift for storytelling, his tale of a temporary family break-up as seen through a particularly precocious child’s eyes revealing much more about what’s happening than a straight re-telling of the “facts” of the situation ever could. Emotionally and intellectually arresting in equal measure, and drawn in a confident, non-flashy style, this is one of the best single-creator anthology titles to come down the pipeline in many a year.

7. Stunt By Michael DeForge (Koyama Press) – I struggled with which category to put this one in, but eventually settled on single issues simply because it’s formatted like a Jack T. Chick tract even if it’s priced like a book — it’s also, in true DeForge fashion, imbued with a hell of a lot more philosophical depth than its page count would lead you to believe. A rumination on identity and its voluntary, even necessary, abandonment filtered through his usual lens of homoeroticism and gooey body horror, this short-form offering ranks right up there with the cartoonist’s most confidently-realized works.

6. Nabokova By Tana Oshima (Self-Published) – It was such a strong and prolific year for Oshima that choosing a favorite among her works was tough, but in point of fact this is the one where she really “puts it all together” and delivers a treatise on alienation, self-absorption and the fine line between the two that’s every bit as dense as the Russian literature its title invokes — but it won’t, fortunately, take you all winter to to read it. Spellbinding stuff that will leave your head spinning with questions.

5. Castle Of The Beast By Ariel Cooper (Self-Published) – Fear of intimacy has never been delineated as beautifully or as sympathetically as it is in Cooper’s lush, breathtaking visual tone-poem that masterfully blends the concrete and the abstract into a comics experience quite unlike any other. Within a couple of years, this will be the cartoonist everyone is talking about

4. Tulpa By Grace Kroll (Self-Published) – It’s astonishing to see anyone bare their soul and their struggles as frankly as Kroll does in this, her first ever comic, but do so in a manner that brings forth genuine understanding rather than simply playing for sympathy? There are cartoonists that spend their whole careers struggling with what she achieves on her very first go-’round, and her singular art style is as smart as it is innovative.

3. For Real By James Romberger (Uncivilized Books) – The only thing more heroic than Jack Kirby’s characters was the man himself, and in this heartfelt tribute, master artist Romberger relates two harrowing life-and-death challenges The King faced in a manner than honors his style yet is in no way beholden to it. Another unforgettable comics experience by a cartoonist who never produces anything less.

2. Malarkey #4 By November Garcia (Birdcage Bottom Books) – Long the champion of neurotic self-deprecation, by tracing the roots of both to her Catholic upbringing, Garcia ups the stakes — and the results — considerably and establishes herself as precisely what previous issues of this comic hinted she might become : the best autobio cartoonist in the business. And maybe even the heir apparent to the great Justin Green? In any case, her moment has well and truly arrived. Now, will somebody get busy collecting all her stuff into a book, please?

1. Tad Martin #7 By Casanova Frankenstein (Domino Books)  – I could say that seeing Frankenstein and his nominally stand-in protagonist matched up with the production values they so richly deserve is a “dream come true,” but this gorgeous, full-color, oversized comic is actually a nightmare come to life — and harrowing, soul-searing life at that. Always an exercise in re-invention, this issue of Tad combines elements of all the previous entries in this sporadic series into a comprehensive vision of nihilism as the only thing worth living for. Other cartoonists will have to fight for a place edging toward the middle — the margins of the medium are already spoken for.

And so we’re off to the races with “Top Ten” week. I’ll be tackling the best ongoing series next, but in the meantime do consider supporting my ongoing work by subscribing to my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Please do yourself — and, who are we kidding, me — a favor by checking it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

The Circuitous — And Circular — Path Through The “Castle Of The Beast”

Ariel Cooper’s first self-published comic, Ghost Sickness, blew me away. Her second, Castle Of The Beast (sub-titled A Theory Of Time Travel) goes even further, shattering your view of the so-called “fourth dimension” and re-assembling it into something immediately and intrinsically familiar, but nevertheless altogether different. And I say this, mind you, as somebody who’s felt that the concept of time was complete bullshit pretty much since I was a teenager.

Linear time has been assaulted from every angle in the not-too-distant “past” — scientific treatises from Stephen Hawking, anarchist broadsides from John Zerzan, and 1,300-page literary masterworks from Alan Moore have all taken a crack at the foundations of its crumbling edifice — but Cooper is taking a different tack, presenting a work of art that makes you feel your way toward a better, deeper, and yes, more accurate understanding of the ultimately undefinable force that governs every aspect of our reality. Prepare to be challenged, yes — but not simply on intellectual level.

Of course, no universally-held “truth” stands a chance against Cooper’s sheer talent — employing everything from painstakingly-detailed graphite renderings to wistfully gorgeous watercolors (or digital approximations of their “look,” perhaps?) to expertly-applied colored pencils, her “toolbox” is loaded, as is her imagination, and she makes full and exquisite use of both, visually tying together her lyrically-expressed themes of intimacy, solitude, heartbreak, and the prison of time that holds them all affixed to certain spots in the “past” or “future,” purportedly never to be lived, to be experienced, ever again.

But what if it weren’t so cut-and-dried?

Of course, it’s not. The formative experiences that shaped us — as well as those yet to come — neither “go away” nor “have yet to happen.” We experience them in a kind of “order,” but sometimes things touch us on levels both subtle and profound and we are afforded direct glimpses into “past” and “future” — all while never leaving the impossible-to-quantify “present.” It’s confusing, sure — until you realize that it’s actually not.

Which may actually be the most confusing thing about it — how can we be so alienated from the true nature and character of existence? Animals don’t possess time consciousness, nor do infants — it has to be drilled into us, and how much of the full breadth and scope of what it means to truly live is lost when we enslave ourselves to the clock? Cooper doesn’t ask these questions in plain language — she asks them in visual language, emotional language, experiential language. She doesn’t bypass the intellect by any stretch of the imagination, but she engages with it by means of the eyes and heart, trusting that the mind will follow where they lead.

I’m running out of superlatives more surely than I’m running out of time, but Cooper is showing a genuine facility for producing singular and self-contained works that bear her inimitable stamp of authorship while exploring entirely distinct-unto-themselves themes. We’re spoiled with a wealth of promising emerging cartoonists right now, sure, but she’s immediately established herself as someone with ability to match her vision to match her ambition to match her intuition. To think that she’s just starting to tap into the wellspring of her creative (goddamnit, I’m just gonna say it) genius and will likely only get better from here?

That’s just plain staggering. As is Castle Of The Beast. This is an essential comics experience.

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I don’t see it listed quite yet, but this comic will be available from Austin English’s Domino Books online store soon — and probably nowhere else. Ghost Sickness can also be ordered there. Here’s your link :http://www.dominobooks.org/store.html

Also, this review, as well as all others on this site, is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. You can now join up for as little as a buck, and trust me when I say you get excellent value for your money. Please take a moment to check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse