Four Color Apocalypse 2021 Year In Review : Top Ten Comics Series

As we trudge on with our year-end review, we come next to a category that’s fairly easy to explain : TOP TEN COMICS SERIES refers to any ongoing or limited comic book series that saw more than one issue released in the past calendar year. As you’re about to see, anthologies — both solo and multi-creator — ruled the roost in 2021, a trend I’d be most happy to see continue. But we’ll worry about that in the future, for now here are my personal picks for best comics series in the present :

10. Bubblegum Maelstrom By Ryan Alves (Awe Comics) – Alves just plain tore it up in 2021, producing two issues of this now-concluded solo anthology title, the last of which was an 80-plus-page monster. Fitting, I suppose, given that monstrosity itself was a core concern of so many of the strips in this series. Bu turns grotesque and exquisite, sometimes both, Alves really went for the conceptual jugular with this comic, and I’m more than anxious to see what he does next.

9. Flop Sweat By Lance Ward (Birdcage Bottom) – Don’t you dare say memoir is dead until you’re read this. Ward’s autobio series is harrowing, heartfelt, sometimes even humorous — but never less than painfully honest. When the abyss that gazes back is your own life, and you can still make compelling art from that? You’ve got guts to match your skills. Never doubt Ward’s abundance of both.

8. Love And Rockets By Gilbert And Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – If you find a best-of list that this title isn’t on, you’ve found yourself one lazy-ass critic. Or a stupid one. Down a few spots from where I normally place it simple because, sorry to say, Beto’s current stuff isn’t registering with me to the degree it usually does, but hey — Jaime is continuing to produce some of the best comics of his career.

7. Vacuum Decay, Edited By Harry Nordlinger (Self-Published) – The most uncompromising underground horror anthology in decades continued to push the envelope with issue three — and with issue four, it just plain wiped its ass with it. To quote my own tweet back at me (speaking of lazy critics) : this is a comic that goes there. Whether you want to go with it or not, well — that’s your call. I know I’m down for the ride.

6.Rust Belt Review, Edited By Sean Knickerbocker (Self-Published) – Knickerbocker’s own strips about the tribulations and travails of life in “flyover country” set the tone for this diverse, oversized anthology centered on the big dreams and big problems of people with so-called “small” lives. Quintessential reading for everyone who understands that neither neoliberalism nor Trumpian neofascism (nor, for that matter, ‘tech bro” libertariansim) offers any solutions to those ground under by the wheels of what some still laughably term “progress.” Real stories about real people are the order of the day here.
5. Goiter Comics By Josh Pettinger (Tinto Press/Kilgore Books) – Two issues in one year from two publishers? Pettinger was one busy cartoonist in 2021, and the increased workload seems to be agreeing with him — from his strongest character studies to the opening salvo of an OMAC-esque dystopian fable by way of the Amazon warehouse, this was the year this title well and truly came into its own and left any Clowes and Ware comparisons firmly in its rear view.

4. Acid Nun By Corinne Halbert (Self-Published) – Psychedelic cosmic interdimensional Satanic nunspolitation with a generous helping of BDSM fetishism not just on the side, but front and center? Sign me the fuck up for that any day, and when you factor in Halbert’s astonishing compositions and use of color what you’ve got is one of the most visually literate comics of the year as well as probably the most deliciously pervy. Plenty to turn your crank whether you’re gay, straight, somewhere in between, or completely undecided, but there’s something more going on here than erotic stimulation for its own sake (not that there’s anything wrong with that) — if you appreciate a cartoonist who’s clearly playing a “long game” of stimulating you libidinally as foreplay to stimulating you intellectually, you’ve come to the right place.

3 Future By Tommi Musturi (Self-Published) – A web that draws you in by continuing to expand outward, Musturi’s various (and variously-styled) narratives never cease to impress, even as they bob and weave between confounding and illuminating. Everything is building toward something here — a conceptual singularity, at least, and perhaps even a narrative one —but I’m enjoying the individual journeys far too much to be ready for a destination yet. It doesn’t get much more unique than this, folks — a series you already miss before it’s even over.

2. Reptile House, Edited By (I’m Assuming Here) Nick Bunch (Reptile House Comix) – Created and published by a de facto artistic collective out of Philly, this is exhibit B for my contention that locally-focused anthologies are the future of comics. A heady mix of long-form continuing narratives and hilariously visceral one-offs, 99% of the cartoonists appearing in these pages are folks that I’ve never heard of before, but their work — like this series itself — just gets stronger and stronger as it goes on. And they wrapped up an already amazingly strong year with a killer 3-D issue. This is grassroots comics-making the way you remember it — and the way you’ve never seen it before.

1. Tinfoil Comix, Edited By Floyd Tangeman With Co-Edits On #4 By Austin English (Dead Crow/Domino Books) – As for exhibit A for my contention about locally-based anthologies, this is it right here. Tangeman’s Bay Area anthology will, mark my words, go down as the most important signifier of not just where comics are, but where they’re going, since Kramers Ergot 4. This series burned as quickly and brightly as one can imagine, and the mark it left is going to be felt for years to come. We’ll see if the new bi-coastal “successor” series Tangeman and English are cooking up can keep the creative momentum going, but if the job they did together on #4 is any indication, we’ve got plenty to be excited about.

Next up we’ll do the “grab-bag” category that is TOP TEN SPECIAL MENTIONS, but in the meantime please consider helping me crank out more of this kind of theoretically enjoyable content by subscribing to my Patreon, 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. Here’s a link : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

The Cosmic Cosmology Of Need : Corinne Halbert’s “Acid Nun” #2

Corinne Halbert’s work is the sort of stuff that lends itself well to deep and thoughtful metatextual analyses that will or would, I’m fully confident, place it firmly within the now-chic, if ill-defined, body of “sex positive” art, embodying as it does an ethos that not only responds to, but frankly obliterates, such contemporary (and, really, timeless) villains like patriarchy, kink-shaming, modesty, repression, and other shit most people of discernment are bored with. Throw in some noble pro-drug — specifically pro-psychedelic — sentiments, and there’s really no doubt about it : Halbert follows in the rich tradition of those who both preach and practice William Blake’s famous axiom “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

And so it is that I truly hope a dedicated, skilled, and analytical writer will take it upon themselves to situate Halbert’s entire ouevre within a much broader continuum of like-minded aesthetic statements, because it frankly it deserves as much. Ya know what, though? It ain’t gonna be me. Not necessarily because I’m too lazy — although there is that — but because I think such a treatise, necessary as it may be, would actually sell her art short.

Consider her latest self-published mini, Acid Nun #2 — sure, it plays around in the same sandbox as the first issue, which I reviewed in rather glowing terms on this very site, but despite little by way of what would traditionally be termed “plot progression” (Elinore and Baphomet enlist the services of a tarot card reader to help divine the whereabouts of Annie, our ostensible heroine), the breadth and depth of Halbert’s thematic and philosophical explorations nevertheless multiply themselves exponentially here, the comic’s “Forgive Urself” title page not just marrying a shop-worn piece of pop-psychology advice with one of the artist’s trademark arresting images, but in fact serving as the raison d’etre of the project (or at least this installment of it) in a more universal sense. Which brings me back to Blake —

At the risk of sounding pretentious as shit (okay, fair enough, too late), it’s my firm contention that Halbert is a latter-day “ecstatic visionary” herself, and one who shares many of Blake’s obsessions vis a vis the cosmic and eternal, although no one would argue that her methodology of exploring them — and subsequently expressing the essential character of those explorations — is anything other than entirely her own. Now watch and learn at home, kids, because segues get no clumsier than this —

Suicide hangs over this book like a fucking Sword of Damocles. Not just concretely, either — we’re talking conceptually, fundamentally, ethereally. It’s baked into the metaphorical DNA of the entire thing. Halbert takes great pains — emphasis, probably, on the pain — to explain why this is in a text piece that sure as shit can’t have been easy to write, but be forewarned that it’s also not the easiest thing to read, either. Still, the broader subject of self-harm is in no way incongruous with other themes present in this comic (hell, in all of Halbert’s comics) — I mean, sure, the sex and the chemically-induced altered states of consciousness she depicts are vibrant, colorful, phantasmagoric, and yes, ecstatic, but who are we kidding? That doesn’t always mean they’re fun.

Any key to self-discovery can, with just a slight twist the other way, be a key to self-destruction, and in this comic in particular Halbert treads that very fine line with care, precision, and even a certain amount of compassion. So often things can go in either direction when we’re talking about acts of intimate expression, and there’s a real need at the beating heart of this work to, if you’ll forgive the cliche, “leave it all out there on the page” — a need that makes for a reading experience that’s as harrowing, difficult, and challenging as it is ultimately rewarding. I’d be committing critical malpractice not to mention the terrific pin-up art contributions of Alex Graham, Hyena Hell, and Matthew Allison to the overall tone and tenor of these proceedings, but in the end this is Halbert’s show all the way, and everything she has in her is coming out. Tyger, tyger, you’re burning bright.

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Acid Nun #2 is available for $10.00 from Corinne Halbert’s Bigcartel site at https://corinnehalbert.bigcartel.com/product/acid-nun-no-2

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the world of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a loo by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

The Good Kind Of Bad Trip : Corinne Halbert’s “Acid Nun”

From the depths of space to the depths of hell to the depths of the mind to the depths of depravity, Annie, the titular Acid Nun of illustrator extraordinaire Corinne Halbert’s new self-published mini, covers a lot of territory — but then, you’d expect nothing less, I would suppose, given that a comic with a dizzyingly lurid name had damn well better serve up the dizzyingly lurid goods to match.

Of course, with an artist of Halbert’s skills, most of that luridness is going to be expressed visually, and she certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front : this is a veritable tableau of sexually explicit violent psychedelia rendered with the care of a true enthusiast, a celebratory paean to the libertine spirit and ethos delivered with a passion that can’t be faked. There’s good and there’s evil, then there’s beyond good and evil, and then somewhere well beyond even that there’s this stuff — value judgments are well out the window here, but if you want to judge a book on the quality of its execution? Halbert’s work is beyond reproach on that front.

Which means, of course, that this is in no way, shape, or form a comic for all tastes, or for those with a weak constitution. A person’s gotta be made of some pretty stern stuff to create work of this nature, to be sure, but one needs to be made of equally stern stuff to enjoy it — fuck “not for the squeamish” disclaimers, this collection of interconnected shorts (one of which I recognize from an issue of Harry Nordlinger’s Vacuum Decay anthology series, the others being new to my eyes) isn’t going to do much for even the nominally “well-adjusted,” apart from providing a generous amount of fuel for their nightmares. What that means to you, dear reader, only you can determine, but for this critic’s part? In case you hadn’t already guessed, I loved it.

Granted, that probably says something about me that any shrink worth his or her salt would have a veritable field day with, but in point of fact I could care less. There’s way too much comforting, “safe” material out there that offers nothing by way of aesthetic or conceptual challenges — Halbert not only pushes all those buttons, she throws down a gauntlet that challenges her readers’ morality, as well, and that takes a hell of a lot of guts. Good thing there are plenty of those to be found in these pages — literally, as you can see.

Still, the casual nonchalance with which Halbert dismisses anything remotely resembling pleasantries as a matter of course is as firm an indication as any I can think of that she’s having a lot of fun here, as well (as is Mike Centeno, who contributes a killer piece of pin-up art) — and why not? With every square sent scrambling for the hills and/or padded cells more or less from page one, she’s playing to a choir of fellow reprobates here, and has no reason to do anything other than, in true acid-head parlance, “let it all hang out.” There’s certainly a gleeful and playful vibe to all this that the subject matter wouldn’t at first seem to line up with all that naturally, but if you think about it — why not? I mean, if we’re all fucked up anyway (and, for the record, we are), there’s no reason not to keep it a secret, nor to try to banish that part of ourselves to some dark corner of the id, where all it will do is fester and grow until it becomes truly dangerous. Art is all about release, after all — or, in this case, perhaps the term exorcism would be more appropriate.

Look, who are we fooling here? You know you want this comic — you wanted it from the minute you laid eyes on the cover. I’m just here to tell you to give in, and that you won’t regret it for a second.

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Acid Nun is available for $10.00 directly from Corinne Halbert’s website at https://corinnehalbert.bigcartel.com/product/acid-nun-no-1

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by 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. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse