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!

Welcome To The Clown Castle : Alex Graham’s “Cosmic BE-ING” #6

Does anybody really like clowns?

I never have, and I can’t think of any of my friends who do — assuming the subject has ever even come up. My wife damn sure doesn’t like them — in fact, they freak her the fuck out on a core level, and to a degree that most people reserve for things like spiders, or heights. Not that she’s terribly fond of either of those things — but I digress. In any case, my original point, I think, still stands : nobody really likes clowns all that much. So don’t ask me where the old saying “everybody loves a clown” comes from.

I don’t know how Alex Graham feels about clowns, though. It’s hard to tell, even though a veritable gaggle of them are at the center of the latest issue of her solo comic, Cosmic BE-ING #6. They live together in a magical castle that appears to be smack-dab in the middle of a desert. Some of them are druggies, although their narcotic of choice is never specified. Some of them have trouble holding onto repetitious, dead-end jobs. Some of them have vaguely sexual yearnings for their fellow clowns. Some of them sit on the couch and read or watch TV.

Yup, these clowns are people very much like you and me — except for that whole magic castle thing. And, ya know, being clowns.

I wondered where Graham was going to go with her series now that the long-running “Angloid” strip has concluded (and been collected, but we already talked about that a couple weeks back), and the answer is — I still don’t know. Which is exactly what I was hoping for, if you can believe that. Dare I attempt to explain what I mean? Oh, if you insist, I’ll do my best —

Graham is one of the rare breed of cartoonists whose instincts and ideas and imagination and even whims or flights of fancy I just implicitly trust. Where she goes, I’m willing and eager to follow because she hasn’t let me down yet. She’s in hitherto-uncharted territory now thematically, with a slightly “tweaked” cartooning style to match — a generally thicker line, more shading and cross-hatching, less-cluttered panels with more “negative space” — and the results, so far, are impressive. Make that quite impressive.

Free from the constraints of long-form narrative, Graham is doing one of my favorite things — throwing a lot of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. Her two lengthier “clown” strips in this book (which, incidentally, offers great value for money — magazine format, full color, on thick, glossy paper for ten bucks? Don’t ask me how that even makes sense for a self-publisher like her with extremely limited distribution) touch briefly on issues of addiction, lethargy, useless toil (as most work is — her clowns taking it to absurd extremes by literally reporting to “work centers” where they type gibberish on paper all day long for no discernible reason), sexual ambiguity, and the joys and freedoms offered by pure randomness and leisure. Somewhere in the middle of all that is something approaching the outlines of at least a point of view, maybe even an actual philosophy, but Graham is taking her time, staking out her territory, moving from the outskirts in. And she’s doing it all with as sharp and keen a sense of observational and absurdist humor as ever.

Don’t misunderstand me : I hope that Graham does, in fact, pursue a “graphic novel”-length type of story again at some point — I just hope that she takes her time getting there. What’s the rush, after all, when the “side-steps” between “Big Project A” and “Big Project B” are this unpredictable, exciting, and entertaining? She can do more completely off-the-wall stuff like using an honest-to-goodness typewriter to fill in her word balloons and caption boxes, or interjecting “throw-away” characters with vaguely elephantine heads, for as long as she needs to until she feels something coalescing, congealing, coagulating — until the next step presents itself. A good artist always knows when the time is right — and Graham is a damn good artist.

The last, short strip in this comic had me a little worried, frankly, about Graham’s state of mind — read it and you’ll see what I mean — but she swears by the end that “it’s all good,” as the young folks say (or said, at any rate, since I don’t know if they still do), and I’m hoping that’s true because creative genius (there, I said it) this singular doesn’t come around too often. If she allows herself more freedom to follow whatever muse(s) flutter across her mind, if she does more comics like this that are content to just be whatever the hell they are, if she “feels her way forward” toward wherever it is that she’s going? I think she may end up being one of the most important cartoonists of her generation — she’s certainly one of the most interesting already.

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I have no idea whether or not it’s available anywhere else at this point, but last I checked our friend Austin English had some copies of Cosmic BE-ING #6 for sale on at his Domino Books website, so if you’re going to order it — and you’d have to be insane not to — do so at http://www.dominobooks.org/store.html