Creativity While “Isolated”

When we look on things a few years from now (assuming we make it that far), there’s a damn good chance that 2020 will be seen as a turning point for small press, self-published, and otherwise independent comics. Not only did we have the “heavy hitters” like Simon Hanselmann’s Crisis Zone and Alex Graham’s Dog Biscuits, we had diary comics galore from any number of cartoonists, as well as a smattering of “lockdown”-themed anthologies — artists, like the rest of us, were looking for anything to keep them sane while they were (by and large) stuck indoors, and new (predominantly digital) distribution methods were utilized, both by choice and necessity, to get their work out there. In many ways, sure, it seems like only yesterday, but in others it seems like a lifetime ago, so completely has the landscape shifted. And the changes to production and distribution that the pandemic engendered have proven to be every bit as resilient as has COVID-19 itself, really — I mean, how many comics are you reading on Instagram these days? I bet it’s more than you were in 2019.

I was somewhat surprised, then, to receive in the mail recently a handsomely-produced little anthology called Isolated, edited and published by Tana Oshima and featuring work produced primarily (with some exceptions) during the “height” of the lockdowns, that is available only in printed form. This is not a complaint, mind you — I made mention of Instagram comics a moment ago, but the truth is I don’t even have an Instagram account myself and prefer to keep things as “old school” as is humanly possible. I’m well aware, however, of what’s happening in the digital comics realm in a general sense, and so the idea of a a collection of pandemic-themed strips that bucks the trends and stays with the tried-and-true is inherently appealing to a stick in the mud such as myself — and even more importantly, so are the comics that Oshima is presenting here.

Of course, how could they not be given the veritable “murder’s row” of international talent she’s managed to put together? Roll call, in order of appearance : Celine Hudreaux on covers, with interior stories by Pedro Pablo Bacallao, E.A. Bethea, Angela Fanche, Ana Galvan, Jessica Garcia, November Garcia, Ness Ilene Garza, Marie Gilot, Kim Lam, Drew Lerman, Lui Mort, Roman Muradov, Hue Nguyen, Weng Pixin, Areeba Siddique, and Lane Yates. Veteran readers of my blathering will no doubt recognize many a cartoonist I’ve sung the praises of included in this list of luminaries, but there are a handful of names that I admit were new to me here as well, and lo and behold, they contribute some of the strongest entries in the book, so that admittedly shop-worn “something old, something new” axiom with regards to putting together a successful anthology? It absolutely rings true in this case.

Everyone is given four pages to work with (apart from Galvan, who only uses two), and as one would expect, pretty much all these strips are autobiographical in nature, but even the ones that aren’t in form are in spirit, given the same thing was resting heavy on everybody’s shoulders all over the world at the time — which rather brings me to my main point here : expect a uniquely unpleasant and harrowing reading experience with this as you look back on a time that absolutely no one is nostalgic for. These are all cartoonists operating at the full height of their considerable powers, so that semi-apocalyptic sense of dread we all felt in 2020? You’re gonna feel it all over again. It hangs over all in Sword of Damocles fashion, even in the strips with a nominally “lighter” tone. So if you’re understandably not yet ready to go down that road, while I’d still strongly urge you to get this book — after all, who knows how many copies are even out there — I’d likewise advise that you put it aside until you really feel up to it. Please. For your own sake.

Speaking for myself (because that’s the only person I’m remotely qualified to speak for in the first place), the predominant sensation this collection evoked in me was the strange dichotomy of those times — we were all going through the same thing, but since we were separated, we all experienced and processed it in highly personal ways. It didn’t help, I suppose, that politics did its level best to wrest control of the situation from science — and I’ll always find it as tragic as it was predictable that the same assholes who lectured us about “coming together” in the wake of 9/11 so they could pursue bloodthirsty and profit-driven wars of conquest abroad were the ones telling us to piss in the face of unity during the lockdowns — but by and large the very nature of isolation itself gave rise to myriad interpretations of both what the lockdowns meant and how best to navigate them. This book, by dint of the wide range of distinctive voices it presents, captures the essence of what it means to individually experience a collective nightmare.

Also worth noting : thanks to the efforts of Oshima and her predecessor on the project Andrew Losowsky, grant funding was secured so that all of the contributors were paid for their efforts — and we all remember how vital that was at the time. You can feel good about buying this comic, then, even if it’s not a “feel-good” collection per se — it is, however, a vital and necessary one, as well as a testament to art’s ability to help us get through the roughest of rough times.


Isolated is available for $12.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at

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

Four Color Apocalypse 2021 Year In Review : Top Ten Special Mentions

Next in our year-end lists we come to TOP TEN SPECIAL MENTIONS, a “grab-bag” category I came up with a few years back to encompass everything adjacent to comics that isn’t comics “proper” per se — so in short we’re talking about art books; ‘zines, books, and scholarly works about comics and/or cartoonists; non-comics projects by people who usually do comics; and, perhaps most nebulously, sequentially-illustrated narrative works that don’t quite fit the standard operating definition of comics in that they don’t contain word balloons, thought bubbles, or in-panel caption boxes. Read on and all will, hopefully, become clear :

10. Bubbles, Edited By Brian Baynes (Bubbles Publications) – Baynes’ “independent fanzine about comics and manga” had another strong year, and if there’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate about this publication above all else it’s the unabashedly fannish tone the editor and writers bring to the table. There’s not an ounce of cynicism to be found in these pages — everyone who contributes to this ‘zine literally loves the medium, and it shows.

9. Please, God – Help Me Be Normal! By John Trubee (Mucus House) – A long-overdue comprehensive collection of Trubee’s “Ugly Men” drawings, plus other miscellany, that not only doesn’t disappoint but might even exceed expectations. A gallery of grotesqueries for the ages that is a required item on the coffee tables of all who read this blog.

8. Queen City By Karl Christian Krumpholz (Tinto Press) – A unique narrative and visual history of Denver by the cartoonist who knows it best, as well as a heartfelt lament for the its pre-gentrification glory days. this feels very much like the work Krumpholz has been building toward his entire career. Gorgeously illustrated, evocatively written, and altogether engrossing.

7. Strangers, Edited By Eddie Raymond (Strangers Fanzine) – The old-school print ‘zine that specializes in old-school content branched out a bit in conceptual terms this year, covering more new stuff and featuring tons of original comics by a “murderer’s row” of talented cartoonists. Every time a new issue comes in the mail I devour it from cover to cover, and it always leaves a big, shit-eating grin on my face.

6. Discipline By Dash Shaw (New York Review Comics) – Sure to be a fixture on many a “best comics of 2021” list, Shaw’s meditation on the Civil War, the limits of pacifism, and the human toll of conflicts inner and outer fits the SPECIAL MENTIONS category here in that it is a series of illustrations derived and adapted from letters written at the time. Innovative, exquisitely drawn, and instantly memorable, this is a powerful and poignant work from a contemporary master fully in command of all his storytelling gifts.

5. Francis Bacon By E. A. Bethea (Domino Books) – You can expect to find this on any number of “best-of” list as well — this one included, obviously — but again, due to the absolutely unique nature of Bethea’s work, I’m more comfortable categorizing it as “narrative sequential art.” Deeply personal, evocative, and as always using its subject as springboard to a long-form reverie that unfolds like a vividly-remembered dream, this is, in my humble estimation, Bethea’s most fully-realized and emotionally resonant ‘zine to date.
4. According To Jack Kirby By Michael Hill (Self-Published Via Lulu) – The necessary historical corrective we’ve all been waiting decades for is here, as Hill meticulously combs through thousands of “on-the-record” quotations and statements to present a persuasive and comprehensive case for Kirby as the pre-eminent creative genius in mainstream comics history as well as the sole creator of most of the so-called “Marvel Universe.” An exhaustive forensic examination of the facts written in an engaging, page-turning style that might even make the most hardened of Stan Lee partisans think twice about all the bullshit their guy spewed to line his own pockets and enrich his corporate paymasters at the expense of an undisputed — and still under-appreciated — true artistic visionary.

3. Mysterious Travelers : Steve Ditko And The Search For A New Liberal Identity By Zack Kruse (University Press Of Mississippi) – Without question the finest work of Ditko scholarship ever committed to print, Kruse re-contextualizes the iconoclastic creator’s singular body of work within a more expansive framework that gives new insights into the motivations behind, and philosophy of, one of comics’ most uncompromising auteurs. More than a historical re-analysis, this is a meticulously-researched and eye-opening critical appraisal of some of the most important work in the history of the medium that has only been partially understood by far too many who have laid unearned claims of expertise on it in the past.

2. A Cockeyed Menagerie : The Drawings Of T.S. Sullivant, Edited By Conrad Groth (Fantagraphics) – Years in the making, and clocking in at well over 400 pages, this utterly sublime monograph covers every phase of Sullivant’s groundbreaking career from the 1880s up to the 1920s, and to say no stone has gone unturned and no expense has been spared in its preparation and presentation is an understatement of criminal proportions. This is the prestige release of the year, perhaps of the last several years, and balances historical essays, critical appreciations, and painstakingly-restored artwork to give a full and complete picture of a true artistic trailblazer. Lose yourself in this one and you may find you never want to come out of it.

1. I Never Promised You A Rose Garden By Mannie Murphy (Fantagraphics) – A lyrical melding of the personal, political, social, and historical into one gorgeously expressive and darkly harrowing journey through both the streets of Portland and Murphy’s own life, this is bold and revelatory work that stands with the best art created in any medium this year. A love letter to an idealized vision of a city that never was, a requiem for a dream that nobody even tried to realize, a righteous call to action for a future that is hopefully still worth fighting for — this is a modern masterpiece in every respect that elicited a reaction I wasn’t even sure I was capable of anymore after so many years in the critical trenches : awe.

And with that, I’m taking a short holiday break. The end-of-year recaps will resume next week with my picks for TOP TEN VINTAGE COLLECTIONS, TOP TEN CONTEMPORARY COLLECTIONS, and TOP TEN ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVELS. Hope to see you then — in the meantime, should you want more of my content for whatever reason, including a couple of posts on my thought processes as I was cobbling these lists together, I humbly remind you that I have a Patreon that I update three times per week and that you can join for as little as a buck a month. Here’s the link :

Life Is A Quietly Desperate Business : E.A. Bethea’s “Francis Bacon”

Okay, so, to get it out of the way first, if you’re wondering which of the two notable Francis Bacons that E.A. Bethea’s newest comic (her second with Domino Books), Francis Bacon, is purportedly “about,” it’s the 20th century British painter, but if you know Bethea’s work you’ll know that oftentimes where or who or what she starts with is simply a springboard, an “entry point” into a long, multi-faceted rumination on subjects various and sundry that always and ultimately bear some sort of tangential connection to the one that she was focused on at the outset, but those connections are uniformly of a highly personal, at times even intuitive, nature, so really — when you open this up, expect to be taken on a trip to places, physical and otherwise, that are far afield from what the title would lead you to believe you were in for.

Which isn’t to say that Bethea gives Bacon short shrift here, far from it — his art, his life, and his obsessions all serve as breadcrumb trails in a vast labyrinth of speculations, reminiscences, observations, and delineations that coalesce into a kind of sentimental journey through Bethea’s own emotional and experiential history, the de facto map she’s constructing for us being one where what things mean to her assume privilege and precedence over what they may actually be. In other words, it’s Bacon’s story in part, but it’s Bethea’s comic in whole.

And hey, why shouldn’t it be? She’s the one who made it, after all. But to call it a work of straight memoir would be to sell it short — rather, this is a tapestry : of memories, of influences, of pop culture touchstones, of places and people known. The old cliche goes that life is about the journey, and maybe it is, but Bethea’s never been afraid to hit the pause button and reflect on what she’s both gained and lost along the way. The flotsam and jetsam of an existence are neither to her — everything means something, everything’s part of something bigger, everything is what it is but is also imbued with so much more than it could ever realize.

Thematically, then, this latest work is very much in keeping with Bethea’s artistic ouevre, but it represents a longer-form and more thorough-going exploration of the themes to which she so frequently returns, namely the transient and impermanent nature of both things and people, the weight and import of memory, the ripple effects of ostensibly small events, and the fragility of this project we call human existence. There’s an undeniable delicacy to her illustrations and her prose, it’s true, but frequently they both hit like a ton of bricks, so you’ll often find yourself lingering for long periods over a choice word or image that resonate with you precisely because of how expertly she’s able to communicate how they resonated with her. All of this matters, maybe especially the little things.

And yet — there is just enough by way of subtle whimsicality in Bethea’s tone to keep this from becoming, as the kids say, a “downer.” Many memories explored here are tinged with a certain amount of regret, both implicit and explicit, but the overall through-line is one that is tonally balanced, magic and loss figuring equally into the equation. Where you’re going matters, sure, but so does how you get there, and in that respect, you literally couldn’t ask for a better guide.
Count me, then, mightily impressed by this comic — as I always am with regard to this particular cartoonist. In fact, it’s no stretch to say it may be Bethea’s most well-realized work to date, the comic she’s been building toward, one piece and one memory at a time, for many years now. Don’t be surprised to find it very near, or even at, the top of many a “best-of” list come year’s end.


Francis Bacon is available for $8.00 from the Domino Books website at

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 indeed if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to

Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Special Mentions

We’re inching closer to being done with our monstrous year-end wrap, and with this, our next-to-last list, we’ll be taking a look at my top ten “special mentions” — that is, projects that have to do with comics, or are by cartoonists, but aren’t precisely comics per se in and of themselves. The term I settled on some time back was “comics-adjacent” works, and until something better comes to mind, I’m sticking with it. And so —

10. Folrath #3 By Zak Sally (La Mano 21) – The third and final “volume” of Sally’s riso-printed prose memoir of his life on the social, economic, and cultural margins in the early 1990s ably demonstrates that he’s every bit as gifted a writer as he is a cartoonist. I hated to see this end, but loved every page of it.

9. Bubbles #4 Edited By Brian Baynes (Self-Published) – Baynes came out of nowhere this year and started cranking out the best solo old-school ‘zine in recent memory, but with number four he brought in a small handful of contributors who all turned in exemplary work, and his interview subjects included one of my favorite of the “new crop” of indie cartoonists, Josh Pettinger, and long-time favorite Archer Prewitt, so this gets the nod as the best issue to date. Long may this project continue.

8. 2016-1960 By Jeff Zenick (Self-Published) – The ever-idiosyncratic Zenick’s latest illustration ‘zine presents a fascinating visual case study of changing social trends and customs via hand-rendered interpretations of high school and college yearbook portrait photos. Compelling and engrossing and maybe even a little bit wistful at the margins, this tells a strong story without resorting to so much as a single line of dialogue.

7. But Is It — Comic Aht? #2 Edited By Austin English And August Lipp (Domino Books) English and Lipp follow up a terrific debut issue issue with an even better sophomore effort, covering everything from EC to Anna Haifisch to weird 1990s kids’ comics to David Tea. Full disclosure : I’ve got a piece in this ‘zine, but it would have earned this spot easily regardless.

6. Crows By Jenny Zervakis (Self-Published) – A gorgeous but harrowing mix of prose and illustration that limns the collapse of a twenty-year marriage and the complete re-think of one’s life that goes along with it. As always, Zervakis finds a reason to go on via her love for nature — and nobody draws it better than she does.

5. Steve Gerber : Conversations Edited By Jason Sacks, Eric Hoffman, And Dominick Grace (University Press Of Mississippi) – The latest book in the long-running “Conversations With Comic Artists” series is also one of the best, presenting a career-spanning retrospective series of interviews with one of the most gifted writers and “far-out” thinkers in the history of the medium. If we see a “Gerber revival” of sorts in the future — and we damn well should — we can all point back to this as its starting point.

4. Bill Warren : Empire Of Monsters By Bill Schelly (Fantagraphics) – What turned out, sadly, to be the final project authored by noted comics and fandom historian Schelly was also one of his best, chronicling the life and times of the visionary publisher who brought the world everything from Famous Monsters to Blazing Combat. You hear the term “impossible to put down” a lot — this book really is just that.

3. Forlorn Toreador By E.A. Bethea (Self-Published) – The latest (and likely greatest, but hey — they’re all good) ‘zine from the endlessly creative Bethea is a poetic exploration of times, places, and people gone that utilizes an intuitively- assembled mixture of comics, prose, and portrait illustration to paint a picture of the world as it both was and is. You’ll miss reading it before it’s even over.

2. Brain Bats Of Venus : The Life And Comics Of Basil Wolverton Volume Two, 1942-1952 By Greg Sadowski (Fantagraphics) – The second entry in Sadowski’s exhaustive biography of one of comics’ most legendary iconoclasts is painstakingly researched, engagingly written, and loaded with archival documents and well over a dozen fully-restored Wolverton stories that have never looked better. Somebody’s looking down on this “labor of love” project and smiling.

1. Loop Of The Sun By Daria Tessler (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – An ancient Egyptian myth of creation is brought to kaleidoscopic, phantasmagoric life in Tessler’s mixed-media masterpiece, a culmination of everything this visionary artist has been building up to in recent years. The most visually ambitious work to ever come out of a riso printer — and the most gorgeous book you’ll purchase this year.

Next up, we’ll wrap up our year-end review with a look at my choices for the top ten original graphic novels of 2019, but until then please 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. I make sure you get great value for your money, have no fear on that score, so do give it a look by directing your kind attention to


Rhythm And Resonance : E.A. Bethea’s “Forlorn Toreador”

There’s a lot of talk these days about comics as poetry (or at least more than there used to be), but E.A. Bethea’s ‘zine’s have been comfortably aligning themselves  within that classification for a long time — even if they they don’t, in and of themselves, present literal poems all that often per se. And while her latest self-published opus, Forlorn Toreador, is perhaps the most confident and assured distillation of her singular ethos yet, again there’s not a poem to be found within it, yet the sum total of its contents plays out very much like an extended one.

Alternating between emotive text pieces, full-page portrait illustrations, and Bethea’s trademark scrawled-with-heartfelt-precision comic strips, the book has a transitional fluidity to it that’s more intuitive than it is strictly explicit, more exploratory than it is declarative. Much of the work is tinged with more than a hint of nostalgia — as the title itself implies — but this is no rote trip down memory lane; rather, whether she’s reminiscing on her lukewarm exposure to religion as a kid, famous pro wrestlers of the past, places that once meant something but are now gone, or beloved TV personalities that have passed away, Bethea’s ruminations on the past are employed as a means of understanding her present, a forensic exploration of where she’s been in order to better locate where she is now.

Which, I promise, is nowhere near as pretentious as I perhaps make it sound. In fact, Bethea trusts her own muse — wherever it may take her — so implicitly that what probably, by rights, should feel like a lot of unfocused bobbing and weaving instead finds expression as a cogent through-line that takes all its various and sundry ingredients as necessary components of a holistic worldview, one in which the past is never truly gone, and the lessons to be learned from it have a hell of a lot more to do with cleaving (however fruitlessly) to its temperament than they do with preserving it in a physical sense. In fact, part of the wistful beauty of these places and people and events that have come and gone is to be found within the fact that they are, indeed, no more — their transitory nature itself lending them a kind of mystique that permanence loses probably by definition.

Dense both verbally and conceptually, the vignettes on offer here are nevertheless pleasurable — even sublime — by nature, as they feel very much direct and unmediated : a transcribing of art via consciousness, sure, but also perhaps by a kind of “muscle memory” centered in the heart, each pencil or pen stroke communicating a kind of intimate knowledge of Bethea’s subjects not so much based on who and what they are or were but, more importantly, what they meant to her and mean to her still. This is no easy feat, I assure you, and I’m tempted to say that the ability to transmit this sensation to readers is something you simply either have or don’t, but maybe that’s just because it comes so naturally to this particular artist — I have no doubt that she works hard at her craft and pores over any given page for hours, but the finished “product” is imbued with such immediacy that you could be fooled into thinking she simply sits down, pours it all out of her, and moves on.

Except for the fact that, of course, “moving on” isn’t what Bethea’s work is about and never has been. Each and every person she’s encountered, each place she’s been, every movie she’s seen or song she’s heard — it’s all in her still, and all of it is worthy of examination. Not with a microscope, mind you, but via the very human process of memory itself, which is never so much about an exacting recollection of details as it is an arranging of those details in order of personal importance. We are, each of us, editors of the ongoing film that is our life, and that sort of individual interpretive analysis of the things that have made us who we are has seldom been represented more beautifully than it is in this at-first-glance-unassuming ‘zine.

This is one of those rare occasions where my stash of superlatives well and truly runs dry, and I feel like the best thing I can do is tell you to get this book and get out of your way — it’s an experience suffuse with familiarity (sometimes vague, sometimes more concrete), sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s like anything you’ve seen or read before.


Forlorn Toreador is available for $10.00 directly from E.A. Bethea at

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 ongoing work, so please take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to




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