Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Vintage Collections

A new year may be upon us, but we’re not quite done talking about last year here at Four Color Apocalypse. My next “best of” list takes a look at my picks for the Top 10 Vintage Collections of 2020, which is to say : books that collect material originally published prior to the year 2000, including Manga and Eurocomics. Let’s dive right in —

10. Atom Bomb And Other Stories By Wallace Wood (Fantagraphics) – One of the best volumes yet in the long-running EC Artists’ Library series collects the very best of the Wally Wood/Harvey Kurtzman collaborations from Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, and as a special added bonus Wood’s strips with Archie Goodwin from Blazing Combat are included, as well. I love Marie Severin’s colors, to be sure, but this stuff has never looked better than it does here, in pristine black and white.

9. The Pits Of Hell By Ebisu Yoshikazu, Translated By Ryan Holmberg (Breakdown Press) – Grotesque, absurd, and darkly humorous to a degree that’s downright painful, Yoshikazu’s 1981 masterpiece takes the banalities of urban living to illogical extremes and gives no fucks as to who it offends along the way. A strong contender for the most subversive and outrageous book of the year.

8. Stuck Rubbery Baby 25th Anniversary Edition By Howard Cruse (First Second) – The autobiographical (for the most part) magnum opus by the late, great Cruse is more than just one of the great masterworks of LGBTQ comics and literature, it’s an important chronicle of a movement and an era, and a testament to the fact that “coming of age” lasts a lifetime. Arguably the most accomplished and pivotal graphic novel of the 1990s is as relevant today as it ever was.

7. Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love By Jack Kirby, Edited By John Morrow (TwoMorrows) – Collecting unpublished works by The King Of Comics originally produced during his early-’70s DC stint, there are no capes or tights to be found in the pages of True-Life Divorce, Soul Love, or the further adventures of the Dingbats Of Danger Street, but they all prove beyond a doubt that it was the humanity of Kirby’s work that was always its defining feature. Editor Morrow has gone above and beyond here, though, by including a wealth of scholarly essays, personal reminiscences, and early-stages art pages, as well, making this not just a “must-have” item for Kirby fans, but an indispensable historical artifact.

6. Perramus : The City And Oblivion By Alberto Breccia And Juan Sasturain (Fantagraphics) – Epic in scope yet never anything less than intensely personal, the latest volume in The Alberto Breccia Library is a hard-edged dystopian political thriller that accurately and acutely reflected the tensions and fears of life under the Argentinian military dictatorship its authors were subjected to. This is comics as a righteous act of resistance.

5. The Sky Is Blue With A Single Cloud By Kuniko Tsurita, Translated By Ryan Holmberg (Drawn+Quarterly) – Collecting the very best stories from Tsurita’s remarkable career, this book is, on the one hand, a tribute to a pioneering female Manga artist, but on the other, at least to English-speaking audiences, it’s a revelation. Delicate, surreal, and lyrical, these tales run the gamut from first-person accounts of Tokyo’s 1960s/70s Bohemian subculture to explorations of gender identity to harrowing works informed by the artist’s own fragile health. This is a collection that will stick with you forever.

4. From Hell Master Edition By Alan Moore And Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf) – A lot of people thought the addition of color to Moore and Campbell’s conspiratorial Jack The Ripper epic would ruin the whole thing, but they needn’t have worried : Campbell colored it himself, after all, and rather than subsume his line art, he found a way to complement it. I guess I’ll always prefer it in black and white, sure, but any excuse to re-visit this dense and intricate deconstruction of both Victorian England and the 20th Century is a welcome one.

3. The Man Without Talent By Yoshiharu Tsuge, Translated By Ryan Holmberg (New York Review Comics) – A standout in the history of autobiographical Manga, Tsuge’s unvarnished portrayal of himself as a habitual loser with no hope of changing his ways is both disarming and heartfelt — as well as remarkably raw, even for those of us well-accustomed to “warts and all” autobio and memoir. They saw “write what you know” — well, this is a case of writing and drawing what you know all too well, and turning it into a singularly powerful reading experience.

2. The Complete Hate By Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics) – It seems “Generation X’ will never die, but in point of fact Bagge, who wasn’t even a part of said generation, understood it better than any artist working in any medium. It wasn’t all “grunge” rock and postponing the responsibilities of adulthood — the lethargy, the casual disillusionment with everything, the fucked-up relationships — these are are all present and accounted for here in honest, and honestly hilarious, detail, as well. And the accidental stumbling into their 30s and 40s of Buddy Bradley, family, and friends makes for an astonishingly complete record of a series of fictitious lives that are among the most “real” in the history of the comics medium.

1. Gross Exaggerations : The Meshuga Comic Strips Of Milt Gross By Milt Gross, Edited By Peter Maresca (Sunday Press) – Not only do slapstick humor strips get no better than this, comic strips in general get no better than these meticulously-reproduced selections of Nize Baby, Dave’s Delicatessen, and Count Screwloose Of Tooloose. Sunday Press is setting the standard for vintage newspaper strip reprints, and this gorgeous collection of uniquely Yiddish comedy is not only their best book to date, it’s an object you will treasure forever.

Okay, that’s four lists down, with two lists still remaining. Next up : 2020’s Top 10 Contemporary Collections!

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Review wrist check – Tsao Baltimore “Torsk Diver” green dial model, riding an Ocean Crawler orange and black NATO strap.

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

Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Ongoing Series

With my top ten single issues of 2019 in the rear view mirror, let’s move on to the top ten ongoing series. Any comic that saw two or more issues released in the past calendar year is eligible in this category and so, as you’d no doubt expect, the mainstream is represented much more on this list than it was in the last, given that most of their titles are still, theoretically, on a regular production schedule. There are a couple of elephants in the room that I’ll address at the very end, but let’s worry about that after you’ve read the “countdown,” shall we?

10. Wasted Space By Michael Moreci And Hayden Sherman (Vault Comics) – The first of two ensemble cast sci-fi series where every member of said ensemble is an asshole to make the “best of” cut this year, Moreci’s scripts for this book are heavy on the humor and class-conscious political messaging, while Sherman, who’s one of the busiest artists around these days, seems to bring an extra level inspiration and creativity to this title. Fun and smart in equal measure.

9. Go-Bots By Tom Scioli (IDW) – Perhaps the most surprising entry on the list simply because no one expected that a good comic about some third-rate Transformers knock-offs was even possible, but leave it to the great Scioli to make these robots seem more human than — well, humans, while cramming more ideas and visual “hooks” into any given page than most cartoonists can manage in an entire issue. IDW is onto something with this whole “give an indie guy a crack at a licensed property” idea, as we shall see as things go on.

8. All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape By Josh Bayer, Josh Simmons, Trevor Von Eeden, et. al. (Floating World Comics) – After an up-and-down first “season,” the aesthetic and thematic goals of the brothers Bayer (the other being Samuel)  are coming into pretty sharp focus in this late-Bronze Age homage. Some of that might be down to the addition of  Simmons as co-writer, and some of it is certainly down to the monumentally-underappreciated Von Eeden coming aboard as main artist and proving he certainly hasn’t lost a step, but whatever the case may be, this amalgamation of the over-and undergrounds is firing on all cylinders now.

7. Clue : Candlestick By Dash Shaw (IDW) – I told you we’d be getting back to IDW licensed books, and what a beauty this one was : the endlessly-inventive Shaw littered each of the three issues of this mini with clever puzzles and crafted one of the more compelling characters in comics this year with his iteration of Miss Scarlet. Innovative, engrossing, and consistently surprising, we’re talking about a legit gem here.

6. Outer Darkness By John Layman And Afu Chan (Image/Skybound) – Our second ensemble-cast-of-assholes science fiction series serves up at least one “pinch me, did I really just read that?” moment in each issue, as Layman crafts an epic that’s equal parts William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers, while Chan delivers the visually-arresting goods in a style that demonstrates some strong anime influence yet remains utterly unique. You may not like anyone in this book, but you’ll love the book itself.

5. The Immortal Hulk By Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, et. al. (Marvel) – The first time a Marvel book has made my year-end list, but anyone who doubts my judgment clearly hasn’t been reading this comic. Ewing is doing for the Hulk what Alan Moore did for Swamp Thing, and Bennett blends Bernie Wrightson and Kelly Jones with early-era Image and jaw-dropping character designs, ably abetted by Jose’s faithful, non-flashy inks . The best super-hero book in a decade or more.

4. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest By Alan Moore And Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – Every bit as self-indulgent and self-congratulatory as its detractors claim, this extended “farewell tour” by Moore and O’Neill is nevertheless a heartfelt love letter to the characters and the medium they’re leaving behind as well as (crucially) the creators who came before them, who gave voice to the dreams and imaginings of countless generations — and were, of course, unconscionably ripped off for their troubles. One of the funniest and angriest comics of the year, and prima facie evidence that the comics landscape will be a far poorer place with these two, dare I say it, extraordinary gentlemen no longer part of it.

3. Love And Rockets By Jaime And Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Los Bros. have been reaching new plateaus since switching back to their original magazine format with this, the fourth “volume” of their justly-legendary series, and while I hate to pick favorites, Jamie’s Maggie and Hopey stories are perhaps the best they have ever been right now. Which doesn’t mean Beto isn’t on a real creative “high” right now himself — he surely is. So let’s just admit what we all know : as readers of this tile, we’re not just spoiled — we’re spoiled to an embarrassing degree.

2. This Never Happened By Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Probably the most divisive title on this list, but also the bravest. Anyone who mines the worst period of their life for a creative “battery charge” is entering into combustible territory, and while Graham doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to her portrayal of other folks, her sharpest barbs are aimed at herself and the crucial part she played in her own personal downward spiral. And the only thing bolder than the script is the art, which is Graham’s most emotive and self-assured to date. I won’t kid you, after reading the first issue I was a little worried if the cartoonist was mentally and emotionally okay, but after two installments it really hit me : the work itself is proof that she emerged from her crisis not just relatively intact, but flat-out inspired.

1. From Hell : Master Edition By Alan Moore And Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – Anyone who has a problem with me choosing a reprint series as the year’s best ongoing, have at it — because while you can criticize me all you want, the work in question is pretty well above reproach. I was as skeptical as anyone else that adding color to the proceedings would massively detract from the look and flavor of Moore and Campbell’s grimy (and no doubt accurate) interpretation of the Victorian era, but with the artist himself in charge of the palette, the results have ranged from “unobtrusive” to “amazing,” and the absurd levels of income inequality in today’s world, as well as the return of leaders who seem to believe they come from the “divine right of kings” school of “thought,” make this conspiratorial examination of the Jack The Ripper murders more relevant than ever. Even if it’s all bullshit, it’s still true.

And now for those elephants in the room —

Astute readers may have noticed that two perennial favorites didn’t make the cut this year, those being Jeff Lemire and Dean Haspiel’s Black Hammer and Eric Reynolds’ avant-garde anthology series Now. The reason for that is simple : while Black Hammer : Age Of Doom ended in very satisfactory fashion, the issue leading up to it felt hopelessly padded and derivative, and while Now rebounded nicely with its seventh and most recent issue, volumes five and six didn’t come close to meeting the standard set by the title early on. I’d be shocked if that comic in particular didn’t find its was back onto the list next year, but we don’t deal in speculation around these parts. You wanna make the cut in any given 12-month period, you gotta earn it.

Next — the top ten vintage collections of 2019. See you for that in a couple of days! In the meantime, if you’d like to support my ongoing work, please consider 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. Do a jobbing freelancer a favor and check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse