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!

Rocking “From Crust Till Dawn” With Sarah Romano Diehl

If there’s one thing I find suspect about any number of autobio/memoir comics, it’s how specific they tend to be. On the one hand, of course, I get it : the impetus to cobble together disjointed instances and events into a cohesive, “A-to-B” narrative is natural enough, and logic dictates that it makes for interesting, even compelling, reading. Accuracy be damned, as long as the general gist of things is presented  more or less as it happened, that’s the important thing, right? And yet —

Memory doesn’t really work that way, does it? Specifics get lost over time, while the overall character of a given memory tends to swell, even magnify. Events that followed tend to “backtrack” and inform the way we remember things that came before. Time-frames get muddled. People do and say things they possibly never did. The past takes on a dreamlike quality the further we get from it. We become unreliable narrators of our own stories.

You know who understands this implicitly? Sarah Romano Diehl. One of the most skilled and interesting cartoonists to emerge from the gloriously-resurgent “Seattle scene” in recent years, her strongest work to date was last year’s Crust, a quasi-autobiographical recounting of her stand-in protagonist Syd’s days as a pizza delivery driver in early 2000s Durango, Colorado, but her just-released second volume in this ongoing, self-published narrative, From Crust Till Dawn, represents something very nearly like a quantum leap forward from even its exemplary predecessor, brimming over with confidence, expressively “loose” illustration, humor, heart, and even more than a touch of, believe it or not, mystery.

Yeah, I wouldn’t expect that last item from an ostensibly autobiographical work, either, but that brings us back to my original point : Diehl, you see, doesn’t hem herself in by slavishly hewing to some sort of strict (and strictly false) adherence to accuracy. She presents her memories in the same manner we all reflect back on ours — as imperfect, muddied, less-than-specific exhumations from a place in our mind somewhere between the conscious and the subconscious, thick and syrupy with meaning and emotion, less so with exact detail.

The primary focus of this comic is on the camaraderie Syd shares with her eclectic cast of co-workers, and when you think back on your own early employment, odds are that’s what stands out for you, as well, rather than the tedium of long hours, rote tasks, and aimless time-killing. We remember who we worked with far more than the actual work we did, and if you’ve ever worked a retail, restaurant, or other service-sector gig, the after-hours partying you got up to with everyone else tends to stand out a hell of a lot more than the drudgery of busy-work performed while “on the clock.”

Syd, however, may be “guilty” of having a bit too much fun at her job, as one of the book’s standout moments revolves around a heart-to-heart talk one of the senior employees at the pizza parlor has with her about pulling her weight around the place. It stands in stark contrast to the purposely-disjointed, yet astonishingly fluid (yup, I know that’s a contradiction, just trust me) litany of good times that make up the lion’s share of the page count here, and hits home with all the power of a memory informed far more by its essential character than whatever may or may not have been said specifically.

Which, come to think of it, isn’t such a bad summation of the book’s flavor and tone in a more general sense : unfolding at something like a haphazard pace, disparate and no-doubt-linearally-displaced events coalescing into something resembling a holistic continuum held together by the people, the places, the things that move in and out of its sprawling, sometimes-scattershot web, it plays out as a series of reflections on a period of Diehl’s life that helped shape her into the person she is today, but happened to the person that she was then. As such, there is a heartfelt, even romantic, sense not so much of dull and hackneyed nostalgia, but genuine affection, in these pages, for a time and a place that might be gone, but can never really go away. The past may, indeed, be a foreign country — but Sarah Romano Diehl’s is more like a magic kingdom.

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Featuring superb two-color riso printing on nice-quality, thick paper stock, ordering information (including, crucially, price) isn’t yet available for From Crust Till Dawn, but copies will almost certainly be available at Short Run in Seattle this weekend. If, like me, you’re unable to attend, then contact Diehl via her website and ask her how to get your hands on this book ASAP — because you absolutely need it. We’re all done here, so your next move should be heading on over to  https://www.sarahromanodiehl.com/