Never Forget — As If You Could : Garrett Young’s “Sketch Zine 2020”

Don’t let the blank cover fool you — the images contained inside Garrett Young’s Sketch Zine 2020 are rich, inky, and brain-searingly indelible. And besides, this particular cover’s only blank because Young hasn’t adorned it with one of the individual drawings he puts on them, one of the perks of self-publishing for both creator and consumer. My own copy features a young woman looking both distant and possessed with unknowable intent simultaneously — but my own copy really isn’t what’s important here.

Rather, we’re here to talk about the myriad glimpses at either a slightly pre- or slightly post-fallen world that Young serves up in the pages of this ‘zine, a cornucopia of personages and, occasionally, creatures for whom vacuous amorality appears to be a default mindset — or perhaps, even more chillingly, an aspiration. Some shit haunts your dreams, sure, but some shit can’t even be bothered to go to the effort required to do so, and that’s the truly frightening shit right there. Imagine someone whose entire affect screams “I’d destroy you with a glance, but you’re not even on my radar screen” and you’re imagining the kind person Young absolutely excels at drawing.

Not that he is, in any way, shape, or form, the proverbial one-trick pony — just look at the variety of expression conveyed on the pages above — but very often Young’s illustrations seem to drift toward subjects for whom something is clearly missing, and very often among that very often what’s missing would appear to be a fully-functioning conscience. Hell, sometimes even a partially-functioning conscience is a tough thing to discern among this crowd. The eyes usually have it (or not), as the saying goes, so do yourself a favor as you peruse the contents of this modest-yet-remarkable little book — pay close attention to them, and feel the way in which they look back at you, look down on you, look through you, frequently even look right past you. Then you’ll likely understand why Young has emerged as one of the most in-demand artists in the small-yet-robust field of self-published horror (or, at the very least, horror-themed) comics.

There couldn’t have been a “better” year to reach both within and without to channel darkness than 2020, of course — it was all around us in ways subtle and decidedly less so, and who didn’t fall victim to internalizing some of that zeitgeist energy themselves? — but rather than trying to stave it off, as many artists did, or channel how it feels to be living under its regime, as even more artists did, Young appears to have taken a different, riskier, and dare I say fundamentally more honest path : he just rolled with it. Some of his faces and figures are clearly from other times, places, or even realities, but don’t let those superficialities fool you : this is art suffused with the ethos and imprimatur of 2020 in every line. It’s as inescapable as was the psychic pressure of the year itself.

Don’t, however, take that to mean this publication doesn’t run its own emotional gamut, and that some of it isn’t even downright fun, dare I say maybe borderline playful — particularly a number of the lush drawings in the impressive color insert section in the middle — but it’s all in service to an overall theme, mood, and nonverbal statement of intent, one that is only strengthened by the occasional side-step, transgression, or sigh of relief . “Pretend all you want,” Young’s imagery tells us, “the abyss is still here waiting — and growing.”

Nostalgia being the most pernicious drug of all, there will come a time when even this darkest and most desperate of years is seen through sickeningly rose-tinted lenses and added to the pile of “good old days” that we all know were anything but. When that wave of mass mental illness arrives, however, Young’s ‘zine will serve as a powerful reminder of two things : that last year was every bit as harrowing as it seemed, and that creativity thrived only when it refused to flinch.

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Sketch Zine 2020 is available for $5.00 from Garrett Young’s storenvy site at https://doctopmaru.storenvy.com/collections/1817462-zines/products/31433452-sketch-zine-2020

Review wrist check – Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression,” in the modern classic “Blackout Edition.” Probably my most-worn timepiece of 2020. Just a coincidence?

Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Single Issues

Is it that time of year again? Why yes, indeed, it is that time of year again — specifically, the end of the year, and with it my end-of-year “Top 10” lists. As usual, things are divvied up into six categories : Top 10 Single Issues (stand-alone comics or comics that are part of an ongoing series that saw only one issue published this year), Top 10 Ongoing Series (serialized comics that saw two or more issues published in the past year), Top 10 Special Mentions (“comics-adjacent” projects such as ‘zines, books on comics history, art books or sketchbooks, or books that utilize words and pictures but don’t adhere to traditional rules of sequential storytelling), Top 10 Vintage Collections (books that reprint work originally published prior to the year 2000), Top 10 Contemporary Collections (books that reprint work originally published, physically or digitally, after the year 2000 and going right up to the present day), and Top 10 Original Graphic Novels (all-new books specifically constructed as graphic novels and were never serialized in installments). And with those ground rules out of the way, we’ll begin where we always do, with my choices for the year’s Top 10 single-issue or stand-alone comics :

10. Goiter #5 By Josh Pettinger (Tinto Press) – After four issues, Pettinger exits the self-publishing ranks and the extra time devoted purely to craft pays off with one of his most surreal and absorbing character studies yet, as an underemployed teen become an unemployed teen and sees his life spiral out of control after being roped into an extra-legal murder investigation. The spirit of Clowes and Ware lives on in this series, but Pettinger’s authorial concerns and cartooning are now well and truly entirely his own.

9. The Garden By Lane Yates And Garrett Young (Self-Published) – A mysterious and ethereal love/horror story that reveals new depths with each reading, this is the most alluring narrative puzzlebox in quite some time. For all the wonderful qualities Yates’ story possesses though, it may just be Young’s art that steals the show/seals the deal/pick your cliche, as it transports readers to a truly alien world populated with achingly human characters rendered in exquisitely moody detail.

8. Flop Sweat #1 By Lance Ward (Birdcage Bottom Books) – The first installment in what promises to be a gripping childhood memoir from Ward, exploring the roots of alienation and “otherness” with sensitivity, honesty, and even a bit of humor. Ward is well and truly coming into his own as memoirist, and you’d be well-advised to get in on the ground floor with this book before everybody’s all over it. That way you can say you’re a cool and astute reader, ya know?

7. Five Perennial Virtues #11 – Broken Pieces By David Tea (Self-Published) – Perhaps the greatest iconoclast in all of comics produces the strongest issue of his long-running series to date — as well as the most accessible. Part history lecture, part absurdist fantasy, and all Dave Tea, this feels very much like “outsider art” until you realize the author actually understands the comics form implicitly — he just refuses to play by many of its established rules.

6. Mini Kus! #91 – Sufficient Lucidity By Tommi Parrish (Kus!) – The modern master of navigating the complexities of interpersonal relationships via the comics medium, here Parrish takes us on a journey by dropping us off very nearly at the end of it. Lavishly illustrated and economically scripted, this is pure emotion on the page, and will haunt your dreams long after reading it.

5. Rotten By M.S. Harkness (Self-Published) – Another painfully embarrassing, to say nothing of painfully funny, slice-of-life comic from Harkness, this one hitting home with extra wallop due to its chronological setting : right around the 2016 election. Still, it’s Harkness’ consistently-fearless portrayal of herself that stands out as the book’s most memorable, if occasionally disconcerting, feature. If you haven’t tried one of her long-form graphic novels yet, this is the perfect smaller “sample size” to dip your toes in, and trust me when I say you’ll immediately want more.

4. Tad Martin #8 – Tears Of The Leather-Bound Saints By Casanova Frankenstein (Fantagraphics Underground) -Encompassing everything from dystopian industrial hellscapes to childhood memoir and all points in between, Frankenstein’s latest outing featuring his constantly-evolving authorial stand-in takes the form of a deliberately disjointed “tone poem,” a one-man anthology focused on various stages of personal apocalypse. Shot through with grotesque “gallows humor” and caustically accurate social commentary, this is another tour-de-force from arguably our most uncompromising contemporary cartoonist.

3. Malarkey #5 By November Garcia (Birdcage Bottom Books) – Garcia closes out her masterful autobio series on a very high note amidst relentlessly dark times as she explores mortality from all sides, offering readers stories about life’s end in equal proportion to those centered around the little things that make life worth living. The pandemic looms large here but is, uncannily, never specifically referenced. Don’t ask me how she managed that — I’m just grateful that she did. No other comic captures the essence of life in 2020 like this one.

2. Theater Of Cruelty By Tana Oshima (Self-Published) – A sprawling yet agonizingly insular look at the vagaries of life that haunt its author and frankly haunt us all, this is “solo anthology” comics at their finest, weaving a dense tapestry of darkness from threads of fable, poetry, ancestral memory, and autobio. As surely beyond classification as it is beyond good and evil, Oshima’s magnum opus leaves you reeling in silence.

1. Constantly By G.G. (Koyama Press) – A bit of a cheat as this was packaged as a slim book, but slim is the key word — as in, 48 pages. That puts it firmly in the “single issue” camp by my admittedly subjective standards, but it nevertheless leaves an indelible mark with its austere art and minimalist language combining to explore both the roots and manifestations of doubt and anxiety, portraying a world where all tasks are monumental and likely pointless. Haunted within and haunting without, this is comics poetry at its apex as a medium and a bona fide masterpiece for the ages.

I’ll let you all absorb this list for a few days before returning with my picks for the the Top 10 Ongoing Series of the year!

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Review wrist check – Farer Universal “Stanhope” riding a Hirsch “George” leather strap in brown from their “Performance” series.

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

At Play Amidst The Strangeness And Charm : Lane Yates And Garrett Young’s “The Garden”

A collaborative effort between writer Lane Yates and artist Garrett Young that was self-published toward the tail end of 2019, The Garden is a curious and fascinating mini that weaves an utterly unique spell that exemplifies the notion of, with apologies to Dan Clowes, an iron first under a velvet glove. But that fist is all the more powerful for restraining itself and never quite connecting.

Set in a bucolic and lavish landscape rife with strange growth, an aging couple referred to only as “Neighbor” and “Fellow” strike up an intimate relationship in the midst of “all this dreadful beauty,” largely because — apart from an omnipresent, multi-eyeballed observer — there doesn’t appear to be anybody else around. Details are scarce — aside from those found within Young’s intense, intricate illustrations — and that’s one of the comic’s most intriguing facets : who these people are, what they’re doing here, why this “Eyeball Kid” (apologies this time to Eddie Campbell) is apparently acting as a de facto “border guard” between this hermetically-sealed world and the one that may or may not exist outside it, why a “neighborhood” with the character and affect of many an entirely-foreclosed-upon suburban cul-de-sac should exist within these alien (in the most precise sense of the word) environs — these are left entirely up to the reader to determine for themselves, and seem purposely left wide open for allegorical interpretation.

The rigid formalism of the book’s page layouts add to the feeling of this reality being entirely separate and self-contained, and ditto for Yates’ largely-stiff and expository dialogue, which has a rhythm and cadence all its own that nevertheless complements the artwork beautifully. In the eyes of many a reader of “avant-garde,” “independent,” or “art” comics, it’s taken as a given that one head is always better than two, but this is very much a singular work of artistic expression — it’s just that it happens to have been made by a pair of people. Seamlessness off the page leads to seamlessness on it, then, it would appear.

All looks and reads well, then — but all certainly never feels well. The passage of time isn’t just a fact of life in this seemingly-Edenic vista, it hangs over all like an oppressive force — which, let’s face it, is precisely what time is, it’s just that we’re trained and conditioned to take it as a given. Not so here, however — and that fourth-dimensional pressure, while unseen, never goes unnoticed. And it only seems to run in one direction — Neighbor and Fellow change, age, and all that, but their surroundings? Not so much. In fact, not at all.

This lends the entire proceedings a sense of unease and dread that’s always at a remove; it hangs over things without crashing down on them. The pacing here is borderline-idyllic, to be sure, but it’s nevertheless fraught with an almost sublime tension, the end result being something close to what a leisurely-expanding fraught nerve might feel like — assuming there actually was such a thing.

That might be a metaphor that’s ultimately impossible to apply to anything, then — they tend to be more successful when referring to things that actually exist — but I feel pretty confident in its usage here, given that this is a comic that is utterly and absolutely unlike anything else itself. And while it may be short, don’t be surprised if you spend hours with it — and if it lingers in your mind even longer than that after you’ve put it aside.

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The Garden is available for $8 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/thegarden.html

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 https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse