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!



You’d Have To Be “Dumb” To Pass On This Book (Advance Review)

I’ll let you in on a little secret : people have always been telling me to put a sock in it. I’ve been an annoyingly opinionated SOB my entire life, but now that I have some online outlets for my opining, I’m far more reserved in my daily interactions with folks. Even still, when you’ve got a side gig as a critic, plenty of people are still going to wish you’d shut up and go away. But what if you shut up — and don’t go away?

Canadian cartoonist Georgia Webber had to live through the answer to that question when a sudden and quite severe throat injury forced her into months of  physically- and medically-mandated silence, and to call her experiences “devastating” is probably to sell them a bit too short — but they do make for fascinating, engrossing, and revelatory reading in her new (-ish, more on that presently) graphic memoir, Dumb, sub-titled Living Without A Voice.

Medical maladies have proven to be — and I really hate to put it like this, but — fertile ground for creative cartooning in the past, from Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, and Frank Stack’s Our Cancer Year to Gabby Schulz’ Sick and Monsters, but Webber isn’t one to follow a trail blazed by others, as her sheer persistence in getting this material into print proves : originally published in single-issue “floppy” format by Retrofit/Big Planet, then moving over to Radiator Comics, and now, finally, collected in its entirety in a handsome hardback by Fantagraphics, it’s been the proverbial long and winding road for this comic, but that’s nothing compared to what Webber endured during the period of her life that forms the basis of this comic.

Webber had been leading the relatively typical (which is to say, carefree) life of a young Montrealer — splitting her time between a paid gig at a cafe and a volunteer one at a bike co-op, in addition to her cartooning and fairly active socializing — when her malady hit, and watching events beyond her control increasingly dictate, indeed to eventually entirely re-frame, the terms of her existence is uncomfortable in the extreme, but to her credit she never plays for her audience’s sympathy, instead trusting in her visual storytelling skills (which are quite considerable) to accurately relate her journey with supreme emotional honesty. It takes guts to lay yourself bare like this, but there’s not an ounce of self-indulgence on offer here, and that puts it a good few steps ahead of many autobio comics right there.

Unable to continue working a customer service job, Webber is forced to get creative when it comes to making ends meet — unable to converse with friends she needs to find new ways to communicate — unable to engage in her favorite hobby, singing, she has to find new creative outlets. All of these life changes necessarily result in an increasingly isolated and lonely existence, and Webber’s creative use of two-color illustration (I might be mistaken here, but it looks to me like she skips the pencils stage and draws with ink pens) expertly captures the feel of a life that is simultaneously devolving into chaos yet also shrinking in on her. Anxiety, fear, displacement, loss of control — all are conveyed with a kind of raw expressiveness that incorporates loose-form squiggles, dark splotches of ink, and even collage into an appropriately chaotic visual repetoire that says a hell of a lot with an economy of linework that at times almost even borders on the austere.

Ultimately, though, it is Webber’s struggle with a healthy self-image — the image that, let’s face it, she’s used to — that is perhaps the hardest hurdle for her to overcome, but is also, not at all paradoxically, the goal she is  striving for. Her friends, her artistry, and her admirable sense of determination ultimately get her through, but not before she has to come to terms with a lot of truths most of us will hopefully  never have to face, chief among them how intricately our ability to speak and our very sense of identity are intertwined. Every day without a voice was a struggle beyond Webber’s previous level of comprehension, and I imagine that relating her story was very nearly as difficult, but she emerges out the other end with a new appreciation of both herself and her life — as will you by the time you finish this remarkable book.