Four Color Apocalypse 2021 Year In Review : Top Ten Contemporary Collections

We’re getting near the finish line here, I promise. Two lists to go, including this one, TOP TEN CONTEMPORARY COLLECTIONS. This is another fairly broad category, with ALL comics published from the year 2000 to the present day eligible, as long as they are not original, stand-alone graphic novels. So basically we’re talking about any trade paperbacks that are a collection of single issues; any translated works such as Eurocomics, manga, etc.; any anthologies; any print collections of webcomics; or any collections of strips or assorted odds and ends, etc., as long as fit my admittedly absurd 21-year definition of “contemporary.” And with that out of the way, we’ll jump right in :

10. Go F❤ck Myself : The F❤ckpendium By Mike Freiheit (Kilgore Books) – Sprawling, ambitious, heartbreaking, and hilarious, Freiheit’s cartoon “thesis statement” on human history — and humanity’s future — is as personal as it is universal. The kind of book that makes you feel glad to be alive — except when it doesn’t — and a legit tour-de-force work.

9. My Begging Chart By Keiler Roberts (Drawn+Quarterly) – A year just doesn’t feel complete without a glimpse into the lives of Roberts and her family, and this is one of her very best books to date. One day we’re going to look back at these and recognize them as perhaps the pre-eminent example of long-form memoir in the medium’s history.

8. Tono Monogatari By Shigeru Mizuki, Translated By Zack Davisson (Drawn+Quarterly) – A poignant and lavishly illustrated adaptation of Japan’s most timeless collection of “fairly tales,” done by a master working at the height of his powers. Many of the pages in this will quite literally take your breath away, as will the scope and grandeur of the project itself.

7. Fungirl By Elizabeth Pich (Silver Sprocket) – The funniest “hot mess” in comics finally gets her due in a comprehensive collection of hijinks and mayhem sure to make you laugh hard and then feel appropriately guilty for having done so. Pich has her finger on the pulse of something truly unique here that straddles a fine line between blissful ignorance and willful amorality. Consequences — unintended or otherwise — have never been this much fun.

6.Post York By James Romberger (Dark Horse/Berger Books) – A refreshingly human-scale take on post-apocalyptic survival stories, Romberger’s work is greatly fleshed out and expanded upon in this new definitive edition that finally gives the material the presentation it’s always deserved. A strong contender for the best-drawn comic you’ll lay eyes on all year, this is a truly timeless tale that both honors and transcends its genre-specific origins.

5.Night Bus By Zuo Ma, Translated By Orion Martin (Drawn+Quarterly) – A wide-screen, epic modern-day fable by one of the brightest lights of the Chinese cartooning underground, don’t let the vaguely “YA” trappings of this one fool you for an instant : this is visionary, hallucinatory, reality-bending stuff. As immersive as visual storytelling gets, yet somehow speaking in a language all its own, this is a book that demands you meet it on its own terms and rewards you for doing so with a journey unlike anything you’ve ever seen or read.

4. Are Comic Books Real? By Alex Nall (Kilgore Books) – Nobody in comics better understands — or more respects — children than arts educator Nall, who communicates both the simple truth and impenetrable mystery of their worldview with grace, humor, and heart. This collection marks the end of the road for his Teaching Comics strips, and trust me when I say you’ll miss them well before you’ve even finished reading them.

3. Aerosol Plus By C.F. (Mania) – This slim collection of comics by the former Fort Thunder mainstay showcases the work of an artist who is forever pushing the boundaries of his own creativity forward and refusing to let what comics have been determine what they will be. Visually, conceptually, tonally, and formally transformational work by someone for whom the term auteur is almost too confining and restrictive.

2. Heart Shaped Tears By Abby Jame (Silver Sprocket) – With this collection, Jame makes a strong case for being the cartooning voice of her generation, communicating as she does the inner lives of fundamentally-unimpressed young women and teens with all the nonchalance and cynicism of a true “insider.” Today’s youth have been there and done that before they’ve even been anywhere or done anything, it seems — but could it be that they come off as smarter than us old-timers because they actually are? Forget crap like Euphoria — this is the real deal. And besides, TV is such old news.

1. Dog Biscuits By Alex Graham (Self-Published Via Lulu) – The quintessential webcomic of 2020 is the quintessential print comic of 2021, as Graham’s “pandemic epic” actually reads even stronger in collected form than it did in daily single-page doses. The lockdown may be over — for now, at any rate — but this story nevertheless captures both where and who we are better than any other work in any medium. Probably a shoe-in to be on just about every critic’s “best comics of the decade” list come 2030 — assuming our species makes it that long.

We’ll wrap things up tomorrow with the TOP TEN ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVELS list, but until then I’m non-contractually obligated to remind you that all of these columns/round-ups are “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

Circle Of Life : Mike Freiheit’s “Go F❤ck Myself : The F❤ckpendium”

While one could argue that the prospect of seeing a cartoonist “work through their shit” on the page is something that should have played itself out a long time ago, I’m not too self-consciously cool to admit that such exercises still hold some appeal to me, especially when they’re approached in a unique or novel manner. Mike Freiheit’s latest, Go F❤ck Myself : The F❤ckpendium (Kilgore Books, 2021), however, is something that’s well beyond merely “unique” or “novel” — it’s downright ambitious, in that it offers a reasonably detailed analysis of problems and challenges, both personal and societal, that hold us back by dint of their repetition throughout history. Oh, and just for good measure, he posits (not without justification) they’ll continue to haunt us well into the future, too.

I should, I suppose, be clear here — by “us,” I’m primarily referring to Freiheit himself, since he’s his own subject here, but much of the self-doubt, self-loathing, guilt, anxiety, and fear that serve as constant stumbling blocks for him are felt, to one degree or another, by all (or at least almost all) human beings, so for a book ostensibly rooted in autobio, it’s fair to say this one has a borderline-universal appeal. Provided, of course, that comics of this nature even “appeal” to you in the first place.

I’ve gotta say, though, that there’s literally no reason why this one shouldn’t — Freheit’s artistic sensibilities are pretty damn populist on the whole, and while he spends an awful lot of time putting his flaws under the microscope, he doesn’t appear to actively despise himself, a la an R. Crumb or an Ivan Brunetti, so much as he seeks to understand why breaking old and established patterns is such excruciating fucking work. Simply put, he knows he’s far from perfect, but he’d at least like to try to get better — if he can. And, really, that strikes me as the healthiest way to begin the process of overcoming a decidedly unhealthy batch of neuroses.

To that end, this particular piece of long-form cartooning therapy bobs and weaves through three separate timelines populated by three distinctly different, yet also undeniably similar, versions of Freiheit himself : in the present, he’s a befuddled and anxious jobbing artist trying to navigate married life and the workings of his own mind; in the past, he’s a befuddled and anxious caveman trying to navigate married life and the base struggle for survival; and in the future —well, he’s probably a bit stereotypically “more together” on the surface, but as you’ve no doubt already worked out, many of the same dilemmas his other selves grapple with are still present and accounted for, plus some additional ones.

Such a flexible approach to self-centeredness affords Freiheit ample opportunity to expound upon topics ranging from economics to politics to religion to pop philosophy (plus others), but this is no simple series of monologues or dully-presented observations — rather, it’s a dynamic and engrossing look into one person’s point of view of just about everything under the sun, even if that “one” person is actually three people. And while I admit to being partial to the textured, shaded artwork Freiheit has employed on more generally “somber” or even “dark” projects such as his horror graphic novel The Woods or the strip “Walk A Mile In My Shoes : A Jonestown History” that he did in collaboration with some out-of-his-depth comics critic or other for the American Cult anthology, there’s no question that the more clean, crisp line he employs here (with, it should be pointed out, increasing confidence as the book goes along — likely owing to the fact that parts one and two were originally self-published as minis and part three is all new, therefore this project can truly be said to have been several years in the making) is pitch-perfect for the expository-bordering-on-confessional tone of this material. It’s necessary for him to draw readers into this comic in a way that’s cordial to them so that he can be far tougher on himself without alienating anybody in the process, and he pulls off that conceptual tight-rope act with considerable aplomb here — not only visually, but narratively, as well.
Still, one could certainly be forgiven for operating under the assumption that this thing must be scattered and haphazard almost by definition, so perhaps the fact that it’s actually a remarkably cohesive piece of work on the whole stands as its most notable accomplishment. There are no easy answers to any of the questions Freiehit poses — if, indeed, there are any answers at all — but by taking us along for the ride rather than throwing us in at the deep end and seeing if we sink or swim, by laying out his “warts and all” truth without being overly precious about it, and by reminding us frequently along the way that there’s a funny side to just about everything, he’s created something both special and very nearly singular : a conversation with himself (or maybe that should be himselves) that speaks to us all.

**********************************************************************************

Go F❤ck Myself : The F❤ckpendium is available for $20.00 from the Kilgore Books website at http://www.kilgorebooks.com/shop/go-fck-myself-the-fckpendium-mike-freiheit

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