Four Color Apocalypse 2021 Year in Review : Top Ten Single-Issue Comics

And so it begins : with the end of the year breathing down our necks, it’s time to take stock of the best (by my estimation, at any rate) comics of 2021, broken down, as usual, into six different categories so as to avoid the goofy shit you find elsewhere — like, say, a 12-page mini having to “compete” against a 400-page graphic novel, or a book of reprinted material being judged by the same standard as all-new stuff. My goal is to get three lists done this week, then do three more next week, beginning with the TOP TEN SINGLE-ISSUE COMICS, which means stand-alone “floppy” comics or minis, or single issues of ongoing series which were one-offs — any series (limited or ongoing) which saw two or more issues released in 2021 will be eligible in the TOP TEN COMICS SERIES category. Sound good? Let’s do this :

10. God Bless The Machine By Connor McCann (Strangers Fanzine) – An acid-trip science fiction conceptual free-for-all that takes dead aim at vapid celebrity worship and global media consolidation while never forgetting to be a ton of fun along the way, McCann’s comic is equal parts timely as hell and decades ahead of its time. If you miss the days when comics were insane, fun and insanely fun, I’ve got good news : they’re back.

9. Birth Of The Bat By Josh Simmons (The Mansion Press) – Simmons’ latest “Bootleg Batman” comic continues his trend of de facto deconstruction by taking the character of the Caped Crusader to its logical extremes — which is to say, well past the point of disturbing absurdity. Where some are content to merely mine the so-called “Bat mythos” for all its worth, Simmons strip mines it — and yet always seems to have more to say on the subject.

8. Epoxy #6 By John Pham (Self-Published) – Another sumptuous riso-printed feast for the eyes from the modern master of hand-printed comics. Who can say no to more “J+K” hijinks, another installment of “Deep Space,” and fold-outs and inserts galore? I know I sure can’t. Long may this series continue.

7. BUM : Unsmooth #2 By E.S. Glenn (Floating World Comics) – Glenn blows the doors wide open with this formally experimental, genre-hopping tour de force that plays with convention in the best way possible : by utilizing it for the artists’ own ends. Shifting styles as frequently as it shifts tone and perspective, this is one of those comics that leaves you with more questions than answers while all the time making its own kind of highly-specialized “sense” along the way. Ambitious, multi-layered, and metatextual, this is auteur work of the highest order.

6. The Future Is An Open Mouth By Dustin Holland (Self-Published) – Speaking of auteur comics, Holland produces nothing but, and this represents probably the most successful synthesis of his idiosyncratic creative vision with the always-nebulous concept of reader “accessibility.” Which is to say, it’s fucking ecstatically weird, but you’re never lost within its hermetic “universe.” Like all the best art, its borderline-impossible to define what makes Holland’s work so special, you just know that it is.

5. Dear Mother & Other Stories By Bhanu Pratap (Strangers Fanzine) – Arguably the year’s most disturbing work both conceptually and visually, Pratap’s full-length debut challenges notions of identity, bodily autonomy, and intrinsic need on levels both macro and micro. If you don’t think there can be beauty in nihilism, think again, but be warned : the more you do think about this comic, the more sleep you’ll lose.

4. Burg Land 1 – Sleemore Gank By Alexander Laird (Self-Published) – The most imaginative sci-fi comic to come down the pike in a hell of a long time, Laird’s loosely-paced but tightly-plotted opening salvo of what promises to be a sprawling sci-fi opus is breathtaking on every level, creatively and technically, rivaling the riso production values of even the esteemed (and aforementioned) Mr. Pham. Sure, this comic is a clinic on the art of so-called “world building,” but it’s got more than enough heart to match its brains, and that makes all the difference.

3. Speshal Comics, Edited By Floyd Tangeman (Dead Crow) – Essentially a “bonus issue” of Tangeman’s groundbreaking Tinfoil Comix, and showcasing the work of many of the same cartoonists who have appeared in that anthology, the strips in this one all honor the late Bay Area artist/tagger Evan “Spesh” Larsen, and while I admit I never knew the guy, this comic sure makes me wish that I had. This is no mere “tribute” publication, however — rather it’s a celebration and examination of an artist, his ethos, and his body of work as seen from multiple points of view, and well and truly runs the stylistic and tonal gamut. “Spesh” himself may be gone, but this comic is a monumental legacy in and of itself.

2. Scat Hog Volume One By Cooper Whittlesey (Self-Published) – Every year it seems a comic comes from out of left field and knocks me for a wallop. This year, that dubious “honor” belonged to this collection of Whittlesey’s straight-from-the-id strips, scrawled with all the energy and urgency of self-exorcism and not so much released into the world as it was thrust upon it. Still, in my defense, nothing can really prepare anybody for this torrential onslaught of unleashed artistic imperative. Shock and awe, baby — emphasis on the latter.

1. Crashpad By Gary Panter (Fantagraphics) – A bit of a cheat here in that this is an oversized hardcover book as well as a “floppy” single issue, but if anything is worth bending the rules for it’s this, Panter’s love letter to the underground. And while it holds true to many of the precepts of its artistic progenitors, it never takes the easy way out by wallowing in nostalgia — instead, Panter takes inspiration from the past to do what he does best : show us a way forward. Far out? Sure. But don’t be surprised if this one takes you on a journey inside, as well.

Okay, that’s one down, five to go — next up we’ll be looking at the TOP TEN COMICS SERIES. Until then, a reminder that my Patreon is updated three times a week with whatever is on my mind on the subjects of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Depending on who you are, your support either is or would be greatly appreciated. https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Back In The Saddle With The Latest From Robb Mirsky, Brian Canini, Connor McCann, And More

And so we — or I guess that should be I — return after a few weeks’ absence, certainly none the worse for wear (in fact, dare I say feeling somewhat refreshed), but with plenty to catch you, dear reader, up on. To that end, the next batch of reviews are going to be whirlwind overviews of a number of comics I read over the course of my hopefully-well-earned (you can be the judge of that) break. And seeing as how I’ve wasted enough time recently as is, I think the best course of action is simply to jump right in —

God Bless The Machine By Connor McCann – Don’t look now, but the “Strangers Fanzine Presents” label is turning into the closest thing the comics world offers to a guaranteed mark of quality. Latest case in point : this artistic and conceptual thrill ride from Connor McCann, a name previously unknown to me, but one I’ll surely be on the lookout for more from in future. Featuring solid, “crunchy” figure drawings rendered in thick, black inks, this cynical-but-in-no-way-overly-obvious look at the cost of fame ostensibly centers around a washed-up former child star attempting to rescue an artificially-created boy band being held hostage on the moon, but veers off in a million different directions from there. The 2000AD influence here is strong, but this is much funnier and more genuinely surprising (to say nothing of genuinely twisted) than that magazine has been in, oh, the past four decades or so. The ideas fly at you a mile a minute from start to finish, but have no fear — it all comes together in a crescendo best described as logically coherent but still batshit insane. If you don’t like this, you don’t like comics, period.

Get it for ten bucks from the Strangers website at : https://strangersfanzine.bigcartel.com/product/god-bless-the-machine-by-connor-mccann-strangers-fanzine-presents

Sludgy #3 By Robb Mirsky – As luck would have it, you needn’t leave that very site to get your hands on a copy of Robb Mirsky’s latest Sludgy mini, and while Mirsky himself told me that this third issue, consisting of five tight, well-paced shorts, was “probably the best so far,” I take all such claims with a grain of salt. Damned thing is, though, there’s no probably about it — things take a turn for the darker here, and not only is that entirely apropos, it elevates this entire concept out of “Casper, only toxic and gooey” territory and into the rarefied air of the disturbingly humorous. Oh, sure, our friendly monsters are still innocent enough in and of themselves, but the people they encounter, as well as the circumstances under which those encounters take place, well — that’s another matter. That being said, believe it or not, this is also the funniest and most impeccably-drawn installment to date, as well.

You can score this from the Strangers site for $6.00 at https://strangersfanzine.bigcartel.com/product/sludgy-3-by-robb-mirsky

Glimpses Of Life #7 By Brian Canini – Set against the impending arrival of baby number three and with COVID never far out of sight or mind, there’s certainly nothing wrong with this collection of January 2021 diary comics from one of Columbus’ most prolific cartooning talents, but likable as these strips are, one can’t help but feel the deck is stacked against Canini simply because there’s so much of this kind of thing out there already and so little to set it all apart. Honestly, unless you’re doing Gabrielle Bell-level stuff, the entire diary comics field is a tough one to stand out in, especially since the pandemic pretty much guaranteed that everyone who wasn’t doing them before is doing them now. The closest comparison I can draw here is to Kyle Bravo’s work, in that both artists produce eminently likable autobio material — that’s pretty well forgotten about after you’re done with it. As I’ve pointed out in the past, though, in regards to this very series, it tends to read better when it’s collected into larger volumes that afford readers the opportunity to really get in there and vicariously spend time with Canini and his family. In shorter 32-page bursts such as this, though, you’re left with a feeling of “that was nice enough, I suppose, ” but not much else. Which feels like a pretty shitty thing to say about a comic that, I should reiterate, is just fine for what it is — but nevertheless, there we have it.

You can pick this up for $6.00 from Canini’s Drunken Cat website at https://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/products/32339596-glimpses-of-life-7

The Big Red Machine, Grandma, And Me By Terry Eisele And Brian Canini – A considerably more successful entry into the equally-crowded field of memoir is Canini’s collaboration with writer Terry Eisele that documents the latter’s close relationship with his maternal grandmother, expressed and expounded upon in any number of ways, most notably via their mutual love of the Cincinnati Reds’ mid-’70s world championship teams. Still, if we parse this mini’s title down to its essentials, it’s far more about the “grandma” than it is the “Big Red Machine,” and that’s as it should be. Eisele’s sheer skill as a writer elevates this simple, but entirely heartfelt, comic over many others of its ilk that are out there, and Canini’s an old pro at drawing this type of story, so the collaboration is about as seamless as these things get. I enjoyed this one a lot and feel pretty safe in saying that you will, too.

This one’s also available from Canini’s own Drunken Cat site, for five very well-spent dollars : https://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/products/32878765-the-big-red-machine-grandma-and-me

And I think that’ll do it for today; I’ll be back tomorrow with another batch of recent reads to expound upon. Until then, a reminder to please support my Patreon if you dig this sort of thing — you can join for as little as a buck, I put up three news posts every week, and I never take a vacation over there. If you’re interested, here’s the link : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse