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!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/14/2018 – 10/20/2018

As per the norm, we’ve got four new books to take a look at in this week’s Round-Up column, with something of a common theme in that they all come our way courtesy  of those unafraid to put their money where their mouths are, the noble ranks of self-publishing cartoonists —

Or, in the case of So Buttons #9, a self-publishing writer, specifically Jonathan Baylis, who makes a welcome return after a couple of years spent raising his infant son, who features prominently in a heartwarming little “who do ya love?” anecdote illustrated with stripped-down poignancy by T.J. Kirsch and an equally “awwwww — fer cute”-inducing yarn about introducing the lovable tyke to music drawn with gorgeously wistful aplomb by Summer Pierre. For the anti-natalists out there, though, fear not : we have a quartet of stories that re-visit tried and true Baylis themes, with the great James Romberger providing the strikingly authentic urban visuals which have long been one of the staples of his career on a story about picking up real rare roast beef from New York’s famous Second Avenue Deli, Fred Hembeck continuing his whimsical depictions of Baylis’ time interning in the shitshow that is the mainstream comic book industry, Thomas Boatwright going full-on “cartoony” exaggeration in a second strip about Baylis’ abandoned ambitions to be a horror movie make-up and effects artist, and Noah Van Sciver channeling his inner Crumb for another Harvey Pekar homage, which sees Baylis asking his own version of “what’s in a name?” —  only the name he’s pondering the ins and outs of isn’t Jonathan, as you’d probably expect, but Carl, which was shared by both his father and cousin.

These are all eminently smart and readable short-form vignettes that demonstrate that Baylis hasn’t lost a step at all over his hiatus, and if this issue happens to be your first exposure to his work, rest assured — you couldn’t have chosen a better time to hop on board. Presented in approximate half-standard-size format with a stunningly simple and emotive watercolor cover by Alissa Salah, this comic is more than worth the $5 price of admission and is available for purchase at http://sobuttons.com/order/

Continuing with the memoir theme, Rachel Scheer and her mother, Karen, collaborate once again for By Mom, By Me Volume Two : Tales From Our Twenties, which juxtaposes the “coming of age” years of Karen in the 1970s and Rachel in the early 2000s. This is remarkably relatable stuff, whether we’re talking about hitching a ride in a hearse through Yosemite Valley or an amusingly paranoid (you only think that’s a contradiction) boardwalk stroll, and ably demonstrates that this family has talent to spare. Rachel’s engaging, light-hearted cartooning style is as pitch-perfect for her material as ever here, the simple black-and-white ‘zine presentation is really nice, and I defy anybody to finish this one without a smile slowly creeping across their face.

Granted, this is no reinvention of the wheel or anything, but it’s a novel and winning approach to something that many consider, and not without reason, to have already been, as the saying goes, “done to death.” A bargain at $4.00 from https://www.etsy.com/listing/631943490/by-mom-by-me-volume-two-tales-from-our?ref=shop_home_active_1

Breaking from the memoir/autobio theme we had going, but only slightly, we come to Josh Pettinger’s Goiter #3, a book-length tale about one Sally Talman, who shares many of the same trepidations about turning 30 that, just a coincidence I’m sure, her author/creator did, as well. I’m thinking that the similarities between fact and fiction end, though, once the disembodied head of Sally’s future boyfriend, who’s fighting an interdimensional war, shows up on the scene, although who knows? I could be wrong about that.

Whatever the case may be, Pettinger’s rapid evolution as a cartoonist continues apace here, as he abandons the clinical Chris Ware-like distance he sometimes fell back on in earlier issues in favor of a genuinely involving story with a thoroughly humane viewpoint at its softly-beating heart. His illustration style still betrays hints of a Dan Clowes influence, it’s true, but with a decidedly “vintage” sensibility (be on the lookout for lots of “color dots,” for instance) that gives the proceedings a timeless and ethereal vibe. A richly rewarding return on your $7 investment (not bad at all for a full-color book in a slightly taller and thinner version of the standard comic format, with heavy cardstock covers) is sure to be had if you do the right thing and point your browser to https://www.etsy.com/listing/650388073/goiter-iii?ref=shop_home_active_1

Saving the best for last, though, we have Sara L. Jackson’s stunning painted ‘zine, The Female Minotaur, an emotionally searing look at the slow-burn heartbreak of a father’s gradual distancing of himself from his own daughter — a blow that’s doubly felt given the alienation that she already feels from her mother, and that mom in turn feels from dad. Oh yeah — this is as heavy as comics get.

Tell you what, though — it’s just about as good as they get, too, a veritable and visceral feast for the eyes that challenges the reader on all levels from the intellectual to the aesthetic, the end result being a book that literally exists in a category all its own, created for the specific purpose of telling this one story. I tend to shy away from employing overused and, by extension, necessarily cheapened superlatives such as “tour de force” very often, but that’s exactly what Jackson delivers here, a thematic and conceptual powerhouse of raw feeling more-than-strikingly communicated by means of her intuitively-channeled sequential series of  lush and arresting paintings. This is art that comes from someplace really deep, folks, and speaks to equally deep pits and valleys in the reader’s soul. A strong contender for the most unforgettable comics experience you’ll have all year, and not to be missed under any circumstances, exclusively (as far as I know, at any rate) offered for sale — and at the criminally low price of $8 ! — from our friends at Domino Books : http://dominobooks.org/womanminotaur.html

And with that, we  come to the end of yet another of our weekly “mini-review” rundowns. I don’t know what next week holds, but if it’s even half as good as this one, that would still be something well beyond great.