Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Original Graphic Novels

Here it is, the final “top ten” list in our year-end wrap, and probably the one people are most interested in. Books in this category are comprised of all-new material, never serialized in single issues or online, and constructed specifically for the so-called “graphic novel” format. And your “winners” are —

10. Blood And Drugs By Lance Ward (Birdcage Bottom Books) – A visceral, harrowing firsthand account of addiction and recovery on the social and economic margins by a cartoonist with a busted hand. One of the most immediate and unmediated works in recent memory, this one will leave an indelible mark on your brain.

9. The Structure Is Rotten, Comrade By Viken Berberian And Yann Kebbi (Fantagraphics) – Exploring architecture and gentrification as inherently political topics, this exquisitely-illustrated book has much to say about damn near everything,  yet never feels like a treatise or lecture. There’s nothing rotten about it at all, comrade.

8. Theth : Tomorrow Forever By Josh Bayer (Tinto Press) – Incorporating elements of memoir and metafiction to tell this remarkable coming-of-age tale, Bayer uses genre to explore deeply personal topics and to paint a portrait of a life that could well and truly “go either way.” Utterly unique stuff that will make you glad your late-teens and/or early-twenties are over with.

7. The Death Of The Master By Patrick Kyle (Koyama Press) – Meet the new boss, same as — ah, you know the drill. But you’ve never seen that axiom bought to life in such a formally inventive and wryly satirical manner. Kyle is in full command of his considerable gifts here, and you pass on it at your peril.

6. Gender Queer By Maia Kobabe (Lion Forge) – An intellectually and emotionally resonant memoir of awakening that addresses issues of gender and sexuality, or their absence, with frankness, insight, honesty, and even a little bit of humor. One of the year’s most important and engagingly-drawn books.

5. Pittsburgh By Frank Santoro (New York Review Comics) – A lavishly-illustrated account of a family and a city’s declining fortunes and the oblique reasons behind them, this is the crowning achievement of Santoro’s career and a testament to the power of emotional survival and perseverance. As formally exciting as it is deeply personal, this is a book that richly rewards re-reading and reveals new thematic depth every time you do so.

4. Grip Vol. 2 By Lale Westvind (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – The second volume of Westvind’s soaring, elegiac tribute to working women everywhere serves as both perfect companion piece to, and necessary extension of, the first. Bursting with dynamic action and illustration, this is a genuinely triumphant and transcendent work.

3. The Hard Tomorrow By Eleanor Davis (Drawn+Quarterly) – A moving and very much “of the moment” exploration of what it means to be human, to be involved in a relationship, and to bring new life into the world, Davis’ boldest and most ambitious work yet cements her reputation as one of our most important contemporary cartoonists. This is who we are, where we are, and what we hope for all wrapped up in one one visually sumptuous package.

2. Bezimena By Nina Bunjevac (Fantagraphics) – A searing and disturbing portrait of obsession and mania, this psychologically violent work is as essential as it is difficult, and Bunjevac’s amazingly detailed cartooning is the very definition of darkly alluring. Tough to read, sure, but absolutely impossible to forget.

1. How I Tried To Be A Good Person By Ulli Lust (Fantagraphics) – A towering achievement in the field of comics memoir, Lust’s dense and thorough-going examination of a pivotal and formative period of her life leaves no stone unturned and stands out for its absolute emotional honesty. Brave, confident, and visually literate in the extreme, this is one of those rare books that establishes its author as a true master of the medium.

And we’re done! It’s been quite the task compiling all these lists, but I suppose that was to be expected — after all, it’s been quite a year. 2019 saw more quality comics releases than anyone could possibly keep up with, and to call that a “good problem to have” is to sell the situation far short. In point of fact, we’re living in a new Golden Age of creativity and expression, and if you dig my ongoing coverage and analysis of it, then please consider subscribing to 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. I’d be very grateful indeed to have your support, so do give it a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

An Even Firmer “Grip”

Oh, hell yes.

The first volume of Lale Westvind’s Grip was one of the standout releases of 2018, a rapturous visual feast that paid tribute to working women everywhere — particularly women working in the trades — but with our nameless protagonist having triumphed against external foes, in the recently-released Grip Vol. 2 she turns her whirlwind “super-hands” to the task of transcendence through construction. And, as you’d no doubt expect, it’s a very formidable task indeed.

Once again, Perfectly Acceptable Press knocks it out of the park with their artisan riso printing, federal blue, fluorescent red, and yellow gradations exploding off the page with the same guts and gusto as every panel in Westvind’s wordless 88-page story, which functions as both sequel and necessary counter-balance to the fist “chapter,” antagonists that demanded a firm physical and theoretical beat-down now giving way to the probably more challenging, but if anything even more necessary, act of creation.

However, while there’s no achievement without struggle,  Westvind’s story wisely and bravely celebrates both in equal measure — her heroine has earned her place among the immortal pantheon of working women, but she’s got to prove she’s earned it by finding a way to take her place up, literally, in the clouds. She must imagine, construct, and pilot a vehicle that will take her to where she both needs and deserves to go. Nothing is given, sure, but it goes well beyond that — nothing is easy, even with a pair of hands that can do pretty well anything.

Leaving quaint terms such as “dynamic” and “bold” in the rear view mirror hundreds of miles back, Westvind’s cartooning is a crackling, hyper-kinetic synthesis of motion, imagination, homage, and philosophical intent that takes justifiable pride in its own finely-honed execution, the artist herself clearly in love with the process of translating ideas into imagery through sheer, sweaty labor. She draws with force, and readers can’t fail to pick up on that, her own efforts reflected in those of her central character and vice-versa — to a very real degree, then, this is a comic that draws clear and celebratory parallels between its own creation, the story it’s telling, and the inspirational figures that gave impetus to it. We’re operating on at least three levels at once here, then, and readers more astute than myself may even — nah, you know what? I’m going to take a page from Westvind’s playbook and show unmitigated confidence in my own efforts to analyze and parse this work, because that’s the sort of thing I’m actually pretty damn good at, and I’m proud of that.

And pride is at the beating, endlessly-pumping heart of the entire Grip project, both sides of its coin now plainly coalescing into a holistic statement of purpose, reflecting and supplementing and melding into one another seamlessly, creating a joyous work that epitomizes the very triumph it relates, a paean to entirely earned confidence gained via trial by fire (or wind), a veritable tornado of rapturously feminist visual storytelling the likes of which I daresay we haven’t seen before — and that will hopefully inspire others to tells us their stories by means of their unique voices and skill sets . Westvind — and her extraordinary, instantly-legendary heroine — wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Grip Vol. 2 is available for $35.00 from Perfectly Acceptable press at http://perfectly-acceptable.com/item/grip-2/

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 ongoing work, so please give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse