Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Collected Editions (Vintage)

Another day, another year-end “top ten” list. This time out is the year’s best vintage collected editions, in this case “vintage” meaning that the books in question collect works originally published prior to the year 2000. One of these years I suppose I should push that “cut-off date” up a bit, but for now, we’ll play it as it lays. And so, without further ado —

10. Alay-Oop By William Gropper (New York Review Comics) – Arguably the first graphic novel ever published, Gropper’s 1930 wordless morality play/love triangle drama is a tour de force of fluid visual storytelling, and the fact that it’s now available for contemporary audiences to re-discover is nothing short of a miracle.

9. That Miyoko Asagaya Feeling By Shinichi Abe (Black Hook Press) – A trailblazer in the field of autobio Manga, Abe’s early-1970s GARO strips are a moving testament to the power of inspiration and obsession, an exploration of the fine line between the two, and a fascinating historical record of a Tokyo Bohemian subculture that by and large no longer exists.

8. Ink & Anguish : A Jay Lynch Anthology By Jay Lynch With Ed Piskor And Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics) – An exhaustive collection of the late, great underground legend’s works that’s as poignant as it is funny, sure — but also eerily prescient in many respects. They don’t make ’em like this anymore, and that’s a damn shame.

7. Return To Romance : The Strange Loves Stories Of Ogden Whitney Edited By Dan Nadel And Frank Santoro (New York Review Comics) – Love is a battlefield, sure, but in Whitney’s 1950s romance comics that battlefield is psychological, with women constantly battling their dueling inclinations toward freedom and domesticity, with the former leading to heartbreak, the latter to happiness. Exploding every one of the genre’s sexist tropes by taking them to their logical extremes, this is visionary stuff cleverly disguised as status quo reinforcement.

6. Tale Of The Beast By Tadao Tsuge (Black Hook Press) – The first English-language edition of Tsuge’s 1987 hard-boiled Manga noir is a visceral revelation that eschews typical “whodunnit?” structuring by showing us the guilty culprit from the outset — yet it never fails to surprise at every turn. A visual and narrative marvel that oozes darkness and menace from every panel.

5. In The Wilderness By Casanova Frankenstein (Fantagraphics Underground) – Before creating his stand-in (okay, sometime stand-in) character of Tad Martin, Frankenstein was churning out these late-1980s/early-1990s autobio strips that are imbued with such direct immediacy that the act of committing them to paper feels and reads more like an exorcism than anything else. DIY comics before the term was known, these stories breathe a kind of fire that time and distance can’t diminish.

4. Absolute Swamp Thing By Alan Moore Volume One By Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bissette, John Totleben, Rick Veitch, Shawn McManus, And Dan Day (DC/Vertigo) – This long-awaited deluxe presentation of one of the transformative works in the history of the medium is every bit as gorgeous as anyone could hope for, but I really wish DC (and some other publishers, to be fair) would get over this whole urge to re-color everything. Granted, if you’re gonna go the computer coloring route, Steve Oliff is the best there is, was, or will ever be — but rich and textured as his work here is, it still buries a lot of the detail in the inks that showed through in Tatjana Wood’s original hand-done colors, and there was absolutely no compelling reason to cast aside her terrific work, which frankly would really shine in this slick, oversized format. That being said — this is still a “must-own” book, and re-visiting this material never fails to yield new surprises and deepen one’s appreciation for its revolutionary approach to mainstream horror comics.

3. Walt And Skeezix : 1933 – 1934 By Frank King (Drawn+Quarterly) – Every volume in this wonderfully-restored chronological reprinting of Gasoline Alley has been sublime, but for my money this eighth installment in the series represents the period when King was absolutely firing on all cylinders. I think a lot of people probably owed their very survival during the Great Depression to this charmingly transcendent comic.

2. Doll By Guy Colwell (Fantagraphics Underground) – One of the overlooked gems in the history of the medium and arguably one of the last true undergrounds, Colwell’s late-1980s series remains perhaps the most smart and sensitive “sex comic” ever produced on this side of the Atlantic, his story not only accurately predicting the arrival of the “Real Doll” (Google it if you must), but addressing issues ranging from toxic masculinity to misogyny to female objectification and dehumanization at a time when many of his peers were still trading in all that crap for cheap laughs. Having this collected between two covers, with its gorgeous art reproduced at a generous size, is cause for genuine celebration.

1. DC Universe : The Bronze Age Omnibus By Jack Kirby (DC) – I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the “omnibus” format, generally finding it to be unwieldy in the extreme, but come on — who are we kidding? When you’ve got all of Kirby’s The DemonThe Losers, and OMAC collected together in one book, plus all kinds of one-offs and collaborations ranging from Dingbats Of Danger Street to Super Powers ? This one’s gonna win the top spot even if the damn thing weighs as much as a small child.

Next up we’ll do the year’s top ten contemporary collections, but until then please do your humble list-maker a favor and consider supporting my ongoing work by 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. Check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

 

Forever The Outsider : Casanova Frankenstein’s “In The Wilderness”

It’s one thing to subsist on the societal, economic, even social margins for decades — it’s another to subsist on those margins and still not fit in.

Welcome to the life of Casanova Frankenstein, who “graduated” from being the only black nerd in his social milieu to the only black punk to the only black cartoonist. A man who’s on the outside looking in — at the other outsiders.

We all wondered what happened to the guy formerly known as Al Frank in the long interregnum between The Adventures Of Tad Martin #5 and its eventual follow-up, #sicksicksix over 20 years later, and the new Fantagraphics Underground collection of Frankenstein’s short autobio strips, In The Wilderness, fills in some of those blanks, as well as helps set the stage for what should, by all rights, be the year in which this long-neglected cartoonist finally gets something akin to his due. After all, his Lulu-published omnibus collection of Tad has recently hit, and there’s an all-new issue due later this year, a “raw cut” of which has already been released as The Adventures Of Tad Martin Super-Secret Special #1. Maybe, finally, it’s a good time to be Cassie Frankenstein.

Which rather flies in the face of most of these hard-luck and hard-scrabble stories, rife as they are with shitty jobs, shitty living circumstances, shitty relationships, and even shittier attempts at relationships. Really, the whole thing could easily come off as a litany of despair, except for one thing : Frankenstein simply refuses to allow it to be one.

And thank whatever god you may or may not believe in for that, because without his innate humor and sense of the absurd, his ability to find a kernel of humanity buried beneath even the thickest and most all-encompassing layers of misery, this really would be a damn tough slog. As things are, though? There’s something of a borderline celebratory tone to the work that seeps through when the strips are read in succession, as knowledge that he’ll never fit in gradually changes to begrudging acceptance of his situation to, finally, a “fuck off if you don’t like me, it matters to me not in the least” outlook that was probably a necessary view to develop not only for the sake of Frankenstein’s art, but for his continued emotional survival.

The exhaustive and superb interview conducted by Fanta head honcho Gary Groth with the cartoonist at the end of the book verifies some of these suspicions plus many more, but really, it’s not like the work itself is subtle or leaves you guessing in any way — this is raw, immediate, visceral stuff, unmediated by any considerations for its “end-users.” Trusting that your creative efforts will find an audience on its own terms takes guts, but it doesn’t seem like Frankenstein ever slowed down to the point where he even concerned himself with such prosaic trivialities. Most of these strips look and read as if made for an audience of one — that “one” being the auteur himself — and all evidence suggests that was precisely the case, as no quarter or compromise is either offered or, crucially, expected anywhere in the slap-dash scrawlings or guttural bare-bones prose that fills these pages. The cumulative effect may indeed be a gut-punch but, like all gut-punches, you’re damn well guaranteed to remember it — and this one comes from the gut, as well.

If you can’t get behind that, then get out of the way — these aren’t comics for the faint of heart, the weak of constitution, or the strong of conscience. In the gap between Tad’s two most “recent” issues, it appears the creator adopted many of the “nothin’ matters and what if it did” mannerisms and attitudes of his creation, and now your guess is as good as mine as to where the one ends and the other begins. There may be something at least semi-tragic about that, but it also seems inevitable, perhaps even advantageous, as one can’t really make it as a perpetual iconoclast-by-default and give too much of a fuck about — well, anything. Including oneself.

This, then, is nihilism as coping strategy, no doubt, but one adopted as a last resort.  Cassie Frankenstein doesn’t present himself as being necessarily likable, sympathetic, or even especially considerate or well-considered, but he does present an unfiltered view of who he was, became, now is — and I wouldn’t have him any other way.

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