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

 

 

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 05/12/2019 – 05/18/2019, Recent Underground Collections

As fate would have it, four lengthy collections of old-school underground comics that I’d been slowly but surely working my way through all made it from my “to be read” stack to my “finished” stack (okay, my bookcase) this week, and so, while each of these probably deserves a full-length review of its own, I can’t pass up on the opportunity afforded by fate/coincidence to make a Weekly Reading Round-Up column out of ’em. Note that these are all published by Fantagraphics Books, two under the auspices of their standard imprint, hereafter referred to as FB, and two coming our way courtesy of their “micro-press” Fantagraphics Underground label, hereafter referred to as FU.

Ink & Anguish : A Jay Lynch Anthology (FB) is an exhaustive collection of the late, pioneering cartoonist’s work that showcases the more “cartoony” side of underground cartooning, although there’s still plenty on offer here that’s well out of touch with modern sensibilities when it comes to sexism and misogyny. Lynch was far from the worst offender among his ilk in that regard, though, and mostly this is pretty sharp, satirical, and reasonably thought-provoking stuff with a fairly generous dose of metaphysics and spirituality thrown in for, as it turns out, quite good measure. All of Lynch’s popular Nard n’ Pat strips from over the years are presented herein, as well as a number of stories from Bijou Funnies and, more recently, Mineshaft, as well as mind-bogglingly cool art that Lynch produced for Bazooka JoeWacky Packages, and Garbage Pail Kids. Some solid collaborations with the likes of Ed Piskor, Art Spiegelman, and Robert Crumb, along with superb and highly-accessible text pieces assembled by underground scholar extraordinaire Patrick Rosenkranz, round out what can only be considered a very impressive package that provides great value for its $34.99 asking price.

Warrior Women : Spain Vol. 2 (FB) continues the Rosenkranz-edited ongoing — and sure to be massive — retrospective series dedicated to the late Spain Rodriguez and, perhaps as an intentional counter-point to the near-rampant misogyny on display in the first volume, the focus this time is on his so-called “strong female protagonists,” from Nasty Elaine to the Leather Nun to Mara Mistress of the Void to Granny McGurk to Rita Velveeta to Sangrella to, of course, the legendary Big Bitch. Not all of these women are the well-rounded figures of female emancipation the collection bills them as, and slapping the title “Spain Loved The Ladies (And They Loved Him)” on the actually-quite-nuanced-and-even-touching text essay that accompanies the strips certainly wasn’t the smartest move — I’d even go so far as to call it “tone-deaf” — but on the whole this is, of course, a breathtakingly well-illustrated volume that showcases its subject at the very height of his considerable creative powers. Yeah, it still betrays some regrettable attitudes that were rampant throughout the underground, but in many ways the majority of these strips really were well ahead of their time. Spain’s body of work is a complex and contradictory one, but one that is compelling as hell and very well worth exploring (or re-exploring) — and you get more than your money’s worth for your $34.99 with this one, as well.

Dave Sheridan : Life With Dealer McDope, The Leather Nun, And The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (FU) is a handsome over-sized hardcover edited  by Mark Burstein that presents not only a generous selection of the gone-too-soon cartoonist’s solo work (mostly featuring the characters referenced in the book’s title), but a number of his collaborations with Fred Schrier and Gilbert Shelton, as well. Sheridan’s illustration work for beer companies, album covers, and sex products is also well-represented, and the biographical text segments are just plain out of this world. Sheridan was one of the best pure artists the underground ever produced, and this book is both long overdue, and a fitting tribute to his life and career. At $35 it’s an absolute steal — something you can’t usually say for the small-print-run FU titles — so if you pass on this, you’re just plain crazy.

Doll (FU) by the great Guy Colwell may have originally seen print in the late-’80s and early-’90s, but Colwell himself was an underground veteran, and it first came out by way of Rip Off Press, so — this is an underground collection, in my book, as well. And it’s an essential one at that, telling a long-form story focused on the basest and sorriest instincts of man (okay, of men, specifically) that are triggered when an artist constructs a realistic animatronic sex doll for a deformed “40 Year-Old Virgin” who serves as a precursor to the pathetic “incel” demographic of today every bit as much as the titular doll accidentally predicts the infamous “Real Doll” that, I believe, is still very much a popular item among the sexually deprived. Colwell’s linework is gorgeous, his writing incisive, and frankly the narrative itself is far more subtle than one would expect given the ease with which it could have become a heavy-handed morality play in less-talented hands. An interview with Colwell conducted by feminist cartoonist Katie Skelly appends the volume and puts a nice finishing touch on what is well and truly a timeless and prescient work. Possibly the best $30 you’ll spend on comics this year.

And that, friends, is another week’s reading in the rear-view mirror — although it took me a lot longer than a week to read ’em, and I fully expect that none of these books are really anything I could truly say I’m “done” with, as they are sure to be re-visited frequently in the years to come. Nothing left to do then but remind you all that I’d sure appreciate your support on my Patreon site, where for as little as a dollar a month you can get thrice-weekly updates from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. There’s a bunch of content up on there already, so you’re sure to get plenty in return for your pledge, and your patronage also ensures a steady supply of free stuff both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please take a moment to have a look and consider joining up by directing your attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse