Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Special Mentions

We’re inching closer to being done with our monstrous year-end wrap, and with this, our next-to-last list, we’ll be taking a look at my top ten “special mentions” — that is, projects that have to do with comics, or are by cartoonists, but aren’t precisely comics per se in and of themselves. The term I settled on some time back was “comics-adjacent” works, and until something better comes to mind, I’m sticking with it. And so —

10. Folrath #3 By Zak Sally (La Mano 21) – The third and final “volume” of Sally’s riso-printed prose memoir of his life on the social, economic, and cultural margins in the early 1990s ably demonstrates that he’s every bit as gifted a writer as he is a cartoonist. I hated to see this end, but loved every page of it.

9. Bubbles #4 Edited By Brian Baynes (Self-Published) – Baynes came out of nowhere this year and started cranking out the best solo old-school ‘zine in recent memory, but with number four he brought in a small handful of contributors who all turned in exemplary work, and his interview subjects included one of my favorite of the “new crop” of indie cartoonists, Josh Pettinger, and long-time favorite Archer Prewitt, so this gets the nod as the best issue to date. Long may this project continue.

8. 2016-1960 By Jeff Zenick (Self-Published) – The ever-idiosyncratic Zenick’s latest illustration ‘zine presents a fascinating visual case study of changing social trends and customs via hand-rendered interpretations of high school and college yearbook portrait photos. Compelling and engrossing and maybe even a little bit wistful at the margins, this tells a strong story without resorting to so much as a single line of dialogue.

7. But Is It — Comic Aht? #2 Edited By Austin English And August Lipp (Domino Books) English and Lipp follow up a terrific debut issue issue with an even better sophomore effort, covering everything from EC to Anna Haifisch to weird 1990s kids’ comics to David Tea. Full disclosure : I’ve got a piece in this ‘zine, but it would have earned this spot easily regardless.

6. Crows By Jenny Zervakis (Self-Published) – A gorgeous but harrowing mix of prose and illustration that limns the collapse of a twenty-year marriage and the complete re-think of one’s life that goes along with it. As always, Zervakis finds a reason to go on via her love for nature — and nobody draws it better than she does.

5. Steve Gerber : Conversations Edited By Jason Sacks, Eric Hoffman, And Dominick Grace (University Press Of Mississippi) – The latest book in the long-running “Conversations With Comic Artists” series is also one of the best, presenting a career-spanning retrospective series of interviews with one of the most gifted writers and “far-out” thinkers in the history of the medium. If we see a “Gerber revival” of sorts in the future — and we damn well should — we can all point back to this as its starting point.

4. Bill Warren : Empire Of Monsters By Bill Schelly (Fantagraphics) – What turned out, sadly, to be the final project authored by noted comics and fandom historian Schelly was also one of his best, chronicling the life and times of the visionary publisher who brought the world everything from Famous Monsters to Blazing Combat. You hear the term “impossible to put down” a lot — this book really is just that.

3. Forlorn Toreador By E.A. Bethea (Self-Published) – The latest (and likely greatest, but hey — they’re all good) ‘zine from the endlessly creative Bethea is a poetic exploration of times, places, and people gone that utilizes an intuitively- assembled mixture of comics, prose, and portrait illustration to paint a picture of the world as it both was and is. You’ll miss reading it before it’s even over.

2. Brain Bats Of Venus : The Life And Comics Of Basil Wolverton Volume Two, 1942-1952 By Greg Sadowski (Fantagraphics) – The second entry in Sadowski’s exhaustive biography of one of comics’ most legendary iconoclasts is painstakingly researched, engagingly written, and loaded with archival documents and well over a dozen fully-restored Wolverton stories that have never looked better. Somebody’s looking down on this “labor of love” project and smiling.

1. Loop Of The Sun By Daria Tessler (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – An ancient Egyptian myth of creation is brought to kaleidoscopic, phantasmagoric life in Tessler’s mixed-media masterpiece, a culmination of everything this visionary artist has been building up to in recent years. The most visually ambitious work to ever come out of a riso printer — and the most gorgeous book you’ll purchase this year.

Next up, we’ll wrap up our year-end review with a look at my choices for the top ten original graphic novels of 2019, but until then please 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. I make sure you get great value for your money, have no fear on that score, so do give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Taking A Step “Out Of The Nest”

When you craft a deeply moving, bittersweet, painfully resonant, obviously allegorical fable that features a protagonist who isn’t human, that’s one thing. When it features a protagonist who isn’t human and isn’t even alive yet? That’s something else altogether. In fact, it’s downright amazing.

And that’s absolutely what Jenny Zervakis’ 2016 (although it’s only just now getting some distribution) self-published mini, Out Of The Nest, is. Ostensibly a simple, somewhat sad tale of a wayward birds’ egg that rolls out of its — you guessed it —nest, in actuality this is a poignant rumination on safety and security of both the physical and emotional varieties, the fragility of life and the relationships we have during (or before) it, and loss. If that sounds like a lot to accomplish in 16 single-panel pages, well, it is — but it’s a task Zervakis accomplishes not so much with ease, but most definitely with grace.

That’s a key word to hone in on, as a kind of powerfully understated grace has always been at the beating heart of Zervakis’ work in her long-running, visually poetic Strange Growths autobio comics ‘zine. Illustrated with clean, simple, unassuming lines that nevertheless evince an intuitive understanding of cartooning fundamentals matched with a keen awareness of emotional focus, she translates that ability into a new venue here, her very own journey “out of the nest,” and the results are glorious. If you’re looking for something that “hits you right in the feels,” seriously — look no further.

And these aren’t cheap, sentimental, syrupy “feels,” either — this is the real thing, the kind of art that makes you re-examine fundamental precepts of your own life, to reflect on where you’ve been, where you hoped to be, and what was lost along the way. The things you’ve carried with you and the things you’ve let slip through your metaphorical fingers. The life that could have been, the life that is, and the miracle it took for either/or/both to even happen. It might even be enough to make a vegetarian out of you, or at least to get you to swear off eggs.

Not that I ever liked ’em, but that’s entirely beside the point. And truth be told, that’s about the only point that isn’t touched on in this masterfully expansive little comic. Out Of The Nest will absolutely knock your socks off, burrow its way right into your heart, and stay there for a long time. It’s available for the criminally low price of two bucks from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half comics distro site (which is also, full disclosure, where I poached these scans from), and while you’re there you’d also do well to check out Jenny’s career-spanning The Complete Strange Growths, 1991-1997, which John not only sells, but also published. Here’s a handy link :http://www.spitandahalf.com/product-tag/jenny-zervakis/

And while we’re on the subject of links, it’s my pleasure (is that the right word?) to announce that I now have a Patreon, where I’ll be doing thrice-weekly updates on the worlds of comics, film, television, and literature written from a “deep dive” perspective that helps you, dear reader, navigate today’s cluttered media landscape, focus on what’s important, and decipher what it all means to you and your life. I’d be honored to have your support as I undertake this new venture, so check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

A brief introduction to the Patreon follows here :

 

Let’s talk about the big picture.

I’ve been toiling away as a critic — first of films,later comics — for going on a decade now and, arrogant as it no doubt sounds, I’m starting to think I’ve got some stuff figured out. About how and art communicates specific ideas in specific ways at specific times. About how corporate media bosses do the same. About this ever-moving and ever-tenuous intersection where art, commerce, politics, even spirituality converge and how they either form temporary allegiances in order to co-exist, or flip each other off and head in opposite directions. About how said actions or reactions end up mixed together in the always-combustible cauldron we call the cultural zeitgeist. And how, if we learn to read between the lines about where we are now, who knows? We might even be able to intuit where we’re going.

Here’s what’s in it for you if you sign on around here : smart, insightful, entertaining commentary. Really. If I’m not writing the best stuff you read week in, week out, then I’m not doing my job.There’ll be movie talk. Comics talk. Book talk. Television talk. And probably plenty about real life too, now that our media consumption informs so much of what and even who we are.

This is no small project. No simple string of commentaries. This is where the jigsaw pieces get put together, starting from the corners, working our way in, until we see the puzzle’s actually been a mirror all along, and now we’re finally called upon to swallow up our courage and take a good, hard, sobering (but funny, I promise!) look at our collective reflection. So sign up, read my posts, leave comments, let’s see if we can’t make this some kind of — dare I say — community?

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