Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Vintage Collections

Another day, another year end “Top 10” list! This time around we look at my favorite collected editions of vintage material published in the past year, “vintage” in this case being work originally produced prior to the year 2000. Eurocomics and Manga are both eligible here, as well, as long as they first saw print prior to all our computers failing, the electrical grid going dark, the food supply collapsing, and civilization falling apart on December 31st, 1999. Remember those crazy times?

10. Brat Pack By Rick Veitch (IDW) – Arguably the last great work of super-hero revisionism prior to Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer, Veitch’s bleak and unforgiving look at the teen sidekicks of Slumburg is as shocking, ugly, and mean-spirited as ever — not to mention gorgeously illustrated. IDW pulled out all the stops with this one, loading it up with “behind-the-scenes” bonus material that all crusty aficionados of this rank, but spot-on, unpleasantness will surely find illuminating and engrossing. I still feel like I need to take a shower after reading this book to get the stain off — and yes, I mean that as a compliment.

9. Death Stand And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 22) By Jack Davis And Harvey Kurtzman (Fantagraphics) – The harrowing reality of combat stress has arguably never been rendered in comics with more authenticity than in these classic EC strips illustrated by Davis and (largely) written by Kurtzman. Even people who think they probably don’t like war comics owe it to themselves to give this collection a shot and see what they’ve been missing out on all these years.

8. New Gods By Jack Kirby (DC) – This one probably deserves to be ranked higher purely on its merits, as many of the very best of Kirby’s Fourth World stories are in here, but considering that all of it was included in last year’s Fourth World Omnibus, this really just represents an essential purchase for absolute completists, or anyone who took a pass on the omnibus for budgetary or storage space (hey, it really is a beast!) reasons. Some of the finest comics ever made by anyone are found on these pages, though, so it earns a spot on the list even though it comes hot on the heels of a larger, more comprehensive collection.

7. Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground Edited By Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Underground) – Far and away the most disturbing book on this list, Osborne was probably the most grotesque and unsavory of the “first wave” of underground cartoonists — as well as one of the most talented, producing work so rich in detail and meticulous in its execution that it still literally boggles the mind. Editor Rosenkranz deserves tremendous credit for collecting all of this less-than-prolific artist’s work between two covers, and Dennis Dread’s detailed biographical sketch of Osborne’s troubled life is a terrific piece of comics scholarship. Not for all tastes and sensibilities to be sure — but if your “wiring” is as off-kilter as mine, this is an essential purchase.

6. Corto Maltese : The Golden House Of Samarkand By Hugo Pratt (IDW/Euro Comics) – One of Pratt’s finest and most ambitious Corto stories finally gets the deluxe treatment that has been lavished on the character’s previous adventures. If you’re a fan, that’s cause for celebration, and if you’re not — well, now’s the perfect time to become one! European genre comics simply don’t get any better than this.

5. best of witzend Edited By Bill Pearson And J. Michael Catron (Fantagraphics) – Anyone who couldn’t fork over the cash for the complete witzend slipcase collection a few years back will be overjoyed to find this well-curated collection of the finest strips to appear in Wally Wood’s legendary “pro-‘zine,” as editors Pearson and Catron present groundbreaking cartooning from artists that truly “run the gamut,” including Bernie Wrightson, Reed Crandall, Gray Morrow, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, Jim Steranko, P. Craig Russell, Art Spiegelman, Steve Ditko, Vaughn Bode — and, of course, Wood himself. A superb selection that will leave your head spinning and that, crucially, “ports over” the exhaustive historical essay work presented in the earlier, larger publication.

4. Master Race And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 21) By Bernard Krigstein (Fantagraphics) – The premier visual innovator in comics history, Krigstein’s astonishing work finally gets a truly deluxe presentation in this painstakingly-restored collection. The scope and grandeur of Krigstein’s imagination still positively boggles the mind, and its fruits have never looked better than they do in this sumptuous volume.

3. Love That Bunch By Aline Kominsky-Crumb (Drawn+Quarterly) – Okay, yeah, some of the material in this comprehensive retrospective came along after the year 2000, but the vast majority predates it, and it would be absolutely criminal not to find a list to include this on. I’ve always preferred Aline’s work to that of her more-famous husband, and these largely-autobiographical strips will probably go some way toward winning over even the most understandably reactionary fans who reflexively eschew anything with the “Crumb” name attached to it. I’m not here to judge how and why she can survive a marriage to one of the most talented-but-unsavory people in comics, only to state that her own work stands on its own merits and communicates a positive, empowering message in endearingly neurotic and self-deprecating fashion. I do, indeed, love that — meh, too obvious, right? Just buy the book, you’ll never regret it.

2. Kamandi Omnibus By Jack Kirby (DC) – Finally! The amazing adventures of the last boy on earth get the “omnibus treatment,” and the result — while hefty both physically and financially — is nothing less than magic. One of Kirby’s absolute best comics ever, this is also one of the most imaginative, rip-roaring, and just plain fun works in the entire history of the medium. Nothing short of comic book perfection.

1. Dirty Plotte : The Complete Julie Doucet By Julie Doucet (Drawn+Quarterly) – Pioneering feminist auteur Doucet finally gets her due with this beautiful, two-volume hardcover slipcase collection that features all of her work from her legendary Dirty Plotte series, as well as a good chunk of material that was published before and since, a wide-ranging interview with the artist, and essays of appreciation from top cartooning talents. This was one of the formative works of the 1990s that helped blaze a trail for any number of women cartoonists, and is every bit as powerful, authentic, idiosyncratic, and funny now as it ever was. Doucet is, simply put, one of the most outstanding talents to ever draw breath. Here’s all the evidence would could possibly need to buttress that assertion.

And that’s four lists down, with two yet to come! Next up : the top 10 “special mentions” of the year, an eclectic category of “comics-adjacent” work that includes no actual comics per se, but narrative works (illustrated or otherwise) either by cartoonists, or about comics. It’ll make much more sense when I post it (probably tomorrow), I promise!

 

A True Innovator Gets His Due In “Steranko : The Self-Created Man”

Who better than a multi-talented, groundbreaking, artistic visionary to provide the definitive analysis of — a multi-talented, groundbreaking, artistic visionary?

The answer is as obvious as the question itself, I suppose, and it’s for that reason that James Romberger’s just-released (by means of his own Ground Zero Books self-publishing imprint) Steranko : The Self-Created Man stands out immediately as the authoritative work on the art and legacy of its subject — the iconoclastic, in many respects enigmatic, Jim Steranko : carny escape artist, comics innovator, cinematic conceptualizer, frankly peerless genre-novel cover artist, trailblazing publisher, and raconteur par excellence.

Not that every aspect of the man whose own “real-life” exploits formed the basis of Jack Kirby’s legendary Mister Miracle character comes in for equal treatment in this slim, easily-digestible volume, mind you : this is a book makes no pretenses toward being an absolutely comprehensive biography, nor would such an endeavor play to its author’s strengths : Romberger is, after all, in addition to being a deliriously accomplished fine artist, comics illustrator, and teacher (currently splitting his time in academia between Parsons in New York and Marywood University in Pennsylvania), an art scholar of the highest order, and hones his finely-tuned analytical skills on Steranko’s justly-legendary body of work first and foremost. It’s a wise decision, the end result being 160-ish thoroughly readable pages overflowing with earned, but crucially never haughty and always accessible, erudition.

An introductory sketch of Steranko’s life that does contain plenty of biographical information kicks off the proceedings, but the metaphorical “main course” comes by way of a wide-ranging interview with the artist wherein he catalogues, and expounds upon, the no less than 144 graphic storytelling innovations he introduced to the comics medium between the years of 1966 and 1984, most notably during his celebrated run on Marvel’s Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and an impressive critical appraisal by Romberger of Steranko’s concept art for filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Alain Resnais. This is highly academic stuff by its very nature, to be sure, but no less engrossing for that fact — hell, truth be told, I defy anyone to read through it all and not immediately wish to track down more examples of the work in question than are re-produced herein. Romberger has a way, you see, of making you both understand and appreciate the art that he’s so painstakingly breaking down, at every angle and from just as many perspectives, and meticulously placing it all within not only a historical continuum, but the larger social, political, and even philosophical zeitgeist — much of which Steranko’s art not only informed, but flat-out formed in its wake. In other words, they didn’t call this guy “The Jimi Hendrix Of Comics” for nothin’, and Romberger aptly demonstrates precisely why that’s the case.

Perhaps most impressively, though, is that this book, while obviously respectful and considered throughout, never devolves into mere hagiography, and instead recognizes Steranko and his innovations as arising not from some magical and unknowable font of mystic power, but from the artist’s own unique set of experiences and an eminently practical series of responses to various challenges that specific endeavors presented to him — and it’s in this intuitive understanding of the delicate balance that always exists between inspiration and its practical application that Romberger stands apart from, and frankly above, his “fellow travelers” in the field of art scholarship. This is specialized knowledge of the highest order communicated in such a fashion that I honestly feel it will resonate with just about anyone.

I am very pleased, therefore, to give Steranko : The Self-Created Man a rare unqualified recommendation to those interested in art history, and comics history in particular. It is a volume that I am confident will stand the test of time every bit as much the body of work it considers has. Purchase your copy directly from James Romberger at https://groundzerobooks.com/products/steranko-the-self-created-man?fbclid=IwAR3CruBN2yGWRHrhKZNDyrRcIGufAJbdGyaFTG_nMaI57VvUST85RY2xeaQ