Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Special Mentions

And so we come to the most unusual of our year-end “Top 10” lists, this one looking at my ten favorite “special mentions” of 2018, and I suppose that some explanation is in order : simply put, a lot of great publications that came out of the comics world this year were, for lack of a better term (at least a better term than I can think of, you may fare better) “comics-adjacent,” in that they were by  cartoonists, but took the form of illustrated short stories, collections of drawings, etc. Also included in this category are publications about comics — ‘zines, scholarly works, and the like. Now then, with those ground rules in place —

10. Troubled Mankind Of The Modern South By Jeff Zenick (Self-Published) – One of the better pure illustrators working today, and one whose work consistently flies under the radar, Zenick’s collection of drawings based on mug shots found online of folks run afoul of the law below the Mason-Dixon line is his most conceptually “tight” offering to date, and captures the essential character of the desperation that leads to/ends in criminal activity far better than “mere” photographs ever could. A sobering, straight-forward look at the underbelly of society that most would rather pretend doesn’t exist.

9. Journal Of Smack (2018) By Andrea Lukic (Self-Published) – Lukic’s semi-regular journals are always fascinating, but her latest is like a “found object” from another time, place, and possibly even dimension, ostensibly telling an illustrated vampire story that circles back in on itself frequently — but what’s really going on here is something much deeper and more profound : preconceptions of what words and pictures can and even should do in juxtaposition are challenged head-on, shaken up, and re-arranged in new, unique, and even unsettling ways that are hard to explain, but undeniably powerful and instantly memorable.

8. Folrath #2 By Zak Sally (Self-Published) – The second installment in Sally’s ongoing prose memoir of his early-’90s “punk years” is no mere exercise in nostalgia for its own sake, but rather a gripping and evocative attempt to reconcile what one’s part even means — and how it never really leaves us, even when we think we’ve left it behind. The publication format here is also innovative and aesthetically pleasing, using riso printing and an “old-school” typeface to give the proceedings a wistful look that amplifies the tone of the writing.

7. But Is It — Comic Aht? Edited By Austin English (Domino Books) – Oh, hell yes ! The newsprint comics ‘zine had been in desperate need of a comeback for some time, and English is just the guy to resuscitate it. A thorough and comprehensive interview with the great Megan Kelso and an examination of the Mexican comics underground by Ines Estrada are the standout features to this critic, but the other reviews and articles are all tops, too. A true and obvious labor of love that you’re guaranteed, in turn, to love yourself.

6. Dog Nurse By Margot Ferrick (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – One of those rare “total packages” that has it all in terms of both form and content, Ferrick’s mysteriously heartwarming tale of a precocious but alienated child and her hired caretaker’s attempts to reach an understanding with her is lavishly illustrated, but equally lavishly presented between fastened hard covers on rich, French-fold pages. Well and truly stunning in every perspective.

5. Nocturne By Tara Booth (2dcloud) – Perhaps the closest thing on this list to a traditional “comics” narrative, Booth’s undeniably charming tale of a consequential evening in the life of a dominatrix, told by means of sequentially-arranged gouache paintings, is incredibly fluid, to be sure, but also far more conceptually dense than it may appear at first glance, incorporating themes of sexual identity, communal living, complex (and perhaps unhealthy) relationships with food, and body-image acceptance into a non-alienating, visually literate, wordless narrative. Some books leave a mark — this one casts a spell.

4. Accursed By Daria Tessler (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – One of the most gorgeous riso publications ever made, Tessler’s mind-bending visual interpretations of accompanying ancient Greek and Roman curses is a rich exploration of the timelessness of the urge for revenge rendered in a gorgeous and vibrant color palette that literally makes the already-“trippy” images achieve a kind of near-sentience as they draw you into a world unlike any other ever depicted. The die-cut cover with embossed ink and fold-out center spread will blow your mind if the contents haven’t already.

3. John, Dear By Laura Lannes (Retrofit/Big Planet) – A harrowing tale of emotional and psychological abuse manifesting itself outwardly in the form of physical deformation and mutation, Lannes has taken “body horror” to a whole new level by infusing it with social relevance — and her richly-black graphite renderings will not only take your breath away, but literally suck it right out of your body. I defy you to read this and not feel absolutely hollowed out afterwards.

2. The Woman Minotaur By Sara L. Jackson (Self-Published) – Sumptuous, beautiful, and horrifying all at once, Jackson’s painted short story revolving around themes of parental abandonment and alienation is as emotionally and psychologically charged as it is visually ambitious. A supremely self-assured work that establishes its own rules with fearlessness, integrity, and ingenuity, this is an entirely new form of artist-to-audience communication that goes right for the heart and twists it mercilessly.

1. Why Art? By Eleanor Davis (Fantagraphics) – Asking, and answering, its titular question by means more allegorical than expository, Davis’ deceptively “simple” illustrations and sparse, economic narrative shave off anything and everything superfluous and consequently “mainline” her story directly into readers’ metaphorical veins with an immediacy so nonchalantly assumed that its sheer power is immediately and automatically taken as a given.  A work of singular and undeniable genius — and that’s a word you will only catch me using when it’s not only warranted, but frankly inescapable. Davis makes her strongest argument yet for being the cartoonist laureate of our times.

So there you have it — ten great comics that weren’t exactly comics. Next up is our final list of the year, focusing on original graphic novels. That goes up tomorrow night, and may surprise you just as much for what isn’t included on it as what is. How’s that for a teaser?

The Undiscovered Country : Andrea Lukic’s “Journal Of Smack” (2018)

There’s no adequate way to describe the contents of Canadian cartoonist/fine artist/musician Andrea Lukic’s latest Journal Of Smack (she self-publishes one of these every year or thereabouts) without reaching deep into the stores of one’s own vocabulary and dusting off any number of little-used gems grown atrophied and covered in cobwebs. I determined I was going to resist the urge to go down that road and concentrate on immediate, visceral impressions, but we’ll see how well I do holding to that vow. If you hear me using terms like “abstract singularity” or somesuch, you’ll know I failed.

And with that, it’s down to business —

Lukic’s book has all the aesthetics of a “found object,” its pages somewhat-unevenly glued within one of those cheap DIY quasi-“bindings,” and that’s as it should be : it looks and feels old, haphazard, random. Where does one find something like this? I dunno, but my mind conjured up images of a party at the home of someone you’ve never met (say, the friend of a friend of a friend) — you’re down in the basement to get away from the noise and/or walk around in circles to fend off tomorrow morning’s inevitable hangover, except it’s already tomorrow, maybe 4:00 A.M., and it’s actually not that noisy anymore, most people left an hour or two ago, but your goddamn friends you came with are still talking to people you don’t know about other people you don’t know, and the basement is finished, but most definitely not updated, it’s got that 1970s shag green (or maybe orange, or brown) carpeting and fake wood paneling and no one comes down here much but there’s an old-school TV and a fraying, threadbare couch and midway between the two there’s a coffee table with beer can “ring” stains all over it that have been there who knows how long and — hey, what’s this here laying on said table?

At first glance it appears to be a mimeographed illustrated story about a vampire (though the “creature”/person is never explicitly labeled as such), rich with Gothic atmosphere, yet oddly contemporary at times. Is it a linear narrative? Fuck, even if you hadn’t been drinking all night it would be hard to tell. It seems to circle back in on itself a lot, and that would be true even if a couple of the pages weren’t exactly the same (once on red paper, once on the standard yellowish-white of the rest of the book). There’s a rhythmic quality to it, maybe even a tempo, but it’s difficult to strain your ears enough to hear it. Maybe it’s more a — faint murmur? Yeah, let’s go with that.

You look around the room for a moment and see what looks to be a couple of pages torn from another (older?) publication by, apparently, the same artist. They look like this :

Yeah, they probably are older, but not by much. Still, even half in the bag, the stylistic evolution is unmistakable : the detail, the intense linework, the hyper-delineated definition have always been there, but this one you’re holding in your hands, here in 2018 — it looks like the product of another time, another place, maybe another dimension. The vaguely psychedelic emanations given off by those older, random pages are subsumed under something else, call it a current of steady unease, as deliberately caricatured faces give way to those that are hideous by their nature, their design — creatures born of cold nights, colder hearts, and coldest-of-all graves. Linear time, mortality, the finite — all left in the conceptual dust by this cartoonist, this Andrea Lukic, as she bobs and weaves between semi-standard comic book layouts, full-page “splash” images, even what appear to be preliminary character sketches. Is there meaning to be discerned from this? Order hidden within what at first glance appears to be — okay, maybe not chaos, but at the very least damn random ?

There’s a record laying on the couch from a band you’re unfamiliar with. The cover looks like this :

Same artist again. Gotta be. You can just tell. And some of the mood and sensibility of this cover is apparent as all hell in this “comic” (or whatever it is) you’re holding. Both are ghostly. Ethereal. Transitory. Impermanent. Yet, somehow, also frozen in place, in time, richly expressive in the extreme. You could put this ‘zine, this Journal Of Smack, down. Go back upstairs. Walk away from it forever. But those frozen moments it captures? They, in turn, have captured you. Burrowed their way inside without even breaking a sweat. They’re part of you now. And there’s no getting away from that — even if you’re still not entirely sure what they’re all about. The story they tell transcends mere description, maybe even interpretation. But it’s not just something you’ve seen, something you’ve read, something you’ve experienced. Not anymore. It’s far too late to put this behind you, to remain unaffected, to go on with life as it was.

You tuck the ‘zine under your arm, head back up to meet your friends, and know, finally, why you came here tonight.


The 2018 edition of Andrea Lukic’s Journal Of Smack is available from our friends at Domino Books (where else?) for $10. Order it here, and prepare for your life to be changed in ways subtle, profound, and entirely inexplicable :