Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Contemporary Collections

Moving right along with our next-to-last “best of” list, we come to the Top 10 Contemporary Collections of 2020. Simply put, this category is devoted to collected editions of work originally published, either physically or digitally, since the year 2000, including Manga, webcomics, and Eurocomics. In practice, though, I’ll be honest and admit it’s all fairly recent stuff. Read on and you’ll see what I mean —

10. Inappropriate By Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized) – How the hell spoiled are we these days, anyway? The modern master of disarmingly frank autobio released one of her strongest collections to date and it seemed as though it hardly got a mention in critical circles. Like the Hernandez brothers, Bell’s work is so consistently good that I fear we as readers take it for granted. We shouldn’t — this is a book to be downright thankful for.

9. Snake Creek By Drew Lerman (Self-Published) – Lerman’s first collection of his charming, idiosyncratic strip firmly establishes him as the closest thing we have to a successor to the likes of Charles Schulz and George Herriman. Rest assured I invoke neither name lightly, and that this book backs up the comparison.

8. Goblin Girl By Moa Romanova, Translated By Melissa Bowers (Fantagraphics) – It was a breakout year for Sweden’s Romanova, who cemented her status as a “talent to watch” with the first English-language publication of this unique memoir focused on mental health, self-image and, of course, relationships. If she continues to build on the strength of this astounding book, then the future of this art from we love is in very good hands, indeed.

7. Ghostwriter By Rayco Pulido, Translated By Andrea Rosenberg (Fantagraphics) – A classic Eurocomics mystery thriller set in 1943 Barcelona and featuring a frisson of both political tension and identity confusion, the English-language debut of Spain’s Pulido is a bona fide clinic on how to keep readers off-balance. You’ll be guessing right up to the very end — and left guessing even more afterwards as to how this book didn’t get about ten times more attention and recognition than it did.

6. The Winter Of The Cartoonist By Paco Roca, Translated By Erica Mena (Fantagraphics) – Damn if Fanta doesn’t keep putting out one more Roca masterwork after another, year after year, and this gripping drama about five cartoonists striking out on their own against the big publishing houses in 1957 fascist Spain is more than just a page-turner, it’s possibly the best creators’ rights treatise authored by anyone to date. Another essential read from one of the great auteurs of the medium.

5. J&K By John Pham (Fantagraphics) – A comprehensive collection of the misadventures of Pham’s lovable losers was long overdue, but it was also worth the wait, as this hardback compendium comes complete with more “extras” than you can shake a stick at, including posters, stickers, and a vinyl record! Nobody understands the relationship between printing, packaging, production, and content better than Pham, and this is the most seamlessly-integrated realization of his vision to date.

4. Grip By Lale Westvind (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – Westvind’s phantasmagoric, whirlwind paen to the strength and resolve of women working in the trades was a revelation in two parts, but reads even more seamlessly collected as a complete epic. It’s also arguably the best use of Riso printing to date in comics. A book of the ages and, even more importantly, for the ages.

3. The Contradictions By Sophie Yanow (Drawn+Quarterly) – Already celebrated as one of the best comics memoirs in recent memory, Yanow’s Eisner Award-winning webcomic gains added depth and emotion in this collected print volume. In fact, it looks and feels like something you’d bring with you on the very sort of European road trip that it documents with such frank and emotive sincerity.

2. Nineteen By Ancco, Translated By Janet Hong (Drawn+Quarterly) – A unique and heady mix of autobio and fiction, Korean cartoonist Ancco’s second book to be translated into English is a showcase for both her artistic versatility and her singular ability to transmute the angst and trauma of youth into truly unforgettable comics stories. If this one doesn’t rip your heart out at least a dozen times over, then you probably don’t have one.

1. Vision By Julia Gfrorer (Fantagraphics) – Originally self-published as a series of minis, Gfroer’s latest work, read in collected form, offers the most succinct and assured crystallization of her singular combination of concerns to date, blending historical “period-piece” storytelling with body horror with feminist theory with supernatural mystery with richly understated social commentary to remind us that what we fear most and what we desire most are often one and the same thing. Intimacy is a double-edged sword throughout Gfrorer’s remarkable body of work, and never more true than it is here, in what is surely the defining statement of her artistic career — so far.

Only one list to go — tomorrow we do the Top 10 Original Graphic Novels of 2020, and then it’s full steam ahead into the new year!

*********************************************************************************************************

This review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by 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. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very gratified indeed if you’d take a moment to give it a look and, should you feel so inclined, join up.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 09/29/2019 – 10/05/2019

And we’re back! After taking a month (-ish) off to finish some other writing projects (including my first-ever comic book story!) while still keeping my “regular” review schedule on track, the Round-Up is ready to get off the mat, dust itself off, and step back into the ring! As is Michel Fiffe, so let’s get to that first —

Copra (Vol. 2) #1 is the 32nd issue of the formerly-self-published series, as the cover signature makes clear, but what could be a lot more clear is just what the fuck is happening — for new readers, at any rate. And there should be plenty of those given that new publisher Image Comics has a much greater “reach” than a Brooklyn cartoonist toiling away on his own. Which isn’t to say that there’s not a nice recap of all that’s come before on offer in this 36-page debut issue (a real bargain at $3.99, especially given that it features a heavy cardstock cover), but it’s at the back of the book and late arrivals would probably be better served if it were at the front. That concern aside, though, this is another strong installment of this post-modern take on John Ostrander-era Suicide Squad comics, the characters are introduced/re-introduced on the fly so as not to slow down the pace, and one trademark ingenious Fiffe fight sequence should be all it takes to hook most newbies. A fun, smart, exceptionally fluid series that’s finally getting itself in front of as many pairs of eyes as it deserves? I can’t see any negatives to that new paradigm.

Also coming out of mothballs is Matt Wagner’s classic sorta-antihero in Dark Horse’s Grendel : Devil’s Odyssey  #1. The stoic Grendel Prime is our protagonist this time out, tasked with the old canard of finding a “replacement planet” for an Earth that’s headed down the tubes, and while Wagner’s art certainly is as crisp and distinctive as ever — much aided by his son Brennan’s fantastic color choices — the story might need an issue or two before the training wheels come back off. I’m not opposed to giving it that — few Grendel stories have ultimately let me down — however, eventually we’re gonna need more than just nostalgia value here. I dig the new and more obvious pulp influence, so that’s another plus, but the whole thing just isn’t quite clicking into place — yet.

One book that clicks into place right off the bat, though, is Ruby Falls #1, the latest debut offering from Dark Horse’s Berger Books line. A taut little mystery written by Karen Berger mainstay Ann Nocenti (by the way, aren’t there supposed to be two more issues of The Seeds — at some point?), this is a distinctively-scripted series featuring a distinctively-developed protagonist set against the backdrop of a distinctively-realized town. Oh, and Flavia Bondi’s art? That’s pretty darn distinctive, too — Eurocomics style meets the pragmatic storytelling concerns of the North American market, both elements accentuating rather than negating each other. After a shaky start to the imprint, Berger seems to have found her editorial footing again overseeing these four-part minis that have become her new mainstay, and this bears all the hallmarks of being the best one yet.

All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #4 lures you in with a terrific gouache painting by the always-astonishing Tara Booth featuring a generously-proportioned version of Bullwhip teeing off on arch-foe The Misogynist on the cover, and a chase-and-fight between the two penciled by Julia Gfrorer and inked by series co-writer Josh Simmons kicks things off before the other Josh — that being Bayer — and Simmons take us back into the story “proper” as illustrated by the still-super-after-all-these-years Trevor Von Eeden. I’m digging this pattern of having “alternative” cartoonists drawing the intro sequences, I’m digging the “gonzo” tone of the series as a whole, I’m digging the first new Von Eeden work in way too long — seriously, just jump on this book if you haven’t already. All the promise and potential hinted at (but only sporadically realized, it’s true) in the first ATC run is bearing fruit since making the jump over to Floating World Comics and Bayer bringing on all his new collaborators. Probably the most genuinely fun thing on your LCS new release racks these days.

And that’s our first week back on the books, in the books. Which just leaves the rote task of reminding you all that this column is “brought to you” each and every week (again, promise!) by 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. You can’t beat that deal, so please take a moment to give it a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 08/04/2019 – 08/10/2019, Julia Gfrorer

Densely atmospheric, detailed yet scratchy, erotically charged, Gothic in the truest sense of the word, and falling along a stylistic continuum somewhere between Edgar Allen Poe and Dame Darcy, cartoonist Julia Gfrorer (perhaps best known for her Fantagraphics-published Laid Waste and Black Is The Color) is a true autuer, someone whose vision, and well as its means of expression, are entirely and uniquely her own — even, perhaps paradoxically, when she’s not working alone, as is the case with her occasional collaborations with writer Sean T. Collins. For purposes of this week’s Round-Up, though, we’ll be concentrating on some examples of her solo work, specifically four extraordinary minis she self-published under her Thuban Press imprint —

I can sum up To Dark To See best, I think, with the words “haunting as fuck” because, whaddya know, it’s about fucking and haunting. And mistrust. And psychologically abusive relationships. And the distance that grows between people who used to, and by all rights should still, be intimate. And maybe, in a pinch, it’s even about STDs. What it’s not is forgettable. This ‘zine, in fact, will cling to you like a damn ghost.

Ditto for the poetically anthropological  Dark Age, an exploration of youthful sexual awakening, trust and its absence, getting in too deep in every sense, and the early origins of ritual and magick. As “dark” as its title states, there’s nevertheless a wicked sense of humor undercutting this work, as when every line spoken by our protagonists upon entering a cavernous tunnel is quite literally a double-entendre. Another one that burrows its way into your consciousness and absolutely refuses to let go.

Subtitled “A Frasier ‘Zine,” the whimsical Good Night Seattle places TV’s Dr. Crane, his brother Niles, their dad, housekeeper Daphne, and tough-but-with-a-heart-of-gold producer Roz in precisely the last place any of them have the skills to navigate their way through : a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Short, punchy, on-target absurdist humor with some cringe-worthy moments that will make you feel appropriately guilty for chuckling along with them, like the show it’s extrapolated from, this one will live on in re-runs — or, as the case may be, re-reads.

Finally, Gfrorer’s most recent mini, Vision, is part one of a two-chapter story, detailing the harrowing daily realities of a hapless young Victorian woman, constantly put upon by a haranguing and needy sister-in-law, who finds sexual and emotional solace in a — haunted mirror? You read that right. All is probably not well with that relationship, either, but I guess we’ll see. If you’re down for a “sex comic” like no other — and, really, who isn’t? — congratulations, this is exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Needless to say, if you haven’t had the pleasure already, you absolutely need to check out Gfrorer’s work : it will transport you to places of awe, wonder, beauty, and terror. She balances everything on a delicate razor’s edge between the familiar and the far less than, and her art is an entirely new definition of the word “exquisite” that simply has to be seen, more importantly to be experienced, to believe. Give her wares a look over at her Etsy shop, https://www.etsy.com/shop/thorazos

And with that, we reach the end of another week, and our customary reminder than this column is, as always, “brought to you” by 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 out of your pocket. At that price, seriously — what have you got to lose? Your support would be greatly appreciated, of course, and also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Throw a guy a bone, will ya?

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

2017 Year In Review : Top 10 Collected Editions (Contemporary)

Let’s keep plugging away here, shall we? This time around on out year-end wrap we’re looking at the top 10 collected editions of 2017, with a slight change to my previously-announced methodology : rather than placing everything “Modern Age” (roughly the 1980s) and beyond in this category, I’ve narrowed it to collections of comics published post-2000, so that everything being referred to as “contemporary” at least comes from, ya know, this century. Apart from that, however, the category remains a fairly broad one : TPB or hardcover collections of single issues, webcomics collections, diary comics collections, and anthologies all fall into what I consider to be “collected editions” — in other words, a lot of this stuff is more or less brand new, and many critics who don’t share my OCD affliction might even call some of these “graphic novels.” I’m not gonna do it that way, though, because my list of the top 10 graphic novels is going to be just that : original graphic novels constructed from the outset to be published as a single volume.

That’s it for the particulars, then, apart from a reminder that there may be a couple of tail-end-2016 releases that make their way onto these lists because they hit shops too late to be properly reviewed by yours truly last year, and that each book will be summarized quickly — these are not proper “reviews” or anything of the sort. Okay, let’s do this!

10. Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero by Michael DeForge (Drawn+Quarterly) – DeForge revealed a more whimsical and even, dare I say it, “fun” side in these single-page webcomics, and they read very cohesively as a collection. Absurdist humor, an idiosyncratic protagonist, and a decidedly revisionist take on “funny animals” combine to form a typically singular (there’s a contradiction for you) DeForge reading experience.

9. Sunburning by Keiler Roberts (Koyama Press) – Roberts’ autobio webcomics are a stark look at life’s challenges and its subtle beauty and they balance the joys and drudgeries of parenting with a quiet and unassuming honesty that’s entirely un-sentimental, but not in any way clinical. In addition, her simple-but-detailed illustration draws the eye in to notice every little detail, and there are a lot of details to notice. It’s always a pleasure to see her work collected in print, and this is her strongest book yet.

8. A Process Of Drastically Reducing One’s Expectations by Gabby Schulz (Phase Eight Publishing) – If you know Schulz, you know that this collection of his diary comics won’t be an “easy” read — he doesn’t spell out the particulars of his life with any great specificity, but you can see his mental, physical, and financial deterioration playing out before your eyes in a manner as relentless as it is nonchalant. So, yeah, this is no “easy” read — but it’s a compelling and engrossing one, no doubt about it.

7. Band For Life by Anya Davidson (Fantagraphics) – These chronicles of a multi-species punk band in a sci-fi future Chicago sure seem an awful lot like those of people I knew in my 20s who were in bands, so I guess that means the themes here are timeless, indeed. And Davison herself reflects the never-say-die ethos of her protagonists : after fleeing Vice’s digital sweatshop, she continued posting these strips on her Tumblr page, and finally saw them through to completion in this magnificent hardback collection.

6. Boundless by Jillian Tamaki (Drawn+Quarterly) – Breathtaking illustration, ethereal themes, and naturalistic visual storytelling combine to make this collection of Tamaki’s strips a supremely memorable read, one that analyzes her female progatonists’ complex relationships with themselves, their bodies, their hopes and fears, and their self-image with disarming candor and incredible grace. Stirring, soul-searing stuff.

5. You & A Bike & A Road by Eleanor Davis (Koyama Press) – This travelogue composed of diary strips and single illustrations documenting Davis’ bicycle trip from her parents’ home in Arizona to her adoptive hometown of Athens, Ga. doesn’t chain itself to anything like a traditional narrative framework, instead providing an interpretive, experiential look at a journey every bit as philosophical, even spiritual, as it is physical. Another resoundingly resonant work from someone making a very strong case to be considered the cartoonist of her generation.

4. Mirror Mirror II , edited by Julia Gfrorer and Sean T. Collins (2dcloud) – The second volume of 2dcloud’s annual(-ish) anthology has a loose “horror” theme at its core, buy beyond that editors Gfrorer and Collins really do give their contributors free reign to explore the subject in wide-open, entirely unique ways. And what a group of contributors they’ve got! A unique mix of folks we see a lot of working in other genres (Simon Hanselmann, Josh Simmons), folks whose work typically does tend toward the horrific (Gfrorer, Noel Freibert, Clive Barker — yes, really!), and folks we just plain don’t get to see anywhere near enough of these days (Al Columbia, Renee French, Dame Darcy, Carol Swain, Nicole Claveloux), all presented in the kind of uncompromisingly high-quality package we’ve come to expect from this premier “boutique” art-comics publisher. This is a book overflowing with both dark beauty and artistic integrity.

3. Providence Acts Two And Three by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows (Avatar Press) – I’ve raved enough about this series over the last couple of years — but goddamn, it’s so good that I almost feel as if I’ve undersold it. Suffice to say, Moore and Burrows have created what  is undoubtedly the smartest, most richly-detailed, most multi-layered horror comic in history. Act Two collects issues 5-8, Act Three finishes the story off with issues 9-12.

2. True Swamp Book 2: Anywhere But In — by Jon Lewis (Uncivilized Books) – Finally collecting Lewis’ two “bumper-sized” issues from the early “aughts,” his second go-round with the foul-mouthed (but hyper-intelligent) Lenny the Frog and his bog-dwelling friends is, if anything, even more funny, smart, and endearing than the first, and far more visually accomplished and experimental. Matching the wit and charm of Walt Kelly’s Pogo with a distinct underground sensibility, there has simply never been another comic like True Swamp — and, chances are, there never will be again. I believe “sublime” is the word we’re looking for.

1. Farmer Ned’s Comics Barn by Gerald Jablonski (Fantagraphics Underground) – At last presented in the oversized format that these dense, information-packed (both visually and verbally) strips pretty much demand, this near-as-we’re-ever-likely-to-get-to-definitive collection of Jablonski’s work showcases his singular genius in a manner his small-but-dedicated legion of fans could only have dreamed of until it finally happened. Utterly unlike any other comics ever even conceived of — much less done — by anyone else, this is a hermetically-sealed universe unto itself where the rules of what “should” or “shouldn’t” work not only don’t apply, but simply don’t matter. Jablonski reigns supreme in his kingdom of one.

Okay, looks like that’ll do it! Again, this list seemed like a daunting thing to put together until I started doing it, and then it all came together almost on its own, as if it were just being channeled through me. Freaky, huh?

Next up : my picks for the top 10 collections of vintage (as in, pre-2000) comics released in 2017. Hope to see you back here in a couple of days for that one!