Four Color Apocalypse 2021 Year In Review : Top Ten Contemporary Collections

We’re getting near the finish line here, I promise. Two lists to go, including this one, TOP TEN CONTEMPORARY COLLECTIONS. This is another fairly broad category, with ALL comics published from the year 2000 to the present day eligible, as long as they are not original, stand-alone graphic novels. So basically we’re talking about any trade paperbacks that are a collection of single issues; any translated works such as Eurocomics, manga, etc.; any anthologies; any print collections of webcomics; or any collections of strips or assorted odds and ends, etc., as long as fit my admittedly absurd 21-year definition of “contemporary.” And with that out of the way, we’ll jump right in :

10. Go F❤ck Myself : The F❤ckpendium By Mike Freiheit (Kilgore Books) – Sprawling, ambitious, heartbreaking, and hilarious, Freiheit’s cartoon “thesis statement” on human history — and humanity’s future — is as personal as it is universal. The kind of book that makes you feel glad to be alive — except when it doesn’t — and a legit tour-de-force work.

9. My Begging Chart By Keiler Roberts (Drawn+Quarterly) – A year just doesn’t feel complete without a glimpse into the lives of Roberts and her family, and this is one of her very best books to date. One day we’re going to look back at these and recognize them as perhaps the pre-eminent example of long-form memoir in the medium’s history.

8. Tono Monogatari By Shigeru Mizuki, Translated By Zack Davisson (Drawn+Quarterly) – A poignant and lavishly illustrated adaptation of Japan’s most timeless collection of “fairly tales,” done by a master working at the height of his powers. Many of the pages in this will quite literally take your breath away, as will the scope and grandeur of the project itself.

7. Fungirl By Elizabeth Pich (Silver Sprocket) – The funniest “hot mess” in comics finally gets her due in a comprehensive collection of hijinks and mayhem sure to make you laugh hard and then feel appropriately guilty for having done so. Pich has her finger on the pulse of something truly unique here that straddles a fine line between blissful ignorance and willful amorality. Consequences — unintended or otherwise — have never been this much fun.

6.Post York By James Romberger (Dark Horse/Berger Books) – A refreshingly human-scale take on post-apocalyptic survival stories, Romberger’s work is greatly fleshed out and expanded upon in this new definitive edition that finally gives the material the presentation it’s always deserved. A strong contender for the best-drawn comic you’ll lay eyes on all year, this is a truly timeless tale that both honors and transcends its genre-specific origins.

5.Night Bus By Zuo Ma, Translated By Orion Martin (Drawn+Quarterly) – A wide-screen, epic modern-day fable by one of the brightest lights of the Chinese cartooning underground, don’t let the vaguely “YA” trappings of this one fool you for an instant : this is visionary, hallucinatory, reality-bending stuff. As immersive as visual storytelling gets, yet somehow speaking in a language all its own, this is a book that demands you meet it on its own terms and rewards you for doing so with a journey unlike anything you’ve ever seen or read.

4. Are Comic Books Real? By Alex Nall (Kilgore Books) – Nobody in comics better understands — or more respects — children than arts educator Nall, who communicates both the simple truth and impenetrable mystery of their worldview with grace, humor, and heart. This collection marks the end of the road for his Teaching Comics strips, and trust me when I say you’ll miss them well before you’ve even finished reading them.

3. Aerosol Plus By C.F. (Mania) – This slim collection of comics by the former Fort Thunder mainstay showcases the work of an artist who is forever pushing the boundaries of his own creativity forward and refusing to let what comics have been determine what they will be. Visually, conceptually, tonally, and formally transformational work by someone for whom the term auteur is almost too confining and restrictive.

2. Heart Shaped Tears By Abby Jame (Silver Sprocket) – With this collection, Jame makes a strong case for being the cartooning voice of her generation, communicating as she does the inner lives of fundamentally-unimpressed young women and teens with all the nonchalance and cynicism of a true “insider.” Today’s youth have been there and done that before they’ve even been anywhere or done anything, it seems — but could it be that they come off as smarter than us old-timers because they actually are? Forget crap like Euphoria — this is the real deal. And besides, TV is such old news.

1. Dog Biscuits By Alex Graham (Self-Published Via Lulu) – The quintessential webcomic of 2020 is the quintessential print comic of 2021, as Graham’s “pandemic epic” actually reads even stronger in collected form than it did in daily single-page doses. The lockdown may be over — for now, at any rate — but this story nevertheless captures both where and who we are better than any other work in any medium. Probably a shoe-in to be on just about every critic’s “best comics of the decade” list come 2030 — assuming our species makes it that long.

We’ll wrap things up tomorrow with the TOP TEN ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVELS list, but until then I’m non-contractually obligated to remind you that all of these columns/round-ups are “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 appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to

Circle Of Life : Mike Freiheit’s “Go F❤ck Myself : The F❤ckpendium”

While one could argue that the prospect of seeing a cartoonist “work through their shit” on the page is something that should have played itself out a long time ago, I’m not too self-consciously cool to admit that such exercises still hold some appeal to me, especially when they’re approached in a unique or novel manner. Mike Freiheit’s latest, Go F❤ck Myself : The F❤ckpendium (Kilgore Books, 2021), however, is something that’s well beyond merely “unique” or “novel” — it’s downright ambitious, in that it offers a reasonably detailed analysis of problems and challenges, both personal and societal, that hold us back by dint of their repetition throughout history. Oh, and just for good measure, he posits (not without justification) they’ll continue to haunt us well into the future, too.

I should, I suppose, be clear here — by “us,” I’m primarily referring to Freiheit himself, since he’s his own subject here, but much of the self-doubt, self-loathing, guilt, anxiety, and fear that serve as constant stumbling blocks for him are felt, to one degree or another, by all (or at least almost all) human beings, so for a book ostensibly rooted in autobio, it’s fair to say this one has a borderline-universal appeal. Provided, of course, that comics of this nature even “appeal” to you in the first place.

I’ve gotta say, though, that there’s literally no reason why this one shouldn’t — Freheit’s artistic sensibilities are pretty damn populist on the whole, and while he spends an awful lot of time putting his flaws under the microscope, he doesn’t appear to actively despise himself, a la an R. Crumb or an Ivan Brunetti, so much as he seeks to understand why breaking old and established patterns is such excruciating fucking work. Simply put, he knows he’s far from perfect, but he’d at least like to try to get better — if he can. And, really, that strikes me as the healthiest way to begin the process of overcoming a decidedly unhealthy batch of neuroses.

To that end, this particular piece of long-form cartooning therapy bobs and weaves through three separate timelines populated by three distinctly different, yet also undeniably similar, versions of Freiheit himself : in the present, he’s a befuddled and anxious jobbing artist trying to navigate married life and the workings of his own mind; in the past, he’s a befuddled and anxious caveman trying to navigate married life and the base struggle for survival; and in the future —well, he’s probably a bit stereotypically “more together” on the surface, but as you’ve no doubt already worked out, many of the same dilemmas his other selves grapple with are still present and accounted for, plus some additional ones.

Such a flexible approach to self-centeredness affords Freiheit ample opportunity to expound upon topics ranging from economics to politics to religion to pop philosophy (plus others), but this is no simple series of monologues or dully-presented observations — rather, it’s a dynamic and engrossing look into one person’s point of view of just about everything under the sun, even if that “one” person is actually three people. And while I admit to being partial to the textured, shaded artwork Freiheit has employed on more generally “somber” or even “dark” projects such as his horror graphic novel The Woods or the strip “Walk A Mile In My Shoes : A Jonestown History” that he did in collaboration with some out-of-his-depth comics critic or other for the American Cult anthology, there’s no question that the more clean, crisp line he employs here (with, it should be pointed out, increasing confidence as the book goes along — likely owing to the fact that parts one and two were originally self-published as minis and part three is all new, therefore this project can truly be said to have been several years in the making) is pitch-perfect for the expository-bordering-on-confessional tone of this material. It’s necessary for him to draw readers into this comic in a way that’s cordial to them so that he can be far tougher on himself without alienating anybody in the process, and he pulls off that conceptual tight-rope act with considerable aplomb here — not only visually, but narratively, as well.
Still, one could certainly be forgiven for operating under the assumption that this thing must be scattered and haphazard almost by definition, so perhaps the fact that it’s actually a remarkably cohesive piece of work on the whole stands as its most notable accomplishment. There are no easy answers to any of the questions Freiehit poses — if, indeed, there are any answers at all — but by taking us along for the ride rather than throwing us in at the deep end and seeing if we sink or swim, by laying out his “warts and all” truth without being overly precious about it, and by reminding us frequently along the way that there’s a funny side to just about everything, he’s created something both special and very nearly singular : a conversation with himself (or maybe that should be himselves) that speaks to us all.


Go F❤ck Myself : The F❤ckpendium is available for $20.00 from the Kilgore Books website at

Also, 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 appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to

Terror In The “Woods”

“There is another world. There is a better world,” Grant Morrison famously informed us (in a scene that still coaxes a tear from my eye every time) in the final issue of his celebrated Doom Patrol run, before qualifying things by stating, “Well — there must be.” But what if there isn’t?

The “city slicker” couple at the center of cartoonist Mike Freiheit’s new graphic novel, Woods, moved to a remote cabin hoping to find that better world after the election of a certain unnamed right-wing demagogue helped engender a complete mental breakdown in one of them, but they soon discovered that going “off the grid” looks a lot easier on YouTube videos than it actually is in real life.

That being said, Freiheit — who self-financed and self-published a limited edition of this book in preparation for SPX (I’ve swiped a couple images off his facebook, which hopefully won’t upset him too much, in order to show how much sheer effort he put into this thing) — doesn’t concentrate too heavily on the “survivalist” aspect of his story, focusing instead on the thin and fraying line between (dark) fantasy and reality in a troubled mind, albeit one that’s troubled for entirely understandable reasons and may not even be so troubled after all at the end of the day.

If that sentence makes no sense to you, rest assured — the comic will.

As far as horror yarns go, then, this is as topical as they come — and as eminently relatable. You get where these people are coming from because you know these people — you may even be these people. Their desires, motivations, aims, and problems all hit home. Their struggles are our struggles, their quiet triumphs and less-than-quiet tragedies not so much “ripped from the headlines” as ripped from the stories that will never make the headlines. Two people who want nothing more than to outrun an encroaching darkness from which there never really was any escape.

And while we’re on the subject of darkness — Freiheit saturates his images with black tones that evoke Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist and accentuates them with graphite-smudge grays that bring to mind criminally underappreciated UK cartoonist Carol Swain. This feels like a terrifying story, but even more importantly looks like one — and it represents a quantum leap outside his comfort zone for a guy who’s best known for poignantly self-deprecating autobio work. Much as I loved Monkey Chef — and love it I surely did — this is a beast of an entirely different sort, and demonstrates a visual and narrative versatility that frankly wasn’t even hinted at in the past. if you think you know what to expect from a Mike Freiheit comic, think again — and then think yet again after that.

It shouldn’t be too difficult a task, because this book excels at making you think. About where we are as a society, how we got here, how or even if we can possibly get out. It offers no easy answers, but hell — these aren’t easy questions. They are, however, essential ones.

And Woods is, dare I say, an essential read.


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. At that price, you’ve literally got nothing to lose, and your support also helps ensure a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. So please give it a look, won’t you?

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Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Original Graphic Novels

So — here we are. The end of the road as far as our year-end “Top 10” lists go and, I would imagine, the one of most interest to the greatest number of readers — my picks for favorite original graphic novels of 2018, emphasis on the word “original.” One of our selections started life as a mini-comic, but was fleshed out greatly to become what it is today, while everything else on the list is a wholly original, not-previously-serialized work, designed and constructed especially for release in the “graphic novel” format. I think that’s about all the preamble required, so pardon me while I roll up my sleeves and type my ass off for a few minutes —

10. Monkey Chef By Mike Freiheit (Kilgore Books) – Our resident “rule-breaker” is first out of the gate, a book whose eventual greatness was hinted at in some self-published minis, but really came into its own when completed and collected between two covers. Freiheit’s autobiographical saga of his time cooking for primates (and their evolutionary descendants) in South Africa while falling in love with someone halfway across the world is possibly the most flat-out enjoyable read of the year, as well as a spectacular showcase for his fully-emerged skills as both illustrator and colorist. If Hollywood’s paying any attention, this would make a great movie — but it’ll always be an even better comic.

9. The Winner By Karl Stevens (Retrofit/Big Planet) – Another autobio book? Why yes, it is, and a downright spectacular one at that, as Stevens shines a brightly illuminating light on “the artist’s life” of underemployment, addiction/recovery, and the never-ending struggle to find both something worth saying and a way to say it. Illustrated in a breathtaking variety of styles with painstaking attention to detail as well as care and emotion to spare, this book is also an understated but deeply moving verbal and visual love poem to his wife and muse. Genuine tour de force stuff in every respect.

8. Poochytown By Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics)  – The first of three essentially wordless books on this list (take that to mean what you will about my own discipline as a reader — or, rather, lack thereof), Woodring’s latest excursion into the “Unifactor” results in his most harrowing, “trippy,” lushly-rendered, and hilarious “Frank” story yet. So goddamn charming it’s almost painful — but it’s the kind of pain that feels really good and looks even better.

7. I Am Young By M. Dean (Fantagraphics) – Heartfelt, bold, and addictively page-turning — to say nothing of absolutely gorgeous to look at — Dean’s examination of love’s sudden arrival and slow-burn diffusion is virtuoso work, each page replete with raw and honest emotion and eye-poppingly beautiful illustration. Love hurts, yeah, you know it and I know it — but you’re gonna love this book precisely for that fact, rather than in spite of it.

6. Soft X-Ray/Mindhunters By Alex Degen (Koyama Press) – A sci-fi silent movie rendered in lavish and explosive color that’s part breakneck adventure yarn, part dystopian nightmare, and all unique unto itself, Degen throws down a gauntlet here that few should even attempt to pick up, simply because no one else speaks his entirely self-created sequential art language. “Like nothing before or since” is the starting point of this book rather than the end result — go with its flow, and end up somewhere entirely and alluringly unexpected.

5. Lawns By Alex Nall (Kilgore Press) – One of the most exciting new talents to come along in the last few years, Nall “puts it all together” in his strongest work yet, a vaguely Lynch-ian examination of one small town resident’s quest to simply be left the fuck alone to live his life, his way. We’ve been hearing a lot about comics that capture the “cultural moment” in 2018, and while I intend no offense to works like Sabrina or A House In The Jungle, the simple truth of the matter is that, for my money, this book manages that task with much more humor, heart, and deceptive ease than its “fellow travelers” by a country mile. Where and who we are is a deep and profound question, of course, but equally important is whatever answer we come up with. I would submit that Nall hits the nail precisely on the head in that regard, and does so in a manner that almost anyone can relate to.

4. In Christ There Is No East Or West By Mike Taylor (Fantagraphics Underground) – This one arrived late and shook up the preliminary “running order” of my entire list more or less immediately. A metaphysical travelogue of the soul that journeys inward precisely at a time when so many comics are focused outward, Taylor’s book resonates so deeply and so strongly that reading it is akin to an epiphany — and the fact that it boasts arguably the finest production values of the year certainly doesn’t hurt, either. My God, that fold-out poster cover! Even leaving aside the bells and whistles, though, this is about as confident and unforgettable an artistic and philosophical statement of intent as you’re likely to encounter in this medium of ours this year — and possibly for many to come.

3. The Lie And How We Told It By Tommi Parrish (Fantagraphics) – Don’t let the amorphous and eternally transient (in every sense of the word) nature of Parrish’s dual protagonists fool you, this is a story that knows exactly what it’s doing, even if the characters in neither of its concurrent narratives seem to. Picture one raw nerve spread out over the course of well over a hundred pages and getting thinner and more frayed as it goes and you’re getting some idea of what’s going on in this comic, even though it’s ostensibly simply “about” two estranged friends catching up on their lives after a chance meeting, and the book one of them finds along the way. Parrish’s vibrant painted comics certainly have a singular look to them, but it’s the singular way the cartoonist grapples with issues of personal, sexual, gender, and body identity that makes them one of the most ground-breaking and challenging talents to come along in — just about ever, really.

2. Grip Vol. 1 By Lale Westvind (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – A non-stop tidal wave of action, dynamism, and unapologetic feminism that leaves the need for dialogue and captions in the dust, Westvind manages to do something hitherto-unseen in this book by marrying superhero tropes with a salute to working women (particularly those in the so-called “blue collar” trades) to create the most visually stimulating comic of the year, but also one that fully engages the mind and heart as surely as it does the eyes. One of the most powerful comics to come down the pipeline in ages, actually, but ultimately even more notable for how empowering it is. Simply put — prepare to be blown away.

1. Qoberious Vol. 1 (Self-Published) – As thematically and conceptually dense as it is physically slim, the debut graphic novel by the mysterious (and pseudonymous) D.R.T., rendered in a style that most approximates the look of weathered or otherwise-muted animation cels, is something I honestly don’t think this medium has ever produced before : a work that not only reveals new depths with each successive re-read, but literally forces you to interpret and analyze it in entirely new ways. I’ve read it something like 20 times now, and no two experiences have been the same, even if certain themes (physical bondage, alienation from society, from family, and even from oneself) persist. Readers will be poring over this one for decades to come, unable to even verbalize the nature of the feelings it elicits, never mind how and why it manages to do so. An artifact from another, infinitely more artistically advanced, civilization than our own, language is too outmoded a tool for expressing the sheer sense of admiration and amazement I have for what is unquestionably my pick for book of the year.

And so — that’s 2018, boiled down to six lists. I read a lot of other good stuff, as well as plenty of crap, in the past 12 months, and would sincerely like to thank those of you who came along for the ride and made the first year of Four Color Apocalypse a bigger success (in terms of sheer readership numbers, at any rate) than I ever could have possibly imagined. Next week we get back down to business as usual, and start the long, but no doubt enjoyable, process of finding out what the best books of next year are going to be!

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go To Africa : Mike Freiheit’s “Monkey Chef”

We’ve all been there — dead-end job, dead-end love life, dead-end existence. In his previous autobiographical minis, Chicago-based cartoonist Mike Freiheit has dwelt on these issues in exacting (and often hilarious) detail, but in his longest work to date, the impressive and ambitious graphic novel (parts of which were also previously issued as self-published mins) Monkey Chef, we learn what he did when he hit the proverbial wall after too many years in New York — and let’s just say that the “escape route” he chose was an unconventional one in the extreme, one that makes for fascinating memoir material.

In short : he takes on a gig as a cook at a primate sanctuary in South Africa, where he prepares and serves up  food for both the “residents” (monkeys) and staff (people, not that you needed me to tell you that). The stage is all set for a “clean break,” a “fresh start,” a — fill in your cliche of choice, I suppose. But life has a way of dealing you a weird hand when you least expect it —

In this particular case, the “wrinkle” in Freiheit’s plan is not what anyone would call “bad news” — after endless short-term relationships that ended either suddenly, badly, or some combination of the two, he finally meets a woman that he really connects with just before he splits the country — but it does make for a challenging situation, as he and his new lady-love go through the whole “early-stage relationship” thing from not just a long distance, but a very long distance. And then, both surprisingly and pleasantly, those early stages become middle stages become commitment become — I think you know the drill. It’s interesting on a clinical level to watch love bloom under unconventional circumstances, sure, but it’s also quite heartening on a human level to see the old “love conquers all” axiom play out between two people that you find almost immediately likable. Tip to other cartoonists out there — whether real or fictional, there’s no crime in telling stories that feature characters that most readers can relate to and, consequently, that they end up wanting the best for. Just a suggestion.

What Freiheit manages to do that borders on narrative genius, though (a term I never invoke lightly, I assure you) is to draw parallels between the behaviors he sees among his new primate friends and similar actions in humans, both on the “micro” and “macro” levels. He’s not out to do anything like a treatise on the theory of evolution here, but he ends up authoring one by default simply because “they” reflect “us” (and vice-versa) so frequently, and so naturally, that you can’t help but notice it and nod your head knowingly. There’s lots of other commendable stuff on offer here, of course — Freiheit’s clean and humane cartooning style, his flair for characterization, his smooth and evocative color choices, his self-deprecating wit — but the unforced, naturalistic manner in which he consistently demonstrates correlations between “monkey world” and “people world” definitely stands out as a high point among high points.

Another strength worth calling special attention to while we’re at it is how well this book — which, unless I’m very much mistaken, is the longest that’s ever been released by its publisher, Kilgore Books —just plain flows. It’s downright seamless in its low-key (but unmistakable) thrust, and if you finish the whole thing in one sitting, you won’t be alone, because that’s exactly what I did. It’s a page-turner in the truest sense of the term, with every scene building upon the last in easy succession. Freiheit doesn’t “force you along,” by any means, but you find yourself unmistakably compelled to go with his flow. It’s a damn rewarding way to develop a story, and it pays off big-time by the time all is said and done.

Not that Monkey Chef is a comic you’ll in any way be ready to see end. You won’t. But well before you hit those final pages, you’ll already know : this is one that you’ll be re-visiting frequently for many years to come.