Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Special Mentions

As we continue examining the best of the year that was, we come to the category that, year in and year out, seems to confuse the largest number of people, not least myself when I first came up with it : Top 10 Special Mentions. Basically, this is a clearinghouse for everything comics-related that isn’t strictly a comic, per se : ‘zines about comics, books about comics, art books, sketchbooks, unorthodox sequential narratives, collections of single-panel or “gag” strips — they’re all fair game here. Read on, and hopefully it will all become clear —

10. Bubbles Edited By Brian Baynes (Self-Published) – In no time flat, Baynes not only proved that there was still a place for old-school print fanzines, he turned his into the most essential one in recent memory. I’m not sure how he keeps up what I surmise to be a grueling production schedule, but he manages to put out three or four issues a year, and the quality doesn’t merely remain high — more often than not, it keeps going up. Everyone interested in the small press and self-publishing scenes should be reading this. It’s a little bit “fannish” in its editorial outlook, true, but what of it? Last I checked, they don’t call these things fanzines for nothing.

9. Mindviscosity By Matt Furie (Fantagraphics) – Over the past few years as he lost control of, and subsequently killed off, Pepe The Frog, Matt Furie has been channeling his creative energy into a series of phantasmagoric paintings that, as the cliche goes, “will blow your mind” — only in this case that’s the absolute truth. Having so many of them together in one collection like this is a legitimately heady experience, a dare for your conscious mind to process everything coming at it at once, and a giant “I won’t be intimated by you” middle finger to the Alt Right, all in one gorgeously-produced volume.

8. American Daredevil : Comics, Communism, And The Battles Of Lev Gleason (Chapterhouse) – A fascinating biographical portrait of one of the most important — -and unsung — publishers of comics’ so-called “Golden Age,” Dakin (who is Gleason’s nephew) here offers an engaging and well-rounded look at a man who put it all on the line not just for his comic books, but for his ideals, as well.. A compulsive page-turner that’s all the more provocative because every words is true.

7. And Now, Sir – Is THIS Your Missing Gonad? By Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics) – In these crazy times, I find the fact that Woodring is still, after all these decades, mining the wellspring of creativity that is his “Unifactor” universe to be heartening in the extreme, and this collection of single-panel cartoons effectively distills the uneasily magical essence of Frank and his pals down to its purest form. Is it funny? Absolutely. Is it easy to articulate why it is, though? Absolutely not. And that’s the genius of Woodring — he taps into his subconscious and just goes wherever it takes him.

6. The Marchenoir Library By Alex Degen (Secret Acres) – A graphic novel of sorts, yes, but hardly a traditional one, in that Degen pieces together the mysterious history of his model/singer/superheroine protagonist via the the covers of a defunct magazine. High fashion meets high art meets high absurdity at the intersection of dreams and dusty memories, with little to differentiate one from the other — and isn’t that how our own past frequently plays out in our minds?

5. EC Comics : Race, Shock, And Social Protest By Qiana Whitted (Rutgers University Press) – A thorough-going examination of legendary publisher EC’s ahead-of-its-time editorial stance on matters of racial justice, Whitted’s tight focus on the so-called “preachie” strips and their relation to then-contemporary America is accessible comics scholarship at its finest. Too many academic texts have their head up their ass and are so convinced of their righteousness that they take it as a given, but Whitted does things old school , developing her highly-informed opinions on the work based on the evidence offered by it. As such, her conclusions are air-tight, and in this day and age of self-declared expertise in 140 characters or less, that’s very refreshing indeed.

4. High Socks New Jersey 1950 By Paula Lawrie (Marvin Gardens/Pacific) – Presenting Lawrie’s gallery exhibition of 36 graphite images in book form proves to be an inspired move as her delicate childhood narrative very much reads like it was constructed with publication in mind, even if it wasn’t. Sumptuous art meets economic but emotive prose to weave together perhaps the most affecting “new kid in town” story I’ve ever come across.

3. The Dairy Restaurant By Ben Katchor (Schocken) – Moving away from traditional comics to illustrated prose storytelling, Katchor draws upon over two decades of research and interviews to trace the history of New York’s meatless Jewish eateries specifically, but more broadly the history of restaurants in general, as well as the development of something called the “milekhdike personality.” It only sounds hopelessly arcane, trust me. This is one of those projects that only Katchor could make work and that only he’d ever think of in the first place — and that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without once you’ve finished reading it.

2. Toybox Americana : Characters Met Along The Way By Tim Lane (Fantagraphics) – Lane combines prose, illustrations, and yes, some comics, to give his most complete chronicling yet of the hobos, winos, derelicts, and down-and-outers that are trampled underneath — yet also form the backbone of — his career-spanning “great American mythological drama.” One of the most skilled illustrators on the face of the planet, you feel every year that formed every line on every face in Lane’s menagerie of archetypal has-beens and never-weres, and his proto-Beat writing style is sharp and inherently compassionate in equal measure. Proof positive that faded romanticism may not burn all that brightly, but it smolders away within the human heart forever.

1. Art Young’s Inferno By Art Young (Fantagraphics) – Young’s 1934 prose-and-pictures satirical re-imagining of Dante’s Inferno as the inevitable endpoint of capitalism is damning, hilarious, disturbing — and perhaps more relevant than ever in this day and age. It’s also flat-out gorgeous in this new edition reproduced directly from the original art, the amount of creativity and ingenuity that went into making the book in the first place here matched by the sheer care and attention to detail of absolutely second-to-none production values. There are labors of love, and then there are labors of eternal love — this is most definitely the latter.

Next up – the Top 10 Vintage Collections of the past year! See you here for that one in the next day or two!

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Review wrist check – Longines “Legend Diver” riding an olive green NATO strap from Crown & Buckle’s “Supreme NATO” line.

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 support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

The Walrus Was Pepe : Matt Furie’s “Mindviscosity” (Advance Review)

I’m not sure that the name of Matt Furie is separable from that of his most (in?)famous creation, Pepe the Frog, at this point, but there’s no harm in attempting to declare your independence, right? To that end, we have something of a Furie “rehab tour” going on, not that he’s responsible for the alt-right/MAGA crowd’s usurpation of his character for their usual diabolical purposes. Step one is separating oneself as clearly as possible from the fracas, which is being achieved by means of the new documentary film Feels Good Man, and step two is to just, ya know, create some new work  and if there’s one thing Fantagraphics’ forthcoming hardback collection of Furie’s (mainly) painted art, Mindviscosity, proves, it’s that he’s been working his ass off.

Having publicly “killed” Pepe off in a comic strip, he’s turned his attention to painting more fully, and while none of the selections presented herein are given titles or dates, the publisher’s blurb states that they were all created post-Pepe furor, although it may be worth noting that he does make a couple of appearances herein. By and large, though, this is art that shows Furie having emerged from the other side of controversy born of misappropriation, and taking stock not only of where he is, but maybe where many of us are, culturally speaking. Or at least some of us, at any rate.

Look, I’m not gonna kid you — by and large most of Furie’s characters still fall somewhere broadly within the “dudebro”/pothead continuum, and altered states of mind are a running theme here, but his approach seems tinged with a dash of the contemplative even if the default setting for many of these paintings is full-on sensory overload. This doesn’t mean every page demands to be taken seriously, mind you, but it does show that Furie himself was serious — even deliberate — in his approach to making them, and that should certainly should go some way toward mitigating another round of unintended consequences in future.

As for the quality of said work, it’s gotta be said that Furie paints like a man possessed : hallucinatory kaleidoscopic imagery, crowds of often indefinable creatures, and biological curiosities in something approximating “everyday” situations cascading against the banks of your in-no-way-prepared mind for page after page, all rendered in such insanely intricate detail and with such an expansive — hell, explosive — color palette that you really do have to wonder what combination of nitro-charged caffeine and hallucinogenics Furie is on when he puts brush to canvas. Some are so intensely jam-packed, in fact, that their presentation in whole is followed by several pages of section-by-section enlargements — and you’ll be glad for that, trust me, even if it raises the question of whether or not a book is the best place for showcasing some of this stuff.

More often than not, I’d say it is — the dimensions of this publication are approximately “right on” most of the time, and the idea of having several pages of gatefold-style reproductions simply and obviously wouldn’t be terribly practical, so points to Fanta for doing the best job possible with a task that isn’t always physically feasible. Furie’s art is given the eye-catching presentation it deserves, and on those occasions where it is proves to be too much for the page to handle, they break it down into more palpable chunks so you don’t miss a thing.

Some of those things you won’t be missing, though, are more the stuff of nightmares than dreams, which is rather an exciting departure from the lighthearted-freakshow tone of prior Furie creations, and channeling his inner Joe Coleman every bit as mush as his inner Jim Henson results in a collection that is, at the end of the day, universally imaginative and arresting. It leaves you feeling amused at times, horrified at others, and flat-out flabbergasted most of all. I may not understand what I’m seeing all the time, or where it’s coming from, but I like what it’s making me consider every bit as much as I’m impressed by how it looks.

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Review wrist check – I guess I must be hooked on this one right now, because this is my fourth day in a row wearing my Ocean Crawler “Paladino WaveMaker,” green dial model, riding Ocean Crawler’s black stingray leather strap.

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 check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse