Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Single Issues

With the advent (ha! Get it?) of December, the time has come, once again, for our annual look back at some of the finest comics the year had to offer. We’ll be skipping the usual offerings for the next week or two around here, including the Weekly Reading Round-Up column, since re-reading is your humble emcee’s top priority for the next little while. A run-down, then, of the six different categories I’ve broken things down into is in order, and please keep in mind that I’m deliberately eschewing calling any of these lists a “best-of” simply because I haven’t read everything that’s out there — and who could? Think of these, then, as lists of the ten best entries in each category that I’ve read. Or my own personal favorites. Or something. Anyway, “brackets” are as follows:

Top Ten Single Issues – Pretty self-explanatory, I should think : this list focuses on individual comic books and minis, either stand-alones or part of an ongoing series.

Top Ten Comics Series – This list is designed to spotlight comics that are produced on some sort of production schedule and honors those of consistently high quality. Open-ended, ongoing series and finite mini-series both are eligible, the only qualification is that each series has to have released at least three issues over the course of the past year, since if they’ve only put out two, either one of them would represent 50% of said comic’s total “output” and should, by rights, probably land in the “Top 10 Single Issues” category.

Top Ten Contemporary Collections – This list will focus on collected editions of material previously released either as single issues or in anthologies, etc. English-language translations of Eurocomics, Manga, and the like are also eligible in this category. I have a fairly generous definition of “contemporary,” and have set an admittedly quite arbitrary “cut-off date” of the year 2000, since anything that presents work from the previous century will fall into the category of —

Top Ten Vintage Collections – Same rules as above, just for pre-2000 stuff.

Top Ten Special Mentions – This is a new one I’ve never done before and is somewhat amorphous by definition, so by way of explanation I’ll just say it’s a list designed to highlight my favorite comics-adjacent releases of the year : work that’s done by cartoonists but doesn’t fit the traditional sequential-art format, or else publications that are about comics, but aren’t actually comics themselves.

Top Ten Graphic Novels – Last but certainly not least, this category has fairly strict limitations : every work in it is one which was designed from the outset to be presented in the “graphic novel” format, and cannot have been serialized anywhere else, either in print or online, since those sorts of things are already covered by the “Top Ten Contemporary Collections” designation. These are long-form, wholly original works only.

Are we good? I think we’re good. So let’s jump right in with the Top Ten Single Issues list —

10. Goiter #3 By Josh Pettinger (Self-Published) – The strongest comic yet from one of the most promising “emerging” cartoonists out there, I’m glad to see Pettinger moving away from his Clowes/Ware roots and find an authentic perspective all his own with this superb story about a young woman in love with — a chronologically-displaced floating head? Moving, smart, authentic, and deeply emotive work.

9. Rookie Moves By November Garcia (Self-Published) – Probably my favorite autobio cartoonist working today is at her best in this fun and funny (not to mention endlessly charming) mini focused on her transition from star-struck fan girl to “professional” comic artist — who’s still a star-struck fan girl. One of the most earnest and refreshingly un-pretentious reads of the year.

8. Rust Belt #4 By Sean Knickerbocker (Self-Published) – We’ve heard a lot this year about comics that capture the current MAGA-poisoned “cultural moment,” but for my money none succeeded so well as the fourth issue of Knickerbocker’s ongoing “solo anthology” series, as he casts his increasingly-sharp observational eye on the dual personalities of a guy who’s an average enough husband at home, and a rising right-wing social media “star” in his spare time. You know the people in this comic — and while that’s a damn depressing thing to consider, it makes for utterly compelling reading.

7. By Monday I’ll be Floating In The Hudson With The Other Garbage By Laura Lannes (2dcloud) – The most exemplary collection of diary comics I had the pleasure to read in 2018, Lannes’ subtle and self-deprecating tone and smooth, fundamentally inventive cartooning chart the doomed trajectory of a Tinder “romance” in both real-time and a gorgeous, over-sized format. Remarkably restrained for something so personal, this one sticks in your mind long after     closing it.

6. From Crust Till Dawn By Sarah Romano Diehl (Self-Published) – The second chapter in Diehl’s ongoing memoir of her time as a pizza parlor employee unfolds with a dreamlike quality and ease that brings out the character, rather than the nuts-and-bolts specifics, of each instance it portrays — the end result being a joyously unique reading experience quite unlike anything else.

5. Cosmic BE-ING #6 By Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Graham enters her post-Angloid era with this awesomely bizarre and entirely singular look at the lives of the residents of her “Clown Castle” in the sky who will creep you out and crack you up in equal measure as they point out the absurdities of wage labor, group living, and other everyday taken-as-given situations large and small. The most assured effort yet from one of the most unique talents in cartooning today.

4. Tongues #2 By Anders Nilsen (Self-Published) – The most ambitious (thematically and visually) ongoing narrative in comics ups the mystery even as things come into view more clearly in its various and for-now-disparate plotlines. Gorgeously illustrated and colored, viscerally written, this is a true masterpiece-in-the-making that demands and rewards rigorous re-reading and examination.

3. Perfect Discipline And Unbending Loyalty By Tommi Parrish (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – In the space of just a couple of short years, Parrish has assumed comics’ mantle as the most astute chronicler of the emotional landscape of human interpersonal relations, and in this sumptuously-presented work they disarm, dissect, and ultimately empower their characters as they navigate generational differences with the same delicately understated honesty as they bring to their intuitive mapping of physical, sexual, and even mental intimacy between couples. Staggering, heartfelt, supremely confident work.

2. Frontier #17, Mother’s Walk By Lauren Weinstein (Youth In Decline) – Weinstein’s love letter to her newborn child is a testament to the power of motherhood and cartooning both as it traverses the eternal moment just before a new life enters this world in an elliptical fashion that encapsulates past, present, and future in an ever-present “now” that circles back in on itself and never ends — as is most certainly true of this comic itself, which breaks every pre-conceived notion still remaining as to what the medium is capable of. There’s been a lot of “hype” around this book recently — including from yours truly — but rest assured : none of it captures the full magnificence of all it contains, of all it is.

1. Now #4, Edited By Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) – The most significant ongoing anthology in well over a decade, Reynolds puts it all together in this issue (with plenty of help from cartoonists like Roman Muradov, Julian Glander, Nathan Cowdry, Matthias Lehmann, Walt Holcombe, Tommi Parrish, and Brian Blomerth, among others), more than living up to the “mission statement” in his book’s title, but going one step further in the process — this isn’t just where comics are at now, it also shows where they’re going in the future. The best, most varied, most effectively curated (I term I try not to use at all, but employ here with absolute precision) assemblage of sequential art you’re going to come across in this year and probably just about any other, this is a shot across the bow, a challenge for everyone to “raise the bar” and make comics that are as confidently-realized as those on offer here.

Whew! Okay! That’s quite the run-down! And we’re just getting started! 2018 really has been an amazing year for comics, and narrowing down each of these lists to just ten “winners” has been a very difficult task indeed. I feel bad about some of the books that didn’t “make the cut,” but I’m very confident in everything I settled on, as well as the specific places they earned. I hope you agree with my selections, sure, but more than that — I hope you’ve found some great new comics to add to your “must-buy” list!

Next up — Top Ten Ongoing Series! I’m aiming to have that list up tomorrow!

The Intimate Is The Universal In “Frontier” #17, Lauren Weinstein’s “Mother’s Walk”

It was my distinct pleasure to review this extraordinary comic for Daniel Elkin’s Your Chicken Enemy website. Edits by the esteemed Mr. Elkin were few and far between this time around, but I present it here in its original form both for curious parties and those who are “into” the art (and that’s exactly what it is) of editing. As always, the insights and suggestions provided by Mr. Elkin resulted in the final version of the piece being much stronger.

I’m hoping to have some more reviews up on YCE in the not-too-distant future — until then, if you wish to do a “compare and contrast” between this early version and the one that ended up posted over there, the “finished product” can be found here :http://www.danielelkin.com/2018/11/the-intimate-is-universal-ryan-carey.html

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We are where we come from, the saying goes — and if that’s the case, Lauren Weinstein’s newborn daughter, Sylvia, needn’t worry about being beautiful, because she comes from somewhere very beautiful indeed.

Something, it seems, of a “miracle baby” in that her parents were a bit older and largely (though not entirely) convinced their child-bearing years were behind them, Sylvia’s birth changed everything for mother, father, and older sister in ways foreseen and less so, but no matter where the road ahead takes any and all of them — and there are times when it gets rocky for all children, all families — she comes into this world gifted (a term I flat-out despise and generally don’t use, the transition of fluid, intransigent, interpretive verbs into hard, fixed, intractable nouns frequently a sign of once-dynamic languages atrophying —but in this case, trust me, it really does apply) with an earnest and heartfelt love letter in the form of Mother’s Walk, which marks issue #17 in Youth In Decline’s long-running “rotating cartoonist spotlight” series, Frontier.

Fortunately for us all, though, Lauren’s visual hymn to her daughter is hardly a love letter overflowing with cloying sentimentalism for its own sake, but instead  a non-linear, even elliptical, rumination on the days (hell, moments) before a new life enters the world, and the “ripple effect” such a momentous occasion — to say nothing of such a momentous, limitless, freshly-birthed human being — has on everyone touched by it; by them. On how seeing things from a hitherto-unforeseen perspective changes the way one views past, present, and future. On the practical, emotional, even spiritual ramifications of loving someone immediately and unconditionally upon their arrival into the world. The thematic breadth and scope of this work is truly astonishing, and it’s a safe bet that even those who read Weinstein’s celebrated recent New Yorker strip “Being An Artist And A Mother” won’t have seen this coming.

Something this personal, this intimate, this unflinching is clearly something only one person could have created, of course, but perhaps the most impressive single thing about Mother’s Walk (and I really must stress, that’s a difficult thing to isolate, as every single facet of this comic literally sings from the page) is how absolutely commonplace the thoughts, feelings, sentiments expressed herein are for parents. Not every child is loved so completely as Sylvia is, mind you, but one would hope that most are, and I think we can agree that they all should be. But the rush of conflicting emotions and sensations attendant with bringing forth human life are so little discussed except among friends, family, intimates — the public discourse on the subject tends to be either clinical, practical, or gushing with insulting levels of borderline, even flagrant, mysticism, either of the traditional (Christian, Jewish, etc.) or “New Age” variety. No thanks, this critic says, to these fundamentally limited approaches that all seem more concerned with patting their own back for being so wise and understanding than anything else.

To her eternal credit, Weinstein eschews all this in favor of a kind of “emotional exorcism” approach, her goal apparently to let it all out onto the page — the good, the bad, and the ugly, of course, but also the conflicted, the confusing, the cosmic. The known and the utterly, ineffably unknown compete equally for dominance in the minds of all new parents, and Weinstein’s deliberately loose narrative somehow exists in a self-created space between both that illuminates each. It’s a heady experience just to read it — I can only imagine what it must have been like to make it.

I don’t know how any swirling miasma of contradictions resolves itself in the human mind and heart, but Weinstein certainly has found a way to communicate this relentlessly joyous struggle by means of her incomparable (a word I invoke in its strictest, dictionary-definition sense) cartooning : thick, dark pencils, “smudged” linework and backgrounds, fluid and frequently border-free panels, intuitive page layouts, and starkly-chosen-but-muted (again with the contradictions!) colors not competing, as one might expect at first glance, but coalescing into a beautifully messy symphony that looks a whole lot like life in all its harried, un-managed magnificence. Comics readers, non-comics readers, everyone in between will understand exactly what is happening here, even if none of them have ever seen a presentation precisely, maybe even remotely, like this before.

It’s not all soul-deep stuff, of course (whose existence, whose story, ever is?), but even the small things — the humorous vignettes, the tragedies (losing a beloved family pet), the uncomfortable stuff (at least for some of us, given that the book features an explicit and very human sex scene with Weinstein and her husband, a well-known figure in the comics world himself that many a critic is on a first-name basis with) — are imbued with a sense of import, of meaning beyond their or its boundaries, not by dint of force but by a naturalistic acknowledgement that everything in life matters because life itself does. We are in uncharted emotional territory for this medium, it seems to me, but we probably have the only “tour guide” up to the job, and while the superlatives for this work have been pouring in at a pretty steady clip, I almost wonder if any amount of praise is enough to thank Weinstein for the sheer amount of her soul she’s poured into each and every page here.

We are all more than familiar with rote recitals of a parent’s hopes and dreams for their children being committed to print, but those usually end up as the “end all, be all” of most “welcome, new baby” narratives. In Mother’s Walk, they are just one factor among many in a journey that goes in any number of directions, often all at the same time, before all roads meet themselves and acknowledge that none of them ever, really, ends. You can’t writedraw, or even create a work this absolutely unique and infinitely wondrous — Lauren Weinstein has brought it existence by the only means possible : by giving birth to it.