Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Original Graphic Novels

Here it is, the final “top ten” list in our year-end wrap, and probably the one people are most interested in. Books in this category are comprised of all-new material, never serialized in single issues or online, and constructed specifically for the so-called “graphic novel” format. And your “winners” are —

10. Blood And Drugs By Lance Ward (Birdcage Bottom Books) – A visceral, harrowing firsthand account of addiction and recovery on the social and economic margins by a cartoonist with a busted hand. One of the most immediate and unmediated works in recent memory, this one will leave an indelible mark on your brain.

9. The Structure Is Rotten, Comrade By Viken Berberian And Yann Kebbi (Fantagraphics) – Exploring architecture and gentrification as inherently political topics, this exquisitely-illustrated book has much to say about damn near everything,  yet never feels like a treatise or lecture. There’s nothing rotten about it at all, comrade.

8. Theth : Tomorrow Forever By Josh Bayer (Tinto Press) – Incorporating elements of memoir and metafiction to tell this remarkable coming-of-age tale, Bayer uses genre to explore deeply personal topics and to paint a portrait of a life that could well and truly “go either way.” Utterly unique stuff that will make you glad your late-teens and/or early-twenties are over with.

7. The Death Of The Master By Patrick Kyle (Koyama Press) – Meet the new boss, same as — ah, you know the drill. But you’ve never seen that axiom bought to life in such a formally inventive and wryly satirical manner. Kyle is in full command of his considerable gifts here, and you pass on it at your peril.

6. Gender Queer By Maia Kobabe (Lion Forge) – An intellectually and emotionally resonant memoir of awakening that addresses issues of gender and sexuality, or their absence, with frankness, insight, honesty, and even a little bit of humor. One of the year’s most important and engagingly-drawn books.

5. Pittsburgh By Frank Santoro (New York Review Comics) – A lavishly-illustrated account of a family and a city’s declining fortunes and the oblique reasons behind them, this is the crowning achievement of Santoro’s career and a testament to the power of emotional survival and perseverance. As formally exciting as it is deeply personal, this is a book that richly rewards re-reading and reveals new thematic depth every time you do so.

4. Grip Vol. 2 By Lale Westvind (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – The second volume of Westvind’s soaring, elegiac tribute to working women everywhere serves as both perfect companion piece to, and necessary extension of, the first. Bursting with dynamic action and illustration, this is a genuinely triumphant and transcendent work.

3. The Hard Tomorrow By Eleanor Davis (Drawn+Quarterly) – A moving and very much “of the moment” exploration of what it means to be human, to be involved in a relationship, and to bring new life into the world, Davis’ boldest and most ambitious work yet cements her reputation as one of our most important contemporary cartoonists. This is who we are, where we are, and what we hope for all wrapped up in one one visually sumptuous package.

2. Bezimena By Nina Bunjevac (Fantagraphics) – A searing and disturbing portrait of obsession and mania, this psychologically violent work is as essential as it is difficult, and Bunjevac’s amazingly detailed cartooning is the very definition of darkly alluring. Tough to read, sure, but absolutely impossible to forget.

1. How I Tried To Be A Good Person By Ulli Lust (Fantagraphics) – A towering achievement in the field of comics memoir, Lust’s dense and thorough-going examination of a pivotal and formative period of her life leaves no stone unturned and stands out for its absolute emotional honesty. Brave, confident, and visually literate in the extreme, this is one of those rare books that establishes its author as a true master of the medium.

And we’re done! It’s been quite the task compiling all these lists, but I suppose that was to be expected — after all, it’s been quite a year. 2019 saw more quality comics releases than anyone could possibly keep up with, and to call that a “good problem to have” is to sell the situation far short. In point of fact, we’re living in a new Golden Age of creativity and expression, and if you dig my ongoing coverage and analysis of it, then please consider subscribing to 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. I’d be very grateful indeed to have your support, so do give it a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

A Raw, Open, Beautiful Wound : Nina Bunjevac’s “Bezimena”

There’s a sense you get from page one of Nina Bunjevac’s new graphic novel Bezimena (presented in an oversized, lavish hardcover by publisher Fantagraphics) — the idea that this is no mere foray into the depraved mind of a sexually-charged psychopath. That there’s quite a bit more going on here.

And no, I don’t just mean the eerie and obvious parallels to the ancient Greek myth of Artemis and Siproites hidden in plain sight in the narrative. Nor do I mean the way in which Bunjevac seems to intuitively map out the complete psychogeography of her depraved protagonist, Benny, whose obsessive nature is reflected in the book’s painstakingly-detailed, luridly mesmerizing art, a succession of splash pages that each look as though they took a month or more to get exactly right. Nope — those things aren’t what I’m talking about, even though they are surely worth talking about.

Is this “extra element” something to do with Bunjevac’s unique story structure that goes from dreamlike surrealism to hard realism and back again? Or perhaps it’s hiding along with the identity of the narrator of the tale?

Again, those aspects certainly merit mention — and mention them I have — but no, what I’m getting at is something altogether different. Something difficult to quantify. Something that makes literally all the difference in the world.

I refer to how personal, how intimate Bunjevac is with her readers here — to how much of herself, her heart and soul and blood and sweat and tears, is invested in every line of sparse dialogue, every exquisitely-rendered illustration. There’s no doubt this sort of effort — communicated by means this forthright and direct regardless of how fantastical, how phantasmagoric events in the story become — comes from a deep-seated well of pure and unmitigated need. These pages read and look like an expurgation of something the artist has felt driven to get out of her system for a long time — something so terrible, so traumatic, that she absolutely had to take the time to convey it with precision, accuracy, and diamond-sharp intent.

Bunjevac, in other words, is playing for keeps here.

The question of “why,” of course, lingers until story’s end — why she’d choose to delve so deeply into such a troubled psyche, why she’d delineate a series of rapes with so much unflinching honesty, why she’d spend so much time immersing herself in subject matter so visceral, so unpleasant, so ugly. But when you get to the author’s afterword appending the work itself, all becomes abundantly, painfully clear.

I shan’t divulge any specifics about its contents here — it’s Bunjevac’s story to tell and only she could, or even should, relate it. But yeah. She knows the likes of Benny all too well. And her need to understand how people like him come to be the way they are is more than academic, more than morbid, more than mere compulsion — it’s necessary for her own emotional survival. Which means that Bezimena is not only one of the most darkly compelling and absolutely unforgettable reads of the year, but also one of the bravest.

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