Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Single Issues

It’s that time of the year — specifically, the end of it. Or near enough, at any rate, for my purposes — those “purposes” being to survey the comics landscape and pick my favorites from 2019’s slate of offerings. As per the norm, I’ll be dividing things up into a veritable boat-load of different categories — top ten single issues (stand-alone comics, or ongoing projects that saw only one installment published in the last calendar year), top ten ongoing series (any comic series or “limited” series that saw two or more issues come out in 2019), top ten vintage collections (books presenting material originally published prior to the year 2000), top ten contemporary collections (books presenting material originally published after the year 2000), top ten special mentions (“comics-adjacent” projects such as ‘zines, books about comics, art books, prose and/or visual works by cartoonists that aren’t exactly “comics” per se, etc.), and top ten original graphic novels (long-form original works never serialized in single issues) — and again, as per usual, we’ll kick things off with the top ten single issues list, with the others following in the coming days. Now, let’s stop dawdling and get down to business, shall we?

10. Kids With Guns #1 By Alex Nall (Self-Published) – The opening salvo of Nall’s first-ever ongoing serial instantly captured my attention with its strong characterization, sublime grasp on inter-generational relations, and oblique-but-effective social commentary, all rendered in his signature updated take on traditional “Sunday Funnies” cartooning. This project could go in any number of fascinating directions, and may or may not be about what its title implies. I’m looking forward to finding out.

9. Expelling My Truth By Tom Van Deusen (Kilgore Books) – Nobody employs exaggeration and absurdity to tell the “truth” about both modern life and themselves quite like Van Deusen, and in his latest, his trademark satirical wit has never been sharper while his line art has never been smoother. Always a study in contrasts, this guy, but he’s found an inimitable way to make his work’s deliberate and inherent contradictions become its raison d’etre.

8. Rodeo #1 By Evan Salazar (Self-Published) – Debuts don’t come much stronger than this one, as Salazar immediately establishes himself as a cartoonist with a unique perspective and a natural gift for storytelling, his tale of a temporary family break-up as seen through a particularly precocious child’s eyes revealing much more about what’s happening than a straight re-telling of the “facts” of the situation ever could. Emotionally and intellectually arresting in equal measure, and drawn in a confident, non-flashy style, this is one of the best single-creator anthology titles to come down the pipeline in many a year.

7. Stunt By Michael DeForge (Koyama Press) – I struggled with which category to put this one in, but eventually settled on single issues simply because it’s formatted like a Jack T. Chick tract even if it’s priced like a book — it’s also, in true DeForge fashion, imbued with a hell of a lot more philosophical depth than its page count would lead you to believe. A rumination on identity and its voluntary, even necessary, abandonment filtered through his usual lens of homoeroticism and gooey body horror, this short-form offering ranks right up there with the cartoonist’s most confidently-realized works.

6. Nabokova By Tana Oshima (Self-Published) – It was such a strong and prolific year for Oshima that choosing a favorite among her works was tough, but in point of fact this is the one where she really “puts it all together” and delivers a treatise on alienation, self-absorption and the fine line between the two that’s every bit as dense as the Russian literature its title invokes — but it won’t, fortunately, take you all winter to to read it. Spellbinding stuff that will leave your head spinning with questions.

5. Castle Of The Beast By Ariel Cooper (Self-Published) – Fear of intimacy has never been delineated as beautifully or as sympathetically as it is in Cooper’s lush, breathtaking visual tone-poem that masterfully blends the concrete and the abstract into a comics experience quite unlike any other. Within a couple of years, this will be the cartoonist everyone is talking about

4. Tulpa By Grace Kroll (Self-Published) – It’s astonishing to see anyone bare their soul and their struggles as frankly as Kroll does in this, her first ever comic, but do so in a manner that brings forth genuine understanding rather than simply playing for sympathy? There are cartoonists that spend their whole careers struggling with what she achieves on her very first go-’round, and her singular art style is as smart as it is innovative.

3. For Real By James Romberger (Uncivilized Books) – The only thing more heroic than Jack Kirby’s characters was the man himself, and in this heartfelt tribute, master artist Romberger relates two harrowing life-and-death challenges The King faced in a manner than honors his style yet is in no way beholden to it. Another unforgettable comics experience by a cartoonist who never produces anything less.

2. Malarkey #4 By November Garcia (Birdcage Bottom Books) – Long the champion of neurotic self-deprecation, by tracing the roots of both to her Catholic upbringing, Garcia ups the stakes — and the results — considerably and establishes herself as precisely what previous issues of this comic hinted she might become : the best autobio cartoonist in the business. And maybe even the heir apparent to the great Justin Green? In any case, her moment has well and truly arrived. Now, will somebody get busy collecting all her stuff into a book, please?

1. Tad Martin #7 By Casanova Frankenstein (Domino Books)  – I could say that seeing Frankenstein and his nominally stand-in protagonist matched up with the production values they so richly deserve is a “dream come true,” but this gorgeous, full-color, oversized comic is actually a nightmare come to life — and harrowing, soul-searing life at that. Always an exercise in re-invention, this issue of Tad combines elements of all the previous entries in this sporadic series into a comprehensive vision of nihilism as the only thing worth living for. Other cartoonists will have to fight for a place edging toward the middle — the margins of the medium are already spoken for.

And so we’re off to the races with “Top Ten” week. I’ll be tackling the best ongoing series next, but in the meantime do consider supporting my ongoing work by 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. Please do yourself — and, who are we kidding, me — a favor by checking it out at


“Malarkey” #4 Establishes November Garcia As The Premier Autobio Cartoonist Of Our Time

I just knew something was up.

When word hit that November Garcia had found a publishing “home” for Malarkey #4, the latest issue of her ongoing comics ‘zine, and that said publisher, Birdcage Bottom Books, was putting it out in full color, I got the feeling that she was through knocking on the door and was ready to fully announce her presence as a cartooning force to be reckoned with. It’s something that’s been building for some time, of course — we certainly don’t hear the Julia Wertz comparisons much anymore, do we? — yet it’s also worth considering that indie comics history is littered with any number of  artists who were plenty skilled at the art of revealing, and sometimes even reveling in, their own neuroses, but who had the stereotypical “pretty good run” for a few years and then moved on to pastures that were hopefully greener, but were more likely graphic arts-related office gigs.

No offense to anyone toiling away in said field, of course — hell, Garcia herself is numbered among them — but when it came time to “up” their metaphorical game or walk away, a lot of people found that proverbial “next step” to be too large a one for them to make. I’m happy to report that’s hardly the case here, if you hadn’t guessed as much already, and that if you’ve been hoping to see a near-quantum-leap forward from the Philippines’ most intriguing cartooning export, that moment has indeed arrived.

How, then, does she manage such a feat while keeping her work firmly planted in the autobio camp? By going deeper and not just relating quirky, relatable “warts and all” tales from her life, but taking a frank look at the “secret origins” of who she is and how she came to be this way. And the root cause of her already-well-documented love/hate relationship with her her own decision-making and the results that it engenders is one that’s always ripe for exploration and exploitation — Catholic guilt.

Oh, sure, it’s not like it’s the animus for all the strips in this book — one could even argue that only one of the stories is “about” it specifically — but even when it isn’t, it often is, and not since Justin Green has its pernicious-if-ultimately-navigable influence been presented with such frankness, sincerity, and humor in the comics medium. If you’re keeping score at home, then, what I’m saying in no uncertain terms is that Malarkey #4 isn’t just good, it’s historically good — and it damn well needs to be if I’m saying it can hold its own with the likes of Binky Brown Meets The Holy Virgin Mary.

This is, I suppose, the point at which I should re-assure you all that I’m not over-stating things and that I haven’t lost my mind. We get plenty of more non-chalant “a day in the life of —” stuff in this comic, as well, but it’s informed with a new sense of depth and resonance that makes Garcia’s foibles more understandable, her small triumphs and tragedies more sympathetic. We “get her” in a way we didn’t before, and she emerges from the spotlight she’s shone on herself a more compelling figure than ever. Funny what a little self-examination can do.

Everything from present-day mother/daughter relations to clumsy teenage make-out sessions on the couch, veins mined by Garcia plenty of times in the past, is suffused with another layer now, and the end result is stories that would have elicited a “that was cute” reaction previously are now are met with one of “hey, that really rings true” — and I think that’s the case even if you’re not, or never were, Catholic. Some of that is down to the “audience-friendly” nature of Garcia’s art style, sure, but more of the credit should be laid at the feet of her increasingly-confident narrative skills, which are now firing on ally cylinders and avoiding the pitfalls of both self-pity and self-aggrandizement with equal ease.

One of the best strips in this uniformly strong collection tells of the early-career rejection letter Garcia received from Fantagraphics. I think if she submitted her work to them again now, she’d likely receive a much different response.


Malarkey #4 is available for $8 from Birdcage Bottom Books 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. Joining up is the absolute best way you can support my ongoing work, and I make sure you get plenty of content for your money, so please give it a look at


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!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/04/2018 – 11/10/2018, George Wylesol And More November Garcia

This week I was mightily impressed by comics both very familiar and anything but, and since I’m feeling slightly adventurous we’ll start with the “anything but” part of the equation —

Sufficiently intrigued by Philadelphia-based cartoonist George Wylesol’s mysterious, abstract, and multi-layered Avery Hill book Ghosts, Etc. last year to give a couple of his self-published minis a go (belatedly, I admit, but hey, I’ve been busy), 2017’s Porn stands out as the “must-buy” item of the two that I did, in fact, buy. Eight bucks is admittedly a bit spendy for what you get here in terms of physical product, but it more than carries its weight thematically, artistically, even philosophically. A series of disparate, perhaps even discarnate, drawings paired with coolly bland texts expounding upon vaguely harrowing scenarios with a disturbing level of clinical detachment, this is astonishingly confident stuff with an utterly unique point of view that frankly will leave you feeling somewhere between “desolate” and “haunted.” I’m still not entirely sure precisely what it’s “about,” but it leaves such prosaic concerns well in its rear view as it establishes a new conceptual territory firmly and entirely its own. One of the most wholly original things I’ve read in goddamn forever.

Considerably less successful — but, oddly, no less intriguing — is Tunnel Vision, a 12-page ‘zine composed of two-color drawings Wylesol apparently did on “his last day on the job as a TV repairman at a hospital.” No connective tissue appears to exist connecting one image to the next, and the brief “statement of purpose” at the end actually serves to reduce whatever cumulative impact one may intuit from the project as a whole, but as nominal “failures” (at least as adjudicated by yours truly) go, it’s nevertheless a fascinating one. I remain more than open to the distinct possibility that my view of this may change and improve over time as there could very well be some sort of “outsider” genius at work here that I’m simply too dim-witted to fathom — but even still, five dollars is a bit much for something this, sorry to say it, slight. Your mileage may vary, however, so it’s worth at least considering tacking it onto your order of Porn when you go over to

Our excursion into the realms of “high weirdness” over and done with, then, we return to the tried and true — and blissfully tried and true, at that — with our old friend November Garcia’s Malarkey #3. If the cover doesn’t put you off, you’re sure to be more than charmed by November’s latest collection of poignant and funny slices of life, this time presented in full color, and while her subject matter doesn’t change, I’m forever amazed by Garcia’s razor-sharp observational skills and her ability to see the funny side in just about anything. Each issue of this series has been stronger and more fluid than the one before it, and this is no exception. The esteemed Ms. Garcia sent me this when she was stateside in Seattle for Short Run last weekend, so no idea what the cover price is as it doesn’t appear to actually be for sale anywhere yet, but bug her for a copy at your earliest convenience and blame me for sending you her way with your pesky fucking questions.

Also in my early November package of goodies from — errrmmm — November was her first comic, the Hic & Hoc-published Foggy Notions, which I am embarrassed to admit had been missing from my collection to this point despite it being released early last year. This was the book that drew all the comparisons to Julia Wertz, but aside from some similarities in art style I really don’t see it. These strips chronicle events in Garcia’s life in San Francisco prior to her relocation to the Philippines and are, of course, a series of endearingly-related bad nights out, bad days at work, bad drunken escapades, and bad decisions. Equally interesting both for what it is (or maybe that should be what it was at the time) and for where it stands in her larger body of work now that she’s got her feet more firmly under her as a cartoonist, I would give it a very strong “buy” recommendation if it were still in print and available for purchase anywhere. Maybe when you’r pestering her about how to get ahold of Malarkey #3 you can ask her about this one, as well. Might as well find out by directing your attention to

And with that, we come to the end of yet another Round-Up column. Next week I have something a little bit different in store for y’all, but I’m not going to offer any clues as to what that might be since I may end up changing my mind and reviewing an entirely different batch of books than I’m planning on. Guess you’ll just have to come back here in seven days and find out, won’t you?


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/07/2018 – 10/13/2018, November Garcia And Ines Estrada

It’s no secret to anybody who’s read this site for any length of time that I consider November Garcia to be the best comics art import to come out of the Philippines since Alex Nino, and it’s equally-public knowledge that my adoration for Mexican (by way, the last few years, of Texas) DIY cartoonist extraodrinaire Ines Estrada knows no bounds, so when John Porcellino recently listed two new self-published titles from each of them for sale at his Spit And A Half distro site, you knew I was gonna be all over them in no time. Let’s have a look at ’em, shall we?

Rookie Moves  is a witty and never-less-than-completely engaging mini that charts Garcia’s “rise” from the ranks of comics fan-girl to published cartoonist in her own right and showcases her at her neurotic, self-deprecating best as she rubs shoulders with the likes of Gabrielle Bell, Jon Lewis, Iona Fox, Rob Clough, and others — including the aforementioned Mr. Porcellino himself. This is all a bit “inside baseball,” it’s true, but for those of us involved in “the scene” it’s a welcome chance to see just how unwittingly intimidating we can be, plus Garcia’s sharp observational skills are in top form — as is her illustration, which is clean, controlled, and emotive all in one go. Five bucks for my favorite NG comic yet? Quit dawdling, you know you have to get this now.

Besides bearing the longest title of any mini you’ll read this year, Great, Just What We Need — More Diary Comics From A Relative Nobody wins bonus points for truth in advertising, but I take exception to Garcia’s central premise : when diary comics are this good, we actually do need  them. A lot of these entries catalogue typical diary strip concerns revolving around the drudgery of daily life and navigating through relationships, no question, but the raw honesty with which our gal November documents even the most minute details is admirable, her art looks good even in when it’s clearly “rushed” as it is here, and there are some moments of genuine poignancy on offer, such as her shocked reaction to the death of cartoonist Mark Campos. Perhaps not an essential purchase to anyone other than the most dedicated Garcia partisan, but if  you’re among that rabble — as I proudly acknowledge myself to be — you can live without a measly three dollars a hell of a lot more than you can live without this comic.

Buckle up for bestiality in Ines Estrada’s It’s Too Much And Not Enough, a collection of purportedly “erotic” portraiture featuring people, plants, wolves, robots, and reptiles engaged in various (thankfully) impossible states of coitus that will probably make your stomach churn even as you can’t tear your eyes away. A heady mix of color and black-and-white illustration that showcases the most depraved corners of one person’s fertile, if slightly (okay, maybe more than slightly) disturbed imagination in the bright and unforgiving light of day, Estrada’s art is lavish and intricately-rendered, and while you’ll probably be glad your mind doesn’t conjure up this sort of imagery (unless, hey, it does), you’ve gotta admire anyone who not only admits that theirs does, but isn’t afraid to let the world (or at least the part of it that’s paying attention) know it. Six dollars is a little bit steep for 16 pages, it’s true, but these are 16 pages sure to burn their way into your memory permanently. Whether that’s a good or bad  thing I leave up to you to decide for yourself, but I’m glad to have this ‘zine in my library, and look forward to leaving it out on the coffee table for unwitting visitors to our home to peruse while I slave away in the goddamn kitchen.

Just kidding, Deinell and I never have company over, and now you know why — we have comics like this one laying around.

Roppongi Nights is a companion publication of sorts to the one just discussed, and also sells for six bucks, but this time out you’re getting 20 pages of entirely B&W sketchbook art, much (check that, most) of it again ostensibly”erotic” in nature, but there’s some relatively “tame” material mixed in with the animalistic debauchery, as well, so hey — if somebody put a pistol to your head and made you show one of these comics to a youngster, this might be the one.

Awww, who are we kidding? Just let ’em shoot you dead, because this stuff is plenty combustible enough to blow an impressionable mind to pieces, and who wants that on their conscience? Again, I’m more than pleased to have this in my collection, but your mileage may vary substantially, especially if you’re a hopeless square — which, I’m reliably informed, you (yes, you personally) aren’t, so why not give it a go?

And that’s probably more than enough to keep your brain full and your wallet empty for one week, so join yours truly back here in seven days as we see take a look at whatever delights, depravities, or both the dastardly combination of my LCS and the USPS serves up next. Until then, you can get any of these comics your heart desires, as well as a whole lot more, by aiming your browser of choice at


2017 Year In Review : Top 10 Single Issues

And so it’s that time of year again : let the debating begin, I suppose, as the various “Top 10” lists begin to hit the internet in earnest, but one thing I think we can all agree on — it’s been quite a year in the world of comics. The underground lost luminaries Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson, the mainstream lost Swamp Thing co-creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson — there have been some tough moments.

But there have also been a number of “highs,” as well — in fact, one could make a fairly convincing argument that 2017 has seen more really fucking good comics published than any year in recent memory. To that end, then, we’re splitting this annual “best of” round-up into several columns, the basics of which will proceed as follows :

The top 10 graphic novels list will be pretty much exactly what it sounds like — a survey of the best original graphic novels of the year. A lot of stuff gets serialized, in whole or in part, online these days, but books that collect pages that cartoonists have serialized in such a manner will be eligible in this category as long as they tell a single, long-form story with something akin to a beginning, a middle, and an end. Collections of serialized short strips, trade paperback collections of single issues and the like, however, will not be listed in this category, since they’ll be going into —

The top 10 collected editions (contemporary) list, which will be composed entirely of previously-published (physically or electronically) works post-Bronze Age, which means anything that collects stuff from the so-called “Modern Age” (roughly the late-1980s right up to the present day) is eligible here. As for the older stuff —

The top 10 collected editions (vintage) list will be the home for all that, with any book and/or periodical presenting material from the birth of the medium up through the aforementioned Bronze Age duking it out for supremacy in this category.

Okay, I hear you say, that’s all fine and good as far as books go, but what of “floppies”? I’m glad you asked, and I came prepared with an answer — one which, believe it or not, actually took a little bit of thinking on my part —

The top 10 comics series list will feature both ongoing and limited series, anything published in single-issue format, with one caveat : annual (or thereabouts) publications like Sammy Harkham’s Crickets or Ethan Rilly’s Pope Hats will not be eligible here, nor will any series that saw only two issues published in 2017, since it just seems inherently unfair to have any series that either wrapped very early in the year, or that lots and lots of attention and care are put into, competing against stuff that has to stick to a strict monthly (if not twice-monthly, thanks DC) deadline. These less-frequent publications are, however, eligible in the list that we’ll be starting things off with here —

The top 10 single issues list, which is also the list that mini-comics and one-shots of various stripes will be included in.

Whew! Got all that? Okay, good. I only need to include a couple final caveats, then, before we get started :

1. These will not be lenghty, or even “capsule,” reviews — just quick summations. A good chunk of this stuff I’ve written about in great detail earlier in the year, and some of it I haven’t, but I don’t have either the time or the inclination to get into a “nuts and bolts” analysis of any of it now, and

2. Some stuff that came out very late in 2016 will be sneaking its way onto these lists, not only because I didn’t get a chance to evaluate it before writing my wrap-up columns last year, but also because many comics, particularly small-press comics, don’t find their way into the hands of most readers until a good few months after they’re released due to the fact that they’re not distributed by Diamond to bookstores or comic shops. Self-publishers, especially, often sell their creative wares on personal websites for some time before “catching on” with small-press distros like Spit And A Half, etc. And then there’s the whole situation with My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, which rolled off Korean printing presses in October of last year — but only a small batch of advance review copies made it here to the US before 2016 was out, the rest remaining stuck in the Panama Canal Zone until March of 2017, since the guy who owned the cargo ship they were coming over on had some back bills to pay before he could get his vessel out of hock.

Alright, with all that out of the way, then, let’s get on with the show —

10. I Wish I Was Joking by Tom Van Deusen (Poochie Press) – Van Deusen has long been one of the out-and-out funniest cartoonists out there, and this may very well be his best comic yet since he makes his stand-in “alternative” newsweekly reporter actually likable for a change. Less caustic than his previous works, but much more — dare I say it — charming.

9. Cosmic BE-ING #5 by Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Graham’s serialized Angloid story has its strongest outing yet, and also its most, believe it or not, down to Earth. Still “trippy” and “New Age” as all get-go, but far more anchored in workaday bread-and-butter concerns than prior installments. Graham’s remarkable illustration skills are really hitting a creative stride now, as well.

8. Trim #5 by Aaron Lange (The Comix Company) – Probably the most compelling issue of Lange’s annually-issued “solo anthology” to date, with intriguing explorations of his family’s German ancestry and a “cool” pastor he knew as a kid among the highlights. Plenty of laugh-out-loud gag strips, as well, most centered around the cartoonist’s art school days.

7. Lovers In The Garden by Anya Davidson (Retrofit/Big Planet Comics) – Some might argue that this is a “graphic novel,” but I’d call it “novella” length at best. Categorize it however you want, though, there’s no doubting that Davisdon’s assured cartooning makes her ’70s-grindhouse-style tale of dope dealers and cops a highly memorable read that holds together way better than most “vignette”-centered comics manage to.

6. Malarkey #2 by November Garcia (Self-Published) – Not just the best thing going in autobio comics right now, but the best thing to happen to autobio comics in years — and Garcia’s slices of life look even better with a little bit of color added to the mix. Possibly the most endearing comic you’ll read this year, which still seems a bizarre thing to say given most of its contents deal with alcoholism and neuroses, but there you have it.

5. Now #1 (Fantagraphics) – Eric Reynolds’ new anthology gets off to a more-than-promising start, with standout contributions from Eleanor Davis, Noah Van Sciver, Kaela Graham, Dash Shaw, and many others. 128 pages of the best in contemporary cartooning for ten bucks? Come on, you can’t do better than that.

4. Crickets #6 by Sammy Harkham (Self-Published) – The most deliriously arresting chapter of “Blood Of The Virgin” yet, as Harkham delineates the immediate, and seemingly complete, ruination of his protagonist’s life in rapid-fire fashion with an intriguing mix of empathy and clinical distance. I get the distinct impression that he doesn’t like Seymour all that much, but feels bad about what he’s doing to him regardless. Visually literate to a degree that’s almost painful.

3. Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket) – The winner of the 2017 Ignatz award for “Best Comic Book,” Passmore’s monologue on the reality of black life in America is concise, superbly-illustrated, and absolutely compelling. 12 pages you’ll never forget — because you’ll be reading them again and again.

2. Providence #12 by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows (Avatar Press) – The conclusion to Moore and Burrows’ “Lovecraft Cycle” is every bit as harrowing and terrifying as the previous 11 issues had suggested it would be, and then some — in fact, it’s downright devastating. It’s well past time to put this series in the discussion of Moore’s all-time best works, and Burrows absolutely pulls out all the stops in bringing the existential horror of the dawn of this dark new age to life. A bona fide masterwork.

1. Songy Of Paradise by Gary Panter (Fantagraphics) – Okay, I admit this one’s a bit of a cheat given that it’s an oversized (to put it mildly) hardcover boasting a $35 cover price — but for all that, it’s still only 32 pages long, so that makes it a “single issue” in my book. And a damn engrossing one at that, as Panter finally puts his Paradise/Purgatory trilogy to bed with its most deceptively “simple” (as in, it’s anything but) segment yet. Rest assured, though, even if you haven’t read the other two books, this is an accessible, engaging, thought-provoking work that reveals more of its hiding-in-plain-sight secrets with every reading. A truly seminal effort from one of the most important cartoonists of his generation — or any other.

Trust me when I say you can’t go wrong with any of these comics, and I’m very comfortable with the “running order” I’ve placed them in. There were some damn close contenders that nearly made the cut, but time will tell if I get a chance to do an “honorable mentions” listing once the main event’s all said and done. One thing at a time, as they say. Speaking of which —

Next up I’ll be looking at my picks for the top 10 ongoing series of the year, so I’ll definitely look forward to seeing you good folks back here in a handful of days for that one. In the meantime, if you’ve got anything to say about this list, don’t be shy! What did I get right? What did I get wrong? What did I completely miss out on? Chime in and let me know!

Get A Load Of This “Malarkey”

To the extent that Filipino cartoonist November Garcia is a “known quantity” in  American small-press comics, it’s for her Hic And Hoc-published book Foggy Notions from a couple of years back, but now that John Porcellino is stocking the first two issues of her self-published autobio series Malarkey at Spit And A Half, I’m sincerely hoping that a lot more attention is in store for her. 2017 was a breakthrough year for the likes of Emil Ferris, Ben Passmore, Eric Kostiuk Williams, Katie Skelly, and other formerly-emerging talents — if I had to place a wager on the first person to “break through” in 2018, it could very well be Garcia.

I confess to not being terribly “plugged in” to the contemporary cartooning scene in the Philippines, but I know that the country’s rich tradition of woodcut art heavily informed the work of such “Big Two” luminaries as Alfredo Alcala, Gerry Talaoc, Rudy Nebres, and the singularly brilliant Alex Nino — all of whom contributed to keeping the comics industry afloat in the 1970s and ’80s, in some cases even helping to propel the visual language of the medium forward considerably, and for their troubles were paid bargain-basement wages referred to by Marvel and DC themselves as (I wish I were making this up, but I’m not) “Filipino Rates” — but to the extent that Garcia follows in the stylistic wake of anyone who came before her, it would be that left by more recent “indie” luminaries like Noah Van Sciver, Gabrielle Bell, Tom Van Deusen, and the previously-mentioned Mr. Porcellino. In the end, though, her work is absolutely singular in its tone, presentation, narrative rhythm, and sheer utility.

Simply put, Garcia’s varied-length strips are every bit as familiar to somebody who “speaks comics” fluently as they are to someone who’s “comics illiterate.” Her figure drawing is efficient, practical, and betrays more than a hint of warmth and, dare I say it, innocence, while her stories tend to revolve around daily-life complexities that, in the hands of a less-attuned artist, would be depicted in a matter ten times more grim : neuroses (insecurity being first and foremost on the list), family dysfunction, doomed relationships, and alcoholism. There’s no way this stuff should be fun, but in Malarkey, God help me, it is.

To say that takes a “deft touch” would be putting things too mildly, as would also be the case if I referred to Garcia’s masterfully-understated observations of the mundane as “wry.” In truth, there’s a powerful understanding of the human condition on display in this comic (one aided and abetted by a limited by highly effective use of color in the second issue), albeit one that knows how to communicate that understanding in a completely non-threatening, even casual way. There are autobio cartoonists out there who have been striving for years to “get the balance just right” — Garcia’s had it dead to rights from the beginning.

Some of the usual critiques that are frequently applied to the genre in a more general sense can be leveled here by those looking for holes to poke — this stuff is an exercise in navel-gazing, it’s self-important, you know the drill — but if that’s your opinion, then you should be avoiding autobiography and/or memoir altogether. Stick with the capes and tights; I read plenty of that stuff too and I’m not going to judge you negatively for your tastes. But if this sort of thing is your sort of thing, you’re going to be enamored by Malarkey the moment you open the cover. That’s a promise.

There are some things to keep even the seasoned autobio reader guessing, though, too, fear not — apart from the drop-dead hilarious “My Weepy Ex” one-pagers, Garcia usually eschews strip titles and clear conclusions; the next page may be a direction continuation of what was happening on the previous one, and it may not. One would probably surmise that this means the pacing is stilted, “jerky,” but it actually works amazingly well and reflects the true nature of memory as a series of vignettes strung together, a pastiche of first-person observations that may not flow, but certainly do fit. And besides — nobody ever hung a “The End” banner across the doorway when you knocked off work or left the grocery store, did they?

There’s a tremendous amount to admire in Malarkey — so much so that I struggle to categorize all the things about it that impress me. It’s honest, it’s self-deprecating, it’s witty, it’s smart, it’s superbly illustrated, and it’s utterly devoid of pretense. If you were to strip away the layers of bullshit so many cartoonists surround themselves with in their portrayals of their “real” lives, boil down the essence of the things they get right, and filter it through a lens that sees the humor inherent in just about everything, this is what you’d get.

I don’t know November Garcia — and based on her portrayal of herself in her comics I’m not sure I could deal with her for more than a short amount of time — but that doesn’t mean that I can’t love her anyway, and goddamnit, I think I just might.

Check out samples of her work at 

And order issues one and two of Malarkey at