Creativity While “Isolated”

When we look on things a few years from now (assuming we make it that far), there’s a damn good chance that 2020 will be seen as a turning point for small press, self-published, and otherwise independent comics. Not only did we have the “heavy hitters” like Simon Hanselmann’s Crisis Zone and Alex Graham’s Dog Biscuits, we had diary comics galore from any number of cartoonists, as well as a smattering of “lockdown”-themed anthologies — artists, like the rest of us, were looking for anything to keep them sane while they were (by and large) stuck indoors, and new (predominantly digital) distribution methods were utilized, both by choice and necessity, to get their work out there. In many ways, sure, it seems like only yesterday, but in others it seems like a lifetime ago, so completely has the landscape shifted. And the changes to production and distribution that the pandemic engendered have proven to be every bit as resilient as has COVID-19 itself, really — I mean, how many comics are you reading on Instagram these days? I bet it’s more than you were in 2019.

I was somewhat surprised, then, to receive in the mail recently a handsomely-produced little anthology called Isolated, edited and published by Tana Oshima and featuring work produced primarily (with some exceptions) during the “height” of the lockdowns, that is available only in printed form. This is not a complaint, mind you — I made mention of Instagram comics a moment ago, but the truth is I don’t even have an Instagram account myself and prefer to keep things as “old school” as is humanly possible. I’m well aware, however, of what’s happening in the digital comics realm in a general sense, and so the idea of a a collection of pandemic-themed strips that bucks the trends and stays with the tried-and-true is inherently appealing to a stick in the mud such as myself — and even more importantly, so are the comics that Oshima is presenting here.

Of course, how could they not be given the veritable “murder’s row” of international talent she’s managed to put together? Roll call, in order of appearance : Celine Hudreaux on covers, with interior stories by Pedro Pablo Bacallao, E.A. Bethea, Angela Fanche, Ana Galvan, Jessica Garcia, November Garcia, Ness Ilene Garza, Marie Gilot, Kim Lam, Drew Lerman, Lui Mort, Roman Muradov, Hue Nguyen, Weng Pixin, Areeba Siddique, and Lane Yates. Veteran readers of my blathering will no doubt recognize many a cartoonist I’ve sung the praises of included in this list of luminaries, but there are a handful of names that I admit were new to me here as well, and lo and behold, they contribute some of the strongest entries in the book, so that admittedly shop-worn “something old, something new” axiom with regards to putting together a successful anthology? It absolutely rings true in this case.

Everyone is given four pages to work with (apart from Galvan, who only uses two), and as one would expect, pretty much all these strips are autobiographical in nature, but even the ones that aren’t in form are in spirit, given the same thing was resting heavy on everybody’s shoulders all over the world at the time — which rather brings me to my main point here : expect a uniquely unpleasant and harrowing reading experience with this as you look back on a time that absolutely no one is nostalgic for. These are all cartoonists operating at the full height of their considerable powers, so that semi-apocalyptic sense of dread we all felt in 2020? You’re gonna feel it all over again. It hangs over all in Sword of Damocles fashion, even in the strips with a nominally “lighter” tone. So if you’re understandably not yet ready to go down that road, while I’d still strongly urge you to get this book — after all, who knows how many copies are even out there — I’d likewise advise that you put it aside until you really feel up to it. Please. For your own sake.

Speaking for myself (because that’s the only person I’m remotely qualified to speak for in the first place), the predominant sensation this collection evoked in me was the strange dichotomy of those times — we were all going through the same thing, but since we were separated, we all experienced and processed it in highly personal ways. It didn’t help, I suppose, that politics did its level best to wrest control of the situation from science — and I’ll always find it as tragic as it was predictable that the same assholes who lectured us about “coming together” in the wake of 9/11 so they could pursue bloodthirsty and profit-driven wars of conquest abroad were the ones telling us to piss in the face of unity during the lockdowns — but by and large the very nature of isolation itself gave rise to myriad interpretations of both what the lockdowns meant and how best to navigate them. This book, by dint of the wide range of distinctive voices it presents, captures the essence of what it means to individually experience a collective nightmare.

Also worth noting : thanks to the efforts of Oshima and her predecessor on the project Andrew Losowsky, grant funding was secured so that all of the contributors were paid for their efforts — and we all remember how vital that was at the time. You can feel good about buying this comic, then, even if it’s not a “feel-good” collection per se — it is, however, a vital and necessary one, as well as a testament to art’s ability to help us get through the roughest of rough times.


Isolated is available for $12.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro 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

“So Buttons” #11 : — And Just Like That, All Is Right With The World

In art, as in life, timing is everything, and in that respect the release of issue #11 of Jonathan Baylis’ long-running autiobio anthology series, So Buttons (the first to be published in conjunction with Tinto Press), couldn’t be more — errr — timely, given that reminders that there really is a “normal” to return to (even if we’re not sure what that is yet) are very welcome indeed as so many of slowly emerge from our COVID-engendered bunkers. Granted, most of the contents of this ish were written and drawn smack-dab during some of the most dangerous and harrowing days of the pandemic, but it’s not strictly a “pandemic comic” per se. It’s referenced here and there — how could it not be? — but by and large this latest collection of stories is what we’ve come to expect from Baylis and his artistic cohorts, namely : fun, charming, occasionally informative, and sometimes even thought-provoking vignettes culled from the author’s life, tangentially related to it, or both. And talking of artistic cohorts —

As has become his custom, Baylis enlists a “murder’s row” of talented cartoonists to illustrate his ‘zine, beginning with Jim Rugg’s sublime Basil Wolverton homage cover and continuing through the interiors where we’re treated to the visual stylings of November Garcia, A.T. Pratt, B. Mure, Garrett Gilchrist, Andy Rash, Phil Elliott, T.J. Kirsch, Fred Hembeck, Jeff Zapata, Rick Parker (who provides letters on one story, art on another), Maria and Peter Hoey, Miss Lasko Gross, colorist Adam Walmsely and, last but certainly not least, one Lucas Eisenberg-Baylis, whose particular relation to our “host” will be readily apparent to even the newest readers of this series. Everyone brings their own look and style to the party, obviously, and while some of the artists are a more natural fit for Baylis’ relaxed, conversational approach to storytelling than others, it’s fair to say that there are no fish out of water here, and everyone turns in really nice-looking work.

So, yeah, we’re most definitely in “what’s not to love?” territory here, and that feels damn good. Sure, the dour might be able to advance an argument that stories about Scotch, Topps trading cards, John Cleese, Carol Channing, and early-’90s British comics might feel a bit “slight” under present circumstances, but art’s capacity to endure under even the most trying of conditions is one of the most remarkable things about it, and if you can’t get at least a little bit giddy at the thought of Fred Hembeck doing a pin-up featuring characters from the short-lived Topps “Kirbyverse,” then I’ve got no time for your cynical ass, anyway.

Which, in a very real sense, offers us a convenient segue into one of the best things not just about this issue, but about Baylis’ series in general : it’s utterly devoid of cynicism. It’s a comic about a guy who likes reading comics (among other hobbies and interests) that’s written by a guy who likes making comics with his friends, and whaddya know? They’re both the same guy. There’s a kind of, if you’ll forgive the term, purity to that approach that would stand out in today’s careerist-dominated comics landscape even if the stories on offer weren’t as uniformly enjoyable as they are — so the fact that they are is, as the saying goes, an awfully nice plus.

In more “big picture” terms, it’s probably inevitable that comparisons to earlier autobio trailblazers like Dennis Eichhorn and, of course, Harvey Pekar will persist for as long as Baylis adheres to making his comics in the way that he makes them, but I’ve noticed a marked decline in their frequency and volume over the years, and for good reason : Baylis has a singular authorial “voice” unique unto himself, and has lived and continues to live a life that’s plenty interesting on its own terms. Besides, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having your comic mentioned alongside the likes of American Splendor, and as the years go by Baylis has managed, by dint of his consistency and creativity (no, the two are not mutually exclusive), to transform this series from curious, maybe even derivative, upstart to a welcome annual guest in the homes and lives of its readers. You can only pull that off if you’re doing something that’s got plenty of brains and heart at its core.

As is likely to be painfully obvious by now, one of those readers who views this comic as a welcome annual guest in their home and life is yours truly, and after this past year and change, a new issue felt more welcome than ever. Barring any further calamity, our next meeting with Baylis and co. will likely be under more pleasant — or at least predictable — circumstances, but you know what? I feel safe in assuming in advance that it’ll be a “feel-good” occasion then, as well.


So Buttons #11 is available for $5.00 from the Tinto Press website at

Review wrist check – Yema “Navygraf Maxi Dial” on bracelet. Because classic never goes out of style.

2020 In 12 Pages : November Garcia’s “(Even) More Diary Comics From A Relative Nobody” #2

When the fist page of your new mini pretty much sums up everything that everybody who’s been making so-called “quarantine comics” over the past year has been trying to say, then I’m going to credit you with doing two things remarkably well : cutting to the chase, and clearing the decks to facilitate moving on to something (please, God, anything!) else. Not that the pandemic doesn’t hang over the rest of November Garcia’s latest Birdcage Bottom-published ‘zine, (Even) More Diary Comics From A Relative Nobody #2, as surely as it hangs, Sword of Damocles-style, over all of our lives, but let’s not forget — there’s other shit going on, too. And some of that shit is even important.

Admittedly, as the title of this review gives away plainly, this is is a short little comic (it was created as a Kickstarter premium for the latest — and final — issue of Garcia’s Malarkey series), but it does manage to encapsulate the general flavor and character of one person’s life over a consequential 12-month span, and by getting the obvious out of the way early on, with a strip that pretty much runs the entire “pandemic emotional gamut” in the space of six panels, we’re free to forge ahead into more personally significant territory, and that’s what sets this authentic, energetic collection apart from the others of its ilk out there.

What’s been going on that’s so “personally significant” in Garcia’s life, then? How about deaths in her family, medication adjustments, therapy, addiction and recovery (or steps in that direction, at any rate) — and, just to lighten the mood, some fun times sharing music and laughs with her dad. All of it matters, in degrees large and small, all of it draws a full picture of a life, and all of it’s relayed in Garcia’s by-now-trademark clean, populist style. Her comics aren’t fussy, nor are they especially flashy — they’re just plain effective, and likely to be as well-received by readers who are new to the medium as they are by crusty cartoon vets like yours truly. She might consider herself a “relative nobody,” but don’t be fooled by false modesty — at this stage of the game, Garcia is an absolute pro.

Still, I fully well realize that professionalism is a two-edged sword in the eyes of many a reader of this blog, and not without reason : folks worry that “polished” is polite-speak for “soulless,” that immediacy and vitality are somehow necessary sacrifices at the altar of cartooning prowess. Oftentimes I’ll be the first to admit this is true, but it’s never been a concern as far as Garcia’s career trajectory goes. Quite the reverse, in fact — the more developed her craft has become, the more she’s honed her approach to creation around the strengths of her own unique skill set, and as a result, her strips really do just keep on getting better and better.

All of which means that this particular ‘zine punches well above its weight class. By all rights it should be nothing more than a disposable little freebie, but instead it’s a damn impressive representative sample of a cartoonist at the top of her game. It’s serves perfectly well as a complementary piece to the latest Malarkey (pictured below), but it stand on its own two feet with nary a wobble in sight, as well. In fact, if this were someone’s first exposure to Garcia’s comics, I think the most immediate reaction would be — “this is great, where can I get more?”

And that, right there, is literally the only problem I have with this slim volume — I wish it were a little longer. But if I didn’t wan t it be, then hell — that would be much worse, would it not? Diary comics don’t come any more perfect than this, though, so I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. More would be nice, absolutely, but I’m damn grateful for the dozen that we get here.


(Even) More Diary Comics From A Relative Nobody #2 is available for $5.00 from the Birdcage Bottom Books website at

Review wrist check – Longines “Legend Diver” riding a Crown & Buckle adjustable Chevron strap in a color scheme they call “royale and harvest,” but I just call royal blue and tan. Or khaki. Or something. But not “harvest,” no way.

Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Single Issues

Is it that time of year again? Why yes, indeed, it is that time of year again — specifically, the end of the year, and with it my end-of-year “Top 10” lists. As usual, things are divvied up into six categories : Top 10 Single Issues (stand-alone comics or comics that are part of an ongoing series that saw only one issue published this year), Top 10 Ongoing Series (serialized comics that saw two or more issues published in the past year), Top 10 Special Mentions (“comics-adjacent” projects such as ‘zines, books on comics history, art books or sketchbooks, or books that utilize words and pictures but don’t adhere to traditional rules of sequential storytelling), Top 10 Vintage Collections (books that reprint work originally published prior to the year 2000), Top 10 Contemporary Collections (books that reprint work originally published, physically or digitally, after the year 2000 and going right up to the present day), and Top 10 Original Graphic Novels (all-new books specifically constructed as graphic novels and were never serialized in installments). And with those ground rules out of the way, we’ll begin where we always do, with my choices for the year’s Top 10 single-issue or stand-alone comics :

10. Goiter #5 By Josh Pettinger (Tinto Press) – After four issues, Pettinger exits the self-publishing ranks and the extra time devoted purely to craft pays off with one of his most surreal and absorbing character studies yet, as an underemployed teen become an unemployed teen and sees his life spiral out of control after being roped into an extra-legal murder investigation. The spirit of Clowes and Ware lives on in this series, but Pettinger’s authorial concerns and cartooning are now well and truly entirely his own.

9. The Garden By Lane Yates And Garrett Young (Self-Published) – A mysterious and ethereal love/horror story that reveals new depths with each reading, this is the most alluring narrative puzzlebox in quite some time. For all the wonderful qualities Yates’ story possesses though, it may just be Young’s art that steals the show/seals the deal/pick your cliche, as it transports readers to a truly alien world populated with achingly human characters rendered in exquisitely moody detail.

8. Flop Sweat #1 By Lance Ward (Birdcage Bottom Books) – The first installment in what promises to be a gripping childhood memoir from Ward, exploring the roots of alienation and “otherness” with sensitivity, honesty, and even a bit of humor. Ward is well and truly coming into his own as memoirist, and you’d be well-advised to get in on the ground floor with this book before everybody’s all over it. That way you can say you’re a cool and astute reader, ya know?

7. Five Perennial Virtues #11 – Broken Pieces By David Tea (Self-Published) – Perhaps the greatest iconoclast in all of comics produces the strongest issue of his long-running series to date — as well as the most accessible. Part history lecture, part absurdist fantasy, and all Dave Tea, this feels very much like “outsider art” until you realize the author actually understands the comics form implicitly — he just refuses to play by many of its established rules.

6. Mini Kus! #91 – Sufficient Lucidity By Tommi Parrish (Kus!) – The modern master of navigating the complexities of interpersonal relationships via the comics medium, here Parrish takes us on a journey by dropping us off very nearly at the end of it. Lavishly illustrated and economically scripted, this is pure emotion on the page, and will haunt your dreams long after reading it.

5. Rotten By M.S. Harkness (Self-Published) – Another painfully embarrassing, to say nothing of painfully funny, slice-of-life comic from Harkness, this one hitting home with extra wallop due to its chronological setting : right around the 2016 election. Still, it’s Harkness’ consistently-fearless portrayal of herself that stands out as the book’s most memorable, if occasionally disconcerting, feature. If you haven’t tried one of her long-form graphic novels yet, this is the perfect smaller “sample size” to dip your toes in, and trust me when I say you’ll immediately want more.

4. Tad Martin #8 – Tears Of The Leather-Bound Saints By Casanova Frankenstein (Fantagraphics Underground) -Encompassing everything from dystopian industrial hellscapes to childhood memoir and all points in between, Frankenstein’s latest outing featuring his constantly-evolving authorial stand-in takes the form of a deliberately disjointed “tone poem,” a one-man anthology focused on various stages of personal apocalypse. Shot through with grotesque “gallows humor” and caustically accurate social commentary, this is another tour-de-force from arguably our most uncompromising contemporary cartoonist.

3. Malarkey #5 By November Garcia (Birdcage Bottom Books) – Garcia closes out her masterful autobio series on a very high note amidst relentlessly dark times as she explores mortality from all sides, offering readers stories about life’s end in equal proportion to those centered around the little things that make life worth living. The pandemic looms large here but is, uncannily, never specifically referenced. Don’t ask me how she managed that — I’m just grateful that she did. No other comic captures the essence of life in 2020 like this one.

2. Theater Of Cruelty By Tana Oshima (Self-Published) – A sprawling yet agonizingly insular look at the vagaries of life that haunt its author and frankly haunt us all, this is “solo anthology” comics at their finest, weaving a dense tapestry of darkness from threads of fable, poetry, ancestral memory, and autobio. As surely beyond classification as it is beyond good and evil, Oshima’s magnum opus leaves you reeling in silence.

1. Constantly By G.G. (Koyama Press) – A bit of a cheat as this was packaged as a slim book, but slim is the key word — as in, 48 pages. That puts it firmly in the “single issue” camp by my admittedly subjective standards, but it nevertheless leaves an indelible mark with its austere art and minimalist language combining to explore both the roots and manifestations of doubt and anxiety, portraying a world where all tasks are monumental and likely pointless. Haunted within and haunting without, this is comics poetry at its apex as a medium and a bona fide masterpiece for the ages.

I’ll let you all absorb this list for a few days before returning with my picks for the the Top 10 Ongoing Series of the year!


Review wrist check – Farer Universal “Stanhope” riding a Hirsch “George” leather strap in brown from their “Performance” series.

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

All Good Things Must Come To An End : November Garcia’s “Malarkey” #5

I guess maybe it’s a bit grandiose to call Birdcage Bottom’s release of the fifth and final issue of November Garcia’s Malarkey the end of an era, but fuck it : for the past five years this book has been a staple of my comics-reading life, and I have something of a personal “trajectory” with the title, as well, going from enthusiastic fan to gushing critic to friend of the cartoonist to someone’s who’s consistently thanked in the book’s credits and whose “pill quotes” are regularly featured on its back covers and related promotional internet blurbs. I ain’t no neutral observer or anything of the sort — not that critics ever are, it rather flies in the face of the job description. Still, it’s fair to say that I have a personal interest in Malarkey‘s success, there’s no doubt about it — this comic really is my equivalent to the sports fan’s “home team.”

That being said, unless you’re new here, you all know me, and if Garcia turned in a subpar issue, you know I’d be the first to tell you — the simple fact is, though, that this final installment proves that she’s probably not capable of making a bad comic at this point, and it may even stand as her best work yet. Certainly COVID and its attendant lockdowns factor into the proceedings in a rather major way, as they do in all of our lives, but this is more than simply yet another “quarantine comic,” as Garcia begins the issue with some autobio strips set before the pandemic, delves us deep into the heart of what life feels like during it, and even ends on a mildly hopeful note reminding us that life (for most of us, at any rate) will go on after it’s over. Be prepared, then, to run the emotional gamut.

Death looms large in these pages, that’s for certain, but it’s not COVID-related : Garcia has been losing members of her extended family at a depressingly brisk clip in recent months, and it’s clearly having an effect, as she not only reflects on their passing, but also on her own mortality, before lightening up the mood for a bit with some Seattle-based tales of mild debauchery, then plunging us in at the really deep end with what is, for me, the highlight of the book : a semi-experimental meditation on aging, fear, and uncertainty not specifically referencing the pandemic, but no doubt exacerbated by it. Awash in gorgeously, frighteningly resonant full color (as opposed to the well-placed spot colors utilized in the other strips in this issue) and set to song lyrics I’m not familiar with by a band I’ve never even heard of, this nevertheless hit like a ton of bricks and left me reeling in my seat as I read it. It’s a step outside Garcia’s comfort zone of gentle self-deprecation and a step into the maelstrom, and proves that much as I’m reticent to see Malarkey go, the time to expand her ambitions and horizons has well and truly arrived.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention how much smoother and more confident Garcia’s line has become, as well — when this series started she was still being compared all too frequently with Julia Wertz, but I think it’s safe to say that’s well in the past now. Her cartooning is her own, a singular and frankly inimitable blend of classic humor strip exaggeration, well-executed figure drawing, simple-but-effective use of space, and tongue-in-cheek caricature coalescing into a look that bears the imprimatur of legit auteurship with every pen and bush stroke. Throw in that color I just mentioned, and yeah — this is great-looking stuff, perfectly suited to its subject matter.

And as for that subject matter — hey, to quote myself back at myself, I referred to Garcia last time around as “the premier autobio cartoonist of our time,” and I stand by that absolutely. She’s on a creative roll the likes of which few achieve, and that we’re privileged as readers to bear witness to. She’s gone from “it looks like it’s all coming together” to “wow, it’s really all come together” in remarkably short amount of time, and now the only question that remains is where it all goes next.

What’s absolutely not in question is whether or not I’ll be along for the ride. Where Garcia goes, I follow, and I don’t even ask questions. I trust her instincts because she trusts them, and while this comic may, indeed, mark the end of an era, the good news is that it also means it heralds the beginning of a new chapter — not just from the finest autobio cartoonist of our time, but from one of the finest cartoonists, period.


Malarkey #5 is available for $8.00 from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro at

Review wrist check – Ocean Crawler “Paladino WaveMaker” green dial model riding an Ocean Crawler “Vintage Crazy Horse” leather strap.

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

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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