Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Ongoing Series

Rolling right along with our end-of-year surveys, we come to 2020’s Top 10 Ongoing Series. Qualifiers in this category are serialized comics that saw more than one issue or volume released in the past 12 months. Not sure any further explanation beyond that is necessary? And so —

10. Psychodrama Illustrated By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Beto’s latest side-step limited series focuses on somewhat surreal interpretations of the lives of Fritz and her family, resulting in a heady mix of the topical, the trippy and, of course, the libidinal. Familiar faces, unfamiliar places.

9. The Immortal Hulk By Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, et al. (Marvel) – The best “Big Two” series in ages showed no signs of slowing down in 2020, as Ewing interjected political issues and plenty of plot twists into his “long game” storyline, while Bennett continued to wow with richly-illustrated action sequences and uniformly inventive character designs. Where it’s all going no one knows but them, but where it’s already been has, to date, proven to be downright fantastic.

8. Vacuum Decay Edited By Harry Nordlinger (Self-Published) – Premier indie horror cartoonist Nordlinger is a guy with a vision, and in his new anthology series he invites others to the party to broaden it out, resulting in an intriguing blend of talents both old and new, all telling punchy, short-form tales of terror that delight in subverting conventions and norms without ever disrespecting them.

7. The Lighthouse In The City By Karl Christian Krumpholz (Self-Published) – Few cartoonists, if any, have made more productive use of their time in quarantine than Denver’s Krumpholz, who started this project looking to make diary comics about his wife’s then-upcoming surgery and her attendant recovery, and ended up documenting, for lack of a better tern, “The Full 2020 Experience.” As real and immediate as comics get.

6. Kids With Guns By Alex Nall (Self-Published) – What first began as a rather touching story about the inter-generational friendship between two neighbors has evolved into a taut but understated thriller of sorts that examines any number of pitfalls and challenges facing today’s youth with wit, wisdom, and grace. I can’t imagine Nall will have any trouble finding a publisher for the collected edition of this once all is said and done.

5. Love And Rockets By Gilbert And Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Another strong year for a series that seems to be experiencing a creative resurgence of sorts since returning to its original magazine format with Jaime, in particular, turning in some of the most compelling work of his illustrious career. For those of us of a certain age, these guys got us through our adolescence and our young adulthood, and they’re doing much the same now that we — and their characters — navigate middle age.

4. Now Edited By Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) – A very nice bounce-back year for the increasingly-infrequent anthology, and who knows? Maybe that increasing infrequency is the key to its success. After padding his pages with substandard and reprinted material last year, editor Reynolds is once again commissioning almost entirely strong original work, and presenting it in a format — and at a price — that makes “art comics” accessible to the general reading public. One big blemish emerged at the end of the year in terms of his choices that calls his thinking, and perhaps even his judgment, into question, but this isn’t the place to go into all that.

3. Tinfoil Comix Edited By Floyd Tangeman (Dead Crow) – This one came out of left field this past year and hit me like a ton of bricks, as it represents the kind of thing so many of us are always looking for : a collection of unique and idiosyncratic strips largely done by cartoonists you’ve more than likely never heard of before. There’s a real underground sensibility at work here, a kind of “anything goes” philosophical approach that results in every page holding the promise of something new and unexpected — and usually delivering.

2. Ex. Mag Edited By Wren McDonald (Peow Studio) – A conceptually-innovative new deluxe anthology series with a rotating genre theme — Cyberpunk and Paranormal Romance anchoring the first and second volumes, respectively — has proven itself to be precisely the tonic world-weary readers have needed in this year unlike any other, and why not? This is a comic unlike any other, and with its “expiration date” built in from the start one gets the distinct sense of this being a work that is being carefully cultivated to both reflect the concerns of the here and now while also standing the test of time. “Where comics are going” is here now.

1. Future By Tommi Musturi (Boing Being) – Dazzling both in its array of styles and its top-flight production values, the planet’s most versatile cartoonist is here crafting a tapestry and a puzzle box at the same time, depicting diverse future worlds that are somehow all connected, somehow all real — and somehow, paradoxically, all self-aware of their own fictitiousness. It’s hard to say what we’re getting more of here, imagination or talent, but what’s certain is that both are combining to create something that bears all the hallmarks of being, I kid you not, one of the best comics of all time once everything is said and done.

Two lists down, four to go! I’ll be back with the Top 10 Special Mentions in the next day or two!

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Review wrist check – Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 53” in its modern “Blackout Edition” variant.

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 https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Ongoing Series

The 2018 ” Top 10″ train keeps rolling! This time out : my ten favorite ongoing series of the year. Open-ended or limited runs are fine, as long as the books in question adhere (however tenuously, in some cases) to a production schedule of some sort. Ongoings that release one issue a year (or less) are not eligible in this category, although many such series — like Sean Knickerbocker’s Rust Belt and Anders Nilsen’s Tongues, to name just a couple — were represented in my previously-posted “Top 10 Single Issues” list. And so, with all that out of the way —

10. Exit Stage Left : The Snagglepuss Chronicles By Mark Russell And Mike Feehan (DC) – While never quite reaching the same heights as Russell and Steve Pugh’s The Flintsones, this re-imagining of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon cat as, essentially, Tennessee Williams was still a superb take-down of McCarthyism, and was a topical, poignant, and fun read with obvious parallels to the Trump era. Feehan’s crisp art looks like a million bucks, and the flat-out superb coloring of Paul Mounts makes it look like two million.

9. Abbott By Saladin Ahmed And Sami Kivela (Boom! Studios) – Not since Sugar Hill have blaxploitation and the occult been paired this successfully, and besides featuring the breakout protagonist of the year, this 1970s-set series touched on a boatload of social problems that, you guessed it, still haven’t gone away. Both story and art were pitch-perfect for the material, and my sincere hope is that Ahmed and Kivela will be getting to work on a sequel sometime in the not-too-distant future.

8. Shanghai Red By Christopher Sebela And Joshua Hixson (Image) – A thoroughly engrossing historical fable of crimping, piracy, and gender-bending that flew well below most folks’ collective radar for some reason, this five-parter made damn sure you’ll never look at the history of Portland, Oregon the same way again. Lavishly illustrated and sharply written, this is one you absolutely need to seek out in trade if you took a pass on it in singles.

7. Daygloayhole Quarterly By Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket) – I’ll just come right out and say it : Passmore’s hilarious, absurd, and eminently relevant take on post-apocalyptic “life” probably deserves to be ranked as highly as second or third on this list, but — it’s a reprint series, and therefore I’m skirting my self-imposed ruled by even allowing it “through the door” in the first place. Still, it’s so damn good that I had to find a way to include it, even if it meant fudging things on the margins a bit. If you’re not reading this/haven’t already it, you’re missing out on something well and truly extarordinary. And yes, I use that term with precise intent.

6. Prism Stalker By Sloane Leong (Image) – Feminist sci-fi of the highest order and one of the most visually captivating comics of the year, Leong has created a work for the ages here, as well as a marvel simply to look at. An intoxicatingly beautiful marriage of form and function that defies easy categorization every bit as much as it defied the odds by getting published by one of the “major indie” outfits in the first place, this title knocks you back and leaves you reeling.

5. Black Hammer : Age Of Doom By Jeff Lemire And Dean Ormston (Dark Horse) – The second “season” of the last word in super-hero revisionism may not break new ground in the same way the first did, but even at 75% (roughly) of its initial glory, this is still absorbing, compelling stuff, that both creators are quite clearly pouring all kinds of heart and soul into. And when one of ’em needs a break, who the hell in their right mind is gonna argue about Rich Tommaso filling in on art for a couple of issues?

4. Hey Kids! Comics! By Howard Chaykin (Image) – Leave it to the biggest contrarian in comics to hit us from out of nowhere with his strongest work in decades hot on the heels of the most reviled book of his career. Chaykin pulls no punches and takes no prisoners in this warts-and-all look at comics’ decidedly sleazy ethical history, yet it’s all quite obviously coming from a place of absolute reverence for many of the masters of the medium that it’s taking entirely non-gratuitous “pot-shots” at. New Chaykin regular colorist Wil Quintana does a bang-up job providing stirring hues that make these pages absolutely sing, and goddamn if Ken Bruzenak’s lettering and “effects” still don’t look 20 years ahead of their time. Fuck all the naysayers — at his best, which this surely is, Chaykin still delivers a comics reading experience like no other.

3. Love And Rockets By Gilbert And Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Middle age isn’t something to be endured in the hands of Los Bros., it’s something to be celebrated, and this series’ return to its classic “magazine” format somehow accentuates the point that both brothers are making about “the more things change —.” This book is the reason you love comics. Pray it runs forever.

2. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest By Alan Moore And Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – The final comics project (or so we’re told) from both of these legendary creators is both a love letter and middle finger as they head for the exits. The love letter is to the art form itself, while the middle finger is stuck up high, proudly, and entirely justifiably to the industry. A new, all-female iteration of the League is a stroke of genius, as is the decision to up the “humor quotient” considerably after the rather dark turn taken in the last “volume.” How much do we all miss this comic before it’s even over?

1. Now Edited By Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) – 120-plus pages of the best in contemporary cartooning for ten bucks an issue? How do you beat that? Answer : by infusing the title itself with a distinct sense of purpose that goes beyond such simple and easy anthology premises as specific themes or shared aesthetic sensibilities in favor of selecting work by cartoonists that not only exemplify, but in may ways define where comics is at — errmmm — now. Dash Shaw, Nathan Cowdry, Antoine Cosse, Daria Tessler, Roam Muradov, Al Columbia, Eleanor Davis, Theo Ellsworth — just some of the “murder’s row” of talent to appear in the pages of what is, without question, the quintessential anthology of the decade. Everyone is bringing their “A game” to the party here so far, and the result is my favorite series of the year, as well as the most significant.

And so we reach the end of the second of our six lists! Next up : Top 10 Contemporary Collections, the category devoted to 2018 books that presented material originally serialized as single issues, anthology stories, etc., as well as English-language releases of international material such as Manga, Eurocomics, etc. I’m hoping to have that one ready in the next couple of days here, do stop by and check it out!