Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Contemporary Collections

Once more into the breach — this time out, we take a look at my personal favorite contemporary collected editions of 2018, with “contemporary collected editions” specifically referring to books presenting work that was published somewhere else first, either as single issues, mini-comics, even just strips in various anthologies. The “contemporary” part of the equation means that these volumes need to present material that was published after the year 2000, as anything prior to that will fall into the “vintage collected editions” list that we’ll do in the next day or two. Final ground rule : English-language translations of Eurocomics and Manga are also eligible in this category (with the same chronological guidelines in play), since they  also, ya know, saw print somewhere else first. Let’s get right to it, then:

10. Compulsive Comics By Eric Haven (Fantagraphics) – Haven’s surreal strips appear far too infrequently, so getting two collections of them two years in a row like we have is genuine cause for celebration. Like Fletcher Hanks on bad acid with plenty of deadpan humor and gorgeous linework and color, the worlds Haven creates are what bad dreams would look and feel like — if they were fun. Plus, he accidentally kills a bunch of famous cartoonists in this one.

9. From Lone Mountain By John Porcellino (Drawn+Quarterly) – We all know that Porcellino’s King-Cat Comics is one the true treasures of this beleaguered medium we love, but what’s less well-known is what an absolute roll this series was on in the early-to-mid 2000s. This superb collection presents the very best of those years, when Porcellino was really getting a firm grip on the wistful, evocative, “tone poem” character that the series maintains to this day. Simply beautiful.

8. Red Winter By Anneli Furmark (Drawn+Quarterly) – One of the most heartfelt and stirring love stories to grace the comics world in some time, every forlorn glance and stolen moment these two doomed paramours share is a stake through the heart, lushly rendered against a backdrop of political intrigue and familial drama. Furmark’s strips are a national institution in Sweden — here’s your chance to see why.

7. Dumb By Georgia Webber (Fantagraphics) – The most harrowing and heartfelt autobio work of this year, Webber’s chronicle of her extended period without the use of her voice, originally self-published as a series on minis, is a privileged look at the challenges and daily practical demands of navigating through a hitherto-unforeseen health crisis. A very silent scream, indeed.

6. Somnabulance By Fiona Smyth (Koyama Press) – Long overdue, this massive retrospective of the work of one of Canada’s pioneering feminist cartoonists skirts our rules a bit by presenting material from both the previous century and this one (we’ll be breaking that again before this is over, fair warning), but who’s complaining? This is true auteur material, showcasing a world all its own, as foreign as it is immediately recognizable, inhabiting a space somewhere between dreams and reality. No one does it like Smyth, and no one else ever will.

5. Book Of Daze By E. A. Bethea (Domino Books) – By contrast, Bethea’s work has a way of making the actual, waking world we all know feel dreamlike, ethereal, and mysterious — even its dingiest corners. A slimmer collection than the others on this list (and the only one released as a magazine rather than a book), what this comic lacks in terms of physical heft it more than compensates for in the creation of a hermetically-sealed reality all its own.

4. The Song Of Aglaia By Anne Simon – French cartoonist Simon has long been admired “across the pond” for her detailed cross-hatching, inimitable facial expressions, and imaginative character designs, and as an “intro volume” for American readers, this feminist fairy tale is absolutely exemplary and painfully amusing. Lots of “Easter eggs” scatted throughout for Beatles fans as well in this amazingly charming, immersive volume.

3. Angloid By Alex Graham (Kilgore Books) – The mystical and mundane collide with results ranging from the heavy to the hilarious in Graham’s masterwork (to date, at any rate), culled from self-published minis and strips in her large format Cosmic BE-ING ‘zine. A sharp and wry take-down of both the art world and life on the economic margins, Graham will make you wish that you had some alien inter-dimensional helpers on your side just as her stand-in protagonist does, but you know what? You don’t need their assistance to recognize one of the most utterly unique and self-assured books of the year.

2. Providence : The Complete Slipcase Set By Alan Moore And Jacen Burrows (Avatar Press) – Superlatives aplenty have already been heaped upon Moore and Burrows’ Lovecraftian masterpiece, including from yours truly, so we needn’t revisit all that beyond saying that this isn’t simply one of the best horror comics ever made, but one of the best comics, period. Publisher Avatar has a reputation for producing some of their trade paperbacks and even hardcovers on the cheap, but this comprehensive collection, which also includes the prequel/sequel stories The Courtyard and Neonomicon, is very handsome indeed, and the inclusion of Dreadful Beauty : The Art Of Providence gives readers a fascinating look at Burrows’ criminally-underappreciated art in gorgeous black and white. An expensive set, to be sure, but more than worth every penny.

1. Berlin By Jason Lutes (Drawn+Quarterly) – Come on, what else was it going to be? Lutes’ sprawling, epic, highly personal tale of life in Weimar Berlin, over two decades in the making (told you we’d be skirting that “post-2000” rule again), stands as one of the high-water marks in the history of the medium, and this tremendous hardcover collection pulls out all the stops to present work this monumental in the format that it so richly deserves. A true masterpiece by any definition of the term.

And there we have it! Next up — Top 10 Vintage Collected Editions. I’m aiming to get that one up tomorrow, hope to have you along for the ride!



Eurocomics Spotlight : “Red Winter”

The following is the original text of a review I wrote for Daniel Elkin’s “Your Chicken Enemy” website. I’ve posted these “first drafts” before when I’ve contributed material for his site, because I think they’re instructive for those who wish to see what a difference a good editor makes. This time out, the changes he suggested were minimal but, in my view, crucial. I learn something new every time I work with this guy!

The final version of the review can be found here, for those interested in a “head-to-head” comparison :


Like love itself, there is a poetry and beauty to Swedish cartoonist Anneli Furmark’s 2018 graphic novel  Red Winter (the first of her works to be translated into English, courtesy of its North American publisher, Drawn+Quarterly) — but it’s often understated, unobtrusive, a “part of the scenery,” if you will, that necessarily informs all people, places, and things touched by it. Which isn’t to say that the particular parameters that necessarily “wall in” the love affair at the center of this story aren’t as electrified as the cliched “third rail” — they most certainly are, given one of the paramours is married — but, as with all things Scandinavian, even if and when the shit hits the fan, the consequences will, to one degree or another, be sublimated, put in something like their “proper” place, smoothed-over to fit into a new status quo.

First, though, protagonists Ulrik (young, idealistic, Communist factory worker) and Siv (a mother of three 14 years his senior who works for/with the just-deposed Social Democrats) have to survive a politically and socially turbulent late-1970s Swedish winter in the isolated northern village that she’s lived in most (perhaps all, it’s never exactly clear) of her life, and which he’s just been effectively “deployed” to by his ostensible SKP (a Maoist political party) “superiors.” Who, then, fears discovery most — who perceives themselves as having the greatest amount to lose — is one of the richest veins of narrative tension that Furmark has at her disposal to mine.

Siv would be the most obvious choice, of course — she’s the one with the family, after all — but Ulrik’s comrades are fucking zealots of the sort that make even a Marxist-leaning individual like yours truly feel a little bit nervous. The structure of their organization is decidedly hierarchical, bordering on the downright tyrannical, and if you think a bunch of hard-liners who micro-manage their junior charges to the point of counting up how many party newspapers each manages to sell standing on street-corners on any given day are going to simply “go with the flow” if and when it’s discovered that one of said acolytes is involved with a rather milquetoast Socialist who doesn’t share their views and ideals, well — I’ve got a bridge to sell you. And it spans a frozen river in Sweden.

Told by means of a series of linearly-structured vignettes from the point of view of several individual characters (including Siv’s kids, which makes for some seriously interesting reading), for what is undoubtedly a love story first and foremost, Furmark’s book definitely has the thematic flavor of a thriller to it — but it’s a subtle one, a sympathetic one, a humanistic one. The affair is already well underway on page one — a wise choice that establishes the previously-mentioned pattern of things taken as a given right from the outset — and the passion the two have for each other is at obvious as it is unyielding, but the tensions limning it in are immediately present and accounted for, as well : ideology, responsibility, routine. The “tender traps,” as it were.

Furmark’s approach is remarkably frank and free of judgment, though, but not without passion — she simply doesn’t hit you over the head with a flood of manipulative scenarios designed to tug your heart strings in one direction or another. She has too much faith in the ability of her readers to figure all that out for themselves, it would seem, yet that doesn’t mean she isn’t keenly aware of the emotional power of every exchange from the warmest embrace to the most fleeting and furtive glance — or, for that matter, that she doesn’t understand, and communicate, the small little “soul death” that occurs when one lies to their partner; to their children.

Is this, then, a doomed love? Logic would dictate that it absolutely must be — but since when does logic enter into the equation when it comes to affairs of the heart? Furmark’s lush, expressive, detailed cartooning — awash as it is in nigh-on lyrical, but never any less than appropriately dim and, dare I say it, “wintry” watercolors — has the look and feel of true passion to it, but more crucially of a passion as “under wraps” as most other strongly-held emotions in the icy Swedish hinterlands. To that end, then, perhaps just as great a threat to this love’s ability to endure comes from within as from without — forget the husband, the kids, the Maoist true believers, and ponder the question of whether or not Siv and Ulrik can find a way to make this thing work if they can’t even make sense of it themselves.

And since we’re tallying up a list of open questions, an equally big one you’ll have to puzzle out on your own is whether or not you, as a reader, think they should keep their affair going. Not whether or not you want them to, that’s another matter entirely — there’s definitely something real and  true and even necessary that binds them together, but is this the sort of love story that will work best for both if it becomes a (sorry to be blunt, but) “full-time thing,” or would it be better for it to be a brief-but-passionate fling that they each remember fondly, even glowingly, for the rest of their lives? Because, let’s face it, we all need those, too.

After two readings of Red Winter, I admit to still having no firm answers as to how I feel about Siv and Ulrik’s situation beyond liking them both a whole lot and wanting the best for them, whatever that may be. Do they get that, in the end? It’s hard to say, and I don’t want to go down the “spoiler” road because this is a book you should feel your way through — as opposed to merely “read” — for yourself. I do know, however, that Furmark’s resolution, to the extent that she provides one, feels as true-to-form and authentic as all the events, large and small, that lead up to it, and that she has crafted an extraordinarily smart and heartfelt story that will no doubt endure as a personal favorite for many years to come.