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


My First Time At This “Rodeo”

Most debuts, let’s face it, disappoint. Others show promise. A select few thoroughly satisfy. And then, every once in awhile, one comes along that literally demands you take notice.

“Spoiler” alert for lazy readers : cartoonist Evan Salazar’s new self-published mini, Rodeo #1, is definitely the latter. You need to buy it immediately. And that’s my cue to cut to the chase and tell non – lazy readers why

Following in the tradition of the finest solo anthology titles such as Eightball and Yummy Fur, yet blazing a trail entirely its own, this comic arrives like a bolt out of the blue and announces the arrival of a talent  already tantalizingly close to attaining that elusive title of being “fully formed.” There’s a back cover “gag” strip that rather misses the mark, it’s true, but apart from that what we’ve got here is some seriously polished — though in no way devoid of personality — cartooning that uses strong blacks, clean lines, crisp-if-basic layouts, and a plethora of influences ranging from the likes of Michael DeForge to early-days (as in, when he was still good) Adrian Tomine to tell three wonderfully distinct stories that are nonetheless tonally and thematically cohesive, and reflect an authorial sensibility informed chiefly by “big-picture” concerns such as alienation, longing, and emotional and physical upheaval, but nearly as committed to drawing out the “little” things that actually make live worth living : dreams, quiet moments of deep poignancy, innocence, and emotional connection.

A vaguely Herriman-esque short about a cat that accidentally burns its house down and finds that freedom really is just another word for nothing left to lose sets the table at the outset and from there we go into the comic’s longest — and strongest — strip, a mystery story (of sorts) about a young girl named Abigail Knox whose mother disappears out of the blue one day and has her spot in the home assumed by one of her college professor father’s male students. To any adult reader it’s plainly obvious what’s going on here — as are the reasons for mom’s return later — but seen and told through the eyes of a bright, precocious, but in no way worldly kid, this simple premise becomes something equal parts unknown and unknowable, a makeshift canvas upon which a child’s imagination goes to work filling in the picture. Don’t let the youth of the protagonist fool you in any way, though : this is smart, sophisticated, emotionally resonant storytelling that honors its characters and gracefully eschews the numerous traps of easy irony available to it that lesser cartoonists would no doubt succumb to. Stunning, I believe, is the word I’m looking for.

Following on from this we meet night-shift maintenance man/janitor Rodolfo, a more practical modern iteration of Walter Mitty, who creatively filters his monotonous work duties through a literary lens and proves, at least to himself, that he has a future as a writer — or an editor. Again, at least. A more expert encapsulation of the gulf between fantasy and reality, and the power of what the hopelessly square dismissively refer to as “flights of fancy” to get us through the day (okay, night) I can scarcely conceive of, and it’s all delivered in a manner that’s entirely understated yet in no way impressed with its own admirable restraint. Short, sweet, and brilliant.

And then it’s all over with far too quickly, which is a great sign. I want more Evan Salazar work, and I wanted it before I was even through  reading this. What he’s crafted with Rodeo #1 isn’t simply one of the finest debuts of the year — it’s one of the finest comics of the year, period.


You’d be utterly insane to take a pass on this book. Order it for the entirely reasonable price of $5.00 directly from Evan Salazar at

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