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 : 08/19/2018 – 08/25/2018, Sean Knickerbocker And M.S. Harkness

Still coming down from the small-press extravaganza that was Autoptic 2018, I am nevertheless ready to buckle in and spend the next X-number of Weekly Reading Round-Up columns surveying many of the fine wares I scored from various cartoonists at the festival. First up, we’re keeping things local (as we damn well should) by looking at some comics from Minneapolis’ own Sean Knickerbocker and M.S. Harkness —

Rust Belt #3 is another fine entry in Knickerbokcer’s occasionally-produced solo series, and while it’s been pointed out by many minds greater than I that Mr. K’s cartooning style bears more than a passing resemblance to that of fellow CCS alum Charles Forsman, for my money, at any rate, his approach to illustration is slightly more considered and pared-down simultaneously, which is highly apropos from a thematic perspective in that his concerns tend to gravitate toward and around a more mature and less overtly-laced-with-shock-value exploration of Forsman-esque staples such as alienation, restlessness, socio-economic despair, and intellectual/spiritual malaise. His characters tend to be older than Forsman’s, too, so it’s not so much as a case that “shit’s getting real” for them, it’s that it’s already gotten so. In this 2014-released issue — the last, sadly, to feature one of Knickerbocker’s former-mainstay silkscreen covers — the lead story features a protagonist who is an all-too-typical northern midwestern alcoholic loser that’s consistently taxing the saint-like patience, to say nothing of the apparent largesse, of his long-suffering sister, while the backup strip is a genuinely shocking (largely for its un-glamorized frankness) depiction of a couple who have decided to punch their own tickets out of a dead-end existence in the most dramatic fashion possible. Stirring stuff that captures the abject hopelessness of life in what would go on to be referred to as “Trump country.”

Speaking of the orange-hued syphilitic shithead, 2018’s Rust Belt #4 is an all-too-realistic delineation of the exploits of a sad-sack “regular Joe” who, emboldened by the MAGA craze, has fashioned a dime-a-dozen “angry conservative” internet persona (hence the issue’s title) for himself, “sticking it to the SJWs” in the most noxious manner possible a la your average “gamergate” or “comicsgate” douche nozzle. Our “hero” is an entirely different animal at home, though, keeping his “aging edgelord” shtick several degrees removed from his wife — largely at her insistence. When he meets one of his online idols, he senses a shot at the big-time, but the Mike Cernovich analogue has other ideas — ones that will keep our man in his place and ensure that fame and fortune forever remain out of reach. Like Nick Dranso’s celebrated-to-no-end (and rightly so) Sabrina and Alex Nall’s equally-superb (there, I said it) Lawns, this is an all-too-accurate reflection of where we are right now as a country — culturally, economically, socially, intellectually — that doesn’t clobber you over the head with an overt message, but rather reveals sad and uncomfortable truths via eminently realistic characters and their similarly authentic daily interactions with others. Not a comic you want — or, truth be told, can afford — to miss. As is the case with number three, this book retails for a paltry four bucks, and is worth a whole lot more than that. Find ’em both at https://goodpalsprinting.bigcartel.com/

If there’s an “enfant terrible” of the Minneapolis scene, it’s gotta be M.S. Harkness — a take-no-prisoners cartoonist with, it seems, no fear, no filter, and no fucks left to give. Her art is solidly no-frills in its presentation, yet playful and inventive around the edges and with a keen eye toward the physical foibles of her characters, the most frequently-recurring of whom just happens to be herself. Normal Girl  is a 2016-issued mini that filters the realities of her own existence through the lyrics and musical beats/rhythms of SZA’s song of the same name, and if you’ve ever wondered what a successful comic-book musical adaptation looks like — search no further. This comic pounds out a sonic and visual tattoo upon the eyeballs of anyone who’s fortunate enough to read it, and at only four dollars, there’s no reason on Earth why that “anyone” shouldn’t be you. Fucking buy it.

A Savage Journey To The Heart Of An Anime Convention, another 2016 (I think, at any rate) Harkness mini that also sells for just $4.00, earns the same unqualified recommendation from yours truly, simply because autobio doesn’t get any better than this. What could be a more harrowing experience than subjecting yourself to a hotel filled with literally hundreds, even thousands, of anime fans who have no idea how goddamn weird and sad they are? How about subjecting yourself to said scene while you’re blitzed out of your frigging gourd? It’s too glib by far to say something as simple as “hilarity ensues,” but it’s also true, and so — I’m gonna leave it at that and trust that you’re smart enough to follow my advice and order this thing up without any further delay. Yes, you really will thank me later — but thank Harkness first. Her wares are available for purchase at https://msharkness.bigcartel.com/products

Next week — more from my Autoptic haul!