Four Color Apocalypse 2021 Year In Review : Top Ten Vintage Collections

Moving right along with our 2021 round-up, we arrive at the TOP TEN VINTAGE COLLECTIONS list. The rules for this category are as simple as they are arbitrary on my part : basically, any book which collects and/or presents comics material originally published prior to the year 2000 fits my definition of “vintage.” One of these years I should probably bump that up by a decade or so, but this is not that year. This category also includes translated works such as manga, Eurocomics, and the like, provided they’re chronologically appropriate. And with that out of the way, here’s what we’ve got :

10. Scoop Scuttle And His Pals : The Crackpot Comics Of Basil Wolverton, Edited By Greg Sadowski (Fantagraphics) – A legitimately uproarious collection or little-seen early Wolverton humor strips meticulously restored and overseen by the comics historian who knows his work best, these are admittedly not as outrageously OTT as what would come later, but stand well enough on their own to mark this book as more than simply a compendium of early-days curiosities. If there’s not enough fun stuff in your current reading pile, picking this up will surely rectify that situation immediately.

9. Alberto Breccia’s Dracula, Translated By Jamie Richards (Fantagraphics) – Lavish wordless strips from the Argentinian master that place history’s most infamous vampire in conflict with the dual soul-crushing forces of military dictatorship and US commercial imperialism, this was both gutsy stuff for its time and, as it turns out, a prescient warning about the future. Even Breccia’s funniest work packs a conceptual wallop.

8. Red Flowers By Yoshiharu Tsuge, Translated By Ryan Holmberg (Drawn+Quarterly) – After dabbling in genre for his earliest stores, Tsuge left its safe confines to create these emotionally immersive tales informed by his own travels, and the results are still several levels above the merely “impressive” to this day. I’d say something about witnessing the flowering of an artist’s talents, but surely that would be too painfully obvious for its own good, wouldn’t it? Except I sort of just did. Whoops.

7. My Life & Times : Spain Vol. 3 By Spain Rodriguez, Edited By Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics) The most recent volume of Rosenkranz’ exhaustive Spain retrospective is also the best, focusing as it does primarily on the underground master’s autobiographical comics. Gorgeously restored and thoughtfully presented, this is the “deluxe treatment” this work has long been deserving of.

6. The Biologic Show By Al Columbia (Hollow Press) – Apparently the cartoonist himself is none too pleased with this collection for reasons I’m not privy to, but damn if I wasn’t impressed. One of the most disquieting series ever produced as well as one of the finest auteur works of the 1990s, having this material back in print is something for which all of us not named Al Columbia should be incredibly thankful.

5. BugHouse Book One By Steve Lafler (Cat Head Comics) – Bridging the 1990s/early 2000s divide but with very much a 1950s Beatnik “vibe” to it, Lafler’s under-appreciated gem of a series is richly deserving of finding a broader audience. Jazz, drugs, femmes fatales — there’s no telling which is more dangerous in this unassumingly, and unquestionably, visionary comic.

4. It’s Life As I See It : Black Cartoonists In Chicago 1940-1980, Edited By Dan Nadel (New York Review Comics) – Released in conjunction with a retrospective exhibition of the same name, Nadel’s superb collection features everything from political cartooning to newspaper strips to undergrounds to downright mainstream-leaning fare and presents a comprehensive and engrossing view of the rich cartooning history that’s been an integral part of the Black experience in Chicago. There are names both familiar and less so on offer in these pages, as well as plenty of work that’s seldom been made available outside the city itself, making this the definition of an “essential” read.

3. Jimbo : Adventures In Paradise By Gary Panter (New York Review Comics) – Unquestionably the most influential book on this list, there’s no underestimating the impact of Panter’s masterwork on generations of cartoonists who followed in its (and his) wake. Some unfortunate production errors on the part of the publisher (including cropped-off artwork) prevent this from being ranked higher than it deserves to be, but its nevertheless a fairly decent presentation of one of the best comics every made by anyone.

2. Enigma : The Definitive Edition By Peter Milligan And Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse/Berger Books) – The finest mainstream comic of the 1990s finally gets its due with an impressive presentation that may leave a bit to be desired in terms of color reproduction and page size, but still represents a more comprehensive package than fans of this cult classic (myself included) probably had any right to hope for. More than the “British Invasion” mind-fuck to end all “British Invasion” mind-fucks (although it sure is that), Milligan and Fegredo’s magnum opus is a labyrinthine, clever, and hilarious meditation on identity, reality creation, and the nature of meaning itself in a postmodern world.
1. Trots And Bonnie By Shary Flenniken, Edited By Norman Hathaway (New York Review Comics) – If “long overdue” is a running theme here, no collection fits that description better than this deluxe oversized presentation of Flenniken’s groundbreaking National Lampoon classic. “Irreverent” is the most polite way to put it when it comes to these strips — “beyond good and evil” might be more like it. Obliterating all boundaries of taste (good and otherwise), Flenniken created a comic whose power to shock and disturb is only exceeded by its ability to make you laugh your ass off and empathize with its characters. Like nothing else, before or since.

We’ve got two lists left to go, for TOP TEN CONTEMPORAY COLLECTIONS and TOP TEN ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVELS, and my plan is to get them both done in the next day or two. Until then, it’s my duty to remind you that ALL of these are “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

Eastern Bohemia : Shinichi Abe’s “That Miyoko Asagaya Feeling”

I’ve been meaning to get some more Manga into the mix on this site, and fortunately for me (and, by extension, you) Black Hook Press is more than happy to accommodate by means of their very solid critical outreach efforts — to say nothing of the consistently-noteworthy physical packages they put together for their expertly-curated releases.

Take, for instance, their latest — a long-overdue (for Western audiences, at any rate) collection of the early-to-mid 1970s autobio strips by pioneering master of the form Shinichi Abe entitled That Miyoko Asagaya Feeling, edited and assembled by Mitsuhiro Asakawa (who also provides a superb biographical essay) and translated by all-around Manga renaissance man Ryan Holmberg, whose association with any project marks it as being worth a purchase. The material presented herein has largely flown beneath the North American radar, but as far as making up for lost time goes, something tells me that’s going to take care of itself really quickly, in much the same way as has happened for the likes of Tadao Tsuge and Baron Yoshimoto in recent years. At least, that’s my earnest hope.

Loosely fitting underneath the “Neo-Manga” umbrella, Abe’s work provides readers with a refreshingly non-romanticized depiction of the physical and emotional nuts and bolts of life in Tokyo’s Bohemian social milieu, and honestly relates the artist’s struggles with alcohol, romantic obsession, mental illness, and life on the economic margins. To say he lives (or lived, given we’re talking about 40+ years ago here) in squalor wouldn’t be too drastic a reach, yet there’s nothing squalid about these naturalistic slices of life, a combination of first-person narratives, candid conversations with friends and acquaintances, and even stories told from the point of view of his Abe’s great love, the titular Miyoko Asagaya. Through it all, a distinctly holistic view of time, place, locale, and circumstance persists, it’s true, but to maintain that strong over-arching character and flavor while relating it from multiple angles and by means of a number of different metaphorical “eyes” and “ears,” well — I’m tempted to say that’s “really something else,” but in truth I know exactly what it is : a straight-up literary achievement.

As Holmberg has pointed out, these comics ran in Garo and other outlets roughly contemporaneously with Justin Green’s celebrated Binky Brown here on this side of the Pacific, yet strip away the layers of “Catholic Guilt” and OTT cartoonish-ness that were the stock in trade of Green and other underground luminaries in favor of a more documentarian, exaggeration-free approach that may make them less “fun” in the strictest sense of that term, but provide for a more disarmingly straightforward reading experience that wouldn’t find its equivalent in Western comics until Harvey Pekar a few years later. To call this milestone work, then, is both justifiably complimentary and historically accurate.

As far as the art goes, it’s equal to the task set out by the narratives and then some, a pitch-perfect blend of the expressive, the “street-level” scratchy, and the gently-lined that shifts according to POV and subject matter to provide a unique visual interpretation of the same place and time (generally) according to the needs of each story. Preparing yourself to be impressed would be a wise thing to do prior to checking this out.

Taken as a whole, then, this is an eminently-readable, visually astute, and magnificently-presented collection of Manga work that is both prescient in terms of tone and style, and as compelling now as it was when originally published. You’re doing yourself a profound disservice if you miss out on it.


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