Four Color Apocalypse 2021 Year In Review : Top Ten Original Graphic Novels

At last we reach the finish line with the sixth and final of our “Best of 2021” lists. This time up the category is TOP TEN ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVELS, which I hope is fairly self-explanatory : new and original works in the so-called “graphic novel” format that have not been previously serialized, at least in anything like their entirety, either physically or digitally. There were many excellent books to choose from this year, and narrowing it down to my ten favorites was a pretty tough task. Here’s what I came up with :

10. Penny By Karl Stevens (Chronicle Books) – While not a “graphic memoirist” per se, Stevens always finds inspiration for his lavishly illustrated stories pretty close to home : this time out it’s his cat’s turn to have adventures ranging from the cosmic to the banal and everything in between. Seriously, if this book doesn’t move you, then check your pulse — you may not have one.

9. Generous Bosom Part 4 By Conor Stechschulte (Breakdown Press) – The twists and turns finally all converge in this final installment of Stechschulte’s opus of mindfuckery. A perfect ending it’s not, but that doesn’t preclude it from being an eminently satisfying one. Oh, and hey — soon to be a major motion picture! But that’s another story for another time, and one that’s already more convoluted than the books it’s (partially, at any rate) based on.

8. Mycelium Wassonii By Brian Blomerth (Anthology Editions) – Comics’ modern master of psychedelia follows up his book on the early days of acid research with a book on — the early day’s of ‘shroom research? Hey, give Blomerth credit : he knows both what he likes and what he does really well. An educational, informative, and gorgeously-drawn “trip” well worth taking.

7. Lure By Lane Milburn (Fantagraphics) – An ambitious science fiction epic that never loses sight of its humanity, Milburn’s exploration of life on Earth and its fictitious “twin” planet may be set in the future but is still as timely as they come, offering as it does cogent commentary on such things as the so-called “gig economy,” the exploitation of the natural world, Amazonian hyper-capitalism, colonialism, and the billionaire space race. One of those rare comics that not only lives up to, but exceeds, all the “buzz” surrounding it.

6. Super! Magic Forest By Ansis Purins (Revival House) – A “kids’ comic” for the kid in all of us, Purins’ vividly imaginative world leaps off the page and into your heart with the kind of unforced charm that simply can’t be faked. All that wonder and mystery and significance you left behind when you grew up? It’s all right here, waiting to welcome you back.

5. Death Plays A Mean Harmonica By Steve Lafler (Cat Head Comics) – American ex-pats decamp to Oaxaca to live the good life, only to find themselves surrounded by vampires, intelligent fungi, and yes, even Death him/itself — but hey, maybe it’s still the good life after all! Blending the personal with the outrageous with the outrageously funny as only he can, Lafler has created one of the finest works of his storied career.

4. Nod Away Vol. 2 By Joshua W. Cotter (Fantagraphics) – The second “chapter” in Cotter’s science fiction masterpiece-in-progress abruptly shifts focus yet still manages to build on all that’s come before. Written and drawn with more passionate intensity per page than perhaps anything else out there, this is the embodiment of a true magnum opus — and while I can’t claim to have the first guess as to where it’s all headed, I do know that I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Neither should you.

3. Chartwell Manor By Glenn Head (Fantagraphics) – Powerful, poignant, and painful, Head’s memoir of abuse at the hands of a schoolmaster is just as much about the parental denial that allowed it to continue and the lasting psychological scars that never really heal as it is about the perpetrator, and as a result this stands as one of the most thorough-going examinations of survival in the history of the medium. When they talk about “comics that will be discussed and debated for years to come,” this is what they mean.

2. From Granada To Cordoba By Pier Dola (Fantagraphics Underground) – The full-length debut of a masterful new voice, Dola’s existential downward spiral balances humanism with nihilism (don’t even ask me how that works), visual literacy with the aesthetics and approach of a true “outsider.” In a sane and just world, this would be the year’s most influential comic. Here’s to hoping — just don’t expect to find much hope in the pages of the book itself, okay?

1. The Domesticated Afterlife By Scott Finch (Antenna) – A decade in the making, Finch’s breathtakingly unique book is a seamless marriage of the literary and the visual in service of telling a multi-faceted but absolutely singular story with an equally singular worldview. Not exactly an anarchist anti-domestication text per se, although such sentiments surely inform it, I would argue that it’s more an emotive exploration of what is lost when the conscious and unconscious are bifurcated and dreaming itself is colonized by pedestrian rationality. Featuring a complex and enthralling set of contrasting symbols and mythologies, this is no mere exercise in “world-building,” but rather an act of reality creation that stands as a testament to the transformational power of imagination.

And that, my friends, is a wrap — not only on these lists, but on Four Color Apocalypse for the year 2021. I’ll be back in early January (that’s next week, so it’s not like I’m taking some long “break” or anything) with the first reviews of the new year, but until then, if you want more, there’s always my Patreon, which I update three times per week and can be found by going over to

A Multiverse Unto Itself : Scott Finch’s “The Domesticated Afterlife”

There is absolutely nothing about Baton Rouge-based cartoonist Scott Finch’s new long-form graphic novel, The Domesticated Afterlife, that can be compared to much else : at the margins, I suppose, it could be argued that it explores similar thematic territory to that mapped out by anarchist philosophers such as Jacques Camatte, John Zerzan, and Fredy Perlman (to name just a few), all of whom have espoused variations on the idea that domestication is inherently immoral and that the relative security offered by civilization is in no way worth the price paid given how much richness, vitality, and even meaning is lost when life distances itself from wild nature; and sure, the use of anthropomorphized animals to comment upon issues in the human world is nearly as old as comics itself, but honestly — Finch can’t be fairly said to be following tradition here, or to be marching to the beat of any drum other than his own.

Case in point : you’ve actually gotta dig deep for corollaries to human beings in this work, as it really is about what it purports to be right on the surface, namely the existential impoverishment suffered by domesticated animals. It’s only at all applicable to us if one accepts the aforementioned Mr. Zerzan’s axiom that “by domesticating plants and animals, man necessarily domesticated himself.” Absolutist as that statement no doubt is, as a matter of pure logic there’s no effective counter to it as far as I can tell, so I suppose it’s a truism almost by default, but really — people aren’t Finch’s primary, secondary, or even tertiary concern here. Rather, what he’s crafted — with an amount of care so great it borders on the meticulous — is a narratively and visually lyrical paean to the ultimately unsolvable mystery that is life itself.

Which means he’s issued both himself and his sprawling animal ensemble a pretty stiff challenge : every line of dialogue, every pen and brush stroke, has to do more than simply “register” with readers, it has to resonate with them. After all, when you’re going about the business of crafting not just one mythology but several, of limning the contours of an eschatology not only rooted in the purely speculative (or at least inferential) but also in the demonstrable and provable, it’s fair to say you’re likely attempting something art in general doesn’t try very often, the comics medium even less often. Finch leaves himself with only one option, then, but fortunately its one that’s entirely wide open : he must create his world (okay, worlds, plural) his way.

He doesn’t “merely settle” for that, though — no, Finch creates a multitude of worlds, of myths, of cosmologies, each in service of an overarching set of thematic concerns, yet also functioning as a discrete entity unto itself. There are no “vignettes” to be had here in the strictest sense of the term, no narrative “asides,” but there are likewise no two intersecting threads that are alike. This is many stories and one story, a “sum of its parts” affair and an entirely cohesive, holistic, “big picture” treatise. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, but everything you’ve always hoped to.

The heady praise is flowing freely here, I’ll be the first to admit, but just have a gander at the sample pages included with this review and tell me it doesn’t look entirely earned. Finch’s masterful utilization not just of blacks and whites but of gray tones is a joy to behold, and each panel both invites and rewards close scrutiny — not only of the images in and of themselves, but for the implications communicated by them within the broader scope of the work as a whole. In an ideal world, every work of art would be suffuse with this kind of fully-realized potential, but this particular work of art well and truly needs to be given that the chasm between ideals and reality is such a core concern of the book itself. Finch isn’t content to simply explore how things could and should be from the point of view of various and sundry animal species, he takes it upon himself to go the extra mile and show what that means — both on the page and by dint of the effort that goes into what we see on the page.
I could go on, And on. And on. And honestly, I found myself wishing this book would do precisely that almost immediately upon opening it. Publisher Antenna (a Louisiana regional arts non-profit) is to be commended for the job they did with publication design and presentation on this one — it’s one of the few comics with a horizontal orientation that really makes use of the unique possibilities afforded by that format — but in the final analysis, of course, it’s all about presenting work worthy of such exacting publication standards, about offering the reader a work of art that that deftly navigates the give-and-take balancing act that always exists between vision and execution. With Finch, there seems to be no separation between the two, his imagination and ability functioning not in unison with one another, but as a singular conjoined force. The end result isn’t just one of the best comics of the year, it’s well and truly one of the best comics I’ve read in my entire life.


The Domesticated Afterlife is available for $18 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at

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