Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Collected Editions (Contemporary)

After this, we’ve got two year-end lists to go — but we haven’t even done this one yet, so perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. My definition of “contemporary” collections is anything published from the year 2000 right up to the present day, and while many of the books that follow may very well fit your — or even my — definition of a “graphic novel,” the fact is that if they were originally published as serialized works, either in comics titles of their own or as part of anthologies, or if the strips presented in these books were culled from sources various and sundry, then this is the category they fall into by my entirely-unofficial rules. And with that, away we go —

10. The Sleep Gas By Chris Cajero Cilla (Fantagraphics Underground) – The spiritual successor to the likes of Doug Allen and Gary Leib, this welcome collection of Cilla’s often tough-to-find short works showcases precisely what he does best, namely crafting tales that are set in a world (or worlds) that are agonizingly familiar yet altogether alien, charming in the extreme but not without an element of the eerie to them. One of comics’ truly idiosyncratic talents who never produces anything less than “must-read” material, so yeah — this is a “must-read” book.

9. Rust Belt By Sean Knickerbocker (Secret Acres) – Nobody has their finger on the pulse of “flyover country” quite like Knickerbocker, and this slim but powerful collection showcases the best of his self-published series, introducing us to the dead end communities full of dead end jobs and dead end lives that find their only release valves via alcohol, opioids, crystal meth, and right-wing political demagogues. Read it and weep, but read it you most definitely should.

8. Rooftop Stew By Max Clotfelter (Birdcage Bottom Books) – It’s about goddamn time. Long one of the funniest, grossest, and most honest cartoonists around, Clotfelter can do everything from post-apocalyptic mutant humor strips to painfully resonant dysfunctional family autobio, and this collection is as seriously overdue as it is seriously amazing.

7. The Follies Of Richard Wadsworth By Nick Maandag (Drawn+Quarterly) – Nobody makes you laugh and squirm uncomfortably at the same time quite like Maandag, and his latest features everything from would-be college professors oblivious to their numerous and painfully obvious shortcomings to randy monks out to “enlighten” their co-ed monastery via decidedly earthly methods. Quite possibly the year’s funniest comic, yet painful to sit through in its own unique way at the same time.

6. Kramers Ergot 10 Edited By Sammy Harkham (Fantagraphics) – The venerable anthology returns in a generously oversized format and with an eclectic mix of the old and the new — from Frank King to R. Crumb to Kim Deitch to Anna Haifisch, it’s a tour through comics’ history and present. The single-strongest entry may come from editor Harkham himself, though, who provides a side-step to his long-running “Blood Of The Virgin” serial that actually turns out to be downright essential. There’s some questionable inclusions in here, sure, but if this turns out to be the end of the road for this title as has been rumored, then it’s definitely leaving on a high note.

5. The Anthology Of Mind By Tommi Musturi (Fantagraphics) – A truly gorgeous and equally truly subversive collection from one of the most multi-faceted talents in comics today, presenting everything from surrealist abstraction to lush painting to computerized pixelation to precise realism, all in service of narrative or non-narrative subject matter that’s never quite what you think it is — to the extent that you can even go into any given strip in this book with a preconceived idea, prepare for it to be dispensed with quickly and replaced with something altogether more wonderful and mysterious.

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4. The Tad Martin Omnibus Edition By Casanova Frankenstein (Spook City/Lulu) – Okay, yes, including this one may be a bit of a “cheat” since the material it presents goes all the way back to the early ’90s, but the strongest section of the book is Frankenstein’s already-legendary #sicksicksix issue from just a few years ago, so —leave it to this one to defy my category classifications as easily as it defies just about anything and everything else. An exercise in constant re-invention, having this entire series (minus its just-published seventh installment) bound together in one volume is a gift from the cartooning gods that none of us deserve. Well and truly beneath the underground.

3. Glenn Ganges In : The River At Night By Kevin Huizenga (Drawn+Quarterly) – Springboarding off simple — or not so simple — insomnia, formalist master Huizenga takes us on a visually and thematically spectacular tour of consciousness, time, and everything it means to be a joyously, deliriously imperfect being. His finest outing with his stand-in protagonist yet, this is a clinic in how to engage audiences with the “heaviest” of topics while alienating or intimidating absolutely no one.

2. Press Enter To Continue By Ana Galvan (Fantagraphics) – Limning the entirety of the shape of things to come, Galvan’s all-too-plausible speculative strips combine innovate geometric design work, boldly incongruous color choices, corporate ownership of humans down to the cellular level, and the data-mining of consciousness itself to present a visually marvelous dystopia that’s as impossible to stop looking at as it is terrifying to consider.

1. Alienation By Ines Estrada (Fantagraphics) – A bold yet subtle exploration of what it means to be human in the digital age, Estrada’s rich graphite illustration looks even more gorgeous presented in the blue ink of this collected edition than it did in the black-and-white single issues, and the color “correction” also adds an extra emotive touch to what is both the most compelling comics love story in some time and a monumental and exhaustively-thought-through exercise in “world-building” — yet for all its narrative and visual sophistication, this book retains the core punk/DIY attitude and aesthetics that its creator is justly lauded for. Brimming with confidence as well as singularity of purpose and vision, this is an instant modern classic of the medium.

Up net we’ve got the top ten special mentions of the year, which is the category for all “comics adjacent” works, but until then please 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. It’s the best value going in original online writing and hey, it at least helps yours truly with a little beer money, so do check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

 

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!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 12/10/2017 – 12/16/2017

This was a pretty solid week of reading, with short graphic novels being something of a running theme —

I Am Not Okay With This is the latest release from Charles Forsman, and a much-hyped one at that, being something of a conceptual and thematic follow-up to The End Of The Fucking World, in that both works focus on the interior thought processes, and external actions, of alienated youth. Our protagonist this time out, an Olive Oyl doppleganger named Sydney, ups the ante in that she possesses obliquely-defined mental powers, but it’s her home and social lives (her father recently passed away from an apparent suicide, she has unrequited romantic feelings for her slightly older best friend, her sexuality seems either fluid or unresolved) that are of far more interest, and her “superhuman” abilities actually function as something of an unnecessary crutch in the scheme of things.

Which isn’t to say that they don’t play a crucial role in a few scenes, of course — especially at the end — but every time they’re trotted out you honestly have to wonder whether or not Forsman’s decision to include them in the proceedings actually lessens the impact of his story a bit, since using a gun or somesuch would have provided a far more powerful, and relatable, punch (okay, shot) to the gut. I’m not saying this represents a “deal-breaker” or anything of the sort, never fear, but read it with this in mind and see if you don’t agree with me — and for the record, I think reading it is something you absolutely should do, as Forsman’s handle on young people adrift both in the world and in relation to themselves is still second to none, and his cartooning skills are only sharpening and refining themselves with each successive project. Even with one semi-major strike against it, then, this is still fifteen bucks (from Fantagraphics or your LCS, less if you find it elsewhere) well spent.

Fifteen bucks is also the price of admission for Retrofit/Big Planet’s new English-language reissue of Yuichi Yokoyama’s 2015 book Iceland, and to call this a fascinating study in contrasts is surely an understatement, as this “neo-manga” tale juxtaposes languid pacing and sparse, economical dialogue with breakneck, surreal imagery. Most of the central characters in this search-and-rescue yarn set in frozen northern climes were apparently introduced in an earlier Yokoyama comic, but it doesn’t really matter as you’re plunged in at the deep end trying to find a way to get your head above water regardless of whether or not you “know” who these people are.

Now, that’s no small task in a world this kinetic and stylized, but it definitely makes for a heady, if disorienting, reading experience, and Yokoyama’s mastery of the relationship between space, sound and imagery — and the sense of time and its passage these three elements create on the page — is consistently breathtaking. And trust me when I say that’s not a term I use lightly. It may take a few pass-throughs before you fully absorb everything that’s happening in this book, but Yokoyama richly rewards the time you invest engaging with his singular, visionary material.

While we’re on the subject of reissued works — and reissued 2015 works at that — Uncivilized Books has just rolled a new, squarebound edition of Kevin Czap’s Futchi Perf off the presses, and this “sub-Utopian” tale of a highly diverse, forward-thinking future iteration of Cleveland is definitely worth getting lost in. These loosely-connected vignettes are exploding with precisely the sort of energy that one would expect from a cultural revolution that begins in a queer-friendly basement punk show and spills out, memetically, into all aspects of daily life, and Czap’s idiosyncratic, vibrant cartooning style is probably the only way to effectively communicate the youthful, free-wheeling ethos of his worldview. Optimistic without being naive, starry-eyed without being blinding, this is a book like none ever imagined before, and will leave you feeling a heck of a lot better about youth culture than you probably thought possible — even (hell, maybe especially) if you’re part of it. Fork over your $15.95 and prepare to be impressed. Available at http://www.uncivilizedbooks.com/comics/futchi_perf.html

On the opposite end of the optimism spectrum we’ve got Sean Knickerboker’s debut graphic novel, Killbuck. This coming-of-age tale involving a trio of friends living in an impoverished rural community is a smart and heartfelt examination of the different roads people take when presented with similar life situations, and is remarkably free of both judgment and sentiment, even though neither would feel out of place. Knickerbocker’s dialogue is concise and authentic, his illustrations raw and expressive, and his palette of blacks, whites, blues, and grays well-considered and emotive. This is one cartoonist very much worth keeping an eye on, as he displays tremendous confidence and visual storytelling skill for a a guy only now coming into his own. Get yourself a copy by sending ten bucks to http://onepercentpress.bigcartel.com/product/sean-knickerbocker-killbuck-graphic-novel

And that should about do it for now. More interesting stuff is one the way to yours truly as we speak, so let’s meet up again in seven days to hash it all over. See you then!