Weekly Reading Round-Up : 08/04/2019 – 08/10/2019, Julia Gfrorer

Densely atmospheric, detailed yet scratchy, erotically charged, Gothic in the truest sense of the word, and falling along a stylistic continuum somewhere between Edgar Allen Poe and Dame Darcy, cartoonist Julia Gfrorer (perhaps best known for her Fantagraphics-published Laid Waste and Black Is The Color) is a true autuer, someone whose vision, and well as its means of expression, are entirely and uniquely her own — even, perhaps paradoxically, when she’s not working alone, as is the case with her occasional collaborations with writer Sean T. Collins. For purposes of this week’s Round-Up, though, we’ll be concentrating on some examples of her solo work, specifically four extraordinary minis she self-published under her Thuban Press imprint —

I can sum up To Dark To See best, I think, with the words “haunting as fuck” because, whaddya know, it’s about fucking and haunting. And mistrust. And psychologically abusive relationships. And the distance that grows between people who used to, and by all rights should still, be intimate. And maybe, in a pinch, it’s even about STDs. What it’s not is forgettable. This ‘zine, in fact, will cling to you like a damn ghost.

Ditto for the poetically anthropological  Dark Age, an exploration of youthful sexual awakening, trust and its absence, getting in too deep in every sense, and the early origins of ritual and magick. As “dark” as its title states, there’s nevertheless a wicked sense of humor undercutting this work, as when every line spoken by our protagonists upon entering a cavernous tunnel is quite literally a double-entendre. Another one that burrows its way into your consciousness and absolutely refuses to let go.

Subtitled “A Frasier ‘Zine,” the whimsical Good Night Seattle places TV’s Dr. Crane, his brother Niles, their dad, housekeeper Daphne, and tough-but-with-a-heart-of-gold producer Roz in precisely the last place any of them have the skills to navigate their way through : a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Short, punchy, on-target absurdist humor with some cringe-worthy moments that will make you feel appropriately guilty for chuckling along with them, like the show it’s extrapolated from, this one will live on in re-runs — or, as the case may be, re-reads.

Finally, Gfrorer’s most recent mini, Vision, is part one of a two-chapter story, detailing the harrowing daily realities of a hapless young Victorian woman, constantly put upon by a haranguing and needy sister-in-law, who finds sexual and emotional solace in a — haunted mirror? You read that right. All is probably not well with that relationship, either, but I guess we’ll see. If you’re down for a “sex comic” like no other — and, really, who isn’t? — congratulations, this is exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Needless to say, if you haven’t had the pleasure already, you absolutely need to check out Gfrorer’s work : it will transport you to places of awe, wonder, beauty, and terror. She balances everything on a delicate razor’s edge between the familiar and the far less than, and her art is an entirely new definition of the word “exquisite” that simply has to be seen, more importantly to be experienced, to believe. Give her wares a look over at her Etsy shop, https://www.etsy.com/shop/thorazos

And with that, we reach the end of another week, and our customary reminder than this column is, as always, “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 out of your pocket. At that price, seriously — what have you got to lose? Your support would be greatly appreciated, of course, and also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Throw a guy a bone, will ya?

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

2017 Year In Review : Top 10 Collected Editions (Contemporary)

Let’s keep plugging away here, shall we? This time around on out year-end wrap we’re looking at the top 10 collected editions of 2017, with a slight change to my previously-announced methodology : rather than placing everything “Modern Age” (roughly the 1980s) and beyond in this category, I’ve narrowed it to collections of comics published post-2000, so that everything being referred to as “contemporary” at least comes from, ya know, this century. Apart from that, however, the category remains a fairly broad one : TPB or hardcover collections of single issues, webcomics collections, diary comics collections, and anthologies all fall into what I consider to be “collected editions” — in other words, a lot of this stuff is more or less brand new, and many critics who don’t share my OCD affliction might even call some of these “graphic novels.” I’m not gonna do it that way, though, because my list of the top 10 graphic novels is going to be just that : original graphic novels constructed from the outset to be published as a single volume.

That’s it for the particulars, then, apart from a reminder that there may be a couple of tail-end-2016 releases that make their way onto these lists because they hit shops too late to be properly reviewed by yours truly last year, and that each book will be summarized quickly — these are not proper “reviews” or anything of the sort. Okay, let’s do this!

10. Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero by Michael DeForge (Drawn+Quarterly) – DeForge revealed a more whimsical and even, dare I say it, “fun” side in these single-page webcomics, and they read very cohesively as a collection. Absurdist humor, an idiosyncratic protagonist, and a decidedly revisionist take on “funny animals” combine to form a typically singular (there’s a contradiction for you) DeForge reading experience.

9. Sunburning by Keiler Roberts (Koyama Press) – Roberts’ autobio webcomics are a stark look at life’s challenges and its subtle beauty and they balance the joys and drudgeries of parenting with a quiet and unassuming honesty that’s entirely un-sentimental, but not in any way clinical. In addition, her simple-but-detailed illustration draws the eye in to notice every little detail, and there are a lot of details to notice. It’s always a pleasure to see her work collected in print, and this is her strongest book yet.

8. A Process Of Drastically Reducing One’s Expectations by Gabby Schulz (Phase Eight Publishing) – If you know Schulz, you know that this collection of his diary comics won’t be an “easy” read — he doesn’t spell out the particulars of his life with any great specificity, but you can see his mental, physical, and financial deterioration playing out before your eyes in a manner as relentless as it is nonchalant. So, yeah, this is no “easy” read — but it’s a compelling and engrossing one, no doubt about it.

7. Band For Life by Anya Davidson (Fantagraphics) – These chronicles of a multi-species punk band in a sci-fi future Chicago sure seem an awful lot like those of people I knew in my 20s who were in bands, so I guess that means the themes here are timeless, indeed. And Davison herself reflects the never-say-die ethos of her protagonists : after fleeing Vice’s digital sweatshop, she continued posting these strips on her Tumblr page, and finally saw them through to completion in this magnificent hardback collection.

6. Boundless by Jillian Tamaki (Drawn+Quarterly) – Breathtaking illustration, ethereal themes, and naturalistic visual storytelling combine to make this collection of Tamaki’s strips a supremely memorable read, one that analyzes her female progatonists’ complex relationships with themselves, their bodies, their hopes and fears, and their self-image with disarming candor and incredible grace. Stirring, soul-searing stuff.

5. You & A Bike & A Road by Eleanor Davis (Koyama Press) – This travelogue composed of diary strips and single illustrations documenting Davis’ bicycle trip from her parents’ home in Arizona to her adoptive hometown of Athens, Ga. doesn’t chain itself to anything like a traditional narrative framework, instead providing an interpretive, experiential look at a journey every bit as philosophical, even spiritual, as it is physical. Another resoundingly resonant work from someone making a very strong case to be considered the cartoonist of her generation.

4. Mirror Mirror II , edited by Julia Gfrorer and Sean T. Collins (2dcloud) – The second volume of 2dcloud’s annual(-ish) anthology has a loose “horror” theme at its core, buy beyond that editors Gfrorer and Collins really do give their contributors free reign to explore the subject in wide-open, entirely unique ways. And what a group of contributors they’ve got! A unique mix of folks we see a lot of working in other genres (Simon Hanselmann, Josh Simmons), folks whose work typically does tend toward the horrific (Gfrorer, Noel Freibert, Clive Barker — yes, really!), and folks we just plain don’t get to see anywhere near enough of these days (Al Columbia, Renee French, Dame Darcy, Carol Swain, Nicole Claveloux), all presented in the kind of uncompromisingly high-quality package we’ve come to expect from this premier “boutique” art-comics publisher. This is a book overflowing with both dark beauty and artistic integrity.

3. Providence Acts Two And Three by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows (Avatar Press) – I’ve raved enough about this series over the last couple of years — but goddamn, it’s so good that I almost feel as if I’ve undersold it. Suffice to say, Moore and Burrows have created what  is undoubtedly the smartest, most richly-detailed, most multi-layered horror comic in history. Act Two collects issues 5-8, Act Three finishes the story off with issues 9-12.

2. True Swamp Book 2: Anywhere But In — by Jon Lewis (Uncivilized Books) – Finally collecting Lewis’ two “bumper-sized” issues from the early “aughts,” his second go-round with the foul-mouthed (but hyper-intelligent) Lenny the Frog and his bog-dwelling friends is, if anything, even more funny, smart, and endearing than the first, and far more visually accomplished and experimental. Matching the wit and charm of Walt Kelly’s Pogo with a distinct underground sensibility, there has simply never been another comic like True Swamp — and, chances are, there never will be again. I believe “sublime” is the word we’re looking for.

1. Farmer Ned’s Comics Barn by Gerald Jablonski (Fantagraphics Underground) – At last presented in the oversized format that these dense, information-packed (both visually and verbally) strips pretty much demand, this near-as-we’re-ever-likely-to-get-to-definitive collection of Jablonski’s work showcases his singular genius in a manner his small-but-dedicated legion of fans could only have dreamed of until it finally happened. Utterly unlike any other comics ever even conceived of — much less done — by anyone else, this is a hermetically-sealed universe unto itself where the rules of what “should” or “shouldn’t” work not only don’t apply, but simply don’t matter. Jablonski reigns supreme in his kingdom of one.

Okay, looks like that’ll do it! Again, this list seemed like a daunting thing to put together until I started doing it, and then it all came together almost on its own, as if it were just being channeled through me. Freaky, huh?

Next up : my picks for the top 10 collections of vintage (as in, pre-2000) comics released in 2017. Hope to see you back here in a couple of days for that one!