Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Contemporary Collections

Moving right along with our next-to-last “best of” list, we come to the Top 10 Contemporary Collections of 2020. Simply put, this category is devoted to collected editions of work originally published, either physically or digitally, since the year 2000, including Manga, webcomics, and Eurocomics. In practice, though, I’ll be honest and admit it’s all fairly recent stuff. Read on and you’ll see what I mean —

10. Inappropriate By Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized) – How the hell spoiled are we these days, anyway? The modern master of disarmingly frank autobio released one of her strongest collections to date and it seemed as though it hardly got a mention in critical circles. Like the Hernandez brothers, Bell’s work is so consistently good that I fear we as readers take it for granted. We shouldn’t — this is a book to be downright thankful for.

9. Snake Creek By Drew Lerman (Self-Published) – Lerman’s first collection of his charming, idiosyncratic strip firmly establishes him as the closest thing we have to a successor to the likes of Charles Schulz and George Herriman. Rest assured I invoke neither name lightly, and that this book backs up the comparison.

8. Goblin Girl By Moa Romanova, Translated By Melissa Bowers (Fantagraphics) – It was a breakout year for Sweden’s Romanova, who cemented her status as a “talent to watch” with the first English-language publication of this unique memoir focused on mental health, self-image and, of course, relationships. If she continues to build on the strength of this astounding book, then the future of this art from we love is in very good hands, indeed.

7. Ghostwriter By Rayco Pulido, Translated By Andrea Rosenberg (Fantagraphics) – A classic Eurocomics mystery thriller set in 1943 Barcelona and featuring a frisson of both political tension and identity confusion, the English-language debut of Spain’s Pulido is a bona fide clinic on how to keep readers off-balance. You’ll be guessing right up to the very end — and left guessing even more afterwards as to how this book didn’t get about ten times more attention and recognition than it did.

6. The Winter Of The Cartoonist By Paco Roca, Translated By Erica Mena (Fantagraphics) – Damn if Fanta doesn’t keep putting out one more Roca masterwork after another, year after year, and this gripping drama about five cartoonists striking out on their own against the big publishing houses in 1957 fascist Spain is more than just a page-turner, it’s possibly the best creators’ rights treatise authored by anyone to date. Another essential read from one of the great auteurs of the medium.

5. J&K By John Pham (Fantagraphics) – A comprehensive collection of the misadventures of Pham’s lovable losers was long overdue, but it was also worth the wait, as this hardback compendium comes complete with more “extras” than you can shake a stick at, including posters, stickers, and a vinyl record! Nobody understands the relationship between printing, packaging, production, and content better than Pham, and this is the most seamlessly-integrated realization of his vision to date.

4. Grip By Lale Westvind (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – Westvind’s phantasmagoric, whirlwind paen to the strength and resolve of women working in the trades was a revelation in two parts, but reads even more seamlessly collected as a complete epic. It’s also arguably the best use of Riso printing to date in comics. A book of the ages and, even more importantly, for the ages.

3. The Contradictions By Sophie Yanow (Drawn+Quarterly) – Already celebrated as one of the best comics memoirs in recent memory, Yanow’s Eisner Award-winning webcomic gains added depth and emotion in this collected print volume. In fact, it looks and feels like something you’d bring with you on the very sort of European road trip that it documents with such frank and emotive sincerity.

2. Nineteen By Ancco, Translated By Janet Hong (Drawn+Quarterly) – A unique and heady mix of autobio and fiction, Korean cartoonist Ancco’s second book to be translated into English is a showcase for both her artistic versatility and her singular ability to transmute the angst and trauma of youth into truly unforgettable comics stories. If this one doesn’t rip your heart out at least a dozen times over, then you probably don’t have one.

1. Vision By Julia Gfrorer (Fantagraphics) – Originally self-published as a series of minis, Gfroer’s latest work, read in collected form, offers the most succinct and assured crystallization of her singular combination of concerns to date, blending historical “period-piece” storytelling with body horror with feminist theory with supernatural mystery with richly understated social commentary to remind us that what we fear most and what we desire most are often one and the same thing. Intimacy is a double-edged sword throughout Gfrorer’s remarkable body of work, and never more true than it is here, in what is surely the defining statement of her artistic career — so far.

Only one list to go — tomorrow we do the Top 10 Original Graphic Novels of 2020, and then it’s full steam ahead into the new year!

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This review — and all others around these parts — is “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 gratified indeed if you’d take a moment to give it a look and, should you feel so inclined, join up.

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Up “Snake Creek” — But With A Very Steady Paddle

What I think : Dav and Roy, the two protagonists in cartoonist Drew Lerman’s Snake Creek, might be a stand-in for the author himself and a walking potato, respectively. What I know : Lerman wrote and drew one of these strips per day throughout 2018 and 2019, and now they’re all collected in a single — and singularly impressive — paperback that he’s having printed, and offering for sale, via Lulu. I also know that you should buy it. And now I’m going to tell you why.

In a very real sense, these strips follow a direct through-line that you can trace all the way back to George Herriman, but they’re also undoubtedly — as well as unclassifiably (not a real word, I know) — contemporary, despite largely dealing with timeless physical and metaphysical themes. There’s a simple and understated elegance to Lerman’s cartooning that is, above all, smart — and is reflected in his charming wit and masterful sense of comic timing. He’s clearly done his homework, then, but this is in no way an academic exercise, since the most important lesson he’s taken to heart is that the best “gag”-style cartoons have a hell of a lot of heart themselves. As do these.

Avoiding over-thinking things is a tricky wicket when one is working within the strictures of a set format and formula, but Lerman’s four-panel grids feel expansive and rife with possibility — part of that’s down to his expert illustration, sure, which abides by its own kind of internal logic and privileges physicality and motion above all else, but a bigger part of it is down to his eye and ear for commonality and universality, his sheer facility at imbuing the outrageous with elements we can all relate to and draw a pleasing grin from. I mentioned Herriman before, but Charles Schulz, Frank King, and Walt Kelly were all masters of this, as well — and trust me when I say it only sounds absurd to mention Lerman’s name in the same breath as these greats. Within just a handful of this book’s 152 pages, he earns that distinction absolutely.

Which isn’t to say that there’s not room for improvement — there is. Lerman’s imagination is so fluid and amorphous that he sometimes seems to lose interest in plot threads that he was “all in” on just days prior (a fascinating nameless dog turns up for a time, only to make an abrupt exit), but I can forgive that because along the way he lands on inventive uses for pretty much all of his ideas, even those that are ultimately discarded, and watching a cartoonist “feel their way” through their own material is usually a fairly fascinating process in and of itself. Besides, the line between “anything can happen” and “hey, shit happens” is such a fine one that demarcating it is often an exercise in futility — and don’t we all appreciate it when comics have an element of the genuinely anarchic to them?

I know I do, at any rate — and if you do, as well, then I defy you to be anything but utterly captivated and frequently even transfixed by this work. I sincerely hope that the newspaper syndicates are paying attention to Lerman, because this is visionary, iconoclastic stuff that is nevertheless absolutely and immediately accessible to readers of all stripes, and from all walks of life.

In these fractured and harrowing times, gentle but assured musings and observations on everyday absurdities are both hard to come by, and exactly the sort of tonic we can all benefit from on occasion. Drew Lerman has a unique perspective that’s as invaluable as it is funny and intelligent, and with this book he makes a strong case that he might very well be our next great cartoonist.

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Snake Creek is available for $13.00 from the Lulu website at http://www.lulu.com/shop/drew-lerman/snake-creek/paperback/product-24211384.html

Also, this review, and all others around these parts, is “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 do please take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse