Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Single Issues

It’s that time of the year — specifically, the end of it. Or near enough, at any rate, for my purposes — those “purposes” being to survey the comics landscape and pick my favorites from 2019’s slate of offerings. As per the norm, I’ll be dividing things up into a veritable boat-load of different categories — top ten single issues (stand-alone comics, or ongoing projects that saw only one installment published in the last calendar year), top ten ongoing series (any comic series or “limited” series that saw two or more issues come out in 2019), top ten vintage collections (books presenting material originally published prior to the year 2000), top ten contemporary collections (books presenting material originally published after the year 2000), top ten special mentions (“comics-adjacent” projects such as ‘zines, books about comics, art books, prose and/or visual works by cartoonists that aren’t exactly “comics” per se, etc.), and top ten original graphic novels (long-form original works never serialized in single issues) — and again, as per usual, we’ll kick things off with the top ten single issues list, with the others following in the coming days. Now, let’s stop dawdling and get down to business, shall we?

10. Kids With Guns #1 By Alex Nall (Self-Published) – The opening salvo of Nall’s first-ever ongoing serial instantly captured my attention with its strong characterization, sublime grasp on inter-generational relations, and oblique-but-effective social commentary, all rendered in his signature updated take on traditional “Sunday Funnies” cartooning. This project could go in any number of fascinating directions, and may or may not be about what its title implies. I’m looking forward to finding out.

9. Expelling My Truth By Tom Van Deusen (Kilgore Books) – Nobody employs exaggeration and absurdity to tell the “truth” about both modern life and themselves quite like Van Deusen, and in his latest, his trademark satirical wit has never been sharper while his line art has never been smoother. Always a study in contrasts, this guy, but he’s found an inimitable way to make his work’s deliberate and inherent contradictions become its raison d’etre.

8. Rodeo #1 By Evan Salazar (Self-Published) – Debuts don’t come much stronger than this one, as Salazar immediately establishes himself as a cartoonist with a unique perspective and a natural gift for storytelling, his tale of a temporary family break-up as seen through a particularly precocious child’s eyes revealing much more about what’s happening than a straight re-telling of the “facts” of the situation ever could. Emotionally and intellectually arresting in equal measure, and drawn in a confident, non-flashy style, this is one of the best single-creator anthology titles to come down the pipeline in many a year.

7. Stunt By Michael DeForge (Koyama Press) – I struggled with which category to put this one in, but eventually settled on single issues simply because it’s formatted like a Jack T. Chick tract even if it’s priced like a book — it’s also, in true DeForge fashion, imbued with a hell of a lot more philosophical depth than its page count would lead you to believe. A rumination on identity and its voluntary, even necessary, abandonment filtered through his usual lens of homoeroticism and gooey body horror, this short-form offering ranks right up there with the cartoonist’s most confidently-realized works.

6. Nabokova By Tana Oshima (Self-Published) – It was such a strong and prolific year for Oshima that choosing a favorite among her works was tough, but in point of fact this is the one where she really “puts it all together” and delivers a treatise on alienation, self-absorption and the fine line between the two that’s every bit as dense as the Russian literature its title invokes — but it won’t, fortunately, take you all winter to to read it. Spellbinding stuff that will leave your head spinning with questions.

5. Castle Of The Beast By Ariel Cooper (Self-Published) – Fear of intimacy has never been delineated as beautifully or as sympathetically as it is in Cooper’s lush, breathtaking visual tone-poem that masterfully blends the concrete and the abstract into a comics experience quite unlike any other. Within a couple of years, this will be the cartoonist everyone is talking about

4. Tulpa By Grace Kroll (Self-Published) – It’s astonishing to see anyone bare their soul and their struggles as frankly as Kroll does in this, her first ever comic, but do so in a manner that brings forth genuine understanding rather than simply playing for sympathy? There are cartoonists that spend their whole careers struggling with what she achieves on her very first go-’round, and her singular art style is as smart as it is innovative.

3. For Real By James Romberger (Uncivilized Books) – The only thing more heroic than Jack Kirby’s characters was the man himself, and in this heartfelt tribute, master artist Romberger relates two harrowing life-and-death challenges The King faced in a manner than honors his style yet is in no way beholden to it. Another unforgettable comics experience by a cartoonist who never produces anything less.

2. Malarkey #4 By November Garcia (Birdcage Bottom Books) – Long the champion of neurotic self-deprecation, by tracing the roots of both to her Catholic upbringing, Garcia ups the stakes — and the results — considerably and establishes herself as precisely what previous issues of this comic hinted she might become : the best autobio cartoonist in the business. And maybe even the heir apparent to the great Justin Green? In any case, her moment has well and truly arrived. Now, will somebody get busy collecting all her stuff into a book, please?

1. Tad Martin #7 By Casanova Frankenstein (Domino Books)  – I could say that seeing Frankenstein and his nominally stand-in protagonist matched up with the production values they so richly deserve is a “dream come true,” but this gorgeous, full-color, oversized comic is actually a nightmare come to life — and harrowing, soul-searing life at that. Always an exercise in re-invention, this issue of Tad combines elements of all the previous entries in this sporadic series into a comprehensive vision of nihilism as the only thing worth living for. Other cartoonists will have to fight for a place edging toward the middle — the margins of the medium are already spoken for.

And so we’re off to the races with “Top Ten” week. I’ll be tackling the best ongoing series next, but in the meantime do 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. Please do yourself — and, who are we kidding, me — a favor by checking it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

See It Or Fold : Casanova Frankenstein’s “Tad Martin” #7

So here’s the thing — I’ve reviewed this comic on this site already. But I haven’t reviewed this comic on this site already.

I realize that demands an explanation, so by way of such : Casanova Frankenstein self-published a “rough cut” of the book that would later become Tad Martin #7 in the form of something called The Adventures Of Tad Martin Super-Secret Special #1 about a year or so back and, being a junkie for all things featuring comics’ most endearing junkie character, I jumped on it right away, loved it every bit as much as I was figuring I would, and gave it a glowing write-up — that I’d actually prefer you not to read, hence the absence of any link to it.

The reason for that is simple : this is the way this comic was meant to be experienced. Austin English’s Domino Books pulled out all the stops for this version, knowing they had something truly memorable, unique, and maybe even combustible on their hands : oversized format, high-quality paper, heavy cover stock, and best of all — full, searing color. Get a ten dollar bill out of your wallet now, because you’re gonna be itching to spend it on this by the time we’re through here.

The ostensible focus of Frankenstein’s wordless narrative herein is a Halloween story entitled — well, “A Halloween Story,” but the vaguely degenerate costume bash that bad attitude king Tad attends is really just a springboard into an amputee (in the mental and emotional, as well as physical sense of that word) abyss, a phantasmagoria of wonders both parochial and profound, and of horrors both plain as day and thematically, conceptually complex; the sort of hellscape that draws you in with a veiled whisper backed up by a gravitational pull of inexorable strength, with no signposts to be found anywhere on the way down. Rest assured, though : if there are “off-ramps” branching off from this highway to hell, none of them are any safer than the straight descent itself.

Frankenstein has always managed to do something different in each of his outings with Tad over their nearly three decades “together,” but this represents the purest dystopian vision of both artist and protagonist yet, the harrowing autobio of the most recent iteration of the sporadic series, #sicksicksix, abandoned in favor of something even more honest and immediate : a direct transmission from id to pencil, pen, and brush to paper. If you want to know what it feels like to mainline a cartoonist’s nightmares, you’ve come to the right place.

And while we’re talking cartooning, Frankenstein’s has never been stronger — inky blacks thick as night, detailed yet not belabored figure drawings and faces, page layouts that bob and weave between the highly traditional and utterly innovative, demonic apparitions and entities rendered with an understated virtuosity that implies (or maybe even directly states) intimate first-hand knowledge of same. The recent — and highly recommended — Fantagraphics Underground collection In The Wilderness showed what Frankenstein was up to when the comics world assumed he was up to nothing, and this is the fully-formed work that emerged from the other end of his self-imposed “exile on main street” : a staggeringly confident and visceral, inimitable statement of artistic intent that is through taking prisoners and is, instead, well and truly out for its pound of flesh.

And yet anger seldom seems to enter into the equation : rather, Tad’s stock in trade is a kind of emotional hedonism, a desire to experience all aspects of life through the eyes of others while fronting a passive and observational bit of play-acting himself. On the one hand, yeah, he could give a fuck about everyone and everything; on the other, he can’t resist an open door into your most intimate secrets, fears, foibles, and even kinks. He shows up to the Halloween party by himself but only because, one way or another, he’s taking everybody with him wherever he’s going next.

And while it would be saying too much to give away just where that is, much less whether or not both it and the journey to it are “real” as we understand that term, it doesn’t actually matter either way : our ticket’s been punched, and we’re along for the ride. It’s not an easy one, not a pleasant one, and most certainly not a guided one despite being in the company of an infamous ne’er do well  — but by the time it’s all said and done, you’ll realize it was never about him anyway, at least not in the direct, literal sense ; on the contrary, it’s about you, as a reader, being pushed well outside your “comfort zone” and seeing the infernal and heretical for what it’s always been : a reflection that shows all as it really is, and that accrues ever more power and mystique to itself the more we refuse to acknowledge it as such.

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Tad Martin #7 is available for $10 from Domino Books at http://dominobooks.org/tadmartin7.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 ongoing work, so please do yourself — and me — a favor by checking it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse