Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Original Graphic Novels

Here it is, the final “top ten” list in our year-end wrap, and probably the one people are most interested in. Books in this category are comprised of all-new material, never serialized in single issues or online, and constructed specifically for the so-called “graphic novel” format. And your “winners” are —

10. Blood And Drugs By Lance Ward (Birdcage Bottom Books) – A visceral, harrowing firsthand account of addiction and recovery on the social and economic margins by a cartoonist with a busted hand. One of the most immediate and unmediated works in recent memory, this one will leave an indelible mark on your brain.

9. The Structure Is Rotten, Comrade By Viken Berberian And Yann Kebbi (Fantagraphics) – Exploring architecture and gentrification as inherently political topics, this exquisitely-illustrated book has much to say about damn near everything,  yet never feels like a treatise or lecture. There’s nothing rotten about it at all, comrade.

8. Theth : Tomorrow Forever By Josh Bayer (Tinto Press) – Incorporating elements of memoir and metafiction to tell this remarkable coming-of-age tale, Bayer uses genre to explore deeply personal topics and to paint a portrait of a life that could well and truly “go either way.” Utterly unique stuff that will make you glad your late-teens and/or early-twenties are over with.

7. The Death Of The Master By Patrick Kyle (Koyama Press) – Meet the new boss, same as — ah, you know the drill. But you’ve never seen that axiom bought to life in such a formally inventive and wryly satirical manner. Kyle is in full command of his considerable gifts here, and you pass on it at your peril.

6. Gender Queer By Maia Kobabe (Lion Forge) – An intellectually and emotionally resonant memoir of awakening that addresses issues of gender and sexuality, or their absence, with frankness, insight, honesty, and even a little bit of humor. One of the year’s most important and engagingly-drawn books.

5. Pittsburgh By Frank Santoro (New York Review Comics) – A lavishly-illustrated account of a family and a city’s declining fortunes and the oblique reasons behind them, this is the crowning achievement of Santoro’s career and a testament to the power of emotional survival and perseverance. As formally exciting as it is deeply personal, this is a book that richly rewards re-reading and reveals new thematic depth every time you do so.

4. Grip Vol. 2 By Lale Westvind (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – The second volume of Westvind’s soaring, elegiac tribute to working women everywhere serves as both perfect companion piece to, and necessary extension of, the first. Bursting with dynamic action and illustration, this is a genuinely triumphant and transcendent work.

3. The Hard Tomorrow By Eleanor Davis (Drawn+Quarterly) – A moving and very much “of the moment” exploration of what it means to be human, to be involved in a relationship, and to bring new life into the world, Davis’ boldest and most ambitious work yet cements her reputation as one of our most important contemporary cartoonists. This is who we are, where we are, and what we hope for all wrapped up in one one visually sumptuous package.

2. Bezimena By Nina Bunjevac (Fantagraphics) – A searing and disturbing portrait of obsession and mania, this psychologically violent work is as essential as it is difficult, and Bunjevac’s amazingly detailed cartooning is the very definition of darkly alluring. Tough to read, sure, but absolutely impossible to forget.

1. How I Tried To Be A Good Person By Ulli Lust (Fantagraphics) – A towering achievement in the field of comics memoir, Lust’s dense and thorough-going examination of a pivotal and formative period of her life leaves no stone unturned and stands out for its absolute emotional honesty. Brave, confident, and visually literate in the extreme, this is one of those rare books that establishes its author as a true master of the medium.

And we’re done! It’s been quite the task compiling all these lists, but I suppose that was to be expected — after all, it’s been quite a year. 2019 saw more quality comics releases than anyone could possibly keep up with, and to call that a “good problem to have” is to sell the situation far short. In point of fact, we’re living in a new Golden Age of creativity and expression, and if you dig my ongoing coverage and analysis of it, then please consider 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. I’d be very grateful indeed to have your support, so do give it a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

A Josh Bayer Two-Fer : “Theth : Tomorrow Forever”

A tidal wave of memories real and imagined, meticulously haphazard (here we go with the contradictions) pencil, pen, and brush strokes, kaleidoscopic colors, steam-of-consciousness observations, mixed genre tropes, and weighty foreboding, Josh Bayer’s latest Tinto Press-published comic/”graphic novel,”  Theth : Tomorrow Forever, may be a sequel to its shorter-titled 2014 predecessor literally and thematically, but it’s also very much a “stand-alone” work — and one that leaves a pretty damn indelible mark upon the reader, at that.

Most of us have been where protagonist/authorial stand-in (to one degree or another) Theth finds himself in Columbus, Ohio circa 1990 : 20 years old, at loose ends, burning to make a mark upon the world, unsure of what form that mark should — or even could — take, the future appearing equal parts formless void and open wound. It’s probably trickier for those with an artistic inclination to navigate this period in life than it is for others, I’d imagine — if you’re buckling down at your studies in hopes of being, I dunno, a lawyer or a dentist or something your path is pretty clear, after all. If you’re hoping to be a cartoonist or illustrator or poet or playwright, decidedly less so. Spoiler alert : law or med school ain’t in Theth’s plans.

Meaning is there to be found wherever we look for it, the purveyors of received “wisdom” inform us, but tell that to a kid who’s hunting for it in every nook and cranny and coming up empty. How, then, does one invent it in the face of a random and uncaring universe that will continue to go on just fine, with or without your (or, hell, even my) presence? It’s a big question — maybe the big question — and one that philosophies, religions, and belief systems all seek to provide the answer to. If you’re of a mind — wisely, might I add — to reject all that in favor of something more unique to your own self, the metaphorical mountain you’re climbing invariably becomes more steep, it’s true, but on the plus side, when you’ve scaled it (or even made something akin to progress toward doing so), that’s a legit achievement. Maps are easy — cutting your own way through a dense fog of the unknown and the unknowable is some tough shit.

Which is probably why so many people opt for rulebooks, holy or academic or otherwise (well, that and fear of death). And while Theth doesn’t grapple with anything in a traditional manner, his internal — and, crucially, interalized — struggles are sure as shit near to universal as anyone else’s. Where we are, who we are, how the heck we got here — those are tricky wickets to wrap your head around even as you’re living, or have already lived, through them. But what we’re headed for doesn’t even offer the crutch of experiential knowledge to lean on; it’s all just out there, waiting.

But is it waiting to happen — or waiting to be made?

Fuck yes, this comic made me think. A lot. And while its structure is a thing unto itself, a phantasmagoric blend of the actual, the fantastic, and the actually fantastic, Bayer himself is so grounded as an artist that his story has no real need to be. He knows when and where to back off and let his readers intuit the parameters of what he’s putting on the page, and furthermore understands how the world of dreams and imagination necessarily informs day-to-day, consensus reality. A gap between the two always remains, of course — and maybe bridging that gap really is the project of a lifetime.

The word “visionary” gets tossed around far too freely these days, but it’s my contention that no matter how commercialized and cheapened a form the term has been forcibly devolved to fit, just about anyone can still recognize actual visionary work when they see it. Read it. Experience it. You’ll never question, from page one onward, whether or not Theth : Tomorrow Forever is such a work.

Liana Finck provides an introduction and a page of “pin-up” art, with more of the latter offered up courtesy of Sam Spina, Janelle Hessig, and Jeff Test, but this is Bayer’s show all the way — and while you’ve never seen anything quite like it, odds are pretty good that you’ve lived your own version of it, and may still be doing so now.

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Theth : Tomorrow Forever is available for $25 directly from the cartoonist at https://joshbayer.storenvy.com/products/26476950-theth-tomorrow-forever

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  dollar a month. Your support helps keep things going there, sure, bit it also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so please give it a look by heading over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse