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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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