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

 

 

 

Eurocomics Spotlight : “The Structure Is Rotten, Comrade”

Don’t let the sheer physical size of writer Viken Berberian and artist Yann Kebbi’s The Structure Is Rotten, Comrade intimidate you — much. Yeah, it’s a hefty hardcover tome that Fantagraphics has published here, clocking in at 320 pages (I assume its original French-language edition is roughly the same, give or take a title page or two), but it reads reasonably quickly. Much of the real work comes later, when one mentally “unpacks” everything that’s been absorbed at breakneck speed.

That’s because this is a conceptually dense book in the extreme — and yes, I most assuredly do mean that as a compliment. But perhaps I’m pre-disposed toward appreciating it given what’s been happening not in the Armenian capital city of Yerevan, where this story takes place, but in my own hometown of Minneapolis.

Like too many municipalities to mention — maybe even yours — we’ve been inundated here in recent years with a veritable onslaught of “luxury” condos and apartments, most of which seem to be sitting relatively empty while affordable housing options, historical landmarks, beloved neighborhood businesses, and buildings suffused with character have been ground under their malevolent heel. “Progress,” my ass — gentrification saps the soul out of any city and has a nasty habit of creeping in, almost unnoticed, until it’s too fucking late to stop it.

A popular (particularly with his young female students) professor of architecture named Frunz is one of the people looking to usher in a new building boom in Yerevan along with his father, a man both hailed and derided as “Mr. Cement,” but Armenians apparently aren’t as complacent as we are over here, and these grand schemes aren’t just met with resistance — they kick off a veritable political revolution.

Berberian’s scripting is smart, assured, adroit, and often quite funny, but it’s Kebbi’s bold, kaleidoscopic, vivid art that’s the real star of the show here, every page bursting at the seams with inventive compositions, expressionistic figures and faces, brisk movements and action, and vibrant color. It’s a visual tour de force that grabs hold of its multi-facted subject matter and rides it for all its worth, direct from the optic nerve to the cerebral cortex.

And as for that subject matter — Berberian tackles a hell of a lot, thematically, with an economy of words, his finger right on the combustible intersection of architecture, commerce, social and economic inequality, historical preservation, and local and national character. The places we inhabit are defined by us, sure — but they define us, as well, and as such are worth defending from the predatory forces of hyper-capitalism.

Sure, there’s a sense that this book is probably preaching to the choir — no one who isn’t intimately interested in these subjects is likely to lay out 35 bucks for it in the first place — but that doesn’t preclude the work from being a smart and inventive one. A deliriously well-executed one. Hell, a vital one.

And that’s probably the key word I should emphasize above all others here. With The Structure Is Rotten, Comrade, Berberian and Kebbi have crafted a volume brimming over with smarts, heart, creativity, and vitality. This book may concern itself with preserving the past by any means necessary, but it’s very much rooted in, and reflects, all the immediacy and urgency of the now, directed in service of a better, more equitable, more rich and fulfilling future.

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