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

A new year may be upon us, but we’re not quite done talking about last year here at Four Color Apocalypse. My next “best of” list takes a look at my picks for the Top 10 Vintage Collections of 2020, which is to say : books that collect material originally published prior to the year 2000, including Manga and Eurocomics. Let’s dive right in —

10. Atom Bomb And Other Stories By Wallace Wood (Fantagraphics) – One of the best volumes yet in the long-running EC Artists’ Library series collects the very best of the Wally Wood/Harvey Kurtzman collaborations from Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, and as a special added bonus Wood’s strips with Archie Goodwin from Blazing Combat are included, as well. I love Marie Severin’s colors, to be sure, but this stuff has never looked better than it does here, in pristine black and white.

9. The Pits Of Hell By Ebisu Yoshikazu, Translated By Ryan Holmberg (Breakdown Press) – Grotesque, absurd, and darkly humorous to a degree that’s downright painful, Yoshikazu’s 1981 masterpiece takes the banalities of urban living to illogical extremes and gives no fucks as to who it offends along the way. A strong contender for the most subversive and outrageous book of the year.

8. Stuck Rubbery Baby 25th Anniversary Edition By Howard Cruse (First Second) – The autobiographical (for the most part) magnum opus by the late, great Cruse is more than just one of the great masterworks of LGBTQ comics and literature, it’s an important chronicle of a movement and an era, and a testament to the fact that “coming of age” lasts a lifetime. Arguably the most accomplished and pivotal graphic novel of the 1990s is as relevant today as it ever was.

7. Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love By Jack Kirby, Edited By John Morrow (TwoMorrows) – Collecting unpublished works by The King Of Comics originally produced during his early-’70s DC stint, there are no capes or tights to be found in the pages of True-Life Divorce, Soul Love, or the further adventures of the Dingbats Of Danger Street, but they all prove beyond a doubt that it was the humanity of Kirby’s work that was always its defining feature. Editor Morrow has gone above and beyond here, though, by including a wealth of scholarly essays, personal reminiscences, and early-stages art pages, as well, making this not just a “must-have” item for Kirby fans, but an indispensable historical artifact.

6. Perramus : The City And Oblivion By Alberto Breccia And Juan Sasturain (Fantagraphics) – Epic in scope yet never anything less than intensely personal, the latest volume in The Alberto Breccia Library is a hard-edged dystopian political thriller that accurately and acutely reflected the tensions and fears of life under the Argentinian military dictatorship its authors were subjected to. This is comics as a righteous act of resistance.

5. The Sky Is Blue With A Single Cloud By Kuniko Tsurita, Translated By Ryan Holmberg (Drawn+Quarterly) – Collecting the very best stories from Tsurita’s remarkable career, this book is, on the one hand, a tribute to a pioneering female Manga artist, but on the other, at least to English-speaking audiences, it’s a revelation. Delicate, surreal, and lyrical, these tales run the gamut from first-person accounts of Tokyo’s 1960s/70s Bohemian subculture to explorations of gender identity to harrowing works informed by the artist’s own fragile health. This is a collection that will stick with you forever.

4. From Hell Master Edition By Alan Moore And Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf) – A lot of people thought the addition of color to Moore and Campbell’s conspiratorial Jack The Ripper epic would ruin the whole thing, but they needn’t have worried : Campbell colored it himself, after all, and rather than subsume his line art, he found a way to complement it. I guess I’ll always prefer it in black and white, sure, but any excuse to re-visit this dense and intricate deconstruction of both Victorian England and the 20th Century is a welcome one.

3. The Man Without Talent By Yoshiharu Tsuge, Translated By Ryan Holmberg (New York Review Comics) – A standout in the history of autobiographical Manga, Tsuge’s unvarnished portrayal of himself as a habitual loser with no hope of changing his ways is both disarming and heartfelt — as well as remarkably raw, even for those of us well-accustomed to “warts and all” autobio and memoir. They saw “write what you know” — well, this is a case of writing and drawing what you know all too well, and turning it into a singularly powerful reading experience.

2. The Complete Hate By Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics) – It seems “Generation X’ will never die, but in point of fact Bagge, who wasn’t even a part of said generation, understood it better than any artist working in any medium. It wasn’t all “grunge” rock and postponing the responsibilities of adulthood — the lethargy, the casual disillusionment with everything, the fucked-up relationships — these are are all present and accounted for here in honest, and honestly hilarious, detail, as well. And the accidental stumbling into their 30s and 40s of Buddy Bradley, family, and friends makes for an astonishingly complete record of a series of fictitious lives that are among the most “real” in the history of the comics medium.

1. Gross Exaggerations : The Meshuga Comic Strips Of Milt Gross By Milt Gross, Edited By Peter Maresca (Sunday Press) – Not only do slapstick humor strips get no better than this, comic strips in general get no better than these meticulously-reproduced selections of Nize Baby, Dave’s Delicatessen, and Count Screwloose Of Tooloose. Sunday Press is setting the standard for vintage newspaper strip reprints, and this gorgeous collection of uniquely Yiddish comedy is not only their best book to date, it’s an object you will treasure forever.

Okay, that’s four lists down, with two lists still remaining. Next up : 2020’s Top 10 Contemporary Collections!

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Review wrist check – Tsao Baltimore “Torsk Diver” green dial model, riding an Ocean Crawler orange and black NATO strap.

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 I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

“The Man Without Talent” Proves There’s No Such Thing As A Creative Dead End

Just about any and every artist that ever lived has been plagued with periods of self-doubt and creative bankruptcy, but the truly ingenious among them have found  ways to use those dark times as inspiration — after all, if you can’t rise above it, why not explore it for all it’s worth? It seemed like every book Stephen King wrote for a good decade or more was about a writer who had hit a brick wall, and cartoonists like Robert Crumb and Joe Matt have literally built their careers around unflattering portrayals of what happens (or doesn’t happen) when their creative wellsprings run dry.

This is all minor-league stuff, though, compared with manga legend Yoshiharu Tsuge’s The Man Without Talent, the unflattering self-portrait to end all unflattering self-portraits, largely because it eschews any sort of overt plays for sympathy in favor of a raw, unvarnished, sometimes even dispassionate examination of an artist with no idea what to do next and little motivation to break out of his doldrums, opting for a life as a ferryman, camera salesman, and stone gatherer when he becomes frustrated with trying to create a new manga. There’s a little bit of distance between author and subject provided by dint of Tsuge’s decision to make his protagonist an obvious stand-in named Sukezo Sukegawa, but there’s clearly and obviously less than one degree of separation going on here, a fact which is crystal clear even if one doesn’t read the highly-informative afterword by translator/editor/manga “renaissance man” Ryan Holmberg — not that I’m suggesting you should pass on it, though, simply because if you know Holmberg, you know you’re going to double your reading pleasure (as well as your understanding and appreciation of the work in question) by taking/making time for his essay.

Still, skipping ahead to the end is bad form, and if you were to do that, you’d be delaying the immense joy of the story itself — and yeah, I just said “joy,” which probably seems incongruous at the very least given that we’ve already established that this is a book that portrays its own creator in pretty stark, and frankly pretty dark, fashion. The damned thing is, though, even when Sukegawa/Tsuge is at his most unforgivably self-centered — such as when he’s charging his beleaguered wife with handing out fliers promoting his work, or leaning on his youthful son to not only provide emotional support over and above the call of the duty but literally to serve as his only connective tissue with reality itself — there’s a kind of forlorn, poetic quality to it all, communicated not only by means of Tsuge’s no-frills writing, but also his crisp, detailed, borderline-cinematic illustration. The art herein, crucially, pays just as much attention to places and things as it does to people, and this gives the entire proceedings a distinctly holistic sense of time and place — one that I would think probably hits home even harder for those who were around in Japan in the early 1980s, which is when this was originally written, drawn, and published.

That being said, this certainly isn’t work that feels dated in any way, shape, or form, as the mental health struggles it depicts are, unfortunately, timeless, and also because Tsuge isn’t afraid to approach it all with a very subtle wink and a nod. As Holmberg’s essay makes clear, the biggest difference between author and stand-in is that he actually rather enjoyed plumbing the depths of his personal darkness, and quite likely engaged in more than a bit of creative license in his depiction of his wife as a constant nag and “himself” as a naive sucker floating from one brain-dead hustle (selling rocks? seriously?) to another, even as he yearns for a life of solitude and contemplation. He doesn’t flinch when it comes to drawing attention to his lethargy, stubbornness, or emotional illiteracy, but come on — is he really this bad? That’s a question we’re never given a direct answer to, and that approach makes the book invariably more interesting than it likely would have been otherwise.

This may read as a pretty dry text, then, at times, but there’s no doubt that Tsuge keeps his tongue planted pretty firmly in cheek throughout, and this makes even the book’s most harrowing moments — content alert, there’s a suicide attempt in these pages — come off as something rooted in autobio, but communicated with a fair degree of creative license. As you’d no doubt surmise, Tsuge’s gotta walk a pretty fine line in order to make this work, but work it surely does, as the end result is one of those rare diamonds in the rough that we’re each of us constantly looking for : a reading experience well and truly unlike anything else.

 

To the extent that Tsuge’s work is known in the English-speaking world, it’s mostly by repute, a situation which was also the case in regards to his younger brother Tdao, a “neo-manga” trailblazer who’s also finally getting his due on this side of the Pacific thanks in large part to Holmberg and publisher New York Review Comics — who are also responsible for this immaculate, immersive package. This marks the first time Tsuge has been translated into English, in fact, and while it’s obviously long overdue, it’s equally true that it was worth the wait, and it’s exciting to consider that it likely represents just the start, the opening of the floodgates, as Drawn+Quarterly has a collection of his short manga slated for an April release, as well.  I’m “all in” for that — as should you be — but until then (and after), I fully expect to read The Man Without Talent a good few more times, and to come away from it more impressed with each reading.

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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 appreciative indeed if you’d take a moment to give it a look and, should you feel so inclined, join up.

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