The nights are drawing in, there are work and school parties every other night, and gruesome horror movies on the horizon..at least in my house. All of this can only mean one thing, the end of the year is fast approaching.
And as the end edges ever closer, it heralds in the End of the Year Best of Lists. I’ve already seen some, paving the way for the many others that are destined to follow. I personally have submitted some input for a Best of the Year list and a Best of the Decade article for Monleysfightingrobots so expect to see them appear soon.
As I’m not one to buck a trend (i.e. unoriginal and proud) I thought I’d chuck together a personal ‘best of the year’ list. There’s plenty of time to pick up Christmas presents so maybe try to source some of these beauties for your comic-book loved ones, or even yourself.
Daniel Warren Johnson’s excellent Metal Music infused emotional drama is over the top and rooted to the ground in equal measures. It’s surprisingly moving and will make you cry just as much as it makes you punch the air in excitement. What’s it about? Just read it, because it’s difficult to explain in a quick paragraph like this, however, Murder Falcon does not disappoint.
It’s been a while since I read any X-Men comics and, to be fair, I don’t really buy Marvel comics at all but one thing attracted me to this: Jonathan Hickman. I love Hickman’s work so I thought I’d give House of X and Powers of X a go. And, boy, has it been an impressive journey. The depth of world building and expansive character arcs pull you in and envelope completely. The 12 issue run is just the beginning but it is well worth investing your time. The only drawback is that it will lead to a whole series of X-Men books that you’ll find yourself not wanting to miss.
Sandman Presents: Hellblazer
There has only been one issue and a Special so far this year but Simon Spurrier GETS Constantine. The character is perfect and the stories are a meld of horror and dark humour. This series is a call back to the original Vertigo titles as it has the same themes and tone. And after the excellent start with Aaron Campbell, Jordie Bellaire and Aditya Bidikar on art duties, Hellblazer is going to be hot stuff next year.
Aftershocks Comics have been on a roll this year with some outstanding titles. Stronghold is one of, not only their best, but the best superhero based comics released this year. The first issue made a massive impact on me and I likened it’s intentions to those of Watchmen. Phil Hester and Ryan Kelly break down the Superhero Origin story and use it to comment on modern sensibilities. The Artwork is especially strong, with colors from Dee Cunniffe who has been producing excellent work this year, and Simon Bowland’s letters finished off the comic perfectly. The series finished too soon for my liking but while it was around, I loved every moment of it.
I’m not sure if it was just me and the comics I was drawn to this year, but I’ve read a lot of philosophical themed comics of late. Coffin Bound questioned the very nature of existence and what it means to be a part of the World. Partial horror, partial existential crisis, Dan Watter’s Coffin Bound blew my mind. The art work by Dani suited the nature of the tale and Aditya Bidikar’s letter was especially impressive. Not often an easy read, the final issue dropped on a rough week for me which gave me a slightly different insight into the series than I had up to that point, but it was intensively thought provoking and addictive throughout.
East of West
This series has been running since 2013 and still impresses me with each issue. Hickman and Dragotta’s series should come to an end before the year is out which is bitter sweet. I love the series and can't wait to see what Hickman has planned for that final issue but a part of me just wants it to keep going. A re-read of the entire series is in order in December and I feel I may write more about it very soon.
The first of a three arc series, Faithless from BOOM! Studios introduced me to the exceptional Maria Llovet. Her artwork is lryical, graceful, erotic and beautiful. The panels dance across the page with delicate yet self assured images filling the white space. Llovet’s work is dream like in presentation and fits the story that Brian Azzarello created perfectly. It’s a match made in heaven..or hell!
Another Aftershock title, this time a crime story set in the 1970’s. Ollie Masters is no stranger to gritty crime stories and Killer Groove is a prime example of his writing talent. The story is full of twists and turns with more than one truly shocking moment. Eoin Marron has a lyrical art style which captures the nostalgic element of the story but his layouts and compositions often hint at the darker underbelly of the story. Killer Groove looks like a 1970’s crime movie and is another title that finished too soon. However, there is a possibility for more in the future...
Machine Gun Wizards
Formally Tommy Gun Wizards, I left this comic until last for a reason. Out of everything I have read this year, one creative’s name has impressed me more than most. From his stylistic Superhero covers, to his bombastic, out of this world interiors in Invisible Kingdom, and on through his writing in Machine Gun Wizards, Christian Ward has never failed to impress.
Machine Gun Wizards does feature some of Ward’s artwork but most of it is provided by Sami Kivela and Dee Cunniffe with Hassan Otsmane- Elhaou on lettering duties. The story is a historic, fantasy, science-fiction epic about gangsters, illegal magic and the very famous Eliott Ness. The world Ward has created is too big for this mini-series as it extends across history and far flung universities. The cast is spectacular, with some wonderfully expressive names, and there are a number of clear character arcs. There are moments of sheer breathtaking beauty mixed with urban crime scenes, and wonders I can’t describe. In short, I couldn’t say enough good things about this comic.
This year has been a mammoth year for good comics. Each month a number of publishers have put out outstanding titles, making it difficult to produce a best of list. There are so many good titles missed off this list, such as Vault Comic’s Test or Image Comics’ Pretty Deadly, but to name all of the worthwhile reads would become a phone directory sized document; it would be easier to reprint each month’s Previews magazine.
2019 has been a stellar year for good quality comics and leads us on a high into the next decade. Here’s hoping that the comic industry is able to do the creative talent justice and that ‘comics’ continue to go from strength to strength.
Hang on a minute..only 9! That's an odd number. Well, it's hard work thinking about my favourite comics, so what you have as a tenth choice?
I had a moral dilemma this week when contemplating a submission for a ‘best comic of the last decade’ article.
It may not seem like the kind of subject that would be fraught with dilemma’s, other then trying to choose from the well of excellence on offer, however, I had to put pause to my initial gut instinct and consider much more carefully.
The emerging dilemma boils down to authorship and the connection between the Art and the Artist. Over the years I have encountered the issue of separating the Creator from the Creation often. While studying Visual Art it was a central theme that we returned to time and time again, especially during critical theory and Art History. Roland Barthes wrote an essay in which he discusses ‘The Death of the Author’ and puts forward the hypothesis that the true author of a piece of Artwork is the Audience. Herbert Read, a critic I studied during my University years, also followed the European Idealist traditions that the mind is not created by what it sees but gives meaning to, and therefore creates, the reality around it.
In essence, once the artwork has been let loose on the world, it’s importance, significance, and ultimately it’s worth, is entirely at the judgement of the audience. Obvious forms and creative structures can be discussed to argue why one piece of work is better than another, but a lot of this will come down society, culture and time in which the work of Art is being examined. Some work transcends these three things and continue to be hailed as excellent examples of their medium: for comics think Watchmen, or Maus.
But what does this have to do with having a moral dilemma, and how does it relate to picking the comic of the decade? Well, to reach that point we have to discuss something that is very significant at the moment. To remove the Author from the work and allow the audience to decide what the work is about and it’s importance is one thing but what if the ‘author’ in question lends something to the work other than what is, for the sake of this discussion, published? What if the personality of the creator overshadows the work, whether directly or indirectly?
In the late 19th Century Oscar Wilde fell from grace when a series of trials resulted in his imprisonment for, essentially, being gay. A number of his works were lambasted at the time because of the homosexual undertones. Later in the 20th Century, D. H. Lawrence saw one of his novels, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, banned for being obscene even though it was merely an expression of the writers experiences with those that he loved and cared for. In both cases it was the actions and beliefs of the creators that caused the controversy, with their works becoming victims. The Picture of Dorian Gray was treated harshly by the critics and reviewers, not because of the novel itself but because of its creator.
From our standpoint in time, we can judge the historical critic’s harshly for their biased and influenced opinions. These days one would hope that the personal beliefs of the creators do not impede judgement of their work. But what if their actions were unsavoury, or even criminal? Is it acceptable to dismiss a creator and their misdeeds and simply enjoy the artwork?
Recently a number of big celebrities have been making waves because of their, for the want of a better phrase, bad behaviour and in some cases it has proven criminal. Actors, such as Kevin Spacey, have seen their careers crumble because of accusations and court cases surrounding sexual abuse and assault. In the comic world Roc Upchurch, artist on the highly praised and successful Rat Queens comic, was arrested for battery against his wife. This led him to be removed from the comic but also had a knock on effect with the comic itself. By association, and a few misguided decisions later down the line, Rat Queens lost its charm and fell out of favour. The comic’s success was ultimately judged by the audience based on the actions of the artist.
The reactions to Rat Queens and The Picture of Dorian Gray are very similar: at one time the merit of the work is overshadowed by the creator. For Oscar Wilde, it was on release that his work was deemed unworthy, for Rat Queens it was after the fact. Personality aside, did the artwork change overtime? Did Dorian Gray become a better book? Is Rat Queens not actually that good? The structures that were in place for measuring their artistic worth, especially in the case of Rat Queens, hasn’t changed but the impression of the artwork has. It would seem to be contradictory to Barthes theory: in the modern world, the author is not ‘dead’ and their works are held accountable for their actions. It is not a simple act to separate the Creator from the Creation.
And that leads us into the dilemma at hand. When presented with the question of which is the best comic (or comic run) of the last decade it seemed like a daunting problem but one title pushed its way forward. The Massive is a comic series that I love, I enjoyed every issue and was impressed by the collective talents who worked on it. The art work and outstanding storytelling flowed from issue to issue like a well oiled machine. I therefore started to write my submission based on this comic.
There was a nagging in the back of my mind, however. A small bit of doubt which had nothing to do with the comic itself but with the writer Brian Wood. Wood has written a number of comics that I have enjoyed over the years, in fact I have favourably reviewed his recent Aliens run from Dark Horse Comics. Wood has also been the centre of a number of controversies in the last decade. He has been accused by two separate people, on two separate occasions, of abusing his position within the comic industry and of sexual harassment.
Although no formal charges have been brought against Wood, the latest accusation was enough for Dark Horse to cancel his upcoming work, deciding that they no-longer wished to work with the writer. In such instances as this, the audience is faced with a choice of their own. With comics it can become difficult because, as in this case, the writer is only one part of the creative team. It is easy to decide not to buy any future work with that person’s name on it but what about past work? The quality of the entire run of The Massive hasn’t changed just because my opinion of the writer may have. Part of me does not want to promote future sales of the comic despite the other amazing talent that has worked on it. My admiration for The Massive hasn’t abated but my desire to support the writer has. In such cases should the audience separate the Creator from the Creation? Is that even possible in the 21st Century where the creators are so public, promoting themselves and their work?
Maybe this is a change that has happened over time; as an audience we can still see the merit in pieces of work and don’t feel the need to attack the Art itself to punish the creator. Our real power, as audience authors, is to step away and find alternative work that achieves the same goals without the questionable, albeit unrelated, personality behind it. Positive images from writers and artists will sell their work. And the audience isn’t looking for Saints, just honest, fair, passionate people.
The days of the Creator being a distance, unseen figure are long gone for most branches of the Arts. Writers and Artists in every field now have a presence in the world that the audience can interact with. Art works these days have traceable links to their creator and breaking those links is becoming ever harder. The worth of a work of Art has guidelines and structures but whether we chose to even hold a work up for appreciation is in the hands of the audience.
I love The Massive and I will continue to enjoy it in private but if anyone asks for recommendations, I will find something else to pass on. The comic industry is teaming with amazing talent, all working hard to produce some of the best comics created, not only this year but ones that can stand with the ‘classics’. Everyone has to make their own judgement on who to support and who not to. I will promote creators and comics that I believe in and admire.
And now, I have to rethink my 'comic series of the decade’ submission. It may take some time.
Last weekend was the outstanding Thought Bubble Comic Festival held this year in the North Yorkshire Spa town, Harrogate. There is a special way to pronounce the town name and, despite growing up not that far away, I never get it right. Luckily, this is typed out and you can say Harrogate any way you want to in your head.
For those of you who don’t know, Thought Bubble is probably the best Comic Convention in the UK. It’s devotion to sequential art and all of those lovely creators who work hard all year round, is obvious from the moment you step into the convention centre. Everywhere you look are artists eager to talk about their work and there’s none of that Media Convention baggage which tends to overshadow the comics guests. Thought Bubble is a convention for comics creators and comics fans.
I love it.
I’ve forgotten how many years I’ve been attending but every year I enjoy it as if it’s my first. And this year was no different: I caught up with some friends; made some new friends; bought some goodies; and met some amazingly talented people.
I’ll start in the middle with my highlights from the weekend, with the Mid Con party. Every time I’ve been to one of these I make the same mistake, I turn up fairly early. The start of these parties are always bewildering but as the wine starts to flow, the lights go down and the music starts to play, a good time is had by all (or at least most). This year I spent a lot of time talking to Matt Wilson about his work and avoidance of dancing.
I only managed to attend one panel, although there were four that I had my eye one. The one that made it was the first panel on Saturday, which is why I remembered when it started, unlike all of the others… The Strip Panel Naked Panel, hosted by the always humble Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, featured Dave Gibbons, Mariko Tamaki, Daniel Warren Johnson and Matt Wilson, each talking about their approach to creating their work. It was interesting to hear the different approaches that they all take in creating comics. Especially Daniel Warren Johnson who adopts the ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ approach.
The biggest thing I took away from the panel is that, when it comes to the speech in a comic, less is more. Both Tamaki and Gibbons both liked to cut the talk in their comics down to a minimum, with Warren Johnson using the same tactic for his scripts as a whole: the benefits of doing your own artwork.
Later in the day I spoke to Daniel Warren Johnson some more, especially about Murder Falcon which is a spectacular comic, 50% outlandish, 50% heartbreak. I was impressed by the comic and impressed by the writer/artist. I even managed to get my hands on a copy of his Old Man Skywalker mini-comic. It looks stunning.
I met a number of artists/writers over the weekend (more on them in a minute) and it would be an ideal opportunity to network and try to get interviews, statements, etc, however, Thought Bubble is one of my greatest joys and I don’t want to turn it into work. I meet the creators I want to meet as a fan, and often mumble my way through conversations because of the awe I have for these people. I’m allowed to be a small child meeting my heroes and don’t want to lose that by making it a 'job opportunity'. So the people I spoke to, the people I met, I met as a fan.
People like Christian Ward, whose artwork is mind blowing, even more so in print format (which is why I have two). He was having a troublesome start on Saturday because of queues from a table next to him but the staff were on hand to sort it out and it didn’t stop us from having a natter. He is another creator who has made a lasting, positive impression on me. Check out his website to see the amazing work that he is doing.
Another Artist worth checking out is co-creator of Killer Groove Eoin Marron. While doodling on my issue one of Killer Groove, I looked through his original art and discussed some of the more poignant moments of the comic. Such as the split in the road that Jonny drives towards in the final issue and does Jackie dispose of the master tapes at the end? I also found out that he would love to do follow up stories based on the characters but it would most likely be under a different title. Whatever he does next, I look forward to seeing more of Eoin’s artwork.
I bought a tea towel.
What else does one buy from a comic convention? I will in fact admit to going with the intention of buying a tea towel. I found out that at last years Thought Bubble, Alison Sampson had a specially printed tea towel based on one of her comics. As I missed out last year, I bee-lined for Alison’s table to see what she had chosen for this years design. And I love it. It’s based on a cover for the exceptional Winnebago Graveyard, one of my favourite comics for a few years ago. We also had a chat about favourite panels, apparently WG seems to have that effect on people as Alison told me a number of people have a favourite panel from that comic. See Alison’s artwork in the current Hit Girl comic or on her website.
Over the course of the weekend I met a large number of people, some all too briefly while I managed a short chat with a number of others. As always I tracked down Paul Cornell to ask about more Saucer State comics and congratulate him on the wonderful Podcast Hammer House of Podcast, unfortunately Lizbeth Myles had just popped away and everytime I passed the table she wasn’t there so I didn’t get to say nice things to her about her work. So, if she sees this, I love the podcast and the banter between you and Paul is delightful to listen to. Several of the films that they talk about I’ve never seen but they’ve convinced me that I need to see them.
I can’t possible mention everyone I met, but I can’t not mention Alan Martin. Creator of Tank Girl, a character that still makes me laugh out loud. It was the first time I’ve met him despite reading his comics for the last 30 years so it was a definite pleasure, even if it was only for a few brief moments.
Other worthy mentions:
Russell Mark Olson. I picked up Gateway City Volume 1 which Dick Tracy mystery crossed with a secret Alien Invasion. Great artwork with a spiralling narrative packed with adventure and action.
Kristyna Baczynski. I love her work, it’s emotional, personal, and always a lot of fun. Her mini-comics will take you on wonderful journeys across beautifully rendered landscapes. Every aspect of her work is lovingly designed and produced: reading it is like snuggling up in front of a warm fire on a winters evening.
Jonathan Burton. Currently working in France, Jonathan produces artwork for special illustrated prints of novels such as Game of Thrones and The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy. His art style is very fitting for fantasy but it was his quaint movie poster for Withnail and I that really caught my eye.
Mr Hope. Cute caricatures of famous geeky characters and endearing new creations greet you at Mr Hope’s table. He manages to get a twinkly bit of magic into everything he draws. I’ve known him for a few years now and am always impressed by his new drawings/products. This year he told me about an exciting project he’s worked on...but I’m not sure if I can say any more yet..
Finally, the wonderful creators from the Family Store based in Brighton. They stock a massive range of stuff from T-Shirts to enamel pins to comics and Zines. They have a selection of artists producing work for them so there is plenty for you to choose from, although to be honest it is difficult to choose between everything they have on offer.
This year, Thought Bubble was in a new venue but it was still Thought Bubble through and through. In fact, it took to Harrogate (however you say it) like a fish to water and was one of the best weekends in it’s 12 year history.
Roll on 2020!
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.