Book Club / 2018 in Review

2018 in Review


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Oh. Hello you.

…and welcome to the London Graphic Novel Network Book Club’s 2018 in Review.

We tried this last year (see: Book Club / 2017 in Review) and it seemed to work pretty well so we thought we’d try it again (this is how traditions are made).

Here’s the rules:

1. Yep. You can talk about any comic you like
It doesn’t need to have come out this year. You can talk about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four or Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi. Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even have to be something that you liked. If there was a book that you really hated then you can talk about that. Or maybe you felt massively lukewarm about it. The only real requirement is that it’s something that you’ve read in this past year and there’s something you want to say about it.

(You’re also welcome to lobby for any particular comic that you feel like the LGNN Book Club should do in the future if you feel like it…).

2. Name the comic in bold at the start of what you write
That way if someone is in the middle of reading it / or they want to read it and they don’t wanna get spoiled then they can just skip over it with no harm done. (Also if you can find some images from the comic and include them – then that would be cool too).

3. Please don’t just recount the plot / tell us what you think
Instead of just writing a synopsis (yawn) try this – Talk about what you liked (or didn’t like) about the comic. But grabbed you / what left you cold. What it did well / what it could have done better. How it made you feel. What kind of things it made you think about. All that good stuff. 🙂

4. If someone else has already mentioned a comic then don’t worry – that’s ok
This isn’t a first come / first served thing. If someone else has mentioned a comic then it’s not off the table – you can still write about it all you want. Ideally we don’t just want lots of solipsistic thoughts floating separately from each other so yeah – if someone mentions a book and you have a differing view please feel free to share (just you know obviously – try to play nice).

5. If you want to talk about a comic that the LGNN Book Club has already done then that’s cool too
I’ve often been told that three weeks is never long enough. So if we talked about a book this year (or any other past year) and you felt like there was stuff you wanted to say about it that you didn’t get a chance to say (or maybe you didn’t manage to read it in time or whatever). Maybe you only just realised how awesome Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX series is now or perhaps you thought Bitch Planet needed more love? Well – now’s the time to say it… Please feel free to go crazy.

So. I think that’s it. Hopefully should be fun and interesting. If you’re still unsure then just take a quick look at the one we did last year to get an idea of how it works and well yeah – the rest is up to you…

Ok then – what the hell: I’ll go first then…

queen
Queen & Country
By Greg Rucka & a whole bunch of artists

It’s hard to put into words just how much I love this comic and how sad it makes my heart is that there’s only 4 volumes of the “Definitive Edition” (booooo!): which feels a little like discovering your new favourite band only to discover that they broke up in 2007 and only ever recorded two albums…. (son of a bitch).

But well yeah: here’s the thing about Queen & Country – any time I try to put into words how engrossing and blood-pumping it is it’s never enough to get people to want to read it. Because honestly: one of the best things about it is how boring it is. Let me try to explain right: Queen & Country is a spy comic. Set in the world of M15 (or if you’re in the know – SIS) it stars Tara Chance as a secret agent (or “Minder”) or basically travels around the world doing all sorts of cool James Bond type stuff – stealing important documents, stopping terror campaigns and killing the people who need to be killed. Only the twist is: it’s all about getting into the nitty gritty of how spy stuff actually works and how all the cool James Bond type stuff is actually drudgery and endless waiting and nothing happening and then: OHSHIT!OHSHIT!OHSHIT! moments of bowel-voiding terror. I have no idea if I’m doing any of this justice – but as someone with no real interest in the world of spy fiction or espionage or all that stuff I’ve gotta say that I think this is the most that a comic has gripped me all year. I mean: it’s all in black and white but by the time I got to the end of the first issue I didn’t even care anymore (not that there’s anything wrong with black and white per say: but still). Plus (towards the start especially) a lot of the artists are kinda… well… crap? But same thing: once Greg Rucka has done his stuff and weaved his spell: I didn’t care. All I wanted was to get to the end of the story as soon as possible whilst at exactly the same time wishing that I could keep reading it forever.

And oh: there’s this bit where it stops being a comic and it says you have to go and read a novel to find out the rest of the story (it’s like a comic but with no pictures). Well – I’m not really the type to read spy novels but I thought what the hell? (And I really wanted to find out what happened). So I got a copy of the novel (“A Gentleman’s Game”) and OMG YOU GUYS it starts off with this bit about there being a terrorist attack on the London underground with a bunch of tube trains all being attacked at the same time by a bunch of Islamic extremists and I was all like yeah yeah 7/7 and all that I guess? Only it turns out that A Gentleman’s Game was published in 2004 and the 7/7 tube attack didn’t happen til 2005. Which I’ve gotta tell you is totally fucking freaky (and why had I never heard about this before?). But hey you know what – maybe that gives you some idea of just how much attention to detail this whole series is…

Basically if you’re reading this – you should go off and get yourself a copy of the comic and then you can thank me after and I can say “I told you so.”

It’s really really really really really actually pretty good.

(And yes: Bryan Lee O’Malley did drawn an episode but no I don’t see what that’s got to do with anything so shut up).

aliens

Aliens: Dead Orbit
By James Stokoe

When I was a kid / teenager / whatever I was very big into the Alien films and I guess what you could call “The Aliens Extended Universe” (altho please don’t – it sounds stupid). WHSmiths used to sell these Alien novels with these beautifully garish fully painted covers by the brilliantly named Dave Dorman and these – actually kinda awesome – Alien comics. I don’t know if the novels where based on the comics or the other way around: but they gripped my young imagination like a face-hugger. There was Hive which was about how the Aliens secreted this jelly that was a powerful drug and made time turn blue. There was Stronghold which was about a robot alien that could talk and crack jokes and smoke cigars (he’s called Jeri obviously). And Labyrinth which was probably my favourite of them all and which I would still recommend today – this kinda awful slow motion body horror thing with a mad scientist conducting experiments on the Aliens to see how they work and what makes them tick… in a way that suggests Cronenberg spliced with J G Ballard…

So yeah – I was incredibly looking forward to Dead Orbit. Alien comic are cool comics and as strange as it may be to say – I think they’re actually pretty flexible in terms of the stories you can tell with them: yeah it’s always a sci-fi thing but the aliens themselves are such a blank canvas and there’s no real mythology or whatever that you need to shoehorn in or whatever – they’re just evil crazy space monsters and there’s a lot you can do with monsters (see also: Doctor Who or well also: three of the best sci-fi movies of all time and whatever Alien Resurrection was).And James Stokoe is cool! I like him. Orc Stain was cool. Very imaginative. His Godzilla comic seemed interesting? Didn’t he do a Spider-Man in Vietnam comic called Spider-‘Nam?

But yeah Dead Orbit is just… dull. Pretty much predictable. Bog standard set-up. (Ramshackle crew of misfits receives a distress call and yadda yadda yadda…). And I kept waiting for the cool thing to happen and then it just… ends. With no real interesting ideas. No crazy twists. No insights. It’s just… a bog-standard Aliens comic. When you know what – fuck it: every other Aliens comic I’ve read has always tried to be so much more.

So basically: if you wanna read a good Aliens comic – go read a copy of Labyrinth instead.

Sorry I’ve not written before, been dying of christmas-plague. Apologies if I’m not quite coherant here, I’m still coming off the tail-end of it.

Alone
Christophe Chabouté

This year I’ve been discovering the joy of euro-comics, and vanishing down comics-as-literature rabbit holes. My favourite find has been Christophe Chabouté. He does really atmospheric character-study pieces, really giving the stories room to develop. I’ve read his Park Bench and Alone, of which Alone is my favourite. It’s the story of a deformed guy (only ever called ‘Alone’) who hides away from the world, has always been hidden, alone in a lighthouse.

alone 1
Alone spends his time talking to his pet fish, and imagining stuff he’s never seen based on descriptions in a dictionary. Of course, the status quo gets messed with (by a well-meaning fisherman) and he starts to realise how hollow his life is. It slowly builds to one of the best sequences I’ve seen in a comic, after the fisherman sends Alone some postcards and he realises how wrong his imaginary world has been. I really can’t do it justice by describing it, so through the WONDERS OF TECHNOLOGY I’m gonna share it!

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alone 6

alone 3

alone 7alone 4

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I won’t spoil the ending.

I absolutely love how Chabouté gives the story so much room to breathe, takes his time with it, it does so much to add to the atmosphere of isolation throughout. Like, he took four pages to have the character stare at the sea, then walk up some stairs, that’s pretty ballsy. I’ve been working on super shortform comics this year, mostly eight pages total, and this book just kinda broke me, I realised there was simply no way I could build up that rapport with a character in eight pages, and that rushing it was only hurting my story-telling. So I’m starting a new, longer-form project next year.

I’ve not touched on Chabouté’s art yet, which is a bit fucking criminal of me. Basically, his style is ‘what I wish I could draw like’ – mono, high-contrast, dramatic and expressive. His use of body language, lighting, set design, all of it is just so damn good it makes me want to give up art and/or give up doing anything else except art. It’s beautiful and minimalist and stark and I love it. It might have had a tiny influence on my art:

buildings

The other thing I’ve discovered this year and loved is the Gormenghast series (not a comic, sadly) which has a lot in common with alone – slow, dripping in atmosphere, and very much tied to a sense of place. (Hell, if anyone was going to do a comic adaptation of them, Chabouté would be a good pick for the job.) It’s odd, I’ve always thought of myself as very plot-oriented, but I guess I’m discovering the joys of just enjoying a thing for the way it’s done as much as what it’s doing.

Oh, and I read Tillie Walden’s new one. It was alright.


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Speaking of “Tillie Walden’s new one”…

On a Sunbeam
Tillie Walden

sunbeam 1

 

I just finished reading this and well yeah: what can I say? Being a vaguely comics-book-style-person I’d heard about Tillie Walden and her prodigious talent etc etc. She’s like really young and has already written a bunch of masterpieces and stuff right? I think I read a thing towards the start of the year that made me want to read something of hers – but not enough to actually go out and buy it. But you know: I was curious to see if all of the amazing things people were saying were accurate or not. But then yeah – she kinda slipped from my mind and got buried under everything else in the world.

And then I saw a copy of On a Sunbeam on the shelves of my library and I was like: “oh ok – maybe I’ll have a looksie.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. I mean obviously the first thing that grabs you when you first pick it up is: oh wow – this is a thick fucking book. Bastard thing is seriously hefty. 530+ pages. And it feels like it’d be good to whack on a burglar’s head. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being a minor-indie-comics-legend or whatever? (I wonder how much time it took her to write…?) but then when I started reading it – it all just felt kinda slightly free-form and loose? Not just the story that seemed to be coming from everywhere all at once (ok: so it’s like a Hogwarts in space kinda thing? But also this people who go around fixing these little space islands?). Please believe me that I don’t mean this pejoratively – but it kinda felt a bit like an outsider-art kinda thing? (I haven’t actually read it – but it kinda reminded me of what I imagine Henry Darger’s work would be like – you know: The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion kinda thing – maybe crossed with The Little Prince?) Encumbered by what a comic is supposed to be about or how it’s supposed to look…. But just this kinda free-wheeling expression so that it kinda feels like water or air – just going wherever it feels like and going with whatever idea comes to mind… Altho – of course obviously that’s not quite right – because as stuff kinda builds up it becomes quite obvious that this is obviously a very carefully planned and structured book. I mean it’s so long that of course you have to plan this stuff otherwise it just turns into a mess (compare and contrast with another comic I read this year called Expansion by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward where they proudly boast in the introduction that they just made up as they went along and well yeah… you can tell. And erm I don’t really think it’s something you should boast about? And it’s also probably one of the worstcomics I’ve read this year so erm yeah).

So here’s the thing: I kinda read On a Sunbeam in two big chucks (like I said – it’s a big book!) and they were both kinda different in how they felt. The first chuck when I just started reading it and wasn’t really expecting to get that far (the benefits of Library books – no pressure right?) and yeah the whole thing just hit me really really hard. The story just enveloped me and I totally lost myself and the relationship between Mia and Grace just broke my tiny little black Grinch heart into tiny pieces.

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It’s all just so perfectly done – seeing how they get to know each other. Finding out what Mia is like – finding what Grace is like. And seeing the first faltering steps. I mean seeing how we just did Sex Criminals – it’s interesting comparing Mia and Grace with Jon and Susie… Jon and Susie’s relationship and how they first get together it kinda feels more like watching a romantic comedy or whatever. It’s about the cleverness of the lines and the crazy stuff they do… Which obviously yeah is a certain style and a thing. But Mia and Grace the way that stuff unravels and spills out – and they fact that the book is already set in this semi-unrealistic place anyway kinda makes you feel like you’re inside their love. Like you can feel it. And well yeah – it’s really really beautiful. And made me feel like oh wow – this is one of the most powerful things I’ve read all year. And everything Tillie Walden does kinda adds to that – the fact that her artwork is (like her story) really loose and delicate and almost weightless just makes the book feel like it’s own special space. Like you’re reading a sktechbook or notebook or a diary somehow. Even the word balloons in their scribbly non-typical-comics-caps-lock kinda way makes you feel like you’re reading something that’s being whispered to you rather than shouted. Which is nice. It’s really nice in fact.

And yeah – and then I think I made the mistake of putting it down (it was late and I was tired and like I said – it’s a long book) and then when I came back and read the second half I must admit that the spell wasn’t nearly as strong. 😦

Maybe it’s because I was loving it so much before? And there’s a difference between reading something with no expectations and reading something thinking that it’s going to properly transport you? Maybe it’s because I saw it mentioned on some End of Year Comics List thing where the only thing they really said about it was something about how “It’s great that there’s this comic without any men in it” which – urg – yawn – ok whatever. I mean yes – the patriarchy is real. Yes – All the Marvel films with all the white guys called Chris. Yes – everyone should be free from discrimination and being identified from their gender/race/sexuality/etc etc – yes of course. It just (sigh) strikes me as being a little reductive when talking about this book that that’s the thing that you want to make a big deal about. Although – I guess the simplistic narratives are the strongest ones and it’s easier to say “Make America Great Again” or “#MeToo” rather than trying to take a long hard considered look at things (blah blah blah).

At the risk of being totally crude tho the “there’s no men in it” thing (which I should admit I didn’t really notice or care about when I read the first half) did make me much more aware of the fish spaceships they fly around in…

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Like – is it just me – or do they look a lot like….

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Erm…

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Hmmm….

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Oh wow.

My lawyer tells me that I shouldn’t say anything at this point – but yeah: I found it hard to unsee once I’d seen it…

And talking of things that maybe I shouldn’t talk about yeah – there’s this whole bit:

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(in Chapter 9)

And then in Chapter 13 there’s this:

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I’m trying to work out exactly how I should say stuff here because obviously this is sensitive ground and I don’t want to hurt or upset anyone (and I can hear my lawyer in my ear going: “shut up. shut up already.“) but yeah this whole bit about the importance of pronouns really really reminded me that bit in Fables when Bigby Wolf starts going on about the importance of Israel…

fables

It just feels a bit (a lot) clunky when writers start preaching their ideas so nakedly in the middle of something… I mean: I’m a big big fan of using stories to make points and spread around positive ideology and ideas (is it too predictable if I say “Alan Moore knows the score”?) but also in terms of how this is done it just feels totally… unconvincing? Like if you already agree with this being a major issue of our time then obviously you’re going to nod your head along with it. But as someone who I guess is a lot more (how should I say this?)… agnostic? It just feels like a bum note. I mean – I have corrected other people using the wrong pronoun to describe someone because I believe that it’s important to respect people and address them in the way that they like to be addressed (because of course). But I also suffer from a lot of anxiety when it comes to getting people’s names wrong (I actually accidentally mixed up a child’s name the other in the Library and the kid didn’t care but the Dad obviously did and I basically made a vow right then and there to never say anyone’s name ever again because it’s just not worth the hassle). So yeah – I could easily imagine myself mixing up someone’s pronouns and getting it wrong (I don’t think I’ve ever even met someone that wanted to be referred to as “them/they”) and at the risk of making myself sound like a bigot or whatever – I’m not completely sure that makes me a bad person? And at the risk of being even more unpopular – my personal politics involves being forgiving and showing empathy to everyone. Even if someone makes mistakes and messes up. Even if someone is bad and has different ideas to me etc etc I think everyone is redeemable. And I think the best way to covert people is to try to bring them onboard. And well yeah that final page where all the friends are hugging in the light and Jo is by herself in the dark – just makes me feel bad for Jo…. Which I’m not sure was the point? (Or I don’t know – maybe it was?).

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And yeah I realise that this isn’t a fashionable thing to say – but erm yeah: I don’t think isolating people is a good idea. For anyone. So…

But maybe all of this stuff is by-the-by in terms of why the second half didn’t win me over as much as the first… Because I think it’s mostly because of how the book is structured – the first half is mainly Mia and Grace and it’s really good and totally spot on and the second half is Mia’s search for Grace and well… it’s just not as gripping. Partly because Tillie Walden decides to amp up the presence of the crew and give them all a chance to shine in a way that just kinda… left me cold? To put it in typical comic book terms – it’s like reading somewhere the first half is about the romance between Superman and Lois Lane and the second half shows you Jimmy Olsen going off and having his own adventures with a giant cat or whatever. (I guess that’s how most people on the LGNN felt like reading Promethea – LOL). I have a contention in my head that one of the things that comics aren’t really that good at doing is ensemble pieces – narrow focus and a few characters is where it tends to work best… And yeah On a Sunbeam has this whole gang and everyone being the hero of their own story and well… I think maybe I just wanted less? (Which is a strange thing to say I know).

Anyhow if you want to read On a Sunbeam to see for yourself – the whole thing is online here: http://www.onasunbeam.com/

(Although reading the whole book online seems like a bit much to me)

He says. After having written all this myself. LOL

Will leave it at that.

I felt much the same about this one – the first half, the interpersonal stuff, was really nicely done, but then it was like she felt pressured to add this kinda clunky adventure onto the second half. Or maybe she got so far in and realised it wasn’t going anywhere, needed to end it somehow. I’ve read Spinning, her biocomic, and I get the impression she’s far better at people’s relationships than she is at writing plots, Spinning had the same sort of meandering drama, very similar in feel to Ghost World (but with less Gen X snark).

The Elliott stuff did feel a bit ham-fisted, yeah. I’d interpreted it as ‘need to sell the New Boss as a villain, let’s have them mis-gender characters and not care’. (Also, eww, gtfo Fables, no-one likes you here, go play somewhere else.)

I totally think comics can do ensemble just fine (Warren Ellis’ Trees seems to be doing it well so far), but I think you’ve got to set it up from the start. On a Sunbeam starts with Mia as clearly the protagonist, but then changes to bouncing viewpoints 2/3s in, and I feel like it’s the change that’s jarring. I gotta admit, too, there were a few parts at the end where I found it quite hard to follow who was where as a result of the simple artstyle. If I’d been paying more attention it might have been OK, but I was just coasting at the end, it wasn’t gripping me so much by then.

It was… alright. I dunno, I guess I was expecting more from the amount of hype surrounding her at the moment. Maybe that’s the problem? It’s not a comic for me, I’m not the audience she’s writing for and I wouldn’t have been reading it if not for the hype. If I’d read this as a tween I reckon I’d have absolutely loved it (sci-fi-lesbian-hogwarts = fuck yeah), and I don’t mean that in any way as a put-down. The Elliot soapbox makes a bit more sense, too, if you assume she’s aiming for a younger audience.

Happy new year, friends. Here are some things I enjoyed this year.

Moon Knight (2016–2017)
Jeff Lemire (W), Greg Smallwood (A), Jordie Bellaire (C), Wilfredo Torres (A), Francesco Francavilla (A/C), and James Stokoe (A)

In some ways, Moon Knight should be an easy in for new superhero readers: he’s usually disconnected from wider Marvel goings-on and many of his best arcs are short runs. In reality, Moon Knight’s multiple personas and odd origin story make him one of the more complex and difficult superhero-type characters to read. In the right hands, this mix of elements means ample opportunities for inventive storytelling.

Given how complicated a lot of Moon Knight stories tend to be, I don’t want to dwell on the plot. But a big selling point here is how writer Jeff Lemire holds the story together with multiple artists tackling different scenes and panels, giving each Moon Knight persona/aspect/character its own unique art style. It’s a neat effect on its own, but has the added value of keeping the reader on track as various character stories appear side by side.

moon knight

One of the artists is Francesco Francavilla, among my favourites. His retro-pulpy-noir illustrations and colours are always glorious, especially when paired with Moon Knight’s Jake Lockley persona, a night-shift cab driver with an eye on the city’s seedy streets.

If this appeals, I recommend starting with the Ellis/Shalvey/Bellaire run from 2015­–2016, and then moving onto Jeff Lemire’s three volumes.

Injection (2015–)
Warren Ellis (W), Declan Shalvey (A), Jordie Bellaire (C)

Speaking of Ellis/Shalvey/Bellaire… 2018 was the year I started to appreciate what they’ve been doing with Injection. When I read the first volume a couple years ago, its ensemble cast and ‘future tech + old myths’ plot mechanism were intriguing enough, but the slow pace kind of put me off. It turns out—after finding subsequent volumes in a library and giving the whole thing another go—what seems like slow pacing is actually story density. There’s a lot going on here. Like a good logic puzzle, re-reading reveals more clues about how everything fits together.

In terms of art, this creative team works in a ‘cinematic’ style. There’s lots of Coen-like framing with characters placed front-and-centre in wide panels, which climb down the pages like frames on a film reel. Apparently, this may be getting a TV adaptation, so it’ll be interesting to see how a film-ish comic translates to actual film.

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Stray Bullets (Killers, 2014; Sunshine and Roses, 2015–)
David Lapham (W/A) and Maria Lapham (editor/co-writer/general collaborator)

Stray Bullets is a long-running series following a group of people who live on the fringes of, and occasionally dabble in, criminal society of the late-70s-to-80s United States. This year, I caught up with some of the newer volumes, published after the creative team brought the series back from a decade-long hiatus in 2014.

Despite the dry spell, the new volumes carry on pretty seamlessly. The first arc, Killers, focuses on one of the series’ most loved characters, Ginny, a runaway settling in (or not?) to a less itinerant, less traumatic life with a kind but lonely aunt in Baltimore. Introduced as a child in the second issue of the original series, readers see Ginny grow up throughout the story. Now it’s 1986; she’s 16 and navigating the usual Stray Bullets fare: evading criminals, executing small-scale scams, and of course, relationships—this time with her aunt and new boyfriend.

[Spoilers here!!] Ginny is, so far, one of the few living Stray Bullets characters to be presented with a way out of a criminal lifestyle, and this volume sort of makes you wonder if maybe she’ll be the one to transition to a ‘quiet life’—so it’s a crushing moment when it becomes clear she can’t. [End spoilers]

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Stray Bullets tends to jump around a lot in time and location. Sunshine and Roses, the following arc, fills in details from an escapade in 1981 involving a different set of characters. Two volumes in, it too carries on in the traditional Stray Bullets manner of pitting wayward but likeable folks against criminal thugs and rotten circumstances.

I know such a hefty series is intimidating for new readers, but some time ago I read an interview with David Lapham where he talked about how he designed accessibility into the layout of Stray Bullets: it’s black and white, mostly an eight-panel layout (and never uses spreads or non-rectangular frames), and arcs (and some issues) can be read as self-contained stories. This is all true, but Ginny’s story in Killers will lose impact if you haven’t seen the character grow up. Really, the best place to start is always the beginning.

A few brief notes on things I’ve really enjoyed this year

Battle Classics : Nightshade by John Wagner and Mike Western

This was much, much better than I was expecting. Battle comic was of course most famous for Charley’s War by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun. That’s a great, brillliantly researched strip and remains perhaps of the best introduction for children to the horrors of the first world war but Mills determination to educate the young readers of Battle mean it can sometimes be a clunkily didactic read for adults perusing it in 2018. That’s not exactly a criticism but I was very impressed by how much more readable this tale about a small warship and its crew during world war 2 was. I consider Wagner to be the best writer in comics, he’s great because he never writes down to kids so his stories can be appreciated at any age, it doesn’t flinch from making the reader aware of how terrifying the WW2 convoy runs were but there’s nothing gratuitous about it either. The art never really draws attention to itself but just tells the story really well. The level of research is great as well. He probably just cribbed it all from Alistair MacClean novels or something but I haven’t read any of them so was easily impressed

The Absence by Martin Stiff

This quietly came out a few years ago without getting the attention it deserved but I discovered it via the Titan collection of this evocative, very, very English story about strange goings on in a village, written and drawn by Martin Stiff, set just after WW2 and was stunned by how good it was. The black and white art’s lovely and the writing is influenced by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman (but at his least twee) and John Wyndham although the writing feels personal and more than just the sum of its influences

As for modern comics, I completely agree with Amanda about Stray Bullets which is one of the very few ongoing US titles I still buy. It’s stunningly good, both in story and art. It’s got the sense of permanent uneasiness so there’s always the sense that something horrible might happen at any moment, like Lynch or Tarantino, but far more grounded in the real world with real people than either of those filmmakers. Can’t recommened it enough to anyone who likes good crime fiction


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

I’d like to second Amanda’s mention of Injection. For the casting if nothing else…

what would you do

Idris Elba as James Bond!
Danny Pudi (as Abed Nadir) as Sherlock Holmes!
Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully! (Ok a bit predictable that one but still)
John Constantine as John Constantine! (see above)
Someone I don’t know as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo! (who’s actually Doctor Who!? Nice).

And obviously also there’s some smart meta thing going on about how all of these archetypes are the ones that have messed up our understanding of the 21st century (or something?) which is nice – because then you can enjoy all the action stuff and special effects and feel like you’re being intellectually edified (hooray for comics!).

this will be a fun one

Re: what Rat was saying about On a Sunbeam…

Thinking it over I think that the “kinda clunky adventure” of the second half would have been vastly improved if instead of trying it into a big team ensemble thing – if Tillie Walden had kept pretty much all of the same beats but just given them to Mia. So the whole thing was Mia going off to the Staircase by herself and having to deal with all the crazy stuff that happens there. Just would have made it feel more epic and upped the sense that Mia had gone through all this stuff just to get to Grace – no?

The Jo/Elliott pronount stuff – I guess my thing was just without getting it all the politics of it all – but just if you’re feeling bad for Jo then doesn’t that mean the point is lost? Like when Hans Gruber falls off the top of the Nakatomi Plaza at the end of Die Hard (“Oh, I hope that’s not a hostage”) you don’t feel bad for him… With the way the Jo stuff happens it’s like – well – I kinda felt like she should have been painted as more of a bad guy? More unrepentant? Otherwise yeah: it just feels too harsh (to me anyway…).

Re: “I gotta admit, too, there were a few parts at the end where I found it quite hard to follow who was where as a result of the simple artstyle.” LOL! Same! Same! I mean: I think this was mentioned when we did The Invisibles (or maybe I just read it from something Grant Morrison wrote?) but one of the ideas was to make each character look distinctive and unique (like superheroes)…

invisibles

You’re not going to have any difficulties telling these guys apart…

But in On a Sunbeam – as far as I can remember they’re all basically the same height and the same build – some of them have different hair colours but then she keeps putting them into different coloured environments which yeah looks really beautiful but means that a lot of time I know I was going – huh? who is this person now?

Also the “aiming for younger audience thing” – I mean: I think I might have said this before on here – but just because it’s for kids or teenagers or whatever that doesn’t mean it should be stupid. In fact – if anything: it should be even better and smarter. No? (Yes!)

And a couple of other things I just remembered!

Best Wishes written and drawn by Paul Chadwick. I really wish Chadwick would do some more Concrete but meanwhile this will have to suffice. It’s a fable about a magic wishing well and two wishers’ coins colliding so they’re granted one another’s wishes. It’s one of the most charming things I’ve ever read although the publishers seem to be going out of their way to inadvertantly sabotage it, releasing it with almost no publicity at all (I keep an eye out for new stuff by him and even I only chanced upon this months after the release) and the blurb on the back claiming it’s reminiscent of Woody Allen when a) it really isn’t and b) I’m not convinced that’s even much of a compliment anyway these days… It will probably eventually be turned into an inferior dumbed down rom com with all the interesting bits removed and hopefully makes lots of money for Chadwick but it won’t be nearly as good as this. Chadwick once described Concrete as ‘Magical realism for rationalists’ and this book has a similar flavour. Highly recommended! See here for a more comprehensive review

http://www.brokenfrontier.com/paul-chadwick-best-wishes-mike-richardson-dark-horse/

And I also got around to finally reading the big pile of Cinema Purgatio issues which had been building up. For those who don’t know, it’s the anthology title currated by Alan Moore. It’s far from perfect. The strip by Max Brooks about the an alternative reality where the American Civil War was fought against ants is possibly the worst comic story I’ve ever read. But the title strip, by Moore and Kevin O’Neil which takes a satirical, usually horrific look at various cinema genres is very good. And what I really like about it is how carefully Moore has crafted it to work within an anthology comic, Each episode is fairly slight but there’s a mounting sense as unease as you progress through each of the stories. I suspect it’ll read a bit unevenly / repetetively when it’s eventually collected (though it’ll still be worth a read if you haven’t seen it yet) so it’s nice to see Moore doing something that works best in it’s original form as a good old fashioned COMIC instead of writing primarily for the collection as too many creators seem to do these days

In 2018 I learned, reading primarily through monthly releases is terrible. It’s so slow, you forget half the story because you’ve already seen full tv series between releases. So I can’t think of much that really wowed me. It has not been a good year for comics for me. Maybe I need to finally pay off my library fines.

Though to be fair the DC “2wice a month” structure for superhero comics has proven very fun – especially when a writer like Tom King leans into episodic storytelling.

But there is still some stuff that wowed me.

Some awesome stuff other people mentioned that I love/now want to read –

Chaboute – read a bunch in Foyles, he is so good.

Tillie Walden is hyped for a reason, but after reading some of her long form stuff I will say she works better in the short form. I Love This Part broke me in half, but with the longer stuff, it just feels like the same powerful emotional truth, stretched out to a longer form – getting less satisfying with every page. Special mention to Joel for opening 2019 with a publicly enacted debate with himself on whether or not he should talk about dicks.

Stray Bullets 36

I also read Stray Bullets this year, and it’s entirely Amanda’s fault.

For such a long running, loosely linked crime saga, Stray Bullets is impressively good in making each episode self contained. First issue I’d read outside of the first TPB. Wearing it’s Ghost Dog influence on it’s sleeve, Lapham constructs an insane story that builds, dazzles and surprises in every panel. It’s just such a stupidly good example of how to do a self contained story.

Honourable Mention – Cemetery Junction #1 – it just keeps on escalating and it has that pinch your soul Ellis funny dialogue I do so love.

Dork – Evan Dorkin

Dork
I’m not going to go into detail but you should all go buy into the ornate, chaotic comic detail that is the mind of Evan Dorkin. He attacks everything out of some beautifully perverse love of some form of decency (maybe) and is funnier than most of the stuff on the magic picture box.

Zegas – Fiffe

Zegas.png
So Fiffe is known for writing possibly the first Suicide Squad comic that is good outside of it’s premise – but Zegas is something mad and magical. It’s the story of a brother and sister, bumbling around a city, working crap jobs and going through relationship scraps in a classic “slice of life” web comic manner – but the art and the visual plays that Fiffe brings to their world has the imagination of a tripped out Quentin Blake/Road Dahl collaboration. Surreal, human, warm and just really good.

Fight Club 2 – Kinda

The start is objectively good. It’s quick and darkly thrilling. Watching Fight Club explore what happily ever after actually means is bloody interesting. If Fight Club is the edgy teenagers Essays in Love by Alain De Boitton, then FC2 is The Course of Love – asking how do these epic adrenaline charged hollywood endings last into the course of real life. I’m not sure it really answers it though. It raises questions, clever ones, but without a substantive ending, it devolves into more of a in-your-face meta pants flinging about the legacy of Tyler Durden and what writing a character that’s had a big influence on what masculinity has become, right before the 2016 surprises, could mean. It doesn’t satisfy the emotional intrigue that it’s plot set up at the start – what happens to Jack and by proxy our shitty selves? It’s not clear enough for me to care or understand. But it is a really fun, mad, surprising ride and until it gets to it’s mad/brilliant/exhausting end, it’s a good time.

Gotham Central

Gotham
So I wound up re-binging this about 8 years after I initially binged it and my god – Rucka and Brubaker are big for a reason. Fine there’s a cool premise “The Wire in Gotham”, “the perspective of the police cleaning up after Batman” and all of that. But anyone can come up with that. Rucka and Brubaker are master character writers, rife with humane, witty dialogue that puts character above all else. Then they throw them into perfectly constructed crime mysteries and then maybe they sometimes make these perfect characters in perfect stories deal with the emotional repercussions of being pawns in a system that exists for big ridiculous cartoon figures to mete out their ridiculous moral wars. Exhale.

Oh and the ending is an all timer in the league on crime noir endings.

Zero – Kot

Some writers have a perfect understanding of how specific genre storytelling works, applying that to fun surprising results. In Zero, Kot swallows all of Fleming, succeeds Le Carre and obliterates airport military thrillers as a super-soldier tells a kid thats about to kill him his bloody life story. As he does so, Kot, runs through every variation of spy/military genre convention, all molded into an insane life story that is beautifully intent on wailing on the “greater good” mentality that has underwritten so much of modern military intelligence’s misadventures. I’ve only read the first volume but my god, in that first volume, Kot packed about 12 volumes of “fuck you CIA” storytelling.

More by Paul Chadwick? Awesome, I read Concrete this year and loved it… But looking at that link, Best Wishes is uuuuugly! No fair, I adored the art in Concrete, the delicacy of it, and now…

wish

What the hell? That’s hideous, it’s like Charles Burns was in a horrible accident and had to draw off-handed!

I want to read it, I loved Concrete‘s writing, but art like that is a deal breaker.

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