Monday, 31 December 2012

Best Comics of 2012: part 1: independent comics

That time of year where folks are all doing their end of year lists. I've split mine into two: the 10 best comics published independently and then part 2 tomorrow with the 10 best comic books published by established houses. If you can't wait, however, the full list is up in all its glory over at FPI. The list is not in any particular order. As usual, clicking on the links should lead to places to but and/ or read.

The Monkey in the Basement/ It Doesn’t Exist by Corinne Mucha: I wrote about Mucha being the queen of mini-comics here, do yourself a favour and go buy some. Monkey won her an Ignatz, but I particularly enjoyed It Doesn’t Exist which was more thoughtful in tone.

New Sludge City by Brendan Leach, Retrofit Comics: Box Brown had a stonker of a year with Retrofit Comics, and in an ideal world he would receive recognition of some kind. I’m a fan of Leach’s art: its sharp and scrapy looking and he handily writes rather well too. Sludge City reminded me of Inception, but perhaps only in the swapping mind/bodies sense.

Flocks by L. Nichols, Retrofit Comics: A perfect example of what mini-comics can achieve:
‘Despite the topical nature of her subjects, Nichols retains an even handed, non-judgmental tone, perhaps because the focus is largely on her individual struggle here. Discussions and stories about religion and homosexuality are still rare, so it makes me proud to see it being done in comics and done in such a beautiful, resonant and evocative manner.’
Gold Star by John Martz, Retrofit Comics: And just to hammer home how awesome Retrofit was this year: this is the fourth entry from them on this list, and no, they’re not paying me. Martz’s Gold Star = situational comedy with a sharp little twist.

Farmer’s Dilemma by Sam Alden: A comic about a fox cub raised by two chickens, which is essentially about growing up, expectations and fulfillment. Alden’s art is a thing of quiet majesty here. I’m really proud of the fact that I managed to grab a copy of the print edition of this- it’s one of my most treasured possessions.

Ablatio Penis by Will Dinski, 2D Cloud: Review upcoming, hopefully. On the surface Dinski’s comic appears to be a pithy and timely commentary on politics in the USA and the maneuvering of morals and campaigns, but ostensibly it’s about what defines a person and the difference in the way in which we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us.


Murder She Writes by John Allison: Is there anyone left who hasn’t heard of John Allison’s comics mastery? It seems perfunctory at this point, but Allison’s output and quality shouldn’t be taken for granted. As consistently good as Bad Machinery is (and it is very good), I do enjoy the spin-off tales featuring one of the kids outside their normal environment. Mystery is my favourite genre and Lottie my most-loved character, so this was a real treat.

The End of the Fucking World by Charles Forsman, Oily Comics: I’ve only read the first seven issues of Forsman’s slice of Americana out of fourteen and it’s pretty breathtaking what he achieves over 12 pages per issue. The reader never feels theyr’e being skimped on in any way: I don’t know how he does it, but it’s a lesson in storytelling.


Comiques vol 2 by Anne Emond: Anne Emond is very funny and makes comics that are snarky and familiar and warmly-drawn. This is a collection of them. You know someone is good when you wish they produced more work. I wish Emond produced more comics, but I was happy to settle for this this year.

The Whale House by Andrew Cheverton, Chris Doherty, Angry Candy: I really liked this, though it’s perhaps technically a first issue rather than a mini-comic. However, I don’t know when, or if, we’re getting another and it certainly impressed me enough to merit a spot on here. An intriguingly set up mystery complete with rambling country house and oddball characters. I’d love to see more.

That's it! Part 2 tomorrow.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

One Percent Press

One Percent Press are another of those great micro-publishing/distributing set-ups that have been happily cropping up all over the comics scene this year, particularly in America. They sell print and digital comics as well as music. They have a free postage offer going at the moment, which includes shipping to the UK, so I ordered the 3 comics above: Little Wolves by James Hindle, Simple Stuff by Emily Churco and Supposed To by Joe Lambert, the total cost of which was just over £7, which is ridiculous (in the good way, just to clarify). So yes, this has basically been a friendly-ish public service announcement: you should absolutely head over there and browse their site, some interesting and cheap stuff on there. And free shipping!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Doctor Who Edward Gorey Death Alphabet

Some mash-ups seem more fitting than others. This one, by Deviant Art user  Eat Toast, combines the concept and aesthetic style of Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies with Doctor Who, to create a spooky alphabet featuring some famous and infamous deaths from the sci-fi TV series. Gorey's book, of course, depicts the weird and creepy deaths of children, so it's not quite as perturbing as that, but a nifty idea all the same.

Cyril Pedrosa's gorgeous Brazil art travelogues

I'm terribly lax at remembering and checking people's sites and blogs. Half of them I'm certain I've added to Google Reader at some point, only for them to never show up again. Anyway, I wandered over to check the magnificent French artist Cyril Pedrosa's blog the other day and although the last time it was updated was back in October, I did come across these absolutely sublime travelogue/sketchbooks he's kept when on a trip to Brazil. It seems incredibly redundant to call them mere sketchbooks when a glance alone belies the quality and talent of the artist. I'm genuinely awed when artists can produce such work in short periods of time when simply sitting around and observing their surroundings.

I first became aware of Pedrosa through Three Shadows, his beautiful 2011 windswept treatise on loss and fate: available in English and published by First Second, I'd recommend it unreservedly to anyone looking for a great comic to read. Pedroas's background lies in animation, having worked on Disney movies 'Hercules' and 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' but he's since movied into more literay graphic storytelling with the publication of a few semi auto-bio comics and collaborative efforts in addition to Three Shadows, but none of these have been translated into English as far as I can tell.

I really hope he does more comics work, and that we get to see more of it translated in the future, as he's one of those artists you definitely want to see a lot more of.  

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Star Trek Doctor Who Assimilation 2 issues #7 & #8

I am only just beginning to emerge from the haze of illness and academia in which I’ve been engulfed for the past month or so, which means apologies are due for not reviewing #issue 7 earlier (how does Richard review 2000AD every week?!). Instead you get the dubious pleasure of both penultimate and ultimate issue analysis combined. I’m not going to pretend this series has been anything other than disappointing. Yes, these last two issues gambled along at a nice pace, but only towards an ever more inevitable and formulaic action denouement.

With the Doctor and the Ponds using the Tardis to travel back in time to the Battle of Wolf in#issue 5, when a Borg-assimilated Picard, under the name of Locutus, is leading a war against the Federation resulting in the killing of thousands. Their task is to board that ship with a view to downloading a copy of the still-intact Borg collective mainframe, and their trip is as straightforward as can be, as they slip in and out without being detected. There is a slight moment where you wonder whether the Doctor will interfere and undo Picard’s forced transformation, saving hundreds of lives and Picard from an awful and harrowing experience about which he feels guilty to this day, but the Doctor declares the event a fixed point in time and they make their way back to the Enterprise.
Upon returning, they discover the occurrence of another glitch: the Cybermen ships have advanced too far ahead for the Enterprise to follow, meaning a much smaller team than anticipated travelling aboard the Tardis. Which is of course a risky strategy when your plan is to infiltrate a ship carrying thousands of Cybermen. Anyhow, the Doctor, the Ponds, Picard, Whorf, Data and a few others make the trip, with a plan to split into two teams: one to cause a distraction while the other loads the Borg mainframe into the Cybermen computers.
Needless to say, the ship is boarded, the mainframe loaded, thus restoring the Borg to their evil selves and the Cybermen defeated. There’s (rather pointlessly) also a confrontation with a Cyber Controller which basically requires a bit of grandstanding and dialogue between him and the Doctor, none of which is instrumental to the story in any feasible manner. Ostensibly it’s done as a showdown, I suppose, and a way of stalling whilst the Enterprise catches up and emits that all-important gold dust into the Cyber ships and disabling them. Hands are shaken, goodbyes said, a passing remark on the Borg’s inability to overcome their programming made and all go their own way.

It’s a disappointing end to what promised to be a strong story: the first 3 issues with the establishing scenes of the Doctor in Ancient Egypt, the flashback to Captain Kirk and Spock were all wonderfully done. Essentially the downfall of the series (apart from the art) was the lack of an original, or even solid, story. If I squint really hard, I can almost see how it may have seemed like a good idea- pitching two great enemies of the Doctor and Picard in an alliance and then a double-cross, then having one on the verge of being wiped out, putting Picard in a moral quandary, with the Doctor as an opposing/counter balance. On paper, the various elements still make sense: the joining of forces of the Borg and Cybermen in their similarity, the addition of Picard’s time as Locutus, but unfortunately the transition of these to rise above anything other than standard beat-the-bad guys fare was a struggle.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Cindy and Biscuit no.3 now available

Dan White now has copies of Cindy and Biscuit, his terrific comics about a girl and dog duo with a thirst for adventure, volume the third, for sale in his shop. They are, I assure you, consistently excellent. I remember talking to Richard (who first put me onto these a while back) about the deceptive simplicity of White's Cindy stories- they appear to be straightforward tales of a girl who loves exploring the outdoors with her pet, but over time, White, through inclusion and exclusion, shows what appears to be the reality of her situation: living with a rather neglectful single mother, bullied and ostracised for being different at school, and using her imagination as an escape with her only friend: Biscuit the dog.
I'm sure I've linked to Dan's site before, but you can read most of the comics online for free there, but the print versions are very cheap- this one will set you back £4 for a 56 page comic, which includes the stories Abducted Again, Cindy and Biscuit and the Camera, and Cindy and the Fever. Issues 1 and 2 of Cindy are also available, please check them out, they're truly good, you won't be disappointed.

Nobrow launching kids imprint, Flying Eye Books

Some genuinely fantastic, exciting news as the year rounds to a close: Nobrow, purveyors of excellent comics, books, prints and art are launching a children's books division in February 2013. You can find and bookmark the swishy Flying Eye website here, though there's not much apart from that lovely illustration above on it at the moment. Here's a quick few words from Nobrow on what to expect from their new line:
'Featuring the same commitment to great storytelling, eye-popping artwork, great design and sustainable manufacturing that characterises Nobrow books, Flying Eye aims to bring you the most beautifully produced, entertaining, collectible, cherishable (not perishable!) and wonder-filled books you could wish for.
With work from the likes of Viviane Schwarz, Ben Newman and ATAK, as well as the latest  instalment in Luke Pearson’s Hilda series, we hope that you’ll find something to love with every Flying Eye release coming in the New Year.'
Nobrow are renowned for their magical magpie curating abilities, gathering the best of design, comics, and illustration in beautiful quality offerings, so the introduction of this new kids imprint is really good news. They've had a few nominations in Angouleme this year too, so this announcement caps off a great year for them (congratulations, guys!), and at the risk of making a large sweeping statement, I think it's a good indication for British comics too.
Not sure if this is the finalised Flying Eye logo, but I really like it- nice, strong design: simple, effective, fits with the product.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Michael Leunig responds to anti-semite cartoon claims

Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig posted the above cartoon on his site about the Israel Palestine conflict, referencing Martin Niemoller's poem 'First they came.' The cartoon, which is clearly pro-Palestine, has drawn accusations of antisemitism on Leunig's part. He responded to the claims in a lengthy article in The Age, some of which is quoted below. His thoughts on the role of the artist are of particular interest. Art is always narcissistic to some extent, but it seems to me -in current cartooning and comics especially- art is less about society, politics and representation, but ever increasingly focused on the individual.
'It has been publicly inferred that I am anti-Semitic because of a cartoon I created expressing sad dismay at the plight and suffering of the Palestinians in the recent bombardment of Gaza.
As a cartoonist I am not interested in defending the dominant, the powerful, the well-resourced and the well-armed because such groups are usually not in need of advocacy, moral support or sympathetic understanding; they have already organised sufficient publicity for themselves and prosecute their points of view with great efficiency.
My cartoonist's duty and conscience compel me to focus on the plight of the subjugated, the ones most neglected, severely deprived and cruelly afflicted.
I am not against Israel but I am opposed to what I regard as its self-defeating, self-corrupting militarist policy, which is not only excessively homicidal and traumatising but sows the seeds of irreversible hatred and can never bring a lasting peace. One expects more from a prosperous democratic country. It's as if this young nation Israel has not yet come to maturity; so delinquent, irresponsible and unwise are its actions.

The work of the artist is to express what is repressed or even to speak the unspoken grief of society. And the cartoonist's task is not so much to be balanced as to give balance, particularly in situations of disproportionate power relationships such as we see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a healthy tradition dating back to the court jester and beyond: to be the dissenting protesting voice that speaks when others cannot or will not.
My cartoons have also had me labelled a misogynist, a blasphemer, a homophobe, a royalist, a misanthrope and a traitor, to name but a few. I would sum it all up by saying: I am a cartoonist.'
You can read Leunig's response in full here.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Trailer Treble: After Earth, Pacific Rim, Superman Man of Steel

How good does next year look in terms of sci-fi movies? The seems to have been just trailer after trailer of hugely anticipated movies, so I thought I'd post a few of the ones I'm really excited about (excited: definition= will be watching in cinemas). The one omission from here is the Star Trek: Into Darkness teaser trailer, which I'm going to hold off posting until we get an extended version, although I'm pretty sure everyone's seen it by now.
First up, Will Smith in After Earth: It's hard to predict these things (especially with what looks like a bumper summer for film releases), but I hope Will Smith does well out of this movie- I think he's immensely watchable and his last few offerings haven't quite clicked. Smith and his son star as aliens who crash land on a planet devoid of humans but full of all manner of evolved beasts and creatures: Earth.

Pacific Rim: Guillermo del Toro's latest sees aliens invade the planet, not from the vast chasms of space, but rising from deep under the ocean and earth. Naturally, the humans build giant manned robots to fight them off. Hard to get a feel from a 2 minute trailer, but not sure of a) 'they did not count on human's resilence' voiceover, and b) robots. But, Idris Elba! And it is del Toro, so will watch.

Zack Snyder's Superman: I never got through the last Superman movie- I was called away from the tv for some reason and I didn't care enough to finish it. I've never cared for the character if I'm honest, but I'm curious to see what Snyder and Nolan have conjured up, and this trailer makes me even more curious.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Image release collection of Paul Pope's early work

I'm looking to get into Paul Pope's comics work (I don't think I've read anything apart from Batman: Year 100) and so this 228 page Image release of some of his early stuff is pretty timely. I believe the book combines some previously unseen illustrative work along with other short comics: 'illustrations of Rimbaud's poetry and ancient Greek tragedy; manga about curry-eating, troublemaking teenage girls; and paeans to love and sensuality and city life', so it's definitely worth your money. Here's some more info from the press release:
'The first half of the collection is the story "The One Trick Rip-Off" that was originally serialized in Dark Horse Presents in 1995-1996. In a heat-drenched Los Angeles, gangs with names like "The Paid-in-Spades," "The Moolah Muthas" and, of course, "The One Tricks" battle for dominance with each other — and within their ranks. Tubby and Vim are in love and want escape, but they only way they know how is what they've learned in their world. So they set themselves up to be thieves stealing from thieves. And if they fail, it's the end.
A 'nineties West Side Story, with a touch of the surreal and supernatural, "The One Trick Rip-Off" represents, to Pope, a portrait of sorts of himself as a young artist.
"I would say in retrospect, the work in this book is strong," Pope said. "It is early and rough in places, but I was young and I was ambitious. It is good to be generous to your early work as an artist since it is the path which leads you to where you eventually arrive. There is no nihilism in art. The only fault is in stopping. These are the early steps of an artist struggling and striving to be better and to be accomplished," said Pope of his early work. "I hope people enjoy this work. It is aggressive and it is punk rock, and that never goes out of style."
Both editions of THE ONE TRICK RIP-OFF/DEEP CUTS will be in stores on January 16.

How much should a first issue reveal?

"I’m not real sure when this trend of expecting the first issue of a comic to explain every single thing about where a series is going started, but it’s not something I’m particularly into as a reader or a publisher."
-Eric Stephenson, publisher of Image Comics
The above quote from Eric Stephenson has been doing the rounds on Tumblr a bit, with people chipping in here and there in acquiescence, generally to complain how readers are impatient numpities who want to know everything about everything in the first issue of a comic, and the appreciation of slow burning tales that reveal things 'when the time is right' is dead. This is an issue that I could rant about for a while (balance, it's about balance), but lucky for you I've got an assignment due tomorrow, so I'm just going to leave you with Abhay Khosla's more articulate and succinct response:
'No. There’s no such “trend”— there’ve been any number of hit comics that didn’t “explain every single thing” with sales and critical success ensuing. Even if there were such a trend, audiences are allowed to expect things— those are called audience expectations, and understanding and manipulating those is a normal and understood part of the job of a creative artist; that’s on the job description.  
But even if we assumed arguendo that audiences have complained in a clumsy way about unrealistic expectations not being satisfied, audiences are allowed to say things in a clumsy way. They’re the audience not James Walcott; their job isn’t to be the editor while a professional editor is in absentia, carefully articulating the deficiencies of their experiences. One needs only to look past the clumsiness, and the sentiment he’s complaining about is invariably the oldest one there is: ”The first issue has to give me a reason to buy the second issue, and it didn’t.” Yeah: that’s not a “trend” or a “meme” or a “fad”— that’s the job. That’s always been the job. That “trend” started at the dawn of the enterprise.  
It’d be nice if someday, some of that the energy comic creators uses to lecture their audience, if some of that could be used to power our light bulbs or to make toast or maybe get used to make better comics. Not tomorrow, or day after— let’s not get crazy. (There’s other ways to get toast, in the meantime— buy a toaster… ordering toast from restaurant… maybe you could use a skillet somehow? I don’t really cook). But maybe someday. Some people say I’m a dreamer; other people call me Maurice— don’t get the reference; find it very off-putting; not my name.'
-Abhay Khosla   

Monday, 10 December 2012

Through the Walls: style and substance

I must admit upon reading the first short story in Through the Walls, I thought ‘nice art, funny, not taxing’ and settled in to read more of the same – a seduction of the eyes, but undemanding on the brain. And there’s nothing wrong with comics like that- everything has its place. Then the second story began, much like the first: deceptively lulling and charming, but with definite shades of creepiness and grey, moments here and there that made me pause, shift, ponder a little. Having eased the reader in with a light, humorous opener, Cornette then begins to insinuate ideas that unsettle and make you question. What at first glance appears to be a collection of quirky, light vignettes, turns out to be something altogether off-kilter, and as the book goes on, it interjects a weird thought here, some jarring behaviour there, getting progressively more morally dubious and indeterminate.
Through the Walls is a series of little stories about unconnected people possessing the same ability: to walk through walls, or pass through any kind of material- people animals, metal. It’s an ability that extends to objects and people they touch: so a man can reach through a bathroom wall and grab some toilet paper from the adjoining room, but if it’s not pulled the full way through to the other side, it will remain in stasis. It’s not really a power in the heroic sense, nor do any of the characters view it as such, using it instead for everyday kind of situations, or choosing not to incorporate it into their lives at all. There’s a feeling of this idea being presented to you, shown in action and use via various characters, without great judgement or direction on the author’s part, and left for you to decide whether it is a good or bad thing, an improvement or a detraction, or even anything as distinct as that.
As with most things, the scruples lie not with the power itself, but those who use it. One story follows Loic, who works with and lives in the same building as Estelle. Having asked her out multiple times, she eventually consents, making it clear to him that she would like to take things very slowly, a request he compiles with superficially, but later slips through the walls of her flat, going through her things, watching her change, shower, paint her nails, cook. On one of his ‘visits’ watching her sleep, she awakes suddenly, aware of an intruder and calls him for assistance, unaware that it was in fact him. This incident leads Estelle to appreciate andtrust him, and she allows him further into her life. Another story shows a married woman whose husband is out of town, going to dinner with an old friend, one she knows has a crush on her. Given no other context, we watch as he makes pass after pass, she eluding his clutches by slipping out of his grasp, but not leaving. She appears bored by his advances and the situation in general, not interested in him or anything else, gleaning only a vague amusement in teasing him and revelling in a certain self-assuredness that her ability provides.
It’s that old Uncle Ben chestnut of ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ re-encapsulated in the lens of a ho-hum ‘power’ and a people all too susceptible to the human condition. The clever, clever thing is that the ‘power’ on offer here is so… flat. You couldn’t use it for virtuous or nefarious means- it’s too inconsequential. Instead it serves as a vehicle from which to question the choices people make, another trait or characterisation that makes us do the things we do. Is the ability these people have been given what makes them the way they are, or does it simply enhance and aid what already exists within? It’s this ambiguity treading into moral quandary that makes you feel uncomfortable.
I have not come across Stephane Oiry’s art before, and I am too unimaginative to think up new superlatives to describe it: fine-lined, elegant, beautiful, whimsical and as lovely as any lady you’ll see. I love his use of colour- I mean just take a look at the pages shown here. It has a funny effect of appearing to be something I’ve seen before, yet managing to be something different and fresh at the same time. It’s a great instance of when the art in a comic really works to contribute to creating the atmosphere of the book: Oiry’s charming illustrations helping Cornette along with his sly provocations- it looks pretty, but what exactly is taking place here? The juxtaposition of the pleasure derived from Oiry’s creations, combined with Cornette’s darker undertones works well.
Through the Walls is not a book that announces it’s intention to discuss any big ideas, but one that allows them to marinate slowly. I began it expecting a diverting trifle and came away with one of the entries on my best of year list. You can’t really ask more of a book.

Double Portrait: Polish comics anthology

Continuing preparation for one of my new year's resolutions to expand my horizons and read comics from all around the world (which will probably go the way of all good intentions), I ordered a copy of Double Portrait last week. A Polish comics anthology, it's compiled exclusively of contributions from 19 female, Polish comic creators. Published by Polish comics company, Centrala (this year awarded the best comics publisher in Poland), the comics are autobiographical in nature. Here's a brief provisio of the book from David Schilter of kus!
'No more secrets! This anthology opens the door to the vital and colorful, but very well hidden, female comics scene from Poland. 19 young comics authors tell gripping stories about their lives-childhood, adolescence as well as their current daily struggles and joys, about their fears, desires and dreams. While discovering this vibrant group of artists, you will also get a glimpse into the Polish life. The comics capture the multifaceted relationships to friends, men and very often to their dearly loved grandmothers, who might now also tell you some valuable life lessons.'
You can buy a copy here.



Friday, 7 December 2012

5 for Friday

Pretty, undemanding stuff for Friday:

This comic was inspired by a Superbrothers article (presented by Brandon Boyer) that really hit home for me. I wanted to challenge myself to write a wordless Zelda comic that sort of played with the subtle magic of the series; exploring, discovering mysterious caves, etc.
By Zac Gorman
'This comic was inspired by a Superbrothers article (presented by Brandon Boyer) that really hit home for me. I wanted to challenge myself to write a wordless Zelda comic that sort of played with the subtle magic of the series; exploring, discovering mysterious caves, etc.'

Panel detail from perennial favourite, The Stuff of Legend, illustrated by Charles Paul Wilson III

Stars or snow? I prefer the former, Calvin the latter.

This is just the right amount of sweet/cute, isn't it? By Christopher R, of feelafraidcomics 

Featured this immense psoter/comic of Once Upon A Time In The West by the muchly talented Sam Hiti, over on FPI too, it's that good.