Today’s Best of the Year picks come courtesy of writer Adi Tantimedh. Regular blog readers will recognise Adi as the genius behind my favourite webcomic reading of the year, La Muse. Aided by Hugo Petrus’ fine artwork, Adi has taken one of the most clichéd genres in comics – the almost godlike superhero – and then twisted and exploited the stereotypes and clichés we’re all familiar with into new directions, with plot turns that have frequently taken me by surprise, which is incredibly refreshing to me – when you read a lot you often develop a sixth sense for a tale and can predict where it will go next, so to have one where I really don’t know how it will turn out is immensely welcome. As is the wonderful layering Adi puts into La Muse, with finger-on-the-pulse observations of popular culture, celebrity, political machinations, political activism, celebrity, the media – he even manages to get sex in there in an adult way and not the cringe-worthy, exploitative way some mainstream comics use sex (which frequently leaves us apologising about it and trying to defend the medium as not all being like that, honest).
(the opening chapter of La Muse by Adi Tantimedh and Hugo Petrus, currently serialised on Big Head Press’ website)
I’m sure I am embarrassing Adi at this point, but doggone it, it is good stuff – great characters, brilliant twists, great use of his knowledge of culture and politics, some great humour in there (the neo-Nazi bisexual gangbang remains one of the funniest things I’ve seen in comics recently) and best of all it treats the reader as if they have a brain. La Muse is currently being serialised – absolutely free – at Big Head Press, with a new page each Monday, Wednesday and Friday (which has actually worked to its advantage in my estimation, making the reader take it in small chunks rather than race through it; builds tension and makes you take it more slowly, notice more elements). If you haven’t been following this hip and very cool series so far then why not use a bit of your Christmas break to kick back, log on and read it from the start? And I know I have said this before, but I am going to say it again – publishers, why aren’t you jostling each other to talk to Adi and Hugo? I’d buy a print version and I’m sure so would a lot of others.
Anyway, now I have finished embarrassing Adi it is time to see just what works have been especially important to him this year. Adi picks a diverse range of graphic novels (including our first Best of the Year manga choice), novels, TV shows and movies (including one which has only just come out very recently). And he faced the same problem everyone has with this kind of list – how to pick out only three titles; he’s bang on the money when he says we’ve been spoiled for choice in good works to pick from this year. Over to Adi:
It’s been a boom year for graphic novels, which is where the real comics action is at, and I’m spoilt for choice to choose a top three, as that means leaving Bryan Talbot’s wonderful Alice in Sunderland, Matt Kindt’s postmodernist take on WWII espionage Super Spy, the Malaysian national treasure Lat’s semi-autobiographical Kampung Boy and Town Boy or even Nick Abadzis’ Laika, I’m forced to narrow my list down to the most enjoyable books that lingered the longest in my head after reading them.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: the Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
This book is like a loud orgy in the fiction section of a well-stocked bookshop. Every character in the history of fiction is connected. They meet, fight or have sex together, occasionally kill each other, and the newer generation is getting nastier. Alan Moore’s tour of fictional history doesn’t just offer the ultimate in fanfic team-ups, but goes after bigger fish, namely how fiction comments on the times they were written in, and the Black Dossier is no different.
Along the way are impressive parodies/pastiches: a pitch-perfect Jeeves and Wooster meet Lovecraft’s unspeakable horrors, a very good Jack Kerouac pastiche that’s every bit as painful to read as the real thing, a Tijuana porn bible comic from Orwell’s 1984 featuring the old time newspaper character Jane. An epic crossover that makes the Infinite Meltdowns or Hulk’s Incredible Hissy-Fits from other comic companies look utterly dull and anaemic.
Chance in Hell by Gilbert Hernandez
Gilbert Hernandez remains the most consistently surprising and shocking storyteller in comics and this “exploitation movie” featuring one of his characters in a supporting “role” is a tale of survival, coming of age and emotional damage that’s as spooky and dark as any movie by David Lynch.
Eden: It’s an Endless World by Hiroki Endo
The most underrated Science Fiction manga in the shops right now, this mix of Ballardian dystopia, balkanised warring states, disease, terrorism, crime and cyberpunk through the eyes of the son of a major power player as he comes of age is a restless mix of Faustian bargains, moral dilemmas and bloody, ultra-violent carnage. No big-eyed, cutesy drawings here, but gritty adults making hard decisions and having to live by them.
Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
It’s Pynchon poking his head out to present another melange of historical tragedy, pulp adventure, puckish time-travelling adventurers and slapstick, before disappearing into his hiding place again. What more do you want?
Tree of Smoke by Dennis Johnson
The underrated Johnson covers something deeply unfashionable: the Vietnam War, but lays down big ideas about morality, violence, black ops and guilty consciences in this year’s Big American Novel whose punch will take you by surprise.
After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Another slice of mysterious and mood from Murakami about a chance night-time encounter in a Tokyo bar brings forth a girl who’s always awake at night and her beautiful sister who’s been asleep for months. Moves with the unpredictability of a dream and the vividness of a Wong Kar-Wai movie.
Mournful and majestic take on the End of the Western and a commentary on the pursuit and tragic consequences of Celebrity. Yes, it’s perhaps too long by half an hour, but it’s closer to a European arthouse film, with career-peak performances from Brad Pitt as a celebrity outlaw both increasingly paranoid and weary of his status and craving death, and Casey Affleck as the creepy stalker who worships him so much that he doesn’t know till too late that he could never become him but only end up a reviled footnote in history.
The last 30 years of Hong Kong history as seen through the eyes of a projectionist in a leftist neighbourhood cinema who staunchly holds fast to his socialist ideals even as everyone else moves with the tide in Hong Kong and rides the ups and downs of economic and social instability. Funny and heartfelt like a 40s Frank Capra movie, and Anthony Wong consolidates his status as an elder statesman of Hong Kong actors. Moving from drooling psycho-killer roles (The Untold Story) to gangsters (Hardboiled, Young and Dangerous) to increasingly nuanced cop roles (Infernal Affairs) to a dreamer with a heart of gold, Wong is Asia’s answer to Gene Hackman.
Mad genius Werner Herzog strikes again! And so does Christian Bale’s Method commitment to starve himself half to death for total character authenticity. Based on a true story of US pilot Dieter Dengler’s crash, capture and daring escape in Laos during the Vietnam War (a tale previously told in Herzog’s documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly), Herzog pits his hero’s slightly mad tenacity and self-belief against the vast and monstrous indifference of Nature to see how well he can survive. The answer: by the skin of his teeth. The irony being that Dengler’s crazed will to survive makes him saner than anyone else around. Much of the torment the actors suffer onscreen is for real, which you just gotta respect.
Possibly the last thing you would expect from network TV. A black but sweet comedy about death and unrequited love with detective mysteries thrown in. A piemaker with the ability to bring the dead back to life with one touch, the childhood sweetheart he resurrected but can’t ever touch again because that would only send her back to death forever, and the grouchy, deadpan private detective who uses them to solve murders and collect the reward money, this would seem like a high concept that flew off the map, but the mad comic sensibility, the candy-coloured art direction, storybook narrator’s voice and occasional bursts into musical flourishes make this a unified piece of television with real conviction. At once whimsical and gleefully nasty, this is the closest we’re going to get to Tim Burton directing Roald Dahl’s stories.
Looks like another cop show on the surface, but this series has been the most pleasant and subtle surprise of the year. Damien Lewis is brilliant as a cop who spent more than ten years in jail for a heinous murder he didn’t commit, now not only free but massively rich from the pay-out he sued the city for, and reinstated to homicide detective as part of his settlement. What sets him apart is his strict adherence to Zen, which he adopted to stay sane in prison, but now uses to solve his cases – and investigate the conspiracy within the police department that framed him. Lewis is mercurial, not-all-there, unpredictable, and possibly more dangerous than the ones he hunts. That his new partner is a recovering drug addict with her own dark side only adds to the fun.
Yes, the finale falls back on the current UK screenwriter’s credo, “When in doubt, just turn the hero into JESUS!” (a ploy also used, and to more cringe-making results, in the terrible Torchwood), but this is still the best UK drama on TV, certainly the only one that dares to push out mad ideas, glorious epic Science Fiction and heartbreak in equal measure in episodes like “Human Nature” and “Blink”, the latter probably being the cleverest TV script for years.