Today’s Best of the Year guest post comes from one of our most talented Brit artists, a man who’s proved a dab hand at thinking about his art and altering and changing it to suit different stories with great effect, be it Mr X, Timulo, Scarlet Traces, Dredd or the macabre, twisted delights of Stickleback. He also offers up some visual treats regularly on his own blog and shares insights into his approach to his art which is always fascinating reading. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri, today’s guest is Mr Matt Brooker, better known by his brush-name of D’Israeli – Matt cautions us that “I was out of the UK, living in Greece, from October 2009 to end of August 2010, so some of my picks are a bit odd as a result…” Let’s see what Matt enjoyed this year:
FPI: Can you pick three comics/webcomics/graphic novels which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Matt: 1) Ian Culbard’s adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness – a stylish, savvy, cinematic adaptation of an absolute classic of modern SF/horror. Landmark it may be, but Lovecraft’s text nevertheless presents more than a few challenges to the would-be adaptor; from the structural (an over-reliance on prefiguring to the point of mania) to the plain practical (how could a bas-relief, however detailed, convey the emotions of a race of aliens that look like over-large courgettes topped with starfish?) Culbard comes up with some very elegant solutions to these problems, turning out a book that’s tight, coherent and gripping. The result is kind of Edgar P. Jacobs meets John Carpenter, yet the flavour of the original is cleverly preserved.
(this exploration of the unknown may be ill-advised; a scene from Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness by Ian Culbard, published SelfMadeHero)
2) Trinkets: An Attic Full of Stories by Michael Dialynas – I discovered this at Comicdom, the Athens comic con. As the title suggest, Trinkets is a collection of short stories, fairy-tale-like and beautifully produced in a variety of styles by amazing Greek-Irish writer/artist Michael Dialynas . The drawing is stylized (sometimes verging on the cartoony) with a gorgeous lush use of colour. The text on the page is in Greek, but each story has a page “For Anglo-Saxons” with the full text in English plus a key relating it to pages and panels. The makes reading the book in English a little like doing a puzzle, but well worth the effort. Dialynas’ The Sneaky Stories of Snitch and Snatch (text in English) is also highly recommended. More info from Dialynas’ blog The Wooden Crown.
(rather lovely cover art for Trinkets: An Attic Full of Stories by and (c) Michael Dialynas)
3) You Are There – Jean-Claude Forest and Jacques Tardi’s tale (originally entitled “Ici Meme”) about the heir to a great estate which has been so sub-divided by lawsuits between greedy relatives that the only place for him to live is on top of the walls separating the sub-divisions. But he controls all the gates…
Alongside Mœbius’ The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius, this is the defining classic of 1970′s Band Dessinee, but unlike The Airtight Garage you really need to be able to read the dialogue to make it worth owning… this first English translation has been much too long coming, so I was delighted to be able to read You Are Here at last. It was originally conceived as a screenplay, and reads like one of those particularly mad Sixties films (like Peter Sellers’ Casino Royale or The Magic Christian) of which I’m so unreasonably fond.
(scenes from You Are There by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Claude Forest, published in English by Fantagraphics)
FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Matt: 1) The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole – out in Greece, it was difficult and expensive to pick up English Language books, so I took to downloading free public domain ebooks from www.manybooks.net and reading them on my phone. Since most of the books available were from the 19th century, I took the opportunity explore the early roots of horror and fantasy.
The earliest of the books I read was The Castle of Otranto (1764), regarded as the first Gothic novel, and the grand-daddy of just about every haunted house story written ever since. It certainly acts as a link between the scheming nobles of Shakespeare and the crumbling castles of Poe. I don’t know that I’d recommend it as a good read in general, but I loved it for it’s mad-as-a-fish-in-a-privet-hedge moments, such as when a young bridegroom is squashed flat when a giant helmet falls on him. No really.
(an 18th century illustration of Walpole’s grandfather of Gothic, The Castle of Otranto, by John Carter)
2) Perdido Street Station by China Miéville – I’d heard Miéville speak at Eastercon a couple of years ago and was very impressed by him. Perdido Street Station is his second novel, a great sprawling 800-pager – it was a bit daunting, picking up a great brick of a book like that, but it doesn’t feel extraordinarily long as you’re reading it – though Miéville goes into great detail about the shape and life of his city of New Crubizon (and hints at much more), he does it with a great lightness of touch, never getting bogged down in description. His fictional world encompasses elements of magical fantasy and steampunk but never becomes mired in genre conventions. There’s also a great twist at the end.
Perdido Street Station is a very ambitious book, and I’m not quite sure if it adds up to the sum of its parts in the end; but reading it is a hell of a ride, and I’d recommend it wholeheartedly.
3) The Tiger That Isn’t: Seeing Through a World of Numbers by Michael Blastland – I got into this through Radio 4′s excellent series on numbers and statistics, More or Less. Statistics tend to be viewed either as terminally dull or the equivalent to “damned lies,” but in this book Blastland takes us through lots of simple real life examples to show both how statistics work and how to get a grip on what they mean, through simple questions like,”is this a big number?” I’m terrible at maths, and would rather be shot through both knees than have to do number puzzles like Sudoku, but I found this not only book engrossing, but genuinely useful in navigating the sea of numbers that surround us these days.
FPI: Can you pick three TV shows and/or movies which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Matt: 1) New Series Doctor Who – since Steven Moffat took over the show really seems to have a lot more logic and shape to it, and he’s not afraid of complexity. Also, having young Matt Smith play the Doctor as a mad old man works much better than I’d ever have thought. I’ll be interested to see how the show develops.
2) Mila Mou Vromika (“Talk dirty to me”) – a Greek show we got kind of hooked on while we were out there. The premise sounds like kind of nothing – a group of mates get together to try and turn an old café into a bar, with hilarious consequences, but there’s something about the way it’s done, in a sort of magic-realist style, that made it very watchable, even though I could only understand one word in twenty; the main character is a telepathic waitress (who can only see the dirty thoughts of men) the show’s narrator is God, the musical sequences are hilarious, and the lyrics of the title music contain the word “fuck.” Try Googling “Mila Mou Vromika” to see clips on YouTube and the like.
3) The Wire – only seven years late, we caught up with season two. As good as everyone says it is. We’re spinning it out as long as we can.
FPI: How did 2010 go for you as a creator? Are you happy with the way you got your work out this year?
Matt: I was living and working out in Greece from October 2009 to end of August 2010 – I loved it but I don’t think it was doing me much good in terms of getting the work out – I lost time to the moves out and back, and generally I lost a bit of focus. I had a great time, but I’m finishing 2010 a bit poorer than I should be, and looking to do better next year.
FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2011?
Matt: More Stickleback and Dirty Frank for 2000AD, a piece in the Eye Classics HP Lovecraft anthology (written by Ian Edginton), and a kind-of secret one-off which should be coming out early next year. Keep an eye out for a feature in Wired Magazine, of all places.
(the wonderful carnival of grotesques that would do a Dickensian rookery proud: Stickleback art by D’Israeli)
FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?
Matt: Ian Culbard (At The Mountains of Madness. Sherlock Holmes, both for Eye Classics) is someone to watch out for. He’s already punching above his weight at Eye Classics, and he’s only getting better as time goes on.
(The Valley of Fear by that man Culbard, who is fast becoming something of a Holmes comics icon to a lot of us, published SelfMadeHero)
You can find all of the 2010 Best of the Year guest posts so far here.