Today’s Best of the Year selection comes from long-time comics reader, retailer, FPI director, colleague and now publisher of the fine Blank Slate Books, Kenny Penman:
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?
Kenny: A good year all round with some great stuff popping up everywhere. Trying to pick 3 (+1) is near impossible and I’d change my mind next week – but for what it’s worth here’s those that stand out most right now
Browntown by Jaime Hernandez (in the Love & Rockets: New Stories #3 collection, published Fantagraphics)
Los Bros single-handedly changed the way I read comics and the comics I read. Without them, there would be no Blank Slate Books as I would never have left the reading ghetto of superhero comics I had so long luxuriated in. At times I liked Gilbert’s stories more – although there was never much in it – but I knew, and still do, that Jaime is probably the best cartoonist in the world. It’s not just his drawing, the writing can be off the cuff sometimes but when he gets it right the comics can be filled with melancholy and still be uplifting.
This look at Maggie’s early life with her siblings in a desert town that their dad’s job has brought them to, is wonderful. The art is sublime, as mindful of empty space as the drawn parts – beautiful and elegant. The story gives us lots of Maggie’s back story, which as we know her life after this, gives us hope in how she rose above circumstance. I’d started to take L&R for granted – always good but maybe not with the punch of those early comics that had turned my head. This came up and gently whispered in my ear and I was deeply in love all over again. Comic of the year.
Acme Novelty Library: Lint by Chris Ware
A life told in a book, and a character who bears some passing similarity to Clowes’ Wilson (one of the other headline titles of the year) in that they are both misanthropic bastards. Clowes plays it largely for laughs but Ware reveals the humanity at the root of his character’s wretchedness without forgiving him for it. It also sees some avant-gardist touches to the art with Ware’s nods to many talents like Rege Jr, Panter and Chris Bell. The book is dense and hard work at times – Ware never really gives the reader an easy ride – but ultimately a great piece of comics. Bring your glasses though.
Flesh and Bone – Julia Gfrörer
Sparkplug produce worthwhile and unusual comics which don’t always get the coverage they should and Gfrörer’s first major comic was a total surprise to me. For me it was a highly individualistic horror/love story woven around the stylings of ancient European fables. It sometimes had an unfinished look to the art – although Gfrörer can really draw – and the subject matter with graphic sex and violence won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Still, potential-wise it shone out for me. Compelling.
Psychiatric Tales – Darryl Cunningham
OK – I published this which means my choosing it is a little crass, however I truly think that Darryl’s book was one of the outstanding comics of the year. A window into a world most of us do not understand, backed by Darryl’s own, touching, story made this a book that most anyone – comics fan or not – will have gotten something from. It was the Observer’s comic of the month back in July and I expect it to burn with a new life when the Bloomsbury edition appears next month Stateside.
Darryl has a style perfectly suited to the comics he is doing where meaning needs to be conveyed in an understandable way without ambiguity and I expect him to become a major world cartoonist in the next 5 years. Look out for his Science Myth and Uncle Bob books as well as a second volume of Psychiatric Tales in 2011.
There were lots more bubbling under – so notable mentions should go to Rob Davis’s superb strip in Solipsistic Pop 3, Temperance by Cathy Malkasian, Sleepyheads by Randall C. (as beautifully drawn a book as you’ll see this year), Jon McNaught’s Birchfield Close – a beautifully conceived small pointillist Shell guide for a modern street, Garen Ewing’s lovely Rainbow Orchid and finally Hanco Kolk’s Meccanno collection De Eenzame Planeet (published very late 2009) was a book that I felt published by a US house would surely have brought accolades similar to those heaped on Asterios Polyp last year. Had you asked me for 100 comics to put on a best of list in the hope people would check them out I could have filled it with ease.
FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Kenny: Didn’t really, in truth, read many books last year – and many are lying around untouched – those I did read weren’t all 2010 releases
Millennium Trilogy – Steig Larsson
I know this is about as obvious as it gets but I read all three on a holiday week in April – which must prove they are pretty gripping as I’m usually a 100 pages and then Magpie-like, move on, reader. I thought them really pretty well written – not the standard of Smilla’s Sense of Snow which is probably the only previous Scandinavian thriller I’ve read (it remains one of my favourite ever books) but better than out and out pulp. For me the first book was the strongest and the extra length added to 2 and then more still, to 3 I thought started to make them a little bloated. Still, great reads and Salander is an almost comic like literary creation tinged with brilliance.
A Crisis of Brilliance – David Boyd Haycock
I’m half way through this biography of the Slade artists and their lives and the enormous effects the Great War had on them and art and society generally. If you have an interest in 20th century British art it’s a pretty essential read showing how talent was realised, or dissipated or cut short by the tumultuous events of the years 1910-1920. These were artists living the lifestyles of rock stars but producing such indelible talents as Stanley Spencer and Paul Nash. Fascinating.
The Water Theatre – Lindsay Clarke
The Chymical Wedding an earlier book of Clarke’s from around 20 years ago remains to this day one of my favourite novels – and the book that has made me most openly cry my eyes out (along with Damage). It is a deeply moving book of a love that cannot be fulfilled. Clarke’s new novel seems to speak to me at 50 as the earlier book did when I was 30. It is a meandering and sometimes slightly slow paced look at a middle aged man’s redemption that includes a whole cast of off kilter characters and ultimately the healing powers of sex and spirituality. A book probably no-one will read – they should.
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?
Just about the only thing I remember to set the Sky box for. Who cares if the recreation is accurate or not – and given the pace of change one suspects not entirely – it is beautifully made TV. Don Draper seems to have slipped a little this last season in his womanising and the Draper grip was sadly missing as he found that women were starting to find their own positions in the world. However he remains a man we all would secretly have wanted to be. Peggy is my favourite TV character and whilst she has started to party like it’s 1999 remains the moral centre of the show. Unmissable.
I’m sure it’s made for an audience much younger than me, but even with the 4th season getting a little derailed in the last 4 or 5 episodes it remains the one programme that speaks to the experiences of real people in this age group. My teenage and Uni years were not unlike this – perhaps not so heightened of course – and concealed under a blanket of lies. Now they are openly presented as TV drama. One of the sharpest shows on the box.
For all of us who had loved the feature film this sounded initially like a bad idea. However, Meadows and cast delivered a great sequel full of heart, emotion and laughs. I loved it and despite the overt sentimentality of some of the writing the resolution whilst perhaps not that likely had a powerful triumph of good over evil that was uplifting even amongst the casual horror.
Notable mention also to the great Modern Family.
The Social Network
Everyone seems to think what a poor light this paints Zuckerberg in and perhaps Fincher edges in that direction for dramatic effect but for me it very aptly showed the chaos in young growing businesses with founders who have varying degrees of talent and application. Of course Zuckerberg emerges as something of a wanker but I’m not sure anyone else in the film escapes that tag either. Brilliantly played throughout and with the momentum of a thriller it was far and away the best thing I saw this year.
I’ve always liked Egoyan’s films for their ability to display emotion rawer than most films would contemplate – even when that can be a little stolid (The Sweet Hereafter springs to mind). My girlfriend thought this was as dull as ditchwater but I loved it. The two leads play it with emotions up to 11 but it’s the transcendental Amanda Seyfried who makes the film. The plot is weary and old but the film wrings much more than you would expect from the sum of its parts.