Entering the third week of our annual festive tradition of daily guest Best of the Year posts (see here for the preceding posts) and today we welcome and old book chum of mine, excellent SF&F author of works for adults and younger readers, regular reviewer of comics work (including bringing the medium to the attention of readers in the mainstream media) and huge comics fan, James Lovegrove:
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?
James: Daredevil – Mark Waid has brought the fun back into the Man Without Fear. Daredevil had become best known for being grim’n’gritty, all tears, sails through hearts and Catholic angst, but back in the early days of Marvel he was a happy-go-lucky adventurer with a line in patter that was similar to (though never as good as) Spider-Man’s. Waid remembered that, and DD in his current incarnation is all the better for it. And I loved the way artist Paolo Rivera, who has since moved on from the title, depicted DD’s radar sense imaging in cerise-and-black false 3D modelling.
Batwoman – The amount of design skill that artist and co-writer J.H. Williams III puts into each two-page spread is breathtaking, even bettering his work on Promethea, and this to accompany a script that is literate and wise and gripping. His colouring, especially his watercolour work, is exquisite too. Batwoman is easily the best comic of the New 52 initiative, and while there’s often a lengthy pause between issues, the wait is always worth it.
Blacksad: A Silent Hell – Blacksad, a private eye series featuring anthropomorphised animal characters, is one of those comics that makes you want to go out and grab complete strangers by the scruff of the neck and force them to read it (and bang their heads against the nearest wall if they refuse to do so). Set in 50s America, created by a Spanish writer-and-artist team, published first in France, with English-language editions produced beautifully by Dark Horse, it combines knotty plotting with deft characterisation and lovely art. A funny-animal comic that’s heartbreakingly serious and human.
FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
James: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe – the book peels back the sticky lid of half-truths and PR spin to expose the crunchy peanut butter of truth about Marvel during the company’s formative years and decades of expansion, all the way to its rise to becoming the entertainment behemoth it is today. Unlikely real-life heroes emerge, and existing heroes are shown to have feet of clay, and Howe tells his story with rigorousness, righteousness and vigour. When I was growing up, the Marvel Bullpen seemed such a fun place to work, a palace of dreams, a gung-ho haven for japesters and so-lucky-to-work-here comics professionals. It wasn’t, apparently. Alas.
Return Man by V.M. Zito – Are you as stuffed to the gills with zombie novels as a walking undead with a belly full of other people’s entrails? Wouldn’t blame you if you were. But Return Man, about a man who makes a crust by roaming a wasteland western US and despatching zombies for the benefit of their still-living relatives, was a bleak, existential take on the genre, with a wonderful, grimy, 70s-movie vibe.
Alif The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson – Mixing cyber-hacking and djinns, with an added dash of the Arab Spring, this novel was daring, bold, inventive, and lots of other similar adjectives. It was also instructive about Muslim culture, both ancient and modern, without being preachy or evangelistic, and had a cracking thriller plot to boot.
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?
James: Avengers – I won’t dignify the British version of the title by repeating it here. As if anyone on these shores was going to mistake this for a Steed-and-Mrs-Peel movie! What do they take us for? First time I saw Joss Whedon’s blockbuster, I was underwhelmed. I’d been expecting so much, was so excited, that I was disappointed that he’d only managed to get things just right. Second time I saw it, with a clearer, calmer head, I was ecstatic that he’d only managed to get things just right.
Dredd – The makers simplified the strip, grunged it up, downgraded the technology – and yet they cleaved as close to the original as they could (and as the meagre budget would allow) and captured the anarchic, kick-ass spirit of Judge Dredd perfectly. It reminded me of going to see a John Carpenter movie back when going to see a John Carpenter movie was something worth doing.
Looper – Bruce Willis kills a kid! Admittedly offscreen, but there’s something you wouldn’t see in a mainstream Hollywood release. Looper was full of pure SF looniness (and some dodgy time-travel paradoxes) but was, above all, a film of ideas and edgy daring, which happened to have big-name stars attached. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Bruce-alike nose still creeped me out, though.
FPI: How did 2012 go for you as a creator? Are you happy with the way you got your work out this year?
James: I was crazy busy as usual, finishing one novel (Redlaw: Red Eye), completing another (Age Of Voodoo) and starting a third, a Sherlock Holmes tale, which for me has been a dream come true, since I’ve been dying to write a Holmes adventure ever since I was about eleven years old. I also fitted in a few short stories and a novella (Age Of Satan), plus the usual sizeable workload of reviewing. So I can’t complain, especially as my regular contributions to Comic Heroes have not only enabled me to make money out of my favourite pastime but also allowed me to claim my comics-buying outlay against tax. Double yay! The novels have been fun to work on, too. I really do seem to have discovered a new gear and I believe I’m edging ever closer to producing the perfect SF-inflected thriller.
FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2013?
James: Age Of Voodoo is out in February, and features proper old-school zombies, the Haitian kind, not the Romero kind. In the summer comes The Stuff Of Nightmares, the aforementioned Sherlock Holmes novel. It has Steampunk elements and features a kind of proto-Batman/Iron Man superhero type, but there’s also plenty of the Holmesian detection and deduction that we all know and love. Finally, Age Of Godpunk, due in the autumn, is a physical-format compendium collecting my three Pantheon novellas which will, before then, have appeared only in e-book form. These are a slightly different take on the military-SF-meets-ancient-gods format which I’ve used for the other Pantheon titles. The novellas are a bit lighter-hearted and goofier. I’m really proud of them and I’m looking forward to seeing them together in a proper paper artefact that I can hold in my hands, stick on a shelf, and accidentally drop in the bath without it costing me a fortune.
FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?
James: I’m really not sufficiently plugged in to the zeitgeist to be able to answer this. I hear that Stephen King chap has a sequel to The Shining coming out. He shows promise, that fella.