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?
Rod: A comic I have a lot of time for is Mudman, by Paul Grist. Everything about it appeals to me, the writing, the stylised drawing, all done by Grist himself, and Bill Crabtree’s muted colouring work. It’s an Image title, and Image has been a hot publisher for some years now. One of the things I like about is that it’s happy to be a comic book. It could become an animated series, it could become a live-action movie, someone somewhere could want to make it so, and they can use their imagination to imagine how the work will translate from the page to that medium. In the meantime, it looks like a comic book, and that makes it an honest piece of work, it has integrity. I can’t stand comic books that look like movies waiting to happen; comic books that have familiar faces “cast” in them already, those comics forget to celebrate the autonomy of the comic book medium, and as a result their imagination is constrained.
There’s a reason why it’s only possible to make decent versions of comics like Thor and Spiderman and Ironman today, many years after those comic books were created, it’s because the technology of the movie world has finally, decades later, managed to find a way to port the imagination of the likes of Kirby and Ditko from the comics to the big screen. Comics should not look as if being a comic book is a temporary inconvenience on the way to the movie theatre; it stifles the imagination of the creators and the reader.
I also like Ian Culbard’s work a lot. Ian was one of my people to watch out for when I last did this in 2010, and his artwork on The New Deadwardians, was very pleasing. Again, it was a comic book that revelled in being a comic book, that celebrated the medium, and that is the key, I think, to a very successful project. I’m also looking forward to reading another project that Ian has illustrated, Deadbeats, it has jazz and zombies.
Renee French is an indie-comics legend, and you can find her current project, Baby Bjornstrand, at Study Group Comics. I’ve told Renee on more than one occasion that her work often terrifies me, but in truth, I think it haunts me. It has a haunting quality that stays with you long after you stop looking at the image, which is often beautiful. Her drawings almost seem to shimmer, it is very difficult to describe, and you really have to see them for yourself. Something that really intrigues me is that often, when she posts work, Renee records the pencil she used, and the movie she was watching or listening to at the time. This seems to be an important part of the work, and it’s a subject I’ll return to later.
Tommie Kelly’s The Holy Numbers, is another favourite of mine. I like the way it looks, again it’s stylised and enjoys being a comic, and it’s incredibly well-written and paced.
FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Rod: Actually I found this quite amusing; it says something about the power of reviews. I’ve started reading The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott, and what turned me onto the book was a negative review in Private Eye. Everything they said was awful about the book, the Tarot references, the Occult, Ian Fleming, Sci-fi, appealed to me. Maybe if they’d given it a good review I wouldn’t have picked it up.
Masks fascinate me. I am particularly drawn to plague masks and I loved Rose Tremain’s 1989 novel Restoration, the story of Robert Merivel, a 17th – Century physician who abandons his calling. The film, starring Robert Downey Jnr is a great favourite of mine. So I was delighted that she eventually got round to writing a sequel, Merivel: A Man of his Time, which is set 16 years later, and finds our hero meditating on the meaning of life and determined to change his ways.
Getting the gift of another “League” book was highly satisfying, so The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century: 2009, by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil, was a bit of a highlight. I’ve always liked comic books that have the same sort of ambition as the best manga, a text that isn’t afraid to stretch backwards and forwards over time, and to layer symbols and clues in an effort to be read and reread. The LOEG series is that sort of collection. And so, equally, is Kevin Huizenga’s creation Glen Ganges, and the latest quotidian chapter, Gloriana sets another benchmark in a series that started out as near perfect.
One that isn’t out yet, but I’ve been watching it take shape on Facebook and I’ll be pre-ordering it shortly, is the brilliant Kim Deitch’s new book, The Amazing, Enlightening and Absolutely True Adventures of Katherine Whaley. Like Renee French, Kim Deitch is a one-off, a truly unique talent, and his books have a habit of selling out fast so I’m getting in there before it’s available.
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?
Rod: Well, Weeds is gone. I’m ashamed to say I gave in and peeped at the US shows again, despite promising myself I wouldn’t, and I’ve watched the whole of the final series. The last ever episode is outstanding. It was a great journey, TV as high art. True Blood is still a riot, it is crazy stuff, but I’m no longer hooked. It’s actually very much comic book or manga- style TV. The likes of Dexter and True Blood could easily have come out of the same manga-stable as MPD Psycho or Monster – along with The Walking Dead, of course, which is based on a US comic book.
Boardwalk Empire is massive in scope. It is the twisted history of the Prohibition period with all its criminal and political intrigue, dealt with a modern hand so the seediness and the grime is revealed to us, rather than simply hinted at. I love everything about it, from the opening cords on a variation of Gimme Shelter (Scorsese’s involvement of course), to its grand operatic imagery and staged ultra-violence. Steve Buscemi and Kelly MacDonald are mesmerising leads. Like most of us, I think, a lot of my TV thrills lately, have been Scandinavian, and having The Killing back on my screen feels so right.
Movie-wise, I loved To Rome with Love, by Woody Allen, and Moonrise Kingdom and liked Unicorn City. I did like Loopers, but I wasn’t nuts about it, and because I’d seen a lot of episodes of the original Dark Shadows TV series, the movie, which could have been a highlight, kind of irritated me.
FPI: How did 2012 go for you as a creator? Are you happy with the way you got your work out this year?
Rod: I think the year could best be described as meditative. It was a year of taking stock, and a year of learning. On a personal level, I got a lot of good out of the year, despite some horrible stuff happening. As a creator, well, yes there was some good because I realised I am an endless revisionist and I have to learn to step away from the work and admit that what I’ve done is the best I can do at the time. It has taken me a long time to learn that lesson.
Another lesson I’ve learned is from the aspect of Renee French’s working routine we touched on earlier, the importance of sound and vision to or even in the drawings. The choice of background noise, or the lack of it, is now much more important to me than it was. It’s weird that it should have taken me so long to work out that having Marine Boy and Gigantor on in the background was an important part of my drawing when I first fell in love with art as a kid – but it has. So, I have been working with two different soundtracks for two different stories. One, the gothic tale I’ve been working on, has been soaking up Kate Bush’s marvellous gothic soundscape of ghosts, strange creatures, and transmutation, 50 Words for Snow, and the other a mix of Disco and Punk. The reader may not be able to see the addition of sound to the work, it’s way too expensive to add someone’s lyrics to work these days, but it’s there, somehow, between the lines.
FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2013?
Rod: Some good stuff I think. Not just drawings that look pleasing to the eye (my eye of course, I’ve no idea what the reader will think), but stuff that is well written. I think I’ve been as guilty as anyone when it comes to neglecting the writing side of things in favour of showy graphics, and I think my period of taking stock has helped me correct this failing. You can trust me on this, I’m a fearsome editor, but I will be putting stuff out much more quickly.
FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?
Rod: Yes. The last time I did this, in 2010, I meant to mention Jonathan Edwards. I’m confident mentioning him again, because he’ll always come up with new ideas, new ways of looking at things, he’s a very talented and unique illustrator. Gary Northfield, who did groundbreaking work with his own creator-owned character in a DC Thomson publication will, I’ve no doubt, create something incredible in 2013. I’ve been regularly astonished by the incredible talent of Miss Lasko-gross, so my suggestion is that everyone should check her work out; it’s spellbinding.
And, my friend, and sometimes colleague, the writer Geoffrey Wessel, will astonish us I’m sure. I haven’t seen anything in the West that compares with Geoffrey’s Keeper, a comic about a goalkeeper who happens to be a serial killer. You can see a preview of some of his other work, Discharged, online at Bleeding Cool.