Welcome to the 29th episode of our highly original feature Desert Island Comics, where we take a comic artist of note and cruelly maroon them on their own personal desert island (and believe me, all these islands are costing us serious cash here)
Sitting on his own little private beachfront right now is one Gary Northfield, creator of Derek The Sheep, and currently giving us weekly instalments of Gary’s Garden in The Phoenix Comic plus an award winning monthly strip for National Geographic Kids. He’s just finished a new 70 page book of brand new comic strips called Teenytinysaurs for Walker Childrens books, which will be out in early 2013.
Desert Island Comics # 29 – Gary Northfield
1) Tantalizing Stories by Mark Martin and Jim Woodring. (All 7 issues bundled together in a big elastic band)
I always cite this as my favourite comic and reading experience; a mixture of the surreal, but beautifully paced Frank, by Jim Woodring and loopy, in your face, crazy colloquial nutjob frog, Montgomery Wart. Created purely as a children’s comic, I wish it had carried on for many years, but it only lasted 6 issues and a special. I love the whole package; the juxtaposition of two wildly different regular strips, lusciously painted front covers, weird letters page and a sprinkling of guest stars. It’s the comic I always aspire to. If I had to pick one issue, it would be number 4, the April Fools special, where they surreptitiously draw each others strips and Mark Martin’s hilarious poke at the silent world of Frank is a real joy.
2) Avengers 162 – Bride of Ultron – Jim Shooter and George Perez
As a kid I was barely aware of the Avengers, having picked up an old Avengers Weekly and perhaps seeing them mentioned elsewhere in my then tiny collection of Marvel comics. I was more into Spider-Man and Captain Britain to be honest. But I stumbled on this comic at a jumble sale for 4p and it really blew my mind. Finding a rare full-colour US Marvel comic was exciting enough (B/W UK Marvel was all I could find in those days), but here I was faced with a whole jumble of exciting, unknown to me, superheroes. Some half-dead, some not really knowing what they’re doing (Wonder Man being a total wuss), and then there was Ultron, a horrifying robot performing some Frankenstein monster brain transfer, aided and abetted by a rogue Avenger, Ant Man, who Ultron kept referring to as “Father”. Thus begun my life-long love affair of the soap opera that is The Avengers (and more pointedly, the many guises of the troubled Hank Pym).
As auteurs go in comics, none rarely match the genius of Mike Mignola. His sparse style of storytelling, in art and writing, is mesmerising and very inspiring. His peak for me is Conqueror Worm (He seems to lose his confidence with Hellboy a bit after this). Steeped in pulpy action nonsense, with Nazi Gorillas and a ghostly wartime crime fighter, Mike’s razor sharp artwork has never been better.
Rabagliati’s work is another auteur in comics whom I greatly admire for their simplicity, yet his work is also ladled in warmth, humanity and a reality I always readily relate to. As with Mignola, Rabagliati is a demon when it comes to clarity in storytelling and Paul Gets a Summer Job is a must read, coming of age story of a high school drop out, who naively thinks he knows best how to work with kids in a summer camp. We watch (cringe) at his fall and rise, and his falling in love with a fellow camp worker. It’s all very humbling and beautifully told.
5) “Ha Ha, Herman,” Charlie Brown – Charles Schulz
I’m a fastidious collector of Peanuts books, with a big chunk of the old UK Coronet books and I’m up to date with Fantagraphics Complete Peanuts. But if I was to take one Peanuts book with me to my Desert Island, it would be my battered old US Holt Reinhard “Ha, Ha Herman”. The stories are from the early 1970s, Schulz’s peak, in my opinion. Many of the best Peanuts tropes are at the fore; Snoopy is looking after Linus’s blanket, under strict orders NEVER to give it back (he turns it into a sports jacket); Peppermint Patty is wrestling with her feelings for a bemused Charlie Brown; Lucy is at her most crabbiest, with, well, everyone; and best of all Charlie Brown is thrust into Summer Camp (as they all are, even Snoopy). Charlie Brown has to deal with his weird room mate, who, whenever an enthusiastic Charlie Brown excitedly tries to involve him in camp goings on, the response is always, “Shut up and leave me alone.” Poor old Charlie Brown.
6) “I Shall Destroy All The Civilised Planets” – Fletcher Hanks
After reading the crazy Stardust story in Dan Nadel’s “Art Out Of Time”, I can barely remember being so excited about a book coming out, than with “I Shall Destroy All The Civilised Planets”. And wow, did it stand up to all my overblown expectations. These were the craziest, oddest, yet some of the most fantastical stories I’d read. His drawing style was a bit strange, yet I hate it when people refer to him as “outsider”. This guy knew exactly what he was doing; his panels are graphically stunning, boldly drawn in full manipulation of the crude 4 colour printing processes being used to churn out the pulpy monthly comics. Monthly adventure comic books were in their infancy and finding their feet and Hanks was ploughing his own crazy, psychopathic path. And it’s made all the more astonishing when you read the back story by editor Paul Karasik, of the discovery of these long lost comics, meeting Hanks wartime hero son and the harrowing reality of what a nasty piece of work Fletcher Hanks really was.
7) Speed Abatar – Christoph Blain
Blain’s fluidity and sketchy confident line is another great inspiration of mine. I debated whether to include “Isaac The Pirate”, but I must confess “Speed Abater” is the book of his I always go back to and re-read. The story of young sailors exploring the hidden depth’s of their great leviathan ship, evokes intense claustrophobia and danger, greatly enhanced by the colouring (un-credited in the NBM edition). Another very human story of a young guy finding his way in the world.
Peter Bagge’s deranged, yet no doubt closely auto-biographical soap opera is an expert lesson in slice of life story-telling and comic book narrative. These stories are effortless in their execution, intertwining Buddy’s relationship with his loony girlfriend Lisa and his over-bearing family.
My ipod (and magical battery charger). I do loves listening to music and I think I might go a bit crazy without it!
Well, we’ll simply put a solar powered charger in there and let Gary hope for sunny weather!
One particularly nice thing – a photo Gary sent along for this Desert island Comics, proving that not only are these his favourite comics, he has them all immediately to hand should the whole Desert Island thing be happening to him anytime soon – that’s dedication!