I don’t think I’ve done one of these before, but I’ve got through a lot of graphic novels this year, and so I might as well round off the round ups by flagging some up that I’ve particularly enjoyed. In fact, as this is the medium I probably re-read the most, I’ll make it a game of two halves. Firstly, 6 new works that stood out this year, and then 6 series I find myself returning to time and again.

Pick of 2017

To be fair, these aren’t necessarily books that came out in 2017, just ones I discovered then, but these are the titles that really grabbed me this year, in no particular order.

  1. comics grandvilleGrandville : Force Majeure (Bryan Talbot) – Talbot is one of the long-time great British comics writers/artists, going back to seminal titles like The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. The Grandville series has been going a while and this is, I think, its final volume. It’s a world of anthropomorphic animals and, simultaneously, an alt-history where Napoleon conquered Britain and the country only recently won its independence, and where Grandville – Paris – remains the cultural giant. It’s a crime thriller about a badger police inspector, LeBrock, who’s three parts hero and two parts monster, a kind of animal Judge Dredd in a world of grime, corruption and gang warfare. It’s also incredibly violent, so you have to have a certain tolerance for some graphic bloodshed.
  2. Paper Girls (Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Cheney) There are a lot of recent comics about teenagers and kids breaking out of the world into something wilder and weirder. My pick of them is this, the story of four girls (literally paper girls, as in they deliver newspapers) whose reality comes apart at the seams and who end up travelling in space and time, getting involved in conflicts that are nothing to do with them and generally just trying to keep their hides together when the world goes mad. Plus giant tardigrades, so what’s not to like?
  3. comics squirrelThe Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Ryan North and Erica Henderson). My Marvel comics reading tends to the periphery and the odd characters, but I have picked up quite a few recently – including Ms MarvelMoon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and Al Ewing’s recent Rocket as mentioned in my film post. My absolute favourite remains this run of Squirrel Girl, which is hysterically funny whilst also slotting very nicely into the wider Marvel Universe (ish – it has a touch of Next Wave to it (see below) in that the other Marvel heroes and villains aren’t necesarily 100% themselves – or maybe they’re 110% themselves. But it’s great, and I love it.
  4. This Damned Band (Paul Cornell and Tony Parker) My memory may be tricking me on this one, and it might have been a 2016 discovery, but I didn’t do a post on comics in 2016 (unless my memory is screwing with me even more than I think) and Band sure as hell sticks in the mind. This is a lovely little self-contained miniseries about a badass rock band of certain age, glory days somewhat behind them but still touring, and how about all those rumours that they sold their souls to the devil back in the day? How much of their reputation is fluff to sell albums to impressionable kids, and how much is real Goetic bad stuff only now coming home to roost. This is a marvellous series, and it seemed to come and go without a fraction of the attention it deserved. Highly recommended.
  5. comics injectionInjection (Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire) – this is another of the “weird things clash with reality” genre, which seems a popular take at the moment. I wanted to fit Casanova Acedia in the list somewhere, and even the historical weird of Manifest Destiny, but a long think persuaded me that Injection should make the spot. This title (recommended to me by Geek Syndicate) is about five exceptional people – a spy, a detective, a hacker, a leader and a hedge magician, who get together and decide that Something must be Done. And so they do it, and the comic is about them living with the repercussions of that and trying to keep down the thing they unleash. It is a vicious, driven dive into mythology and singularity, a future thing that dresses up in the trappings of the past and becomes what people have always believed in. It is also beautifully written and drawn, and one of those comics where the very layout and use of panels is effortlessly excellent.
  6. Porcelain (Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose) I have just put down the third volume of this series, which is why these lists are running to 6 and not 5. Porcelain is an industrial fantasy about post-humanism and artificial intelligence (and that, frankly, is a bit of a sweet spot for me, that I have picked at in my own writing more than once). There is a man in a city who lives as a rich recluse, and crafts golems that do many useful things. He takes under his wing an urchin girl, and then she discovers his secret, and then… and then… I can’t go more into the plot without spoiling it, and the brutal historical inevitability of the way things go mixes with the unsavoury secrets at the heart of the golemnist’s art. Also, this is one of the most visually striking series I’ve come across.
  7. Yes, I know I said 6, but, look, there’s also this unique little gem, A Land Called Tarot (Gael Betrand), a single hardback volume with not a word in sight, a purely visual odyssey through a wondrous fantasy world – travels, transformations, court politics, all of it looking as though it could be an undiscovered Ghibli cartoon. This is just a beautiful, beautiful book and I’ve already read through it several times, just for the joy of all the small details.

And now for the old favourites. I’ve had most of these for many years, and I probably read each of them at least once a year, for various reasons.

  1. Captain Britain and MI:13 (amongst others, Alan Moore, Alan Davies, Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk) I am probably cheating right out of the gate, because this covers a whole crapton of comics. My usual start-point for a re-read is from just before when Moore’s Jasper’s Warp storyline kicks off, then all the way through that and out the other side into the post-Warp rebuilding, the Warpies, Slaymaster, then I generally pick up with the Wisdom standalone, then Cornell’s fantastic MI:13 run, except this year I Did The Thing people my age who get a bit of money in their pocket do, which is re-buy those comics they collected back in the 90’s, which for me means Excalibur, so this single entry on the list now represents a ridiculous cornucopia of Marvel’s finest.
  2. comics castleCastle Waiting (Linda Medley) I came across this gem just when my son had just been born and my world was going completely nuts, and it kept me sane. Castle Waiting (2 volumes out and I am extremely excited that a third may be in the offing) is a unique, gentle story, set in a fantasy world more fairy tale than Tolkien. It’s about Sleeping Beauty, near enough, except it’s about what happens to the castle and its staff after that princess walks out on them to go have her happy ever after. The castle becomes a refuge for the lost, the damaged and the needy, a cast of mutually supportive characters whose stories wind through each other like vines: the wise but irreverent nun, the young mother on the run, the bird-headed and finicky steward, the haunted plague doctor and so many more. It’s heartwarming, it’s tragic, it’s quite different to anything else I’ve read.
  3. comics 10Top Ten (Alan Moore, Gene Ha, Zander Cannon) Another Moore, but hey, it’s Alan Moore. I like a great deal of Moore, but this underappreciated masterwork is my absolute favourite, save perhaps for the Special Executive section of Captain Britain, above. There are a lot of comics about superhero police. This is the one that clicks for me. 10th Precinct is in a city where everyone has powers, and yet it manages to be a serious police procedural, touching on superheroic variations of familiar crimes. It is funny, the characters are all wonderful, major and minor alike, it is full of tiny details, call-backs and comics jokes so that every page is a feast for the eyes, and it is also brutal A F when it needs to be. One of Moore’s lesser-known shards of genius is that he writes The Big Fight in comics like nobody else (or inspires his artists to put it over) – he does it with the Special Executive vs the Fury in Cap Britain and he does it in Top Ten. My re-read list is usually the two Moore volumes, Smax and 49’ers, for the record.
  4. Umbrella Academy (Gerard Way and Gabrial Ba) is another two book series, the third of which (if it happens) is direly anticipated. Also, like a lot of my picks, it’s very funny while also being utterly vicious when it wants, so I guess that says something about my taste. It’s the story of children born with strange powers, taken in by a stranger Man Of Mystery and unsuitable father figure, who made them into a crime-fighting force. And now they’re grown up and split up, except the death of their mentor brings them back together. It’s a story of the damaged, although unlike Castle Waiting the mutually supportive part isn’t really there and they fight like cats and dogs, or like most real siblings. It’s a bizarre and ingenious creation.
  5. Nextwave (Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen) is a Marvel comic simultaneously denied and embraced by that tangled continuity. It’s the story of a bunch of not-particularly-heroic heroes who find that the not-quote-SHIELD government agency that hired them has been bought out by terrorists, and so they set out to thwart the terrorists’ plans, no matter how utterly bonkers those plans turn out to be. It’s bleak humour all the way, and yet there is a solid core of good characterisation, pathos and proper superhero determination at the heart of it. And lots and lots of digressions and flashbacks, and plenty of stuff that throws a really, really different light on various parts of the Marvel universe.
  6. Gilgamesh II (Jim Starlin) is an oldie, a non-canonical DC work produced in four small graphic novel(la?)s. It is a profoundly thoughtful SF retelling of the great epic, certainly my first experience of the story, has a real 2000AD sensibility to its world look and feel, and in the last volume especially goes to some very strange places. I remember coming across this in the comics shop in Lincoln when I was a teenager and having my mind blown, and since then I’ve rediscovered it, repurchased it (where the comics of yesteryear etc) and it remains a very good read.
  7. comics doomWell, for balance, I need 7 here, and I have certainly gone back to Doom Patrol (Grant Morrison, Richard Case, and now Gerard Way, Nick Derrington, Tamra Bonvillain and Todd Klein) this year (another option from DC would be the Morrison run on Animal Man). This is my favourite DC comic, surrealist escapades with the Brotherhood of Dada, a sentient free-living street and the same reverent respect for mainstream DC characters that Nextwave has for Marvel’s. My re-read is generally the six volumes of Morrison’s run, so I was somewhat leery about a new volume this year that was looking to recapture the same vibe. However, Way et al actually managed to square that circle imho and produce a worthy successor to the original.

 

 

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