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Tome On The Range

Behold! Winter’s Quietus Comics Round Up Column
Pete Redrup , December 21st, 2018 11:44

Highlighting some fantastic work, it’s the end of the year round up of comics from Pete Redrup & co

Pete Redrup’s selection

Before I dive into the comics I’ve enjoyed the most this year, a caveat: I’ve yet to read quite a few of the books I suspect would be likely to make it onto this list under normal circumstances. Jason Lutes’ Berlin and Tillie Walden’s On A Sunbeam both fall into this category, dauntingly large volumes that are garnering near-universal praise wherever I look.

I am also way behind on reading my ShortBox comics, which is why only one of their publications appears here. Noah Van Sciver has been as prolific as ever, and I’ve not had a chance to get hold of Fante Bukowski 3 or Blammo 10, nor to read One Dirty Tree.

In short, I’ve not read nearly as many comics as I would have liked, and a couple of the ones listed here date from 2017 although I read them this year, hence their presence on this list. Expect similar confessions in twelve months.

Katriona Chapman - Follow Me In
(Avery Hill)

Fans of Katriona Chapman’s self-published Katzine will have been excited for some time with tweeted teaser images of Follow Me In, her first full length graphic work, and in Autumn it finally arrived. An autobiographical travelogue that’s also a journey of self-discovery, the book recounts a trip to Mexico with her then boyfriend, Richard.

It’s a beautifully designed and printed hardback, and the first thing that strikes the reader is how fantastic her trademark soft pencils look in colour. Obviously, the colour is used to convey diegetic information about the different settings, green for the jungle, blue for the coast and so on. However, there’s a great deal of mood and tone expressed this way too, such as the blue and grey used at the start when she meets up in the present with Richard, broaching the subject of how he’s likely to be represented in the story.

The linearity of the narrative is broken up with occasional flashes back and forwards, and Chapman moves from simply recounting events through reflecting on the direction her life is taking, to interludes where we find out about Mexico’s fascinating history. It’s a really effective technique, the geographical and historical information adding context to her personal journey. During the trip she rediscovers her dormant artistic side after a long period of abstinence, finding meaning in the process of drawing, and the book includes a selection of black and white pictures she made at the time.

Running through the trip, and the book, are her feelings about Richard’s heavy drinking. These range from embarrassment to shame, anger and overwhelmingly, sadness. Towards the end a magic mushroom trip brings a subtle change of palette and a more staccato, poetic narrative style. Introspection brings us back to the alcohol and the effect it is having on Chapman, a moment one assumes was a catalyst for change.

Follow Me In is a beautiful book. There’s such variety in page compositions, often featuring a wide mix of types of image, such as landscapes, character shots and small figurines or architectural details. The narrative blend of the informative and personal is particularly effective, and I defy you to read this and not want to visit Mexico. This is an outstanding book, and my pick for best of the year.

In no particular order, my other favourites follow. Sometimes a quiet reflection on life is just what’s needed, and Simon Moreton's Minor Leagues No 6 (Lydstep Lettuce) provides just that. Compared to earlier volumes, this issue is dominated by prose, although there are still many pages of images. Moreton describes it as being “about place, history, death, memory, childhood and nature”. I would add to that that is is extremely good, an engrossing and honest release that deserves to be more widely read.

Out last year, but far too good to pass over is Joff Winterhart's Driving Short Distances (Jonathan Cape). Deadpan and dryly funny, this is a touching book exploring masculine depression through the work and personal lives of an older and younger man. It’s sympathetic to all the characters and an absolute pleasure to read.

Very different in tone is Sabrina (Granta / Drawn & Quarterly) by Nick Drnaso, probably the most talked about graphic novel of the year in mainstream discourse due to its appearance on the Man Booker Prize longlist. Sabrina looks at how falsehoods spread so effectively online, and is quite chilling. Even more so is Emily Carroll’s Beneath The Dead Oak Tree (ShortBox), a brilliant short that serves to remind us why Emily Caroll is one of the two greatest horror cartoonists currently working. Josh Simmons is the other, and his Flayed Corpse And Other Stories (Fantagraphics) is most horrific of all, an outstanding collection full of sheer, gleeful nastiness.

On the theme of the human body, Liv Strömquist’s Fruit Of Knowledge (Virago) is a droll look at patriarchal attitudes to the vulva. It's as well researched and argued as it is amusing, a winning combination. I also really enjoyed Robert Wells’ Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain) (Robinson), a self-deprecating account of chronic illness and bad hair, and an extremely funny book.

Finally, Laydeez do Comics recently announced a competition for female graphic novelists to submit an unpublished work-in-progress. First prize is a generous £2,000, but shortlisted runners up also get a one-to-one review session to receive a critique of their work. Submissions have to be made by 11 January 2019 so there’s not long to go, and you can find out more here. Pete Redrup

Jenny Robins’ selection

2018 has been a pretty big year for me (Jenny) comic book wise, what with being longlisted for the Laydeez do Comics prize, then actually winning the Myriad First Graphic Novel Prize and signing a contract for my book Biscuits (assorted) with Myriad to be published in a year or so. I still have a lot of drawing to do for that. I also got to read a lot of good comics and thanks to going to a few excellent comics festivals like ELCAF, Thought Bubble and The Lakes, quite a few of them were actually out this year so are appropriate to be listed as the best in 2018, although I do also still have a big pile of them to read.

One book that made me smile right across my face and then cry all over it was Eleanor Davis’ Why Art? (Fantagraphics) – a simple pocket sized book that not so much answers that vital question as dances all over it with the joy and terror that it deserves.

Speaking of joyful dancing, Sugar: Life as a Cat (Soaring Penguin Press) by Barken which was translated by Soaring Penguin this year provided spine tinglingly astute sketches and stories of what it is to be blessed to live with a feline friend. And another kind of dancing altogether, the transformative power of amateur boxing was explored by Wallis Eates in her comic documenting her time as the artist in residence at Double Jab gym in South London Me/We (Self-published). I was lucky enough to attend the exhibition and launch of the book, which saw lifesize graphic silhouettes alongside Eates’ poetic and frenetic live drawings and the stories of five of the club’s members.

As the Western world becomes increasingly accustomed to insecurity and anxiety in the interplay of politics and an insatiable culture of distraction, comics is one of the best places where people are grappling with the eternal poetry of the things that we need to remember to stay sane. The big things and the small things. Making art for no particularly explainable reason, getting to know the capricious capacities of a cat, pushing your body to places you didn’t know it could go, to give your mind the discipline it craves.

Some other amazing graphical books that came out this year include:

Follow Me In by Kat Chapman – a lush meander through the jungles and cities of Mexico as the author remembers the external and internal journeys she undertook there some years ago with impressive detail and tenderness.

Wolf (SelfMadeHero) by Rachael Ball – a weighty tome told with a light touch, the summer of invention of a young boy grieving for his father and craving something probably impossible.

Lip Hook (SelfMadeHero) by David Hine and Mark Stafford – a really enjoyably strange and gruesome modern myth

Faith Says You (Self-published) by Kate Brown – a pastel coloured seaside fable of loneliness and all the things we don’t say to each other, and possibly the second coming.

Things I am most excited about in 2019: seeing more from Jane Porter in her series The Ghost Carp, a retelling of Moby Dick but set in a 21st century urban river, and from Emma Burleigh as she continues work on her Laydeez Do Comics Prize winning project My Other Mother, My Other Self.

In the mainstream comics world, I was excited by the launch of four series of comics under the umbrella of The Sandman Universe from DC Vertigo, exploring parallel narratives with characters from Gaiman’s epic series of the 90s and its many offshoots – most interesting is the entirely new title House of Whispers written by Nalo Hopkinson and drawn by Dominike “domo” Stanton. I look forward to seeing where this diverse and deliciously disquieting story goes next, having left New Orleans as far behind as Dorothy left Kansas, while taking all the spirit along for the ride. Jenny Robins

Joe Marczynski’s selection

Lisa Hanawalt - Coyote Doggirl
(Drawn & Quarterly)

The Coen brothers and a certain highly-anticipated video game sequel have taken us to the Wild West this year, so it’s fitting that Lisa Hanawalt’s feminist Western Coyote Doggirl features on our end-of-year list.

Depicted in vibrant watercolours, Coyote Doggirl charts the adventures of an anthropomorphic gunslinger as she fends off all manner of nefarious bandits in pursuit of her beloved horse. Told with Hanawalt’s trademark surrealism and the kind of oddball humour you’d expect from a BoJack Horseman writer, Coyote Doggirl offers a unique take on a genre often plagued with cliché.

Araminder Dhaliwal- Woman World
(Drawn & Quarterly)

Originally serialised over Instagram, to a readership of over 148,000, Woman World is a dystopia (or eutopia some may argue) set in the near future following the untimely death of the male species.

Conveyed through thematically linked short strips, Araminder Dhaliwal’s debut publication explores the possibilities of a society rebuilt entirely by women. Each short chapter casts a humorous, and at times profound, look at the relics of the former patriarchy, as well as the universal themes of friendship, loneliness and unrequited love. Published by Canadian independent comic powerhouse Drawn & Quarterly, Woman World is teeming with original ideas and is portrayed beautifully in a simple but effective illustrative style. Joe Marczynski

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