Best of the Year – Brian Heater
The latest in our Best of the Year picks are chosen today by a very well-known name to most of us who follow comics, Brian Heater. Brian, as many of you will know, put together a huge best of the year list just before Christmas on The Daily Cross Hatch (a must-bookmark site for all comics readers; be sure to check out the first two parts of a continuing interview there with Bob Fingerman which is running right now) and I’m delighted that he was kind enough to share some of his choices with us on here too:
FPI: Could you tell us what your favourite three comics/graphic novels and/or books have been this year and why they stood out for you?
Brian: Skyscrapers of the Midwest: for starters, Cotter’s work is visually stunning. There’s a lot of early Crumb in here. Fritz the Cat is the obvious comparison – chubby felines (this is the American Midwest, after all, the birthplace of the deep-fried Snicker’s bar), all heavily crosshatched, only there’s a bit more warmth in what Cotter does here. Perhaps it’s a bit of a reflection of the story, but Skyscrapers is far more emotionally invested in its characters than anything Crumb did early on. On the surface, it’s a rather basic coming-of-age story – two young boys dealing with the pains of growing up in a small town and bullies and the death of a grandparent. But Cotter is clearly channelling something and his stories playfully and painfully weave the real with the fantastic. The result is deeply affecting.
Swallow Me Whole: when I was at SPX (the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD), I made it my mission to introduce Nate Powell to Josh Cotter. The two had never met, and yet these works feel so deeply connected. Also a coming of age story for two siblings, Swallow Me Whole swaps the Midwest for the American Deep South. Powell’s characters are also older than Cotter’s, and thus the blending of the real and the fantastic here is a bit more troublesome. Suddenly it’s less about childhood imagination than it is schizophrenia. Swallow Me Whole is a powerful examination of both childhood and our tenuous mental health.
Blue Pills: I got a review copy of this in late 2007, and knew from the minute I finished that there would be a place reserved for it on my year-end list. Aesthetically, Frederik Peeters’ work recalls Craig Thompson’s free-flowing lines. The story, based on the artist’s real-life love affair with an HIV positive woman, is one of the most emotionally-wrenching books I’ve read in some time – and yet, somehow, the book flows with positive feelings. It’s a love story in the truest, non-sappy sense.
FPI: In other art forms was there anything in the world of radio, TV, film or other artistic endeavours that really drew your attention this year?
Brian: There’s no TV in my apartment. The closest thing is my attempting to catch up on The Wire on DVD. As for theatres, I think there’s a strong case for Iron Man being the best superhero film ever made (yes, including The Dark Knight). Both it and Del Toro’s Hellboy sequel brought a lot of the fun back to the genre that’s been conspicuously absent for the past decade or so. Pixar hit another home run with Wall-E. Newsweek’s post election coverage was fantastic. Oh, and Okkervil River put out another near-perfect record.
FPI: On the professional front how did you see the comics world in 2008, from your own point of view as a creator putting your work out there (did you feel it was a good year for you?) and what did you think of the way the comics biz was in general this year? The business becoming more diversified, more accessible to new readers and creators or less welcoming?
Brian: Our vision’s been a bit clouded by these past few months, right? The comic industry hasn’t been as troubled by the economic collapse as we expect it to be. Seems like we’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop. In the States, despite everything, 2008 saw a lot more indie publishers make names for themselves – Sparkplug, Picturebox, Secret Acres. All three are putting out consistently amazing stuff. From a reviewer’s perspective, there seems to be no shortage of amazing stuff out there. We’re still smack dab in the middle of a sequential art renaissance that shows no signs of slowing.
FPI: What’s the next project you are working on that we can look forward to?
Brian: Just keep checking the Cross Hatch in ’09!
FPI: Lastly, are there any new names you’ve come across recently you’d like to pass on as one to watch for?
Brian: Check out Jonas Madden-Connor, Theo Ellsworth, and Laura Park. You won’t be disappointed.