Best of the Year: Martin Steenton

Published On January 4, 2011 | By Joe Gordon | Best of the Year 2010, Comics

Today’s guest Best of the Year post comes from one of the powers behind the very fine Avoid the Future website (which should be on your bookmarks list if it isn’t already), not to mention a translator who has been involved in bringing over some very cool-sounding foreign comics work to one of our favourite UK Indy presses, Martin Steenton:

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?

Martin: As illustrated by the breadth of end-of-year articles currently out there, 2010 has been an incredibly varied year in comics. How on Earth do you narrow down a year that’s seen new works by Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, Los Bros Hernandez, Lynda Barry, and Chris Ware? What about all the breathtaking Japanese and French books that Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics have put out? Not to mention the continued forward march of exciting upstart publishers like Koyama Press and Nobrow. My brain is aching just thinking about the possibility of thinking about it.

LOSE #2, Michael DeForge, Koyama Press

What I love about the second issue of Lose is how much it demonstrates Michael DeForge’s continued development as a storyteller. A departure from the fragmented, vignette-led format of the first issue, the majority of issue 2 is taken up by ‘It’s Chip’, a deceptively cute-looking horror story of genuine depth. Combining the figurative and literal horrors of childhood isolation and parasitic, flesh-eating monsters in suburbia, it’s a fantastically constructed slow-burner that features some of the most disconcerting sequences of recent memory.

(art from Lose by and (c) Michael DeForge, published Koyama Press 2010)

DeForge’s work is the kind that you could easily compare to ten or twelve different seminal comic artists at once. He’s clearly a student of his craft, taking a wide-ranging set of inspirations and funnelling them through his own creative perspective. Right on the crest of the rapidly-swelling wave of insanely-talented new creators, I honestly believe he has the potential to be one of the next big names in independent comics. And if there’s any justice in the world, he just might be.

The Playwright, Daren White and Eddie Campbell, Top Shelf

Something I found interesting this year was the definite strand of disappointment running through several of the reviews for Daniel Clowes’ Wilson. Whilst I absolutely don’t share that sentiment, I do think that another book which tackled a lot of the same themes in a similar manner deserved a little more time in the limelight: Daren White and Eddie Campbell’s The Playwright.

(a scene from The Playwright by and (c) Daren White and Eddie Campbell, published Top Shelf)

Like Wilson, The Playwright is an intimate character study examining the topics of anxiety, alienation, and social detachment. Both take place over a series of linked, but otherwise separate scenes that layer together to create a more complex understanding of their character. Also, both have a protagonist that readers’ may initially be repulsed by, before gradually forming an empathetic connection with. However, The Playwright is far more linear than Wilson, which I think ultimately makes it more successful in its aims. With fewer—and therefore longer—sections than its strip-based rival, the character is given more room to breathe, and consequently I found reading it more poignant, more rewarding, and ultimately more memorable.

That said, I absolutely loved Wilson too. No hate mail, please.

Set to Sea, Drew Weing, Fantagraphics

Cross-hatching: your eyes’ dream, a cartoonist’s nightmare. Created over the course of five years, Drew Weing’s Set to Sea is one of the most beautifully-rendered graphic novels you could hope to see ever, let alone from within the past twelve months. Each page of this story about an unsuccessful poet shanghaied into labour aboard a clipper ship is taken up by a single, ultra-detailed panel, which gives the whole thing the appropriate quality of reading a very engrossing storybook. I was struck by just how well utilised the format is, and impressed by just how much the comic communicates to the reader whilst only featuring a minimal amount of dialogue.

(gorgeous art from Set to Sea by and (c) Drew Weing, published Fantagraphics)

The book’s story feels genuinely epic in a way that Marvel and DC’s poor, abused copywriters could only dream of. In depicting of the poet’s transformation into the seafaring character he’s always dreamed of being, Weing is never overbearing and has the rare talent of displaying heroism and sentimentality in a way that doesn’t cloy. From start to finish, Set to Sea feels like a true classic; the graphic novel equivalent of Treasure Island, if you will. If you’re the sort of parent that doesn’t mind exposing your children to a few gory moments, I like to imagine that this is the book you’ll give them to usher them into their lives as comic readers. Think what a cool mum/dad you’d be.

FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2011?

Martin: Currently, I’m excited to be working on the French-to-English translation of Peggy Adam’s Luchadoras with my Avoid the Future partner in crime, Judith Taboy. It’s a story set against the backdrop of the epidemic of brutal femicides in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Although the core narrative itself—which focuses on a woman living within the harsh reality of misogynist violence—is fiction, the issues at its core are unfortunately very real.

(Luchadoras by and (c) Peggy Adams, coming from Blank Slate in early 2011)

We’re just about to submit our final draft to Blank Slate this week, and the book should be available in February. It’s truly an honour to be helping bringing it to a wider audience, and we’re so grateful to Peggy and Blank Slate for giving us the opportunity to do so. 2011 is fast turning into a marquee year for Blank Slate, and we’re very proud to be a part of it.

FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?

Martin: Without question, the book I am most wracked with anticipation for is Noah Van Sciver’s upcoming The Hypo, which follows the life of Abraham Lincoln between the years of 1837 and 1842, decades before he became President. All you need to do to share my excitement is to head over to his blog, which—along with mountains of other incredible stuff—has several previews of the book. Look out for an especially awesome excerpt introducing the Rashomon-esque deviating accounts of Congressmen Jonathan Cilley’s fatal 1938 duel with William J. Graves that will run throughout the story. I really can’t wait.

(a taster from Noah Van Sciver’s upcoming The Hypo, (c) the artist)

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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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