Best of the Year – Mark Kardwell

Published On January 9, 2012 | By Joe Gordon | Best of the Year 2011, Books, Comics

Today’s guest Best of the Year comes from a long-time friend of the blog and a considerable commentator on and supporter of comics and books on his own Bad Librarianship blog, Northern Ireland’s own wandering librarian, Mark Kardwell:

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?

Mark: Oh hell. Like I predicted last year, the renaissance in the UK original graphic novel publishing scene has really started to bear rich fruit, and it’s proving hard to narrow my decision down to just three. SelfMadeHero, Nobrow and Blank Slate have all published great book-after-great book in an amazing cycle of one-upmanship where the winner has been the Anglophone comic-reading audience. This is complicated further by the fact that the comic that has defined the artform in these islands for five decades has also had its best year in ages, too.

(above – page from Hair Shirt, by and (c) Patrick McEown, published SelfMadeHero; below – Adam Cadwell’s page from Blank Slate’s superlative team comic marathon Nelson)

So I’ll go with Patrick McEown’s Hair Shirt (SelfMadeHero); Rob Davis, Woodrow Phoenix et al’s Nelson (Blank Slate); and 2000AD (Rebellion). I’d have thrown Uli Oesterle’s Hector Umbra (Blank Slate) in there too, but it technically didn’t originate in 2011. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it. You should. And Joe is inserting a handy link to do just that right here (yes, indeed, you can order it here, and it is brilliant – and the English translation does originate from this year even if the German original doesn’t, so it does count! That sneaky Kardwell did that just to slip an extra book in, for which I salute him – Joe). BUY IT! DO IT NOW! NOW!

(above – one of the stunning pages of artwork 2000 AD, published Rebellion, treated us to in 2011, the always brilliant D’Israeli’s interpretation of Hondo City for Lowlife; below – the brilliant Hector Umbra by Uli Oesterle, published Blank Slate Books)

FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?

Mark: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt (Granta)

Always thought it better for a book to be “interesting” than “good”, which is probably why I wrote my BA thesis on Tender Is The Night rather than The Great Gatsby, and my MA thesis on George Moore rather than Jimmy Joyce. And when you work as a librarian, and talk about books all day with your colleagues and customers alike, you do tend to feel obliged to read large chunks of the Booker shortlist every year. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt was easily the most enjoyable book the usually dreary and worthy Booker crowd have endorsed since Vernon God Little. One of those books you can’t help but choose a dream director and cast for in your head, as the movie of the novel unfurls in your imagination.

Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross (Simon & Schuster)

Luther: The Calling is the best spin-off novel I’ve ever read, hardly much of a claim when you consider how inconsequential that sub-section of fiction has been over the years. This one managed to both be a damned fine thriller of the post-Thomas Harris variety, and Cross’s love-letter to the performances of the cast of the first series of his procedural-cum-grand guignol. I loved that first series of Luther, but even as a fan I realised the twists in the penultimate episode were kind of shonky, they rather came out of nowhere, and partly this novel is a knowing correction of those pacing mistakes. And it turns out Cross is also a stylist who writes great sentences.

Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt (Canongate)

As a kid in love with Jack Kirby’s The Mighty Thor comics, I picked up the massive compendium of world myth in my school’s library, and Byatt’s book rang true to how those stories resonated with me. She was exposed to them as a nature-loving rural kid in a country threatened by imminent Nazi invasion, while her father served abroad in the RAF. I read them as a nature-loving rural kid growing up during Northern Ireland’s Troubles and the Cold War, feeling both threatened locally by the prospect of terrorist violence, and existentially by the prospect of nuclear war and its attendant mutually assured destruction. This might be the most atypical book of Byatt’s career, but it’s the one that resonated the most with me.

FPI: Can you pick three TV shows and/or movies which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?

Mark: I think I haven’t darkened the door of my local fleapit once in the last year, so any movies I’ve seen have been on DVD. I loved Attack The Block, a movie which mightn’t have been terribly original, but its brilliance came from the playful fusion of genres, and a real love of language.

Community season two rocked my world. I watched the first half of the series drunk, and the second half hungover, and that may have affected my rational judgement, but I came away from the experience thinking this might be the best nerd-oriented TV series since Spaced. It certainly resembles that show in cinematic ambition, intent and construction. And I’ve completely fallen in age-inappropriate love with Alison Brie.

And oh alright, Luther season two. As I said earlier, I loved the first series but was all-too-aware of its failings. It aspired to be a police procedural where everything spiralled into an operatic level of mayhem, but all-too-often just seemed like a bizarre episode of The Bill which descended into a bloodbath. The final two episodes eventually hit the tone they were grasping for, and the results were magical. In the second series, essentially two movie-length specials shown as four episodes, they stepped straight back into that groove, somewhere between the works of David Milch and John Webster.

FPI: How did 2011 go for you as a blogger? Are you happy with the way you got your work out this year?

Mark: In terms of regularity of posting, I’ve had a quiet year, I must admit. It’s always hard to update a blog as regularly as you’d like when your familial and professional lives have been in something of a chaotic state. When you’re pushed for time, it’s so much easier to just compress an idea into a tweet than take the time to compose a full blog entry. I really must try harder next year. But in terms of my blog influencing the universe on a cosmic level, this has probably been my best year yet. I mean it. No, I’m not mental. GGGNNNNRRRRTTT.

FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2012?

Mark: Between the London Olympics and an unavoidable global apocalypse at the next winter solstice, I fully expect it’ll be a bumper year for blogging.

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

Mark: I’m almost embarrassed to plug the books I’m looking forward to in 2012, because anyone flicking through the last couple of years of these things will see that a tip from me is a surefire sign a book is going to miss its deadllines egregiously. Let’s just say that I’m still looking forward to Warwick Johnson Cadwell‘s Gungle (and his Hunch Parsons); Glynn Dillon‘s The Nao Of Brown; and any of the ever-growing list of projects Paul Pope has on the long finger (The completed THB, Battling Boy, La Chica Bionica, Psychenaut, Pulphope 2, the new edition of The One-Trick Rip-Off).

Al Ewing and Brendan McCarthy‘s Zaucer Of Zilk starts in 2000AD next year, and that should be a hoot. Dan McDaid keeps previewing panels from some unnamed project he’s working on for Oni Press at his blog, looking forward to seeing more of that. Dan’s a great writer as well as a damned fine artist, and after some delays due to backstage legal wrangling, his epic Doctor Who Magazine serial The Crimson Hand is finally being collected by Panini. I hope Marvel put out a fancy hardback collection of The First almost as soon as the last issue is released.

(some Doctor Who awesomeness by Dan McDaid)

As hilarious as it’s publication history has been, Chris Weston‘s work is uniformly gorgeous, and the world deserves to know what happened The Blue Blade. Paul Holden keeps posting outrageously intricate pages from The Department Of Monsterology on Twitter and Facebook. No comics artist goes out there and bares his soul for the amusement of strangers on the internet like PJ, he deserves a hit, if just to see what effect it would have on his online persona. One name the FPI readers mightn’t be as familiar with is David Wynne – he does indie and webcomic work that’s like the right-side of Warren Ellis’s brain pumped full of happy juice and grafted to the drawing hand of Paul Grist. People should go and buy his comics just to free him from the day-job he clearly hates.

(Particle Fiction #14 art by and (c) David Wynne)

And anyone who says that’s just a list of stuff by my mates from Twitter is a liar.

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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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