This final guest Best of the Year selection comes from commentator, reviewer and writer Maura McHugh, who has been impressing us with some of her own comics series this year:
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?
Maura: It’s difficult to present a top three list across a variety of media because there are so many excellent works in the shops and on the screens at the moment. I’ve focused on indie/low budget/unusual titles that captured my attention during 2011, and are deserving of a larger audience.
A grim, compelling graphic novel set in Mexico and featuring Alma, a woman attempting to escape the trap of violence that permeates her life. Adam doesn’t flinch from the story and attempts to unpick the complexities of the effect on people of living in an unpredictable, often-hostile environment.
Not a story that’s going to make you feel better about the world, but it might help you understand some of it a bit better.
The sequel to Campbell’s previous title, Shadoweyes, the story continues the adventures of Scout Montana, who has been inexplicably transformed into a large, powerful creature that gives her the power to fight against crime in the futuristic city of Dranac.
The pleasure of this work is following a truly diverse set of character, who are both funny and complex, set in a traditional coming-of-age superhero story.
If you want a snapshot of the existing and emerging talent in the UK comic book scene then this comic book anthology is the perfect seasonal gift. Nelson is a series of short vignettes from the life of the heroine of the story, Nel.
It was conceived of as an experiment in the exquisite corpse format where each artist/writer must react to the piece that preceded it. A triumph in both form and content, and a showcase for the UK indie comic book industry.
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?
1 Wilfrid, created by Jason Gann and Adam Zwar
It’s rare that a truly oddball story appears on our screens that is both poignant and darkly funny. The protagonist Ryan (Elijah Wood) is a suicidal, depressed lawyer who is asked by his neighbour Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) to take care of her dog Wilfrid for an afternoon. To Ryan’s surprise, he sees Wilfrid as an Australian man (Jason Gann, reprising his role from the Aussie original version) in a dog suit.
They embark on a strange friendship that sometimes seems to be a voyage into the darker impulses of Ryan’s psyche. The fun of watching it is trying to piece together just what is going on with Ryan and what has brought about this fracture in his reality, while enjoying the wit and banter of the show.
2. American Horror Story, created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
The premise of this series is the standard haunted house story. A couple attempting to save their marriage move to L.A. with their daughter and unknowingly purchase “the Murder House”. Quite soon the ghosts turn up and rather bold-facedly start interacting with the family. At times this series has exasperated me, but ultimately I enjoy the stand-out performances, and the cocktail of horror influences from David Lynch, Dario Argento and Stanley Kubrick.
It’s a series that’s all about the women, and the actresses are fabulous featuring a range in age that is rare in American television. The triumvirate of wife Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton), creepy next-door neighbour Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) and daughter Violet Harmon (Taissa Farmiga) keep me watching this show.
3. Lost Girl, created by Michelle Lovretta
Technically this was first broadcast in 2010, but it was only aired in the UK/Ireland in 2011 on SyFy. Honestly, I came to this show expecting to dislike it, but was pleasantly surprised by the range of characters and the writing. The story centres around Bo (Anna Silk), who grew up as an orphan in a human family only to discover she is actually a succubus, and part of the Fae world that co-exists, with its own rules, next to the human world.
The lure of this show is Bo’s best friend, a thief and con-artist call Kenzi (Ksenia Solo), who helps Bo set up a neutral detective agency to investigate crimes in both the Light and Dark factions of the Fae. Bo also has relationship with both a wolf-shifting police detective Dyson (Kristen Holden-Ried) and a human forensics expert Lauren (Zoie Palmer). This series confounded my expectations and turned out to be a well-written, entertaining series with enough twists and points of departure to keep me happy.
1. Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, written and directed by Madeline Olnek
Created on a tiny budget and shot in black in white New York, this story emulates a 1950s B-movie science fiction tone from the beginning, with its baking tin spaceship and outlandish concept. In it aliens are shipped away from their home planet to Earth for having ‘big feelings’, and have to live in Manhattan as exiles, attempting to eschew relationships (but never succeeding).
At its centre is the romance between human stationary clerk Jane (Lisa Haas) and her alien girlfriend Zoinx (Susan Ziegler), which is both awkward, funny and heart-warming. This endearing film doesn’t outstay its welcome, and proves what can be done with a good comedy script and the right cast.
2. The Devil’s Business, written and directed by Sean Hogan
This British horror film is the perfect example of what horror writers/directors should emulate when attempting to make a film on a low-budget: put the work in on the story. The film centres on two London gangsters Pinner (Billy Clarke) and Cully (Jack Gordon) who break into the house of a man their superior has told them to kill. As they sit, waiting and talking, it becomes clear that their target is involved in the occult and their boss has a Faustian bargain that he’s attempting to break.
There are only four actors in this film and most of it takes place in a couple of rooms in the house, but the writing and the actors’ delivery means it is never boring.
3. The Innkeepers written and directed by Ti West.
West has already proven himself a capable and innovative horror writer/director with House of the Devil, and with The Innkeepers he keeps on trend and delivers a gripping, low-boil horror film. The story revolves around the last couple of days in an old Inn that is being closed down and is almost devoid of guests. The last shifts are being handled by Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), who are the kind of quirky, funny people nearly everyone has worked with at some point in their lives, and who help you get through deadbeat jobs. The Inn has a reputation for being haunted, and Luke has been filming sections of it for his web site.
As the duo’s last nights in the Inn unfurl the scares slowly ratchet up for a chilling climax. It’s great to watch a horror film with characters you actually care about, and which takes its time building up the atmosphere.
FPI: How did 2011 go for you as a creator? Are you happy with the way you got your work out this year?
Maura: I’ve been delighted at the reception to both of the comic book series I’m writing Atomic Diner: Róisín Dubh (reviewed here by James) and Jennifer Wilde (reviewed here). Issue two of Róisín Dubh hit the shelves just before Christmas and issue two of Jennifer Wilde should be out in February.
(sketching in Paris in Jennifer Wilde by Maura McHugh, Rob Curley and Stephen Downey, published Atomic Diner)
FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2012?
Maura: The collected graphic novel of the first volume of Róisín Dubh and Jennifer Wilde should be out by the end of the year, and before that the third issue of both of them. I’ve also a script in the Womanthology comic book anthology, which should be in the shops by January.