Best Of The Year 2013 – Clark Burscough
December means it’s Best Of The Year time at the FPI Blog. But it’s best of the year with a difference. We’ll tell you ours later in the month, but before then we present a month long celebration of all the things enjoyed by a host of guests; writers, artists, comic makers.. we’ve got them all! (follow this link to see all the posts from this year’s BoY so far).
Today it’s Clark Burscough’s time to shine and pick his very best of 2013. Burscough is the assistant director of the Thought Bubble festival. This essentially means he doesn’t sleep throughout November to get so much comic goodness packed into one small week that delivers, and this is becoming a general consensus, the best comic convention around.
Here we go….
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?
As is becoming traditional with my comic picks of the year, I’ve cheated on this one and picked my favourite single issues, graphic novels/collections, and webcomics, because there’s too much cool stuff out there, and choosing is hard, and leave me alone mum, I’ll get up in a minute, school’s a waste of time anyway, I’m going to be a Power Ranger.
I’m a big fan of DeForge’s work, and while Very Casual was a joy to read, it’s his series of one-man-anthologies Lose that I’m most excited to read new editions of. I picked up the fifth issue of this often dark, but always enjoyably so, comic series from TCAF earlier this year, from the amazing Koyama Press’ table, the entirety of which I would happily buy, if only I had the liquid assets to do so. This issue contains three stories, two short tales of varying degrees of criminality, and then the main meat of the book, the longer form Living Outdoors, which tracks the misadventures of two adolescents seeking highs from nature, but finding more than they bargained for. As with all of DeForge’s work, he manages to make the grotesque appear studiedly cutesy, which, for me, only serves to make the content all the more creepy. His stark black-and-white artwork serves the stories well, and it’s a good one to read during the long winter nights, lit only by the dull glow of a fire. Remember, with a face fruit, you have to wait until the seeds on the inside have dried out.
I have not shut up about Fiffe’s superhero remix series Copra all year, and for that I refuse to apologise, because it’s one of the most exciting comics I’ve read in a long while. Ostensibly a riff on the old Suicide Squad comics, with a dash of Kirby and Ditko thrown in for good measure, the book is written, drawn, edited, and produced by Fiffe, and is just a fun roller coaster of action and intrigue. The series follows the dimension-hopping adventures of Copra, a rag-tag team of misfit super-powered individuals, as they fight to wrest control of a weapon of unspeakable power from the forces of evil (or, at least, those more evil than they themselves). Issue 8 is a cool-down story after a big ol’ punch-up, and fleshes out the characters of the team with some nice back-story. I love supporting books like this, when someone’s decided that the comics they like aren’t being made any more, so they go out and make their own, especially when they’re as damn good to look at as Copra is. The single issues tend to sell out fairly quickly, and it’s being published on a monthly basis (by ONE PERSON ON THEIR OWN(!!!!)), so order the compendium editions – collecting three issues apiece – from your retailer of choice, and catch up on the best superhero comic in years.
Pretty Deadly #2 – Kelly Sue Deconnick, Emma Rios, & Jordie Bellaire
Things Clark likes: supernatural stories, spaghetti westerns, samurai films, beautiful artwork, stories that don’t hold your hand and make you work for them. Things that Pretty Deadly has between its pages: all of the above. Issue two of this supernatural western series gives the reader their first proper glimpse of death’s daughter Ginny, and the havoc that she’s able to wreak with bullet and blade, which is to say that this comic is violent. Like, really, violent. Rios’ artwork is just great in this, with a nice delicate line, and Jordie Bellaire’s colouring compliments it very handsomely indeed, as the action scenes are frenetically paced, and you can almost taste the dust on the wind. The last line of the comic promises answers, but, at the moment, I’m really enjoying just seeing the questions that are being asked. Image are putting out some really innovative books right now, and taking chances that you don’t see all that regularly from the big publishers in the contemporary market, and I’m glad they are. It also bears mentioning that the naked people in this book actually look like how naked people in real life look, which is always a nice surprise. Ain’t nothing wrong with some guns and swords, y’all.
Achewood’s back! This is the best of news for anyone who needs an acidic dose of comedy in the morning when they wake up, which is everyone, I guess? After more than a year’s break since the last instalment, Chris Onstad’s magnum opus returned in August and is now back updating every Friday, so far. Focusing on the lives of a group of anthropomorphic (and foul mouthed) stuffed animals, cats and robots, it’s genuinely funny, has some fun ongoing story arcs and character developments, and plays the satire card well without holding it in front of your face and screaming “IS THIS YOUR CARD!?” over and over. Which is nice. It’s slightly daunting for the newcomers, as any long-running webcomic can be, but head to the archives and start working your way through one of the best humour strips of the last twenty years. As Phillipe would say, “huuuuugs!”
The Perry Bible Fellowship is another seminal webcomic that returned after quite a hiatus, and I’m so glad it did – nothing else out there is quite as weird, while being quite as pretty. Working in the same vein as Gary Larson’s Far Side strips, there’s a lovely juxtaposition going on within its electronic pages between the mundane and the fantastical, with traditional gag set-ups being turned on their head to great effect. Having had the comic’s creator, Nicholas Gurewitch, over for Thought Bubble this year, I can safely say he’s as wonderful as his comics, which is even more reason to enjoy it. Hurrah!
Cucumber Quest is one of my all-time favourite webcomics at this point, and the fact that it’s been running for less than three years says a whole lot about just how good it is (hint: it is really super good). It inhabits the same sphere of reference as one of my other All Time Favourites™, the superlative Dungeon Quest, in that it lovingly pokes fun at the tropes of an RPG hero’s journey, while also being a gripping adventure yarn in its own right. on the trials and tribulations of reluctant adventurer rabbit Cucumber and his plucky sister Almond, the series is building into an epic battle between good and evil, ostensibly modeled on the Zelda series and Japanese RPGs. There’s a whole bunch of good puns going on, and the humour is deliciously dry in parts, so it’s an extremely fun read, with some gorgeous digital artwork going on, and is well worth your time.
Hip Hop Family Tree – Ed Piskor
I grew up in the middle of nowhere (Lincolnshire) listening to hip hop compilations, and rap bootlegs that my uncle used to put on tape for me, wondering about the mythical lands of Brooklyn and South Bronx, South South Bronx. Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree takes me right back to those formative years, when I’d hungrily devour any article I’d see pop up in my Dad’s issues of Mojo Magazine on the musicians I idolised, pretty much purely through their audio output. Originally serialised electronically on Boing Boing, the series is now being published by Fantagraphics in handsomely made physical volumes, and traces the birth of the movement and its origins in dance hall DJing and MCing, through to (currently) looking at the emergence of second-wave acts such as Run DMC. Piskor’s style is clean and pops off the page, and all the main players are instantly recognisable without ever straying too far into caricature, helped along by a fun motif of introducing new acts to the comic by having their first words be a memorable line from one of their tracks. Basically, this is a no-brainer for any hip hop heads and vinyl junkies out there, and if you’re a fan of biographical comics then pop it on your wish list too.
Fury MAX is hands down one of my favourite comics of the last ten years – I think it’s my favourite story that Garth Ennis has ever written, and Goran Parlov’s artwork is just jaw-droppingly beautiful, and grotesque (when necessitated by the subject matter). Focusing on the trials and tribulations of the world’s greatest super-spy, following the end of World War II and the shift towards the covert war on Communism, the series put me in mind of James Ellroy’s American Underworld trilogy, with the same underlying anger at the hypocrisy of unilateral military actions that seemingly cause more harm than good. It’s incredibly violent, and volume two cements that by bringing in a pre-Punisher’d Frank Castle, and the frankly insane Baracuda, as supporting characters to up the ante. It runs at breakneck speed, telling a potted history of the clandestine US military actions of the last forty years in twelve issues, and serves as a great companion piece to Ennis’ Punisher MAX run, as well as a near perfect war comic in its own right.
Oh man, this book. I missed out on the Oily Comics minis of TEOTFW as they were coming out, but I’m glad I got the chance to read it all in one chunk, because it’s up there with Badlands in terms of conveying twisted disaffected youth and urban decay. There’s an edgy punk aesthetic to the whole thing, and it’s not easy reading – there’s parts that made me visibly wince and hold the book away from my face – but that’s also a credit to Chuck Forsman’s deceptively simplistic artwork, which conveys whole waves of emotions in just a few scratchy lines. Get in on this before the Warp Films live-action adaptation comes out, but maybe don’t buy it your Grandma for Christmas, unless she’s into violently dark tales of the evil that lurks within the hearts of men, in which case, rock on, Grandma!
(Oh, in case you’re wondering, we asked Clark just what his top three were, and he decided on The End of the Fucking World, Copra, and Pretty Deadly. Burscough just can’t help cheating!)
FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Against A Dark Background – Iain M Banks
For someone who I’ve only met passingly at book talks and signings, the news of Iain Banks’ passing really did a number on me, and I found myself revisiting his novels for a bit of solace. Oddly, I hadn’t read Against A Dark Background before, likely because it was one of the few written under the Iain M Banks moniker that didn’t focus on the Culture – Banks’ pan-galactic Republic of militant hedonists. There’s something strangely comforting about finding an unread novel from an individual who you know won’t be producing any more new works, and I think that added greatly to my enjoyment of it. The story focuses on a group of almost-psychically-attuned soldiers, who band together for one last job to find a weapon of untold power, visiting fantastical locales in the process, and staying one step ahead of the law and psychotic religious zealots. It’s Ocean’s Eleven by way of Raiders of the Lost Arc in space, pretty much. Banks’ ever present sardonic humour is in fine form, and there’s an overlying sense of melancholy that was strangely fitting to the context in which I read it. Iain Banks is the reason I’m a nerd to this day, and without his stories my adolescence would have been far poorer. I’ll miss him, and his worlds, but I’m glad I can visit them whenever I like.
The Selected Works of T S Spivet – Reif Larsen
I finally made the transition into the world of owning an e-reader this year (which is actually pretty good, and I’m back to scoffing down novels like popcorn), so this was the last physical novel that I bought. Maybe ever. Blimey. Anyways, I finally picked this up after being recommended it a good few years ago, and I’m really glad I got it in physical form, because it’s a beautifully made book. The novel is effectively the travel journal of the eponymous T S Spivet, charting his journey from the family farm in Montana as he attempts to reach the Smithsonian institute in Washington DC. T S is an obsessive map-maker, who copes with the confusing world around him by methodically charting nearly everything he encounters, and excerpts of these ‘maps’, as well as his field drawings can be found in the margins of each page. There’s a subtle magic-realism at work as the story unfolds, never quite revealing whether this is true to the world it inhabits, or just the imaginings of an unreliable narrator, but, whatever the truth, the journey is a gloriously fun one to take.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon
One of the few re-readings that I indulged in this year (2013’s new year’s resolution – read more new stuff, adhered to for the most part), I revisited Kavalier and Clay while I was ill and looking for something I knew I’d enjoy. Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winning story follows the trials and tribulations of two Jewish cousins in New York, one a Czech émigré the other a native Brooklynite, as they enter into the fledgling world of comic book publishing. This basically acts as historical fiction for the comics-boom in post-depression America, and features some fun nods, winks, and cameos to/from those early days in the Golden Age of pulp comic publishing. I’m a huge fan of this kind of novel, and having it set in the early years of a medium that I love making the faltering transition into an industry makes for fascinating reading. Added to the exploration of comics and their creation is political intrigue, drama, romance, action, and adventure, and the whole thing can be seen as a mirror held up to those early comic books, grabbing at everything that can entertain and weaving it all into one hugely enjoyable tapestry. Lovely stuff.
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?
Bee and Puppycat
2013 has been completely cuckoo bananas for fans of good animation, with Frederator putting out some amazing cartoons for free on the internet for all to see. Bee and Puppycat followed in the footsteps of Bravest Warriors and Superf***ers, making its début as a two-part video on the Cartoon Hangover YouTube channel earlier this year. Created by Natasha Allegri, the show is an endearing mix of 20-something slacker comedy, bizarre humour, and Sailor Moon style anime action, and a cute puppy/cat hybrid, all of which tick many of my boxes, meaning I thoroughly enjoyed it. Flash-forward to November of this year, and the pilot video has been used to front an extremely successful kickstarter meaning that a nine episode series will now be made, and there’s a comic book in the pipeline coming from KaBoom! Studios. Besides the fact that I love cartoons like this, there’s another upshot of these shows being hits, namely that it results in a lot of indie comic creators getting paid, which is always a Very Good Thing. Next year, the shelves of your local comic shop will see spin-off titles from Adventure Time, Regular Show, Bravest Warriors, Steven Universe, and Bee and Puppycat, all written and illustrated by some amazing creators, and all putting out monthly comics that people of all ages can read. That’s pretty damn awesome, in my book.
While Breaking Bad was getting all the plaudits for sticking the landing, one of my favourite television shows of recent memory was quietly put out to pasture, and I think it’s a crying shame. Southland focused on the work lives of officers and detectives in the Los Angeles Police Department, and was filmed in an almost faux-documentary style, much in the same manner as the excellent End of Watch. There’s a naturalistic style to the acting, and little touches pop up that you know can only have come from hours of ride-alongs with working police officers, and meticulous research. It becomes a who’s who of “oh, it’s him/her from that thing”, and has some nice guest turns, particularly when Lucy Liu joins the cast for a season. I came to Southland after finishing The Shield, and needing something to fill the cop show drama void in my life, and now I need something to replace this. Hopefully True Detective will suffice, because, damn, if the trailer for that doesn’t look amazing. I’m just not sure if I’m ready to love again. Time heals all wounds, I guess.
Friday Night Lights
When the evenings start drawing in, and Thought Bubble looms ever closer, and my sanity starts to slip away as I pull all-nighters to try and make sure everything gets done that needs doing, it’s nice to have something that I can look to for calming my tattered psyche. Into this gap steps Coach Eric Taylor of the Dillon Panthers high school football team, the sardonic Texan linchpin of Friday Night Lights – one of my favourite television series ever. I re-watched all five seasons of the show in the run-up to 2013’s Thought Bubble, and fell in love with Texas high school football all over again, finding myself massively invested in the lives of these teenagers and their families, and cheering them all the way to state. I’m a fan of sports in general, and particularly enjoy NFL, so mix this in with well-written and acted soap operatics and I’m caught hook, line, and sinker, and find myself constantly asking “what *would* Riggins do?” Clear eyes, pure hearts, never lose. Amen to that.
Frank Herbert’s epic space opera, Dune, is one of my favourite novels of all-time, and David Lynch’s live-action adaptation of the book, while riddled with holes and flaws you could ride a sandworm through, is the most quoted movie in the Thought Bubble offices, maybe second most after Predator, but it’s a close call. Jodorowsky’s Dune is a documentary by film-maker Frank Pavich, focusing on the ill-fated first attempt to bring the galaxy spanning tome to the silver screen. Using extensive interviews with the surviving production members, and animating Moebius and H R Giger’s concept designs to great effect, the film tells the story of Jodorowsky’s attempt to bring together a team of “spiritual warriors” to bring his vision to the screen. I absolutely adored this film, and it’s easily the best cinematic experience I had all year – Jodorowsky is hilariously resistant to compromise on the (at the time) revolutionary manner in which he wished to film the movie that never was, and it’s easy to see why all the cast and crew he amassed fell under his spell. An enjoyable insight into one of the most interesting film-makers, and, latterly, comic creators, working today, and any excuse to see Moebius’ artwork on the big screen is a valid one.
I’m not quite sure how to describe this film in a manner that will make it sound appealing to the average viewer – it’s a movie about implied communication, and language, and relationships, with minimal dialogue, and much in the way of abstract, maybe even obtuse, storytelling between the viewer and the film-maker. Possibly. That sounds terrible, right? It’s not. Instead, let’s talk about Shane Carruth – a software engineer who burst onto the scene with the mind-bending science fiction (or maybe fact) film Primer, whose name is ubiquitous in the credits of his films (seriously, check out his IMDB page, he does EVERYTHING). I saw Upstream Color at Sundance this year, and was blown away by the sheer amount of information he was able to convey simply through sound and vision with minimal dialogue. I also have selfish reasons for wanting Upstream Color to do well on the digital market – the money he makes on this will go towards getting his screenplay for A Topiary filmed, which frankly reads like an insane masterpiece, and the world needs more of those. Oh, and Upstream Color has lots of cute snuffly pigs in it, so it knocks Babe off the top of my cute snuffly pig films chart too. Yay!
I have a confession to make – when it comes to Hong Kong action film directors, I prefer Johnnie To to John Woo, I mean, sure, I love A Better Tomorrow, and doves flying everywhere, and slow-motion dual-wielding gun dives as much as the next person, but Johnnie To’s films just speak to me more. It’s maybe because he has a tendency to cast Lam Suet in his films, and I could watch that guy act all day. He’s the best. Drug War is at the slightly more meditative end of the To spectrum – a procedural looking at the trade in illegal narcotics on mainland China, an enterprise that carries an mandatory death penalty for those involved. This sets the stage for a tense cat-and-mouse chase for the police and criminals alike, as a shell game to try and bring down a high-level operation unfolds over the two hour running time. Mildly reminiscent of Heat, the film builds to a suitably action-packed climax, and has great turns from Louis Koo and Sun Honglei as reluctant partners from opposite sides of the thin blue line. Drug War – come for the little touches, such as the impoverished police clubbing together for toll money, and stay for the excellently choreographed shoot-outs.
FPI: How did 2013 go for you as a creator? Are you happy with the way you got your work out this year?
This year went really well, both for me as an individual, and for Thought Bubble in general. We put on our biggest festival ever, which seemed to go over well, and I’ve just about rebuilt my brain following the insanity of the festival week, so we’re gearing up to have our annual debrief, and, after that, start to plan how we want the festival to grow for the future, and how to build on what worked and improve on what could have worked better. Thought Bubble continues to be a real joy to work on, thanks in no small part to all the wonderful people who attend the festival, so hopefully we’ll be able to entice even more folks to Leeds next November! We’ll be returning with the festival dates and whatnot in the new year, after we’ve all had a bit of a rest and a nice cup of tea.
FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2014?
More Thought Bubbly stuff, and some more creative stuff too – I got a couple of comics scripts out this year, and it was nice to stretch my writing muscles for projects other than festival copywriting and reporting for my day job, so I’m looking to kick a few projects that I’ve got on the burner into higher gear. I’m also hoping to get some of those wooden dinosaur skeleton models and build them, so maybe look out for those if you come round my flat to play boardgames. Dinosaurs are ace.
FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?
For me, the creator to watch at the moment is Sloane Leong, whose work is just great, and adorns my body in t-shirt form most days of the week. Her creator-owned comics are excellent, especially the free-to-air webcomic Alpha Princess Garou Shoujo and super-creepy horror short-story Clutch, and she’s starting to make a name for herself as a colourist, which will hopefully turn more people onto her creator owned stuff and we’ll see more of that making its way into the public eye. Oh, and also be sure to check out Labyrinth’s Lament, her back-up story from Brandon Graham’s excellent Prophet series, that is just really gross. In a good way. Which I think I would also like as my epitaph. Cheers.