Desert Island Comics – Episode 66 – Brian Ruckley
Desert Island Comics; where we take a willing victim, deliver them a bundle of eight of their favourite comics, and then unceremoniously dump them on one of our special Pacific islands. This is always a bit of a surprise to all concerned… somehow they had it in mind we were just doing a nice little weekend feature blatantlyripping off the long running Radio 4 serial.
Brian Ruckley is an author of novels and short stories, generally of a fantastical sort. He has had four novels published by Orbit Books, and a fifth – The Free – will be released in 2014. Everything anyone could ever want to know about him is to be found on his website at www.brianruckley.com.
He has been reading comics since getting hooked on 2000AD as a child, and these days writes a comics column for the award-winning speculative fiction fan site SF Signal, every installment to date being handily assembled at http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/category/columns/words-and-pictures/.
Desert Island Comics – Episode 66 – Brian Ruckley
The Adventures of Luther Arkwright by Bryan Talbot
I like SF, I like history, I like alternate history. I like Bryan Talbot’s art and writing. It follows that I like (a lot) Luther Arkwright, his super-detailed epic of parallel worlds, science fictionalised Victoriana and Cromwelliana, tantric sex and telepaths. I’m not sure comics have ever been much better than this for me, to be honest. Somebody really should have made a movie of this by now, or better yet a big-budget TV series. But it’s so British, to its deepest bones, I guess that wouldn’t fly across the pond, where the big budgets lie.
This one’s on the list because as far as I can tell it’s pretty much inexhaustible, which seems a handy attribute for a desert island comic. I’ve read most of it at least a couple of times and still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. It’s anthropological science fiction of the faintly obsessive sort, dissecting the psychology, sociology, theology, xenobiology etc of an imagined world and its inhabitants with such forensic attention to detail that the pages of footnotes at the end are not only fascinating but a crucial, metafictional part of the reading experience. The connected but stand-alone stories that make up the whole work cover everything from romance to murder mystery, satire to fable, familial melodrama to hallucinatory metaphor. Lovely stuff, so utterly unique the world’d be a poorer place without it.
A bit of a nostalgia pick, since Daredevil, and especially Frank Miller’s Daredevil, had more to do with getting the young me into superhero comics than any other single character/series (with the possible exception of the X-Men, I suppose). I’ve re-read bits and pieces of what’s left of young me’s comic collection, and a lot of the superhero stuff hasn’t aged terribly well (to put it mildly). This has survived better than most, though. A story that feels like an actual, consequential story, not just overblown soap opera, and art that’s right up there with the best the genre has ever offered. A literal deconstruction of Daredevil the man, building to a satisfyingly dramatic and spectacular reconstruction.
To be clear, I’m only interested in those bits of American Flagg! written and drawn by Chaykin. Other folks had a go at it, but this is so completely the creative vision of one man that it never remotely worked without him. That vision’s a little bit … well, odd perhaps, but there’s nothing better than a loud and distinctive creative ‘voice’ channelled through prodigious craft, and as well as all his distinctive preoccupations, Chaykin’s got bucketfuls of artistic and writing craft to call on when he’s in the mood (as he is in the first twelve issues of this). Dystopian SF loaded with local and global politics, bike gangs, cruel humour, drugs, multimedia and sex.
I reckon Jason Aaron’s one of the very best of the current crop of mainstream comic writers, and Scalped’s the best thing of his I’ve read. Meticulous, measured construction of complex characters and examination, re-examination and questioning of their intricate relationships, and of the crime that shaped all their lives. It’s also full of extreme and rather OTT violence, but it’s powerfully grounded by its characters and the vivid portrayal of the desolate, sin-ridden Native American reservation on which they live. Grimy, contemporary gothic. Puts me distantly in mind of Quentin Tarantino, James Ellroy and a load of other chroniclers of America’s edges.
I’ve never read Bone all the way through. That’s daft because even the little bit of it I have read was enough to tell me that (a) I really like it and (b) it’s probably exactly the masterpiece a lot of people call it. Lovely, expressive art; exquisite timing; lucid and engaging writing. Quite a bit of funny, too. What’s not to like? And it’s big, which has got to be a plus for desert island reading material. There’s a one volume edition I’ve been meaning to get for ages, and once I’d read it it’s probably weighty enough to crack open coconuts or crush crabs with. Handy.
It’s a looong time since I last read this (although it’s available free online now, so I’ve really got no excuse), and what I mostly remember about the experience is being confused. Confused and intoxicated. Confused and intoxicated and fascinated. I’m (a lot) older and (not a lot) wiser now, so maybe there’d be more of the intoxication and fascination and less of the confusion. Anyway, it’s a somewhat delirious SF epic, graced with great Euro-style art and a whole load of bizarre characters, casual invention and eccentric plotting. Puzzling, delightful fun, in other words.
I’m not really much of a Superman fan. In fact I’m no kind of Superman fan at all, but Morrison and Quitely turned me into one for precisely the number of pages it took them to tell their All-Star tale. Never pretending Superman’s anything other than a demi-god, and running with that ball in ways both funny and epic, mythical and campily, lovingly nostalgic. Walking a bit of a high-wire, really, but doing it with immense style. And the Quitely art is, of course, eye-poppingly appealing and fascinating. The only guy, as far as I know, to ever convincingly nail the Superman/Clark Kent dichotomy purely through posture.
Coffee plants. I know this is never going to work in a million years (probably), but I propose to grow coffee, harvest the beans, roast them in the tropical sun, grind them between stones and brew myself homegrown coffee over the campfire. What can possibly go wrong? Useful to have a project to keep the mind occupied, and I do like coffee in the morning.