Best of the Year 2013 – Mary Talbot
Each December we have a tradition on the FP blog where as well as the blog crew picking out their favourites we run a daily series all month long from friends in the comics and SF&F worlds, writers, artists, editors, reviewers picking out their Best of the Year selections so we get a much more diverse range of good recommendations for you (see here for the guest BoY 2013 posts so far). And yes, we realise it is now January! But we had a bumper crop of responses to our invites to take part so we’ve got a few more to get through yet! But as this means even more fine recommendations and another chance to highlight some top works and creators I reckon we’re all pretty happy with that!
As we come to the final in our very long series of guest Best of the Year 2013 (a long and tiring run keeping up with so many wonderful recommendations, but again totally worth it to see such a diverse selection from a wide pool of creators and commentators from numerous countries) and look forward to the blog crew’s own Best Of picks still to come, we hope you’ve all been enjoying them through the whole of the last month and that you’ve seen some new suggestions that you really want to read now (I certainly have!). We close the 2013 guest Best Of the Year series with a writer who, along with her artist (and husband!) collaborator gave us one of our first cheering comics stories of the year with a win in a major literary award (first time such an award chose a graphic work) and who has appeared as one of my own Best Of selections last year and whose new work I am eagerly looking forward to in 2014, Mary Talbot:
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?
Mary: It’s been another strong year for comics, as the fine shortlists attest for the 9th Art Award and British Comics Award. This makes a choice of three especially difficult, so I finally decided to select ones that I think have come out since those lists were drawn up: Rutu Modan’s second graphic novel, The Property, Katie Green’s Lighter than my Shadow and Oscar Zarate’s The Park.
The Property follows a young Israeli woman with her grandmother, on a trip to Warsaw to reclaim an apartment building that her family was forced out of by the Nazis in 1940. But her grandmother, it turns out, has a well-kept secret… Like Exit Wounds, which I liked very much, The Property is well plotted and beautifully observed, with wry humour.
Katie Green’s long-awaited Lighter than my Shadow started life as a degree project, I think, then developed further on the Arvon graphic novel writing course. An autobiographical account of living with an eating disorder, it demonstrates both how to represent intense mental turmoil and how to represent boring repetitive activity – without ever being either. Quite a feat.
Oscar Zarate’s The Park is also in a way a very ‘internal’ story, since its characters are each wrapped up in their own thoughts and anxieties for much of the book. It’s a tragi-comic tale of conflict escalation and fuming resentment, cleverly counterpointed with footage of Laurel and Hardy comedy violence. Set in and around Hampstead Heath (beautifully rendered in watercolours), it centres on two fathers, their problems communicating with their grown-up children – and a dog that bites.
FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Mary: This year I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret Atwood at the Edinburgh Book Festival. In one of her numerous public appearances she was talking about her latest book, MaddAddam, which I learned is the final volume of a trilogy. This prompted me to seek out the first, Oryx and Crake. It’s a dazzling post-human tale that ends on a tantalizing cliffhanger. I’m about to start the second, The Year of the Flood, and if I had a Christmas list the third would be there, right at the top. Well, I guess that’s my three books, though so far I’ve only read the first one!
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?
Mary: We don’t watch TV shows much, apart from Doctor Who (of course), but Peaky Blinders was an engrossing series – atmospheric and unpredictable with gruesomely violent haircuts. We caught up with Elementary this year too and found it enjoyable, though a bit patchy.
As for films, these days we rarely venture to the cinema except for 3D. This year, that was to see the spectacular and disorienting Gravity. As a survival story it’s second to none. It’s a tight 90-minute film, with astounding camerawork, almost all of it a white-knuckle ride in zero gravity as two astronauts struggle to stay alive.
A very different film I thoroughly enjoyed this year was The Kids Are All Right, though it was released in 2010. It’s a witty, warm comedy about two children who contact their sperm-donor father without telling the ‘moms’.
Another new release was Cloud Atlas. I found it quite delicious, though rather bonkers and, at twice the length of Gravity, uncomfortably long. The length was perhaps inevitable, given the six storylines looping back and forth in different time periods (from the 1840s to the 24th century). I liked the way each strand was generically distinct – black comedy, thriller etc – with the same actors morphing between them behind prosthetic make-up. ‘We do not stay dead long’, says one, as he’s about to top himself in the bath. Well, I like optimism.
FPI: How did 2013 go for you as a creator? Are you happy with the way you got your work out this year?
Mary: The year certainly started well for me! Back in January, Bryan and I bagged the Costa Biography Award for Dotter of her Father’s Eyes. It’s the first time one of these literary Costas has been awarded to a graphic novel, so quite a milestone. I’m sure it helped to get our book to a far wider audience than it would have reached otherwise. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve said it’s the first graphic novel they’ve read – and that’s good for comics generally, isn’t it? The Edinburgh International Book Festival, with its ‘Stripped’ strand showcasing comics was bringing them to a new audience too. Another high point for me was Kendal in October, when the Lakes International Comic Art Festival burst into life there. All very encouraging!
(Mary and Bryan talking to Teddy Jamieson at the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival, pic from my Flickr)
FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2014?
Mary: My second graphic novel, Sally Heathcote, Suffragette, comes out in May 2014. It’s lavish, beautiful and painstakingly accurate as an account of the feminist militancy of the Edwardian era. A three-way collaboration this time – I wrote the script, Bryan did detailed page layouts and the lettering, while Kate Charlesworth completed the finished artwork. Other than that, well, plans are underway for the second Lakes festival. So where will we all be next October? Kendal!
FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?
Mary: I’ve been anticipating Paula Knight’s Facts of Life from Myriad for some time now, but it may not be until 2015. I think Improper Books have another book from Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose next year. It’s a folklore/fantasy tale called Briar – their previous book, Porcelain, was lovely, so I’ll be looking out for this new one.