BEST OF THE YEAR 2014: Andy Oliver
Our traditional end of the year Best Of The Year bonanza continues. Every day in December (well, we may take a couple of days off – it is Christmas, y’know?) we’ll share another comic personage’s thoughts on just what made their year just that little bit better this year – see here for the other posts so far.
Today it’s a man I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time at this years Thought Bubble, a man after my own heart, certainly a man with very similar tastes, tastes he’ll tell you all about at the excellent comics site Broken Frontier. Andy Oliver, whose Small Pressganged column is essential reading (right after this blog of course). So, over to Andy Oliver….
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?
Andy Oliver: HOAX Psychosis Blues by Ravi Thornton and a whole host of artists (including Bryan Talbot, Karrie Fransman, Hannah Berry, Rian Hughes and Mark Stafford – whose art is pictured above) was the standout original graphic novel of 2014 for me. The book is a biographical account of the last years of Thornton’s brother Rob, detailing his unsuccessful battle against schizophrenia. Individual poems that Rob wrote throughout his illness are interpreted by nine very diverse comics artists while a framing sequence drawn by Leonardo M. Giron explores the relationship between the two siblings. I’m quoted on the book’s inside cover praising it as “the ultimate expression of the graphic memoir’s unique power to share and communicate personal experience” and describing it as “a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece” and those words are not hyperbolic. If anything they are woefully understated! HOAX Psychosis Blues is cross-media work that may have flown under the radar of many readers (the other strand of the project was the musical theatre show HOAX My Lonely Heart) and that’s a shame because it deserves a far wider audience.
Karrie Fransman’s Over Under Sideways Down was a short one-off comic for the Red Cross during Refugee Week that told the true tale of teenager Ebrahim, forced to flee from Iran and make an arduous journey to safety in the UK. There are few creators working in British comics at the moment with such a powerful understanding of the unique potential of the form as Karrie Fransman, and Over Under Sideways Down brings together a remarkable and courageous story with stunning comics craftsmanship to underline the importance of comics as an accessible communication tool.
And finally I was delighted to see Maleficium, the first full-length graphic novel from the wickedly mischievous mind of EdieOP. Every so often I come across a self-publishing comics practitioner like EdieOP whose creative voice is just so unique that I feel compelled to not just cover but to actively champion their work in my ‘Small Pressganged’ column at Broken Frontier. I was delighted, then, when micropublisher Avery Hill Publishing announced they would be bringing out Maleficium this year and this creepy all-ages offering about would-be boy wizard Huxley Leighton-Lomax and the strange sentient darkness terrorising his house didn’t disappoint.
FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Andy: I’m not sure I actually managed to read any prose fiction in 2014 thanks to the never diminishing reviews backlog pile! Nostalgia ensured that American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1970s from TwoMorrows was one of my favourite books about comics this year. Lots of visual references to comics that I would never be able to cover critically now because I’ll never stop seeing them through an 8-year-old’s eyes.
Similarly, the updated new edition of Mantlo: A Life in Comics was a poignant reminder of a creator whose work would always be at the top of my reading list as a child when I got home from the comics shop. I’m currently working my way through the excellent Remembered for a While, a kind of “non-linear biography” of ‘70s singer-songwriter Nick Drake.
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?
Andy: Again, I seem to have had no time outside of comics coverage this year to seek out new work in other media! Lots of revisiting old favourites this year, though, with the blu-ray edition of Dead of Night (1945) being an excellent re-issue. The UK release of animated film Wrinkles, based on Paco Roca’s graphic novel about the residents of a retirement home, was also a must watch. And as I’ve been talking a lot about nostalgia for all things childhood I’m not going to apologise for the excitement I felt when my box set of the 1960s Batman TV series arrived.
(And if that teaser excites, there’s a longer exclusive cut of 10 minutes at the Empire site here.)
FPI: How did 2014 go for you?
Andy: It was an exhaustingly busy but thoroughly rewarding twelve months! I have struggled in 2014 to give time to even the smallest fraction of the frankly overwhelming and unmanageable number of review requests I now get for my ‘Small Pressganged’ column but I do hope our audience have discovered at least some new names to follow from those who did get Broken Frontier exposure.
Being a part of the judging panel for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition this year, alongside such esteemed names as Corinne Pearlman, Woodrow Phoenix, Nicola Streeten and Meg Rosoff, was a pleasure and perfectly complemented the focus of my Broken Frontier work where I actively look to promote the very best up and coming UK (and international) talent. I’m eagerly anticipating the publication of winner Jade Sarson’s For the Love of God, Marie! in 2016.
But of all the comics-related events and panels I sat on, or chaired, or attended, there was nothing that quite matched up to the privilege of being asked to introduce such an important and vital piece of comics storytelling as HOAX Psychosis Blues at its launch in Manchester in June.
FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2015?
Andy: The same dedication to promoting the very best work from the worlds of small press, self and micropublished, and altcomics that our readers have come to expect from Broken Frontier over the last few years! BF’s editor-in-chief Frederik Hautain and I, and the hard-working BF team of course, are committed to exploring the full potential of the medium in all its myriad forms, methods of delivery and layers of distribution. In 2015 we have definite plans to take that to a whole new level…
FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?
Andy: Three names I think we should all be keeping an eye out on: Sarah Burgess has been producing webcomics for some time but this is the year her drama of student life and skewed relationships The Summer of Blake Sinclair came to print courtesy of publisher Zetabella. Sarah has a dreamy, idiosyncratic style that ensures the reader becomes completely immersed in the lives of her characters.
(Sarah Burgess’ The Summer Of Blake Sinclair)
The three issues of Adam Vian’s self-published fantasy comedy Long Lost Lempi really should have had far more coverage in the comics press than they have to date and I can only assume the lack of an online store is the reason it has yet to take off critically to the degree it deserves. Well worth hunting down in shops and at small press fairs. Similarly, Emma Raby is another small presser without an online shop but her beautifully crafted comics can be found in both issues of Donya Todd’s Bimba anthology.
(Adam Vian’s Long Lost Lempi)
(And finally, Emma Raby, new work, looks gorgeous.)