Best of the Year 2014: Clark Burscough
Moving on with our final set of guest Best of the Year posts (see here for the series so far – the blog crew’s own selections will follow in due course), today we welcome back one of the Grande Fromages of the wonderful Thought Bubble festival, Clark Burscough. Once again Clark has been naughty and cheated slightly on his number of allowed selections, but they’re all good so we’re letting them through, although it must be noted this sneaky approach is exactly why nobody will play him at Top Trumps anymore:
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?
Clark: As always, I’m going to take the wording of the above to mean I can pick three of each category, for I am a terrible terrible human being, who reads way too much and doesn’t like making hard decisions.
1 – Drifter #1: It’s been something of a banner year for Image Comics, with a whole slew of new titles cropping up to join their established roster, but the one I’ve been most excited for is Drifter. Following the story of downed space jockey Abram Pollux, the first issue sets up a host of mysteries to be solved, and establishes a quasi-western space world with crazy preachers and weird alien beings. Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein have wowed me before with Viking, and Drifter sees them both on point; especially Klein, whose artwork has a gorgeous Euro-comix feel to it. Definitely one to jump on board with now before the inevitable film optioning.
2 – Southern Bastards #4: If there’s two things I like that have come out of the United States of America it’s football (or their version of it) and barbecue cooking, both of which Southern Bastards has in abundance. Jasons Aaron and Latour have grilled up a hard boiled tale of revenge with situations as sticky as a glaze on some pork ribs (mixing food metaphors? – Ed). Following Earl Tubb as he returns to his crime-blighted hometown to pack up his father’s estate, events quickly spiral out of control and we’re left with a final page turn in issue four that flips everything on its head, and sets up what is sure to be a viciously bloody second act. Roll Tide.
3 – Comic Book Slumber Party: Fairytales for Bad Bitches: distinctly not for children, unless, of course, you wish them to grow up to be a “free bitch”, this anthology of punked up fairytales is an honest-to-glob joy to read from start-to-finish. Comic Book Slumber Party’s free-spirited mascot Greasy hosts the re-telling of well known fairytales, as she reads from a cherished childhood book to a young ward, with each tale illustrated by a different artist. The line-up in the book is amazing, and the retelling of classic children’s stories with the misogynist undertones and endings erased are inspired and hilarious by turns.
1 – Help Us! Great Warrior: Madeleine Flores’ webcomic has been a source of much joy for me this year, and I recently raced back through the archives after it was announced that 2015 will see the publication of a new print mini-series based on the characters from BOOM! Studios. Following a little green kidney-bean shaped warrior as she defends the realms of the land she inhabits, there’s an edginess to the cutesy presentation that reminded me of Powerpuff Girls and quickly won me over. Only interested in loot, cute boys/girls/creatures, and pizza, the Great Warrior represents an idealised version of what we can all aspire to be, or, she’s a little cutie that makes me laugh with her irreverent ways. CHOOSE WISELY.
2 – Muggy Ebes: Lucie Ebrey’s diary comics were brought into my sphere of reference by Zainab Akhtar’s excellent Comics&Cola blog (more on that below), and filled the American Elf shaped hole in my life this year. Following James Kochalka’s decision to stop posting his diary comics, Ebrey took the decision to start posting her own autobio comics online, representing herself in the form of an anthropomorphic blue dog. As with any diary comics from a young creator, at least for me, the most interesting aspect is watching the ongoing evolution of that creator’s style, as they tend to be grounds for experimenting artistically. If you’re looking for something to binge on with the festive holidays coming up, then this would be a good shout.
3 – TJ and Amal: Let’s preface this next paragraph by saying this comic is distinctly Not Safe For Work, but, with that out of the way, let’s also say that it’s one of the best looking and most fuzzy-feeling inducing comics you’ll read. Following a cross-country road-trip by the titular characters, the story focuses on the classic odd-couple set-up of uptight Amal and laid back (to the point of insolence) TJ, as they race to reach Amal’s sister’s graduation ceremony. The specifics of each character’s story are drip-fed to the reader in an enjoyably organic manner, as the reasons behind the dissolution of Amal’s arranged engagement-to-be-wed and TJ’s ongoing need to always be in motion are revealed. There’s a gooey romantic centre to the story, and some nicely rendered (but very graphic, hence the NSFW warning) sex scenes, and it has genuinely laugh out loud funny writing. A web-comic with a beginning, a middle, and an end, which can be rare, but it has a final chapter that really pays off all that’s come before it.
1 – Gardens of Glass, Lando: It should be said that Breakdown Press have put out some amazing comics this year, and that picking up any of their books would arguably present an enjoyable read, but I’ve already cheated enough with my selections as it is, so I’ll narrow my choice down to just one of their publications. Gardens of Glass collects together the past five years of Lando’s work with Decadence Comics, and contains a number of excellent stories. If forced to pick, I think I’d have to say that my favourites are Olympic Games and Marble Man, which both have enjoyably mean streaks runing through them – people are going to get hurt in this post-apocalyptic wasteland, believe you me. Offsetting the brutality of the stories with exquisitely delicate line-work, the book is a real joy to look at, and each page makes you lean in close to pore over it. It also has really good laser guns, so it’s tickling that Otomo developed part of my brain. Kanedaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
2 – Megahex, Simon Hansellman: If you have fond memories of Meg and Mog, then prepare to have them thoroughly usurped. Moving beyond a simple parody of licensed characters, Megahex collects Simon Hansellman’s webcomics of the last 5 years, featuring the characters of Megg the witch, her romantic partner Mogg the cat, their uptight friend Owl, and the always chaotic Werewolf Steve. Casting these perennial screw-ups in a slacker comedy, the stage is set for wildly inappropriate misadventures as their experiments in better living through chemistry result in either a blissed out life of luxuriant hedonism or a reefer madness nightmare, depending on your sociopolitical standpoint. The comics themselves look gorgeous, with the art style nicely serving the “kids book gone bad” vibe. There’s an interesting melancholy to the stories that distinguishes it from the pure stoner comedy of, say for example, Joe Daly’s Dungeon Quest, and the undercurrent of a pathological need to hang on to the partying glories of youth by the slacker set is played out nicely within its pages.
3 – Safari Honeymoon, Jesse Jacobs: Picking one book from Koyama Press’ output this year was too hard a decision and I have made a further decision that I don’t want to have to do it in future, so please forgive me if next year’s best of list from me is just a list of all their titles and then “BUY THEM BUY THEM BUY THEM” repeated over and over. This year, however, I shall pick Jesse Jacob’s excellent tale of a honeymoon safari through a strange and distant land, following a newlywed couple and their guide as they pass through a land where everything, on the face of it, seems to want to kill them. The artwork is shades of green throughout, and each page is densely packed with details – characters having a simple design to them, until close-up minute features are revealed for more impacting scenes. You could argue there’s an eco-friendly message at its heart, but mostly it’s just a tale of weird-ass alien monster things being misunderstood. If you like DeForge’s Lose series, then pick this up – it’s grrrrreat.
FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Clark: I had lofty ambitions to widen my reading horizons this year, as I tend to fall back on genres that I know I’ll enjoy – cyberpunk, space opera, alternate histories, that kinda thing – but then I looked on Goodreads’ best cyberpunk, space opera and alternate histories lists, and those plans faded quicker than Logan’s memories in Days of Future Past. I spent quite a lot of time this year enjoyably bogged down in Gene Wolfe’s New Sun books, but once I’d plowed through those I was devouring novels at a rapid rate. Standouts for me this year were:
1 – Ancillary Sword / Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie: really strong space opera, with an enjoyably gender ambiguous protagonist (the USP of the worlds they’re mostly set in is that the culture involved – the Raadchi – only use female pronouns, so you never really know what sex characters are) and harks back to Iain M Banks’ Culture novels, in terms of the world-building and cool spaceship stuff. The books follow the last surviving ancillary (kind of a robotised human) of an ancient battleship that comes back to wreak terrible vengeance on the empire that wronged it. It ticked all my boxes, and the third novel should be following soon (Ancillary Mercy), so plenty of time to catch up before that drops. There’s a nice tonal shift between the two books as it zooms in to focus on single space-habitat level stuff from an initial intergalactic empirical POV, and it has a nice humourous streak running through it, like all the best science fiction.
2 – Alif the Unseen, G Willow Wilson: until reading this novel, I only really knew Wilson from her work on (the excellent) Ms Marvel, but this popped up on my recommendations somewhere online as “people who liked Snow Crash also enjoyed…”, so I figured I’d give it a go. Set in an unnamed Middle Eastern totalitarian regime, the story follows the (mis)adventures of a young hacker (the titular Alif), as he becomes embroiled in a plot to control social change by controlling online activity. If you took One Thousand and One Nights and then spliced in Neal Stephenson’s writing, but with a focus on the Arab Spring, then you’d get something approximating this hugely enjoyably adventure yarn. Blurring the lines between technology and magic, and with some deftly handled commentary on patriarchal politico-religious societies, the book zips by and builds to a thrilling climax.
3 – The Violent Century, Lavie Tidhar: keeping Watchmen on hand at all times as a sacred text, I think it’s safe to say that alternative histories supposing the presence of superheroes in the Cold and Second World Wars are kind of my jam. The Violent Century is a fractured chronology retelling of the conflicts of the 20th Century based on the idea that superheroes begin popping up right around the time Poland was being invaded. At first I assumed that the story would focus solely on World War II and was happy to settle down for that, but it ends up looking at the birth of the age of espionage, and the West’s disastrous forays into Asia to attempt to stem the tide of the Red Menace. Focusing mostly on the British actors in the theatre of war, there’s a nice Smiley’s People vibe to the whole thing, and, much like Kieron Gillen’s Uber series, you can feel the weight of the research that’s gone into the tale, more so than me going “yeah, but what if there was someone who could spit bullets in Saving Private Ryan, eh? WHAT THEN!?”
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?
Clark: TV – a good year for telly, all in all – I completely neglected to watch any Dr Who, because the previous few series had annoyed me so much that I just couldn’t face that all over again, and, hey, there’s plenty enough to watch out there besides, including newly rescued episodes of classic Dr Who! YAY!
1 – Over the Garden Wall: narrowly beating out Bojack Horseman for my favourite animation of the year comes Over The Garden Wall, similarly framed to be binge watched in one hour and a bit session. Screened on consecutive nights when it first aired, it follows brothers Wirt and Greg on a mysterious journey through a bizarre fairytale land that has a nicely post-modern feel to it. There’s some amazing voice talent involved (Elijah Wood, Melanie Lynskey, John Cleese (!), Christopher Lloyd (!!), TIM CURRY (!!!)), and the musical numbers are really quite lovely. There’s a neo-classic vibe to the whole thing, with a distinct Tex Avery / Merry Melodies flavour to the storytelling, including some beautifully rendered framing shots of flora and fauna. Despite the seeming randomness of the proceedings, the series tells a story with a beginning/middle/end with a nicely satisfying emotional climax. Perfect now that the nights have drawn right in. Flipping nights.
2 – True Detective: I shall forever remember 2014 as the year that I fell back in love with Matthew McConnaughey. Ol’ Drawly McSouthern-Twang really came out fighting this year with his dreamy face swallowing the screen in Interstellar (fun but dumb) and then devouring my mind for two months earlier this year when all it seemed I could talk about was who the man with green ears could be. I’m a big fan of HBO’s mini-series – Generation Kill being another fine example of this – and this method of focusing a crime procedural in on one investigation and letting the audience really get to know these characters through (what is in effect) an 8 hour film, I thought, was a great success. I’m remaining open-minded about what season 2 might hold, but the single best highlight of my television year was episode four’s six minute unbroken follow shot that tracks McConnaughey’s character through a very tricky situation indeed. Virtuoso direction.
3 – Person of Interest: Person of Interest is my current ‘comfort food’ procedural television, and it goes a little something like this – what if Batman was actually a team of people, and what if he used that phone monitoring technology from The Dark Knight to create an AI to watch for people about to commit crimes/have crimes committed against them and then stop/save them. It’s ridiculously silly, but also quite cynical about the world, and it has Jim Caviezel doing an even more ludicrous growl/whisper than Christian Bale, which is supposed to be his normal speaking voice. Jonathan Nolan created the show (and exec produces with J J Abrams), so it’s pretty slick, and has some great action set-pieces, and in the second season they introduce a loveable dog sidekick. The fourth season is about to hit its mid-point break, and at this point in the story it’s gone full shadow tek-war with feuding AI’s conducting a clandestine battle for supremacy while the rest of the world sleeps around them. Lovely stuff.
A good year for Telly’s older sibling Fillums this year too – Godzilla and Fury didn’t land for me like I hoped they would, and I won’t get to see Birdman, Big Hero 6 or John Wicks until 2015, but still plenty to write home about. Or to a blog about. Let’s write to a blog about them instead, shall we?
1 – Nightcrawler: After the excellent End of Watch, and the slightly less excellent (but still pretty good) Prisoners, I am 100% team Jake Gyllenhaal. Whether he’s bulking up and acting like an insane alpha male, or blinking expressively while trying to hide tattoos, it’s really interesting to watch him inhabit a role and make you forget to think “hey, it’s that kid what was in Donnie Darko!” while he’s on screen. Nightcrawler has a kind of Network meets Chinatown vibe to it, and Gyllenhaal’s loner shut-in is played so creepy as to make your skin crawl right off and head into another screen to hide and watch Nativity 3 instead. Drawn into the world of on-the-scene news reportage after an encounter with Bill Paxton’s slimeball cameraman, the film sets in motion a chain of darker and darker misadventures that put me in mind of the best (and worst) parts of American Psycho. A morality tale on the dangers of learning everything, including social interaction, off the internet.
2 – The Guest: What if the Terminator came to stay with you, and then while he was hanging out staring at you in a slightly too intense manner, he was also killing people in a misguided attempt to help you out with your life? This is The Guest in a nutshell. I almost missed this in the cinema, because the marketing for it was so poor, but read a few reviews that convinced me it was worth my time, and I’m glad I listened to them, because it’s great. Dan Stevens’ eponymous Guest is a charismatic alpha male psychopath, who you can’t help but love as he butts up against acceptable levels of interference in a small community, set to a post-Carpenter synth soundtrack. It’s by the same gang that made You’re Next, which kind of lets you know what to expect, and the second half of the film is an enjoyably thrilling chase movie. There’s also a great “taking the principal down a notch” scene, which I’m always a fan of. Oh, and a great smash cut to credits ending too.
3 – Edge of Tomorrow: Aka, Why Didn’t They Call It “All You Need Is Kill”, Which Is A Way Cooler Non-Sequitur Title. Based on the Japanese novella All You Need Is Kill, this is a westernised tale of a global military’s attempt to repel alien invaders from our lovely planet. Staying surprisingly close to the source material, except for the Americanising of the cast, and a sanitised ending, this put me in mind of 80’s action films like Aliens, and not just because Bill Paxton shows up with an amazing moustache. Tom Cruise’s propaganda-man is thrown into thrilling mech-besuited battle for reasons that are instantly forgotten, and then trips into a groundhog day scenario where every death resets the timeframe, but not his memories. Cruise keeps the smarm at a minimum for a decent amount of the run-time, and Emily Blunt is enjoyably Sarah Connor 2.0 as a death-dealing trooper who may hold the key to what the heck is going on. Strong CG effects and some nice physical work keep it engaging for the duration.
FPI: How did 2014 go for you as a creator? Are you happy with the way you got your work out this year?
Clark: 2014 went really well for Thought Bubble – we put on our biggest festival yet, and it seems to have been our best received yet to boot, which is really great. Working with the team we’ve built up was an absolute delight this year, and I’ve only been half-joking when I’ve said that 2014’s festival has been the first where I’ve been actually having fun during the running of the thing. I had a comic in our recent anthology, which was lovingly illustrated by Marc Ellerby, and that was a blast to work on, and I’ve got some upcoming stuff with Lizz Lunney and Joe List that should hopefully start getting some traction now we’ve all moved down from “insanely busy” to “moderately busy” as our default setting.
FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2015?
Clark: More of the same! We’re on a little Thought Bubble winter break at the moment, but we’re already well into planning for next year’s festival, and we’re going to capitalise on all the ground we broke in 2014 to try and keep the show on the right road. I’m also trying to figure out how I can find more time in my life to write, while also keeping space for Thought Bubble and my day job, so we’ll see if I manage that juggling act. We’ll be updating festival bits and bobs in the new year for folks, so we’d recommend keeping an eye on http://thoughtbubblefestival.com in January for the first round of festival announcements!
FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?
Clark: I mentioned it already above, but this year’s invaluable resource for me was Comics&Cola by the amazing Zainab Akhtar. I try to keep my eye in with the comics press as much as I can, in order that Thought Bubble can keep at the cutting edge of comics, but when I’m looking for people turning me on to new stuff to read that I know I’ll enjoy, then I defer to Zainab every time. 2014 saw her writing for Publisher’s Weekly and Comics Alliance, as well as herself, and I hope that 2015 continues this trend of expanding her reader base, because I think she has an important voice that more people should hear. Also, Zainab helps keeps me sane on twitter and gives me samosas during Thought Bubble’s convention, and that is a debt that can never be repaid.