Best Of The Year 2014: Tom Humberstone
Can you believe the time? It’s so close to the end of year now, you can practically hear the strains of Auld Lang Syne already. Still, time for a couple more late entries for the annual extravaganza that is the FPI Blog Best Of Year blowout.
Today it’s the turn of Tom Humberstone, he behind the Solipsistic Pop anthology and book line, the ongoing comic series Elipsis and most recently the excellent series of cartoons for The New Statesman, In The Frame… book available right now, too late for Christmas sure, but that money from Auntie Gladys may be burning a hole…
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?
Tom Humberstone: I thought I’d do something a little different and focus on one publisher. The past few years have seen a huge rise in small, boutique publishers who are really challenging the comic industry status quo. 2014, in particular, felt like the year of the publisher. And while Koyama Press, Avery Hill and Uncivilised Books have all been putting out some incredible things this year, I feel 2014 belongs to Breakdown Press.
With a couple of exceptions, I’m surprised at how little the British comic press have been writing about Breakdown. They had a great year last year – following up the success of the outstanding Windowpane with Kessler’s sequel and Antoine Cosse’s J1137 – but this year has really been theirs. That would have been true had they retired after releasing the sublime Gardens of Glass by Lando, and the exquisite Mutiny Bay by Cosse, but they followed these up with the incredible Generous Bosom by Conor Stechschulte, Janus (Albert), Escape to the Unfinished (Kessler), Sindicalismo (Estrada), and the alt. manga reprints of Matsumoto and Hayashi.
While Tom and Simon, the brains behind Breakdown, clearly have a wide-ranging taste in comics, I’m enjoying spotting a prevailing thematic trend in some of the work they put out and there also seems to be a new aesthetic developing within some of what we’re all calling “art comics” (for lack of a better term). There’s a lot to write about here – the minimalism of line, the deeper focus on pacing, composition, and the printing process – and I look forward to seeing more of this kind of work. If this is what Breakdown are putting out after only three years, I can’t wait to see where they go next.
Those who are put off by that “art comics” pigeonholing – avoid Breakdown comics at your peril. While they have a strong, exciting eye for unique and original artists they also never once put a book out that didn’t have a satisfying and challenging narrative. These comics have a beginning, middle and end if that’s what you’re after. My closest comparison would be the independent film boom of the late 60s and 70s.
And on top of all this, Breakdown managed to organise the fantastic Safari Festival – putting their money where their mouth is and throwing support behind an emerging, exciting side of the comics world that simply isn’t being focused on as much as it should be. These artists and these books are exactly the sort of thing I wanted to see in the UK when I started doing Solipsistic Pop. People choosing to work in comics from different literary and artistic practises that will only serve to keep comics fresh and vital and alive.
They’re all doing the sort of comics I’d like to be producing or publishing (though I would imagine it’s hard to tell that from my New Statesman work), so temper all this effusive praise with a general low-level jealousy.
FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Tom: I’ve been reading lots of non-fiction books this year – for projects that I can’t talk about yet sadly. So a lot of my extra-curricular reading has been pure escapism like the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud or Donald Westlake Dortmunder novels (I have a real soft spot for heist movies/novels). I enjoyed The Luminaries, which was one book I meant to read last year and only just managed to catch up on. And I found myself really enjoying BJ Novak’s collection of short stories – One More Thing.
Also, music-wise, I made a playlist on spotify of some of favourite tracks of the year here: Pipe Down 2014.
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?
This was probably the finest season of television I saw all year. Subtle, heartfelt, uncomfortable, and sensitively handled. It’s beautifully written, directed and performed. Jeffrey Tambor is superb as Maura and the rest of the cast are equally as wonderful. While the central conceit – a family reacting and dealing with the news that their father has come out as transgender – is intriguing and well handled, the family members are so well drawn and three dimensional, the show quickly establishes itself as much more than it’s elevator pitch.
It seems like Girls is settling into a slightly more recognisable, structured TV format than it’s first couple of seasons. Which partly removes the bracing originality and refreshing I-genuinely-don’t-know-what-to-expect-next-week feeling, but it still retains that wonderful sense of watching a filmed short story each week. The writing remains spot on and stronger than most TV out there, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other Dunham/Konner projects that are due on HBO soon.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
I drew a comic for the New Statesman about how disappointing TV satire is in the UK and as if to prove my point, John Oliver’s new show highlights everything that the US is good at when it comes to political/topical comedy. The HBO no-ad format really gives him and his writers the time and space to dig deep on complex, not-immediately-funny topics. It’s become essential viewing in it’s first season and I can only imagine it will remain so for some time.
I’ve been a longtime Linklater fan and have always enjoyed his experiments with time-travel in cinema – the Before films being my previous favourites. But Boyhood, in spite of all the hype and high expectations, managed to completely blow me away. Great performances, and while the writing deals with some broad strokes when it fills us in on Mason’s life, I was always impressed at how happy the film was to let the mundanity of growing up win out over the drama.
The Skeleton Twins
This is probably just a fairly average indie film with great performances from Wiig and Hader to elevate it but I’m such a sucker for those two actors that I just really really enjoyed it. The premise: the two SNL alum are brother and sister who have been estranged for several years until one of them attempts to commit suicide. But it’s not quite as depressing as it sounds. I don’t think it was in the cinemas for very long over here but I’d recommend picking it up on dvd if you missed it.
Movies about music are hard to pull off well but I thought this was really successful. And sort of an interesting companion piece to Frances Ha in that it has an ongoing theme about mediocrity and being comfortable with your limits as a creator.
FPI: How did 2014 go for you as a creator? Are you happy with the way you got your work out this year?
Tom: I probably produced more comics this year than any other. I thought my New Statesman comic improved a lot from the previous year (although there’s always room for improvement) and it was such a lovely surprise to be nominated for the BCAs and selected for the Society of Illustrators MoCCA prize. With doing a topical comic each week it can sometimes feel like no-one’s reading it or allow the weaker weeks to overpower your sense of quality control – so a little bit of comic industry recognition was genuinely a boost.
I also produced a 55 page book about the history of development aid which was serialised on Cartoon Movement. I was given some of the limited printed editions and I was extremely proud of how it came out – I think the book marked a huge improvement in my artwork and colouring but I have a feeling, due to the fairly dry subject matter, that not many people have seen it.
The rest of the year has been focused on some short comics for other sites/publications, storyboards, illustrations etc. – and has probably been my most stable year as a freelancer so that’s been a satisfying milestone in itself. I could probably be setting more time aside for myself and my own non-paying projects next year as I’ve definitely felt that hole in my life.
In a lot of ways I feel halfway between two states – I’m managing to make a living as a comic artist but I haven’t been able to put a book of purely my own work out so I’d really like to aim towards that over the next year or two.
FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2015?
Tom: Fingers crossed, another year of In the Frame comics for the New Statesman. A comic about Europe which I finished this year but will be getting some new pages added soon. Hopefully some more comic reportage pieces for online sites like Medium and The Nib. A possible, exciting non-fiction book if all goes to plan, and I’d like to get Ellipsis 2 and Solipsistic Pop 5 out if possible.
FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?
I think it would be nice to see a full length comic from Eleni Kalorkoti in 2015. I’ve been a fan of her illustrations for a while and if I ever get anywhere with putting other people’s work out through Solipsistic Pop Books, Eleni would be first on my list.