Desert Island Comics – Episode 71 – Rob Williams
Well, it’s been a little while, but here’s the return of Desert Island Comics, for an extended pre-Christmas run. Loads of great people to talk to before we get to our annual December Best Of Year blowout.
You know the drill by now surely… we take a comicker and drop them off for a long, long holiday on their own little desert island. Armed only with 8 of their favourite comics and one luxury they wave as we sail off, looking forward to their week of utter isolation and relaxation. Little do they realise…
This week it’s writer Rob Williams. Now, you should know the name, he’s been kicking up a storm in the pages of 2000AD & the Megazine for a while now. One of a new breed of UK writers equally at home in the long-running anthologies and writing for the US big two.
His first comics work was the Com.X series Cla$$ War with Trevor Hairsine and Travel Foreman, six issues of which came out in the early 2000s, a bloody impressive debut of widescreen superhero action, echoes of Ellis and Moore. He’s worked since then for Marvel, Dark Horse, Dynamite, and more. His recent Vertigo series with artist Simon Coleby The Royals was really impressive (see here for an interview) and he’s currently writing the comic adventures of a certain Time Lord called Doctor something for Titan Comics.
But the work he’s perhaps best known for, certainly on these UK shores, is found in the pages of 2000AD and the Megazine, where his most notable creation up until last year had to be Lowlife, the series following the various damaged and broken members of the ‘Wally Squad’, the Justice Department’s very own set of deep undercover Judges. Very highly recommended.
But despite Lowlife being great, it’s only my second favourite of his works. And very conveniently my fave just happens to be out right now in a fabulously deluxe hardback collection from Titan Comics (you know, sometimes it’s almost as if we carefully plan these things). The quite bonkersly brilliant Ordinary with D’Israelli, originally serialised in the pages of The Megazine, is a wonderful thing, of which I wrote loads when it was serialised in the Megazine and on which I do intend to write more about in a bit.
(From Ordinary, written by Rob Williams, art by D’Israeli)
Heavens. I did go on a bit there. Apologies.
Anyway, here’s the important bit. Rob Williams’ very good Desert Island Comics….
DESERT ISLAND COMICS – Episode 71 – Rob Williams
Pick 1 – Alan Moore/Alan Davis’ Captain Britain
I was a comic reader prior to picking up Daredevils, the UK Marvel monthly, but US monthlies were very sporadic in newsagents and there was no ordering system or hope of getting an entire storyline. UK reprints could be ordered. And I loved The Avengers and Spidey etc. But reading Moore and Davis’ Captain Britain was simply a sea change in sophistication and rather blew my tiny little Welsh 12-year-old mind. I can vividly recall the excitement of reading Moore and Davis’ Cap alongside UK B&W reprints of Frank Miller’s Daredevil. I’m sure Moore doesn’t see his Cap run as a career highlight, but re-reading it fairly recently I’d disagree. These are broad stroke characters and political overtones, but in terms of purity of concept, the unstoppable scariness of The Fury (which pre-empted James Cameron’s Terminator by a year), the glorious strangeness of The Special Executive, the Thatcher wet dream of James Jaspers and the pure joyful heroism of the Captain take some beating. Davis’ visual storytelling is wonderful here too. I love how Braddock has been killed by The Fury previously, every time he fights it, it beats him near to death, but yet, at the closing, pivotal moment, that hand appears on The Fury’s shoulder and Captain Britain stands against him again. One of my favourite comic moments. And comic runs.
Pick 2 – Block Mania/The Apocalypse War – John Wagner, Alan Grant, Mick McMahon and Carlos Ezquerra
I’ll throw in Block Mania here too as they’re one story really. And McMahon’s work there, his last major run on sequentials for Dredd, is one of my favourite comic art runs. Energetic and vital, angular and abrasive. Classic Dredd. I came to 2000AD just after this, I’ll admit. Somewhere in the region of 1983 was the start of my newsagent order. I loved the Titan reprints of Dredd in the 80s – amazing covers that need collecting. The Apocalypse War is about as good as Dredd gets, I think. Unrelenting action and tension and brilliant, hard, tough decisions by Dredd throughout. That’s a case study in having your protagonist drive the action. Ezquerra, like McMahon, has this wonderfully, slightly odd art style – very European to eyes used to the American market. Fantastic moments, none of which compare with maybe the best denouement line ever from Dredd: “Request Denied!” To a teen reader, seeing the hero of a story do that. Fantastic storytelling.
Pick 3 – 20th Century Boys, Naoki Urasawa.
I’m up to volume 19 and have been working my way through it for a few years now, periodically. It’s just masterful. To maintain a storyline over this length of time, with countless new vignettes and characters who should have you screaming ‘get us back to the main story!’ But he makes you care about these people, he plays with you – ‘is this character good or bad?’ Oh he’s bad, shame, I really wanted him to be good. And just the fact that he has you wanting these characters to be certain things is more than 99% of comics achieve. And then there’s how he builds tension in set-pieces. I don’t know I’ve ever experienced a comic where the creator has such total control over his narrative. It’s the best comic I’ve read in many years.
Pick 4 – Starman, James Robinson, Tony Harris, Peter Snejberg
I loved Robinson’s Starman. It was DC comics at their best. Creating this fictional city, giving it its own character, filling it with wonderful oddballs, and having a hugely human unconventional superhuman. Also, I have to include it here because I think it’s the only comic that’s ever made me cry. Without wanting to give away spoilers, Robinson made one of his cast this wonderful, rich three-dimensional person, and gave them a beautiful, sad send-off. Elegant. That’s the word I think of with Starman. I have no clue how it sold, and, sadly. I suspect it might not be given 12 issues in the current market. But it’s one of my favourites.
Pick 5 – BPRD – Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Guy Davis, James Harren
Probably my favourite US comic of recent years. A supernatural/horror team book that’s kind of filled with superheroes, sort of. Great characters. Amazing monster designs from Guy Davis during his run. I loved Guy’s work on this book. It felt very unique in the marketplace. left-field, and genuinely creepy and unnerving. He draws the best monsters. Harren then followed him with one of the most visceral art styles – just energy coming off the page. And John Arcudi’s pacing is to die for. He’s one of the best writers in the business for me.
Pick 6 – Fury Max: My War Gone By – Garth Ennis/Goran Parlov
I was torn whether to go for this or Ennis’ Punisher Max run, also occasionally drawn by Parlov. But ultimately the oppressive dark of their Punisher – and that is a major achievement in itself – made me go with Fury Max. I think Garth’s war stories are him at his best. You can feel the passion of the storytelling rather than a sarcastic disdain. He loves the milieu, has a vast history of this stuff and just respects it and that all comes through. My War Gone By was like reading a Graham Greene evisceration of US foreign policy over the past 50 years or so. I’m a sucker for this stuff. It was sad and brutal and felt heartfelt. Gut punch comics. And Parlov’s a master. Does so much with so few lines. The physicality of his men and women is amazing. Beautiful work.
Pick 7 – Uncanny X-Men, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Paul Smith
If we’re doing Desert Island Discs in an appropriate lifetime-spanning manner then this has to be in. The pure free enjoyment of reading these stories when I was 12 years old is probably unparalleled. I’m not going to rip it to pieces here. I have no idea how good I’d find it if I re-read it now. I just know that, at the time, Wolverine saying ‘Now it’s my turn!’ felt as exciting as comics ever has felt before or since. Byrne was cutting edge, I loved the stories and the characters. Dark Phoenix had us all stunned: “I can’t believe they killed her!” Alpha Flight, Kitty Pryde… I think I loved the Paul Smith run a few years later even more. The Japan storyline and the fight between Wolverine and The Silver Samurai… I’ll put that up there was one of the great comic moments, still.
Pick 8 – Batman: Year One, Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli
I painted myself into a corner here and was very tempted to pick Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four for its pure invention. I was tempted to pick Roy Of The Rovers from when I was around 9-10 for just how much I loved those stories at the time (Vic Guthrie’s temper! Paco Diaz’s ‘Si, boss!’ single line of Spanish). But then I remembered I’d missed Year One. I recently bought the French B&W version of this and I don’t speak French, just so I could see the art in B&W. I think it may be my favourite comic art. Mazzucchelli’s work here is beyond compare. And it’s a brilliant script. Miller’s best work, probably. Even if it doesn’t really have a huge ending. But the fact that the only good man in Gotham is having an affair behind the back of his pregnant wife – that’s how bad this city is. The set-piece with the SWAT team. It’s phenomenally good comics.
My Island Luxury:
I’m torn between a huge barrel amazing single malt whiskey and a Kindle with a vast amount of books on it. I’d very much like both. A bit of solitude in a beautiful place, great weather, a good glass of whiskey and lots of books. That sounds nice.