Best of the Year 2015 – Andy Oliver

Published On December 10, 2015 | By Joe Gordon | Best of the Year 2015, Comics

As we continue on into week two of our traditional guest Best of the Year series (you can see the other 2015 posts here, and previous years selections can be found under the Features menu above), today sees a chap who has been resolute in championing Indy comics and small-press publishing on the fine Broken Frontier site, Andy Oliver. Given the amount of comics Andy’s covered this year I’m guessing he finds trying to pick out just a handful to be as difficult as I do each year – let’s see what choices he plumped for:

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: It will come as no surprise to regular Broken Frontier readers when I say that if I had to point to just one creator in UK comics in 2015 whose use of the form most inspired and excited me it would be Danny Noble. Her prolific output of ‘Ollie and Alan’ strips across social media this year have appealed to a whole new audience outside of the traditional comics readership and have been collected in two self-published volumes Was it… Too Much for You? and Ollie and Alan’s Big Move.

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The basic premise is that such was the emotional intensity of their nude wrestling scene in 1969 Ken Russell film Women in Love that actors Oliver Reed and Alan Bates have found it impossible to ever dress themselves again. Since then they have lived lives of “unrepentant public nudity, splendidly drunken excess, and slapstick surrealism” in a small flat somewhere in London (probably).

Noble populates their misadventures with a number of familiar but distorted celebrity supporting characters but it’s her instinctive understanding of the medium and its possibilities that surpasses even her wicked wit. Her comedic pacing, playful deconstruction of the structure of the page, layered running jokes, and copious amounts of male genitalia are all the products of that rarest of things – a genuinely unique creative voice. It’s only a matter of time before that’s recognised on a far, far greater stage. Prospective publishers take note!

Tillie Walden’s The End of Summer this year was a remarkable debut graphic novel. Her dark fantasy was about a dysfunctional family preparing to isolate themselves in their sprawling mansion home to survive a winter that will last three years, and followed their tumultuous, fractious and often quite disturbing relationships in that time.

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What’s so astonishing about this assured and mature use of the medium is that its creator is still in her teenage years. It really is a masterclass in manipulating the component parts of the comics form. Just a quick look through Walden’s site proves just how versatile she is and shows her chameleon-like ability to adapt herself to all manner of genres and approaches to the page. Tillie Walden is going to be one of the biggest names in indie comics in a very short space of time. We all owe Avery Hill Publishing a debt of gratitude for getting her work out there for us to stare at in open-jawed admiration.

Finally, I want to select a book that I feel has been inexplicably overlooked this year – Karrie Fransman’s Death of the Artist from Jonathan Cape. Fransman understands the pure language of comics like few other people, and this story of a group of old university friends trying to recapture their youth and creativity on a break in the Peak District is a formidable example of her command of the possibilities of sequential art.

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It’s told from the varying perspectives of each of the group, which are represented by different illustrative styles that touch on storybook illustration, animation, photographic narrative and the traditional comic strip. It’s a desperately dark tale with no obvious empathic point between characters and audience but it’s an authoritative demonstration of the potential of comics. I disagree with those who class it as an experimental graphic novel. What’s going on here isn’t so much experimenting with the form as fully, deftly, and unashamedly embracing its very mechanics.

FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?

Andy: Outside of a number of comics reference books I haven’t really read much prose this year. Living among the teetering towers of all-consuming guilt that are my small press review comps backlog has ensured that has just not been possible in 2015. I did buy Brian Blessed’s autobiography last week. Perhaps I’ll bellow a podcast review of that should I ever actually get around to reading it in 2016.

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: Ditto. Doctor Who has had its moments this year and I quite enjoyed working my way through the old Universal Monsters films in October for Halloween but every second sat in front of a television is a second away from making a dent in that aforementioned review pile…

FPI: How did 2015 go for you?

Andy: I imagine “eventful” would probably be an appropriate term.

In June I took over from site founder Frederik Hautain as Broken Frontier’s new Editor-in-Chief. The months since have been a whirl of comics-related fun and games including the highlights of being on this year’s British Comic Awards committee, numerous panel appearances (including chairing one on self-publishing at ELCAF with Philippa Rice, Andy Poyiadgi and Sam Bosma), and the monthly Gosh! Comics/Broken Frontier Drink and Draw which I co-host with Gosh’s Tom Oldham.

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As for my ‘Small Pressganged’ column… I hope I’ve continued to introduce deserving creators to a wider audience in 2015 and made some small difference there. I was particularly pleased with our ‘State of the Small Press Nation’ series in the first half of the year that looked at pertinent issues in the current self-publishing/micropublishing world in British comics, and included contributions from 40-plus movers and shakers on the scene.

And I was especially proud of our ‘Six UK Small Press Creators to Watch in 2015’ feature which has followed the work of up-and-comers Rozi Hathaway, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino and Adam Vian across the year through reviews, interviews, artist commentaries and features. Half a dozen people who you owe it to yourselves to check out if you’re currently unaware of their comics output.

FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2016?

Andy: BF’s Frederik Hautain and Tyler Chin-Tanner have been putting together the successfully kickstarted Broken Frontier Anthology so you can expect that to be in print in the not too distant future. Lots of top names involved including some particular favourites of mine like EdieOP, Karrie Fransman, David Hine, Mark Stafford, INJ Culbard, Box Brown and Alison Sampson.

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(Broken Frontier Anthology, cover art by Robbi Rodriguez)

From my good(ish) self you can look forward to the same level of coverage of the small press world and a very special project to be announced in the New Year. Broken Frontier will, of course, continue to cover the best in self-published, alt and indie comics, and champion exciting new small press voices.

FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?

Andy:One person really caught my attention this year. In October I reviewed a very special piece of storytelling in a self-published minicomic called Rabbit Thoughts by Kim Clements, who has popped up in a number of UK anthologies this year including A Bit of Undigested Potato, Tempo Lush Tales of the Tanoox, and Dirty Rotten Comics.

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Rabbit Thoughts is her first longer-form offering and fits into the “graphic medicine” strand of comics. It’s an unforgettable and affecting piece of autobio about one young woman (in rabbit form!) dealing with all the anxieties, stress and self-doubt of modern living. I said of it in October that “with its poignant fragility and haunting beauty this is a truly unforgettable debut comic” and I firmly believe that the distinctive visual identity of Clements’ work marks her out as someone with something totally unique to offer UK indie comics in 2016. Keep an eye on her!

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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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