Best Of The Year 2014 – Richard Bruton

Published On January 5, 2015 | By Richard Bruton | Best of the Year 2014, Comics

Throughout December the FPI Blog has been running the annual Best Of The Year series from the great and the good of comics. I had meant to put mine up just after Christmas. But, as usual, I failed.

Also as usual, I’ll completely ditch the standard template of picking three comics/books/films/TV etc, mostly because I’m truly rubbish at keeping up with books/films/TV etc. That was perhaps worse than ever this year. However, I have to mention my TV series of the year; Hannibal, a sumptuous delight of a thing, visually stunning, visceral, stylish, utterly enthralling. As for films… well I did miserably this year, yet again. Molly and I did go and see Guardians Of The Galaxy, which was fun, but that’s about it (pathetic, I know). As for books, the stand-out has to be Iain Sinclair‘s incredible White Chapell, Scarlet Tracings, a book I first discovered in the early 90s and have delighted in rediscovering this year.

So, onto the comics. This is possibly the most difficult year of all I’ve done so far. There’s simply been so many great comics published in 2014 that narrowing them down has been a hair tearing-out process. It’s also noticeable this year, in my own picks, in the choices of those taking part in the FPI Blog Best Of Year feature and in various lists I’ve seen around this Christmas and New Year that there’s no immediate winners, no definitive set of 5 comics that EVERYONE seems to pick. As far as I remember this is certainly something new, and I reckon that’s testament to the sheer diversity and breadth of both the medium and the journalistic coverage that this has happened.

As usual, this is MY list, MY choices, MY opinion (which is, of course, right). There are books I didn’t like that you loved. There are books I didn’t read this year that I should have done and haven’t yet managed to (there’s a pile of Christmas books waiting for me to devour that includes Beautiful Darkness, Arkwright Integral, This One Summer, frankly I imagine all three of them would be here on a best of 2014 list if I’d actually read them this year).

I’ve also deliberately attempted this year to avoid too much repetition from previous years, and avoided putting collections of  certain books on here where I’ve included the comic versions in previous years. Casualties for that included Summit Of The Gods Volume 5, the collected edition of Martin Stiff’s magnificent The Absense, Verity Fair by Terry Wiley, Simon Moreton’s SMOO Comics and the collection Days amongst others. I ask forgiveness to their talent ed creators and encourage you to seek them all out.

Now, to assuage my guilt even further, a few that I had to leave out, the nearly, but not quites including: Kill My Mother by Jules FeifferSisters by Raina Telgemeier, Ordinary by Rob Williams and D’Israeli, Brass Sun by Ian Edginton and INJ Culbard, The Homesick Truant’s Cumbrian Yarn by Oliver East, the Zenith reprint volumes by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell, Town Mouse Has Tea by Graham Johnson, Moose Kid Comics Issue 1 by Jamie Smart and others, A Bunch Of Amateurs by Andrew Waugh, Calculus Cat by Hunt Emerson, Space Captain Issue 1 by Michael Park, Chris Baldie, Dave Morrowand, and Grey Area by Tim Bird. All of which you should have read/be reading.

Ok, guilt covered nicely… without further ado… the top 10 in alphabetical order. Suffice it to say these ten comics are essential….

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Action Beaver in “Noises” by Jamie Smart (Phoenix)

Perhaps a little unusual to open the top 10 best comics of the year with something just 2-pages long, but the impact of those 2-pages was incredible. It really was.

Smart’s Bunny Versus Monkey is a consistently brilliant bit of manic comedy in the pages of The Phoenix Comic, but here, with sublime control of pace and emotion, Smart goes deep down into the psyche of one of his minor characters, completely changing the perspective, loading it with meaning and emotion, an incredibly dense tale of the power of thoughtless words to hurt, a parable of bullying done beautifully, brilliantly, all ending with a final scene that opens up into a moment of profound peace, capturing a perfect scene of pastoral, melancholy happiness. It is a perfect example of the sheer power of comics.

(There was a possibility that Smart’s Moose Kid Comics, the anthology he put together online, would make it on, but in the end it failed to make the cut, the intense purity and impact of this Action Beaver strip winning the day.)

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The Bojeffries Saga by Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse (Knockabout / Top Shelf)

In a year where everything written about Alan Moore on most comic sites concerned his work as ‘the original writer’ on the (much appreciated) reprints of Miracleman, this wonderful book seemed to skate under the radar a little too much.

Sure, Miracleman is a great thing, well worth your attention as a valid historical piece of comics AND a brilliant piece of dystopian superhero fiction. But although Miracleman is brilliant, it’s nothing compared to The Complete Bojeffries which, in my view, is right up there with the very best of Moore’s work.

In the end all you really need to know of this book about a ridiculously bizarre family living an everyday suburban life of vampires, werewolves. This is The Munsters and classic horror movies mixed with The Goon Show and Python, all through a classic lens of British kitchen sink dramas.

The best Moore’s ever written? Maybe not. But certainly the funniest. But more than that, it’s a sublime, silly, wonderfully clever comic. It’s better than Watchmen, it’s better than V For Vendetta. I’m never quite sure whether it’s better than From Hell, that rather depends upon my mood at any given time, but it’s certainly up there in a top two of Moore’s work for me. It should be for you as well. Ignore the Marvel MM hype and go and seek this out.

The only bad thing I could possibly throw at this beautifully done reprint would be that Knockabout / Top Shelf should really have gone all out and released it in a deluxe hardcover package. Everything else about it… perfect.

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Celeste by INJ Culbard, SelfMadeHero.

Much like Polina a little further down this list, Celeste is a classic example of an artist writing a brilliant comic, in as much as it’s the artistic vision and execution that really shines, and the actual narrative and plot that takes a slight backseat. This isn’t to say the story and dialogue in either are anything less than great, absolutely not, but there’s a real sense that this is an artist’s vision, a visual spectacle that drives the narrative, ideas and imagery really taking the lead. Thing is, beyond the beautiful artwork and fascinating idea there’s more than enough storytelling smarts on Culbard’s part to create something genuinely enthralling, as we’re told a tale of a suddenly empty world seen through the eyes of the handful of those left.

The slow pace and perfect storytelling that unfolds creates something wonderful, as the scenes shift and the characters are developed, you drift with them, with the artwork, with the ideas, and all the while, even to the end of the book, there’s an element of uncertainty, things we’ve seem not clarified, many different ways to interpret this, the symbolism and potential there all the way through, Culbard less concerned with answering the reader’s questions and more about making us think.

It’s wonderfully, wonderfully done, the first comic where Culbard’s name stands alone on the cover. It certainly shouldn’t be the last.

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Expecting To Fly – Issues 1 & 2, – John Allison

I’m something of a late convert to the world of John Allison, a combination of timing and an aversion to reading long works online meant I’d missed the brilliance of first Bobbins, then Scary Go Round and finally Bad Machinery. Thankfully Oni Press’ printing of Bad Machinery and multiple nominations for the British Comic Awards brought me into Bad Machinery. I was ever so grateful.

But Expecting To Fly was the first thing of Allisons I can genuinely say that I was there right from the start, following it day by day online and then relishing the expanded print editions. seriously, this was pure enjoyment from start to finish.

It’s a perfect introduction to Allison, showcasing everything he does so expertly, all the dense characterisation, the clever plotting, the slight sense of the surreal that features throughout his work and most of all the genuinely hilarious comedy running all the way through, Allison’s comedy timing absolutely spot-on, never losing the flow of his story in the need to provide the laughter, a pitch-perfect comedy drama.

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House Party by Rachael Smith (Great Beast Comics)

Having followed (and championed) Smith’s work since discovering it early on, I was predisposed to enjoy this, her début graphic novel. Suffice to say I wasn’t disappointed, and that Smith’s ongoing development is putting her at the top of an increasingly vibrant list of home-grown talents.

House Party takes all the elements I loved in ‘The Way We Write‘ and especially the brilliant ‘I Am Fire‘ and develops them so very well. This tale of that troubled hinterland of the young adult, just post-education and not quite ready to enter the everyday grind of adulthood is pitch perfect, Smith creating a classic farce, of a group of students attempting to recapture those halcyon days through one final, youth affirming House Party. Of course it goes disastrously wrong, it was always going to, but the manner in which Smith handles the fall-out, the recriminations and the emotions involved lead to a genuinely funny tale, with a strong dash of melancholic beauty running through it.

Another excellent work from a genuine talent.

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(In A Sense) Lost & Found by Roman Muradov (Nobrow Press)

This just enchanted me from the start, a beautiful graphic novel that’s in turn playful, thought provoking, lyrical and musical, all decorated with Muradov’s exquisite artwork.

It’s another one of those works that concentrates far more on mood, emotion and tone than on narrative, and it works incredibly well, the linework and especially the emotive colours guiding you flawlessly through. However, when compared to the similar works on this list, first Celeste and later Polina, Lost & Found is by far the most artistic, the least narrative based. It’s actually something far more akin to music in its structure and style, and beautifully improvisational music at that, carrying the viewer along, an artistic breath of fresh air, beautiful, intelligent, questioning, simplicity revealing complexity, chaos theory in a splash of colour. Gorgeous.

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The Motherless Oven, Rob Davis, SelfMadeHero

I knew within ten pages that this was likely to end up here on the top ten list. I knew on finishing it that it was most likely my favourite book of the year. Five reads or more later and I’m utterly convinced.

Rob Davis has long been a favourite, but with The Motherless Oven he delivered something truly special, a book that defies definition, a never-ending stream of ideas, artwork that entrances, something that’s part future fiction, part teen coming of age tale, part anti–authoritarian manifesto, part who knows what.

The visual and verbal dexterity Davis displays just in the opening sequence was enough to put me on the edge of my seat, loving what I’d read, excited to read the rest. Seriously, one of those books you cannot put down, a strange narrative delivered with such style by Davis. At it’s heart is Scarper Lee and the mysterious Vera Pike, a strange, unrecognised love story, all set against a background of weird and wonderful, casual inventions of Davis’ imagination out-strangeing the most thought out creations of other authors with ease.

So, whatever else you do in 2015, do me one favour, go and get The Motherless Oven, join in this love story of Scarper and Vera and enter a world of pre-determined death days, where children make their parents (Scarper’s mother’s a hair dryer, his dad a strange Henry Moore-esque brass thing with a sail, chained up in the garden shed at first). Here there are household ‘gods’ to make life easier, where everyone watches the ‘daily wheel’, where school lions patrol the playground and inside the pupils study circular history and mythmatics. It’s a wondrously strange place, and a wondrously told tale, stylishly cool, full of confidence from an artist doing the best work of his career.

Book of my year by some measure.

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Polina – Batien Vivès (Jonathan Cape)

Just simply beautiful. Simple in plot, beautiful in execution and artwork. This is such elegant perfection presented in a relatively simple tale, with Vives telling a story of a ballet dancer, exquisitely capturing all of the fluid grace of the movement, all the struggle and sacrifice it requires.

But more than the story, this is Vivès creating sublime art, matching all the movement and grace of the dancers with a truly bold, expressive and minimal line. I found myself returning to Polina time and again in the year just to experience the beauty of the art once more. In many ways this was the perfect melding of gorgeous art and narrative flow that I wanted to see in Feiffer’s Kill My Mother.

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Some Comics by Stephen Collins (Jonathan Cape) 

If for no other reason than it was the one comic this year Mrs Bruton loved this year this deserves to be on here. Fortunately I am smart enough to know that when Louise loves something I should certainly take note, which I did. I’d also of course, already loved and championed Collins’ work throughout his career, including the brilliant ‘The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil‘ and the marvellously funny strips he does regularly for the Guardian, of which ‘Some Comics’ is a much anticipated collection.

His cartooning is excellent, his choice of target spot on. This is everything you want from this sort of editorial cartoon; ridiculous at times, ridiculously funny all the way through and, perhaps most importantly, ridiculously clever as well.

Perfect storm of cartooning really. Always trust Louise. She’s got form with this sort of thing.

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Through The Woods by Emily Carroll

We all knew Emily Carroll was a major talent in the online pieces we’ve seen and told you about regularly. Her mix of experimentation in form combined with a very old-fashioned and traditional folk tale sensibility and narrative sends a guaranteed shiver down the spine time and again. This is no saccharin coated set of tales, this is dark  and creepy, of night, of tooth, of claw, of ghosts and monstrous things. And blood. All to be found in those deep, dark, terrifying woods.

Carroll’s first book, collecting some online material and including work new to this collection, really does get everything right, artistically, narratively, and most of all, very importantly, it scares you witless.

 

Oh, and finally, because I still plan to put together the annual FPI Master List from the Best Of Year posts and that only works if we all pick three titles, my top three for the year…

The Motherless Oven, Rob Davis, SelfMadeHero

Expecting To Fly – Issues 1 & 2, – John Allison

Polina – Batien Vivès (Jonathan Cape)

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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