Thursday 1 March 2012

The best of 2011....

Aha, is it too late to post this, I mean, we're only 1/6 of the way through the year, so....

Production-bot Rob Miller was honoured to be asked by the kind chaps over at Graphic Eye to submit a 'best of....' list for the year gone by. You can read his musings on the past 365 days' worth of comics here.

Check out the site for more 'best ofs....', 'round-ups', etc. courtesy of the (Scottish) comics scene....

Or, if you like, the full piece (with 2 tiny revisions and some extra links) is below....

Thanks to the relative luxury of working at Hope Street Studios I have access to all sorts of comics and graphic novels that perhaps I wouldn't necessarily pick up, so with that in mind....

Jeff Lemire's Essex County came with a heavyweight reputation, and although I greatly admired the structure, theme and could see what he was doing, I found the art just too raw, a bit too primitive overall for my liking. So I approached volumes 2 and 3 of his Vertigo title Sweet Tooth with some trepidation, but found it to be excellent. The art is occasionally quite patchy - I can only picture a single truly striking, memorably rendered scene across the 3 books, but there is an odd, cumulative effect - but the writing is very well paced, strong and genuinely affecting. I went back and picked up Book 1 to complete the set (so far.... I can't wait for more....)

Speaking of the 'New 52' we've been very lucky in that Frank Quitely has been generous enough to share his comp box with us, allowing the Studio the chance to indulge themselves in all things 're-boot'. Hmm.... Really there's been nothing to tempt me back to (reading) mainstream comics, but Tony S. Daniel's work on Detective Comics #1 showed improved confidence, managing to reference both Jim Lee and Frank Miller (aided by some lovely, restrained colouring) whilst stamping his own authority on the character, especially (and perhaps unusually) in the more subdued moments - 'he is the goddam Batman artist'.... ....only the quiet, sketchy subtlety of Greg Capullo's work on Batman slowly crept up on me too. Of particular note was his attention to peripheral characters, with some lovely facial expressions and body language throughout. Then again, in spite of its obvious slick look, there were some outstanding, moody pages to be found in the heavy blacks of the Batman and Robin title, courtesy of Patrick Gleason with Mick Gray's inks. So Bats wins the art wars hands down, so many of the other titles are of course technically brilliant, created by talented teams, far beyond anything I could ever hope to aspire to, but in their own way everything's just a bit flat and uninspiring.

It's no surprise that writing-wise Grant Morrison's Action Comics is already by far the best and most interesting of the bunch, and the art is great too (although, typically of bonus features, the roughs for #1's cover had much more life, energy and verve than the actual finished, polished product).

Two other artists who leapt up in my estimation were Cameron Stewart (yep, that's that Frank connection again!), who I knew primarily from his Seaguy (despite the story passing me by) and Batman and Robin work, but the exclusive sneak peek of his forthcoming Batman Incorporated pages blew me away - just gorgeous! I cannot wait to see these collected and put out as a trade. Again, Doug Mahnke's work on Grant Morrison's Frankenstein also made a real impact - I hadn't been all that taken with his chunky work on Final Crisis, but I loved this stuff, the art really contributing to the book's appeal.

A bit late, but my art discovery of the year was Edvin Biukovic, who contributed 4 issues of Human Target in 1999. In fact, an earlier Star Wars book aside, this was about all his contribution to mainstream comics as he died suddenly from a (just diagnosed) brain tumour aged 30. Take it from me and hunt it down - you won't be disappointed, it simply gets better with every viewing.

I've always followed Fables, and it's been a joy to watch Mark Buckingham grow into a sublime artist from the earlier books, whilst enjoying what is some of the best adult comic writing from Vertigo, both pacey and intelligent. In saying that, I can't help think the book has peaked, and the last few trades (whilst still entertaining) just can't hit the heights of the war against the Adversary and the death of Boy Blue. Even the art, much as it pains me to say it, seems to have simplified to the extent that, rather than looking like a controlled, skilled use of minimal line and spotted blacks with excellent composition - it all just looks a bit sparse, occasionally samey and you catch that slight sense Mr Buckingham's 'coasting'. But in all fairness, in a recent collection his art somehow managed to make that of Mike Allred seem rather flat and pedestrian by comparison, so y'know....

Thanks to someone having a clearout at home (guess who?) the first 4 trades of Eddie Campbell's Bacchus have now surfaced in some sort of order, so I'm currently marvelling at the sheer scope of that. From the moment I first spied the character (the sort you wished you'd visualised and created) in passing; his worn look, the suggestion of warmth, a life lived, I've been anxious to get to grips with this mammoth saga. Lucky for me It seems all 1000+ pages are set to be reprinted by Top Shelf in 2 volumes next year, so I'm very much looking forward to that.

It'd be most unfair of me to think back over the year without mentioning the publishing bete-noire of the last twelve months, so here goes....



I finally got round to buying some comics from sometime Khaki Shorts contributor Noah Van Sciver (who cut me a great deal, sending me 2 issues of Blammo together with The Death of Elijah Lovejoy and Dueling) and he certainly merits a mention here. I enjoyed his little comical / serious vignettes, and rate his drawing, a great sense of environment and sweetly emotive and expressive when needed. Elijah Lovejoy and Dueling were to prove the springboard for his forthcoming 182 (give or take post-editing) graphic novel The Hypo, about Abraham Lincoln, so that'll be one to look out for next year.

Talking of next year and the underground, it's no surprise that 12 months sporadically working on 'digitally transferring' the comics of John Miller, Dave Alexander and Frank Quitely (for sometime 2012 publication - front covers to all pending!) has seen each of them grow even further in my estimation, whilst knocking my own confidence tenfold. The opening 12 pages of The Collected John Miller, 1990-1999, was nearly enough to have me hanging up my pens for good - simply astonishing, quite unlike anything! So if that wasn't depressing enough, a few months of chipping at 80 pages of The Greens, et al, followed by 150 or so of The MacBam Brothers it's a surprise I can be bothered to put pen to paper ever again! It's amazing how close working reveals the hitherto hidden skills and layers of drawing at play, be it composition, style, technique, etc. and how one's own art develops all the better for it.

Glasgow Comic Con in June provided the opportunity to meet the very charming David Lloyd, another of my artist heroes, and Kapow! afforded me the opportunity to see beyond the clouds of (oddly smelling) smoke that often envelop the Glasgow comic scene - such a range of work on offer from my underground contemporaries down South made for a very humbling and shaming experience, which has changed the way I look at such comics for good (and for the better).

Finally, it'd be unfair to not mention Curt Sibling publishing his 5th (and best) Total Fear collection (I know, one day I'll get round to working up the courage to ask him about collecting all 7 issues of the earlier, mid '90s series of this....), which didn't disappoint. Furthermore, it was nice to see him branching out with the fantasy tale King Evil and collaborating on Hiss, also notable for featuring the sublime art of youngster Stephen McShane - the new kid on the local block, and a definite talent to watch. Amazing to think of all the great comics out there, but when it comes down to direct influences, and people who inspire you to push your work on even more, they most often than not can be found scribbling in the next room.... For all his fleeting sightings, I have to mention Jean Pierre Lapeyre - the snippets of his work I've seen suggest that his forthcoming weighty tome will be the underground book to look out for here next year. Shades of John Miller and a whole host of arty and original thought - this is without a doubt the one I'm waiting for.

Oh, and big thanks due to Tom Campbell, that's for sure, a former local artist (responsible for the Alex Ross approved Freedom Collective) who adapts Red-Eye pens for ink, and is probably in an odd way the most influential person presently at work in Glasgow comics - his home-made brush wares have made ripples with the manufacturer and found their way into ink work by Gary Erskine and Frank Quitely. By encouraging me to take up these mighty pens he's been directly responsible for an incredible loosening up of my own work, in turn opening up a new avenue of personal expression and creativity. Thanks Tom, you're my comics guy of 2011!

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