PG Tips No.40: My Top Ten Graphic Novels of 2014:
Year in Review
In an abundant year of veterans’ career highpoints and newcomers’ remarkable debuts, covered in my previous round-ups for The Independent newspaper in April, June, August, and October, I’ve selected my favourite, most interesting reads, all of them works which demonstrate how the medium at its most innovative and individualistic can stretch the multi-layered, visual-verbal experience of comics far beyond mere films on paper. I’ve organised my Year in Review’s Top Tens more or less by creators from/based in Britain, North America and Europe, and you can click on the links to read my reviews and articles about them. Coming up shortly will be my annual selection of manga, superheroes and books about comics.
MY TOP TEN BRITISH GRAPHIC NOVELS:
1: From British creators, my Top PG Tip is Carol Swain’s Gast (Fantagraphics). Helen, an only child whose family has recently moved from the city to rural Wales, becomes fascinated about a cross-dressing farmer’s suicide. Remote from most human contact, only his Avon lady joins Helen at his funeral. So it seems entirely natural that his closest companions, two dogs, and his prized ram, can talk and tell her most about their owner’s life and death. They explain one telling trace on the wall above his bedboard, a circular stain of ‘raddle’, sheep dye he coloured his long hair with “like a ragged fleece”. The ram sounds almost sympathetic: “You humans are the saddest of animals.” In charcoal drawings, half without words, Swain shows how one girl, much like Swain’s childhood self, negotiates some sense of belonging between manmade ‘civilisation‘ and nature’s bluntness.
My other British choices are:
2: Probably Nothing by Matilda Tristram (Penguin)
3: Supercrash by Darryl Cunningham (Myriad/AbramsComicsArts in the US in 2015)
4: Hoax: Psychosis Blues by Ravi Thornton & various artists (Ziggy’s Wish)
5: Sally Heathcote Suffragette by Mary & Bryan Talbot and Kate Charlesworth (Jonathan Cape)
6: The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis (SelfMadeHero)
7: To End All Wars, the World War One anthology edited by Brick and Jonathan Clode (Soaring Penguin)
8: Just So Happens by Fumio Obata (Jonathan Cape/AbramsComicsArts in the US in 2015)
9: The Bad Doctor by Ian Williams (Myriad)
10: Art Schooled by Jamie Coe (Nobrow)
MY TOP TEN NORTH AMERICAN GRAPHIC NOVELS:
1: For me the standout North American graphic novel of 2014 was Here (Pantheon/Hamish Hamilton) by Richard McGuire. The fixed location of his six-page comic from 1989, one corner of McGuire’s childhood living-room, has been expanded into a 320-page mixed-media inventory. McGuires makes each full-bleed spread serve as a panel, the book’s central gutter embodying the receding corner itself. Spanning from 3 billion B.C. to the 23rd century, the years appear top left on each spread and in each additional panel embedded within it, anchoring the overlapping histories and ever-changing families, fashions, decors and technologies, simultaneous in this single spot. Time-jumps range from eons to moment-to-moment, sometimes as ‘rhyming events’ - dancing (above), breakages, insults, hands - sometimes in narrative bursts.
Here heightens our awareness of how much has gone before us and is still to come and wonders if we are all ‘future transitional fossils’, as one T-shirt asserts? Feeling the powerlessness of now, our lifetime may appear but a blip. Perceive this bigger picture, however, and our place within it turns here and now into everywhere and eternity. As someone in 1971 marvels in Here, “There was a moment there when we were all together in the same room. It was just for a moment. I don’t think anyone even noticed.” McGuire primes us to start noticing.
My other North American choices are:
2: Fatherland by Nina Bunjevac (Jonathan Cape/Liveright in the US in 2015) (and yes, Nina is Croatian by birth but based in Toronto)
3: The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
4: This One Summer by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki (FirstSecond)
5: Sugar Skull by Charles Burns (Pantheon/Jonathan Cape)
6: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (Bloomsbury)
7: Bumf by Joe Sacco (Fantagraphics/Jonathan Cape)
8: Ant Colony by Michael Deforge (Drawn & Quarterly)
9: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Pantheon/SelfMadeHero)
10: Through The Woods by Emily Carroll (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Faber)
MY TOP TEN EUROPEAN GRAPHIC NOVELS:
1: And from this year’s comics from Europe put into English, French couple Kerascoët are my choice for Beautiful Darkness (Drawn & Quarterly, £15.99), co-written with Fabien Vehlmann. What seems like a flighty fairytale in a Quentin Blake style soon swerves into unsettling amorality, as charming Aurore and her friends find their tea-party interrupted by viscous red dollops raining from their ceiling. A mass exodus reveals that these tiny folk’s collapsing home lay inside a young girl’s corpse on the forest floor. The otherworldly realm of Richard Dadd’s fairy paintings collides here with a grittier murder mystery. Is the lone woodsman the killer or might Aurore represent one last glimmer of his lost daughter? Kerascoët’s cute yet cruel creatures enjoy making our moral compass go haywire.
My other European choices are:
2: How The World Was by Emmanuel Guibert (FirstSecond)
3: Vapor by Max (Fantagraphics)
4: The Leaning Girl by Schuiten & Peeters (Alaxis Press)
5: Beauty by Kerascoët & Hubert (NBM)
6: The Boxer by Reinhard Kleist (SelfMadeHero)
7: Adventures On A Desert Island by Maciej Sieńczyk (Centrala)
8: Arsene Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen (Fantagraphics)
9: Polina by Bastien Vivès (Jonathan Cape)
10: The Last Days Of Stefan Zweig by Laurent Seksik & Guillaume Sorel (Salammbo Press)
My 3 Best of the Year Reviews ran in The Independent on December 13th 2014.