PG Tips: 2013 Year in Review:
Ten Best Graphic Novels Published in Britain
This year kicked off surprisingly well for graphic novels in the UK with two Costa Awards nominations and one winner (Joff Winterhart’s Days of Bagnold Summer made the shortlist in the Best Novel category, while Mary & Bryan Talbot’s Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes won the Best Biography category). 2013 wraps up with graphic novels getting their first ‘Best of the Year’ round-up in The Independent, making Glamour magazine’s ‘hot book trend’ for 2014 and storming the British Library for next summer’s major exhibition. But do comics need this legitimising? Probably not, but it can’t hurt to cut through pictophobes’ prejudices and there’s little chance that cultural acceptance will tame cartoonists’ maverick imaginations, judging by this year’s harvest from British publishers.
Lighter Than My Shadow (Cape, £20), Katie Green’s graphic memoir about her anorexia, weighs in at over 500 pages and nearly two kilos. For a heavy book, in both senses, the blurb promises that it is “ultimately uplifting”. Infesting her pages is the symbolic shadow which Katie draws as a buzzing swarm of black lines, hovering like an electric storm or coalescing into the ink flowing into Katie’s pen and onto the paper. Katie balances this imagery with a lightness of touch in her restrained writing and by separating her panels not with ink borders but folds in the paper, like wrinkles or folds of fat. To help us understand her unflattering, unflinching experience of this illness and its repercussions makes hers a work of true devotion.
Body issues of a more fantastical nature fill Marion Fayolle’s In Pieces (Nobrow, £14.99). She tells her improvised vignettes about couples caught between desire and despair without words, through her mute actors’ gestures and expressions, like physical theatre. A standing woman uses her long dress as a tablecloth. When she spills some food, her male dining companion gets down onto the floor and disappears beneath the table. Fayolle adds unexpected twists, often tinged with erotic frissons.
When a single shoot of stubble on hairless Dave’s upper lip grows uncontrollably into The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil (Cape, £16.99), it threatens to undermine an oppressively tidy society. In exquisite pencil drawings, Stephen Collins pursues Dave’s absurd quandary through its logical stages, from infamy to celebrity, from vast scaffolding to hot-air balloons. It’s a timely fable about any government’s attempt to impose conformity on the “becauselessness” of humanity.
His lack of proper state sex education only partly explains why awkward schoolboy Richard takes to fabricating secret girlfriends from found objects. As he advances, incorporating bellows or his mother’s bra, each model becomes more elaborate and alarming, but can he keep them secret? Gareth Brookes achieves the perfect balancing act between the disturbing, hilarious and sympathetic. You will read and see nothing else quite like The Black Project (Myriad, £12.99), painstakingly crafted in linocut and embroidery.
Linocut is the chosen medium of Germany’s Line Hoven in Love Looks Away (Blank Slate, £14.99) to reassess her grandparents’ histories, how her parents met and the wonder that she herself is here at all. She contrasts her grandfather’s membership of Hitler’s Youth Movement with her grandmother’s teenage Nazi-hating boyfriend, rejected as unfit by the U.S. army. Her quartet of flashbacks show that, whatever the differences and difficulties between her parents’ families, “love looks away”, as her title says, because there can be forgiveness and understanding.
The war casts a long shadow over The Property (Cape, £16.99), a Jewish family’s heirloom in Warsaw sold off during the German invasion. Rutu Modan unravels an Israeli grandmother’s true motives for returning to Poland today supposedly to reclaim her title, but in reality to re-connect with relationships from her past. Parallel to this, her granddaughter finds herself falling for a local tour guide. Deftly characterised and drawn in crisp Tintin-esque outlines, Modan’s story weaves the complex emotions between Poles and Jews across the generations.
True-to-life attractions and divisons between ages and classes in contemporary London colour The Park (SelfMadeHero, £15.99) by Oscar Zarate and Room for Love (SelfMadeHero, £14.99) by Ilya, two British graphic novelists at their peak. Zarate charts how a minor incident on Hampstead Heath spirals into ethical dilemmas for two fathers and their young offspring. Ilya explores how a middle-aged, middle-class romantic novelist and a young street-kid rentboy form a fragile but life-changing relationship.
The Hartlepool Monkey (Knockabout, £12.99) animates the tall tale of patriotic Hartlepudlians in 1874 mistaking a French ship’s chimpanzee mascot, dressed in naval uniform, for a Frenchman. More myth than history, perhaps this was anti-British propaganda invented in France? Aptly, French duo Lupano & Moreau brilliantly play with the ‘facts’, naming the ape ‘Nelson’ and linking him with evolutionary theory. Similarly, Régis Loisel’s masterly Peter Pan (Soaring Penguin, £29.99) does for J.M. Barrie’s fantasy what Wicked did for The Wizard of Oz by making us re-think the original and expanding what drives one Victorian urchin to make a wish for eternal youth and sanctuary his reality.
Lots of other strong contenders by British creators hit the bookshelves this year, not forgetting Isabel Greenberg’s Encyclopedia of Early Earth, S.J. Harris’s Eustace, Jim Medway’s Playing Out, Hannah Eaton’s Naming Monsters, Howard Hardiman’s The Lengths, Gary Northfield’s Teeny Tinysaurs, Viviane Schwarz’s The Sleepwalkers, Fight The Power!, the collective anthology on the history of protest movements from New Internationalist, and more. Yep, it’s been one Great British graphic year!Posted: December 21, 2013
An edited version of this Article appeared in The Independent on Saturday December 21st 2013.