Robot 6

The U.K. graphic novel renaissance rolls on

The-Man-Who-LaughsIt’s been a big couple of weeks for U.K. comics publishing, and a lot of that might have to do with this weekend’s Comica Festival (a.k.a. “the 10th London International Comics Festival”). There has been a rush of titles from British graphic novel publishers of late, no doubt timed for a big push at this most art-centric of U.K. comics conventions (it’s hosted this year at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, and I dare anyone of a certain vintage to think of that place and not start humming this).

There’s a lot of great stuff out there at the minute that’s maybe not getting enough coverage internationally, so let’s do a round-up, shall we? There’s a myth that the American comics audience is insular, so let’s disprove it: These books are even already available in English, although their spelling is a bit suspect at times. Yeah, you heard me, buy a dictionary, limeys!

The Man Who Laughs, the oddest of Victor Hugo’s novels, adapted by David Hine and Mark Stafford, published by SelfMadeHero: Hine has posted a host of  panels from the book at his blog. I was previously ignorant of Stafford’s work, but these are some handsome-looking samples; they reminded me a little of the great Dave Cooper. Hine is always good value, and has a track record of making some genuinely unsettling comics (Strange Embrace, The Bulletproof Coffin), so this sounds like the perfect alignment of talent to source material.

• Don Quixote, Vol. 2, by some guy called Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, adapted by Rob Davis, published by SelfMadeHero: Let’s face it, to adapt one of the shining jewels of world literature into any other artform takes big brass ones. To do it so well, to make it really work as a comic, and not just be a by-rote hitting of the novel’s set pieces, has kind-of convinced me that Davis is some form of genius. Not joking, it’s that good. Again, Davis has some examples at his blog. Have a nose around the rest of the blog while you’re there, it’ll give you a flavor of why I’ve come to hold him in such high regard in these last few years.

SD OE• Swear Down by Oliver East, from Blank Slate: Blank Slate’s first title was East’s downright-adorable Trains Are Mint, and this continues the series. East is known to many as the regular cover artist for stadium-filling Mancunian indie band Elbow, although I probably appreciate him best for the label on their lovingly crafted ale. He has a disarming, engaging style: to read one of his books is to feel as if you are in the delightful company of a likeable, roguish, raconteur. There’s a preview available at the FPI blog.

• Nobrow #8: Hysteria is the latest issue of the eponymous arthouse publisher‘s flagship anthology: I’m worried that in the last couple of weeks my writing has been getting dangerously nostalgic, but removing this comic from its packaging reminded me of the first time I picked up a copy of Read Yourself Raw in a university bookshop as a teenager — the same heady rush of holding a volume that felt,  and smelled, as good as it looked. A book designed as a piece of art in and of itself. Cracking it open reveals that thing you always really want from an anthology, consistency. Split 50/50 between an illustration section and a comics section, there’s just not one contribution that in any way lets down the others. Here’s an art comix title to hold as dear as your old copies of Raw, Blab or Mome. Nobrow have a 16-image preview on its site.

• The Suitcase, by Dan Berry, also from Blank Slate: Berry is a stalwart of the U.K.’s self-publishing and indie sectors, and when he’s not creating, is also a comics academic, journalist and general proselytizer. As you’d expect from anyone who lectures on comics making, Berry is a master storyteller, as proven in contributions to countless small press anthologies and short self-published works. I’m glad to see Blank Slate Publisher Kenny Penman has coaxed something longform from Berry, and we can all quietly expect great things from this book (previewed at Berry’s site).

the-great-unwashed-gary-warren-pleece-escape• Montague Terrace, by Gary and Warren Pleece, published by Jonathan Cape, and The Great Unwashed also by Gary and Warren Pleece, published by Escape Books: To lapse again into nostalgic mode, when I was young I presumed the Pleece Brothers would naturally come to adopt a position in comics as the U.K.’s equivalent of Los Bros Hernandez. Warren collaborated with other writers, but when they worked together, there was a special oddball magic, as they concocted tales of eccentrics wandering through off-kilter lives, usually to a Greek chorus of utter disapproval from bemused onlookers and passers-by. Then Gary disappeared from comics, and Warren became one of Vertigo’s best go-to artists.  The Great Unwashed collects their work from the late ’80s/early ’90s from various sources (previewed at Warren’s blog), while Montague Terrace collects the comic they created after reconvening in 2009 (originally started solo for Act-i-vate, where there’s 45 pages to sample).

• Indigo Prime: Anthropocalypse, by John Smith, Lee Carter and Edmund Bagwell, published by 2000AD/Rebellion: This book may seem among strange bedfellows here, but this title is one of the most indie-minded projects 2000AD/Rebellion will ever publish. Smith may be the most singular writer to ever come through at 2000AD, and it’s a real shame he isn’t more lauded.  His writing of late has lost none of its crazed edge, but has gained a warmth and humanity his critics may claim it lacked back in the days of Indigo Prime’s first run, when the mad ideas and hard sci-fi came with a side salad of cruelty and palpable misanthropy. Hell, some of his recent comics (such as Cradlegrave and the short “Blackspot”) have been full of empathy and genuine emotional resonance, capable of moving grown men to tears I never tire of praising his regular artist Bagwell (see the preview pages at CBR, or the spectacular Bewilderbeast stampede sequence I posted elsewhere), whose work these days fuses the glossy slickness of Michael Golden with the energy of Jack Kirby. I also never tire of wondering why no American commissioning editors aren’t throwing vast pots of cash at him. He would absolutely kill on a Kirby-derived project: Fantastic Four, New Gods, Destroyer Duck, any of them.

I’d call it a day there, but I keep remembering more titles, such as Tom Gauld‘s You’re Just Jealousof My Jet Pack from Drawn & Quarterly (nominally a Canadian publisher, but hey — what is Canada if not a buffer zone of sorts between the U.K. and the U.S.? Don’t answer that), or Stephen Collins’ awesome-looking The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil from Jonathan Cape. It’s easy to lazily lump both men together: both are regular contributors to The Guardian newspaper, both share a certain whimsical, surreal, sense of humor and even some stylistic similarities in their artwork. Another personal favorite, Viviane Schwarz continues to blur the line between children’s picture-books and comics with The Sleepwalkers, from Walker Books.  Basically, it seems like every day brings news of another great-sounding book or promising publishing venture from the U.K. I’ve a tendency to hyperbole, I get carried away and use phrases like “renaissance” and “golden age” all too lightly, but the evidence is mounting…

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Our spelling is suspect? My latest comic starts off about a pet hatred I have of American spelling. http://benandantiastralbodyguard.wordpress.com/ :D

But, yes, there’s some great stuff being done over here right now.

I’m likewise amazed no US Publishers have caught onto Edmund Bagwell (and that there’s little interest in the amazing Henry Flint after all these years – another one that baffles me). I can see him doing great work on a Marvel book if it’s something he’s even interested in doing. As well as the influences mentioned above, I’d say there’s a good dose of Steve Skroce / Geoff Darrow in his work as well.

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