Sunday, 23 March 2014

A Baker's Dozen Of The Blogger's Favourite Comics From The Years Of TooBusyThinking's Existence

What follows are the 13 comics that have meant the most to me while TooBusyThinking has been up and running. Without wanting to dab at my eyes in public while letting a stage whimper escape, each of them has - in their own particular ways - meant a great deal to me. For that reason, I've made no attempt to rank them in any particular order. Truthfully, I don't think I could if I tried. Finally, and in an attempt to avoid repeating myself, I've added links to posts in which I've discussed them; it helps avoid a sentimental bout of unnecessary repetition.

My hat is off in respect and gratitude to everyone responsible for these wonderful comics. For what little it counts, thank you.

The title of "World's Greatest Comics Magazine" surely now belongs to The Phoenix. By chance, my wife Gill declared this very morning that we were going to take out a subscription to it, the local supermarket proving to be an unreliable provider. I can think of no other comic she'd say that about.  I've posted about it at TBTAMC here and here. (The cover above is by Rob Deas, of course, and features his Troy Trailblazer.)
I'm well aware it's daft to say, but I still feel a touch choked up when I think of the fate of Kid Loki in Kieron Gillen's Journey To Mystery. As anyone who's read the series will know, that's not a reflection on work that's in any way lacking in joy and invention. But in the end, JIM ended in the loneliest place, and, as the conclusion made perfectly clear, there was simply nowhere else for it to close. Remarkably, a familiarity with the story and its end only works to increase its pathos. I tried to express my respect for JIM here and here, while an interview with Mr Gillen appeared on TooBusyThinking here and here
On the hand, Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton's Knight And Squire was a highly entertaining mini-series that established in considerable depth the super-people of the old DCU's UK. On the other, it was a surreptitiously complex and highly-charged polemic, standing against the hyper-violence of comicbook frontier justice while advocating compassion, understanding and restraint. I wrote a series of post on the series, which began here, while a discussion of an aspect of Mr Broxton's art can be found here.
Comics and cutting edge music were often closely intertwined in the counter-culture I grew up with, but recent years have seen a bewildering lack of overlap between the two. With the exception of fine books such as Phonogram, there's been all too few comics which reflect not just a love of music, but a knowledge of how it informs the everyday life of its fans. Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree has been a more than welcome exception to the rule, wonderfully informed and exuberantly told. We could do with a great deal more of its kind.
I struggle to think of a character who makes me both laugh and worry about more than Low Life's Judge "Dirty" Frank. In the hands of Rob Williams and D'Israeli, he's become the most adorably dysfunctional protagonist in comics. If you'll forgive one of my earliest stabs at blogging, I wrote about falling in love with the strip on my old That Reminds Of This site here. I've also discussed the strip here and here. (Above is the irrepressibly inventive D'israeli's homage to the Japanese artist Hokusai, from the cover of 2000AD #1752.) 
No other subject while writing for Q gave me more trouble that Glyn Dillon's Nao Of Brown, because no other comic was quite so uniquely intricate, wide-ranging, and daring. Beyond that, I've never written about the book, although I was set to write a series of posts on it when I realised that I'd have to put TooBusyThinking to bed. I do, however, still hope to some day put the stack of notes I accumulated back then to use, for there's so much in Dillon's work to celebrate and learn from. From his clear-eyed and compassionate depiction of OCD to his skilled use of a variety of artistic traditions, Nao Of Brown is a rare achievement.
I wrote about Al Ewing and Mike Collins' Sex Vi & Vidslugs - from 2010's Judge Dredd Megazine #295 - here, at the head of a post which, far more importantly, contained an interview with Mr Ewing himself.  At a time in which illness had pretty much robbed me of my capacity for wonder, Sex Vi & Vidslugs at first confused and then profoundly beguiled me. Looking back, I can see that my recovery can be dated from that moment, when Ewing and Collins' work reminded me not just of what it was to be interested, but intrigued, enchanted and inspired too. As such, it'll always be a story that means the world to me. (Its ending still retains its unmatched capacity to chill too.)
Gail Simone's Secret Six was in many ways the most audacious and challenging super-book of the period. With a cadre of profoundly dysfunctional super-villains at its core, its themes of empathy, responsibility, and prejudice were delivered with a principled relish unmatched elsewhere. Most remarkably, Simone took all of the modern super-book's most distasteful tropes - from serial killers to blood-splattered torture - and transformed them into vehicles for touchingly humane tales. I've attempted to express my regard for the Secret Six in more than a few posts. Two examples of that can be found here and here. (The scan is by Nicola Scott and can be found in the Secret Six:Unhinged TPB.)
I may not be happy with the way in which I expressed it, and yet, my post about Tom Gauld's captivating and incrementally heart-breaking Goliath is one of the few times in which I said most of what I wanted to. (For a piece on TooBusyThinking, as opposed to one where I've worked gratefully to someone else's word limit, it's untypically brief too.) Gauld's tale is one that I find myself admiring all the more as time passes. To make something so moving out of a tale that can only end with a tragic, foreseeable and inescapable death is no small achievement.
Martin Eden's small-press Spandex, with its team of LGBT super-heroes, deserves to be far, far better known. The appearance of 2012's Spandex: Fast And Hard collection from Titan was a welcome contribution to the raising of Eden's profile, and yet the comic ought to far more than a cult and critical success. It was one of my books of 2012 for Q, and I enjoyed writing about the team's adventures at Sequart too. Sadly, my influence is as limited as it quite rightly deserves to be. But if I could, I'd get every comics reader to try at the very least the comic's third issue - "... If You Were The Last Person On Earth" - which I'd rank as one of the superbook's finest ever. Where other comics use super-heroes as metaphors for minority groups, Eden uses his LGBT characters to discuss not just their own lives, but universal human concerns too. Should you be curious, you can buy all of the Spandex issues, along with a badge, mini-comics, a trading card, mini-artbook and more ,for just £22! Check the offer out here, it really is a bargain.
Terry Wiley's a writer and artist of such exceptional gifts that it's hard to grasp why he's not thoroughly, internationally famous. By turns hilarious and touching, bawdy and sweetly intimate, his Verity Fair depicts the misadventures of middle-aged actress, and master of denial, Verity Bourneville. It's a series which deserves the mainstream attention and applause that the likes of Posy Simmonds quite rightfully receive. You can get the first life-enhancing volume of Wiley's work on the title at Sequential for just £6.99, and that's an absurdly generous offer. I promise you, it's wonderful work, and you can find it here.
Mark Waid acclaimed Rob Williams and Chris Weston's Superman: Saviour as one of the finest tales of the Man Of Steel in many a year, and I'm yet to find anyone who doesn't agree with him. A mix of sumptuously expressive art and a nimbly-told and empathetic script, it can be found in 2013's Adventures Of Superman #12.  It's a story that sidesteps everything of the disastrous Nu52 reinvention of Superman, and yet, it doesn't do so with any fannish sense of entitlement or mission. Of course, you'd not expect that from storytellers as gifted as Williams and Weston, who deliver what's a profoundly touching tale of the relationship between Ma Kent and her adopted son. In its pages, the two creators underscore how Superman's appeal is rooted in his refusal to step away from everyday life. Grounding his absurdly powerful abilities in the roles of son, friend, journalist and citizen, this version of Superman is an inspiring affirmation of what others might scorn as mundane decencies. To Williams and Weston's Clark Kent, the super-suit and the crime-fighting patrols are nothing more or less than an aspect of a necessary duty. Where others struggle to explain why the Clark Kent identity exists at all, or suggest that Superman is a demi-god who's wasted with his traditional cast, Saviour re-emphasises the character's role as an admirable, civic-minded everyman.
Above is a page from Yoshihiro Tatsumi's magisterial A Drifting Life, a huge graphic autobiography that I'm as yet but two-thirds of the way through. Despite that, it's quite obviously one of the finest comics that I've ever encountered. The story of young Hiroshi's post-war rise from Manga-loving reader to comics-consumed professional, it's in some ways the tale of every enthusiast's relationship to their beloved obsessions. 
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10 comments:

  1. And thank you for perhaps the last of your round-ups of fine comics - you truly are the most eclectic of readers. I'd be surprised if there's a single reader out here who's not checked out at least one comic they otherwise wouldn't have because of of your nicely written words and well chosen images. Cheers, Colin.

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    1. Hello Martin:- You're right, it IS my last comics round-up, or at least, of good comics. (There's one last "worst-of" to go.) Thanks for the kind words. As I'm sure you feel about TooDangerousForAGirl, the idea of someone being inspired to check out a book is a heartening thought. It's something your blog has done often enough for me, after all :)

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  2. I'd equal your praise for the Kid Loki saga in Journey Into Mystery and they had lovely covers too - what a pity JIM has now been cancelled. The Kid Loki story shows for me why comics are far superior to any super-hero movies - you'd never get anything like that in the movies which are just dumbed-down popcorn nonsense made to appeal to a mass audience that doesn't know or care about these characters.

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    1. Hello Colin:- We're of the same mind when it comes to Journey Into Mystery. I'm partial to popcorn nonsense on occasion, although I can't see why - as in the first Iron Man or the 1st half of Cap America - that the popcorn can't be mixed with more substantial stuff. But seeing the likes of JIM on the screen - with a comparable degree of invention and meaning - is, at the very least, a very long way off, isn't it? A shame.

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  3. Hi Colin,

    Some very interesting stories you have here. I have to admit that I've only read Secret Six and Journey Into Mystery, but I loved, loved, loved them.

    Also I sobbed all through that last issue of JIM.

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    1. Hello Sally:- Thank you for popping into the blog when I've so often been chatting away about books that you've not yourself read. I do appreciate it. We're told that that's less and less unlikely on the net these days, and so, it's appreciated when it happens :)

      (Don't tell anyone - for I'm a middle-aged bloke from the puritan w/c background - but I had a sniffle or two during the last issue of JIM too.)

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  4. I've only read four of these! I'm delighted to know I have nine good reads in front of me. Thank you!

    -mikesensei

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    1. Hello Mike:- As far as I can see 95% of blogging can be reduced "Read this, don't read that, did I get it right?" I hope the 9 other choices are enjoyable when you come across them, I really do :)

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  5. I'm very intrigued by A Drifting Life--Based on your recommendation, I think I shall pick it up!

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    1. Hello Kazekage:- I think, from the words we've exchanged, that you'll at the very least be intrigued by A Drifting Life, and I suspect you'll enjoy it too :)

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