Everyone’s doing lists. Can I do one, can I? Can I? Can I? Remember, this list will be wrong for many reasons. Wrong for missing out the ones you know are best. Wrong for missing out the ones I forgot about. Wrong basically because I chose them. But I think I’m right. For the next forty-three minutes at least. The top ten comic books by a British creative team from 2000-2009.
Stickleback by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli in 2000AD
2000AD can be very much a mixed bag but the idea of a consistent tone is very much abandoned these days. And a good thing to otherwise we’d have never have seen this remarkable creation, in a magical-realism 19th century London, that is so close to ours, but built on some real oddness, the Fagin-like Stickleback is a most unlikely protagonist for this series - he’s not even present for the first chapters. So we see a city formed from the very darkness and this man, if you can call him that, its son, its champion, it’ enemy fighting against all forces with his own very peculiar posse who days are numbered just because they stay in close proximity to him. A beautiful, haunting fable that took me completely by surprise.
Petra Etcetera by Terry Wiley, Dave McKinnon and Adrian Kermode.
The sequel to the Hitch-Hiker-like Sleaze Castle took a turn for the mundane, following the story of Petra Dribble, Jocasta’s younger sister, trying to invade her sister’s life, experimenting with adult interaction that Jo finds hard to master, and generally being a cathartic element in everyone’s life. It is funny, human, intense and merges slice of life with pure cartoonist excess, a perfect blending of comedy and personal tragedy, finely crafted soap opera and geek-examination, with some of the best looking pages to come out of the British small press. Unfinished, on the death of writer Adrian Kermode, Terry Wiley is promising to finish the undrawn pages and, hopefully, create a final conclusion to the book. Available from Lulu.
89 Degrees by Philip Warner
A silent comic book about mountaineers faced with an impossible climb. Their rivalry, their family, all their dreams and desires , portrayed without words, against a relentless, foreboding monstrosity. A sensational comic book without parallel. Literally. One issue by a Private Eye cartoonist, this is the obligatory really really obscure pick of the chart. But it’s brilliant.
Alice In Sunderland by Bryan Talbot
In the manner of a Bumper Comics Annual, Talbot looks at three things, the history of comics, the history of Sunderland and the links that both Lewis Carroll and Alice In Wonderland had to the area, challenging the thesis of a Cambridge central influence. And then takes on all styles of comic book artwork to approach them, his tools varying from panel to panel as it becomes, like Cerebus before it, a book about whatever it is Bryan Talbot wants it to be about.
The Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill.
A remarkably strange concoction here. Again, using the Boys Own Bumper Annual format, it’s an anthology of reinterpreted, recontextualised, reformatted fiction over the centiries. From Shakespeare to Kerouac, from Billy Bunter to 1984, all things are stuffed into this pot, and then spun out, like thread, into a complex structure. Less a story and more an Official League Handbook, it’s one extended chase scene through the pages of fiction, picking up stray words and sentences as you would burrs and rambles through the forest. A heady, complex, overwhelming brew that leads to a mad utiopian view of literary libertarian hedonism, presented seemingly without irony or doubt. Head twisting.
Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds
Gemma Bovery was a practiced start, but overly melodramatic and forced. Tamara Drewe is the real thing, also first serialised in the Guardian, a wonderful mixture of comics and prose, letting each medium tackle the scenes most suited to it. So the prose takes on the monologues, the comics the graphic immediacy of Tamara’s new face. Collected it’s a wonderful, mature drama of complicated intertwined adult lives and how those that seem merely to observe can affect thoroughly affect outcomes.
We 3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.
An utterly engaging comic book about cyber-engineerered soldier animals escaping from captivity. Well that’s the plot. It’s about the actions of humanity, the demands of slavery, love, duty, responsibility and survival. And Frank Quitely defines a new box of tricks in terms of panel to panel storytelling, far and above his work on Flex Mentallo. Panels become shrapnel, giving the reader a “cloud” image of events and a sense of three dimensionality that suits Quitely’s use of space, weight and presence. And amidst all this Grant Morrison finds new voices, new ideas and new concepts never expressed in this fashion before. Morrison has written a screenplay described as “the greatest unproduced screenplay ever written” and I want a film just so that I can get action figures of the main characters. Gud dog.
The Punisher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion.
The character destroyed by multiple titles, this did that age old British trick of taking a character that everyone was bored by and doing something totally remarkable with. Firstly creating a very dark sitcom that took from Blue Jam and turned the entire Marvel universe into a laughingh stock for the Punisher to blaze his way through, then dropped the concept completely creating a dark, vibrant and hyper-realistic pulp world for the Punisher to wage war within. Adding Born and The End to the mix we saw the true action of the man who would not compromise, making Rorschach look a pissant in the process. A blast.
Freakangels Books 1 to 3 by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield
This six-pages-a-week webcomic funded by Avatar, who also pay for Bleeding Cool, is really something else. A kinda Trainspotting-meets-Triffids, a cyberpunk John Wyndham, this feels like classic British science fiction from the fifties reinvented with modern sensibilities, decent female roles. There’s a sense of duty which feels old fashioned here, with dress sense inspired by the decades since. Characters whose similarities only emphasise their state of living. And an ability to twist and turn the plot it different genre, survivalist, crime, thriller, wherever the muse leads. And every page looks drop dead gorgeous – possibly the best looking webcomic around.
A cartoon strip published in The London Paper soon became the best thing about it, an observational city girl strip that was both self obsessed and self critical. Written and born by Swedish born, British resident Maria Smedsted, it survived the cancellation of one newspaper to see it picked up by The Sun.
A very minimalist syle it’s an unashamedly insular look at a certain city lifestyle, emerging as a kinda of Spaced-Meets-Sex-In-The-City that’s addictive, compulsive and very cut-out-of-the-paper-and-stick=on-you-fridge-ish without sucumbing to the predictability and soulessness of the likes of Dilbert.
A load of others
If all 6 issues of Phonogram Book 2 had come out, that might have been in there. The work of Paul Grist slipped out, as did Ennis/Dillon’s Preacher, the recent Ctrl-Alt-Shift volume, The Filth, Hope Falls, The Losers, All Star Superman, Wasted, Authority, Gutsville, Son of Man, New X-Men, The Originals, Cherubs, The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, Neverwhere, The Losers, Hope Falls, Tank Girl, Suburban Glamour, Faker, Viz Comic, William Blake Taxi Driver, Mammoth Book of Manga, If…, Alex, Celeb, Ultimates Vol 1 and 2 and much more. Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em all.