For the odd moments I can manage to think of something.

Been caught reading 2014

Yes they're alphabetically sorted. Shut up...

Yes they’re alphabetically sorted. Shut up…

Hello.

It’s the round up season, so yes, this is kind of a round up – but also, it’s for the folks you don’t know what to get for Xmas or one of those Xmas birthdays where you worry your friends are missing out because they were born in December.

Or y’know – get them for yourself. They’re pretty neat!

I’ve decided to do a picture books round up. Mostly because they make amazing gifts and also because they knocked my socks off this year. In most cases I’ll try to link to the artists and authors, if you want to track down and purchase the work – try to get a copy from your local comic book store, I’m fairly sure if you ask nicely they can even order something for you.

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“What does an illustrator think about?”

There might be a clue in the font there. This booklet is by Quentin Blake and I picked it up at an exhibition of his work at the House of Illustration near Kings Cross in London. It’s not a big place but I wanted to see the Blake expo because his images most strongly represent the pictures I grew up with as an avid reader.

I pretty much cried in the expo and I don’t care. It was all the nostalgia and memories of being out on the grass in my parent’s back yard during the summer, reading Roald Dahl stories.

In addition to the past flashing before my eyes, the real kicker was the display of pages from Michael Rosen’s ‘The Sad Book’. The book is about grief and the loss of a child. Adding Blake’s drawings to this subject took me apart. Apologies to others in the House Of Illustration that day as I snuffled into my sleeve. Great stories can break your heart in strange ways.

If you can’t get the pamphlet. Get The Sad Book.

IMG_20141216_164601“Ghosts and Ruins” Ben Catmull

So, uh, sticking with death as a topic (this will cheer up, I promise), Ben Catmull’s picture book is lovely. Strange buildings harbour spirits with interesting pasts. There’s not much text, which is ok by me, I like to spend time with a cup of tea, diving into images that take more than a passing glance to enjoy. All in black and white for added spooky, this is a strange picture book, but one I like to look at from time to time.

IMG_20141216_165219“Sing No Evil” JP Ahonen and KP Alare

The cover image drew me in on this and the story made me laugh my ass off. I really enjoyed reading this. It’s pretty trippy, there’s a drumming bear for starters and it expands from there. Frankly I think my brother should read this (Bro, I may send you this), if you have friends in bands, or if you’re in one yourself, you might find a lot of this easily recogniseable and I found it to be very funny.

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“Hellraisers” Robert Sellers and Jake

Thinking of rock and roll  – I’m not often drawn into a graphic biography, but this one’s a cracker. I’d be hella nervous about trying to get such well known faces right all the way through a long narrative. A pretty gritty volume but really quite astonishing for the amount of research and story telling involved. Get this for people who like movie stars and you’ll totally gateway them into being a comic reading nerd (maybe).

Oh – and there’s wrapping paper to go with the book – that’s pretty cool!

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“IRL In Real Life”  Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Speaking of comic reading nerds, if you drop by this way, you’ll also know that I have a taste for creative technologies and computer science generally. So, what better than a comic book about the social impact of technologies?

I liked this generally also because it has interesting female characters talking in a virtual space in a multiplayer online game. The illustration style is very cute and the story brings to mind that it’s not all fun and games online. Food for thought.

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“Brass Sun” Ian Edginton and Ian Culbard

This is a cracker. In my naive way I’ll tell you – I like the colours. I like the story too and the lines, but it’s true that the colours drew me into a sprawling tale. The book’s pretty big and makes a lovely volume.

An admission here – I count Culbard as a friend, so I may be biased. But then, if I really thought it was a pile of poop, I’d more likely politely leave it out of my selection here. So, add salt to your own taste on my choice here. If you want the evidence of nepotism, Culbard also brought out Celeste this year which is amazingly trippy and you should read that too.

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“The Joker Death of the Family” Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Heck this is a twisted tale. But then what else would you expect from one of the more enduring bad guys in comics? I am not a huge reader of the spandex superheros, but I am a fan of the Batman and his enemies. This is a pretty chilling tale and as ever with the Bats tropes, it’s psychologically grim. “After having his face sliced off one year ago, The Joker makes his horrifying return …” You get the picture. I loved it.

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“The Resurrectionist” E.B Hudspeth

I do like me a bit of Gothic storytelling and this fits with bill along with astonishing illustrations in the way of Grey’s Anatomy for cryptozoologists. This is frankly just a really beautiful book and the dark diaries of Dr Spencer Black will delight anyone who likes a little spooky in their reading material.

I got this around the time (Halloween) the BBC was running shows about the background of Gothic Horror in line with a really neat expo at the British Library. You might find a few bits still on the iPlayer if you’re lucky.

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“A Contract with God” Will Eisner

Yes that Eisner. If you don’t know, stop here and now, go away and educate thine self.

Ok. You’re back? This one was written in 1978 and it tells us a lot about a particular place and a time. There are many brilliant comics creators who speak the truth in panels more clearly than any reporter of worthy prose. This one’s not a happy story but it has a frankness that is pretty breathtaking. It was probably great to read in the original copies, it stands up really well today.

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“Fables” Bill Willingham

I love fairy tales. I love the darkness, the originals, even some of the ‘Disneyfication’. Imagine writing a story that transcends generations and multiple forms of media? Yeah. Fairy tales are the business.

This is probably why I also love Fables so much. I reckon most writers will have had a crack at reformatting a fairy tale or two and yes, this is what we have here. But it’s also about murder and mystery, politics, warfare and expanding the lives and characters of all those princes and princesses. Naturally my favourite is FlyCatcher.

If you fancy a look at the transformation of your childhood characters, this is really worth a look and those deluxe cover images – so gorgeous!

IMG_20141216_164616“The Motherless Oven” Rob Davis

This is just an excellent comic book. I tend to want to use the word ‘creative’ carefully in these areas, because of course comic creators are creative. However, I’ll use it all over this book. Building worlds can be something that takes a reader far and away, or it can closely resemble the places where we live. This falls into the latter category, the characters are familiar and funny but the wold has changed in ways that would rock the core of an average child. But when the rules change, kids are still little sh*ts of course.

I’m not going to tell you more. Read the book, it’s worthwhile. Oh and it’s drawn well too.

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“Saga of the Swamp Thing” Alan Moore

I’ve never met Alan Moore, but I’ll be honest, he kinda scares me and it’s not even the beard. The man writes like he’s keeping all the muses in his kitchen. I went back this year and decided to read through Saga of The Swamp Thing. It’s the change in the story, Moore made Swampy his own and there’s a metamorphosis I won’t spoil, but it’s a sharp lesson in character development and probably psychadelics. Go back and read this – or go back and read through a series you might have missed, it’s a neat thing to do.

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“Hellblazer” – Jamie Delano

In  a similar trip to Swampy, I sought to fill the gaps in my reading around the tales of John Constantine. I like these stories, I like that Constantine has a very British sarcasm. I like the politics that describe the times and comics in the UK that somehow get magicks into news headlines.

Of course there’s the TV show  now  too which (whatever haters) I quite enjoy. it’s not the books, it’s nowhere near what I would love it to be – but it’s ok. I’m not sure how much worth there would be in writing strikes and Thatcherism into a US TV series, but I hope at least it’s pointed a few new readers to the books to discover a really tasty antihero.

IMG_20141216_165301“Ricky Rouse Has A Gun” Jorg Tittel and John Aggs

Following a line of satire. Ricky Rouse has a Gun is a pretty good book for considering copyright, culture and well – violence. It’s a pretty fast-paced yarn and Agg’s images are a great exploration in perspective.

I liked the themes that are explored in this book thought it took me a while to like the characters. That said, a massive mouse with a huge round face and a big gun – what’s not to like?

 

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“Jampires” Sarah McIntyre and David O’Connell

I also have to say here that I know and adore Sarah somewhat too. But – as you have seen above, I have ways of politely not adding books if I didn’t like them.

I like the Jampires a lot. I love a good pun and sometimes, kids books can provide a few minutes of all out fun without thinking too hard. I read a fair amount of YA books as well as enjoying picture books for younger readers. This also means I am armed with a colossal mental back catalog for tiny readers. Jampires is ace. But it might change the way your kids eat donuts, you can’t pin that one on me.

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“Night Post” Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

I also know this lot somewhat. First up – Ben, when can I read more Porcelain and Briar? Ok, that done, Night Post is a lovely example of a silent comic. Laura has a stunning delicate hand (go look at her other work too, just lovely) and it’s a great story. When you look through the book, you’ll wonder why you’re not already aware of such a spooky service. Also a neat book for kids who appreciate artwork.

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“The Arrival” Shaun Tan

I like books that make you ache and hope throughout. I also like books that can achieve this as a silent comic – though comic doesn’t quite seem to sum this one up. A strange tale and a hard journey, but a good serious comic that left me feeling touched. It has no words and I can’t seem to summon more to do it justice – best you take a look at it yourself.

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“Daytripper” Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

Maybe it was the day (and the re-read day), but I had something in my eye reading this one. A book with so much love in it that my chest felt full by the end. One of my local bookstores carries a relatively decent comic section, when I brought this to the counter the woman at the till was practically hopping around. “I’ve been trying to get everyone to read this!” she told me.
She’s right. You should read this. It’s beautiful and satisfying. Then go out for a walk if the afternoon is cold and bright. It’s a good thing.

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“Blacksad. Amarillo” Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido 

If the Blacksad books had no words and no story, I’d still read them. By far these are my favourite books for the illustration and so yes, I practically wet my pants when a new one was being translated. A noir cat detective in books that are stunning. Each panel seems to be a painting I’d hang on the wall and the stories are hard boiled, the way I like ’em.

The Blacksad books are ones where yes, I am guilty of choking on my coffee and exaggerating an expression of disbelief if you have not read them. Go get some. They’re beautiful.

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“Hugo Tate” Nick Abadzis

If you’re too young to have read Deadline magazine then bwahahahahar! being old rocks and you missed out. (c’mon, there’s not too many times I’m going to be able to say that, give me some space). Deadline was music and comics and very cool, when I was trying to work out what being cool might be.

It was home to Tank Girl and Milk and Cheese and most of the work of comics creators I still love to read today. One series that really helps sum up that time and indeed growing up, is the story of Hugo Tate. The whole thing develops artistically, stylistically and with depth as you read through. At the time, i felt I was growing along with the story.

I’m very glad it’s all been put into a volume I can return to (ok, mostly because I only have about 5 editions of Deadline somewhere safe) and it’s the kind of book that makes me want to thank a writer for the journey. It’s also good if you weren’t there for Deadline by the way – and great for coming of age (if you don’t mind your teens reading a bit of language that frankly they probably run rings around at college).

Right, I think that’s more than enough eh? It’s safe to say I read far more than I’ve listed, but these were some of the highlights. (Oh, read Locke and Key too while you’re at it! – see?)

The world of comics and illustrated stories continues to thrill me and hopefully you too – or maybe you want to give it a try (all the cool kids are doing it) and this is not a bad starting point for your new year. Even if I never make another comic strip of my own to learn from, I hope I’ll always have time to read books like these.

Feel free to add your own choices in the comics in case anyone drops by here and you want to help them along.

Read more comics.

JK

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