Some of the best comics of 2017

Well, damp sack of Krampus, 2017 has sucked, huh? But it turns out that in between the crying and general existential dread, comics creators have still found time to pen responses to the rising ambient horror, or delightful escapes from it. 

We've been on hiatus for a while, and there's no best-of podcast this year. But apparently Roger wrote his 2017 list anyway. Muscle memory or something, we don't know.

Anyway, here's a quick roundup of the books we really, really liked, out of the reading we did get round to in 2017

Pantheon - Hamish Steele

Mythopoeia with the mind of a smutty schoolboy. Calling this an irreverent retelling of Egyptian myth doesn't quite cut it. This book is a big daft delight. 

The art style is this brash, side-on valley-of-the-kings-papyrus pastiche, via Saturday morning cartoons (leading to an amazing visual gag), and it covers the (mis)adventures of the ancient pantheon. From Atum wanking the world into being to the rise of man. 

It helps that the source material really is that weird - this is a well-researched piece, and also the funniest thing I have read in years. Pantheon has pitch-perfect comic timing and a real ear for change-of-register gags. 

Livestock - Hannah Berry

You know how we mentioned that the world is like a special recursive trash fire somehow made of other trash fires? This is a response. An indignant howl at the sickness of where we might be headed and the injustices of quite how.

A government department just let slip that they quietly legalised human cloning in a PFI blunder, and are now trying to clear up their mess. The public of course are more interested in the antics of suspiciously squeaky-clean, childlike, and on-message pop star Clementine Darling. 

Livestock really lets its world emerge, without ever feeling quite hectoring or overly on-the-nose. It's interspersed with social media splashes and tabloid fragments, and it opens deep in its own celeb-culture narrative, letting the reader slowly realize (and  want to scream at its characters for not caring about) what's going on. It's brilliantly constructed.

Hannah Berry's visual style here is soft, really letting the faux-cheery plastic monstrosity of it all unwind as you read. It's things astonishingly loudly unsaid, around completely plausible cynicism. It's media manipulation, energy companies lionized like sports teams, people like fungible meat. Read it with a stiff drink, but read it. 

Something City - Ellice Weaver

Beautiful life-vignettes in a colourful pseudo-pace. Ten intertwined stories in a strange city. We reviewed it here, and enjoyed it tremendously.

In particular, Weaver's visual style here feels really fresh. Layered-up screen prints give a feels that's both blocky/architectural and loose and casual. Again, check out the review for a bit more.

The Backstagers - James Tynion (writer), Rian Sygh (artist)

Actually lovely. You entirely can do sincere charm while winking to the reader a little and this does that. Who'd look backstage at a high school drama club? Surely the techies and prop makers couldn't be up to anything as interesting as the actors

Yeah, so, obviously there's an interdimensional portal to a world of confusing wonder and mild peril that must be kept at bay by endearing misfits. And such endearing misfits. Did I mention lovely? Backstagers is warm and kind, and kinda queer and inclusive. It's got a cartoony feel occasionally breaking into intricacy, and really good use of light. We did a podcast on what feels like a new wave of sincerity and this was front and centre in my picks.

Spinning - Tillie Walden

Tillie Walden excels at filling little spatial scenes with emotion and felt life. Her figure skating memoir is no different. Changing high schools, the pressure of competition, coming out and finding first loves, it's all there with her charged use of light and shade, and the movement of space around her.

Godshaper - Simon Spurrier (writer), Jonas Goonface (artist)

It's a neo-dustbowl bluesman future future. Technology doesn't work, and money doesn't exist, but everybody has their own personal god. Or almost everybody. Also, the colours are gorgeous. 

Spurrier has a history of bloody nailing high concept and this is no exception. 

It's the story of Ennay, a "godshaper" - a pariah with no god of his own, but the ability to shape the gods of others, and Bud, a god (fittingly) without a person. Also: a kind of weird fantasy skiffle/blues/something alt music genre, mobsters, pansexual nomads, and beautifully, gloriously weird visuals. A little bit like Carnivàle but funny and not relentlessly depressing. 

Things everybody else thinks are great but we haven't read yet 

Well, if anyone wants to buy us presents...

What? Of course it's just Zainab's list.

Still good!

The series we already loved and have carried on loving this year:

Other lists

Don't just take our word for it. Look:

So, yeah, 2017 had some comics, huh. What did we miss? Can haz comments? 

Something City - Ellice Weaver

Ellice Weaver's Something City sets ten powerful character vignettes in a strange, colourful, segmented non-place. One of the most immediately striking things about it, though, is the layout design. From its city-plan view to the landscape orientation, there's a focus on space and place.

Something City explores connection/disconnection by proximity. There's quiet withering in the suburbs, ostracism and irony, alienation by technology - all the Vermillion Sands stuff, but without quite the lackadaisical beach-surreal tone.

It's pretty great.

It's fitting that a book that imagines a city should feel so architectural. The cover and chapter-dividing pages suggest some uncanny version of a coffee-table book about fifties suburbia. They're top-down isometric, but wilfully non precise. There's shades of Where's Wally - pages crammed with people and in a colour palette that's both unified and mucking about with background salience. The eye doesn't slide off it exactly. It's too Matisse-y posed-naïve for that. But it's crowded, somewhere between joyous and visually uncomfortable.

The isometric view persists, dividing the book into chapters. Each community segment is distinct, with its own feel and colours. And from them we pull to the lives inside, also landscape oriented, the length of the reading line across the page inviting a bit more visual consideration of the whole thing than a vertical flick-down for dialogue.

The city plan frames the book as spatial, and the page structure pulls us back to that, suggesting through arrangement and juxtaposition. We're invited to read the pages as rooms, but also as moments within them. It's sequential through dialogue, but the mood is often simultaneous, a stretched instant in a place.

Meanwhile, the line style sits in uneasy truce with the layout. It's painty, coloured like screen print, with almost a paper cut-out feel, and no edging. The only hard lines are the gutters, or the edges and corners of homes, streets, and furniture. The hard-edged architectural is jostled in with more loosely shaped bodies, and dogs and burgers and plants. Occasional text boxes butt in, sometimes speech, sometimes narration. It's gloriously messy, and the figures are expressive. 

Detail, too:

That panel's doing a lot of work. I love the speech bubble, partly outside the scene, almost a caption, but trailing weakly down. The character talking, weakly, to her feet?

This is all used to tell ten little personal stories (intertwined, of course) against the constraints of space and community.  Each of them is set in a different part of town, whizzing us through the Amish Community (looser, gentler lines) where a girl flees for modernity in a cobbled-together David Bowie costume; the doctor reluctantly trying nudism in the Free Body Culture Club; some pure Black Mirror techno-social satire in the Old Networth Square tech enclave; a downtown binge; and looped through it all, the thread of Jo Walker, what she did, the consequences and the town's reactions. 

There's a little of Adamtine there, in its treatment of justice by public opinion, anger, ostracism, and the range of survivors' emotions. Something City isn't a horror book, but it does engage with how a community reacts to what it sees as justice not being done, and how both a victim and the person responsible for a tragic act (in this case of culpable negligence) might feel and struggle to live. 

Juxtaposition and disconnection again. People don't fit in their suburban bubbles (it's a little like Transmetropolitan's "reservations", far less lurid), and struggle to connect with those around them. Jo unwittingly moves to the same town as the victim of a savage dog attack she was equally unintentionally responsible for. A new age guru co-opts Dr Jenn's rejection as enlightenment, and the penultimate story (spoiler below) features one of the most brutal, aching-or-maybe-joyous micro relationship slices I think I've ever seen:

I suppose you could see what you want in there, and it's on me that I see visceral tragedy over beauty. But it's down to Something City that the range is there to offer that tension. Damn, I'm a sucker for a salient ambiguity.

Something City is out in May, published by Avery Hill.

Ellice Weaver makes comics, zines, and paintings. There's a great interview with her on Broken Frontier, here.


Note: The lovely folks at Avery Hill sent us a digital copy to review. Nowt else changed hands, and as with all review submissions, we only cover it if we like it. 

The Gods of The Wicked and the Divine - part 2

By now, all 13 of the gods of the latest recurrence have been revealed (yes, we'll get to that), as well as a few extras from past cycles. So we're overdue for an update.

Spoilers? Damn straight, spoilers.

We covered previously revealed gods: Lucifer, Baal, Woden, Amaterasu, Sakhmet, Morrigan, Baphomet, Minerva, Innana, Tara, Ananke, and Susanoo (1923) in an earlier post

This is loosely based on WicDiv #1-28 and the 1831 stand-alone story Modern Romance (eighteen-thirty-oneshot?).

So, who's who who's new?


The dancefloor that walks like a man. Bacchus to the Romans, he's easy to think of as a jolly, tubby party god. Dionysus is god of wine and grape harvest, drama, ritual madness, and springtime fertility. But WicDiv didn't pick comedy Bacchus. This is a younger, leaner Dionysus, something more like the ephebic trickster of Greek drama.

His emblem is a grape bunch of little pills, and he looks like an archetypal raver kiddie. Gillen, naturally, points us to Spaced.

Cults of Dionysus have appeared on and off at least as far back as the pre-Greek Minoan period (about 2000 bc), and his worship has a consistent element of mystery and the ecstatic.

Dionysiac mysteries (the practice of his cults) blended dance, frenzy, drugs, booze and trance states in their worship. There was an outsider element, too - sexual and social transgression, and a hint of danger.

In Euripides' The Bacchae, Dionysus (a young god, with human relatives) is decried by Pentheus, ruler of Thebes - and his cousin - as both a fraud and a public menace.  His response doesn't do much to address the latter: he initiates the women of the town into the ranks of his most hardcore followers, the Maenads, and in their frenzy they tear Pentheus apart with their bare hands. Imagine cleaning up after that party.

In WicDiv, Dionysus is a good guy(ish) with something moving under the surface. Laura calls him "the best of them" and he does not leap to agree. Self-proclaimed as a lover not a fighter, he tries to keep his hivemind safe in #21's face-off at Valhalla. But he mucks in with Amaterasu's cult and Woden's experiments, and it's worth remembering he's a god with strong underworld associations. Mythically, one who visits the underworld, and one of few that have brought souls back.  

So far, The Wicked and the Divine has shown us a Dionysus with an undercurrent of danger, rather than full-blown bloody bacchanal. He pops his signature Thyrsus staff as neon nunchaku at Valhalla, but we don't see it elsewhere.

In Greek tragedy, the Dionysiac is often set in opposition to the Apolline. That is to say - kind of - chaos vs order. They're different takes on the ideal of kouros - smokin' hot muscle twinks, basically; one side all Preppy College Boy, the other all Scuzzy Sk8r Boi. Apollo is prophecy, fate, and structure. Dionysus is more free-for-all: emotive and chaotic. The impulses frequently clash in Greek literature, and it's picked up in Hegel and Nietzsche's respective takes on tragic theory.

Interesting then, that Gillen and McKelvie's Dionysus, while emotive and ecstatic, feels far less chaotic, even explicitly choosing study over anarchy in #26

Also conspicuously absent: relentless penises. 

Dionysus is a dick god. Not like Woden. Like, he's just all about the dicks. They're his symbol, and they're everywhere in his representations. Some of his followers would wear giant strap-ons in religious ceremonies and processions. Bring that one back, I say - really spice up the church fete. 

Urdr & The Norns


Like Baphomet and Lucifer, The Norns are in the not-quite-gods camp. Imagine the Greco-Roman fates, but Norse. They're three (usually) powerful giants who sit at the foot of the world-tree Yggdrasil, keeping it watered from the well of Uror.

Seen as law makers and arbiters of fate, one reading which might be particularly interesting for WicDiv is that they set the length (as well as course) of mortal lives. 

In this recurrence, their symbol is Yggdrasil, and it's deliciously fitting  that Urdr should be Cassandra. Prophetic gods are a nice echo for her name, as is their journalistic investigation of the pantheon. 

Unlike Amaterasu, Lucifer, and especially Woden, Cass attempts to keep her name, rather than leaning on "Urdr". She's cast by the others as the token grown-up, and is, frankly, done with their nonsense. She gest some of the very finest "what is this fresh crap" reaction beats:

There's a lot of really interesting identity stuff cohered around Cassandra/Urdr. It's dissected brief in her fight with Woden over his cheap crack about their apotheosis and previous identities, versus her transition. Her discomfort at having to perform the role of Urdr is palpable, as is her discomfort at the crowds just not getting it.

A skeptic become a god, with the name of a disbelieved prophet, disbelieved in turn when she tries to tell the world there are no gods and there is no prophecy. Tough gig.

In the Snorri Sturluson version of Norse myth (a 13th century monastic compilation of the old tales) there are many Norns, drawn from many races. In particular, from men, dwarves, and elves. This may give us the visual touchstone for Verdani and Skuld - one willowy, one shorter and broader.  

She was the last good to be "found" by Ananke, or at least so we thought until we met...


Issue 11: exploded head on the cover, 12 gods revealed, "It's going to be ok" on the flyleaf. Boom. Laura is Persephone. Persephone is dead. Grab a pomegranate and strap in.

Persephone's pretty well known as a concept: a stolen celestial daughter, spending half (sometimes a third of) her year in the underworld, her absence/return signifying the transition of winter into spring. 

She's also deeply entangled with one of classical Greek religion's oldest mystery cults, and has back-story continuity arguments that make Madelyne Pryor look like some weaksauce Spot's First Walk intelligibility. 

Persephone was a daughter of Demeter, goddess of harvest and agriculture. She was abducted by Hades, ruler of the underworld. In searching for her, Demeter created a great drought and famine, pressuring Zeus to intercede, and leading to hades granting Persephone's return. As ever with these wily deific bastards, there was a catch. 

Persephone didn't read the fine print before snacking down on a juicy pomegranate, and having eaten the food of the underworld, she was bound to remain there. In this case, for one month for each seed eaten (4 or 6, depending on who you believe). 

So far, so harvest myth. But it does get wibbly. 

Four months of Persephone in Hell just about gets you the drought of a Greek summer. But her return rites are celebrated at the beginning of spring, as part of a rebirth/fertility cycle. The Eleusinian cult probably grafted together Persephone with earlier Minoan harvest goddesses, Demeter with ur mother figures. Other mystic takes on Persephone mix in the nature goddess Kore, so it gets kinda mangled.

Above ground, Persephone is all vegetation and plenty, and a bit better know. But her role in the underworld shouldn't be downplayed. She ain't sitting around down there.

As queen of the underworld, Persephone is probably fused with the older, weirder figure of Despoina. Think: birth, death, and a whole load of must-be-appeased nature worship. In her cult it was forbidden for the uninitiated to speak her name, a tradition that clung to the chthonic Persephone. She presides over the dead, and in the tradition of Orpheus, metes out judgement. 

WicDiv picks this up heavily, in particular associating her with the idea of "the destroyer", which is one possible etymology of her name. Her nascent cult, too, won't name her. She likes it. She has root and vine powers, is potentially stronger than the other gods, can drag people down to the underworld, and shows this dual aspect with her flashes of skulls-for-pupils.

In #11 she apparently dies. In #18, she's back. In a basement dive bar, of course. We later find out that she spend months hanging out in the underworld with Baphomet. Moping, fucking, planning. 

A lot gets hinted at. Ananke expected her back, but no so soon, and her status is debated by the remains of the pantheon. In a millennia-spanning set of ninety year cycles of renewal, it seems unlikely that a Persephone figure - heretofore hidden - has no significant role to play. 

Nergal (Baphomet)

We spilled some ink last time on godhood as identity performance in WicDiv, and shit just got recursive. Baphomet comes from recent-ish demonology, and only get the goaty horn business in the 1800s. There's something fishy about him as one of the WicDiv gods (we covered this in part 1) and he certainly seems twitchy.

In the underground with Persephone, Baphomet tells us his origin story as... Nergal? 

No, me either, a bad rendition in the Hellboy movie notwithstanding. 

He's... Baphomet with lion bits? Certainly explains the teeth. Except emblematically it should probably be a fighting cock, and - look the whole thing's a joke about nobody knowing who Nergal is, and Baphomet still having to LARP as a god, even post ascension to actual godhood.

But that doesn't mean it isn't interesting. 

Nergal is a Sumerian/Mesopotamian figure, and so could go back a couple thousand years BC. There's a nice irony there with Baphomet being a relatively modern invention. There are plague associations, and he's depicted variously as a lion or a chicken. In this case, a string of "raging cock" jokes seem appropriate.

Nergal's a sun god (with war aspects) who became an underworld god, perhaps via a sunset association. This makes him a fire god of the underworld, and you can picture the character as written scrabbling around for a fit before coming up with Baphomet, probably via early Christian mystics and demonology.

The figure was co-opted there as a demon, perhaps by 18th century occultist. 


Hades (1831)

On the one hand (ahem) it's a two-page appearance in a one-shot side story. On the other, it is a new god, so here's the quick version.

Hades is king of the underworld in Greek mythology, and here represented as John Keats, the original teen emo poet.

In his writers notes, Kieron Gillen hangs this off Keats' poem This Living Hand:

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed — see here it is—
I hold it towards you.

That's pretty on-brand for Keats. Check out Ode to a Nightingale one of his better-known bits of gothing about.

It's easy to mock Keats for what feels like melodrama, and if I had another couple hundred words to spare, I would. But his work is also gorgeously sensual, with a real ear for rhythm and cadence. The morbidity is fascinated, dream-like. Through all of its florid verbal garishness, there's something to Keats that I resent myself for responding to.

We don't get much of him in the 1831 special. As with his factual counterpart, Hades here dies in Rome. Keats of tuberculosis, Hades, of Ananke sticking a knife in his heart.

Mythically, Hades was both the god and the realm. The land of the dead and its ruler. Not a satanic figure, and not presiding over a hell, per-se. Hades officiated more than he tormented, and was never quite a tempter or a figure of evil. As a Death figure he is implacable, and like Persephone it could be taboo to name him. 

In The Wicked and the Divine Hades' main role is to get his hand cut off, which is then used by Lucifer to create a necromantic golem on the shores of Lake Geneva. We have very little sense of him, but it may be salient that at least some of Hades is potentially still out there, and in a universe that contains an unexpected return of Persephone.

...and bonus Pink Woden?

Totes the monster from the 1831 story, right? (The eighteen-thirty-onester). Well, maybe. What could you make from the hand of Hades, a squeeze of Morrigan and Lucifer, and a heaping tablespoon of Woden?

"Pink Woden" is briefly glimpsed in #14, as part of the remix issue's original art parenthesis. Woden is talking to someone, and with what could even be earnestness or affection. A Valkyrie he actually likes? Someone to monologue to? Or something more complex entirely?

Now, a couple of the other gods have multiple aspects, some maybe everyone's favourite neon MRA dickhead is only part - or rather half - of the story. If Nergal can call himself Baphomet, and given Ananke explicitly calls Green Wooden "the pet of a god" in #14, well, might we not wonder about Huginn and Muninn (Knowlwedge and Memory, Odin's raven spies/pets)? Or Geri and Freki (similar, more bitey, wolves), if thought and memory have a bit too much finesse for the character as seen?

Some fan theories say Pink Woden is Laura's sister. I could buy that for the emotional punch, but it would lack the mythic heft. I absolutely cannot buy that the 1831 monster is a thread that won't be picked up again, either. Throw in the colours, and my money's on the monster.

But I wouldn't bet against wolves or ravens. If we fancy getting proper twitchy, well, there's Baphomet's "idea golems", introduced just before we find out about Woden's dead mother, and as he talk about reverse-engineering the other gods' powers. Pink Woden, in the tiny glimpse we have, is not unlike one of the Valkyries, and dead-mum simulacrum would be weirdly on-brand for both Woden as presented, and a comic that's so knowingly post-Buffy.

If it is the eighteen-thirty-onester (not sorry), there's a lot of quite exciting fanwank on the table. The best way to ensure Lucifer would do a thing was pretty much to warn him not to, and then give him the bits, so we can be pretty sure than Ananke was at least basically cool with the monster's creation. We know she's lonely, we know she talked to Robert Graves, and we know she's writing to someone at the end of #28. Someone colour coded with pink sparkles, perhaps?

Enough speculation. Whaddya reckon - mummy, monster, magic raven?

Jonathan Cape *didn't* send us their entire 2016 catalogue gift-wrapped in fivers, and what happened next may surprise you…

For the last few years The Guardian has done a "best of the year" comics roundup. It's pretty good. Lots of sites do it. We do one too - it's practically a Christmas tradition.

Just as much of a tradition, however, is pointing and laughing at The Guardian's for being:

  1. basically just whatever Jonathan Cape published that year
  2. a little bit nose-in-the-air Worthy/joyless

This year's did not disappoint:

When I began writing about graphic novels a decade ago, I remember worrying slightly about the supply line: would I really be able to find a good one to review every month?

[but...] if there isn’t something to suit everyone on the bulging list that follows, I’ll eat my copy of Persepolis.

Uh huh...

Anchoring your readers on Persepolis, saying "Graphic Novels", authorizing yourself with the decade thing, and worrying that (in 2006, FFS) there weren't enough? There's a klaxon or two sounding there, a grasp for validity.

The list that follows is - of course - mostly from Serious Publisher Jonathan Cape.

But is our scepticism really fair? We did a budget data journalism to find out.

I say "data journalism" - it's more "twenty minutes of titting about in Excel". For the record, my analytical methodology was: quickly, with a glass of Valpolicella.

The spreadsheet's here, if you want it. You don't.

What comics get coverage?

Let's start with that publisher representation that's so easy to mock. Is it really all from Mr Cape's Emporium Of Authorised Tomes?

Best of year, by publisher (ahem)

Not all, no, but heavily. 


That distribution does make it look a little shabby, but I'm actually open to the idea that Jonathan cape might publish a disproportionate chunk of a year's comics worth reading. They have some amazing creators.

The omissions are where it starts to fall down. Over those last five years of roundups, the Guardian's best-of has:

  • been ~45% Jonathan Cape
  • strongly leaned to black & white solo cartoonist books
  • suggested two webcomics, in print collection
  • never, ever, featured a book from Image
  • or Vertigo
  • or Dark Horse
  • or NoBrow
  • or Avery Hill
  • or First Second
  • or Myriad
  • or Cinebook
  • or 2000 AD
  • or ever even bothered to fucking mention manga

And then there's this:


(my hasty categorizations, "collection" should probably have been "print anthology". Blame the Valpolicella)

Again, in fairness, the monthly floppies may not be the most consistent home of quality. Comics culture is pretty toxic, and riddled with store-level gatekeeping. The distribution model is broken as all hell. But there's still some quality stuff hitting the shelves every month. Trees, Squirrel Girl, Harrow County, Paper Girls, Southern Bastards, After Death, no? That's just off the top of my head from this year.

Fine, sneer at the singles market. Could they not have grabbed a trade paperback from Foyles?

Incomplete is not the same as incorrect, but I guess I just find it a bit sad and lazy.

Perhaps they're cleaving to a very particular definition of Graphic Novel? We'll come to that, especially as you do get the odd collection when the authors are big-ticket worthy (Spiegelman, Pekar), or the publisher is Drawn & Quarterly.

Another rough breakdown:


Not a problem, per se, but also not really representative of the work being done at large.

What causes what? Well, if you're 45% Jonathan Cape, and have never even picked up a Marvel, DC, or Image book, that's probably about the expected distribution. Serious comics are the work of the lone auteur genius, after all...

Either Jonny C's PR department is relating publically harder than anyone ever did publically relate, or there's a filter operating here that's excluding a fuck of a lot of stuff. 

Let's put this "Graphic Novels" bollocks to bed

Here, just read this, it puts it better than I will:

The Term 'Graphic Novel' Has Had A Good Run. We Don't Need It Anymore

Or take a pull quote:

it's a perfect time to retire terms like "graphic novel" and "sequential art," which piggyback on the language of other, wholly separate mediums. What's more, both terms have their roots in the need to dissemble and justify, thus both exude a sense of desperation, a gnawing hunger to be accepted.

Of course, papers have readers, and The Guardian's may not be ready yet for the C word. The gnawing hunger may be theirs. After all, surely dinner party ridicule will befall anyone seen advocating a book with pictures that doesn't also have the raw worthiness of being about a middle-aged man doing middle-aged man anxiety in fidgety black and white. From Jonathan Cape.

At the end of the day, The Graun's list is probably harmless, and I'd rather live in a world where Alison Bechdel gets heat and shelter. But I'd like it even more if that world had comics coverage that didn't feel lazily snooty and suspiciously narrow.

But Roger, aren't these books actually good?

Yep, absolutely. They're great. So are the reviews. It's good work about good work.

It's just not as broad as it could be. There's wonderful stuff that doesn't make it through. For example, Aama gets a mention in 2013, and it's fantastic (our review). So they're clearly not closed to Sci Fi, but then why not Trilium, or Space Dumplins, or any number of things. 

SupermutantKate Beaton's there, and so is Jillian Tamaki, so we're not averse to levity with depth. But then, where are the rest of the amazing webcomics?

The art, too. So much amazing visual work never gets a mention.

Here's Slate's list for 2016. Some of the stuff is even the same, but it doesn't look like it needs a Booker Prize before its daddy will love it.

Given their stable of creators, no, Jonathan Cape's dominance of the Guardian list isn't surprising. But 45% twitches an eyebrow, and the omissions kick off a pronounced nervous shudder. 

The kind reading is that rather than snobbery or churnalism, they're playing it safe for an assumed audience. That's a missed opportunity, and it's pretty patronising. Your Guardian-reading geek friend deserves better Christmas presents.

If, unkindly, they actually are lazily reading only what they're sent, then, oh, I don't know, can we have some range and get Zainab Akhtar to do it instead? Please?


Cowboys and Insects - David Hine & Shaky Kane

Now, I can't promise that if you watched King of the Hill after dropping acid it would look exactly like Cowboys and Insects. But those already familiar with Shaky Kane's style and the amped-up pulp vibe he created with David Hine in The Bulletproof Coffin would likely find the experience quite familiar.

Cowboys and insects -  cattle drive

With its giant bugs, bright colours, ranch hands with rifles, and a sickly uncoiling of fifties American paranoia, Cowboys and Insects is a lurid thing that takes us to a pretty severe place.

Childhood wonder to lynch mob in twenty pages, each step feeling natural and normal, and not worthy of moral scrutiny. 

Cowboys and insects - cover closeup

First published digitally in 2013, when it wasn't a given that white America would plump for fascism in a fit of butthurt cultural pique, Cowboys and Insects seems oddly prescient now.

Much of its effect, I think comes not from being on-the-nose preachy, but rather from running full-tilt at the joyous daftness of the premise and letting that carry it through.


(The spoiler-averse may wish to stop here; also folks who don't like gross stuff with insects)

Cowboys and Insects blends a frog-boil to the monstrous with a red herring around just what the monster is. Giant bugs are a B-movie staple, and so is the idea that the real monster is man. But the book does a sensational job of splashing around in the weirdness of gargantuan beetles while also selling us on a world where they're quite, quite normal.

It's full-on Uncanny. Something like a housefly, turkey-sized, gracing a roast dinner platter, nuclear family all gung-ho to tuck in. Mom in  meat-packing plant, tossing slime-slick larvae off a conveyor belt, squealing sound effect at the bottom of the panel, half-cocked job-well-done smile on her face at the top:

Cowboys and insects - Mom

A cattle drive of giant ants down a fifties street of cadillac tailfins.

All through, it's sold by Chip's voice. We're watching through his eyes, but we can't escape our own. It's normal. It's fantastical. It's just a memory from highschool of the first girl he had a crush on. It's a gut-churning hate crime, perpetrated without pause or conscience. 

This kind of voice-of-the-child deal can be easily overused. Much of the power of Barefoot Gen lies in showing us something that attempts to be a normal childhood while the world around it counts down to eight fifteen. It could be clumsy. It isn't, and part of what does that work is the visual style - breezy and casual in just the right places - part of it is how well realized the childhood voice is. 

The styles are very different, but the same applies here. Art and voice, selling this vibrant pulp adventure adolescence.

Cowboys and insects - DinnerChip moves to a new town with his folks. Bug Town, Colorado - a ranching monoculture for the fifties economic boom. He finds a new school meets people, enjoys the scents and sights of a giant stag beetle rodeo. It's golden-age teen memory stuff, all worked through with these perfect vignettes in flat simple colours that make this sci-fi scenario seem like workaday picket fence stuff.

We're told this as memory, coming of age style, just a little Stand By Me:

This was to be the year when I lost my innocence. The year I became if not a man then the person who would become the man.

Cowboys and insects - ChipThe definite article feels salient there. "The man". Performance of duty and enforcement of white bread normalcy become key, but we're walked through it with this tone that never slips - Chip's conviction that this is the world, that daddy knows best, and that this is all part and parcel of growing up into a right thinking adult.

"It's not always easy to choose between right and wrong" he remembers thinking, sat in his bedroom, sad and anguished about a girl he's fallen for, choosing a path that ends with her being eaten alive by burrowing beetles. 

Again, it feels natural. We move through this experience with him, exploring this strange world as he does. The strangeness of it is never far away - there's hardly a panel without some kind of giant insect detail or oddity. It's remarkable to us, but only remarkable to Chip as a new experience in a familiar world. There's some wonderful cake-and-eat it there with breaking the suspension of disbelief. Chip's excitement at getting to dissect a giant bug, the oddly human-seeming Insectum Erectus, lets us feel the strangeness without coming up for air. 

At his new school, busily dissecting bugs and learning about their place in modern agribusiness, Chip meets Cindy Krupski. Her family are shown more pale, dressed severely, and often in black. It's not subtle othering, but played against the cartoon colouring it's a great sell for their terrible secret:

Cowboys and insects - Vegetarian

Cindy doesn't fit in. Chip is infatuated. Cindy certainly doesn't want to dissect a novel species of insect that's shown visibly afraid, walking upright, and - entirely unremarked - wearing a loincloth.

Chip doesn't get it. 

Chip asks his dad for advice. 

Chip has the narrative framed for him in terms that echo miscegenation. 

dadThe Krupskis are the only dissenting voice in Chip's world, and their behaviour is so strongly framed as deviant, as a danger, that as readers we're not incredulous for a moment that Chip might not pause to interrogate his circumstances. We're watching what inculcation into systemic and structural prejudice feels like from the inside, and by the end I felt almost nauseously complicit.

What an ending, too. Things escalate pretty fast, as Chip confides in his father that the Krupskis are sheltering the escaped bug, and the town isn't happy.

The Knights of the Head are a legendary brotherhood of men who stalk the night, seeking out those who transgress the boundaries between man and insect.

Yes, they wear masks made from hollowed-out insect heads. Yes, they have robes like klansmen. Yes, it goes very, very badly.

Cowboys and insects - Lynch mob

That panel. The simple geometrics and the limp dangling. The loincloth. It doesn't even stop there.

As we reach the conclusion, there's a slight shift in Chip's voice, something febrile and excited by the moment, with a storyteller's feel ("But the knights weren't finished with the Krupskis, not by a long shot..."), moving to a factual acceptance. By the end, they're "the wretched Krupskis", and Chip has pulled forward to being the adult narrator more cleanly: "...I've become something of an expert on the Necrophorous Vespillo over the years".

His childhood excitement is still there, as he related the lifecycle of the burrowing beetles, but it's distant, more future factual.

It's interlaced, too with a new panel structure, big bordering gutters against black, tall vertical panels where the book's tended to the horizontally sequential. It suggests a series of snapshots, memories perhaps, but more fractured: 

Cowboys and insects - final page

What's remembered is monstrous, the beetles are finally horror movie schlock. The vertical feel is almost like drowning - insects and their sounds rising from the bottom of the panels to horrified faces compressed at the tops. 

Imagine that - alive for a month or more under the ground, with insect larvae growing inside you.

His tone doesn't judge. Is it horrified, or just showing his amateur-entomologist glee? It doesn't commit.

Why would it - this is his normal now. It's "They way we raise 'em here in Colorado", and nobody in the town bats an eyelid. Chip's a grown man, and only remembers when he catches a flash of something, perhaps on TV, and for all the thin whisper of guilt on the page before, it's still a memory of the first girl he kissed.

The iconography cribs from southern racism, but the book offers a highly transferrable view inside the machineries of group supremacy, identity policing, and structural power.

This doesn't feel like a period where we have to look far for the horrific becoming ideologically mundane. It's not a great world to be any kind of Other in, and the scope for that getting better seems scant. In playing so neatly with normalization, and with what does and does not seem extraordinary, in rendering it all in this kitschy/pulpy growing-up caper, the print edition of Cowboys and Insects feels timely and urgent.


(We briefly interviewed David Hine about the book at Thought Bubble, and it's on the podcast)

Look at all this amazing queer stuff!

Queer comics (and the whole super-set of LGBTQ goodness) are a perennial topic for us, not least because I won't shut up about them, and we've done an annual round-up episode on the podcast for the last couple of years:

So I was on the lookout for queer content at Thought Bubble this year, and delightfully, just so many of the books at the show seemed to be somewhere in the LGBTQ ballpark.



Tab Kimpton (of Discord Comics) put together a "Thought Bubble Rainbow Road" this year, highlighting LGBTQ comics, creators and merch. Chatting to him (more of that on the podcast), he put the proportion somewhere a nose over eleven percent.

I didn't scratch the surface of that, but here's a quick round-up of what I found.

I've pulled out three things I thought were cool and that I'd not heard about before the festival. So this isn't so much a best-of as a big ol' serendipitous grab bag, but I reckon that highlights the ambient quality. 

Laid - Cicy Reay

laidanthemThis was literally the last thing I bought at the show. Three quid on impulse, and my way out the door. Damn, I lucked out. 

"We lived pretty close to each other" begins the body of the story, terrace and park spliced across tall panels "except his street was much nicer than mine". It could almost be a Beautiful Thing rerun, all hesitant teens and loaded friendship. Except we've just seen six pages of avuncular (and really professionally fastidious) sex work. Oh, and a nasty car accident. 

Connection but distance is the thing here. That's called out pretty strongly in the client relationships, and mirrored in the way the panel focus zooms in on details at points, pulling away to backgrounds at others. But it's the nameless protagonist's relationship with Sam - more than a client, perhaps, but held at a distance still - that makes up the body of the emotional heft.

I'm not his boyfriend. I'm there for - well, for business. But I cared about him.

They fuck, they talk, they laugh at the shipping forecast. They have a just-missed moment of emotional connection that deftly ducks the temptation for cheap happy endings. 

It's 24 pages of A5, and crazy-dense with little personal moments. All blue-on-white like a linocut printer lost a fight with an ancient gestetner machine. It's a style that works wonderfully with the tight panel grid layout, mostly 3x4 with occasional breakout pages. 

It's sex work in close-packed terraced houses, and so much less grim (or patronizing) than that could sound. 

If I had to nitpick, well, does anyone actually use KY Jelly any more?

Meh. ID Glide probably lacks the brand recognition, and in any case this gives us one of my favourite pages:

Laid - 3 panels

It's all about the angles and simple geometrics. Lube logo mirroring landscape and rumpled bedsheet. The textures all echo the body hair of the previous page. It's a blend of posed mundanity, and pushing the reader into the protagonist's gaze. A gaze that's here fixating on detail, ambiguously just before or just after the conclusion of a sex scene that's both plausibly tender and completely transactional. 

Like I say, it's dense. And it's delightful. 

It's from Black Lodge Press, and was new for November - so not yet available on their site when I wrote this. Hopefully it will be. If you enjoyed The Lengths (and you should) then you might trace some associations through to Laid - it's a neat little human thing that just happens to involve fucking for cash.

Get Your Man - Kami D (via Dragonhoard)

As a differnt end of at least some spectrum, Get Your Man is a goofy universe-hopping sex comedy that doesn't dodge the squishy bits. It embraces the squishy bits. Heck, it's a clear 40% squishy bits.

This made photographing some highlights tricky, even with my cavalier attitude to "NSFW" content. Even the cute little doggie get's a full-page butt shot:


What? Yes, of course I bought it when I saw the line "You're a corgi werewolf, Charles!" But(t?) also because the folks at Dragonhoard (the publisher/distributer) were utterly lovely. We talk to them on the upcoming podcast, so I won't dwell on that here, but just lovely.

 It's a story about versions of Charles and Francis, usually a couple, across various manga-inflected universes and genres. So it breezes through sci-fi, vampires, contemporary romance, and of course coffee-shop chibi antics. It is relentlessly tongue in cheek, in both ways you might care to read that.

getyourmanpolicetapeThe stories vary between vignettes and gag strips in places, and a couple of longer pieces in the middle. There's a robo-mountie finding love (and elaborate upgrades) after being decommissioned, and a sweet, colourful/cartoony piece about versions of the same characters first getting together in the near present day. There's awkwardness in a coffee shop - it's cute. Then there's fucking, because that's the deal here.

It's reasonably body diverse, mind, and feels often emotionally real as opposed to a purely sleazy gaze. There's a levity and joyousness that carries through the whole thing, even into the downstairs funtime interludes. It helps that the stories often end with a big dumb joke. 

I'm a sucker for a non sound effect

Look, what it comes down to is, would you like to read a comic featuring a robotic mountie who ejeculates maple syrup?

Ok, great. You can buy it here.

The Foldings - Faye Simms

In the pre T'Bubz roundup, I called The Foldings "charming as balls", and I stand by that. It's just come off the back of a successful kickstarter, and the print edition includes a bonus prose story foregrounding some of the other characters.

Just look at this adorable shtick:


 I'm loving that huge cascading vertical panel. It's got a couple of those, and it uses them well. As you'd hope for a comic set in a flying city full of magic, really.

One of the (few, come at me) things I like about the Harry Potter books is the gleeful little bits of imaginative engineering. The weird sweets and critters and plants, and little disorienting details. The Foldings opens on that, with a market stall selling fabric that eats dust, and warming top hats with built-in chimneys. I'm a sucker for that stuff, as is Jasper, the character who's introduced all kid-in-a-sweet-shop, handling it all.

foldingsfallJasper's immune to magic, which gives us the body of the plot driver, and no end of a headache top his partner Micah, who is - obviously - a Mighty Wizard. It's a short story, really, a little thing of twenty pages or so. Jasper falls off a building, Micah catches him. There's adorable smooching and a pun.

In the course of this, though, it does a lot. It's got that feel of the city being a character, introduced in a few great panels looking out over it. Buildings are stacked onto each other like you showed the Ewoks the Winchester Mystery House and then asked them to build an aerial Venice. 

Kids jump of buildings for kicks, knowing the air will catch them, magic has an amped-up Kirby Krackle, and the light plays over all of it. It's got this slightly cel shaded feel in places, with thick line work, and great use of colour for the light.

Oh, and it is Just. So. Sweet.

There's a bit more online, and the print edition is chock full of concept art. I'm really hoping we get further volumes of The Foldings in future. 

...and more

Damn, I've missed so much here, including the fantastic looking Queer: A Graphic History from Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele.

TB haulI also picked up:

We'll probably cover these and a few more on the podcast.

So yeah, look at all this great queer stuff! 



Thought Bubble 2016 - our hot picks and odd excitements

Here at Consequential dot net, Thought Bubble is our absolute favourite festival occurring between Halloween and the Beaujolais Nouveau.

Seriously though, it's  probably the best comics event in the UK, and it's a great time to:

  1. discover some amazing new comics.
  2. dance like several hundred people are watching, but are all just too lovely and welcoming to even form an opinion about that thing you're doing with your hands.

We love the ol' T'Bubz, and here's a selection of things we're looking out for, including some old favourites and interesting debuts.

The Nameless City - Faith Erin Hicks & Jordie Bellaire

  • Our annual shout-out to Improper BooksMulp 03, cover
    We love these folks. You know we love these folks. This year, they're back with more Mulp (Think: Indiana Jones in a mouse-based future after the demise of man), and a preview of the new volume of Porcelain, their gothic fairytale about haunted china automata, and the hideous consequences of misusing haunted china automata. Find them, buy their books. 
  • Transrealities - Abigail Brady & Steven Horry 
    transrealitiesAbigail and Steve were showing around some previews of Transrealities at last year's show, and this year they're launching. They describe it as "Gender, time-travel, punching nightmares in the face", and we like the sound of that.
    Last we saw, it's universe-hopping superhero action with a lot of emotional heft, and the art is lovely. 
  • Laudanum - Horrere Comics
    Macabre Victoriana? Where do we sign? A short family tale about demonic possession, in fidgety-creepy black and white inks, from the Horrere anthology stable. It's a festival one-shot, and a steal at two quid.
  • Limbo & Dark Souls - Caspar Wijngaard & Dan Watters
    limbo1Another little fan-wobble from us. We talked about Limbo pretty much all year. It's the eighties-pop-noir-neon-voodoo-swamp comic the world deserves. Myth and memory, light and colour, lizard on a stick.
    They're also working on Dark Souls for Titan, and are just lovely chaps.
  • Baggywrinkles - Lucy Bellwood
    Great at boats. Baggywrinkles does maritime history with just the most affectionate and approachable style. History of scurvy, knots and sailors' tattoos, Admiral Capybara Nelson, nautical terms that sound dirty but probably aren't - all informed by sailing modern tall ships, and lashings of enthusiasm. 
  • Where is Momentum - Richard Amos
    Last year we enjoyed Richard's short piece How We Grow Old, a set of vignettes on ageing.
    This year he has a brief graphic novel about anxiety. It's an interesting combination of quite sparse and oddly warm in style, and as people who are - by and large - anxious all the time we'll probably be grabbing a copy.
  • Cowboys and Insects - David Hine & Shaky Kane
    cowboysandinsectsSo what if, right, all-American 1950s suburbia were full of giant atomic monster bugs, and you set a Daniel Clowes story in it. Kind of.
    Really, you want more than the creeping horror of the uncanny in the 'burbs, with giant insects? What's wrong with you?
    Also, check out the funky-lurid style.
  • The Return of the Honey Buzzard - Aimée de Jongh 
    honeybuzzardA dejected bookshop owner, guilt and memory, taut sketchwork. Recently launched, this is de Jongh's debut graphic novel, with what looks like a superficial air of breezy cartoonishness that breaks into something more acute as it navigates past trauma. Super promising. 
  • The Changes - Tom Eglington
    Eglington's an illustrator with a solid 2000AD pedigree, and a flourish for the sickly/intricate biological. The Changes is a new piece about technology gone awry that looks like it'll give him plenty of space to exercise that. Preview images look like a fun blend of black and white linework with slimy organic curves, with splashes of invasive colour.
  • The Nameless City - Faith Erin Hicks & Jordie Bellaire
    namelesscitystreetDamn this looks good. Floating World with a splash of watercolour Tintin, and a premise from China Mieville. Only less wretched than the "It's X meets Y" pattern makes everything sound.
    Two kids negotiate a serially-invaded city, sprawling, mashing up cultures, given a new name by each occupying force. Did I mention it's beautiful, too?
  • For the Love of God, Marie! - Jade Sarson
    sarson-ftlogm_9Nascent sexuality from the 60s to the 90s, with an innocence and lightness of touch that have this already on many people's lists for pick of 2016. A slight manga influence, with a great colour palette.
  • The Foldings - Faye Simms
    Historically, we've... not been kind to steampunk, let's say. But this looks derpy-delightful. A sort of morning cartoon vibe in a city of implausible aeronautics. And the one guy whose immunity to magic makes him unable to fly. Charming as balls.
  • The Potato Hater - Pete Hindle
    Apparently it's a humorous history of potatoes. No, we have no idea either, but let's be honest - that sounds pretty great. And his zine about expensive jumpers was cool.  

There's a also going to be a ton of great guests (we'll try and stop Dave licking Mike Mignola), and this would run crazy-long if we picked out everyone we liked who's exhibiting.

But you can find a pretty thorough list of book debuts on the Thought Bubble site.

We'll be podcasting from the con, and if you see us tottering about and looking confused, do say hi!