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?


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!

Thought Bubble 2015 - what we're excited about

Thought Bubble! It's Brit-nerd new year! Or something! 9781473326965_MULP_02_CoverLook, it's a big old mess of just all the comics and the comics people, and the fun and the dancing, and probably too much beer, and the podcasting, and the new things, and the cosplay and the shiny, and yeah. It's pretty great.

It's also a cracking time to stumble on new stuff. But we try to go prepared. We're like the boy scouts of spending far too much money on comics, with a throbbing hangover.

Last year, we had a few bits of advice on how to get the best out of comics shows, and this year we've picked out some things we might just consider buying.

So here's a few titles and publishers you should check out at T'Bubz


Improper books are back

9781473320277_BoneChina_CoverOf course they are. We love those folks. Porcelain is the proverbial's peripherals - a crisp, slightly gothic tale of an orphan girl taken in by the Porcelain Maker, a crafter of pristine, eerie automata. Naturally, there are twists and intrigues, as the nature of the porcelain becomes more clear.

They also now publish Mulp, a noir-inflected archaeological rodent mystery.

Together, Mulp and Porcelain were some of our favourite books at the festival last year, and this year Improper are back with the second volume of each. No more intro - just go and buy them, ok?

Shiny new things

We also had a quick flip through the frankly mammoth list of books making their debut at TBF15, and picked ten or so titles that look just totes wizard.

  • FossilsOfBeautifulSoulsKingpin Books Portuguese publisher Kingpin was one of our interviews last year, and we loved their anthology Crumbs - their first book in English. This year they've got 4 new English translations, and they look super promising. These include: The Fossils of Beautiful Souls: a twisted 15th century historical; The Waltz: a coastal village folk horror; and Solomon, a splash of urban mysticism with a wonderful sense of light and dark.
  • I Love This Part The childhood friendship of two young girls, told across imagined landscapes and snaps of pop culture. It has this amazing economy of line, and restrained expressions of painted colour. Wow.
  • Diner Devotional A twelve page fold-out of linocut sketches of American diners. No, really. What? We like design, and chiaroscuro fifties consumer kitsch is fucking catnip.
  • Drugs and Wires Cyberpunk, but not shit. Drugs and Wires is all misery and things and people that don't quite work. Now you can pick it up on a special legacy-tech portable data store: gunked-up tree bits.
  • frogmanFrogman Trilogy He's a frog. He's a superhero. He's an absolute idiot. It's three stories about a foul-mouthed frog, making just the worst job of being a hero.
  • Golden Cannibal Girl Douglas noble does these itchy, allusive webcomics, intense vignettes, and Strip For Me, a series of shorts. This is the latest.
  • How We Grow Old It's hard to tell if Richard Amos' set of short stories on ageing will be sweet or crushingly sad, but the style is quiet and gorgeous. We'll be surprised if he has to carry many of these home.
  • Bao and Pom There's a girl and a maybe-anthropomorphic red panda? It's possibly cute? Look, we're new to charming, but this might be it.
  • KlaxonKlaxon A trio of deadbeats face off against their evil landlord, and it looks great. Not strictly new, but recent and interesting. Nice use of colour, too.
  • Shadow Constabulary A nutter with a cricket bat tries to fix Britain by beating the crap out of suburbia. This could be horribly on the nose, or feel like Chubz via Marshal Law, or be just the best loud daft thing. Maybe all three.
  • The Adventures of Dragon Mouse Something sweet to finish - a mouse who dreams of being a dragon, and tries to solve this problem using ingenuity and household craft materials. It looks just a bit lovely.

Now, the Thought Bubble website isn't exactly the most usable information experience you can have on that thar interwub, so we've like as not missed some fine publications.

But what? What have we missed? WHAT EXCITES YOU?

Getting The Most From Your Comics Show Time (and Money)

A small manifesto based on years of con-going, just in time for this weekend's NERD PROM Thought Bubble.

  1. Buy the things you can't get elsewhere. You can always get an Iron Man trade paperback. What you can't get, or even learn about, so easily are the myriad small press writers and artists. Find something new.
  2. Buy from the creators. This should be obvious, but if you've got the choice of buying a book from the person who made something or their publisher, GIVE YOUR MONEY TO THE PERSON WHO MADE IT.
  3. Browse, look around. When you're not in panels, or waiting with clammy hands to meet someone as they sign your book, look around and see what you can find.
  4. Take chances. If something looks cool, pick it up. If it still looks cool, buy it. You'll find more interesting things and broaden your reading if you look for new people.

Now get out there. Starving artists require your shekels, and you just might find something great in the process.

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

The Seduction of the Innocent Max Allan Collins

Yes, this is a novel. But there are pictures in it and it’s about comics, and we make the rules around here, Sonny Jim. Seduction of the Innocent is the third book in a series of hard-boiled crime novels set in the comics industry of the early 50s. I can assure you that no previous knowledge of the series is required to enjoy the book however, as I only found out about it myself thirty seconds ago via Wikipedia.

Set around the time of the senate hearings sparked by social crusader Frederick Wertham’s anti-comics screed Seduction of the Innocent (here Ravage of the Lambs by Werner Frederick), Collin’s Seduction of the Innocent sees comics syndicate troubleshooter Jack Starr tangling with gangsters, hood, and all of the other neccessary pulp tropes as he sets out to solve a murder that threatens the whole comics industry. This isn’t as odd as it sounds however, as most of the cast are based on real-life counterparts, and the early comics industry was stocked to the ceiling with crazies, gangsters and hustlers (Gerard Jones’ Men of Tomorrow is a great potted history of this period).

The writing is zippy and never feels like parody, and captures a bygone age of comics well. There’s a certain amount of cognitive dissonance that comes from the non-copyright-infringing (and libel-avoiding) renaming of characters and people from the time, but it fades quickly. If you like crime novels, this is a well-written and playful one that just happens to feature one of the more notorious parts of comics history prominently. If you’d like a more historically accurate take on the period, David Hadju’s The Ten-Cent Plague is a fascinating read around the subject.