As 2016 draws to an end the inevitable lists appear, so here is a selection of comics that have stood out for me with links to reviews. First is Panther by Brecht Evens (Drawn & Quarterly). This beautiful yet deeply disturbing book depicts the grooming of a young girl by the titular Panther in ways that all too realistically show how the vulnerable can be exploited. Depressingly, this makes it a particularly appropriate choice to highlight at the end of this year, but it is a remarkable book. Becoming/Unbecoming by Una (Myriad) earns a place on my list by being reviewed in 2016, even if it is a 2015 release, as it is one of the most powerful graphic works I have ever read. A look at how society ignores and represses women, and how patriarchal structures embed this in the media and the justice system, it would be nice to say we’ve moved on since the 70s and 80s, but it’s very clear from global events that this is not the case. There are some unhappy convergences with these two books.
A total change of tone is next - Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam by Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics) is one of the funniest things I read all year. Hanselmann’s ability to create believable characters intent on wrecking their own lives is a joy to behold. Fourth is Henny Beaumont's Hole in the Heart (Myriad), a brave and brilliant, life affirming account of parenting a child with Down’s Syndrome. Next up, Mooncop by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly), a melancholy yet uplifting book about the importance of finding meaning through connections to other people in Gauld’s distinctive, charming style. The long-awaited Patience by Daniel Clowes (Jonathan Cape - UK / Fantagraphics - North America) is a time-travelling masterpiece full of anger, with the fabulous art for which Clowes is renowned. Finally, I loved Antoine Cossé's Palace No. 0 (Breakdown Press), a hugely inventive collection that showcases both the author’s talent and why Breakdown are one of the most interesting publishers around.
Also on my list are a couple of reissues. First, the boxed set of Neat Stuff by Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics) is a flawless presentation of his early work and an 80s time capsule. Secondly, Lynda Barry’s The Greatest of Marlys! (Drawn & Quarterly) is just wonderful - she conveys so much truth in just four panels. Last of all, the work isn’t new, but the anthology is - Alan Moore’s Brighter Than You Think, reviewed below, is one of the best books of the year.
Anders Nilsen - A Walk In Eden
(Drawn & Quarterly)
A few months back, when I requested a review copy of the new Anders Nilsen title, A Walk In Eden, I did not realise that it was a colouring book. This might seem baffling at first, but of course this makes perfect sense for Anders Nilsen. Anyone who has read his recent Poetry Is Useless sketchbook will recall his bizarre evolved root pictures that must have been as much fun to draw as to look at. It is this Nilsen, rather than the arch aphorist, who we get here, having had free rein to produce a generously sized example of the form.
Consider me sceptical of adult colouring books (not that that’s how this is described; as the back cover notes it will also work for kids) but this is one of those times when someone’s ability to do something greatly outstrips my capacity for thinking of reasons why I won’t like it. In short, I got sucked in as soon as I opened it. The pages are filled with landscapes populated by strange creatures, from prehistoric beings to oversized animals from the present - ducks stand next to dinosaurs while a payphone dangles ignored and strange geometric structures can be seen. There is evidence of modern technology but it appears to have been overrun by nature. There are a couple of pullout pages, with extra wide strips, and we see that humans aren't excluded from his idyllic world, although they certainly aren’t the apex predator here. A strange sort of equilibrium persists, and it looks fine to me.
Some pages feature great close-ups of his creations, and there’s just so much depth and detail in all the images. Indeed, some of these pages are so dense that you could easily colour away as you attain a trance-like meditative state. Consider me converted.