Okay, I put my hand up: I feel inordinately and stupidly pleased when comics I’ve loved and enjoyed are nominated for awards, particularly those that have been overlooked in coverage or recognition. Sometimes I even feel a little important; ‘Zainab, I tell myself, you are reading the RIGHT THINGS’ (I’ll take my validation wherever I can get it, ta). Jokes aside, scrolling through my Twitter feed the morning after the Eisner nominations rolled out, I was incredibly excited at the breadth of material represented, a feeling that increased when I pulled up the full list of nominees.
Sometimes in writing about ‘independent/small press/self-published’ whatever-they’re-currently-labelled comics, it can feel a bit like shouting into a cavern (I can’t imagine how the creators feel): time and time again, you’re told people just don’t read about that stuff, those comics just don’t sell, so the Eisner list felt a bit like an acknowledgement of the fantastic work those people have been tirelessly producing, a punch in the air that others have also noticed their efforts: an achievement made all the more remarkable when you think of what a fantastic year 2013 was for comics.
In the spirit of that, I decided to put together a short list of 5 of my favourite nominees: 5 books you really should look into buying or reading. I know every year the Eisner nominations list turns up work that I haven’t got round to yet, so I’ve saved you the job of wading through it, and plucked 5 sure fire hits you need in your collection.
‘Moving Forward’ collected in Monsters, Miracles and Mayonnaise by Drewscape (Andrew Tan) : Earlier this year on the FPI blog, I did a feature on Singaporean publishers Epigram’s inaugural line of comic books. All three books produced were excellent in very different ways: a journalistic panorama of the country and its people, a reflection of it’s social and cultural evolution through a fictional lens, but the book that caught my attention and impressed me most was Tan’s Monsters, Miracles and Mayonnaise.
A collection of auto/semi bio-fictional stories, Tan showcased a variety of gorgeous art styles and a range of tones and genres: Moving Forward (his nominated short story) is a thoughtful, humorous and poignant recollection, ostensibly about Tan’s experiences in learning to drive with a strange belligerent old instructor, whose memory he can’t escape despite leaving him in favour of another harridan, but the whole book is a treat in itself. It was the first time I came across Tan’s work and I was blown away: you will be, too.
Everything Together by Sammy Harkham: Harkham just won the LA Times book prize for this collection of his work last week, and I think I’m right in saying that’s the first award this book has garnered, which seems crazy to me. I honestly don’t know that I can do justice to what Harkham achieves through his comics via words alone: his work is meaningful without being patronising, witty and intelligent, often intrinsically personal yet widely applicable and it just functions on so many levels.
This book features probably his most well-known comic, ‘Poor Sailor,’ which is as eloquent a treatise on life, choices, meaning and love as you’ll find. There’s also a litany of other comics: strips on Napoleon fussing over making comics in between battles, people’s cringe-worthy interpretations of Harkham’s religious beliefs, and his art overall is quietly glorious, managing to be both sparse and detailed when needed. If I was the sort of person who believed in certain books that you MUST have in your collection, I’d put this one firmly under that list.
Nobrow 7: Anthologies are notoriously difficult to get right in tone. Nobrow, arguably, have an even harder job as theirs contains not only comics but an illustration side too, both of which are then melded together under a theme. For this volume, that theme was ‘Brave New World’ giving artists free rein to contemplate our shiny or not so shiny futures. Never has the term ‘an embarrassment of riches’ been more applicable with contributions from Joost Swarte, Jillian Tamaki, Ethan Rilly, Anders Nilsen, Eleanor Davis, Luke Pearson, Tom Gauld, Joseph Lambert and Michael DeForge to name but a few.
Not only were the contributions consistently excellent, with Nilsen’s Poseidon and Goldilocks by Spiro and Sommer two outstanding highlights, where Brave New World really triumphed was the feeling of cohesion that had previously been lacking; bringing together the illustration and comic sections which often felt disparate and uneven in tone. But not here: Nobrow 7 is a brilliant fluid anthology that showcases some of the best comics talent today.
Amulet 5: The Prince of Elves by Kazu Kibuishi: This is the fifth installment in Kazu Kibuishi’s superb fantasy adventure series and yet I feel it’s not that well known or appreciated by people, which is a huge shame. I’m not sure if that’s an impression I’ve got from living in the UK, where Scholastic’s Graphix line isn’t available, but I can’t remember ever reading much abut it online either. What started off a little like Spirited Away: parent snatched into mysterious other world, kids follow to rescue, has grown into one of the best fantasy comics out there, regardless of age.
Kibuishi’s art straddles a great line between prettiness and animated cartooning style, but his storytelling has been developing niftily too. This volume saw a few threads wrapped up and more plot points introduced, all done in service of the story and characters, making it more interesting and meatier, and never done in a way that feels intrusive or tacked on. If you’re yet to read these, I really envy you: you’ve 5 awesome books to catch up on!
Brecht Evens: nominated for The Making Of in the ‘Best US edition of international material’ and also ‘Best painter/multimedia artist’ for the same book. I’m going to cheat a little here- I haven’t read this yet, despite owning it. I have flicked through it though and I’ve been aware of Evens work for some time. He works primarily with water-colours and the detail and emotion he renders through paint, changing the whole feel and tone of a narrative is astounding. I recommend starting with his (also Eisner nominated) exquisite two-parter Night Animals from Top Shelf, or even just gambolling through his sumptuous blog.