Now we are Five…
It’s hard for me to believe but today marks the fifth birthday of the Forbidden Planet blog. It’s a peculiar feeling because in one way it doesn’t really feel like it’s been five years since I posted that first blog item but on the other hand it also feels like we’ve been a part of the comics and SF scene for years. Good god – we have! Five years back as we were fading from winter into early spring we were waiting for the UK release of Sin City, rumours were rife Joss Whedon was about to announce he was doing a Wonder Woman film and Christopher Eccleston was the Doctor as the world’s longest running science fiction show returned triumphantly to our screens. Now it’s five years and two regeneration later and here we are; the blog has regenerated a bit itself, changing format and design and new cast members have walked into the console room to join us for our travels through time, space and sequential art (or comics, as normally call them) and add their very welcome voices.
Last spring we even discovered that media company Cision had ranked us 31st in their top 50 of all UK blogs, the only one of its kind among the others on that list, right up there with such blogs as the Guardian and the BBC’s. That was a bit of a gobsmacking moment to think our little blog had grown up to that level – not just because it was impressive and satisfying – the only comics site on that list – but because it meant that a lot of readers clearly enjoyed what we posted up and their readership and links to us had put us into that position. Now that, that is really satisfying, knowing that it means people want to read what we’re talking about and that more get in touch to let us know about comics they’ve been involved in, events they have organised. Its been a great five years – frankly we’ve been spoiled for good works to talk about and if all five of us did nothing but try to cover all the comics and SF out there every day we still couldn’t keep up with it, its so diverse.
And that diversity is one of the aspects that keeps us all enthusiastic – there are so many fine comics, books and graphic novels we’ve seen over those five years, from big names like Alan Moore and Bryan Talbot to folks doing their own comics, planning them, writing them, drawing them, publishing them, selling them, even organising their own comics festivals. I’m really pleased that we’ve managed to discuss some great comics from so many different avenues in the graphical world, from the independent publishers to the big guns, to the self published and to comics from outside the English language world. I’ve found new writers and artists I’d probably never have come across otherwise and my reading is much the richer for it and if we’ve pointed some of you to new writers who have enriched your reading then that makes us very happy. Yes the FP blog is part of our huge webstore but from the start we’ve always seen it as far more than a simple corporate blog; we read what we sell and like many of our brother and sister geeks we love to share what we enjoy, we love to celebrate good art, we think good writers and artists should be celebrated and that’s really what drives us to post here.
So now we are five. How to mark it… Something involving the number five. Have all the contributors dress up in costumes from Babylon 5? Maybe we could form a tribute band for the Jackson 5? Perhaps we could have a guest comic strip called the Jackson 5 but its actually about the five top operatives working secretly for Stonewall Jackson during the American Civil War? Or perhaps we should stick to what we hopefully do well and have all five of our regular contributors select a favourite comics creator and to recommend one title by them that they think any reader should have on their shelves. Yes, that sounds more like us, although it immediately puts us in that hellish position of having to choose just one creator and one title. And you all know that we have an awful lot of favourites, how to pick just one… Nevertheless we have – Richard, Pádraig, Matthew, Wim and myself have all picked out a comics creator who has meant a lot to us. Although I think, on reflection, I should say favoured rather than favourite because really none of us could ever restrict ourselves to just one and there’s always a different writer you turn to depending on your mood and what you need, but that said, here’s what the five of us went with:
Richard: I’m torn, so many to choose from, but Joe wants us to choose just one creator. I could name three easily: Seth, Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis. But it has to be just one. So not Seth, no matter how much I adore his work and not, much to my own surprise, Grant Morrison, even though he came along at exactly the right moment when I felt myself drifting away from comics and filled my world with some beloved works.
No, the one creator I choose is Warren Ellis. Since when he’s right on top of his game, he’s the most thrilling, inventive and readable writer working in comics today for me.
You want examples? There’s the manic gonzo sci-fi of Transmetropolitan, the hope filled space love letter that is Orbiter, Ministry of Space, Global Frequency, Stormwatch/Authority. Ellis writes these things like a man possessed, with incredible energy and invention and they’re all books that will be enjoyed over and over again.
I come to Ellis’ books to escape, to thrill, to be amazed, to be thoroughly entertained. And to pick just one Ellis book is a very easy choice – Planetary. A book I’ll never, ever grow tired of revisiting; a wondrous exploration of comics and genre fiction all wrapped up in a perfect mystery thriller. 27 issues collected as 4 volumes with mystery archaeologists uncovering all the incredible secrets of this amazing world; wonderful, amazing, bewildering things. Things that the secret rulers of the world don’t want uncovered. Secret rulers who will slowly, tentatively, brilliantly be called to task.
So it’s happy 5th birthday to the FPI blog, a very happy home for some of my writing for 3 of it’s 5 years. Thanks to Kenny and Joe for inviting me along and welcoming me in and most of all thank you for reading, for commenting and for loving comics in all their wonderful forms.
Matthew: I’ve been asked by Joe to name my favourite comics creator in celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Forbidden Planet International blog. My choice is Paul Grist, but I’m afraid I’m having trouble articulating why. Not because I can’t think of anything to write about this fabulously gifted cartoonist, but because I’ve got too much that I want to say. Grist, the man behind Kane, Jack Staff and numerous other wonderful comics, deserves a lengthy essay extolling his many talents, rather than a brief missive.
However, under the circumstances, the following will have to do:
Paul’s name was the first that popped into my head when asked to name my favourite comics creator simply because it is his work has given me most pleasure in the entirety of my comics reading life. His comics are fucking awesome!
Happy Birthday to the Forbidden Planet International blog. Thanks for encouraging and supporting the British small press scene for the last five years. The comics-sphere is a better place for your existence.
Oh, and Paul, should you happen to stop by and read this, thanks for ten years and counting of happy comics reading for yours truly. The Kane: Greetings from New Eden trade paperback from Dancing Elephant Press brought a jaded fan boy back into comics at a time when he thought he’d given up on them forever (too many crap super hero comics will do that to even the most ardent comics reader).
Pádraig: Alan Moore is the greatest writer of comics that has ever lived. I can almost prove this scientifically, but it’s also an almost mystical belief on the part of not just myself, but many others. His work over the past nearly thirty years has led the way in transforming the comics industry, often against the wishes of the corporate entities trying to control it. His body of work represents the very finest the medium has to offer: The Ballad of Halo Jones, From Hell, Promethea, V for Vendetta, and a number of other titles.
Undoubtedly Moore’s finest work, his most influential and important work, and probably the single greatest achievement of the comics medium, is Watchmen. Every single aspect of this comic is perfect. The characters are all believable, and their motivations, although often dark and twisted, are also entirely human. The storyline unfolds slowly and beautifully, a master-class in how to use comics to tell your story in a way that no other medium can offer. There is real emotional depth in the book, something that certainly was not seen as a priority in comics up to that point. All this is complimented by Dave Gibbons’ brilliant artwork, again probably the finest storytelling artwork in any comic, ever. Watchmen is the product of two fine creators at the absolute top of their game, and will probably never be surpassed.
I would have liked to add that Alan Moore is also a fine and entertaining interviewee, a funny guy, and a damn fine dinner companion, but this would surely be seem as boasting!
Wim: I don’t like lists, at least not the kind that force you to kill your darlings: Your Favourite Books Of The Year, The Best Movie Ever, Top Ten Burgundy Reds of All Time, that kind of thing. Desert Island Discs? Pur-lease!
Still, the FPI blog’s first lustrum is a good enough reason to throw your principles overboard, so no MacManus, no Jijé, no Franquin, not even a Herriman or a Walt Kelly. If I can choose only one author to spotlight, it has to be Hergé. Hergé was the one who got me hooked on comics with “Objectif Lune”. He taught me to read pictures as well as text. From his earliest books onwards, he took an already blossoming artform and distilled it into a perfect pictorial narrative language.
Hergé’s importance and influences can hardly be underestimated. His studio nourished talent like Roger Leloup, Jacques Martin and, of course, Bob De Moor. Together with André Franquin and Jijé, Hergé defined the look, the subject matter and the atmosphere of comics for decades, with his own work, and as editor of Tintin Magazine. European comics went through many waves of growing up and maturing, but Hergé’s adagium never faded, and was taken up by new generations of cartoonists again and again: always be as clear as possible when you’re telling a story, whether it’s in your art or your narrative style.
Hergé’s masterpiece, of course, is Tintin (although Quick & Flupke have their charms as well). Yes, before it was a fashion brand or a property that was being turned into a movie, Tintin was one of the best, if not the best comic that Europe ever produced. And the best album, in my opinion, is L’Ile Noir (the Black Island) – it’s an self-contained story that you can read without really knowing the whole Tintin back history, it’s full of intrigue and suspense, it’s got bandits, monsters and stunts with airplanes, and it’s got some of the best comic scenes in the series. For Tintinophiles, however, it is above all the best example of Hergé constantly refining his art, redoing parts of the book again and again (and in the sixties having Bob De Moor creating a complete new version from scratch).
That the book is set in Scotland, is only fitting in this occasion, this fifth anniversary of the FPI Blog. After all, how else to thank and honour Joe, our beloved editor?
Joe: Of course now I am asking myself just why I put myself into the position of picking a single writer. There are so many that I admire and more than a few who often call to me from my overflowing shelves and demand that they be re-read once more, even although I have many new works waiting for attention. Yes, Mr Moore, how often have Watchmen and V For Vendetta called me irresistibly back, interrupting my reading of new work? Mr Ellis and his Transmetropolitan which is a series always worthy of reading and re-reading. Mr Ennis and his fine expletive filled Preacher. The works of John Wagner and Pat Mills who have shaped and warped my imagination since tender childhood. Alex Robinson. Paul Chadwick. Mike Mignola. Grant Morrison. Bryan Talbot. Joe Sacco. Chris Ware. Some creators I didn’t even know before I came here, like Alison Bechdel or Jeff Lemire. Too many to list – and I haven’t even started on the wonderful SF&F novelists I read every week too! Truly there is treasure everywhere.
But I said I’d highlight one name from the world of comics and I will and those who know me will not be surprised that it is Neil Gaiman, nor that, if pointing someone to only one body of work of his it would be the Sandman. I grew up with comics. Every week in the 70s like literally millions of other British kids I’d have the Beano, the Dandy, the Topper, Warlord, Action and then something wonderful and new, 2000 AD, back when the year 2000 really did seem so distant, the science fiction future age of jetcars and robot butlers. And when I got into my late teens and early 20s I struggled. I still loved comics but finding work that appealed to me at an older age (I’d hesitate to use the term mature since that infers qualities I don’t always have!). Oh there had been some – Miller’s Dark Knight, Spiegelman’s Maus, there was Revolver and Deadline and Crisis too. But I found The Sandman one day in the Glasgow Forbidden Planet and I was drawn back in, every month I was back in the habit of waiting impatiently for the next issue (and those of you who have only known it in collection form must remember, we had to wait each month for years and years to follow it all originally). And because of that and because of the new Vertigo imprint that sprung up around it and Hellblazer I explored more comics each month. Which lead me in meandering paths to try all sorts of works I’d never have read otherwise from other publishers like Fantagraphics, D&Q, Top Shelf…
And that, to me, is the mark of a good comic or book and of a fine writer – not just that you read their work and feel satisfied, but that you are left with the urge to read more. Not just of their work but other works. I’ve always been a reader and it is always such a joy to find an author who inspires that love of the printed page and leaves you wanting to read more, more, more, try different works, works you’d never have picked up before. Yes, I could talk about Neil’s ability to layer his tales so wonderfully, delicately lacing them with myth and folklore and references to world literature, or how his Sandman unfolded over years, new chapters connecting with past events, like Straczynski’s Babylon 5 multiple small parts coming together and recombining into new aspects of a greater tale. But that’s all been said and at greater length before. The reason I’m picking it is simply because it made me want to read more. I can say nothing better of any writer than that. And I think really its why we write here; in our own, humbler way we want to encourage readers to pick up good, new works and celebrate those talents and share them with others. That’s what it’s about. We hope sometimes we’ve lead you to a book you might not have picked up otherwise and you’ve loved it. And we thank you for joining us.