Desert Island Comics – Episode 45 – Ricky Miller
The latest instalment in our plot to kidnap and castaway the creative talents of the UK comic industry. They just think this is a fun feature borrowed from the Radio 4 series, right up until they wake up on one of our exclusive desert islands somewhere in the Pacific (you thought the international part of our name simply referred to the New York branch?)
This time it’s the turn of Ricky Miller, the man in charge over at Avery Hill Publishing, and responsible not only for the publication of the very well received Reads anthology (issue 1, issue 2) but also the very attractive Tiny Dancing arts magazine. Avery Hill fits the description of boutique publishing very well, and I mean that as a compliment; they produce their works on the small scale, but there’s a lot of dedication goes into every piece.
Miller isn’t just a publisher though, he also turns his hand to writing and drawing and does it rather well, writer of the supernatural strip Hilary Harper, and writer and artist on the bizarre Metroland, which mixes time-travel and the drama of your average indie band to create something interesting.
Desert Island Comics – Episode 45 – Ricky Miller
Sandman #13 by Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli
We tend to like our art in bulk nowadays; box sets, omnibus editions, movie trilogies, etc, etc. While I like all of those things and have as many (at least) bulky hardback, slip-cased editions on my shelf as the next geek, for my comics it’s the individual issue format that I most love. So first off I’m going for a true standalone, which is the story “Men of Good Fortune”, also known as part 4 of “The Doll’s House”.
I could have chosen many comics from this period at DC/Vertigo. I loved Shade, the Changing Man, Animal Man, Books of Magic and Doom Patrol, but this issue of Sandman is the one that’s stayed with me the most over the years. With Sandman it wasn’t the multi-part stories that interested me the most, it was the one-offs that I felt Gaiman excelled at. This story is about a man who refuses to accept that he has to die and agrees to meet up with Dream every one hundred years in a London pub to let him know how he’s getting on. It’s about life, the history of London and in the end it’s about friendship.
DC: The New Frontier (Absolute Edition) by Darwyn Cooke
Now on to one of those massive Absolute editions! I first read this in a single sitting, and it was one of the most thrilling comics I’ve ever read. Everything about it screams out LOVE. This is a man pouring everything into his work, and not just any man, it’s Darwyn Cooke, the greatest modern cartoonist. Get the Absolute Edition and look at the section at the back where he shows off all of the sketches and massive splash pages that he did just for kicks and didn’t even make it into the finished comics.
There’s a story that Darwyn Cooke did once also pitch Marvel with the idea of doing something similar with their 60s characters. Presumably it would have involved the formation of the Avengers along with Spidey, the X-Men, Doctor Strange…it would have been astonishing and one day it has to happen. There’s even physical evidence of what this might have looked like to torture us.
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Obviously all of these Scott Pilgrim books are brilliant but this one seemed to resonate most with me. Maybe it’s Lisa Miller, maybe (probably) it’s Knives and Kim making out, maybe it’s the happy ending…but this book kills me. When I read it I genuinely had to keep putting it down every few pages as I couldn’t take how good it was. It made me feel like he’d reached into my brain, taken out every good idea I would ever have, turned them up to genius level and then executed them a million times better than I ever could. It DESTROYS me; but it’s so good that I can’t even hate it.
From Hell Chapter 4 by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
From Hell is one of those works that seems to exist just as a GIANT book. It is monumental in every conceivable way and overall I think it probably is the greatest achievement in comics. What I’d like to focus on here is chapter 4, which is the one where Dr Gull makes Netley drive him around the London churches designed by ‘the devil’s architect’ Hawksmoor. It’s a history of London, an investigation of its hidden treasures, a work of mysticism and an artistic triumph.
I did a homage to this in an issue of Reads where I got two of my Metroland characters to drive around and discuss the history of various London music venues. It wasn’t as good.
Batman Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Miller, Mazzuchelli, Lewis and Klein, four masters at the top of their game. The very best Batman story in my opinion and it’s the take on the character that I most identify with; it’s definitive. But also it’s the definitive Bruce Wayne story, the definitive Catwoman story, and, most significantly, the definitive Jim Gordon story. Just look at what it manages to do from the point of view of character development whilst also quite brilliantly encompassing the origin story of all of those characters. And that’s just the writing! Look at the art goddammit, look at the art!!! A lot has been said about Snyder and Capullo’s run on Batman, but this team here accomplish more in four issues, yes, just four issues, than any other team has done in any number of issues since and they do it at a level no other team has ever reached.
Uncanny X-Men #137 (The Dark Phoenix Saga) by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
While I would include the whole of this story, I want to highlight the last part. For me it’s incredible that this part even exists. Any other creative team would have been happy with the ending they gave themselves the issue before, with Professor X taking down Dark Phoenix and saving everybody. It would have been a brilliant story with a (relatively) satisfying conclusion that would still have been up there with the best of its kind. However Claremont and Byrne aren’t any old team, they’re the best at what they do. Instead of resting on their laurels they pull the rug from under everyone at the end of issue #136, move the action to the moon, bring in The Watcher to do a plot recap(!) and the Shi‘ar for a massive battle. Then just when you think our heroes have won the day again, they throw in another twist and kill off a major character in one of the most moving scenes in comics! Plus the cover is awesome. The X-Men have been dining out on this run ever since.
Cerebus #162 by Dave Sim and Gerhard
This probably seems like a random issue to choose but hopefully it will explain things to say this is the first issue of Cerebus I ever purchased. And more than that, this was my gateway drug into the indie self-publishing scene. Cerebus has influenced me more than any comic in how I view self-publishing, creator-ownership and the potential of the medium itself. And at a smaller level it lead to us twenty years later naming our comics anthology Reads as a reference to the picture books in the Cerebus universe. Without this issue I wouldn’t have discovered Bone, Strangers in Paradise, Hepcats, Thieves & Kings, A Distant Soil and many, many others. The issue itself is stunning from cover to strip, to a 3-page essay by Sim attacking another notable person in comics, to the legendary letters pages and then a one-pager about Bert and Ernie by one of the many creators Sim helped to spotlight. It blew my little superhero-infested mind at the time. I confess I’ve never finished Cerebus. It wasn’t the controversy stuff that put me off, I just got very bored of some of the later storylines, but there are at least 150 issues of near-perfection in the series that everyone needs to check out.
Saga Absolute Omnibus Complete Edition Part One (Containing Issues 1-1000) by Bryan K Vaughn and Fiona Staples
The more astute amongst you will probably realise that this doesn’t actually exist and that Vaughan and Staples are only up to issue #8 (at the time of writing) of what is probably the best thing being published in comics at the moment. But trust me, this ride is going to be amazing; get on it now (Volume 1 is all we can do quite yet I’m afraid!)
Luxury Item: A Beagle puppy.
Well, strictly speaking to comply with the strict non-living rules for luxuries this has to either be i) a stuffed Beagle puppy or ii) a super-hi-tech robotic A.I. style beagle puppy. We think Ricky would far prefer the moving AI to the stuffed version, so that’s what will be greeting him, tail wagging, electronic bark activated, as he washes up on the shore.