Best of the Year 2013 – Roland Gulliver
Each December we have a tradition on the FP blog where as well as the blog crew picking out their favourites we run a daily series all month long from friends in the comics and SF&F worlds, writers, artists, editors, reviewers picking out their Best of the Year selections so we get a much more diverse range of good recommendations for you (see here for the guest BoY 2013 posts so far). And yes, we realise it is now January! But we had a bumper crop of responses to our invites to take part so we’ve got a few more to get through yet! But as this means even more fine recommendations and another chance to highlight some top works and creators I reckon we’re all pretty happy with that!
Today we welcome Roland Gulliver to his first time taking part in our guest Best of the Year series. I suspect quite a few of our readers would have bumped into Roland in August, as he is an associate director at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and was very involved (and enthused for) the massive Stripped series of comics events the EIBF held in 2013. Let’s have a look at what caught his eye over the last year:
FPI: Can you pick three comics/webcomics/graphic novels which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Roland: My 2013 was a year of discover and rediscovery in the world of comics and graphic novels. In particular, I rediscovered the joy of the serialised story, restoring my faith in the future of books and comics. Nothing beats the excitement of a new issue of your favourite comic! My two absolute favourites this year: The Phoenix Comic and VS Comics.
The Phoenix, because not only are we all big kids, but every week provides great stories full of adventures and jokes. It is no longer about the tat stuck to the front, it is about genuine quality. They have a great variety of styles, genres and forms, Pirates of Pangaea being a particular favourite. Plus they provide a pointer into what will be published in the coming years.
VS Comics is Phoenix for grown ups. Available monthly online, it shows that there is a future in digital publishing; it doesn’t all have to be downloaded for free. Published as a pdf it is great to read on an iPad, delivering fantastic plots, strikingly drawn. Eponymous and Night & Day, are classic, dark, dystopian thrillers but this is counterbalanced by the subtlety and poignancy of Swan Song.
Of all the great graphic novels I have discovered this year, I am reluctant to pick a favourite, but I loved Drowntown. Created by Robbie Morrison and Jim Murphy (who both have worked on 2000AD, the favourite comic of my youth), it is stunningly and cleverly drawn, a visual feast, very different from the normal Cape style of graphic novel. And the plot has all the elements of classic noir story- mystery, sharp one-liners, bike chases, femme fatales and talking pandas!
FPI: Can you pick three books which you especially enjoyed over the last twelve months and tell us why you singled them out?
Roland: Ron Rash was my real discovery of this year, a master short story writer who can carry it across into his novels. His short stories are incredible. Taut and wrought with tension, he continually surprise you, you expect a sucker punch but he delivers it like a knife in the ribs. The opening story in Burning Bright is probably the most moving I will ever read and the story of the young gamblers in Nothing Gold Stays joyously usurps your expectations.
Alongside him, Pedro Lenz’s Naw Much of a Talker is a feast for the ear. Originally written in Swiss slang, it has been translated by Donal McLaughlin into Glaswegian. It echoes with the voice of Kelman, washed up in the existential world of Knut Hamsun. It tells the story of Goalie, a patter-merchant, fresh out of the jail, trying to come to terms with reality of his life, and the truth about his friends and the woman he loves.
This may be cheating but Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece blew me away. It highlights why graphic novels are so unique in their ability to tell stories and completely destroys the myth that comics are escapist frivolities. A detective story that uncovers the violence and racism of the deep south, drawn in simple black and white, it is powerful, challenging stuff.
FPI: How did 2013 go for you as a creator? Are you happy with the way you got your work out this year?
Roland: 2013 was a very exciting year. The Edinburgh International Book Festival presented a major focus on comics and graphic novels as part of the programme in August. With over 40 events, Stripped looked at comics and graphic novels in all their forms for both children and adults. It featured major names like Chris Ware, Joe Sacco, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Posy Simmons alongside some of the most exciting new authors and artists- Hannah Berry, Glyn Dillon, Jon McNaught, Gareth Brookes, to name but a few. As well as focusing on the international range of writing, we also celebrated Scotland’s contribution, in particular, to the Beano to 2000AD to Marvel and DC. In addition we held our own comic fair highlighting independent Scottish creators and producers. We managed to entice the comic audience into the literary world of Charlotte Square Gardens, and we encouraged our regular audience to not be afraid this innovative and exciting literary genre.
(Stripped posters in Charlotte Square during the Edinburgh International Book Festival celebrating the increased comics segment of the lit fest this year, pic from my Flickr)
Overall all the 2013 festival was a great success with ticket sales and books sale increasing significantly. And not only that, the sun shone!
FPI: What can we look forward to from you in 2014?
Roland: Having created Stripped in 2013, comics and graphic novels are now integral part of our literary programme. One of the exciting things of researching the 2013 programme was to discover how intertwined comics were with other forms. Writers and readers are referencing and being inspired across the art forms. So with that in mind, we will explore not only the great graphic novels and comics being produced in the next 12 months but also look at how, like other literary genres, they can respond to our festival themes for next year.
FPI: Anyone you think is a name we should be watching out for next year?
Roland: The great thing about my job is that I get to spend the autumn and winter discovering what everybody is publishing in the coming months. It is a truly unique experience and is what drives the creative energy behind making the programme. Alongside the big names, I love discovering the new debut and international literary voices. One of the early titles to hit gold recently is a collection of short stories by a young Irish writer called Colin Barrett. Young Skins has been published in Ireland by Stinging Fly Press (they first published the brilliant Kevin Barry) and will be published by Cape in the UK next Spring. It is a collection of stories full of the grit and grime of being young and bored, where drink and violence are the only escape but is told with style, energy and humour. They may city tales but the solace of the land are within in reach; stories of destruction but imbibed with humour and hope. “Calm with Horse” is the epic centre piece of the collection and at 70 pages could pass for a novella.