British comics killed it in 2014. From THE WICKED + THE DIVINE's gods of pop culture to Raygun Roads' gonzoid tales of insobriety, independent British publishers have fought for the fact that we no longer have to look to the US for all that's great about graphic novels.
As host of the British Comic Awards (BCA) Lisa Ward (Tula Lotay), puts it, "There's never been as many British comic publishers. New ones have sprung up – like Blank Slate Press, Nobrow and SelfMadeHero – and many were nominated for Eisner Awards this year. It's all helping to fuel this incredible creativity that is going on with British writers and artists."
The question is, though: can 2015 match up? We asked the British comic artists that triumphed in 2014 what, exactly, made it such an awesome year and the titles we should watch for in the year to come.
ALISON SAMPSON, GENESIS
Sampson has been steadily building a name for herself over the last few years with a style that manages to make every page as intoxicating as some shamanic hallucinogens. Managing Think of a City, an endless source of the some of the finest graphic artwork out there, she won this year's BCA award for Best Newcomer.
VICE: Why has it been such a good year for British comics?
Alison Sampson: The variety gets better and better every year. There is an increasing market for all sorts of stories – not just superheroes – and there are people here who can fill that gap, bringing a new voice to the conversation.
Collaboration and publishing internationally is easier than ever, allowing people unprecedented exposure, wider markets and the ability to sell anywhere. You don't need to be signed off by a publisher. All you need is an internet connection, some kind of scanner, paper and a pen.
What British comics should we be excited about next year?
Ian Culbard's adaptation of The King in Yellow – Robert W. Chambers' short stories depicted in the grimacing crime drama True Detective – is a 144-page graphic novel based on the supernatural tail of a forbidden play that induces madness in those who read it. Kinda like a pagan version of The Ring.
Liam Cobb's Death of a Crow must be the most surreal ode to a Kia Ora ad ever to grace the printed page. His dystopian work has lead to him being asked to do a guest issue on the apocalyptic Spread series. The combination is a Lynchian wet dream.
OWEN MICHAEL JOHNSON, RAYGUN ROADS
Raygun Roads tells the story of Vince Paradise and his cosmic punk band. It was almost offensively vivid in its graphic style but saved its conscientious side for an all-out attack on capitalism. Johnson is working with Leeds-based artist John Pearson on Beast Wagon next year, an anthropomorphic comic book set in a zoo with a homicidal goat called Abacus. It explores the violence we inflict on one another, both physically and psychologically.
VICE: Why has it been such a good year for British comics?
Owen Michael Johnson: British comics are challenging and challenged right now. I find that restlessness electrifying. 2014 saw an explosion of diverse comics across the country. For an industry not always historically willing to evolve, 2014 saw key debates occurring on topics ranging from diversity to gender equality. And fantastic micro-publishers like Avery Hill Publishing and Dogooder Comics are originating, printing and distributing great comics."
How do you think British and American comics differ?
British comics have a tendency to be nastier and grimier than their bigger brother, with a healthy anti-authoritarian bent. Perhaps it's telling that the monolith of UK comics, 2000AD, was born from the frustration of 1970s Britain and the nihilism of 80s Britain. 2000AD was punk and – like the birth of punk – found its roots in the disenfranchised. I see a resurgence of this sentiment recently, a call for something to change.
What can we expect in 2015 for Raygun?
There are no more issues planned. The comic was unconsciously and without ceremony created as a vigil; our will-power antidote to the apathy and despondency felt during the time it was made.
What British comics should we be excited about next year then?
Freak Out Squares by Harry French, Garry Mac & Harry Saxon from Unthank Comics. Following a similar neon visual trajectory to Raygun Roads , the four-issue series' main crux is that music's biggest rebels are government-controlled tools of suppression. That punk was all a Tory lead initiative to quell the disenfranchised youth. #3 hits in spring.
Earlier this month The Motherless Oven landed in comic shops; a simple tale of growing up, but told with the awkwardness of your teenage brother. Throw in a tripped out narrative that includes the main character's mum as a hairdryer and you've got one of the most intensely unhinged graphic novels of the year. Davis is already working on an as-of-yet-unannounced book for 2015, so I'd look out for that.
An finally, Iain Laurie is a Scot that makes weird-out horror comics. Next year brings issue #5 and #6 of his series And Then Emily Was Gone as well as a follow up with writer John Lees, a guest spot on psychopath killer comic Oxymoron and a new series of Undertow with Steve Orlando.
KIERON GILLEN AND JAMIE MCKELVIE, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE
Gillen and McKelvie seem to have taken over the comic book world with THE WICKED + THE DIVINE . With McKelvie set to take a break from the comic to continue the pair's affliction for anglophilia in Phonogram #3 (see below), the third arc of WikDiv, due later this year, will feature a guest artist per issue. Brockley has never had so much attention.
The long anticipated Phonogram 3, Gillen and McKelvie's Ying to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE's Yang lands next year alongside the second and third arc of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE. The Phonogram series started in 2006 and was last published in 2008, with each issue taking inspiration from album art ranging from Black Grape to Pulp and The Knife to TV On The Radio.
VICE: What were your influences on WikDiv? Did you expect it to boom as much as it did?
Kieron Gillen: Our general opinion of comics as a medium is that it takes from literally everything. All the serious creators that I like aren't just comics purists. I've got a background as a culture critic; I used to write about music, video games and all kinds of crap. Jamie's really into music so picks up the design of the people. We essentially did this big, brash statement of everything we ever loved in pop culture and it seemed to find an audience, which was kind of shocking.
Why have British comics had such a great year?
Kieron: It's an apex of a series of trends. When we started, our books were black and white and looked really photocopied and crap. Then the British small press got really fucking serious.
Jamie McKelvie: When there's really high quality and curated work on display, it fires people up. Every year there seems to be more energy. People get together; see what everyone else is doing and it pushes them.
What's coming next year that we should be excited about?
Julia Scheele Kickstarted her Riot Grrrl fanzine Double Dare Ya, a collection of comics and essays on radical feminism earlier this year alongside a guest slot on Punchface, as well as illustrating VICE UK's top secret meeting with one of Silk Road's biggest drug lords . Check out her One Beat Zines.
John Allison's web comics have been garnering him praise for his writing all year. With the third collection of the Bad Machinery series landing in comic stores this month came the news that Boom Box will be releasing a new collection of Giant Days . The new story is that classic combination of Fresher's Week students and women's boxing.
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