We hit the business end of the countdown, with British folkloric horror, environmental myths, cold war paranoia and exciting new talents.
#20 Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen (Humanoids)
This graphic novel from humanoids H1 imprint sees a young girl and her family holiday in a creepy cottage in rural Northumberland and along the way they rile up some ancient spirits thanks to their hitherto unknown ancestry. Writer Helen Mullane has crafted a wonderfully British horror tale that brings together elements of classic folklore with contemporary horror and 21st century characterisation to create a really compelling read. With artists Dom Reardon, Matthew Dow Smith, colourist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Rob Jones all adding some extra flavour to the story, this is one witches potion which manages to mix magic and mystery perfectly to create a really smart and contemporary creepy tale.
#19 Raze (Good Comics)
Claire Spillers Lost Light was a beautiful look at how light pollution affects our natural world, and Raze follows the same thematic path. This time looking at the impact of roads on our landscape and nature. Using beautiful monochrome artwork punctuated with a glowing yellow deer like creature, this is a sublimely told story that builds from a surreal world of mythical creatures to the present day with all the elements handled with equal aplomb. This an ambitious and affecting read that got a bit lost in the hustle and bustle of the year. However this is one of those books and creators who, bring a quiet brilliance to the world of small press comics and this is one of those books you can return to and enjoy again and again as it’s message only becomes more relevant with time.
#18 Neurotic Fiction (Joe Stone)
It’s been a busy year for Joe Stone (Stutter) as well as developing two anthologies (Success and Failure) for his WIP Comics collective, he has also put together this wonderful collection of three inter-connected short stories. The stories are a mix of surreal sci-fi, heartfelt emotional rawness and a really awkward dinner date, and Joe manages to make them all feel completely unique, but also part of a larger work. His immaculate linework packs every page with nuance and detail while the individual colour schemes for each story help them to stand out in their own right. Joe has a really strong sense of originality and a really unique voice within small press, and every new book he creates only helps cement his reputation as a real talent to watch.
#17 The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott (Avery Hill Publishing)
Avery Hill have a real knack of finding exciting new talent (introducing us to the likes of Rachael Smith and Tillie Walden among others for the first time) and after reading this book for the first we have a feeling the name Zoe Thorogood may be joining that list very soon. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott is an incredibly affecting debut that follows a young artist who must complete seven pieces of art for a gallery before losing her sight. It has the biographical depth of a true story and brings a real emotional depth and range to the story. While scratchy stylised artwork mixes sublime detail with rough and expressive characterisation. Everything about this book is executed so well that it feels like it has come from an established name. And as such we can’t help but feel we will be writing about Zoe’s work for many years to come.
#16 The King (John Tucker)
Another truly one of a kind book from John Tucker (Bald, Adrift, Plan A/Plan B). This time we were challenged to review a book without giving away anything that happens after the first couple of pages – which is quite challenging when the entire concept of the book is built around that reveal. Suffice to say, this reveal is so weird and wonderful that we had to play along (and still will) as it really does make this into such a unique and original book when read without prior knowledge. What we can say is that Tucker’s surreal sense of humour and expressive art style creates these fresh and original small press comics and every one is a treat and a delight, packed full of invention and daftness. Another winner from a small press creators whose work is always required reading, and we can’t wait to see what his longer from book Murder will bring us in 2021!
#15 Tiny Acts of Violence
We love it when a highly ambitious and intricate story lands on our desk fully formed, and this graphic novel from Martin Stiff managed just that. A twisting and turning spy story set in east Germany in the 50s, it reads as if Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips adapted a John le carre spy novel. Stiff has expertly built this wonderful story of a former Stasi agent and a journalist who is investigating his shady past. Packed full of twists and turns and an underlying tone of political paranoia, this is the complete package, visually impressive and packed with detail and plenty of depth. It’s complex and intertwined story is ambitious and wide ranging and the artwork brings out every moment of tension. This is a really accomplished book from an exciting creator and one which is all the better for the scale and size of its development prior to publishing.
#14 A Dark Interlude (Vault Comics)
We return to the world of the Fearscape for this sequel to Ryan O’Sullivan’s complex and high concept fantasy series. Writer Henry Henry is in jail after the events of the first Fearscape series, but his work lives on and his publisher desperately wants to use his therapy writing as their next cash cow. After the highly self aware but glorious told high fantasy of Fearscape, A Dark Interlude turns its satirical gaze to sequel culture and continues to mix glorious other worlds with smart literary analysis and criticism. It reads like the Sandman mixed with Graham Greene and has this depth and intelligence to its writing that is second to none. All wrapped up in a glorious fantasy world from artist Andrea Mutti, this is one of the brightest jewels in the ever growing Vault Comics crown and one of the most complete and ambitious indie comics around.
#13 Victory Point (Avery Hill Publishing)
Owen Pommery’s Victory Point is a glorious sun kissed tale of a walk down memory lane, as Ellen returns home to the coastal town where she grew up with her father. It is an effortlessly charming and gloriously conceived thought piece on returning home, based in one of the most unique settings we have seen in a comic. It is one of those books which appears simple and lightweight on first impressions, yet is layered with subtle intricacies that you aborb slowly but surely as you read and take in this wonderful book. There are so many hidden depths and little touches in there that make this into a compelling read, yet they aren’t showy or in your face, they are just immaculately placed in order to create the wonderful mood and vibe for the story. The location is also the true star with Pommery creating a wonderfully nostalgic yet contemporary town that you want to inhabit not just read about.
#12 GIGA (Vault Comics)
Set in a world where giant mechs have become colonies for human beings, Alex Paknadels’ new book is as epic in scale as the mech’s he casts at it’s core. But this is so much more than a Transformers’ wannabe book as he layers on religious and scientific allegories as well as commentary on the environment and pollution. All within a buddy/quest story featuring a boy in a wheelchair and his robot chum. Paknadel’s epic world building is brought to life by some exquisite artwork from John Lé, who gives it the personality and character similar to Gustaffo Vargas’ South American Cyberpunk world of MANU, but with the detail and intricacy of a Geof Darrow book. As with Paknadel’s other work like Friendo or this year’s awesome Redfork from TKO Studios, the story builds and develops slowly, introducing more depth with every page. When all is said and done, this story looks set to be as epic as the giant mech’s at it’s core.
#11 Rok the God (Red Rok Comics)
After producing a winning formula for Rok of The Reds, the team of comics legends John Wagner and Alan Grant, alongside artist Dan Cornwell have once again laced up their boots for another season with their intergalactic soccer sensation! Whether you’re a footie fan or not this is one of those classic British comics that is just packed with great story telling from start to finish, that means you can’t help but enjoy it. As Rok returns to his home world to take on the mantle of god like leader, his team on Earth begin to struggle without him. It’s a perfect mix of throwback sports-based story telling alongside some epic intergalactic sci-fi. But thanks to it’s expert creative team, who are firing on all cylinders here, they manage to balance both sides of the story to create a truly match winning combination!