And here we are, on the far side of the bells. The very far side of the bells I’ll grant you, but I was far too drunk/hung over/asleep on New Year’s Day to even think about looking at a screen, and then there were some family commitments I had to take care of. So, anyway, here we all are now. A Happy New Year to all of you – I truly hope that 2009 brings you nothing but joy and happiness.
It’s time to announce the final categories in the Jester Awards 2008, so without further ado, lets get ourselves out of the bar* and pay due homage to the people who made the comics that made 2008 so much better than it would have been without them.
There are three Jesters left for the year – Best Comic, Best Artist, and Best Writer.
Best Comic was a harder category to judge than I thought it would be. The sad truth is that the vast majority of comics out there in 2008 were, in my opinion, a bit shit. Given that melancholy fact, you’d imagine that the decision was relatively easy. The trouble is that the good comics were phenomenally good, and in the end separating the contenders was a genuinely hard thing to do.
Still, however heavily the responsibility lies on my shoulders, I am the Fool, and deciding this stuff is my job, so here we go.
In many ways, perhaps the most remarkable thing about this category is the comics that didn’t get anywhere near the cut. Given my history of Vespertiliophillia** you’d expect one of the Bat Books to be in the running – especially with the whole Batman R.I.P. thing they’ve got going on at the moment. But the sad truth is that I’ve not really been enjoying the Batbooks of late. I know the likes of DC don’t take a whole lot of notice of the likes of me – and why should they, they’re big important folks and I’m nothing but a fool with a forum, but you know what? All this endless “event” comics bollocks is really beginning to play on my nerves – especially with the Bat.
Over the last decade or more there has been a string of massive events hitting Gotham one after the other. I’d quite like to go back to the old days when the Bat’s stories focussed on him solving crimes and bringing the bad guys down. And don’t even get me started on Spider-Man.
The truth is that over the last twelve months there has been very little to match the brilliance of last year’s winner in this category, the still excellent DMZ. If I’m honest I considered giving the Jester to The DMZ again, on the grounds that there’s been nothing really to touch it.
But there has. Not from the so-called “major” publishers, I’ll grant you, but still there have been a few of great books to hit the shelves in the last twelve months. In many ways it’s a shame that nothing from the roster of books I was already reading came anywhere near taking The DMZ’s throne, but honestly, with the exception of the consistently good Fables there really isn’t much.
So, we can be thankful to the gods of comics for giving us three new wonders this year. Terry Moore was back, following up the insanely wonderful Strangers in Paradise with the science fiction conspiracy drama Echo. In many ways this couldn’t be more different than Strangers…. Here we have a top secret military weapon, deliberately destroyed along with its creator*** having a profound and rather personal impact on the central character, rather than a love triangle against the backdrop of organised crime that was at the core of SiP.
Except of course, this is still Terry Moore, and I’m pleased to be able to report that all of the things that made SiP so good are still here. If Image or Wildstorm were to make a comic out of the basic premise of Echo, there would be lots of spandex and explosions. Here (although there are indeed may explosions) the narrative attention is on the characters. Julie – the central character might well be bonded to a hi-tech super weapon, but she also has to deal with her estranged husband who is hassling her to sign divorce papers and an almost terminal lack of finance.
Moore has described Echo as “a woman living in today’s America who is dealing with a sudden unbelievable change to her daily life”**** which actually would also have perfectly described Francine and Katchoo, which sort of confirms the character-centric aspect of the book. The art is the same clean lined black and white work that still looks as good as ever and I for one am every bit as hooked on this as I was SiP.
Of course another master of the clean black and white line also returned with a new project in 2008. Bone creator Jeff Smith launched RASL – a project that couldn’t be more different from the series that made him famous. RASL tells the story if an inter-dimensional art thief and promises to be both innovative and full of intrigue.
It isn’t all left up to creative individuals working for themselves though. Between them the “majors” did manage to put out one brand new comic that really caught my full attention. Air is something quite different from what I was expecting, and quite different from most comics I’ve ever read. I genuinely have no idea where it’s going, where it came from or what it’s trying to say – if anything – but thus far the ride has been both enjoyable and intriguing, and hasn’t yet insulted my intelligence once.
Something of a record, and a return to form for Vertigo, which has been rather lacklustre for some considerable time. They even managed to get a Salman Rushdie reference into the first couple of pages of issue #1, which not only made me laugh, but as managed to make me feel intellectual. It’s a marvellous bit of work, and I’m very much enjoying watching it pan out – I don’t think I’ve felt this way about a comics since I discovered Sandman back in 1992*****, which is high praise indeed.
Ultimately it makes no difference, because good as it is, it hasn’t floated my boat as much as the winner of the Jester Award for Best Comic of 2008 which is, if there were any doubt, Echo by Terry Moore, published by Abstract Studios. All three contenders are worthy of your attention, but Echo is a seriously fine comic and if you’ve missed it so far, you need to catch up urgently.
The best artist gong was a truly difficult call. Regular readers will know that for me the art is secondary to the story, but that being said, the pictures are pretty much what makes comics different from regular prose and as such are pretty damn important. There are very few truly bad artists working in comics these days, and in the spirit of my continued attempts to maintain some measure of positivity I will definitely not be naming any of them here.
I’m not going to run through the contenders either, basically because there are so many of them. I have to be honest though, I did agonise long and hard about this award because I know it’s going to smack of bias. In the end though, I’m just going to go with it, because it’s so richly deserved. The Jester Award for Best Artist 2008 goes to the artist from Markosia’s Starship Troopers and Arden Press’s Flash Gordon, the incomparable Paul Green.
I’m going to be up front here and remind you all that Paul is also the artist on Sunset, my own comic******, and I think I should also acknowledge that it’s his involvement rather than mine that got the project green-lit. Ultimately though, that doesn’t make any difference. Nobody, and I do mean nobody has produced any art in the last twelve months that I’ve enjoyed more than Paul. Simple as that. His work on Flash Gordon has been jaw dropping, and I can only assume that a whole raft of major publishers are currently queuing up outside his door literally begging him to sign him up to pretty much every major character. Regardless of my personal connection to him, this is a well deserved award, which I reckon will be the first of many.
Which brings me to the final Jester for this year – the award for Best Writer. There were a lot of contenders here too. Previous winners Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis continue to dazzle, as does Bill Willingham on Fable as several others. Then of course, it’s a little difficult to give the “Best Comic” gong to a title conceived, written and drawn by a single individual and not also crown them as “Best Writer”, although that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
The Jester for Best Writer goes to somebody who has made a pretty reasonable attempt to write everything this year. He’s written for 2000AD*******, he’s written for The DFC. He’s even written for Doctor Who, which frankly would make him an earth bound god were it not for the fact that I’ve met him and I can’t quite imagine myself shaking hands with a god********.
The Jester for Best Writer, 2008 goes to the incomparable Tony Lee. Tony had a remarkable year. Prince of Baghdad is proving to be a romp and a half for younger readers of all ages (I know I’m loving it), and Doctor Who: The Forgotten is one of the most enjoyable doctor stories I’ve ever come across – it’s certainly hold its own against most of the TV episodes, except of course they’d never be able to get the cast together.
So, thanks Tony – in a year that needed some serious brightening you provided some of the comics that did just that.
And that’s it. The Jesters are over, as is 2008. All we need to do now is look forward to a new year of still undisclosed wonders and joys. Have a great New Year folks, I’ll be back on Wednesday********* with the first proper instalment of FoolBritannia for 2009. See you then!
*Yeah, I know, but you can’t stay in there all day!
**Oh, go on – look it up…
***And that’s not a spoiler, it happens in the first couple of pages of issue #1.
****Sadly, he said this to Newsarama, and not directly to me, which is a source of some regret. I really must get a decent interview schedule sorted out…
*****Yes, I was late to the party.
******And yes, I know. Look for more details on this belated and much delayed project early in the New Year.
*******Indeed, if I was giving an award for “most underrated story” he’d be winning that too given the inexplicable reaction he got from some quarters to the story in question.
********As an atheist I suspect it would be a little awkward for both parties…
*********Because I’m determined to be on schedule this year…