Forbidden Planet International is a comics and SF retailer with locations in a number of cities in the U.K., Ireland, and one well-known store in Manhattan, stocking one of the largest and most diverse range of comics and toys in the country.
Based in the BlogCave deep under Edinburgh (in the branch that grew from the Science Fiction Bookstore, one of the UK’s oldest specialist SF stores, dating back to 1975) I look after the books and graphic novels on our large webstore and also set up and edit the FPI blog, now approaching its seventh year. With the blog we wanted to be able to share our enthusiasm for all things comics and science fiction and also, hopefully, to give something back to the community by highlighting good work from any quarter that we think deserves a wider readership and helping create awareness of new writers, artists, publishers and events.
I’m especially pleased with the way the U.K.’s vibrant small press scene has come to see us as “their” blog to the extent that we receive independent works to review, along with news of new works, exhibitions and events regularly from the creators on the scene. We’re also covering the larger publishers and work from outside the U.K.-U.S. scene, with a regular column on comics work from Europe.
We’ve even had some terrific cub reporters – kids reading the works aimed at younger readers then telling us what they thought of them, which is much better than us boring adults pontificating on kid’s lit! (Our main comics reviewer, Richard, has set up a hugely popular comics library in his primary school, the kids are loving it, not just reading the books but then sharing their thoughts with us afterwards.)
For this selection, December being a quiet time for publications, half of my recommends will be new books due this month, the other half will be some of the works from the last few months that will be making their way into my annual Best of the Year list later this month.
The Annotated Sandman Volume 1 Hardcover, Neil Gaiman, Leslie S Klinger at al (DC Comics)
Leslie S. Klinger, who gave us the fascinating Annotated Dracula and Annotated Sherlock Holmes, turns his meticulous eye on my favourite comic fantasy of all time: Neil Gaiman’s remarkable Sandman. The Sandman is a beautifully layered work, weaving elements of world literature and mythology throughout its eight year run and Leslie’s Annotated volume should be essential reading for those of us who were drawn in through the Gates of Horn and Ivory and prefer the Dreaming to the so-called real world. I suspect this will be a work to sit alongside genre must-haves like the Annotated Alice.
Kramer’s Ergot Volume 8 Hardcover, Various (Picturebox)
One of the most acclaimed comics anthologies in the business, many of us worried about Kramer’s Ergot when its home, the very fine Buenaventura Press, ceased publishing. I’m delighted to see it returning this month from Picturebox (who have some excellent comics and graphic work in their stable already). This new incarnation will be smaller and focus on a tighter group of artists but should still be the essential collection for showcasing some of the best comics work out there, a good place for regular readers to find new work and perfect also for new comics readers to be introduced to some of the diverse talent working in the biz right now. A great introduction to comics outside the mainstream capes’n’tights genre.
The Survivalist, Box Brown (Blank Slate Books)
Brit indy comics publisher Blank Slate’s new Chalk Marks imprint is inspired by Fantagraphics’ excellent Ignatz series, low price, short work on quality paper comic with flaps rather than a full length graphic novel, it’s a very affordable way to try new work. Box Brown is an artist to watch for and this tale of a conspiracy theorist who is proved right and finds himself the only one left after a disaster looks cracking.
DC Comics : The New 52 Hardcover, Various (DC Comics)
In September, the venerable DC Comics tried a bold experiment – their entire superhero universe was rebooted, with a staggering 52 new issue #1s published through the month. The New 52 offered a chance to ditch decades of continuity that weighed down new story arcs and put off new readers from trying to get into ongoing series. It also allowed superstar scribes like Grant Morrison to have fun re-imagining Superman as a young hero, just starting out, more like his original 30s in terms of powers, a much more interesting character in many ways than the almost omnipotent demi-god we’re used to. This volume collects all the first issues – obviously you’ll like some more than others, but overall our blog crew were very impressed with a lot of the new series. I even fell for the old-school charms of The Flash again for the first time since I was a boy. For the Sheldon Cooper in your life.
Walking Dead Volume 15 : We Find Ourselves, Kirkman & Adlard (Image Comics)
The TV incarnation has successfully brought zombies to the weekly audiences, but the original comic series by Kirkman and Adlard is still the superior offering. You think Rick and company get a tough time on the TV show? In the comics (now up to volume 15, yikes!) the larger cast is really put through the wringer. There is gore and horror, but as with the zombie movies of the master, George Romero, this is far more about the human drama than the brain munchers. Simply one of the best ongoing comics series around.
Every December we have daily guest posts from various writers and artists picking out some of their favourite books and comics of the year, alongside the choices from the blog crew. Here’s a wee look at some of the works that will be featuring on my own list this year:
Nelson, edited by Rob Davis & Woodrow Phoenix (Blank Slate Books)
Blank Slate has been establishing itself as a powerhouse indy comics press in the U.K., with both new home-grown talent and European translations. Nelson is their most ambitious work so far, an anthology with over 50 of the finest comics creators on the U.K. scene today, each of them taking a single day in the life of a woman, Nel, from her birth in swinging sixties London (beautifully drawn and realised) to the modern day. The art changes constantly but so to does Nel’s life, as any of our lives do, and I was totally drawn in to an astonishing story, like a series of snapshots of a person’s life, the ups, the downs, the joys and sadness. The book is also a form of snapshot of the vibrant U.K. comics scene right now, showcasing artists from the up and coming to the internationally established. And the proceeds of the first run are going to homelessness charity Shelter (a lot of retailers are also donating some of the sales profits to the charity), so it’s buy a good book and do some good too. A remarkable, unusual work that deserves support.
Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec Volume 2 Hardcover, Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics)
French writer/artist Jacques Tardi is one of the world’s greatest comics creators and I’ve been delighted to see Fantagraphics publishing a series of his works into English, from crime to war to these wonderful adventures, which are like Tintin, Tomb Raider, and Indiana Jones combined, set in Belle Époque Paris. Each volume in the series collects two of the French BD albums, so you get two tales, this time taking in some fine mad scientists (Tardi excels at those – see also his Jules Verne-esque Arctic Marauder), revived mummies in the Louvre (some of this tale was used in the recent Luc Besson film adaptation), secret dark magic cults and revived prehistoric men, all set in a glorious early 20th century Paris, simply wonderful.
Sea of Ghosts, Alan Campbell (Tor/Macmillan)
I thoroughly enjoyed Scots author Alan Campbell’s debut trilogy and was looking forward to the start of his brand new series. I wasn’t disappointed – it’s a fascinating and well-worked out fantasy world, but one where the fantastical is based on a form of science. Past struggles have left all the oceans – the Brine – toxic and the effects even a splash can have on a human is awful. Campbell combines a personal, family quest with a larger scale one affecting the whole world, and along the way invokes some truly terrifying fates for some characters; in fact he’s up there with Neal Asher for imagining some rather nasty ends for them! Not for the squeamish!
The Ascendant Stars, Michael Cobley (Orbit)
Glasgow-based Mike Cobley made his name with his fantasy series before moving to Orbit and a change to space opera with his Humanity’s Fire series, tracking the colonial survivors of generation ships which left Earth centuries before. Now rediscovered centuries on the human colonists of Darien (mostly Scots, Norwegians and Russians, which makes for quite some mix) and the aliens they co-exist peacefully with find themselves drawn into a galaxy-wide net of politics and strategic alliances they had been unaware of during their centuries of isolation - what should be a joyful re-uniting of Earth with a lost colony is instead tarnished by politics and power manoeuvres, leading to a desperate underdog fight back against the odds. I think Mike has come of age with this series, combining individual level action with the large-scale space opera events – if you love Iain M. Banks and Ken MacLeod then you’re going to enjoy this.
The Reapers are the Angels, Alden Bell (Tor/Macmillan)
This was one of my real surprise discoveries of this year. I knew nothing about the author or the book when Tor UK sent me a copy, but I had an instant feeling I was going to like it. Having received a radioactive papercut as a child I’ve developed a book sense and when it tingles it rarely steers me long and with this one it was spot on again.
Post-apocalypse zombie tales are so abundant in just about every medium right now, but Bell brings something fresh, with his illiterate young girl, growing up in the ruins of civilisation, criss-crossing America and working by her own moral code as she does. It’s utterly compelling and assured and it’s hard not to fall in love with his heroine Temple just a little. Superb.