While there has certainly been something an uptick in online negativity regarding “best of” lists in recent weeks, with people questioning their value or criticising their lack of inclusivity, we’re still happily celebrating our favourite books of the last year, because – well, that’s precisely why the Big Comic Page exists in the first place.
Our mission statement has always been to let as many people as possible know about great books they may have otherwise missed out on, and while the lists we put out at this time of year are entirely subjective and nowhere near exhaustive, they’re still books and creators we absolutely love, and as such, we’ll never tire of shouting their praises from the rooftops.
So, with that said, Mark is up first as he takes some time to once again break down the creators and titles he has enjoyed most over this past year.
BEST PUBLISHER – Vault Comics
This is a hard one. There have been some very good efforts from a lot of big-name publishers this year, but I feel that the small press guys have really shone this year. As such, it’s a great pleasure to say that VAULT COMICS, are my personal choice for my top publisher this year. If you look at what they’ve published, you’ll find titles in a wide range of genres which have all been extremely successful in their own right. But, for me, what sets them apart from other publishers this year is two things. Firstly, the creative teams they hire are incredibly talented (as do many others), but Vault seem to have the common sense to nurture this talent and let them tell their stories their way. This leads to some really high-quality books as the creators are enthusiastic and invested. Secondly, they engage with their readers way more than some of the bigger publishers. It’s nice to have the opportunity to talk to the creative teams and get feedback to questions, and to actually feel like they’re interested in what their readership thinks. Personally, I’ve found this to be the case with most of the small press and indie guys I interact with and I think that for the reasons above, this is why we’re seeing a rise in their popularity.
Honourable Mentions: I’d also like to mention two other publishers who have had a massive impact on my reading habits this year, for much the same reasons as above. COMIXTRIBE and MADIUS COMICS are, again, both small press but the way their creative teams are allowed to work and the interaction they have with the reader is superb.
This is an incredibly difficult category for me this year. There have been so many good stories over the last twelve months, so… well… I’m going to cheat. In no particular order, here are my top writerS of 2019. Sue me.
There is something very, very wrong with our Mr. Lees. If you happen to glance at his headshot, you’ll see an almost cherubic face of innocence. But should you ever be lured into reading one of his stories, you’ll find one of the most messed-up, twisted, thrilling, horrific, and incredibly funny minds in the comic business today. Lees produces thriller/horror stories that are chilling, disturbing and most importantly believable, and the characters he creates are some of the most honest that I’ve ever come across. Oh, and let’s not forget that this is a man who wrote a captivating love story involving a brutal home invasion, a giant vibrating butt plug and murder clowns…
Road of Bones is featured prominently in my top comics recommendations for 2019 for two reasons, and Rich Douek is one of them. What Douek gave us in the four issues of that particular series was some of the tightest, most tension-filled writing I think I’ve ever seen in a survival thriller. Not just in thriller comics, in thrillers full stop. A new discovery for me this year, I’ve been completely blown away with what Douek has achieved with both ROAD OF BONES and WAILING BLADE, traversing two very different genres and delivering two superb titles that are definitely worth your time.
Ram V has, for me, produced some of the most beautifully crafted literature of 2019. I say literature because what he gave us in the series THESE SAVAGE SHORES could easily translate into a period Gothic horror novel. The intricacy with which Ram V weaves his characters and worlds is astonishing, and the sheer attention to detail in the history he has built into that particular world is nothing short of flawless. In 2019, Ram V has run me through the full gamut of emotions – often in a single issue – and he deserves to be on this list if only for that feat!
Honourable Mention: Mike Sambrook and Rob Jones. There’s a very good chance you’ve never heard of these guys, but you really should look them up. The driving force behind Madius Comics, “Sambrones” consistently produce fantastic stories, whether they be horror, fantasy, thriller, comedy, all-ages or mature reader, they can turn their hand to any genre and they’ve produced some of my favourite reads this year.
BEST ARTIST – Alex Cormack
Without a single doubt, my favourite artist of 2019 has to be Alex Cormack. Serving as the artist on both SINK and ROAD OF BONES, Alex takes the fevered imaginings of Lees and Douek and brings them slavering, clawing, rending and screaming onto the page in a terrifying blood-soaked explosion that will leave you reeling, and a little nauseous (and quite frankly amazed that the creator of these scenes is allowed to roam freely and unsupervised, and most definitely without a straight-jacket!) Cormack’s characters are unapologetically ugly, and that makes them fascinating to watch, no matter how disturbing things may become. It also makes their emotions much more believable; Cormack can convey more in the eyes of a character, and literally just have those eyes in the panel, than I’ve seen more prolific artists manage in an entire page!
Honourable Mention: Sumit Kumar and Vittorio Astone. A close second place for me this year, the work Kumar and Astone did on THESE SAVAGE SHORES was simply beautiful – indeed, there is no other way to describe the intricately detailed watercolour works of art that adorn the pages of that series.
BEST LETTERER – Aditya Bidikar
Far and away this year, Aditya Bidikar has been my favourite letterer. His work on both These Savage Shores and Little Bird has been an absolute joy to read, and often feels like artwork in its own right and not merely just a way of getting dialogue down on a page. The skill, detail, variety and sheer imaginative creativity that Bidikar brings to the page should be an inspiration to the rest of the lettering community.
TOP 5 TITLES OF 2019 (in no particular order)
SINK (ComixTribe) – No real surprises here, as I’ve been banging on about this series all year. The Glaswegian suburb of Sinkhill is a place spoken of in hushed and terrified whispers, and a place you certainly don’t want to find yourself alone in, especially after dark. Whether it’s the army of Murder Clowns cruising the streets in their trademark blue vans; the roving gangs of Dickheads, desperate to commit any atrocity in order to become made men in Si McKirdie’s criminal empire; the brutal, bloodied shovel wielding, Fox mask wearing, vigilante known as Mr. Dig; or any of the dozens of other sinister denizens of Sink Hill, there is something to churn the guts of even the most hardened horror fan within these pages.
ROAD OF BONES (IDW Publishing) – This is, for me, a perfect isolation thriller/horror series that slowly builds a feeling of tension, dread, and claustrophobia, panel after panel, all the way to the end. It’s a relatively short series at just four issues, but I was gripped from start to finish by a story that terrifies every bit as much with what isn’t on the page as it does with what is. The final payoff is also nothing short of glorious. I won’t lie, I had an inkling where we were headed, but the denouement far surpassed even what I was expecting, giving us a final panel that will chill you to the bone.
THESE SAVAGE SHORES (Vault Comics) – Set in 18th Century India, These Savage Shores is an epic story of the mythology of India, mixed with the vampire legends of Europe and set during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. This series is horrifying, heart-breaking, beautiful and heart-warming all at the same time. Ram V has, for me, written one of the most incredibly epic Gothic Horror stories I think I’ve ever read, and has done so in a series that is so complex and detailed that you’d expect it to be a full-blown novel rather than a five-issue comic run. This is coupled with some visually stunning artwork from Summit Kumar and Vittorio Astone that, whether it’s depicting scenes of horror or the tenderest moments, is truly beautiful to behold.
HOUSE OF SWEETS (Cabal Comics) – This book completely caught me by surprise, and if you get the chance, you really, really need to grab a copy. House of Sweets is a surreal and disturbing tale – which is exactly as it should be with Fraser Campbell and Iain Laurie at the helm. It’s a story of two siblings heading for the isolation of an old family cabin to rebuild their lives, which rapidly becomes a spiralling descent into madness filled with nightmare visions, all narrated in rhyme by a sinister crow. The fractured and disjointed approach to the narrative keeps the reader off-balance all the way to the end, before leaving them wanting to immediately turn back to the first page and read it all over again!
THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY (Hill House) – As I write this list, issue two of The Dollhouse Family has just gone to press (my review can be found HERE) so you had better believe that this series is pretty damn special to be hitting my list based on just two issues. It’s the story of Alice and a magical dollhouse that she uses as an escape from a cruel and painful life at the hands of a violent and bitter father and apathetic mother. However, the house holds a sinister secret spanning back to the dawn of time that will shatter Alice’s world. This is a series that combines all the best aspects of the horror comics I was brought up with in the eighties and early nineties. With a strength of writing that could deceive you into believing this was a Moore or Gaiman saga, and artwork that is pure nostalgia with a style reminiscent of Wrightson, Bissette and Rick Veitch. The Dollhouse Family is, for me, an almost perfect series, and I can’t wait to see where Carey, Gross, Locke and Peter take us as it unfolds.
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek