Saturday, 8 March 2014

The 2013 British Comics Explosion

The original illustrated version of this opinion piece by Russell Willis appeared in Infinity #5, released December 2013. You can get the whole magazine free on SEQUENTIAL for iPad. 

Did it have something to do with Blank Slate’s Nelson released at the end of 2011? It could have done… it was such a superb gathering of the best and brightest in comics in the UK, and the pride in its release must have unleashed amazing energies... Yes, I think Nelson was a catalyst for the explosion in the amount of quality comics-related activity now coming from the United Kingdom.

And it really has been a stunning year for comics in Britain, starting off with a major literary prize having two graphic novels shortlisted. Mary and Bryan Talbot’s Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes won the Costa Biography Prize, and Joff Winterhart’s Days of the Bagnold Summer was shortlisted for the main prize. Then Glyn Dillon won the Special Prize at Angoul√™me for The Nao of Brown. And John McNaught won the Newcomer Prize for Dockwood. The Phoenix Comic went from strength to strength, and got an acclaimed iPad app to go with the print version – it was later placed second in TIME Magazine’s Top Ten Graphic Novels and Comics. Paul Gravett had the Tate Gallery publish his Comics Art, as part of their prestigious Art series of books – a major storming of the cultural barricades. Neil Gaiman, whose path to fame started with comics, got more attention than ever before, and was pointedly proud of his comics endeavours. Madefire, the “motion book” app in the US, is raising millions in VC money, driven by Brits Liam Sharp and Ben Wolstenholme.

There were more and better comics events all around. The Edinburgh International Book Festival added a major comics strand to its programming with Stripped. The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, Britain’s version of Angoul√™me, was launched, to massive acclaim. Thought Bubble had more visitors than ever before; Comica brought together comics luminaries all over London. British comics journalists saw more prominence in US publications such as The Beat and The Comics Journal, whilst Rich Johnston continues to power Bleeding Cool.

New independent publishers such as Great Beast published amazing work whilst more established ones such as Blank Slate Books, SelfMadeHero, Myriad Editions, Knockabout and Jonathan Cape put out quality title after quality title. As I write, Cape is getting huge publicity for Isabel Greenberg’s The Encyclopedia of Early Earth which is in Top Tens everywhere, including TIME Magazine’s Top Ten for all fiction.

And perhaps I can dare to include Panel Nine’s efforts with SEQUENTIAL. Publishers Weekly noted “literary graphic novels now have their own app”. And a best-of-class one as well, if I might be so bold!

Yes, 2013 was a fantastic year for comics in Britain. Here’s to 2014!

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