Monthly Archives: February 2013

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My Ballot for the Best Graphic Story Hugo

In no particular order except the first:
Journey Into Mystery, Kieron Gillen, Matt Fraction on the crossovers, and a dozen artists
aka, how Kieron Gillen took a lesser-known Marvel title and filled tumblr with ALL THE FEELS. Right, back up. Journey Into Mystery is the story of Loki, who, in a previous arc I never read and don’t care about, was killed, and has cheated death to be reincarnated as a child. It’s all part of his older self’s larger plan, which Kid Loki chooses to ignore and forge his own path. It isn’t easy because he might be a kid but he’s still the God of Mischief and no one feels like trusting him, even if he’s trying to help. He spends 30 issues building up what cleverer people than me called “Ponzi scheme heroism” (spoilers in that link), pulling off a win each time but pushing the reckoning further down the road. He does it with a supporting cast of disdainful best friends, a foul-mouthed hellhound named Thori, the shirtless son of Satan, and Tony Wilson as the arch-druid leader of the mechanized cities of the industrial revolution. Kid Loki is funny, engaging, occasionally infuriating, and you root for him to win, because everyone deserves a second chance, right? And it fits all this into the constraints of the occasional comic-spanning crossover – the crossover with New Mutants feels unneccessary, but the issues where they fit Loki into the Fear Itself arc manage to work not only in the comic, but as part of the wider story (unlike Invincible Iron Man, which sets up a plot to be resolved off-screen, THANKS). It wraps up in a big crossover with The Mighty Thor as Loki’s pigeons come home to roost, and then upends it all with a final epilogue with Stephanie Hans’s amazingly gorgeous art throughout (which is so good it makes me forgive some of the less-good artists from the middle section). It’s that comic series where I heard it was good and planned to pick it up someday and got sucked into reading all of it just in time for the last issue to crush me, like it crushed all of tumblr (and fortunately someone already wrote the post on JiM’s fanbase and why it garnered the fans it did), and you should all nominate it before I take to Twitter and go on about my epic feels or something.
Hugo nerdery side note: So what do I nominate for a 31-part story which has collected shorter arcs but forms a complete whole? Do I nominate Manchester Gods, as an arc which finished in 2012? Everything Burns, the final crossover story which also finished in 2012? Just issue 645, which is a spectacular standalone? I count it is as one complete story so I’m going to nominate that. Let’s all do the same, yes?

Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Everyone loves Saga – I think it was on every best-of-2012 list I read – and so I feel out of step by saying I only think it’s pretty great so far. It’s the story of Alana and Marko, star-crossed lovers from either side of a galactic war, and their newborn daughter (and narrator from the future) Hazel, and how they try and stay ahead of the different factions trying to catch up with them. And everything with Alana and Marko is pretty great – they bicker and disagree and make up, like you might if you were on the run with a newborn child, and it feels like a relationship in progress. What is a little more hit-and-miss is everything else. There’s magic and future tech and spider-legged bounty hunters and ghosts and spaceships and people with television sets for heads and a cat that can tell if you’re lying (actually, lying cat is pretty great), and having all that appear in the first 6 issues is a bit throw it all at the wall and see what sticks. And as ever I could have done without the side-plot which adds some grim and gritty via child abuse. When it’s not cramming everything in, it’s great – the art is great in a non-flashy way (I apologise in advance for my lack of ability to describe art), not particularly stylised or playing around with layouts, it’s just excellently drawn people looking like people. With wings and horns and sometimes a television set for a head.

Prophet, Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis
This is a revamp of a past Rob Liefeld comic, not that you can tell or care once they’ve booted the action ten thousand years into the future. It is the kind of off-the-wall SF that I think Saga is going for, but Prophet has fully committed to the weird, to the point where I’m not quite sure what is going on some of the time but I’m compelled to read on anyway. The first mini-arc follows John Prophet, a human who awakes in the far future and follows the mysterious instructions which compel him to cross an alien landscape so he can climb a tower and awaken an empire. He fights his way through a mold city and a caravan of elephant-like creatures, disrupts the rebirth of the caravan king, loses an arm and gains a living carapace that forms external lungs… It’s the same throw everything at the wall approach, but there’s no relatable characters having snarky discussions, only bleak, weird landscapes, narration instead of dialogue, played in a much more serious tone. The end of the first arc reveals that there is not one John Prophet, but some unknown number of clones, and the grandaddy of them all may be back. The art feels like the little I’ve seen of French comics and Moebius’s planetscapes, lots of weird alien detail and sound effects (both those examples by Simon Roy, my favourite of the artists in volume one), and it’s not like anything else I read this year.

The Manhattan Projects, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra
The Manhattan Project, with a twist. Lots of twists. Evil twins and interdimensional portals and aliens and Wernher von Braun with a robot arm. You might be sensing a theme by now, which is that I like my comics with lots of big off-the-wall ideas, and you’d be right, but that’s not all I like. There’s a column by Chris Sims, which of course I cannot find right now to link, that talks about the way comics can be awesome because so many of them were jam-packed with amazing ideas, but that that wasn’t enough to make a good comic, you needed the rest of the book to back it up. The Manhattan Projects has a first arc which piles up the new mythology, brings in interesting new characters, sets up a neat cliffhanger for every issue, and ends with a bang. I wasn’t a huge fan of the art initially but it’s grown on me, and when you’re depicting real people it’s nice that they look like them. I should also credit the colourist Jordie Bellaire, for some great vibrant colours, and a smart use of red and blue to tell some key bits of the story..

Hawkeye, Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pullido
This could so easily have been an attempt to cash in on the Avengers movie. That’s got Hawkeye in it, right? And everyone loves Jeremy Renner’s arms, never mind that Hawkeye in the film gets the least personality or development of any of the Avengers. (The Comixology Hawkeye blurb calls him “the breakout star” of Avengers, lol.) Maybe that’s why they are free to totally ignore this and write a fun story about Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, sometime Avenger but mostly just a guy who has barbecues with his neighbours and looks after his dog and sometimes gets abducted by helicarrier. And then there’s Kate Bishop, who is also Hawkeye, and not Clint’s student or girlfriend or sidekick but partner in having adventures and mostly making it out alright except for Clint sometimes getting punched in the face. This is the least sure of my nominations, because I haven’t read the latest volume of Chew yet, but volume six of a long-running series doesn’t really have a chance of a nomination, and Hawkeye has this panel. Dd I mention the art is excellent? Neat panel layouts, lots of stripped-down purples and blues, I’m not quite as fond of Javier Pullido’s two issue run but we have previously established that I am a sucker for a good sound effect.

tl;dr: I like big ideas, bad science, art that makes people look like actual people, and superhero comics that mess around with the idea of superhero comics.
My Best Graphic Story ballot is:
Journey Into Mystery #622-#645, Kieron Gillen, Matt Fraction, Doug Braithwaite, Richard Elson, Pasqual Ferry, Whilce Portacio, Mitch Breitweiser, Carmine di Giandomenico, Alan Davis, Stephanie Hans
Hawkeye, Volume #1: My Life as a Weapon, Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pullido
Saga, Volume #1, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
The Manhattan Projects, Volume #1: Science Bad, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra
Prophet Volume #1: Remission, Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis

Cycling in Oxford

As anyone who follows my twitter feed will know, I commute to work every day on my bike. In fact I go nearly everywhere on my bike, with trains and the occasional lift for long-distance travel – Oxford is pretty small, pretty flat, and pretty well designed for cyclists compared to many places, and it has a pretty high number of people who cycle to work like me. (Not as many as Cambridge, but Cambridge really does have no hills.)

But even in a place which is pretty well-designed by UK standards, there are some poorly designed roads. Here’s one particular road which annoys me on my commute every morning, to the point where I wrote this blog post in my head while cycling up it: Morrell Avenue. It starts as a two-lane road with advisory cycle lanes on each side, you sometimes have to play spot the cycle lane but it’s not too bad.

Further up, we keep the wide pavements and grass verges, but the cycle lanes disappear in favour of car parking, swapping from side to side.

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It’s not completely obvious from the street view, but this is a hill, and I’m generally not cycling too fast up it. So I have two options when cycling up Morrell Avenue – I can sit outside the line of the parked cars, going well below the speed of the car traffic even on a 20 limit road so everyone sits behind me.Believe it or not I don’t want to slow down everyone in a car, and it just leads to someone overtaking me too closely anyway. So option 2 is to swing in and out around the parked cars, checking every time that no one is coming up behind me or trying to overtake, hoping they don’t pass too closely when I’m going round the parked cars anyway.

Why can’t we get rid of the parking and put in a cycle lane? The houses have driveways, often with room for two or more cars, so there would still be parking for residents. Or if we really can’t do without losing some parking, why not remove one of the grass verges and put in a cycle track? You’d probably have to cut down some trees, which would be a shame, but it might be possible to fit a lane in without losing them, and a cycle track even only on one side of the road would be useful. I would be happier because there aren’t cars inches from my elbow, car drivers would be happier because they don’t have to sit behind and wait for a gap, everyone is happy with the better use of space.

And then I reach the top of the hill and head onto Warneford Lane, where they have helpfully painted bicycles in the bit of the road where I shouldn’t be cycling in case someone opens a door on me. Actually, it’s even better – last week they resurfaced the road, or rather they have resurfaced exactly half the road, so the cycle lane is now half shiny new tarmac, half old tarmac, and a neat line of tar in the middle.