Why comics are still a marvel
Manga show in UK’S top cultural institution is perfect illustration of art form that has been around for centuries
LAST year the Man Booker long list, this year the British Museum. In May, the country’s principal cultural institution mounts the largest ever exhibition staged outside Japan on manga, the Japanese form of comics. Taking in everything from the work of 18th-century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai to Pokemon, cosplay and anime, it promises to be a wide-ranging look at the politics, history and aesthetics of manga, touching on everything from Hiroshima to homosexuality.
It’s also another sign of the increasing cultural reach and acceptance of comics as an art form, one that comes hard on the heels of the long listing of Nick Drsnao’s disturbing graphic novel Sabrina for the Man Booker Prize in 2018.
The British Museum’s exhibition is just one of the comics-related highlights to look forward to in 2019, a year that also marks the 80th anniversary of Marvel Comics. One of the most recognisable brands in the world, it’s worth remembering that just over two decades ago the company was filing for bankruptcy. Now, as part of the Disney corporation, it will be celebrating its birthday throughout the year in both the comics it prints and with a new Avengers Endgame film due for release in April (a month after Brie Larson appears on the big screen as Captain Marvel).
Between the British Museum and Marvel, though, there are any number of intriguing projects lined up for publication this year to cater to all tastes. What follows is just a taste.
month American cartoonist Peter Bagge returns with the latest in his comic book biopics of feminist pioneers. After books on Africanamerican anthropologist and author Zola Neale Hurston and pioneer birth control activist Margaret Sanger, Bagge’s latest book Credo (Drawn & Quarterly) tells the story of Rose Wilder Lane, war correspondent, libertarian and daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie. Bagge approaches her story in his trademark rubbery style and a spiky wit.
February also sees a new book from Liz Suburbia, whose punky graphic novel Sacred Heart set in an American small town in which all the adults have disappeared was one of the highlights of 2015. Egg Cream No.1, published by Silver Sprocket, is the first instalment of a sequel to Sacred Heart, picking up the story 10 years later.
cartoonist Seth has been working on his strip Clyde Fans for 20 years, with regular chapters appearing in his ongoing comic Palookaville. March finally sees them all gathered together (it is the best part of 500 pages) in a single hardback collection by Drawn & Quarterly.
The story of two brothers in the air conditioning industry in post-war Toronto, Clyde Fans is typically Sethian in its mixture of bittersweet nostalgia and his gimlet-eyed account of human dysfunction. The art, as ever, is sublime.
The fact that he has been working on it for 20 years is testament to the commitment required of graphic novelists. The same can be said for Jaime Hernandez. The co-creator of Love & Rockets, Hernandez’s Is This How You See Me? is the latest instalment in the life of Maggie and Hopey, the Latina punks now well into middle age. Hernandez has been chronicling their lives since the early 1980s and the result is an ongoing comic book comedie humaine, and one of the great achievements of the graphic form.
March also sees the novelist Margaret Atwood, long a supporter of the comics form, team up with artist Renee Nault to offer a graphic version of her famous novel The Handmaid’s Tale (Jonathan Cape).
well as the British Museum’s manga exhibition, May also sees London’s House of Illustration mount an exhibition of the work of British cartoonist Posy Simmonds. Simmonds has long been something of a national treasure for her work in the Guardian and this exhibition is a celebration of her talent for affectionate satire. It is accompanied by a new book written by comics historian and advocate Paul Gravett to be published by Thames & Hudson.
Motin, who has been called the French Posy Simmonds, returns with Plate Tectonics, published by Boom! It’s the first English translation of her work since Selfmadehero published But I Really Wanted To Be An Anthropologist way back in 2012. Plate Tectonics is an account of life as a single thirtysomething mother. If Sharon Horgan did comics, they might look like this.
It is worth remembering that just over two decades ago Marvel Comics was filing for bankruptcy
big hitter returns in the autumn when Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown strips are gathered together by Jonathan Cape. Ware, creator of Building Stories and Jimmy Corrigan, has been working on the story for 20 years. It is about a young American boy and a middle-aged man obsessed with action figures. Like Seth, Ware’s work is both bittersweet and painfully honest. It also is beautifully crafted.
Myriad Editions is promising us Billionaires, a new book from British cartoonist Darryl Cunningham. Cunningham’s Supercrash was one of the most accessible examinations of the financial crash so this book about the super rich should be a useful primer for those who want to know more about those at the top of the financial food chain. Expect it to leave you fuming though.
Far left, Clyde Fans, by Canadian cartoonist Seth, while above is Plate Tectonics by French illustrator Margaux Motin and left is American cartoonist Peter Bagge’s Credio.