I’m off home for Christmas tomorrow, I should be packing a bag, so it seemed an ideal time to type up the second installment of my 2013 cultural intake summary! This time: Books and Comics!
If you want to see my movies, music and podcasts of choice, that was last week. TV to follow next, once I’ve formed an opinion on the Doctor Who Christmas special.
But first, it’s time for stories told in page format. From a wide perspective, the big development this year was my moving entirely digital in both these areas. I can comfortably read digital comics on my widescreen monitor (though if anyone wants to buy me a tablet for Christmas, don’t let me stop you), and started properly using my Kindle all the time. It’s great, my room is much less drowning in paper. But what was I reading, exactly?
My biggest single reading project this year: consuming most of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin – the books being adapted as Game of Thrones on the telly. I finished the second book just after Christmas last year, and am coming to the end of the most recent volume now.
I’m not a huge epic fantasy person, but I have enough sci-fi/fantasy tolerance to deal with the tropes and detailed worldbuilding moments, and the the real hook of these books is the characterisation, the way everyone has a motivation and an angle. If you enjoy the sprawling scope of the TV show and want more, then believe it or not, there’s loads more characters in the books. Now, I can join in waiting for Martin to write the next one, which sounds like a damn good party.
Going way back in the past to established literary classic territory, I also read The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, which was short but perfectly formed, a nice balance between black humour and the genuinely disturbing. Also The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which is every bit the tearjerker you’ve heard. The trailer for the film still makes it look awful though.
Consumed A Serpent Uncoiled by Simon Spurrier and London Falling by Paul Cornell, both by comic authors whose work I’ve enjoyed, both great stuff with unique voices on the crime genre. London Falling has a sequel coming and has recently been optioned for TV, all good news.
Also: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, ultimately rewarding but very slow to get going. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie was an excellent action-heavy introduction to a fantasy universe and I’ll be continuing the trilogy very soon. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig married a cool concept onto a memorable character with style.
That’ll probably do – and yes, I’m aware none of those books came out in 2013. If you want a complete list of my reading, complete with star ratings, I keep my Goodreads profile fairly up to date.
2013 saw me re-enter reading comics in the biggest way for a while. The biggest reason for this is probably the rise of digital, finally bringing new comics down to a price I was actually willing to pay. I was also put on to a few interesting new books – the best of these was probably Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, about a seemingly unkillable warrior in a future universe of warring families, struggling with herself both inside and out.
Just as reliably good was the longer running Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory, in which a detective investigates messed up crime and food-based superpowers. I finally caught up with that book this year, and although I’ve now fallen behind again, it remains a fun, surprising and blackly hilarious bundle of joy.
I also read the first volume of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra’s The Manhattan Projects – more overtly sci-fi than I often go, but a lot of ideas and clever plots being thrown around and I imagine I could get a lot of re-reads out of that. Imagine an aggressively adult Doctor Who.
I read a few bits by Kieron Gillen this year too – his Journey Into Mystery for Marvel and Phonogram for Image with Jamie McKelvie. JiM probably spoke more to me personally, but the craft on display in Phonogram is undeniable. Next stop: Young Avengers.
It never feels like I’m properly reading comics unless I’ve got something by Garth Ennis on the go, and currently it’s Hitman, his 90s series for DC about a superpowered contract killer in the superhero universe of Superman and Batman. Once again, a brilliantly executed black comedy with a real human heart. I always like those.
Superhero-wise, I’ve mostly been reading random snippits from Comixology sales, but Superior Spider-Man has been consistently great and I’ve also just checked out All-New X-Men and the current Wonder Woman, both of which make old icons seem impressively new and interesting.
Lastly, and as a reward for anyone who read this far, one of my favourite comics of the year is available free online (and in print, if you like paper books) – Crossed: Wish You Were Here is a free weekly webcomic which makes a zombie-esque Apocalypse seem tense, human and horrific in a way I’d almost forgotten they could. Written by the earlier-mentioned Simon Spurrier, it’s really good. His X-Men: Legacy run is worth a look too, and the firmly surreal mini-series Numbercruncher.
That blog post was way longer than I intended, but the list still seems frustratingly incomplete. Dammit. Still, I must pack those Christmas presents now. Take it easy, blog-readers. I might manage some kind of Christmas broadcast on here before the big day, but if not, hope it’s great.