Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Person of the Year 2013, feat Tim Maytom

Happy New Year! A quick break from the Play Off tournament - which will be back shortly, narrowing the contenders for Track of the Year from 16 down to our four semi-finalists - for a guest contribution from the ever-lovin' Tim Maytom.

This is the fourth time Tim has shared his Person of the Year on this site. His previous picks have all tended towards comedy - Pete Holmes, Amy Poehler and Donald Gloverbut this year, he's talking comics of a completely different kind. 

Enough preamble. Let's find out who takes home 2013's Person of the Year.

DeFraction

The good thing about making the rules is that you can decide when to break them. That's something I think this year's choice for Person of the Year represents, and so in that spirit, I'm breaking my own rules and declaring a joint selection.

Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction are both comic writers who have had great years. They have worked within the system of the 'Big Two' comic companies to craft superhero stories that resonate on a personal level and go beyond folks in tight costumes punching each other (not that there's anything wrong with the occasional spandex fistfight), as well as producing creator owned books that have pushed themselves, and the medium, into telling new types of stories. They are deft practitioners of social media, using their Twitter/Tumblr/whatever presence to interact with fans and build a sense of community among like-minded readers. They are everything a modern comic writer should be. They also happen to be married to each other.

Captain Marvel

Let's consider Kelly Sue DeConnick first. Having risen up through manga translation and the odd issue and mini-series at Marvel, Kelly Sue earned the job of relaunching Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel in July 2012.

Danvers, previously Ms Marvel, was a character that Marvel had slowly been raising the profile of, clearly aware of their lack of a female superhero able to support her own series à la Wonder Woman. Ms Marvel was a natural choice, and with Kelly Sue's relaunch, she finally took the name Captain. Like so many female superheroes, Danvers' origin was tied to a male hero, the original Captain Marvel, but by taking on the mantle as her own, both the character and Marvel themselves were making the statement that this was no longer a spin-off, distaff companion to another hero. She had inherited his name, and so was his equal.

The series proceeded to build upon the ideas of legacy, exploring the world of female aviators while Carol adventured through time and fought monsters and villains across the globe. DeConnick built a wonderful supporting cast for Carol, using established characters from her previous solo series and introducing new ones, and in one of the most exciting developments, this year it was revealed that the Ms Marvel title would relaunch with a young hero inspired by Carol's exploits.

There is a long and embarrassing history in comic books of female heroes all being based on existing male characters - Batwoman, Supergirl, She-Hulk, etc - and while many of these characters have had fantastic stories written about them that treated them as well-rounded, three-dimensional characters, that initial secondary nature hangs over them. Just as Carol Danvers had shed that idea by truly embracing her position as Captain Marvel, the new Ms Marvel, Kamala Khan, is unique for being one of the few female heroes inspired by another female character.

As many of 2013's Year in Review-style articles will tell you, we seem to be part of an exciting time for feminism, and bringing the idea of female role models, mentoring and friendship to the fore in this way is just one of the methods DeConnick has employed to create a modern feminist hero in Captain Marvel. The book is full of interesting, conflicted woman who feel real, and who deal with issues that all readers can relate to (albeit in the magnified, larger-than-life way that superhero comics tend to use). This deeply integrated feminism has created a huge and devoted fanbase online, the Carol Corps, who read, write, draw, craft and cosplay to support their hero. Captain Marvel is relaunching with a new #1 in 2014 and I can't wait to see where DeConnick sends Danvers next.

Pretty Deadly

DeConnick's other big project this year was a creator owned one, a mythical Western horror series called Pretty Deadly she made with Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles. Pretty Deadly is well removed from Captain Marvel's primary coloured exploits, for although Carol Danvers is a complex, rounded character, there's no denying she's a hero. As befits its genre roots, there are no obvious heroes in Pretty Deadly.

Instead, there's Johnny, the nihilistic coward, languishing in a prostitute's bed with a bruised ego; Fox, the blind wanderer with a dark secret; Ginny, the daughter of Death, a skull-faced avenger loosed on the world.

Pretty Deadly is different to almost everything out there at the moment, a lyrical folkloric tale that entrances and disturbs in equal measure. Rios' beautiful fluid art and inspired layouts combine perfectly with the tone DeConnick creates, giving everything an otherworldly, dream-like feel. Each issue begins with the framing story, as the tale of Deathface Ginny to told between a butterfly and a skeletal rabbit, and the first issue was largely taken up with a gorgeously relayed song describing Ginny's origins. These stylistic choices feel like acts of faith, asking people to get on board with the book's atmosphere, accept the world the team is weaving that is so different to most other comics.

I'm sure there were a fair few people who never got past the song of Death's daughter locked in a tower, but those of us who gave the book a chance became utterly bewitched by the story being told. Pretty Deadly is DeConnick's first creator-owned series, and that she has chosen such a bold, unique story, clearly born of her passions and executed in such a confident way speaks volumes about her as a writer.

Hawkeye

Let's turn now to Matt Fraction. Fraction has been a 'name' in comics for much longer, moving from his early independent work with AiT/PlanetLar and Image to higher profile jobs at Marvel, relaunching Iron Fist with Ed Brubaker and writing acclaimed runs on the X-Men, Thor and Iron Man.

Like Kelly Sue, the summer of 2012 saw him relaunching an existing hero at Marvel, in his case Hawkeye. Reteaming with his Iron Fist collaborator, the incredible David Aja, Fraction took Marvel's archer (his profile recently raised by an appearance in the Avengers film) and repositioned him as a true everyman hero, one who drank straight from the coffee maker and struggled to connect his DVR. Hawkeye became a book about what a (relatively) grounded hero does when not being an Avenger, and focused on Clint Barton's relationship with his young protege Kate Bishop, also called Hawkeye.

Indeed, by the time of this article, the two have parted ways and the book alternates, spending one issue with Barton in New York and one with Bishop in Los Angeles. Like Captain Marvel embracing her new name, Kate Bishop is as much Hawkeye as Clint Barton, and in many cases seems to have her life a lot more together. The series serves in part as a deconstruction of the hero and sidekick trope, showing that when you take an established but flawed existing hero and pair them with a hyper-competent teen, things are not going to run smoothly.

As well as sharing the spotlight with Kate Bishop, 2013 saw Fraction and Aja release Hawkeye #11, "Pizza is my Business", an issue told entirely from the point of view of Hawkeye's dog Lucky. It was a stylistic tour de force, utilising Aja's astonishing layouts to show how Lucky's senses interpret the world through scent. It wasn't simply empty spectacle or showing off though - the issue also drove the overarching plot forward in multiple ways, in many ways proving a pivotal issue in the run so far. It was a great example of a story that could only be told as a comic, and showed how the medium can be pushed forward.

Hawkeye Pizza Dog

Fraction has had multiple other titles out this year, included acclaimed runs on Fantastic Four and its sister title FF, and his Satellite Sam series with Howard Chaykin, but I'm going to focus on his new Image series with cartoonist Chip Zdarksy, Sex Criminals. From the provocative title to its frank depiction of sex, Sex Criminals looks like a comic built to shock people, but for all the penises, orgasms and sex shops, it's actually an incredibly sweet and honest story of two people falling in love.

Suzie and John, the protagonists, have a unique ability to stop time when they climax. When they discover each other after meeting at a party, they share how they came to realise they had this power, and how it shaped their sexual awakenings. Now, having finally met someone with a similar ability, they quickly begin to fall for each other, and as they do, realise that they can use their ability to save the library Suzie works at. It's a gloriously silly comic, featuring the two lead characters goofing around in a sex shop and, in #3, a full blown musical number (of a sort).

Obviously, inevitably, it's also filled with hundreds of filthy jokes, from the numerous sex moves an more experienced girl tells a teenaged Suzie about, to the different categories of porn in the sex shop. I have rarely laughed at a comic as much as I have at Sex Criminals. But at the core of the story is something much more personal – a story about connection, about the different ways we have sex and how frightening and alienating youth can be. As with Hawkeye, Fraction has an amazing collaborator in Zdarsky, who gives Suzie and John a human warmth and life, and contributes more than his fair share of the jokes to the pages. It is one of those rare comics that I would recommend to everyone, as long as they don't mind dick jokes.

Sex Criminals

It should be clear by this point that both DeConnick and Fraction are writers at the top of their game, forever pushing the envelope in terms of what can be achieved in mainstream comics. They've both gone to great lengths to make even their work-for-hire into projects they are passionate about, ones that are shot through with their personality. But accomplishment and expertise alone will not win you the coveted 'Alex-Spencer.co.uk Person of the Year, Presented by Tim Maytom' award.

Both Kelly Sue and Matt have gone to great lengths to be accessible and honest with their fans. They talk, enthuse and joke around with people online. Kelly Sue is fiercely protective and supportive of her Carol Corps, and Matt manages to balance absurdist humour with humbling honesty about his struggles with addiction and depression. They reach out to fans and welcome it when fans reach back. More than that, they share their lives openly and in a way that encourages respect, rather than invasive prying.

The pair have two young children together and watching the slices of their family life they present, they're clearly loving, generous parents, whether they're building a cardboard city for their son and his friends to destroy for a Giant Monster-themed birthday or servicing their daughter's two current loves by painting a toy tool bench pink. They have the sort of family life that makes me wonder if I could get adopted by them.

I was lucky enough to meet them both at Thought Bubble this year and in person, they are exactly as charming, friendly and wonderful as their presence on the Internet suggests. Both were faced with huge queues for two days, but treated each person who lined up to get something signed with patience and kindness, and were more than happy to chat about their work and their lives. In a world where public personae are increasingly managed, and not just by celebrities, it's refreshing to see two people who have no need to do so. I hold both Kelly Sue and Matt up as icons, and meeting them only cemented that.

AboutAuthorTimSome days, it feels like I met Tim Maytom on the dancefloor. Some days, it feels like we all did. 

Tim moves like he writes - with ambition, elegance and impeccable taste. Earlier this year, he killed Batman. Slightly later this year, he pointed out that the two of us are Drift Compatible, and it has been my great pleasure these past few years to put that to the test, on both Thought Bubble's dancefloor and this very blog.

And that is why he is my official selection for Person of the Year every year. But for some reason he refuses to write that blogpost.

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.