Archive for December 29, 2012

The Best of BuzzFeed Music

December 29, 2012

My pieces on musical chills/ASMR and Godspeed You! Black Emperor are featured in this list of the editors’ picks for BuzzFeed’s best music writing of the year. But besides that there’s rock-solid writing on Passion Pit, Bruce Springsteen, Kendrick Lamar, Ke$ha, Frank Ocean, Bat for Lashes, Taylor Swift, the Replacements, PJ Harvey, Nicki Minaj, Ben Folds Five, Rihanna, EDM and more.

Merry Christmas from Simon Hanselmann

December 24, 2012

“Read the whole thing”

End of the dock

December 24, 2012

Celebrate this joyous season with a cyborg kicking a cat person in the face: Page 22 of “Destructor Meets the Cats” has been posted. You can read the whole story so far on one continuously scrolling page by clicking here.

The Carnival of Souls Christmas Spectacular

December 22, 2012

* It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Tom Spurgeon has begun his annual series of lengthy holiday interviews with comics luminaries, with Alison Bechdel kicking things off. I’ll probably get less enjoyment out of these this year than previously because I just haven’t read as many comics this year as I used to do, but I’m telling you, curling up with my in-laws’ dogs and sinking into the couch with the Comics Reporter Holiday Interview series on my laptop is one of life’s great pleasures.

* Liv Siddall’s essay on Chris Ware and Tavi Gevinson’s interview with Ware himself, both for Rookie, are both very good, but more importantly they both come with the most life-affirming comments sections you’ve ever seen on anything involving comics. Just a slew of kids saying “Wow, this sounds great, I’ve gotta check it out, thanks.” Gevinson uses her power to rep hard for the High Alt comics makers, and she does it well, and I’m glad.

* You can look at this lengthy post by Grant Morrison on the history of his feud with Alan Moore and think “good for him, sticking up for himself” or “yikes for him, living in this headspace.” A bad thing to do would be to troll the detractors or supporters of the writer of your choice with it — even at their crankiest and crank-iest, these guys have earned better than that.

* Big comics interviews I’m saving for later: Tim Hodler talks to Tom Kaczynski, Alex Dueben talks to Charles Burns, Tim Hodler and Dan Nadel and Frank Santoro talk to Jaime Hernandez and Gilbert Hernandez.

* Speaking of Frank the Tank, he’s an Eisner judge this year, so I think it’s safe to say the days of Jaime shutouts are over.

* Christopher Tolkien’s disgust for Lord of the Rings licensed products, including the movies, is a depressing fact of life for those of us who’ve enjoyed both his father’s life work (which also became his own) and the work derived from it.

* The television critic Alan Sepinwall recently self-published a book called The Revolution Was Televised, outlining the New Golden Age of TV Drama with a chapter apiece on twelve landmark shows: Oz, The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, The Shield, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Friday Night Lights. I’ve been reading Sepinwall on and off for years and years now — he more or less invented weekly reviewing and he’s a central figure in the TV-critic back-and-forth I follow on twitter and in the field’s seemingly countless podcasts and such — so there’s something of a local-boy-makes-good element to the book getting a rave review from Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times before she put it on her top 10 list for the year. Anyway, here Sepinwall talks about the books to one of my favorite TV critics, Willa Paskin.

* It’s the end of the year so it’s best-of time. BuzzFeed Music, Alyssa Rosenberg, Matt Zoller Seitz, and Jamieson Cox should get you started.

* Lots and lots of people wrote lots and lots of words attacking or defending Homeland season two, but my podcasting pal Stefan Sasse bucked the trend and took some shots at Homeland season one instead.

* I quite liked Jessica Hopper’s interview with Grimes, who made one of the year’s best records and who emerges here as a forcefully thoughtful presence.

* The oral history trend has clearly reached its baroque period, where instead of culture-defining/altering movements or mega-masterpieces, they’re now about the “Blackwater” episode of Game of Thrones or Interpol’s first album. That’s a wonderful use of the form if you ask me.

* How embarrassing was Richard Cohen’s column decrying the physical fitness of Daniel Craig’s James Bond as some sort of affront to the masculinity of book-readin’ types like Richard Cohen? I’ve had a coworker walk in on me while I was using the restroom in the altogether and I still found this thing more mortifying.

* If you were wondering when the next time Michael DeForge would level up was gonna be, you’ve got your answer: “First Year Healthy.”

* Jonny Negron has — ha, like I even need to say anything at this point. Like I don’t put Jonny Negron art in every linkblogging post I do. It occurs to me that what Jonny does is invest “cool” imagery with the sense of mysterious and sinister don’t-try-this-at-home-kids intimidation it held for me as a kid. As alluring as these people are I’d be afraid to walk into a room where they were hanging out. For what it’s worth I think his last couple months of work are much more strongly erotic than anything he’s done in a while, but that could just be me. And look at the skintone on this one! LOOK AT IT

* Big new Gilbert Hernandez books coming in the new year: Julio’s Day! Marble Season! A now-completed collection of work he serialized during Love & Rockets‘ second volume and a pseudoautobiography, these could send him in the direction of critical and audience reappraisal that the outré sex and violence of his recent comics have denied him.

* I’m super-excited to purchase Magical Neon Sexuality by Kevin Fanning, though I’m waiting until I’m flush with Christmas cash. Fanning is the genius, the literal genius, behind The Cold Inclusive, which is sort of like magic realism only it’s sex with celebrities instead of angel wings and shit and which is one of my favorite things I ever saw on the Internet. I gather this book is in that vein. I realized today that Fanning’s stories are a big unconscious influence on me in that Drake comic I did with Andrew White and two or three other things I’m working on now.

* Kevin Mutch has begun serializing a slightly recolored version of his Xeric-winning graphic novel Fantastic Life online. I liked that book a lot — it’s kind of like a lo-fi X’d Out.

* Has everyone noticed Andy Burkholder has revived q v i e t, his marvelous wordless expressionistic sex comic? And that he’s doing a new thing called entphs?

* Eleanor Davis made a comic about her friends skinning a fox and it’s brutal and beautiful. Go through the last month or so of her blog, because Davis is on fire right now the way, say, Gabrielle Bell was two summers ago.

* So too in his way is Mr. Freibert.

* Sally Madden’s book about working at Philadelphia’s gross, awesome medical-oddity showcase the Mutter Museum, Gray Is Not a Color, has maybe the best cover of the year. Herb Alpert’s throne of skulls grows taller by the day, I’m told.

* New Cindy & Biscuit by my man Dan White! Some publisher with a solid and adventurous kids’ comics program should snap this up, for real.

* Not for kids: Patrick Hambrecht and Dame Darcy review Heather Benjamin’s Sad Sex for the Comics Journal.

* This comic by Benjamin’s fellow Collective Stench member Tom Toye seems to vibrate off the page.

* Jesus Christ, Renee French.

* Wow, Chris Day.

* If you didn’t like the liberties Peter Jackson took with The Hobbit, then man oh man are you going to have complaints about Josh Simmons’s commissioned portrait of the Witch-King of the Nazgul.

* Guy Davis fanart for Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit? Sure, I’ll eat it.

* Zak Smith asks and answers the question: “Why is this picture so good?” (It’s by Adrian Smith.)

* Uno Moralez’s first image/gif gallery in a long time is also the scariest one in a much longer time.

* I don’t know of any rationale for keeping a nonviolent offender who’s not a risk to himself or others in literally torturous solitary confinement like the Obama administration did to the Army’s Wikileaks whistleblower Pfc. Bradley Manning, I just don’t. Who does?

* This Glenn Greenwald piece on the horror of Newtown as reflected in the drone and bombing deaths of Pakistani and Yemeni children at American hands (or Palestinians at Israeli hands, and let me warn you the photo that leads that link is enormously upsetting) is literally the most important thing to think about in the world right now. It is so vital for us to see that all lives are of equal value, and to understand that the mass death of children caused by the American military/intelligence apparatus abroad is just as devastating and horrifying to their loved ones, and to the conscience of the universe, as the mass death of children caused by maniacs here at home. Once you make this connection you can never unmake it, which is why it’s so important to make it. This has in one way or another been the topic of almost everything I’ve written this year. It’s never far from my mind, ever.

* Fittingly finally, David Chase explains the end of The Sopranos. None of the above?

Shallow Rewards

December 21, 2012

This is normally the sort of thing I’d reserve for a Carnival of Souls linkdump post, but by now I’ve put off putting one together for so long that I’m actually intimidated by the volume of stuff I’ve got bookmarked for it. Besides, I think this deserves its own showcase.

If you haven’t seen them already, I want to introduce you to Chris Ott and Shallow Rewards.

Shallow Rewards is a series of video essays, I guess you would call them, in which Ott blends music criticism, music-criticism criticism, industry talk, and pop-rock history lessons in the most seamless and engaging fashion I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the first one I really watched, independent of the he-said/he-said intercritic tussling that attracted me lookie-lou-style to the series in the first place. It’s about Bruno Mars’s surprisingly great Police pastiche “Locked Out of Heaven,” to which I was exposed in the very same way Ott was: Driving my family around in the car, listening to pop radio. This is him singlehandedly carving out the discourse the song deserves, looping in the Police, Sting, the Romantics, Gorillaz, superproducers, Mark Ronson, poptimism, nostalgia, and more, all amply illustrated with video and audio and textual support.

SHALLOW REWARDS // 15 BRUNO MARS CALLS THE POLICE from Shallow Rewards on Vimeo.

And this is the video that really floored me, somehow. It’s Ott in his rant mode rather than his music-history raconteur mode, explaining how the Internet’s ubiquitous access to a wide variety of music, coupled with music criticism websites’ need to drive hits by talking about the things people are talking about, has led to “peak distortion”: the canon is discussed to death while the median, with which listeners were once forced to come into contact via scarcity-bred chance, is invisible.


The first time I watched these videos — and let’s pause and reflect on the import of that statement: the first time, out of several, I’ve voluntarily watched the same recordings of a music critic talking into a camera — I watched them in mix-and-match fashion, gravitating toward the topics I was most interested in: the Ministry episode, the 4AD episode, the opening series of rants, the Duran Duran two-parter (!). That’s a great way to watch them.

But I think it actually does a tremendous disservice to how thoughtfully Ott arranged the arguments he made and the videos in which he made them. When you start at the beginning and work your way forward, the cumulative impact is just tremendous. There’s a cataloguing of symptoms, there’s a diagnosis, there’s a prognosis, there’s a prescription, and there’s a demonstration of what things would look like when cured.

Were I to boil it down it’d all sound like truisms: Don’t chase attention, don’t write about the same things everyone writes about, don’t willingly or unwittingly serve the interests of commerce or PR, reclaim your worth as a writer and/or musician and/or music fan by talking passionately but non-hyperbolically, originally but not obscurely, about good-to-great music wherever you find it. But laid out as Ott lays it out it’s like taking the red pill and seeing the Matrix for the first time.

Ott is a big, funny, combative personality. Boy, is he ever. His twitter feed is scabrous, and as I said, I first came across him when he did a whole video going after a review by Mark Richardson, one of my other favorite music critics in no small part because there’s not a ranty bone in his body. But this facet of Ott’s work doesn’t drive me crazy the way similar work done in comics criticism drives me crazy (literally, in some small way this year), for a few reasons. First, I’m far enough removed from the issues and industry and personalities involved that little to none of myself is invested in the outcome of the fight. I can watch it like I watch a football game my family puts on the TV during a holiday gathering.

Second, you may disagree with the contours or conclusions of Ott’s angriest arguments, I know I do from time to time (I don’t see the need to cede the discussion of Death Grips to the band’s grandiose pronouncements about themselves instead of talking about the way their music sounds, which I like a lot, for example). But they are always actual arguments, not a bunch of assumptions, ad hominems, and contrarian-conventional wisdom hastily jerryrigged into a platform upon which to perform standup insult comedy.

Last, and not necessarily not least since I believe in the inherent value of criticism independent of what else you do but not necessarily least either, he’s doing so much more than rant. He’s being the change he wants to see in the world. Moeover, he’s being the change he wanted to see in his own life and career, which is probably more important. He saw what was out there, he identified what didn’t work, and he’s fixing it, video to video. Video to well-made, thoughtful, funny, clever, sometimes charmingly self-important, always entertaining video, might I add.

(The “Crap Guitars and the Madness of Crowdsourcing” video above is the ne plus ultra of the form. Damascene-conversion insights, dishy insults, funny rock-nerdy insults (Lana Del Rey “is the reason the KLF lit a million pounds on fire”), thoughtful fuck-yeah music cues (ending a rant about the “industrial effort…like making a car” put into creating Lana Del Rey with a quick and unexplained cut to “God” by former one-time record-industry people-pleaser Y Kant Tori Read frontwoman Tori Amos), an “I know how this looks and I really don’t care” cut back to a silent shot of Ott drinking a beer and shaking his head in disgust while looking off-camera — it’s all there.)

A few weeks ago it looked like I was about to pull out of the depressive nosedive I’ve written about recently. I had a great, relaxing weekend with my wife and kid and cats. Boardwalk Empire was incredible and Homeland aired the best episode of the back half of Season Two. I was writing about all sorts of things all the time, and getting money and recognition in return. I finished a comics script I’m really excited about that said a lot of what I wanted to say at that moment. Then a few days later dozens of people I know and like got laid off and treated badly in the process and I was blown prostrate to the floor again. C’est la vie.

Anyway, the point is that perhaps more than any of the other things I just listed, discovering Shallow Rewards, watching and rewatching them, literally losing sleep staying up to watch just one more video before bed, helped me out of the tailspin. I’d become unmoored from comics criticism, the thing I’d spent a decade defining myself by doing — over unpleasant interactions, over feeling out of step with the prevailing tone, over a gradual inward transition from “writing about comics” to “writing comics,” over getting more intellectual and emotional and financial and interpersonal rewards from writing about television and music, over a lot of things. Seeing these videos made me feel like criticism can do anything it wants to do if you love the thing you’re talking about enough to want to live up to that love. If you’re angry, fine, you can do something with that. If you’re obsessed, great, you can do something with that. If you want to recreate the overall vibe of the most fascinating fact-filled chat you’ve ever had in a bar with some guy or girl who’s into something you’re interested in and just totally, totally knows their shit and communicates it to you with such effortlessly revelatory power it’s like you just learned about a 27th letter of the alphabet, awesome, you can do something with that. The point is that you can do something. If it’s possible to do with pop music, an industry that’s fallen off from its ’90s highs but still has cash and infrastructure enough to support the creation of a fleet of Star Destroyers, it’s possible to do with literally anything you’re interested in enough to talk about. Anything.

I can’t think of a work of criticism that hit me as hard as these videos did in a long, long time. I wrote a fawning fan letter because of them. To a critic. How about that?

Start your holiday break early and watch them. Maybe they’ll inspire you the way they’ve inspired me. Enjoy.

Comics Time: Flayed Corpse

December 21, 2012

Flayed Corpse
Josh Simmons, writer/artist
Oily Comics, 2012
12 pages
Buy it from Oily

I reviewed Flayed Corpse by Josh Simmons for The Comics Journal. Happy Holidays!

Truth Zone’s Best Comics of 2012

December 20, 2012

I’m very, very happy that two comics I did in 2012, “Hottest Chick in the Game” with Andrew White and Thickness #3 featuring “The Cockroach” by me and William Cardini, made it into the Truth Zone gang’s Best of 2012 list (via Simon Hanselmann). If you’re guessing that I frantically scanned this thing to see if I made the cut, you are a good guesser.

The Feel-Bad Album of the Year

December 19, 2012

I’m depressed. I’ve also been obsessively listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s album ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! These two phenomena are not unrelated. I wrote a piece for BuzzFeed Music explaining why.

My friend and editor Matthew Perpetua put it this way in the hed/dek he crafted for it:

How 2012’s Most Miserable Album Helped Me Through Depression
Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! was the only record that made sense to me when it felt like my world was falling apart.

It’s something I was building toward writing for months and I hope you like it.

2 more good moments from Homeland‘s bad Season 2

December 18, 2012

I updated my Rolling Stone list of Homeland highlights to include a couple of strong scenes from the finale. There’s always good stuff in there!

I’d also like to promise everyone that no matter how vitriolic I sounded in my reviews, I ain’t even mad. The worst thing that happens when you watch a bad episode of TV is the feeling that “argh, I just watched a bad episode of TV.” Writing the review forces you to articulate the negativity, but that doesn’t mean I’m angry at the people who made it.

“Homeland” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Twelve: “The Choice”

December 17, 2012

I reviewed the season finale of Homeland for Rolling Stone. I did not like it, I can tell you that much.

What do you get the A Song of Ice and Fire fan who has everything?

December 17, 2012

The latest episode of The Boiled Leather Audio Hour, the podcast about Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire that I do with Stefan Sasse, is up. In this one we review a pair of recent books about the series, The Lands of Ice and Fire (a collection of maps) and A Flight of Sorrows (a collection of essays), just in time to buy them, or not, for the fantasy fan on your list. Servicey!

Say Hello, Aidan Koch!

December 17, 2012

I interviewed Aidan Koch for my column about up-and-coming cartoonists at The Comics Journal. Her comics are a knot of unusual artistic impulses that it’s a pleasure to untangle.

Who He Is, and How He Came to Be: The Secret Origin of Chuck Bass

December 17, 2012

I wrote a comic about Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl, which airs its final episode tonight, and Dan White drew it. You can read it here. We hope you enjoy it. xoxo

The 10 Best Moments from Homeland‘s Bad Season 2

December 15, 2012

Despite my many many problems with Homeland this season there were still a lot of terrific scenes in there, and I wrote about them for Rolling Stone.

One thing I don’t think I mentioned specifically but which bears mention generally is that Carrie and Brody are both really singular characters amid the prestige-drama landscape, and the performances behind them (at least until very recently) have been dynamite. Between them they carve out a lot of new territory for the TV that big-time TV watchers watch, which is a big part of why the show clicked the way it did, and why folks have had so much patience with it.

13 Things You Need to Know About “The Hobbit”

December 13, 2012

I wrote a quick-and-dirty guide to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for Rolling Stone. Between the source material, the adaptation process, the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, the new 48fps 3D technology, the expansion into a new trilogy, and just generally trying to make a good movie, there’s a ton of stuff going on when you watch this thing, and this piece was my attempt to make sense of it all for everyone before they hit the theater—what to watch for and pay attention to and ignore.

The movie is awesome, by the way. Lord of the Rings Season Two. Anyone who tells you otherwise hates joy. Does anybody remember laughter?

Hottest Chick in the Game is a wonderful thing

December 12, 2012

Hottest Chick in the Game, the comic about Drake that I made with Andrew White, made BuzzFeed Music’s list of 44 Wonderful Things About Music in 2012. We beat Animal Collective. Thank you to everyone for reading it.

The 10 Juiciest TV Hookups of 2012

December 10, 2012

I contributed the Game of Thrones and Homeland entries to Rolling Stone’s list of the 10 hottest liaisons on TV this year. My write-ups are juvenile and I make no apologies for this, nor for how excited I got to see where one of my entries ranked.


Ladies’ Night in Westeros

December 10, 2012

My pal Stefan Sasse and I are back in the podcasting saddle with The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 15. In this installment of our A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones podcast we take a look at two prominent anomalies among that world’s women, Brienne of Tarth and Asha Greyjoy.

These are pure joy to record. I hope you like listening to them!

Don’t you know?

December 10, 2012

Page 21 of “Destructor Meets the Cats” has been posted. You can read the whole story so far on one continuously scrolling page by clicking here.

Meanwhile, I’ve still had guest strips going up at Stoner Alien at a fairly regular clip.