Posts Tagged ‘best of 2011’

Carnival of Souls Post-Holiday Special #1: My Stuff

January 3, 2012

* I hope you enjoyed your holidays! While you were out, I kept pretty busy. Here are some links to what I’ve been doing.

* I posted my list of the 20 Best Comics of 2011. It’s exciting to me that old established Grand Masters are about as well represented on it as people whose first comics came out after Obama was elected, and of course there are plenty of people in between as well. It’s also exciting to me that many of the cartoonists represented there are creating huge, consistently high-quality bodies of work without a regularly published solo series as their main venue or even as any venue at all, instead or in addition turning to anthologies, minicomics, and the Internet to get their work to the public. And I haven’t felt this blessed by an abundance of genuinely bizarre and powerful sex-horror stuff since I first discovered Clive Barker’s Books of Blood in 1994.

* Robot 6 celebrated its third anniversary with a massive two-day blowout of exclusive interviews, previews, and assorted other features. I contributed several pieces.

** I interviewed Sammy Harkham about Kramers Ergot 8. I think this is my favorite interview of all the ones I conducted last year. Sammy and I slowly circled around the thinking at the core of the book before finally plunging right into it. It was an exciting conversation to have. (That’s from Takeshi Murata’s contribution to the book below.)

** I interviewed Michael DeForge about the absolutely tremendous 2011 he had, specifically about Ant Comic, Open Country, “Dog 2070” from Lose #3, and “College Girl by Night” from Thickness. I asked a lot of questions about influence and intent, which is a hit or miss proposition, but I think Michael delivered.

** I interviewed the Press Gang triumvirate of Jason Leivian, Zack Soto, and François Vigneault about their plans for their publishing collective. They gave me a lot of exclusive announcements and previews; I think the top announcement is that Soto’s Study Group Comic Books is absorbing Randy Chang’s Bodega Books and taking over publication of The Mourning Star, but beyond that, Leivian’s publishing a book on magick, Vigneault’s Elfworld #3 looks rock-solid, and the line-up of creators contributing to Soto’s soon-to-launch webcomics portal is just sick. (There’s no escaping DeForge!) (The page below is from the full-color Danger Country by Levon Jihanian that will be running on

** And Annie Koyama announced some of her 2012 titles, including new books from Michael DeForge (natch), Julia Wertz, Dustin Harbin, Jesse Jacobs, and Tin Can Forest. You can see covers for the last three at the link.

* In case you missed it, I posted a four-volume mix of the best songs of 2011. (If you were wondering, songs from Underworld and the Game of Thrones soundtrack were cut due to time constraints, because as it turns out the time limit on CD-Rs is actually 79:50, NOT EIGHTY, YOU LIARS, while “Dance (A$$) Remix” was disqualified for the use of the word “anorexic” as a compliment.)

* Finally, I started an A Song of Ice and Fire podcast shortly before Christmas. I’ve posted three episodes so far, in which I’m joined by the Tower of the Hand’s Stefan Sasse in a discussion of honor, morality, and power in Westeros (and Essos). You can find links to all three episodes here. If you like the essays I’ve written about the books or the show, this should be up your alley.

The 20 Best Comics of 2011

January 1, 2012

20. Uncanny X-Force (Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña, Marvel): In a year when the ugliness of the superhero comics business became harder than ever to ignore, it’s fitting that the best superhero comic is about the ugliness of being a superhero. Remender uses the inherent excess of the X-men’s most extreme team to tell a tale of how solving problems through violence in fact solves nothing at all. (It has this in common with most of the best superhero comics of the past decade: Morrison/Quitely/etc. New X-Men, Bendis/Maleev Daredevil, Brubaker/Epting/etc. Captain America, Mignola/Arcudi/Fegredo/Davis Hellboy/BPRD, Kirkman/Walker/Ottley Invincible, Lewis/Leon The Winter Men…) Opeña’s Euro-cosmic art and Dean White’s twilit color palette (the great unifier for fill-in artists on the title) could handle Remender’s apocalyptic continuity mining easily, but it was in silent reflection on the weight of all this death that they were truly uncanny.

19. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 3: Century #2: 1969 (Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, Top Shelf/Knockabout): I’ll admit I’m somewhat surprised to be listing this here; I’ve always enjoyed this last surviving outpost of Moore’s comics career but never thought I loved it. But in this installment, Moore and O’Neill’s intrepid heroes — who’ve previously overcome Professor Moriarty, Fu Manchu, and the Martian war machine — finally succumb to their own excesses and jealousies in Swinging London, allowing a sneering occult villain to tear them apart with almost casual ease. It’s nasty, ugly, and sad, and it’s sticking with me like Moore’s best work.

18. The comics of Lisa Hanawalt (various publishers): As I put it when I saw her drawing of some kind of tree-dwelling primate wearing a multicolored hat made of three human skulls stacked on top of one another, Lisa Hanawalt has a strange imagination. And it’s a totally unpredictable one, which is what makes her comics – whether they’re reasonably straightforward movie lampoons or the extravagantly bizarre sex comic she contributed to Michael DeForge and Ryan Sands’s Thickness anthology, as dark and damp as the soil in which its earthworm ingénue must live – a highlight of any given day a new one pops up.

17. Daybreak (Brian Ralph, Drawn and Quarterly): Fort Thunder’s single most accessible offspring also proves to be its bleakest, thanks to an extended collected edition that converts a rollicking first-person zombie/post-apocalypse thriller into a troubling meditation on the power of the gaze. Future artcomics takes on this subgenre have a high bar to clear.

16. Habibi (Craig Thompson, Pantheon): It’s undermined by its central characters, who exist mainly as a hanger on which this violent, erotic, conflicted, curious, complex, endlessly inventive coat of many colors is hung. But as a pure riot of creative energy from an artist unafraid to wrestle with his demons even if the demons end up winning in the end, Habibi lives up to its ambitions as a personal epic. You could dive into its shifting sands and come up with something different every time.

15. Ganges #4 (Kevin Huizenga, Coconino/Fantagraphics): Huizenga wrings a second great book out of his everyman character’s insomnia. It’s quite simple how, really: He makes comics about things you’d never thought comics could be about, by doing things you never thought comics could do to show you them. Best of all, there’s still the sense that his best work is ahead of him, waiting like dawn in the distance.

14. The Congress of the Animals (Jim Woodring, Fantagraphics): The potential for change explored by the hapless Manhog in last year’s Weathercraft is actualized by the meandering mischief-maker Frank this time around. While I didn’t quite connect with Frank’s travails as deeply as I did with Manhog’s, the payoff still feels like a weight has been lifted from Woodring’s strange world, while the route he takes to get there is illustrated so beautifully it’s almost superhuman. It’s the happy ending he’s spent most of his career earning.

13. Mister Wonderful (Daniel Clowes, Pantheon): Speaking of happy endings an altcomix luminary has spent most of his career earning! Clowes’s contribution to the late, largely unlamented Funny Pages section of The New York Times Magazine is briefly expanded and thoroughly improved in this collected edition. Clowes reformats the broadsheet pages into landscape strips, eases off the punchlines and cliffhangers, blows individual images up to heretofore unseen scales, and walks us through a self-sabotaging doofus’s shitty night into a brighter tomorrow.

12. The comics of Gabrielle Bell (various publishers): Bell is mastering the autobiography genre; her deadpan character designs and body language make everything she says so easy to buy – not that that would be a challenge with comics as insightful as her journey into nerd culture’s beating heart, San Diego Diary, just by way of a for instance. But she’s also reinventing the autobiography genre, by sliding seamlessly into fictionalized distortions of it; her black-strewn images give a somber, thoughtful weight to any flight of fancy she throws at us. What a performance, all year long.

11. The Armed Garden and Other Stories (David B., Fantagraphics): Religious fundamentalism is a dreary, oppressive constant in its ability to bend sexuality to mania and hammer lives into weapons devoted to killing. But it has worn a thousand faces in a millennia-long carnevale procession of war and weirdness, and David B. paints portraits of three of its masks with bloody brilliance. Focusing on long-forgotten heresies and treating the most outlandish legends about them as fact, B.’s high-contrast linework sets them all alight with their own incandescent madness.

10. Too Dark to See (Julia Gfrörer, Thuban Press): It was a dark year for comics, at least for the comics that moved me the most. And no one harnessed that darkness to relatable, emotional effect better than Julia Gfrörer. Her very contemporary take on the legend of the succubus was frank and explicit in its treatment of sexuality, rigorously well-observed in its cataloguing of the spirit-sapping modern-day indignities that can feed depression and destroy relationships, and delicately, almost tenderly drawn. It’s like she held her finger to the air, sensed all the things that can make life rotten, and cast them onto the pages. She made something quite beautiful out of all that ugly.

9. The comics and pixel art of Uno Moralez (self-published on the web at What if an 8-bit NES cut-scene could kill? The digital artwork of Uno Moralez — some of it standard illustrations, some of it animated gifs, some of it full-fledged comics — shares its aesthetic with The Ring‘s videotape or Al Columbia’s Pim & Francie: a horror so cosmically black, images so unbearably wrong, that they appear to have leaked into and corrupted their very medium of transmission. Moralez fuses crosses the streams of supernatural trash from a variety of cultures — the legends and Soviet art of his native Russia, the horror and porn manga of Japan, the B-movies and horror stories of the States, the formless sensation aesthetic of the Internet itself — into a series of images that is impossible to predict in its weirdness but totally unflagging in its sense that you’d be better off if you’d never laid eyes on it. I can’t wait to see more.

8. The comics of Michael DeForge (various publishers): The last time you saw a cartoonist this good and this unique this young, you were probably reading the UT Austin student newspaper comics section and stumbling across a guy named Chris Ware. All four of DeForge’s best-ever comics — his divorced dad story in Lose #3, his shape-shifting/gender-bending erotica in Thickness #2, his self-published art-world fantasia Open Country, and his gorgeously colored body-horror webcomic Ant Comic — came out this year, none of them looking anything at all like anything you could picture before seeing your first Michael DeForge comic. It’s almost frightening to think where he’ll be five years from now, ten years from now…or even just this time next year.

7. The comics and art of Jonny Negron (various publishers): What if someone took Christina Hendricks’s walk across the parking lot and trip to the bathroom in Drive and made an entire comics career out of them? That is an enormously facile and reductive way to describe the disturbing, stylish, sexy, singular work of Jonny Negron, the breakout cartoonist of the year, but it at least points you in the right direction. No one’s ever thought to combine his muscular yet curiously dispassionate bullet-time approach to action and violence, his Yokoyama-esque spatial geometry, his attention to retrofuturistic fashion and style, his obvious love of the female body in all its shapes and sizes, and his ambient Lynchian terror; even if they had, it’d be tough to conceive of anyone building up his remarkable body of work in such a short period of time. Open up your Tumblr dashboard or crack an anthology (Thickness, Mould Map, Study Group, Smoke Signal, Negron and Jesse Balmer’s own Chameleon), and chances are good that Negron was the weirdest, best, most coldly beautiful thing in it. It’s like a raw, pure transmission from a fascinating brain.

6. The Wolf (Tom Neely, I Will Destroy You): Neely’s wordless, painted, at-times pornographic graphic novel feels like the successful final draft to various other prestigious projects’ false starts. It’s a far less didactic, more genuinely erotic attempt at high-art smut than Dave McKean’s Celluloid; a less self-conscious, more direct attempt at frankly depicting both the destructive and creative effects of sex on a relationship via symbolism than Craig Thompson’s Habibi; a blend of sex and horror and narrative and visual poetry and ugly shit and a happy ending that succeeds in each of these things where many comics choose to focus on only one or two.

5. The Cardboard Valise (Ben Katchor, Pantheon): Prep your time capsules, folks: You’d be hard pressed to find an artifact that better conveys our national predicament than Ben Katchor’s latest comic-strip collection, a series of intertwined vignettes created largely before the Great Recession and our political class’s utter failure to adequately address it, but which nonetheless appears to anticipate it. Its message — that blind nationalism is the prestige of the magic trick used by hucksters to financially and culturally ruin societies for their own profit — is delightfully easy to miss amid Katchor’s remarkable depictions of lost fads, trends, jobs, tourist attractions, and other detritus of the dying American Century. He’s the very most funnest Cassandra around.

4. Love from the Shadows (Gilbert Hernandez, Fantagraphics): I picture Gilbert Hernandez approaching his drawing board these days like Lawrence of Arabia approaching a Turkish convoy: “NO PRISONERS! NO PRISONERS!” In a year suffused with comics funneling pitch-black darkness through a combination of sex and horror, none were blacker, sexier, or more horrific than this gender-bending exploitation flick from Beto’s “Fritz-verse.” None also functioned as a rejection of the work that made its creator famous like this one did, either. Not a crowd-pleaser like his brother, but every bit as brilliant, every bit as fearless.

3. Garden (Yuichi Yokoyama, PictureBox): Like a theme park ride in comics form — with the strange events it chronicles themselves resembling a theme park ride — Yokoyama’s book is a breathtaking, breathless experience. Alongside his anonymous but extravagantly costumed non-characters, we simply go along for the ride, exploring Yokoyama’s prodigious, mysterious imagination as he concocts a seemingly endless stream of increasingly strange interfaces between man and machine, nature and artifice. As a metaphor for our increasingly out-of-control modern life it’s tough to top. As pure thrilling kinetic cartooning it’s equally tough to top.

2. Big Questions (Anders Nilsen, Drawn & Quarterly): Last year, I wrote that if the collected edition of Nilsen’s long-running parable of philosophically minded birds and the plane crash that turns their lives upside-down didn’t top my list whenever it came out, it must have been some kind of miracle year. Turns out that it was. But you’d pretty much have to create a flawless capstone to a thirty-year storyline of neer-peerless intelligence and artistry to top this colossal achievement. Nilsen’s painstaking, pointillist cartooning and ruthless examination of just how little regard the workings of the world have for any given life, human or otherwise, marks him as the best comics artist of his generation, and solidifies Big Questions‘ claim as the finest “funny animal” comic since Maus.

1. Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 (Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Fantagraphics): Gilbert got his due elsewhere on my list, so let’s ignore his contribution to this issue, which advance the saga of his bosomy, frequently abused protagonist Fritz Martinez both on and off the sleazy silver screen. Instead, let’s add to the chorus praising Jaime’s “The Love Bunglers” as one of the greatest comics of all time, the point toward which one of the greatest comics series of all time has been hurtling for thirty years. In a single two-page spread Jaime nearly crushes both his lovable, walking-disaster main characters Maggie and Ray with the accumulated weight of all their decades of life, before emerging from beneath it like Spider-Man pushing up from out of that Ditko machinery. You can count the number of cartoonists able to wed style to substance, form to function, this seamlessly on one hand with fingers to spare. A masterpiece.

More Best Ofs

December 30, 2011

I contributed several more write-ups to CBR’s Top 100 Comics of 2011 list:

#70: Gilbert Hernandez’s Love From the Shadows
#38: Michael DeForge’s Lose #3
#20: Yuichi Yokoyama’s Garden
#4: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’s Love and Rockets: New Stories #4

Boiled Leather/Best of 2011

December 26, 2011

The second episode of my A Song of Ice and Fire podcast, The Boiled Leather Audio Hour, is up! This time out Stefan Sasse and I discuss morality, leadership, and reform in the context of such august personages as Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Roose Bolton, and Tywin Lannister. Enjoy it with your leftovers.

Meanwhile, I contributed a couple of entries to the first installment of Comic Book Resources’ Top 100 Comics of 2011 countdown: Ben Katchor’s The Cardboard Valise at #80 and Tom Neely’s The Wolf at #78. Enjoy them with your gift cards.

Seanmix | Best of 2011

December 21, 2011

Live Those Days Tonight – Friendly Fires // Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO // Blow – Ke$ha // It’s Up There – The Field // Michael Jackson – Das Racist // Generation – Liturgy // Powa – tUnE-yArDs // Kaputt – Destroyer // 1+1 – Beyoncé // Holocene – Bon Iver // Super Bass – Nicki Minaj // Hurts Like Heaven – Coldplay // Loop the Loop – Wild Beasts // Take Care (feat. Rihanna) – Drake // Is Your Love Strong Enough? – How to Destroy Angels // Why I Love You (feat. Mr. Hudson) – Jay-Z & Kanye West

Marry the Night – Lady Gaga // Over My Dead Body – Drake // Niggas in Paris – Jay-Z & Kanye West // Never – Orbital // Schoolin’ Life – Beyoncé // The Wilhelm Scream – James Blake // Are You… Can You… Were You? (Felt) – Shabazz Palaces // I Care – Beyoncé // Deeper – Wild Beasts // Marvins Room – Drake // No Church in the Wild (feat. Frank Ocean) – Jay-Z & Kanye West // Riotriot – tUnE-yArDs // Veins of God – Liturgy // True Faith – George Michael // Beth/Rest – Bon Iver // End Come Too Soon – Wild Beasts

Poor in Love – Destroyer // Party (feat. André 3000) – Beyoncé // ∞ ∞ / Romance Layers – Gang Gang Dance // Coastin’ – Cities Aviv // Recollections of the Wraith – Shabazz Palaces // Stay Away – Charlie XCX // Hurting – Friendly Fires // Claudia Lewis – M83 // Andro – Oneohtrix Point Never // Limit to Your Love – James Blake // BTSTU – Jai Paul // The King’s New Clothes Were Made By His Own Hands – Shabazz Palaces // Under Ground Kings – Drake // Before – Washed Out // It Takes Time to Be a Man – The Rapture // Sacer – Gang Gang Dance // The Ride – Drake // Separator – Radiohead

Born This Way – Lady Gaga // Bizness – tUnE-yArDs // Down On Me (feat. 50 Cent) – Jeremih // Show Me Lights – Friendly Fires // The Magic Place – Julianna Barwick // Zoo Station – Nine Inch Nails // Free Press and Curl – Shabazz Palaces // Replica – Oneohtrix Point Never // I Never Learnt to Share – James Blake // Glass Jar – Gang Gang Dance // Sexy and I Know It – LMFAO // Till the World Ends – Britney Spears // Downtown – Destroyer // A Real Hero (feat. Electric Youth) – College // Heavy Pop – Wu Lyf // The Edge of Glory – Lady Gaga

After making best-of mixes in 2009 and 2010, I knew I’d be doing it again this year. What I didn’t count on is going from three discs to four! But I listened to and loved a lot of music this year and quickly realized there was no way I could bring myself to cut a whole disc’s worth of material from my favorites. So I’m giving them to you at no extra charge!

If I had to rank my favorite releases this year, it’d be as follows:

9. Beyoncé – 4
8. The Field – Looping State of Mind
7. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
6. Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
5. Friendly Fires – Pala
4. Lady Gaga – Born This Way
3. Wild Beasts – Smother
2. Drake – Take Care
1. Destroyer – Kaputt

I basically could have kept putting song after song from these suckers on there (especially Kaputt, a stone masterpiece) and left it at that. Meanwhile there was sort of a three-way tie for tenth place between James Blake, Gang Gang Dance, Bon Iver, Oneohtrix Point Never, and tUnE-yArDs, about whom you could pretty much say the same thing. So that explains the need for the fourth volume.

But only partially. You may also have noticed an increase in the amount of both hip-hop and radio dance-pop in the mix. I think you can attribute both to the birth of my delightful daughter Helena. Helena spent the first six weeks of her life in the hospital, stuck in the neonatal intensive care unit. Her mother spent the preceding three months either in the hospital as well or on bedrest at home. So I ended up spending a lot of time in the car, driving to and from the hospital or running enough errands for two people. New York currently has two pop radio stations, both of which are increasingly indistinguishable from the dance station it also has, so a lot of that kind of music was drilled into my head almost by default. While I never ever ever want to hear the voices of Usher or Pitbull ever again, I still found many of these songs astonishingly entertaining. Months later, when my daughter came home and grew strong and healthy and old enough to enjoy dancing around the room with me, a lot of them doubled as a soundtrack for our Daddy Dance Parties. So yes, LMFAO is close to my heart. (Seriously though, that group is perfectly harmless, and those songs are good-natured and fun to dance to.)

As for hip-hop, it’d been years since I listened to as much new stuff as I did this year. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the records from which I drew most heavily sort of followed in the footsteps of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy from last year and treated the album format like the rock album format, with an emphasis on atmosphere and a journey from A to B and less obvious filler. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the big commercial acts are starting to audibly question and complicate commercial hip-hop’s enormously boring lockstep subject matter of sex, money, not caring for haters, and the artist’s own awesomeness, with a dollop of “life is hard” to take the curse off it. (I don’t say that to deny that life is, in fact, hard, or at least used to be, for a lot of these guys. Obviously a lot of rappers (though certainly not all of them, and more specifically not all of them at the top of the charts these days) come from circumstances involving pervasive poverty, the shadow of criminality, and institutionalized racism, circumstances I’m fortunate not to have an experience with whatsoever. My point is just that boring art is boring art.) This also helps mitigate against all the “bitch” business, which is the kind of thing that I and most everyone I know finds totally unacceptable in any other field (I mean, presuming you’ve followed the discussion of superhero comics this year, you know how (appropriately!) low people’s tolerance is for misogynistic nonsense there) and is becoming increasingly difficult for me to excuse, let alone enjoy, in hip-hop too.

But again, it’s the baby what did it, really. Most of the time I’m listening to music I’m also doing something else — reading, writing, working. I’m pretty good at multitasking where music listening is concerned, but hip-hop’s the great exception. Unless it’s an old album I basically have memorized and can thus sort of tune out as an immediate presence, I find the constant flow of spoken words too distracting to get anything else done, especially the writing that occupies most of my work time. Meanwhile, even if I managed to only semi-pay attention to the lyrics, that’s no way to listen to an art form that’s predicated on wordplay and lyricism. I’m not a lyric person with any music, almost to a fault — the sounds hit me first and foremost — but with hip-hop you have to make an exception to an extent or you’re missing out. Put it all together and you get me listening to way less hip-hop than I did in the mid-to-late ’90s, when it was the lingua franca for me and all of my friends.

But now that the baby’s home, my wife, who has problems with sleep at the best of times, goes to bed by herself while I hang out downstairs with the sleeping baby — this way she (my wife) can drift off to sleep in a bedroom she knows won’t be disturbed by a restless baby before she (my wife) is able to fall into a deep sleep. I wait a couple hours, usually doing work and chores, and then bring the baby up and go to sleep myself. During that time I wash dishes and bottle parts by hand since we don’t have a dishwasher. And that’s the perfect time to listen to music, particularly hip-hop, since I’m in a quiet house with a stretch of time at my disposal, and the work I’m doing is mindless and won’t distract from listening to an album-length torrent of wordplay. It’s been exciting to slip back into the genre a bit, even if only via the big acclaimed records everyone listened to. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel or blaze any trails, I just want to expose myself to as much good music as I can.

Hopefully this mix will help you do the same!

PS: If you like what you hear, please purchase it from the artists. People who make music you like deserve your money!