December 16th, 2008
Ahh Christmas lists. Just what the world needs – my favourite shit from last year. Christmas is cancelled until this is out of the way.
I’m not going to piss around. Let’s get started…
Top Comics of 2008:
Well, it’s been a very good year of comics reading despite my continuing annoyance at the output of Marvel and DC. I’m increasingly tired of the corporate dictated market-grabbing swipes of the Big Two. DC comics has disappeared up it’s own hyper-anus with some of the most convoluted reader-unfriendly continuity porn masquerading as stories. Bizarre editorial decisions and some truly fucking terrible comics have jaded my view of a company whose characters and mythos I have a massive fondness for, to the point where I don’t want to give them any of my money. Marvel seem to have a better strategy, and some promising creators working for them (Jason Aaron, Matt Fraction, Jeff Parker) but the relentless hype machine and continual crossovers just bores me senseless. The comics they produce are still for the most part cynical and vapid. Plus I fucking hate Wolverine.
Thank fuck then, that Grant Morrison’s comics for DC have all been glorious, messy and occasionally transcendent things that ignite my inherent passion for super-comics. I know it’s obvious most of the Mindless worship at his feet, but really, no-one writes like him. Single issues of Batman, all of All-Star Superman, and the many high points of Final Crisis have left me breathless this year. I know a lot of criticism leveled at him may be valid, but at the end of the day I JUST DON’T CARE. Compared to the boredom I feel reading most spandex comics, the rush of reading a Morrison comic is like sexygood drugs. Final Crisis in particular brings back the giddy thrill of discovering whole universes of characters, like reading Secret Wars when you’re seven. All star Superman might just be his definitive work, the logical conclusion of a process begun in Flex Mentallo. In issue 10 he created the perfect superhero comic, full stop. Batman RIP may have left some feeling deflated, but strip away the hype and shit-talking and remember that scene of the rainbow-clad Batman of Zur-Enh-Arr charging through the rain scoured neon rooftops of Gotham, Bat-bat in hand; hurtling towards the Black Glove, the Joker and us. Heart stoppingly exciting and audaciously silly at the same time. All this, despite DC’s efforts tu sabotage their best writer with some staggeringly stupid decisions (under counting whole chunks of FC in Countdown, the Countdown spin-offs and all their other bullshit…). Once Morrison’s out of the DCU, I am too, unless they start making good fucking comics again.
I’ve also enjoyed Giffen’s Ambush Bug, although again it’s flawed. Despite being a giant comics in-joke it’s genuinely refreshing to read an overtly humorous spandex comic. Superhero comics are by and large extremely po-faced – Geoff Johns for example, seems to be able to ONLY write as though he’s clenching his teeth, whilst squeezing out a particularly troublesome turd. The freewheeling, fourth wall smashing fun of Irwin Schwartz is eternally welcome at the Beast’s house.
The Umbrella Academy was a surprising treat, as were sporadic issues of Iron Fist, Ghost Rider and Metal Men. My favourite other superhero work of the year was Lethem and Dalrymple’s Omega The Unknown. Absolutely excellent stuff, reminiscent of Marvel at it’s most ‘head’ comicy, but with a bold modern feel. Of all the writers from outside of comics to turn his hand to it, Lethem was one of the more successful, and kudos to him for pouring his all into what was obviously a very personal work. Omega The unknown was an intriguing, odd and utterly unique comicbook, which may well have slipped under a few people’s radar. Probably reads very well in trade, so go and buy it. And read ‘Fortress of Solitude’ while you’re there – it’s beautiful.
Beyond that Lapham’s utterly berserk teen-romance comic Young Liars, and Brubaker and Phillips’ finely tuned noir comic Criminal really floated my fucking canoe. Young Liars has been at discussed at length on Mindless Ones, but suffice to say there’s nothing out there like it. Easily the most fucked-up, funny and genuinely scary thing Vertigo have put out in years, Lapham is king creator man, and all-round splendid chap. Read our interview with him here. An BUY YOUNG LIARS. If that series goes the way of your average Vertigo comic I will be very fucking cross indeed.
Criminal was just one of the very best, constantly satisfying reads on the market. The creative synergy between Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s, puts them up with the best of them. Criminal may not have surprised anyone, but it was faultlessly executed. Really pays to buy the singles too – no ads, interesting back-matter, and goddamnit what’s more pulpy than a comics pamphlet anyway?
I also adored JW Cotter’s awesome Skyscrapers of The Midwest, which I rant drunkenly about in the forthcoming MO Chrissmazz podcast. Brilliant stuff, utilizing the comic form to great effect, tremendously affecting, bluntly realistic and fantastical at the same time. Just bracingly good comics really, put together with real love by the creator.
Acme Novelty Library was as cheery as ever. Ware is not my favourite creator – I find his comics a little too precise and diagrammatical. That said Acme Novelty Library is still an amazing read. It’s so idiosyncratic and particular, and few creators get to the true blank heart of loneliness and cruelty like Mr Ware. Always beautifully put together as well.
The colour Scott Pilgrim special was a treat, just enough to remind you how much you love Brian Lee O’Malley’s singular and lovable creation. His work looks just lovely coloured to boot. Roll on Volume 5!
The Fletcher Hanks collection I Will Destroy all the Civilised Planets from Fantagraphics was brilliant, and very disturbing. Primitive yet powerful artwork, and a twisted quasi-Old Testament take on superheroing like no other. Pre-Golden Age weirdness in extremis. Genuinely nice to see such a loving presentation of such an obscure and forgotten artist. By all accounts he was a bit of a shit.
What else? Oh yeah – Terminus! Best damn thing in the universe. Give that man a film/book/cartoon series/action-figure line.
Top Music of 2008:
I had a fantastic year of music. Sadly, hardly any of it was released this year. So my best music of 2008 includes Scott Walker, Butthole Surfers, Master Ace, The Homosexuals, Pere Ubu, Sixtoo, D.I.T.C., Jarvis, The Fall, Silver Jews, Thee More Shallows, Viktor Vaughn, Destroyer, The Pastels, Arab Strap, Hot Chip, Qwel, Blue Orchids, J-Zone, Guided By Voices, Arthur Russell, Goblin, John Cale, Big Star, Orange Juice, RA the Rugged Man, Josef K, Silver Apples, Cat Stevens, The Who, Jeffrey Lewis, Wire, LCD Soundsystem, Darc Mind, Bad Brains, Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Carpenter, Submarine, Ariel Pink and the B-52′s…
But I suppose I have to pick something from this year in order to obey the Lords of The End of Year Lists (an extremely stern bunch, who meet out severe punishments to transgressors. They worship the irritating Hornby deity)
So I’m going to plump for The Cool Kids‘ album ‘Bakesale’. I missed the hype around these young scamps, but walked into a record shop and heard it playing over the system and was instantly grabbed. One of the many reasons I love hip hop, is that every so often a group come out with a totally fresh and inspired record that sounds like nothing else – Spank Rock, Clipse, Clouddead, Latyrx, Madvillain, Outkast…the list goes on. Cool Kids slips into that tradition with an almost effortless ease, and a cheeky wink. Bakesale is a return to the good-time vibes of the ‘Golden Age’ (debated endlessly by rap-nerds, but loosely defined as 88-94) of rap, with the bragging nerd-egotism of The early Beasties or Black Sheep, the laid back rhyming of De La Soul, and the stripped down boom-bap of Run DMC or Eric B & Rakim. Which is not to say it’s a retro album – far from it. The Cool Kids concoct a sonic stew that has the minimalist squelch of the Neptunes mixed with the lo-fi fuzz of the most hard traveled backpack rapper. Thick, head-nodding beats and tight syncopation, it’s infectious stuff. Mikey Rock has the charm and arrogance of a young Kool Keith, or Charizma (short lived rapper, cohort of Peanut Butter Wolf), with a good dollop of humour and self-deprecation added to the mix. Boy can flow too, in that easy way a truly talented rapper can, riding Chuck Inglish’s unconventional beats with energy and skill. In fact the synergy of the pair brings to mind some of the great rap duos. The Cool Kids look back to the 80′s as if it’s a forgotten culture to excavate (they are reaally young) which gives the proceedings a fresh aspect and stops it being a tired exercise in nostalgic grumbling. When they talk about “bringing 88 back” they mean the Cool Kids version of that horrid decade, one where gold chains, a pager and fat trainers are the important things in life. This is a collection of singles and internet jobbies rather than an album proper. I await that development with baited breath.
I also suspect that Why?’s ‘Alopecia’, and the Mountain Goats ‘Heretic Pride’ would be on this list, but I don’t have them yet – girlfriend, do your Christmas duty!
*addendum – Just found a cheap copy of Heretic Pride – it is indeed one of the best things I’ve heard this year. Don’t know if it’s ‘Sunset Tree’ good, but it looks likely.
Top Films of 2008:
One word: milkshake. Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood was easily the most genuinely cinematic experience I had this year. Three hours trapped in a cinema with Daniel Day Lewis’ bellowing head, and Johnny Greenwood’s caustic soundtrack left this Beast reeling, giddy with the joy of watching a truly unique film. It stayed with me for weeks afterwards,the urge to start talking like Daniel Plainview lurking in every social encounter. I think what I loved most about the film was that it managed to be about so much – literally the birth of modern America – without ever feeling heavy handed. It was equally a portrait of a complex and fascinating man at the heart of this expanding nation, a man who possibly doesn’t have a heart; in it’s place a gushing oil well. I can take or leave Day Lewis usually, but his performance here was towering, monstrous and epic, yet with enough nuance and subtlety to prevent it becoming cartoonish. He is on screen for virtually every second – he owns the film, and it’s testament to Anderson’s sure and bold directorial hand that he doesn’t engulf the film altogether. There are shades of Terence Malick and Orson Welles in ‘There Will Be Blood’, but Anderson is his own director, never resorting to pastiche or gimmick, instead creating a truly unique cinematic experience. As a director he’s been on a fascinating learning curve, from Hard Eight, through Magnolia and the oddly compelling, if unsatisfying Punch Drunk Love. There Will Be Blood represents the pinnacle though of an artist who still believes in the transformative power of celluloid, and it will stand as a stunning piece of film making for years to come.
I also enjoyed Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda, for the potential they showed for 3D animation. Wall-E was sweet, and tremendously touching if a little saggy at the end. Basically I think I would have been happy with a virtually wordless film with only the two robotic protagonists and no humans. Much more interesting. Loved the first twenty or so minutes. Also; check the PC/Mac comparison between Wall-E and his lady friend…
Kung Fu Panda was a surprising treat, as I had very low expectations for it (Jack Black – no). However the animation is gob-smackingly good; kinetic, vibrant and extremely stylish. The fights are astoundingly choreographed and there’s a refreshing lack of sentimentality to the story. Short, sweet and very funny.
Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg was by turns infuriating, brilliant, taxing and sometimes beautiful. A vivid and poetic psycho-dissection of the hometown he both loves and loathes.
I also liked Frank Darabont’s The Mist. Just a very satisfying intelligent monster movie, reminiscent of the best 50′s B-Movies (Incredible Shrinking Man, or Them for example). Nasty, thought-provoking and compelling. Plus, you know, loads of monsters. I admired the guts of the ending, although personally I found the part where the escapees drove out into the blank, desolate Lovecraftian wastelands to be far more unsettling. The idea that you have become insignificant, replaced by something else, something BIG…just terrifyingly done.
Top Books of 2008:
I read a lot of books this year, some very good, some not so great. I often find it hard to remember what I’ve read, but trust me it’s loads. I’m fucking clever me.
The best, or at least the one that made the most impression was Bill Drummond’s 17. I love Drummond – he writes with his heart and his brain, and he always tries to challenge himself with his work. I like his brand of art – proletarian approaches to far out concepts. 17 is a chronicle of a (sort of) personal movement/quest by Drumond to try and create music from a ‘year zero’ approach, using untrained human voices, spontaneity and community. The vow is to to record the piece, listen back (but only the participants – never an audience), then delete for all time. perverse? Pretentious? Pointless? Possibly. But Drummond writes with conviction, self-awareness and humour. It’s as fascinating as a window into Drummond’s worldview as anything. His clear, direct writing style is eminently readable and thought provoking. I carried 17 around with me for weeks, and it constantly inspired me in my own artistic endeavors. His books always do that to me though; he’s a constantly inspiring character, and I welcome any missives he wishes to send out to the world. Beautifully presented too, simple, strong, no-frills design. Lovely.
I also enjoyed my 18 month old niece’s picture book about underpants. That was really good.
Hero of 2008:
Superman really. The end of end of All-Star Superman made me believe in him for real.
oh, and Gob from Arrested Development (I know it finished ages ago, but I watched it all over the course of a couple of weekends, and I can safely say it’s the best American comedy show ever. Seriously, note perfect) Why is he the hero of 2008?
Watch for yourself
Villain of 2008:
Darkseid. Oh and people who tell me Family Guy is ‘genius’.
And that’s it! See you on the flip-side kids! Have an amazing Christmas/not-Christmas!