Posted by: Abhay Khosla on December 30, 2012
I wrote one of these elsewhere in 2011, a year-end best-of / worst-of wrap-up piece, but I thought I’d do this here this year, if that’s okay. I can’t promise this is going to be a very edifying affair for anybody– my memory is not great so this is just what I can remember of 2012.
I’ll start with comics, in case you want to stop there. Thank you for your consideration.
Graphic Novels– Oooh, How Fancy. I missed a lot of the big books of the year this year, like every year– year-end list are always a subject of a lot of guilt for me for being such a lazy reader. But the book I found myself most responding to this year was Joost Swarte’s IS THAT ALL THERE IS?
It caught me at the right time– it came out right around the time I’d been going back through the non-Moebius-Corben wing of the Metal Hurlant crowd, guys like Serge Clerc or Yves Chaland, the guy who don’t fit the stereotype of what that magazine was all about. Daniel Torres wasn’t a Metal Hurlant guy but I found an old Heavy Metal with a long stretch of Torres– man, oh man.
IS THIS ALL THERE IS? was a career retrospective of Swarte’s decades in comics, collecting all (or nearly all– I remember getting confused on that point) of Swarte’s work in a slim volume, Swarte being more influential than prolific. The economics of American comics and the attention economy make that a difficult choice, I suppose, but Swarte sure does make a persuasive case for it: boy, these are some pretty comics.
Swarte’s comics play around with the form, but that doesn’t consume the whole thing– there are still cartoon characters in there, and more importantly, dirty jokes. See, e.g., the comic about sentient used-condoms– I really admire that Swarte didn’t use his limited output as any kind of excuse to keep him from making a comic about anthropomorphized used-condoms one of the cornerstones of his curriculum vitae.
Serial Comics– The Kind with Staples. On the non-graphic-novel side, oh, I liked the usual suspects, I suppose. I mentioned enjoying SAGA here, I believe. ZAUCERS OF ZILK– I thought I would just be reading that for Brendan McCarthy but that actually had a whole thing going on, a whole presentational style that I thought was exciting. Definitely MULTIPLE WARHEADS– that and SAGA alone would have made this a great year for me. What little I saw of MIND MGMT (I’m behind there). I really hadn’t liked this latest series of CASANOVA because a lot of it seemed to be purposefully avoiding or dismantling the things that I liked about CASANOVA to begin with. That said, I thought that last issue of that series landed completely– I remember putting down the last one of those convinced the right choices had been made and excited for whatever comes next, if there gets to be a next. I always just feel really excited to pick up that book. What I saw of the Roger Langridge POPEYE was pretty impressive.
Oh, and any year with an issue of TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE… Some bow or curtsey is required in the direction of that.
For the mainstream, I only read FURY and the FLASH– those were the only books where I could go, “I don’t care if I feel dirty reading these” (which… look perhaps it’s not rational, but I tried to pick up a couple of the celebrated books du jour and just couldn’t feel right about myself, for various reasons… I don’t suggest there’s anything wrong with you if you weren’t likewise afflicted, but I just have to admit to that particular malady myself). FURY is obviously the better book, the one where I find the story interesting, where I’m compelled by the AMERICAN TABLOID atmosphere of it all to keep reading, to find out “what happens next.” The FLASH is just the one that makes me happy to see the performance– I don’t really care about what he’s drawing; I just want to see Francis Manapul do his job.
The Small Press– Who? I read a lot of great small press comics, this year. I just want to list them all, but I guess that’d defeat the point of a Best-Of situation, right? Thanks to anyone who sent me one out of the blue, especially Gordon Harris sending me PEDESTRIAN and Austin English sending me the DOMINO BOOKS releases.
My friend John launched a Cleveland horror anthology that sure was good times, but my opinion there is biased.
The two things that I most reacted to?
(1) Michel Fiffe’s work– I think I’d seen a little of ZEGAS while it was being serialized online, but ZEGAS combined with a Suicide Squad homage comic that he did (and I think I’m expecting COPRA in the mail soon)? That is some exciting stuff to open a mailbox to; I’d rank that alongside anything else I read this year, easy-peasy.
(2) I really liked this Ryan Cecil Smith thing SF…? Tucker Stone and some other people had been talking it up– it’s, like… like a cover version of a Leiji Matsumoto comic, I think. (I don’t really know enough about Leiji Matsumoto to really understand what was going on from that perspective). I really dug the whole package there, though, like on a “look at the way the ink is on the paper” level, and spent a while just sort of paging through it… The story and art were good but that was more a parts-greater-than-sum thing that involved a reaction to the texture of it, for me, a pleasure that’s more difficult for me to articulate …
Webcomics– What Kind of Weirdo Cares about Webcomics? Easy call: best thing I saw this year was Click and Drag by XKCD. I just thought that was an achievement. Not just in its size and scope, but there are so many killer jokes in there… Plus, I loved how people took it and made their own thing with it– people who made better scrolling versions, maps, what have you. I’ve talked about it with friends and compared experiences of it– my “I got lost the cave system for a half-hour” vs. their “who are you? why are you talking to me? why are you drooling on yourself?” My very best friends.
What else… found myself looking at anything on the Study Group Comics site; Project Ballad; I don’t go to What Things Do enough, as often as I should, but whenever I do is edifying, I suppose. Kate Beaton’s post-hurricane New York comics. I know Cameron Stewart finally wrapped up SIN TITULO but I haven’t sat down with it yet– but… I have just no doubt based on what I read before it deserves to be on her; that thing is great. Super Mutant Magic Academy and Softer World both continued to kill it for me. And I may be biased, but Eat More Bikes has killed me this year…
Writing about Comics– The Sport of Kings. I tried to keep a list of favorite writing about comics last year, but I didn’t do that this year so I really feel badly that I can’t make a better list there.
I haven’t finished it yet, but Sean Howe’s Marvel book! Especially that stretch in the 70’s. That is a book I’ve wanted to read for so many years and he did a better job with it than I’d even hoped. I’m still working through that, though.
I spent a lot time surfing by the Comics Journal website so perhaps I got lazy and stuck to their work more than I should’ve. That said: Chris Mautner talking to Eddie Campbell, and Tim Hodler talking to Chris Roberson. Plus, I enjoyed their coverage of the big stories in comics like Spain Rodriguez passing away or the anniversary of the Hernandez Brothers– those all lead to pieces I recall having enjoyed. The Kirby Hand of Fire roundtable. I can’t say I agreed with him, but I thought Darryl Ayo talking about Ben Marra was worthwhile– I enjoyed thinking about it afterwards, certainly. I sure envied the angry reaction that Sean Rogers’s essay on Flex Mentallo was greeted with, though I suppose I liked that book much more than he did.
Finally, a lot of women wrote about cosplay after the Tony Harris thing. I felt like I learned a lot about a world I didn’t really understand before, and I was thankful for that.
I just feel like I’m forgetting a lot– I regret not having kept any notes, and so, if I’ve forgotten something any of you have written, I apologize because I appreciate that there are people out there willing to take the time to try to make my expeirence of comics richer. And obviously, getting to be a part of the Comics of the Weak gang occasionally means I get to be next to writing that I think very highly of, whether from Tucker Stone or Joe McCulloch or Tim O’Neil. That’s been a pleasure.
LEAST FAVORITE COMICS
Jonathan Hickman’s SECRET. Jonathan Hickman’s SECRET. Jonathan Hickman’s SECRET.
This was a badly executed attempt at doing an opaque “70’s suspense thriller.” Two issues crapped out, and then I haven’t seen it again. Did I miss the rest?
I have to admit that I hated that comic in a way that was really fun and enjoyable, very pure– everything should be as fun to hate.
It wasn’t a “so bad it’s good” experience– I might be too old for that sort of thing to have much purchase with me. No, it was just thoroughly shitty– dull non-characters, pages crammed with dialogue none of it interesting or memorable, a total obliviousness to the visual possibilities of comics, action-crime comics by guys who just can’t sell that they’ve ever met a tough guy in their life. It all felt phony and un-lived.
Also: “ooooh, Jonathan Hickman is a designer“– shouldn’t there be ANY evidence of that anywhere besides a cover? This is just boring flat grids, humdrum word balloons, dialogue shoved in caption boxes for no discernible reason, same-old same-old tedium aside from a mostly-embarrassing attempt at doing something novel with the color.
Did Steranko never exist? Is David Aja not making comics right this second? Can we quit praising guys for having design skills just because their covers kinda sorta resemble books?
But I loved hating SECRET. I adored hating SECRET.
What I like: you can go and make a million comics for Marvel or DC, but when the time comes to make your own, the blank page is waiting for you. You have a blank page, and have to make up your own world, and your own characters, and you can’t ride off Jack Kirby’s coattails, or the coattails of the generations that preceded you. None of the experience of riding on other people’s accomplishments will help you when it’s you and a blank page. You can’t pretend to be interesting by having a “massive outline,” or by killing Sue Storm, or by having the X-Men fighting the Avengers.
The blank page will eat you alive unless you come at it with some goddamn fire in your belly, no matter who you are, and you can’t build muscle to deal with that by lifting 5-pound weights. This isn’t just a terrible comic by people who don’t seem to know what they’re doing– it’s a terrible comic by people who don’t seem to know what they’re doing who have made a TON of other comics.
And I fucking love that.
Look, maybe that guy’s hit before– I know a lot of people are huge fans, of some of his Image books. Obviously, the MANHATTAN PROJECTS was one of the big hits of the year. Me, I tried the first issue of that, and put it down not feeling any need to find out more about what an actually interesting history wasn’t in any way like. I didn’t see the appeal. But it’s a big hit.
But that fact that we’re all equally susceptible to failure, that the really fucking weird hype of “Writer with a Big-Name Because He’s the Guy Who Writes Speedball for a Living has Decided to Make Image Comics” (how weird is that hype! To me, it’s weird because it highlights how UNUSUAL it is to routinely expect artists to fucking create things), that hype can still result in the biggest pieces of shit I’ve seen this year, I find all that invigorating personally. I take it as a reassurance as to what really matters.
Get that fire in the belly, kids.
Least favorite writing about comics. Comics Blogger has a list you might find yourself sympathetic to. It includes one essay that I think has to be hands-down winner for the year, though it also includes people I do like or at least feel a fondness for in that they’ve been a small part of my own life for however long.
Look, my official policy is anyone engaged in writing about comics occasionally will say some impressively stupid shit just unavoidably in the ultimately worthwhile process of saying anything at all, that we are all lucky to be celebrating a unique art form with a grand history stretching in both directions, and that if we didn’t celebrate it, the businesspeople and employees whose care comics are temporarily in sure as shit wouldn’t bother.
That said, it’s also my policy to be wildly enthusiastic about smack talk, of any kind or nature, whether I agree fully with it or not, because I enjoy it, because I find negativity funny and entertaining. (Also, I’m just happy I didn’t end up on there because oh brother, I probably came close more than once– “Hey everybody, people tweeted jokes about Green Lantern I didn’t like. Derpity-derp-derp. Here’s a youtube video of meerkats“).
I would just add in conclusion, that regardless of how you feel about Comics Blogger’s list, however aggrieved, we can hopefully set aside our petty differences, look to our common humanity, and agree that MTV Geek was fucking robbed. MTV Geek is a clown car.
Favorite. My top 10, from 1 to 10, I’d go… DJANGO UNCHAINED, THE RAID: REDEMPTION, CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, 21 JUMP STREET, THE GUARD, THE MASTER, RUBY SPARKS, KILL LIST, LOOPER and MOONRISE KINGDOM.
The Guard and Kill LIst might both be technically 2011 movies; also, while I really liked LOOPER, I remain convinced that the story in LOOPER made no goddamn sense whatsoever. Everything else was a pleasure without asterix.
Least Favorite. This is a tough call, but I’d say PROMETHEUS because I was looking forward to it more than THIS IS 40.
PROMETHEUS was beautiful to look at, and had some riveting sequences, but on the other hand, I was humanly capable of understanding the story to THIS IS 40 while I was watching it, which gives it a slight edge for me in that I find that to be an important part of going to the movies to me.
After those two, I would go with JOHN CARTER– I thought that stunk, and its failure becoming some kind of cause celebre among geeks was fucking embarrassing to watch. “Why didn’t the advertising BLAH?” Because the people responsible for advertising that movie had the thankless task of selling a massive, stinky turd. The end. Thanks, and remember to tip your waiter.
Favorite. I really loved the music I was listening to this year– I was in a very Albert Brooks in Modern Romance “I love my albums” place with music this year.
Favorite? I’d go with Killer Mike’s R.A.P. MUSIC, with the new Fiona Apple just narrowly behind as a strong second. (Apple had great songs but I had a tough time getting used to how they were arranged, while Killer MIke’s arrangemnet made more sense to me…?). I really liked that Japandroids album, too…
But what felt unusual… I even liked the big shallow pop hits of this year, for the first time in a long time. Call Me Maybe being everywhere made sense to me, and sure, the lyrics are a little suspicious but that ONE DIRECTION song– when I saw them perform on SNL, I wasn’t thinking “Oh, Boy Bands again, I’m so angry because this isn’t intended for my precise demographic.” It seemed like a good idea! The song is catchy, and those kids seem preferable to that crazy Justin Beiber guy — is he driving 1000 miles per hour down LA streets? Why we let that kid become a huge monster made a lot less sense to me.
Least Favorite. I didn’t really understand that thing where people got all worked up by that K-Pop song, Gang-something style. The whole appeal of all that was really inexplicable to me– I was just really mystified what people got out of that. Is it that he yells into a girl’s butt? I guess…? Or people sure like lassos, all of the sudden! I don’t know– I just didn’t follow what happened there. It was obviously a mass phenomenon, but … so are fainting epidemics. I just was very confused by it.
Favorite. My top 10 was (1) MAD MEN– the Roshomon episode (there was a stretch of episodes where it became like a series of short stories that were just relentlessly wonderful to me), (2) BREAKING BAD — I’d say the one with the laptop, (3) the Parker Posey episodes of LOUIE, (4) the final episode of COMMUNITY, the last I’ll ever see of those characters (no thanks to a no-Harmon version– I’ve seen a Marv Wolfman Howard the Duck) sent off in a way that felt so loving to the characters, the actors, the audience, everybody, everywhere, (5) the Year in the Life episode of CHILDRENS HOSPITAL, (6) the episode with Nicola on the train of THE THICK OF IT, (7) HUNDERBY– the one with the medical exam, (8) the ice rink episode of PARKS AND RECREATION, (9) THE ERIC ANDRE SHOW– whichever one had Dolph Lundgren, and (10) the Los Angeles episode of EAGLEHEART.
Honorary Mention. It’s not TV– it’s CHANNEL 101, but I was very lucky to find myself in the audience for GUMBEL and OH SHIT, as well as the finale of INTIMATE INDISCRETIONS. I don’t think my heart ever felt as full of love for my fellow man as watching those final seconds of each of those shows, each of which could not be more different than the other.
Least Favorite. THE NEWSROOM, but that was a show I religiously hate-watched– everything I’d mock and deride Aaron Sorkin for was just front and center in that show. I was really delighted to hate it, like I was delighted by SECRET– as a flaming, jaw-dropping confirmation of my preexisting negative biases. Setting that aside, I was really disappointed by DEAD BOSS– maybe it got better but I couldn’t get past the first of those.
Books. I read books this year but nothing I’d want to admit to– didn’t feel like I made good choices there so I found my choice in reading a little embarrassing. So. Oh, I really liked Jonathan Lethem’s book about THEY LIVE. I’ll cop to that…
Favorite. HOT LINE MIAMI. Terrible boss battles, but I really admired the game design for everything else. I love how it milked each moment of gameplay.
Least favorite. MASS EFFECT 3; a giant “what was the point of all that time spent” bummer. Don’t make me ask that question, games! Sort of put me off games, in general, which hopefully takes because … I just don’t want to play them– I don’t feel good about the time they take up. We meet all of these characters so we can run past them on the way to some lame “so, uh, which ending do you want?” finale…? What? Also: a game where it’s embarrassing to complain about the ending because the fanboy gamers threw such a horrible endless hissy fit that I’m not invariably included in their membership. Ugh to it all.
I don’t have any recollection sufficient to identify my least favorites but. The ones that come to mind, sitting here today…
(1) Todd Glass on the WTF Podcast;
(2) Riki Lindholme and especially the second episode of Kumail Nanjiani talking to Pete Holmes on YOU MADE IT WEIRD;
(3) Key & Peele on the NERDIST– real pure comedy nerdery, why I listen to that show at its finest;
(4) any episode involving Sona screaming at RJ and Bley on RJ AND BLEY SUCK AT GIRLS– this show popped up on my tumblr dashboard one day but when they bring on their friend Sona to scream at these guys, that has become one of my favorite things and I wish it happened more; they really deserve it; and
(5) I was there for it, but the Harmotown where Rob Schrab got pulled onto the stage was just a joyous thing to be in the audience for and I’d expect/hope that joy would translate to anyone listening.
Honorary Mention. Michael Chabon on Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm. I just liked how Silverblatt sounded like he was about to have a powerful and overwhelming orgasm talking about Chabon’s new book. Sold me on it.
Favorite. I really got into lobster rolls this year– I’d say the Loster Rolls at Son of a Gun were a highpoint. I’d just be sitting around and just find myself thinking about lobster rolls.
Least favorite. The place is out of business now so it’d be rude to identify it by name, but it was a weird “what if Subway sold sushi” place that just closed down by where I work. Subway shouldn’t sell sushi. Was that not obvious?
Favorite. I got an IKEA bookshelf that really ties my apartment together. I don’t know what my place was like without it anymore– it’s been a real gamechanger. I’m glad I finally have a chance to tell you about it, as it has been near to my heart.
Least favorite. iTunes deleted all my contacts for my phone for some reason I couldn’t fathom, so I had to pay to buy a software that would recover my contacts. I resented it not being free. Is that unfair to the purchase? It is. But … but make your own damn list! How dare you question my least favorite purchase of 2012? HOW DARE YOU? HAVE YOU NO SHAME?