My Favorite Things of 2013Posted: December 23, 2013
It’s that time again! Time to rave about the art & media that knocked my socks off this year. A few of my picks from last year continued to be great this year, like Brandon Graham & Crew’s Prophet or Daniel Warren Johnson’s Space-Mullet. But I’ll refrain from repeating myself and just say; hey everything from last year’s list is still awesome. Go see that list:
And now on to 2013…
Haunter, by Sam Alden
I hate this guy. He’s just too darn good. What’s great about Sam Alden is that he doesn’t run to one or two areas of comfort when making comics. His body of work is extremely varied in genre, style, and execution. The comics world pretty much agrees he’s one to watch, so I’ll just leave it at that. My favorite thing I’ve seen from him so far is Haunter, which was released on the great Study Group Comics website. It follows a hunter as she discovers ancient ruins and confronts what lurks within. It’s brave use of color, lack of dialogue, kinetic motion, and sense of tension really clicked with me.
Kingdom/Order, by Reid Psaltis
This is an example of an artist really hitting his mark. Reid has long been exploring comics with a focus on illustrating the animal kingdom and hints of man’s struggle with and within the natural world. I absolutely love all of his previous work, but it never coalesced as well before as it does in Kingdom/Order. Again, this is brought to us by the wonderful folks over at Study Group Comics (geez what’s a guy gotta do to get on this awesome site?). Reid’s illustrations have a wonderful sense of weight and light/dark. There is a beautiful simple accuracy in his representations of animals, juxtaposed with extreme pathos in the main human figure. While reading Kingdom/Order you feel that man is the foreigner in the animal world, but he is also no more at home in modern cities. And Oh my Lord the word balloons! Animals are given sound by shape iconography. It’s a stroke of genius (or genus?) from the artist. I’m extremely excited to see where Reid takes us as this story continues. Follow it for FREE at Study Group Comics.
Shaolin Cowboy, by Geof Darrow
Geof Darrow is absolutely fantastic in every sense of the word. I think we are up to issue 3 of this series and there has been about 4 lines of dialogue and 500 zombie deaths by dual chainsaw staff. Full page spreads populate each issue, detailing the pandemonium of the Cowboy’s battle while sound effects buzzzzz and the fuel gauge of the chainsaw slowly empties. This is the kind of exploratory and brave piece normally only seen in self-published comics these days. Bravo to Geof and bravo to Dark Horse for printing it!
The Private Eye, by Brian K. Vaughn & Marcos Martin
Man, what a great idea. Format a book for the iPad, release it digital, and let folks pay what they want for it. Include special features like a making-of issue and Q&A at the end of every issue. Add to that Marcos Martin’s kinetic art and a very relevant sci-fi story and then try and stop me from throwing my money at you. This series follows a private investigator in a world where the ‘information cloud’ has popped. People value their privacy above all else, wearing masks everywhere they go. This work is full of small touches that comment on the world as it is now, while also giving us a compelling character in the P.I. Go give them your money now!
Battling Boy, by Paul Pope
Here is another book that’s sure to be on everyone’s list, so I’ll avoid waxing eloquent too much. At this point, if you don’t know who Paul Pope is and you don’t understand his magic, I really have no hope for you. This book is basically Paul emulating Jack Kirby’s fourth world. If that’s not the greatest elevator pitch of the year, I don’t know what is.
Dumb, by Georgia Webber
I met Georgia at C.A.K.E this year. That show was full of some of my favorite artists, but Georgia’s work really stood out. She has a style that reminded me of my old favorite Anders Nilsen. The book is an autobiographical account of Georgia’s loss of her voice and how it has affected her life. The overall design of the project is simply and stunning. Georgia makes some very good decisions at every step of the way, from her use of red word balloons to the text of months breaking the panel borders to the perfect double page spread Each choice serves to enhance the themes in the book, giving the reader easy access to the experience. You really need to check it out.
Tiger Beat Exclusive, by Gina Wynbrandt
Oh you don’t know Gina? She’s only the funniest comics artist working right now. Go read about her creepy obsession with Justin Bieber, bizarre Kardashian beauty advice, and general lampooning of teen culture and I guarantee you’ll get rock hard abs from the ensuing laughter. In all seriousness, Gina has tapped into a form of humor reminiscent of Tim & Eric, with a little Michael Kupperman thrown in. Instead of being joke-y, Gina gives you a peak into a character’s inner monologue, exposing the ridiculous thoughts that permeate her head. I rarely laugh out loud when reading a comic, but her work has me rolling every time. She is one to watch.
This is the kind of film that defies definition and description. It hits you in much the same way as Terrence Malick’s work, in that you are left with an impression more than a story. The feeling you get from the film supersedes any simple narrative. That’s not to say there is no story in this film, because there is. But you feel more like you’re experiencing the characters’ stream of consciousness. It helps that the film is beautifully shot, with a near perfect soundtrack. It’s a challenging film and really benefits from repeat viewings. It’s on Netflix so you have no excuses… watch it!
Don Coscarelli reminds of the awesome indie comics artists I know. He has a sensibility that is always on the fringe, with influence and collaborations that push his work further with each iteration. Rarely does a movie come a long these days that truly ‘has everything’ and is as crazy as this film. I’m not even sure how to describe it… Hm… I guess it’s about two guys whose exposure to a drug called soy sauce leads them on an adventure though dimensions in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance? IDK. The pure invention and breadth of ideas present in John Dies is impressive and admirable. Plus it’s extremely funny and well acted. The source material by David Wong is even more far-reaching, but the film does well in cutting it into something that gives the impression of a larger world full of insanity.
Vin Diesel crashes his car into the railing of a bridge going in the opposite direction as a hijacked tank on which his amnesiac ex-girlfriend is perched but that tank is also being flipped by a cable that is anchored by a crushed car, which sends the amnesiac girlfriend fliying through the air only to be caught mid air by Vin Diesel who was launched from his crashed car over the gap between suspended highways, then the two land on a car’s windshield which breaks their fall as the tank flips over incapacitating the villain who has attempted to steal the final component to a doomsday device. In the first one they stole dvd players. I love these films.
Giant robots fighting giant monsters from another dimension. and Ron Perlman. DUH I loved this movie. Del Toro is really the devil in the details. He injects fun ideas and homages into everything from the costumes to the sets to the fight scenes. This film is a beautiful bombastic special effects extravaganza.
Ok now this is for real… I think Riddick is one of the few rays of hope in the sci-fi film landscape these days. We are seeing a lot of sci-fi movies, but many of them are devoid of invention, attitude, or actual science fiction. Riddick takes the character back to an (almost identical) situation as Pitch Black. You see him surviving alone and injured on an alien planet for the first 30 minutes of the film, in what is one of the coolest openings in recent memory. It lives in the same world as the Prophet comics, as a ‘Conan in Space’. Riddick is the character that Vin Diesel was born to play, and he seems to put more effort into his portrayal than you see in other films (FF included). The film feels small, but gives you a sense of a large, imaginative sci-fi landscape. It’s full of tough guys, crazy monsters, and bad-assery.
I was very surprised by You’re Next. I went in unaware of the film’s background. Once the credits rolled though, it all made sense. There is a group of filmmakers trying to keep horror scrappy and relevant. Like Adam Wingard and Ti West. While not all of their films have worked perfectly, this one hits on all cylinders. It has new takes on genre staples and presents interesting and graphic murders that you would expect. But the characters are for the most part unlikable and awkward, leading to humor throughout. And I mean this in a good way. There is very little in the characters that could be seen as conventional, but a lot that can be seen as real. Seeing a horror film that presents a unique (and perhaps more realistic?) vision of how people behave in horrific situations is long overdue.
I’m kicking myself for not seeing this in the theatre. It is absolutely gorgeous. And not due to Ryan Gosling’s appearance. Refn shows us a not-unfamiliar Thailand, but it’s almost like a fresh look on what we understand to be the world of Bangkok. Many scenes play quietly, as if the whole film is taking place in the early hours of the morning or in the day time after a night of heavy drinking. We are presented with characters whose actions reveal their morals and goals slowly as the film progresses. It’s not until the final 20 minutes that you feel you really understand where everyone is coming from. This makes the film somewhat laborious to watch (that is, if you can’t appreciate the gorgeous visuals), but the overall sense you get calls into question vigilantism, colonialism, and loyalty. Oh and it has a karaoke singing, machete wielding, vigilante.
I have to say music was a little slimmer pickin’s for me this year. So there is one cheat on here…
Run the Jewels (Killer Mike & El-P)
These two gents both had albums on my list last year, so it’s probably obvious that their collaboration this year would make my list. But two good things don’t always combine for something great (Like when Ozzy & Miss Piggy got together). Luckily, Mike and El are in top form as Run the Jewels. This record hits hard and fast. Featuring some of El-P’s heavy sci-fi influenced production and Mike’s vocal passion, there isn’t a thow-away track on the entire album. The record plays fun and energetic, but not devoid of truth. Seems like two talented, earnest musicians having a good time.
Sorrow & Extinction, Pallbearer
Ok so this is the cheat. I must admit that I was not aware of this album until this year, although technically it was released last year. But dude…. this album is so heavy and perfect I had to mention it. I was immediately reminded of Sleep’s epic Dopesmoker while listening to Sorrow & Extinction. The album is 5 epic tracks, running from 8-12 minutes each. While firmly planted in the doom-metal genre, Pallbearer’s slow riffs are peppered with beautiful melodies and moments of transcendent peace. The vocals really shine, as the lead singer’s voice is honest and strains for notes occasionally. This mirrors dark and sad lyrics which guide the listener on a journey of mourning. This has officially becoming my ‘music to ink by’ while making comics.
Hesitation Marks, Nine Inch Nails
Trent has again evolved on this record. You can hear the influences of his film score work with Atticus Ross and his collaboration with his wife on How to Destroy Angels (worst band name ever, BTW). The majority of the songs have an electronic feel and are very digestible. It’s a safe record in the overall sense of popular music, but a bit of a departure from NIN’s earlier records. I was most struck by the lyrics. This is the most hopeful I’ve heard in Trent’s lyrics… and I kinda like it. He’s old now. I’m getting old. Let’s stop whining but keep making music.
Old, Danny Brown
Danny Brown is a love him or hate him rapper. His lyrics are extremely offensive at times and his vocal styling is somewhat of an assault on the ears. I obviously love it. While Danny does rap about (lots) of drug use and (LOTS) of sex, it has a reality to it which lacks in most rap. What I mean is that he doesn’t seem to use these topics as some way of bragging or status symbols. When he raps about the debauchery of his life, it’s more like an admission of his twisted state of being. That being said, Old is REALLY a fun listen from a musical standpoint. Brown changes his vocal styling a little more sporadically on Old than he did on XXX. The production is very tight, with beats influenced by dub-step, chip tunes, and even soul music.
I hope this list intrigues and confuses you. I can’t help it but I like variety and I hope you do too. If you aren’t in to one of my picks, please don’t let that stop you from looking into another one of them.
What are your picks from 2013?