And I realized that I was wrong about art, that that wasn't what got me through the year. Because this year was a whole lot better than last year, filled with actual exciting things, like travel and new experiences, and not just records. There was the Pacific Ocean, and California, and vagina. Democratic elections! Blackouts! I don't know whether rock shows count as art or actual life experience, but I guess in a lot of ways it's all a blur, but you know: Lightning Bolt, The Boredoms, and Hrvatski. Yo La Tengo and Why? Man Man, Akron/Family, Shellac, and Boris. Also others- USAISAMONSTER, Wooden Wand. Whatever, I talk about almost every show I go to on this blog. Read the archives. (This isn't addressed to friends of mine so much as it is addressed to me in the future.)
I wrote a top five comics of the year list for a message board, which I will now edit a bit to post here. For my own personal records. Not a top ten, because of the fact that I didn't read a lot of stuff I probably would've liked.
Number one comics of the year for me were Kevin Huizenga's. I'm kind of trying to write an articulate essay about why for another website, but basically- Dude is still young as a cartoonist, he's under thirty, and you can see him talking in interviews or his blog about how he wants to get better: Have characters that are singular aspects of his personality, rather than just an everyman character that's faintly autobiographical. Have his characters do things, rather than just think. So I like that he's a young dude who knows how to get better, and is making that clear, transparency in the artistic process. (In what's maybe his best comic so far, the 28th Street story, he has his character do stuff, and what he does is awesome.) But this year, his comics are all thinking, basically. But what he's thought about is how the world works and he did enough comics to talk about that and nail it from a bunch of different angles. All his comics came out with different titles. The Curses book, a collection of short stories that I think are all from 2002-2004, is awesome. That has 28th Street in it, which I hadn't read until this year. Or Else 4 is so weird and abstract, it comes off like a minicomic Koyanaqatski basically. I heard someone in the comic store talking about how they couldn't finish it, which is too bad because the ending is great, where the Earth collides into the moon. Ganges 1 is a lot more straightforward and readable and pretty cool in itself, dealing more with how people interact with each other rather than how nature and society interact. His pamphlet for the Comics College is probably more interesting than that Scott McCloud book about how to make comics that came out this year, that I didn't read. It's about making art, which none of the other comics explicitly discuss, but seems important. And yeah, he's just really great at comics as a vehicle for metaphor, so for something to be explicitly about that at certain points was really great. I'm especially fond of the "perspective exercise," addressed towards those who want to be cartoonists, where the items asked to put in perspective are a masterpiece, money, sweat, and some other things. It seems hacky when I type it but in context it's great. I didn't read his minicomic of sketches he drew in church, but I like that it exists as a further "here's my artistic process." That guy rules.
Number two comic would be the Brendan McCarthy Solo issue, which got me to buy some stuff from the eighties. It's about as weird that Huizenga is under thirty as the thought that I think McCarthy's over fifty. He hasn't done comics for over ten years, he's been doing concept art for movies I would never watch, like the Lost In Space remake. Which is hilariously hacky for someone who is so plainly not a hack, who has such a weird vision and ambition. God, this comic was so pretty. I don't even know how to talk about something like this, besides wishing there was more of it. What unites my top three, I realize, is this combination of transparency in the artistic process, McCarthy wears his influences on his sleeve. And what's important is that I'm unfamiliar with the influences, but the transparency actually teaches me stuff. Brendan McCarthy made me look into Mervyn Peake, who in the early part of the twentieth century wrote nonsense poetry and did painting. Kevin Huizenga goes on about birds and folk tales, and Ganges had this one quote from a geologist that has haunted me.
Number three would be Casanova. What that teaches me is the same stuff as Tarantino movies, basically, that knowledge of a breadth of cheap exploitation stuff which I know enough about to like but not enough to outnerd anyone. It's a spy comic, clearly in debt to Danger: Diabolik, but also referencing a bunch of stuff I don't know about at all. It's in one color, like old Barbarella comics, which was not a fact that I knew about said comics- I know Jane Fonda was in a movie I didn't see, but which this comic then informs me Paco Rabanne did costume design for. But yeah, it's a spy comic, and a fast-moving one, and I'm sure it has plot holes, just because of the speed it moves. But yeah, really, the only monthly comic that grabbed me, because it was the only one where I never knew where it was going, because that's how spy stuff operates. That weird stream-of-consciousness plotting. The writer of this also read that Esquire article George Saunders wrote about the kid that was meditating for days straight. The one I only heard about, but don't buy magazines so I was left in the dark. Yeah, breadth. It taught me things I didn't know.
Then there's Scott Pilgrim, where Bryan O'Malley talks about the shit I know, essentially, but he knows more. There's instinct where I have to think about things. Dan Nadel, dude that runs Picturebox, referred to it as "cute teenager stuff that I guess cute teenagers like" which, um, guilty, I guess. I thought it was really likable. It talked about stuff I understood, but you know, it was funny. And in such a good format. Every comic listed has been in a different format, this was released straight to 200-plus page chunks of stuff I hadn't read, digest size, readable at a fast pace but with enough happening to give it some heft, and had things happen for long enough that I was able to get highs of joy from it. Closer to a movie or a record in how it doesn't give you stuff to linger on, and is fairly immersive. It's the comic that feels closest to the feeling of watching a movie, but said movie is so pure so as to be someone else's lucid dreams. It's all in the confidence, and there's so much of it that when I first read it I thought it was the most confident comic I'd ever read. All of the drawings seem so organic and easy and FAST that they come off like living doodles, all of the plotting just seems intuitive. Even the meta stuff doesn't seem self-aware in the bad way, so much as a thing that happens in a stream of consciousness. Oh, and this and Casanova both had New Pornographers references, fun fact. But the difference being that in that book, it was a comic being written while listening to the New Pornographers, and in this, there's just a moment where, in your head, a New Pornographers song starts playing, if you know it.
Tales Designed To Thrizzle is funnier than any other comic. Funnier even than that issue of Dork which was such a bargain. This is weirder, more charming, whereas that was darker and crasser. This is closer to the type of comedy I like, even though I thought that comic was funny. If John Hodgman drew this would pretty much be what he came up with.
Okay so now an albums list. I decided awhile ago that Paper Rad's Trash Talking was my album of the year. It's a DVD, but it's out on Load Records, and it functions closer to a record than a movie in terms of its non-narrative structure.
So, okay, here's a list I don't feel too strongly about. (I wish I'd heard Scott Walker, Juana Molina, The Goslings, Herbert, OOIOO, etc. Justin Timberlake, Earth)
2. Matmos- The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast
3. Liars- Drum's Not Dead
4. Yo La Tengo- I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
5. Man Man- Six Demon Bag
6. Sunset Rubdown- Shut Up I Am Dreaming
7. Ghostface Killah- Fishscale
8. Califone- Roots And Crowns
9. Camera Obscura- Let's Get Out Of The Country
10. Wooden Wand And The Enablers -Spring Tour CD-R
11. Swan Lake- Beast Moans
12. J Dilla- Donuts
13. Islands- Return To The Sea
14. Nina Nastasia- On Leaving
15 might be Beirut. Spank Rock would be the rap album to come up if another were to come up. Wooden Wand's Gipsy Freedom is also a contender for the end but you know, the list is falling apart. I'll also admit that I don't even quite know what to think about that Liars album, I downloaded a rip that annoyed me with its low quality in a way that fucked me up and I fell asleep on first listen, only to be woken up by that amazing final track. Now that it's on vinyl at the house it's good, but still, so many of my early listens were tainted it's hard to judge. I don't like Joanna Newsom's voice but am half-tempted to pick up a copy of Ys for the sake of the benefit of the doubt. But that cover is pretty ridiculous. Swan Lake has Shary Boyle art! God, furthering the argument that that hippy-lady just has kind of bad aesthetics.
It's so late. Anyway, here's hoping I can make it up to Providence for that Wunderground show, and be back in Philly to see Black Dice/Excepter on January fifth, a show I learned about last night! (I made a Black Dice shirt and now they'll be able to see it!) And I think I'll spend New Year's Eve at the Khyber, seeing Paper Napkin, who I met last new year's eve, at another bar I was able to sneak into, but I wouldn't have had such luck at the Khyber. I turned twenty-one this year. Woop woop. But yes, bigger and brighter things. Next year in Jerusalem. (But I'll probably write more here between now and then.)