Second First Annual Your Horrible Family Top Five Superlatives of 2014: 2015 Edition!

four yes blondes

With the new year comfortably fading in the rear view, we’ve all got enough time to collect our thoughts and look back on all those things we loved and lost and felt made our lives better in some measure. These can be people, experiences, and other such bullshit, but let’s not forget those most important things: the media we consume. From Jan 1 to Dec 31, here’s the shortlist of the Most Superlative Superlatives from this past year of our lords and lordesses, 2015:

  1. Most Touched (By a Space Angel): Peggy Blumquist, Fargo

The truth is out there. Yet no one embroiled in Fargo’s second-season games of deceit and hidden motivations has a strong grasp on the truth—no one but inscrutable hairdresser Peggy Blumquist. Played to perfection by Kirsten Dunst, Peggy is a standout character in a deep bench of standouts, a trapped housewife who wields her deadly delusions like a master swordswoman. As the bodies pile up around her—about 30% (lowball) directly resulting from her inability to process the hit-and-run of Rye Gerhardt as an empathetic human would—she barely bats an eye; in a season loaded with lens flares and iconography hinting at possible alien visitors, no one is more alien than Ms. Blumquist. Continue reading

First Annual Your Horrible Family Top Five Superlatives of 2014

Holy moly! Hot dog!

Holy moly! Hot dog!

The holidays mean lots of things to lots of people, but for me it’ll always be about the endless ranking, the distribution of hundreds of lists across thousands of locales tabulating how, exactly, anything and everything in the past 365 days added up. Go ahead and call it pointless, call it shouting into a storm, call it navel-gazing. I don’t care. When it gets to December and all the big blogs start breaking out the big fonts for their big wrap-ups, my heart gets a-stutterin’.

There’s something about standing in the center of the critical echo chamber, taking a few moments to let it all wash over and soak in, that I really like. For me, the act of going through row after row of wrap-ups and best-ofs is one part mixtape, one part sabermetrics: the mass attempt to turn people’s opinions into objective fact is oddly addicting and, frankly, more often than not makes for damn good recommendations. For someone, such as myself, who constantly feels like they’re lagging behind the zeitgeist, it’s pure manna.

Before I get into my awkwardly constructed and woefully underpopulated favorite whatnots of 2014, I would like to take a step back tonight and thank all of those people out there with capable literacy and the means to project their voices throughout the information superhighway. I know that just sounded snarky as fuck but I mean every damn word of it. It’s the time of a season to share your thoughts, rank your opinions, and tabulate the stats on your year-end lists until you’ve got enough scribbled ticker-tape to fill the stockings. If one person reads this list and finds just one thing that they’d like to explore more in these coming winter months, then we’ve all done our job as critics.

Now, having laid down all that praise for praise, please note that you are now to bear witness to some true hating dabbled here and there within this list. “Best of” is a bit of a narrow window for a year partly defined by hate, fear, and disappointment. Great artists embarrassed themselves. Everyone was racist. Kanye West did practically nothing of import. So let this be a (media-focused) reminiscence on not just the best, but everything else interesting enough to warrant mention on the other sides of the emotional prairie.

Plus, like the most accurate year-wrapup lists, this shit is actually coming out in after the year is fully over. Take that, everywhere else!

Anyway,

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Over the Garden Wall: A Glorious Grimoire

From Over the Garden Wall wiki

Images courtesy of Over the Garden Wall wiki, 17th century American fashion, and a supremely creepy riff on Hayao Miyazaki

Chaos took over The AV Club, a site I regularly follow, after reviewer Kevin Johnson accidentally awarded Cartoon Network miniseries Over the Garden Wall the forbidden A+. grade. The AV Club system caps at a vanilla A, despite their technology going the extra +, so occasionally these mistakes happen and the editors course-correct.

Here’s the thing, though: accident or not, Johnson’s original score was spot-on. From the first installment to the last, Over the Garden Wall is remarkable. If you’re going to make one exception to the A+ rule this year, this might have to be it.

Over the Garden Wall, helmed by Adventure Time and Flapjack veteran Pat McHale, pits everykid stepbrothers Wirt and Greg in the middle of a dark forested world (un)known as The Unknown. Wirt, voiced to angsty perfection Elijah Wood, is the elder brother, full of hemming feelings, hawing poetics, and a latent talent for the bassoon. Greg, voiced by actual child Collin Deen, is the embodiment of joy, curiosity, gumption, and plain old ridiculousness, using buffoonery to counter Wirt’s self-serious bassoonery (I am so sorry). Accompanying the pair is the bluebird Beatrice, affable and smart-mouthed, who promises to help guide the kids home, away from The Unknown. Also, there’s a frog.

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Tomboy by Liz Prince: Deconstructing the Girl

A quick disclaimer, before I begin. I do not know Liz Prince, but this blog owes its existence to her. I can give you several very good reasons why, but the biggest one is also the most obvious: Prince’s many minicomics were my gateway into the wonderful world of zines. I have, of course, my best friend and cartoonist (and YHF silent partner) Izzy to thank for pointing me in Prince’s direction, but let’s be real for a second. Prince did all the heavy lifting.

I Swallowed The Key To My Heart, a trilogy of sexual misadventure comics (the objectively best genre of art), were the first comic zines I ever read. I was lucky enough to pick up all three issues at once at Lorem Ipsum Books in Inman Square, Cambridge. Maybe it was because we, as I discovered, lived probably a couple dozen furlongs from each other in the Boston semi-suburbs, or maybe it was the way Prince developed entire ecosystems of friendship and romance with so few, clean pencil strokes, but reading those comics gave me the delicious chills.  She made the creation of great, honest art seem effortless, powerful, and universal. As a writer and artist, Liz Prince wasn’t just up my alley; she kicked me out of the alley and into the sprawling, gorgeous city itself.

To put it in terms a young Liz Prince, fifth grade Tomboy and Aladdin fanatic, would understand, I was seeing a whole new world, a new fantastic point of view. Reading Tomboy, Prince’s new graphic memoir, gave me magic carpet feelings all over again. In her debut feature-length book, Prince documents her journey through the world of well-meaning grandmothers, cruel primary schoolers, and Santa Fe’s offbeat elite in a battle for acceptance as an outsider in a severely gendered world. Each page captures the poignancy and dry humor of her shorter works, while the compelling central theme of gender identity keeps the engine from losing steam.

Wait, no, that last sentence undersold it.

Tomboy cover, (Zest Books, copyright Liz Prince)

Tomboy (Zest Books, copyright Liz Prince)

Tomboy’s exploration of growing up outside the gender binary is textbook awesome. And I mean “textbook” literally! People ought to start assigning this in schools. Tomboy tackles society’s demand for girls to be “girly” in clear and digestible terms, making an expansive political statement that lingers and grows in power the more I think about it. In one particularly elegant metaphor, Prince condenses the innocent violence of children, who absorbed their knowledge and notions from parents, media, whathaveyou, into barfing gingerbread-man sponges. The visual is goofy yet menacing, like a tiny dog baring its teeth, and after retracing it ten times, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

The politics of Tomboy are relatable enough to fit anyone who has had to struggle with stigmas and stereotypes, but the heart of the memoir lies in the little details of Prince’s personal struggle. Really, when it comes to resonating moments, Tomboy is beyond rich. In a comedic highlight, Caleb, “sixth grade dreamboat” and object of Prince’s desire, demonstrates his handsomeness by slicking his hair back with a wedge of snow. The very next page takes that high point even higher, as young Prince mimics his action, transitioning from amazement to affected suaveness to lovestruck embarrassment in four panels and four sublimely simple facial expressions. On first read, it’s an adorable moment. On the second pass, the nuance blushes, the perfect distillation of tweenage infatuation at its inception.

These details add up to a revealing origin story (the cathartic finale feels like Peter Parker putting on his red spandex for the first time) that functions whether you are familiar with Prince’s oeuvre or not. There are still so many more individual moments I want to explore in depth, but to avoid rambling myself into a coma, I will have to save those discussions for later posts. Just know this: it all adds up to an incredible whole, one of the most subtly self-assured, honest, touching, hilarious, occasionally rage-inducing (without spoiling too much, I definitely yelled “WHAT THE FUCK PHYLLIS” at least twice, in a public space) debuts this year. Tomboy is a transformative experience for boys, girls, and everyone-in-betweens-and-outsides of all ages.

 

(Ask your bookstore to stock Tomboy if they don’t have it, or pick it up at Liz’s website Liz Prince Power, which has a bunch of her old booklets and zines too. In case you can’t tell, I’m a fan of those as well)