What Is Best In Life? – 2021 Edition

by ryankl

Well at least it’ll be better than 2020, we cried into the night, before a few months of 2021, and then we just cried into our cereal.

It’s been an interesting year. We’d come out of Covid and lockdowns and the year started pretty cruisy. Where I live, we had zero cases for months on end and everything genuinely felt fairly back to normal. My teaching game was strong, I was reading plenty, and then Sami Kivela and I had EVERFROST launch at Black Mask and Sebastian Piriz and I had BLACK BEACON launch at Heavy Metal.

Things “looked” good.

Then the Delta variant swept across the nation, slowly but surely, and eventually invaded my ‘hood and we went into another lockdown. When that happens, my teaching load goes through the roof. It wasn’t as bad as 2020, but it was still pretty escalated. My comics kept coming out, I kept teaching, so there was nothing catastrophic.

Then I decided to change up my dayjob a little – I’ve moved from teaching little kids to now teaching English. It’s rad. But it’s taken a lot of mental load and prep to make the transition smoothly, especially as it happened as we came out of lockdown – a strange time to be doing anything, no less starting a new job at a new school.

It did mean I was ‘forced’ to do more reading, though.

I have no clue what 2022 has planned, but looking back on 2021, there’s a lot of good so I’ll spend this space celebrating some of that good stuff. Here goes…

Comics

As always, I manage to find awesome comics to read because people keep making pretty awesome comics.

My brain took in a Joe Hill Double Bill.

PLUNGE was one that stood out for it’s John Carpenter vibes and beautiful Stuart Immonen art. I dug the book, it’s a very fun ride, and does what it says on the tin with its 80s horror flick vibes.

I followed it months later with A BASKETFUL OF HEADS, which was one I didn’t know anything about, and I’ll be honest that the cover was giving me the wrong vibes for it. I thought it was some kind of eerie gothic slasher book, and it’s anything but – open it to find it’s another 80s throwback, maybe even late 70s, honestly, about a young woman defending herself against some escaped criminals, and she randomly uses this axe from a house display, and it’s a mystical blade that doesn’t cause death but instead life. So when she chops someone’s head off, it remains living.

A great premise, and a really enjoyable book!

My mate Paul Allor teamed with another mate Paul Tucker to create HOLLOW HEART and it really was something else to touch your heart. A brilliant tale of love and monsters and captivity. Seeing Paul write the kinds of emotional and esoteric stories I wish I could fills me with joy.

TRESPASSERS from Breena Bard was one my kids picked up, but I instantly devoured. A really fun middle grade romp about a forgotten mystery and some kids who think they’ve got the right thread on the sweater to pull. I really do love stories about kids investigating crimes. There’s just something about it as a kid I always loved, and as an adult it still fills me with joy and inspiration.

DAREDEVIL continues to be a comic I enjoy, but I gotta admit I’m getting lost in the monthly churn with it. There’s a chance I might transition to trades on this soon, as I have with most things, because my monthly buying and reading has gone to guano since these last two lockdowns, and I find myself constantly lost in where I am up to, or what’s been going on and for how long.

If this also means books need to pivot more towards graphic novels, well, I’m all for that, I guess. The more they make them, the more people will buy them when they come out, and then the more stores will sell them, and then we’ll better get into the habit of buying them, and around and around it will go. I hope.

Speaking of people buying graphic novels as they drop: RECKLESS from Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker dropped another 2 volumes this year. I read the first [which is the second volume] and it suitably kicked ass. I actually have but have not read the 3rd volume, as I’m holding it off as some kind of New Years treat, alongside a few other things, like NOVEMBER Vol. 4 from Elsa Charretier and Matt Fraction. I had to hustle through two different reporting periods, and then I’ve been reading stuff for next year, so these two are waiting for me and I cannot wait.

Transitioning to another Brubaker book, this time with Marcos Martin, I got myself straight into their collaboration with FRIDAY and found myself loving it more and more as each issue slowly wound its way around this very awesome mystery plot. This book is just the definition of beautiful, so I’m looking forward to more.

Novel

Did a cheeky run of rereading and ploughed through DOUBLE INDEMNITY by James M. Cain, FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley, THE GUNSLINGER by Stephen King, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEAS by Ernest Hemingway. All good and interesting reads.

I read THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O’Brien that’s a short story collection/exploration of the author’s time in Vietnam during the war and it’s a fascinating study. The circuitous way the stories are constructed and present certain key moments, it’s really quite beautifully done.

Benjamin Percy’s THRILL ME is a collection of his essays on fiction and it’s been instantly added to my mental curriculum list of things you should read if you want to be a writer. It takes a lot of his presentations and essays and makes them easy to digest, with examples, and a really strong and engaging authorial voice.

But it was WARLIGHT by Michael Ondaatje that captured me the most. This brilliant story about two kids after the war in Europe struggling to discover themselves, as well as the truth of their family, is a phenomenally well told narrative. The aspects of duality in life, the two sides we have, the truth we never know, the cause and the effect are all explored and brought to light [and hidden in the dark] in this really thoughtful and gripping read.

I wrote a little about it on my Patreon

TV

TED LASSO dropped a second season. Wherein the first looked at Ted slowly winning everyone over, this season went a whole new route – it’s basically just everyone on a journey to combat their inner demons, or sometimes the outer ones. A season of people trying to kick depression in the nethers sounds…ethereal, but it really built and built. It’s hard to compare against the brilliance and surprise of the first season, but I feel like this one stands alongside it as a perfect companion – not a clone, mined for similar but diminishing success, but a new step into something just as challenging and emotionally true as the first.

I really enjoyed WANDAVISION – a superhero show that kinda made you think. It was unlike most anything else from the MCU, and for that alone I was happy. I’ve watched them all, and found FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER to be fun, but that was about as far down as the show could dig, and LOKI was as charismatic as its lead, and WHAT IF…? definitely scratched an itch for me. Good to have one I could watch with the kids, too.

HAWKEYE was a little up and down, but Hailee Steinfeld really grows into the role for me. Yes, another quippy, snarky superhero, who knew?! But she’s so good in the role, I’m happy to see the entire Marvel film franchise end up in the hands of her, especially when paired with Yelena as their scenes in the show were absolute dynamite for chemistry. Give them the reins of the show alongside Captain Marvel, and Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Scarlet Witch, and Valkyrie, and whatever other younger heroes I’m forgetting, or they continue to amass.

ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING was a fun crime show whose premise and structure was really well put together. Getting to see Steve Martin, and Martin Short, both get decent roles to play and show they still know how to chew up some scenery was a delight.

Feel like I watched more, but specifics elude me.

Movie

MITCHELLS VS THE MACHINES has to be movie of the year, right? I could watch it once a week and still find myself laughing my absolute ass off. So effortlessly constructed and genuinely funny as well as moving. Just a masterpiece of family cinema.

BO BURNHAM: INSIDE was a complete earworm of a show, but I thought it was just the right balance of poignant against the esoteric. I found myself genuinely captivated, which for something shot by one guy in his house is very impressive.

I can’t remember what else I saw this year…

Podcasts

I discovered THE KINGSLINGERS podcast, wherein two fellas started reading THE DARK TOWER books, but one has already read them all, and one is completely new to it. As they go through sections they discuss what the newbie thinks is happening and what certain things mean. It’s a great way to unpack certain elements, and was fun to listen to alongside my reread for the first novel, and then to listen to their thoughts on the second one because it’s probably still my favourite of the series.

They’ve moved onto other King works, so I’m going to listen to the ‘SALEM’S LOT eps while I reread that book this month.

I also discovered SMARTLESS where Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes interview random Hollywood guests and it’s a fun show. I usually get a solid laugh out of it each time.

It’s been a good year for fun stuff to enter my brain. Here’s to 2022 bringing more good entertainment vibes, as well as creative ones. Keep the brain spinning and swimming!