Thursday, May 30, 2019

Author Panel Discussion

I had a chance to sit down with three fellow authors, Sara A. Noe, Michael Reid Jr., and Tim Hennessy, at the Barnes & Noble in Racine, Wisconsin.  We talked about our books, what inspires us, some of our favorite books, and more.  Check out the video from the panel at Sara A Noe's website now.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Top 10 Comics of 2018

Here is my list of best comics of 2018, including manga, graphic novels, reprints and comic books.

Honorable Mentions

Berlin by Jason Lutes
Gunnerkrigg Court by Thomas Siddell
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

10 - Persephone
Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky

An interesting, wholly original take on the Greek myth of the same name, Persephone introduces readers to a world (and underworld) in delicate balance, and the secret at the heart of it all - a girl whose past is shrouded in mystery, the daughter of the very capable, magic-wielding Demeter.  Great world-building, wonderful characters, and a lavishly-told story.

9 - X-Men: Grand Design
Ed Piskor

Ed Piskor (Hip-Hop Family Tree) takes readers on a journey that recaps the iconic moments from the convoluted history of the Uncanny X-Men, beating it into a coherent, impressive story.  It's a trip down memory lane, recreated with stunning artwork that will remind readers why the X-Men are so awesome.

8 - Frontier #17
Lauren R. Weinstein

This single issue comic is a beautifully intimate story of motherhood, from the creator of The Goddess of War.  Weinstein drudges up a wealth of emotion that simmers throughout the course of this story, and the vulnerability she shares yanks on readers' heartstrings in a very visceral, real way.

7 - Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection
Leiji Matsumoto

This classic manga by Leiji Matsumoto tells the story of a space pirate captain and his eccentric crew, as they strive to save Earth from a race of beautiful, but deadly alien women.  This manga strikes the right balance of cut-throat action, humor and mystery, for a whirlwind of a tale that would make Osamu Tezuka proud.

6 - Sabrina
Nick Drnaso

Sabrina becomes a national story when she goes missing, and is later found murdered in a man's apartment.  Her boyfriend, Teddy, deals with the fallout as he stays with a friend out of town.  This book is almost suffocating in its suppressed grief, and the paranoia that fills the minds of its characters.  The layers to this story are kind of mind-boggling, and maybe hit a little too close to home in today's political climate.  Disturbing and wholly engrossing.

5 - Upgrade Soul
Ezra Claytan Daniels

An elderly couple partake in an experiment that could make them young again, complete with new, upgraded bodies.  Things don't go as planned in this beautiful graphic novel, with lovely cartooning by Ezra Claytan Daniels.  The colors are vibrant, the "creature" designs are unsettling, and the slow-burning story that drudges up many philosophical questions, builds toward a startling conclusion.  Daniels makes even the ugly and brutally disturbing moments look beautiful in this unflinching, original story.

4 - Valerian: The Complete Collection
Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mezieres

Christin and Mezieres' Valerian continues to impress as each volume in Cinebook's complete reprinting is released.  This year saw the release of the seventh and final volume of the stunning, influential science fiction series.  Weird aliens, fantastic worlds with impressively built, creative societies, and silly adventures into Earth's past, come to life through dynamic art and action sequences, making this one of the all-time greats.

3 - Devilman: The Classic Collection
Go Nagai

This series is insane, and also insanely good.  As a human boy merges with a powerful demon to become something in between, the Devilman battles hordes of ancient beings as they attempt to conquer the world and devour humanity along the way.  The designs of the demons are crazy, and deliciously ridiculous, and man, the fast pacing, the homoerotic undertones, and the breath-taking action sequences make for a doozy of a manga.  It's no wonder this is a classic.

2 - Monstress 
Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

The world of Monstress is something really, really special.  In a world of gods and monsters, a young woman grapples with her (literal) inner demons while trying to make sense of a dangerous world.  Full of action, magic, betrayals and a cast of characters that one can't help but become attached to, this epic comic is shaping up to be one of the best fantasy comics in years, and just keeps getting better with each issue.

1 - On a Sunbeam
Tillie Walden

Amid the colorful panels of Tillie Walden's space adventure, is a beautiful story of a lost girl who finds a place in the universe.  Mia has been a screw-up for most of her life, until she falls in with a restoration crew that travel aboard a fish-like ship from destination to destination upon a sea of stars.  She has also found, and lost, the love of her life while at school, and must deal with the fallout.  This story of love, family, and facing the impossible for those you care about, is a gentle, slow-burning tale that builds toward a feverish, heart-pounding conclusion.  The art is beautiful, the universe incredible, and these are the sorts of characters one falls in love with and never forgets.  Best comic of the year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

2019 Academy Award Nomination Predictions

Best Picture

Black Panther
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The Favourite
First Man
If Beale Street Could Talk
Roma (pictured)
A Star is Born

Best Actress

Glenn Close - The Wife (pictured)
Olivia Colman - The Favourite
Viola Davis - Widows
Lady Gaga - A Star is Born
Melissa McCarthy - Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Actor

Christian Bale - Vice
Ethan Hawke - First Reformed
Stephan James - If Beale Street Could Talk
Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody (pictured)
John David Washington - BlacKKKlansman

Best Supporting Actress

Nicole Kidman - Boy Erased
Regina King - If Beale Street Could Talk (pictured)
Emma Stone - The Favourite
Rachel Weisz - The Favourite
Michelle Yeoh - Crazy Rich Asians

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali - Green Book
Timothee Chalamet - Beautiful Boy
Sam Elliott - A Star is Born (pictured)
Michael B. Jordan - Black Panther
Daniel Kaluuya - Widows

Best Director

Ryan Coogler - Black Panther
Bradley Cooper - A Star is Born
Alfonso Cuaron - Roma
Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite (pictured)
Spike Lee - BlacKKKlansman

Best Adapted Screenplay

Black Panther
BlacKKKlansman (pictured)
Boy Erased
If Beale Street Could Talk
Leave No Trace

Best Original Screenplay

Eighth Grade
The Favourite (pictured)
First Reformed
Green Book
A Quiet Place

Best Cinematography

Cold War
The Favourite
First Man
If Beale Street Could Talk
Roma (pictured)

Best Animated Feature

Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (pictured)

Best Foreign Film

Cold War
The Guilty
Roma (pictured)

Best Documentary Feature

Free Solo (pictured)
Minding the Gap
Three Identical Strangers
Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Best Original Song

"All the Stars" - Black Panther
"The Big Unknown" - Widows
"The Place Where Lost Things Go" - Mary Poppins Returns
"Shallow" - A Star is Born (pictured)
"Suspirium" - Suspiria

Best Original Score

Black Panther
Mary Poppins Returns (pictured)
A Quiet Place

Best Costume Design

Black Panther (pictured)
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Bohemian Rhapsody (pictured)
Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Production Design

Black Panther
The Favourite
First Man
Roma (pictured)

Best Film Editing

The Favourite
First Man (pictured)
If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Sound Editing

Annihilation (pictured)
Black Panther
The Favourite
First Man
A Quiet Place

Best Sound Mixing

Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place (pictured)
A Star is Born

Best Visual Effects

Ant-Man and the Wasp
Black Panther (pictured)
First Man
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Ready Player One

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Best in Music 2018

10 Best Albums of 2018

1. The Black Light
by The Ting Tings

If you'd told me ten years ago when this punk duo broke out with their sassy, in-your-face We Started Nothing, that I would be crowning one of their albums best of the year, I would have laughed.  But here we are a decade later, and the Ting Tings have matured like a fine wine over the course of their career.  The Black Light is what the future of music sounds like.  It's experimental, with beautiful synth sounds and unconventional refrains that showcase their unique beats.  It's really nothing short of a revelation.  I never really thought that music could sound like this, yet here it is, and it's damn good.  Yes, The Ting Tings have retained some of their cheekiness in some of the songs of The Black Light, but for the most part, it's like listening to a brand-new group.  Innovative, startling and just straight-up exciting, this is the best album of the year.

Key Tracks: Estranged, Earthquake, Fine & Dandy

2. Art of Doubt
by Metric

Metric's new album is less experimental synth-rock and more getting back to basics, with a rock sound that is classic yet remains fresh, and vocalist Emily Haines has never sounded better.  Energetic, rebellious and just masterfully constructed, this is another Metric album brimming with great tracks.

Key Tracks: Dark Saturday, Art of Doubt, Dressed to Suppress

3. Black Honey
by Black Honey

Just try not to rock out to this bad-ass album.  Innovative with catchy beats, great sounds and cheeky lyrics, this brings to mind other fantastic female-fronted bands like Metric and Garbage, but is altogether something different.  At times in-your-face, and others taking a back seat to the unique sounds, Black Honey is a youthful alt-rock album with heart.

Key Tracks:  Midnight, Bad Friends, Just Calling 

4. This Time
by Donna Missal

Donna Missal's sound is an interesting mix of pop, R&B, jazz and blues.  Sometimes it goes into show tune territory, other times she croons like a champ.  What it all boils down to is one amazing showcase for Missal's powerful voice, trimmed with catchy beats and a showstopping lineup of songs.

Key Tracks: Jupiter, Keep Lying, Transformer

5. Cactus
by Elise Davis

This album embodies what the best of country music can do.  Catchy songs, lyrics you can empathize with, and intimate song-writing.  The songs here are textured, beautiful and sung with tenderness by Elise.  The ballads in particular are stirring and masterful.

Key Tracks:  Hold Me Like a Gun, Burn, Married Young

6. New Compassion

With a muffled quality to the vocals of the songs, New Compassion has a sort of retro quality to it, something that sounds more home-grown.  It is very effective, with strong beats, and a sort of frenetic energy to many of the songs.

Key Tracks:  The Way, Fighter, Your Love

7. Young EP
by Charlotte Lawrence

As the title suggests, Charlotte Lawrence may be young (at just eighteen), but she has proven that she's a force to be reckoned with on this EP.  Showcasing her ability to drop some pretty epic, confident beats, as well as her willingness to show her vulnerable side, this is an impressive, mature work from a rising talent.

Key Tracks:  Wait Up, Everybody Love You, Young and Reckless

8. Wandered Away EP
by Anna Leone

The melodic, ethereal sound of Anna Leone is an experience, moving and soul-stirring.  Leone's paired-back style is deceptive in its simplicity; graceful, mature and impactful.

Key Tracks:  My Soul I, I Never Really, Into the Cold

9. Starfire
by Caitlyn Smith

Caitlyn Smith's latest album is soft and vulnerable and yet strong and powerful.  The range of emotion exuding from the tracks on this album, the mournful to the hopeful and defiant, really add up to more than just an average album.  A blend of country and pop that's clearly a labor of love.

Key Tracks:  This Town is Killing Me, St. Paul, Tacoma

10. FAME
by Mikky Ekko

Mikky Ekko has always been a really innovative artist, experimenting with his sound and reinventing himself constantly.  The daring in-your-face pop and confident vocals prove that his vision has really become something extraordinary.

Key Tracks:  Not the One, R.I.P., What's It Like Now

30 Best Songs of 2018

1. No Muse by Wild Moccasins - All of the elements of this song work together to create one stellar number.  The verse, the bridge, and the chorus each are striking on their own, and combine to become something really, really fantastic.  Melodic, with cutting lyrics, and an innocence to the vocals make for a wholly interesting and unique song.  Best song of the year.

2. Then by Anne-Marie - This is a perfect example of a song with quiet strength.  It's pretty minimal at first, and builds into something grander.  A perfect arrangement of unique sounds, a catchy refrain, and a mounting tension that has a spectacular pay-off.  Yet, it also retains a sense of vulnerability in the lyrics and vocals.  A perfect balance.

3. Jupiter by Donna Missal - That crazy warping sound throughout the song really turns this track into something special.  Coupled with that strong chorus (belted out with an equally strong voice), and this is a song to be reckoned with.

4. Earthquake by The Ting Tings - This is synth-pop at its finest.  A great example of how interesting sounds can really elevate a song into something truly one-of-a-kind.  And it's awesome.

5. bellyache by Billie Eilish - For such a young singer (who was just fifteen when this song was released), this seems like the release of an accomplished artist.  Polished, with unique sounds, this is a staggering achievement for an artist of any age.

6. Just Calling by Black Honey - This song is just really cool.  It has a fun sound and a great hook.

7. Pink Lemonade by James Bay - There's something about the marriage between the lyrics (convincing a lover that he's no good for them) and the beat here (fast and loose with a rocking vibe) that really gelled into a perfect song.

8. Slide by LPX - This is a powerful song with barely-contained energy that builds throughout the bridge, before bursting in an impressive display of frenetic vocals during the chorus.  Seriously, I love the energy of this song.

9. Schedules by Sigrid - This is a great pop song.  It has a very playful air to it, enhanced by Sigrid's vocals.

10. Baby (Sofi Tukker Remix) by Bishop Briggs - This naughty song is sexy, with the perfect lyrics to compliment the beat.  The remix by Sofi Tukker elevates this song to something unique, with a smooth style.

11. St. Paul by Caitlyn Smith - The chorus of this song is something really special, gentle, yet sweeping and melodic.

12. Dark Saturday by Metric - There's something classic about the first single from Metric's latest CD.  It has a rebellious attitude to it that just makes for a great rock song.

13. Never Be the Same by Camila Cabello - The former member of Fifth Harmony certainly had a runaway hit with this number, and for good reason:  It's infectious and fun as hell.

14. Fighter by HAERTS - There's an urgency to "Fighter" that propels the song along at a brisk clip, with a frenetic energy to the chorus that's subtle, yet loud at the same time.

15. A Shot by Sarah Blasko - This song is drenched in atmosphere.  Pure noir.

16. Wait Up by Charlotte Lawrence - The chorus on this one is one that will stick with you once you've heard it.  Simple, yet effective.

17. Hold Me Like a Gun by Elise Davis - Country at its best: A great beat, imagery familiar yet specific, and a vulnerability that draws one in.

18. Drunk on a Feeling by Madilyn Bailey - This is a strong ballad, complete with string and piano accompaniment.  It's minimal and brimming with raw emotion.

19. Shelby '68 by Kylie Minogue - On her latest album, Minogue spins an interesting mix of country and dance for a sound that's truly unique.  This toe-tapper is the best of the crop.

20. Last Piece by Lykke Li - A hypnotic ballad, this song just sort of washes over you in mesmerizing waves.  Lovely and haunting.

21. Jeannie Becomes a Mom by Caroline Rose - A funky, upbeat song heavily influenced by music from the 70's.  This is just infectious and hard to ignore.

22. Lost My Mind by Lily Allen - A deeply personal song, one can feel the desperation of Allen's lyrics, and appreciate the tragedy she's overcome.  This is a song that really resonates.

23. All the Stars by Kendrick Lamar & SZA - A prime example of how hip-hop and pop music can work together effectively for a fresh final product, this song has a great build toward a powerful chorus.

24. You Me and the Silence by LOVA - A funky beat and just turns into something crazy fun with the refrain.  This is one that's hard to get out of your head once you've heard it.

25. Graves by CHVRCHES - CHVRCHES brings their signature sound to a catchy song that feels like an instant classic, 80's but modern.

26. Heart to Break by Kim Petras - Utterly saturated in 80's synth (there's no subtly here), Kim's powerful voice roars from out of this song.

27. Toxins by Georgi Kay - Haunting sounds, with a sort of confessional feel that makes this song feel intimate.  This is kind of a perfect little product.

28. Living in the Future by Dawes - Subtle and lovely.  The synthesized refrain explodes out from the rest of the song, commanding attention.

29. Quiet by MILCK - A confident song that's both vulnerable and powerful at once, while showcasing a strong, versatile voice.

30. Don't Panic by XYLO - A flirty, cheeky song that is clearly a lot of fun.