I would best describe the last decade in comics as “aggressively making up for the 90s”. Sure, not everything was gold and a lot of the “major events” featured strong openings with weak conclusions (well, except perhaps 52) but there was undeniably this open window of embrace for comics as a creative means instead of a sales means. The comics I tended to favour most were the ones that really had a knack for embracing story with visuals, treating the two as a pair, not playing favourites to either or. It could be a great story, or, it could have great art, but a great comic book means both will stick with you in the long run. Top choice, of course, goes to Paul Pope’s 100%. The gloomy yet fantastical portrayal of a future-punk NYC, and the dreaming artists, strippers and misfits that crawl around it’s streets. Like a Moulin Rouge that your parents don’t own the soundtrack to, 100% feels alive, the illustrations pulse crowded unheard sounds, and the heroes are so believably lost that you eventually sink into the same romantic hole they dwell in.
Taking a few steps to the side, but not too many steps, is DC’s Solo series. Short, too short in my opinion, but a successful experiment in showing what certain artists will do when you loosen their chain. Some still did superhero stories, some didn’t. Sergio Aragones, Mike Allred and the aforementioned Paul Pope all did personal anecdotes, refocused in the lens of a comic. The series was as creatively pleasing as it was enlightening to see how individual artists view their world and the effects it has on their craft.
Last but not least is a newer entry, and I really hope this won’t come off as superbly pretensions to drop something this obscure but its totally worth a hound down, I’m talking to the culture junkie savages I assume to peruse this site. LOSE #1 by Toronto local Michael Deforge is a stroll down a struggle that I can all too relate with. The constant clash between an artist’s personal creativity and their media, Saturday morning cartoon saturated mind that they sink with. Deforge in almost an escape from the pop junk world begins to scratch back, mutilating and mutating Rocky and Bullwinkle. It’s a route many online one offs have taken, but this is the first one that feels like it nails it square over the head.
This was the first decade where I became a conscious film viewer. Suddenly the cartoon interludes and one-liners that would carry Adam Sandler movies throughout my childhood simply could not cut it anymore. I wanted story out of these stories. I wanted them to be human. I wanted all walks of life, from reality or the realm of twisted perception. I found myself drawn to the extraordinary unextraordinary. Nicholson had to wipe off that greasy machismo to schlub up himself in About Schmidt. An old man uneasy about starting his new un-life, comes to the realization that even the life he knew and is coming to know were only a veil. In the steps of an old and only getting older senior, Schmidt travels about looking for some gravity in the world, pissed about his dead wife, pissed about his shitty son-in-law, pissed about everything he cherished being a lie. And the graceful descent to one of the most heart-warming endings ever recorded on film feels like the reward for sticking through it.
Of all the fantastic Wes Anderson offerings of the decade, I’m going to dork out and hover about The Life Aquatic as my top choice. Okay, so maybe I’m carried on by an illegal level of quirkiness, but the strong character acting of some, balanced out by the charisma of others blends into a sweet bitter harmony on the whole. Bill Murray has proven himself as this decades’ anti-hero of choice, so smug yet shattered. He has that still beating pride and his cynicism manages to keep everyone afloat. One of the most unexpected favourites of the decade was Michael Clayton. A flick I had put off being so certain that it was a really, really boring thing for really, really boring people turned out to be one of the most captivating cinematic experiences in recent memory. Okay, so maybe the subject matter to some level is really boring, but the story telling and execution is so graceful and subtle that you’ll find yourself re-thinking the humanity in suits.
For my favourite “weird ass thing” for the decade I choose My Winnipeg by Guy Maddin. Just barely beating out also Canadian post-modern zombie flick Pontypool, My Winnipeg is a surreal yet familiar dream down a sugar coated road of nostalgia that ends up in a terrible car crash with current reality. It starts off slowly, so hard to grasp at first that I initially wanted to turn away, but stay on for the ride, the crazy train hits heaven soon enough. More of a journal than a documentary, Winnipeg has a home for anyone, Canadian or not. We’ve all “been” to this town before and we all know the lore and locals. It is the story of the city and the people, the lies and tale tales and the truth that doesn’t matter.
Games in the past decade may be the most interesting evolution of all, because unlike the other mediums it was one that matured alongside my own maturing. The beefed up gore-machismo that carried games through the 90’s slowly faded into different things in the same headspace. Turoks and Nukems — hyper-violence and hyper-sex in a gesture of fate’s irony became just as taboo as they always aspired to be, though in this sense only dated them — instead ushered in the new low-culture nesting in the Halos and Modern Warfares, though while those titles are the junk food of video games, they are regardless guilty pleasures. Unlike previous offenders, blockbusters of new hold greater qualities than the hype-men of old. “The Next Generation” was not so much a grand advancement in home entertainment technology, but almost a levelling of the playing field. Graphics, now sharper, crisper, and openly accessible were reprioritized. We came to realize sweet graphics and smooth engines only held so much promise. Immersion, identity and fun would now become the standards, and the trophies of these standards came from both the most and least expected places. I’ll mention the few that still get the most play of my collection.
In what had to be scripted, the following title released the very same week my universities’ strike began. I picked up Fallout 3, and for several days dropped completely off the map. I had become so infused with my game controller that the few outings I juggled that week, such as chores and food shopping, sizzled in a green font like a quest somewhere in the frames of my thinking. Fallout 3 not only honoured the high held franchise it promised to carry, in my opinion it exceeded them. We the player were given this massive, open world, this wasteland, to carry about in our own designated adventures. There aren’t many other games that I would find myself chattering to my peers and sibling about at the end of days, rambling about each of our completely individual adventures and discoveries.
Back when Grand Theft Auto 3 came out, it opened a can of game mentality that since has yet to be closed. While they call it “sandbox”, for the most part it seems to instead be “try to play like GTA”. Spider-Man 2 was one of the first memorable exceptions to the rule. While it also rolled around in the sandbox, it didn’t have you shamelessly stealing cars and harassing pedestrians. Spider-Man 2 had you play as Spider-Man; Fluidly swooping around the city, stopping crimes both major and minor, and getting so many adrenaline rushes so often it would make an EpiPen seem like a horse drawn carriage in comparison.
I’d hate to mention another movie game but I’d like to think this one lives in a different sect. The Warriors, much like Spider-Man 2, totally nailed the desired experience, but unlike the latter, the task of nailing that aesthetic is far more specific and peculiar. Taking a now thirty year old cult classic, heralded for its balletic cinematography and style thicker than blood was never the obvious choice. Rockstar clearly sat long and hard, studying the hour and a half film, plucking details, sounds and images that most struck a chord with them, then directly paper mache’d them into virtual reality. And like them meditating in the film, the game let you meditate in the world, breathing it in and controlling it all. The execution is so delicious, everything you enjoyed about the movie translated and flowed into the virtual version. It makes me confident that if they were tasked to make a kart racer out of Cinema Paradiso, Rockstar could make it a player’s choice.