It seemed impossible, but 2020 has finally come to an end. Will this year be better than the last one? I have hope for it, but you can bet things aren’t going to suddenly get better.
We’re still in lockdown. We have a vaccine — multiple vaccines, which is amazing! — but it takes time to get the vaccine distributed. People are still going to die. We’re still living in the aftermath of the last few years, and the thing about history is, it never really goes away. It always leaves a mark, and even though that mark fades, once it’s there, you can’t just undo it. We’re entering 2021 battered and scarred, and the world we once knew is never fully coming back. We’ll recover. We’ll forge something new. Hopefully it will be better. But 2020 is lingering one way or another.
I’ll be honest, this past year has been a bit mixed for me. I think it’s still fair to say that 2020 was a crappy year overall due to COVID alone, but that doesn’t mean it’s been all bad. I got into grad school, something I’ve been trying to do for years. That’s part of why I haven’t been posting on here as much, though I’m hoping to get back into a regular schedule in the coming months. I got my autism diagnosis and am taking meds for my anxiety, which has helped my mental health issues a lot, and working from home has alleviated a lot of the pressure of in-person social interactions for me. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people this year, I’ve been able to donate money to people who need it, I left a bad job on my own terms, and I learned that the Gaelic word for “whale” is “sea pig.” And let’s not forget Trump’s getting kicked out of the White House. We still have a long way to go on that front, and there are plenty of ways it could have gone better, but don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t matter. We’ve pulled the break to slow our freefall to a fascist state, and that counts for fucking something. I want more than that, but we need to take the little victories and use them as footholds in whatever ways we can. Hold onto that break and put pressure on the incoming administration to do more than just wait for it to fail again.
On a lighter note, though, I’ve continued to keep track of the narrative media I’ve come across and I’ve found several good ones again that I’d like to share with you. My media consumption has been mostly dominated by rewatching the same few YouTube videos over and over instead of getting to the shows and books I actually meant to, but I’ve still found several dozen pieces that genuinely impressed me, and even if you’ve heard of them before, I think they deserve some acknowledgement and celebration. I won’t guarantee all of them will suit your interests, or that they’re all perfect, but they’re still amazing.
Best Fantasy Award
Black Leopard, Red Wolf (novel)
I’ve been looking to re-read this one and just haven’t gotten around to it yet, but the book is so full of imagery and weight and emotionality that I kind of feel like I can’t do it full justice with just one read through. The story is complex and author Marlon James weaves a rich tapestry of characters, worlds, and magical elements inspired by various African folklore and mythologies. It follows the story of Tracker, a hunter with some supernatural predilections who is hired to track down a boy. As he searches, he runs into colorful figures, many of whom are also looking for the boy. His journey spans many years and regions, with Tracker venturing through a world where the boundaries of the real and the mystical are perpetually hazy. His growth as a person follows numerous twists in the tale as he slowly learns more about this boy, the others searching for him, and his employer, making him question himself and his past. The story skips around in a nonlinear fashion, but there is always a sense of truths unfolding, each new layer revealing more uncertainty. It’s not really the book you want to keep around for light reading, but it is affecting in a way few fantasy novels are. I can’t remember ever reading a book like this before. It takes full advantage of the potential of fantasy to incorporate metaphor and psychological elements alongside a seemingly straightforward, if grim, adventure story. While Tolkein’s works seem to be almost ubiquitous in their influence in the genre, they’re largely absent from this one in a way I find refreshing. I like The Lord of the Rings plenty, but there are other ways to tell fantasy stories. And hey, this one has several queer characters and themes as well, which remain rare in mainstream fantasy.
Most Important Award
Deer Woman: An Anthology (graphic novel anthology)
I had difficulty coming up with a name for this one’s award, because it touches upon something I feel deserves respect. I still don’t know if I’ve come close in that regard, but I’ve been wanting to talk about this one for a while. Deer Woman was an illustrated vignette by Elizabeth LaPensée that was the inspiration for other stories which, along with the original, were collected in this volume. The stories all focus in some way or another on the concept of the Deer Woman, a figure from many Native American and First Nations mythologies, and her relevance to the authors’ lives. Admittedly, this book is not intended for me and is first and foremost meant to be empowering to Native women, especially those who have experienced sexual violence. However, the stories are beautifully written and illustrated and I think a lot of people can benefit from these stories. As LaPensée explains, the Deer Woman is a complex figure, associated with both danger and empowerment. The stories that follow her vignette are similarly complex in their own ways. They’re the sort of stories that should be read, and their authors should be supported, so if you’re interested, I would highly recommend you check out the publisher, Native Realities, and the book store I got my copy from, Red Planet Books & Comics.
Best Classic Award
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (novel)
This is one I had never heard of until it was covered on one of the podcasts I listen to. Apparently many people read it in school, and I regret that my school never covered it because it is excellent. It the sort of book that should be universal in the way that To Kill a Mockingbird is — and in fact, it should be taught instead of To Kill a Mockingbird. It has a similar conceit in that it’s about children in the Jim Crow South figuring out how to wrangle childhood and the grim realities of racism, but it features a Black family and is told by a Black writer drawing from her and her family’s personal experiences. However, the book is much more than any comparison to other classic works could bear it out to be; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a beautifully-written piece that captures a lot of the complexity of its setting and human relationships more generally, with protagonist Cassie Logan and her siblings go through various escapades and try to make sense of their parents’ careful responses. There is a weight to the actions of the characters in the book, especially the Logan parents, both of whom have lived a lifetime of the things Cassie and her siblings are only now becoming fully aware of. The book is often tense, withholding redundant information and letting unspoken words rest heavy in the air. It is a heavy book, to be sure, but it is also full of life. The main characters are still children after all, and some of the most memorable scenes in it are the moments of calm, joviality, and community that allow the characters to express their joy and cleverness. In these scenes, the dangers of the outside world are not forgotten, but are less important than the characters’ connections to each other.
Best Ghosts Award
Dragon Pearl (novel)
This is specifically Yoon Ha Lee’s science fantasy novel, and not the film The Dragon Pearl. I like a creative fantasy series, and I like a creative sci-fi series. This book is genuinely both, structured like a space opera with heavy inspiration from Korean folklore and mythology. The story follows Min, a shapeshifting fox spirit whose family are in hiding on a desolate planet called Jinju. Min wants to explore space and resents her mother’s insistence that she not use her fox magic. Foxes are just one of many magical beings that inhabit this world, but unlike the wealthy dragons renowned for terraforming or the powerful tigers with great combat skills, foxes are mistrusted and viewed as scoundrels. Min’s older brother has disguised himself to join the Space Forces, but when news of his disappearance reaches the family, Min runs off to look for him, encountering mystical gambling houses, ships powered by qi, dragons, and space ghosts. The book skews a bit younger but has a lot going on and its world fits together very nicely. I’m hoping to find similar sci-fi and science fantasy series that don’t constrain themselves to the cutting-edge technology of today and instead think more broadly and use the flexibility of their medium to play around with what space would mean to people who aren’t from the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s a creative work that deserves more attention, and it’s a fast read to boot.
Best Murder Ponies Award
The Scorpio Races (novel)
This one isn’t anything amazing, but it has an interesting premise and I’d been meaning to read it for years. I wasn’t disappointed. Two teenagers, Sean and Puck, live on an island off the coast of Ireland which is known for the deadly water horses that sometimes wander up from the beach. Some horse handlers capture and ride these creatures, training with them for the annual Scorpio Races where riders race each other on the beach atop the flesh-eating creatures for the chance at a large cash prize. Sean is an experienced handler who works for a local landowner and wants to earn his way out of his service, while Puck is a newcomer to the races who enters out of desperation. From there, the story develops along the lines that you might expect; at first they don’t like each other, then they spend time training together and discover they’re not all that different, etc. etc. It’s a YA horse novel, and I don’t begrudge it that, but normally the genre isn’t my thing. What makes this book exceptional is how it presents an excellent sense of place. The mythical water horses are woven into the world of the novel much like certain local traditions are a part of small towns in the real British Isles. The descriptions are sharp, and the occasional horror elements work surprisingly well in a horse book. It’s a quick read, and worth it for the environment alone.
Best Cat Award
Steven Universe (show)
This one goes to Lion, who despite being a giant pink lion is the most housecat character I have ever seen depicted on-screen. I technically saw the first episode of this years back, when it seemed everyone around me was talking about it. I really didn’t get the hype; the first episode is not a great demonstration of the series’ quality, and if you’re not into children’s animation specifically, it’s pretty grating. However, since then I have continued to hear lovely things about the show and at the start of the year, I finally overcame my reluctance to watch it and bunkered down to get well into the thing before I judged it. I’ll be honest, it’s still not really my thing (it skews a bit too young and it has a lot of singing), but I’m happy to recommend it nonetheless because I think it’s a very important series for anyone interested in writing to become familiar with. The story follows a young boy named Steven who lives with several monster-fighting alien ladies known as the Crystal Gems. The show has plenty of its own in-universe trappings that you can eventually become invested in if you like, and some silky smooth animation, but it’s really the storytelling that’s the star here. The show is most notable for its queer themes and focus on complex feelings and relationships, and that’s really where it excels. As you get further into the series, the relationships between the characters unfold and particular experiences force them to reflect on their past, their future, and who they are as people, especially in their worse moments. It isn’t a dark series, but it is very mature in the way that it handles concepts like grief, selfishness, desire, expression, and loneliness. That is shows these in a way that is kid-friendly is especially impressive, and I think as long as you know what to expect going in, you’ll find something worthwhile.
Best Magical School Award
Nevermoor (novel series)
Some of you may have had a shock this year in realizing the author of a certain fantasy series about a little boy wizard who lives under a cupboard is a TERF extremist with an extremely creepy obsession about people’s privates. While the backlash against that author has been a long-time coming, plenty of people have been left uncertain about how they should treat her series. I don’t know how much I can help soothe you on that matter, but if you’re in the mood for a magical school YA series, I’m glad to report there are plenty of new ones, many of which are excellent. I can’t give this award to Akata Witch because I read that last year, but I can give it to the Nevermoor series. While it has some loose connections to existing folklore like dragons and a deathly Hunt, the world the series crafts is not specifically tied to any mythology and incorporates everything from umbrellas to giant cats to clock portals. It’s chaotic, but the core of the series is rooted in the very relatable feelings of its protagonist, Morrigan Crow. Morrigan is a resident of a fictional but not especially fantastical world where children born on a particular day are said to be cursed, and blamed for all of the bad things that happen in the town. Cursed children die on their eleventh birthdays, and Morrigan’s is coming up soon. An odd man named Jupiter North offers her a way out of her predicament and saves her from the deathly Hunt that comes to cursed children on their eleventh birthday, and soon she’s swept off to a magical land called Nevermoor, hidden from the Hunt as long as she can remain undetected by Nevermoor’s police. Jupiter sets her up to compete with other students to get into the Wundrous Society, where she’ll be safe from deportation, and the bulk of the first book concerns her various escapades trying to complete the Wundrous Society’s admission trials, and exploring the strange new world she find herself in. The series isn’t perfect, but it has a lot of delightful characters and captures the wide-eyed wonder of childhood fantasy series, all while remaining a bit more self-aware and conscientious about its metaphorical interpretations. It’s a pleasant read, and I think it isn’t on the radar of a lot of adults yet so I’d definitely recommend it, especially if you still want more of that other unnamed fantasy series but don’t want to support its author.
Best Boi Award
Hellboy (graphic novel series)
Yes, maybe I should have given this to Roger instead, but I couldn’t pass up the joke. Hellboy is obviously the Best Boi. He is the Hellboi. But no, this is a genuinely delightful series and I’m still kicking myself for dismissing it earlier. I won’t go on about it much here because I have full reviews for that.
Best Spider(s) Award
Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy (graphic novel series)
I don’t read a lot of DC or Marvel comics. I’ve tried a few times, but the interconnected story arcs, crossovers, and open-endedness of many of the larger comic series are a double-edged sword. The first time you come across them, they’re interesting and exciting. The fourth or fifth time, you start to get sick of them. There’s often a sameness to many superhero stories, and while that’s not universal by any means, it can be difficult to figure out where to begin if you haven’t been reading comics since childhood. Often I gravitate toward stand-alone or collected volumes for that reason, but I liked Into the Spider-Verse, so I wanted to check out some of the comics related to it. Unfortunately, it’s rather difficult to find a starting point with the Miles Morales material (which is not helped by the fact that Miles Morales: Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales are different series…), but really most of the Miles Morales comics I’ve come across are enjoyable. The established bounds of the character are well-laid-out, and even minor episodic encounters afford opportunity to get at the protagonist’s psyche. The same is true of the Gwen Stacy series, with is more straightforward in its organization and has a bit more of a continuous plot. The series make a lot of questionable decisions (for instance, multiple characters just have stripes instead of hair, even though most of the characters have normal hair), but it also does some pretty creative things with its premise and has a nice art style. The Gwen Stacy series is much more clearly set in a parallel universe, so well-established figures from the Marvel universe have different backstories and play different roles than they do in most of the other comics. This allows it to start with a bit of a clean slate, and crossovers are often less jarring because you know they’re mostly contained to this one series. Neither one of these is perfect, and they’re definitely not going to scratch the same itch as the Spider-Verse film, but I think they’re a good entry point if you want to see what the whole superhero comic hubbub is about.
Finally Did the Thing Award
That’s not the name of anything, I’m just giving an award to myself. Maybe it’s a bit conceited of me, but fuck it, I’ve had a hard year and I want to feel like I’ve accomplished something at least. I’m awarding this to myself for finally finishing the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood reviews because they took up a year and a half of my life and I am finally done with them. If that isn’t worth celebrating, I don’t know what is. But hey, this year has been tough for everyone, so I’m happy to share this award with you as well. 2020 was a bastard. Let’s see it out by celebrating the little victories.
Scariest Plants Award
I haven’t gotten to it yet, but I adore Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series and over the past few years, she’s been working on a few side projects like this one I had never really checked out before. If this one’s anything to judge by, they’re probably worth a read. Uprooted is a Polish-inspired fantasy novel about a girl named Agnieszka who lives in a village where every ten years, an imposing wizard from a nearby castle comes down to take the village’s best and brightest teenage girl as payment for protecting the villagers from the dangerous magical wood. Despite her clumsy and disorganized nature, he chooses Agnieszka, and she travels with him to serve as a servant in his castle. She soon learns that he chooses girls based on their magical potential, and begins to teach her some basic spells. Agnieszka finds her new life frustrating and difficult, and magic unpleasant to use, but eventually works out that she has a knack for it that goes beyond the wizard’s expectations. As she becomes more confident in her abilities, the enchanted forest around them starts to encroach further into villages and towns, spreading its corruption and accelerating the need for Agnieszka to hasten her training. The book is a surprisingly quick read and as with many of Novik’s other works, the cadence of the writing is very smooth. It has plenty of elements of an expanded fairy tale, but also its own internal lore that lends its characters more nuance than fairy tales often permit. While there are several twists and turns and the book involves far more than I’ve laid out, it never feels rushed or overly intricate. Instead, it’s just a solid creative fantasy series.
Best Baddie Award
Nimona (graphic novel)
A simple but effective little novel, Nimona tells the often comedic but occasionally touching story of a fantasy world beset by an evil villain, Ballister Blackheart. Blackheart is an evil scientist of sorts, intent on using the world’s paradoxically modern technology (like security cams and the internet) to bring down the monarchy. He is… bad at it. While not incompetent, Blackheart is constantly foiled by his former friend and arch-nemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, who in another story would be the hero. Blackheart always loses but escapes to fight another day, creating a perpetual cycle of failed villainy that is interrupted when a teenage shapeshifter named Nimona invites herself to be his new assistant. Nimona has a slew of abilities, such as being able to turn herself into a dragon, that makes it very easy to just murder all of the guards that get in Blackheart’s way. Which he does not want at all. He was doing fine without an assistant thank you very much, and look at all the bodies everywhere! Those were people Nimona! We’re trying to take down the establishment, not every guard in the kingdom! I quite like the art style of this series, with characters often drawn in funny poses and proportions that somehow fit the ridiculous story and dialogue perfectly. There are things I’m less fond about it, but it’s a nice little compact piece that’s good if you want something comforting in your life.
Best Space Travel Mechanics Award
The Vanished Birds (novel)
While fantasy is often under-utilized as a medium for metaphorical stories, the sci-fi genre has its fair share of psychological meditations on the big questions that plague us through life. I think this might be partly down to the fascination people seem to have with space and space travel — something I don’t think I’ve ever really shared. I like space fine, I’ve just never felt the need to experience it myself. I prefer to look than to touch. This novel has similarity to many other sci-fi space journeys, probably reminding me most of Binti and 2001: A Space Odyssey, though why would take a while to articulate. It’s good, a beautiful treatise on time, space, and people through the lens of a handful of characters and a few dozen years. The story follows a ship captain named Nia whose job involves ferrying a valuable crop between the only planet where it grows and the space-age corporate depot that processes it into a luxury good. Because travel near the speed of light slows time for anyone travelling aboard the ship, Nia’s few years aboard her vessel have been lifetimes for everyone outside of it. She has seen farmers on the planet grow old and die within mere months, and while a lucky few aristocrats can freeze themselves to extend their lives, for the most part, the people Nia and her crew have known over the years have lived out their lives without them. The inciting incident comes when a mysterious boy appears on the planet and Nia takes him back to the depot. He is unable to communicate except through music played on a flute, and he alone seems capable of defying the laws of space and time.
Best Lighting Award
Wilde Life (web comic)
This is a bit of an odd one because I don’t really read a lot of webcomics, but I quite like the art style of this one so I figure it’s worth a shout-out. It’s a bit twee at times, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, and once you get to the Raven chapter, the juxtaposition of horror and twee works surprisingly well. Wilde Life is about a man who travels to a small town in Oklahoma to escape a recent tragedy in his life, and once there, discovers the town has many supernatural secrets to reveal. He befriends a ghost and a young werewolf and from there, most of the chapters focus on new encounters with the creatures and entities of the town. There’s a narrative throughline that has yet to really come to a headway — a common problem with webcomics, which I find tend to meander more than I usually like — but the characters are nice and it’s really the art style that marks it as something special. The comic is stylized to some degree and doesn’t look photorealistic, but it retains enough detail that the lines are dynamic and the colors are vibrant. It makes the southwestern Ozarks look gorgeous, and the lighting in particular deserves special mention because it goes that extra mile to add subtle but beautiful hints of life to the already gorgeous pages. The first few chapters have been collected into a physical volume and I very much hope that the rest end up in a compendium as well eventually because this is a series I would love to have in physical form.
Best Style Award
Daytripper (graphic novel)
I haven’t talked much about Fábio Moon or Gabriel Bá on my blog yet, but I hope to remedy that in the near future. They’re comic artists who have worked on several projects and often collaborate on joint ventures like this one, and I absolutely adore their art styles. They have a very distinct way of drawing figures that captures the dynamism and personality of the form with just a few shapes, making characters recognizable even from a great distance, and they also have an excellent eye for framing and environment as well. There are a lot of brilliant comic artists out there, but when these two join up along with a colorist, it’s nothing short of magical. Daytripper is just that, and it has an excellent story to go along with it. Set in the artists’ native Brazil, the book follows Brás, the son of a renowned writer who seeks to follow in his father’s footsteps but currently works as the obituary writer for a newspaper. The story skips around and follows Brás for specific important events throughout his life in a surreal, sometimes psychedelic dreamscape with each chapter themed around particular experiences, wants, and troubles. It’s exceptional, and my only real fault with the book is that I’m a bit desperate for a glossy-page version because I’m petrified that something will happen to the gorgeous pages in the copy I own. Seriously though, if you’re new to graphic novels and want to know what this medium can do, this is the book you need.
Best Animation Award
Little Nightmares (video game)
To my great shame I have not finished this one, despite its short length, but even so, I feel confident giving this one some sort of award. I’ve picked animation because something about the claymation horrors that trap and chase your little faceless figure are among the most unsettling but fascinating things I’ve seen in a video game. There aren’t a lot of horrors, but the ones that are there have excellent designs and feel like a part of a living, unsavory world. The game is a platformer in the vein of LIMBO or Inside and as such has a story tied to its puzzles and occasional monster confrontations. The art style is beautiful, if extremely unsettling at times, and scripted horror encounters don’t help matters much, but that’s largely the point. You play as a little kid in a raincoat navigating a grotesque vessel where figures much larger than you are planning on enjoying a meal of… let’s say unconventional meats. It’s not an overly difficult game, but it does a very good job of playing to the horror genre without tripping the usual conventions horror games employ like bad lighting and camera angles, jump scares, or explicit gore. You often have a better picture of the monsters you have to face than they do, as rooms are designed with many hiding spaces that allow you a full picture of the creatures you are about to face. Somehow, that just makes it much, much worse when they finally take notice of you and are reaching, searching, or otherwise scrambling to grab you.
Best Atmosphere Award
Station Eleven (novel)
I wasn’t entirely sure what to award this one, and if I’m honest, it wasn’t my favorite book I read this year, but it has a nice cadence to its writing and I think it deserves some mention. Quick warning to anyone interested in it: the story revolves around an apocalyptic flu, so it might hit a bit close to home. I read this back in January or February, but in the next few months, I kept thinking back to it. Parts of it are unrealistic in a way we now know from experience. Other parts are uncomfortably real. The story follows several characters immediately before, during, and years after a deadly outbreak of flu kills most people on earth. A small portion of people have a natural immunity, and some have managed to wait for the virus to burn itself out. They wander around in a post-apocalyptic landscape trying to figure out what society even means when you’ve lost that much, but they rebuild and within a generation have a series of depots and trade routes figured out among small groups of surviving bands. The main group of focus is an acting troupe that plays music and puts on plays, mainly Shakespeare, to whoever will listen. The book is full of little anecdotes and moments of peace, even though the world the characters live in is unstable and chaotic. It is one of the more hopeful depictions of an apocalypse, but it comes with a lot of ugly moments as well. The characters’ lives are intertwined, and as the chapters set in the past slowly reveal, actions made on a whim continue to have a lasting impacts years later.
Best Monster Award
The Ritual (film)
I’ve used images from this one before because I’ve seen the monster design and I feel like that’s what gets people’s attention, but I’d never actually watched the film properly before this year. To be fair, the monster design is pretty spectacular. I was on a bit of a horror film kick around October, and so I put this one on, and I ended up unable to take my eyes off of it. I’m seriously considering doing a proper review, even though it isn’t a particularly long or complex film. It’s a fairly basic horror story about some guys who are hiking in the woods, go off-trail, and bad things happen. If you do it well, though, sometimes that’s all you need. The film’s simplicity allows it to focus on the raw emotion of the protagonist, who is haunted both by the supernatural horror and an accident that happened at the beginning of the story. It reminds me a bit of The Descent, but I think it’s a bit more subtle once the monster shows up. Its small cast is easy to keep track of and the framing focuses on the protagonist, lending an essential sense of empathy to character deaths. The setting, a remote forest in Sweden, also makes for an excellently eerie environment, with much of the film occupied by spindly tree limbs and serene but vacant woodlands. The film knows what it’s doing, and it’s just a good example of a simple, solid horror film.
Best Music Award
Halt and Catch Fire (show)
I’ve been hearing about this series for a few years now — mostly positive things, but nothing specific enough to put it high on my list of priorities. It’s about four fictional characters involved in the PC revolution of the 1980s and 90s who brush up against the start of technologies that have since become essential — things like video games, internet access, online trading, chat rooms, laptops, and the rise of companies like Apple and Microsoft. It takes a little while to get going and I feel that the show tapers off, suffering some of the same problems structurally as Breaking Bad and Silicon Valley. In fact, it seems at first to be aping the two of them in some ways, albeit with a more dramatic tone. However, there are several things that carry it through, and about halfway through the first season I realized, “holy shit, this is really good, isn’t it?” The show’s setting and environment play an integral role in its identity, taking hints from the success of series that bank on 80s nostalgia, but willingly addressing some of the faults of the era, such as the AIDS crisis, homophobia, sexism, and cutthroat capitalism. I’m not sure it goes very far in figuring out how to resolve those issues, but it knows it’s a show for a modern audience and it pulls plenty of interesting turns with that in mind. Plus, its score and soundtrack are to die for.
Golden Cinnamon Roll
B.P.R.D. (graphic novel series)
Well I had to give something to Roger, didn’t I? In all honesty, I’ve been meaning to denote a special award for the best character that fits the cinnamon roll archetype because I come across them a lot and they’re lovely characters. I’m cheating a bit with this one because Roger appears in the Hellboy series first and B.P.R.D. is a Hellboy spinoff, but I do think it’s enough of its own thing that I can mention it separately. I won’t say much because I fully intend to go into all of the B.P.R.D. books, but suffice to say, they’re among the best graphic novels I’ve ever read. The series takes the approach of what it looks like when the main character leaves and everyone else is left to try and hold things together, and, well, things get complicated rather quickly. The characters are developed over many years and volumes, with new additions fleshed out in due time as surprisingly unique figures who could each carry their own series. B.P.R.D. is an accomplishment that rivals its predecessor, and indeed, Hellboy almost feels like a spinoff of it after a while. It’s a bit hard to figure out where to start, but get through B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs: Book 1 (it’s the long version, around 350 pages) and that’ll give you a good start. Honestly, you don’t even need to have read any of the Hellboy books. It’s an interesting experience.
Now, you may have noticed I’ve been cheating a bit. The idea of these awards was that I would list out the series that most impressed me throughout the year, keeping to things that weren’t necessarily new, but which I had never seen before. However, I’ve come across a lot of exceptions that I still want to include, but I don’t feel quite right putting them in with the others because that would set a precedent where I wouldn’t be challenged to find new narratives. So new this year is the
Honorable Mentions Room
For all the things that probably shouldn’t really get awards according to my completely made-up criteria, but that I want to praise anyway.
This is Technically Cheating but I’ve Changed My Mind Award
The Boys (show)
I can’t tell you how much I’ve gone back and forth about including this one here. The reason it’s cheating is that I technically watched the first season last year a bit after it came out. And read the books. There are many reasons neither of them made it into last year’s awards, but it would take me a minimum of ten thousands words to explain because I have some THOUGHTS about this series. The long and short of it is, I wasn’t overly impressed by the show, and I will never be able to recommend the books to anyone in good conscience. And they know that, the fuckers! Those books are well aware of what they’re doing, and they are taunting me by putting in good stuff I want to talk about alongside everything else that will take me years to unpack and I just — I can’t — anyway, I liked the second season of the show so that’s why it’s here. All the caveats go with this one (just… all of them), but it’s doing some interesting things with its setup and character dynamics. And there’s this part where MeToo Aquaman joins the Church of Scientology and loses all of his money and has to marry someone he doesn’t like. Which is amazing, and also, I feel, a suitable punishment for MeToo celebrities. I found this season connected well to the first and elevated it by comparison, paying off otherwise empty plot threads that were built up earlier, and playing with themes of violence, corporate interests, and accountability which I don’t see in shows of its ilk very often. It’s not going to appeal or even be palatable to everyone, but I can finally say that there are some gems I feel are worth wading through to find in this one.
Best Giant Flying Rat Award
Akata Warrior (novel)
I’m hoping to mainly give awards out to series that were genuinely new to me over the year, and that means sequels, later seasons, or continuations of series I’m already following probably shouldn’t count. However, I really wanted to include this one because I enjoyed it a lot and it brings some new things to the table. Akata Witch is a bit tighter in its writing, but this one expands the world and explores the main character’s relationships with her family in more detail, keeping what made the first book in the series great while branching out into new areas with this one. Also, there’s a giant flying cane rat that can turn itself invisible. I love it. I really hope Nnedi Okorafor continues working on this series and comes out with some more sequels in the future, because the world and characters she’s crafted here have a lot of life to them. However, I’m glad that this book exists at least, and if my pleas to get you to read the first one haven’t worked, I’m hoping the promise of a giant flying cane rat do.
Is This an Award?
The Witcher (show)
This one goes in honorable mentions because this one is amazing for all the wrong reasons. I know some people like The Witcher show, and in all honesty, it’s pretty benign in a way that most who dislike it won’t even find it enjoyably bad, but something about it just tickled me the first time I watched it. I can’t remember ever before watching a high-budget series or film that made so many baffling decisions every step of the way, but it kind of transcends judgement in a way that intentionally bad films and series don’t. Like, they tried on this one. They sorta tried. And even though I can see exactly what they were going for, I still find myself confused about it for some reason. I doubt many others found it as ridiculous as I did, but I do want to thank it for giving me joy this year.
And here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the coveted
This award goes to the best hat I’ve seen in a piece of narrative fiction all year. Because it’s 2020, the award is a bit wonky, but good hats deserve recognition regardless. This year was especially tough, because there were many good contenders. I really wanted to award it to Hellboy because as it turns out, he has a little invisible crown that even he doesn’t know about:
What’s better than a tiny hat? A tiny secret hat, of course!
But alas, it is a crown, right? And is a crown really a kind of hat. To get to the bottom of this, I consulted the Reddit thread Is a Crown a Hat? According to the thread’s 11 comments, experts are in disagreement, but seem to agree that a crown is definitely a type of headgear, and hats are also headgear, and also a crown could be a hat if it has the covering over the top of the head. Like the Queen of England’s crown is definitely also a hat. But Hellboy? Hellboy’s crown is tricky because it mostly looks like the traditional open-top crown, but because it’s usually drawn from the side, it’s hard to tell.
So I was going to count it as a hat under the logic that if in doubt, we can assume it’s a hat. I was happy. Life was good. I mean, life wasn’t really that good because we were in quarantine by that point, but I at least had this. Until I found this panel:
You see that little corner that pokes through the crown? Yeah, as far as I’ve been able to glean, that’s the only time in the series we ever see the crown from a top view. AND IT’S RUINED EVERYTHING!
I kid. But unfortunately, I cannot give the Hellboy series a third award for Hellboy wearing a hat. Also unfortunately, the Hellboy series also has a surprising dearth of characters in hats. I feel like it would be weird even for me to give my biggest award to a relatively minor character who first appears about seven books into a spinoff series of a thing that I like, so I decided not to do that. Luckily, 2020 has blessed us with two other very deserving hats, and I can’t decide between them so I’m going to give the award jointly to two series that both feature excellent hats.
First, we have Bubbles from Lumberjanes
One of the characters in the comic Lumberjanes wears a raccoon skin cap. However, a few issues in, she reveals that it is actually not a raccoon skin cap that she wears on her head, but a live raccoon named Bubbles:
Bubbles is very good. At one point, Bubbles gets a magical tiny hat. It’s a sombrero!
So we have a hat that is also a live raccoon wearing a little raccoon-sized sombrero. Marvelous.
But we also have a second award-winner.
The other half of the award goes to the Character Customizer from Among Us
Yes, yes, yes, I know Among Us is all over the place and people are probably getting sick of it by now, but fuck it, it’s an adorable game where you play as little marshmallow people acting out 1982’s The Thing. The hat wants what the hat wants. Also, it lets you wear this:
So I feel that’s an appropriate way to send off the old year.
Happy New Year everyone, and hang in there.