I think I’m having today off. The way I’m having today off is to write this especially long newsletter. There is something fundamentally wrong with me.
Tracks of the Year 2019
DIE: SPLIT THE PARTY is now available to buy in comic shops. It’ll be officially released in book shops next week.
In short: more DIE! So yay. DIE “yay” is a very depressing level of “yay”.
SPLIT THE PARTY is where we dig deeper into each of the main characters and expands DIE world, and sets the stage for everything that follows. That’s the odd thing about DIE – I’m writing the third volume now, and it is all very much dominoes falling. C read the latest script for DIE and noted how oddly effortless it was. I suspect that there’s so much effort in this one.
I think it’s basically serving the purpose that FANDEMONIUM and COMMERCIAL SUICIDE served in WicDiv, if you see what I mean. I hope you like it. There really is a lot here.
Also, if this is your “Oh! DIE is out!” we released a new edition of the DIE RPG rules before Christmas, including the whole new extra manual called the Arcana. You can grab that too.
And as a weird bit of coincidence – Isabel Greenberg’s GLASSTOWN is also released this week. She’s a brilliant graphic novelist, so for two comics that go and play games with the Brontes juvenilia. I’m getting my copy today, and am looking forward to diving in.
When is DIE back? THE GREAT GAME is looking like it’ll start in May, which means that the trade will likely be out in November.
We announced Ludocrats properly last week, but realised I probably should save some of the images we released to avoid overwhelming you. Want to see an unlettered page from later in the issue? Well, bad luck if you don’t – you likely can see it from the periphery of your vision. I’m sorry.
Coo! Jeff and Tamra, killing it.
Speak to your retailer if you want to pre-order. If they need a code, it’s FEB200052.
I think this is the first time I haven’t done a newsletter on the same day a trade comes out. In this case, I didn’t, because i) trades are around indefinitely, you don’t need to rush out and get it ii) I was busying panicking getting ready for my Guardian “How to write comics” Masterclass.
While I’d been doing the thinking about what I wanted to do for months, I only actually did the heavy lifting this week. Basically Monday to Wednesday was making slides. I decided I didn’t actually want to write a presentation, and use the slides as prompts and just talk around each issue. I was aware that basically I’ve actually picked up far too much about this stuff. I also knew it was a question of editing – there’s much more I could have gone into.
I concentrated on basically three areas – script as blueprint, script as love letter and pacing (including all manner of weird acts of magic in comics). The photo above is one of my opening gambits, which is trying to encourage writers to realise that a writer isn’t needed to make a comic. An artist could just write a comic themselves, and if you don’t actively bring more than that, it’s a problem. The aim is to become a symbiote, as essential as mitochondria are to eukaryote cells. I also spent a lot of time in the love letter section about how to avoid becoming an active parastoid – as in, a parasite which kills the host.
People laughed at the best jokes and seemed to genuinely get a lot from it. And there really were a lot of them – a class like this which has sold 160 tickets is a weird and strange thing. I will likely do something similar again. Looking at the slides, a few people suggested a book. That could be fun.
That said, I would also be tempted to do two full hours of me just doing hard-core panel/scene breakdowns for a bunch of comics. By the point we’d reached slides like this near the end…
…I was gong full nerd, and clearly loving it almost as much as I love doing really scrappy slides.
Then Steve Horry insisted I go and listen to Donna Summer’s Working The Midnight Shift on the way home, which is a good way to end anything.
Thanks to everyone who came. Must do again, etc.
I’m doing a signing on the 18th of April down in Bromley. Come say Hi.
Remember the last Artcred? Take one script and try to draw a bunch of them? That was a fun time. Artcred is doing it again! Tom Taylor has provided a one page script, and artists who are interested can write to get it. Details here.
I’ve been doing tracks of the year, in one form or another, since 2003. I think. It’s a long time ago now. The format has broadly remained the same.
It’s usually been a top 40. I changed that to “whatever I have” a few years ago, to avoid procrastinating for months on this or putting in stuff to fill the gap. Once upon a time I tried to do due diligence, go see what I missed, plus actually listen to everything a bunch more and making sure I’m happy with an order. I’m doing that less. I’m also aware that there’s things from 2019 I’ve loved and simply entirely forgot to include on my short list. Only thanks to Alex Spencer’s list that I remembered – wait, I haven’t put Carly Rae in here. Also I don’t necessarily write blurbs for them all, for same time based reasons. I’ll do this today, and get it out.
I am also quite tired after the Masterclass. You may understand.
The list is for tracks – as in, not just singles, but likely singles. It’s one track per artist, though if an artist has had a particularly dominating year, their entry will likely be pushed up to show how dominating they are. Outkast and Robyn were people who benefited from this in past years, and you likely can guess who will benefit this time. However, if someone has a guest spot in someone else’s track, they can be included for that. So Robyn was included for both her own track and her collaboration with Royksopp.
Now, this year I’m tweaking the inclusion rules. I’m 44. I’m out the loop more, and coming to some stuff a little later. However, doing the obvious didn’t strike until listening to RPG community the Gauntlet’s year end podcast, where their community selects their games of the year for what they’ve liked most this year, rather than being released this year. I’m not willing to do that entirely, but when there’s a bunch of 2017-2018 stuff I was listening to pretty intensely. I decided integrating them in the list would be too much. I’ve lobbed the 2017-2018 stuff after we hit the number one, and I won’t be writing about them, as awesome as they are.
Still – the usual cheat rules remain in place. If it was a single in 2018, and the album came out in 2019, it’s in here.
And, for intellectual stringency, I set so it’s still a list of 40 songs. So for every 2017-2018 track I include I drop one off the bottom of the list – which I’m fine by. ALL KILLERS. Except, in a real way, no Killers, I’m not a monster.
Right – let’s do this. You can listen to them here.
2017-2018 honourable mentions: Wiggy Giggy – The Love Eggs, It’s Not Just Me – Let’s Eat Grandma, Me Swimming – Mary Epworth, Another Sucker – MCMDF, Future Me Hates Me – The Beths, Zone 1 to 6000 – Nabihah Iqbal, Play Destroy – Poppy/Grimes, Despicable – grandson, I’m Desperate – BC Camplight)
31) Titanium 2 Step - Battles
The Pop Group high on popsicles, making a pitch for a hot new show for the under-fives.
30) Love of My Life - Summer Camp
29) (I Wanna Go Out With) Someone Else - bis
I found myself thinking of bands I haven’t thought about for a long time which were so essential to me. Bis were a band who precipitated a zine boom in the UK, taking a sort of indie-pop leaning audience and introducing a significant number to this as an option. They followed that up with a 1999 album with Social Dancing, which even more than Get In! was an album spiralling out of British pop in the 90s and realising its direction was not culture’s. Which is a shame.
Anyway, turns out Bis did another album this year, and this is neat lo-fi Glaswegian non-love-songs, with the late period buzzcock-with-synth precision.
28) It Is What It Is - Melt Yourself Down
27) The Devil (Didn't Make Me Do It) - Twin Temple
26) Eye in the Wall - Perfume Genius
25) DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR - Lingua Ignota
Sometimes, if something is worth saying, it’s worth saying in capitals. And it’s worth saying in capitals, it’s worth writing in blood.
24) Dark & Handsome - Blood Orange
23) Bright Horses - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
One of my favourite music things of the year was the day when everyone were trying to work out whether the cover which Cave and chums tweeted was real or whether they were trolling us all. It was real. I love it.
22) Divine Intervention – PVA
21) Love Is a Parasite - Blanck Mass
Blanck Mass joining me on the Parasite metaphor trail, and doing so the only way they know how, which is by taking a universe, stretching it tightly across another universe, and hitting it as hard as they can with another third universe. One day someone will make a Sci-fi film soundtracked by Blanck Mass, and it will save us all. Or kill us all. One of the two.
20) Sunglasses - Black Country, New Road
Every time this pops around on the playlist, I find myself thinking “Wait – this is Slint-ish and a little of Lift to Experience, and this bit is pushing atonal into a place I’m not feeling” and then I give it another half minute, and it becomes all taut and a gleeful snarl and funny smart lyrics about being invincible in sunglasses with that LCD Soundsystem/Art Brut smart-dumbness to it, and then you get to the “I’M MORE THAN ADEQUATE/LEAVE KANYE OUT OF THIS” bit and I want to marry you, Sunglasses, I would marry you so hard.
19) [10 Good Reasons for Modern Drugs] - The Twilight Sad
Austere, beautiful, as comfortable with their idiom as they are uncomfortable with the world.
18) In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain – Pixies
When the new album dropped, a friend said it was their new second favourite Pixies album. I wouldn’t go there, but this is some superior Pixies mythological mood pop. I returned to the Pixies midway through the year, and found myself chewing over the sheer unlikeliness of their existence, and how I couldn’t imagine anyone deliberately pulling those ingredients together, and deciding that, yes, this is the recipe for one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Absolutely miraculous.
17) Blame It on Your Love (feat. Lizzo) - Charli XCX
Gone is a better track, and but this was the song which was looping around my head on repeat the day of the WicDiv wake and that counts for something. That was a weird day of ritual, and very much the musical highlight of the year. Perhaps even the highlight all around. A big ritual of letting go, with crying and hugging.
16) Dancing In The Dark - Lucy Dacus
I’ve been weirdly obsessed by covers this year, so we choose one to signify this. The second Dancing In The Dark appearance here in the last five years, right? It’s a pure WicDiv record. I’ve talked about how The Downtown Boy’s X-Ray-Spex-esque attack of a cover basically defined the neurosis of WicDiv’s imperial phase, and this finds a different way to attack and reveal elements in the song. Clearly, the moment is 2:04 in, with the dropped beat, but this feels like waving goodbye, and being caught by that wave. Sad, as all things are. If you’re also in a Dancing In the Dark place, hit up Hot Chip’s astounding cover too.
15) You Need a Dog - Las Aves
Dudes drool, dogs rule.
14) Ducter - black midi
The opening cyclical riff caught my ear like an angler’s lure, and then – as the drums and the voice kick in – just tightens the line. The tension in the record is the joy – how it pulls you along with it, builds, gets more vicious, but judging the tension where it would snap, cutting through the earlobe. Drawing a little blood, but mainly drawing you in. It also makes you write in this kind of metaphor. It’s that’s kind of record.
13) I Stole Yer Plimsoles - Edit - International Teachers Of Pop
I got to the International Teachers of Pop via McKelvie trying to work out whether he was going to drop their gleefully teutonic Another Brick In the Wall and this cemented the love. It’s a banger, in that it sounds like a row that will have you banging on the wall to make people be quiet. Funny, human, clearly highly danceable. HE STOLE HER PLIMPSOLES!
12) Level Up – Ciara
The best song about classical D&D character advancement ever recorded.
11) Redemption Day - Sheryl Crow/Johnny Cash
I only just researched the story behind this one. Crow’s 1996 track, covered by Cash in the last of his Rubin albums, and a new version turned into a single with permission from the estate. I just love it. It came out of nowhere, just on a shuffle playlist. I was already feeling the Crow vocal and bought in, and then Cash’s rumble comes out of history, like a ghost. Death haunts this, and death haunts us all in this hell year. My lament of choice.
10) You and Everybody That You Love Will One Day Die - Slime City
It turns out everything isn’t going to be okay.
9) Vossi Bop - Stormzy
For all your “Fuck the Government/Fuck Boris” needs.
8) Too Much - Carly Rae Jepsen
Still not sure how I forgot to include this in my scratch document. Just another casual, off-the-cuff pop-classic from castle Rae Jepsen. Too much and never enough, simultaneously.
7) hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but I have it - Lana Del Rey
You can almost imagine Lana’s English teacher tutting, “My hope that you’ll learn capitialize correctly is certainly a dangerous thing for me to have”, but this closing statement from Norman Fucking Rockwell says basically everything. Hope has been dangerous. Hope is explosive. Hope is poisonous. But it’s still oh so much better than the alternatives.
6) Entitlement Crew - The Hold Steady
Hold Steady were one of the bands I’ve been planning to give proper ears to ever since I saw a quote from Craig Finn circa Plan B in the mid-00s, when questioned why he writes about these teenage scenarios when he’s inching into his late thirties, he noted something like “I think I actually have a better understanding of 17 year old me now than I did then.” In terms of going into YA and WicDiv when I was at the same age, it’s something I kept to mind, and tried to put into action. So, eventually, I’ll listen. Eventually.
This year was the eventually, when a friend got me to go to a gig, and it was simultaneously exactly like I’d imagined them (barband literary Springsteen romanticism) and everything I wanted and needed (a riot, a shouted party riot). I spent a lot of the year really going through the material, and thankfully they released a new one this year, so we can give the nod. Fave new-old band of the year, and I’ll be raising a glass to them tonight.
5) Summon The Fire - The Comet Is Coming
People occasionally ask me about whether there’s going to be a Doctor Aphra show or not (answer: no idea) but no-one’s actually asked what I’d like to see in a Doctor Aphra show. My answer: I would like to see them back a cart of money up to The Comet Is Coming and get them to record the complete score. Listen to this. You want to watch the show this is the theme tune for. This is an explosion, a promise, all propulsion and sex. I walk, it soars, the world is better.
4) Seventeen - Sharon Van Etten
And then it’s worse? Or at least, more poignant. To be momentarily Manichean, pop songs tend to fall into two categories. Songs which aim to make you invulnerable, and songs that crush you. Songs which conceal you and songs which reveal you. This is the latter. The moment three minutes and onwards in is the biggest moment in this whole list, and is pure fingernails down a cliff.
3) bad guy - Billie Eilish
Minerva’s done well, hasn’t she?
2) Cellophane - FKA twigs
FKA Twigs was a WicDiv artist. She was my main inspiration for Persephone – somewhat weirdly, as I only became aware of her after the book existed, and Persephone was in motion. Five years since then, and as an era of my life ends, this painfully pure pain-sculpture feels like a gravestone. Goodbye to all of this. I’m sorry. I loved it, but I am so glad it’s over.
1) Juice – Lizzo
And then you pick yourself up.
No-one has provided more moments of joy than Lizzo, across so many tracks. Any time I’ve DJed, anyone’s set is guaranteed to include one Lizzo… which causes the other DJs to swear that someone got first, and then shrug casually and choose another one of Lizzo’s absolute bangers which will do the job as well. I could have chose any of them. Instead, I bundle them all together and choose this.
(Though I do want to highlight “Never been in love before/what the fuck are fucking feelings, yo?” as an opening sentiment to an album which makes me want to climb onto a chair and applaud. And Truth Hurt’s “I just took a DNA test…”. And all of Boys’ egalitarian approach to merits of the aforementioned boys. And Tempo’s choice to, etc, etc.)
But I said I’ve chosen this. I love how it seems to glide sidewise as it steps into the bridge, the teasing glee into the chorus and the way that it has percolated my thought process in a daily basis. Whenever I DM anyone, Lizzo gleeful chiding the man lost in her DMs comes to mind, and I smile. I am just DMing Jim! I am not lost in anyone’s DMs Lizzo, I swear, pinky-swear.
Lizzo has an excess of music which makes me come together with people I love and love one another all the more by creating shared memories of great times. We’re in this together. And we’re dancing.
Workwise? I’m mainly feeling relief.
Over the weekend I got my major work on PROJECT PRIVATE BUKOWSKI done. In the first half of the week I got my masterclass prep done, and die the actual class. Stephanie and Dan have their scripts, which gives me at least a clear month of time. The artist for PROJECT COWBOY has their script for the first issue. So for quite a time there’s no travel and just the work on my plate, and I get to start chipping away on scripts, and having the space to do the few rush projects which may pop up. For example, PROJECT BRIGHTER SHADE OF BLUE is basically waiting on a final nod, and when that’s given, I’ll do the script. That I don’t have to shunt something else out the way to do so is obviously great.
This weekend Jim is visiting for the final Ludocrats summit – we basically get together and work out how we’re going to execute an issue. This is the one for issue 5. I’ll write a little more about how this works next week. All co-writing is different, and Ludocrats is especially different. This is also assuming we don’t decide to do more. It’s a stand alone mini, but there’s always more ludicrousness, right?
Now I will assemble a sofa.