Artists That Got Me Through 2016Posted: December 30, 2016
We’re almost there, guys. 2016 is almost over, and hopefully we can all enjoy a small bit of relief over that fact before 2017 comes up and sucker-punches us with its own particular existential shitshow. But even with all the awfulness of the last twelve months, there were some bright spots. I got my first comic story selected for publication. I got engaged. And as always, there has been some tremendous art from incredible artists to guide me and inspire me and lay the groundwork for how to face the world. So, in lieu of a normal Favorites list, I decided to write up the artists that helped me get through the ugliness of 2016.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: It feels very appropriate (albeit bittersweet) that 2016 would be the year that I finally experienced Hamilton; the story that Lin-Manuel Miranda tells was incredibly relevant to both the aspiring writer and the burgeoning political enthusiast in me. Throughout Hamilton, Miranda effortlessly humanizes the titular character and the Founding Fathers in general to great effect, driving home their relatable hopes and goals and the enormity of their accomplishments in equal measure. The burning desire to make your voice heard, both through creativity and political action, infuses the show with an undeniable energy that has directly motivated numerous spirited writing sessions… and reassured me during some very disappointing turns of events in 2016.
That alone would have made Miranda an essential creative voice to me, but then he went and doubled-down on his own awesomeness by contributing to the soundtrack of Disney’s Moana, a very impressive animated adventure even without Miranda’s soul-stirring lyrics. The story of Moana, summarized perfectly in the music, is a classic example of a young hero following their heart to their true purpose in the world; the fact that her purpose involves shaking her community out of generations of stagnation to return them to their true ideals and best nature only added to the film’s resonance. Combined with his ever-cheery Twitter presence, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s art was a major beacon of inspiration and idealism for me in this past year, just when I needed it the most.
Patton Oswalt: He’s long been one of my favorite comedians, but in the past couple of years Patton Oswalt has become a major guiding light in my life. Besides his wonderful stand-up material, which mixes sharp-minded observations with intensely geeky pop culture references, Oswalt helped set me down the path that got me writing comics when I read his book Silver Screen Fiend back in 2015. Even before this year started, he was already preparing me for how to get through it. But Oswalt’s work took on extra significance in light of the tragic death of his wife Michelle McNamara in April of this year.
Seeing one of my heroes suffer an unimaginable tragedy (and then bravely share his efforts to work through it) was nothing short of incredible. And that was before seeing him live at the Beacon Theatre in November, where he slayed the crowd with a pitch-perfect hour of comedy, much of which directly discussed his wife’s death and his efforts to deal with the fallout. Watching Oswalt use his art to examine and confront what has to be the worst experience of his life and then share that art with others was a powerful moment, and it reminded me of how essential art can be to dealing with tragedy.
Drew McWeeny: Once known as “Moriarty” when he wrote for Ain’t It Cool News, Drew McWeeny has been one of my favorite film critics for years. His critical study of films seems to be largely based on emotional engagement, and he often brings his own life experience and worldview into his reviews, something which I have always appreciated and have sometimes emulated in my own critical work. But what really makes McWeeny such an important figure for me this year has been what he’s done since leaving his job as the chief film critic for HitFix a few months ago.
Thankfully, McWeeny hasn’t let his departure from HitFix hold him back; rather, he’s taken the opportunity to dive into something new and blaze a new path for his career. In the past month, he has put out two issues of his own online magazine called Pulp & Popcorn, which combines his usual film reviews and essays with some truly impressive short and serialized fiction of varying genres and styles. The end result is one of the more exciting projects I’ve seen come out of 2016 and I can’t wait to see where Drew McWeeny takes it in the new year.
Steve Orlando: Over this past year, my focus has turned more and more towards comics as my own career goals have become more comics-specific. Whenever I have money to spare after paying rent and getting food, comics are usually at the top of the list. And throughout this past year, I can’t think of a single writer that has been a more consistent presence in my reading than Steve Orlando. From wrapping up his acclaimed Midnighter series (and continuing it with the current Midnighter & Apollo miniseries), to catching up on old creator-owned projects like Undertow and Virgil, to his oversight of the “Night of the Monster Men” Batman crossover, to his current series like Supergirl and Namesake and his upcoming run on Justice League of America (phew), Orlando has been everywhere this past year, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
Orlando has quickly established himself as a top-tier writer of two-fisted action stories, mixing runaway-train momentum with elemental emotional arcs and intricate fight scenes to great effect. Combine that with his eye for representation (many of his books feature LGBT leads, Virgil has an all-black cast and his new JLA series is excitingly diverse) and it becomes clear that Steve Orlando is right at the cutting edge of this latest generation of comics writers, and is providing a wonderful blueprint for the kind of writer I hope to be.
Chuck Wendig: There is only one other writer whom I have read as much as (if not more than) Steve Orlando in 2016, and that is the novelist Chuck Wendig. Over this year I have read one novella (The Forever Endeavor) and two novels (Blackbird and Star Wars: Aftermath) by Wendig, and I’m in the midst of yet another of his novel as I write this (Invasive). And that only scratches the surface of Wendig’s bibliography: besides Double Dead and Blue Blazes (which I already own but have yet to read), Wendig has three sequels to Blackbird, one sequel to Aftermath, a standalone novel called Zer0es and two other series I haven’t even looked at yet AND he’s also written some comic books besides. The only thing more breathless than Wendig’s writing pace is the present-tense narration he does it in, a stylistic decision that lends his stories an indelible sense of urgency and immediacy. But even with his up-tempo style, Wendig always finds time for a colorful turn of phrase or three, often giving his stories the vibe of a really smart person who’s gotten just drunk enough to ramble endlessly without undercutting their vocabulary.
But I think what really makes Wendig such an inspiration to me this year, beyond the undeniable charisma of his writing, is what he does alongside it. On his blog Wendig is constantly providing advice and counsel to new writers, and on Twitter he is constantly providing blunt commentary on the awfulness of the world around us (often while sparring with trolls that don’t like his Star Wars books for some reason). Throughout it all, Wendig has an undeniable work ethic and unmistakable voice to go along with his terrific ideas and strong principles, and how could such an example not be essential to me this year?
Of course this list is incomplete. There are plenty of movies (Star Trek Beyond, Rogue One), TV shows (The Good Place, Stranger Things) and comics (Detective Comics, Joyride) that also excited and inspired me. And I’m aware of the lack of female artists here, even as I’ve started to make an active effort to read and watch more work from female creatives. But there’s no doubt that these four voices helped me through this year more than any others, and I’m sure I can rely on their work — both new and old — to keep guiding me through the year ahead.