One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most in recent years since moving to Montreal is becoming a frequent user of the public library system, just like I did when I was a kid. More specifically, this got me back into reading French comics (bandes-dessinées), which I had a bit drifted away from over the years because of my lack of access (while living in Japan). So the past couple of years have seen me not only discovering plenty of new series, but also catching up on some, or going back and re-reading a few (or a mix of all of these).
When the quarantine period hit Montreal, I definitely started missing my close-to-weekly library visits, to get a haul of books, but then a few weeks ago I remembered that they also offer digital lending, and have been back at reading my dear bandes-dessinées. Sure, the digital collection on offer is restrained, but I’m still finding plenty to read, and in this post I’ll just highlight one series I’m glad I can continue reading.
Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche is a series by Alain Dodier that started in 1985, and is currently at 27 books, the last one released over the past year. It tells the story of a private detective who takes on, for the most part, pretty mundane cases. But the stories are really well told, fun to read, and I like the setting (Paris) and the character (doesn’t take things too serious, often to the detriment of making a decent living). It’s slice-of-life stuff mixed with various levels of mystery, and I really enjoy it. Although I remembered the name, I can’t remember if I really read any of the books when I was younger, but after reading the most recent books, I decided to go back and read it from the start, and just finished the 15th one. Highly recommended if you read French — although it’s quite possible that it’s been translated to English.
This marks my tenth year doing this annual reflection on my favorite media of the year, which means you can also easily see what my favorite media through the decade was (see 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018). As always, this is a look at the media released in 2019 that I was able to consume this year that I enjoyed the most — it’s not a “best” list, and of course it doesn’t include all of the things that were released this year that I haven’t yet had a chance to check out, and that might have made the list if I did. Instead, take it as a big ol’ recommendation list of stuff that came out this past year that I liked, and so you might like it too. Each category kicks off with an alphabetical top 5, and then I include a few honorable mentions if there are other things I would like to highlight.
Favorite Games I feel like I don’t have as many games in this category as in past years, but I think this is also a reflection of me spending more time playing fewer games. That’s especially the case with Destiny 2 — I could have listed the Shadowkeep expansion to indicate a 2019 release, but instead, I’ve decided to include a “live” game for the first time in my year-end list, since that’s how I’m consuming it (playing through the seasons, etc.) Sayonara Wild Hearts is included here and not in mobile because the best experience of this game for me was through Apple TV with a controller. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe for me was such a revelation because it was the first time I played a Mario game completely in co-op (with two colleagues at work), and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing a Mario game.
Destiny 2 (Stadia)
Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch)
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch)
Sayonara Wild Hearts (Apple TV)
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)
Honorable Mentions: Death Stranding (PS4), Far Cry New Dawn (PS4), Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch), Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch), Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 (PS4)
Favorite Mobile Games This is a category that comes and goes, as some years I see myself barely playing anything on mobile (and the stuff that I do play is usually on iPad, although my new iPhone XR has me enjoying playing games on a phone again). This year of course marked the introduction of Apple Arcade, and that got me back into playing mobile games in a big way. Below are my favorites so far, but there are still loads of games I haven’t had a chance to properly play yet.
Assemble with Care
LEGO Builder’s Journey
What the Golf?
Honorable Mentions: Card of Darkness, Guildlings, Rayman Mini, Sky: Children of the Light, Steven Universe: Unleash the Light, Tangle Tower, Yaga the Roleplaying Folktale
Favorite Board Games I introduced this category last year — following my re-entry into having a board game collection (after the purge I did when I left Japan) — and again, I include games from 2018 (that I didn’t include last year) and 2019, since I feel like board game releases are a bit of a slower thing, especially with the way Kickstarter is used.
Architects of the West Kingdom
Detective: LA Crimes
Magic: The Gathering
Honorable Mentions: Hokkaido, Raids, Tower of Madness
Favorite Movies Since I spend so much time watching older movies, I do tend to have more trouble coming up with movies that are new releases — and even for this list, six of the titles included I ended up watching over the past week, as I tried to play catch up with 2019 releases. As a bonus, I include my top 5 of movies released in 1989.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The Art of Self-Defence
Honorable Mentions: Alita: Battle Angel, Avengers: Endgame, John Wick 3: Parabellum, Joker, Klaus, Midsommar, Missing Link, Ready or Not, Us
Favorite Movies of 1989
Dead Poets Society
Do the Right Thing
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Patlabor: The Movie
Favorite TV No big surprise, but this year was again a fantastic one for TV. And yes, for the time I’m including a wrestling show — this year marked my return to wrestling fandom in a big way, thanks to the new AEW league, which is absolutely my favorite thing to watch on a weekly basis (and the only one of these shows I watch live).
Formula 1: Drive to Survive
What We Do in the Shadows
Honorable Mentions: Black Mirror, GameCenter-CX, Game of Thrones, Fleabag, Jack Ryan, John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch, Killing Eve, Love Death + Robots, Patriot Act, Russian Doll, Saturday Night Live, Shameless, Star Trek Discovery, Stranger Things 3, The Boys, The Twilight Zone, The Umbrella Academy, The Witcher, Watchmen
Favorite Web Series This is another category I introduced in recent years, and this year I feel like my consumption of web shows/content really did explode. And yes, wrestling content takes up a lot of space, with both the AEW and NWA weekly web shows in my top 5, as well as the Being the Elite series, that I binged to completion this year as I played catch up, and then a couple of more channels I follow regularly included in the honorable mentions.
Favorite Music This is a really weird year in music for me. I did listen to a lot of new stuff, but I didn’t really spend a lot of time with most of those records, and so didn’t develop a lot of “loves.” I think it’s telling that according to Apple Music, my top 20 of most played tracks was entirely composed of hard bop — it’s definitely what I listened to the most this past year, and I continue to do so. And in the lead-up to my trip to Japan in November, I spent a month or two pretty much listening exclusively to my old Shibuya-kei favorites (Pizzicato Five, Cornelius, etc.) One of my new year resolutions is definitely to spend more time taking in new music.
Flamagra (Flying Lotus)
I Know You Like It (Shinichiro Yokota)
Reward (Cate Le Bon)
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (Billie Eilish)
Honorable Mentions: Beat Tape 09 (Eevee), Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police (Juliana Hatfield), Ladytron (Ladytron), Outer Peace (Toro y Moi)
Favorite Comics For the first time, I don’t include any honorable mentions in my comics list, and that’s telling. My interest in BDs (bandes-dessinées, or French comics) continues to eclipse my interest in comics, and I’ve seen my weekly reading list go down and down throughout the year. The absolute highpoint is Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X series, my favorite comics in years (at least since Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four and Avengers). Dawn of X refers to all of the separate Hickman-curated titles that have launched in its wake (X-Men, New Mutants, X-Force, Excalibur, Fallen Angels, Marauders), which I’m not as enthusiastic about, but still find them to be quite enjoyable (most of them).
Dawn of X
House of X/Powers of X
Peter Cannon Thunderbolt
Silver Surfer: Black
Favorite BDs My rekindled love of BDs (as of last year, when I started going to my local library) continues, and has grown, with this year being easier to include a lot of 2019 releases — although there are still some late-year releases that I’m sure would be included here (like the new Thorgal and XIII) but that I haven’t read yet. I do spend more time reading older releases (reading through a series) than new ones though.
Amazonie – Épisode 4
La Jeunesse de Thorgal – La dent bleue (7)
Renaissance – Interzone (2)
Retour sur Aldébaran – Épisode 2
Stern – L’Ouest, le vrai (3)
Honorable Mentions: Alix Senator – Les Spectres de Rome (9), Carthago – Le Pacte du centenaire (9), Katanga – Dispersion (3), Lefranc – Lune Rouge (30), Soleil Froid – L’armée verte (3)
Favorite Podcasts My rekindled love of wrestling is also evident here (what can I say, I’m hooked), as is my rekindled interest (since the Ayrton Senna era in the 80s) for Formula 1 — ignited by the excellent Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive (which got me excited about watching races again).
Pop Culture Happy Hour
The Chris Van Vliet Show
Honorable Mentions: All Songs Considered, Monocle 24: The Stack, On Margins
Since the newsletter is going on a summer break, I wanted to highlight a series that gives off a bit of a summer vacation vibe (at least at the start). Le Monde de Milo is a fantasy series – but think along the lines of a Ghibli film – written by Richard Marazano with art by Christophe Ferreira. The latter has worked for years in the animation industry in Japan (working on the fantastic film Napping Princess — read an interview with him here), and so it’s no surprise that his style feels very animated/anime, with a setting and world that ends up looking like a beautiful melding of European and Japanese styles.
The story follows the adventures of a young boy who finds himself teleported to another dimension, discovering the truth of his lineage, presented in 2-volume arcs. Five books have been released so far, so we’re halfway through the third story arc, with the latest book having come out a couple of months ago. I like it especially for the art style, but the vibe is fun too, with the kind of characters you’d expect to see in a Ghibli film.
Today I highlight a series that I just started reading last week, and I’m already incredibly addicted and on the way to binging everything in the series. The overarching series by Leo (the pen name used by Brazilian Luis Eduardo de Oliveira) is called Les mondes d’Aldébaran (The Worlds of Aldebaran), and it’s made up of a series of “cycles” that follow the colonization efforts of Earth on other planets. The first series, Aldébaran, released in the 90s and made up of five books, tells the intriguing story of colonists on the planet Aldebaran who have lost contact with Earth for over 100 years. An authoritarian government has taken hold, and so we follow the story of a group of resistants – not a group at first – who over the series deal with the fantastic dangers of the planet they inhabit, while trying to uncover a mystery that will eventually lead to some major societal changes. It’s fantastic stuff, with characters that age (there are occasional jumps between albums of a few years), and that you end up caring for quite a bit. I binged that first series over a weekend (you can read it in a collected tome), and I can’t wait to read the follow-up series: Bételgeuse, Antarès, Survivants – Anomalies quantiques, and Retour sur Aldébaran.
When it comes to reading stories set in Roman times, my touchstone growing up was the wacky adventures of Astérix the Gaul, but a series I’ve quite enjoyed reading in recent months is Murena, written by Jean Dufaux with art by Philippe Delaby. Set during the reign of Nero, we’re presented with a highly detailed – and heavily researched, as the addendums suggest – look at life in the Roman capital, but with a healthy dose of intrigue, violence, and political maneuvering. There are ten books in the series so far (I’ve read the first nine so far), divided in cycles of four books. It’s great stuff, and if you want even more Roman reading, I can also recommend Alix Senator, which is a modern series (seven books out so far) that takes the young hero of Jacque Martin’s classic Alix series (that started back in the 50s), and revisits him at an older age, now a senator in Rome.
When I recommended Thorgal a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’m not a big fan of fantasy when it comes to BD, but I did discover another great fantasy series this year, called Servitude. Written by Fabrice David and Éric Bourgier, with gorgeous art by the latter, it’s basically Game of Thrones in feel and atmosphere, with the same kind of political manoeuvering between the various factions – and same goes for the violence as well.
Each book does a great job of not only telling the story we’re following, but also devotes extra pages to give a lot of background on the world and its history, and to explain what makes the world tick – think of a resource book for a traditional tabletop RPG. The series was supposed to span five books, but following the release of the 5th book last year, the creators announced that they will need one more book to finish their story. I look forward to reading how it all ends.
The world of BD loves to use a western setting, and there’s currently a boom in books set in the Wild West – I myself have just started reading one of the classics though, Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean (Moebius) Giraud’s Blueberry. But this week I’d like to highlight a new series I’m really enjoying called Stern, written and drawn by brothers Frédéric and Julien Maffre. Set in 1880 in Kansas, it follows an undertaker called Elijah Stern – who just so happens to love literature — who sets up shop in a small town. It’s slightly comical, but not in a joke-y way, with a dry humoristic tone. There are two books out, and they’re both great.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a particularly big Disney fan, but I do have fond memories of reading Disney comics when I was a kid – especially the Donald Duck/Scrooge McDuck ones with the Beagle Boys – and I really like the recent Mickey Mouse animated shorts the company has produced (watch the first 10 shorts here). On the BD side, I’ve been enjoying a fantastic anthology series published by Glénat that sees a variety of BD creators, like Lewis Trondheim and Tebo, offer up takes on Mickey. These are gorgeous books, and they all have a retro feel to them that seeps nostalgia through and through – in fact, the Mickey’s Craziest Adventures book is presented as if it was made up of long lost pages (like the one below) from an original Mickey comic. Each book in the series has its own distinct personality – there’s even one that imagines Mickey as the one and only Corto Maltese – and I’ve loved reading all of them so far.
This week I bring up a wonderful series by Christophe Blain called Isaac le Pirate. It tells the story of Isaac Sofer, who initially sees himself as a painter, but ends up joining a pirate crew, which then leads to odd and sometimes grim and sometimes humorous situations. The love of his life also sees her story told while he’s away – as he struggles to get back to her – and we get to meet some other interesting characters as well (like Jacques, Isaac’s partner-in-crime, who gets a book named after him). The series is made up of 5 books, and although it’s never been said that it’s over, all 5 were released between 2001 and 2005. It’s well worth reading for its mix of humor, drama, and high sea adventure. I’ll also recommend Blain’s Gus series, set in the wild west.
Les aventures de Spirou et Fantasio is one of those classic series that most kids who grew up reading BDs have read – I loved the series so much that I even named my first dog “Spirou.” I continue to read the main series through its creator changes – with my favourite runs being by Franquin (1-19, 24) and Tome & Janry (33-46) – but what I’ll highlight this week is a spinoff series that started a few years ago. Referred to as “Le Spirou de” (The Spirou of) it’s composed of one-shots done by different creators who are allowed a more personal take on the characters. There have been 13 releases so far, and highlights include Yann’s Le tombeau des Champignac, Emile Bravo’s Le journal d’un ingénu, and Lewis Trondheim’s Panique en Atlantique – but they’re all really fun reads, and I love reading these “alternate” takes on such classic characters.