As it was for a lot of you out there, this wasn’t the easiest year for me and my family. Following Giant Robot’s print magazine going on hiatus at the tail end of 2010, I was unemployed with no job leads or responses to my queries for the first six months. Then, after I got an awesome job out of nowhere, the company my wife worked for was purchased by a competitor and shut down. Fortunately, we’ve managed to get by through frugal habits, a rock-solid support system of family and friends, and the PMA. And yes, there have been highlights. Here are ten of them–some of which has been written about in the blog, others merely alluded to, and a couple of odds and ends–in no particular order.
1. Comic Con as a fan - Perhaps nothing underscored my post-Giant Robot magazine life more than attending the San Diego Comic-Con as a civilian and not as vendor or journalist (blogging doesn’t count). It took a variety of hook-ups from unbelievable friends to get my brother Greg and me into the hallowed gathering of nerds for our thirtieth time–and our cousin Jimmy for his third–and rewards included bumping into old friends in the aisles (Willie Santos, Kiyoshi Nakazawa, GR crew), attending a ton of panels (Pee-Wee Herman, Los Bros Hernandez, Brian Ralph and Anders Nilson), witnessing unbeatable eye candy (original art, old comics, cosplayers), and stressing over how to get back in 2012.
2. Boris trifecta - The stoner rock/doom metal/ambient noise band from Japan went out their minds in 2011, releasing two albums at once (Heavy Rocks leaning toward psychedelic metal, Attention Please with more dreamy noise) and then following up with a New Album of deconstructed and challenging pop. Of course, the trio from Tokyo still totally rips onstage with axe-master Kurihara standing in the shadows.
3. Descendents trifecta - I got to see my third favorite band–The Clash and J Church are tied for first–open for Bad Religion (actually Rise Against), headline FYF (w/ OFF!, No Age, Kid Dynamite…), and then headline GV30 (w/ X, Social Distortion, The Dickies, Vandals…) three times in 2011. My brother and I saw their last shows in the ’80s and ’90s, and figured that any of this year’s gigs could have been our last chance forever. The band from Hermosa Beach might not be able to sell out a telephone booth, but how many bands can follow up a set of Black Flag songs played by Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, and Bill Stevenson with Stephen Egerton?
4. Working for interTrend - I was picked up off waivers by the raddest advertising agency around. Two of my main tasks for my friends and colleagues in Long Beach include documenting the restoration/renovation of a psychic temple (no shit!) and developing a project that will promote mental health awareness among Asian Americans (hell, yes). Oh yeah, I got to moderate a talk with old friends David Choe and Harry Kim, too…
5. Local travel - International or even out-of-state trips weren’t in the cards or budget this year, so I channeled my inner Huell Howser to arrange trips to local treasures such as Disneyland’s Club 33, Yosemite, the tide pools in San Pedro, and the set of Yo Gabba Gabba! (when the reunited Rocket From The Crypt happened to be taping). Just because Eloise can’t collect frequent flier miles doesn’t mean she can’t hoard experience points.
6. More cool shows - Dum Dum Girls, Melvins, The Binges, Night Horse, Street Eaters, Forgetters, The Muffs, Ted Leo, Gang of Four, Versus, Asobi Seksu, Dengue Fever, Yuck, Dirty Beaches, Prince, Corin Tucker Band, Nosaj Thing, Cults, Guided By Voices, Youth of Today, Mouthpiece, Unbroken, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Cibo Matto, Buffalo Daughter, Obits, Disappears, Coliseum, Big Audio Dynamite, GridLink, Phobia, Maruta, Steven Malkmus, John Doe, TV on the Radio, Arctic Monkeys, Panda Bear, Warpaint, Smith Westerns, Fishbone, Shellac, Shonen Knife, Bob Mould, The Colourist, Iggy and the Stooges, Le Butcherettes, Tera Melos, Adolescents, Love Canal, Shattered Faith, Ill Repute…
7. Big art shows - Although MOCA’s Art in the Streets was hipper and Under The Big Black Sun has a ton of attitude, LACMA was consistently amazing in 2011. The Tim Burton retrospective may have debuted in New York but its installation in Southern California was a real homecoming for fans of pop art, twisted cinema, goth culture, and cool clutter. Meanwhile, California Design was a statement for art as a lifestyle and the Golden State as a Modernist Mecca. And then there was Ai Weiwei, Edward Kienholz, Sandra de la Loza, Glen Ligon…
8. Skateboarding - As evidenced by my torn pant legs and constantly scabby knees, I’ve rediscovered skateboarding. I’m still no good, but I have to say that the Anthony Van Engelen pro model for Vans might be the best skate shoe ever (mixing classic style with modern function) and Penny Skateboards are outrageously fun (and I even got a roll-on cameo in a Penny short by The Working Man team). Salman Agah’s Pizzanista! is sweet, too.
9. Martial-arts fiction by Louis Cha - With no review spreads to fill I can’t justify buying DVDs from Asia like I used to, so I’ve been dipping into my library of unread books. First up has been the martial-arts novels of Louis Cha. The Book & The Sword was insanely good, equal parts hyper imaginative action by Tsui Hark and craziness of Wong Jing. Now I’m digging into The Deer & The Cauldron, which was the source material for Stephen Chow’s The Royal Tramp. Where are the other high-quality translations of Cha’s sizable canon?
10. Giant Robot blog – Finally, I’m appreciative of having this outlet on the Giant Robot site (in addition to the www.alivenotdead.com/martinwong feed/backup). I don’t know how many of you are out there, but I get a kick out of sharing the stuff I dig and appreciate your making time to check it out. Hopefully, 2012 won’t let you down.