It’s not dark yet, but it’s gettin’ there: My top 10 albums of 1997

A few years back I looked at my top 25 albums of 1994, 25 years later. Now, as if by infernal design, the clock has rolled forward a few more years, and somehow it’s 25 years since 1997, another great year for music in the eyes of the young Nik.

Through the increasingly blurry eyes of middle age, I think of 1997 now as the end of my youth – I finally moved on from my old college town in Mississippi after working at the local paper for a few years after graduation, packing up my battered ’89 Toyota and driving back across America to my native California. It was a leap in the dark, the kind most of us can only make when we’re too young to know how hard it can be to change everything about your life overnight. By the end of 1997 I was in a completely different place than where I started. 

Here are my 10 favourite albums that guided and haunted me as the soundtrack to a year of chaotic upheaval. I still love them all today.  (*I know, I know, it’s a very white, male alternative list of musicians, but in all honesty, that’s what I was listening to in 1997 in a world that was a lot less diverse and inclusive than it is now. Things have definitely changed for the better in that regard in 25 years.)

In alphabetical order by artist:

Ben Folds Five, Whatever And Ever Amen – Like a geekier Elton John and Bernie Taupin at their peak, Ben Folds combines hummable melody with little character-filled vignettes in song. Bouncy and sad all at the same time, Whatever And Ever is his best album, which manages to combine silly pop romps like “Ballad of Who Could Care Less” and “Song For The Dumped” with brittle ballads about abortion (“Brick”) and breakups (“Selfless, Cold and Composed”).

Blue Mountain, Homegrown – Old friends of mine from Mississippi who’ve done a gorgeous job of mining alt-country over the years, this is absolutely one of their best albums and a slice of genuine heartland Americana that holds up well. Twangy anthems and lovesick laments with just a hint of punk-rock rebellion and a reminder of how great the alt-country scene and fellow travellers like Uncle Tupelo and The Old 97’s were at their peak. 

David Bowie, Earthling – I guess few Bowie fans would put this in their top 10 of his remarkable career, but I absolutely love this drift into jungle and techno sounds that is menacing, fierce and dangerous, released the year Bowie turned 50, and it feels like a rage, rage against the dying of the light. A lot of artists embarrass themselves by jumping on trendy new music but for Bowie, it just felt like more of the curious magpie eye that drove his entire career. A raucous rave of an album. 

Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind – It feels like the words of a thousand-year-old man on a mountaintop, but if I want to feel old now, I’ll realise that Bob Dylan was only five or six years older than I am today when he recorded this gorgeous, drifting reverie of an album. It was the beginning of a critical comeback that’s never really dimmed for the great bard of modern song. “Not Dark Yet” is a song I listen to more and more as the days drift by faster and faster. 

Everclear, So Much For The AfterglowI’ve written about this album itself pretty recently. Suffice to say it’s one of the last great slabs of the grunge ethos to me, loud and angry and more than a little bit scared.

Green Day, nimrod. – I’d only call myself a medium fan of this band, but for some reason, this album really got to me, combining their punk-pop brattiness with an ecclectic energy and plenty of goofy wit. I remember hearing the uncharacteristically mellow ballad “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” played at a high school graduation ceremony I covered for a small-town newspaper that year, and somehow, that felt like the perfect song for the moment. 

Guided By Voices, Mag Earwhig! – This all-time power pop bashes marks the end of an absolutely stellar run by the Dayton, Ohio band who, led by genius Robert Pollard, have been bashing out prolific tunes for decades now. Almost every GBV album has great songs on it, but Mag Earwhig! is one of the last where every single song feels like an earworm #1 single from an alternate universe. 

Freedy Johnston, Never Home – Another gent I wrote about recently, his hugely underrated fourth album is full of his trademark story-telling lyrics, an angsty edge and songs that keep unfolding themselves the more you listen to him. 

Pavement, Brighten The Corners – Hold a gun to my head, but this just inches ahead of Earthling and OK Computer as my favourite album of 1997. Pavement at their surreal, whimsically witty peak, but filtered through a haze of melancholy that makes this album feel like their most sincere slice of gently askew rock. It’s an album that mourns a vibe, a time and place, without ever being quite sure why it’s sad that it’s ending. As my world changed so much in 1997, Malkmus’ songs like “Shady Lane” and “Starlings of the Slipstream” seemed to sum up something I was feeling, even if nobody was really sure what it was. It was the 1990s, mate.

Radiohead, OK Computer – It would be heresy to leave this off any list of great alt-rock of 1997 (even if it’s slightly pipped for me by Kid A as Radiohead’s best album). Thom Yorke’s yearning moan, the rock riffs that float between anthemic and drifting, the vaguely elusive lyrics… at the time, OK Computer’s dire visions of a lonely world fraught with conflict and isolating technologies seemed like a dark warning. Now, it just seems like what much of the world became. 

Bubbling under the top 10: Björk, Homogenic; Cornershop, When I was Born For The 7th Time; Michael Penn, Resigned; The Old ’97s, Too Far To Care; Prodigy, The Fat of the Land; The Simpsons, Songs In The Key of Springfield; Depeche Mode, Ultra; Whiskeytown, Strangers’ Almanac; Elliot Smith, Either/Or; Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out.

Marvel’s 70s movies and TV comics: Licensed to thrill 

The older I get, the more weirdly specific my comics-collecting fetish gets, diving into strange corners and alleyways, like weird romance comics and the gut-wrenching final issues of series

Licensed comics based on existing properties are as old as the medium (believe it or not, kids, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis could once sustain long-running series) and I’ve always had a weird yen for Marvel Comics’ exuberant movie and TV comics franchises of the 1970s. 

Marvel has had a huge run of licensed comics that kicked off with the huge success of Conan the Barbarian although for many in my generation, their excellent Star Wars series was what hooked fans for a lifetime. (I’ve dabbled in the many, many Dark Horse and later Marvel Star Wars comics over the years, but for me, still, the only “real” Star Wars comics are the original 107-issue Marvel run.)

Beginning in the mid- to late 1970s, Marvel licensed comics were EVERYwhere – toy lines like Shogun Warriors and Micronauts and ROM, movies like Planet of the Apes and Battlestar Galactica and Godzilla

The licensed titles were often advertised in the pages of other comics I already read, and I usually hadn’t seen the source material they were based on, so things like the brief seven-issue run of Logan’s Run or the real-life stuntman The Human Fly always intrigued me. Who were these characters side-by-side with Thor and Iron Man? Why was there a comic about them?

The Marvel licensed comics of the 1970s were all over the map, quality-wise, but they also had a sense of freedom. ROM spun an entire epic cosmic war out of its cheap plastic toy inspiration, and Marvel’s Godzilla brought us the immortal image of Godzilla shrunk down to human-size and skulking around Manhattan in a trenchcoat. The licensed comics never felt like they had to be particularly faithful to their sources, so you got things like Star Wars’ immortal, somewhat controversial Jaxxon the rabbit that you can’t imagine Disney/Lucasfilm would ever permit today. 

There were a lot of strange creative chances taken by Marvel in the 1970s when it came to licensing comics – such as Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey being very loosely adapted and expanded upon years after its release by Jack Kirby, (a bizarre combination that shouldn’t have worked but somehow did), or rock star Alice Cooper getting a horror-tinged one-shot comics tryout.

So anyway, this weird completism is why I ended up buying the entire brief seven-issue run of Man From Atlantis for cheap recently, because it’s one of the few ‘70s Marvel licensed series I’d never read. I don’t even LIKE the TV series, really, and honestly Marvel publishing what was always basically a bargain-bin version of their far cooler character Namor the Sub-Mariner seemed weird. But hey, the comic was written by Marvel’s go-to licensed comics guy, the underrated Bill Mantlo, and art by Frank Robbins, whose loose-limbed antic figures appeal to me more now than they once did. The comic is actually fairly fun underwater antics with a far higher budget than the TV series had – and more inventive than its source. 

Licensed comics are still very much about today – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the indefatigable Star Wars, Transformers, Star Trek, GI Joe, Conan and much more carry on telling stories that go far beyond the source material, yet when I pick them up they always seem a bit constrained, somehow. Maybe the big difference is that when those Star Wars and Godzilla comics were on the stands 40 or so years ago, you couldn’t just hop online and watch a Star Wars movie. You had hazy memories of cinema visits, and the tie-in comics provided a valuable map back into the entertainment you dug. Licensed comics allowed you to return to these worlds, again and again, when it wasn’t quite so easy to do so. 

These days, with so much of everything everywhere all the time, a licensed comic seems somewhat less unique than it once did, and more just a part of the flood of content washing over us all. Hey, but that’s cool – I’ve still got quite a few issues of Micronauts to track down. 

Moving on from the Twitter-sphere

To be fair, I’ve been ‘quietly quitting’ Twitter for about a year now. I realised a while back that I would go on Twitter and immediately find myself sad, irritated or angry about something I saw, and thought that maybe a place where you go to feel bad is not a place you want to spend too much of your time. 

The last thing the world needs is another “dramatic flounce off” note on Twitter, I know, but really, I’m just interested in trying to understand and work out how my own feelings about these spaces has changed the past few years. 

It’s my own personal experience, and many people have fine times on Twitter or whatever social media platform they’re on. But for me, Twitter has become a loudmouthed and toxic bore of a place. I’m not alone.

I unfollowed hundreds of people over the past year – nothing personal, mates – but basically tired of the endless echo chambers and social media bubbles, of outrage merchants and people pointing out other people’s stupidity or arguing with strangers. I stopped interacting so much or blathering my thoughts, mostly just posting links to my own work elsewhere – which honestly, get less interaction on Twitter than they do in other places online anyway. Pretty much my main reason for sticking on Twitter is habit and its utility in following breaking news, but there are plenty of alternate places one can do that now. 

When social media was fresh and new there was the novelty factor in posting memes, dad jokes, hot takes and quick-fire reactions (I look at my Facebook posts circa 2010 and cringe at how open and carefree I was with my life, not knowing how dangerous that could be). For the first time, anyone anywhere could broadcast their thoughts to a global audience instantly.

Things changed. I saw it unfolding clearly in the past few years: social media became weaponised. What were once cutesy status updates and thoughts became fodder for warfare. A casual post erupts into a hate-fest. Lingo like “main character of the day” as a term for online pile-ons – some deserved, many not – became normal. I’m a straight white male on the internet so it’s been relatively mild for me, but know so many women and LGBTQ+ people who are subjected to terrible, dehumanising treatment every single day online. Misinformation has exploded to the point where a good part of my paid work is debunking it. 

The change in management on Twitter to yet another loud-mouthed arrogant rich wanna-be messiah figure drunk on his own power and its increasing vibe of a dark, angry place for me makes it easier to finally leave entirely, which I’m doing at the end of the month.

I’m not giving up all social media. This blog will stick around as long as I write, and while I don’t post much personal stuff on Facebook any more, I’m happy to have my own “page” dedicated to my writing and Amoeba Adventures comics work that you’re all more than welcome to follow. 

Social media hasn’t been all bad for me and I’ve “met” many lovely people, like the terrific writer and actress Michelle Langstone, who I guess I’d call a “digital acquaintance” and who left social media sometime this year herself. In a recent interview she nicely summed up the house of mirrors effect these spaces have on us very well: “At some point, I realised I’d come to rely on other people’s responses to the material I was posting and that was shaping who I was, and how I felt about myself.”

Social media feels increasingly performative, and I’d rather focus my energies more on being truly creative with things like this goofy website, my freelance and paid writing, and my comic book scribbles.

That’s just my solution, and for everyone else, hey, whatever works. 

I’m not leaving “the internet” – I mean, geez, as a writer and creator in 2022, I really can’t, unless I want to be the tortured artist in the attic muttering away to myself alone. But I can certainly choose where I want to spend my time online, and on places that make me feel good.

Movies I Have Never Seen #20: El Topo (1970)

What is it: The first “midnight movie,” the surrealist “acid western”, “the weirdest western ever made.” Director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s  extreme cult hit El Topo was a groundbreaking, aggressive statement that helped to change cinema, taking western movie tropes and turning them into a bizarre, questing meditation on morality and enlightenment. Populated with grotesque images and moments of startling beauty, it’s soaked in blood, disorienting with its casting of real-life disabled or maimed performers, and the kind of movie all the film cognoscenti say that you really must see at least once. So, finally, I saw it once. 

Why I never saw it: For a movie that’s legendarily strange, El Topo has had a difficult path to actually being easy to see. It got tangled up in legal wrangling and was only released on DVD in 2007. The first of Jodorowsky’s films I’ve dipped into, El Topo is often called Jodorowsky’s ‘most accessible’ movie. I’m a fan of weird, but weird is very much in the eye of the beholder, ain’t it? (I still recall a date who I took to the Michael Bay movie The Rock talking about how strange and weird it was afterwards. Reader, we did not date again.) I love my Lynch and Cronenberg but am fully aware I’m a mere babe in the wild, vast woods of weird cinema, and have to admit I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with El Topo.

Does it measure up to its rep? The big question for every viewer of El Topo is whether or not it’s just a procession of cruelty with no deeper meaning. When the subject is nothing but “people are terrible,” it gets old, fast. El Topo starts off feeling a bit like a particularly dark spin on the whole “lone gunman wreaks vengeance” plot, following the man in black and his inexplicably naked young son (Jodorowsky himself plays the gunman) as they discovered a gutted village filled with dead people, track down the corrupt bandits responsible and execute them. The gunman then abandons his son for a rescued hostage and ends up on a surreal quest through the desert to kill four gunmen legends and become “the best there is,” a quest that gets increasingly stranger. In the end, the gunman disappears and is reborn years later in a cave, bleached white and now a mystical holy man who can’t quite escape his violent past.

While it’s hefty with the DNA of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Django and other western icons, to me it also shares an awful lot with books like the dark, biblically violent Cormac McCarthy novel Blood Meridian, which also sees the west as a seething quagmire of man’s worst instincts, or of Robert Bolaño’s epic 2666, which turns an unflinching catalogue of murders into something stranger and deeper. If anything, I have to admit that El Topo wasn’t quite as weird as I imagined it might be, especially in its more grounded first half. Where it sticks, however, is the insinuating ugly beauty of its vision, where Jodorowsky stages violence with an icy calm eye as men, women and even children are gunned down, and in the end, we’re not certain if he’s saying life is worth nothing – or worth everything. There’s precious little hope in its final moments, suggesting an endless circle of violence and thwarted redemption.

Worth seeing? On one level, El Topo probably doesn’t seem quite as groundbreaking as it might have 52 years ago. We’ve had plenty of deconstructionist westerns: Clint himself in Unforgiven, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man and much more, and plenty of weird, brutal cinema. Yet despite its more grotesque flourishes, El Topo is still a singular, fierce vision. His use of real-life amputees and dwarves is confronting, as is the brief animal deaths and sexual violence. Jodorowsky claimed back in the ‘70s that he really raped his actress co-star in one vivid, violent sequence, although he’s since walked that back as a big-mouthed publicity stunt. Either way, El Topo is still a triggering film, but it has value as some kind of warped mirror on society. Seen 50 years on, yes, El Topo does seem madly self-indulgent, frequently sadistic and exploitative. Yet it’s also hard to stop thinking about some of its imagery. I’m a sucker for the vision of a man in black, riding across the desert, on his way to who knows where, but knowing there’ll always be blood in the end.

It’s another Amoebargain sale and special Amoeba Adventures reprint!

It’s time for the second annual AMOEBARGAIN SALE of rare out-of-print back issues of my comic Amoeba Adventures – plus, a special reprint of one of my favourite issues of the original series, back in print for the first time in years! If you are wanting to pick up handsome physical copies of my comics, including the last few copies I have of some real rarities, now is your chance.

Just released: Amoeba Adventures #27: The 25th Anniversary Edition

It’s the final issue of the original 1990-1998 run of Amoeba Adventures, and one of my favourite comics ever. Somehow or another, 2023 marks 25 years since this bad boy came out. Way back in 1998, I was dead broke and living in a hick town in the middle of nowhere so the original print run of AA #27 was very small and quickly gone. After the carnage of “The Dark Ages,” the All-Spongy Squadron regroups for one last hurrah. Setting up the status quo for the 2020 Amoeba Adventures revival, it features Rambunny, Spif, Ninja Ant, Prometheus and Dawn one last time – and of course, a drunken bar brawl!  This special reprint also includes EIGHT pages of rare art, interviews and behind-the-scenes commentary. A mere US$5.00 – only a small amount have been printed and when they’re gone, they’re gone. 

Plus! Vintage Amoebas! Get ‘em before they go!

There’s still a small handful of vintage 1990s Amoeba Adventures issues I’ve got in storage that it’s time to set free – these are out of print original printings and once they’re gone, they’re gone forever and are going dirt-cheap!

Available are:

Amoeba Adventures #19, 20, 21, 22, 24 – $1.00 each!

Amoeba Adventures #11, 13, 14, 15, 18, 23 Sorry, all sold out!

Recent issues: Plus, if you’ve missed out on the super cool limited print edition of the most recent issues, there are just a few left. Everything must go!

Amoeba Adventures #28 – SOLD OUT!

Amoeba Adventures #29 – ALMOST gone!

Amoeba Adventures #30 – FIVE copies left!

Amoeba Adventures #31 – The most recent issue!

For a limited time, all now available for a mere $5.00 each! 

Finally, work is well underway on Amoeba Adventures #32, the FIFTH new issue – it won’t quite be ready until closer to Christmas, but if you want to pre-order the limited print edition of that now, it’s a mere $US7.50 shipped anywhere in the entire world to you when it’s available. 

Sale ends November 30, so don’t delay! How to order: Postage is $1 for 1-2 books, $5 for 3-6 books, $6 for 7 or more. Send funds via paypal to

Of course, if you’re a child of the modern age and don’t mind digital, a reminder that EVERY one of my comics is available as a free PDF download right here – all 32 issues of Amoeba Adventures, spin-offs, weird side projects, jams and much more. As always, thanks for reading!