My brand new comic book is now available as a digital release. It’s the 32nd issue of Amoeba Adventures, which I’ve been writing/drawing in some form or another on and off since 1990 (urk)!
I’m a biased fellow, but this might just be my favourite issue yet, and it’s turned out to be the longest comic I’ve written and drawn in many years. It’s an epic adventure full of shocking returns of beloved characters and a roller-coaster of emotion in a tale I just had to call “Seedling.” Ninja Ant, Prometheus, Dawn and Spif face a challenge spawned from the darkest days of the All-Spongy Squadron’s past. Download the digital edition PDF for free right now by clicking on the link below to view on the computing device of your choice. Enjoy!
Or, take a look at the first three pages for free right here!
As always, a strictly limited-edition print version is being published too, because hey, I like physical media! It’s a mere US$7.50 to ship anywhere in the whole wide world to you from glamorous New Zealand in just a few weeks’ time. Send your money via PayPal to me at email@example.com and sit back and wait at your mailbox.
Thanks again as always for your support in my never-ending quest to draw weird comics in my free time. If you like it I’d love some feedback, and if you haven’t liked/followed the Amoeba Adventures by Nik Dirga page on Facebook yet, please do – besides my comics work, it also features regular links to my other writing, journalism, reviews and more! Cheers, pals!
January 15 or so is officially the cut-off point for posting “year in review” stuff, isn’t it? After that, it gets a little embarrassing, I reckon.
So, in just under the wire is a look at my ten favourite movies I’ve seen in 2022 (keeping in mind I haven’t gotten around to some of the big Oscar contenders like Tár, The Woman King and The Fablemans yet), plus, in the spirit of my occasional Movies I Have Never Seen feature, the ten best movies from any timethat I finally got around to seeing in 2022. And… action!
Best 10 Movies of 2022 (alphabetical order)
The Banshees of Inisherin – A friendship breaks down on a small Irish island and Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Kerry Condon deliver astounding performances in a bitterly funny, gorgeously filmed Irish fable of love and grotesque revenge.
The Batman – Another superhero movie, but the first one that actually makes Batman a detective, with Robert Pattinson’s none-more-goth Bruce Wayne balancing on the knife’s edge between being too much and not enough. I’d love to see one superhero flick that doesn’t end with an explosive CGI orgy, but this one hits the mark far more than it misses.
Everything Everywhere All At Once – Michelle Yeoh is the Queen in any universe, and we should all bow down before her.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – It’s bigger, broader and less restrained than its predecessor, but Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc remains a joy and Edward Norton as Elon Musk is bloody hilarious.
The Menu – A pitch-black satire about a night in the restaurant from hell, blunt and gaudy and yet right on trend at mocking this weird non-stop viral world we live in.
Mister Organ – The overwhelming theme of this year’s best films seems to be the abuse of power, but this spiralling rabbit-hole of a documentary by NZ’s David Farrier makes it all feel far more personal, creepy and violating by focusing on one very unpleasant man’s doings.
Nope – Jordan Peele’s movies are consistently surprising and exquisitely staged, and the simmering unease created by this sort-of alien invasion story sticks with me. Like Get Out and Us, the more you think about it the more you see going on behind the immediate story beats.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio – A better fairy tale you won’t see all year, unafraid of exploring loss and death but also hilariously funny, and with stunning old-school stop motion animation. Far better than any of Disney’s rather dire “live action remakes” of their classic cartoons.
RRR– The best action movie of the year is this frenetic Indian epic, with a sense of joyful fun and dazzling scope and anything-can-happen energy that seems missing from most carefully machined Hollywood product.
Weird: The Weird Al Yankovic Story – I saw UHF in the theatre in 1989 and finally, decades on, we get the next best thing to a sequel, with an uncanny Daniel Radcliffe taking us on a wild ride through Weird Al’s life, perhaps with a few exaggerations. A joyfully silly gift of a film for Weird Al fans and anyone tired of bloated self-serious biopics.
Tied up around #11: Black Panther Wakanda Forever; Clerks III; Decision To Leave; Elvis; The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent; Triangle of Sadness; The Northman; Fire Of Love; Top Gun: Maverick; Prey.
The 10 best movies I finally saw for the first time in 2022 (in chronological order)
Wages of Fear (1953) – An all-time tense thriller about angry, restless men willing to take on an impossible job just to survive.
Johnny Cool (1963) – I watched this pitch-black slice of noir in memory of the late Henry Silva, and he stars with an all-star oddball cast (Sammy Davis Jr! Jim Backus! Bewitched’s Elizabeth Montgomery!) in a gangster tale that’s far darker and sleazier than its Rat Pack-era trappings would have you believe.
Playtime (1967) – I’ve been getting into Jacques Tati a lot this year, and his comedy is like an intricate whimsy machine – immaculately staged, formal and gentle, yet always with something unforgettably spot-on to say about us crazy human beings.
Hereditary (2018) – Finally got around to Ari Aster’s terrifying horror movie about family trauma and it’s just as disturbing as I dreaded it might be. I want to watch it again, but I also kind of never want to watch it again.
The Worst Person in the World (2021) – This Norwegian film starts as a self-aware ironic romantic comedy in the mode of Fleabag and becomes something more powerful and ultimately rather unforgettable.
Minicomics! We love them, and there’s millions of them! I’m back for part three of my ongoing look at The Lost World Of Small Press and the random gems and curiosities from my small press comics collection of the 1990s.
Last time we talked about folks like Matt Feazell and Steve Willis, small press legends who have even achieved a fair bit of ‘fame’ in this little subculture. But there’s a thousand other small press comics out there that maybe only a few people remember or even ever actually read. Let’s take a turn to more mysterious and forgotten comics of the era:
The thing about all of these ones is that they’re either obscure, or unfinished, or both. They’re comics that caught my attention but the creators just sort of faded from the scene entirely and I have no idea where they are today – you can’t even Google most of these comics. But I still have ‘em and remember them, and well, decades on their creativity is worth remembering, even if only in a blog post.
Human Unit 12 #1 and #8
What if a clone designed by the government escaped and became well, a kind of hippie? Human Unit 12 was one of the first minicomics I ever “collected,” before it and creator Erik Kaye vanished from the scene, or at least my reckoning of it. These tidy little minis were well produced on slick paper and Kaye’s impressionistic art reminds me some of Bill Sienkiewicz. The design of “Human Unit 12” is particularly innovative – he looks a bit like a Picasso cubist drawing in amongst realistic backgrounds. I really dug HU12 for a while there, which was beautifully drawn yet rambled sort of amiably along without really developing the story too much, as Human Unit wrote poems, worked for Greenpeace and went to parties. The last issue I saw, #8, was a startlingly pornographic sex issue that felt like a mad fever dream, and then, that was it. Like a lot of comics I picked up early in my small press days circa 1990-1993, it just kind of disappeared, unresolved. But while it lasted I dug Human Unit 12’s freedom, and idiosyncratic world. Just starting out to really make my own comics, a book like this reminded me that really, you could create anything.
The Adventures of Boiled Man #5
On page one it states this “is a completely silly mini-comic, not intended to be taken even a little seriously.” The great thing about the compact minicomic format is that you can do a single gag and make a comic out of it. This issue of Boiled Man by Bryan K. Ward – the only one I ever saw – is nothing but seven pages of a pot and a wok growling and gurgling at each other as a spider crawls down a web in the background. “Amazing Team-Up! Introducing Wok-Man!” the cover blares. It’s daft and goofy, but darn if it the commitment to the “joke” – dadaist as it is – makes me laugh. I don’t know how many adventures of Boiled Man there were, but this one is a true clash of the titans.
Creature of the Night #1
Unlike some of the more obscure comics here, Creature of the Night was HOT in the small press scene of 1992, by gosh. Publisher and writer Chris Terry burst onto the scene with a captivating little horror tale that made people realise how good small press could look. It boasted extremely high production values for a minicomic of the time – glossy paper, gorgeous Barry Windsor-Smith-esque art by Bob Hobbs, and a catchy dark and violent yarn about Satan worshippers, monsters and evil curses. At the end of #1, our lead character is transformed into a demonic creature and hurtles off into the night swearing revenge. Yet while Creature made a very big splash in the minicomics scene of the time, Chris Terry never really equalled it. There was another issue or two of Creature after lengthy delays, equally well produced, but the story spun its wheels I thought and never quite got past first gear. Terry soon exited small press entirely a bit abruptly. (Sure, today’s social media is bad, but the squabbling and ‘feuds’ that regularly went through small press in the 1990s in old-fashioned letters and such was as bad as any Facebook group today.) I got an email from Chris Terry once a few years later asking me to promote a band in the newspaper I worked at. And that’s the last I heard of him. I don’t think the Creature of the Night ever showed its face again.
Mr. Unique #1
This fellow from Florida, Mark Bratton, put out a handful of minicomics which were noteworthy to me because they were so darned weird, like strange backwoods outsider art filtered through Steve Ditko. The story is kind of incomprehensible and the art is, to be charitable, rough, but there’s still this very odd energy to the handful of Bratton comics I own today, with his rough, thick linework almost hacked out of the page and characters alternately sobbing and screaming through the panels. Although it’s littered with misspellings, the story of a clairvoyant’s adventures has this coiled insistence to it that made me keep the battered copy of Mr. Unique #1 for all these years. It feels a bit like a comic that just came out of the void. It’s amateur and raw and sloppy, but you kind of feel like Bratton, whatever happened to him, meant it. And really, that’s kind of what small press comics are all about.
The joke in 1982’s Airplane II: The Sequel flashes by briefly in a movie crammed full of them. There’s a scene early on with Sonny Bono in an airport terminal shop. In the background, you’ll get a brief glimpse of a movie poster – an aging bald man slumped in a poster advertising Rocky XXXVIII.
At the time, Rocky III had just come out and the idea that Sylvester Stallone’s boxer would be punching away for years to come seemed hiiiiii-larious.
That joke was made four decades ago, and there hasn’t been another Airplane movie since. But the butt of the joke, Sylvester Stallone, is still sneering and punching across the screens, in Rocky movies and more, with his latest project the enjoyably retro gangster TV series Tulsa King.
It’s weird to say that one of the biggest movie stars of all time is underrated, but that’s how I’ve always felt about Stallone. Stallone has been a little bit of a joke in many circles. He’s easy to parody. Who hasn’t imitated a punch-drunk boxer yelling “Yo, Adrian” or Rambo’s monosyllabic grunts?
But he’s also been a massive success, and despite how uncool it sometimes felt to admit, I can’t help but like the guy.
I grew up as part of the Rocky III generation – the first of the franchise I ever saw and the one where it exploded into true ’80s excess. I got the wits scared out of me by Mr. T’s Clubber Lang, felt sad for Mickey, and pumped my pubescent fists along with Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” which 40 years on I still listen to whenever I want a jolt of pop-tastic rock anthem inspiration.
I’ve always been more of a Rocky man than a Rambo man – while in the right mood I dig the heaving gung-ho machismo of John Rambo, his movies always felt a little more tangled up in right-wing politics and America-first jingoism. Few of Stallone’s movies are really subtle, of course. (The man did make an action movie about arm-wrestling called Over The Top, after all).
Rocky, though, I’ll go to the grave defending, even Rocky IV, one of the most gloriously absurd ‘80s action movies. The series went from gritty uplifting realism with the first movie to steroid-pumped cheese and right back to some combination of the two with the excellent Creed sequels. Rocky, it turns out, contains multitudes. There’s a reason Airplane II made a joke about Rocky XXXVIII and not, say, Conan The Barbarian Part 33. Sometimes it seems he’d go on forever.
Of that ‘80s action hero pantheon of Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris and the like, Stallone is the only one who’s been nominated for Academy Awards. His acting isn’t broad in scope, but darned if it isn’t effective when he works at it, such as his terrific performance in 1997’s Cop Land or the Oscar-nominated return of Rocky Balboa in Creed.
Looking back now at Rocky winning Best Picture over Network, Taxi Driver and All The Presidents’ Men in 1977, it perhaps wasn’t the most durable choice – I admit the other three are all objectively better movies – but still, I kind of love the underdog glory of Stallone winning Oscars for Rocky, a character who’d slowly move from realistic to cartoon and then back again.
He’s also made a lot of terrible movies – Stallone’s worst movies are pretty darned bad, but often oddly fun to watch. The 1986 franchise non-starter Cobra (which originally began life as Beverly Hills Cop starring Stallone, of all things) is like a template for all the over-the-top bad-assery one things of when they think ‘80s action movies. A cascade of one-word thrillers starring Stallone dot the 1990s – Daylight, Cliffhanger, Assassins, The Specialist. They blur together, and many are dire, but then you get a gem like Demolition Man or the blunt, testosterone-filled throwback fun of the recent Expendables series. Still, whoever thought of casting Stallone as Judge Dredd is hopefully working at an IHOP today.
Decades into his durable career, Stallone knows his strengths. In Tulsa King, his first TV series, the 76-year-old Italian stallion still dominates the screen, looking more and more like some kind of ancient Greek statue come back to life, or a still-hulking figure carved out of ancient oak. This antihero drama from the creators of Yellowstone is not groundbreaking television but it is a hell of a lot of fun watching Stallone’s take on a classic fish-out-of-water tale as an aging ex-con Mafioso from New York starts over again in Oklahoma.
There’s something curiously life-affirming about a senior citizen Stallone, beating the crap out of anyone who gives him lip, gurgling lines in a voice now so deep and craggy that it seems to emanate from the bottom of the sea.
The joke was that Rocky 38 would feature a withered old Stallone gamely defending his title one more time, tapped out and pathetic. The reality is that in the end he’s just about the last man standing of those ‘80s action icons. Stallone at 76 could still kick my ass and most people I know, drop a cheesy one-liner about it and probably go another five rounds. Long live the Italian stallion.