Artists of the Year 2011

Alan Moore, Louis C.K., Bethany Larson, and more

Artists of the Year 2011
Brent Schoonover and Mike Kooiman

How fitting that one of the most arresting symbols of the Occupy movement—the V for Vendetta mask depicted on our cover—was derived from that most accessible of art forms, the comic novel. (See our essay on Alan Moore below.)

It's fitting because the arts have often been accused of elitism—of being a pursuit of the wealthy, or at least the snobby.

It isn't true, of course. Yes, the rich can be the most conspicuous consumers of art—the people who attend Sotheby's auctions and buy season subscriptions to the opera and sit on the boards of museums. But art is made and appreciated by every class of people—it's a pursuit of the 100 percenters. Art is in our DNA, part of the human experience since the first primitive drummers and cave painters and storytellers.

Alan Moore
Kelvin Chan
Alan Moore
Steven Epp
Steven Epp

And so in that democratic spirit we present our 2011 Artists of the Year awards, in which we honor a few of the artists and writers who inspired us in the past year. At its best, life should be a never-ending protest—against complacency, lack of imagination, and dullness of spirit. These artists, like all artists, are the revolutionaries leading the way.

Alan Moore and the 99%

By Kevin Hoffman

Comic-book characters rarely escape the four-color confines of their fictional worlds, but that's exactly what happened this year when the V for Vendetta mask became an international symbol of resistance.

Modeled after Guy Fawkes, who in 1604 conspired to assassinate King James with a bomb made of gunpowder on the Fifth of November, the V mask has now become omnipresent. It first reared its smirking visage at protests against Scientology by Anonymous, but it quickly became the de rigueur uniform of the Occupy movement, and Shepard Fairey recently recast his famous Obama "Hope" portrait with the V mask.

The image first appeared in 1981 in V for Vendetta, the graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. It told the story of a dystopian British future ruled by a totalitarian dictator who maintains control through a computer system called Fate. The title character is an anarchist revolutionary who rescues young Evey Hammond and enlists her in his plot to bring down the government.

V made his debut on the silver screen in a 2006 adaptation by the Wachowski brothers of Matrix fame. While widely panned, and disavowed by Moore, the movie did offer one lasting cultural contribution: The V mask was released by Time Warner as a promotional item and remains available to purchase for $10.

Notoriously protective of attempts to co-opt his work, Moore greeted the protesters' adoption of the V mask with a kind of grandfatherly bemusement. "I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: Wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact?" Moore told the U.K. Guardian in November.

He clearly understands the transcendent appeal of the V mask. "It turns protests into performances. The mask is very operatic; it creates a sense of romance and drama," Moore told the Guardian. "And when you've got a sea of V masks, I suppose it makes the protesters appear to be almost a single organism—this '99 percent' we hear so much about."

Yet Moore seemed to resist taking up the cause of the Occupiers who had taken up his mask. That changed when fellow comic-book author Frank Miller—the Dark Knight Returns creator who took a sharp right turn after the September 11 attacks—lashed out at the movement on his blog.

"'Occupy' is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly expressed attempt at anarchy ... by a bunch of iPhone-, iPad-wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves," Miller bloviated. "This is no popular uprising. This is garbage."

Like V swooping in to save Evey, Moore came to the protesters' defense against his fellow comic creator, calling Miller's recent work both misogynistic (Sin City) and homophobic (300).

"It's a completely justified howl of moral outrage, and it seems to be handled in a very intelligent, nonviolent way, which is probably another reason why Frank Miller would be less than pleased with it," Moore told the website "I'm sure if it had been a bunch of young, sociopathic vigilantes with Batman makeup on their faces, he'd be more in favor of it."

Kevin Hoffman is the editor of City Pages and a longtime fan of comics.

Steven Epp

By Ed Huyck

The death of Theatre de la Jeune Lune has loomed large over the Twin Cities theater landscape over the past three years, but that void is slowly being filled by furiously creative artists, new and old, who have kept the spirit of Jeune Lune alive. That includes the former company members who have remained in the area making maddening, inventive, and enthralling theater for us all. In 2011, Steven Epp made tremendous contributions on both sides of the boards.

With Ten Thousand Things, he helped craft what I thought impossible: a fresh, breathtaking interpretation of Man of La Mancha. As the lead, he made the entire house his playground, tossing off asides to the audience, using a program as an improvised sword, and presenting a stunning a cappella version of "The Impossible Dream" that was a top moment in the theater last year. In the fall, he turned to scriptwriting, creating a funny, incisive, and most of all endearing version of the Italian Il Campiello. The script, supported by some of the most inventive playground-type taunts I've ever heard, gave the talented cast a great foundation for a terrific performance.

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