Comic Book Resources

Me blabbing off about Comic-Con

So here’s that stuff I teased about on Monday.

The big news is that I am now blogging at Comic Book Resources’ Robot 6. I’ll be doing a weekly piece on whatever big goings-on are going on in the world of comic books. CBR is one of the biggest comics news sites and Robot 6 is one of the best comics blogs, so it’s really exciting for me to be joining their team. In my debut I challenge the notion of who should be going to Comic-Con and why they can’t, along with offering up some solutions and alternatives. Check out the comments too, as there are some good thoughts. Cartoonist Dave Roman offers up an interesting suggestion that really deserves to be explored.

Then I gave Four Tips for Beginners in the following Navigate the Arts interview conducted by Cindy Marie Jenkins:

We also recorded other interview segments on a number of comics-related topics, which will get posted in the near future. I’ll be sure to post them here as they hit the inter-webs, so I can be mortified anew. It’s amazing how uncomfortable I am being myself on-camera and seeing it back. I think Stephen Colbert has the right idea – play a ridiculous fictional character to directly address factual content and the real world. But anyway, Cindy and I had some great conversations.

I’ll be taking Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner down to Comic-Con for the day tomorrow. If you’re going to be there, let’s meet up! Message me on Facebook, Twitter, or email me.

The Ten Best Comics

Pogo by Walt Kelly

#8: Pogo by Walt Kelly

Over 200 international comic book creators, retailers, journalists, educators, and pundits (including me!) submitted their lists answering the question “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” back in May, and now the results are getting posted at The Hooded Utilitarian.

So far, the classics Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay, Locas stories by Jaime Hernandez, Pogo by Walt Kelly, MAD by Harvey Kurtzman and company, and Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby take up spots six through ten respectively. Four and five went up this morning and the top three spots will go up tomorrow and Friday.

Then starting on Monday, they’ll start to post the top 115, as well as each contributor’s list. Once mine goes up, I’ll link to it here as well as expand on why I chose what I chose.

So far none of my choices have made the Top 10, but that doesn’t completely surprise me. The why behind my choices probably didn’t match with the majority of the other participants. But I can’t argue with what’s up there. Each entry so far is legendary for a reason. The Little Nemo write-up by Shaenon K. Garrity in particular really resonated with me, effectively capturing why Winsor McCay and his comic strip are so special.

Only occasionally has a publication or institution attempted to define a canon for sequential art (comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, manga, web comics, etc.). Literature, film and other art forms have often selected what is generally considered by most critics and fans as the height of quality and/or influence, whether it be the American Film Institute or the Great Books of the Western World.

Here are some previous entries into establishing a comic book canon:

Part of the fun of these kinds of lists is to make shopping lists and, probably more, to debate. So I’ll be taking a look at this list and how it compares with the others, looking at what I think was missed, what they got right, and the growing consensus of these lists.

Last week’s ComiCenter episode with me punditing

Last week, I was a panelist/pundit on ComiCenter, a live discussion show about the comic book industry. The weekly hour-long show is hosted by Atom! Freeman, co-owner of Brave New World Comics, and Bryan Daggett, assistant editor of Comic Book Resources, and is streamed on Geek Week. Also on the panel was retailer Edward Greenberg, owner of Collector’s Paradise, and podcasters Daniel Campisi of Reality Check Fail and Angela Paman of Invisible Jetcast and 2 People Talking. (Extra Awesome Points for clicking on every single link in this paragraph.)

We talked about the big publishing initiative that DC Comics will be starting at the end of August and into September, where their entire superhero publishing line will be relaunching with 52 new comics starting at issue #1. Perhaps even bigger than that is the news that DC will be releasing their comics simultaneously in print and digital. Lots of opinions. Let me know what you think. Are you interested in buying one of the new 52? Will you be buying DC’s digital comics?

Comics College reveals Essential Reading of Comic Book Masters

One of my favorite regular columns is the monthly Comics College by Chris Mautner at Robot 6, hosted by Comic Book Resources. Each entry is a great introductory overview of what’s best to read from the great comic book masters and why they are so good, making this a fantastic source for newcomers or people who’ve always wanted to expand their reading. It also covers their lesser known work and stuff that maybe should be avoided.

The great part of the column is that it is looking at masters from all over the art form of comics. It’s not just superhero creators, or just alternative comics creators. It’s both those, as well as manga, newspaper strips, underground comics, euro-comics, comics journalism and more.

This month’s subject is the Norwegian cartoonist simply known as Jason. This prolific creator tells funny genre mash-ups with a deadpan economy of dialogue and understated emotion with characters struggling over love and guilt. Next month, George Herriman will be featured. His classic comic strip Krazy Kat is among the most highly regarded in the history of comics.

The Comics College column debuted in August 2009 and has covered the following comics masters past and present (click on the link to be taken to the column):

  1. Los Bros. Hernandez (Love and Rockets)
  2. Jack Kirby (The Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World)
  3. Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Phoenix)
  4. R. Crumb (Zap Comix, Book of Genesis)
  5. Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Mr. Punch)
  6. Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Acme Novelty Library)
  7. Lewis Trondheim (Dungeon, Little Nothings)
  8. Harvey Kurtzman (Mad Magazine, Frontline Combat)
  9. art spiegelman (Maus, In the Shadow of No Towers)
  10. Eddie Campbell (Alec: The Years Have Pants, The Fate of the Artist)
  11. Harvey Pekar (American Splendor, Our Cancer Year)
  12. Kim Deitch (The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Shadowland)
  13. Kevin Huizenga (Ganges, Curses)
  14. Hergé (Tintin)
  15. Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts)
  16. John Stanley (Little Lulu, Melvin Monster)
  17. Seth (George Sprott: 1894-1975, Wimbledon Green, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken)
  18. Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City)
  19. Joe Sacco (Safe Area Gorazde, Palestine)
  20. Jason (I Killed Adolf Hitler, Hey Wait…)
  21. George Herriman (Krazy Kat)
  22. Jack Cole (Plastic Man, Betsy and Me)
  23. Adrian Tomine (Summer Blonde, Scenes from an Impending Marriage)
  24. Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman, We3)
  25. Jessica Abel (La Perdida, Artbabe)

UPDATE: I’ll keep updating the list over at The Comics Observer as Robot 6 posts new entries.

The Ugly Truth About Comics: They’re Not Books

Batman reads a book, not expecting it to be a comic (art by Gene Ha, click for his website)

Kelly Thompson of the Comic Book Resources blog Comics Should Be Good is doing a study. She has reached out to 32 women to learn “specifically why women do and don’t read comics and what they do and don’t respond to as readers when they do read”.

You see, comics kind of have this reputation for not being all that welcoming to female readers. Maybe you’ve noticed it yourself. For a significant segment of the industry and its history, there’s good reason for that reputation. Superhero comics, often considered the mainstream of comics, are predominantly made by and for males. But for several decades there have been a growing number of comics designed to reach beyond the standard superhero demographic. And these days, the art form has never had a greater level of diversity, both in stories that could appeal to virtually anyone, and the people that make them.

Last year, Kelly did this experiment for the first time with 19 women trying out comic books: part 1, part 2, part 3. This time, she’s having 32 women try graphic novels: part 1, part 2. (Part 3 and 4 will post on the next 2 Mondays.) She gets feedback from each reader to see why they picked their comic book or graphic novel, what they thought of it, and also gets background info on their age, occupation and past experiences with comics. They’re long reads, but they’re worth it. Maybe you’ll relate to some of their responses.

It’s not a perfectly scientific study. Most of the women are progressive young women in their 20s or 30s. And they all come from Kelly’s network of friends, colleagues, and family. But I think it’s still very representative of people’s responses to comics, and some people’s resistance to comics, often regardless of gender.

One comment that came up several times was that some said they prefer to imagine visuals in prose novels than have an artist provide the visuals. I’ve heard this comment plenty of times to know that it’s not unusual. I think part of this comes from unfamiliarity with comics and the belief that reading a comic book or graphic novel should feel like reading a book, and that one should walk away from both with the same kind of feeling. But they are not the same art form or medium. This is not a 1:1 ratio.

Reading comics is not the same experience as reading novels. Even though it visually looks like you’re doing the same thing (holding a book in your hand or staring at a screen), your brain has to do different things for each medium. (And it’s important to note that “different” doesn’t mean one is better than the other.)

Despite the old myth that comics are for dummies, there’s actually a great deal of processing going on. Each panel on a page is presenting the reader with what first seems like two channels of information: words and pictures. But the two channels are permanently linked and are actually sending additional information based on how they interact with each other. The pictures aren’t simply just giving visual form to the words. The image is an artist’s vision of that chosen moment in time and each panel is rich with what I would compare with non-verbal cues when you’re talking with someone one-on-one. A character’s posture, facial expression, and clothes all provide information to the reader on a level that may never be explicitly stated. In addition, the environment that surrounds the character, the colors or lack of colors, the line weight and art style the artist is using, these all give information about the character and their world. Objects in the background or foreground that may not be essential to the story (and might not merit getting mentioned in prose) adds context to the character and his world. With prose, all of this information could be given in words, but being told about something by a writer’s carefully chosen words and seeing it through the filter of an artist’s carefully illustrated artwork are two different things. And the timing and duration of that absorption works differently. In prose, it can only be absorbed by the reader as they are reading it. In comics, all of this information can be presented simultaneously and consistently throughout an entire scene, as each panel reinforces an aesthetic or silent cue.

Another channel of information comes from the true magic of comics – sequential storytelling. Each panel creates a new dynamic between the one before and the one after it. While processing the information within each panel described above, your brain is also creating action, movement and/or the passage of time in the spaces between each panel. The brain is solving the problem of how the characters’ world changes so that everything matches up from panel to panel, moment to moment.

So all of that (and more!) is going on while you read what appears to be a simple comic book. That’s a lot of information to absorb on each panel, but fortunately the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. So it’s up to the task, but it might take some adjustment. Give yourself a chance to get comfortable with the language of comics before you write them off as “not books”.

Miguel Talks Dig Comics with CBR

Dig Comics director/writer/host Miguel Cima speaks with Tim O’Shea of Comic Book Resources’ Robot 6 blog for Tim’s excellent interview series “Talking Comics with Tim”. Read the interview here.

In other Dig Comics news, Heidi McDonald of the Publisher’s Weekly comics blog The Beat has been added to our list of panelists for this Saturday’s screening at Jim Hanley’s Universe. We’re very excited to have her voice added to our already impressive panel of comic industry experts.