Tag Archives: Graphic Novels

Tonight @ 6:00 PM: An Evening with Danica Novgorodoff

Carmichael’s Kids and LFPL present a free Facebook Live event on Thursday, November 19, at 6:00 p.m.: An Evening with Danica Novgorodoff.

Danica, a Louisville native, is a graphic novelist, designer, and illustrator now living in New York City. During this free online event, Danica will discuss her creative process and her work with author Jason Reynolds on adapting his New York Times-bestselling book, Long Way Down, into a graphic novel.

Join us on Facebook @Louisville Free Public Library

Top 10 Graphics of 2019

Here are some of my favorite comics read in 2019. They may or may not have been published this year. Also, a few have more than one volume and I have not designated a particular volume if I would recommend the whole series.

My picks are listed in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.

The American Way by John Ridley and Georges Jeanty

Superheroes working for the government, a government that helps script their battles and other appearances in order to stoke patriotic pride, have been doing this for years. But now it’s the early 1960’s and change is in the air. What the country needs is a new hero, dubbed the New American by his government handlers, but little do they anticipate the chaos he will bring in his wake.

Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts by Anthony Bourdain & Joel Rose

The blurb on the cover says it all, “Tales of Fear and Food from Around the World.” Bourdain, Rose, and a host of guest artists gather to bring us Japanese folk-inflected ghost stories, all told on an eerie night at the table of an eccentric nobleman.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

A deeply-moving meta-narrative about a singular artistic talent from Singapore. The tale begins in the aftermath of World War II and follows the titular artist to his later years in the 1980’s. If you are a lifelong fan of comics, you’ll be astounded by the homages to comic history, and if you are not, it’s still a great look at the life of an artist in his times. History buffs and political nerds will especially enjoy his exposition on the rise of modern Malaysia.

Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston

A tale of the other side of some great cosmic event involving superheroes. What happens to these characters if they are whisked away in the blink of an eye? Where do they go? What if it’s to a seemingly perfect example of small-town America and they can’t escape?

Eternity Girl by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew

Caroline Sharp, spy, and superheroine, finds herself reincarnated as Eternity Girl but all she longs for is meaning in a meaningless world. Or death. Which will she choose? How will it affect the world at large?

Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads

Abused son of a god turned escape artist has to face his greatest trick, escaping death itself. But can he live with himself while he tries? Poignant domestic drama highlights the emotional impact that constant abuse can have on a person, their work, and their family.

Monk!: Thelonious, Pannonica, and the Friendship Behind a Musical Revolution by Youssef Daoudi

The title says it all…but doesn’t tell you how great the art and the pacing are in this tale for die-hard music-lovers and acolytes alike. You will be able to almost hear the music as you turn pages. Better yet, check out some Thelonious Monk from the library so you can listen along!

Petrograd by Philip Gelatt and Tyler Crook

A historical drama centering on the British S.I.S. office in Russia during the First World War. In this tale, the station participates (imagined? real?) in the murder of Rasputin, called the “Mad Monk,” a powerful adviser to Tsarina Alexandra. The art is brisk as befits a spy story.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker

A heartbreaking autobiography from George Takei about his family’s experience in the American prison camps of WWII. Thousands of Japanese-Americans and legal immigrants of Japanese descent were torn from their homes and sent far away from their livelihoods and their communities for years. It also looks at how those experiences colored Mr. Takei’s youth and his life-long commitment to civil rights.

Young Frances by Hartley Lin

This is the collected edition of Mr. Lin’s irregularly published indie comic, Pope Hats, issues 1-5. It centers on a brilliant young law clerk with low self-esteem and her wacky, successful actor friend. The art is of the ligne claire style (think Tintin) so there’s no confusion as to how the story unfolds. However, you will be surprised how much emotion can be wrung from such simplicity.

All of these works can be checked out from LFPL. Each title has a “Check Our Catalog” link that will take you to where you can view the location and status of the specific item in our system.

After taking a look, if your selection is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a hold request (using the “Place Request” button on the right-hand side of the item’s catalog entry).


If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group. Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 7:00 PM.

The next meeting is Monday, January 13, 2020. In honor of Korean-American Day (held every year on January 13th), we will be taking a look at Korean-American Comic Creators.

For more information, contact Tony at (502) 574-1611.

— Article by Tony, Main Library

Top Ten Graphics of 2018

Here are some of my favorite comics read in 2018. They may or may not have been published this year. Also, a few have more than one volume and I have not designated a particular volume if I would recommend the whole series.

My picks are listed in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank by Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss

Dig it, Stranger Things meets The Usual Supects! Four misfit kids try to help out one of their number’s father. He is being forced into pulling a bank heist with his recently released former partners in crime. The four plan to pull the heist off first so that he won’t have to do it…and then all hell breaks loose.

 

Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, edited by Jay Kinney

Exactly what it says, man…comics about Anarchy! Or rather Anarchism, both historical and speculative. This classic Underground Comix has finally been given the omnibus treatment it deserves.

 

Bat-manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan by Juro Kiwata

Best thing ever! The entire run of the 1960’s manga version of Batman, organized by graphic designer extraordinare Chip Kidd. Thrill to these far-out tales, especially as the Caped Crusader faces down the infamous Lord Death Man!

 

Bookhunter by Jason Shiga

Don’t try to steal that book or stiff the library on money you owe or else the intrepid Bookhunters squad will hunt you down! Set in Oakland, CA, in 1973, Shiga’s Library Police take us on a thrill a minute adventure.

 

The Don Rosa Archives, vol. 2: Captain Kentucky by Don Rosa

Meet Lance Pertwillaby as he he gains super-powers and embarks on crazy adventures, such as battling a Godzilla-sized J. Fred Frog threatening to destroy downtown Louisville. This volume collects local cartooning legend Don Rosa’s comic strips which ran in the Louisville Times back in the day.

 

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan

It’s 1953 and Snagglepuss is a renowned playwright who gets called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (H.U.A.C.). At the same time, long-term friend Huckleberry Hound has been found in a compromising situation that has ruined the fellow playwright’s career. Snagglepuss’ testimony will help make Huckleberry Hound’s problems go away but will he sacrifice his artistic integrity?

 

Kill or Be Killed by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Loser tries to kill himself but manages to survive…thanks to a DEMON! All he has to do in exchange is kill one bad person a month.  Or could it be his mental illness manifesting now that he stopped taking his meds? Author Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips once again collaborate, this time on a psychological crime comic. You won’t be able to stop turning pages till the end!

 

Maximum Minimum Wage by Bob Fingerman

Classic Gen-X comic about the struggles of a cartoonist and his hothead girlfriend as they try to get by in New York. Will they find the job of their dreams? Will they even be able to pay rent? 

 

Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign? by Geof Darrow and Dave Stewart

One man’s fight to survive the revenge attempts of his undead and supernatural foes. Crazy awesome detailed art from Geof Darrow is worth the price of admission alone!

 

William B. DuBay’s The Rook by William B. Dubay, Budd Lewis, and Luis Bermejo

Restin Dane is the Master of Time. Follow him, his faithful android man-servant Manners, and his cranky outlaw grand-pappy Bishop Dane, as they travel through time battling the forces of evil.

 


 

All of these works can be checked out from LFPL. Each title has a “Check Our Catalog” link that will take you to where you can view the location and status of the specific item in our system.

After taking a look, if your selection is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a hold request (using the “Place Request” button on the right hand side of the item’s catalog entry).

 


 

If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group. Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

Our next meeting is this upcoming Monday, December 10, 2018. We will be discussing DC’s Aquaman.

 

 

 

 

Digital Comic Books at LFPL

Do you like digital comic books (also known as e-comics)? Or would you like to give them a try but don’t want to have to pay for a subscription?

Well, true believer, LFPL is here for you!

Click on any of the following links to view the Library’s current selections:

Biblioboard‘s offerings are primarily comics of the Golden Age (1938-1954) and biographical works of artists and writers. There are also some interesting public domain works from before the Golden Age.

 

Overdrive‘s collection is primarily composed of modern, up to the minute comics from publishers such as BOOM! Studios, DC Comics, Image Comics, and Top Shelf Productions


RBdigital offers comics from Marvel Comics and IDW Publishing.

LFPL has over 1,200 comics you can browse on your home computer, tablet, or smartphone!

Keep checking in, too, as we continue to expand it’s digital comics collection.


If you are interested in learning how to make comics/graphic novels or other aspects of illustration and graphic design, check out these free classes you can take through Lynda.com.

(242 classes are available!)


To have access to all this great content, all you need is a valid library card number and to know your library card’s password. If you are not sure what your library card number or password are (or need a replacement), please stop by one of the 18 library locations and we’ll get you set up.

High Concept and Low Concept

Sometimes, if you’re discussing books that you read, games that you play, shows that you watch, music you listen to – basically any media you consume – you need some specialized ideas and terms to help you describe and discuss it. “It was great” or “It was bad” or “I thought it was OK” are all very well and good, but it’s so much more satisfying if you can also talk about WHY you liked/disliked something. If you want to win arguments and impress your friends, remember your ABCs – Always Backup Criticism.

Have examples, of course, of things you like or don’t and why. But, sometimes, you need some special vocabulary and ideas in order to help you with your critique. That means it’s time to add another idea to your toolbox: high vs. low concept. This is all about how much concept a work of art contains, not how good the concept is. Think of it as a matter of the amount the concept itself contributes to the total content of the work.

Jane Austen’s novels are generally low concept. The idea of the novels – that people in various economic circumstances need to get paired up (or not paired up, or not paired up the way they thought) – is nowhere near as important to the books as the interactions between the characters, which is why people read them. Here’s an example pie chart, based on a very precise and academic guesstimate:

There’s also works that split it pretty much right down the middle, generating interest in equal parts from the idea that drives them, as well as the execution of the plot and characters:

On the far end of the scale, there’s also works that are high concept – that get their interest mostly from the ideas that drive them. I can think of no better example than 18 Days (an adaptation of the Mahabharata), which breaks down about like this:

The library has the concept art book, if you want a look at the idea, but, sadly, they didn’t get full funding for the series as it was originally conceived. Instead, you can watch it in a few different languages on the Graphic India YouTube channel. Still pretty awesome, though.

Whatever the level of concept in your media, now you have a new way to talk about the things you love: is it high conceptlow concept, or a balance of the two?

Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown

Andy Kaufman skirted the line between nonsense and reality in his performances where during his comedy career; he brought many unique characters to life.  Two of the most recognizable are Latka Gravas, a lovable kook on the TV series Taxi, and Foreign Man, a character he created for Saturday Night Live. Kaufman and his work  were immortalized in a film called Man on the Moon, where Jim Carrey portrayed him.. Author Box Brown has now brought Kaufman’s life to another generation in a biographical graphic novel, Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman.  

The novel follows his life beginning as child and his appreciation of performing arts, music and wrestling.  He enjoyed wrestling so much that he created parodies of his favorite stars bit of humor to the violent world of pro-wrestling. For a time, he put his dream of becoming a wrestler on hold while honing his showman skills with improvisational comedy and television appearances.  However, he felt this was not the direction in which he wanted to go. He finally jumped into the wrestling ring, putting on amazing acts and stirring up trouble along the way. His most notable appearance was the controversial debacle with former wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler.

Box Brown’s simplistic pencil drawings and limited color illustrations capture the story of a young man who was sensitive, thoughtful, and very funny. He uses traditional boxed-in scenes throughout the entire book which reads like an original comic strip. The nostalgic style draws (pun intended) you into the story, while moving swiftly through Kaufman’s short life.  Brown has made this book more than a biography of Kaufman by including footnotes about the world of professional wrestling without interrupting the flow of the story.  There is also an in-depth bibliography of references, websites, television episodes, and personal interviews, as well as a list of books by people in the wrestling industry.

If you enjoy this journey into the life of a comedian turned wrestler, check out Brown’s book about another famous wrestler, Andre the Giant.  

Format Available: Graphic Novel

Review by Micah, St Matthews Branch

Riverdale

When I was a kid my parents played oldies all the time around the house (they both grew up in the 60’s) and we listened to the oldies radio station all the time in the car.  My very favorite was “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies.  YES, the cartoon band!

I still love this song and as a children’s librarian I use it in storytime all the time to dance with toddlers and babies.  This song introduced me to  Archie Comics which I loved as a child. Yeah, those comics you bought in the grocery store checkout lane and detailed the never ending drama of Betty and Veronica’s competition for Archie.

My love for all things Archie and Betty and Veronica has never died.  So when the new CW show Riverdale started in 2017 I was ECSTATIC.  If you are looking for a blast from the past and also loved Archie as a kid I highly recommend checking out our Archie graphic novels.

You should also check out the show Riverdale, which is so much fun. Oodles of drama and mystery with all the classic characters that you know and love including Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, Cheryl Blossom (my FAV!), Kevin Keller, Midge, Moose and Reggie.  And don’t forget, Josie and the Pussycats!

It’s like my childhood all brought back with a sexy edge and updated storylines.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

I highly recommend The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch is getting a new television reboot as well to coincide with Riverdale as Sabrina’s hometown of Greendale is right down the road from Riverdale.  Now just as a warning this isn’t your 90’s Melissa Joan Hart kind of SabrinaThe Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is dark and bloody and fantastic!  If you like dark and bloody kinds of things, that is…

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will be coming to Netflix in September]

Afterlife with Archie by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Afterlife with Archie by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is a spooky take on Riverdale as Jughead’s beloved Hot Dog becomes a zombie due to a very ill fated attempt to save his life with the help of Sabrina. Soon the entire town is in the fight of their lives against a zombie horde led by their former friend, Jughead.

Betty and Veronica by Adam Hughes

Betty and Veronica by Adam Hughes is my very favorite of all the Archie graphic novels so far.  Betty and Veronica are America’s sweethearts and best friends.  Until they turn on each other in a battle for Pop’s Chocklit Shoppe!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out The Art of Betty and Veronica for a look at the first 70 years of the duo’s story]

Josie and the Pussycats by Marguerite Bennett

In this series opening Josie gets the band together in her hopes of achieving musical fame but are her ambitions more important than the girls’ friendship?

So many new Riverdale and Archie titles have been coming in and I can’t wait to read them all!

Check out all things Riverdale at LFPL!

Formats Available: Graphic Novel

Review by Heather, St. Matthews

Body Music by Julie Maroh

The Library just received this graphic by Julie Maroh a few days ago and it hasn’t circulated yet. But the cover of Body Music was delicate and pretty at first glance…

…so I picked it up just to flip through it. And I ended up reading it all straight through in one setting. It was that good.

The interior art is less delicate, using fluid yet solid black lines for the characters and softer lines for the background. The coloring ranges from grey to sepia, matching the emotional tone of the vignettes. The human figure is not always proportional or technically correct but expressive. The crudity of it in places reminds me a little of the work of (fellow Canadian artist) Jeff Lemire.

This book takes a look at love from many perspectives in its twenty-one set pieces. It’s 2018 and I shouldn’t have to say this but if you are the kind of person who has trouble with depictions of same-sex or non-traditional gendered relationships, then you need to just move along. But if your mind and heart are open, you will find the sweet melody alluded to in the title.

Maroh is also the author and artist of Blue is the Warmest Color, which I will definitely read in the near future.

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Review by Tony, Main Library

It’s That Time: Ten Great Graphic Novels

Yes, yes, 2017 was another exceptional year for Graphic Novels in the Library!

So many great titles were put out that it was really hard to put this list together. After a while, I decided to not worry too much and just list some of my favorite comics read in the past year. Per tradition, these picks have been listed in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.

All of these works can be checked out from LFPL. Each title has a “Check Our Catalog” link that will take you to where you can view the location and status of the specific item in our system.

After taking a look, if your selection is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a hold request (using the button on the right hand side of the entry).

Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under Our Feet Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under Our Feet
By Coates, Ta-Nehisi
Illustrator Stelfreeze, Brian
Check Our Catalog 

A new era begins for the Black Panther! MacArthur Genius and National Book Award-winning writer T-Nehisi Coates (BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME) takes the helm, confronting T’Challa with a dramatic upheaval in Wakanda that will make leading the African nation tougher than ever before. When a superhuman terrorist group that calls itself The People sparks a violent uprising, the land famed for its …More

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
By Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto
Illustrator Hack, Robert
Check Our Catalog 

On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress Sabrina Spellman finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. Archie Comics’ latest horror sensation starts here For TEEN+ readers.Compiles the first six…More

ALSO: You can read a staff review of this work by clicking here.
Clean Room, Volume 1: Immaculate Conception Clean Room, Volume 1: Immaculate Conception
By Simone, Gail
Check Our Catalog 

From the minds of superstar writer Gail Simone and gifted artist Jon Davis-Hunt comes CLEAN ROOM VOL. 1: IMMACULATE CONCEPTION–a new vision of horror that takes you inside the locked chambers of sex, science, celebrity, and the supernatural.Somewhere between the realms of self-help and religion lies the Honest World Foundation. Its creator started out as an obscure writer of disposable …More

The Fun Family The Fun Family
By Frisch, Benjamin
Check Our Catalog 

Beloved cartoonist Robert Fun has earned a devoted following for his circular daily comic strip, celebrating the wholesome American family by drawing inspiration from his real home life… but the Fun Family bears some dark secrets. As their idyllic world collapses and the kids are forced to pick up the pieces, will their family circle become a broken mirror, or a portal to a nightmare world? In …More

ALSO: You can read a staff review of this work by clicking here.
Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening
By Liu, Marjorie M.
Check Our Catalog 

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.About the …More

Paper Girls, Volume 1 Paper Girls, Volume 1
By Chiang, Cliff K.
Check Our Catalog 

From Brian K. Vaughan, #1 New York Times bestselling writer of SAGA, and Cliff Chiang, legendary artist of WONDER WOMAN, comes the first volume of an all-new ongoing adventure.In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about …More

Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia
By Wood, Brian
Illustrator Mutti, Andrea
Check Our Catalog 

This is 1775. With the War for Independence playing out across the colonies, young Seth and Mercy Abbott find their new marriage tested at every turn as the demands of the frontlines and the home front collide. Not merely rehashing the tales of the most famous men of the time, Rebels details the epic story of the colonists, explorers and traders, wives and daughters, farmers and volunteer soldiers …More

Roughneck Roughneck
By Lemire, Jeff
Check Our Catalog 

From the New York Times bestselling author and award-winning creator ofEssex CountySecret PathDescender, and The Underwater Welder comes an all-original graphic novel about a brother and sister who must come together after years apart to face the disturbing history that has cursed their family.Derek Ouelette’s glory days are behind him. His hockey …More

Valerian: The Complete Collection Valerian: The Complete Collection
By Christin, Pierre
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VALERIAN is a saga that every fan of Star Wars and Star Trek will identify with and love. Valerian and his beautiful, sharp-witten and sharp-tongued partner, Laureline, live adventures set against visually stunning backgrounds: complex architectural inventions, futuristic machines, otherworldly landscapes, and odd-looking aliens that are staples of artist Mezieres’s seemingly boundless visual …More

Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than a Man Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than a Man
By King, Tom
Illustrator Walta, Gabriel Hernandez
Check Our Catalog 

The Vision wants to be human, and what’s more human than family? So he heads back to the beginning, to the laboratory where Ultron created him and molded him into a weapon. The place where he first rebelled against his given destiny and imagined that he could be more -that he could be a man. There, he builds them. A wife, Virginia. Two teenage twins, Viv and Vin. They look like him. They have his …More

 

If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group.

Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

Upcoming meetings will take place on the following dates:

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Article by Tony, Main Library

In Defense of Comics, pt. 5: Understanding Comics as a discussion tool

The biggest problem when discussing comics in an analytical way is determining just what they are. It is easier to talk about how they work than to come up with a solid definition, other than the old “I know a comic when I see it” one.  This is particularly true if you wish the definition to cover most (if not all) expressions of comics.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, a classic work of the Comics Studies discipline, defined comics as:

“Juxtaposed pictoral and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.”

In one of the Graphic Novel Discussion Group‘s meetings, McCloud’s definition elicited respect on one level but was hard to defend in toto when combined with some of his other assertions. For instance, his general assertion that writing (the act of inscribing thought in physical space) is distinctly non-pictorial in nature seems hard to defend considering there is a whole species of design – graphic design – that considers writing as a pictorial element (a.k.a. typography). Even within the comics industry, the position of “letterer” has been a long established one and the style of each letterer is often a strong consideration for the development of a particular work’s look.

McCloud violates his own rejection of a single panel as comic (which is asserted on pages 20-21 of Understanding Comics) on page 98 in the third and fourth panels. Granted, he hedges in the next two panels by differentiating between captions and word balloons but I think that’s because the narration is supposed to be framing the picture rather than a part of the world of the picture.  However, it is the introduction of speech and that speech takes time to happen that creates the sequential effect according to McCloud.

His distinction that in-picture indication of sound introduces sound as a narrative element — and thus changes things — doesn’t seem to add up as traditional forms of comics are a species of visual art. How such a sound is conveyed is part of the storyteller’s visual style, most clearly seen in the crafting of sound effect (think of the shape of letters used when you are to hear lightning or a punch to the jaw). Speech or audible sound is still an aspect of the story supplied by the reader’s mind, prompted by the images on the page (be they words or sound effects).

[Cartoon by Bil Keane (copyright holder King Features Syndicate), Fair Use]

So with Family Circus, it is clear that the words are actually speech that takes place in the world of the comic. Really, Bil Keane‘s quotes below the panel are just him avoiding using a word bubble. Maybe this is for sound commercial reasons (designated space on the page), for reasons of composition (to preserve the close-up shot feeling of the panel), or simply for reasons of style.

Further, McCloud misses that there is essentially an unbound panel of text next to the panel with obvious borders that has a picture. (At least) two panels = sequence, no? Here the mind moves from one kind of visual element (pictures) to another (type) and creates a connection, right? This would also apply to the sixth panel on p. 98 (if you ignore that there is no “gutter” – or gap – between the picture and the box with text).

During the discussion, I personally foundered when trying to separate the art of comics from other arts that use sequential methods/techniques. It’s not that I can’t get behind the idea that they are all just parts of “Art” or human communication – a position vigorously defended by a particular participant – but it seems like that kind of flattens out what makes comics differ(ent). Because when I talk about Watchmen, for instance, I don’t think it would be germane to bring in references to the methods of dance or sculpture or broadcast radio.

Part of it to me is that comics are the product of a particular technology, printing. And, as Marshall McLuhan wrote, “the medium is the message.” (1964) Because comics are creatures of print, our eye works a certain way, time is controlled more by how we read than by some static rate of delivery (such as television or radio), and a certain set of senses (sight and touch) are more dominant than others (smell, taste, and hearing).

I was especially flummoxed when asked about animation. My instinct is to treat animated works differently than more realistic film, to include them directly with comics. But animation is film and any distinction there is really just my own (or a general cultural) bias. They work by static broadcast, by use of light that is projected rather than ambient, and incorporate sound directly rather than by visual approximation (sound effect words, sound motion lines, etc.).

And what you would call Building Stories by Chris Ware?  Is it an architectural comic?  A comic box set?  An elaborate game with intricate pictures? A piece of conceptual art?

These distinctions seem a little silly on the surface but they do matter for no other reason than that of marketing. Being able to determine what to call something often guides the producer towards a target audience (and vice versa). If Building Stories is a work of architecture then it will be sold to schools of architecture and design. If it is just a  comic then it will be sold at places where comics are sold. If it is a game then it will be sold at gaming shops. And if it is a work of conceptual art, there might be an installation at some fine art gallery.

But back to Understanding Comics and the discussion it engendered.  One of the participants in this discussion commented that he thought that McCloud was at his best when he was discussing the nuts and bolts of comic structure (e.g., explaining things such as conveyance of time via panels and the structuring of a story via panel placement) and also when explaining the artistic level of abstraction used to carry the story (e.g., highly detailed art for personal narratives versus pictographic expression for symbolic works). He thought that McCloud failed to really differentiate comics distinctly from visual art as a whole but that his presentation feels inspiring if one doesn’t dig too deeply, echoing an argument that Dylan Horrocks leveled at McCloud in his essay, “Inventing Comics.” (2001)

Horrocks feels that McCloud is writing more of a persuasion piece, which he deems a “polemic.” [As an aside, this feels like a mild misuse of the term as “polemic” tends to refer to a vigorous disputation of an argument rather than mounting a defense for – or presenting a supporting argument for – a position.] Further, that McCloud is trying to build a justification for comics as serious art, thereby uplifting the community of comic readers from their previous status as scruffy-looking nerf herders. Doing so comes by way of a definition (highlighted in red above) that excludes many other things that comics could be said to be without discussing why those exclusions make sense.

“Nation building,” as Horrocks calls this effort, seems kind of quaint nearly a quarter of century after the book’s first edition. In the intervening time, comics, comic nerds, and comic fans of all stripes have garnered the respect that McCloud was working towards. Comics are regular parts of academic studies and art galleries, and receive high-toned collections of previous works. Comic fans come from increasingly diverse backgrounds and feel no shame in hiding their passions. Comic industry insiders find that their work no longer traps them in the lower ends of the publishing industry.

And while I tend to like the basic idea, I also have felt the need to add a little meat to McCloud’s definition in this series of essays about comics by mentioning both cultural and historical factors that also have made comics what they are today. Even so, I feel like I am still very, very far off getting to just what makes a comic a comic. However, Understanding Comics did give our discussion a great starting place, and my sense of what is a comic was altered through that discussion. For that alone, I would recommend the book for anyone who wants to explore these questions.

Plus, it’s a fun read!


If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group. Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

At our next meeting (October 9th), we will be talking about Monster Comics!