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Why I Quit Reading Mainstream Comics

February 10, 2013 Leave a comment

When I originally started to do work on the predecessor to this current blog, I started with comics. Reviewing them and talking about them. The medium is one I love for what it can do. While I got more and more involved with comics themselves, I realized I was developing a strained relationship with a major component of the medium. Specifically, I have multiple issues with the major two companies (as well as, to a lesser extent, smaller companies), Marvel and DC. In the world of comics readers, there is a visible tension of preference between the two, and while certain points of the arguments are valid, most are moot as the companies are virtually the same. I’ve touched on this before, so if you want to see what I’ve to say about that, you can check it out here.

Since then, my apathy and general lack of care for these companies has grown. So much so, that I didn’t just quit reading titles from these companies, but I just didn’t think about them. Recently, I’ve tried to be reflexive on why I made this decision, and so I decided to share it. These are the reasons I ‘quit’ reading mainstream comics:

1) The Staleness of the IPs:

Out of all the reasons for me to stop reading comics, this one comes most from being a fan of the medium. In recent years, both Marvel and DC have tried to ‘reinvent’ themselves in new images. The biggest reason is that they needed to create new audiences. The recent successes of comic book film adaptations have also put pressure on the print publications of the titles. In this pseudo-progression of the images, both companies have attempted to try new things. However, what mostly comes out is a regurgitation of existing narratives and tropes. The existing IPs are running out of stories to tell and they need to totally overhauled in a way the industry may not be ready for.

2) Drowning in Cross-Over Events

I’ll be honest, I hate cross-over events. They’re pointless and only attempt to give a temporary change to the status quo, to only revert back to it in a later event. Marvel is especially guilty of this. The point being, regardless of the company, these events deter from the main narratives of existing characters and primarily exist to sell more comics. I believe, comic titles used to be stronger when they were at an individual level and other characters would have cameo appearances. While I appreciate the world-building components of the film franchises, where I think this type of story type has been working, in print it’s just awful, and at best, boring.

Another cross-over event? Don’t expect to see any quality writing for another year.

3) Creator’s Rights

Seriously, authors should own what they make. I’m not sure how to expand on this one really, because I think it’s clear. Characters and stories belong to individuals, not companies.

4) Depictions of Marginalized Groups

If I had to give one reason for giving up mainstream comics, this would be it. I’m completely aware that this is my own opinion, but, I feel like the mainstream comics of today are just as racist, sexist, homophobic, and discriminatory as they’ve been in the past. I’ve written before on the trend of capitalizing on LBGT movements in comics. That post contained a specific case study on my reasoning, but the general tone of it can be applied to most marginalized groups depicted in comics. For every Women in Refrigerators critique being made, there’s a case of it being done. Printed oppression in mainstream comics is cyclical. At the very best, we see progression, not because the publishers are seeking to be agents of change, but because they can capitalize upon social change movements being visible in the larger society.

 

Those are my core reasons for quitting mainstream comics. I understand there are deviations from these companies based on what I listed. For example, I think the death of Ultimate universe Peter Parker was for the better, as we can see a well-written biracial character in Miles Morales in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. While I say I gave up on these publishers, I do still think there’s a place for their older works (as long as there’s acknowledgement of their own issues). There’s also some interesting work in the imprints (such as Vertigo), where creator rights have some presence.

But really, all of these issues are less present (but not absent) in the ‘more independent’ publishers. The characters and stories there are just as good, if not better, than what’s going on with Marvel and DC. I’m glad I moved on.

Emitown Vol. 1: A Review

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Emi Lenox’s Emitown is a hard work to review. Like Natalie Nourigat’s Between Gears, Emitown is a sketch diary. As such it’s difficult to evaluate it as a narrative piece because its focused on ‘real events’ that aren’t necessarily strung together. It’s just life as it is.

On that note, Emitown is a personal work. At times its vague and doesn’t explicitly state what is going on. It’s a measure of privacy deliberately used by the creator. Again, it’s hard to be critical of the narration of Emitown. While there is nothing specific in terms of narration, it is an enjoyable read and interesting to learn about somebody in a new form. Emitown, and other sketch diaries, are some of the most intimate memoirs out there.

The art in Emitown on the other hand is much easier to explain. Figures are varied and detailed to a necessary degree within their specific contexts. Everything is fun to look at. A lot of this comes from the strong ink work throughout the book. Like figure detail, it helps create a tone for the day, or part of the day, that it’s used in. The art is solid throughout.

As stated at the beginning, Emitown is a tough piece to review. The narrative follows the diary format and it is personal, but not explicit, and doesn’t really have an overarching feel beyond day-to-day life. The art is definitely a large appeal to the work. Though this has been a difficult review, I can say I enjoyed reading Emitown and if you like the idea of a sketch diary with good art, then I recommend it for you.

Emitown is drawn and written by Emi Lenox. It’s published by Image Comics.

Categories: comics, review Tags: , , , ,

Safe Area Goražde – a review

August 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Along with Palestine, Safe Area Goražde (pronounced go-raj-DUH) is considered the epitome of Joe Sacco’s comic journalism work. It chronicles Sacco’s time spent in Goražde (in eastern Bosnia) during the Bosnian War. There is a mixture of Sacco’s time there and the stories and experiences of those that Sacco met. Sacco uses Goražde as a case study for the whole Bosnian conflict, with a unique flavor of the region’s inhabitants and society. It’s an ambitious project and is incredibly successful.

I’ll get straight to the point; Safe Area Goražde is an amazing piece of not only graphic and journalistic work, but great-period. It’s a complex collection of narratives that shows the complexity and emotionally heaviness that make up the history and social structure of Bosnia. Sacco guides the reader from the lighter moments of everyday life, the political and military details of the conflict, very personal stories of those living through the war, and the grim specifics on the process of ethnic cleansing. The tone shifts very naturally between its different types of material. I never questioned the order and placement of the segments. The whole piece is incredibly informative and intimate in its emotions. There are moments that are hard to read. I personally almost started crying in the middle of reading this. Saying that Safe Area Goražde is intense would be a understatement.

As a piece of journalism, the piece is more subjective than it is objective. There is a far greater attention to the citizens of Goražde, primarily Bozniaks and Croats, than there is on Serbs. As such, one may be disappointed in that they won’t see a complete dissection of the Bosnian conflict. However, the fact that there is greater attention to a specific group allows Sacco to collect and show a focused collection of stories and experiences. The subjectivity of the piece works for the greater advantage.

Safe Area Goražde‘s art is strong throughout. Landscapes and the city of Goražde are all very detailed. Sacco himself is the only ‘cartoony’ bit of the art. (Sacco said in an interview that this was deliberate and something that carried over from his earlier, ‘more cartoony,’ Palestine.) The art coupled with the emotional stories of those Sacco make for a powerful combination. It is often difficult to work through a particular section of the book due either to graphic content or the strong emotions carried by the narrative (not mutually exclusive). Safe Area Goražde is incredibly successful in the ways it employs its art.

This whole review has essentially been an understatement itself. Safe Area Goražde is easily one of my favorite graphic works, as well as one of my favorite books I own. I found it more powerful than Sacco’s earlier Palestine (though Palestine is also really good). The narrative is intense, informative, and emotional all at once. The art fits the narrative and largely enhances the narrative. I find it impossible not to recommend Safe Area Goražde to anyone interested in what comics can do. Safe Area Goražde is an amazing piece and something I won’t forget.

 

 

Safe Area Goražde is written and drawn by Joe Sacco. It is published by Fantagraphic Books.

Note: Safe Area Goražde has both graphic violence and emotionally intense moments and may not be suitable for younger audiences.

There is also a special edition of Safe Area Goraždethat includes notes, photos, and interviews regarding the production of Safe Area Goražde that offer a lot of insight. I highly recommend shelling a little extra just for this.

A Quick Guide to Comic Journalism

June 12, 2012 3 comments

This last weekend, I went out to Fantagraphics Bookstore in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle to see Joe Sacco discuss journalism in the comic form (and for him to sign my copy of Palestine). Undoubtedly, Sacco is a pioneer of the comics journalism form, something that has existed since the early ’90s with Sacco’s works Palestine and Safe Area Gorzade (about common people suffering from the Bosnian War), but has really begun to take off in the past few years. It’s also something that I’ve been increasingly interested in.

The self-depiction of Joe Sacco

Essentially, comic journalism is a synthesis of the sequential medium of comics and journalism. It’s actually not surprising to see journalism leap into the sequential form. It can be argued that comic journalism is a descendant of photojournalism. Photojournalism is a visual form of journalism that became credible and the same is happening today with comic journalism. Both forms use a primary visual image to detail their works and have some sort of reliance on narration to accompany the image (comic journalism relies much more on this). In this regard, comic journalism is somewhere between pure written journalism and the almost-purely visual photojournalism. Comic journalism has also become respectable among many reporters, as Sacco claimed, in that many co-journalists don’t find it unusual or less worthy to pursue journalism in a comics form.

Synthesis of image and narration

The medium has its advantages and disadvantages according to Sacco and other panels from comic journalists I’ve seen. There are two clear disadvantages in comic journalism, as mentioned more by Sacco than other creators I’ve met. First, there is a greater spatial constraint in comics journalism than there is with written journalism. It’s essentially impossible to cover the same amount of material in the same amount of pages in comics as it is in written form. Because of this comic journalists are more stressed to convey what they need to in a set number of pages. The second great disadvantage is that sense of respectability from outside sources. While other journalists have respect, most likely stemming from centuries of political and social cartoons, those being interviewed or used as subjects may not have that same respect. Many people look at sequential mediums as an inferior medium (something every comic fan has heard from somebody at least once in their life).

An example of Shannon Wheeler’s from ‘Oil and Water’

But the form has its advantages as well. While respectability may be seen as a disadvantage, it can also be manipulated into an advantage. In the creation of Oil and Water the illustrators mentioned that had far easier access to drawing subjects close-up than they would if they had a camera. The presence of a pencil and sketch pad comes off far less threatening than a camera does. Drawing a subject for a journalistic piece isn’t taken as seriously, but can also yield a greater sense of access than more traditional forms of journalism would normally yield. The second great advantage of comic journalism is the strong presence of visuals in the work. Readers of journalistic works are drawn to visuals as they intake the information. It’s an essential catalyst for digesting information. This is a reason why photojournalism is so popular. But comics have an even greater advantage to photography-the exaggeration of image. A journalist-cartoonist can use bodily proportions, color changes, and other visual changes that differ from reality to coincide with the narrative progress of the piece. Reading Sacco’s Palestine one encounters this on many occasions. Comic journalism is a flexible medium, something becoming more real too as the spread of digital comic journalism is beginning to spread.

The ‘Cartoon Movement’ has been a vital point of spreading the medium digitally

Comic journalism is definitely a medium that has a limited appeal in the comics community. For readers who stick to mainstream superhero or independent pulp comics, they are bound to be not interested or completely miss the medium. But as access and growth of independent comics continues, exposure to the medium grows. As the growth of the medium in the past few years attests to, it’s something people are interested in and will most likely expand and continue.

 

If you’re interested in the subject or the medium here’s a couple of recommendations:

Joe Sacco’s work is a must in this field. Anything from him is a good place to start.

The whole Cartoon Movement is an excellent place to find a wide variety of political cartoons and comics on diverse subjects. Many of these individuals putting work on that site are also good sources (such as Sarah Glidden).

A 2001 interview with Joe Sacco on Footnotes in Gaza and comic journalism.

Daredevil vol. 2: A Review

June 3, 2012 Leave a comment

A year ago, I reviewed the first volume of a three-part set that compiled Frank Miller’s time as writer and artist on Daredevil in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Only some time ago did I get the chance to finally read the second installment in the set. This portion of the set is what most people look back to when they think of Frank Miller’s run of the character. It contains the rise of Elektra, the return of Bullseye, and the fight to the death between the two. But how was the rest of it?

Artistically speaking, Klaus Janson’s art is a good successor to Frank Miller’s penciling run. Miller gave up the role as artist when he took the writing role (this transition began in the first volume) and Janson took over in the role. The art is quite good, especially for the time, and holds up well. One of my favorite moments of this entire volume was a moment of silence in two panels. It was one of the rare occasions for that time where the creators are showing and not telling you about what’s happening. The art style in the whole volume is effective and I enjoyed it throughout.

It’s easy to see why Frank Miller’s run as author on Daredevil is so well remembered. For the time it was being written, and even still, the writing is fun to read and follow. Some of dialogue and narration has a foot still in the Silver Age style of writing comics, but it’s progressing towards how comics are written today. The whole build-up to the Elektra and Bullseye fight is done really well. And there is some amazingly written tensions between Daredevil and his antagonists (and sometimes allies). While there were some weak issues in the collection, the whole thing felt strong.

Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil is a gem in comics history. It’s definitely a space for strong art and writing, as well as putting time to make the character more interesting and reinventing tones for characters. If you’re  interested in the Daredevil character this volume is a must, but for those who casually interested in Marvel’s superheroes or past stories I’d also suggest this. With the man without fear it’s hard to go wrong.

Daredevil is owned by Marvel Comics. This volume is written by Frank Miller with art by Klaus Janson.

Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds-A Review

June 1, 2012 1 comment

I’ve had the first volume of Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey sitting on my shelf for months now needing to be read. I had enjoyed the beginnings of her Secret Six run and I’ve heard good things about Birds of Prey, so I was excited to finally getting around to read it. In the end though, my expectations didn’t become fulfilled. Why?

In terms of its narrative, there isn’t anything too wrong with Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds. While there are some weak moments here and there it was good enough to follow along. While I don’t think it matched the caliber of storytelling that the early trades of Secret Six had, it felt unique enough to get attention and I can see why some people like it. The first volume wasn’t enough to lure me in a hunt for more, but I am expect more as I’ve only heard good things about the run. However, this isn’t where my expectations fell flat.

In this first work of Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone worked with artist Ed Benes. And somewhere in between them (or one of them specifically, I’m really not sure) something went wrong with the panel and art direction for the series. Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds was the first time I got mad at a comic book for being overtly sexist. What comes to mind here is the plethora of booty-shot panels and showing Black Canary in an non-anatomically correct position to show off the more sexual parts of her body. When I was reading it I felt like the comic was first intending to showcase the women of the comic in a sexual manner and secondly tell a story.

No booty panel here. But this still shows the sexual objectification here.

While I’ll laugh at the absurd and criticize choices made regarding female depictions in comics, I understood that those comics were typically made for men by men. Here, at least for a substantial part of the creative effort, the work is made by both genders for what can be assumed to be women because of it’s ‘all-female cast.’ But that’s superficial. This comic is intended for men. I’ve heard excuses that Gail Simone likes to ‘make her heroines sexy,’ but the limit is pushed too far here. Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds isn’t ‘sexy,’ it’s sexist.

Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds is owned by DC Comics. It’s written by Gail Simone with penciling by Ed Benes.

LBGT Issues in Mainstream Comics [Links]

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

After posting my most recent post on LBGT issues in mainstream comics I decided to create a space for collecting link related to the issue. I’ll post links I find over time as well as any that people send me (so please do!). I’ll post some brief description about it and the link itself.

Comics Alliance: “Betting Odds on DC’s New Gay Character”

This article is a good example of satire/parody of the typical musings in reaction to comic news announcements. These sort of articles, especially on topics like LBGT issues draw away from the importance of the issue, in that aspect, this particular article is terrific because it understands the importance and pokes fun more at those who muse on such things.

Comic Book Resource: “One Million Moms Target DC, Marvel”

This is more of a look at the reactionary voices towards the issue. While I personally believe it’s important to understand the feeling of oppression and means of resistance, it’s also important to understand reactionary voices (even if you don’t agree), because it’s simple ignorance if you don’t. It’s also a launch pad for larger critical thinking and study on the subject.

The Gutters: #297

Ryan Sohmer’s Gutters webcomic has always amused me in some of its playful criticisms of the comics industry. It has a consistency of tongue-in-cheek humor on most issues. However, when I read the descriptions below I find myself disagreeing more than agreeing. In this case I feel there is some misdirection. It feels more like the musing that the Comics Alliance poked fun at. Also, there’s a significant other comics on LBGT comics before. I’ll let it up to you to construe Sohmer’s criticisms.

 

MORE LINKS TO COME IN THE FUTURE. PLEASE SEND THEM TO ME.

 

Categories: comics, links collection Tags: , , , ,