Category Archives: comics

The World of the Graphic Novel

The excellent New England Science Fiction Events blog has just alerted me to a necessary event for those living in the Massachusetts area who are interested in comic books. The Fitchburg Art Museum will launch a new exhibit at the end of September called LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel, which will run September 25-January 1, 2012. Here’s the description:

LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel will examine the use of sequential art as a significant form of visual communication, and place specific emphasis on the art of the contemporary graphic novel. This special exhibition will feature over 200 original art works, including paintings, drawings, storyboards, studies, books, photographs, and a documentary film, offering insights into the lives of the artists and the nature of their work.

I’ll be looking to head out there once the show opens.

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Stretching

I’ve been reading the excellent new run of Demo, comics by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. If you are at all interested in comics, you should be reading these. They’re a series of standalone stories, so each week’s issue is self-contained. They have some supernatural element, but so far it’s been slight–the sort of supernatural element that you could chalk up to imbalanced perceptions on the part of the narrator.

This week’s issue of Demo, called “Pangs,” was the best read of my week by far. It’s a story about a cannibal, and at some point I’m going to have to go through it panel by panel to figure out how the creators achieve the effect that they do. They don’t pull punches on the horror of cannibalism. It’s awful, and I spent the whole comic terrified of what the main character was about to do to himself or the people around him. On the other hand, they create so much sympathy for him that I wanted him to succeed, to be all right, to find a way to get away with it.

For one thing, this comic has excellent use of the second person. In the past, I’ve written on the confessional power of this tense:

“But as the reader gets more deeply into these stories, it becomes clear that the “you” isn’t really instructional. It’s more of the “you” that substitutes for an “I” in certain types of conversations. It’s used for statements like: “You know how sometimes you’re just angry at people who don’t deserve it.” But what I really mean is, “Sometimes, I’m mad at you when you don’t deserve it, and I’m sorry, but too afraid to say so.” It is a “you” that signifies a frightened “I,” and so contains a plea for identification, an upfront assumption that you and I participate in exactly the same sins.”

I stared in awe at the power of lines such as, “You realize it’s no good. You just can’t eat anything else…”

But before I go off completely on a rant about this particular issue, I also want to point to the other thing I find fascinating about Demo. Both Wood and Cloonan have included material in the back of each issue about how they stretch themselves for this series, playing with different concepts and different ways of telling stories. This material provides a shining example of the benefits of experimenting with style and genre.

Here’s something Cloonan wrote in the back of issue 1:

“Back when we started, I was actually surprised by how much Brian trusted me. I barely trusted myself–I had what I could only describe as stage fright, which I guess is a weird feeling to get while drawing, but as the issues went on (I’ll be the first to admit some more successfully than others), I came into a sort of sense of self about my art. For the first few issues I felt schizophrenic, but then I realized that all of this, all of DEMO was just aspects of me, and of Brian, and together the issues became more than just a sum of their parts.”

I think that’s beautiful, and I’ve experienced that feeling of stage fright when I have an idea that I like but am not sure I can pull off. Go read these.

Wednesday Comics

Wednesdays have a holiday feeling for me lately, because I’ve gotten back into the rhythm of going to the comics store once a week. I was lured back by the lovely retro-newspaper Wednesday Comics, which came out once a week for 12 weeks in full color, looking the way you wish the Sunday comics page looked. Though those were lovely eye candy, most of the stories inside ultimately disappointed. What’s made me stay, however, is that comics have amazing range. Sometimes poignant, sometimes badass, sometimes just fun. I love the genre-bending that tends to go on. I love hanging on the slow progression of a story that comes out in serial, and then rereading it in a big slurp when the whole thing has come out.

I read and write in a lot of forms, and I find that sometimes I need to change my focus to give me a fresh feeling in a world that’s pretty dense with words. Comics have been doing that for me lately.

I just got home from the comics store clutching Cinderella: from Fabletown with Love–for those who aren’t in the know, we’re talking here about Cinderella, super-spy, and it’s everything I hoped it would be. There’s a nice interview with Chris Roberson, the writer, here.

But I’m far from the only one who feels the magic of Wednesday. Paul Cornell, at the awesome Clockwork Storybook blog (chock full of writers so cool it makes me want to cry), writes, in the post I linked at the beginning of this paragraph:

That Wednesday feeling, where one hangs around I Fanboy (I hope they note I’ve dropped the comma I kept putting in their name, like they were the fan equivalent of I, Claudius), Millarworld and other forums, waiting for the first reviews to wander in, when one can pop into a comic shop, and actually see it sitting there on the shelf (right next to the Avengers titles, hmm, that’s good) is just one of the many lovely things about writing comics. … I think the feeling is quite an ancient one, akin to what Conan Doyle and Dickens and all the other writers of serials for magazines must have felt.

(As an aside, Cornell’s talking about Black Widow: Deadly Origin #1, which he wrote, and which I also picked up this week. (It’s easy to sell me a comic–just write one about a badass female super-spy or assassin or warrior.))

I think he’s dead on with his analogy to the old serial novels. When I’ve read books like The Three Musketeers, I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to get fed the thing chapter by chapter, to get the story in nibbles and then reread in gulps to make sense of it, to speculate excitedly with my friend about the surprises to come. Those stories work better that way. They’re epic, too big to read quickly or alone.

Comics have this quality, too. I look at Sandman sitting on my shelf, or Y: the Last Man, or any number of others, and I think about what huge, weird, and lovely stories these are. Long live the serial, and all hail Wednesday.