Posts Tagged ‘comic books’

Well, we’ve reached the end of the line. The end of the rope, more like it. The bell does indeed toll for me, and I figure there isn’t much of a better way to go than to bring it full circle, and evaluate the (sizable) list of graphic novels I’ve chewed through this semester and semesters prior. I wouldn’t call myself an expert on graphic novels by any means, more of an enthusiast. Thanks to Scott McCloud, I know how to analyze them a bit better, and I know a bit more about the components that make them up. Ms. Fish has expressed an interest in writing for graphic novels – I wonder how one breaks into that. Maybe that’ll be my next pursuit of knowledge.

Regardless, I figured after hours of reading, I would go back through the list with my newfound knowledge. Here are my (personal) favorite top 5 graphic novels of all time.

#5: Watchmen by Alan Moore

Moore

I struggled with whether or not to throw Watchmen on this list. It’s by far the longest and one of the most difficult graphic novels I’ve read, regardless of having capes in it. It’s some seriously dark, heavy stuff. Watchmen tackles what happens when superhero teams fall out, the United States government bans vigilantism, and is essentially a “whodunnit?” murder mystery between superheroes. Couple that with the constantly recurring theme of “who watches the Watchmen?,” in other words, who polices superheroes, and you’ve got quite a lot going on in this one.

Part of the reason I debated throwing it on the list was sheer length: this one is long from beginning to end. This is by no means a 20 minute breeze. It’s tough to press through. The cast of characters is diverse and infinitely messed up, each “super”hero is a human at the core with problems and dark personal places they are trying to run from. Another reason I considered axing this one from the list is simply because the author, Alan Moore, has said some pretty outlandish and foolish things in recent years about the recent surge of comic books and their popularity. Though, I felt it would be unfair to punish the work for the creator’s flaws, so it made it. This is not for the feint of heart.

#4: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Jen Wang 2

To be honest, I didn’t expect In Real Life to make the list. It had a beautiful and charming art style, but was a relatively quick read. However, the more I chewed on it, the more I grew to appreciate it. In Real Life is about a lot of things: teenage nerdiness, video games, other cultures, economics, social plight, and friendship. There isn’t an overly sexy or overly homely protagonist: she’s a normal, everyday girl who happens to be into some dorky stuff.

In Real Life landed on my list because it portrays real gaming by real people, and doesn’t propagate the “gamer girl” stereotype. Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang have done their fair share of gaming, or at the very least, research on it. There aren’t any complete jumps in logic to make the “video game” segments of the novel work. TV shows and movies are infamous for absolutely butchering any attempts to include video games in a storyline. They’re often unrealistic in terms of actual games, and I can’t stand when some actor sits with a 360 controller and pounds on the buttons like they’re playing a game.

Being a gamer with an MMO gaming girlfriend, I appreciated these details. Short as it may be, In Real Life makes my list.

#3: Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman

If there is a literary canon for graphic novels, Spiegelman’s Maus is definitely at the top of the list. The book is both about Art’s as well as his father’s tale: his father retells how he became part of and survived the holocaust, and Art is depicted grappling with the seriousness of the subject and frequently butting heads with his father. Their relationship is somewhat strained, but still loving.

Maus’s art style is simplistic, but highly effective. Different ethnicities are depicted as different animals: Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, the Polish are pigs, etc. etc. The animal characters allow Spiegelman to play with symbolism he wouldn’t have access to otherwise: there are cats wearing mouse masks and things of that nature all over the novel. Obviously, the subject matter is an extremely heavy one, couple that with the tale being true, and you have a must-read for anyone looking to break into graphic novels. Think it’s all superheroes and capes? Think again.

#2: This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Tamaki

This One Summer is a novel I was introduced to during this semester, and of the new ones I’ve read, it is most definitely my favorite. It’s a coming-of-age tale between two teenage girls at their own little summer retreat, but it’s so much more than the quintessential “both characters learn a lesson and have a happy ending.” It deals with some pretty heavy themes: miscarriage, teen pregnancy, friendship, maturity, societal pressure, and awkward first love. It has its feel good moments, but ultimately, it’s about relationships between people as you age and mature. Friends, parents, etc. People grow apart. They come together, Adolescents discover things about themselves that they aren’t sure how to feel about.

The thing that really sold This One Summer for me besides the unique story, was the phenomenal artwork. This very well might be my favorite artwork in a graphic novel, bar none. The whole thing feels very dreamy, memory-esque, but never bleak or dark. The art style is highly detailed, yet flows effortlessly into simplicity when the moments call for it. The dark color used is a shade of blue, rather than black, avoiding the noir-like flashback feeling. I understand it also made Dr. Elisabeth Ellington’s list of the top books in 2014. I see why.

#1: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Millar, Klaus Johnson, and Lynn Varley

Johnson

This isn’t your mom and dad’s Batman with Adam West in it. No, no, no. This is a much darker, and a much different take than one we’ve seen in television or movies before. The Dark Knight Returns follows Bruce Wayne 8 years after having given up being Batman. Gotham is more run-down than ever, dominated by gangs and half-witted politicians, with news anchors of FOX News caliber constantly spewing nonsense about whether it’s Batman’s fault crime exists in the first place. When Bruce reaches a breaking point, he’s back in the game, but there’s a problem: he’s old.

He’s old, and his body only has so much left to give to this kind of work. Robin is long gone, and Batman must work his way back into favor with the people. Batman is more brutal than ever in this one, fighting to survive rather than just to dish out justice. He’s fighting a passive public, incompetent police force / politicians, and most of all: his own doubts. Things get even more jumbled up when a teenage girl in a Robin costume saves him from certain death. Batman here isn’t just about beating the bad guys: it’s a social commentary from the 80’s. The president is a grinning fool who sees only his own agenda to forward, the media is filled with fluff and pointless debates, the public either blame Batman for everything or depend completely on him for protection, there is no winner in this one. This is all before “gritty superhero reboots” were all the rage. This one pushed the Bat’s envelope to somewhere it had never been before.

In case you’re wondering, a few familiar faces do show up. In particular, one with a ridiculous grin, and another with a red cape flowing from the back…

___________________________________________

Well folks, that does it for me. As I said, this is my list of personal favorites. Pick and choose as you see fit. I would recommend any of these as a read in a half second. I think my list really reflects the diversity that can be found in graphic novels: we’re not living in a world of solely capes and superheroes. There are graphic novels on nearly every subject under the sun. You’ve just gotta look for them. We may have reached the end of the road, but the journey isn’t over for me.

Catch you all on the flip side.

Amata

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If you haven’t gathered yet, I love graphic novels. I’ve chewed through a lot of them in my time here at CSC, and while they almost never lack depth or material, they’re usually pretty easy / quick reads. I’ll usually give one a quick pass-over for the sake of the plot, then re-read it slower to better admire the artwork. Either way, it never takes more than an hour.

Except.

Nate Powell’s “Swallow Me Whole” stopped me dead in my tracks. I actually had to re-start it just to make sure I hadn’t fallen off and misunderstood something somewhere. This one is thick, not length wise, but material wise. It’s one of a select few graphic novels I’ve actually had to chew on, and one with an ending that is only remotely clear.

Nate Powell Photo Copyright – Nate Powell

Going Mental

“Swallow Me Whole” deals with the tale of two step-siblings with a dying grandmother and parents that are quick to write off their childrens’ mental instability. Ruth, diagnosed with OCD as well as a form of schizophrenia, hears insects and other animals speak out to her, beg her to be their liaison, their ambassador to the higher world. Perry, also schizophrenic, sees a wizard appear atop all of his pencils, sending him on “missions” that produce fantastic drawings. Both siblings have a grandmother who is expected to kick the bucket relatively soon (who actually stays with them for several years) who also shares some form of mental illness – she is constantly traveling back in her mind to her youth, when her husband was alive and she was an avid painter.

The tale is a hard one to swallow, pun fully intended. Ruth, after outbursts at school, is eventually diagnosed and medicated for her disorders. Perry never does. Perry’s illness, since it results in a creative outlet, isn’t considered illness. Ruth’s non-conventional (for the stereotype of her sex) interest in insects and biology further her along toward medication. The book throws everything on the table: gender stereotypes, mental illness (and its societal stigmas), adolescence, dysfunctional family, the works. It isn’t for the feint of heart by any means. Nor is it an “easy read.” The ending is both tragic and ambiguous. It’s never spelled out for the reader, ala Inception, we are only left with pieces that we have to put together ourselves. A great deal of why this book is so difficult to digest lies in the artwork. So that’s where we’re headed.

wut Photo Copyright – Nate Powell

A Lot to Swallow

Powell’s artwork in this piece is hard to wrap your head around. The entire novel takes on a disconnected, dream-like quality with strictly black and white artwork. Powell doesn’t rely strictly on white as a backdrop either, obviously – there are gobs of black ink in this book. Speech bubbles are distorted and hard to read, stream-of-consciousness thoughts are splattered on the page, and we are treated constantly to perspective shifts as they happen: one moment, Ruth is looking at a vent grate on her ceiling. The next moment, insects are pouring out of it. The unpredictable, dissociative nature of the illnesses Ruth and Perry suffer from are reflected heavily in the artwork. I can’t speak for anyone else, but at times, it became extremely difficult to follow.

Though the tale is about both Ruth and Perry (and memaw a bit, as well) it definitely follows Ruth more often. She goes through stages of silent coping with her disorder, to ignoring it, to even accepting and “embracing” it (which leads to some poor choices and behavioral outbursts), and eventually, being consumed, swallowed whole, by it. The artwork becomes more chaotic as Ruth’s mindset changes. The book culminates in a swarm of insects, and from there – well. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

This one has my brain revving at full speed. There’s a lot to digest, a lot of pieces that need put together (but are all there), and a lot to be said. Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. There’s definitely a story to be told here, and there are a lot of things to be said. If anything, it made me think. Still has me thinking. I count that as literature any day.

Insania

Ms. Fish, my better half, is a total package – smart, funny, patient with me (this one’s the most impressive), and a huge nerd. I have the “gamer girlfriend” that the Internet claims to be a mythical creature. Her preferred addiction is an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) called Final Fantasy XIV. The game allows her to talk to / play with people in real time from literally all over the world. She’s got a group of friends in a group (called a Free Company in game) that are all tight-knit, and no, none of them are the fabled “creepy 90 year old guy playing as a girl to pick up chicks online.”

These connections between people, “real” or no, are a small part of what the Cory Doctorow-written and Jen Wang-illustrated graphic novel “In Real Life” is about.

jen_wang_irl_page-600x817Photo Copyright – Jen Wang

Another World

“In Real Life” follows the tale of Anda, a high school girl who’s just moved to Arizona from Cali, and is doing her best to adjust in the new school. She’s got a fistful of friends, equally nerdy as her, interested in gaming and D&D. She’s in classes learning to be a game programmer, and one day, a guest speaker arrives talking about Coarsegold Online. The speaker is a high ranking officer in a guild made up of only girls, dedicated to helping new people out and improving the community of players. Anda accepts a low-level position in the guild (after some cautionary words from her mother about creepy people online, blah blah technology scary blah), and quickly befriends another higher-up in the guild named Lucy. Anda inadvertently discovers that Lucy makes real-world money in game by hunting down and slaying other players – gold farmers. Gold farmers are players, usually from other countries, who dedicate all of their playtime to the same menial tasks to make in-game money, so they can sell it for real-world money. It allows those with extra cash to spend to skip the long, tedious processes of improvement, and that pisses Lucy off. Anda helps Lucy with these endeavors until she actually speaks to one of the gold farmers, and finds out that this is what they do for a legitimate living in an office building in China. 12 hours of gametime as work, no benefits.

“In Real Life” is a complex tale in that it’s about much more than just gaming, and it’s not a generic coming-of-age tale. It’s about international relations, economics in particular. Anda sees a strike going on at her Dad’s company, and inspires her Chinese friend Raymond to do the same so they can be given the proper benefits for their work. It’s a tale of introspection: Anda loves the game because she can be any number of things she feels she can’t in real life: a leader, a hero, a warrior, etc. Raymond and his plight inspire Anda to take real-world action, to make a difference both in the game she loves and the real world.

Bonus points to the tag-team of authors: they’ve done their video game homework. Many books / movies / tv shows with Video Game-centric themes either rely on the “dorky gamer” tropes or stretch the realities of games and the technology so stupidly out of bounds that any real gamer turns their head in disgust. The in-game system is lovingly based off of real games, and gold farming in other countries is a very real thing in our world.

InRealLife-COMBINED_100-681280VVVVVPhoto Copyright- Jen Wang

Different Strokes

Wang does an excellent job of differentiating in-game and out-of-game artwork. Anda isn’t some hyper-sexualized character in game, nor is she quintessentially thin or “scene” looking in real life. She’s average, as are nearly all the real-world characters. The real-world style is somewhat darker and less colorful, lines are bolder, and scenery is about what you would expect. In-game the art is light and extremely colorful, scenes are grandiose and ornate, and characters are all extremely unique, including, but not limited to, elves, pixies, and a talking penguin. The jump from fantasy world to real world is impossible to miss, but both art styles are fantastic. Wang avoids the tropes that often come with “gamer” girls in graphic novels: no hyper sexualization, no extremely unattractive “nerd” caricatures. This is life, plain and simple.

Fans of gaming will obviously be more inclined to enjoy “In Real Life,” but the story is compelling enough that non-gamers should give it a try. It’s pretty friendly about easing new people into the lingo and crazy world of online gaming, it’s pretty hard to get lost. The tale is an inspiring one about friendship, economics, and taking action. Give it a whirl.

See you online!

Ludus

So, I do my best to make a weekly blog post that sort of “reviews” my latest find in the world of graphic novels. In a true example of applied learning, I got to thinking about alternative means that graphic novels (or comics) are published. Marvel offers a subscription service titled “Marvel Unlimited” that lets one read nearly their entire catalog for only $10 a month. My Kindle is loaded with comic books.

Recently, the most funded Kickstarter campaign of all time was headed partially by the artist at The Oatmeal, which got me to thinking about how web comics and art as a medium on the Internet seems to be growing exponentially. This week, ashamedly, I didn’t make the time to pick up a new graphic novel.

But I did catch up on some of my favorite web comics.

92419582_ba92b71876_o Photo CC-by Roadsidepictures, tangentially relevant, and absurd

Why Web Comics?

I know a lot of people who aren’t familiar with web comics as a medium, or don’t take them very seriously. Granted, the freedom of the Internet means that anyone can get on and share extremely poor work, but self-publishing is a genuine vessel for success. I’ve done it, and I’ve worked with dozens of others who have as well.

The fact that the Internet is free range tends to make most people write independent artists, authors, and musicians as instant hacks. You haven’t heard of them before, they haven’t achieved commercial success – so why bother? This is an incredibly narrow scope. The Internet is a tool to be used for good or evil, all it takes is a little digging to find the good.

As I stated above, web comic artists are on the rise. Many of my favorites that I follow have several novelized versions of their strips out for purchase – which makes it a graphic novel. There are no shortage of tones, themes, or subject matters to be found even in web comics. Want funny? Dark? Nerdy? No problem. Many of these mediums are single-shot, updating weekly with strips that may have no continuity between one another. Others are long, sprawling plot lines, or at the very least have gags / plot points that show up time and time again.

Do I still have your attention? If so, I’m going to use the rest of this post to share with you some of my favorite web comics that I follow weekly. I’ll do my best to get some variety in here, a lot of the ones I follow are video game-related because I am a nerd.

11085522084_4a153845f0_b Photo CC-by Drew Brockington, found on Flickr – Internet art!

Four of my Favorites

Penny Arcade – (Warning: Vulgar Language / Humor) Written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Krahulik.

As far as web comics go, Penny Arcade may be the most successful in jumping to real-world business. Largely video game, technology, and tabletop gaming themed, Penny Arcade follows (mostly) the exploits of Gabe and Tycho as they offer humorous, often cynical or critical looks at the gaming industry. There are frequently breaks in the humor in favor of Medieval or Sci-Fi one-shot pieces where Holkins flexes his diverse set of muscles. Penny Arcade began as a webcomic and has branched out into the Penny Arcade Expo: a yearly convention where the biggest comic book and game developers gather to show off the year’s hottest releases. PA also started a charity called Child’s Play, dedicated to raising money to provide games and entertainment to children who are stuck in hospitals. PA is an example of comics being taken seriously as a medium through longevity and ambition.

Zen Pencils  – Illustrated by Gavin Aung Tan

Zen Pencils is a strip done by a former graphic designer who was unsatisfied with his job. Tan’s approach is unlike many others: he takes inspirational quotes or poems and puts them in a comic strip form. Literary buffs will appreciate tan’s knowledge of poetry, but he covers all ends of the spectrum with quotes from the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Rollins (former Black Flag frontman), Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbes), the Dalai Llama, and much more. Readers need not worry about following a plot or vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake. Tan’s work is inspirational, heartwarming, eye-opening, and motivational. Plus he has his own collection of recurring characters. Pretty good stuff.

Poorly Drawn Lines(Warning: Vulgar Language) Written & Illustrated by Reza Farazmand

I don’t have many words that can really explain Poorly Drawn Lines. The art style is often simplistic (but not childish), and the jokes are always off-the-wall. Fans of random, absurd humor will be right at home with Poorly Drawn Lines. Jokes are sometimes pointed / critical of society, but more than often are eyebrow-raisers with little underlying meaning. I can’t really describe this. I’ll just show you:

whole-world

Cyanide and Happiness(Warning: Vulgar Language, Humor, and Graphic Content) Written & Illustrated by Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Dave McElfatrick, and others

Cyanide and Happiness is a webcomic classic. Almost everyone you know has shared a comic of C&N. Initially a project for fun by one person, C&H has expanded to several artists updating weekly strips with often crass, and explicit humor. The art style remains simplistic, but jokes are often pointed, offensive, and highly critical of most components of society. Fans of dirty (yet smart) humor will be right at home with S&H.

There’s no shortage of subject matter to be found in web comics. There’s also no shortage of writing and artistry talent to be found. At the very least, you now know what it is I do when I’m supposed to be being productive.

ars longa vita brevis

February means Black History Month, Black History Month means civil rights discussions and remembrance for battles fought, people lost, and societal progress (or the lack thereof). Being born in Baltimore, MD, civil rights and the struggles contained therein are commonplace in everyday education. MLK day isn’t just a day off from class, but a city-wide holiday.

Here, in the (rather conservative and primarily white) Midwest, greater knowledge of these issues takes a little hunting down. Granted, the bullet points are all part of most school curricula: MLK, Malcom X, Brown v. Board of Education, but other than that, it takes some seeking out. There are the conventional means: inspirational films, history lessons out of a textbook, etc. This week, with Dr. Ellington’s help, I discovered a means I wasn’t quite aware of before. The graphic novel, duh.

March by John LewisCopyright – Nate Powell

The Book

“March,” by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, was quite the discovery, and quite the surprise. John Lewis was speaker #6 on the day of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the only one still alive. He is currently a politician, a representative for Georgia, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barrack Obama. Needless to say, the guy has quite a pedigree. Andrew Aydin works under Lewis in his congressional office, and Nate Powell is a graphic novelist known for humanitarian work – he was featured in a collaborative book telling the tales of Darfur.

The tale alternates between the day of the inauguration of Barrack Obama as president, and Lewis’s participation in the civil rights movement. Lewis does his best to educate two younger black boys on, as their mother calls it, “their history.” It details Lewis’s upbringing on a farm, his tending / attachment to the chickens, his enrollment at a Baptists’ college, and subsequent push to be accepted into a college that doesn’t accept colored people.

I’m not sure how Lewis came across the idea to have his tale told in the form of a comic, but I’m certainly glad he did. The book is semi-biographical, semi-fictional, and since I’m an ignoramus, I hadn’t heard much of Lewis. I only knew about the aforementioned figureheads of the movement that everyone else knows about. The story is fantastic – thanks in no small part to it being true. I can’t come up with much to say about it. It’s always fascinating to get the perspective of someone who actively participated in the civil rights movement. It lends the tale real humanity, as opposed to being just another special on A&E or another textbook chapter.

SLJ1309w_FT_lewis_porch The Artwork

The artwork, done by Nate Powell and all black and white, is phenomenal. Each person is done in full detail, quite akin to their actual likeness (if they were indeed real people). As Scott McCloud taught us before, these are real people who had a real struggle. We aren’t meant to be able to insert ourselves into the tale – we’re along for the ride.

Powell’s attention to detail is the strongest point of the artwork. The memory of the run-down state of the colored buses, bathrooms, etc. etc. becomes starkly real.

Other touches that I wouldn’t have noticed without Scott McCloud is the different font styles Powell uses depending on the situation. When police / state troopers are harassing people, the speech bubbles are surrounded by spikes. When the activists sing their songs of victory, the font goes from a traditional one to one in cursive to emulate a hand-written letter.

My only real issue with the book iiiis the fact that I’ve only read the first. Until I continue my search and find the others in the series, I feel as though I can’t comment too much more on it, though I am enjoying it thoroughly.

So, to be continued.

Libertatem

Shaun Tan is an illustrator that did something that, while maybe not 100% original, I had genuinely never seen before. He released a graphic novel that told the story of a father immigrating to a new land to get a foothold for his family. Did I mention this novel, “The Arrival,” had no words or dialogue?

Copyright – Shaun Tan, also, did I mention this is one of my favorites?

Lost and Found

So, naturally, when I’m handed a collection of 3 of Tan’s other tales that had yet to be released in the U.S. until the time of this publication, I’m going to be on board. Inside “Lost and Found” are “The Red Tree,” “The Lost Thing,” and “The Rabbits,” the first two written and illustrated by Tan, the last illustrated by Tan and written by John Marsden.

All three tales tackle a few common themes, albeit through very different mediums. Social / societal apathy or complacency seems to be a big one, with “The Red Tree” tackling depression, “Lost and Found” taking place in a post-Industrial suburbian ‘dystopia’, and “The Rabbits” dealing with the conquering of Native peoples (in this instance, Australian Aboriginal tribes) by white settlers. Depression grips and keeps you from society, caught in a headlock of loneliness. The Lost Thing in “The Lost Thing” has no home to go to – it is perpetually lost, and no one around seems to notice nor care. In “The Rabbits,” well, we all know how the tale ended for Native American tribes here in the United States.

The stories themselves are short and quick-to-read, but the amount of thematic material packed in them makes them dense beyond expectation. With a little girl as his mascot, Tan tackles his own issues with depression in “The Red Tree” and attempts to make them palpable for those without depression to better understand. The ending of “The Lost Thing” is bittersweet, with the problem finding a resolution, but the narrator ultimately just becoming another cog in the Industrial complex. The ending of “The Rabbits” is left open to interpretation, but it isn’t hard to see the results of the still-open ending.

depressionCopyright – Shaun Tan

The Artwork

Shaun Tan is by far one of my favorite illustrators when it comes to graphic novels. Bar none, his pension for detail, different hues / tones with color, and ability to blend cartoony style with post-industrial dystopian settings is mind-bending. My only wish is that he would illustrate for horror comics. He would be a natural at it.

In “The Red Tree,” Tan uses grandiose settings and weather patterns to illustrate the feelings of depression The image to the right is one of many of them. Certain work doesn’t really need words to accompany it, it speaks totally for itself. In a clever turnaround (that I didn’t notice until I read about it later), each of the panels features a small red leaf – the symbol of hope in an otherwise daunting, scary, and sometimes empty existence.

The characters in “The Lost Thing” range from deliberately vapid, unremarkable, and flat, to cartoony and a bit odd. The protagonist and said Lost Thing in particular have a lot of personality (the red, tentacley thing in this picture is the Lost Thing) to differentiate them from the world that surrounds them: mass-produced, gray, extremely square / rectangular, and apathetic. As the tale continues, more Lost Things show up that all have extremely unique, kind of strange appearances: bright colors and tentacles are a good signifier of something lost. BUT I’ll go ahead and pull out the overused Tolkien bit of “Not all those who wander are lost…” You have to read it to get it. The ending bums me out, as the narrator falls into the background of apathy and the inevitable work-sleep-work cycle.

Out of the three tales, the artwork in “The Rabbits” to me holds the most weight. The Indigenous tribes are usually characterized by brighter colors, softer edges, and wide open space. The Rabbits, on the other hand, are extremely angular, often characterized by stark, desolate colors, and lonely frames.

The Verdict

Read it. Read it read it read it read it. I love Shaun Tan’s work from top to bottom, each of these tales is bite-sized but dense enough to not leave you wanting more. You can, and will re-read each of them to pick up on things you missed. Apparently, there’s a short animated film about “The Red Tree,” so my next plan is to go check that out. If it’s done even remotely in the art style of the graphic novel, I’ll be fanboying out so hard.

I’ve got no zinger to finish with, sooooo

Solus

I’m not sure about you guys, but I would hardly call myself a fan of modern art. I mean, between Andy Warhol’s neon florescent soup cans and Jackson Pollock accidentally spilling paint onto a canvas, I’m not sure I really grasp the meaning here. Is there even one? Is it one of those lame, modernist takes on “the meaning is there is no meaning, maaaaaan!” Maybe it’s above me.

Or, maybe, as Scott McCloud would have me believe, I’m looking at it the wrong way.

Copyright Jackson Pollock – I call this one, “condiments a la mode” 

The Book

This week, I finished Scott McCloud’s aforementioned “Understanding Comics: The Individual Art,” and the last few chapters dropped some pretty big bombshells on my conventional way of thinking. Just a few heavy-handed bulletpoints that may or may not have anything to do with graphic novels:

  • a single, still picture is a cartoon, not a comic. Comics = sequential art
  • Cultures cut off from the world-at-large tend to develop stylistically independent (like Japan’s manga vs. conventional comics)
  • Creation is a 6-step process, beginning with an idea and ending with the surface of the creation
    • However, the order people take this process in is often non-linear!
  • Comics (or at least cartoons) are an ancient artform, cave paintings and hieroglyphs do count!
  • Human instinct has 2 critical components: Reproduction and Survival. Anything outside of these is… art

I think any teacher hoping to include graphic novels in their courses, even just a few, could stand to throw in a few chapters out of this book. It offers some interesting commentaries on the relevance of cartoons and comics in society throughout different periods of time. Besides that, though, it also offers some interesting perspectives on artwork, and the manifestation of ideas into creative formats.

Regardless of whether or not I think Pollock’s “paintings” count as artwork, McCloud makes an interesting assertion: anything that doesn’t fulfill our primary human functions of surviving and reproducing is art. It’s self expression, even if nothing is being created. McCloud says that if anything aside from our basic animalistic instincts are cutting through, that’s artwork. It’s an interesting and perhaps radical way to look at creativity. This little bit of the book is worth the price of admission in and of itself. Scott has done his research. He’s scoured artists and contrasted their styles, done historical and sociological research, the whole nine yards. There’s a textbook’s worth of knowledge in here, cleverly hidden behind

The Artwork

The six step process of creation, Copyright Scott McCloud

McCloud hides genuine research and good information deep within each line and panel of his book. His art style throughout the book varies wildly depending on the chapter. When McCloud wants the emphasis to be on the information, the art style often takes on an extremely simple look, so we pay more attention to what’s being said. When an emphasis is being placed on the art style, the necessary touches are added; for example, the only chapter of the book to feature any color is a chapter on.. color.

Rather than opt for the lazy way out, when McCloud makes reference to hieroglyphs or the artwork of another famous painter, he does his best to draw these things himself. He emulates the style of other cartoonists (sometimes directly referencing their own panels), and points out the stylistic differences between artists. When discussing the importance of panels and shading, McCloud toys with those particular aspects to demonstrate their importance. The same can be said about most other topics Scott touches on. When he describes the collaborative process between writer and artist, he doesn’t simply opt for panels of himself speaking to us. He shows us:

The Verdict:

McCloud’s book was surprisingly dense for a 9 chapter graphic novel. A little research helped me discover that it’s part one in a trilogy, with the other two dealing with Reinventing and Making Comics. It’s hard to really compress parts of this book down into a blog post, at least for me. McCloud hammers the reader with a wealth of information in an easily digestible format. However, a lot of what he says is augmented infinitely by the panels and drawings that accompany it. It isn’t enough to summarize his points, they have to be seen for one’s self.

Ars longa vita brevis