Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Oddly Normal - All-Ages Comic Book

Here are pages from another new comic book (the first issue came out last week) that may interest some of you, especially if you want something that is intended for kids. Note the intertextuality on the second page, the use of colour, and the way these pages play with architextual connections.

Hypertextuality in a Paratext

The cover of the comic book on the left (currently in stores) is an homage to and modification of the cover on the right.

Aspects of the Book: Graphic Arts. Bookfest Windsor Panel, October 25, 7-8 pm.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Savage Hulk

            Being a Marvel fan, I was quickly drawn to the new “Savage Hulk” series by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, and Matt Hollingsworth. This series is currently on its fourth issue. I obtained the first issue as well to have a background to the series.
            “Savage Hulk” plays with intertextuality by including both Marvel hits The Hulk and X-Men. Although a small background story is included before the first page of panels, a personal knowledge of both Marvel creations is needed to fully understand the ideas behind the series. In the first issue, it is established that the X-Men help to control and maintain The Hulk’s rage and outbursts while also protecting him from a military team devoted to capturing him. This alliance was created due to Dr. Bruce Banner’s and Professor Xavier’s newly formed collaboration with gamma energy. Already it can be seen that this complex intertextuality would not be well understood by readers who do not have a personal knowledge of these Marvel characters. For those readers who do, this use of intertextuality is interesting and should be well accepted.
            Now focusing on the fourth issue which came out this September, it tells of The Leader’s attempt to steal The Hulk’s gamma energy for himself. In a complex plot involving the X-Men, it leads to The Hulk gaining new superpowers beyond unimaginable strength.
            I believe this comic’s best quality is the creators’ placement of panels and page layout. The creators do not use a standard, regularized panel layout. Instead, they play with many techniques discussed in class. One technique is the use of vertical and horizontal panels. As seen in Matt Madden’s “99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style”, the shape of panels affects how the audience reads the comic. Because our eyes read left to right, then downwards, horizontal panels seem to take up more time in the context of the plot. This is seen when The Hulk and X-Men are trapped by The Leader. Lengthening this time frame with horizontal panels allows the reader to develop suspense and wonder what will happen next, much like watching a movie. In contrast, vertical panels are used for scenes of explosions and when The Hulk is terrorizing the laboratory. Because our eyes scan so quickly from left to right in vertical panels, this makes time seem to pass quicker. This is effective for these situations because instead of a build-up of suspense, the reader automatically takes in the explosion and damage to the laboratory, much like a real-life situation.  
            Adding on to page layout, there is a spread where two pages only have two panels, both stretching from the left of the first page to the right of the second page. This is an effective layout because it shocks the reader. The reader is used to taking in the action one page at a time. When confronted with this setup, the reader is taken back. This effect puts emphasis on the event taking place. It makes the event seem more important and in this case it is because it is the first time the reader learns of The Hulk’s new power. This can also be related to Douglas Wolk’s idea of the pregnant moment described in his work “Pictures, Words, and the Space Between Them”. This is a pregnant moment because the audience is faced with new, story-changing information that causes them to look back and see how this happened. I flipped back to the previous page to re-examine how this event came to be. In addition, it pushes the story forward by making the audience wonder how this new power is going to change the rest of the comic. Overall, this page, in my opinion, is the most effective for these reasons.
            The next issue will be released in October, where I hope to touch on choice of colour palette and further analyze this worthwhile comic.  
-         - Stephanie Taylor

Comic Books Are Not Just Full Of Superheroes

Coming into this class, I was by no means a comic book reader. My experience with comics started and ended with Marvel and Batman movies, of which I am a huge fan of and know quite a bit about. But, in saying that, my views and ideas of comic books were very limited. I had surrounded myself in this bubble of media inspired by comic books, but never had a real grasp on the art of comic books themselves. When I thought comic books I thought super heroes. That’s it. Just super heroes.
Was I ever in for an awakening.
My naiveté to the genre had led me to this closed belief about it, and you can imagine my disappointment when the only superhero comic on the syllabus was Hawkeye. Then I went to class and I discovered that there was this whole different world within comics that I never knew existed. Comics are like novels and movies and every other medium that one can think of in that they come in every shape and form. They are not just people prancing around in tights saving the day.
When I went in to Paper Heroes to buy my first ever comic book, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I walked in and the cashier asked what I was looking for and I said a comic book…but not a superhero comic book, I added as an afterthought. Sure, I was drawn to the ones with Batman and Iron Man on the covers, that was natural for the inner fan in me, but I told myself no. The point of this assignment was to discover new comic books and I wasn’t discovering anything in something I already knew. The cashier asked if I wanted mystery, sci-fi, or horror, and started pointing out a bunch of comic books. A lot stood out to me. This is a typical problem of mine, one I knew I would experience walking in. I always tend to like a lot of what there is to offer, but, indecisive as I am, I can never choose which one I want. I told him to just surprise me.
That’s how I ended up with The Wicked and the Divine.
The cover definitely stood out to me. It was colourful, the character was automatically intriguing, and the title alone drew me in. I was sold. So, I bought the first two floppies so I would know the whole story. When I got home I immediately started reading the comics and found myself immersed in the world of the comic I was reading. I flew through the first and did the same to the second. I found myself liking a comic that wasn’t centered around caped crusaders and men in iron suits.
This class has widened my view of comic books and sparked a new interest in me for the art. I haven’t had the chance to return to Paper Heroes yet to get the third issue of The Wicked and the Divine, but when I do, I might just surprise myself and pick up a different comic book too. As an avid reader, this experience has helped me discover a whole new realm of stories just waiting to be told and discovered. I look forward to my future experience with comic books, and although I will always love my superheroes, I’m starting to love the other parts of comic books as well.

-Amber Shearer

Friday, September 26, 2014

Roche Limit

Those of you who are still looking for a monthly comics series might want to take a look at Roche Limit, the first issue of which came out this week. It's an interesting title that combines elements of science fiction with elements of the detective story. You can read a seven-page preview of Roche Limit at CBR or check out two of the pages below. Note the way the creators play with the tension between the caption boxes and the action depicted, and the way the final panel makes you reconsider how to interpret those caption boxes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

xkcd - "Click and Drag"

Take a look at this xkcd comic ("Click and Drag") as a way to think more about the possibilities and affordances of webcomics.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Manifesto for the Applied Cartooning Concentration at the Center for Cartoon Studies

Manifesto on Applied Cartooning that might prove useful to some of you, even if it is aimed at creators.

Steven Soderbergh's Black-and-White Version of "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

As I mentioned in class, Soderbergh has stripped the colour and dialogue from Raiders, effectively eliminating the linguistic element. Watch here and think about how meaning is created through the multimodal elements that are there.

In the short preface to the film, Soderbergh urges the viewer to think about the choices that have been made by the filmmakers (much as we've seen McCloud write about in Making Comics with comics creators). Here's what he says:

"So I want you to watch this movie and think only about staging, how the shots are built and laid out, what the rules of movement are, what the cutting patterns are.  See if you can reproduce the thought process that resulted in these choices by asking yourself: why was each shot—whether short or long—held for that exact length of time and placed in that order?"

Copperhead: Not Your Average Hero

Hardly an avid comic book reader, my first experience with a comic book store was enlightening, to say the least. I entered the brightly painted building just down my block, eager to find something well-suited to my overall interests. Before entering, I had it in my head that I was going to search every shelf until the one comic book made for me would stick out like a sore thumb. As if God had chosen it himself. Clearly I was looking for something satirical.

Little did I know how intimated I would be by the vast collection the store had. Little did I know how many of the comics would appeal to me. I wanted to buy them all, and before I did just that, I walked to the back of the store for some professional help. The kind man directed me towards quite a few comics that fit the description I gave him.

The comic I ended up choosing did not exactly stick out like a sore thumb, but out of the selection the man showed me, it seemed to intrigue me most. He showed me quite a few comics I was already familiar withmostly superhero orientated--and normally, I would’ve happily settled for one of those, merely out of comfort; however, the "Copperhead" comic book by Faerber, Goolwski, Riley, and Mauer seemed different. Its cover showed a red-headed woman (which I assume is where the title of the comic originated) and a hamster-like creature book dressed in space attire, inspecting the skeleton of another odd-looking creature in the dirt. I flipped a few pages, happy to find that the female character played a role of great importance, and I’m all about women empowerment, so naturally I was drawn in by her role.

I sat in the car after buying my very first comic and immediately flipped it open and began reading, until the very end. The first few pages of Copperhead had very uniform panels. As I kept reading, I noticed many of the panels turned into bleeds, and eventually there was less and less structure as the comic became more action-packed. The chaotic panels fused perfectly with the chaos occurring in the story. The alien planet that the story took place on hit another place close to home for me. Needless to say, the story had my undivided attention.

The main character, Sherrif Bronson, is a strong, independent woman who is also very nurturing to her son. I connected with her character from the very first page, and I can’t decide whether that’s because of her portrayal’s lack of too much realism, or merely because I share many aspects of her described or implied personality. Nevertheless, I almost felt like I was the one kicking alien butt in the comic. Not to mention, the use of sarcastic remarks, especially hers, made me feel right at home.

The thing I appreciated most about Copperhead was its ability to be so packed with action. Nothing in these pages actually moves. I had to let that set in. The use of sounds effects and motion lines captivated each type of activity taking place within the story. Without a second thought, I filled in the gaps, provided to me in the form of gutters and the story seemed to run smoothly in my mind, as if it was taking place right in front of me.

Just as expected, I got to the last page, only to find a dramatic cliff-hanger, and personally, I can say I’m pretty excited to find out what Sherriff Bronson’s next move is. I’m fairly positive it’ll be an interesting one.

-Marisa Desjardins

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Stumptown: The Case of the King of Clubs

Rucka, Greg. "Stumptown." Stumptown. 1st ed. Vol. 3. Portland: Oni, 2014. Page 1. Print. The Case of the King of Clubs.

Stumptown Volume 3 #1 is a mystery/crime theme comic by Greg Rucka, Justin Greenwood, and Ryan Hill. Its story centers on private investigator Dex Parios and her life solving crime. This is the third volume in a series of five, and based on the few reviews I read it is not necessary for readers to have knowledge of other volumes prior to this one. Because this is my first time ever purchasing a comic, I did some research. While looking up this title I also learned that Dex’s brother, Ansel, has Downs Syndrome, not solely a stutter like I initially thought he did. I thought this based on the way his text is shown in the comic. I also noticed that this comic is probably for a more adult audience because of the sexual innuendos that appear on the first few pages between Tracy and CK.

Rucka, Greg. "Stumptown." Stumptown. 1st ed. Vol. 3. Portland: Oni, 2014. Page 9. Print. The Case of the King of Clubs.
Rucka, Greg. "Stumptown." Stumptown. 1st ed. Vol. 3. Portland: Oni, 2014. Page 4. Print. The Case of the King of Clubs.

In terms of the story, it is simple enough for a first time reader to pick up. Characters Tracy, Dex, CK, Mercury and Ansel are introduced and memorable. Not much of their past is mentioned, but it is easy enough to realize that there is a rivalry between Portland and Seattle and this will carry through to the next issue.

The colour palate chosen for this series is dark, consisting mostly of deep greens, purples, and blacks. The final panels of the comic are the darkest, using dark blues and teal to not only emphasize that night is drawing near, but to add effect to the murder in the story. These panels also use a bright red to really highlight the blood on Dex’s hands. In terms of panels, a regular grid is used. There are instances in which the panels are overlapped which causes the reader to focus; it almost gives a film-like effect because it forces the reader to look closer, like a camera would zoom in.

Rucka, Greg. "Stumptown." Stumptown. 1st ed. Vol. 3. Portland: Oni, 2014. Page 26. Print. The Case of the King of Clubs.

Text and speech bubbles are very easy to follow. The writer and artist seem to be in sync in terms of portrayal and the conveying of ideas, especially in the panels that have the crowd cheering in the background. What I mean by this is that the cheering is symbolized by jagged and capitalized white text that is placed behind the speech bubbles that are clearly outlined and contain text in a font that looks handwritten. I think that this effect is very cool, especially if the reader has been to a sports arena before. It makes the reader feel as if they are there.

Rucka, Greg. "Stumptown." Stumptown. 1st ed. Vol. 3. Portland: Oni, 2014. Page 18. Print. The Case of the King of Clubs.

This comic is made in serial form therefore the cliffhanger the reader is left with in this issue will be picked up next month. The cliffhanger effect is very effective, like in a TV series, because it gets readers and viewers coming back for more. Because so much was left out in terms of why there is a rivalry between Portland and Seattle, why Mercury would murdered, and who exactly Tracy and CK are, I want to read the next issue and fill in the missing spaces.

This is overall a great first comic experience because I cannot wait to see what the next issue holds.

If you want to read this issue yourself, here is a link to find it via comiXology.com

- Daniela Palombo

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My First Floppy

Being new to the comic book world, I went blindly into my first floppy. Entering the comic book store, I awkwardly looked around until out of confusion I retreated onto comixology.com. With nothing to draw me in any direction, I based my search on my film interests and searched for a horror comic. I finally came across issue one of 68: Homefront by Mark Kidwell, Kyle Charles and Jay Fotos. This comic is largely reminiscent of The Walking Dead, as a group of zombies come into a small town and a small group of cheerleaders are on their way into the newly created chaos.

Although this comic takes on the horror genre, I found many of its aspects to linger its atmosphere and make an almost comedic twist. For instance, the overly done and in-your-face sounds interrupt the mood of the scenes. In one image, you have an extreme close-up of a zombie that is ruined by an intrusive “Glukk”. The sounds are in a bright yellow font that seems to belong in a Superman comic instead of omniscient zombie apocalypse and the overwhelming amount of text takes away from the story as the images are covered up by big, round, white blobs. The black background and faded colours are offset and the suspense that could have instilled becomes void.

Did this comic fail in its genre? The images clean cut outlines emphasize the action narrative but the colour scheme and content of the images are clearly horror. The images with their dark, faded colors and hints of popping red or an occasional yellow do an excellent job of emphasizing the gruesome images of the half dead. Moreover, the images find themselves on the more realistic side of the comic spectrum with simple backgrounds but detailed characters. However, the writing and font, not created by the cartoonist, seemed to clash. This comic demonstrates a major issue within the creative process itself; this being the specialization of tasks. This comic was split into story, image and font. In my opinion, the font chosen did not reflect the images or complement the story.

All in all, 68: Homefront is an enjoyable comic and an easy read but I think it lacks the complexity the comic medium has to offer and reduces the dual language to a word focused narrative. I will be continuing this comic in the upcoming three issues to be released and watch as it develops.

Dana Carson

“This isn’t literary”: Alison Bechdel, Roz Chast and why it’s so hard for us to take comics seriously - From Salon

A potentially useful article on the reception of comics.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why I Let Zombies Eat My Brain Once a Month: The Unique Comic Book Known as Afterlife with Archie

Why aren’t you reading Afterlife with Archie?
Seriously, why not?
Is it the characters? For many, Archie and pals have outlived their usefulness by the time they’ve stopped getting dragged to the grocery store with their parents. Back when that flimsy little digest filled with the exploits of Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and the gang was the only reward immediately available after an endless half an hour of picking out vegetables. In my experience working at a comic shop I’ve heard many a comic fan decry Archie as something merely ‘for kids’, because mature dark and gritty stories about colourful sexual superheroes beating on similarly themed villains in increasingly elaborate ways is truly the epitome of adult four-colour entertainment. Worse still, it isn’t uncommon to hear the cries of a boy on the cusp of his teenage years tossing the Riverdale crew into the mental wastebasket labelled ‘for girls.’
I’m here to tell you that all of those thought processes are horribly, horribly, horribly wrong. Archie Comics (the publisher) is versatile and accommodating to the reader. If you want your dose of wholesome family entertainment that Archie is known for, then the flagship title has got your back. If you want a dramatic story filled to the brim with romance, tragedy, and alternate universe shenanigans then the wonderful Married Life with Archie magazine is right up your alley. What everybody wants, even if they don’t think they want it, is to read Afterlife with Archie.
What could have easily been a cheap cash-in on the current zombie craze dominating pop-culture ended up being one of the very best comics on the market. Afterlife is a serious horror story that happens to feature some of the most innocent and well-loved characters in the history of American storytelling. Don’t be fooled by the title or the silly premise, this book is scary. Sometimes the fear comes in a deeply unsettling way, sometimes in a ‘pull the covers over your head and leave the lights on’ terrifying way. More than once I’ve closed the book in my hands and just sat there staring at the back cover, trying to process what exactly I just read. In my eight years of monthly comic reading I can’t remember more than a handful of times a funny book has made my stomach sink like this wonderful, crazy, unexpected adventure has.
However, the true terror of Afterlife with Archie is not found in the dark and detailed graphic imagery or the subtle and effective storytelling. Afterlife sinks its bloody claws into your brain through its perversion of Riverdale and the reader’s expectations. Seeing a girl getting eaten by a zombie on its own is not a scary concept anymore; we’ve seen it so many times that unless it’s done horribly well we’ll probably end up laughing. Seeing a girl getting eaten by a zombie is much different when both the girl and the zombie are characters that have been around you your whole life, maybe even only peeking into the corner of your eyes in that checkout line at the grocery store. It is so shockingly abnormal to see these characters kill each other that it creates a numbing effect of disbelief. Did I really just see Hotdog take a chunk out of Jughead? Yes actually, you did, and how does it make you feel that you loved seeing it?
As if the well executed horror wasn’t enough, Afterlife twists the iconic characters in even more, modernly relevant, ways. The never-ending competition for Archie’s affections takes an interesting twist when both Betty and Veronica are willing to escalate their attempts at snatching up Archie in very ‘teenage’ ways. Sabrina and her world of magic crosses the line between Casper the Friendly Ghost and the Salem Witch Trials when she’s casting spells out of the freaking Necronomicon. Furthermore, this comic tastefully deals with such socially relevant or taboo issues as incestual relationships, homosexuality and homophobia, teen sex, mental insanity, and more only six issues in.
Through its use of familiarity to create horror, Afterlife with Archie is the kind of story that could only work as a comic book. The pages in your hands tell you a tale both familiar and alien. The Archie Comics experience is somehow projected through the layers of blood, unconventional art, and mature subject matter. This underlying ‘feel’ of Archie comics is what writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla rely on to scare the pants off of you, because no matter how hardcore this book can get, it still has an unbelievably strange sense of comfort. Yes, I am claiming that the story of teenagers getting torn apart physically, mentally, and emotionally is a feel-good story. When I finish an issue, no matter how terrifying it may have been, it still makes me smile. Every time I read Afterlife with Archie I’m brought back to those old days of being a little kid and enjoying comics for what they were at face value, something embodied for me by Archie and the gang. The way the book toys with the feelings and understanding of the reader is masterful and something to be admired. This is as close as it gets to crafting a perfect ‘classic’ comic book experience.
For you, the poor soul who hasn’t enjoyed this comic yet, Afterlife with Archie has only had six issues released so far and the first trade paperback collecting five of those is readily available almost everywhere where comics are sold. Issue six, the fan-favourite Sabrina issue, might be hard to track down but I promise you it will be worth it. With an increasingly Lovecraftian plotline and the promise of more classic monsters to come terrorize the gang, now is the perfect time to get on this ride. I only have one suggestion to anybody about to experience Afterlife with Archie: go down to the convenience store, grocery store, comic store or wherever and pick up a copy of an Archie digest (my personal favourite is Betty and Veronica Double Digest since you might get two or three Sabrina the Teenage Witch tales sandwiched between pages of hilarious love triangle hijinx). Trust me, it makes the whole experience of gruesome death a lot better when you have a fresh image in your mind of the classic comic exploits of Archie and pals.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Last Saturday by Chris Ware

New comics novella by Chris Ware, with instalments to be published every Saturday. Just in case you want to see more after reading several of his short pieces.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Brok Windsor Kickstarter

Here is the Brok Windsor Kickstarter that I mentioned in class. Take a look at the video as a way to think about how this funding model works.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Local Comics Shops in Windsor

In looking for a monthly title to read for Comics Theory, here are three comics shops in Windsor that you might try:

If you are looking for a shop in metro Detroit, Green Brain Comics in Dearborn has one of the best selections of independent and alternative comics anywhere. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Comics Theory Articles Reading List

Baetens, Jan.  “Revealing Traces: A New Theory of Graphic Enunciation.”  The Language of Comics: Word and Image.  Eds. Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons.  Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2002.  145-55.

Bauman, Richard.  “Introduction: Genre, Performance, and the Production of Intertextuality.”  A World of Others’ Words: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Intertextuality.  London: Blackwell, 2004.  1-14.

Beaty, Bart et al. “Critical Focus: Understanding Comics.”  The Comics Journal #211 (Apr. 1999): 57-103.

Carrier, David.  “The Speech Balloon; Or, The Problem of Representing Other Minds.”  The Aesthetics of Comics.  University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.  27-45.

Cohn, Jesse.  “Mise-en-Page: A Vocabulary of Page Layouts.”  Teaching the Graphic Novel.  Ed. Stephen E. Tabachnick.  New York: Modern Language Association, 2009.  44-57.

Duncan, Randy and Matthew J. Smith.  “Experiencing the Story.”  The Power of Comics: History, Form, and Culture.  New York: Continuum, 2009.  153-70.

Genette, Gerard.  “Introduction.”  Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation.  Trans. Jane E. Lewin.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.  1-15.

Hague, Ian.  “Eyes Like Comics, or, Ocularcentrism in Comics Scholarship.”  Comics and the Senses: A Multisensory Approach to Comics and Graphic Novels.  London: Routledge, 2014.  9-33.

Hatfield, Charles.   “The Art of Tensions.”  Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature.  Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2005.  36-65.

Hill, Charles A. and Marguerite Helmers.  “Introduction.”  Defining Visual Rhetorics.  Eds. Charles A. Hill and Marguerite Helmers.  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, 2004.  1-24.

Horrocks, Dylan.  “Inventing Comics: Scott McCloud Defines the Form in Understanding Comics.”  The Comics Journal #234 (June 2001): 29-52.

Jacobs, Dale.  “More Than Words: Comics as a Means of Teaching Multiple Literacies.”  English Journal.  96.3 (January 2007): 19-25.

Jones, Matthew T.  “Reflexivity in Comic Art.”  International Journal of Comic Art 7.1 (Spring 2005): 270-86.

Kannenberg, Gene.  “Graphic Text, Graphic Context: Interpreting Custom Fonts and Hands in Contemporary Comics.”  Illuminating Letters: Typography and Literary Interpretation.  Eds. Paul C. Gutjahr and Megan L. Benton.  Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.  165-92.

Lefèvre, Pascal.  “The Construction of Space in Comics.”  A Comics Studies Reader.  Eds. Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester.  Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.  157-62.

Magnussen, Anne.  “The Semiotics of C.S. Peirce as a Theoretical Framework for the Understanding of Comics.”  Comics and Culture: Analytical and Theoretical Approaches to Comics.  Eds. Anne Magnussen and Hans-Christian Christiansen.  Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum P, 2000.  193-207.

Rabkin, Eric S.  “Reading Time in Graphic Narrative.”  Teaching the Graphic Novel.  Ed. Stephen E. Tabachnick.  New York: Modern Language Association, 2009.  36-43.

Wolk, Douglas.  “Pictures, Words, and the Space Between Them.”  Reading Comics.  New York: Da Capo Press, 2007.  118-34.