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Reading Comics 130

Posted by samzenpus
Aeonite writes "Let there be no doubt — Douglas Wolk loves comics, and his is a tough love, the sort of love that leaves comics out in the rain pounding on the door because they snuck out after curfew again and wrecked the car. I've never dived deep enough into the industry to form a strong opinion of it one way or the other, but Wolk is both a fan and a critic of comic books, and his insights make Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean an interesting, engaging read, both because of and in spite of his enthusiasm." Read below for the rest of Michael's review.
Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean
author Douglas Wolk
pages 405
publisher Da Capo Press
rating 7
reviewer Michael Fiegel
ISBN 9780306815096
summary A critical, often insightful look at graphic novels and how to read them


Reading Comics is billed by its publisher as "the first serious, readable, provocative, canon-smashing book of comics theory and criticism by the leading critic in the field." At the very least this is somewhat pretentious and misleading, insofar as it would seem to imply that all previous attempts at comics theory were apparently written by clowns; Will Eisner and Scott McCloud would no doubt take some minor umbrage at that assertion. This is not to say that Wolk's credentials are in question; he's written extensively for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Salon.com and other publications on the subject of comics. To see Wolk's thoughts coalesced into book form is a welcome sight, because this is how I tend to enjoy media: in large chunks rather than in installments, be it a graphic novel collection of Transmetropolitan, or an entire season of Buffy on DVD.

Reading Comics is broken into two-parts, with the first third of the book given over to an exploration of comic book history and theory, and the remainder consisting of a series of essays about specific comic book authors, artists and titles. The title of the book is accurate enough, since it does serve not only as a general guide to how to read comics, but as a chronicle of how Douglas Wolk reads them. The subtitle, however, is at best misleading; the book doesn't really offer a definitive answer to the questions posed, nor can it. Rather, this is a book about how Douglas Wolk thinks graphic novels work, and what specific examples of graphic novels mean to him.

All of this might seem to go without saying, but it's important to recognize that Wolk's voice is quite omnipresent throughout the book. This is especially true in the second part, where Wolk's essays deconstruct and interpret a series of comics through his eyes, but is also a factor in the book's earlier pages as Wolk offers his blunt and honest opinion of the state of the industry. This first part of the book — divided into five chapters — is devoted to "Comic Book Theory and History". Herein, Wolk attempts to first define comic books, and then to lay out a theory for how one might interpret and critique them using what Wolk dubs "harsh criticism."

Chapter 1, "What Comics Are and What They Aren't", briefly explores the progression of comics from their original golden age, through the silver age and the origin of the Comics Code, and into the current modern era of comic books spawned, it seems, in 1986 with the publication of titles such as The Dark Knight Returns, Maus: A Survivor's Tale, and Watchmen. Wolk declares this current age the real golden age — aesthetically, financially and commercially — and spends the remainder of the chapter more or less trying to support that assertion by definition, comparison to other media, and an extensive straw man argument that includes a few slapshots toward Scott McCloud's side of the ice.

Wolk doesn't pull punches in Chapter 2 either, where he discusses "Auteurs, the History of Art Comics, and How to Look at Ugly Drawings". In discussing style, content, expressiveness and plot he (perhaps deservedly) lambastes Liefeld ("a god-awful hack with no tonal range at all, and his flailing attempts at storytelling are inevitably derailed by his inability to think beyond the next dramatic full-page shot") and even takes aim at Jack Kirby, whose "final years were an embarrassing mess" according to Wolk.

"What's Good About Bad Comics and What's Bad About Good Comics" is the subject of Chapter 3, which sees Wolk first trying to sort out differences between comics, comic books, periodicals and graphic novels by comparing the argument to the difference between movies, films and cinema; this is to say, it's mostly semantics. Wolk also explores the culture of comics and the problems associated with it (bandwagoneers, nostalgia, sexism), and comes to the conclusion that he loves comics "because comic books are awesome," providing seven pages of personal "favorite" moments from the history of comics. Enlightening, but only as a window into Wolk's closet, rather than a vision of any universal truth.

Chapter 4, "Superheroes and Superreaders", attempts to answer the question of why Superhero comics have formed the baseline from which all other comic books seem to stem, but while it touches on the underlying themes and allegories involved I was left thinking that better (or at least more interesting) explanations and explorations have been provided elsewhere, as in Shyamalan's Unbreakable and Chaban's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

The final chapter of part 1, "Pictures, Words and the Space Between Them", explores the notion of what cartooning is and how it works, the difference between drawing and cartooning (static images vs implied action), and the importance of white space and gutters in conveying time. And what conclusions, if any, can be drawn at the end of part 1? Says Wolk: "McCloud likes to make categories; I like to make generalizations and excuses."

It is on that note that we enter the second part of the book, "Reviews and Commentary", a collection of 18 mini-reviews and essays about selected titles and authors, chosen for no reason other than that Wolk thought they were interesting to discuss. They are not presented as a recommended reading list, nor are they intended to be representative or comprehensive, nor are they presented in any logical order, such as alphabetically by title or last name. At first I thought that they were progressing in order of complexity (that is, complexity of the comic titles being discussed), but even this apparent structure falls apart towards the end, especially when one realizes that ranking comic titles by complexity is entirely subjective.

Books and artists covered in these essays include both well-known authors (Will Eisner and Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison) and titles (Sin City, Daredevil, Watchmen, Maus) as well as more obscure names, including David B (Epileptic), Chester Brown (The Little Man) and Carla Speed McNeil (The Finder).

Each one of the essays (several of which are reprinted from Salon.com) lays out Wolk's feelings about the works and the authors discussed, including both praise and criticism — ofttimes in the same paragraph. Most of the essays are accompanied by ample art that is relevant to the topic being discussed, but there are some cases where an essay is a bit art-light, which is annoying and somewhat maddening in a book about comic books — in particular, the essay on David B. doesn't have any artwork at all, and the essay on Chris Ware could benefit from a little more Jimmy Corigan or Final Report. Also somewhat questionable is the grouping of some subjects within or between essays; Will Eisner and Frank Miller are relegated to one chapter, while two successive chapters are given to Gilbert and Jamie Hernandez of Love & Rockets fame. I'm sure Wolk had his reasons of course, but as a reader the structure seems a bit random.

The book's Afterward gives some brief mention of online comic strips (including Diesel Sweeties and Little Dee), as well as newer anthologies and artists, and then concludes with Wolk's assertion that while there's not much further for comics to go as a medium, that's ultimately a good thing since it represents maturity. Assertions like this are hard to argue with, which is both a blessing and a curse for Reading Comics. So much of what's within is phrased as opinion and generalization that ultimately the book reads something like a memoir, more of a peek into Wolk's basement than into the history of comics.

To Wolk, comics appear to be a sort of ugly girlfriend. He seems to appreciate the cheerleader superhero types, but he's much more into the chicks with tattoos, the Suicide Girls and American Apparel ads of the comic book industry, the ones that stem from "a conscious choice to incorporate a lot of distortion and avoid conventional prettiness in style." He loves them for what's inside, for their intelligence and depth, and acknowledges their surface flaws, never hesitating to refer to them as ugly. It makes one wonder; if a graphic novel asks you if they look fat, do you say yes?

You can purchase Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Reading Comics

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  • "To Wolk, comics appear to be a sort of ugly girlfriend" This I find true and hilarious! I don't think anyone could have put it better than that. Thought this was funny too: http://isitnormal.com/story/10050/ [isitnormal.com]
  • by Dystopian Rebel (714995) * on Monday March 10, 2008 @02:45PM (#22705538) Journal
    And it's from his basement that he shouts, "I'm a Comics Theoretician And Critic, damn it!" when his parents yell, "What are you doing with you life?!"
  • by Anonymous Coward
    They called him... Mr. Guy Who Reads Lots of Comics. It's not very catchy.
  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday March 10, 2008 @02:47PM (#22705576) Homepage
    Since this story has been posted, I might as well ask the Slashdot community: I've often heard Watchmen [amazon.com] held up as an example of a comic having real value as literature. However, I personally found it rather poorly written (see my Amazon review). What other graphic novels might you recommend that validate the format? I haven't read Sandman yet, but I hear of that one a lot.
    • by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Monday March 10, 2008 @02:49PM (#22705618) Homepage Journal
      Maus and Maus II
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Kev647 (904931)
        The following are fine works of literature: Cages, The Tale of One Bad Rat, From Hell, Love & Rockets, and def Sandman. I could also add Bone and Strangers in Paradise, but check out the ones listed before these two.
        • Add another shout of support to "The Tale of One Bad Rat." I randomly picked that full set out of some comic show bargain bin having never heard of it before, and it turned out to be one of the most moving things I've ever read.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by flyingsquid (813711)
            Hiyao Miyazaki did a four-volume graphic novelization of "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind". Miyazaki creates an entire world from the ground up; it's an exercise in world-building on par with The Lord of the Rings. It's got its own ecosystem, history, technology, international politics, religion, and then he populates the world with some really compelling characters. As is typical of a Miyazaki work, his villains threaten to steal the show. Is it "real literature"? I don't know, but it's one of the most movi
            • In Japan, most artists are like Hiyao Miyazaki in that they are responsible for creating their own worlds. Artists in Japan have real freedom when it comes to what they create, and they pretty much do everything themselves. That is how you get Dragonball, Fist of the North Star, Akira, etc... The diversity found in Japanese manga and especially their classics make US comics look all the same, and that is one of the prime reasons why Japanese Manga and Anime took the US by storm.

              I think the distinction needs
      • I second this. They are amazing books and are the only comic books to win a pulitzer.
      • by vimh42 (981236)
        Don't forget In the Shadow of No Towers. Look up Art Spiegelman.
    • by GlobalEcho (26240)
      La Perdida by Jessica Abel
      • by Toonol (1057698)
        La Perdida by Jessica Abel

        I loved her as the Invisible Woman, I didn't know she wrote comics also! What a gifted young woman.
    • by psychodelicacy (1170611) <psychodelicacy@gmail.com> on Monday March 10, 2008 @02:58PM (#22705790) Homepage
      Hmmm... That's a difficult one. I loved Watchmen, though I'm not sure I'd put it up there with the literary greats. Will Eisner is very good, as is Harvey Pekar. "From Hell" by Alan Moore is worth a read, and I use it in classes on literary language (I'm an English prof.) If you want to sample a variety of authors, try "An Anthology of Graphic Fiction" ed. by Ivan Brunetti.

      The thing you have to remember when reading graphic novels is that we're used to judging literature by a lot more than just dialogue. Classic literature has lots of characterisation, landscape desription, narratorial thoughts... A graphic novelist generally writes very little but dialogue. You have to try to "read" the pictures as taking the place of the narratorial/authorial description, and then see how well the dialogue works in that context. But I have to say I'd find it hard to make meaningful comparisons between graphic and non-graphic novels.
    • by Intron (870560)
      "Breakfast of Champions" by Kurt Vonnegut.
      "Cerebus the Aardvark" by Dave Sim
    • I highly recommend http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fun_Home/ [wikipedia.org] especially to people who read more literature and are just starting with graphic novels. Just requires an open mind but it's a great memoir.
    • by EnOne (786812)
      I would recommend the "Poison Elves" series by Drew Hayes and "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac" by Jhonen Vasquez. I have read "The Watchmen" and was not a fan of it either.
    • My favorite graphic novel (does anyone even remember the etymology of the word "comic"?) has no text at all, so I don't know if it could be called "literature." At the same time, it tells an amazing and touching story, and is probably the purest exercise of the potential of the comic (OK, I give up) form that I can think of. It's The Arrival, by Shaun Tan.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      A lot of the praise "Watchmen" gets is because it was revolutionary in its time. It was really the first major superhero comic to examine the conventions of the genre and turn them around in a violent and bloody way. It's really more an exercise in postmodernism than in telling a story about costumed heroes and villains.

      I don't know that it resonates the same for a modern audience-- just about everything that made it fresh and exciting has been repeated in other comics over and over for two decades now, s
      • by Altus (1034) on Monday March 10, 2008 @03:42PM (#22706576) Homepage
        To be honest I'm not sure that any comics really rise to the level of greatness possible in books and film.

        Thats ok, most books and film dont rise to the level of greatness possible in those formats.

        Its not the format, its the telling that matters. The vast majority of books, even some of the ones people consider classic, are not as good as they could be.
        • The painful difference that you're overlooking is that between the OP's "all" and your "most."

          That said, a reasonable response is to recognize the irreducibility of "greatness" in different forms: that the greatness of a novel is essentially unlike the greatness of a film. I also think, in some ways, we forget the media can exhaust themselves. I think that the "high point" of the novel was in the mid 20th century, from Proust and Joyce to Faulkner and Steinbeck. I enjoy and respect many contemporary novels,
      • I'm shocked that the parent was modded down. Someone with points please rectify this.
    • I think you're hearing these suggestions from lifelong comic book readers. I enjoyed "Watchmen" though in my opinion it required too much familiarity with the comic book medium to be accessible. I am not a fan of Sandman though, I think the art is crappy and the writing is overrated. For a pretty accessible graphic novel, I suggest "Blankets" by Craig Thompson. Superhero fans are not necessarily going to like it, at least the ones I showed it to didn't. But I've shown it to a few non-comics-readers who like
    • by Steveaux (1027754)
      Watchman is fairly difficult to follow if you aren't familiar with the medium. Most of Alan Moore's work is like that, he tells 2 and 3 stories at the same time that tend to connect at some point. It's certainly not a read for everyone but I think his work is fantastic. Try Hellboy there's a few graphic novels out. It's more linear but fairly good stuff.
      • by Goaway (82658)
        Sorry, dude, but "telling two or three stories at the same time" is hardly avant-garde storytelling.
    • by creimer (824291)
      You can try Beowulf [garethhinds.com].
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Ooooh... Sacrilege! If you're going to read Beowulf, read the Seamus Heaney translation. It's not that comic book adaptations of literature are necessarily bad, but the Hinds Beowulf is not a very good version of the poem.
    • I think Blankets [wikipedia.org] is a proper piece of fine graphical literature. It tells a compelling, detailed story, and (this is important) it justifies its medium. There's a whole lot of depth of emotion conveyed perfectly through the imagery that would be awkward at best to put in words.

      Maus, as mentioned by earlier people, is deserving of its Pulitzer. It's the best tale of the holocaust I've ever encountered in any medium.

      Also mentioned earlier, The Sandman is my favorite literary work of all time, and it's nothi
      • by CRCulver (715279)

        It's the best tale of the holocaust I've ever encountered in any medium.

        You've not read Celan's Todesfuge [wikipedia.org] (or his rewriting of it in increasingly desperate language Einführung)? Imre Kertész's Sorstalanság is also very much worth reading.

    • by Rand Race (110288) on Monday March 10, 2008 @03:47PM (#22706664) Homepage
      Watchmen is emblematic of the problem with many comics held out as "real" literature; it's a self referential work of comics. That is, it is not a work of literature but a work of comicdom. It relies upon a working knowledge of the genre itself in order to function beyond being a simplistic superhero tale. Other works of "high" comics that suffer the same issue are, of course, deconstructivist superhero works like The Dark Night Returns or Astro City and works overly reliant upon satirizing the genre like Cerebus (before Sim went crazy as a shithouse rat). Not that these are bad pieces, I happen to like all of them to one degree or another (my sig is lifted from Dave Sim after all), but they are first and foremost comic books.

      For a comic to be "real literature" I feel it must transcend its genre (kind of self-evident really, as literature is a different genre). Gilbert Hernandez's magical-realist Palomar stories do this about as well as anything I've ever run across. His brother Jaime's stuff does it almost as well (trading a bit of literary flair for perhaps some of the best black and white line-work comics have ever seen). Sandman suffers a bit at the beginning as it derives from DC's horror line of comics but as Gaiman finds his footing the story rapidly pulls itself out of that ghetto and establishes itself as a very fine piece of fantastic literature (of sorts).
      • by psychodelicacy (1170611) <psychodelicacy@gmail.com> on Monday March 10, 2008 @04:43PM (#22707626) Homepage
        "For a comic to be "real literature" I feel it must transcend its genre (kind of self-evident really, as literature is a different genre)."

        That's absolutely right. But I think you're wrong to say that this is a "problem" with works like Watchmen. If we keep trying to compare graphic novels with written literature, they're going to suffer from the comparison. This isn't because they have less merit, but because they have different merit. A comic will never be "real literature", but if you turn that statement on its head and say "A novel will never be a good comic", the absurdity of the comparison becomes clear. Of course a novel can't be a good comic, unless you add pictures and cut out a lot of narration. At which point, it isn't a novel anymore.

        Graphic novels rely on more than just words for their merit. Literature relies on words and words alone. I would far prefer to see graphic novels judged by the same criteria as movies (although even that wouldn't do them proper justice) because at least a movie isn't judged solely by its use of words.
        • by kalirion (728907)
          What is "literature"? Most people agree that Tom Sawyer is "literature". But what about Harry Potter? Eragon? They all rely "on words and words alone."
          • I was using "literature" as a generic term for written non-factual texts, not as a value judgement.

            The terminology is problematic here, of course, since some people will restrict "literature" to mean "written non-factual texts with literary merit", but you then get into all sorts of arguments about how you define and measure literary merit, as well as what to call the stuff that has been defined as "not-literature". Personally, I prefer to use the term as I just defined it, and qualify "good literature",
      • by geekoid (135745)
        "...it's a self referential work of comics. "

        I disagree.
        It's no different then any other mystery where the characters are developed as the mystery plays out.

        "I feel it must transcend its genre"
        gah, I hate that. You can't exceed the limits of the media. Can. NOT.
        You can do new things, new presentations, but there is no mystical 'transending' that happens.

        It's a word used by people who don't want to admit that it's ink, and paper, and style.
        It's like saying you can't have a real Apple unless it transcends the
    • by minvaren (854254)
      Kingdom Come [amazon.com]
    • Another good one is Moonshadow. I think you can buy it now in a collected format as opposed to the individual books. I need to find it in fact. Not only is the story awesome, but the art is just insane. Now - this is all based on recollections from my teen years - so at least 21 years ago. But It was pretty awesome and I don't think that's just nostalgia kicking in. Off to find a copy now.
    • by aspectacle (1253990) on Monday March 10, 2008 @03:49PM (#22706732) Homepage
      Thanks for the comment. This is Douglas Wolk, the author of "Reading Comics." I'd actually argue--and this is an argument that's gotten me in some trouble, so feel free to dispute it--that comics are not literature (in the same way that they're not film or sculpture or cuisine), and that reading them as if they're supposed to work the same ways as prose literature is missing the point. Comics are drawn, and their essence is the fact that they're a kind of narrative in a form that's come from an artist's eye and hand. To put it differently: "good writing" in the context of prose is different from "good writing" in the context of comics (or film, or whatever other medium you'd like to substitute), and writing is only a part--a significant part, but not the main part--of how comics work.
    • Please consider Osamu Tezuka [wikipedia.org] no mikoto.
    • I take it that this is your review [amazon.com]

      It's nowhere near the top by any sorting option. You probably should have linked to it.

      -Peter
    • Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis
    • I can't believe nobody mentioned it yet but 'V for Vendetta' is the best example I can think of.
      • Because, frankly, Alan Moore is over-rated. There are dozens are far more interesting authors mentioned in this thread. Moore is the Spielberg of comics: perhaps among the best of "Hollywood," but still "Hollywood." We want to talk about the Coen brothers, or the Godards and Fellinis and Kubricks.
    • by hcdejong (561314)
      Why allow something as arbitrary and nonsensical as the concept of "literature" to enter the picture at all? Comics need no validation beyond your enjoyment of them.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by kanima (1172945)
      I'm currently taking a class on the graphic novel and we're reading Maus I and II (Art Spiegelman), Watchmen, Wanted (Mark Millar and J. G. Jones), and two volumes of Transmetropolitan (Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson), Back on the Streets, and Lust for Life. I've only read Maus so far, but the others are probably worth checking out.
      • I'll second Transmetropolitan.

        The story may not be deep and literary, but it is an extremely memorable series. It's been a few years since I read it, and there are still elements of the storyline that I ruminate upon.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ChaosDiscord (4913) *

      What other graphic novels might you recommend that validate the format?

      Validate it? To what standard? Does art ever really need validation?

      But I'll take a shot in the dark. In particular, it's hard to know what works will help give a medium respectibility until a great deal of time has passed so that people can reflect upon them. The really important works are the ones that will still be read decades down the road. Graphic novels are still relatively young, so it's harder to guess what will matter

    • 1. Neil Gaiman's Sandman (A somewhat difficult read, with stories intertwined and nested within each other. When you finish, you get a satisfied feeling. If you like it, you will love his books staring Death of the Endless.)
      2. Neil Gaiman's Books of Magic (Think of it as a Harry Potter short story for adults, but it came out before Harry Potter)
      3. Mike Carey's Lucifer (Slightly less intense than Sandman, and an easier read, but certainly literature.)
    • by tbuskey (135499)
      If you don't read comics, you'll probably be disappointed by many of the selections. Comics are serialized and people read them every month over the years. This gives future comics a history to draw from.

      Every now and then the monthlies are collected into graphics novels. Some of the graphic novels are special stories that never have been out monthly.

      Astro City, Supreme, Watchman, The Dark Knight Returns, Identity Crisis all draw on comic history.
      I think most comics after 1986 or so draw more heavily on
    • by Steve001 (955086)

      For recent mainsteam comics, I'd recommend the trade paperback of "Identity Crisis." One thing I found interesting about it is that in the course of the story it changed your perceptions of many heroes and of the silver age of comics. Also, the events of this series greatly affected the DC Universe.

  • I've never dived deep enough into the industry to form a strong opinion of it one way or the other

    But you read books about comic and you know the name of other "famous" comic analyst. I wonder how deep is enough :)
  • by RandoX (828285) on Monday March 10, 2008 @02:49PM (#22705632)
    This is a review of a book on how to review comics? Seriously?

    Let me tell you what I think about the book review...
  • by techpawn (969834) on Monday March 10, 2008 @02:49PM (#22705646) Journal
    And to those who think the american form is not I submit
    Exhibit A)Sandman [wikipedia.org]
    Exhibit B)The Watchmen [wikipedia.org]
    • Interesting that those are both written by Brits.
    • by abigor (540274)
      I never liked Sandman - too gothy and pretentious. 100 Bullets is more my speed, as is the Bendis/Maleev run on Daredevil.
    • Both enjoyable, but ultimately, if that's the best that American comics can do (and it isn't), then it's pretty disappointing. Both are filled with cliches and a sort of adolescent, ponderous hyberbole. Some interesting ideas, but I think something like Blankets is really more compelling and serious.
      • by techpawn (969834)
        And this is why I like discussions like this one, I may find the title or author I may not of looked at before. I"m curious about From Hell by Alan Moore now and may have to pick it up after work.
        • A couple other suggestions:

          The Arrival, by Shaun Tan (I mentioned it up-thread).

          Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi (now a film.)

          Blankets is by Craig Thompson, incidentally. Other comics-as-serious-art practitioners to look for would include Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Julie Doucet, Joe Sacco, Joe Matte, Seth, Chester Brown, and Art Spiegelman.
          • Sorry, that's Joe Matt.
          • by techpawn (969834)
            Thank you. My girlfriend is actually more into comics than I am... She's the one who got me into Sandman and Kabuki. We'll take your list and the others seeming to accumulate on this thread to our local book store!
    • And to those who think the american form is not I submit
      Exhibit A)Sandman
      Exhibit B)The Watchmen


      Both written by British authors!
      • Well, so was Judge Dredd and he's as American as apple pie! (Or the Justice Department's reprocessed food equivalent.)
    • by Carthag (643047)
      Those are both written by Brits :)
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Monday March 10, 2008 @02:56PM (#22705760)
    "My Accountant Told Me That This Is The Only Way I Can Write Off What I Spend On Comic Books"

    Subtitled, "And By Having SOME Sort Of Financial Strategy, It's Possible That I Won't Die A Virgin"
  • by aepervius (535155) on Monday March 10, 2008 @03:11PM (#22705982)
    It does look likes an US-centric point of view on comic. It does not seem to touch the european comic industry (where do you place something like Gaston Lagaffe in what he says ? Or L'incal Noir ? The market of the gods ?) or even the booming eastern/japanese comic industry (manga and such). If I am not misled by the summary, then he missed much, MUCH of the comic history, world.
    • by aspectacle (1253990) on Monday March 10, 2008 @03:44PM (#22706620) Homepage
      Thanks for commenting. This is Douglas Wolk, the author of the book. It's true: "Reading Comics" deals almost exclusively with comics currently in print in the U.S. in English, and basically doesn't touch on manga or European (non-U.K.) comics at all, for reasons I explain in the book. (I did include a chapter on David B.'s "Epileptic," because it's pretty much the best thing ever.) It's not meant to be a comprehensive survey of the entire medium, just of some interesting channels within the medium, but there are only so many qualifiers one can put in a book's title...
      • by dargaud (518470)
        US comics are highly niche specific: it's basically all about superheroes. And I can't think of anything more boring than superheros: no identification, no point and lots of random garbage (with the exception of Shanower and Vaughan-Guerra-Marzan and too few others)... Each country has its own comics culture, true, but some have a lot more variety.

        Let's see, between Belgium (which has a highly rich comics history), France, Italy and Spain I can think of the following off the top of my head: Abolin-Pont, A

    • by Altus (1034)

      I think you would have to do a whole different book for manga. It seems to be its own art form with its own conventions.
    • by metlin (258108)
      Indeed.

      In fact, that was my first thought - I grew up reading Tintin [wikipedia.org] and Asterix [wikipedia.org], and I do not see anything about European comics or where they may fit in. Or even South Asian ones (apart from anime, comics were/are a big hit in certain Indian demographics).

      Not that it necessarily makes it a bad book, but it still comes across as quite myopic (IMHO).
    • Agreed, reading the table of contents and browsing the index, this seems very much an American centric view, like a book on whisky written by an Irishman. There is a reference to Herge and one to Asterix, but no mention of for example Hugo Pratt, Franquin, Tardi or E.P. Jacobs, which is really baffling in any book about comics! And of course no mention of at all of gods of lesser influence such as Jije, Andreas, Schuiten, Rosinski, Charlier, Hubinon, Manara, Gazotti, Tillieux, Toonder, Morris, ... to mentio

    1. Buy book
    2. Open book
    3. Read text and examine images in book, turning the pages when necessary
    4. Close book, place on shelf

    That, boys and girls, is how to read comics. Next week on KidTV, we teach you how to brush your teeth! Bye!

  • Warren Ellis (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    ITEM ONE
    This is the time. The Western comics industry is scattered, unfocussed, badly confused. Such periods are optimum for violent revolution. The Old Bastard says sharpen your axes, make your peace and pack your Rohypnol; we're going on a road trip to reclaim the comics industry and remake it
    in another image. Specifically, mine.

    ITEM TWO
    Pop culture is darkening again. Accept it and stop whining, or stay at home and continue to attempt to convince your aged mother that you're really not sitting in your sta
    • by dargaud (518470)

      Comics, like their related media of novels and cinema, must be allowed to tell complete stories.
      In Europe, most good comics are one-shots. In the US you have to wade through 214 weeks of miniseries that stop without ending and change artist 3 times and scenarist 6 times. I won't read a series until it's _finished_.

      Fuck superheroes, frankly. The notion that these things dominate an entire genre is absurd.
      Can't agree with you more.
  • by Hellad (691810) on Monday March 10, 2008 @04:44PM (#22707640)
    Others not so much. I am not trolling here, so let me explain what I mean before I burn. Maus was a story that needed that graphic format and changed the way I considered history to be presented. Holocaust narratives have been shown in a variety of ways (literary, film etc), but the juxtaposition of present and past was a key aspect of the way that history is passed down both for better and for worse from one generation to another in Maus. This part of Maus was dependent upon the very nature of sequential art (aka comic panels). This story needed the format in a way that something like Watchmen doesn't. Watchmen is great, and I look forward to the movie. But, the story is what drove its greatness, not that it was a graphic novel. (and considering it was released as separate issues originally, I take exception to the term graphic novel even being applied). I am sure that there other examples similar to Maus, but I would not include Watchmen in that category. Watchmen is great for entierly different reasons.
    • by dargaud (518470)
      I've read thousands of comics, but I've never been able to get past page 3 of Maus: the drawing is absolutely horrible, worthy of a teenager with a cheap leaky pen. Maybe the story is great, but the drawing just put me off completely. I was also put off at first by the drawings of Satrapi (Persepolis, of which they made a movie which was even Oscar nominated) but got used to them and the great story.
  • Preposterous! (Score:3, Informative)

    by mankey wanker (673345) on Monday March 10, 2008 @04:50PM (#22707762)
    "...of titles such as The Dark Knight Returns, Maus: A Survivor's Tale, and Watchmen."

    Those works are good entertainment, but not the "golden age" of the medium. Saying so just ignores the true giants of the field, people like: Jack Kirby, Winsor McCay, Gil Kane, Steve Ditko, Schuiten, Bilal, Moebius, Steranko, Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, etc.

    Jack Kirby looms over the whole industry like a colossus. His importance only grows the longer you look at his whole body of work, but esp. the work between 1960-1980.

    Scripting word balloons is truly work for hire and not a true act of creation - and that's all I can say about Stan Lee.

    If you really want to see what comics can achieve at their best, check out these:
    * "Detectives Inc." by McGregor and Rogers, the B&W original.
    * "Jenifer" by Jones and Wrightson, a short story from Vampirella
    * "The Beguiling" by Barry Smith
    * "Master Race" by Berni Kreigstein
    * "Collector's Edition" by Goodwin and Ditko
    * "At the Stroke of Midnight" by Steranko

    The writing is tight and the art is amazing. Text is woven into the art and made a part of it.

    That's how to do it.
  • How someone can write a book called "Reading Comics" while completely ignoring all but the very narrow range of US-origin comics is somewhat beyond me. May I suggest he learn French and step into any bookstore in Europe?

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