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Reading Comics

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago

Book Reviews 130

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 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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130 comments

Ugly girlfriend... (1)

Kev647 (904931) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705516)

"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]

Wolk's basement (5, Funny)

Dystopian Rebel (714995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705538)

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?!"

Re:Wolk's basement (5, Funny)

creimer (824291) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706440)

Same old story. Kid wants to grow up to become a hot shot comic book artist and ends up being a hot shot writer for The Rolling Stones. How sad.

He should've known... because of the kids! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22705544)

They called him... Mr. Guy Who Reads Lots of Comics. It's not very catchy.

Comics as real literature (4, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705576)

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.

Re:Comics as real literature (4, Informative)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705618)

Maus and Maus II

Re:Comics as real literature (2, Informative)

Kev647 (904931) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705768)

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.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705998)

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:Comics as real literature (2, Interesting)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706938)

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 moving and compelling stories I've ever read, beautiful and sad stuff. It is a damn good comic.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

GlobalEcho (26240) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705758)

La Perdida by Jessica Abel

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 6 years ago | (#22707596)

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.

Re:Comics as real literature (5, Insightful)

psychodelicacy (1170611) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705790)

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.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705806)

"Breakfast of Champions" by Kurt Vonnegut.
"Cerebus the Aardvark" by Dave Sim

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

EnOne (786812) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706036)

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.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706052)

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:Comics as real literature (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22706294)

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, so it seems like it's just another moody and super-violent graphic novel. I guess it's still a good as far as comic books go, but it's sure as hell not great literature.

To be honest I'm not sure that any comics really rise to the level of greatness possible in books and film. Alan Moore is a great comic book writer, but doesn't offer real insight ("V for Vendetta" is closer to Judge Dredd than 1984.) Maus is great for a comic book but it seems juvenile and pale next to Shoah. There are some that come close (for example Peter Bagge's "The Bradleys" and early "Hates", which capture the despair of being a young, white middle-class American male in a way I've never seen before or since)

That said there's nothing wrong with liking and reading comics, but calling something great literature when it isn't doesn't make it so.

Re:Comics as real literature (3, Insightful)

Altus (1034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706576)

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.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22708522)

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, but they aren't as aesthetically ambitious as those of the high modernist era, and indeed, post Robbe-Grillet, I don't think that they can be. I can see the "exhaustion" of film as a formal problem also coming around the bend. None of this is to say that excellent films and novels cannot be created, only that they reach a crescendo in artistic accomplishment (in a Greenbergian sense).

The graphic novel has not reached this point, nor has the videogame. Their greatest days are still ahead, I think. What they have to overcome is often their very enthusiasts, rather than those who don't currently consume them. It is often the fans that keep the media in thrall.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

alan_dershowitz (586542) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706310)

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 liked it.

The biggest problem I had with Sandman... (1)

keineobachtubersie (1244154) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706432)

Was that there were too many moments where the art and story had conspired to create a "what the hell just happened?" moment. It was sometimes difficult to follow the action, and the (slightly too) abstract art made the problem worse not better.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

Steveaux (1027754) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706462)

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.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

Goaway (82658) | more than 6 years ago | (#22709216)

Sorry, dude, but "telling two or three stories at the same time" is hardly avant-garde storytelling.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706528)

You can try Beowulf [garethhinds.com].

Re:Comics as real literature (2, Insightful)

psychodelicacy (1170611) | more than 6 years ago | (#22708170)

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.

Blankets, by Craig Thompson (1)

Draconix (653959) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706552)

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 nothing short of modern mythology. It's difficult not to believe Gaiman's own unique characters have not always been there in mythology as he wrote them. The story is epic, and full of brilliant twists and turns, and it leaves you really thinking about it.

And if Gaiman's character "Death" were real, it would be a lot easier to accept dying when that time comes.

If you want to find an example of superheroes done right, I recommend Rising Stars [wikipedia.org] highly. Watchmen came really close to bringing superheroes into the real world, but fell short. (though it's still fun, and Rorschach is my favorite "superhero" of all time) Rising Stars was the first to really succeed, IMO.

Re:Blankets, by Craig Thompson (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706650)

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.

Re:Blankets, by Craig Thompson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22710208)

Honestly, after that retarded comment about Watchmen which demonstrated you're either A) too stupid to grasp it or B) so pathetic that you'll lie about reading something just so you can pretend to hate it, your opinion is pretty fucking worthless.

Re:Comics as real literature (4, Insightful)

Rand Race (110288) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706664)

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).

Re:Comics as real literature (4, Insightful)

psychodelicacy (1170611) | more than 6 years ago | (#22707626)

"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.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706708)

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.

Re:Comics as real literature (5, Insightful)

aspectacle (1253990) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706732)

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.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706922)

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

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22707580)

And, as the guy that responded to him said, his review is particularly clueless:

"Furthermore, the ending involves the trope of the super-villian explaining his whole scheme to the heroes before doing them in."

Uh ? That was the most amazing ending in any comics book ever. The end of issue 11 was omfg.

"I felt that WATCHMEN was entertaining, and the character of Dr Manhattan quite interesting, but the work is nowhere near the perfection that many fans claim it to be."

Watchmen clearly flew over that guy's head. Just taking the Rorschach issue for instance: it is symetrical on several levels (strip size, colors, symbols, attitude) around the middle (ie: first page vs last page, etc), exactly like the mask itself is. Watchmen is such a unique gem...

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

CheechWizz (886957) | more than 6 years ago | (#22707876)

I can't believe nobody mentioned it yet but 'V for Vendetta' is the best example I can think of.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22708586)

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.

Re:Comics as real literature (1)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 6 years ago | (#22708038)

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:Comics as real literature (2, Informative)

kanima (1172945) | more than 6 years ago | (#22708544)

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.

Re:Comics as real literature (2, Informative)

ChaosDiscord (4913) | more than 6 years ago | (#22709304)

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 in the future. Still, here are a few works that I think will likely make the cut:

Maus [wikipedia.org] is the obvious one. A sort of biography, it covers the author's relationship with his father and his father's experiences as a Jew in Poland during World War II.

Barefoot Gen [wikipedia.org] is a the story of a boy living in Hiroshima during World War II. While fictional, it was written by a survivor. It shows the nationalism of the period and the horror of the aftermath.

These are also quite good, but I'm not sure they'll prove to be timeless. However, they're good enough I think they're worth checking out:

New York: Life in the Big City [amazon.com] is an interesting work, filled with the sort of slices of life that a skilled columnist or short story writer can capture.

Mom's Cancer [momscancer.com], a relatively recent autobiographical work about the title, originally published online.

Books as real literature (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22710230)

Since this story has been posted, I might as well ask the Slashdot community: I've often heard Lord of the Rings held up as an example of a novel having real value as literature. However, I personally found it rather poorly written (see my Amazon review). What other books might you recommend that validate the format? I haven't read 1984 yet, but I hear of that one a lot.

Not dived enough into the industry? Are you sure? (1)

mrboyd (1211932) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705602)

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 :)

Let me get this straight... (4, Funny)

RandoX (828285) | more than 6 years ago | (#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...

Re:Let me get this straight... (3, Funny)

hotdiggitydawg (881316) | more than 6 years ago | (#22707108)

This is a review of a book on how to review comics? Seriously?

Let me tell you what I think about the book review...
Wait - I haven't finished coloring it in yet!

Re:Let me get this straight... (0, Troll)

Hatta (162192) | more than 6 years ago | (#22707736)

Let me tell you what I think about the book review...

Worst book review ever!

It's a serious art form (2, Interesting)

techpawn (969834) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705646)

And to those who think the american form is not I submit
Exhibit A)Sandman [wikipedia.org]
Exhibit B)The Watchmen [wikipedia.org]

Re:It's a serious art form (-1, Flamebait)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705672)

See my post above. "Watchmen" is juvenile. I mean, at the end the supervillain explains the whole scheme to the heroes before doing them in. That's a trope of lame Hollywood movies, not the best of contemporary literature.

Re:It's a serious art form (4, Interesting)

techpawn (969834) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705776)

That's a trope of lame Hollywood movies, not the best of contemporary literature.
I saw the watchmen as a satire of the genre. At the time we where presented with every super hero being a being that was perfect (a la superman). Watchmen did what Spider-Man does years later which pays into his success, which is really put the human back into super human. It's a very involving story and the artwork is done well. Turn the golden age of comics on its ear.

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

hoppo (254995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22707544)

You're right. Watchmen was very self-aware in this regard. The person to whom you're replying is trying to look smart by hating on a work that was critically acclaimed. However, he/she shows ignorance by not appreciating the subtleties of the work.

Re:It's a serious art form (2, Interesting)

mikeabbott420 (744514) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705908)

That was my favorite part - where he uses that old cliche but with the twist that the dastardly deed has already taken place instead of the standard hero preventing it at the last minute. But I read comics because they're fun not because they're the best of contemporary literature.

Re:It's a serious art form (2, Insightful)

psychodelicacy (1170611) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706060)

I think there's a difference between saying that they're "the best of contemporary literature" and that they're a valid art form, which is what the original poster said. As I've mentioned in a previous comment, it's very difficult to judge a graphic novel against non-graphic literature. I think that it needs to be judged as an art form in its own right. If anything, it's closer to a movie than a novel, since it is made up of visuals plus dialogue. Reading a graphic novel (like appreciating any form of art) means appreciating the conventions of the genre - its ancestry is what allows you to decide whether something is parody or cliche, innovative or redundant, and so on. Just as you shouldn't judge William Gibson without first knowing Asimov or Heinlein, so you shouldn't judge Watchmen without first knowing The Mighty Thor and Grendel. When you read graphic novels in their proper context, you can see that there really are some masterpieces that do unexpected things with their chosen form - I would suggest Alan Moore's "From Hell" as being one of them.

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

Altus (1034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706636)


Generally I agree with you... but I'm not sure I get your Gibson example. His stuff was so different I feel like you could easily read it without a background in other Sci-fi.

Your comment on comics is dead on though. You cant compare them as word craft when much of the story is told visually.

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

psychodelicacy (1170611) | more than 6 years ago | (#22707858)

You certainly could read Gibson without knowing the other stuff, but I think you'd miss out on a lot - in fact, precisely the fact that he's so different can only be appreciated if you know what he's different from. I think his difference from the tradition is a key part of how good he is. Nonetheless, you're right, Watchmen suffers a lot more from not being contextualised than Gibson does.

Re:It's a serious art form (3, Insightful)

sh00z (206503) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705944)

"Watchmen" is juvenile. I mean, at the end the supervillain explains the whole scheme to the heroes before doing them in.
You apparently didn't actually read it. The villain mocks the same cliche in stating that it was all done thirty minutes before. It has many subtleties like this. If this (the easiest one) went over your head, there's not much chance of you comprhending the rest(parallels between the "comic within a comic" and the main storyline, etc.) It was also EXTREMELY timely. Reading it now has nowhere near the same impact that it had when it originally came out, and provided very timely commentary on the Cold War (The Dark Knight Returns suffers from the same problem, but to an even greater extent).

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

alan_dershowitz (586542) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706430)

I mentioned this in a prior post, but after you posted your comment so I'll repeat it. I believe that Watchmen requires high familiarity with the comics medium to fully appreciate it, so it's not terribly accessible to people that are not comics fans. What I am getting at is that Watchmen may not be the great choice for exposing people to graphic novels that comics fans think it is, because they are overestimating how much people are familiar enough with the conventions of comics.

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

Altus (1034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706746)


I dont know, you may be right but the whole super villain explains his plan to the hero just in time for him to save the day is totally James Bond. This bit has been over used in books and movies for so long I really dont think you need to be familiar with comics for it to make sense.

And the comic within a comic bit is also a standard device... fairly rare in comics actually, but I have definitely seen it in literature before.

Where you are right about familiarity mattering is probably the whole superhero plot line. If you have no concept of the comic book super hero then its hard to understand the "realistic" charachters in Watchmen. But then again, how many people dont know about superman and batman. I wasn't a huge comic fan when I read the Watchmen and I didn't have trouble with it. It was because of Watchmen, The Dark Knight and Arkum Asylum that I got into comics in the first place.

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22707324)

I also don't think it's really as ground-breaking as people say, except for comics. It seeks to achieve in comics what was generally achieved in literature well by the 18th century (e.g., Thomas Moore's Utopia) without really using the expressive power of the visual medium. It is only a breakthrough because the "room" in which comics were trapped - the superhero genre - was so small and confining to begin with.

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

Altus (1034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705946)


you fail to include the most relevant detail

he tells them what he is going to do... AFTER he has already done it. Thats not exactly Hollywood 101.

What about the interweaving of the story within a story. The pirate comic book that the kid is reading and the way it intertwines with the main plot line. That was one of my favorite bits of the watchmen

I'm no going to sit here and argue about the Watchmen as great literature (we would have to start by defining great literature), but I think you are being a bit short sighted in calling it juvenile.

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

hal2814 (725639) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706070)

"I mean, at the end the supervillain explains the whole scheme to the heroes before doing them in."

I thought it was interesting in context. Watchmen being a satire of then-current state of comic books, I thought it was great that the super villain explained everything but only after it was too late to stop him. As much as he doesn't want to be that pulp villain, he still is in many respects.

I don't think that the Watchmen stands up to the best literature out there, but it's still an interesting and well-written story IMHO.

Re:It's a serious art form (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22706184)

ummm ... yeah, but the twist is that it's too late for the heroes to stop him and some (Manhattan) realizes that punishing the "villain" would actually be more harmful? Did you read Watchmen or just do research in order to argue counter the generally accepted review?

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

abigor (540274) | more than 6 years ago | (#22705988)

I never liked Sandman - too gothy and pretentious. 100 Bullets is more my speed, as is the Bendis/Maleev run on Daredevil.

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706090)

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.

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

techpawn (969834) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706246)

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.

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706676)

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.

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

techpawn (969834) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706774)

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!

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

DreamingReal (216288) | more than 6 years ago | (#22707134)

And to those who think the american form is not I submit
Exhibit A)Sandman
Exhibit B)The Watchmen


Both written by British authors!

Re:It's a serious art form (1)

sesshomaru (173381) | more than 6 years ago | (#22707240)

Well, so was Judge Dredd and he's as American as apple pie! (Or the Justice Department's reprocessed food equivalent.)

I preferred his orginal working title... (4, Funny)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 6 years ago | (#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"

How Graphic Novels Work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22705864)

You need a manual to read a comic book? Really, is it that hard to flip pages and follow the artwork?
Here is the entire manual:
1. Flip a page
2. For eastern comic book like manga and manhwa, read from top right to bottom left. For western comic book, read from top left to bottom right.
3. Go to 1.

The Flaming Carrot says (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22705920)

UT!

From reading the summary.... (3, Insightful)

aepervius (535155) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:From reading the summary.... (4, Informative)

aspectacle (1253990) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706620)

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...

Re:From reading the summary.... (1)

Altus (1034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706794)


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.

Re:From reading the summary.... (1)

metlin (258108) | more than 6 years ago | (#22708896)

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).

Reading... actually reading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22706054)

Does the book actually mention how to READ a comic, which its title implies? I find myself at a complete loss whenever I've tried to pick one up. Blob of text here and there in between eye-assaulting images everywhere else. People tell me it's a developed skill, somehow.

Apparently, I'm missing a lot of good narrative. Let me know if they're ever novelised.

Re:Reading... actually reading (1, Offtopic)

psychodelicacy (1170611) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706344)

Don't read it as though it's a book. Watch it, as though it's a film. Your eyes are the camera - they take in one scene at a time, and put them together into a linear narrative. Panels with dialogue will usually have conventions which help you know what to read first - in Western comics/graphic novels. it's left-right, top-bottom. If it doesn't work that way, consider that there's an intention to confuse you, just like having two people talking over each other in a movie, or a train passing by just as a key phrase is spoken. I can't emphasise this enough - the linearity which is forced on narrative and dialogue by conventional writing is optional in a graphic novel. It does take a little bit of practice, but I think it's worth it.

Re:Reading... actually reading (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 6 years ago | (#22707754)

Try some earlier comics. When you compare a todays X-Men comic with one from 1975 you will find that a lot of text has gone missing in the years. Today it is mostly just pictures, while back then text and pictures where much more equally used and the pictures where more there to emphasis the text then standing completly on their own. Which is why I find those older comics much easier to read.

Reading comics (1)

jrothwell97 (968062) | more than 6 years ago | (#22706150)

  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 (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22706396)

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 stained, crunchy bed fantasising about Betty and Veronica. People who refuse to see what time it is are surplus to requirements.

Stop whining about what we're telling you long enough to listen to what we're telling you. Be an adult.

ITEM THREE
The graphic novel or album (or other more suitable nomenclature yet to be coined) is the optimised form of "comics." The intermediate form is the serialisation towards collection, what used to be termed the "miniseries". DC Comics did not become the No 1 publisher in sales terms because of
all its ongoing titles. It became No 1 because of the massive and growing revenues generated by its graphic novels and albums. Comics are not "habitual entertainment" that need to remain static and require broadcasting regularly until death us do part. That's the comic strip, and even those are sometimes allowed dignified endings. Comics, like their related media of novels and cinema, must be allowed to tell complete stories. If you can't handle that, then you really need to be in another business. Those who support us will be rewarded by increased sales and given the gift of the Future. The people who attempt to stop us will be stamped on.

ITEM FOUR
Once, the characters were the most important part of a book to its audience. Then, the publisher's brand became paramount. Later, a schism emerged, where for every person who aligned themselves with a publisher, another aligned themselves with a particular family of books from a publisher. All these identification systems have pretty much gone the way of the dodo with the new century. But a new alignment is emerging. More and more stores are racking their books not by publisher, nor alphabetically by title, but by creator. Which makes sense. Do you go into a record
store and look for the new long-player recording by your favourite popular beat combo by record company? Go looking for the Eels single in the Dreamworks section of Tower Records? 'Course you bloody don't.

No-one wants the creators to appear bigger than the characters. The publishers hate the notion that Grant Morrison could have been a more important thing to ACTION COMICS than the presence of Superman - that maybe the characters don't sell themselves and that the creators might have something to do with it.

People do respond to reviews and mainstream media features and fond memories by entering stores in search of the new Neil Gaiman, or the new Alan Moore, or the new Frank Miller. So rack them accordingly. Let people have a Neil Gaiman section in stores, or Alex Ross, or Will Eisner, or Grant Morrison. We might not be a grown-up medium yet, but if we dress like it, we might just bring it on.

ITEM FIVE
Fuck superheroes, frankly. The notion that these things dominate an entire genre is absurd. It's like every bookstore in the planet having ninety percent of its shelves filled by nurse novels. Imagine that. You want a new novel, but you have to wade through three hundred new books about
romances in the wards before you can get at any other genre. A medium where the relationship of fiction about nurses outweighs mainstream literary fiction by a ratio of one hundred to one. Superhero comics are like bloody creeping fungus, and they smother everything else.

It's been the hip and trendy thing to do, recently, to say that superheroes are, you know, all right. And, if they're well done, I agree with you.
There's room for any kind of good work, no matter what genre it's in.

But that doesn't excuse you from going out and burning out all the bad work at the fucking root with torches. It doesn't excuse all the nameless toss that DC and Marvel and Image and all the others slop out every month. If you want to read three hundred superhero comics a month then you are sick and you need medical help.

Rip from their steaming corpses the things that led superhero comics to dominate the medium - the mad energy, the astonishing visuals, the fetishism, whatever - and apply them to the telling of other stories in other genres. That's all THE MATRIX did, after all.

ITEM SIX
What you say on the net doesn't matter. What you used to say in letters pages doesn't matter. No-one's listening to you. Because whenever anyone asks you what you think, you ask them to bring the fucking Micronauts back. The coin of your uninformed opinion is unutterably debased.
Come back when you have something worth saying.

ITEM SEVEN
Too much of the industry's energy is focussed on creating comics for children that children either won't read or won't find. The comics retail culture is almost exclusively an environment for adolescent males of all ages. Trina Robbins is fanatically devoted to producing comics for girls, which is great. We need more genuine fanatics. But Trina Robbins producing comics for girls that are then exclusively sold through the direct sales network for comics specialty stores is nothing short of retarded. Because girls won't know it's there. Mark Waid was frequently heard to complain that, in IMPULSE, he was writing a children's comics series that was only being read by forty-year-old men. Because here's the news; kids don't go into comics stores any more. Even the nerdy kids go down to the Virgin Megastore to rent some Playstation games, if they're not at home downloading some porn. "The kids" couldn't give a rat's arse about your shit. If kids get comics, then they buy, or get bought, comics off the newsstand. And comics publishers gave up on the newsstand a long, long time ago. Hell, they gave up on kid's comics a long time ago. I mean, do you see a
dedicated campaign to tell parents that there's a POWERPUFF GIRLS comic available in specialty comics stores? One of the perks of my job is that I get complementary copies of all DC books. My four-year-old daughter practically tears my arm off to get at the new POWERPUFF GIRLS comic. If anyone cared enough, mobs could be gathering at comics stores tomorrow in search of this work. But they don't. Evidently the POKEMON comics
were shifting something like a million units a month at one point. Did you see those readers at your local comics store? Did you see those books listed on the Top 200? No.

So give up. Quit it. Work on making comics stores places that adults will go into. Adults are good. Many of them have jobs, and therefore have money to spend. Give them adult works to buy, the equivalent of novels and cinema. Understand that when you write CAPE GIRL or ZAP BOY, you are not writing for your fondly imagined child audience. It doesn't exist. You are writing for a forty-five-year-old unmarried man living in a one-room apartment who listens to Madonna and is probably masturbating over your work. I want you to hold that image in your head the next time you sit down to create one of these works. Your worst convention-nightmare fan, glopping away as he peers through thick glasses at your drawing of Zoom Woman.

Then go and do something better with your time. Because I'm telling you now, I'm out of patience, and if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

And who knows? In a few years, when we've reached the point where the majority of work in a comics store is suitable for readers over 10, then perhaps we might move to set up children's sections, as seen in bookstores the world over. Makes sense. Children's material is one of the most
lucrative sectors in publishing. Once you've created a space that non-hobbyist adults are happy to enter, maybe they'll bring their kids in one day.
And then we can begin

ITEM EIGHT
I am part of the problem. Fuck you.

ITEM NINE
This is the perfect opportunity to begin building an adult medium. The industry is in flux, the direct market is in trouble. We seize on times of change and bend things to our mighty will. Make the change.

ITEM TEN
It begins.

Maus I and II Validate the Format; (2, Insightful)

Hellad (691810) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Preposterous! (2, Informative)

mankey wanker (673345) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Comics best and Worst (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22709684)

The best comics mixed kid-friendly adventures, weirdness, wonder and such with adult themes about heroism, sacrifice, duty, love, relationships between the sexes and so on. It's no accident that nerdy, unathletic mostly Jewish writers and artists created dual-identity heroes. Who walk around mostly nerdy, unathletic, and invisible to the hot cheerleader women/girls in their lives, too busy pursuing various jocks and bad boys. But fall for the Superhero identity of the hero who is mostly the same personality and intellect but with abilities or powers that allow him to blow past the jocks and bad boys.

A pre-pubescent kid won't get that, an adolescent and adult certainly will. It's the mixture of both that made comics great.

NOW, Comics are entirely for a subsection of adults who want grim, gritty, uber-left, depressing, often "shocking-icky" in sex and violence depictions, in other words the equivalent of a Sundance Indie movie. They're dying under the tragic hipness herd instinct of the hip subculture. No new writers, comics cost $$$ and are only available in comic book shops. Which are depressing, adult places not likely to attract younger readers in atmosphere or stories available inside.

What about all those other comics? (1)

spagiola (234461) | more than 6 years ago | (#22708018)

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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