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Comics in Education: On Comics in the Classroom… A Response to a Response to a Response…

Guest-columnist Anastasia Betts of Graphic Novels 101 looks at the use of comics in the classroom, and shares her experience as an educator helping teachers embrace sequential art as a teaching tool.

Anastasia Betts

On Comics in the Classroom…

A Response to a Response to a Response…

By Anastasia Betts

First of all, welcome to all of you comics and teaching enthusiasts and enthusiasts-to-be alike! As a former teacher, administrator, curriculum developer, and comics lover I am thrilled to have been asked to contribute a column to The Comics Observer. You can count on my monthly column to shoot the breeze on any/all topics related to using comics, graphic novels, sequential art, etc. as tools for teaching in the classroom. Comics are a valuable resource for teachers in the classroom and I hope that this column will provide the space for dialogue and sharing of ideas.

That being said, you may be wondering about the very Inception like title for today’s post. By way of explanation, I will say that I am responding partly to Dylan Meconis, who in his online essay, “On Comics in the Classroom” was responding to the reporter Michael Cieply, who in turn was responding to comments made by a panelist (Lisa Vizcarra) during the most recent San Diego Comic Con panel on Comics in Education. I encourage you all to read Meconis’ argument, as it is smart, savvy, and insightful – and I do not want to spend valuable time repeating his solid ideas here. The quote that started all the responding, however, is here for your convenience:

“It’s frightening,” said Lisa Vizcarra, a science teacher at Carquinez Middle School in Crockett, Calif. Ms. Vizcarra, who seemed to set the day’s tone, was speaking to a Comic-Con audience about a looming pedagogical crisis: Students, distracted by video, are no longer responding to comics as an educational tool, even as schools increasingly use them in their curriculums.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do, and that’s why we’re here today,” she told a room packed with teachers and other listeners…

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Like Meconis, I couldn’t disagree more with Ms. Vizcarra’s position. Comics are more popular than ever with kids. And like Meconis, I agree that really the responsibility for solid and engaging instruction lays with the teacher, not the comic. It’s the teacher’s responsibility to choose comics and graphic novels that are sophisticated, engaging, and provide the meat needed for serious critical thinking to take place.

I won’t shy away from the fact that there are a lot of comics out there that are just plain bad, inappropriate, or that simply do not work well in the classroom environment. Some teachers, looking for the quick fix, or the “magic pill” to generate interest in their students, may be tempted to just “plug and play” the nearest graphic lit they can get their hands on. But, this is a teaching preparedness problem, not a comics problem.

I used to teach a “comics in the classroom” course for UCLA. As part of this course, my goal was to help teachers understand that they needed to personally and emotionally invest in the comics they taught, and give serious thought to how that comic would not only be integrated into their class content, but what learning objectives it was designed to meet. I cautioned teachers to never, ever, pick a comic based solely on the recommendation of a friend or colleague – even if that colleague was myself (their instructor). Doing so would only lead to chaos in the classroom. As Meconis points out, students are often far more sophisticated connoisseurs of graphic literature than most teaching newbies. That, and they can smell fear – nothing strikes fear in the heart of a teacher more than being cornered mid-discussion by students who know more about the subject matter, genre, or format than the supposed expert in the room.

Whenever I talk about using comics in the classroom, I frequently encounter teachers who are eager to share their use of comics. Unfortunately, these experiences with comics most often mean Maus or American Born Chinese – both excellent, award-winning books, not to mention personal favorites. But there are plenty of great graphic novels and comics out there, as good or better than Maus or ABC – that is, for the teacher willing to explore and immerse him or herself in the medium. Creating great comics related curriculum takes time, effort, creativity, and innovation.

Bart Simpson #71 by Aragonés, Gilbert, Nobori, Costanza, Novin

There are numerous reasons to engage students in graphic or what I sometimes call visual literature – increasing visual literacy and critical thinking for a start. We live in a world where visual literacy is and will continue to be critical to the survival and success of future generations. Every day we are bombarded with images saturated with meaning: literal, figurative, and more and more often – subliminal. Humans, after all, are biologically wired for sight. The eyes are the most powerful conduit to the brain, boasting over 1,000,000 visual nerve fibers to a mere 30,000 auditory nerve fibers. Thirty percent of our brain is devoted to visual processing. And I’m not talking about processing text (which requires a totally different part of the brain) – I’m talking about images and pictures, movies, life…

Consider the power of images and icons. In a recent study on visual literacy, 22% of all US citizens surveyed could name ALL five family members of the popular animated show, The Simpsons. Conversely, only 0.1% could name all five freedoms guaranteed under the first amendment of the Bill of Rights. Perhaps if each family member wore a t-shirt with a freedom on it, we might remember? Of course I am being ridiculous – or am I? What if after exposing my students to the above statistic, I assigned them the task of renaming each Simpson family member with one of the five freedoms, and then providing a rationale for their choices rooted in their understanding of both the characters and the freedoms? What would Bart’s new name be? Freedom of Speech? I think I know a number of students who could make that argument. How about Homer, Lisa, Maggie, or Marge? For those teachers familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, I’d wager this assignment gets students working well into synthesis and evaluation, which is precisely where any teacher who cares about critical thinking wants students to be operating.

Bloom’s Taxonomy (click for a closer look)

Chances are, if you are reading this column, you are already a fan of comics. If I am lucky, you may even be a classroom teacher. You may be a teacher who is already using comics in your classroom, and so you will have awesome comments to share about your experiences doing so. If I am really lucky, you are a comics lover and a teacher that never thought of merging the two. In that case, this column will be just the “aha” you have been looking for to energize your teaching.

As I said at the beginning, this column will largely be devoted to helping you get familiar with some comics/graphic lit that you may not have been aware of, as well as some tried, true, and not so conventional ideas for teaching those comics, graphic novels, and other visual mediums in your classroom. Oh, and sometimes we may even tackle a little research too…

So, the next time Ms. Vizcarra laments the state of comics in education, and asks, “I just don’t know what we are going to do…” all of you can answer – “Read The Comics Observer and you will know!”

Your Homework: If you haven’t already, read Dylan Meconis’ Blog “On Comics in the Classroom,” and comment on your own experience with using comics as a teaching tool!

Anastasia Betts is a former teacher, administrator, and UCLA literacy coach from California. She has delivered professional development courses, workshops, and seminars on using comics in the classroom, including participating on Comics in Education panels at Comic Con International: San Diego. Anastasia currently runs an independent curriculum development company called Curriculum Essentials, Inc as well as the website Graphic Novels 101. You can follow her on Facebook at Graphic Novels 101: Using Visual Texts in the 21st Century.

1987 documentary The Masters of Comic Book Art resurfaces on YouTube

The release of the critically acclaimed graphic novels Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman forever shifted the American perception of comic books, revealing a potential for sophistication in visual storytelling and mass appeal previously unrealized or forgotten. It’s taken a couple of decades for the industry to build up from these milestones, but the late 1980s were an exciting time where a lot of the groundwork was laid for establishing a demand for independent (read: not Marvel or DC superhero) comics, future improvements in creator rights, and a healthy graphic novel and manga distribution market in book stores, among other things.

In the midst of this, sci-fi author Harlan Ellison created a straight-to-video documentary spotlighting ten American comic book artists who were on the front lines of innovation and creativity at the time, as well as looking at the history up to that point. Released in 1987, it has remained out-of-print since the demise of the VHS era. Now the entire hour is viewable again thanks to YouTube user StandUpComicBooks.

UPDATE: Unfortunately the video was removed at the request of the copyright owner. Hopefully this means that an official release digitally or otherwise is planned, as it’s a shame for this snapshot of comics history to be unavailable to the general public.

MetaMaus reveals Why Comics

MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman (click to buy at Barnes and Noble)

Art Spiegelman‘s Maus is a really important graphic novel. So much so that it seems kind of silly to feel the need to even point it out. In actuality, it’s a really important book that happens to be a graphic novel.

In case you’ve never gotten around to checking it out or actually don’t know, Maus is the story of Art’s strained relationship with his father, and the elder Spiegelman’s experiences in the Jewish Holocaust of World War II. The first of two graphic novels telling the entire story was released in 1986 and earned a metric ton of accolades. The second followed in 1991, which brought on another wave of critical praise and recognition, including a Pulitzer Prize Special Award. While the Pulitzer Prize has a category for editorial cartoons, the prestigious award for excellence in journalism and the arts had never recognized comic books and hasn’t since. It was one of the most significant steps forward for comics to start to be seen as a legitimate form of expression and art in America. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, it was also one of the most high profile examples that comics didn’t have to be about superheroes. Aside from all of that, it’s a really good read.

Now 25 years later, Spiegelman returns to his most well-known work for a companion book MetaMaus. Included is a new comic by Spiegelman, as well as tons of archival documents, early sketches, and a bonus DVD that includes recordings of his father, and much more.

In excerpts heard in the below trailer, Art Spiegelman talks about why he chose to use comics to tell this story and he talks about the maverick and underground nature comics held for a long time, and still do in some respect.

I really liked the satire magazines, the comic books that made fun of the culture around me. Those were the ones that really seemed to be talking about television, advertising, politics in a way that said primarily the grown-up world is lying to you. And this was the Rosetta Stone that would let you kind of break the code and see what was really going on in the world.

MetaMaus will be released on October 4.

My List of the 10 Favorite / Best / Most Significant Comics Works

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (the arrival of non-fiction graphic novels)

Yesterday morning, the Hooded Utilitarian posted my list along with 21 others who contributed to a giant survey of comic book creators, retailers, publishers, educators, commentators (like me) and other industry folk from all over the world to determine the 10 Best Comics. In total, 211 people responded.

I sent my list on June 15, in response to the question, “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” I started my email response to the Hooded Utilitarian with the following: “I want you to know, this is IMPOSSIBLE.”

And it is. But despite that…

My list:

Start clicking and see if something interests you.

There are plenty of comics that are just as good as the above that deserve to be listed, and even some that are better. But I had a few guidelines to help focus my list down to a manageable size.

First, I had to have actually read the material. Of the above, only Peanuts has material that I have never read. But I’ve read enough of it that what I haven’t read would have to be an absolute bomb for it to tarnish the goodwill. That means there was some material that I am fully expecting to love and that I love for its mere existence and concept that I had to leave out. I really wanted to include Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know on my list. It sits by my desk in my to-read pile from last year‘s Comic-Con.

Second, I leaned much heavier on the “most significant” portion of the question. As some have pointed out, the question asked by The Hooded Utilitarian is really three different questions which could result in three very different lists. Because what interests me is comics’ efforts to find new audiences, I interpreted “most significant” as the comics that have been most successful in winning over new readers. That was probably my biggest barometer. Each of the above have helped establish a genre or publishing strategy or level of skill that has expanded what comics can be and are today. In retrospect, I might’ve leaned a little too heavy on modern material but I think some of the most innovative and inclusive material is being made now (if you know where to find it).

OK, so let’s hear it. What did I miss?

(More random thoughts after the jump.)

Read the rest of this entry

Comics College reveals Essential Reading of Comic Book Masters

One of my favorite regular columns is the monthly Comics College by Chris Mautner at Robot 6, hosted by Comic Book Resources. Each entry is a great introductory overview of what’s best to read from the great comic book masters and why they are so good, making this a fantastic source for newcomers or people who’ve always wanted to expand their reading. It also covers their lesser known work and stuff that maybe should be avoided.

The great part of the column is that it is looking at masters from all over the art form of comics. It’s not just superhero creators, or just alternative comics creators. It’s both those, as well as manga, newspaper strips, underground comics, euro-comics, comics journalism and more.

This month’s subject is the Norwegian cartoonist simply known as Jason. This prolific creator tells funny genre mash-ups with a deadpan economy of dialogue and understated emotion with characters struggling over love and guilt. Next month, George Herriman will be featured. His classic comic strip Krazy Kat is among the most highly regarded in the history of comics.

The Comics College column debuted in August 2009 and has covered the following comics masters past and present (click on the link to be taken to the column):

  1. Los Bros. Hernandez (Love and Rockets)
  2. Jack Kirby (The Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World)
  3. Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Phoenix)
  4. R. Crumb (Zap Comix, Book of Genesis)
  5. Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Mr. Punch)
  6. Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Acme Novelty Library)
  7. Lewis Trondheim (Dungeon, Little Nothings)
  8. Harvey Kurtzman (Mad Magazine, Frontline Combat)
  9. art spiegelman (Maus, In the Shadow of No Towers)
  10. Eddie Campbell (Alec: The Years Have Pants, The Fate of the Artist)
  11. Harvey Pekar (American Splendor, Our Cancer Year)
  12. Kim Deitch (The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Shadowland)
  13. Kevin Huizenga (Ganges, Curses)
  14. Hergé (Tintin)
  15. Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts)
  16. John Stanley (Little Lulu, Melvin Monster)
  17. Seth (George Sprott: 1894-1975, Wimbledon Green, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken)
  18. Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City)
  19. Joe Sacco (Safe Area Gorazde, Palestine)
  20. Jason (I Killed Adolf Hitler, Hey Wait…)
  21. George Herriman (Krazy Kat)
  22. Jack Cole (Plastic Man, Betsy and Me)
  23. Adrian Tomine (Summer Blonde, Scenes from an Impending Marriage)
  24. Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman, We3)
  25. Jessica Abel (La Perdida, Artbabe)
  26. Gabrielle Bell (Cecil and Jordan in New York, Lucky)
  27. Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, Zot!)
  28. Charles Burns (Black Hole, Big Baby, X’ed Out)
  29. Jacques Tardi (It Was the War of the Trenches, West Coast Blues)
  30. Phoebe Gloeckner (A Child’s Life, The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
  31. Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken with Plums)
  32. David B (Epileptic, Babel)

UPDATE: I’ll keep updating the list as new entries get posted.

BBC doc: The Comic Strip Hero (1981)

In 1981, coinciding with the UK release of Superman II starring Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman, the BBC television series Arena broadcast this great documentary about the origins of Superman and the comics industry in general.

Plenty of good stuff here:

  • great interviews with Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
  • a look inside the early ’80s offices of DC Comics with then-president Sol Harrison
  • footage of Will Eisner teaching art students who debate whether superheroes are played out
  • a pre-Maus interview with Art Spiegelman (with a GIGANTIC mustache)
  • the wonderful Trina Robbins
  • a young and charming Christopher Reeve
  • Kirk Alyn, the first actor to portray the Man of Steel, telling stories of making the Superman movie serials
  • a sputtering Fredric Wertham insisting comic books are evil, linking Superman to Nazi Germany
  • some hilarious interviews with a sci-fi guy pointing out the lack of hard science in Superman (you think?) and what would need to happen for Clark Kent and Louis Lane to have a baby (!)
  • a little kid with every licensed Superman product imaginable
  • and a frightening final moment with preserved Superman birthday cake.

It’s important to note how much the comics industry has changed since then. This is before Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, two superhero stories that injected new life into the genre. This was before the publication of Maus, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and burst open the preconceived limitations of the medium to a lot of mainstream observers. This is before comic books could be found in bookstores, before manga was introduced to US readers. Before Hollywood’s technology became affordable enough and halfway convincing enough to pull off the special effects depicted in comics. (This was almost 30 years ago?! How?!)

Click through to watch all 5 parts through the power of YouTube: Read the rest of this entry

New Graphic Novels, Comic Books for You – 12/23

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff that came out the week of December 23 that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

Action Philosophers!: More Than Complete – $24.99
By Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey
320 pages; published by Evil Twin Comics; available at Amazon.com

Imagine Plato as a wrestling superstar of ancient Greece, Nietzsche as the original ubermensch, and Bohidharma as the grand master of kung fu. These are not just great thinkers they also make great comics. Action Philosophers details the lives and thoughts of history’s A-list brain trust in hip and humorous comic book fashion. All nine issues of the award-winning, best-selling comic book series have been collected into a single volume, making this a comprehensive cartoon history of ideas from pre-Socratics to Jacques Derrida, including four new stories. You’ll never have more fun getting the real scoop on the big ideas that have made the world the mess we live in today! Tom Morris (Author of Philosophy for Dummies, If Aristotle Ran General Motors, and If Harry Potter Ran General Electric).

I’ve got an issue of this that looks at Ayn Rand and it’s excellent. Fun and informative. This same team is working on a comic about the history of comics, which astoundingly has never been done before to my knowledge, called Comic Book Comics. Here’s an 8-page preview of Action Philosophers looking at Carl Jung.

The Great Anti-War Cartoons – $24.99
By various; edited by Craig Yoe
184 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

For centuries, cartoonists have used their pens to fight a war against war, translating images of violent conflict into symbols of protest. Noted comics historian Craig Yoe brings the greatest of these artists together in one place, presenting the ultimate collection of anti-war cartoons ever assembled. Together, these cartoons provide a powerful testament to the old adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and remind us that so often in the 20th century, it was the editorial cartoonist who could say the things his fellow newspapermen and women only dreamed of, enlightening and rallying a nation against unjust aggression.

Readers of The Great Anti-War Cartoons will find stunning artwork in a variety of media and forms (pen-and-ink, wash, watercolor, woodcut — single images and sequential comic strips) from the hands of Francisco Goya to Art Young, from Robert Minor to Ron Cobb, and from Honoré Daumier to Robert Crumb, as well as page after page of provocative images from such titans as James Montgomery Flagg, C.D. Batchelor, Edmund Sullivan, Boardman Robinson, William Gropper, Maurice Becker, George Grosz, Gerald Scarfe, Bill Mauldin, Art Spiegelman and many more. The book also includes an Introduction by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus and a Foreword by Library of Congress curator Sara W. Duke.

This book is neither ideological nor parochial: The cartoons range across the political spectrum from staunch conservative flag-wavers to radicals and hippies, and span two centuries and the entire globe (Australia, Russia, Poland, France…). But their message remains timeless and universal.

What better way to celebrate the season of peace than this collection of anti-war editorial comics? Well, OK, maybe there are better ways, like donating to charities or volunteering with anti-war movements, but this is a good way, too. Here’s a 10-page preview in PDF. There are comics dating back to the 1800s. Pretty fascinating. I particularly like the one from 1915 by Luther Bradley and the one from 1920 by Jay “Ding” Darling.

The Original Johnson, Volume 1 – $19.99
By Trevor Von Eeden
128 pages; published by IDW Publishing; available at Amazon.com

At last – The Original Johnson, Trevor Von Eeden’s personal and heartfelt graphic novel biography of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, international celebrity, and the most controversial American of his time. This is the artistic achievement of Trevor’s career (Batman, Black Canary, Black Lightning, Green Arrow), more than four years in the making and worth every moment.

Originally published online at ComicMix.com, this has been in the works for over 12 years. It is a passionate and unrestrained depiction of Johnson’s life and the racial tension of America at the time. You can read the first 100 or so pages at ComicMix. (Oh and by the way: IDW, update your online store.)

Marvels – $24.99
By Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross
248 pages; published by Marvel Comics; available at Amazon.com

“MARVELS is a giant leap forward in the evolution of illustrated literature.” — Stan Lee

Welcome to New York. Here, burning figures roam the streets, men in brightly colored costumes scale the glass and concrete walls, and creatures from space threaten to devour our world. This is the Marvel Universe, where the ordinary and fantastic interact daily. This is the world of Marvels.

Originally released in 1994 to much acclaim and enthusiasm, this new printing provides a great introduction to the world of superheroes and the superhero world of the Marvel Universe in particular. Looking back at it now, the painted art feels like it’s a little much (do superheroes really need to be that realistic and life like?) but with superhero movies now a pretty normal occurrence, maybe it was never that big of a leap. Either way, the story is told from the point of view of a normal guy in Marvel’s New York struggling through life as flashy dressed people with extraordinary abilities start running around the city and inevitably break things. There’s a small preview at the Amazon link above.

Footnotes in Gaza – $29.95
By Joe Sacco
432 pages; published by Metropolitan Books; available at Amazon.com

From the great cartoonist-reporter, a sweeping, original investigation of a forgotten crime in the most vexed of places.

Rafah, a town at the bottommost tip of the Gaza Strip, is a squalid place. Raw concrete buildings front trash-strewn alleys. The narrow streets are crowded with young children and unemployed men. On the border with Egypt, swaths of Rafah have been bulldozed to rubble. Rafah is today and has always been a notorious flashpoint in this bitterest of conflicts.

Buried deep in the archives is one bloody incident, in 1956, that left 111 Palestinians dead, shot by Israeli soldiers. Seemingly a footnote to a long history of killing, that day in Rafah—cold-blooded massacre or dreadful mistake—reveals the competing truths that have come to define an intractable war. In a quest to get to the heart of what happened, Joe Sacco immerses himself in daily life of Rafah and the neighboring town of Khan Younis, uncovering Gaza past and present. Spanning fifty years, moving fluidly between one war and the next, alive with the voices of fugitives and schoolchildren, widows and sheikhs, Footnotes in Gaza captures the essence of a tragedy.

As in Palestine and Safe Area Goražde, Sacco’s unique visual journalism has rendered a contested landscape in brilliant, meticulous detail. Footnotes in Gaza, his most ambitious work to date, transforms a critical conflict of our age into an intimate and immediate experience.

I’m a big admirer of Joe Sacco and his work, and here it looks like he’s going one step further in developing comics journalism, where he targets one specific story to investigate. Here’s a great preview (PDF) that pulled me right in. I need to get this.

Luke on the Loose – $4.99
By Harry Bliss
32 pages; published by Toon Books; available at Amazon.com

Luke looks on at the pigeons in Central Park, while Dad is lost in “boring Daddy talk,” and before you know it—LUKE IS ON THE LOOSE! He’s free as a bird, on a hilarious solo flight through New York City.

Harry Bliss, the renowned illustrator of many bestselling children’s books, finally goes on a solo flight on his own with a soaring story that will delight any young reader who has ever felt cooped up.

This looks very cute. Recommended for kids age 4-8, but I won’t tell anyone if you’re older and get this because it looks very charming and fun. Here is a preview of the kid running through the city with his new pigeon friends causing mayhem.

Alec: The Years Have Pants (A Life-Sized Omnibus) – $35.00
By Eddie Campbell
640 pages; published by Top Shelf Productions; available at Amazon.com

For the first time ever, the groundbreaking autobiographical comics of master cartoonist Eddie Campbell (FROM HELL) are collected in a single volume!

Brilliantly observed and profoundly expressed, the ALEC stories present a version of Eddie’s own life, filtered through the alter ego of “Alec MacGarry.” Over many years, we witness Alec’s (and Eddie’s) progression “from beer to wine” — wild nights at the pub, existential despair, the hunt for love, the quest for art, becoming a responsible breadwinner, feeling lost at his own movie premiere, and much more! Eddie’s outlandish fantasies and metafictional tricks convert life into art, while staying fully grounded in his own absurdity. At every point, the author’s uncanny eye for irony and wry self-awareness make even the smallest occasion into an opportunity for wit and wisdom. Quite simply, ALEC is a masterpiece of visual autobiography.

ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS (A LIFE-SIZE OMNIBUS) collects the previous Alec books THE KING CANUTE CROWD, GRAFFITI KITCHEN, HOW TO BE AN ARTIST, LITTLE ITALY, THE DEAD MUSE, THE DANCE OF LIFEY DEATH, AFTER THE SNOOTER, as well as a generous helping of rare and never-before-seen material, including an all-new 35-page book, THE YEARS HAVE PANTS.

I don’t know, that blurb kind of says it all. Here’s a 16-page preview.

New Graphic Novels, Comic Books for You – 11/4

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff that came out the week of November 4 that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

The TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics – $40.00
Edited by Art Spiegelman & Françoise Mouly
352 pages; published by Abrams ComicArts; available at Amazon.com

The TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics is an unprecedented collection of the greatest comics for children, artfully compiled by two of the best-known creators in publishing and the field of comics–Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly.

This treasury created for young readers focuses on comic books, not strips, and contains humorous stories that range from a single-page to eight or even twenty-two pages, each complete and self-contained. The comics have been culled from the Golden Age of comic books, roughly the 1940s through the early 1960s, and feature the best examples of works by such renowned artists and writers as Carl Barks, John Stanley, Sheldon Mayer, Walt Kelly, Basil Wolverton, and George Carlson, among many, many others.

Organizing the book into five categories (Hey, Kids!; Funny Animals; Fantasyland; Story Time!; and Wacky & Weird), Spiegelman and Mouly use their expertise in the area of comics to frame each category with an introductory essay, and provide brief biographies of the artists. The TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics is essential reading for kids of all ages.

Great for kids, and the supplemental essays and historical context should make this entertaining for parents, too. The artists mentioned in the blurb were masters and are still huge influences to modern comic and graphic artists. And it’s sturdy enough for repeated reading. The publisher link above includes a great preview that shows just how charming and delightful this stuff will be to experience. Lots of fun!

Donald Duck and Friends #347 – $2.99
By Fausto Vitaliano & Andrea Freccero
32 pages; published by Boom! Kids

The Quack is back in this first BOOM! Kids issue! He’s no double “o” seven, he’s Double Duck! Donald shows us his dashing, adventurous side as a secret agent on a mission to stop a dangerous ice-melting machine and save the world from rising oceans! This is a Donald Duck like you’ve never seen! A brand new start at a brand new company for one of the world’s most iconic characters and longest-lived, most-published comic book series!

Speaking of those influential artists, you can pretty much draw a direct line from Carl Barks to this new issue (translated from the original Italian edition). Another great comic for kids. Here’s a 5-page preview.

Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 1: The Trial of Sherlock Holmes – $24.99
By Leah Moore, John Reppion & Aaron Campbell
168 pages; published by Dynamite Entertainment; available at Amazon.com

Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective Sherlock Holmes returns in all-new adventures! Sherlock finds himself involved in a mystery that has him fighting for his very life and Watson putting the pieces together to either save his friend or condemn him! Written by Leah Moore and John Reppion with reverence and a modern edge, artist Aaron Campbell completes the Victorian mood under the striking and iconic John Cassaday covers. Also contains bonus material such as script pages, annotations, a cover gallery, and a complete Sherlock Holmes short story by Arthur Conan Doyle with new illustrations.

I’ve been looking forward to this. It’s supposed to be a pretty faithful take on Sherlock Holmes. There’s a 10-page preview at the publisher link above.

Like A Dog – $22.99
By Zak Sally
128 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

One man’s heartfelt and irreverent record of his time on this rock, Zak Sally’s unflinchingly veracious book, Like a Dog, is both direct and oblique, which we find rather miraculous considering the messy and murky waters of human experience it manages to navigate. Like a Dog is among the few comic book testimonials burdened by the yen to understand and articulate the mundane and the magnificent. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself laughing and crying as you claw your way through each hard fought page!

Of all of Sally’s creative pursuits (including a career in music spanning 15+ years), Like a Dog is the one he’s been working a lifetime toward. This hardcover book collects the best of his acclaimed short stories from the past 15 years, created in between band tours and recording sessions, published in his Eisner-nominated self-published seriesRecidivist (the first 2 issues of which are reprinted here in their entirety) and in publications like MomeThe DramaYour FleshDirty Stories, and more.

Like a Dog spotlights Sally’s uncanny ability to create emotional havoc out of claustrophobic images, situations and dialogue. Stories like “Don’t Move,” “The War Back Home,” and “Two Idiot Brothers” share little in common on the surface but are united by Sally’s forbidding style, creating a sense of dread that permeates almost every page.

Sally also turns his eye towards nonfiction in Like a Dog, including “At the Scaffold,” the story of the imprisonment and trial of Fyodor Dostoyevsky for allegedly subversive behavior, and “The Man Who Killed Wally Wood,” a story about Sally’s brush with a former publisher of the legendary comic artist (who, contrary to the title of this strip, took his own life after a long battle with alcoholism). It also includes two collaborations: “Dread,” written by NEA Fellowship recipient, Edgar Award finalist, and O. Henry Award winning author Brian Evenson (Altmann’s Tongue); and “River Deep, Mountain High,” co-created with fellow cartoonist Chris Cilla.

Like a Dog also includes extensive “liner notes” by the artist, previously unpublished material, an introduction by John Porcellino (King Cat), and other surprises.

I really loved Zak Sally’s Sammy The Mouse, so it sounds like I have a good reason to buy this. And so do you. To give you an idea of what’s in store, there’s a neat Flickr video of someone flipping through the book, which serves as a de facto preview of sorts, and there’s also a 10-page preview as a PDF file.

Stumptown #1 – $3.99
By Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth
40 pages; published by Oni Press

Superstar writer Greg Rucka (WHITEOUT, DETECTIVE COMICS) embarks on his first creator-owned series since the Eisner Award-winning QUEEN & COUNTRY!

Dex is the proprietor of Stumptown Investigations, and a fairly talented P.I. Unfortunately, she’s less adept at throwing dice than solving cases. Her recent streak has left her beyond broke—she’s into the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast for 18 large. But maybe Dex’s luck is about to change. Sue-Lynne, head of the Wind Coast’s casino operation, will clear Dex’ debt if she can locate Sue-Lynne’s missing granddaughter. But is this job Dex’s way out of the hole or a shove down one much much deeper?

I’ve been seeing some good reviews for this. Looks like really nice work! Here’s a 4-page preview. And while it hasn’t officially launched yet, here’s a website for the series.

Burn – $9.99
By Camilla D’Errico & Scott Sanders
160 pages; published by Simon & Schuster’s Simon Pulse; available at Amazon.com

Burn was once human.

He also had a family and friends, until a metallic angel of death took everything from him. This mechanical monster, Shoftiel, was one of many living machines made to help humanity that revolted and declared war on their creators. It tore through Burn’s home and wreaked havoc on his city until the buildings collapsed, crashing down upon them.

Emerging from the rubble, Burn and Shoftiel discover their once separate bodies have become one — neither human nor machine, but a freak union of both. Internally their minds are caught in a raging battle for control. Just as mankind must struggle against the sentients for survival, Burn must find the strength to overcome Shoftiel’s genocidal programming to retain whatever’s left of his humanity.

Here’s a 5-page preview (you have to click through a bunch of “who cares” before you get to the actual story).

New Graphic Novels, Comic Books for You – 9/30/09

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff that came out the week of September 30 that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

Johnny Cash: I See A Darkness – $17.95
By Reinhard Kleist
224 pages; published by Abrams ComicArts; available at Amazon.com

The first and only illustrated biography of “The Man in Black”, Johnny Cash, the most famous country singer of all time.

Cash was a 17-time Grammy winner who sold more than 90 million albums in his lifetime and became an icon of American music in the 20th century. Graphic novelist Reinhard Kleist depicts Johnny Cash’s eventful life from his early sessions with Elvis Presley (1956), through the concert in Folsom Prison (1968), his spectacular comeback in the 1990s, and the final years before his death on September 12, 2003.

The author’s site has a preview (although the final lettering is missing). I love that image of Cash in the recording studio.

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth – $22.95
By Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou & Alecos Papadatos
352 pages; published by Bloomsbury; available at Amazon.com

The innovative, dramatic graphic novel based on the life of the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell.

This brilliantly illustrated tale of reason, insanity, love and truth recounts the story of Bertrand Russell’s life. Raised by his paternal grandparents, young Russell was never told the whereabouts of his parents. Driven by a desire for knowledge of his own history, he attempted to force the world to yield to his yearnings: for truth, clarity and resolve.

As he grew older, and increasingly sophisticated as a philosopher and mathematician, Russell strove to create an objective language with which to describe the world – one free of the biases and slippages of the written word. At the same time, he began courting his first wife, teasing her with riddles and leaning on her during the darker days, when his quest was bogged down by paradoxes, frustrations and the ghosts of his family’s secrets. Ultimately, he found considerable success – but his career was stalled when he was outmatched by an intellectual rival: his young, strident, brilliantly original student, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

An insightful and complexly layered narrative, Logicomix reveals both Russell’s inner struggle and the quest for the foundations of logic. Narration by an older, wiser Russell, as well as asides from the author himself, make sense of the story’s heady and powerful ideas. At its heart, Logicomix is a story about the conflict between pure reason and the persistent flaws of reality, a narrative populated by great and august thinkers, young lovers, ghosts and insanity.

The Amazon.com link above has previews and the Bloomsbury link above has three-part making-of video series on YouTube, but there’s also an excellent website at Logicomix.com with behind-the-scenes info, a preview trailer and lots of other info. This debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List and is getting excellent reviews.

Mickey Mouse & Friends #296 – $2.99
By Stefano Ambrosio & Lorenzo Pastrovicchio
32 pages; published by Boom! Kids

First BOOM! Kids issue! One of the longest-lived, most-successful comic book series in the industry’s history comes to BOOM! and brings a little magic — presenting Wizards of Mickey! Student of the great wizard Grandalf, Mickey Mouse hails from the humble village of Miceland. Allying himself with Donald Duck (who has a pet dragon named Fafnir) and team mate Goofy, Mickey’s come to the great tournament to get his revenge on Peg Leg Pete, who has stolen the Rain Crystal from Miceland! Join Mickey Mouse and his friends on an epic tale of magic and wonder! Join BOOM! Kids for a whole new epoch in Disney publishing!

Disney comic books have been missing from the market place for about a year now. This is an imported story, which has been a pretty standard practice for previous publishers of Disney comics. It was originally done in Italy but from the looks of this preview, the translation holds up pretty nicely.

High Moon Vol. 1 – $14.99
By David Gallaher & Steve Ellis
192 pages; published by DC Comics’ Zuda Comics; available at Amazon.com

The first winner of Zuda Comics’ monthly online competition, HIGH MOON is a horror adventure of cowboys and werewolves in the Old West. HIGH MOON begins with a gruff bounty hunter, Matthew Macgregor, investigating a series of strange happenings in the dusty town of Blest, Texas. While Macgregor seeks to uncover the town’s dark secrets, he tries desperately to keep his own hidden. 

The horrors of Blest ripple out to the mountainous town of Ragged Rock, Oklahoma, where another detective investigates a series of murders following a bizarre train robbery. Uncovering an age-old vendetta, this mysterious lawman is forced to do battle with a steam-driven monstrosity.

Macgregor’s tale concludes as a young woman’s dire call for assistance leads him through the Black Hills of South Dakota and into devastating battle between two warring factions. Macgregor must face down the United States government – only to discover a secret ritual that spells the destruction of the American frontier.

It’s such a relief when someone you personally know releases something, and you can be genuinely complimentary of what they’ve produced. While David Gallaher and I have “virtually” known each other for years, I’m happy to say that his web-comic holds up nicely as a thrilling horror/western mash-up. You can read it for yourself right here. And then there’s this production blog for good behind-the-scenes goodies.

Power & Glory – $19.99
By Howard Chaykin
128 pages; published by Dynamite Entertainment; available at Amazon.com

A crime fighter is genetically engineered to be a super-hero – but when the test goes awry and he doesn’t have the super-hero qualities needed, he has to be teamed up with a former CIA agent who is the brains behind the duo. One gets all the glory while one has all the power.

I’ve always thought that it was a bit weird that every super-hero just instantly has what it takes, mentally and emotionally, to actually be a superhero. I guess I’m not alone. Probably not one for the kiddies.

The Dynamite link above has a 9-page preview so you have a better idea of just what you’re getting into by entering one of Howard Chaykin’s worlds.

Prison Pit: Book One – $12.99
By Johnny Ryan
120 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

Prison Pit is an original graphic novel from the pen of Johnny Ryan, best known for his humor comic, Angry Youth ComixPrison Pit represents a marked departure from AYC or his Blecky Yuckerella weekly comic strip, combining his love for WWE wrestling, Gary Panter’s “Jimbo” comics, and Kentaro Miura’s “Berserk” Manga into a brutal showcase of violence, survival and revenge. Imagine a blend of old-fashioned role playing fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons crossed with contemporary adult video games like Grand Theft Auto, filtered through Ryan’s sense of humor.

The book begins with C.F. (his full-name would be too horrifying to reveal here) being thrown into the Prison Pit, a barren negative-zone populated by intergalactic, violent monster criminals. In this first volume, C.F. gets into a bloody slorge war (a slorge is a giant slug that excretes a steroid-like drug called “fecid” that all the monster men are addicted to) with ultraprisoner Rottweiler Herpes and his henchmen Rabies Bloodbath and Assrat. The ensuing bloodbath is an over-the-top, hyperviolent yet hilarious farce worthy of Ryan’s inspiration, Kentaro Miura.

If Howard Chaykin is too much for you, you’ll never be able to handle Johnny Ryan, who is maniacally funny in the absurdly over-the-top violence. Here’s a PDF file preview.

Ball Peen Hammer – $17.99
By Adam Rapp & George O’Connor
144 pages; published by First Second Books; available at Amazon.com

The world is dying.  After most of the city succumbed to the plague, Welton’s staying inside — permanently.  But hiding in his claustrophobic basement room — the only place he knows is safe — exacts a gruesome price, and he becomes part of a collective that’s killing children.  Infected with the plague himself, with no way to find the woman he loves, Welton takes refuge in apathy — until someone knocks on his door.

Ball Peen Hammer gives us a window into life in a half-deserted apartment building in a time of raw love, sacrifice, fear, and death.

This one is a bit more serious but also not for the weak at heart. Here’s a 13-page preview.

Refresh, Refresh – $17.99
By James Ponsoldt, Danica Novgorodoff & Benjamin Percy
144 pages; published by First Second Books; available at Amazon.com

Fathers, sons, and the war that comes between them.

There’s nothing Josh, Cody, and Gordon want more than their fathers home safely from the war in Iraq — unless it’s to get out of their dead-end town.  Refresh, Refresh is the story of three teenagers on the cusp of high school graduation and their struggle to make hard decisions with no role models to follow; to discover the possibilities for the future when all the doors are slamming in their faces; and to believe their fathers will come home alive so they can be boys again.

The above says enough to get me hooked. But for more, here’s an 11-page preview.

Trotsky: A Graphic Biography – $16.95
By Rick Geary
112 pages; published by Hill & Wang; available at Amazon.com

Trotsky was a hero to some, a ruthless demon to others. To Stalin, he was such a threat that he warranted murder by pickax. This polarizing figure set up a world conflict that lasted through the twentieth century, and in Trotsky: A Graphic Biography, the renowned comic artist Rick Geary uses his distinct style to depict the stark reality of the man and his times. Trotsky’s life becomes a guide to the creation of the Soviet Union, the horrors of World War I, and the establishment of international communism as he, Lenin, and their fellow Bolsheviks rise from persecution and a life underground to the height of political power. Ranging from his boyhood in the Ukraine to his fallout with Stalin and his moonlight romance with Frida Kahlo, Trotsky is a stunning look at one of the twentieth century’s most important thinkers and the far-reaching political trends that he launched.

Rick Geary does excellent work. Unfortunately I can’t find a preview but just imagine looking at something really impressive that compels you to buy it.

The Best American Comics 2009 – $22.00
Edited by Charles Burns
352 pages; published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; available at Amazon.com

Now in its fourth year, Best American Comics showcases the work of both established and up-and-coming contributers. Editor Charles Burns—cartoonist, illustrator, and official cover artist of the Believer—has culled the best stories from graphic novels, pamphlet comics, newspapers, magazines, mini-comics, and the web to create this cutting-edge collection. Featuring the work of such luminaries as Chris Ware, KAZ, and Robert Crumb, this volume is “a genuine salute to comics” (Houston Chronicle).

This is a highly acclaimed yearly anthology that provides a great sampling of the depth and art of comics. Here’s the book’s official site which has more information.

The Book of Genesis – $24.95
By R. Crumb
published by W.W. Norton; available at Amazon.com

From Creation to the death of Joseph, here are all 50 chapters of the Book of Genesis, revealingly illustrated as never before.

Envisioning the first book of the bible like no one before him, R. Crumb, the legendary illustrator, reveals here the story of Genesis in a profoundly honest and deeply moving way. Originally thinking that we would do a take off of Adam and Eve, Crumb became so fascinated by the Bible’s language, “a text so great and so strange that it lends itself readily to graphic depictions,” that he decided instead to do a literal interpretation using the text word for word in a version primarily assembled from the translations of Robert Alter and the King James bible.

Now, readers of every persuasion—Crumb fans, comic book lovers, and believers—can gain astonishing new insights from these harrowing, tragic, and even juicy stories. Crumb’s Book of Genesis reintroduces us to the bountiful tree lined garden of Adam and Eve, the massive ark of Noah with beasts of every kind, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by brimstone and fire that rained from the heavens, and the Egypt of the Pharaoh, where Joseph’s embalmed body is carried in a coffin, in a scene as elegiac as any in Genesis. Using clues from the text and peeling away the theological and scholarly interpretation that have often obscured the Bible’s most dramatic stories, Crumb fleshes out a parade of Biblical originals: from the serpent in Eden, the humanoid reptile appearing like an alien out of a science fiction movie, to Jacob, a “kind’ve depressed guy who doesn’t strike you as physically courageous,” and his bother, Esau, “a rough and kick ass guy,” to Abraham’s wife Sarah, more fetching than most woman at 90, to God himself, “a standard Charlton Heston-like figure with long white hair and a flowing beard.”

As Crumb writes in his introduction, “the stories of these people, the Hebrews, were something more than just stories. They were the foundation, the source, in writing of religious and political power, handed down by God himself.” Crumb’s Book of Genesis, the culmination of 5 years of painstaking work, is a tapestry of masterly detail and storytelling which celebrates the astonishing diversity of the one of our greatest artistic geniuses.

A surprisingly reverential and straight adaptation from one of comics’ most influential humorists. Here’s a preview of chapter 19.

Pretty big week for comics. Lots of good stuff to check out.

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