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Best Online Comics Criticism 2010

If you’ve made your way around the Interwebs at all over the past few days (or at least the comic-book derived portion of such) you may have noticed a couple of posts devoted to what’s being called the “Best Online Comics Criticism of 2010.” And, unless your memory is as faulty as mine, you may also recall similar lists being made around the same time last year, as this is an annual event created and overseen by the esteemed critic (and Hooded Utilitarian contributor) Ng Suat Tong.

Suat was kind enough back in January of ’09 to invite me to be one of the judges for this year’s round-up. the other judges consisting of Tim Hodler, Johanna Draper Carlson, Melinda Beasi, Derik Badman, Shannon Garrity and Bill Randall. I’ll go through this year’s winners, with my personal commentary in a minute, but if you’re the impatient type, you can see the final results here and here.

First, some brief observances …

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What do women want? Part 2

Having looked at what women want in superhero comics, let’s examine their attitudes toward poop jokes.

Sean Michael Wilson, the editor of the alt-manga anthology AX, didn’t do a scientific survey, but he did read the reviews of his book and noticed something interesting:

However, one aspect has surprised both myself and Asakawa, the Japanese editor – quite a few female American reviewers have taken issue with the large amount of scatalogical toilet humour and also the sexual content of the collection. Somehow they seem to find it offensive, or unpleasant, or immature. It was surprising to me to see this kind of reaction, as it never occurred to me at all – as a British person – that these could be seen as negative.

It was surprising to me that Sean would find this surprising, but maybe that’s because I’m a female American comics reviewer, and I have always regarded potty humor as the purview of seven-year-old boys. I haven’t been to Scotland since I was six years old; now I’m beginning to wonder what I’m missing. Do sophisticated people there stand around at gallery openings sipping Cabernet and cracking fart jokes?

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Comics A.M. | B&N complicates Borders talks, Stan Lee gets his star


Retailing | As the financially troubled Borders Group met Tuesday with publishers in hopes of converting delayed payments into interest-bearing debt, the bookseller’s larger rival Barnes & Noble expressed concerns that could complicate negotiations. “We think the playing field should be even,” B&N spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating said in a statement. “We expect publishers to offer same terms to all other booksellers, including Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers.  We fully expect publisher’s will require Borders to pay their bills on the same basis upon which all other booksellers pay theirs.  Any changes in publishers terms should be made available to all.” Meanwhile, Reuters considers what the closing of Borders’ 600 stores would mean to the book industry. [The New York Times, Publishers Weekly]

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Comics A.M. | Spider-Man resumes tonight, One Piece creator makes $24M

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Broadway | The Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark canceled both Wednesday performances to test new safety measures following the Monday-night fall that left a stuntman hospitalized with broken ribs and internal bleeding. The cancellation of the sold-out evening show was announced just three hours before showtime at the Foxwoods Theatre. Tonight’s performance is expected to go on as planned.

Producers and creators met privately on Tuesday with the entire company to address safety concerns about the $65-million musical, the most expensive and technically complex in Broadway history. Although accidents in theater productions aren’t uncommon, it’s unusual for there to be four injuries before a show has officially opened. MTV offers some context. [The New York Times, The Associated Press]

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The wisdom of Julia Wertz

It’s funny because it’s true: Julia Wertz provides a peek into the effects of reviews on a creator’s psyche at The Fart Party. Then to prove she’s not that thin-skinned, she posts some excerpts from bad reviews at her blog:

Only in America could an alcoholic, whiney, self-sabotaging person with limited artistic skill write and illustrate a comic, oops, “graphic novel” about her pathetic and boring life in San Francisco and New York City/Brooklyn and become successful. Reading it almost drove me to drink.

Ouch! Actually, Drinking at the Movies is anything but boring—it’s funny and perceptive and unsparing, and it’s well worth a read. I’m with the New York LA Times on this one.

What’s wrong with Booth?

Sometimes, when I’m reading a comic, I’ll think “This art is ugly” or “This is hard to read,” and I’ll wonder if it’s just me that thinks that.

In the case of Booth, the historical graphic novel about Lincoln’s assassin, by historian C.C. Colbert and French artist Tanitoc, it’s not just me. Writer J.L. Bell had the same reaction, and he explains one reason why: Misleading word balloons.


Take this panel, for example. The curve in the tail of the balloon at the left suggests that its words come from the balding man looking away from us. But in fact those words are those of John Wilkes Booth, in the muddy green. If I hadn’t remembered that in real life Booth claimed to have thrust himself into the John Brown affair, I would never have been able to interpret this panel.

Bell also notes that Tanitoc’s art is sometimes too blobby and hard to read visually. Despite these flaws, I would still recommend the book; the story was strong enough to carry me through the rough parts, but I do wish it had been a bit smoother.

Everyone’s a Critic: A roundup of comic book reviews and thinkpieces

Hiroyuki Takei's Butsu Zone

Hiroyuki Takei's Butsu Zone

Manga: It’s a Jason Thompson hat trick: The prolific editor and writer, and the author of Manga: The Complete Guide, has three recently published articles, and all are worth a look: At comiXology he sings the praises of Shaman King creator Hiroyuki Takei; at Anime News Network, he writes about the classic manga The Rose of Versailles, which tells the story of Marie Antoinette and her cross-dressing bodyguard; and at io9, he looks at five sexually twisted manga.

Roundtable: The Savage Critics get together to discuss Dan Clowes’s Wilson, and how much they resemble (or don’t resemble) the title character.

Art comix: Paul Gravett talks to John Broadley about his hand-crafted graphic mini-comics woven around bits and pieces that he finds at his day job at a clipping service.

Advice: Lauren Davis looks at a couple of diary comics and notes the importance of having some sort of overarching theme.

Criticism: Kate Dacey, chronicles the seven deadly scenes of reviewing—and admits she has committed a few herself.

Timing: David Welsh discusses the sometimes unexpected pacing in One Piece, noting that lead character Luffy achieves one milestone on the way to becoming King of the Pirates in just a chapter, rather than a volume.

Snark: Chris Eckert retells Identity Crisis from the culprit’s point of view. Warning: Spoiler!

Conversation: Translator Jocelyn Allen, blogger Deb Aoki, retailer Christopher Butcher, and editors Erik Ko, Dan Nadel, and Ryan Sands got together at TCAF for a panel on indie manga, and Deb has the transcript for your reading pleasure.

Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes



Publishing | Stanley Pignal takes a look at the transformation of the Tintin brand since the death of Hergé in 1983, as the cartoonist’s widow Fanny Vlamynck and her husband Nick Rodwell drastically changed merchandising strategies. In the process, the prickly Rodwell has become a controversial figure, running afoul of fans and journalists alike in his effort to exert control over Tintin’s image.

Of particular interest is a brief profile of Bob Garcia, a novelist and fan who published a series of books examining Hergé’s possible inspirations for Tintin. Garcia believed he could legally reproduce a few copyrighted illustrations for the purpose of critique, but Moulinsart saw things differently: The writer is now fighting to keep his home as penalties and legal fees mount. [Financial Times]

Crime | Danny Wayne Barton, owner of Kryptonite Komics in Carbon Hill, Alabama, was arrested Thursday after he allegedly sold marijuana to police informants on four separate occasions. Three of those incidents reportedly occurred in Barton’s shop, which also sells smoking devices as the Good Karma Store. The 38-year-old retailer faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison on four counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance within a three-mile radius of a school. [Daily Mountain Eagle]

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Editing is thinking: An interview with David Ball

The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing Is A Way of Thinking

The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing Is A Way of Thinking

I first met David Ball a few years ago, while working on a story for my employer, The Patriot-News, about how comics were being used in high school and college classrooms. Luckily for me, Ball just happened to be teaching a class on the subject at the nearby Dickinson College. Ball was kind enough to return the favor and invite me to speak to his comics class when he taught it again a few semesters later.

Fast forward to today, where Ball is co-editor, along with Martha Kuhlman, of the new book from the University of Mississippi Press, The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing Is A Way of Thinking, a collection of essays by noted comics scholars like Jeet Heer about the seminal Acme cartoonist.

Knowing Ball lived and worked next door (relatively speaking), it seemed silly for me not to get in touch with him and see if he was up for an interview. Thankfully, he was eager to talk about the book.

Why Ware? What is it about him and his comics that you feel justify a book of this nature?

Unlike many of our contributors in the collected volume, I came to Ware’s work very late and not as a dedicated reader of comics but rather as a scholar of American literature. I had known that fascinating things were going on in contemporary comics for a while, but reading Jimmy Corrigan knocked the wind out of me. The book seemed so versed in the American literary genealogy of Melville and Faulkner and Nabokov with which I was familiar, but was using techniques, referring to other comics, and stretching my brain in ways that were wholly new to me. I knew that I would need to educate myself rapidly to catch up — a still ongoing process — and that colleagues in history, art history, and comparative literature, as well as comics commentators and enthusiasts could help me better understand what I was reading. Ware quickly became a discovery I could share with others and a way I could talk to, and learn from, scholars and readers whose interests were different than mine. That kind of intellectual dialogue is what this book of essays is about, and I hope that readers of the volume will similarly find ideas that are new to them, and share in that sense of discovery. Every time I reread one of Ware’s comics, or get my hands on a new fragment of “Rusty Brown” or “Building Stories,” I find something new and unexpected. That sense of discovery is a rare thing in any art form, and I’m convinced it’s why we’ll still be reading Ware fifty years from now.

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Everyone’s A Critic | A roundup of comic book reviews and thinkpieces

It Was the War of the Trenches

It Was the War of the Trenches

Peter Richardson discusses why World War I did not capture creators’ imaginations the way other wars have, and he accompanies his discussion with a beautiful counterexample, a sample from Jacques Tardi’s It Was the War of the Trenches, upcoming from Fantagraphics next month. (via Journalista)

Craig Fischer has a decidedly mixed review of The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion, but then halfway through he goes roaring off into a digression on one of Hal Foster’s possible influences, Olive Beaupre Miller’s series of children’s books titled My Bookhouse. For good measure, someone just sent Ben Towle a set. (I had these as a kid, and they are lovely.) For more about Foster, see Ng Suat Tong’s recent post at The Hooded Utilitarian.

Tom Crippen, who is no Sarah Palin fan, cries foul nonetheless on Oliphant’s cartoon showing her postcoital encounter with a moose, pointing out that it probably reveals more about Oliphant than Palin.

Vom Marlowe reviews vol. 1 of Song of the Hanging Sky, a lovely manga with a quirky plot and a few perplexing translation problems.
Brian Heater thinks Jason’s Almost Silent is a good choice for graphic novel newbies.

Frank Santoro reviews Gipi’s Garage Band at Comics Comics.

Also at Comics Comics: Jeet Heer posts some loosely related notes on John Stanley.

Larry Cruz explains why video game webcomics are a good thing at The Webcomic Overlook.

Sean Gaffney reviews D&Q’s latest Yoshihio Tatsumi release, Black Blizzard.

Everyone’s a Critic | A roundup of comic book reviews and thinkpieces

Super-cute bacteria from the Moyashimon anime

Super-cute bacteria from the Moyashimon anime

Biochemist/manga adaptor Lianne Sentar looks at three manga series that get the science right (well mostly) and are still entertaining.

Noah Berlatsky thinks he has settled the question of what is and isn’t a comic once and for all, and he makes a pretty good case, but the commenters manage to have a lively argument anyway.

Librarians Eva Volin and Robin Brenner discuss all 10 volumes of Emma, and they jump right in with a discussion of full frontal nudity.

Jog takes a look at the many forms and uses of the thought balloon, which, despite an editor’s admonition to Stephen King, is far from dead. Scott McCloud adds his two cents as well. Related: Chris Sims explains exactly what’s wrong with the lettering in the Twilight graphic novel.

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Everyone’s A Critic: A roundup of comic book reviews and thinkpieces

The Art of Jaime Hernandez

The Art of Jaime Hernandez

Tim Holder offers an initial critique of the upcoming Art of Jaime Hernandez book, which results in a flurry of great comments from book designers, critics and the editor of said book. Easily one of the most informative and insightful comments threads in months, if not years. (Also: L&R fan Marc Sobel offers his thoughts.)

• Along the same lines, Jeet Heer offers an old review of Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz.

Marc Singer talks about why he included Maus in his comics class, and how his students reacted to it.

• Responding to an earlier essay by Jeet Heer (there he is again) on cartoonists’ mid-life crises, Gary Groth offers his own thoughts and posts an essay he’d written on the topic several years ago. (part one, part two, and part three).

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Everyone’s a critic: A round-up of comic book reviews and thinkpieces

• Hey, Brian Chippendale is blogging again! And this time, he’s talking about manga-ka Taiyo Matsumoto! Does it get much more awesome than that?

GoGo Monster

GoGo Monster

Number 5 is a strange work that reflects both Tekkonkinkreet and GoGo Monster. A schizophrenic collision of vicious playfulness and loose introspective beauty. At some point in each of his stories Matsumoto begins to pull you through a series of seemingly unrelated hoops, usually at an intense climatic moment when the characters are at a psychological breaking point. What slightly deviates in Number 5 is that the narrative hardly ever relaxes into a rhythm of storytelling for long. The entire book is a challenging ride that you have to hold onto constantly to not get thrown off track. But there are many pages of easy flowing action.

Derik Badman and Thought Balloonist Craig Fischer engage in a great, lengthy discussion on the recent Abstract Comics anthology. Fellow TBer Charles Hatfield offers his own thoughts on the book here.

Jog reviews two recent maga: Biomega and All My Darling Daughters. It’s worth checking out just to read his synopsis of the former.

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Everyone’s A Critic: A round-up of comic book reviews and thinkpieces

• Let’s kick off with Tim O’Neil’s look back at the previous decade, in an essay which he ominously titles “Mediocrity Triumphant”:

I would posit that even though there are far more comics being published now, there are no more truly great comics being produced now than there were at the beginning of the last decade. If you discount the constant stream of reprints and international offerings, new English-language comics are about as good as they’ve ever been, it’s just that there are more of them. In fact, because of the market’s rapid expansion, actual average quality has plummeted. It’s not a question of having abandoned critical standards in order to gain popular market share: comics never had critical standards. What we have done now is to adopt the standards of the larger book market.

• Andrei Molotiu has been blogging up a storm at the Abstract Comics site, examining how classic, mainstream comic book artists have incorporated abstract shapes and forms into their work. Here he is talking about Steve Ditko; and here he is talking about Frank Miller. You’ll want to read both pieces.

Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons

Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons

Jeet Heer makes the case for Gahan Wilson: “For all their morbidity and ghoulishness, Wilson’s cartoons affirm the value of cherishing life.”

• While we’re on the subject, The San Francisco Chronicle’s Laurel Maury really likes that new Wilson collection as well.

Neil Cohn looks at a type of visual shorthand in comics he calls “action stars.”

Matthew Brady reviews The Squirrel Machine: ” It’s a compelling, fascinating journey through an often creepy and always striking world.”

Cory Doctorow examines Goats II: The Corndog Imperitive: “Rosenberg continues to walk the razor-edged line between silly and dumb, and does not slip onto the dumb side.”

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Straight for the art | Friedman’s ‘Criticism’ cover

Best American Comics Criticism

Best American Comics Criticism

Over at his blog, Drew Friedman has unveiled the official cover to Fantagraphics’ upcoming book, The Best American Comics Criticism. And, lest you fear those portraits are supposed to be of you or someone you may know, let him put your mind at ease:

I created these lovely faces for this new book cover from Fantagraphics, designed by Alexa Koenings and due out next month. The idea was conceived by the author, journalist/historian Ben Schwartz, to be an homage/parody of THE BELIEVER covers, although I had no intention, or interest in parodying the regular Charles Burns portraits. The faces are not meant to be any one in particular, rather I wanted to capture certain “types’ who write Comics Criticism.


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