Sunday, August 06, 2006


I have tried to stay away from self-reflection in this forum and to concentrate on the comics themselves, but let me get meta for a moment, if I may.

My relationship with comics has been problematic of late. I clearly have an affinity for the form, since I keep returning to it, but I'm not exactly sure what I get from it - or what I want from it. A look at three of my purchases last week at the the wonderful Zanadu Comics in Seattle are emblematic of this issue:

99 Ways to Tell a Story
2005 Chamberlain Bros. Matt Madden

I am a teacher of rhetoric and have been interested lately in a more scholarly approach to understanding comics. The internet is full of folks pursuing similar goals: Scott McCloud is probably the best-known analyst of this nature, Neil Cohn has done extensive work with what he calls visual language, and Derik Badman is doing some interesting and fun experiments with formalism at his site, just to name a few.

Madden's book is a great work in the vein: he takes a simple story (a man en route to the refrigerator from his desk is asked the time by his housemate; this interruption causes him to forget what he was after) and tells it 99 times, changing art style. or page layout, or perspective, or genre - you name it. It is an amazing and insightful exercise, with applications not only for understanding comics but all types of writing and storytelling. It was well worth its price and I'm sure I will refer to it over and over. But it's not really comics; it's about comics.

Enemy Ace: War in Heaven
2003 DC Comics: Garth Ennins, Chris Weston, Christian Alamy, and Russ Heath

In addition to reading about comics, I still want to read comics themselves, and this is comics. I like the graphic novel format (Cohn would have it graphic book; I still like prestige format) rather than pamphlets or singles these days and this purchase, however you wish to label it, did not disappoint. Ennis provides a textured, layered story that takes all the threads from the original Enemy Ace comics and tells a complex story of a complicated man in difficult times. With excellent, moody art (Heath!), readers get excitement and engagement not only through battle scenes like the one above, but through quiet moments such as this one:

This book is a fully developed work, a thoughtful treatment of important themes with a mature sensibility in every panel; it represents the best that comics can be and exactly what I am looking for these days.

And yet...

Agents of Atlas No. 1
2006 Marvel Comics: Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk, Kris Justice

... I did buy a single, because, you know, who can resist a robot and a machine-gun-toting gorilla in the same panel?

Agents of Atlas is a rollicking good read, an update of a fairly silly What If? from years ago which, in addition to robots and gorillas, has spies, flying saucers, and Fu Manchu. It takes me back, and if they don't try to make it a "serious" treatment (how could they?), I may even stick with it.

So there it is: My multivalent relationship with comics. Thanks for coming along on this exploration. Next time: back to the shortbox.

1 comment:

The Fortress Keeper said...

Robots and Gorillas are the ultimate cure for comics ennui.