Making Comics: Scott's McLoud's latest does not disappoint. More how-to than the seminal Understanding Comics, it is nonetheless an engaging read for anyone interested in a formalist approach to comics. I'm already figuring out ways to incorporate it into a class. I teach rhetoric, and I'm all about the analysis of texts, both as an end in itself and and as a means to improving a creator's own texts. (I say texts instead of writing because although most of my teaching concerns traditional writing, many of the same methods can be used on visual and well as verbal artifacts.) This books provides a framework for developing an analytic framework and a useful vocabulary for understanding and explaining why some comics work, some don't, and some seem more successful than others. I am sure that this book will get as dog-eared and worn as any of my reference books.
The 9/11 Report- A Graphic Adaptation: This would be a perfect artifact to study in the manner that I just addressed. This is an ambitious work: the translation of a formal government document, the official record of one of the most significant events in American history, into comics. I'll be looking forward to the studies of who reads it and how they respond and what difference the presentation makes in that response; I'm interested in taking the book apart to see how the authors did it: what choices Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon made in layout and transition, how they balanced the words and the pictures, and how (and if) they managed to maintain an appropriate tone.
So far, I have only given it a cursory read, and it seems pretty effective to me. Of course, this is an idiom with which I am familiar; it will be interesting to see how my non-comics-fan friends and colleagues respond. I haven't even begun to do a close reading and analysis yet, much less a side-by-side comparison of the prose version.
Daisy Cutter- The Last Train: I had a few bucks left on the card after those two purchases, so I picked this up:
The cover caught my attention, so I flipped through it for a minute just to make sure the interior art didn't hurt my eyes and then bought it without knowing anything about it at all. It turned out to be a steampunk western concerning the last job of the eponymous heroine, a semi-retired outlaw, and her ex-partner, now a lawman. Daisy takes an assignment to rob a train guarded by state-of-the-art security robots, and gets drawn into double-crosses and shoot-outs. The story is decent, with a few plot holes here and there; the main characters aren't quite as likable as they might have been, but overall that's a minor quibble; the world they move through is intriguing and well-crafted, and made me want to see more. Overall, it was a mighty satisfyin' ride, and I'll be looking for work from Kazu Kinuishi.
That last purchase taught me two things: The buy-without-knowledge game can really work sometimes, opening me up to books I might not have picked up if i thought about them. The second lesson is a confirmation: my decision to focus on TPBs and collections rather than singles might actually work for me. The $10.95 price on this "graphic novel" seemed about right; the chapters flowed and the piece felt like a unified whole. I'm not sure I would have been quite as satisfied with four $4 singles spaced out.
As far as singles go, I think I'm down to Agents of Atlas (#2 wasn't as much fun as #1, but I'll stick with it) and The Escapists (as long as Vaughn et al stay as experimentally clever with the art/story techniques as they have so far, and as long as "Omnigrip International" comes off less hokey and cliched than its name). Oh yeah, there's Wonder Woman, too, but that's coming out only every nine-and-a-half weeks or so, so it hardly counts as a regular purchase, eh?
So, on the shopping list for graphic books:
Alison Bechtel's Fun Home
Jessica Abel's La Perdita
Jaime Hernandez's Locas
Something called Byrd of Paradise
Something called The Venus Interface
And just so we haven't forsake all super-heroes, here the back-issue singles list:
All appearances of Orca
All appearances of Cir-El
All appearances of Squirrel Girl
Freedom Fighters 8 & 9 and Invaders 14 & 15 (see the last entry in this post for why)
More on this obscuriana to come.