Aug
25
2015

Form vs. Content and the “Othering” of Manga

Fruits-Basket-vol-2-Tohru-and-MomijiThere was a lot of talk going around about the “manga boom” of the late 90’s/early 2000’s a week or two back, spurred mainly by this thoughtful essay by Chris Butcher of The Beguiling and TCAF. I don’t have any first-hand experience with the anti-manga attitude he details there1 nor much to say about the larger issue he directly addresses2 but it did tangentially bring to mind a conversation I had with some comics students a while back.

I’ve taught summer comics classes for high school students at our local community art center, The Sawtooth School, on and off for several years. The students who sign on for this program have historically skewed heavily female and (not unrelated) heavily toward manga as far as their comics interests go. That’s been the case pretty much across the board from when I began teaching there (2004, maybe?) through to the present. I personally read a fair amount of manga, but it’s part of a broader range of comics I read including general fiction GNs, collections of old newspaper strips, webcomics, translated European comics, the occasional superhero comic, etc. The examples of comics I use in class are accordingly across-the-board: some manga, but lots of other stuff as well. Partially I do this in order to expose the students to things beyond what they already know, but also it’s because I’ve always felt that “comics is comics.” Meaning: despite variations in drawing style, genre, length, and format, all these things are all a single medium.

I was making exactly this case for “comics is comics” in a class years ago, though, and was taken aback by how vigorously the students rejected the idea. I’m always interested in my students’ take on comics, so I decided to probe a bit further. According to them, comic books, graphic novels, newspaper comics, etc. were one sort of thing, and manga was another, different kind of thing in another category all together. They couldn’t tell me exactly what this category was, but it contained manga, anime, and video games-related stuff. I remember at the time being pretty baffled by this idea and pointing out all the things that manga shares with other types of comics–They all use panels, right? And you read the panels in order to get a story, right?–but the students weren’t buying it.

At the time I chalked the conversation up to a generational disconnect and just moved on. In recent years, though, I’ve found myself thinking about that conversation a lot. It happened in maybe 2005 or so and at that point I wasn’t too long out of art school. I was very much under the influence–as were a lot of folks who were studying comics at the time–of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. McCloud’s very much into categorization and in that book he very famously defines/categorizes comics based on their formal properties–the sorts of things that I cited to my students: “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence,” as he says.

The more involved I get with comics, though–and with teaching comics–the more sympathetic I am to Dylan Horrock’s critique of Understanding Comics, which points out that in focusing entirely on the form of comics, McCloud ignores content and aesthetics. As Horrocks says, “In one fell swoop (McCloud) has removed all other considerations – genre, style, publishing formats…” And I think this is precisely what my students were responding to in our discussion: they resisted grouping manga with, say Krazy Kat, because of the obvious aesthetic differences between them. Just based on how they look, Vampire Hunter D sure seems have a lot more in common with the video game Final Fantasy II than to The Katzenjammer Kids… or Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth. (And, further, The Katzenjammer Kids, shares a lot more aesthetically with The Family Circus than the Bayeaux Tapestry, yet McCloud would say the former is not a comic, but the latter is.)

For what it’s worth, I still pretty much think “comics is comics.” Manga, newspaper strips, comic books, graphic novels–they’re all the same medium: comics. And I think that’s a particularly good way to think about things if you’re teaching the basic mechanics of the comics-making craft. But I also recognize that because I teach comics and make comics, I gravitate toward the aspects of the art form that I deal with as a teacher and a comics-maker–their formal properties–and not necessarily the aspects that readers of certain types of comics (like my students, in this case) may be responding to: aesthetic properties.

Anyway, what does any of this have to do with Chris Butcher’s essay? Not much, really, but the article reminded me of this incident and that some of manga’s natural, positive “otherness”3 can be a part of its appeal.


 

1. I’m sure there was plenty of manga hostility going around at various “Android’s Dungeon”-type places during this period. During that time, though, I was in the Masters program in SCAD’s Sequential Art department and as such was hanging out with people who were heavily immersed in comics–including tons of manga. Manga seemed to me just another really exciting, interesting thing going on in comics in the late 90s.

2. OK, I will add this one thing: if you’re listing successful important types of comics from that era that have been roundly ignored or even derided by the comics industry status quo, you should add so-called “goth” comics to the list. Comics like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Lenore, Gloomcookie, etc. sold like hotcakes and were–and still are–incredibly influential, but you’d never know they existed by the way they’re discussed (or not discussed) at the time they were published or now.

3. As opposed to the jerky “this is a fad,” “these aren’t real comics,” othering that Chris B. addresses in his essay.

Aug
19
2015

Commission – The Dark Knight Returns

I haven’t been accepting as many commissions this year as I had been previously (wrapping up Oyster War has been getting precedence), but here’s a recent one that I think turned out nicely: Batman and Robin from the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson/Lynn Varley series The Dark Knight Returns.

dark_knightOnce my “Oyster Tour” is wrapped up (not to mention my daughter being back in school) I’ll be more available for commissions. If’n you’re interested in one, you can purchase them via my store, or just contact me directly via the email address in the nav bar, twitter, etc.

 

Aug
01
2015

Oyster War – Printer Sample Copy is Here!

I just received this sample copy of Oyster War and it looks great! Here’s a few pictures of the book, including one with a CD and ruler so you can get an idea of how big this book is. I’m really happy with the way the printing turned out. Look for the book in stores this Fall from Oni Press. The in-store date is in flux at the moment due to some printing delays, but I’ll continue to keep my “Oyster Tour” schedule/appearances post updated as the dates get worked out.

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Jul
28
2015

The Who and Richard Hell & The Voidoids

Here’re are a couple of recent drawings I took out of my sketchbook and inked/colored in Manga Studio: The Who and Richard Hell And The Voidoids. The former is from the cover of a recent Mojo Magazine; the latter’s from the back of the album jacket.

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Jul
21
2015

Oyster Tour 2015!

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As you probably know by now, Oyster War is coming out this fall from Oni Press. In support of the book, I’ll be doing a series of convention appearances and signings around its release. Here’re the dates that are currently lined up. I’ll be signing/sketching in copies of Oyster War and will have some of my older material available for sale at the conventions. I hope to see you at one (or more) of the following events!

Edit (8/1/2015): Unfortunately, there was a printing problem with some of the Oyster War covers and the in-store date of the book is going to be pushed back by a few weeks. I don’t have a definite date at the moment, but I’ll update my in-store signing dates once they’ve been rescheduled. I am still expecting to debut the book at SPX and should have reinforcement books shipped in time for CXC.

Update (8/16): Books are printed and ready to go–and I’ve got new signing dates for my in-store appearances! I’ve updated all the info below, including my table location at SPX.


 

September 18-19 – Small Press Expo (SPX), Bethesda MD. Oyster War debuts at this year’s Small Press Expo! This is a two day show, so I’ll be there both Saturday and Sunday. I’ve been to pretty much every SPX since 2000 or so (one was canceled, I missed one for a wedding) but this is the first time I’ll be debuting a book at the show. I’ve got a full six foot table, so I’ll have plenty of stuff with me other than Oyster War: older books, minicomics, original art, my Wrath of Khan screen-print poster, etc.

I’ll be seated at: E 4B-5A (see floor chart below).

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October 3 – Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC), Columbus, OH. I’ve been accepted as an exhibitor at the inaugural Cartoon Crossroads Columbus. Columbus is a great cartooning/comics town and the lineup for this event is already flat-out amazing. It’s a one day show as far as tabling goes, but I’m hoping I can show up a day early to catch some of the Friday programming as well.  I’ll update this page with my table information when I receive it.

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October 7 – Oyster War in Stores!

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October 8-9 – New York Comic Con, New York City. I’ll be at the Oni Press booth signing copies of Oyster War during the first two days (Thursday and Friday) of the NYCC. This is yet another con I’ve never attended before! Once I know my signing schedule and the location of the Oni booth on the show floor, I’ll post that information here.

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October 14 – Ssalefish Comics & Toys, Winston-Salem NC, 5-7 pm. Oyster War will be in comics shops (and other retail outlets) as of Wednesday the 7th but I’ll be signing copies the following Wednesday at my hometown comics shop, Ssalefish Comics and Toys from five until seven that evening.

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October 24 – ACME Comics, Greensboro, NC, 12-4 pm.  I’ll be signing copies a couple of weeks later at nearby ACME comics in Greensboro. I haven’t done an event here in a loooonnngg time and I’m looking forward to returning!

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Jul
15
2015

Upcoming Story in Cartozia Tales #7

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The seventh issue of Cartozia Tales is at the printers now and about to be sent out to subscribers–and I’ve got a story in it! If you don’t know about Cartozia Tales, now’s a fantastic time to jump in. It’s a all-ages map-based fantasy comics anthology that features a core group of seven (great) cartoonists, with two additional guest cartoonists per issue. For issue seven, I’ll be joining Meredith Gran as guest artist. Here’re some sample panels from my story along with the cover:

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Cartozia World Headquarters could really use an infusion of new subscribers right now, as they’re getting to the bottom of their Kickstarter piggy bank. They’ve set up a great deal to get you introduced to the series on the cheap: You can get the first three issues–that’s over 120 pages of comics–in digital format for just $2.50. And that also includes $5.00 off a full digital subscription if you decide to go all-in. Details here.  You can also pick up individual hard copy issues and subscriptions here.

Jun
30
2015

EC Is For Me, See – by James Lloyd

I never fail to find something interesting at our local monthly Hoots Flea market. This past weekend I encountered a vendor who had a small stack of early 2000s indie comics and I picked up a few odds and ends from him, including a 2001 anthology I’d not heard of called Drippytown, which apparently originated in Vancouver.  It caught my eye because it featured early work by now well-known cartoonists such as Tony Millionaire and Marc Bell. The real surprise of the comic, though, was an extensive text essay on the history of EC Comics–and reminiscense of the 2000 EC “reunion” held at the San Diego Comic-Con–by cartoonist/illustrator James Lloyd.

With the author’s kind permission, I’ve scanned and posted the article:

You can click through the gallery above for bigger scans, or grab this PDF I put together. (© James Lloyd 2001)

Jun
22
2015

Heroes Con 2015 Wrap-Up

I’m back from yet another great Heroes Con. It’s the last show for a bit that I’ll have attended as a “civilian.”  Oyster War will be out this fall and so I’ll most likely be tabling at any shows I go to for the next year or so. I don’t have any big take-away from this year’s show other than that it was–as usual–really well-run and a blast to be at. There’s a reason Heroes is one of comics folks’ most beloved shows.

Here’s just a few thoughts/highlights from my trip:

  • The show seemed to be really, really well-attended this year. I’ve never seen a line at Heroes like there was on Saturday. Even an hour or two after the show opened there were still people lined up all the way down the side of the convention center. IMG_20150620_111532
  • There were a lot more cosplayers–and maybe a lot more women?–this year than in years past. It’s not like there have never been cosplayers or women at Heroes before, but this was the first year that it really stood out to me as a noticeable demographic shift. That’s all good in my book.
  • Our “Mega Panel” on Saturday wasn’t very well attended. I went into it expecting a light showing crowd-wise just because of this year’s subject matter, but it was still a bit of a disappointment. The people that were there seemed to enjoy it, though.IMG_20150620_144615~2
  • Among the original art pieces that Craig Fischer showed at the Mega Panel were these two gorgeous Denys Wortman originals. Apparently James Sturm has literally boxes and boxes of Wortman originals that were given to CCS. IMG_20150620_125759 IMG_20150620_125812
  • Speaking of Originals: it’s worth a trip to Heroes just to look through the incredible array of original art you’ll find at Bechara Maalouf’s booth. Seriously. Did I mention he’s got literally dozens of Kirby pages in portfolios you can just flip through and look at? One of these days, when I win the lottery…IMG_20150621_112811 IMG_20150621_112817 IMG_20150621_112830
  • I bought this beautiful Drew Weing original from Set To Sea. Check out how he’s handled the reflection of the sponge and rigging! IMG_20150620_180055
  • I spent more time at the art auction than I have in years past–mainly just because there were some folks I knew hanging out there (and in some cases waiting to see what their pieces sold for). As usual, I registered for a bidding paddle but never actually bid on anything since everything I was interested in was way way out of my price range. Here’s a Bob MacLeod New Mutants piece that was out of my price range before I could even get my paddle in the air:IMG_20150620_210339
  • At the art auction I ran into Craig Hamilton, who I haven’t seen in years. He told me he’d abandoned comics work entirely and had gotten a job doing those hand-lettered chalk signs you see at bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. He then totally blew my mind my showing me that his Dr. Strange piece for the art auction–which appears at first glance to be an oil painting–is actually done with sign chalk on a black chalk board:IMG_20150620_223809
  • Speaking of the art auction: It’s long been known that paintings of superhero ladies in revealing outfits fetch the big money at the Heroes auction. This year, though, I heard at least two different artists wondering if maybe the bounds of good taste aren’t being stretched a bit in this department. That one of this year’s big five-figure sellers was basically a spread-legged crotch shot of Emma Frost wasn’t unusual, but I wonder if the current spotlight on making the comics community less toxic to women isn’t fueling some of this talk. I also heard at least one female exhibitor grousing about the boob-a-rific “You hit the jackpot, tiger” Mary Jane Watson that serves as the Heroes’ website splash page.
  • I attended two panels on craft/technology: Kyle Webster’s panel demoing his Photoshop brushes and a panel on color flatting with Manga Studio. Both of these panels were well-attended and had lots of people asking questions. I’ve thought for a long time that there’s a lot more interest out there for panels on the actual craft of comics-making than many con organizers may think. I’d love to see more of this. Maybe I’ll pitch something along those lines for next year’s show.
  • I didn’t buy as many books as I usually do at Heroes, but here’re a few items. That last book that’s open to a spread is the new Pope Hats from AdHouse.IMG_20150621_121103 IMG_20150621_131738 IMG_20150622_094932

As usual, the best part of Heroes was seeing and hanging out with a lot of folks who I only really see at Heroes once a year or so. See you next year everyone! (And also as usual, a big thanks to everyone who keeps Heroes running like the well-oiled machine it is, including but not limited to: Shelton Drum, Andy Mansell, Rico Renzi and all the Heroes volunteers!)

Jun
11
2015

Pics From My Exhibition at The Theater Arts Gallery in High Point

Here’re a few pictures I took at the opening reception for the TAG  exhibit.  Info about the show can be found here.

Jun
09
2015

Heroes Con 2015 Mega-Panel: 10th Anniversary of CCS, Comics How-To Books

I’ll be jumping back into the usual yearly Heroes Con “mega-panel” this year with my pal Craig Fischer and here’s our topic for this year. I’ll be covering the initial presentation/slide show on cartooning how-to books–a subject I’m really looking forward to discussing. Come one, come all! Saturday, 3:00 pm, room 209.

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At the Junction of Words and Pictures: the Tenth Anniversary of the Center for Cartoon Studies

For this year’s mega-panel, cartoonist Ben Towle and critic Craig Fischer celebrate the first decade of the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS), the influential school for comics artists located in White River Junction, Vermont. Ben will begin with a slide show/talk about the history of “how-to” cartooning guides, including How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, Understanding Comics, and the CCS-sponsored Adventures in Cartooning books by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost. Ben’s presentation will be followed by a screening of Cartoon College (Josh Melrod and Tara Wray, 2012, 75 minutes), a lively documentary that chronicles CCS’s history while focusing on a group of students furiously working on long-form comics for their graduation projects. One added attraction of Cartoon College: interviews with such comics luminaries as Scott McCloud, Art Spiegelman, Françoise Mouly, and Steve Bissette.

To explore the issues and situations brought up in Cartoon College, we’ll then move into a panel featuring CCS alumni and students. Our guests will be Chuck Forsman, Oily Comics publisher and creator of such recent graphic novels and comics as TEOTFW, Celebrated Summer, and Revenger; Sophie Goldstein, writer/artist of the Ignatz-nominated House of Women and Adhouse’s graphic novel The Oven; and current CCS student Andy Shuping. Come get the inside scoop on CCS from those in the know! The panel will end with a display of original art to be included in a major CCS art exhibit at Appalachian State University in Fall 2015.”

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