Here's what I've been reading lately...


July/ August 2018

Bingo Love, by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge and Joy San (2018, Image)

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Bingo Love is, above all else, a love story. So if you're not okay with fearlessly-following characters through the depths of their emotional leaps, free-falls and crash-landings, you may prefer to stick with other genres. As for me, I was distinctly teary-eyed while reading this beautifully written and drawn book. The medium of comics is adept at representing many different aspects of life, from coming-of-age stories to tales from ones' twilight years. In turn, Franklin, St-Onge and San deftly move from adolescent dreams and desires to the boons and routines of middle-age to the freedoms and sorrows of the advanced years of our lives. Did I mention that it made me cry in a genuine and cathartic fashion? Well it did... because the best comics can forge a strong emotional connection for the reader, achieved through smart formal and narrative choices. Bingo Love is a top-ten book of 2018.



May/ June 2018


What Editors Do: The Art, Craft and Business of Book Editing (2017, University of Chicago Press)

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Reading What Editors Do felt like the publishing-equivalent of when I first encountered Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential so many years ago. It’s a tell-all about the publishing industry as much as a practical guide to working with an editor or being/becoming one. It’s an anthology with a range of chapters tracking each stage of the publishing process, from acquisitions to copy-editing and promotion, all written by professionals in the industry.

Having worked with a few different editors myself over the last decade, I quickly recognized the different personality types, common laments, potential pitfalls, etc. But I was pleased to learn more about the financial, creative and social factors that drive different types of presses – academic ones like those I’ve worked with, as well as those serving other markets. Anyone who’s ever been an author or sought to be one would do well to read this book.


March / April 2018


Present, by Leslie Stein (2017, Drawn and Quarterly)

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Leslie Stein is a tremendous talent in the comics world, so when I saw her new book Present on the ‘new releases’ shelf at my local library I snapped it up with glee. Call the stories in this book autobiographical, call them diary-based, call them slice-of-life… they are regularly focused on random encounters and minor moments, along with equal doses of delightful and trying experiences (for her, not the reader).

While Stein’s drawing style has remained relatively similar over her young career, a small evolution can be seen when comparing her most recent work to that from only a few years ago. Her approach to drawing the human figure is distinctly minimalist, much closer to the sparse lines of Ivan Brunetti’s work than to most other cartoonists. But where she would draw the outline of a face in past years, Stein now typically leaves a blank space atop her character’s shoulders, favoring only a hairstyle and two small dots for eyes. This approach works like a visual signature because it is so unique, but what I love about it the most is how it pushes Scott McCloud’s ideas about the role of the icon as it applies to human faces to new extremes. McCloud tells us that we only need a circle with two dots and a line inside of it to recognize the image as a human face with eyes and a mouth. Stein foregoes the circle and the line altogether, choosing only the two dots for eyes with other elements (hair, clothing) used as surrounding contexts for our ability to see the sum of these parts as human.

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It’s a style that might take some readers a few pages to fully appreciate, but its formal innovations will surely grow on you if they don’t immediately spark joy…. especially once Stein’s watercolors begin to flourish on the page. All of this being said, I do find that Present is a book best read in small doses at a time. It’s many chapters are brief and episodic, and best savored over time rather than guzzled quickly all in one go (…given the amount of wine consumed by the characters in this book, I think it’s a fitting metaphor!).   


January/ February 2018


Mister Miracle #6 (DC Comics, 2018)


This is by far one of the greatest single-issues of a comic book I've read in years. This reaffirms my decision to start buying some of my comics on a monthly basis again at my local comic shop rather than just trade-wait. Mister Miracle benefits from a month by month, chapter by chapter approach. The pacing just wouldn't work as well if I'd come to this sixth issue in the middle of a collected volume. Pick this up even if you aren't reading the whole series. It stands on its own beautifully. Hooray for serialized monthly comics!! Double-Hooray for floppy single issues!! Triple-Hooray for King and Gerads!!


The Golden Age Spectre (DC Comics)


As part of my research into the history of how Christianity has been represented in comics for a new book project, I've been taking detours into how superhero comics have portrayed the supernatural. Turns out that some of it is quite pseudo-Christian at times. The Spectre is fascinating stuff, much to my surprise. I've always liked the character, but he's rarely used in recent decades of DC Comics. But the Golden Age stuff turns out to be quite brilliant... certainly one of the most readable superheroes of the era. 


Bernard Bailey's artwork approaches some of Steve Ditko's other-worldy Doctor Strange charms at times... and there's even a couple of stories that count as serialized storytelling, with the narrative picking up where it left off last issue, a rarity for comics in this era. 

This was a pricey book because it's out of print (thanks grant-$$$$!!!!!!), but if you ever get the chance to read these early stories it is well worth it.


Tillie Walden, Spinning (First Second, 2017)


This is a highly readable debut from Tillie Walden, a memoir about her teenage years as a competitive ice-skater. This made a lot of Best-of-2017 lists and I can see why! Walden's voice is strong, her formal choices give a nice balance that allows the reader to connect emotionally at times and remain at an objective distance elsewhere. The strategic/sporadic use of color is handled nicely too. Highly recommended.


November/ December 2017

Happy Hour in America Vol. 2, No. 1 (Fantagraphics, 2017)

I'm not familiar with Tim Lane's previous work, but I was glad to have found this new issue, with it's Steve McQueen-centric content. As an immigrant living in America (yes, Canadian ex-pats are immigrants! ...which I have to remind myself, because I forget it too...), I can recognize a strong sense of national identity in this book , with delves into themes of individuality, alienation and celebrity. I'm definitely going to search out Lane's earlier work.


Shade the Changing Girl Vol. 1 (DC Comics, 2017)

Overall, I'm quite pleased with DC's Young Animal line of books. They range from a book like Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, which is a ton of fun, to Mother Panic, which I found rather tedious, to Doom Patrol, which passes the torch nicely. But the best of the bunch is Shade the Changing Girl. I read Peter Milligan's Shade comics back when they came out, so I'm well familiar with the back-story here... but its more than mere nostalgia, this is a fully developed approach and a wonderful blend of character and formal experimentation. Highly recommended.


The Unquotable Trump (Drawn & Quarterly, 2017)

Robert Sikoryak parodies comics covers from various eras and publishers as he casts Trump as the villain, using (as the cover promises) his own own "best" words:

...'nuff said!


September/ October 2017

Now #1 (Fantagraphics, 2017)

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This is a new, ongoing anthology from Fantagraphics with contributions by Eleanor Davis, Dash Shaw, Noah Van Sciver and many others. I sure hope this catches on because it's full of amazing work and its a great introduction to artists I'm not familiar with (like Tobias Schalken, whose silent story "21 Positions/The Final Frontier" is perhaps my favorite of the bunch).


The Complete Jack Kirby Vol. 1, 1917-1940


This is a fascinating look at the early years of Kirby's career. Great contextual material by Greg Theakston... lots of insights into the comics industry's pioneering years.


Dan Gearino, Comic Shop: The Retail Mavericks Who Gave Us A New Geek Culture

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This is a fascinating look at the retail side of the comics industry. The first half offers the history of how the direct market came to be, and the second half features profiles of numerous shops across North America. Wonderfully written, this was a real page turner... and it's a much needed study. Highly recommended.


Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #22

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Moon Girl and Devil Dinosuar is now officially my daughter’s favorite comic (I added it to my pull-list and she looks forward to it every month now!… and I love love love it too ( …it’s a perfect blend of Jack Kirby tribute plus superior role model for young girls… crosses off both my old-school fanboy and concerned-parent checklists in one swift stroke, huzzah!!). But in all seriousness... this really is superior storytelling… it’s not just a fluffy kids-book, even though my local library keeps it in the children’s section. It’s super smart and deftly-constructed, issue after issue. I point my students towards it as often as I can and they keep coming back with good things to say about it. So… please… do buy it so Marvel doesn’t cancel it!!!


July / August 2017


Art Baltazar and Franco, Super Powers Vol. 1


This is pure bliss. I should pass this along to my kids but I'm savoring it for now... I'm fortunate enough to call Aw Yeah Comics my local comic shop, and the kids love these books... but they can wait a little while longer to lay claim to this one! (Heh heh...)


Frank J. Barbiere and Chris Moonyham, Five Ghosts Vol. 1


I picked this up for the high concept premise (adventurer can draw on the power of five different literary ghosts he is possessed by....), but the execution is compelling enough that I'll pick up the next volumes. It remind me of 1970s Gold Key comics, of all things, and that's good... very pulp-horror/adventure, fast-paced, exciting and fun.


Scott Higgins, Matinee Melodrama (2016, Rutgers University Press)

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It’s about time we got a new academic analysis of the good ol’ chapterplay serials of the 1930s and 40s… Scott Higgins’s work here is a much-needed examination of the cliffhangers, with a nice mix of formal and narrative details. I hope this leads to even more work on serials, which remain a fascinating area of study for me. 


Batgirl / Teen Titans Rebirth

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…I have to admit that I am not the target audience for these books. But I’m not sure if I’m okay with that… I like to think I’m a rather cosmopolitan comics reader… but these don’t do much for me, because I’m a middle-aged guy and not a teenager anymore. I’m sure my kids will love these once they learn how to read. And I’m glad that DC is offering titles to a wide age-range of readers and not just the aging, nostalgic, oft-cranky fans like myself. As much as I love Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, and as much as I’ve enjoyed Damian Wayne over the years (…he really is a great character!), I couldn’t muster much in the way of love for these books… but that’s probably more on me than them. Give 'em a try, by all means!


Max Landis, Superman: American Alien

...Um, this one isn’t for me either. I don’t know much about Max Landis, but my students buzzed about this book and the fact that he wrote it. It reads like a Clark Kent: Millennial version of John Byrne’s Man of Steel (…or, if I must Geoff Johns’ Superman: Secret Origin, but I’d rather ‘feel the Byrne’… sorry…). I suppose if you’ve never read a Superman comic before and you need a gateway drug to something better, this might do the trick… but that’s feint praise.


Secret Empire

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Confession: I started off hate-reading this. Nazi-Cap??? For shame. Boo, hiss! (…but I appreciate the metaphor…). But a funny thing happened. I kept picking it up each time I took the kids to our local comic shop (Aw Yeah Comics). And I started to dig both Nick Spencer’s storytelling and even more-so Andrea Sorreninto’s artwork. So now I’ve opened up a pull-list for the first time in over seven years, and I’m back on the serialization-train again (...must mean that my kids are old enough to not rip the covers off of my comics anymore... hooray...).


Moebius, The World of Edena

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Having read only Airtight Garage and some of his Marvel work, I was thrilled to find this at my local library since so many Moebius books are out of print.  He starts his introduction by stating “I never give the keys to my stories. My stories are not like a box of spaghetti, and they don’t come with instructions on how long you must put them in boiling water before you can eat.” With that, I just gave myself over the narrative flow and the delightful imagery (which is drawn in what Moebius calls “a style as simple and pure as possible,” without the extremely detailed line-work he is known for. “I was obliged to work very hard on my lines and make each one count,” he says). A wonderful book.


Alex & Ada Vol. 2 &3

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…so is it wrong that instead of getting invested in the social and technological implications of this series, I really just wanted a happy ending to this ‘boy meets robot-girl’ story? I’d blame it on all the soap operas I watch but those never have happy endings (…or endings, period). This became a bit of page-turner for me, but I’m not thinking about it too hard despite its obvious metaphors.


May / June 2017

Joseph Witek, Comic Books as History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar (University of Mississippi Press, 1989)


This is a pioneering work of comics scholarship, and what's most impressive is how fresh it still seems. Witek's analysis is a pleasure to read (and as a point of comparison, just try reading some cultural studies or film studies writing from 1989, and I'd bet you it's some tough sledding now...). I wasn't familiar with Jackson's work but now have to track it down.


Lucy Shelton Caswell and Jared Gardner, Eds., Drawing the Line: Comics Studies and Inks, 1994-1997 (Ohio State University Press, 2017)


This compilation of some of the best essays from the original Inks journal is something I would gladly have bought even if I hadn't gotten it free with my Comics Studies Society membership. It's a vital collection of comics scholarship, with essays on creators like Will Eisner, George Herriman, R.F. Outcault, topics like Asian comics and political cartoons, plus reviews of Understanding Comics, The Art of the Funnies and other now-classic texts. Essential.


Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, Batman and Robin Vol. 6: The Hunt for Robin (DC Comics, 2016)


I've long been a sucker for superhero death and rebirth stories... maybe it's related to my enjoyment of soap operas and how characters are always being killed off and resurrected in delightfully creative ways (...comas, explosions and face-transplants are always welcome ways to remove/revive characters). I'm a fan of just about anything that Tomasi and Gleason team-up on, and this one is a winner for me as well.


Scott Snyder and Jock, Wytches (Image Comics, 2016)


I like Snyder's Batman run. I really like Jock's art on mostly everything. So why don't I like this book more?? I need to think more about comics and horror because I don't always enjoy them together... Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run often gave me the heebie-jeebies, but Locke & Key leaves me/scratching my head. Mind you I've studied/taught horror movies for a long time now, so maybe I'm desensitized?? But I might have to do some research about comics and horror in the future to figure out why I'm rarely affected by horror comics... to be continued...


Martin Baker, A Haunt of Fears: The Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign (University of Mississippi Press, 1992)


I've been searching out (and it sounds odd to say this) 20th-Century comics scholarship (of which there really isn't very much...) lately. I recall picking much of it up on the shelves (okay, part of one shelve...) of the Simon Fraser University library during my early/mid-90's undergrad days (Sweet Christmas, has it been twenty-plus years already?!). I recall a giddy excitement back then that there were academics studying this stuff. Now that I do so myself, it's wonderful to back and see just how good most of the writing being produced back then was. Baker's A Haunt of Fears is an engaging study of 1940/50s horror comics. The biggest draw here for me is the extended analysis of individual EC stories like "The Orphan," "The Way to a Man's Heart" and "You, Murderer," plus the fact that all three stories are reprinted in full here (you don't see that much these days!).


Jeff Lemire, Roughneck (Simon & Schuster, 2017)

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I've enjoyed Lemire's work for quite a few years now, moreso his work as writer/artist than his work-for-hire writing (...although much of that has been quite good too). Roughneck stands as some of his best work, I think. What is it about Canadian comics that seems to result in a consistent sense of requisite sadness and longing? We're a melancholy bunch, if our comics are to believed... and the theme of lost potential resonates here in Roughneck. I was drawn to it for it's hockey-related subject matter in addition to digging Lemire's work, but I recommend it for it's larger purposes beyond my pervasive Hockey-Night-in-Canada-related nostalgia while living in a land without the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (...thank Coombs there's Youtube so I can show my kids the magic that was Mr. Dressup...).

March/April 2017


Who Knows Who Wrote It &Who Knows Who Drew It, Convergence (DC Comics, 2015)


...all I can say about this one is a line that I have actually spoken out loud during an administrative meeting: "I have no idea what it is we're supposed to be doing here...". Yeesh... so much seems to be happening in here and yet so little actually happens... I so want to love you, post-New-52-DC Comics, and yet you frustrate me on nearly every turn...


Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce, We Stand On Guard (Image Comics, 2017)

...why yes, I *would* like to read a comic about a future war between Canada and the U.S.! Written by Vaughan? Drawn by that Canadian Spider-Man artist I used to like twenty-or-so years ago? Sold. And how ironic that I happened to read it the day my kids' Canadian passports arrived in the mail! I can't say enough good things about this book, and yes that may have something to do with who wins the war... wink!


Ian Gordon, Superman: The Persistence of an American Icon (Rutgers University Press, 2017)


Ian Gordon gets Superman. He's an ideological symbol, a corporate product and mythic figure all at once. Gordon has been writing academic work about comics longer than most, and it shows (he's also a hell of a nice guy, should you ever get a chance to meet him!). This is a definitive piece of comics scholarship. I may be rather biased given my relationship with Rutgers, but their 'Comics Culture' series has been consistently producing some remarkable comics scholarship lately. Highly recommended.


Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, Batman and Robin Vol. 4: Requiem for Damian (DC Comics, 2014)


Ahhh, this is a much nicer sojourn into the post-New-52-or-whatever-the-hell universe of DC Comics. I enjoyed Tomasi and Gleason's run on Green Lantern Corps however many years ago (seems like a lifetime ago by now, given all that's changed in my life since then... wow...), but this is a cut above. Character-driven. Touching at times, even. And Gleason's artwork consistently lacks the depressingly common gotta-meet-that-deadline generic flavor of so many recent DC books. I'll chalk this one up as a win. 


Mark Waid and Fiona Staples, Archie Vol. 1 (Archie Comics, 2016)


I'm assigning this to the students in my current 'Soap Operas' course, but truth be told I just really wanted to read it and needed an excuse to pick it up sooner than later! I mean, Waid AND Staples?! It's obvious that the creators of the new Riverdale show read this and borrowed some ideas... but the tone here is a lot more fun. As Waid points out, it would be really easy to do horrible things with a revamped approach like this... but he gets it right.


Tom King & Mitch Gerads, The Sheriff of Babylon Vol. 1 & 2 (DC/Vertigo, 2016)

I'm digging Tom King's work, first Vision now this... I know I'll have to re-read these two volumes again, because the storytelling has layers to it... there's the murder-mystery at the core of it, but that isn't the most satisfying part... it's the character studies of its three lead characters, who become entangled as the story progresses. Strong stuff... I'm hoping to read Omega Men next before starting his Batman Rebirth series, but we'll see if I last that long...


Joe Ollmann, The Abominable Mr. Seabrook (Drawn & Quarterly, 2017)

Comics are better known for autobiography than biography, on the whole. There's been some great graphic novels about Martin Luthor King, Malcolm X, Louis Riel, Che Guevera and Nat Turner, but far better known are the autobiographical approaches of Fun Home, Persepolis, Smile, American Splendor and Blankets. The Abominable Mr. Seabrook is a biographical comic about a lesser-known figure, but a fascinating one - William Seabrook, a journalist who coined the term 'zombie' based on on his ethnographic research in the Carribean, as well as a bondage enthusiast who enjoyed tying up women. A consummate alcoholic, Seabrook is a rather pathetic figure, but the book is thoroughly enjoyable thanks to Ollmann's detailed research and his focus on the little moments... this will surely be one of the best of 2017.


The Final Days of Superman (DC Comics, 2016)

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My attempt at catching up on the biggest moments of the DC New 52 stuff continues as I move towards DC Rebirth... and man, oh man... all I can say about this one is... blergh! I'm a big ol' Superman fan going way way back. The 1978 film was the first I ever saw in a theatre. I have a whole shelf of Superman toys in my office. I've read nearly every Superman comic ever re-printed. But this New 52 stuff, aside from Gene Yang and Grant Morrison's runs... I can't do it. It's all surfaces... the whole bearded-Supes from pre-Flashpoint is one thing, I can get behind that, and Dan Jurgens' other Lois and Clark series with that whole side of it was all fine and good, I suppose... (but maybe its just because I'm getting old and cranky and I want things back the way they were). As I read Last Days I just kept wondering when it would be over... and then when it was over it just felt anti-climatic. I'm looking forward to Tomasi and Gleason's Rebirth work though...


Emil Ferris, My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Fantagraphics, 2016)

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Marvelous stuff, this. I do love monsters, as most know, so this appeals to me on many levels. It's done in the style of a grade-school notebook, complete with ruled-blue-lines. It's conceptually brilliant, the artwork is inspired, and the odes to different styles and eras of monster fandom is delightful. It's fun when it wants to be, too ("NEVER EVER... Never ever comb your hair after dark unless you want to comb sorrow into your true love's heart; Never ever cut your toenails on a Sunday, unless you want the Devil to to rule you all week; Never ever sweep your house at night or you'll offend the ghosts that haunt your home; Never ever be photographed holding a cat"). If you've never read an EC horror comic, bought Famous Monsters of Filmland and/or seen a Hammer horror film (...but if that describes you, then for the love of Ackerman,step outside of your pop-culture comfort zone a bit!) then this might be slightly less amazing to you... me, I love monsters too.


Forever Evil (DC Comics, 2014)

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How best to describe this one... 'insufferable' comes to mind first. I've been trying to catch up on some of DC's events since the New 52 began... I was a long-time DC fan up until 2011, and then the post-Flashpoint reset button happened to coincide with my move to Chicago and the arrival of my now-5-year-old... so it seemed like a good time to jump off. I've kept up with a few things like Scott Snyder's Batman  and Gene Yang's Superman, but when I've tried picking up other stuff (Justice League, Green Lantern... you know, stuff I used to read my whole life...) it was disappointing. Forever Evil is even worse... it doesn't help that I've never enjoyed the Crime Syndicate as characters, they just seem like an evil-pastiche of the J.L. and not much more. Finch's art is dreary (but he draws a nice Black Manta, I'll give him that), and Johns goes through the motions. The post-2011 DC stuff just isn't very much fun, by and large... and I mean that it in the sense that it lacks joy. I'm trying though, as I work my way up through the years towards the new DC Rebirth stuff... sigh...


Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel and Grau, 2015)

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I started reading Coates' Black Panther on my iPad via Marvel Unlimited and quickly realized two things... 1) I wanted to read it on paper and should buy the trade paperback. And, 2) I wanted to read some of his non-comics work first before looking at what he does with Marvel's first African character. Between the World and Me is an amazing work, written by Coates for his son. Much like Michael Eric Dyson's Tears We Cannot Stop, it's a vital reflection on black identity in America. I might try and read his other book, The Beautiful Struggle before turning to Coates' Marvel work, but now those two B.P. trades are burning a hole in the to-read pile on my bookshelf...


Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology (Norton, 2017)

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Is it wrong that I’m mostly reading this through the lens of Marvel’s Thor comics? …Maybe not, since Gaiman opens the book with an account of how reading Lee and Kirby’s early issues fostered his love of Norse myths. Gaiman writes this in a prose format, but it’s much in the style of listening to someone tell a story as far as the pace and the phrasing, I.e. written for the ear as much as for the eye as far as word choice and sentence structure. The chapters are short as it moves from tale to tale, but I find it’s a more rewarding read to do it a chapter at a time, little by little. (I suppose the same is true with Lee and Kirby’s Journey Into Mystery, which I find spectacular issue by issue, but just a little bit less rewarding when reading a collected edition all at once… this has more to do with Lee than Kirby, me-thinks…).


Eisner/Miller (Dark Horse Comics, 2005)

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A fascinating discussion between two generations of comics legends, done shortly before Eisner’s death. What’s especially interesting is when they dive into the nitty-gritty of their craft, down to the types of brushes used and the distinctions between different kinds of brush strokes (it warms my Formalist heart!). The open talk about the realities of the comics industry is also valuable… we’ve heard it from Miller before, but getting Eisner’s take on things and his comparisons between the origins of comic book publishing and the turn of the 21st Century is valuable stuff indeed.


Alex and Ada, Vol. 1 (Image, 2014)

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I’ve always found the Luna Brothers work more “interesting” than I’ve connected with it on any real level, but Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughan’s Alex and Ada has got me a half-step beyond just being interested after reading Vol. 1. The concept (AI ‘companions’) is one that could be taken in any number of directions, so I’m intrigued enough to see where this goes. 


January/February 2017


Jason Aaron & Jason Latour, Southern Bastards Vol. 2 & 3 (Image Comics, 2015-16)

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"I don't give a damn about football," says one character from the football-loving small town of Southern Bastards. I feel the same way. Unless it's Aussie Rules, or my old hometown BC Lions of the CFL for what's largely nostalgic reasons, I can't watch football. Hockey and baseball, yes please. Basketball sometimes, sure. But football... naw, no thanks. So I wasn't expecting to get into Vol. 2 and 3 of Southern Bastards after enjoying the first volume so much. I can't watch most football movies either, so I didn't think I'd much care for a comic about football culture. But this is great stuff, as good as the first volume, as it builds on the backstory of the initial events and characters. It's grimy and greasy and gristly in all the right ways, and its title emphasis on 'bastards' rings true throughout. This would make a nice HBO or Netflix crime series... and I'm not even the world's biggest fan of Jason Aaron when I say that. I didn't get into Scalped, I'm trying to hang in there with his new Doctor Strange series, and I like his new Star Wars and Thor stuff well enough, I guess. So when I saw that Southern Bastards was winning Eisner awards I thought I'd give it a shot. Glad I did, you should too.



Clyde Fans (2004, Drawn and Quarterly)
It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken (1996, D&Q)
Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World (2005, D&Q)

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I've been re-reading a lot of Seth's work lately, and I realize now looking back at these three books that their themes of aging, nostalgia, loss and regret must have struck a chord with me as I dealt with the loss of my Father and the back and forth trips to Canada over the past few months. Seth's pacing is immaculate, and his focus on place, space and architecture really stood out reading these all at once. I was vividly reminded of various trips riding the train so many years ago through the Ontario countryside past a parade of small towns I'll never visit, and of exploratory walkabouts in some of the towns I did make it to. There's a few new academic books on Seth coming soon that I'll have to check out, and the imminent ending of 'Clyde Fans' in Palookaville has me eagerly awaiting Book 2.


Michael Erin Dyson, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America (St. Martin's Press, 2017)

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Dyson has been one of my favorite scholars for a long time now, and I'm kicking myself that my toddler-driven-schedule made me miss his recent speaking appearance here at DePaul. He begins this book by explaining how he had first sought to make it an academic one, but kept deleting what he wrote. Instead, he delivers a sermon, and I'm glad he did. He's a magnificent writer, specifically in the sense of choosing words that deliver his ideas with a succinct, forceful impact. Take for instance his words about Martin Luther King: "He is the struggle and suffering of our people distilled to a bullet in Memphis. King's martyrdom made him less a man, more a symbol, arguably a civic deity. But there are perils to hero-worship. His words get plucked from their original contexts, his ideas twisted beyond recognition. America has washed the grit from his rhetoric." (p. 37) ...There are are lot of powerful images in there, but that word 'grit' stands out as especially important. Along with the necessity of this book's content (and he addresses our new President therein...), Dyson's delivery and his diction make this a vital read.


Hope Nicholson (Ed.), The Secret Loves of Geek Girls (Dark Horse Comics, 2016)

This is a great non-fiction anthology with a ton of short pieces done in both prose and comics form on the topics of fandom, love, gender, geekdom and more.  It's a must for fan-studies scholars, but also a fun read as well. I picked it up wondering if I could get my daughter interested in it, but with its frank discussions of sexuality I think I’ll wait until she’s a teenager…

Contributors include Marjorie Liu, Roberta Gregory, Mariko Tamaki, Trina Robbins, among many, many others... plus, comics by Margaret Atwood (no joke!).


Jason Mittell, Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling (NYU Press, 2015)


Nearly all of my research into television over the past fifteen years has been limited to the 1950s, between Battle for the Bs and Movie Comics. So it was a treat to dig into Mittell's book for the current grad media theory class I'm teaching. It's been amusing to watch the interest in serial television grow over the past few years, given my love of The Young and the Restless and its never-ending narrative delights. My interest in Y&R grew as I started to enjoy analyzing the formal devices it uses to tell what is indeed a complex story (and now that I teach an annual course on soap operas I've been able to do Skype sessions with cast/producer from the show to figure out how it all works!), and the parallels between it and the shows Mittell examines are strong. This is a go-to book for me now on modern television (and might lead me to re-watch Breaking Bad all over again with Mittell's ideas in mind).


Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Marvel Comics)

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I've enjoyed this new series immensely from the start, even though I'm indifferent to the all-Inhumans-all-the-time trend at Marvel these days. Child-genius Lunella Lafayette is great character because it's usually very hard to write child characters well, at least in the superhero genre (Power Pack in the 1980s being an exception!). While this book might seem similar to the tone and look of recent titles like Squirrel Girl and Howard the Duck, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur keeps me coming back at the same time as those other titles have started to seem stale. It's more than just cute, witty and whimsical... it has a genuine heart alongside its playfulness, while telling an engaging story that updates a favorite Kirby series of mine. Highly recommended.


Drew Morton, Panel to the Screen (Univ. of Mississippi Press, 2016)

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While I chronicle the historical side of film and comics in Movie Comics, Drew Morton takes up the connections between the two media over the past few decades. This is a first-rate analysis of how Hollywood and comics have intersected in recent years, going beyond issues of adaptation to look at industrial trends as well.


November/December 2016


Doctor Fate, Vol. 1: The Blood Price (DC Comics)


I've been a fan of Doctor Fate ever since seeing him on the cover of Justice League #1 back in 1987. It was something about that helmet... so when I saw that Sonny Liew was doing this new version I was intrigued. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is amazing stuff, and his art fits well with the mystical, reality-bending imagery of Doctor Fate. Paul Levitz's story is off to a good start, but for me the real pleasure is Liew's treatment of Egyptian gods like Anubis and Osiris.

...And of course, the helmet... I really do love that helmet!

...Not to mention covers like this!



Harvey Kurtzman, Corpse on the Imjin! and other stories (EC Comics Library)

My experience with Kurtzman’s work for EC Comics has largely been limited to a few early issues of MAD (which I think are pretty nifty), so I was excited when I found this book at my local library. The book consists of his work on Two-Fisted Tales  and Frontline Combat, and it’s remarkable stuff. Kurtzman’s line work seems like a looser version of Milton Caniff’s style, and also remind me a fair bit of recent artwork in Marvel books like Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Power Man and Iron Fist (I.e. much more reminiscent of the way in which older comic strips were less beholden to strict physical realism and were willing to bend the laws of physics and human anatomy at times in the name of abstraction). The title story, 'Corpse on the Imjin,' is a masterpiece. I even had a couple of people looking over my shoulder to check this book out while reading it on the L-train. Highly recommended.


Robert Warshow, The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre and Other Aspects of Popular Culture (Harvard University Press)
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This is a fascinating collection of cultural and media criticism from Warshow, who died in 1955 at the age of 37. There are some great pieces about crime films, the western and Charlie Chaplin, but the centerpiece for me, as a comics scholar, is his article “Paul, the Horror Comics and Dr. Wertham,” in which he tackles his son’s fascination with EC Comics and the medium as a whole. On MAD magazine, for instance, Warshow writes of how “The tendency of the humor, in its insistence violence, is to reduce all culture to indiscriminate anarchy.” Warshow’s criticism is compelling, and the way in which he challenges Fredric Wertham’s ideas while still remaining conflicted about the comics medium itself makes this a vital piece of comics scholarship.


Shigeru Mizuki, Showa: A History of Japan, 1926-1939 (Drawn & Quarterly)


I haven’t read nearly as much manga as I should have, and most of what I’ve read is has been in Viz magazines like Shonen Jump, or else horror books like Uzumaki. I don’t think I’ve ever read history in manga form before, but I’m finding Mizuki’s work fascinating.  Drawn & Quarterly has collected this series into four large volumes, and I’m looking forward to more.


September/October 2016


Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener, Film Theory: An Introduction Through the Senses, 2nd Ed. (Routledge, 2015)


This is an engaging book that I’m considering assigning to my grad students. The way in which it synthesizes various theories through the senses (with chapters on “Cinema as Eye” / “Cinema as Skin” / “Cinema as Ear” / “Cinema as Brain”) appeals to the media ecologist in me, and I’m enjoying how it’s made me think about familiar films like The Searchers and Silence of the Lambs in new ways.


Jeff Smith, Bone: One Volume

I've been reading this to my kids at night before bedtime, a few pages at a time, and they love it. I'm particularly enjoying acting out the voices! 


Walt and Skeezix, Vol. 1

Frank King’s Gasoline Alley is a masterpiece.  His line-work is beautiful and the way he composes things within each panel displays a sophisticated use of space and mise-en-scene. But beyond these formal aspects, it’s the sweetness of the strip that remains constant. Walt’s first steps into fatherhood feel very familiar to me despite the 90-year difference between my first child’s birth and the arrival of baby Skeezix on Walt’s doorstep.  I simply love this.


New Superman


I saw Gene Luen Yang give a talk in Columbus, Ohio this summer at the Children’s Literature Association, and his comments about Superman were fascinating. I haven’t read his previous work for DC on the character, but the concept of New Superman (in which a rowdy teenage boy in China is given the powers of Superman) intrigued me. Two issues in, and I’m loving this series. I haven’t bought a comic on a monthly basis in almost five years (parenthood will do that…), but I’m going to try and keep this one up.


July/August 2016

Scott Bukatman, Hellboy's World: Comics and Monsters on the Margins (University of California Press, 2016)

In Hellboy's World, not only does Scott Bukatman offer a fascinating exploration of the formal possibilities of the comics medium through the case study of Mike Mignola's Hellboy, he also gives us a compelling assessment of why the physicality of comic books - I.e. their very 'bookishness' itself - is vital to the medium. Bukatman's writing is a delight to read. Highly recommended.


Steve Canyon

Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon ran from 1947 until his death in 1988. While Caniff is perhaps better known for his work on Terry and the Pirates, I'm finding that the more I read of Steve Canyon the less I've been comparing it to his earlier work. Steve Canyon features a globe-trotting aviator, and showcases Caniff's talent for stylish compositions, fun cliffhangers and compelling melodrama.

While I'm actually reading the Checker Books series of reprints (having bought several of them some years back during the early stages of writing Movie Comics), if I had my druthers I'd be reading IDW's versions, because they're much bigger than the Checker versions (which don't do full justice to the details in Caniff's artwork).


Jack Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey

In 1976, Jack Kirby adapted Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey for Marvel Comics in an oversized, 84-page 'Treasury' edition. This was followed by a ten-issue series in which Kubrick  created the 'new adventures' of the monolith and its star-children.

Early issues saw the monolith transform characters from primitive civilizations, following only the most basic premise of the film and Arthur C. Clarke's story. Kirby's flair for cosmic adventure is on full display here, yet the series remains little-read among most comic fans given that it has never been collected. I picked up these issues nearly twenty years ago and have read them a few times over the years, but I've really enjoyed going back to them recently while writing an essay for a new anthology on cinema and comics edited by Barry Keith Grant and Scott Henderson. I've been tracing the more recent decades of how films have been adapted into comics, and Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey remains intriguing (and a whole lot of fun...). The last three issues of the series introduce X-51, A.K.A. Mister Machine, A.K.A. Machine Man, largely abandoning any ties to Clarke and Kubrick's work as things shift towards the more straightforward adventures of the robotic hero. If you haven't read much of Kirby's work for Marvel in the late 1970s, track down these issues and read them alongside the delightful Devil Dinosaur for a double-bill of primal pleasure!


The Vision

This is easily Marvel's best new series since Ms. Marvel. I'm only four issues in with my Marvel Unlimited subscription (which is generally six months behind the release to comic shops), but this has fast become the title I look forward to most each month.

I'd never heard of writer Tom King before this series, but now will be picking up his recent (and short-lived) DC series The Omega Men. King walks a fine line between different genre conventions in The Vision, applying melodramatic conventions as a way of dissecting the decades-old discourses about humanity vs. artificiality that has surrounded the character. Very quickly, I came to care about the Vision's newly created family. I hope King keeps challenging himself with the premise he has created.