Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shopping for Comics Part 2

So in my last post I talked about how to find and shop for comics on your own, without all those "best comics ever" lists. I discussed shopping by franchise and finding comics based on which company publishes them, but like books, sometimes the best way to find something that you like is to find a comic created by whoever wrote/drew the last comic you fell in love with. I was going to write long descriptions about the following comic writers and artists, but I then I realized the best way to understand a writer or an artist is to look at their art, so below are quotes from some of my favorite writers and images from some of my favorite artists. These are just a small sampling of the quality of work that's out there and I encourage you to go out and find some favorite comic creators of your own. 


Alan Moore

"Behind this mask there is more than just flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea... and ideas are bulletproof."

-V For Vendetta

Neil Gaiman 

"You get what anybody gets - you get a lifetime." 

-Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes

Bill Willingham

"Once upon a time, in a fictional land called New York City..."

-Fables: Legends in Exile.

Matthew Sturges

"We're not afraid of the unknown. We're afraid of the unknown becoming known."

- House of Mystery: Love Stories for Dead People

Mike Carey

"When a book is read an irrevocable thing happens — a murder, followed by an imposture. The story in the mind murders the story on the page, and takes its place." 

-The Unwritten: Inside Man

Garth Ennis

"I'm the one who steps from the shadows, all trenchcoat and cigarette and arrogance, ready to deal with the madness."

-Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits

Jeph Loeb

"Deep down, Clark's essentially a good person... and deep down, I'm not" 

- Batman: Hush

Brian Azzarello

"That's what he is I guess; a disease that infected Gotham City...of which there is no cure."


Brian K. Vaughan

"I used to love to go out, but I'm growing uncomfortably...comfortable in this dungeon. Some days I can't even get past the front door. I'm the escape artist who can't escape his apartment."

-Y: The Last Man: Unmanned

Matt Wagner

"Every piece is but a fragment of the whole. Every breeze a step unto the storm."

-Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted

Peter Milligan

"I would oscillate into madness. I would be a ship without an anchor,  drifting away from the shore."

-The Extremist. 

Brian Wood

"Hey, you ever get this weird feeling that you're different somehow?

-DEMO, Vol. 1


Dave McKean 
(Death: The High Cost of Living, Absolute Edition)

Amy Reeder Hadley
(Madame Xanadu)

Tim Sale

Eduardo Risso
(100 Bullets)

Mark Buckingham

Brian Bolland
(The Killing Joke)

Charles Vess

Becky Cloonan
(Demo, Vol. 2)

Jill Thompson
(Paintings of Delirium and Desire, created by Neil Gaiman)


Jeff Smith

Jhonen Vasquez
(Johnny the Homicidal Maniac)


Roman Dirge


Frank Miller

(Sin City)

Will Eisner
(The Spirit)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Shopping for Comics

So, in the last post I wrote up a list of my 20 favorite graphic novels of all time. For someone who’s never read a comic before, lists like these are great. I took the time to read a ton of comics and picked out the very best just for you. Now all you have to do is pick the ones that sound interesting, get them and read them. But what happens when you’ve read all the books on the list, oh comic virgin? Where do you go? What do you read next?

Looking for new comics can be somewhat of a hassle. It’s a little like going to the video store and trying to pick out a movie you know nothing about. (Did I say “video store?” I mean Netflix!) Either you’re going to spend hours searching for something good, choose something random (chances are its crap), or follow these age-old rules.

Shop by Franchise:

There’s a reason why Hollywood keeps making Batman movies. It’s the same reason why there have always and will always be Batman comic books. Besides the fact that Batman is awesome, people like Batman and will continue reading/watching things that feature him as a character. Why? When you walk into a comic shop you might be overwhelmed by the many, many different choices. Why waste time and money looking for something new that you might not even like, when you could just pick up the latest Batman comic?

Ok. So what if you don’t like superheroes? If you love superheroes, that’s great, since the comic industry will continue writing about all of your favorite heroes from now until the end of time. The problem with not liking superheroes is that non-superhero comics tend to be self-contained and have a short life span. For example, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman lasted 75 issues over a ten-year span. That might seem like a long time, but let’s put it in perspective. Batman has been running non-stop since it was first published in 1939. There are also many different comics that include Batman as a main character. If you were reading Sandman when it was published you would get one issue per month. That’s about 20-25 pages per month! I don’t know about you, but I can read that in less than an hour. Sandman’s last issue was published in 1996, but lucky for you it was collected in nice paperback trade editions that you can read in less than a month (or a week if you’re me). So what do you do now? Sandman is over. There are no more Sandman comics. None. No more. Too bad for you. You can read them over or:

Check out the publisher:

If you like superheroes, you’ll probably be content with DC or Marvel comics. Don’t know the difference? Check out my post here: http://beyondthecape.blogspot.com/2011/04/marvel-vs-dc.html.

If you don’t care about superheroes things get a little difficult. The two largest comic book publishers in America almost exclusively publish superhero comics. So here’s a couple of the smaller publishing companies to help get you on the right road.


Since we were discussing Sandman, I thought we should start with the company that published it. (Which also happens to be my favorite comic publisher). In the late 80s DC Comics published Animal Man, Doom Patrol, The Sandman, The Swamp Thing, Black Orchid, Shade the Changing Man, and Hellblazer, with a mature readers label. In 1993 editor Karen Berger took these seven comics and created Vertigo, an imprint of DC that, according to Berger was made to “do something different in comics and help the medium 'grow up.” Today Vertigo publishes some of the best comics for older readers. (Did you notice that most of my top 20 list was published by Vertigo?) As of 2010 it is also a strictly creator-owned imprint.


Image was started in 1992 by high profile Marvel artists who wanted to keep the copyrights to the characters they created, which makes Image, like Vertigo, a creator-owned publisher. Image’s canon includes, Spawn, Walking Dead, Invincible, and Witchblade, to name a few.

Dark Horse

Dark Horse, founded in 1986, is know mostly for comics based on licensed characters including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Wars, Aliens, and Predator. Not to be outdone, by the top two entries on this list, Dark Horse also publishes some of the most famous creator-owned titles including Sin City, Hell Boy, Usagi Yojimbo, and Akira.


According to THE comic distributor in the country, Diamond Comic Distributor, IDW, founded in 1999, is the fifth largest publisher of American comic books. Starting as a horror comics publisher, printing titles like 30 Days of Night and Dark Days, IDW has moved on to licensed properties such as Angel, Transformers, Star Trek, and Dr. Who.

Avatar Press

Avatar in an independent publisher founded in 1996. Originally publishing “bad girl” comics, Avator branched out and started publishing comics written by Alan Moore, Frank Millar, Warren Ellis, and Garth Ennis. Avatar also publishes licensed comics including Night of the Living Dead and Friday the 13th.


BOOM!, founded in 2005, is another comic publisher that deals in mostly licensed material. Their titles include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Farscape. They also have a line of comic books geared at a younger audience incorporating classic Disney, Pixar, and Jim Henson characters.

Oni Press

Oni was started in 1997 by two guys in Portland, Oregon who wanted to publish comics that they themselves wanted to read. According to Wikipedia they have “built Oni Press into one of independent comics' most respected and innovative publishing houses by publishing one of the most eclectic and varied lines in the comic industry.” Titles include Scott Pilgrim, Queen and Country, and Jay and Silent Bob.


SLG or Slave Labor Graphics, started in 1986, is probably most famous for putting Jhonen Vasquez, creator of Nickelodeon’s Invader Zim on the map. If you’re a goth kid you’ll love SLG. Popular titles include Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squee!, Lenore, and Gloom Cookie. SLG also publishes licensed Disney titles including Tron, Haunted Mansion, Wonderland, and Gargoyles.

Top Shelf

Another creator known imprint, founded in 1995, Top Shelf publishes titles such as From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman III, Blankets, and Monkey vs. Robot.

The problem with looking at publishers sometimes is that, although they tend to publish similar types of material, their lines do vary, so there will always be a range of things to choose from. So how are you supposed to weed out the good from the terrible?

Find out next post on Beyond the Cape!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

20 Essential Graphic Novels

I recently read DC Comic’s list of 30 Essential Graphic Novels. I agreed with most of the list, but I found it to be lacking, not only because it concentrated solely on DC comics, but because it was missing some great GNs from DC’s own canon as well. So I’ve decided to create my own list, which will share some items from the DC list. And, since I’m not affiliated with DC, the comics on the list will come from a variety of publishers. (I am also going to break one of my rules and list some superhero comics because they are what I consider to be the epitome of that genre).

So here it is: Becky’s list of 20 Essential Graphic novels (in no particular order).

Watchman by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (DC): Considered by some to be the best comic book ever written. See my review here: http://beyondthecape.blogspot.com/2011/04/best-comic-ever.html

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (VERTIGO): In a dystopian future England, a masked revolutionary works to destroy the totalitarian government. I would recommend it especially if you enjoyed the movie.

The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (VERTIGO): In my opinion, one of the best Batman comics ever written by one of the best comic writers in the business. ‘Nuff said.

Swamp Thing by Alan Moore and John Totleben (VERTIGO): The classic monster originally created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson is re-imagined by a comic master. The first issue is amazing and if you read enough, you’ll get to the origin story of John Constantine, Hellblazer.

Hellblazer started by Jamie Delano and John Ridgeway (VERTIGO): Speaking of John Constantine, he got his own horror comic series originally written by Jamie Delano. Constantine, a streetwise magician, has been the star Vertigo’s longest running series running over 277 issues and counting.

Sandman by Neil Gaiman, Various Artists (VERTIGO): A mix of horror, suspense, and fantasy, Sandman revolves around Dream, the incarnation of the dream world and his siblings The Endless: Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Destruction, and Delirium. One of the best comic series written in the last 10 years.

Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (VERTIGO): Before they worked on Sandman, Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean told the origin story of Black Orchid, a super plant/human hybrid similar to the Swamp Thing.

Fables by Bill Willingham, Lan Madeira and Mark Buckingham (VERTIGO): Kicked out of their home worlds by the “Adversary,” classic fairy tale characters, including Snow White, The Big Bad Wolf, and Cinderella, take refuge in modern day New York City. My favorite comic series of all time.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra (VERTIGO): When a mysterious virus kills of all mammals with a Y chromosome, Yorrick and his monkey Ampersand are the only living male mammals left on the planet.

Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona (MARVEL): You might be wondering by the largest comic company in America only got only one item on the list is simple. Marvel does superheros and pretty much nothing else. They have been breaking out that a little bit over the years, but Runaways is one of the few collected comics that you can pick up with without knowing a lot of mythology. What are the Runaways? Marvel’s way better version of the Teen Titians.
100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (VERTIGO): What if someone gave you a gun and 100 bullets and told you that you could have complete immunity from the law if you used the gun and bullets to avenge a wrong done to you? That’s what 100 bullets is about.

Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean (DC): No this isn’t a comic version of the game, in fact it was published in 1989. Batman walks into Arkham after the Joker incites a riot. The question is whether Batman will ever walk out.

Batman: Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (DC): A stand-alone Batman comic written in the style of film noir. A mystery penned by the great Jeph Loeb with Tim Sale the brilliant artist behind the paintings in Heroes. All you need is a rudimentary knowledge of Batman to thoroughly enjoy this graphic novel.

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard (IMAGE): Do you ever wonder what happens after the zombie movie ends? Well pick up Walking Dead and find out.

Bone by Jeff Smith (CARTOON BOOKS): Jeff Smith mixes light hearted comedy with high fantasy in his epic Bone. Looney Tune-esque Fone Bone and his cousins, having been kicked out of Boneville arrive in a mysterious valley and end up fighting evil in an attempt to save the world.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (PANTHEON): A memoir by Marjane Satrapi depicting her childhood growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution.

Sandman Mystery Theater by Matt Wagner and Guy Davis (VERTIGO): A reimaging of the Golden Age Sandman, a masked crusader who fights crimes using knock out gas, told in a gritty film noir style.

Madame Xanadu by Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder Hadley (VERTIGO): A beautiful comic that follows Nimue, the sorceress from Arthurian times, as she spans the ages helping the innocent and deciphering cryptic messages from the Phantom Stranger.

Superman Red Sun by Mark Millar (DC): What if Superman did not land in Smallville, USA and instead landed in Communist Russia? Read this and you’ll know.

Maus by Art Spiegelman (PANTHEON): Art Speigelman tells the story of his father’s time as a concentration camp prisoner during World War II using mice as a metaphor.  

It would be hard to go wrong picking up any one of these many excellent titles. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Comics and Graphic Novels: What's the Difference?

In my previous posts I’ve been using the terms comic book and graphic novel pretty much interchangeably. From now on I’ve decided to just stick with the term “comics” to collectively mean anything comic booky in nature (including comic books, graphic novels, and manga,) unless there is a reason to differentiate between them. Hopefully it will make things less confusing. But what is the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel? Is there even a difference? We’ve already talked about Manga, which are Japanese comic books that read right to left, instead of left to right. (More about Manga in a future post).

So, let’s discuss the differences between a comic and a graphic novel. For the most part there is only one difference. A comic book looks like this:

And a graphic novel looks like this:

As you can see the difference lies in the binding. A comic book comes in the monthly magazine format, while a graphic novel is bound like a book. The problem comes when a comic book like this:

Is bound like this:

Is it a comic book? Is it a graphic novel? Technically it is a called a collected edition or a collected reprint, as well as a trade paperback, or trade for short. The Eisner Awards, the awards given for excellence in the comic medium, has two separate awards for “graphic novels.” They are “Best Graphic Album: New” and “Best Graphic Album: Reprint.” Are you confused yet?

You might be wondering where the term graphic novel even comes from. Most people think that the term is relatively new. In fact, the term “graphic novel” was coined by Will Eisner (the same Eisner the awards are named after) in 1978. In the forward for A Contract With God, the first graphic novel, Eisner writes:

“In 1978, encouraged by the work of experimental graphic artists Otto Nuckel, Franz Masareel and Lynd Ward, who in the 1930s published serious novels told in art without text, I attempted a major work in a similar form. In a futile effort to entice the patronage of a mainstream publisher, I called it a “graphic novel.” It was a collection of four related stories, drawn from memory, which took place in a single tenement in the Bronx.

I’ve spent a long career – spanning eight decades – combining and refining words and pictures. My early work in newspaper comics and comic books allowed me to entertain millions of readers weekly, but I always felt there was more to say. I pioneered the use of comics for instructional manuals for American soldiers, covering three major wars, and later used comics to educate grade school children. Both were heady responsibilities that I took very seriously. But I yearned to do still more with the medium. At an age when I could have “retired,” I chose instead to create literary comics, then a decidedly oxymoronic term.”

Throughout their history, comics have had a standard constricting format. Most comics have a limited amount of pages, around 20 per issue, and are therefore organized in panels to maximize the amount of action per page. They look a little like this:

Graphic novels, having a longer format, have a lot more freedom in how they organize words and pictures. Eisner, in fact, doesn’t even feel the need to use panels on certain pages:

The graphic novel introduced the idea that the comic medium could go above and beyond the structure of a typical comic book. In the years following the “invention” of the graphic novel, comics began loosening their structure and taking ideas about placement of words and pictures from graphic novels. Today, if you only look at the inside pages you may be unable to tell the difference between the two.

The term graphic novel adds a sense of prestige to the comic medium. As Eisner said, he created “literary comics.” The problem with this statement is that is assumes that other types of comics are not literary. Some comic writers, notably Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore, two of the most notable writers in the business, dislike the term in reference to their own work, preferring the generic term comic. To them, even though their work may be innovative and literary it is still part of the comic medium and should be treated as such.  Comics have come a long way. Some of the formatting differences once used only by graphic novels are appearing in the monthly magazine comics as well. Which is why any comic bound like a book is a “graphic novel” regardless of the structure on the inside.

In his book Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud defines comics as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence.” This defines a comic book, a graphic novel, manga, etc. They are all comics. And regardless of what you call them they all have the potential to be literary and as important as any other medium. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Marvel vs. DC

I’m going forward with the assumption that readers of my blog will have different levels of exposure to comics and their surrounding culture. So I’ll be doing some write-ups about the history and culture of comics. 

Starting with Marvel vs. DC. What is it, and why does it exist? No not Marvel vs. Capcom, silly gamers. But seriously someone needs to make me this game:

*Giggles*. (I own no rights to this picture. I found it here: http://loyalkng.com/2009/05/27/marvel-dc-terminator-star-trek-transformers/).

Anyway, let’s get back on topic.

First of all Marvel and DC are the two leading comic companies in the United States. DC Comics is the oldest comic company (founded in 1934 as National Allied Publications). Marvel is the biggest, selling the most comics each year. DC comics owns the personalities of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Green Arrow, The Justice League, and Teen Titans, just to name a few. Marvel owns most of the men in tights you’ve been seeing on the big screen recently, for example, Spiderman, Iron Man, X-Men, Thor, The Hulk, Captain America, The Fantastic Four, and The Avengers.

Now some of you might just be thinking that this division of superheroes is the only thing that separates the two companies. I read Batman so I generally prefer DC, while you might read Spiderman and hang out in the Marvel section of the comic store. But there is more of a difference between Batman and Spiderman than one might think at first glance. Yes they are both superheroes, fight super villains and look good in tight pants. Sure Spidey shoots web and Batman has a gadget belt and a Bat Mobile, but is that the only difference?

DC, previously known as National, was started in 1934 and created the superhero movement in 1938 with the introduction of Superman in Action Comics #1, with Batman following a year later in 1939. These two superheroes have survived the ages and are two of the most well known characters in the world! Regardless of whether you read comics or not, I guarantee you recognize those names. Because these characters came out of the great depression and World War II era, they are written to be very idealized and fantastic. We’ll get back to this in a just a second.

Marvel, as we know it today, was started in 1961 with the release of Fantastic Four. Part of Marvel’s creative strategy was to take superheroes in a new direction. Marvel characters are often more down to earth, dealing with everyday issues, such as jobs and girl friends, alongside their duties of fighting crime. They live in real world cities, such as New York, Chicago and LA. Whereas DC portrays idealized and satirized characters to comment on our own reality, Marvel tries to place the superhero into our reality.

Let’s take a look.

Spiderman lives in New York City, has a job at newspaper publishing company, and dates Mary Jane Watson. The only difference between the guy on the street and Mr. Peter Parker is the fact that Pete’s a superhero. Spiderman struggles with the concept of living with superpowers and trying to live a normal life and we, the audience, are caught up in his web of philosophical questions and moral dilemmas. The whole thing’s very psychological.

Batman, in contrast, lives in fictional Gotham City, a creative take on Spidey’s New York. Bruce Wayne owns Wayne Industries, which pretty much owns all of Gothem. Less realistic. Even without superpowers, he’s pretty perfect. But if you really look at it, Batman isn’t written to be realistic, or to theorize about what it would be like for a regular Joe thrown into a hero role. Batman is the revenge archetype to a T. He’s a symbol and a metaphor. His arch nemesis, the Joker, is the personification of insanity. They're embodiments of ideas, not people.

As I said before, Batman and Superman were created before the start of World War II during the end of the Great Depression. This was a time when we wanted a great superhero to come save us. Someone to come down, punch Hitler in the jaw and save the world. (This could be one of the factors in why Superman is a bloody alien.) When there’s talk about going to war, you don’t want to think about having to fight the enemy yourself. You want to believe there’s someone powerful enough to do all the fighting for you.

Now this is all generalization, but for the most part DC comic characters are purely romanticized and out-of-this-world, while Marvel characters try to add a spark of reality to what we would deem a pretty fantastic existence. Now you see that these companies are more than a division of superheroes, they are two different takes on the superhero; two different ways of writing and creating characters and universes. Next time you talk to someone who only reads Marvel, or only reads DC, ask them why and see if they can come up with a reason. They might just say its because Spidey’s the man, but if they think about it, they might realize a more subconscious preference.

In this day and age, Marvel comes out on top. You see many more movies starring characters from the Marvel universe. TV shows such as Heroes, a modern take on X-Men, have become widely popular. Humanizing the superhero, that’s what interests us the most right now. We, as a culture, want to understand what it would be like if we woke up tomorrow with super powers. Archetypal heroes don’t cut it for us anymore. But there will always be a place for DC’s take on the hero. (Superman and Batman are so ingrained in our culture there will always be some sort of demand for them.) But maybe in a few years we won’t want to see ourselves in Marvel's take of the superman. We might want superheroes and all they stand for to go back to alternate dimensions that only vaguely remind us of the real world. Maybe. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

For the Ladies: DEMO

It’s been a week since an update. Sorry about that. I’ll try to update more regularly from now on.

Anyway, here’s the DEMO review:

FOR THE LADIES: I feel that this next series’ concentration on characters and relationships, as well as Cloonan’s spin on the manga style art, make it a good fit for women interested in comics. But there’s still a lot in it that boys will enjoy as well.

DEMO is a 12 issue mini series by Brian Wood (DMZ) and Becky Cloonan (American Virgin) that was released between 2003 and 2004. Wood’s description in the back of the DEMO collected edition really embodies what DEMO is all about. So I’ll let him explain it:

“I thought up DEMO back in 2002 in a car in upstate New York. I had spent some time a few years before writing teen superheroes for Marvel Comics, and I wanted to take a stab at something similar, but something I would have more control over; to interpret the concept of “young people with power” the way that I wanted to. My first ideas weren’t too far removed from standard comic book stereotypes, but as I sat down and began to write the scripts, the concept evolved. My definition of “superpowers” changed to more universal ideas about power and control, the characters grew up from rebellious teenagers to complex people in their twenties and thirties.”
Apart from the writing, Becky Cloonan’s art has “incredible range and versatility” as Wood puts it. Every story has a different art style that compliments the storyline. Her art is so versatile that, on first glance, you might believe the story to be drawn by a completely different artist.

A second collection of DEMO (this time only 6 issues) was released in 2010. Let me say right off the bat that if you’re interested in DEMO and don’t have the money to buy both collections I would read the second one. Its shorter ands shows the growth of both the writer and artist in the 6 years between the two collections. (Since it’s a collection of short stories there’s no continuity from one issue to another). The second collection (in my opinion) has much stronger composition and storytelling than the first. Not that the first collection is terrible. The second is just better. Or, if the whole collection doesn’t interest you, browse your local comic store and see if they have back issues you can buy individually. (The stories were meant to be read as a single issue anyway).

Now that you know what DEMO is about, let’s take a look at the individual stories.

DEMO Vol. 1 Story Breakdowns

1: NYC – I feel like this story was a great introduction to the types of stories that the creators were trying to tell: “young people with power.”
2: EMMY – Cute manga style art mixed with a simple story told with a minimal amount of words.
3: BAD BLOOD – I liked the idea, but I found the story to be far to explanative in the writing. Instead of finding a creative way to show the back-story, Wood just had the characters talk about it. (Which just felt very unrealistic.)
4: STAND STRONG – I liked it. Great story about growing up, in a be-careful-what-you-wish-for manner.
5: GIRL YOU WANT – Interesting idea, but it took me a couple of reads to really get the most out of it. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)
6: WHAT YOU WISH FOR – Very creepy. Love the art. The story has a great Steven King feel to it.
7: ONE SHOT, DON’T MISS – My least favorite. Which is weird because it was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2005 for best single issue. (An Eisner is the award for excellence in the comic medium). It’s a war story, so maybe it’s just me.
8: MIXTAPE – Very pretty story. My only problem with it was the use of suicide as a problem solver.
9: BREAKING UP – It’s a break up story (go figure. It’s a pretty good one non-the-less). This is where the collection starts to lose its supernatural-ness. Not that I’m opposed to comics that don’t have super anything, but the supernatural-ness really tied the collection together. According to Wood, this is just a spontaneous creative evolution, with the concept of “super powers” changing with each story, but in my opinion, to totally abandon the supernatural qualities really disconnects the collection.
10: DAMAGED – It starts off with super powers and ends without them. I didn’t really get this one. Another break in the theme.
11: MIDNIGHT TO SIX – No supernatural qualities that I could see. It was a good story, but I just didn’t feel that it had a reason for being in this particular collection.
12: MON DERNIER JOUR AVEC TOI (MY LAST DAY WITH YOU) – A story told with a poem and comic art. I loved the idea, but the poem just didn’t work for me.

DEMO Vol. 2 Story Breakdowns

*Some of these stories took the super power theme and instead turned them into amplified disorders (issues 2 and 3), which I thought was an interesting creative twist on the super power theme.

1: THE WAKING LIFE OF ANGELS – A tad predictable, but the last two panels make up for that.
2:  PANGS – Not for the faint of heart.
3: VOLUME ONE LOVE STORY – Cute. I loved it. ‘Nuff said.
4: WATERBREATHER – Interesting concept, but I found this to be the least interesting of the stories in this collection.
5: STRANDED – Again, great story concept, but I thought the actual writing could have been sharpened. The fantastical aspects of the story got a bit too out of hand. (Though I think this story is still stronger than some in the previous collection.)
6: SAD AND BEAUTIFUL LIFE – My favorite of all 18 stories. Perfect combination of the supernatural “powers” with an emotional story about a young relationship.

These are just my opinions. As you saw above, my least favorite story was the only one nominated for an Eisner Award. Which could mean that my least favorite might become your favorite story. If you’re interested in stories about “young people with power” or stories that focus on people, relationships, and emotions then do yourself a favor and pick up a volume, or even just a single issue.

Again, you might be wondering why I included this in my blog, which is supposed to focus on comics that lie outside of the superhero/superpower realm. But what you have to understand about comics is that the superhero is more than just a cliché – it’s what sells. As a comic creator, the easiest way to show people (especially people that already read comics) that comics can be more than superheroes is to modify the superhero theme, rather than jump into something completely new. Baby steps. And that’s what DEMO does. It bridges the gap between what works and what could be. So give it a try. With 18 stories, even you skeptics might find something worth reading.

P.S. Leave a comment if there is anything in particular you want me to review on the blog. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Manga and Me

Since my last post I’ve been asked to comment about why I don’t read Manga.

Disclaimer: I am not immersed in the manga/anime culture so some of my outsider generalizations will reveal my ignorance about the subject. I haven’t read Akira, (I know, I know!) so I might not have the best basis to comment with, but I have yet to find a manga series that I have wanted to read continuously, or spend money on. If you have suggestions about manga that I should read to help me become more enlightened, please leave a comment.

Now, back to the blog.

For those of you who may not know, manga is a comic and cartoon style that originated in Japan, some say as early as the late 19th century. Manga and anime (Japanese animation) started appearing in the American market around the 1970’s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s - 2000s that it really took off as its own subculture. When I was getting into the comic scene, say early 2000s, all that you could find on the shelves were Inuyasha and Sailor Moon. Now manga fills more shelf space than western graphic novels in the big box bookstores.

Manga, like any other art form, has its devote followers and those who can’t stand the sight of it…and those who just don’t care. As I previously stated I don’t read manga anymore, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t find it a credible form of artistic expression. Which is why I started my manga analysis with:

Why Manga is Awesome:

It has variety!: Unlike western comics, manga has no trouble covering topics other than superheroes. Genres appearing in manga include high school drama, romance, fantasy, sci fi, sports, action, adventure, etc.  The one huge flaw in western comics is where Manga really shines.

It’s for girls!: With its stories about high school, romance, and mystery, manga steals the female audience right under western comics’ nose. By reading manga, girls might become more aware of the fact that western comics exist. (Manga was definitely a stop on my road to comic fandom.) There should be comics for women and manga provides for that niche. Seriously, Marvel, step it up! (And that measly adaptation of Pride and Prejudice just isn’t going to cut it.)

It’s for kids!: Surprisingly, for a medium that’s been historically linked to children, western comics are losing some ground. Manga is available in cute little books that are great for younger readers. And you can buy them without ever having to step foot inside a comic shop. (Not all comic shops are kid appropriate.) The art in manga is much more simplistic than in western comics at times, so it can be easier for younger kids to piece together and understand the storyline. You can tell it’s stealing the market when Marvel starts releasing Spider Man in manga format. (Note for parents: Not all comics or manga are suitable for young children. Most bookstores now have a “comics for kids” section to help with the screening process. Remember, just because it has pictures, doesn’t mean its always meant for children.)

It’s competition!: All of the reasons I provided above have given western comic companies (DC, Marvel) the kick in the pants that was needed to help them realize that they need to revaluate their marketing strategies and content choices. (Well...kind of.) Hopefully with manga taking over the graphic novel sections in bookstores they will begin to realize that women like comics too. And require more varied content.

It’s called Manga!: Seriously, western comics need a cool name, so I can stop typing “western comics.” (FYI: I’m using the term ‘western comics,’ instead of ‘American comics’ because some of the comics I will be reviewing on this site were written/released in Europe and other parts of the American continents, including Canada and Brazil.)

Why I don’t read Manga:

Art Style: One thing I absolutely love about American comics is the fact that every artist has a different art style. I love it when I can walk into a comic store and be able to recognize an artist by just glancing at the cover. The art style choices really add to the story that is being told. For example, Eduardo Risso’s art in 100 Bullets is so perfect for the storyline. His use of shadow really emphasizes the intrigue and spookiness that permeates the comic. Just like music in a movie sets the emotional tone of the film, the art sets the tone of the comic book. 100 Bullets just wouldn’t have been the same without the artistic choices that Risso made.

Manga, on the other hand from what I can tell, has only a handful of different styles. The art in manga doesn’t change radically from book to book to help shape the tone of the story. It is generic and conformist, and honestly I get bored looking at the same style of art all the time. Art is a huge part of comic composition and when it isn’t used to enhance the particular story that is being told, then what is the point? When 10 comics, with radically different stories, all share the same art style, what is the art really saying? In my opinion? Not much. Also, sometimes a person should be compelled to pick up a comic based solely on its art style. If it all looks the same, how do I choose one story over another? And different artists appeal to different people. If you don’t like the art in a certain western comic, then find a different artist. If you don’t like the manga style, well you might be out of luck.

Story: This is the section that I might start digging my own grave, so stick with me. It’s been years since I’ve really read manga, so I’ll be drawing on my experience with anime for support. This is not a comment on composition in Japanese comics, because I haven’t analyzed that in any depth in the same way that I have with my own collection of western comics. This is about the type of stories being told and the manner in which they are told.

First of all, no story that I’ve read or seen in manga or anime has intrigued me the same way that, say, Gaiman’s Sandman or Willingham’s Fables has. Some have caught my attention enough to make me sit down and pay attention, but none have succeeded in retaining my attention. Sometimes I get confused, sometimes bored, sometimes the endings aren’t satisfying, and sometimes the same thing just keeps happening over and over and over…some don’t even end. Example: I really tried to like Death Note, but after the climax with L, the fact that the story continued for like a whole other season just didn’t work for me. It felt like the story wasn’t thought out as a whole. (And it wasn’t that long to begin with. Jumping the sharking as an excuse just doesn’t cut it for me.) And could someone please explain to me the ending of Evangelion.

Second of all, sometimes strange things happen and I just don’t get it. I’m a rational person and when strange things happen I like to know why. And sometimes crazy ice skating ninjas appear out of nowhere and challenge the protagonist to a duel. For no reason.  I can only take so many crazy ice skating ninja types of scenarios. (It’s these types of scenarios that keep me from reading superhero comics as well.)

Thirdly, for the most part I don’t like giant robots, ninjas, superheroes, crazy samurai, car racing, dudes with big swords or girls with huge knockers. Or pretty much anything supernatural for supernatural’s sake. (I know, I’m no fun.)

Outside of these subjects I’ve found it difficult to find more mature, more intellectual Japanese comics. Most of the manga I’m familiar with, and it might just be the types of manga that are being translated and published in the States, are targeted toward junior high and high schoolers. As a twenty something, I prefer stories with a little more depth. (Comics? Depth? Keep reading my blog posts and you’ll see. You’ll see.) As I said, I’ve been out of the manga game for a while now so maybe there is something out there for me. I honesty haven’t looked in a long time.

It might just be me, though. It might be because of my background. Going to school in the States I’ve read a lot of English literature and my various English classes have taught me a lot about western story structure. I know very little about Japanese culture and literature. That might be a huge barrier in me understanding and appreciating manga to its fullest. Whatever the reason, I find little pleasure in reading it, but that might change someday. We’ll just have to see.


There will always be some sort of division in comic culture. Take the Marvel vs. DC argument for example. Most comic readers will choose one side and stay loyal. It’s just the way we’re built as a culture. (I choose DC by the way.) The Manga vs. western comics stems from a clash of cultures more than anything. I feel more comfortable in the classic western comic, Archie and Superman culture. That's just a part of who I am. Manga has a rich culture that I just don't fit into.

I’m not saying any of this to dissuade anyone from reading manga. I’m just making rationalizations about why I don’t read it. I could make similar rationalizations about why I don’t read superhero comics or Frank Miller. If I tried to be well read in all types of comics I wouldn’t get anything done. There are gems in every medium (Jeff Loeb’s Batman or Superman: Red Son for example if you want to dig into the superhero category.) I’ve just happened to have already found some gems in the western comics non-superhero category that I would like to share. If you out there would, in turn, like to educate me on the manga gems that you have found, I would be very interested in learning about them.

The whole point of this blog, after all, is to try to erase prejudices against the comic medium in general and try to garner it some respect. I can start doing this by helping people to realize that comics are more than just superheroes and content for intended for children. (Non-superhero western comics are also easier for people outside of the medium to start reading, since there is no long back story or universe for them to catch up to and understand.) But if there are other comics out there, past my scope of American and western storytelling, please pass them my way.

They’re all still comics in the end.

Peace, guys.

(BTW, if you haven’t heard of some, or any, of my references to other comics, look them up or wait for future blog posts!)

DEMO review, next time. I promise!