ratcreature: RatCreature is buried in comics, with the text: There's no such thing as too many comics.  (comics)
I liked Scott McCloud's Making Comics a lot better than the previous Reinventing Comics. I didn't find it as cool as I did Understanding Comics way back in the mid-90s, though that's probably also because I hadn't read a lot of other comic meta yet, and also the format was really unusual then.

Anyway, I didn't learn anything really great or new about comics, but I did have several of those moments were you find yourself nodding along, and things become a bit clearer while you read something laid out in a certain way. While I don't quite agree with him completely on a number of points, I mostly liked his practical illustrations of certain techniques. Overall he's more of a manga fan than I am, and sees manga influence in Western comics differently, not just the adoption of a really manga-like style, but how for example he credits a number of general narrative techniques (e.g. slow and wordless scene setting by showing details of the surroundings in close-up in favor of an establishing shot) and their proliferation in comics mainly to manga popularity even when the comics in question aren't much like manga in the end, whereas I'm pretty sure I've read a bunch of comics whose artists weren't influenced by Japanese stuff, but for example by movies, and in the end used similar kinds of panel transitions, if not in exactly the same style.

I mean, obviously it's hard to tell where exactly influences are coming from unless you know through artists interviews or whatever, and I don't doubt that manga influences are present in some comics that don't look like manga, but seriously, if you imitate a camera and start in a closeup, roam silently over your location before zooming out you may end up with establishing sequences like that without having ever opened any manga doing the same kind of thing.

Overall the comic was a good read. Even in the chapters where he mostly summarizes from other sources and I was already familiar with those, like in the section on facial expressions that heavily relies on Gary Faigin's book The Artist's Complete Guide to Facial Expression (which I talked about here), I still wasn't bored. I also liked his idea of exercise suggestion at the end of the chapters and I may do some of them, since several seem like they could be fun.

As in the previous books I found the more "philosophical" parts about his views on artists' motivations and comic community rather more boring than the analysis of comics and how to make them, but there was a lot more of the latter than the former, so I didn't mind much.

If you've already read a lot about comics, most will seem familiar to you in one way or another, but I really liked how he played his examples through to show the effects of graphic storytelling choices in a kind of variable by variable way. For example in the section of what he calls "clarity vs. intensity" of graphic choices (with "intensity" being graphic effects like extreme perspectives and depth cues, breaking of panel borders and unusual panel shapes, lots of diagonals in composition, exaggerated poses and facial expressions, etc.) he shows varying degrees of these added dramatic choices for the same page, and how it affects the narrative, its readability, emotional impact and such.

Throughout the book I found several good ideas that I hadn't seen quite like this, like for example to add typical gestures, expression and body language to your model sheets for a character not just different perspectives. I liked his section on character design in general, though again I had several seen several suggestions before, because I've read the books he refers to, like for example Eisner's. I mean, I know from experience how difficult it is to make your characters look recognizable and different from each other, but too often, especially in some superhero comics, artists don't even bother to try and you end up with Oracle looking like Black Canary only with a different hair color and in a wheelchair. It certainly couldn't hurt for example Greg Land any to do some character design and expression/body language exercises. I'm just saying.

I also thought the section on body language was useful. It made me understand stances and how you can vary them a lot better, because it broke aspects down into several variable factors, and again showed the effects. Like similar stances, but one symmetrical one asymmetrical and how that changes things, open and closed stances, distances and gestures etc. and he illustration these principles with an example narration of adding gestures and body language to a conversation.

Other parts were a bit of repetition from what I remember from Understanding Comics, though from a more practical viewpoint. For example in the first chapter Writing with Pictures he revisits his classification of different kinds of panel to panel transitions and in the third chapter The Power of Words his categories of word/picture combinations, but you don't have to have read the former to follow his storytelling examples.

Overall I think it's well worth reading.

ETA: Does anyone else keep loosing icon and tag choices after doing a spellcheck and/or preview in the LJ update editor? This is annoying.
ratcreature: RatCreature as Spidey (spidey)
The Animal Man run of Grant Morrison (pencils by Chas Truog and others, inks by Doug Hazlewood and others) is easily the most meta superhero comic I've ever read. It's one of the most meta comics I've ever read, superhero genre or not. I can come up with very few that are even more meta-textual about the readers reading a comic and the rules that govern that universe on the page (though obviously not in quite the same way), like those by Marc-Antoine Mathieu, but then he could do narrative stuff, like holes cut into the pages for time anomalies, pop-up spirals etc, that is not possible in a regular comic book that stays bound to the page.

I've seen recs for Animal Man as an exceptional and innovative work long before I started reading superhero comics, but I never gave it a try. However with hindsight I'm happy I've only read it now that I have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the DC universe, and know about the general events of the Crisis. I don't think I'd have enjoyed it as much if I hadn't been familiar with the DC multiverse collapse into one universe and that whole retcon. Even now, having neither read Crisis on Infinite Earths itself (yet) nor any familiarity with pre-Crisis DCU, I feel like I probably missed a lot.

I was constantly bewildered at the bizarre leaps, and how the story turned more and more meta, until it culminated in Animal Man meeting Grant Morrison, but I was bewildered in a good way, if that makes sense.
ratcreature: RatCreature as Batman (batman)
A new three parter starts in this issue: Made of Wood, written by Ed Brubaker, pencils by Patrick Zircher, inks by Aaron Sowd. As a sidenote, can anyone explain to me this newfangled idea that it's a good thing to put the title at the end of the story instead of at the beginning? Personally I find this annoying, I keep waiting for the opening section to end during the first couple of pages, for a page with the title, a splash page, or whatever, and it never comes.

This minor quibble aside, I thought Detective Comics #784 was a great issue. I'm really curious about the unfolding mystery, that somehow involves the first Green Lantern and started 40 years ago. (I don't really know anything about the first Green Lantern, that didn't hinder my enjoyment, but I can't judge how well all this fits with his continuity, either, however I had a quick look at a Green Lantern biography afterwards to satisfy some of my curiosity about the character.) Anyway, the suspense building worked very well for me. The story also has great character moments between Batman and Jim Gordon (who's back from Europe), as well as parts that focus on each. I like the scenes that explore a bit how James Gordon deals with his retirement, for example.

I like Zircher's art a lot too, especially the views of Gotham City, both the scenic ones as well as the city's details. I think I like it because he makes it feel like Gotham not just by putting looming gargoyles everywhere. As much as I like the gargoyles, they get ridiculous if they're totally overdone, and every building has a like dozen or so. Here Gotham looks like real architecture and still like Gotham at the same time.
ratcreature: RatCreature as Superman (superman)
Superman: Birthright is a maxi-series (written by Mark Waid, pencils by Leinil Francis Yu, inks by Gerry Alanguilan) that retells the origin story of Superman; I've seen its concept compared to the "Ultimates" version of Marvel characters. I picked it up not at least because I'm relatively unfamiliar with the previous incarnations of the origin story (like the Silver Age version or the post-Crisis revamp), so I'm not invested in (or even really aware of) any current continuity details, and thus not likely annoyed by Birthright just because it might do things differently. Also I liked Leinil Yu's art in the previews (and the art didn't disappoint, I like it very much in the comic as well).

And I enjoyed the first part. It starts with a look at Krypton's last moments and Kal-El's parents sending him to Earth, showing us how Jor and Lara struggle with the decision. There's some techno-babble explanation for why Krypton was destroyed too.

Then there is a splash double page showing some scenes of Clark in Smallville, that is the Kents finding him, Clark lifting a tractor as a little kid and jumping over the Barn, as well as images of Lex and (I assume) Lana. That made me wonder, whether this version is sticking with some of the choices Smallville made. It's not just the visual presence of Lex in the Smallville splash page (over than that the splash the childhood and teenage years are skipped over), also like in Smallville, in Birthright the Kents are relatively young, not more the age of grandparents like in previous versions.

Then I checked out the DC page for Birthright and an interview with Mark Waid, and it seems that in this version Clark and Lex met in Smallville and were friends before they become enemies, too. In that interview Mark Waid also says that there are reasons why we never knew this before, as well as there might be elements of Birthright incorporated into the regular Superman books. Heh, maybe soon it will be regular continuity that Lex and Clark were friends during a time in Smallville...

Anyway, the second half of the comic shows Clark as a young reporter, not yet at the Daily Planet, but currently working for the "Ghana Dispatch." In this version Clark left Smallville at 18 after high school to study abroad at various universities and has traveled a lot -- there's the following conversation: "[...] I'm adopted. Not sure where I came from other than it's... pretty far from Kansas." "So you're searching for that place?" "No. More trying to find...a place for me, maybe? And running out of places to look."

I like the Clark here, he's young, obviously already tries to save and protect people, but isn't sure yet of his path, and it's also unclear how much he knows about his origins. His mother put a "hologlyphic chronicling Krytonian history" in the ship, and he carries that with him, but Jor-El (at the beginning) said "Why? The language will be dead, Lara. He'll never be able to read it." I think at this point Clark still tries to decipher the Kryptonian, though he picks up languages quickly (at least Earth ones).

I can really recommend this issue, at least to anyone who isn't fundamentally opposed to having Superman's origin story revamped in the first place (as many seem to be from the comments I've seen on some boards). It is an intriguing opening to the series, I like the characterization and the the art is great.

I'll certainly pick up the next issue.
ratcreature: RatCreature as Batman (batman)
I just read Batman #588 - #590, the three part story Close Before Striking (written by Brian K. Vaughan, pencils by Scott McDaniel, inks by Karl Story), and wow, Bruce / Batman's identity problems were already way out of control even before the events in the Murder / Fugitive story line. Eventually I'll reread that whole period in chronological order to fully appreciate the development.

But knowing the later events this story is even more creepy, and it makes the suspicions and doubt the others have about Batman more believable. I mean, when Batman identified with Matches, he was really close to killing people, so for me it's now more understandable why his friends and family weren't completely sure that he couldn't have killed Vesper Fairchild. Also this story shows Nightwing and Barbara both worried about Batman, and especially #590 highlights both the relationship between Dick / Nightwing and Bruce / Batman (who significantly slid into his Matches persona), as well as the one between Dick and Barbara.

As usual I'm not too enthusiastic about McDaniel's style, but at least his page layout is less chaotic for Batman than for Nightwing, and I really liked the story.
ratcreature: RatCreature as Batman (batman)
I'm sure it's not the only version of Oracle's origin story (I don't think anything is ever the only version of some important continuity with DC...), and I have no idea whether this one is the most recent that counts in current continuity either, but I enjoyed reading Oracle -- Year One: Born of Hope (writers John Ostrander and Kim Yale, artists Brian Stelfreeze and Karl Story, colorist Mark Chiarello) in Batman Chronicles #5 (from summer 1996). I liked the other two stories less -- Decoys offers an episode from Gordon's past, Of Mice and Men one from Bruce's childhood before his parents' murder -- still Batman Chronicles #5 is worth getting.

In case you're interested in more details of what happens in Oracle -- Year One: Born of Hope, an entry cataloging that short story is the newest addition to the Batverse Resource. Despite recent lack of progress, I haven't abandoned that project, it just goes slooow (that I'm a slacker doesn't help...)
ratcreature: RatCreature as Spidey (spidey)
I've just finished reading the Essential Spider-Man Vol. 2, and it was a lot of fun to read that many of the early Amazing Spider-Man stories in one setting. That way it's much easier to follow the drama of Peter Parker's daily life. I got the Essential Spider-Man Vol. 1 collection when I first started reading the current Amazing Spider-Man -- which I can btw recommend also, currently it's written by J. Michael Straczynski, art by John Romita Jr. (pencils) and Scott Hanna (inks), the team that took over with issue #30 of the current series, and both art and writing are great -- and just now the second one. Marvel's "Essential" collections are great value: You get over 20 consecutive issues in one paperback for about $15.00, and personally I like very much that they're in b/w.

Anyway in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 2 you can read for example about the on-going problems Peter has with his costume: His one costume gets wet, preventing him from getting out as Spiderman when he needs to be, then he decides to sew a second one, but his aunt finds that, and admonishes him not to wear costumes of such superheroes to parties, finally he looses his original costume, and falls back on one of the Spiderman costumes sold by a costume store, however that one is of inferior quality and throughout the issue it always slips and hinders him during his fights...it's hilarious.

You'll need some tolerance for "meta-commentary" during the issues, however that's part of the unique style of these comics, so it doesn't bother me that the narrator addresses the readers sometimes. It does set those comics apart from the usual current style of story telling in comics though. I think it's a fun way of not taking themselves too seriously, that at the beginning of a fight scene, you'll sometimes find a text box like "And now, we promised Artie Simek we'd let him go wild with sound effects for a page or two, so here goes --" and then follow eight panels of fighting with outrageous onomatopoeic words.

Anyway, for good escapist fun that has lots of important character development for Peter Parker/Spider-Man as well, you should get Essential Spider-Man Vol. 1, collecting Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1-20 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, mostly by the team of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, covering the time from 1962-65, as well as Essential Spider-Man Vol. 2, collecting Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #21-43 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2-3 (that is the non-reprint parts of the Annuals of course), those mostly by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and later John Romita, covering the time from 1965-66. The other "Essential" collections are most likely worth reading too, but I haven't read those yet.

The first issues of the current team of Amazing Spider-Man are also available as collections already: Coming Home collects #30-35, Revelation collects #36-39, and Until the Stars Turn Cold collects #40-45, if you don't want to track down the single issues.

Also I'm afraid I'm boring any non-comic fans among my few readers to death recently...
ratcreature: RatCreature as Spidey (spidey)
I updated my website. I added new comic artist recommendations: Isabel Kreitz on the Wimmin's Comics and Carl Barks and Don Rosa on the Other Comics page. I also updated my comic want list, with the Paradise Too issues I'm looking for.
ratcreature: happy RatCreature (happy)
I have finally created the Other Comics page with comic recs, or rather artist recs for the most part. It's far from complete, but much better than the eternal "coming eventually" place holder. I decided that if I wanted that page to be something other than "coming eventually," I had to settle for something less ambitious than the page I originally envisioned. But well, that page didn't materialize for several years, whereas the current version took maybe a day and a half of work, and that included scanning and selecting little sample cutouts from comics, so aiming lower had the positive effect that the goal was actually achievable. I mean, I can still expand it to reflect my initial idea, but at least there is some content there now, and I don't have to live with the place holder any longer. I myself hate it when other web sites have lots of "coming soon" areas, after all.

So instead of doing comprehensive real recs of most of my favorite comics, I just selected a few artists (based on no system in particular), and for now settled on starting an artist list, and just name some of my favorite comics by some artists. It is much less informative than I want it to be, but I guess it's still better than nothing. I also indexed the comic reviews I posted in this blog so far over there.
ratcreature: RatCreature is buried in comics, with the text: There's no such thing as too many comics.  (comics)
[livejournal.com profile] chrismaverick posted this "canonical list of comics" in response to the book canon lists. Now, I have issues with such lists (as anyone who read the previous two entries knows), but I like to rec comics.

This is no definite list, not even my definite list. This lists does not claim to prepare you for either European or American comics, it is not a required reading list for Comics 101, it won't enable you to follow every conversation inside a comic shop, it won't give you a historical overview, nor do I have agonized for hours/days weighing titles based on their artistic, historical, financial impact -- but those are not purely my personal favorites either. I love many comics which aren't anywhere on this list, nor are all on this list among my very favorites. If I had already gotten around to actually doing the comic recs page I envisioned when first starting my web site (years ago), I could simply point you there, to compare the the lists. For a few more comics done by women, see also my Wimmin's Comics page (though even that doesn't contain all my favorites, since I'm really bad with updates).

So here's my list, the titles are in the original language (mostly anyway, sometimes I'm not sure about the artists working for French-language publishers, if in doubt I'll go with the French title, because it'll be most likely the easiest to find). It includes only comics which I have read, or in case of series at least have read a substantial number of installments, not ones I've only heard about. Series are listed with my favorite issue/story if I can pick one, often just with the series title. Also I've tried to include examples from different genres, i.e. mystery, SF, horror, fantasy, western, historical settings, as well as non-genre works (sorted alphabetically, articles at the front don't matter):

120, Rue de la Gare, by Jaques Tardi and Leo Malet
Arzach, by Moebius
Asterix, by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
Back to the Klondike, by Carl Barks (get a copy of the unabridged story, with the 5 pages that were cut out by the Disney company when it was first published in Four Color Comics #456) but really you should read all of the Duck comics Carl Barks did for Disney
Black Hole, Charles Burns
Bone, by Jeff Smith
Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Waterson
Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley
C'était la guerre des tranchées, by Tardi
Les Cités obscures, by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters
A Contract with God, by Will Eisner
Corto Maltese, by Hugo Pratt
Dirty Plotte, by Julie Doucet
Dropsie Avenue, by Will Eisner
Dykes to Watch Out For, by Alison Bechdel
Feux, by Mattotti
Hate, by Peter Bagge
Idées Noires, by Franquin
L'Incal, by Moebius and Alexandro Jodorowsky
Iznogud, by René Goscinny and Tabary
Jar of Fools, by Jason Lutes
Jonathan Cartland, by Michel Blanc-Dumot
Krazy Kat, by George Herriman
La Marque Jaune, by Edgar Pierre Jacobs
Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, by Daniel Clowes
Life and Times Of Scrooge McDuck, by Don Rosa
Little Nemo, by Windsor McCay
Lucky Luke, by Morris and René Goscinny
Master Race, by Al Feldsteins and Bernie Krigsteins (in Impact #1)
Maus, by Art Spiegelman
Mort Cinder, by Alberto Breccia and Héctor Oesterheld
Naughty Bits, by Roberta Gregory
Objectif Lune and On a marché sur la lune, by Hergé (but really you should read all of Tintin)
L'Origine, by Marc-Antoine Mathieu
Optic Nerve, by Adrian Tomine
Pacush Blues, by Pti'Luc
Partie de Chasse, by Enki Bilal and Pierre Christin
La Quête de l'oiseau du temps, by Régis Loisel and Serge Le Tendre
Quotidiania delirante, by Miguelanxo Prado
Sandman, by Neil Gaiman (and various artists)
Saigon-Hanoi, by Cosey
Les 7 vies de l'Epervier, by André Juillard and Patrick Cothias
Signal To Noise, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
The Spirit, by Will Eisner
Strangers in Paradise, by Terry Moore
Swamp Thing, by Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein
The Tale Of One Bad Rat, by Bryan Talbot
Twisted Sisters Anthologies, by various artists
Understanding Comics, by Scott McLoud
Watchmen, by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore
Weird Science & Weird Fantasy series, published by EC (various artists/writers)
Z comme Zorglub, by Franquin and Greg (but really you should read all of "Les Aventures des Spirou et Fantasio")

So which have you (not) read?

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