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In 1977, Dave Sim (b. 1956) began to self-publish Cerebus, one of the earliest and most significant independent comics, which ran for 300 issues and ended, as Sim had planned from early on, in 2004. Over the run of the comic, Sim used it as a springboard to explore not only the potential of the comics medium but also many of the core assumptions of Western society. Through it he analyzed politics, the dynamics of love, religion, and, most controversially, the influence of feminism--which Sim believes has had a negative impact on society. Moreover, Sim inserted himself squarely into the comic as Cerebus's creator, thereby inviting criticism not only of the creation, but also of the creator.What few interviews Sim gave often pushed the limits of what an interview might be in much the same way that Cerebus pushed the limits of what a comic might be. In interviews Sim is generous, expansive, provocative, and sometimes even antagonistic. Regardless of mood, he is always insightful and fascinating. His discursive style is not conducive to the sound bite or to easy summary. Many of these interviews have been out of print for years. And, while the interviews range from very general, career-spanning explorations of his complex work and ideas, to tightly focused discussions on specific details of Cerebus, all the interviews contained herein are engaging and revealing.
The Silver Age and Beyond
The Thing. Daredevil. Captain Marvel. The Human Fly. Drawing on DC and Marvel comics from the 1950s to the 1990s, and marshaling insights from three burgeoning fields of inquiry in the humanities—disability studies, death and dying studies, and comics studies— José Alaniz seeks to redefine the contemporary understanding of the superhero. Beginning in the Silver Age, the genre increasingly challenged and complicated its hypermasculine, quasi-eugenicist biases through such disabled figures as Ben Grimm/The Thing, Matt Murdock/Daredevil, and the Doom Patrol.
Alaniz traces how the superhero became increasingly vulnerable, ill, and mortal in this era. He then proceeds to a reinterpretation of characters and series—some familiar (Superman), some obscure (She-Thing). These genre changes reflected a wider awareness of related body issues in the postwar U.S. as represented by hospice, death with dignity, and disability rights movements. The persistent highlighting of the body’s “imperfection” comes to forge a predominant aspect of the superheroic self. Such moves, originally part of the Silver Age strategy to stimulate sympathy, enhance psychological depth, and raise the dramatic stakes, developed further in such later series as The Human Fly, Strikeforce: Morituri, and the landmark graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel, all examined in this volume. Death and disability, presumed routinely absent or denied in the superhero genre, emerge to form a core theme and defining function of the Silver Age and beyond.
Memory and Subjectivity in Comic Art
Autobiography has seen enormous expansions and challenges over the past decades. One of these expansions has been in comics, and it is an expansion that pushes back against any postmodern notion of the death of the author/subject, while also demanding new approaches from critics.
Drawing from Life: Memory and Subjectivity in Comic Art is a collection of essays about autobiography, semiautobiography, fictionalized autobiography, memory, and self-narration in sequential art, or comics. Contributors come from a range of academic backgrounds including English, American studies, comparative literature, gender studies, art history, and cultural studies. The book engages with well-known figures such as Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, and Alison Bechdel; with cult-status figures such as Martin Vaughn James; and with lesser-known works by artists such as Frédéric Boilet.
Negotiations between artist/writer/body and drawn/written/text raise questions of how comics construct identity, and are read and perceived, requiring a critical turn towards theorizing the comics' viewer. At stake in comic memoir and semi-autobiography is embodiment. Remembering a scene with the intent of rendering it in sequential art requires nonlinear thinking and engagement with physicality. Who was in the room and where? What was worn? Who spoke first? What images dominated the encounter? Did anybody smile? Man or mouse? Unhinged from the summary paragraph, the comics artist must confront the fact of the flesh, or the corporeal world, and they do so with fascinating results.
Transnational Asian American Graphic Narratives
The global circulation of comics, manga, and other such visual mediums between North America and Asia produces transnational meanings no longer rooted in a separation between “Asian” and “American.” Drawing New Color Lines explores the culture, production, and history of contemporary graphic narratives that depict Asian Americans and Asians. It examines how Japanese manga and Asian popular culture have influenced Asian American comics; how these comics and Asian American graphic narratives depict the “look” of race; and how these various representations are interpreted in nations not of their production. By focusing on what graphic narratives mean for audiences in North America and those in Asia, the collection discusses how Western theories about the ways in which graphic narratives might successfully overturn derogatory caricatures are themselves based on contested assumptions; and illustrates that the so-called odorless images featured in Japanese manga might nevertheless elicit interpretations about race in transnational contexts. With contributions from experts based in North America and Asia, Drawing New Color Lines will be of interest to scholars in a variety of disciplines, including Asian American studies, cultural and literary studies, comics and visual studies.
Italian Comics of the 1970s and 1980s
Exploring an overlooked era of Italian history roiled by domestic terrorism, political assassination, and student protests, Drawn and Dangerous: Italian Comics of the 1970s and 1980s shines a new light on what was a dark decade, but an unexpectedly prolific and innovative period among artists of comics intended for adults. Blurring the lines between high art and popular consumption, artists of the Italian comics scene went beyond passively documenting history and began actively shaping it through the creation of fictional worlds where history, cultural data, and pop-realism interacted freely. Featuring brutal Stalinist supermen, gay space travelers, suburban juvenile delinquents, and student activists turned tech-savvy saboteurs, these comics ultimately revealed a volatile era more precisely than any mainstream press. Italian comics developed a journalistic, ideology-free, and sardonic approach in representing the key events of their times. Drawn and Dangerous makes a case for the importance of the adult comics of the '70s and '80s. During those years comic production reached its peak in maturity, complexity, and wealth of cultural references. The comic artists' analyses of the political and religious landscape reveal fresh perspectives on a transformative period in Italian history.
Ed Brubaker (b. 1966) has emerged as one of the most popular, significant figures in art comics since the 1990s. Most famous as the man who killed Captain America in 2007, Brubaker’s work on company-owned properties such as Batman and Captain America and creator-owned series like Criminal and Fatale live up to the usual expectations for the superhero and crime genres. And yet, Brubaker layers his stories with a keen self-awareness, applying his expansive knowledge of American comic book history to invigorate his work and challenge the dividing line between popular entertainment and high art. This collection of interviews explores the sophisticated artist’s work, drawing upon the entire length of the award-winning Brubaker’s career.
With his stints writing Catwoman, Gotham Central, and Daredevil, Brubaker advanced the work of crime comic book writers through superhero stories informed by hard-boiled detective fiction and film noir. During his time on Captain America and his series Sleeper and Incognito, Brubaker revisited the conventions of the espionage thriller. With double agents who lose themselves in their jobs, the stories expose the arbitrary superhero standards of good and evil. In his series Criminal, Brubaker offered complex crime stories and, with a clear sense of the complicated lost world before the Comics Code, rejected crusading critic Fredric Wertham’s myth of the innocence of early comics.
Overall, Brubaker demonstrates his self-conscious methodology in these often little-known and hard-to-find interviews, worthwhile conversations in their own right as well as objects of study for both scholars and researchers.
Jews and Comic Books
Jews created the first comic book, the first graphic novel, the first comic book convention, the first comic book specialty store, and they helped create the underground comics (or "Comix") movement of the late '60s and early '70s. Many of the creators of the most famous comic books, such as Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, and Batman, as well as the founders of MAD Magazine, were Jewish. From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books tells their stories and demonstrates how they brought a uniquely Jewish perspective to their work and to the comics industry as a whole. Over-sized and in full color, From Krakow to Krypton is filled with sidebars, cartoon bubbles, comic book graphics, original design sketches, and photographs. It is a visually stunning and exhilarating history.
A Cartoonist’s Wartime Perspective
In 1965, Gene Basset, a well-known political cartoonist, was sent to Vietnam by his newspaper publishing syndicate. His assignment: to sketch scenes of the increasingly controversial war in order to help the newspaper-reading public better understand the events occurring in Southeast Asia. In much the same way that M.A.S.H. gave viewers an irreverent, wry view of war and its devastating effects on citizens as well as soldiers, Basset’s sketches portray the everyday, often mundane, aspects of wartime with an intimate touch that eases access to the dark subject matter. In this affectionately curated collection, author, doctor, and longtime friend of the artist, Thom Rooke, deftly leads us through more than eighty of Basset’s cartoons, organizing his insights according to the well-known stages of grief, from denial to acceptance, and demonstrating how Basset’s images convey moments of trauma, coping, and healing. From scenes of American GIs haggling with Vietnamese street vendors to a medic dressing the wounds of a wide-eyed soldier, Basset’s endearing sketches and Rooke’s friendly prose humanize life during wartime. The seriocomic vignettes and analyses are delivered with wit, compassion, and subtle charm sure to please academic, artistic, and casual readers alike.
Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post-World War II Manga
Cartoonist Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) is the single most important figure in Japanese post-World War II comics. During his four-decade career, Tezuka published more than 150,000 pages of comics, produced animation films, wrote essays and short fiction, and earned a Ph.D. in medicine. Along with creating the character Astro Boy (Mighty Atom in Japan), he is best known for establishing story comics as the mainstream genre in the Japanese comic book industry, creating narratives with cinematic flow and complex characters. This style influenced all subsequent Japanese output. God of Comics chronicles Tezuka's life and works, placing his creations both in the cultural climate and in the history of Japanese comics.The book emphasizes Tezuka's use of intertextuality. His works are filled with quotations from other texts and cultural products, such as film, theater, opera, and literature. Often, these quoted texts and images bring with them a world of meanings, enriching the narrative. Tezuka also used stock characters and recurrent visual jokes as a way of creating a coherent world that encompasses all of his works.God of Comics includes close analysis of Tezuka's lesser-known works, many of which have never been translated into English. It offers one of the first in-depth studies of Tezuka's oeuvre to be published in English.
Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics
One of the most eclectic and distinctive writers currently working in comics, Grant Morrison (b. 1960) brings the auteurist sensibility of alternative comics and graphic novels to the popular genres-superhero, science fiction, and fantasy-that dominate the American and British comics industries. His comics range from bestsellers featuring the most universally recognized superhero franchises (All-Star Superman, New X-Men, Batman) to more independent, creator-owned work (The Invisibles, The Filth, We3) that defies any generic classification.
In Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics, author Marc Singer examines how Morrison uses this fusion of styles to intervene in the major political, aesthetic, and intellectual challenges of our time. His comics blur the boundaries between fantasy and realism, mixing autobiographical representation and cultural critique with heroic adventure. They offer self-reflexive appraisals of their own genres while they experiment with the formal elements of comics. Perhaps most ambitiously, they challenge contemporary theories of language and meaning, seeking to develop new modes of expression grounded in comics' capacity for visual narrative and the fantasy genres' ability to make figurative meanings literal.