July comics

As I indicated last month, I’m changing the format of these entries to focus on a few select comics, rather than going through the full list of everything I bought/read in the month.

The best comic I got in my tfaw box this month is David Hahn’s All Nighter #1 (Image). This book is anchored by the strong introduction to the main character, Kit Bradley, and Hahn’s distinctive art.

Kit is formally introduced on the first story page of this issue with a “voiceover” that addresses the audience. When done well, as it is here, this is an effective device because the reader gets to learn about a character from seeing the world from that person’s perspective. What’s important here is that the narration is clearly partial, revealing a lot about the character but only so much about other people and events. And here the voiceover fosters a quick attachment to Kit, and I’m interested to see where Hahn takes her as a narrator, how reliable or unreliable she turns out to be.

Hahn’s art is defined by clean, strong lines and a modern sensibility, but the characters are varied and expressive. A lot of effort is devoted to fashion, to clothes, accessories and hairstyles, which creates a lively feel to the settings and to Kit’s world. The simplicity and high contrast of the black and white works well with the Hahn’s line work and also shows off his attention to detail since he cannot rely on color to distinguish between characters and scenes.

I also got conclusions to two Marvel minis this month: Silver Surfer #5 (writer: Greg Pak, pencils: Harvey Tolibao, inks: Sandu Florea, & colors: Wil Quintana) and Annihilators #4 (writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, pencils: Tan Eng Huat, with art by Timothy Green II on the Rocket Raccoon backup).

I think that Pak does a good job of giving the Surfer a second origin, built in the same kind of sacrifice that defined him in the first place. The Surfer has always been a tragic figure and this mini-series mines that aspect of his character well, particularly in giving him a romantic partner who is more of an active agent than Shalla-Bal. The use of the (new) Fantastic Four is a nice touch of meta-narrative continuity.

In Annihilators, Abnett & Lanning solve the problem of having a team of heroes with god-like powers by writing a story that depends on planning and problem solving. I like Eng Huat’s consistent use of wide and long views to show the scale of the battles fought here. The Rocket Raccoon and Groot backup is as fun and hilarious as the main story is weighty and serious. Timothy Green manages to draw Rocket to be heroic and goofy in equal measure. Both this book and the Surfer mini are good examples of why I like to read on the margins of the Marvel U: you tend to get more self-contained stories that are tightly focused on a specific cast of characters.

I won’t be writing about any trades this month*, partly because my life has been taken over by house selling and buying and partly because the book I picked up at the beginning of July is the massive The Finder Library Volume 1 (Dark Horse), which collects Carla Speed McNeil’s webcomic of the same name.

*So, I found time today to do some reading, including Ximo Abadia’s Clonk (Kettledrummer Books), which is a strange and beautiful book about love, death, and friendship. The main character looks like a guy in a black bunny suit, or maybe he is some kind of human rabbit – his appearance is never addressed, it just is – who begins the story with an attempted suicide before the book flashes back to what happened to lead up to that moment. The narrative is simultaneously epic and very personal and intimate. There are lovely sequences of people doing everyday things, especially with the main character and his best friend, but there are also panels of war and the introduction of a giant fish. Abadia shows more than he tells, and the book rewards rewinds to recontexualize certain panels. Figures and backgrounds are simple, and sometimes even “rough” looking, but every page is full of life and feeling.

Latest column at PopMatters

My latest “Worlds in Panels” posted yesterday. I take a critical look at narrative form and the Marvel Universe in books and on film.

The question … is whether moviegoing audiences will invest, both financially and affectively, in a common universe, not just for a single recognizable cast of characters, but for a bevy of characters, characters who sometimes appear in their own films and sometimes in “team” movies, or in films headlined by different characters. If I’m a James Bond fan, all I have to do is look for the next Bond film. Marvel producers are anticipating that people will become not just fans of particular characters, but of Marvel.

Read the full column.

More on Storify in the classroom

At the end of Winter term I started to use Storify in my classes. That term, I put out a short narrative about Marjane Satrapi for my Introductory Cultural Geography students, who had read Persepolis. In Spring, I made use of Storify for all of my courses.

For me, the most interesting application was in my Spring section of the Intro course. There I built a timeline around topics of interest where there was limited classroom time or where I thought there would be value in letting students explore on their own time, especially through multiple media.

I intended for this to be a supplement, and generally did not refer to the page during class discussions, although on a couple of occasions I added items to the story that had first been discussed in class. I particularly liked having a rich way to show students what I did while away at the Association of American Geographers meetings, and for which I canceled class.

I did announce updates via the class blog and there is some discussion of the timeline on that site. According to Storify’s stats, there have been seventy-six views of that page, but I don’t really know how many of those are from students in the class.

I am going to repeat this exercise next Fall, and maybe I will make more use of the narrative in class, or give students an opportunity to suggest additions. It occurred to me later that asking about use of the story would have been a good evaluation question at the end of the term.

In History and Philosophy of Geography, a small seminar course for majors and minors, I built a quick story outlining my path to becoming a geographer, and for Geography & Film I collected a set of infographics as an aid to discussing Inception. In both of these cases, I used Storify more as a presentation tool than as a way to build an independent resource. However, the web-based interface and integrated search function made Storify a better choice for making these presentations than a program like PowerPoint would have been. In the case of the Inception graphics, especially, I appreciated having that easily available to my students for preview and later reference.