I’m a comic book nut.
I love reading comics and reading about them. I also love writing about them (voici, le blog). And I’m always looking for new books about comics to pick up.
Included here is an evolving list of books, videos and magazines covering the most underrated of entertainment mediums.
Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (Douglas Wolk)
I first heard about Wolk and his book at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival a few years ago. It’s a good read. A bit cheeky in places (like the chapter “Why Does Chris Ware Hate Fun?”), but just the right amount. You can skip the first third of the book if you’ve read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (see below) or Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art – it’s geared at the non-comics crowd. Wolk touches on a variety of comic genres through the lense of creators like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Dave Sim, and Chester Brown. He writes a comparison of Eisner and Frank Miller. It also includes one of two essays I’ve read on Jim Starlin’s Warlock, so now of course I’m intrigued and want to get my hands on the series.
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art and Reinventing Comics (both by Scott McCloud)
I’ve thumbed through the first book, Understanding Comics, so many times, the pages are worn down. It came out in 1993, right around the time I was starting my English degree at university. I remember getting very excited by the ideas as I was reading this one. Not only was it the first non-fiction comic book I had come across, but McCloud’s decision to use comics to dissect the medium was so obvious and brilliant. Double whammy. But I wasn’t really into the follow-up, Reinventing Comics. Maybe it’s aimed at comics creators, of which I’m not one. It’s interesting as an academic exercise, but it didn’t compel me to read through. One day I’ll attempt another read to see if I feel the same way today as I did the first time around.
In this 2009 video, McCloud tells a very interesting story about growing up and presents his theory on comics to the audience at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Conference, which has featured some very cool speakers in the past. (I’m so glad the clips are now available to watch online.)
Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers! (various writers)
Nearly 20 writers, including Jonathan Lethem and Brad Meltzer, write about their comic book experiences. These personal essays touch on Nick Fury and 60s/70s pop culture, Teen Titans, the DC/Marvel rivaly from a fan’s perspective, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko. Some strong work here; more quirky than educated, but worth a look. The book also includes the second of two explorations into the character Warlock that I’ve read.
Comic Book Rebels: Conversations with the Creators of the New Comics (Stanley Wiater and Stephen R. Bissette)
This was published in 1993, but it has the gritty flavour of the 80s comics. A really good idea, but falls flat in the execution – not my favourite by a long shot. This Entertainment Weekly reviewer didn’t like it either. Conversations with some good talent: Eisner, Moebius, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Sim. I think it’s hilarious that Todd “entertainment empire” McFarlane is included in a group of comic rebels. – but he was one of the driving forces behind Image. And get a load of this excerpt from the inside cover introduction: “No longer just kid’s stuff, today’s comic books are hip, contemporary, entertaining and seriously collected.” I much prefer Mark Salisbury’s more recent, two-volume Writers on Comic Scriptwriting. Just check out the list of artists and writers included and you’ll understand why. Grant Morrison and Alan Moore are both strange individuals. Warren Ellis is both mad and honest.