Jul 24 2008 4:16am
Comicon of the Mind

RC coverYour intrepid superhero-comics blogger has not made the journey to SDCC, an event which, from what I can tell, is probably sour anyway. Plus, those of us who stayed home get food and sleep. Plus, we need not lack for comics-related stimulation thanks to literary blog The Valve's virtual symposium on Douglas Wolk's new book, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. The book is not remotely as annoying as the subtitle, which was probably chosen by committee. I enjoyed it a great deal, and recommend it unreservedly. I'm also part of the symposium, thanks to Valve ringmaster John Holbo. I'll be writing about the book here over the next few days as part of the event, but tonight I wanted to point you to the existing symposium contributions.

Of the batch, Burke, Manley and Pedler take off from and to different extents argue with Wolk's take on superhero comics; LaRiviere and Roberts try to use Wolk to justify their lack of interest in multipage sequential art as a medium; Farmar argues that the national traditions of comics art are more distinct than Wolk gives them credit for; Holbo plays off of Farmar's essay; and Paik discusses - lots of things: to be frank, I've only skimmed it.

Nevertheless, I agree with part of Paik's entry that did jump out at me:

He does a marvelous job of sparking interest in the creators he clearly admires, such as Carla Speed McNeil, the Hernandez brothers, Chester Brown, and Grant Morrison - in the chapters dedicated to them, Wolk demonstrates his skill at zeroing in on the essential details of a work without giving away too much in the way of plot.

I enjoy this aspect of Reading Comics a lot. I find Wolk to be delightful at expressing delight, and I find a lot of delight in the book. To that extent, I disagree with Burke, who sees way more frown on Wolk's face than I do.

Cover image courtesy Da Capo Books.

1. Robotech_Master
How does this work compare to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics books?
Kip Manley
2. kiplet
I really, really, really must finish my actual post on the dam' book. "Always already" was only ever supposed to have been an amuse bouche. (Problem is, I start writing, then I get distracted.)

How does it compare to Understanding? Um. Scott's an evangelist for comics in general; Douglas for comics in specific? —No, not quite. Both are incredibly enthusiastic, and very good at infecting you with that enthusiasm, but Scott's about the medium, and Douglas is about the work.

That's nutshelling it, anyway. More will have to wait. I don't want to get distracted again.
Jim Henley
3. Supplanter
Hey, Kip: Lemme know when the "actual post" is done - I'll link it too!

RM: I think of Understanding Comics as an essentially formalist account of the medium's toolkit, with Wolk's book being a more classically critic-ish view of the total effect of comics works and their surround. And, the back half of Reading Comics is hte classic "Collection o' Reviews," though the front half appears to be newly created general theory for the book itself.

It's been a few years since I read UC, so all I'm really saying about it is, "The impression that stays with me is . . . " I do remember that UC had a section that amounted to web-comics evangelism, and there are probably other aspects of the book I am forgetting.
4. Tom Scudder
Jim: the web-comics evangelism came from Reinventing Comics, actually (which I liked but not as much as Understanding, and I understand others liked it rather less). Understanding... had almost no close inspection of individual works of comics (bleah, but you get what I mean); Reinventing had a bit, but only a couple pieces and not in much depth. My impression from the reviews is that Reading actually breaks down individual works and the ways they work.
5. Bill Dowling

can I borrow Reading Comics from you, Jim?
Jim Henley
6. Supplanter
Bill: Heck yeah. Gimme another week. I have to take it to the beach next week so I can blog it more.

Tom: Your last sentence is an excellent paraphrase of how I myself described Reading Comics in this thread. Awesome! As to the first part: I haven't read Reinventing Comics yet. The fact that he produced that second book and I've read about it may be influencing my memory of UC, but my memory of UC having a fairly substantial discussion of the formal possibilities of web comics, and a lot of enthusiasm for same, is pretty strong.
7. Tom Scudder
Jim: Your mind is playing tricks on you (I just went back to my copy of UC to make sure I didn't do the same conflation trick). Remember, UC is copyright 1993: while I guess it wouldn't have been outright impossible for McCloud to be evangelizing web comics at that time, it would have been incredibly prescient.
Jim Henley
8. Supplanter
Hm. Stupid mind.

(Unless there's a second edition and you have the first?)

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