Archive for May, 2010

Sailing the Seas of Manga: A Drifting Life

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi


Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life (Drawing & Quarterly, 2009) is a graphic memoir of epic proportions. It is an autobiographical work thinly veiled as fiction, which recounts the story of two brothers, Hiroshi and Okimasa Katsumi as they grow from adolescence to adulthood. Both boys are obsessed with reading and drawing manga.

The Early Years

In grade seven, one of Okimasa’s “postcard comics” is published in the monthly magazine Manga Shonen, much to Hiroshi’s chagrin. Not long afterwards, however, Hiroshi follows suit with work published in Manga Yomimono (Manga and Literature) and numerous other magazines. He begins receiving letters from other youth who are equally enthralled with manga, which leads to Hiroshi’s formation of the Children’s Manga Association with six other postcard comic creators. The association publishes the hand-drawn magazine Stars of Manga, “…likely the first national amateur manga association formed in the post-war period (41). Continue reading ‘Sailing the Seas of Manga: A Drifting Life’

Compulsive Bike Collector Tells All: Kenk

Kenk by Richard Poplak, Alex Jansen, Jason Gilmore and Nick Marinkovich

In a nutshell, Kenk (Pop Sandbox Production and Publishing, 2010) is fucking brilliant. Why? Perhaps the reasons for this are difficult to pinpoint, but they have something to do with the visually raw punk aesthetic exuding from the pages of this bold experiment, the complexity of the Igor Kemp world view, and the endearing affection that so many of us have for the intrepid outlaw, unafraid to stick it to the Man.


The Process

In the Author’s Note at the beginning of this fine and edgy work, Richard Poplak describes his graphic portrait thus:

The following is a work of journalism, with a twist. Most of the content in the book is derived from more than 30 hours of digital footage taken of convicted bike thief Igor Kenk during the year leading up to his arrest. Thus, you hold in your hands a hybrid project that simultaneously takes the form of journalistic profile, documentary and comic book.

The images have been doctored using a now-ancient technology employed by underground artists battling state-run presses in Yugoslavia during the 80s: the photocopy machine. Kenk came of age in that country during the punk-like FV movement. This style informed – and informs of – his ethos. I came to believe that this is the prism through which Kenk sees the world.


In “Portrait of a Serial Stealer” (The Walrus Blog), Poplak mentions his love of fumetti, photographic comics that became especially popular in North America during the 1970s. Supported by Alex Jensen (producer) and Jason Gilmore (cameraman and designer), Poplak decided to move forward with his vision of creating a photographically inspired “graphic novel”—without having a clear conception of what the final product would look like. Continue reading ‘Compulsive Bike Collector Tells All: Kenk’

The Way of the Juggler

The Juggler of Our Lady and Talking Lines by R.O. Blechman

The Juggler of Our Lady (published in 1953) was a signpost on the way to the “graphic novel,” like Freeman’s It Shouldn’t Happen, Dunn’s East of Fifth, and Gropper’s Alley Oop. All of these books were “graphic novel” anomalies done long before any one ever dreamed up that awful term.

–“Introduction by Seth,” Talking Lines: The Graphic Stories of R.O. Blechman.

Awful indeed. And now, the ubiquitous “graphic novel” is being used to refer back to earlier works, in the process broadening its historical reach. But Seth is right—The Juggler of Our Lady is unique as an early example of extended graphic narrative, and as the predecessor for great things to come by R.O. Blechman, now hailed as one of the greats of cartoon storytelling.

Talking Lines (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010) is a selected retrospective of Blechman’s work, dated from a series of one-page “silent cartoons” published in the magazine Humbug in 1957-58, up to the two-page “The Birth of the Croissant and the Bagel” published in the New York Times in 2009—though the stories are not included in chronological order. At least as interesting as the works themselves is Blechman’s commentary included at the beginning of each selection, which provides additional context for the stories in their republished format. Continue reading ‘The Way of the Juggler’

Multimodal and Digital Reading

The excerpts included below come from the First Monday article, “Digital reading spaces: How expert readers handle books, the Web and electronic paper” by Terje Hillesund.

I think that these quotations apply equally to “graphic novels,” graphic narrative/sequential art and Web comics,  although the article makes no reference to any of these terms–couched as it is in formal academic discourse.

Among researchers studying current changes in reading, semioticians are particularly preoccupied with the materiality of semiotic resources, along a range of media. Since the 1970s and 1980s, desktop publishing and offset printing have dominated composition and printing, making the use of photo and graphic illustrations far less complicated. As a result, today’s newspapers, magazines, textbooks and trade books are often sophisticated publications in which much of the information is given pictorially and by other visual means. Researchers such as Günter Kress (2003) and Theo van Leeuwen (2001; 2006) have described the visual grammar of multimodal texts, suggesting that multimodal reading is not primarily a continuous or discontinuous reading of verbal text, but rather composite reading in which attention jumps back and forth between illustrations and text. Researchers encounter great challenges in trying to explain how meaning is construed in the many kinds of multimodal reading that are emerging, both in print and on screen.

Multimodality, hypertext and the urge to click

Multimodality is not a new phenomenon. Illuminated manuscripts and illustrated books have a long history, as Kress and van Leeuwen (2001; 2006) point out. The use of graphs, diagrams, maps, models, drawings and photographs often increases the informational and aesthetic value of print publications. In addition, a heavily illustrated magazine or textbook offers the user several choices. The reader can look at pictures and the accompanying captions and titles and form a good idea of what the article is about. Parallel to this, the background information and explanations of the main text can be read to get the full story. Either way, due to the salience of pictures and inclinations in our perception, the eyes will jump back and forth between text and illustrations. Direct visual perceptions will complement or replace the mental images usually produced during reading. In a spatial sense, strictly verbal reading will thus be discontinuous. Multimodal reading, on the other hand, will in a temporal meaning go on uninterrupted; the reader will construe visual–verbal meaning units not reducible to any of the two modalities. However, as the use of illustrations increases, a visual logic will eventually take precedence and dominate, as is the case with many modern magazines and text books. In publications of this kind, verbal text plays an auxiliary or reciprocal role, anchoring and contextualising pictures. For readers, the meaning is derived from self–sufficient visual–verbal entities dominated by images, and the process of reading inevitably changes as the reader starts looking and flicking.

Hillesund, Terje. “Digital reading spaces: How expert readers handle books, the Web and electronic paper” First Monday [Online], Volume 15 Number 4 (11 April 2010).

Reproduced under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License.

The Critics Respond: Considering Maus


I can’t remember how old I was, but I’m guessing I must have been nine or ten. Dad’s office was on the ninth floor of the history building, looking out over the vast expanse of Burrard Inlet, extending into the Pacific, with the backdrop of the North Shore. Massive bald eagles circled above Spanish Banks in wide, lazy spirals, rising on the updrafts.

Both walls of the office were lined with bookshelves that extended to the ceiling. Books and newspapers were everywhere, stacked on the coffee table and on the armrests and seats of the well-worn couch hidden under their weight.

Dad collected his work in preparation to return home. I absently picked up a book—I no longer recall the title—and noticing the glossy signature inset in the book’s centre, turned to the photographs. The images were riveting. In some of the photos, mounds of emaciated bodies were stacked in shallow graves. In others, live human skeletons stared blankly out at the cameras. It’s hard to describe what I felt at the time—something beyond horror, beyond shock. I continued flipping the pages uncomprehendingly, until dad came and gently took the book from my hands.

“It’s probably better if you don’t look at those.”

Time Passes

Like so many others, when Maus I: My Father Bleeds History was published, it rocked my world—especially as a sixteen year-old comic collector who was already beginning to tire of the monthly (re)cycle of men in tights. Though I had learned more about the Shoah in the meantime (beginning with reading The Diary of Anne Frank when I was thirteen) Maus was something different once again. In particular, the “Prisoner on the Hell Planet” insert gave me a voice and permission through which I could vicariously express the rage that I felt towards my own mother, who had spent the bulk of my own childhood into my teen years struggling with depression.

Considering Maus

My copy of Maus I is now falling apart, having been re-read and loaned out to so many people. The book’s critical acclaim built momentum for the “graphic novel” format, and also brought comix out from the underground and into the mainstream. Academics have begun putting their spin on the medium and its message, as demonstrated by the essays in Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman’s “Survivor’sTale” (University of Alabama Press, 2003: edited by Deborah R. Geis).

Maus has been dissected by scholars through the lenses of cultural studies and literary studies (with an emphasis on psychoanalytic theory), feminist studies, and of course—comics studies. Geis cites the intersection between Maus and Jewish studies, historiography  and oral history as particular fields of interest among the contributors to her collection. Continue reading ‘The Critics Respond: Considering Maus’

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