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REVIEW: Inventing Comics

An under-quoted passage in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics reads, "Our attempts to define comics are an on-going process which won't end anytime soon. [...] Here's to the great debate!" Cartoonist Dylan Horrocks has accepted that challenge.

First published in The Comics Journal in 2001, "Inventing Comics" begins by pointing out that Understanding Comics is not just a work of theory, but a work of polemic: "By saying, 'This is comics,' [McCloud] is really saying, 'This is what comics should be; it is what we should value most about them.' On the other hand he's also saying what comics should not be, and, by implication, what we should value less about them."

Horrocks follows this important observation with a rundown of what McCloud's definition includes and excludes, as well as dubious aspects of his other definition-oriented comments, such as sequentiality as the essential quality of comics over other possibilities…
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BOOK REVIEW: Drawn to Berlin

Ali Fitzgerald's new book is a memoir in comics and a memoir of comics, and it shows what a gift the medium is for people in need of self-expression.

Since 2015, Fitzgerald has taught comics workshops in Berlin to refugees arriving from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere, and her experiences with this project provide the through-line for the stories in Drawn to Berlin. Expanded from this short comic that first appeared at Vox.com, they address many connected ideas: the complicated history of refugees and other immigrants in Berlin, the relationship of a journalist to her subjects, good and bad instances of politicized visual culture, the insidious nature of trauma, and more.

On a formal level it's an easy read, but, at the risk of being reductive about what the book offers, this is what makes it a useful tool for comics librarians. Fitzgerald's art and writing depict scenes of comics-making with empathy and clarity, showing how the benefits of comics-making transc…

BOOK REVIEW: Syllabus

Although this book appears at first to be a straightforward memoir, Lynda Barry has given us an inspiring inquiry into the nature of creativity and a practical introduction to comics-making.

Syllabus takes the form of a composition notebook that's become a home for journal entries, collage, sketches, and comics, and its contents revolve around Barry's experiences teaching several interdisciplinary courses at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. The structure might take a some getting used to, but these course notes, exercise instructions, and reflections on learning and art make it absolutely worth the effort. The book's "lessons" are accessible in that they have a careful simplicity to them, but by requiring honest reflection while drawing from memory something as mundane as a car, they become truly profound as well. 

As someone who doesn't make comics, I know I'm only absorbing some of what Syllabus has to offer, yet even with that constraint in place…

BOOK REVIEW: Graphic Medicine Manifesto

A concentrated focus on the uses of comics in medical education and practice may seem alienating to readers outside the medical field, but this essay collection's benefits reach far beyond its intended audience.

I'll admit that my first reaction to the idea of Graphic Medicine was something like, "cool, but so what?"; I figured any field should use all the tools it can, and I wondered why medicine was special. Through their deep but accessible essays, authors MK Czerwiec, Ian Williams, Susan Merrill Squier, Michael J. Green, Kimberly R. Myers, and Scott T. Smith have both debunked and reinforced my assumptions by clearly demonstrating the benefits that comics offer the medical field in particular, and by providing a road map that other fields can use to incorporate comics.
Scott Smith provides the first essay, an examination of the state of comics scholarship so impressive that I think everyone interested in comics should read it.  (In fact, the publishers have done…

REVIEW: Critical Inquiry Special Issue, Spring 2014

This special "Comics and Media" issue of the journal Critical Inquiry is as accessible as many monographs or essay collections because it uses a single conference as its inspiration and for much of its content.

First, a note about the cover art: This image, as discussed within the issue, is a rejected cover for the New Yorker painted by R. Crumb in 2009. It's not clear whether the image is meant to make fun of the couple or the man in the booth, and while I imagine that's supposed to be some kind of nuanced irony, to me it smacks of "hey man, this is just what I see out there in this crazy world" -- in other words, a lazy gut reaction by someone who doesn't have the commitment to their own observations to take them seriously or care who gets hurt. In the reality of this situation, I care much less about the man in the booth and much more about the couple who are simply trying to get married and may be made to feel, probably not for the first time, like…