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BOOK REVIEW: Comics and Language

The subtitle of Hannah Miodrag's book is"Reimagining Critical Discourse on the Form", and she makes a compelling case that the first step is pointing out failings in the current critical discourse.

As indicated by the title, Miodrag has chosen to take a close look at the way comics criticism and scholarship tend to address (and not address) language, and she breaks her book into three sections to do so. In "Language in Comics" she calls out the having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too claims that comics must be primarily driven by visual content but that comics' literariness is the best way to demonstrate its cultural value, responding with perhaps the first real examination of the actual words and sentences used in comics (in this case, Krazy Kat and works by Lynda Barry) instead of just the plot of a given story. She also looks at the ways language is "deployed" in comics, using Simmond's Gemma Bovary to demonstrate that the medium can create mea…
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Paul Gravett's overview of Asian comics is groundbreaking in its scope and laudable for its passion, but unfortunately the book itself has significant flaws.

The first thing to say about Mangasia is that it truly covers Asia, not just Japan with some kind of "oh, also there are comics in Korea" commentary, as is the case with the otherwise excellent Comics: A Global History. The book looks at nineteen localities, drawing his borders north of Mongolia and west of India and China, while The Philippines and Indonesia serve as the book's southeastern-most representatives. Gravett, as always, demonstrates a deep love for the subject at hand, as well as a commitment to being both scholarly and accessible in presenting the history and significance of this underappreciated body of work.

Unfortunately I was lost and struggling to varying degrees from start to finish. The writing itself is clear and always enlightening, but it is organized and presented in a way that often le…

BOOK REVIEW: Critical Survey of Graphic Novels

This enormous series from Salem Press is vital for any academic library that wants its patrons and staff to take a serious approach to comics.

(Note: This review covers the first edition, but a second edition has been published or is underway for each volume in the series.)

Editors Bart Beaty and Stephen Weiner split Critical Survey of Graphic Novels into "Manga" (one volume), "Heroes and Superheroes" (two volumes), and "Independents & Underground Classics" (three volumes). A fourth entry, "History, Theme, and Technique" (one volume), expertly covers an impressive range of topics, from the significance of specific historical periods; to the roles of gender, distribution modes, and public perception in understanding the form; to genre and thematic conventions, and much more. An additional section on the publication process provides a helpful view perspective on works that can often feel like they were born fully formed, and appendices provid…

PODCAST REVIEW: The Virtual Memories Show

The Virtual Memories Show is "a podcast about books and life, not necessarily in that order", and we benefit immensely from the fact that host Gil Roth includes comics in his definition of books.

My first exposure to Roth's podcast was in preparing to host R. Sikoryak and Kriota Willberg at the 2017 Durham Comics Fest: I'd hoped finding interviews would help prepare me for working with them at the event. I found other podcast appearances, but Virtual Memories stood above the rest for what it offered. Roth often mentions that he seeks to practice "the art of fine conversation" when talking with his guests, and what results from this approach is deeper and broader than what you get from many other sources. After listening to their episodes, I felt like I'd already met Sikoryak and Willberg, and the event was better for it.

Fans of other podcasts may find themselves a little disoriented on their first time with Virtual Memories because it doesn't have …

BOOK REVIEW: Why Comics?

With Why Comics?, author Hillary Chute secures her place as one of, if not the most important contemporary voice in American comics scholarship.

Through eleven chapters, Chute chooses various topics and themes that cartoonists have explored since around the 1960s. Like the book itself, chapters are framed as questions -- "Why Punk?", "Why War?", "Why Girls?" -- and each is answered by a look at social and creative factors that have made these topics ideal for the comics medium. She then examines one or two cartoonists who have been particularly deft at creating work that relates to the themes at hand. The selected cartoonists aren't surprising: Art Spiegelman "Why Disaster?", Alison Bechdel for "Why Queer?", etc. While these choices would be a weakness in another writer's hands, Chute uses their familiarity to deepen her inquiries and our resulting enlightenment when it comes to the medium as a whole.

There isn't anything …