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REVIEW: Abstract Comics

This anthology presents a body of work unlike any other, and the resulting experience is both challenging and delightful, with major ramifications for the way libraries think about the art form as a whole.

Abstract Comics: The Anthology
Andrei Molotiu, editor
Fantagraphics Books, 2009
publisher site | WorldCat
Abstract comics, for editor and contributor Andrei Molotiu, are generally those that eschew representational imagery in favor of "pure" line, shape, color, (visual) texture, and so on. Recognizable objects and figures do appear at times, but they are generally assumed to be robbed of any meaning beyond their formal qualities -- in other words, we can see that That Thing might be a tree or a body, but their lines, shapes, colors, and textures are what's meant to be important. (If you're having trouble conjuring an idea of what all this looks like, or if you want to confirm your suspicions, check out examples the Abstract Comics blog.)  Molotiu favors multi-panel …
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REVIEW: Draw Stronger

Draw Stronger, a guide to injury prevention and first-aid for cartoonists and other visual artists, is a must-have for nearly every library collection and comics maker.
Draw Stronger: Self Care for Cartoonists & Visual Artists
Kriota Willberg
Uncivilized Books, 2018
publisher site | WorldCat Gathered and refined from a series of self-published minicomics, Draw Stronger is Kriota Willberg's generous gift to comics-makers everywhere. Willberg, whose comics career is informed by decades of work as a massage therapist, dancer, choreographer, and educator, first saw the need to share this information during a residency at the Center for Cartoon Studies, as she reported on an episode of the Virtual Memories Show. "I would watch my students draw, and they would have a sketchbook in their lap, and then they would be hunched over their lap, and they'd be drawing inside a three-inch panel border, and the amount of flexion that was going on was just unbelievable. [...] I know some…

REVIEW: Reading Bande Dessinée

Author Ann Miller's states her mission in the subtitle -- Critical Approaches to French-language Comic Strip -- but the book quickly demonstrates its utility beyond understanding this subset of comics.

Reading Bande Dessinée begins with a brief history of comics in the French-speaking parts of the world (mostly that of France, Belgium, and Quebec), which provides a counterpoint to the more commonly-written histories that rarely escapes the United States. It seems that, while American comics played an important inspirational role for French-language cartoonists, the power fantasy mainstream was rarely adopted, and formal and topical exploration were much more readily accepted than in the States. Miller details changes in markets, state censorship, the effect Nazi occupation and the occupation and liberation of Algeria on practitioners of bande dessinée, and many more interesting aspects of this history.

The second part of the book starts with an excellent overview of formal comics …

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…

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, 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…