Recommended reading – November ’14

An update for my “recommended reading.”  What I read and liked last month.

I binged a little on comics by the great Argentinian writer  Hector German Oesterheld  last month. Read more…

november 14

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La revue dessinée #05


La Revue Dessinée #05, cover by Nicolas de Crécy

La revue dessinée is a quarterly French journal of comics “investigations, reportage and documentaries” (enquêtes, reportages et documentaires); in other words, comics journalism.  I subscribed to this magazine earlier this year, in time for the two most recent issues, numbers 4 and 5. This is an ambitious and jam-packed periodical (both issues contain 226 pages, at a trim size of 7.25 x 9.5 inches). The material covers a broad range, from politics, economics and social issues to popular culture and arts, along with humorous personal essays and features.

The quality of the art  is very high, and the stories are, for the most part, informative and entertaining.  The big challenge in making this kind of informational comics work best is, for me, avoiding the formula of “caption-illustration, caption-illustration,” an approach which doesn’t really make the best use of the comics medium’s sequential story-telling and word-image interplay. Inevitably, some of the stories in La revue dessinée fall into this pattern (it’s very difficult to avoid in non-fiction comics, I know from experience), but some succeed quite well, and the different strategies for using comics for journalistic purposes are interesting to explore.  Here’s a brief recap of the most recent issue:

La Revue Dessinée #04, cover by Stanislas

La Revue Dessinée #04, cover by Stanislas

First of all, each issue is very nicely designed and produced; an attractive object, starting with the covers, for which they seem to hire “bigger name” artists than most of the (excellent) ones for the interior content.  Number 5′s cover (see above; it’s actually a wraparound, but too hard for me to try and reproduce that here) is a strong image by Nicolas De Crécy  (Celestial Bibendum, Foligatto).  The cover for #04, by Stanislas (The Adventures of Hergé), was even more eye-catching.  Previous cover artists have included Gipi and Mattotti (the cover artists also do the inside-front cover and a frontispiece).


The first story in #05, “Yes Scotland,” by Olivier Hensgen and Daniel Casanave, shows the risks of practicing journalism in the time-consuming medium of comics: a background piece on the referendum on Scottish independence, which arrived in my mailbox shortly after the vote had taken place (I guess the French subscribers probably got theirs in time). Still learned a lot, mostly about the leader of the independence movement, Alex Salmond.

yes scotland 1

Yes Scotland  by Olivier Hensgen and Daniel Casanave

Well-drawn and well-written, this 29-page story still mostly fails my test for being a really satisfying use of the medium: you could learn pretty much everything from reading the text, the images are merely supporting illustrations.  Nothing wrong with illustrations, mind you, but I’m looking for a more interesting use of comics.  One major exception to this criticism, is when the “action” of the story shifts to the oil-boom Northern town of Aberdeen, and the creators devote a largely wordless double-page spread to a visual approach, through the countryside to the city.  I’m not sure the reason behind this choice, but it’s a nice touch.Double-page spread from "Yes Scotland" by  Hensgen and Casanave

The second major story in this issue is the cover feature “Death of a Judge,” by journalist Benoît Collombet and artists Étienne Davodeau. The longest piece in the book, at 59 pages, I found this the most successful as well.  The subject is the assassination of a crusading judge in Lyons, in 1975, against a backdrop of political violence and corruption. The creators use their ample page count to develop characters and atmosphere, telling the story with a flashback structure that follows the writer and artist as they travel from place to place interviewing various witnesses to the nearly 40-year old events.

le mort d'une juge

Le mort d’une juge by journalist Benoît Collombat and artist Étienne Davodeau

Davodeau’s ink-wash art is exquisite, and he beautifully creates the spaces inhabited by the interview subjects, as well as gestures and expressions; the differing social positions and personalities of the interview subjects become a part of the story.  Details like the artist’s accommodation of a character who doesn’t want to be drawn, but requests that Davodeau depict her as a young woman (the age that she was in 1975), show a playful use of the form (in the first panel of her interview she’s shown holding up an old photo of herself in front of her face; after that, she’s drawn as she appeared in the photo).  Overall this story is a great use of comics as a journalistic medium.

Le mort d'une juge by journalist Benoît Collombat and artist Étienne Davodeau

Le mort d’une juge by journalist Benoît Collombat and artist Étienne Davodeau

The third major piece in the book, at 40 pages long,  is “Emprunts Toxiques” (Toxic Loans), by Catherine Le Gall and Benjamin Adam, which deals with the causes and results of the 2008 financial crisis in France. Here the big challenge, especially in the first section of the story, is to explain the complicated (sometimes absurdly so) financial instruments and arrangements that led to the crisis. Although this falls to some degree into the “caption/illustration” format, I thought it was done effectively; the creators make extensive use of pictographic metaphors, which are actually quite helpful in making sense of the tortured financial logic (especially for a non-fluent French reader). It was interesting to learn that, unlike the mortgage-based derivatives that are blamed for doing in our economy, the toxic loans that pushed French municipalities and banks to the brink of doom were based on arbitrage between the Euro and the Swiss Franc.  I don’t know why they created derivatives like those, but apparently they did, with disastrous results.

Emprunts Toxiques  by journalist Catherine Le Gall and artist Benjamin Adam

Emprunts Toxiques by journalist Catherine Le Gall and artist Benjamin Adam

emprunts toxique 2

Emprunts Toxiques by journalist Catherine Le Gall and artist Benjamin Adam

The second part of the story becomes more narrative and character-based, following the efforts of a provincial Mayor to stand up to more powerful political and financial interests to defend his city from ruin.  This dramatic story is well told, and again it’s interesting to see the difference between the crisis’ aftermath in France and the U.S. – banding together, French municipal leaders seem to have had some success using legal means to resist paying the sky-high interest rates that resulted from the banks’ sneaky and short-sighted practices.

Besides these three long pieces (accounting for more than half the page count of the book), there are numerous shorter features., including:

– A sports feature, “Mi-temps” (“Halftime”) by Thibaut Soucié, in which the out-of-shape cartoonist-reporter takes a synchronized swimming class.

Mi-temps by Thibaut Soucié

Mi-temps by Thibaut Soucié

– A film comics-essay, La revue des cines, by Christophe Gaultier analyzing the set design and shot composition of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Passion Byte, by Hervé Bourhis, a history of the personal computer, which is basically illustrated chronological fun facts.

La revue des cinés by Christophe Gaultier

La revue des cinés by Christophe Gaultier

Passion Byte by Hervé Bourhis

Passion Byte by Hervé Bourhis

– A recurring humorous strip on language, La chronique langagière by James, this time about beaurocracy-speak (last issue’s was about crossword puzzle fanatics).

– An essay by/ interview with French clown Pierre Etaix (who worked with Jacques Tati), by Argnetinian cartoonist Carlos Nine.  This isn’t presented in comics form, but is copiously illustrated by Nine.

La sémantique c’est élastique by James

La sémantique c’est élastique by James

Pierre Etaix : né clown by Carlos Nine

Pierre Etaix : né clown by Carlos Nine

…and more!

We have some pretty good comics journalism here in the States (see the digital magazine Symbolia, for instance), but we still have to envy the French for figuring out how to produce such a classy journal as this. If you read French, and comics journalism interests you, I recommend a subscription.  If you don’t read French and comics journalism interests you, I recommend taking some French classes and getting a subscription.

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Graphic novel industry night at Emerson – tomorrow!

Emerson gn night author_photos

I’m looking forward to taking part in this panel at Emerson tomorrow (it’s open to the public):

November 18, 2014 6:00pm to 7:30pm 

Little Building (80 Boylston Street), Charles Beard Room 

Join a panel discussion with professional comic-book and graphic-novel creators.

In this session, writer Alexander Danner, co-author of Comics: a Global History, 1968 to the Present; Muppets Show comics artist Shelli Paroline; and independent cartoonist/author/publisher Dan Mazur will explore the differences between today’s comic books and graphic novels, look into the inspiration that drives comics creators and graphic novelists, and talk about the Boston-area comics/graphic novel community.

The Department of Professional Studies presents Graphic Novel Industry Nights as part of the Graphic Novel Certificate Program. Learn more about the Graphic Novel Certificate and graphic novel courses »

Sponsored by Professional Studies. This event is open to the public.

For more information, please contact: Trent Bagley 617-824-8280.

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Recommended reading from October ’14

october readingToo many times people ask me, “what have you been reading lately?” and I don’t even remember. So here’s a way to keep track of/share at least some of what I’m into these days. I’m going to see if I can do it on a monthly basis, starting with


Still working my way through the piles from SPX, MICE and Locust Moon Fest, among other reading sources. In fact a couple of these items  I’ve just caught up with after last year’s MICE!  Read more…

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Esperanto Interview

Kalle Kniivilä of the Esperanto website Libera Folio, interviewed me about my Esperanto story in SubCultures (if you don’t read Esperanto, try Google translate).  Oh, and: no, I don’t speak Esperanto myself… the interview was originally conducted in English!

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Locust Moon Fest – that was fun!

The Rotunda, site of the Locust Moon Festival

The Rotunda, site of the Locust Moon Festival

A great comics-themed weekend in Philly, starting with a signing of Comics: a Global History at Penn Book Center. A small crowd, but very interested, asked a lot of questions.

At Locust Moon Comics, Josh O’Neill, Andrew Carl and others were busy hanging the original art from their monumental Little Nemo tribute anthology. A fantastic exhibition it is! And a world-class comics shop.

Saturday, the festival itself. The show had a great vibe, very friendly and jam-packed with great talent (kinda reminded me of MICE).  And at a beautiful venue, the Rotunda, a down-on-its-heels architectural aristocrat. That’s an enormous pipe organ dominating the rear wall.


Locust Moon fest 1

I tabled next to Jo Jo Sherrow. The first issue of her mini-comic series Captcha I had bought a few MoCCAs ago, and this was an opportunity to catch up with the next 4 issues. Good stuff, really crazy, about a former mer-cat captured by aliens and living on earth with a bunch of very strange friends, and… words cannot do it justice (at least my words), see for yourself.

locust moon  captcha

On the other side was James Comey, who I’d never met, but whose story follows mine in Colonial Comics… his art is my favorite discovery so far in that book. I was across from Whit Taylor, as well as Mia Schwartz, and one table over past JoJo was Emi Gennis, whose work I’ve also long admired, such as her anthology, Unknown Origins and Untimely Ends. just my cup of tea. Emi specializes in non-fiction, especially true crime, and I bought her mini, the grisly true story, “The Unusual Death of Gregory Biggs.”

Thanks to Jason Rodriguez for letting me tag along to a dinner with some new friends: Bill Campbell, Micheline Hess, John Kim, Eric Battle and Mike Cowgill. locust moon - thai restaurant

I hate to pick a highlight, but at the after-party, a drawing competition took place, the challenge was to draw the store’s black cat. It started with a head-to-head between Paul Pope and Bill Sinkiewicz, a breathtaking display of graphic facility and imagination. When Pope looked up from his drawing and saw what Sienkiewicz was up to, he said, “whoa… a Jimi Hendrix solo!”

locust moon sinkiewicz pope 2

Sienkiewicz vs. Pope, as Haspiel, Benton and others look on. (photo stolen from Jason Rodriguez)

locust moon sinkiewicz pope 1

Sienkiewicz vs Pope. “A Jimi Hendrix solo!” Photo “borrowed” from Jason Rodriguez


And it didn’t end there, as Dean Haspiel, Gregory Benton, Ron Wimberly and some other talented people whose names I didn’t catch followed with their own tours-de-force.

Some of the drawings from the impromptu competition.  From right: Benton's, Haspiel's, Pope's... that's all I can id.

Some of the drawings from the impromptu competition. From right: Benton’s, Haspiel’s, Pope’s… I’m not sure whose drawing in this shot, but the drawing to his left is by Ron Wimberly. That’s all I can id.

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Colonial Comics!

It’s here!

colonial comics arrived

And Eunice Williams is in it!

colonial comics open 2
To be more precise, “Captives, the Stories of Eunice and John Williams!”

colonial comics open 1
Buy it at your local book shop. Or, if you must, from this mom and pop book-selling website.

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Drawings from Provincetown

PTown deck umbrellaSit in one place for a while every day, for a few days, and draw the same things.

PTown deck 1

PTown deck 2

PTown deck 3b

Ptown railings and sea ptown rocks and water 1 ptown rocks and water 2

Provincetown, October 15-18, 2014.

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Interview by Pedro Moura

Portugese comics scholar Pedro Moura did an interview with me and Alexander Danner about Comics: a Global History, for the Comics Alternative website.  Pedro wrote a review too, for his Portugese blog (Google translate will give you a rough idea of what it says, if you ask nicely!)


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Three Anthologies

I have a story in each of three anthologies making their debut at MICE this year (well one is making its New England debut, the other two are totally legit).

In SubCultures, you will find Esperantists, a non-fiction piece about Esperanto speakers (especially native Esperanto speakers).  For this story I interviewd 5 Esperanto speakers and intercut their stories, along with a little history, and some Esperanto Fun Facts.

esperanto 1


Colonial Comics, vol. 1 will contain Captives: the story of Eunice and John Williams. Much on this site about that one already.

p1 jpg


Last but not least, in Hellbound V: the End, I have A History of the Hollywood Musical.  It’s a horror anthology, and my story is certainly off-kilter with the genre. I guess it’s a sort of a Twlight Zone-ish story.  Kind of.  Except with a dog.  I already posted page one, so here’s page two:AHOHM 2 jpgI’ll be at table D11 at MICE, by the way: that’s table 11 in Doucet Hall, named for guess who?  And look at this wonderful map by Shelli Paroline! miceMap2014


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