Analysis of a Comics Page: Watchmen

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Watchmen was one of the first comics that received enough critical acclaim to breach the anti-comics wall of the public library. A list of reasons can be produced as to why, namely its subject matter, overarching political and social philosophy, and artwork. The story being told in Watchmen is a complicated one and would not work if the accompanying artwork was not strong enough to illustrate the minute details integral to the plot. Dave Gibbons, illustrator and letterer, achieves this and more with artwork that is attuned directly to the plot of the book as well as succeeding in creating a unique (but at times oddly familiar) tone and setting. The pages of Watchmen that I have chosen to analyze are the cinematic opening pages of Chapter 5, Fearful Symmetry.

The page is constructed in the same fashion as the other opening pages. The left-hand page is a full panel with the chapter designation running vertical along the side. Above this is the telltale clock that, with the passing of each chapter, inches ever closer to midnight alluding to the Doomsday Clock symbolizing the ever increasing likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. The right-hand page is set up in the standard nine panel 3X3. Though the nine panel page is the standby for this comic the pages often deviate slightly from this norm. While this may not hold the excitement or breathtaking grandeur of a particularly splashy splash page, it holds its interest in the sheer amount of tone that can be set in nine panels.

This tone is found in the style in which the artwork is created. On the left-hand page is a symmetrical symbol reflected upside down in a puddle. This symmetrical symbol can easily be understood as an allusion to Rorschach a character whose mask is constantly moving in a symmetrical manner and who sees the world in strict black and white, right or wrong, it is understood that this chapter is to open upon him. Shifting over to the right-hand page, in an almost cinematic manner the art zooms outward and then upward, focusing initially on the street and a man’s foot splashing into the reflecting puddle, then outwards and upwards, until a full building is in view and then zooms back in on one window. It can be assumed that the man walking upon the street is Rorschach and from the final panel on the page, the only panel with dialogue, it is understood that he has broken into the building and disturbed the inhabitant of an inner apartment. The color scheme is of particular note as it sets the scene. The reflected sign is blinking neon and every other panel has an orange glow. From this it can be deducted that the action is taking place in a seedier part of town as no expensive apartment would have a neon sign blinking right into the window. The rain in the city gives the scene a final noir detail. Though different in composition the artwork invokes a lot of the same feelings as Juanjo Guarnido’s panels in the comic Blacksad, a noir based comic often exploring seedy worlds much like this one.

The slow build of these pages give the reader a feeling of suspense, a theme that reoccurs often throughout the plot. This works particularly well as the opening to a chapter. The reader eye’s is caught by the bright colors of the page as they are slowly introduced to the scene. While these pages are used mostly as a scene-setting opening to a chapter and do not portray much of the driving plot of the story there is a minor hint located in the fourth panel on the left-hand page. Rorschach’s foot walks past a newspaper with the headline, “Russians Invade Afghanistan.” This serves as a reminder to the reader of the tumultuous global stage upon which this story is taking place.

These pages serve as an excellent introduction to the comic as they do not give away any major plot points they merely showcase the masterful artwork of the comic, the world it takes place within, and the suspense built throughout the plot. The appearance of the Doomsday Clock is also an important talking point when recommending this book to a patron as it gives not only a referential time period but also alludes to the larger theme of global man-made destruction. The blinking of the neon light is such a tone setting and downright neat move that it would factor well into a promotional recommendation of the work.

I chose these two pages because I have always enjoyed the opening to this scene. The build up to the chapter heading felt so much like a Tarantino movie (notably to my eighteen year old self) that I never forgot the particular style with which it was done. I would expect that other potential readers (especially particulars within the late teenage/young adult set) would be affected similarly. I specifically enjoyed the lack of text as well as I was able to focus this analysis on the copious amount of artwork on the page rather than the written plot.

 

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Not Everyone Knows About the Changes in Comics (And That’s Okay!)

Responding (sort of) to: What features of this book caused my responses?

9781626729407_1_530x@2xRecently I was helping an older woman find books for her pre-teen grandson at the library in which I work. Things were going well until I suggested American Born Chinese, a comic that won the Printz award in 2006. She was not interested in hearing my stance on the merit of comics and explained her disinterest away as a generational thing. While I was less than over the moon about her response I’ve been thinking about it over the past few weeks.

At the beginning of the semester we looked at the history of comics and we learned about the comics being produced over the years. The comics that were around for kids in the 50’s and 60’s (the time period when this patron’s generation was being introduced to the format) did not appeal to the particular interests of every child reader. The grandson in question was reading realistic fiction and would not have been interested in anything to do with superheroes or even Archie (lacking fantasy but not exactly realistic). So for someone who is not up to date with the huge changes that have occurred in the publishing world of kids’ comics recommending a comic as realistic fiction seemed to be going against the grain of her request, hence the response I received.

The comics I read this week, Spinning, Smile, Sisters, Ghosts, Lumberjanes, and El Deafo are prime examples that comics are not what they used to be. Fantasy is still available within the format, as is silliness and superheroes, but it’s become so much more. We, as students in class, are well aware of this as we have spent quite a lot of time reading about, researching, and discussing this concept but we need to keep in mind that when we leave our classroom and enter the working world not everyone is going to be aware of this. This encounter served as an excellent reminder that the worlds we keep up with and the digital spaces we occupy as librarians are not followed by all and it’s imperative that we keep this in mind. Great changes are happening and that’s lovely but it doesn’t mean that the whole world knows.

Where In The Library Do Comics Belong?

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It’s week 12 of class and we’ve established that comics belong in the library but now we have reached the: where?

Throughout the semester I have been acquiring all of the books in print (I don’t comprehend the same on screens as I do in print) via the Queens Library System and the New York Public Library system. Rather than place holds on everything I have been biking to the libraries the books are located at and picking them up from there. Throughout the semester I have explored over 15 different libraries and searched through their comic sections looking for the books I needed. I learned a lot about library placement and comics through this exercise.

When looking for adult or juv comics I would go first to the 741.5s and see if the comics were there. If they weren’t I would usually ask for help from the librarians working, sometimes they would get up and show me where the comics were and other times they’d just give me directions.  I liked the discussion in Tarulli’s article with comics being treated the same as CDs and DVDs where the comics would be shelved as a separate format and then further separated by author last time and then the Dewey System. Three sections could be created independent from one another, Juv comics, Teen comics, and Adult comics and placed in their designated positions throughout the library.

However, while this makes the most sense and gives comics their due placement I ran into a few libraries with this set up and they were immensely confusing. These were the branches that carried the most comics and needed to present their more nuanced collections outside of the nonfiction section. I found it difficult to find the different comics shelves, to discern age placement of many books (especially during the Asian comics week), and the way the books were placed on the shelves was equally confusing. Admittedly, the comics section is browsed quite often and the books can easily be out of order.

The one type of comic that was almost never shelved with the comics was the biographies, they were always shelved with the other 92s which was interesting. This would encourage a non-comic reader to pick up a comic (it being shelved with the more ‘serious’ books) but it may be more difficult to find for someone who is interested in comics.

At this juncture I’m not fully sure what I think the best way is to shelve and hold a comics section. But, I think as librarians we need to understand that we are going through a transitional period and we need to be patient, create a whole lot of signage, and be prepared to take the time to show people where they need to go to find what they’re looking for.

Source

Tarulli, Laurel. (2010). Cataloging and Problems with Dewey: Creativity, Collaboration and Compromise. In Weiner, R. G. (ed.) Graphic novles and comics in libraries and archives: Essays on reader, research, history and cataloging. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. (p.213-221)

Review of Blacksad: A Silent Hell

In the style of School Library Journal Adult Books 4 Teens.

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DIAZ CANALES, Juan & GUARNIDO, Juanjo. Blacksad: A Silent Hell112p.  Dark Horse Comics. July. 2012. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781595829313.

Gr 10 Up- Set in the seedy underbelly of the 1950’s New Orleans jazz scene the fourth installment in the Blacksad comic series sets itself up to be a classic noir mystery. Detective John Blacksad and his assistant Weekly (both are personified animals, as are all characters in this series) have been hired to inspect the disappearance of a celebrated pianist in a world full of colorful characters, drugs, money, and voodoo. The plot is told in a nonlinear fashion, the night scenes being an urgent race against time and in opposition the day scenes act as flashbacks aimed at giving context to the unfolding mystery. The detailed watercolor panels of the comic create visually stunning scenes that add greatly to the noir mood of the fast-paced story. These visual elements mix masterfully with dialogue in the quick development of the character cast. While this particular comic (along with the greater series) stands alone in subject matter and artwork it must be recommended to a reader that is a fan of the format as the reoccurring flashbacks could confuse one who is new to the world of visual storytelling. Verdict: A standalone in the genre of noir fiction and a groundbreaking force in the form of comic art Blacksad: A Silent Hell is a recommended purchase for libraries with avid comic readers and fans of the classic whodunit.

 

 

 

Non-Fiction Elements of Evaluation: Treatment

Treatment in the realm of comics can be defined as the framework of logical thought and/or bias on which the comics creator builds a sequential art representation of a non-fiction subject. A bias can be presented in large sweeping monologues and splash pages or it can be more subtle, such as the manner in which a particular element of the comic is drawn or the facts the creator chooses to highlight. Regardless, to create a work of nonfiction is to place one’s own biases and logic onto a particular factual topic. As it is impossible not to do this there must be a way of evaluating how it is done and if it is done in a manner that aids or detracts from the purpose of the comic.

These four queries can aid in the evaluation of treatment within a comic:
1) What is the bias being displayed? In what manner?
2) Are creators upfront about their intentions?
3) Are arguments well supported (as opposed to shake logical construction/ intentionally misleading or propagandistic construction)?
4) What themes are being displayed?

As an aid here are three examples of excellent Treatment in comics:
269353Brown, C. (2008). Louis Riel: A comic-strip biography. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly.

Chester Brown’s biography of Metis leader Louis Riel contains extensive back matter detailing the sources he used in his research and building up the logic of his portrayal. Brown’s subject treatment in this book is excellent because in the end notes he openly discusses the possible biases in some of his source material, including and balancing both sources that tend to lionize Riel and sources that question his sanity.

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This sequence of panels depicts the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, AL in 1963 by white supremacists.

2

The victims of the bombing are treated with human respect, shown above going about a typical Sunday morning.

3

The dark smoke, impossible to see through, evokes feeling of confusion and fear within the reader.

4

The physical result of the violence is not the focus but the horror is felt.

5

The artist’s decision to use a small church shoe to represent the death of a child rather than focusing on a body is an excellent example of respectful treatment.

Lewis, J. Aydin, A., Powell, N. (2016). March: Book three (pp. 5-9). Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions.

Written by John Lewis, a US Congressman and one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, this trilogy does not gloss over the violence aimed at movement activists. It accurately depicts the horrors they faced and the language used at the time period. Rather than painting the pages red, the violence is portrayed in a more subtle manner emotionally connecting the reader rather than repulsing.

112233Wells, K. (2018, March 9). Prounoun panic. The Nib. Retrieved from https://thenib.com/pronoun-panic

In Pronoun Panic by Kendra Wells from The Nib, two people are privately criticizing a female acquaintance for her incorrect usage of plural pronouns when referring to one person. Then, one of them does the same. His justification is that the driver of a car they see is either male or female. (Perhaps that is why their friend does the same.) He carries a poor-quality Dick-Sun-Ary, relying on a reference book whose title is misspelled with the first of its three hyphenated parts being a dig at men. Both people talking are men. The author is female, too.

 

Comic Book Publisher Profile

BOOM! Studios

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BOOM! Studios was founded in 2005 by Ross Richie and Andrew Cosby after failing as producers in Hollywood to develop comic book projects into movies. To ease their frustrations they founded BOOM! Studios with the focus of “creating world-class comic book and graphic novel storytelling for all audiences.” Starting with their first publication of Zombie Tales #1, Richie and Cosby created comics in the horror and sci-fi genres before eventually branching out to superheroes and established licenses. Four distinct imprints were developed to produce all of these titles which includes BOOM! Studios, BOOM! Box, KaBOOM!, and Archaia—BOOM!

In June of 2017 20th Century Fox bought a stake in Boom! Studios acquiring some ownership. When Disney bought out 20th Century Fox in Decemeber of the same year the stake moved into Disney’s ownership. It is rumored that a number of the comic series held by Boom Studios may make the jump to television.

A recognizable work out of their catalog is Lumberjanes by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson. The story centers around a group of five girls who spend the Summer at a camp where they encounter strange animals and other paranormal activity. In order to solve the mysteries surrounding the camp the girls have to rely on their friendship and individual skills. Reviews for the first volume can be found at Booklist and School Library Journal.

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A second recognizable work is their comic, Adventure Time, based on the popular cartoon network television show. The series follows Finn (the human) and Jake (the dog) in their adventures through the fantastical Land of Ooo. Along the way they encounter they encounter evil kings, sweet princesses, rock n’ roll vampires, and a large cast of even stranger characters. The series is popular for its off-the-wall humor and has charmed children and adults alike. Reviews for the first portion of the series can be found on School Library Journal and Multiversity Comics.

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Tohru: The Issue With The Neutral Good Protagonist

I will be responding to the question: What does this book ask of readers if they are to enjoy what it offers?

This week was another step out of my comfort zone, I’ve read a bit of Manga but mostly within the horror genre (Uzumaki!) and less on the romance side. I enjoyed many of my readings this week (Akira, Disappearance Diary, Kampung Boy, Awkward, and the copy of Ghost in the Shell that I found while browsing) but I would like to write a post on a book I did not like so well, so for this week I am focusing upon: Fruits Basket.

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I am tempted to say that this series may have been more appealing to me if I were younger when reading it but having reread many of childhood favorites lately I don’t think that would be the case. In order to enjoy this book a reader must be prepared to follow the least interesting and fleshed out character in the story. Tohru, the protagonist, is good and optimistic but beyond that she lacks any other defining characteristics. It is difficult to follow a character that is portrayed as having no flaws, even her constant childlike naivety is portrayed as sweet benefit rather than an annoying problem. The family she stays with, the Sohmas, are all portrayed as full characters with faults and good qualities alike. Even her two best friends who do not appear overly often are persons of interest as one is American and brash while the other is meek but holds mysterious magical powers. It would be preferable and more interesting to follow any of these side characters through the story but the reader is stuck being forced to root for Tohru. I would be curious to read/ learn more about romance manga in order to compare protagonists. It may be that this is a common theme and is due to either the wants of readership, cultural values, or a mixture of the two. Though I did not enjoy Fruits Basket I am pleased that I am now familiar with it because it does have a place in the library and I can imagine it is popular within many circles.