How did we get here?

This is a question I’ve wondered for a while. And “here”, by the way, refers to loving long-form comics to the point that we are reading and writing reviews about them.

At a first glance, it seems like a no-brainer. We are taught to process visual information from an early age thanks to animated videos and picture books. If anything, picture books seem to be the perfect segue, given the combination of words and text and the pacing of the pages. But somewhere along the line, the picture books are replaced with “real” books and the animated films with “real” films. And that becomes the norm. Real books, real films, and not much else in between.

how did we get hereObviously, quite a few of us have escaped this dreary fate. We were fortunate enough to discover there was more out there, a universe of storytelling that could engage us in a way no other medium quite could. My own journey seems to be a string of coincidences, from Archie comics left untouched at the orthodontist’s to chance encounters with people who understood that comics were more than a simple diversion for children.

This kind of reinforcement is important. To the uninitiated reading comics for the first time, there’s some readjustment that needs to be done. For one thing, there’s the format. You have to learn how to read the frames in order order, lingering just the right amount of time so as not to lose sight of the story’s pacing. Then there’s the matter of aesthetic style. Depending on where you start, it might be getting used to the color schemes and near-realism, or adjusting to the concept of chibis and exaggerated mood swings. All in all, you need to know that the reward is worth bearing with the initial discomfort.

So what prompts people to pick up a comic book for the first time and try it out? In reviewing my experiences, it seems to boil down to 3 main factors:

 

  • Peer reinforcement

 

When you know someone personally who reads and love comics. They’re open about talking about their latest favorite series and have dozens of recommendations for you.

 

  • High-profile endorsement

 

This could be a celebrity mentioning a recent comic they have read. Or an acclaimed writer whose work you like collaborates on a graphic novel.  Or perhaps a new movie based on a comic book comes out, and suddenly your curiosity is ignited. You get the idea.

 

  • Accessibility

 

This is the most important one. These comics have got to be accessible. If you’re in Nowheresville without a comic book shop, no Internet, no friends or family who can lend you their comics, you’re screwed. But display this comic books visibly in libraries and bookstores, and now there’s a real temptation to pick one up. Not to mention the accessibility provided by Internet. Read unlimited comics for free?!! You’ve literally got nothing to lose now except your time. Gotta love the Internet.

That said, I’m very curious to know, how did YOU get into comics? Any good stories to share?

Fumio Obata’s Just So Happens – review

 image source
image source

At an art gallery opening, Yumiko is found by her boyfriend in a closet, crying. She just found out that her dad died. He fell during a hike on a mountain.

Yumiko travels from London to Japan to attend the funeral with her family.

She reflects on her life, the path she took, and the paths that her dad and her mom had wanted for her.

yumikos dad

This sounds like a story that can easily be very substantial, deep and engrossing. And this elegant and beautiful hardcover is thick: 160 pages. I was expecting something like Blankets by Craig Thompson.

But Just So Happens was based on a short comic of 5 pages, and unfortunately not enough has been added to the story. Instead, the writing feels thin at times.

For example, the huge impact that her mother made on Yumiko’s life, was only clear during a few pages near the end of the book. If this had been introduced sooner in the story, set up differently, it would have given the story more meat. I suspect that the artist did not make a very detailed outline, but improvised instead.

Another choice in storytelling that I can’t understand is the frequent visions/hallucinations/daydreams of Noh theater that Yumiko sees.

noh

I do see the parallels between the storytelling and Noh theater. The storytelling is restrained and with some distance from the characters, just like Yumiko’s emotions. Instead of overplaying the emotions, or having the characters discuss their emotions, the reader has to look closely at the characters’ to figure out what they are feeling. What could have been a melodramatic story feels very real thanks to this.

But still the Noh theater has no consequence in the story nor for Yumiko’s feelings. The art is striking but I don’t understand why those parts are in there.

yumiko

A strong part of the storytelling is the female perspective. It is so convincing that I first thought the artist was a woman. Being a woman myself, I really got the many emotions that the Yumiko goes through. And the differences in opportunities for women in Japan and the UK were very clear, not only because the mother talked about it in the end, but because of the father’s attitide. He made his wish for her future very clear to Yumiko. Then the question becomes: was she able to make her own decision?

Art style

Fumio Obata is clearly a very skilled artist. The art is elegant, delicate and very beautiful. It feels calm and open. The visual storytelling is very clear. Even flashbacks, which are difficult to portray, are easy to follow, with nice transitions.

street

His style is a bit Japanese mixed with European. This is probably because Fumio Obata has been in the U.K. since he was 16. He  studied Illustration at the Glasgow School of Art and obtained a Master degree in Communication Design from Royal College of Art in London. He worked in animation and later he was Artist in Residence in La Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l’image in Angoulême, France. (Angouleme is the town in France where the famous comicbook (bande dessinée) art festival takes place very year.)

Since 2010 he has been teaching BA courses in the UK.

Even though the storylines didn’t match my high expectations, I’ll keep following this talented artist, I’m waiting for his next beautiful project.

Want to know more about this artist?

Convergence: Action Comics #1 – review

Here we have another realities-at-war tale spinning out of Convergence. In the blue corner, we have the Golden Age Metropolis, home of Power Girl and a greying-at-the-temples Superman. In the (ahem) red corner is a Moscow plucked from the pages of Superman: Red Son, where Supes, Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor are aligned with Joseph Stalin.

Convergence: Action Comics #1 does not actually contain a great deal of action. Instead, writer Justin Gray offers a series of relatively mellow character sequences so as to set the scene for next issue’s conflict.

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The Kryptonians have lost their powers; while Superman reacts to his situation with good-humoured optimism, Power Girl is not happy with the shape of her new body. She is a few pounds heavier than she would prefer, she has bags under her eyes, and she needs a trip to the dentist. The mundane nature of her problems is contrasted with a quick flashback showing all manner of Silver Age hijinks.

convact1

Meanwhile, over in Moscow, there is tension at the heart of Soviet power. Gray has fun pitting Luthor against Stalin – a fetching conflict between two of the most famous villains in fiction and history. Stalin is portrayed as being rash and quick-tempered, even pulling a gun out on Lex during a particularly heated moment; however, it is the confident and condescending Luthor who truly has things under control.

convact3

One of the comic’s main themes is that of superheroes brought down to earth, and Claude St-Aubin’s artwork is a good fit – while capturing the idealised nature of Metropolis, he is also able to work in the more mundane, everyday touches. All in all, the illustrations are a reasonable evocation of the Silver Age and achieve the same breezy, relaxed feel as the script.

Despite being ostensibly a Superman comic – and, indeed, featuring two Supermen – the issue more or less balances out the roles played by its ensemble cast. Interestingly it is Wonder Woman who takes centre stage on the final scene, while Power Girl arguably gets the biggest character moment out of the protagonists (and is the subject of the DC history back-up feature). Meanwhile, the issue also features two versions of Lois Lane: one dating Superman, the other married to Luthor.

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Will Convergence: Action Comics be counted amongst the female-led Convergence tie-ins? After all, the cover to issue 2 shows Power Girl duking it out with Wonder Woman…

 

 

Talent

  • Writer: Justin Gray
  • Art: Calude St-Aubin
  • Colour: Lovern Kindzierski
  • Cover: Amanda Conner & Paul Mounts

 

Specs

  • Series: Convergence: Action Comics 2015
  • Issue: 1
  • Price: $3.99
  • On Sale Date: Apr 29 2015
  • Color/B&W: Color
  • Page Count: 32

 

A bunch of literary girls reading comics. We're champions of comic books, realistic female superheroes, indie webcomics & manga. Reading, and reviewing!