Welcome! This is the blog for the course English 333: Comics and Graphic Novels, which is offered regularly by the Department of English at California State University, Northridge. The latest semester of the course, Spring 2014, has just started!

To find out more about what’s happening in 333 this time, see the page Spring 2014 Focus. For more particular and practical info, see the pages on the Spring 2014 Workload and Spring 2014 Textbooks.

(Students, you’ll find some of this same information repeated on our Moodle site.)

Don’t hesitate to leave comments or questions here. I, Prof. Charles Hatfield, will be checking back regularly, and look forward to your feedback. See the bottom of the page to subscribe to our updates!

BTW, I’ve left up a trio of old posts from a previous semester of 333, last spring, because I think they may still be of interest. Note the guest bloggers—colleagues and friends of mine, who kindly responded to my requests for book lists! Their posts (1, 2 and 3) are a good place to start to learn more about nonfiction comics, an area of tremendous importance and growing popularity.


Nonfiction Comics of Note, continued (Guest Blogger 3)

Once again our blog is graced with a guest post! This time, our guest is my colleague Dr. Corey Creekmur of the University of Iowa, a distinguished scholar and teacher of world cinema, literature, race, gender, and sexuality studies, and comics. Corey is the Director of the Institute for Cinema and Culture at the U of Iowa and editor of the new Comics Culture book series from Rutgers University Press. Here he gives us some of his choices for outstanding nonfiction comics. Thank you, Corey, and take it away!

I’ve played by this rule: don’t list any of the remarkable texts my precursor contributors Craig and Derik have named!  Given that restriction, I’m pleased to recognize that there’s no shortage of great nonfiction comics examples to choose from!

Yahoo 4, by Joe Sacco

Joe Sacco, “Airpower Through Victory,” originally in Yahoo (which was published by Fantagraphics for six issues in 1988-92) #4 is both a fully annotated history of modern military air attacks and a vivid account of the artist’s mother’s experience of World War II on Malta. As such it’s a striking balance of the public and personal, or global and local, understanding of modern war. Issue #5 is also great, a sympathetic illustration of Susan Catherine’s story of her life as a stripper. For non-fiction comics in general, I’d say the collected works of Joe Sacco are required reading, but these gems might be overlooked among the achievements of his longer works.

Two-Fisted Tales 26

Two-Fisted Tales #26 (EC, March-April 1952): This “special issue,” “a document of the action at the Changjin Reservoir,” recounts, through four vivid, grim and — most significantly — linked stories, a now-forgotten incident from the Korean War. It’s a remarkable use of the humble comic book format, both for historical documentation and as a modernist dramatization of multiple points of view, produced before most of the world knew to refer to Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon to summarize this technique.

Written by Harvey Kurtzman, with typically outstanding art by John Severin, Jack Davis, Will Elder, and Wally Wood (at the top of his form), this might be my favorite single issue of any comic book.

Thoreau at Walden, by John Porcellino

John Porcellino, Thoreau at Walden: Like Craig and Derik, I love Porcellino’s autobiographical and deceptively simple King-Cat comics, but also really enjoy this linking of his usually personal style to the words of a major historical figure who inspired him, Henry David Thoreau. The result is a sort of autobiography via biography, indicating the complex identification and distance between any biographer and their subject. I wish a few more exclusively autobiographical comics creators would turn their attention to others.

King, by Ho Che Anderson

Ho Che Anderson, King: A Comics Biography: This is not the basic, simply informative biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. one might expect, but an impressionistic and potentially controversial account, and that’s its strength. (There are other more “responsible” but rather dull comics biographies of King.) While clearly well and deeply researched, this “comics biography” never forgets that it needs to function as a great comic as well, and so the demands of the two forms are continually placed in a debate with one another rather than an easy, comfortable sync.

Weirdo 13

Robert Crumb’s biographical comics, including an illustrated section of James Boswell’s 18th-century London Journal (Weirdo #3), case studies from Krafft-Ebing’s 19th-century Psychopathia Sexualis (Weirdo #13), and a biography of the science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick (Weirdo #17), each produced in what had become Crumb’s increasingly distinctive “late” style, marked by intensified cross-hatching and realistic detail. (These can be found most easily in volumes of The Complete Crumb Comics.) To these should be added Crumb’s biographical comics about his beloved blues musicians, Charlie Patton, Jelly Roll Morton, and Kansas City Frank Melrose (collected in R. Crumb Draws the Blues).  From one of the great,  deeply influential and notoriously uninhibited comics autobiographers, these vivid biographical treatments of troubled others with whom one assumes Crumb identifies are all short masterpieces.

From Hell, by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell

Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, From Hell: While this distinctive, even obsessive, take on the Jack the Ripper killings in Victorian London might veer away from strict nonfiction — call this historical fiction — the academic in me recalls being astonished by realizing, when issues of From Hell first appeared, that this was a comic that involved as much research as any scholarly study: has any comic before or since included such an extensive bibliography and (fascinating) annotation? If not finally easily classified as nonfiction, this is a massive exploration of the complex relationship between history and fiction.

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, by Ann Marie Fleming

Ann Marie Fleming, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir: It’s perhaps tricky to call this a comic or graphic novel (rather than an illustrated book), but in any case it’s a wonderful, virtually one-of-a-kind book, derived from an equally wonderful documentary film (as well as a standard format comic book) by Fleming, best known as an experimental animation filmmaker. (See www.longtacksam.com for information on the film.) On the one hand, it’s a biographical account of the artist’s Chinese great-grandfather, a professional magician who traveled the world as a vaudeville star; but through the multimedia form it takes — best experienced rather than described — it’s a whole lot more.

I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!, comp. and ed. by Paul Karasik

Paul Karasik, “Whatever Happened to Fletcher Hanks?”: The “Afterword” in comics form to I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!, his astonishing first (of two) collections of early comic book stories by the notoriously obscure Fletcher Hanks, this 16-page story is a moving account of Karasik’s thrill at uncovering lost comics history while also discovering why we might wish the past to remain buried. As much about the difficult relationships between children and parents as a contribution to comics history, this is a brilliant way to deepen and contextualize the truly bizarre comics that precede it.

Laika, by Nick Abadzis

Nick Abadzis, Laika: While this beautiful graphic novel includes fictional elements, these  are extrapolated from the work’s historical source, the story of the small dog launched into space by the Soviet Union in 1958. Comics have always relied on anthropomorphic animals, but surprisingly few nonfiction comics tell the stories of actual animals. This one does, and it’s heartbreaking.

100 Demons, by Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry, One! Hundred! Demons!: Like many others, I simply assumed that Barry’s earlier comic strips were thinly autobiographical accounts of her own childhood, but this volume (as meaningful in its book design as Chris Ware’s publications) reoriented her work towards more explicit memoir and exploration of her ethnic roots: she smartly labels the hybrid result as “autobifictionalgraphic.” Pointing towards her subsequent volumes on the creative process, this is also a highly self-reflexive “how-to” book, as much about itself and Barry’s reenergized artistic process as it is yet another brilliant balancing act of hilarious and painful observations about kids and their families.

Nonfiction Comics of Note, continued (Guest Blogger 2)

My colleague Derik Badman, artist, comics creator, web developer, critic, and proprietor of MadInkBeard, has generously agreed to be our second guest blogger in 333. Though nonfiction comics are not Derik’s particular interest, here are seven such comics that he thought of when I asked him for a list, along with his comments. Thanks, Derik!

PS. Compare his list with Craig Fischer’s — note some overlap!

King-Cat Comics, by John Porcellino
1. King-Cat Comics, by John Porcellino. A series. Autobiographical comics by one of the best cartoonists in the world. Short reflective stories with a deceptively simple drawing style.
Louis Riel, by Chester Brown
2. Louis Riel, by Chester Brown. Learn a little Canadian history.
Alan's War, by Emmanuel Guibert
3. Alan’s War, by Emmanuel Guibert. A young American goes to WWII. The art is lovely. [Translated from the French.]
You'll Never Know, Vol. 1, by Carol Tyler You'll Never Know, Vol. 2, by Carol Tyler
4. You’ll Never Know, by Carol Tyler. 2 vols. so far. A woman learns about her father’s experience as a young man in WWII.
Journal 3, by Fabrice Neaud
5. Journal 3. by Fabrice Neaud. In French. A long, thoughtful, and beautifully drawn autobiography about a young gay artist in a small French city, one of the best comics autobiographies ever made. [Note: translations of Neaud can be found at Words Without Borders and at the website of publisher ego comme x. Also, note that one of Craig’s choices, Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, includes work by Neaud.]
Faire Semblant C'est Mentir, by Dominique Goblet
6. Faire Semblant C’est Mentir [Pretending is Lying], by Dominique Goblet. In French. A brilliant expressionistic autobiography that uses a variety of drawing styles and media. [You can read from this work online, here.]
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow, by Anders Nilsen
7. Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, by Anders Nilsen. Nilsen’s fiancee died and this is the heartbreaking book he made about their relationship and her death. Bring tissues.

Great Comics of 2012

Students! Fellow travelers! If you’re searching for a guide to the most acclaimed comics and graphic books of 2012, you could do worse than going to The Comics Reporter and checking out Tom Spurgeon’s list of lists, which he posted back on 26th January:

Collective Memory: Best Comics And Graphic Novels Lists From 2012

From amazon to Publishers Weekly to The Village Voice, and scads of individual bloggers and critics too, Spurgeon covers the bases. Indispensable!

Spurgeon has also reported, as of today, on the just-announced nominees for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Graphic Novels/Comics:

Your Graphic Novel/Comics 2013 LAT Book Prize Nominees

Finally, on an unrelated note, you should go read Tom Hart’s Rosalie, because it is genuine and beautiful and will break your heart.

Rosalie, as remembered by her father, cartoonist Tom Hart

Nonfiction Comics of Note (first in a series)

I’ve asked several of my colleagues (fellow comics teachers and critics) to guest on our blog and share their recommendations for nonfiction—or, as the Eisner Awards judges say, reality-based—comics, whether autobiographical, biographical, historical, journalistic, political, scientific, analytical, instructional, or otherwise fact-based. This post will be in the first in a series of such guest spots.

My colleague and frequent writing collaborator Dr. Craig Fischer, who teaches film, comics, and cultural studies for the Department of English at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, will start us off. Craig reads and writes about a staggering variety of stuff, including diverse comics. When asked what ten nonfiction comics—apart from the ones already on our class syllabus—he would like to recommend, he responded with the following titles, links, and comments. Thanks, Craig!

Clan Apis

Jay Hosler, Clan Apis (1999). An inventive and joyous biography of a honeybee; a science lesson that goes down easy.

After the Snooter Alec: The Years Have Pants

Eddie Campbell, After the Snooter (2002). My favorite comics memoir: rollicking, transgressive and melancholic all at once. Available in Campbell’s omnibus Alec: The Years Have Pants.

Ironclad print

Dan Zettwoch, Ironclad (2003). A magnificent self-published zine chronicling the Civil War battles of the U-Boats Monitor and Merrimack.

Real Stuff collection

Dennis Eichhorn and various artists, Real Stuff (2004). Eichhorn is boorish, violent, and a blast to read, a comic book version of Charles Bukowski. Artists include Joe Sacco, Peter Bagge and Peter Kuper.

The Dvorak Zine

Alec Longstreth, Michael Cardiff and Gabriel Carleton-Barnes, The Dvorak Zine (2005). Charming homemade zine propaganda for the Dvorak keyboard arrangement.

Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators

Various, Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators (2005). Terrific artists from various countries offer up their takes on manga, steam baths, and other facets of Japanese culture.

Perfect Example

John Porcellino, Perfect Example (2005). Named after a Hüsker Dü song, Porcellino’s book is a minimalist evocation of what it was like to be a punk-alt kid in the mid-1980s.

Don't Go Where I Can't Follow

Anders Nilsen, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow (2006). Through a mix of notes, photographs and drawings, Nilsen charts the death of his fiancée. Heartbreaking. [Just now re-released in a new edition! – CH]

Alan's War

Emmanuel Guibert and Alan Cope, Alan’s War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope (France, 1999; US 2008). Touching, elegantly drawn memoir of a WWII American solider—although much of the narrative focuses on his life after the war too. Watch Guibert draw with water here.

Sarah Stewart Taylor and Ben Towle, Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean (2010). All-ages, beautifully-drawn story of a meaningful stop-over in Earhart’s life.