Tag: comics

Panel: top and bottom

Rudolf Arnheim states that in an artistic space, “dynamics [vary] with direction” (30). Or to put it another way, location in a comics panel implies meaning. In the Famous Artists Cartoon Course Lesson 11, the instructors point out that the placement of a horizon line in a panel can affect the sense of depth and mood in a scene.

What’s interesting here, is that, for me, in each successive panel the figure seems to get nearer even though he doesn’t change in size. And if you think about it, this makes sense. The lower I am as a viewer, the more I will be near the eye-level of the figure. So the horizon will drop. If I pull away and up from the figure, the horizon line will likewise rise. In other words: close = low horizon, far = high horizon.

But this tends to work more generally. Forms that are lower in a panel appear nearer than those that are higher in a panel.

And again, this happens even if the forms are of the same size.

This also applies to weight. As Arnheim points out, gravity has taught us that objects are pulled downward. Therefor, forms that are higher in a panel will seem lighter. Ones that are lower will seem heavier.

The hot air balloon in the left panel is flying high and free. The one on the right seems to be running out of heat and so descending.

This also applies to potential for movement. Arnheim again is helpful: “the potential energy in a mass high up is greater than that in one low down” (30).

The ball in the left panel seems more precarious. The one on the right seems less likely to move. In both panels, it’s the same ball. The only difference is its placement within the panel.

Okay, to sum up some of the relationships that top and bottom placement in a panel can imply:

  • far – near
  • light – heavy
  • energy – inertia

A related point to all this that Arnheim mentions is the study showing that when most people try to bisect a vertical line they place the midpoint higher than it actually is. Arnheim refers to several art pieces that look balanced but are actually not centered in order to deal with this perceptual issue. I don’t know a direct application for this, except, as Arnheim shows, that if artists want balance in their work, they have to take such visual biases into consideration.

Panel: left to right

The idea that comics have greater clarity when composed with the reading direction in mind tends to be widely understood. Almost all books on comics creation mention this. For instance, addressing English readers, Robyn Chapman points it out in her book Drawing Comics Lab: ” your images themselves should reinforce the left-to-right movement” (39). Still, while this is a commonplace observation, it has profound implications for comics design. So I want to gather a few considerations here.

Lesson 11 of the Famous Artists Cartoon Course mentions the importance of reading direction, especially in reference to the placement of word balloons.

The first panel is obviously a mistake. The second panel makes sense, but seems unnecessarily muddy. In general, things read easier if the characters are arranged in a panel in the order that they speak in, such as in the third panel on the top.

If we think of a panel as a segment of time, then it makes sense that earlier actions happen on the left and later actions happen on the right. As Brian McLachlan says in Draw Out the Story, “something happens on the left side that the right side reacts to” (74). If we reverse that order, then clarity is lost.

Here we have an image of a monster throwing a ball through the panel. The action of the throw is on the left. The effect of the throw is on the right. The cause and effect follows the reading direction.

Now, let’s flip the composition.

Sure, you can still understand what is going on, but it looks weird. Since the panel is read from left-to-right, the effect happens before the cause.

So the time order in a comics panel only makes sense if it follows the reading direction. I think this is pretty obvious. There is a fairly clear “wrong” and “right” about the images so far.

Yet the reading direction also creates a very strong connotation of movement. As Jessica Abel and Matt Madden point out in Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, “the way the eye moves through a panel can suggest physical movement” (157). In other words, since our eyes are moving left to right, left to right movement is ascribed to figures facing or pointing that direction.

So actions that take advantage if this are clearer and seem more powerful. In this panel below, the left-to-right movement helps reinforce the flight of the javelin.

If we flip this panel, we still get the idea of an athlete throwing a javelin, but the action isn’t as strong. To me, the javelin just hangs there. This is because it is working against the reading direction.

Likewise, if a figure sits at the left of a panel and looks right, we assume that they have someplace to go. The panel offers them a place to enter into and the reading direction gives us the movement.

However, if placed on the right and still looking right, the figure now looks as if they’ve moved across the panel and are now leaving.

And if they are on the right but look left, they seem as if they have stopped and are looking at something in the panel.

So the reading direction has a larger implication on design than may be initially assumed. Basically, when characters face left instead of right, or when large shapes block the right side of the panel, the overall flow of the panel can be hindered. Chapman mentions this: “even still objects such as a face, a hand, or your character’s eyes can benefit the reading flow if they’re drawn pointing to the right” (39). So keeping the reading direction in mind isn’t just about clarity of time or cause and effect, it is also an element of composition.

In Art and Visual Perception, Rudolf Arnheim uses Raphael’s Sistine Madonna to point this out.

The panel on the left shows the original composition. The composition has a strong upward diagonal movement, emphasizing Mary. Yet, when the composition is flipped, as it is on the right, the large figure that was on the lower left now dominates the lower right. Arnheim claims that “he becomes so heavy that the whole composition seems to topple” (34). The figure draws our eyes down and he faces inward, blocking the left-to-right movement.

When I drew this panel for Lounger, I was wanting the reader’s eye to flow out to the right. The idea was that the character, Jack, was lost in his own thoughts. They trail away with the clouds. The direction of his gaze accentuates this.

Now, if we flip this panel, the meaning changes. The clouds seem to be blowing into Jack and our eye stops at him. He looks into the panel, encouraging us to keep our gaze there. It’s as if he’s come to a decision or is realizing something. This is his moment of revelation.

So how the panel is composed in reference to the reading direction connotes meaning. Try flipping any panel or image and see how its meaning changes.

However, it’s not as if having figures move right-to-left is always wrong. The reading direction doesn’t just connote movement, it connotes ease. Left-to-right movement seems easier. Right-to-left movement reads as more challenging. In Art and Visual Perception, Rudolf Arnheim states this:

Since a picture is “read” from left to right, pictorial movement toward the right is perceived as being easier, requiring less effort. If, on the contrary, we see a rider traverse the picture from right to left, he seems to be overcoming more resistance, to be investing more effort, and therefore to be going more slowly.

(35)

So this insight can be used to accentuate meaning in a panel.

In this panel from Lounger, I had the butterfly enter from the left. It is carefree, and so it moves with ease from left to right. Jack, however, is not carefree. So he trudges from right to left. His whole entrance into the story pushes against the reading direction and is meant to connote his mental state.

Arnheim points out some other interesting ideas from painting and theater. He claims that a theater audience habitually looks stage left and expects characters to enter from that side. So characters that enter from the right seem more conspicuous since they defy expectation (35).

Arnheim goes on to say that this can also affect reader identification. If left-to-right movement seems easier and we naturally want to move our eyes in that direction, characters that enter the stage (or, in our case, the panel) from the left are more easily identified with since they conform to our preferred eye movement. Characters that enter from the right are in opposition to the reading direction and seem more naturally antagonistic. Arnheim points out that “in traditional English pantomime the Fairy Queen, with whom the audience is supposed to identify, always appears from the left, whereas the Demon King enters on the prompt side, on the audience’s right” (35).

So let’s recap what we have when we consider reading direction:

  • clarity
  • panel flow
  • cause and effect
  • time order
  • implied movement
  • connotation of ease/difficulty
  • reader identification (protagonist/antagonist)

So yeah, remembering that readers read English from left-to-right seems pretty obvious, but it has many effects on the success and meaning of a panel.

As maybe you noticed, I’m only talking about the single panel here. Things can get even more complicated and nuanced when you start placing panels next to each other. I’ll save that for another time.


works cited

Abel, Jessica and Matt Madden. Drawing Words & Writing Pictures. First Second, 2008.

Arnheim, Rudolf. Art and Visual Perception. University of California Press, 1974.

Chapman, Robyn. Drawing Comics Lab. Quarry Books, 2012.

Goldberg, Rube, et al. The Famous Artists Cartoon Course Lesson 11. The Famous Artists Course Inc., 1956.

McLachlan, Brian. Draw Out the Story. Owlkids Books Inc., 2013.

Panel: tangents

As I mentioned, I’ve been looking through the old Famous Artists Cartoon Course. Lesson 11 is all about panels and has a lot of solid advice. One thing that is mentioned in that lesson is what they call “contact points,” but what I’m calling “tangents.”

Basically, since most comics drawing is contour drawing, you need to make sure that your contours are legible. Clarity comes with clearly defined forms. If the lines that define the forms meet tangentially, then things can get confusing. As the FACC mentions above, it can also make the sense of space muddy. This is why it is so important to either separate your forms or overlap them.

I read a similar idea years ago in The Complete Book of Cartooning by John Adkins Richardson (though given the publication dates, Richardson was probably inspired by the FACC, if anything). Richardson, however, expands the terminology and creates three categories: “ambiguous alignments, tenuous contacts, and distracting parallels.”

In comics, since the panel is also a shape, this problem of tangents can apply to the panel border itself. If a form meets tangentially with the panel border, it can feel like it’s stuck there. And, again, it makes the sense of space unclear.

For me, not only is the panel on the right easier to read, it has a greater sense of depth. Unintentional tangents inhibit clarity and flatten space.

A Serious Consideration of a Comic Definition

Comics has always had a problem with language. Just take the grammar of the name. Is it singular or plural? I would think that if we use comics as a collective noun then it would have to be singular the same way “economics,” “linguistics,” or “rabies” are. But I’ve seen people insist on using a plural verb even when they use “comics” to mean the art form as a whole and not just a pile of individual issues

Then there’s the old albatros of the title’s connotation. Yes, comics originally derived from humorous strips, but it’s unfortunate that the name stuck, especially for those of us who love to see the medium explore new and different realms.

Then, of course, there’s the question of a definition. What do we mean when we call something comics? This is an old debate, but I was thinking about it again because I just read Thierry Groensteen’s essay “Definitions” in The French Comics Theory Reader. Groensteen presents an expansive overview of the historical struggle to name and define this medium that we all love. Appropriately enough, Groensteen himself symbolizes the problem and changing ideas about how to define comics. In his 1986 essay “The Elusive Specificity,” he states that he knows of “no example of a comic that does not produce something that can be classed as a story” (63). In other words, for something to be classified as “comics” it has to be narrative. Yet in 2012’s “Definitions,” he amends his previous statement and says that a comic does not require a narrative (109). So what changed his mind? Specific works. Artists who explored the form and function of the medium. A thing must exist to be named and in the case of any art, the artists then push the edges that conscribe the art, challenging what the rest of us thought to be true. You can’t keep defining a shape as a square if someone changed the angles or added an extra side.

For me, as a person who creates comics, the element that sets comics apart (and here I agree with Scott McCloud) is juxtaposition. Yes, when I create a comic I think about drawing. I think about composition. I think about dialogue. I think about diction. But fundamentally what I do, which I don’t do when I write an essay or draw a single image, is consider how to convey a concept through a juxtaposition of static elements. To me, that is the heart of the medium. Drawing and writing just help me express that heart.

I want to emphasize that I am using the term “elements” intentionally, versus McCloud’s use of the term “images” (8). Yes, comics is largely visual, but I want to be more inclusive. I want a definition that can encompass text and format (inspired by David Gedin), as well as image.

I think the other thing that we should also keep in mind is how comics is evaluated aesthetically. We can borrow from literature and look at story, character, and the rest. So literary aesthetics apply (at least with narrative comics). But visual aesthetics is always a part. We judge how well an artist draws, or how a page is laid out, or the placement of a word balloon. So fine art theory often applies. Likewise, elements of film theory crossover. But so do the concepts of graphic design. In fact, I think comics is more akin to graphic design than it is to literature, fine art, or film.

So:

Comics is a medium that derives its meaning from a comparison of elements in static sequence, and is evaluated by literary and visual aesthetics.

In the end though, whatever language we use to pin down the art form, an artist will wriggle out our pin and toss it in our smug faces. As it should be. An art form belongs to the artists, not the critics.

So get to work.


Some works mentioned

Gedin, David. “Format Codings in Comics–The Elusive Art of Punctuation.” Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society, Volume 3, Issue 3.  Ohio State University Press, Fall 2019. 298-314. https://doi.org/10.1353/ink.2019.0024

Groensteen, Thierry. “Definitions.” The French Comics Theory Reader. Edited by Ann Miller and Bart Beaty. Leuven University Press, 2014. 93-114.

—. “The Elusive Specificity.”The French Comics Theory Reader. Edited by Ann Miller and Bart Beaty. Leuven University Press, 2014. 63-73.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. Kitchen Sink Press, 1993.

Arsène Schrauwen

Arsène Schrauwen
Olivier Schrauwen

Arsène Schrauwen reminds me a bit of the work of Ben Katchor, with his blocky businessmen engaged in endeavors that seem just outside the real. The book also reminds me of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, in the sense that expectation is often thwarted and any sense of narrative tension is drained by the inanity and passivity of the main character. I make these comparisons to Katchor and Sterne so you understand that this is a book aimed at a particular sensibility, at a reader who enjoys the absurd and the structurally inventive.

So we get a story of the artist’s grandfather, a man-child who moves to a colony- a place that is never named, inhabited by a people we don’t get to see until late in the book- and who spends most of the “adventure” hiding in his bungalow, too afraid to venture out. This is not the story of a hero, nor does it seem to be a critique of colonialism. It’s an anti-story the way that Tristram Shandy is. Yet things do happen. There is an obsession that may be love. A character is committed and receives electro-shock therapy. People get lost. Leopard men come out of the jungle. A city is built. Still, a decisive climax is avoided and all the grandiloquence of the project the colonialists undertake is undercut by the needs of capitalism. At the end, we see Arsène bicycle into the darkness, no more a solid character than he was at the outset.

Besides his playfulness with the absurdity of the story, Oliver Schrauwen is also playful with the layout and drawings of his comic. Colors shift between blues and reds, grids give way to double-page spreads. Schrauwen also uses visual metaphors. When Arsène is arroused he turns into a donkey, like a Belgian Bottom. At other times he becomes a young boy, at others his penis is a bird. Most of the other characters in the comic don’t have faces and instead have simple spheres for heads. At certain moments, their faces emerge, but often quickly disappear again. This may be Schrauwen’s style, but it underscores how little the titular character thinks about other people.

I found the playfulness of this book to be funny and charming. The whole thing was constantly inventive and engaging. At the same time, I can see how this book isn’t for all tastes. Also, I was a bit troubled that a book about a colony in Africa doesn’t have any black people in it. Reality is not Schrauwen’s game here; he is playing more with the European narratives of the great artist and the great adventurer. Still, the lack of a native perspective was at times an unnerving hole in the book.

I read Arsène Schrauwen through my library on the Hoopla app. So if your library has a similar service, you can try it out that way. Or you can get the book from Fantagraphics.

Panels: shape, context, and content

Does the shape of a panel carry inherent meaning?

A square panel seems to imply stability. Its four equal sides create a sense equilibrium.

Rectangular panels imply movement, horizontal for wide panels, vertical for tall panels. From fine art we also learn that these shapes can infer content. Wide frames are for landscapes, tall are for portraits.

horizontal panel

vertical panel

Circular panels create a sense of centering, all edges being an equal distance from the middle.

circular panel

Yet while all these meanings are implied, what is in a panel can supersede these connotations.

For instance, in the panel below the squareness doesn’t connote stability, but instead works in contrast with the image to heighten its instability.

unbalanced square panel

Of course, the same image could be placed inside a vertical panel. Now we feel the weight of gravity more. So the shape does have some effect.

unbalanced vertical panel

Still, the implied movement can be nullified by content. While the panel below is wide, the strong focal point of the eye precludes its horizontal movement.

horizontal panel with focal point

A circular panel can lose its centeredness by having an off-centered composition.

off-center circular panel

So the meaning of a panel is not inherent to its shape. Yes, the shape can imply a meaning or accentuate one, but whether or not it carries that meaning depends on other, more powerful, elements. These are the context and the content.

Context refers to what the panel is relation to. Usually a panel sits on a page in relationship with other panels and this relationship creates meaning. For instance, below the third panel seems to drop, since it is longer than the first two panels.

three panels with tall one at end

Yet if we change the context and make all the panels the same height, the meaning disappears. So shape doesn’t make the meaning, the context does.

three vertical panels

But we can reclaim the meaning through content. Here, there is a sense of falling again.

three vertical panels with ball rolling downhill

While the verticality of the panels helps show the height of the fall, the panels could be square and convey the same basic meaning.

three square panels with ball rolling downhill

So the panel shape may accentuate the meaning, but it is not required to do so. So for a comics artist, shape is something to consider, but not something to obsess about. There is no one “right” shape for every given situation. Context and content are of greater importance.

 

Note: This question of whether or not panel shape has inherent meaning was inspired by Hannah Miodrag’s Comics and Language, especially chapters 7 and 9.

Comics and Language: Reimagining Critical Discourse on the Form by Hannah Miodrag

The subtitle of this book is more accurate than it’s main title; Miodrag examines what she sees as common assumptions and mistakes that comics critics make. She points to lack of precision, sloppy reasoning, and confirmation bias. While at times the arguments are a bit belabored and redundant, her book is a needed amendment to the patterns of a lot of critical thought about comics.

One trend she sees is how often writers seem obsessed with claiming that elements in a specific comic are universal. As if how the relationships in that comic work, between word and image say, are endemic to the medium itself. I once got on David Carrier’s case for just this issue (Miodrag points out a different one on page 89). In his book The Aesthetics of Comics, he claims that what defines comics are word balloons. Yet if the small selection of comics you read and write about have word balloons that doesn’t mean that it is the defining characteristic of the medium. What about Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660? Or Edward Gorey’s work? Or much of Eleanor Davis’s Why Art? Not to mention the thousands of completely wordless comics out there. The issue is that so many critics are desperate to claim legitimacy for comics that they leap to hasty generalizations. A group of comics may all exhibit the same quality, but that doesn’t mean that all comics have this quality, or must have it to be considered comics. It’s a reductionist view that does nothing to help the medium.

Miodrag also places nice attention to pacing. This is a subject that has been habitually overlooked. Groensteen addresses it and Tom Hart is teaching about it, but these are exceptions. Even books that tell you they will teach you how to create comics often overlook pacing entirely. Miodrag’s analysis of how Posy Simmonds paces Gemma Bovary, for example, is enlightening. Miodrag is a careful close reader and her analysis is one of the strengths of the book.

She also contributes to the argument that comics have more in common with graphic design than any other medium. But actually, that’s more my own hobby horse than Miodrag’s. So I guess you’re just getting a sample of how I may quote from her book later.

While there are all sorts of little things I could quibble with in Comics and Language, my main objection to the book is how sometimes she goes to an odd extreme to make her points, sometimes setting up a straw critic to take down. For instance, in the first chapter she claims that critics don’t analyze Herriman’s Krazy Kat for its literary qualities. Her goal is to point out that in comics criticism, critics confuse imagination and plot for literariness. In other words, they don’t evaluate the use of language. This is a good point but I don’t think it really applies to Krazy Kat. It goes against my personal experience, for one. And there are several public examples. E.E. Cummings wrote an analysis of the characters in the strip and Umberto Eco wrote of the its poetic qualities.

Still, her main point that comics criticism is often very limited in what it means when it uses the term “literary” is an important one. The emphasis tends to be on creativity and storytelling, not on depth of character, complexity of theme, and use of language. With these standards, Michael Moorcock would be a better writer than Gabriel García Márquez. This is why, as she points out, that writers such as Will Eisner and Alan Moore (61) get touted as exemplars. This is something I had always felt but had never articulated, much less as carefully as Miodrag does. I had always been annoyed that certain graphic novels were held up as standards of the medium when they seemed so mediocre, or merely good. Part of the issue, according to Miodrag, is that critics’ notions of what actually make a comic “literary” are very simplistic. In the end, I think this undercuts the very thing that critics are trying to do. They are trying to show that the medium has great works. But by holding up painfully adequate books they are just showing that comics are indeed incapable of being taken seriously. Is Watchmen genuinely as profound as The Sound and The Fury?

The real reason I’m writing all this, besides trying to digest my own thoughts and recommend the book itself, is to take on one argument I have with Miodrag. Again, it’s another example of her saying something a bit extreme to make her point, but in this case it is just wrong. On page 100, Miodrag takes issue with the idea that outside captions always operate differently than in-panel text boxes and word balloons. What I think she’s trying to get at is that the role words are put to in a given comic is more important than any “rule” about how captions or word balloons always operate. But the argument is a bit messy. And on page 101 she states this: “The role words play is not determined by their position.” Okay, I agree that a comic creates its own logic and that this tendency of critics to want to establish absolute rules can actually hinder their analysis, but this is wrong. In comics, position is meaning. It is not absolute- the meaning is always dependent on context- but how the artist choses to place the elements in the comic is one of the ways they create meaning.

We all know that position is meaning when it comes to prose. “Grandma, let’s eat!” has a different meaning than “Let’s eat Grandma!” Same words, but position makes one an invitation and the other cannibalism.

How about this:

mistah dobalina panels

The first panel shows question and response. The second conveys a lack of recognition. Again, same words, different placement, different meaning. The roles are dictated by their positions.

But this quotation I’m digging into comes within the context of captions and if placement within the panel always works better. So let’s look at an example like that:

i am here panels

In the first, the caption sits outside the panel. Here the words seem to be about the scene as a whole. We are invited to see this landscape as where the narrator is. In the next two panels, the caption is placed within the panel. This invites us to read the words in the context of the image plane and so new meanings emerge. In the second panel, the caption is in a text box located over the tree. This implies that the narrator is hiding in the tree. Lastly, placing the narration over the ground makes it seem as if the narrator is dead and buried. Same words. Different placements. Differing meanings.

Just to clarify, I’m not arguing that any one approach is superior or that the relationships above will always exist in every comic. I’m just saying that the position of words affects their role. And I take Miodrag’s point that many critics, such as R.C. Harvey, assume that words within the panel inherently work better. Yet to argue against this I feel she briefly overlooks how the comics medium works. She says that it’s wrong “to confuse position with function”  when it comes to words, that instead it is a “question of [their] role” (101). Yet their placement is their role. Again, that role depends on context, but placement is meaning. To deny that is to deny one of the ways comics functions.


You can read a more chapter by chapter review of Comics and Language here:
http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v8_1/scanlon/

My Favorite Comics Anthologies

I love anthologies. I love seeing new work, being introduced to artists and approaches I have never seen before, and, of course, getting a solid read. Maybe it’s being placed next to other, different styles, but sometimes the best work an artist has done is a little story that appeared in some anthology. And yes, many anthologies suck. Or they are full of little pieces that never satisfy your hunger for something transportive. But sometimes the opposite is true and an anthology blows you away with the quality of the pieces it contains or the new possibilities for the medium that it shows you. These days, most anthologies seem to be one-shots. But even when there were serial anthologies, such as Dark Horse Presents, Last Gasp, Zero Zero, and Top Shelf, there were never too many in the market at once. The anthology, it seems, is never an easy venture for a publisher. But, again, I love them and want new ones to be created. So here’s a short list of some of my absolute favorites.

Raw Vol. 2 No. 1.

I think it’s difficult to understand the impact of Raw. Even these days when there are graphic novel sections in book stores and libraries, Raw stands out for its quality. Imagine it in the late 80s. Way ahead of its time. Vol. 2 No. 1 was the first issue I saw and it’s incredible. There is work by Charles Burns, Justin Green, Joost Swarte, Lorenzo Mattotti, Basil Wolverton, Ben Katchor, and of course a chapter from Spiegleman’s Maus. On top of that, this issue contains Richard McGuire’s iconic comic “Here.” And the disturbing little comic “Paul” by Pascal Doury broke my little teenaged mind.

Comix 2000

I chipped in to buy one of these when I heard the concept. Basically, the french publisher L’Association decided to put together a brick of a book, a 2000 page anthology of wordless comics about the new (at the time) millennium. Obviously the anthology contains a lot of french artists, but there are works by Americans such as Chris Ware, Jessica Abel, and Nick Bertozzi. And there are also works by artists from Spain, Norway, and Japan. There is definitely some work whose inclusion I question, but the overall effect is inspiring. There are just so many styles on display here. Also, since the stories have to be wordless, some artists get very creative with what they do visually. In fact, this is the work that convinced me to try my hand at wordless comics. There’s no coincidence that the first Kit Kaleidoscope story came out in 2000.

Nosotros Somos Los Muertos #3

In 1998 I was in Barcelona and bought the first five issues of this Spanish-language anthology. Issue 3 is my favorite with work by Federico del Barrio, Sequeiros, Martin Tom Dieck, Muñoz, Javier Olivares, and Thomas Ott (among many others). It also has Mattotti’s work “El Secreto del Pensador,” which Fantagraphics later published as Chimera. I can barely read a word of this book, but I love it.

Drawn & Quarterly, Volume 3

The Drawn & Quarterly anthology was always good, but things got really nice when they stepped up their production values and put out the anthology in large volumes. In this volume there are stories by Blutch, R. Sikoryak, and Franco Matticchio. The biggest revelation in this volume comes with the reprints of Frank King’s Gasoline Alley. Many of us had read Ware extolling King’s strip and here he was able to show us what he was so inspired by. The King-themed end papers by Ware are also a treat.

Kramer’s Ergot 4

This is the issue when Kramer’s Ergot stepped up from being a quirky little anthology to a force to be reckoned with. This issue introduced me to so many artists I had never heard of and whose work I would have probably never bought. The styles on their own didn’t appeal to me, but somehow together they became something incredible, an awe-inspiring rush of color and audacity. What anchors this book, and what the other issues tend to lack, is the long, solid read of Harkham’s own “Poor Sailer.” This provides the narrative satisfaction one often looks for, letting the more experimental works not have to hold up the entire impact of the issue.

Nowbrow 7

As a publisher, Nobrow always has some of the best printing on its books. The anthology is no different, often giving artists a certain palette of spot colors to work with. This not only makes the colors vibrant, but gives a cohesion to the various works. Nobrow is a bit like the old Blab! in that it includes comics and full page illustrations. In terms of comics, this issue has solid reads from Jillian Tamaki, Eleanor Davis, Ethan Rilly, and Joseph Lambert. Overall this is just a beautiful book full of fulfilling little stories. It’s just quality all the way through.