My Favorite Comics

I listed some of my favorite comics of 2015 in a short piece included in the inaugural Comics Studies Society newsletter, which you can read here.

This page started as a spot for me to list favorite comics I’ve read over the last few years, with a couple of mini-essays thrown in. Now I’m using this instead as a space for things I’m reading or enjoying or thinking about. Peter Bien, one of my favorite professors in college, advised that we keep a commonplace book of favorite quotations, so I’ll add those from time to time, too.

I’m wondering why I’d never heard of Otto Benesch and his writing on Rembrandt until I stumbled across an essay of his at The Armadillo’s Pillow here in Chicago a few weeks ago. I think if I ever put together a course for myself on making comics, I’d include him as a master of writing about the visual arts. (September 2015)

My Favorite Comics, Minicomics, and Zines of 2013

Most of these were published in 2013, with a few notable exceptions. Last I checked, most of these are still available, but you’re on your own tracking down copies of the Mr. Tawny stories or Kirby’s The Eternals. Try your local comic book shop before you visit eBay.

I’m listing these comics and zines (and a gallery show) in alphabetical order:

Allie Brosh, “Menace” (from Hyperbole and a Half)

Carrie Colpitts, My Aim Is True (Scary Stuff)

Cindy Crabb, Doris #30

Theo Ellsworth, Imaginary Homework

Edie Fake, Memory Palaces (gallery exhibit; Secret Acres plans to release a collection of these paintings in 2014)

Marnie Galloway, In the Sounds and Seas, Volume 1

John Jennings, Blue Hand Mojo (in progress)

Simon Moreton, Grand Gestures

Ed Piskor, Hip Hop Family Tree 

Corinne Mucha, The Girl Who Was Mostly Attracted to Ghosts

Julia Von De Bur, “I love you / I love you / I love you /but the earth / will not stand still / for us” 

These are older but I discovered or rediscovered them this year:

Otto Binder and C.C. Beck, The Mr. Tawny stories from Captain Marvel Adventures (late 1940s/early 1950s)

Lilli Carré, Heads or Tails (2012)

Sophie Goldstein, Betsy (2012)

Jack Kirby, The Eternals (1976-1978)

Annie Murphy, I Still Live: Biography of a Spiritualist (2009)

November 2013:

Scan

In the Sounds and Seas: Volume 1

by Marnie Galloway

Monkey-Rope Press

The heroine of Marnie Galloway’s In the Sounds and Seas plots a course that reverses Odysseus’s familiar journey. While Homer’s hero was looking for a way home, Galloway’s dark-haired young woman looks to escape from her seaside town. Surrounded by the skeletal remains of the hull of a ship, and trapped in the ribcage of a whale, she opens her mouth on the last page of Volume 1 and dreams of singing, but she fails to utter a sound.

I read the first of what Galloway promises will be a three-part series with delight and startled wonder. Like the young woman who spends most of the book searching for a territory other than what she knows, I found myself reading Galloway’s narrative as part of a tradition stretching back to Sappho’s response to Homer’s myths of war and dislocation. In the early twentieth century, American poet Hilda Doolittle, better known as H.D., continued Sappho’s project, giving voices to Helen of Troy and to Calypso. If H.D. had been a cartoonist, her work might have looked something like this page from “The Singers,” the first chapter of Galloway’s book:

Scan 1

With the exception of the two chapter titles, Galloway’s first volume is a wordless comic, with one other notable exception: she prefaces her story with lines from Alexander Pope’s translation of The Odyssey. The passage comes from an exchange between Minerva and Jove, in which “the martial maid” demands that her father consider Ulysses’ plight, the thought of which fills her with “grief and rage”:

 Must he, whose altars on the Phrygian shore

With frequent rites, and pure, avow’d thy power,

Be doom’d the worst of human ills to prove,

Unbless’d, abandon’d to the wrath of Jove?

Galloway does not include Minerva’s plea, however. Rather, she begins her narrative with Jove’s reply, “Daughter! What words have pass’d thy lips unweigh’d!” In the absence of Minerva’s request to her father, we spend the rest of the book imagining these “words”: why does Jove find his daughter’s request so unexpected? What does she ask of him? And what does Galloway ask of us, as she leads us from one complex black and white image to the next, with a heroine who at first appears to be an incarnation of Odysseus or Jonah, but might instead be a young Sappho or H.D., the singer who seeks to find her voice by transforming the songs of her ancestors.

The first page of “The Singers” begins with an ending. In four panels, we see a sun gradually obscured by a planet covered in trees. In the final two panels of this opening sequence, we see what might be a finger, or a bird, or a spirit rising from a clearing, an opening in the thick cover of leaves we first see on the book’s cover. A page later, we discover that this is a tongue of fire lit by the three singers, whose harmonies call the world into being: one sings of the air (birds), the other sings of the water (fish), and the third sings of the land (rabbits).

Like H.D., Galloway asks us to reconsider the Homeric myths by imagining a much smaller world than the one depicted in The Illiad and The Odyssey. At the close of this first chapter, Galloway introduces us to a less cosmic, more intimate landscape. Characters talk, but the only sounds that come out of their mouths are black word balloons. These balloons are not empty. They might in fact be so filled with words that the characters—and those of us trying to read their dialogue—find it impossible to identify one phrase from the next:

Scan 2

These characters fail to communicate with each other not because they use too few words, but because they depend on too many. And when our heroine, the young woman we meet in the closing panels of “The Singers,” opens her mouth to sing in “The Plan,” the book’s second chapter, there are no birds, no fish, no bunnies—therefore, no sky, no ocean, and no earth. The young woman has seen a painting of the three mythic singers from chapter 1. The final four panels of Vol. 1 echo the book’s first four images. Just as the sun set on that first page, here the young woman slowly closes her mouth, stares at us for one panel (which might be a second, or several minutes, or days—as readers, we decide how long we’ll linger over this figure, or any of the other images in the book) and then closes her eyes, moments before we close the book itself:

Scan 3

So far in this review I know I’ve made Galloway’s comic seem impossibly bookish. I don’t mean to suggest that In the Sound and Seas exists only in relation to other texts—for example, to Sappho’s poem to Anactoria, or to Pope’s translation of The Odyssey. This first volume is still a comic book, by which I mean that it is a landscape of (just a few) words and pictures working together to create a space for the artist and the reader to share ideas, and to imagine a world that otherwise might not exist. It’s about love and about music and it is filled with strange, sometimes delicate, often challenging narrative twists.

The first time I read this book, I looked at the pictures. That was enough. But on the second reading, I read the opening lines from Pope more carefully, and I felt as though Galloway had invited me, like her heroine, to explore other possibilities, other histories. How will the young woman by the sea find her voice? In the next issue, will she open her mouth and sing yet another world into being? Will the ghost of the whale, its bones like white daggers, swallow the heroine again as it did in Volume 1? Or was that only a dream, too, like her vision of the singing butterflies? According to Galloway’s website, we might not have much longer to wait for those answers. She’s hoping to finish Volume 2 for TCAF 2014.

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