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WTF Comics

WTF-CertifiedThroughout the month of April, DC Comics released all of their comics with special gatefold covers that folded out for a shocking reveal. This month-long promotion was initially marketed as WTF Certified, but that label was later dropped, possibly when the internet repeatedly reminded DC Comics of the meaning of WTF. Despite all of that, the comics were still released with a number of surprises. I teamed up with Weyward Sisters Productions to document my response to these comics.

For some more info on the making of this video, see

Comics in Education: Comics as a Tool for Writing

Columnist Anastasia Betts of Graphic Novels 101 looks at the use of comics in the classroom, and shares her experience as an educator helping teachers embrace sequential art as a teaching tool.

Anastasia Betts by Anastasia Betts

Anastasia Betts by Anastasia Betts

In past columns we have spent a lot of time talking about how to use comics in the classroom. We’ve discussed everything from using wordless comics to teach elements of narrative, to using graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare, to experimenting with comics based on poetry. What we haven’t really talked about is how to use the medium of comics to help students tell their own stories, or demonstrate their own learning.

Using the comics format as a way to get kids writing couldn’t be more natural. Students love to tell stories, especially their own stories, and the comics media is a perfect vehicle for doing so. But kid-created comics can do so much more than just tell stories. In this month’s column, we are going to spend some time talking about all the ways you can use comics in your classroom to help students to share their voice and “show what they know” – in other words, as a vehicle for expression.

“Essay” Comics

Perhaps the most natural way to have your students create their own comics is through the process of creative writing. Unfortunately, in our testing obsessed education culture, creative writing is often the first part of the English curriculum to go. Teachers are often compelled to have their students spend time writing essays, such as expository, response to literature, persuasive / opinion essays, etc. But did you ever think that perhaps combining these genres of writing with comics could be another tool in your motivation toolbox? Why not invite your students to create a Response to Literature as a conversation between the speaker and the reader – in comics form? Or, why not create a persuasive argument as a visual essay with two characters debating both sides of the issue? There are innumerable ways to have your students employ a visual component to their essay writing. Neither the teacher nor the students should be intimidated by the drawing component either. Students need not be able to draw; stick figures work well, as do shapes (think of Flatland).

Consider this example…


By Richard Korzekwa, first place winner of Florida Citizens for Science’s 2009 Stick Science Cartoon Contest (click for larger image)

Using comics to help students learn about a topic, and then demonstrate that learning just makes sense. Some of you out there might be thinking that having students create “persuasion” comics (like the one above) is not the same or as rigorous as having them write conventional essays on the topic. But I would argue that’s simply not true. A student created comic can certainly be as rigorous and sophisticated as a prose essay – it’s all up to the teacher to set high expectations, and provide many models for students to review. And for most students, creating comics is a heck of a lot more fun and motivating than mere writing alone. If essay writing is the ultimate goal, then creating a comic as an interim step is a great way to get students involved in the writing, bringing out their voice and passion. It’s just a hop, skip, and jump away to turn that comic into a full-blown essay – should the need arise.


Airline safety brochure using comics

“How to” Comics

Much like the “essay” comics described above, “how to” comics can be used at any grade level to help students demonstrate what they have learned about a topic. There is the added advantage of authenticity to this project, since “how to” comics are a part of the world we live in. From the safety instruction pamphlet on an airplane, to the building instructions that come with Ikea furniture –“how to” comics are everywhere.

Writing “how to” books is a common part of many elementary school writing programs – and can even be found in many state standards. Instead of your standard “how to” text only writing assignment, why not have your students illustrate their text and turn it into a comic? Once again, adding in the visual/artistic component builds motivation and investment in the project, and creates a student work product that is both pleasing and instructional. With your older students, it can even be fun to have them create such “How to” comics to give to younger classmates at school (i.e. through a book buddies program). A fun adaptation of this project would be to model it on the popular TV show, “How its made” – inviting your students to explain how something is made…. Like a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. Yum!

Comics that Explain

The “How to” and “How its Made” comics mentioned above both explain how to do something, or how something is made. But there are other ways to explain things as well. I’ve known many math teachers over the years that invite their students to use the comics format to explain a math procedure, rule, or proof. I remember one year a student, after receiving such an assignment, used her comic to explain why a negative times a negative (or positive time a positive) is always positive; while a negative times a positive is a negative. She created an entire story about how when you put a negative person with a negative person, they are happy (i.e. positive) to be negative together, and when you put a negative with positive person, he just ended up bringing her down… (making her a negative in the end…). Ok, not perfect math, but it was creative, awesome and ultimately, the student came away with a better understanding of the rule – and never forgot it.

All in all, there isn’t really anything out there that couldn’t be explained in a comic if you just give your students a chance to do so. Plus, it gives your students an opportunity to use their artistic intelligence, not just mathematical or linguistic.


Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Comics as Journalism

This is actually a genre that exists in the comics publishing world. Whether you are a fan of the works of Joe Sacco (Palestine), Guy Delisle (Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea), or Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón (The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation) – there are plenty of great models for students to look at, and be inspired by. Encourage students to find an issue they are passionate about, and investigate it. Then, invite them to use the comic format to report out on that issue. Comics writers have been doing this for ages, and it’s a legitimate form of reporting. Again, such visual reporting can be extended in so many ways – use as a launching point for having students create their own film documentaries. Or, have them create a comics newspaper on the issues that matter most to them. This particular assignment also offers numerous opportunities to teach the writing conventions of the journalism genre (who, what, when, where, why… etc.). Again, if text only writing is the goal, well-written, high quality text can be lifted directly from the comics.


Healing from the P.E.V. by Riva Jalipa, addressing post-election violence in Kenya

“Activism” Comics

And last but not least, using comics as a form of activism, or for promoting social change is a great way to channel student writing. Combining elements of all the types of writing we’ve already discussed (persuasion, how –to, explanatory, journalism, etc.), Comics Activism takes it a step further, asking students to use their comics to compel the reader to act.

Again, there are real world examples of this. One of my favorite organizations to share with students is World Comics. World Comics specializes in teaching individuals (both kids and adults), how to use the comics format as a way to speak out on important issues. Basically, World Comics uses comics to give voice to those who would have been otherwise silenced. Students in their programs have created comics that “focus on different issues, such as racism, sexual harassment, girl child rights, school drop-outs, hiv/aids, sanitation, and right to education… Any issue, on which one can make a story, can be expressed through grassroots comics.” (World Comics website, “Comics in Action”)

World Comics has a great website with a myriad of tools for running comics workshops, and they have affiliates in numerous countries. Not only can you teach your students how to create comics for social change, but through World Comics (and other organizations like them) you can partner your class with other students around the world who are doing the same thing.

Comics have the power to change things. They have the power to change reluctant readers into avid readers. They have the power to motivate lackluster writing into writing filled with voice and passion. When created by empassioned students on topics that matter, comics have the power to change minds and motivate people to act. Much like those archetypal characters that transform from average, everyday regular “Joe’s” into crime fighting, butt kicking superheroes, comics—the literal underdog of the literary world—have the power to do a little butt kicking of their own.

So get busy and get your students to write comics. Like World Comics’ tagline says, “If you have something to say, say it with comics.”

Homework: Check out the myriad of tools at the World Comics website, and maybe even start a World Comics Club at your own school!

Anastasia Betts is a former teacher, administrator, and UCLA literacy coach from California. She has delivered professional development courses, workshops, and seminars on using comics in the classroom, including participating on Comics in Education panels at Comic Con International: San Diego. Anastasia currently runs an independent curriculum development company called Curriculum Essentials, Inc as well as the website Graphic Novels 101. You can follow her on Facebook at Graphic Novels 101: Using Visual Texts in the 21st Century.

Online “Best of 2012” Comics Lists

Happy New Year! The Comics Observer will be returning to our regular weekly schedule (more or less). But first, to kick things off: a list of lists for the listophiles. 2012 was another amazing year for comics. Truly the great modern renaissance continues unabated.

We’ll be attempting to aggregate every online “best of 2012” comics lists covering comic books, graphic novels, manga, webcomics, etc. that we find. (Basically, a blatant rip-off of this Best Of books list of lists.)

As the lists appear online, this master list will get updated. We’ll post on Facebook/Twitter when new ones are added.

Please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me with a blog, magazine, newspaper, or other online media list I have missed. (comics, graphic novels)
Ace Comics (comics)
Alec Reads Comics (comics) (comics, graphic novels)
A.V. Club (comics)
A.V. Club (graphic novels)
Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Tales (graphic novels)
Barnes & Noble (graphic novels)
Battle Hymns (graphic novels)
The Beat (comics, graphic novels)
Bleeding Cool (comics, graphic novels)
Bleeding Cool (Irish comics)
Bloody Disgusting (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6) (horror comics)
Boing Boing (comics, graphic novels)
Boston Globe (fiction with graphic novels)
Brain Pickings (graphic novels)
Brian Evinou (comics, graphic novels)
British Comic Awards (comics, graphic novels, creators)
Broken Frontier (UK small press comics)
Co.Create (digital comics)
Collingswood Patch (comics, etc.) (all-ages comics) (comics) (new comic series)
Comic Book Resources (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5) (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
ComicMix (comics)
Comics Alliance (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5) (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
Comics-and-More (superhero comics)
Comics Bulletin (comics, graphic novels, webcomics, creators)
The Comics Reporter (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
Comics Should Be Good (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7) (comics, graphic novels)
Comics Worth Reading (graphic novels)
comiXology (digital comics)
CraveOnline (graphic novels)
Crisis on Infinite Midlives (part 1, part 2) (comics)
The Daily BLAM! (comics)
Den of Geek (comics, graphic novels)
Diana Tamblyn (part 1) (comics, graphic novels)
Drawn (comics, graphic novels, art books, etc.)
Earth’s Mightiest Blog (comics, graphic novels)
East Windsor Patch (comics)
FEARnet (horror comics)
File Under Other (comics)
Filth and Fabulations (graphic novels)
Flashback Universe (digital comics)
Forbidden Planet (comics, graphic novels)
Ghastly Awards (horror comics)
The Globe and Mail (graphic novels)
Goodreads Choice Awards (graphic novels)
The Gauntlet (graphic novels, etc.)
The Guardian (graphic novels)
House to Astonish (comics)
Huffington Post UK (comics, graphic novels)
iFanboy (comics, graphic novels, creators, etc.)
IGN (comics, graphic novels, digital comics, webcomics, creators, etc.)
io9 (comics, graphic novels)
io9 (webcomics
Karen the Small Press Librarian (part 1, part 2) (graphic novels)
Library Journal (graphic novels)
Manga Bookshelf (manga)
Manga Bookshelf: Melinda (part 1, part 2) (manga)
Maybe Blogging Will Help (comics, graphic novels)
MillarWorld (comics, graphic novels)
Mother Jones (books with graphic novels)
MTV Geek (comics)
MTV Geek (graphic novels)
MTV Geek (manga)
Multiversity Comics (comics, graphic novels, creators, etc.)
National Post (books with graphic novels)
Nerdage (graphic novels)
Nerdist/TOKYOPOP (manga)
Newsarama (comics, graphic novels, creators, etc.) (graphic novels)
NPR (comics)
NPR (graphic novels) (books with graphic novels) (‘bathroom books’)
Panel Patter (indie comics)
Paste Magazine (comics, graphic novels)
Paste Magazine (webcomics)
Paste Magazine (graphic novel reissues)
Paste Magazine (comics, graphic novels, webcomics, digital comics)
Patheos (comics, graphic novels)
Planet 46 (comics, graphic novels, etc.)
Publishers Weekly (graphic novels)
Quill & Quire (graphic novels)
Rob Kirby Comics (self-published comics, graphic novels)
Rob Liefeld (comics)
Robot 6 (comics, graphic novels, manga, webcomics, digital comics) (graphic novels)
SciFiNow (comics, graphic novels)
School Library Journal (graphic novels)
She Has No Head! (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
SFGate (books with graphic novels) (comics, graphic novels)
StarTribune (graphic novels)
The Tearoom of Despair (comics, graphic novels)
TIME (graphic novels)
Time Out Chicago Kids (part 1, part 2) (graphic novels) (concluding comics series)
USA Today (comics, creators, etc.)
Village Voice (comics, graphic novels)
The Washington Post (comics, graphic novels)
The Weekly Crisis (graphic novels)
When Words Collide (part 1) (comics, graphic novels)

The Journey, Man 03 – I Was Indie Before I Even Knew I Was Indie

Guest columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

For Wayne, going indie started with a Turtle and a Crow

When I was 14, my friend Roy introduced me to Monty Python. Or, at least, I thought he did. See, after watching the Pythons’ infamous Dead Parrot skit, I had this moment of clarity and realization, and I suddenly found myself, as a six year old, on a plane to LA, listening to the in-flight radio’s comedy channel—and laughing my tuchus right off at the very same Dead Parrot skit.

The point of that little anecdote is that, for a while now, I’d been telling people that my journey into indie comics started when I got into Oni Press in the late ’90s (a topic I’ll probably cover in the next edition), which, upon closer reflection isn’t actually true. In fact, I probably got into indie comics around the same time as a lot of kids my age. Well, one indie comic in particular anyway; you might have heard of it: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (1984) by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird

Squiggly flashback lines
Let me take you back, dear reader, to the early ’90s—to a time when Guns N’ Roses was more than just Axl and everyone was down with OPP (yeah, you know me). Before The Walking Dead showed the world that indie comics could become a massive franchise, the Turtles were a juggernaut and every kid was nuts over them, myself included.

I had all the toys and watched all the episodes. But I also remember that, on my school bus, one kid actually had a reprint of the original comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. They were, to my seven-year-old mind, a lot darker than the cartoons and I was naturally enthralled. They were superheroish like Spider-Man, but not. I mean, come on—in that very first issue [20-YEAR-OLD SPOILER] they killed Shredder! Do not pass Go; do not get sent back to Dimension X.

Sadly, because it was one copy being passed around, I didn’t really get to digest it until last year when IDW Publishing reprinted the first couple of issues in a massive hardcover. IDW, interestingly enough, also has ties to the second time I was exposed to indie comics.

The Crow #1 (1989) by James O’Barr

Victims, weren’t we all?
James O’Barr’s The Crow had a similar effect on me, seven years after the Ninja Turtles. Like any 14-year-old in the mid-90s, I was angsty and brooding and wore more black clothes than was sensible in a tropical Singaporean climate. And it was all because of Alex Proyas’ adaptation of O’Barr’s comic, the movie that was famed for being Brandon Lee’s last role.

Again, I devoured everything I could that was related to The Crow. I had the soundtrack on cassette (ask your parents, kids) and I rewatched the film on laser disc (seriously, ask your parents) so many times that I could recite entire scenes by heart.

I also borrowed a reprint of O’Barr’s original comic from my friend Paul and was astounded by what could be done in terms of comic storytelling. It was more a bloody piece of poetry than a tightly cohesive story, but it said everything that needed to be said. The art was a mix of a grimly manga-infused, almost cartoony style and gorgeously painted, emotionally charged pages that, up till then, I never thought could be part of a comic.

Years later, I picked up the trade paperback for myself. And recently, I found out that IDW’s roped in John Shirley, one of the screenwriters for Proyas’ film, and O’Barr himself, to pen new stories revolving around The Crow legend.

All the comics who independent, throw your hands up at me
Like I said at the start, these two books were really just the first few drops of what would be the torrent of indie comics I’d find myself drowning in. I said earlier that Oni Press will probably be the focus of the next edition, but after laying the groundwork here a bit, I might want to also talk about what the term “indie” really means in the confines of comics. Or I might not. Look, as I also already established with the opening paragraph, I don’t exactly have the most reliable memory.

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, and travels way too much. And, yes, he had a goth phase. Look, he was 14, OK?

Penn State Press Launches Line of Medical Graphic Novels

Graphic Medicine book series announced

Partnering with the excellent, an online study of graphic novels and comic books that address health issues, Penn State Press is launching a new series of graphic novels targeted to medical practitioners, patients, caregivers and their families.

As mentioned last week, higher education is embracing the language of sequential arts more and more, and this is just one more example of scholars appreciating that there is a unique way in which comics engage their readers and relay information both factual and emotional.

The editors of this new line of books are currently accepting submissions, and Graphic Medicine posted the below image to their Facebook and Twitter pages to get the word out about their new Graphic Medicine line.

From the announcement:

Graphic Medicine – a new book series from the Pennsylvania State University Press

Graphic Medicine is an exciting new book series from Penn State Press. Curated by an editorial collective with scholarly, creative, and clinical expertise, the series is inspired by a growing awareness of the value of comics as an important resource for communicating about a range of issues broadly termed “medical.” For medical practitioners, patients, and families and caregivers dealing with illness and disability, graphic narrative enlightens complicated or difficult experiences. For scholars in literacy, cultural, and comics studies, the genre articulates a complex and powerful analysis of illness, medicine, and disability and a rethinking of the boundaries of “health.” The series will be diverse in its approach. It will include monographic studies and edited collections from scholars, practitioners, and medical educators, as well as original comics from artists and non artists alike, such as self-reflective “graphic pathographies” or comics used in medical training and education, providing a creative way to learn and teach.

Editorial Collective

Lead Editors

Susan Squier, Brill Professor of Women’s Studies and English, Penn State University

Ian Williams, Comics Artist, Clinician, Editor of

Collective Editors

MK Czerwiec, Artist-in-Residence, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Michael Green, Professor of Humanities and Medicine, Penn State University College of Medicine

Kimberly Myers, Associate Professor of Humanities, Penn State University College of Medicine

Scott Smith, Assistant Professor of English, Penn State University

Submissions should take the form of a 3-5 page proposal outlining the intent of the project, its scope, its relation to other work on the topic, and the audience(s) you have in mind. Please also include 2-3 sample chapters, if available, and your CV.

Questions or submissions? Contact Penn State Press:
Kendra Boileau, Editor-in-Chief
Penn State Press, 820 N. University Dr.
USB 1, Suite C, University Park, PA 16802, (814) 867-2220

or the lead series editors:
Susan Squier
219 Burrows Building
University Park, PA 16802

Ian Williams
Hafety Lwyd, Llanrhaeadr
Denbighshire, LL16 4PH

3 New Comics for New Readers – May 23, 2012

We don’t feature a lot of single issues of comic books in this column, mostly sticking to the more meaty reads of graphic novels and manga. But when the extraordinary Matt Kindt puts out a comic book, you’d do well to check it out. Who is Matt Kindt? Read on to discover one of our modern master storytellers. If you’d rather learn more about past master storytellers, there’s an informative and funny history of comic books in comic book form you can get. And if you’d rather step out of reality, there’s a new release where you can explore your dreams… at a price.

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer picks three brand new releases out today worth checking out that should be suitable for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before.

If you like what you see here, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. Then head to your local comic book store, or check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, see comiXology and

Mind MGMT #1 by Matt Kindt

Mind MGMT #1
Written and illustrated by Matt Kindt
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Genre: Science-Fiction, Spy
24 pages

Matt Kindt, the most original voice in genre comics, outdoes himself in this bold new espionage series!

Reporting on a commercial flight where everyone aboard lost their memories, a young journalist stumbles onto a much bigger story, the top-secret Mind Management program. Her ensuing journey involves weaponized psychics, hypnotic advertising, talking dolphins, and seemingly immortal pursuers, as she attempts to find the flight’s missing passenger, the man who was Mind MGMT’s greatest success – and its most devastating failure. But in a world where people can rewrite reality itself, can she trust anything she sees?

* From the creator of 3 Story and Super Spy!

* Akira meets Heart of Darkness by way of 100 Bullets!

The Comic Book History of Comics by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey

The Comic Book History of Comics
Written by Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by Ryan Dunlavey
Published by IDW Publishing
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
224 pages

For the first time ever, the inspiring, infuriating, and utterly insane story of comics, graphic novels, and manga is presented in comic book form!

The award-winning Action Philosophers team of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey turn their irreverent-but-accurate eye to the stories of Jack Kirby, R. Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman, Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Fredric Wertham, Roy Lichtenstein, Art Spiegelman, Hergé, Osamu Tezuka — and more!

“Done with wit, energy, a healthy dose of insolence and a dedication to getting it right.” — NPR.

Collects Comic Book Comics #1-6.

Makeshift Miracle by Jim Zub and Shun Hong Chan

Makeshift Miracle Book 1: The Girl from Nowhere
Written by Jim Zub
Illustrated by Shun Hong Chan
Published by UDON Entertainment
Genre: Fantasy

A young boy named Colby Reynolds searches for meaning in the world around him and discovers a place where dreams can come true, if he’s willing to pay the price.

Along the way he’ll see sights he’s never fathomed and encounter hidden truths about himself that he’ll wish he never knew. The hit online comic is now a beautiful high-quality hardcover graphic novel, perfect for teen readers and manga fans, with a durable library-quality binding.

Discover the story Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, Zot!) calls an ‘enchantingly drawn meditation on imagination and yearning.’

Dig Comics: Wednesday Surprise – Bizarro Depravity Edition

Guest columnist Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, continues his series of essays looking at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.

[NOTE: In this space from time to time, I will write about a Wednesday Surprise. What is that? It’s a comic that takes me to a new place in the comicsphere. Visions written and drawn to feed some starved part of my brain I didn’t know was there. I spend a lot of time and money to find these comics. When they hit my eyes, I remember why I still seek them out, why I don’t quit comics. If your consciousness could use some expanding from sequential art once in a while, you may like coming here. And now that you’ve read this, you won’t need to do so again. The same blurb will appear in this space word for word and after all – you won’t keep reading to not be surprised.]

If I may, please allow me to define a sub-genre which I think I may be making up: Bizarro Depravity comics. The simple definition is: sequential art employing elements of destructive and socially unacceptable behavior and imagery, meant to induce moral and/or philosophical confusion, and characterized by surreal narrative and/or rendering which is often disturbing, yet causes your mind to engage in new visual languages. That’s all a very fancy way of saying, these comics are really messed up, but in a smart artistic way, and the violence and antagonism encountered is meant to challenge your brain, not exploit your emotions. If you are still confused, I can’t help you, you’ll just have to check out the comics I’m talking about.

The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #4 by David Hine and Shaky Kane

This week’s Wednesday Surprise was The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred, issue #4 (Image Comics). You really don’t need to read the previous series (the awesome surreal love letter to comics, The Bulletproof Coffin) or even the previous issues to “get” what writer David Hine and artist Shaky Kane offer up here. As they explain in their foreword, they’ve simply taken 84 comics panels, cut them up, and laid them out in a non-linear narrative form. They even encourage you to start reading from any random point and progress in any direction you want. The result is a comic book with no rules, and yet a distinct and deliberate evocation for your mind. Each panel is an individual scene of nightmare, drudged from everything including pop culture, crime sheets, horror comics, sci-fi movies, junky novels, and childhood fears. Some of the panels are related and could be placed together for their own narrative. But why do that? Just like some fevered dream, time doesn’t need to happen chronologically here, logic doesn’t need to organize events, and control is out the window. Reading through the issue is like a breathless voyage through terror and our own worst thoughts. And reason won’t save you: it’s been purposefully eschewed here. It’s a funhouse ride through the rotten dregs of your soul, and a direct homage to William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch which is acknowledged both through the rather odd afterword as well as the “Where’s Waldo?” game of Burroughs references littered throughout. If you enjoy being deeply spooked and can let go of need for a conventional story, I recommend you buy this comic (and I would also pick up a copy of Shaky Kane’s solo work – Monster Truck – which is not quite as harsh or non-linear).

Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #4, page 5 by David Hine and Shaky Kane

The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí

So of course, this has me recalling some Bizarro Depravity Wednesday Surprise comics from the past that I’d like to share here with you. And we’ll stay clear of non-linear narrative by starting with the page-turner The Cabbie, by Spanish creator Martí (Fantagraphics Books). This complex reaction to Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, the Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver, and the Underground Comix scene from the ’70s and ’80s was cooked up in the post-Franco era in Spain. After years of repression, artists really let it all hang out, pushing boundaries of acceptability and subject matter. The Cabbie follows the tale of a pious, hard-working taxi driver who has a penchant for crime-fighting. His unwitting involvement in catching a crook draws him into the world of a poverty-stricken criminal family living in the slums by a sewer drain pipe. There’s no shortage of hookers, booze, knife fights, toxic sludge and murder in this landscape. And the deeper the Cabbie gets into it, the darker his own soul becomes – but maybe he had a head start. After all, what seems like a decent citizen on the surface turns out to be a fanatical weirdo who wildly drifts between great avarice and deep guilt, all the time projecting a veneer of decency. As for the depraved criminal family – they have a good side, too. They really care about each other – even if that means promoting robbery and prostitution to their children as an acceptable survival tool. Visually, The Cabbie throws stark classical comic stripping in your face, confusing your eyeballs with the expectation of a palatable Sunday funny page, all the while drawing you deeper into the madness and perversions found on the fringes of civilization. I can’t help but wonder if this wasn’t an important influence on Kaz’s brilliant Underworld strip, which similarly takes us to the dark alleys and gutters of the mind – albeit in a far more humorous way. There’s no real laughs in The Cabbie, but it’s not really depressing at all. It’s just massively absurd and insane. I did laugh a few times, but in that “holy shit, this is fucked up” kind of way. But I have to emphasize: The Cabbie is a really good solid tale. There are no abstractions here, only a moral ambiguity which is probably far more real than most of us would like to admit.

Prison Pit Book One by Johnny Ryan

Back to being funny, Bizarro Depravity has a strong foundation in comedy, and perhaps the most extreme version of this in the last few years is Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit (Fantagraphics Books). Three volumes of this gratuitously gruesome humor book have graced my grey matter so far. In this work, Ryan essentially deconstructs the fantasy genre and superheroes at the same time. The story – a minimal prop for the action – is about a bunch of super-powered creatures from across the cosmos lumped onto a penitentiary planet which becomes a de facto gladiatorial arena for some very weird monsters. The grizzly battles are long and protracted – and uniquely violent. The trick is in the various abilities of the fighters. One gets its head torn off, only to have a much more horrific and deadly set of appendages emerge. Another monster gets eaten, chewed to bits and shit out – only to transform his fecal form into a corrosive blob that keeps fighting. Yes, every disgusting body part gets Ryan’s attention – and he makes a few up as well. Alien genitals, mutated orifices, it’s all limited only by Ryan’s thick imagination. His drawing style is far too funny to be disturbing, but what he makes you look at forces you to think about dismemberment, regeneration and excretion in a whole new way. It’s made for horror and fantasy fans, pressing you to re-imagine the traditional meta-human powers. Things like great strength, flight, fire, and telekinesis are amongst the familiar fare in Prison Pit – they’re just not the limit of things. Yes, it’s a venture into potty humor, totally immature and adolescent, so if you don’t think ass jokes are funny, don’t bother. But if you do, and you have a strong constitution, Prison Pit offers some of the most creative – and I MUST stress the term creative – blood-splattered, monster-filled, battle-ridden experiences in comics. And it’s damned funny too. But don’t confuse Ryan’s intent with a horror book like Crossed. While Crossed has its sick sense of humor as well, Prison Pit isn’t meant to give you night terrors. It’s just a smart and goofy guy finding a way to have some fun being naughty while making fun of the typical fanboy books which so many “adults” take so seriously. And like all three books here, it’s got its own distinctive place in the Bizarro Depravity genre.

Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read Miguel’s comic book recommendations.

Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: How I Became a Comic Book Reader, a Comic Book Collector…

Guest columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.

How I Became A Comic Book Reader, A Comic Book Collector, A Comic Book Fanboy, A Comic Book Convention Organizer, A Comic Book Character, An Underground Comix Book Creator, A Comic Book Cosplayer, A Comic Book Retailer, A Comic Book Professional… And A Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist!

I was born in 1951. I assume it wasn’t with an overly moist funnybook clutched in one of my tiny pink fists, but with me, you never know.

Approximately three years later, I began to teach myself how to read using comic books. Their mysterious combinations of words and pictures proved irresistible to me, and I became determined to unlock their delicious secret.  Somehow, I vaguely remember an issue of Dell ComicsWoody Woodpecker was responsible for my big breakthrough moment.

Now I was a comic book reader.

My childhood occurred roughly during child psychologist and author (Seduction of the Innocent, 1953) Dr. Fredric Wertham’s war on comic books. His theory was that comic books caused juvenile delinquency because every juvenile delinquent he’d ever interviewed had read comic books. (By that reasoning, milk also caused juvenile delinquency!) Decades later, I asked my elderly mother why they bought me so many “funnybooks” in such times, but her only response was, “They seemed to be really important to you.” Yep, that’s me, all right, then and now.

CBS Television Presents Tom Terrific!

Not long after I turned five, I was hospitalized for a tonsillectomy, a childhood rite of passage in those days. It meant that, for at least three or four days (and scary nights), I was away from my parents and my home in a children’s ward with dozens of  young strangers. The only good things about the rather traumatic experience were all the ice cream and the huge pile of funnybooks that my folks brought me. I still remember a few of the titles in that tower of pulp: Dennis the Menace, Mighty Mouse, Zippy the Chimp, Tom Terrific, Captain Kangaroo (strange, to my knowledge, my parents were never stockholders in CBS); and my first-ever “realistic” comic book, an issue of Superboy, cover-featuring “The One-Man Baseball Team!,” probably the first and last time I ever cared much about sports. One thing was certain; I’d never received so many new funnybooks at the same time in my young life. Soon, I owned a lot of funnybooks, so many, in fact, that I had to sort them into small stacks: funny ones featuring comic strip and animated cartoon characters; exciting ones featuring Superman and Batman and Congorilla and, of course, the scary yet cool ones featuring lots of monsters! That’s when I realized I was not just a comic book reader.

Now I was a comic book reader and a comic book collector.

Early on, I decided that I wanted to be a cartoonist, primarily due to the influences of Dr. Seuss (The King’s Stilts, McElligot’s PoolIf I Ran the Zoo), Jay Ward (Rocky and His Friends), William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (Ruff and Reddy, Quick Draw McGraw, The Flintstones), Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey) — and from comic books, Sam Glanzman’s Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle and George Gladir and Orlando Busino’s Tales Calculated to Drive You Bats.

Tales of Suspense by Jack Kirby

I saw my first Jack Kirby-drawn comic book story around then. It was either in DC ComicsSecret Origins No. 1 (featuring a reprint of approximately half of the origin of the Challengers of the Unknown) or Marvel ComicsTales of Suspense No. 11. (If it was the latter, my mother made me put it back on the rack because she thought the story “I Created Sporr, the Thing That Could Not Die!” looked like it would give me nightmares and instructed me to purchase a nice and safe Space Mouse funnybook instead. (Decades later, I got revenge on her by naming her only grandson after the cartoonist who drew “Sporr”!)

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, I loved many four-color gems of the Silver Age of Comic Books, many of which featured dinosaurs and/or talking purple gorillas on their front covers. I’m sure that this was when my tastes in Oddball Comics began to develop.

In the middle of 1961, I saw most comics go from a dime to 12¢, except for Dell Comics, which jumped to 15¢. The moment when I was told that I was a nickel short of the cover price of the latest issue of Daffy Duck was one of the most traumatic events of my young life. And even though DC Comics published on the inside of the front cover of all of their comics a full-page apology/explanation for their price hike to 12¢, my ability to perform mental mathematics has never been the same.

In 1964, I had my first letter to a comic book editor published; it was in DC’s Challengers of the Unknown No. 40 and I was suggesting a sequel to issue No. 35’s “War Against the Moon-Beast”. I even sent editor Murray Boltinoff a color sketch of a revived version of that ol’ moon-beastie that was more than slightly influenced by the makeup in the 1958 monster movie, War of the Colossal Beast. (Geez, was I a nerd, or what?) That same year, I finally jumped on board with the early Marvel superheroes a little more than two years into their existence. My first purchase was Fantastic Four No. 29 and that entire run of issues by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee on FF has remained my favorite superhero comic book series ever since.

I was lucky to attend junior high and high school with a surprising number of fellow geeks, weirdos and nerds, many of whom followed their instincts to become writers, artists, scientists and booksellers. In 1968, two of those friends and I attended my first fan convention, the 26th annual World Science Fiction Convention, AKA WorldCon and BayCon, in Berkeley, California. Being surrounded by nearly 1,500 oddballs that shared my interests and outlook was a transforming experience, to say the least.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector and a comic book fanboy.

Feds 'n' Heads by Gilbert Shelton

Later that year, I bought my first underground comix in 1968, Gilbert Shelton’s Feds ‘n’ Heads. I had already loved Gilbert’s “Wonder Wart-Hog” in Shelton’s Help! and Drag Cartoons, and the short-lived Wonder Wart-Hog Magazine, but I found his “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” to be even funnier, with some of the best timing on the printed page ever seen in funnybooks. Joining Jack Kirby, Gilbert Shelton became my second primary inspiration as an aspiring cartoonist.

Along with some of my high school buddies and some other fans, I was one of the kids who organized the first San Diego Mini-Con in March, 1970. This directly led to the San Diego Comic-Con in August, 1970. Over the next few years, my involvement with what would eventually grow to become San Diego’s Comic-Con International, I met dozens of fans, retailers and professional writers, artists and editors, many of whom are still my friends. In fact, more than 43 years after that first mini-con, I’ve attended every day of every year of the San Diego Comic-Con and proud of it. I’ve really got to get a life.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy and a comic book convention organizer.

I met Jack Kirby in 1971. He seemed pleased when I told him that he was my favorite cartoonist. Not “artist”, “cartoonist”. Almost immediately, Jack offered to transform my friends and I into characters in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen No. 144 (December, 1971); we became “The San Diego Five String Mob,” assassins disguised as a rock band, summoned from Apokolips to Earth on a mission to bump off Superman.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer and a comic book character.

Gory Stories Quarterly with Scott Shaw!'s The Turd

My first professional sale to a comic book was “The Turd” in Ken Krueger’s Gory Stories Quarterly No. 2 ½, published by Shroud Press in 1972. Ken was a longtime fan, retailer and publisher, as well as being one of Comic-Con’s founders, but he was also willing to pay me – a kid whose cartoons had only appeared in school newspapers and fanzines – for my story about a sewer monster made of living feces.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character and an underground comix book creator.

In the summer of 1972, I attended the 30th annual WorldCon in Los Angeles. There, I was awarded a special award for a masquerade costume I made out of eighteen pounds of peanut butter, based on my character, “The Turd”.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character, an underground comix book creator and a comic book cosplayer.

In 1975, I moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, where I became the manager of the comic book store American Comic Book Company in Studio City. I even set up my art studio in one the shop’s back rooms, so I could create new comic book stories when I wasn’t selling old ones.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character, an underground comix book creator, a comic book cosplayer and a comic book retailer.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! by Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw!

The next year, I met Marvel Comics editor Roy Thomas at the ACBC, and he asked me to write and draw a back-up story for Marvel’s What If? No. 8, “What If the Spider Had Been Bitten By a Radioactive Human?” (My late, great friend Dave Stevens, creator of The Rocketeer, helped me out on a few panels; the difference between our styles is obvious.) This eventually led to Roy and I co-creating Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! for DC Comics a few years later… and surprisingly, it didn’t hurt Dave’s career a bit.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character, an underground comix book creator, a comic book cosplayer, a comic book retailer and a comic book professional… and I’ve worked as the latter for more than forty years now, on an assortment of characters for a variety of publishers.

So why have I gone to the trouble of informing you of my history in the wacky world of funnybooks? Well, when my friend Corey Blake asked me to contribute a regular column for The Comics Observer, it occurred to me, “Why not? I’ve already done everything else related to comic books!”

I suppose this is just my way of letting you know that, although my  new column here “Confessions Of A Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist!” will be a forum for me to rant, rave, observe and criticize the art and business of comic books, it won’t come from an uninformed opinion.

After all, I’ve earned the right to be a crazy old coot, dammit.

I’ll see all of you back here next month for some of that ranting and raving I promised.

— SS!

Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comic, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show.

Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist is © 2012 Scott Shaw!

The Spidey Project’s LA Invasion: How an Underground Musical Sought Out Comics Fans and New Audiences

Guest columnist Cindy Marie Jenkins explores the unexpected yet increasingly frequent relationship between theater and comic books, two art forms that must be innovative in attracting audiences.

The Spidey Project at Theatre Unleashed

Most likely if you’re reading this site, you heard of the record-breaking, bone-breaking Broadway debacle turned box office success called Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark last year. Going over budget was not such a big deal (often happens with such a huge project), even pushing the opening back months wouldn’t have been such a big deal. What really put the PR nail in the Spider-Man musical spectacular coffin were injuries performers sustained during rehearsals and previews.

Of course, even a year and two lawsuits later, we’re still learning everything that went into the rise of the hype, the fall of the actors (sorry, I had to) and ultimately the writer/director Julie Taymor’s exit. From most accounts, the show is a spectacular good time if you don’t mind a thin story and extravaganza for extravaganza’s sake. As pure entertainment, it seems to do a non-offensive job. I’m curious to know what Spider-Man fans think about it, if you’ve seen it or followed the story at all.

One of the more positive things to arise from all of this craziness is The Spidey Project. Creator Justin Moran released this video last February challenging himself – and anyone game enough to jump along with him – to write, score, cast, rehearse, costume, tech… you get the point… in 30 days and open his zero budget show before the $65 million dollar musical. The big payoff is that Moran didn’t just want to get the new musical open before the mega-musical, he wanted to prove you don’t need $65 million dollars to write a good story. For anyone remotely involved in the theatrical hierarchy and being told to write smaller cast plays so theaters who pay actors can actually consider producing them, Moran’s challenge hit home. Are theaters as a whole putting their money in the wrong places?

It is incredibly telling that their second video begins with a small print disclaimer making it clear, in case you were confused, that Moran in no way has the rights to do anything that he’s doing with The Spidey Project. In fact, that was Moran’s response to Gregory Crafts, Managing Director of Theatre Unleashed in Los Angeles who asked for the rights as soon as he saw the challenge video. His thought was that his theater could produce the West Coast premiere in solidarity with Moran in New York City: “We’ll see if we get sued first.”

Crafts was impressed with Moran’s results: “Well, they didn’t get sued. The show was a complete success. I finally got to see it when he posted it on YouTube. We kept in touch and late last year, we struck a deal for Theatre Unleashed to premiere it out west. It’s been our most successful show to date.”

He wasn’t just interested in the show for the marketing appeal, though; Crafts details how big a role comics have played in his life. “The first comic book I ever read was Web of Spider-Man #12. I’ve been collecting and reading them off and on for twenty-five years now. It’s kind of crazy. Books like Spider-Man, X-Men and The Avengers influenced me a lot growing up, and played a big role in defining who I am today. We’re talking they’ve shaped my life to the point where, for my day job, I do marketing for a company that makes high-end collectables based on Marvel characters (as well as Star Wars and other major geek intellectual properties). So, it’s not hyperbole when I say comic books and characters like Spider-Man are a huge part of my life.”

Lauren Turner as Betty Brant in The Spidey Project

Truth be told, one of my personal beefs with theatrical productions that have such a great cross-genre appeal is that they do very little to no realistic attempts at reaching that potential audience. They usually send a few emails inviting comic stores to their show and call it a day. So I was highly impressed at the extensive outreach that Theatre Unleashed accomplished in their short rehearsal period. Although they’ve had a few months to prepare, T.U. still delivers the same kind of guerrilla quality love for their premiere of The Spidey Project while attempting to reach a new audience with many different tactics. In no particular order:

1. Because it’s an unlicensed parody musical, they faced quite a few marketing challenges in order to stay under the “Fair Use” rules. Says Crafts: “We were really gun shy about using the #Marvel or #SpiderMan hashtags, but we still tweeted a lot about the show, about Spider-Man himself.”

2. They also integrated an extensive social media campaign Crafts called “the 50 Days of Spider-Man, where we shared the top 10 stories, top 10 villains, etc. in honor of Spidey’s 50th anniversary this year. So, for us it was about raising awareness and sharing our appreciation of the character with our patrons, theatre-goers and comic book fans alike.” A recent Facebook post featured David Letterman’s Top Ten Changes to the Spider-Man Musical also paid homage to this project’s birth.

3. “We were also very active in the real world.” says Crafts. “We did put up posters around town, especially in comic shops.”

4. Meltdown Comics hosted a one-night teaser where the audience heard some songs along with other entertainment acts.

5. Offering steep discounts through Goldstar’s Deal of the Day was probably the most important step for both ticket sales and word-of-mouth. “We sold over 300 tickets in one twelve-hour period, and word of the show spread like wildfire from there,” remembers Crafts.

6. They went a step further and opened their lobby to other sorts of art, creating a gallery of “Spidey-themed art by fans, for fans. More like a “tribute” gallery.” Crafts added, “This was pretty awesome, because we put out the call to artists everywhere and did get submissions from across the country. We also had a whole bunch of submissions come in from a grade school class. It’s kind of cool to see Spidey interpreted through the eyes of a child.For those who haven’t been to the show, we’ll be posting pictures of everything on our website soon.”

7. Something Crafts did not mention and which I know thanks to their social media campaign is that they also created guerrilla, effective process videos from Day 1. You definitely want to watch the time lapse of the set being painted, especially for the video bombs near the end. More photos of the rehearsal process are also on their Facebook page.

8. With all of the successful efforts listed above, Crafts sees their partnership with Children’s Hospital LA being the more important part of their campaign. Crafts explains that Theatre Unleashed is running a book drive for the hospital’s Literally Healing program. Crafts explains, “This is an innovative program that gifts books to children in long-term care and their families. This one hit close to home for me, as I’ve got a cousin whose life was saved by Children’s Hospital Boston, so when we came up with the idea to run a book drive in conjunction with the comic book musical, CHLA was the first place I researched. We’ve been offering patrons that bring a new children’s book to donate to CHLA the ability to name their own ticket price to see the show. A nice incentive, I think. Taking things one step further, we actually had members of the cast visit the Hospital last week in costume and in character. We hosted story time and gifted books from the hospital’s Book Moobile (a book cart that looks like a cow). It was a great experience and the kids were absolutely thrilled to get to meet Spidey in real life. The folks at CHLA were absolutely fantastic to work with and we’re looking forward to partnering with them more in the future.”

Up until the last week, T.U.’s message to their audience prevails: Come experience this show with us. The final push in an otherwise sold-out run had them running a contest to win two tickets to their closing night, typically also a party night in the theatre world. How can one lucky fan win free tickets to closing night? That is one more inventive idea that proves Gregory Crafts and Theatre Unleashed are looking for long-term relationships with their community and their audiences.

Check out Theatre Unleashed’s expansive plans for this June’s 3rd annual Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Cindy Marie Jenkins admits her childhood playmates were Gilbert & Sullivan. She works as a Storyteller and Freelance Consultant. Current writing found at the Blue Dragon Scribe Shoppe and MYTHistories. @CindyMarieJ. She is a big fan of beer.

The Journey, Man 01 – An Introduction

Guest columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

Wayne Rée

The fastest way to get to know someone, I firmly believe, is to start with one simple question: “What’s the first comic you ever read?” (A similar approach works for movie buffs, music fans, or voracious readers of any kind, sure—but this is a site about comic books, after all.)

It’s not so much the answer that’ll tell you everything you’d want to know about that person, but everything else that follows. Because once you open the floodgates, almost any fan will start going on and on about their own little journey through this medium that we love so much.

On the one hand, that’s what this column’s about, really. It’s incredibly egocentric—and I’ll be the first to admit that—but at its core, I’m telling you the story of me, month after month, by recalling my journey with comics’ greatest creators and creations. Because I genuinely believe that everyone’s got a story to tell. I just happen to know my story better than anyone else’s.

On the other hand though, I find that personal experiences are also one of the best ways to spread the word about the things that you love. I could tell you to listen to The Smiths, for example—or I could talk to you about how, during a particularly crappy point in my life, their music helped me out of my funk and got me back on track.

(Yeah, I know. That wasn’t exactly a comic-related example. But I’ll get to those in greater detail from the next edition of this column onwards.) (Also, I just bought a ticket to watch Morrissey in concert and I’m really psyched!) (Ahem. Anyway…)

So, that’s what you can expect from me. But before I start talking about specific characters or creators, there’re just two more things you need to know: Hi, my name’s Wayne—and my first comic ever was a European hardcover reprint of classic Spider-Man stories from the ’60s. But we’ll get to my relationship with Spidey (and one of his particularly amazing friends) next time.

Welcome to the journey, man.

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, and travels way too much.