Comics read today (6/28/13)

Three comic books today:

OPTIC NERVE #1 – Adrian Tomine shows a lot of talent in this issue, but it’s clearly an early work. The draftsmanship and even the lettering are less polished than in later issues of Optic Nerve, and the stories are less complex. I do like how most of the stories end inconclusively, producing a sense of awkwardness and incompleteness rather than satisfying closure.

EX MACHINA #44 – I started reading this series but gave up after about a year; I can’t remember why. I think I just lost interest. I bought this issue for a dollar a while ago. The story in this issue doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since it’s the conclusion of a five-issue story arc, but it’s excitingly written and beautifully drawn by Tony Harris.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN (2007) #5 – I think the best thing about this series is actually Paul Hornschemeier’s coloring. This issue continues to follow the basic plot of the original series, with the addition of an apparently evil superhero called The Mink. There are some cute scenes here with Alex (for some reason this is the protagonist’s name instead of James Michael Starling) and a female classmate of his, and the story and writing are more polished than in the other issue I reviewed earlier. Still, I don’t like this revival nearly as much as the original series.

Comics read over the past three days

I read the following comics over the past three days:

AW YEAH COMICS! #1 and #2 – Art Baltazar is a master of superhero comics for kids, and this series represents some of his best work. Both issues have rather weird and nonsensical plots, but that’s kind of the point. The highlight of the first issue is the Goojie-Nana, a character created by Baltazar’s daughter. The highlight of the second issue is the sequence where a villain hypnotizes Action Cat with a laser pointer. Some of the backup material is not up to the level of the main stories.

INCORRUPTIBLE #3 and #2 – I read these in reverse order by mistake. After reading the FCBD edition of IRREDEEMABLE #1, I lost interest in this series; it seemed excessively violent and gruesome. However, I actually liked both these issues. They have the witty dialogue Mark Waid is famous for, and the story, involving a supervillain trying to redeem himself, is genuinely interesting and inspirational.

CREEPY #67 – Unlike the previous Warren comic I reviewed, this issue is a masterpiece, full of stories which are not just gorgeously drawn, but intelligently written as well. The highlight here is Budd Lewis and José Ortiz’s “Excerpt from the Year 5.” This story has an overly compressed plot with minimal characterization, but is elevated to great heights by Ortiz’s fascinating black-and-white art and Lewis’s prose style, which reminds me a lot of Gerber’s. This also applies to Lewis and Vicente Alcazar’s “The Haunted Abbey” and Carl Wessler and Martin Salvador’s “The Happy Undertaker” both of which combine trite and stupid plots with beautiful artwork and well-written dialogue. The story advertised on the cover, “Bowser,” does not actually appear in the issue due to a printing error; it was accidentally replaced by a fairly effective full-color adaptation of “The Raven” by Richard Corben. “Holy War” by Budd Lewis and Adolfo Abellan is obviously based on the ‘60s protest song “One Tin Soldier,” though the story does not acknowledge this. Finally, Isidro Munes’s “Oil of Dog” is an adaptation of a disturbing and blackly humorous Ambrose Bierce story. The artwork in this story is fascinating — the black-and-white watercolor-esque technique reminds me a lot of Alberto Breccia’s late work.

MY LITTLE PONY MICRO-SERIES #4 – I was kind of disappointed in some of the comics I bought on Wednesday, possibly because I read them in a state of near-exhaustion after finishing class and going to the comic book store. This was perhaps the most disappointing of this week’s comics. I love the idea of Fluttershy being a secret knitter, but this story seemed to end too quickly and its moral is rather dubious — Fluttershy has to suffer through some horribly harsh criticism of her work, and the art critics then suddenly change their minds not because they actually like her work, but because Princess Celestia likes it, so the story ultimately teaches a rather cynical lesson that artistic taste is all about conformity. I also didn’t particularly like the artwork.

YOUNG AVENGERS #6 – This was another slightly disappointing one. I absolutely loved the first issue of this series but I haven’t been as excited about subsequent issues. This one was annoying because of the lack of Jamie McKelvie artwork and the ambiguous ending. However, it did present a pretty vivid and depressing picture of the awful nature of the current job market, and I loved the page that was designed to resemble a circuit board.

FF #8 – This was not quite as good as the last issue (with Blastaar’s immortal line “I killed and ate my family”), but it was quite enjoyable. I just love all these characters so much, except Medusa who I’m obviously not supposed to like. It’s nice to see Jim and Margaret Power again, even if only for one panel, but I wonder why Matt Fraction has chosen not to use the three younger Power siblings.

INVINCIBLE #103 – This is probably the current ongoing title that I’m most excited about. I’m actually liking this current storyline more than the one that culminated in #100, which I thought ended rather anticlimactically. This issue features some surprising revelations about Mark and Eve’s baby, and ends on a massive cliffhanger which leaves me eagerly awaiting the next issue. I wish Nolan would just kill Thragg already.

MY LITTLE PONY MICRO-SERIES #5 – This issue is extremely colorful and exuberant, as is appropriate for a story starring my favorite pony, Pinkie Pie. It even includes a song, which is notoriously tough to pull off in comics form. I like the artwork a lot, but the story is rather predictable and I don’t really understand the ending. I wish Katie Cook and Andy Price could do all these MLP:FIM comics.

HAWKEYE #11 – This is easily the best comic of the week and a definite Eisner contender. I have never read any comic that did a better job of representing the mentality of a nonhuman animal. I love the graphic device of depicting the dog’s thoughts in the format of road signs — it effectively captures the thought process of a creature that thinks in very simple, vivid terms (cf. Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation). On Facebook, Corey Creekmur observed that David Aja’s style is heavily influenced by Chris Ware, and this was pretty obvious to me once he mentioned it. However, it’s still very unusual to see this sort of artwork in a mainstream superhero comic. I’d recommend this issue not only to comics fans but to people in animal studies.

CAPTAIN MARVEL (2012) #13 – I absolutely love this series, but this issue suffered from being part of a crossover; Kelly Sue DeConnick had to waste several pages on stuff that had no obvious relevance to the main character. Still, this issue was well-drawn, well-dialogued and excitingly written. Given the climate of extreme sexism that has plagued superhero comics fandom recently, I am very glad to see what a creative success this series has become, and I hope it’s also a  financial success.

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #31 – I’ve been following this series since #1 because it’s hilarious; I think it’s the funniest X-Men title ever. This issue was a great example of that. It imitates the format of #1, including the ridiculous schedule of classes, but with the twist that this issue takes place in the Hellfire Academy and all the classes involve instruction in how to be as evil as possible. This issue also features the return of Nick Bradshaw, who is easily the best artist to have worked on this series. His debt to Art Adams is blatantly obvious, but I think he’s developing his own distinctive style; I especially like all his visual puns and sight gags.

Comics read 6/22/13 and 6/23/13

I read the following graphic novel several days ago, but never blogged about it:

PAUL HAS A SUMMER JOB by Michel Rabagliati — I bought this years ago at the Alachua County Library book sale, but never read it, largely because I remember being unimpressed by his story in one of the Drawn & Quarterly anthologies. After Rabagliati’s name came up several times at the Comics and the Multimodal World conference in Vancouver, I finally felt motivated to read this book. It was kind of slow to get started but turned out to be a funny and heartwarming comic. I found myself wondering if parts of the story were invented for literary effect — particularly the closing scene where Paul unexpectedly returns to the site of his old summer camp and finds the lost worry doll — but oh well. The book was also interesting as a glimpse of life in Québec in the late ’70s. Overall I liked it a lot and would be interested in reading the rest of the series.

And, I read the following comic books over the past two days:

JSA #39 – This issue focuses on a character who is essentially a super-powered rapist and murderer and who has a fixation on Power Girl. The writers, Goyer and Johns, seem to have intended this as a pro-feminist story; Power Girl has a closing speech where she admits she has a negative public image, but then asks “If I was Power-Man, if I was stubborn, headstrong and brash, if I didn’t take to authority well, no one would think anything of it.” However, the feminist message of this story is undercut by the fact that 1) it’s full of blatant T&A imagery (incidentally, the artwork, by Patrick Gleason, is rather ugly). And 2) the super-rapist is the narrator, which encourages the reader to identify with him, and he never really gets punished for his actions; after Power Girl defeats him, he gets sent back to prison, where he already was at the start of the story. Overall this issue left me feeling rather uncomfortable.

INVINCIBLE PRESENTS ATOM EVE #1 – This was okay but it wasn’t nearly as good as a real issue of Invincible. The artwork was average at best and the story, dealing with Atom Eve’s origin, was readable but not spectacular. I’d buy the remaining issues of this series if I saw them in a cheap box, but only for the sake of completism.

DC COMICS PRESENTS ANNUAL #2 — I think I read this story before, possibly online, but I didn’t remember it very well. “The Last Secret Identity” is a pretty good story by Elliot S! Maggin, my favorite Superman writer, and it’s of minor historical importance as it features the debut of Kristin Wells as Superman. I think Kristin is the most notable character Elliot created, though unfortunately that’s not saying much. The story is fairly predictable and the new villain, King Kosmos, is rather boring, but the story is enlivened by Elliot’s witty dialogue and Kristin’s vivacious personality. The artwork, by Keith Pollard, is surprisingly good.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #3 and #10 – This is one of the classic runs of X-Men comics, and I think Joss Whedon is the third best X-Men writer after Claremont and Morrison, possibly tied with Roy Thomas. Both of these issues are excitingly written and beautifully drawn. The second of these issues is mostly a prolonged fight scene between the X-Men and Danger, but John Cassaday makes it interesting through his brilliant ability to draw action sequences.

SNARKED! #4 — See previous comments on this incredible series. This issue has a hilarious plot involving a cross-dressing lizard. The letters page indicates that there’s a hidden message somewhere in this issue, but I was predictably unable to find it.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN (2007) #1 – If this issue is any indication, then I prefer the original Omega the Unknown to this revival. Gerber, Skrenes and Mooney’s Omega is a delightfully weird series, perhaps made even more so by the fact that no one now knows how it was supposed to end (except Mary Skrenes, who isn’t telling). In this revival, Jonathan Lethem does a reasonable job of emulating the spirit of the original series, but his dialogue is rather stilted, hinting at his inexperience with writing comics. Farel Dalrymple’s artwork was a bit disappointing — in places it was fantastic, but I found myself comparing him unfavorably to Paul Pope.

JOHN STANLEY SUMMER FUN! FCBD 2011 – All the stories in this issue were entertaining and displayed a great sense of comic timing, but none of them were particularly memorable. I still find that I don’t quite “get” John Stanley.

THE UNWRITTEN #10 & #12 – These issues were both kind of confusing since I didn’t read issues #9 or #11, but #10 advances the plot significantly by suggesting that all the protagonists are actually literary characters brought to life. I’m fascinated by the emphasis on mapping and literary geography in this issue, but I can’t quite tell yet where it’s going. Issue #12 is hilarious in that it depicts a character who’s been imprisoned in a literary world that’s a cross between The House at Pooh Corner and The Wind in the Willows, and who wants nothing more than to escape. Peter Gross’s artwork in this issue is impressive and reminds me a lot of Charles Vess.

EERIE #41 — The first five stories in this issue feature good or even brilliant artwork crippled by awful writing. Of these stories, the most beautiful is Luis Garcia’s “The Caterpillars”, while José Bea’s “Heir Pollution” is almost as good. However, the writing, by such nobodies and unknowns as Fred Ott and John Wooley, significantly detracts from the effectiveness of all five stories; in particular, “Derelict” has beautiful art by Paul Neary but an unreadable and incoherent script by John Thraxis. Thankfully, the sixth story, “The Safest Way,” is written by Steve Skeates and actually has an interesting plot with a surprising shock ending. The highlight of the issue for me was the Dax the Warrior installment, which, again, was rather amateurishly written but had some amazing art by Maroto. The draftsmanship in this story reminded me of his later, less innovative work on series like Atlantis Chronicles and Zatanna, but the page layouts were fascinatingly unique.

I’m currently in the middle of Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s Skim, which I’m having trouble getting into.

Comics read yesterday (6/18/13)

I felt too sick today to read any comics at all. However, I did read the following comics yesterday:

GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #1 — In this issue of the most unfortunately named comic book of all time, the lead story is by Steve Gerber and Mike Ploog. While the art is excellent (though hampered by Frank Chiaramonte’s lifeless inking), the story is not Gerber’s best. It has some wonderfully weird moments — most notably, the Glob’s disembodied brain falling into the swamp. However, the plot, involving a cult of entropy worshippers who try to use the Glob’s power to ruin an environmentalist community, never really comes together or develops any kind of moral. This was not among Gerber’s best Man-Thing stories. The issue also includes three reprints from old Marvel monster titles. The best of these is a story featuring Goom, the Thing from Planet X, which seems almost like a prototype for the Infant Terrible story in Fantastic Four #24.

SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES #9 — In a better world, this would have been DC’s flagship title. I wish all of DC’s comics were as fun, lighthearted and exciting as this. This particular issue has a convoluted story involving Brainiac, but is most memorable for two hilarious scenes in which Superman is exposed to periwinkle kryptonite, which has the power to make Kryptonians fabulous.

Comics read today (6/16/13)

One comic book and one trade paperback today:

GROO THE WANDERER #70 — In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. This particular issue is notable as the first appearance of Weaver and Scribe, who are based on Evanier and Stan Sakai.

BACCHUS VOL. 1: IMMORTALITY ISN’T FOREVER — This is a collection of fairly early work from Eddie Campbell. I’m not familiar with the British comics scene in the mid-’80s and, so I don’t really know what Eddie was trying to accomplish here, or who were the principal influences behind this work. This collection has a fairly serious plot involving a conflict between Bacchus, Joe Theseus and the Eyeball Kid, What makes it really interesting is Bacchus himself, though, who is a brilliantly distinctive character, as well as his humorous retellings of Greek mythology. I think Campbell is often most effective when he’s telling stories that don’t really go anywhere, stories that just involve people hanging out and talking, and the Theseus-Eyeball Kid material often just detracts from his ability to tell that sort of story. The other Bacchus material that I’ve read is less narratively driven and more about developing Bacchus’s character and exploring his interactions with his sidekick Simpson and with other characters. Overall I liked this book, but I think it’s inferior to later Bacchus stories.

Revised text of Comics and the Multimodal World presentation

Here is the revised text of the paper I am about to give at the Comics and the Multimodal Conference at Douglas College, New Westminster, BC. The Prezi that accompanies this paper is here.

I am thrilled to be here because I feel that this conference represents a significant step forward for comics studies, and I hope it’s the first step in an ongoing conversation about the link between comics and topics such as multimodality and digital culture.
This paper is part of a larger book project tentatively entitled Between Panel and Screen: Comics, the Future of the Book, and the Book of the Future. The book is an intervention in the ongoing contemporary debate over the future of the book, or lack thereof: the controversy over whether printed books will survive or whether they will be replaced by e-reading devices like the Kindle and the iPad. The basic argument of the book is that for a complete understanding of the future of the book, we need to take comics into account. More specifically, I argue that comics currently represent the best prototype we have of what the book of the future will look and feel like. And Chris Ware’s Building Stories offers us a preview of the book of the future, because it suggests a way of productively using print and digital technology in tandem to do things possible with neither medium on its own.
In my view, the current controversy over print versus digital literature revolves around materiality, which Katherine Hayles defines as “the interplay between a text’s physical characteristics and its signifying strategies”. If we compare any physical book to the Kindle or iPad version of the same book, the verbal text is exactly the same; the question is which version of the book presents a superior physical and affective reading experience, that is to say, which version is more desirable in terms of materiality. E-reading devices SLIDE represent a significant improvement over the traditional printed book for many reasons, including superior portability and storage capacity as well as the ability to customize the appearance of the text. However, some readers are unwilling to trade their paper books for e-books, largely because readers have a significant sentimental attachment to the materiality of the printed book. SLIDE Paper books have attractive typography and publication design, they can easily be written in or paged through, SLIDE and they even have a pleasurable texture and smell. These are features that digital books cannot effectively replicate. Accordingly, many contemporary authors of prose literature, like Mark Danielewski, SLIDE Anne Carson SLIDE and Jonathan Safran Foer SLIDE, have produced books that emphasize their visual and tactile properties, such as typography, visuality and texture. One author, Garth Risk Hallberg, has referred to this strategy as “Kindle-proofing,” because the idea behind this genre of literature is to provide a reading experience which is more materially rich than the experience of reading on the Kindle. And basically the only way that printed books can compete with e-reading devices is by emphasizing their own material properties in this way. At the same time, we could also understand Kindle-proofing as a deliberate rejection of digital technology, and this would imply that Kindle-proofing is just a nostalgic fetishism of the printed book. As Ben Ehrenreich writes, “We shuttle between two equally hollow poles: goofball digital boosterism … on one side and on the other a helpless, anguished nostalgia for the good old days of papercuts,” and he refers to the second of those two as “biblionecrophilia: the retreat of the print-faithful into a sort of autistic fetishization of the book-as-object.”
Now obviously this is an unproductive debate, and here I’m finally getting to comics, because I think that we as comics scholars, readers and creators are uniquely able to see beyond the false terms of this opposition and to imagine a more interesting future for the book, a future in which digital and print methods of bookmaking exist in a collaborative rather than an antagonistic relationship. In the first place, we comics scholars are uniquely attentive to materiality. We understand that the physical composition of a text has a significant effect on how we interpret the text. Printed text tends to generate a practice of transparent reading, where we pay attention only to what the text says and we don’t notice how our reading experience is conditioned by things like typography and publication design. In comics, however, we are constantly aware of how the visual experience of the text shapes our understanding. Just think about the experience of reading a series of comic books SLIDE versus reading a hardcover book that reprints the same comics SLIDE. When you read the original comics, you only get a small chunk of the story at a time, but in exchange you get the original ads, the original letter column, and even the smell of old paper. When you read the trade paperback, you get a continuous, uninterrupted reading experience, with greater durability, but in exchange you lose something of the unique feel of the original comics. Moreover, we as comics readers and scholars are also often highly attached to the medium of print. We collect things like original art and expensive back issues and we seek out autographs from our favorite cartoonists, or at least I do. At the same time, we realize that comics are never purely handwritten artifacts. We know that the comic is a mass medium at heart. Comics evolved partly as a way of taking advantage of new color printing technology, and comics have always evolved alongside reading technologies; the current shift from print to digital is just another example of that.
And I want to argue that Building Stories, in particular, is an example of how the book of the future might combine print and digital technologies to achieve effects possible with neither on its own. Now on one hand, Building Stories appears to be the ultimate monument to print literature; more than perhaps any other comic ever published commercially, Building Stories is heavily invested in making use of the unique properties of print and paper and is utterly impossible to replicate on a digital device. Building Stories consists of a box containing fourteen artifacts of different sizes, ranging from tiny pamphlets SLIDE to giant newspaper sections. Each of these artifacts tell a story which relates in some way to a group of characters living in an apartment building in Chicago, primarily, a one-legged woman whose name is never mentioned. One reason Building Stories is Kindle-proof is because of the sheer size of the book; I didn’t bring my copy to show you because I didn’t want to lug this huge thing around on the plane. Moreover, each of the fourteen separate artifacts offers a substantially different reading experience, both in narrative and material terms. Peter Sattler writes: “Ware’s multipage folio obscures your lap and flops around in an ungainly way, while his “Golden Book” chapter fits comfortably in your hands, but demands to be pulled close before it can be read.” Each of these artifacts is reminiscent of a form in which comics have been disseminated in the past; for example, the little pamphlets look like Jack Chick tracts. SLIDE So reading Building Stories creates a nostalgic recollection of the experience of reading the various other kinds of comics that the individual artifacts are designed to resemble. And this is obviously something that would be entirely lost if you read the book on a Kindle, which you can’t, by the way, as it’s not available in that format.
Furthermore, reading Building Stories on a Kindle would be a strange experience because Building Stories is in many ways explicitly about the conflict between materiality and digital culture and it seems to explicitly suggest that digital culture is hostile to materiality. In particular, Building Stories represents mobile devices such as laptops and smartphones as unsatisfactory substitutes for face-to-face interaction; as Georgina Banta writes, “What will probably draw most attention in Building Stories is the alienating interaction of its protagonists with various kinds of electronic devices and gadgets.” For example, in one section which begins with the caption “Disconnect,” we see the protagonist and her husband, Phil, sitting across from each other in their living room, each working on a laptop; they’re physically present to each other but they’re less connected to each other than to whoever they might be talking to online. A few pages later, in a panel shaped like an iPhone, Phil text messages the protagonist to say that he can’t get home in time to take their daughter trick or treating. He uses the impersonal medium of text messaging to announce that he can’t be physically present. All of this is in line with a popular discourse that presents digital devices as hostile to personal contact and physical presence – as Sherry Turkle writes, “Digital connections … may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.” Building Stories seems to participate in a discourse that presents digital devices, including e-reading devices, as hostile to embodiment, presence and materiality
In contrast, Building Stories presents books as vehicles for genuine connection and as means of experiencing materiality. When bookstores appear in Building Stories, they function as spaces for connection; for example, the protagonist is browsing in a bookstore when she runs into her former babysitting charge Jeffrey. In another section, the protagonist has a dream in which she is browsing for books – notably, she specifies that she is “browsing … but not on the Internet, in one of those big chain bookstores that don’t exist anymore…” and she serendipitously discovers a book which turns out to be Building Stories itself. She observes that it “wasn’t really a book, either… it was in pieces, like, books falling apart out of a carton, maybe… but it was beautiful… it made sense…” This is also an important moment because it establishes Building Stories as what Katherine Hayles calls a “technotext”, meaning a text that self-consciously uses its own physical structure as a means of creating meaning, a text that establishes explicit connectons between its semiotic meaning and the physical substance of which it is composed. What Ware suggests here is that the physical experience of reading Building Stories is analogous to its narrative structure. Just as Building Stories itself is composed of multiple fragments that are bound together by the box, in reading Building Stories the reader has to take the individual stories and bind them together to create a coherent narrative. Building Stories is a collection of fragments in both a narrative and a literal sense. And again, this way of invoking technotextuality only works because Building Stories is a physical book and not an e-text.
So it would be easy to understand Building Stories as a work that celebrates, or less charitably fetishizes, the printed book, and that demonstrates the superior materiality of the printed book and the immateriality of digital reading devices. But I want to argue that this reading misses the ways in which Building Stories is truly productive for thinking the future of the book because it ignores how Building Stories is also a digital text, a text that partakes of the forms of materiality associated with digital culture as well as those associated with print. First, in an abstract sense, Building Stories employs a mode of organization which is more typical of hypertext than print literature. In that it consists of a collection of fragments which can be read in a variety of orders, it follows the logic of digital texts like Michael Joyce’s Afternoon or Twelve Blue, and this is ironic given that early hypertext critics like Joyce and George Landow often celebrated hypertext as a means of liberating literature from the material constraints of the printed book. Moreover, Building Stories itself could not have been produced without digital technology. In an interview, Ware commented: “I really wanted to learn how to get or at least simulate the beautiful colors of the early newsprint comics. Of course, back in the early 20th century, the separations were acid-etched by artisans … and I was of course completely unable to come even close to this sort of subtlety with dot screens … But with the advent of computers and digital file preparation, printing is now more than ever able to recreate that intense color.” So Chris Ware’s creative process depends crucially on digital methods of production. But the most important reason why Building Stories must be read as a digital text is because it contains one specific section that was originally produced for digital distribution and that explicitly asks the reader to think about the materiality of digital reading devices. Seven pages in Building Stories were initially published as “Touch Sensitive,” a digital comic for the McSweeney’s iPad app. I’m not going to discuss “Touch Sensitive” in great detail because my co-panelist Patrick Johnson will be speaking more about it, but briefly, “Touch Sensitive” involves a young wife whose husband is losing his desire for her, and who is herself becoming attracted to a coworker. “Touch Sensitive” is all about the theme of touch – it asks whether meaningful contact between two people is ever truly possible or whether it’s just an illusion. The wife asks “I mean, if all we are is bundles of energy… what is a ‘hug,’ anyway? And how can we ever really touch each other?” In the digital version of “Touch Sensitive”, the reader actually has to touch and swipe the screen in order to make the panels of the story appear, and so “Touch Sensitive” is a technotext in the sense in which I used this term earlier – it uses its own material features as a way of creating meaning. Specifically, “Touch Sensitive” asks us to think about the comparative status of touch in digital and print culture, and when we compare the digital version of this story to the print version which appears as part of Building Stories, we have to ask which of them offers a more genuine sense of touch. As I have already suggested, touch is an important and underrecognized component of the comics reading process. Reading comics is a haptic, tactile activity in which the reader’s hand makes frequent contact with the surface of the page. And that surface is a surface which bears the trace of the artist’s hand, in the form of drawings and handwritten words. So when I read Building Stories, there is a certain sense in which I am touching hands with Cris Ware, in that I’m making physical contact with words and pictures that originated in Chris Ware’s act of inscribing them on paper. But obviously, this sense of touch is largely a fantasy, because what I’m actually touching is a mass produced artifact that reproduces Chris Ware’s original drawings, not those drawings themselves. Moreover, with print comics, the act of touching is inert, it doesn’t produce any actual results, whereas with the digital version of “Touch Sensitive,” when you touch the screen, it causes stuff to happen; it produces acutal changes in the visual appearance of the comic. So the qyestion we have to ask when we compare the physical and digital versions of “Touch Sensitive” is which of these artifacts offers a more powerful and rich experience of tactility, and the answer is that these artifacts both take advantage of tactility, only in different ways which are specific to print and digital media respectively. And the larger point here is that “Touch Sensitive” and the corresponding section of Building Stories are the same artifact, in that they contain the same visual and textual contact, but they offer significantly different material experiences and they benefit from being read together.
I think we can conclude from this that Building Stories, despite appearances to the contrary, is a book that takes advantage of both print and digital forms of materiality; it exists interstitially between the print and digital formats. And I think that the book of the future is going to look like this, or like Brad Bouse and Amaranth Borsuk’s digital popup book Between Page and Screen. The book of the future will incorporate physical and digital media in order to achieve effects unavailable to either medium alone. Or to put it another way, if the printed book is going to survive, and I believe it will, it will have to take advantage of both print and digital technology. And I believe that comics like Building Stories offer the best prototype we currently have of what this book of the future will be like. I further suggest that we comics scholars, because of our intuitive awareness of materiality, are able to make unique contributions to understanding the book of the future and predicting the future of the book.

Comic books read today (6/12/13)

Just two today:

GREEN LANTERN #72 – This was one of Denny O’Neil’s earlier issues of GL. This issue is a very silly story involving a space opera (not the metaphorical kind, an actual opera performed in space) and a conflict between two races called Wagnorians and Verdees. It’s kind of stupid, but at least it’s cute and not as heavy-handed as some of Denny’s more “relevant” stories. The highlight of this issue is some fairly good Gil Kane artwork.

DETECTIVE COMICS #456 – The first story in this issue is by Elliot S! Maggin, who is my favorite Superman writer, but I don’t think his work on Batman was nearly as distinguished. The story is kind of unremarkable, though it’s of some small interest from the point of view of my research, because the killer is identified by his handwriting. The backup story features Man-Bat, a character I normally like, but the story, by Martin Pasko, is rather boring. José Luis Garcia Lopez drew the first story, but it’s kind of hard to tell.