Wednesday, March 29, 2006

La Belle Dame Sans Merci, by John Keats

Today I begin posting a new Meditations piece up at my webcomicsnation site. This one is entitled La Belle Dame Sans Merci and is a visual adaptation of the John Keats poem.

I greatly enjoy adapting (and writing) poetry to visual language, and this one was one of my favorites. Several months after I completed it, I ended up doing a second adaptation that offered a different interpretation. I'll post more about the background and visual style of this piece with the next update... where the actual verbal poem begins.

(And, don't forget that both of these versions are included in the print version of Meditations, available now!)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Naming the System

I've been thinking lately about the differences between "visual language" and "comics", and why no one has really made the separation between the two before. It struck me that our culture has never really identified there being a system of graphic communication.

We name the process of creating something visually (the act of drawing). We acknowledge various methods for creating things visually (sketching, painting, collage, etc). We also name the social context for visual creation (comics, art). However, our culture has never acknowledged the express system of visual communication by name.

This is different from spoken language, where we immediately distinguish English as a system that is different from Spanish or Mandarin. Because most drawings are iconic (resemble what they mean), I'm guessing that diversity between visual systems is unacknowledged. At best, we distinguish between "drawing style" – like superhero style, or manga style. However, these are largely just considered an attribute of the social context – not of alternate graphic systems (I think these are partially entwined).

So, in lieu of acknowleding the system itself, is it any wonder that society keeps attaching it to certain social contexts to establish its identity?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Shojo Manga

I went to an exhibit today on Shojo (girls') manga, hosted by Masami Toku, who does research on art education, especially concerning manga. I have corresponded with her for several years now, so it was nice to finally meet her in person.

The exhibit itself was fairly interesting, and had a nice cross-section of manga covers and pages spanning the past 50 years. There was a good sized crowd, and you could see the displays from outside on the street in downtown Chicago.

What particularly interested me was the underlying mentality of displaying manga pages on the wall like fine art. Putting them on the walls like this completely invalidates the Language perspective for these works, treating them solely as an Art bound work of aesthetic representation (albeit narrative). I'm also assuming that most people in attendance could not read Japanese, meaning that all semblance of multimodality was lost on them – reinforcing the images alone as aesthetic objects.

To this extant, it wholly removes them from the social context in which they usually appear. They did have some actual books on display, though they were kept under glass – meaning people couldn't flip through them at all.

Of all print-culture visual languages, manga in Japan seem quite the paradigm example of using a Language over Art context. Seeing them pulled from that context and put into a dominantly Art setting was an interesting clash of these underlying cultural forces.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

New story, coming soon

Today's Meditations page is the penultimate segment of Karuna, though its essentially the finale. I drew the mouse's legs in that panel just as I remembered them – sticking out all crazy like with a great leap.

I'll be starting a new story next week, an adaptation of a John Keats poem.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

America, yours and mine

Tonight, I joined thousands of people across the globe to protest the Iraq war on its third anniversary. Here in Chicago, we marched down Michigan Ave's Magnificent Mile, next to the river, and down to the Daley Center. It was an odd feeling to have such an event framed by one of the most emblematic centers of consumerism in the city, and possibly the country.

On the whole, the event went off very well, with lots of chanting and peaceful vibes. I have no idea what the numbers were like, but there were people as far as the eye could see in both directions. The news reported 7,000, though those are always significantly lowballed. For instance, a couple weeks ago police estimated over 300,000 people downtown gathering for immigrants rights. Police estimates are always lowballed on their own, but the news (when it actually covered it) said it was only around 50,000. Huh, dissent in America? Can't show that on corporate run TV!

It was a great experience though, and especially fun to see the people in store windows flashing peace signs to us. One window had posted a sign reading "Someone else for President." There was also a fairly precocious kid – not older than 10 – yelling that Bush should be brought to The Hague and put on trial. Before long, that kid'll be organizing these things I'm sure.

After the march, my friends and I ended up in Logan Square at a fabulous Mexican restaurant that was hosting a 70th birthday for an latino man, meaning there was quite loud music with a band, Mexicans dancing, and lots more good vibes. It’s a wonderful thing that a half-Jewish white Californian wearing Buddhist prayer beads can hang out with a liberal Texan and dance salsa with a Finnish anthropologist to a Tejano band in a Mexican restaurant on the West-side of Chicago.

This is what makes America great.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bound by Law?

In the non-fiction comic department, this is a well done piece explaining copyright law. I think it makes a good argument for the place of copyright limitations and freedoms have in society.

Books Galore

I got my first shipment of Meditations books the other day (outside of my proof copy), and I must say, I am quite pleased. The printing turned out awesome. The blacks are very black and the greys are very grey. Sa-tis-fac-tion!

So, I'll confirm it again: for graphic novels wanting to do print-on-demand, BookSurge is a good way to go.

While it isn't necessarily tearing up the charts, I'd like to say thanks to those people who have bought copies already (…and for those who haven't… at $16 for 258 pages, its quite a deal!) The amazon site is still a bit sparse though. From people who have read either the book or the works online, reviews are always welcomed…(hint hint)…

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Probing "art" and "literature"

I belong to a "comics scholars" listserve that has been discussing whether there needs to be an established "Comics Studies" field (I say a resounding "no"). This has had me thinking about disciplines in general, and what it is that various fields actually study, despite their names.

I had a thought about the oft-stated presumption that "comics" are the merging of "art" and "literature." To me, this seems to miss the point a bit. Why bother tying it to such surface forms as art or literature? The base idea is about text and image, which don't necessarily have to appear in "art" or "literature." Its identifying the surface context without extending to the deeper forms of expression (drawing, writing).

Furthermore, underneath it all, I think the study of "literature" and "art" (and "film") are basically the same field. They all have the same basic characteristics of analyzing creative expression, usually with some sort of "looking for deeper meaning" bent to it (outside of their "how to" contexts that is). The only real differences between them are the manner by which this expression is made (words vs. pictures vs. moving pictures). In my view, this is somewhat discriminatory, since the basic processes are the same. To me, the differences between these fields are superficial.

This is partially why I don't think that "comics" belong in a discipline of their own, if the context is for "literature" type analysis. Of course, the fact that language can be studied for its various manifestations in an astounding array of departments simplifies the issue for me. Just use whatever field your analysis applies to, only do so with "comics" or "visual language" (depending on what you're studying of course).

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Too Many Twos

I've got a short new piece up at Comixpedia for my ongoing "Comic Theory 101" column called "Two Many Twos." This one continues my series of short pieces where I try to illuminate issues involved with the intersection of “comic theory” and linguistics, here probing into the quandary called the "Problem of 2."

Like the last one, I've just tried to pose the issue and a little demonstrative visual puzzle, hoping that people might ponder/discuss it. Really, the whole thing just grew out of the last four panels, and I thought they'd be fun to work into a full piece.

I suppose this is also the first work I've done with my "avatar" as a narrator. Rather than turn myself into a kind of character, I've instead opted to keep it casual. I'd hoped for this to downplay the "me" in favor of the emphasizing the ideas more, but unfortunately in this case the ideas are demonstrated through the "me." Doh!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Oh "Graphic Novel", I hardly knew ye

I was in the kid's section of a bookstore the other day looking for a stickerbook for the 5 year olds I teach, and I came across a book titled "How to draw Graphic Novels" (or something like that). Yet, when I opened up the book (clearly aimed at young kids) it was all superhero stuff. Like, egregiously superheroes. Relatedly, in a Wired Magazine article about Paul Pope's upcoming Batman series, it says "DC Comics will release the first installment of his four-issue graphic novel."

These took me by surprise because my conception of graphic novels is as book length (not serialized) works, while escaping the specter of the superhero genre. It looks like people have missed the point entirely of the "graphic novel" movement, and the term is succumbing altogether to becoming purely an upscale synonym of "comics."

Quite frankly, I'm not surprised. This is what you get when you don't invoke an entirely different frame-of-mind with your vocabulary. New term, same baggage.

Though, I'm not wholly resigned about it. The term may beat the rap if enough focus and works shift away from the stereotype in order for a new frame to really be reached. But, we'll see how much weight the major comic companies throw around to prevent that from happening...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Meditations updated updates

With the release of the Meditations book, I'm increasing the number of WCN updates for the series to twice a week, now on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So, your first dose of "Karuna" for the week is posted today.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to my best friend John!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Meditations available now!

A couple days ago, my proof copy of my new Mediations book arrived, and it was a cathartic experience if I've ever had one. This has been a long journey for these works.

In 1999, my high school friend, Dan Czypinski, was a director at CalArts and had turned the oldest piece in this book into a ballet. Yes, and he used the comic as the script for the ballet. So, I had originally intended to self-publish them as a book back in 2000 to coincide with the ballet's tour. Unfortunately, the funding I had hoped for fell through for self-publishing it, and then the ballet's tour kept getting postponed until it didn't happen. Oh, and I left to live in Japan for half a year right at that point.

So, the works just sat in my computer. I added to them by completing A Love Story, but right after that my "artsy period" ended, and on to theoretical things I went (and lots of fiction that’s still being written). I've looked into various self-publishing options, but none seemed all that viable.

Until I found Booksurge, an company that does print on demand books. It was extremely easy, and I highly recommend it. If you're able to simplify the process to where all you have to do is submit pdf. files, it costs only about $100 (which includes an ISBN and being sold by all amazon sites). If you need more help with things, it costs more. Authors get a fairly large royalty on all booksales, buy books at a discount, and are promoted by Booksurge to larger publishers.

So, for people who want to self-publish books, and can do a bunch of the process themselves, Booksurge is a good way to go. My rep was Whitney Strachan, and you should definitely email her if you're interested (email: her

If you're wondering what I was like as a creator before I got deeply entrenched in the theory, these works trace most of it. While I'll continue to put these works online (upping the updates to twice a week), as a book is really how I've always intended them to be presented. Its great to finally see/hold it.