Comic Criticism Call-Out

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I feel I owe an apology.

Starting Panels Are Windows I had specific quotas and goals I wanted to maintain. Not in trying to maintain consistent readership, but rather as a measure of self-motivation. Once the initial rush of enthusiasm to begin a new project has passed, allowing it to become stagnant can become all too easy. I started this little site for myself, meaning I only have myself to blame, and to disappoint. When I began, I was filled with both energy and time to dedicate towards this writing, but now find myself with neither to spare.

I should stress this is not from personal stress or disillusionment or the like, but merely from the practicalities of my working days clashing against the idealistic prospects of a bi-weekly schedule. There are plenty of ideas I still have, and am currently making. I am only writing this to acknowledge the lack of content, and provide a renewed promise of more to come, to myself more than anyone else. In the meantime, not content to make things too easy on myself apparently, I’ve also decided to highlight additional sources of Comics Criticism that I’ve greatly enjoyed. In a few weeks, I (should hopefully) have a new piece on Wonder Woman: The Circle by Gail Simone up and running. Until that point, if you are interested, I implore you all to check out these other, far more prolific, intelligent, and reliable critics.

Colin Smith (Too Busy Thinking About Comics)

Perhaps the most immediate inspiration behind the current site, Colin Smith is an extremely prolific, articulate and thoughtful critic of comics. I have already referenced his piece on The Incredible Hulk in my own introduction to Planet HulkSmith offers persuasive and verbose interrogations of comics, but what strikes me most is that he takes them seriously. Not overtly serious, believing in the maturity and juvenile importance many Comic fans seem to prescribe to the medium. Rather, Smith thinks if Comics wanted to be taken as ‘adult’, they must be treated in an adult way, and the problems and flaws within them must be properly examined. He does this for comics both new and old, ones that intentionally try to be ‘meaningful’, and ones that don’t. Sometimes it reveals disappointment when a Comic cannot live up to its own goals, such as Kingdom Come, but sometimes it reaffirms the true depth behind others, like All-Star Superman. Smith’s work on (the sadly now defunct) Too Busy Thinking About Comics makes nothing spared, they are all over-thought.

Sequart

Instead of a single author, Sequart is a whole organisation that hosts and unifies numerous creators, and their thoughts on Comics. It is perhaps more mainstream and expansive that the other resources listed here, but the style and quality of Sequart‘s analysis makes up for it. That is not to dismiss the incredibly useful and relatively popular other Comic websites (such as Comic Bulletin, (now closed) Comics Alliance or Comic Book Resources), but the researched and invasive content Sequart sets it above the op-eds and quick takes of its competitors. 

Hassan Otsame-Elhaou (Strip Panel Naked PanelxPanel)

Providing accessible, complex and specific analysis of Sequential Art, Hassan Otsame-Elhaou is doing fantastic work bringing attention to the multi-faceted invisible tools constructing Comics. His video series Strip Panel Naked provides easily digestible yet effortlessly nuanced approaches to all aspects of Comics, from Colouring to Inking to Lettering to Panel Borders to Word Balloons. He is most obviously comparable to Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting, in the way he highlights and explains the form of Comics, rather than merely the content. Otsame-Elhaou provides further, deep, written analysis within his online magazine PanelxPanel, which uses half its space to focus on a singular Comic issue, honing in on all it’s areas. Interrogating each panel, every line, of a Comic individually, Otsame-Elhaou highlights each separate part, making the sum that much greater.

Osvaldo Oyola (The Middle Spaces)

Representation and diversity in Comics is an issue that is both fascinating and frustrating. Race and gender are tangible aspects of Comics, being a visual medium, but lacking the capability for the diversity found on TV and Film, given the characters in Comics are not ‘real’, only depicted. Among other things, it is this dissonance which Osvaldo Oyola investigates in The Middle Spaces (while also dealing with Music and Politics on his site). Personally, I think the best introduction to Oyola’s style and content in through his essay on the difference between ‘relatability’ and ‘identification’ in Comics, given it not only serves as good insight into his thoughts, but leads into several of his other pieces. In comics, ‘the middle spaces’  are called ‘the gutter’, the blank space between panels. Oyola seeks to close this gap of unreality between the depiction of the panels, to find the link between representation and reality, between superheroes and humanity.

Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics)

The foundation of both my love of comics and the analysis of it, Scott McCloud is a forerunner in the world of Comics Criticism and Theory. An expert in the way visual language is utilised in Sequential Art, especially in ways that are unique to the medium, McCloud introduced me to all the wonderful complexities and techniques contained within. Specifically his book Making Comics (ironically the final one in a trilogy of primary sources for Comics Criticism) highlighted the numerous decisions and possibilities that went into it. Indeed, the very name Panels Are Windows is taken from this source. Additionally, McCloud’s fiction work demonstrates his mastery of the form, and I plan on discussing his Graphic Novel The Sculptor at some point in the future. By examining the history, form, categorisation, industry, fundamental vocabulary and potential future of Comics (predicting the utilisation of Online Comics before it really occurred), Scott McCloud has established himself as a champion of Comics analysis, whose insights set the stage for all those that follow.

 


The featured image is from one of my favourite scenes, in one of my favourite storylines of one of my favourite series (written by my favourite author). It is from The Sandman #28, from the end of the “Seasons of Mist” arc, written by Neil Gaiman, drawn by Mike Dringenberg, inked by George Pratt and coloured by Daniel Vozzo. I highly recommend you read it too.

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