October 29, 2011

Batman: Year One, an old favorite

This review was written for the 2012 edition of
Season's Readings, Durham County Library's annual book of reviews and recommendations. Past editions may be viewed at http://www.durhamcountylibrary.org/readers/sr.php.

Update: Durham County Library patrons may find Batman: Year One on the Graphic Novel shelf under the call number Miller, F. And be sure to check out Season's Readings, now available at all library locations!

Batman is probably the least superhero-like superhero: his only inherent science fiction or fantasy qualities are his super-spy gizmos and his improbable strength and coordination. Batman: Year One embraces this plausibility and fills it out with genuine humanity, albeit the humanity of someone who's a little crazy. It is the Batman archetype that has been used ever since its publication in 1986, including Christian Bale's performance in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Year One is a character-driven crime story featuring Bruce Wayne's transformation into the intensely moral but highly unethical vigilante crimefighter that we've come to love. Equally compelling -- maybe more -- is the book's depiction of James Gordon, Batman's eventual friend-on-the-inside, whose journey to becoming Police Captain mirrors Wayne's. It's also a portrait of a harsh but believable Gotham City and its inhabitants; brief appearances by Gotham residents Harvey Dent (Two-Face, but not in this story) and Selena Kyle (Catwoman, but only just) make the portrait extra rewarding.

David Mazzucchelli's pencils and inks and Richmond Lewis's colors, completely repainted for this edition, are beautifully matched, and their artwork is a perfect partner for what is arguably Frank Miller's finest writing. Both art and writing are thankfully free of the cliches found elsewhere, even in Miller's own earlier and later works.

Checking out Batman: Year One from Durham County Library as a boy was one of my earliest encounters with the grand potential of the comics medium. It is still a work that I come back to again and again, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Update: David Mazzucchelli is very unhappy with the new "deluxe" edition of Year One, according to The Comics Journal.

Image source: http://cdn.screenrant.com/wp-content/uploads/Batman-Year-One-voice-cast.jpg,
© DC Comics

October 27, 2011

Editing comics with Comixer

In the expanded edition of Breakdowns, Art Spiegelman explains that he was "jealous of [his] independent filmmaker pals who could shoot footage and edit it after".1 In response, he created "Some Boxes for the Salvation Army", a collection of "memories, story fragments and ideas in different styles to mimic the way non-chronological way the mind works." He "reasoned that [he] could shuffle panels and sequences around after drawing them as long as [he] used the same size panels on a grid."

While the young Spiegelman was "too scatterbrained" to make a large enough body of panels to make for a compelling experiment, his dream has nevertheless come true, in a sense, with Comixer (pictured above), a new app for the iPad. As Steven Heller reports, "With Comixer, players “mix” cartoon panels to create their own stories, the way a deejay mixes tracks to make a new song. The dozens of panels are designed to work together in endless combinations. The stories can be funny, action-packed, suspenseful, or totally wacky."2 I hope that someone will create a similar app for use with the panels from "Some Boxes", if only to demonstrate to Spiegelman the potential fruits of his abortive labor.

Image: http://comixerapp.com/
1. Spiegelman, Art. (2008). Breakdowns: Portrait of the artist as a young %@[squiggle][star]!. New York: Pantheon. Breakdowns at Pantheon: http://www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/graphicnovels/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375423956
2. Heller on Comixer: http://imprint.printmag.com/daily-heller/comics-mash-up/

October 26, 2011

Seven forty-whaaat?

If you recognize the Dewey Decimal System classification code in the title of this blog, you're probably (a) a library-type like me or (b) a comics reader and library patron who has learned the number out of necessity, also like me. If not (and even so), what follows is a brief explanation of why I picked good old 741.5 for my title.

Real quick-like, the Dewey Decimal System is a classification scheme; that is to say it's the thing that says which book goes on which shelf. It has many limitations and many critics, but it is nevertheless the scheme that most public libraries use for most of their materials. I have mixed feelings about the Dewey Decimal System, but I'll save those thoughts for another day.

Basically, the scheme works by breaking the whole of human knowledge into each groups, each with its own 100s place.1 700 is "Arts and recreation", 740 is "Drawing and decorative arts", 741 is "Drawing and drawings" (so, both the act and the product) and 741.5 is "Comic books, graphic novels, fotonovelas, cartoons, caricatures, comic strips".2 741.5 is then broken down further based on country of origin and other details. Of course, some libraries (including mine) break comics out into their own collection that doesn't always fit into 741.5, but books (and comics) about comics will always be found there. (More about comics classifications to come.)

So there you have it:
741.5 and then some!

1. Dewey hundreds, tens and ones places: http://dewey.info/
2. 741.5 briefly explained in a 2006 post at 025.431: The Dewey blog: http://ddc.typepad.com/025431/2006/02/comicbook_conun.html

October 21, 2011

What's that supposed to mean?

So, what do I mean, I want to be a Comics Librarian?

To be completely redundant, I mean that I want my specialty as a librarian to be the world of comics. I want my co-workers, fellow librarians and patrons to know that they can come to me with any question about any aspect of comics and get a good answer or a good reference. I want to be an advocate for comics and comics readers in the library and beyond.

But before I can do all of that, I have a few items to tackle (in no particular order):
  • Making sense of the various names we use for the medium -- comics, graphic novel, etc.
  • Getting familiar with its history
  • Establishing a working definition
  • Exploring how comics relates to other media, especially film, prose and visual art
  • Understanding, to the degree possible, the experience of first-time comics readers
  • Having a sense of how comics are different and alike around the world and across genres
  • Learning the history of comics' treatment in libraries
  • Getting to know the world of comics today: its readers, creators, publishers, critics and so on
  • Compiling a bibliography of works to help me (and others?) along this path
In the meantime (and at any time), I would love to hear from anyone who considers him/herself a Comics Librarian for any age group. What are you up to? How's it going? What can we do to help each other out?

October 20, 2011

This is the Intro

Hello there!

My name is Patrick Holt, and I'm a public librarian working at the Durham County Library in Durham, NC. I'm also a lifelong comics lover, and I've decided, once-and-for-all, to formally merge the two interests and declare the professional goal of becoming a Comics Librarian. This blog will be my way of thinking out loud as I sort through the awkwardly overlapping worlds of libraries and comics. I hope to generate ideas and questions that will help me better understand and communicate the issues at hand; with that in mind, I hope to hear from anyone who wants to pose questions, call shenanigans, or otherwise jump into the conversation.

Something you probably won't find here is discussion of comics for children and young adults / teens. It's not something I oppose by any means, but it's just not my specialty. Thankfully, there is a lot of good work being done in these fields, including quite a lot by my own co-workers.

On occasion I may also nerd out about my interest in science fiction, spy novels, and this way cool Amish-vampire-romance I can't wait to start! Also art, design, music, movies, tv, video games, board games and so on. (Fear not: all will be tagged appropriately!)

Looking forward to it,