March 15, 2012

DCL Staff: John Davis

John Davis is a librarian at Durham County Library (Main Library Adult Services, like me) and fellow comics-reader.  I recently sat down with him sent him a couple emails to see what it is about comics that keeps him coming back for more.

 Really, all it takes to get me to "keep coming back" is to tell a good story, and I like to think that all the comics I read tell good stories (though I'll admit to reading some real stinkers occasionally). Visual storytelling can be just an nuanced as straight text, and reading comics/graphics seems to exercise a different part of my brain. In a book, to have something conveyed, you have to write it out, spell it out explicitly, no matter how subtle you want the inclusion to be. In a comic, you can have a vital bit of plot happening quietly in the background, presented in such a way that you may not even notice it on a first read through, unless you've trained your brain to carefully examine the pictures on the page as well as the words. And then there's the way you can do the same kind of subtle subtext with pictures (go read nearly anything about the visual storytelling of Moore/Gibbon's Watchmen and you'll see a discussion of what I'm talking about).
From Watchmen1

Have you always read them?
I read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics back when I was in elementary school, but I don't think that's what you're asking. Heck, I read The Magic School Bus books in kindergarten, and they (for all they're picture books) have panels and sequential art and word balloons. But I think the answer you're looking for is this: I read bits of Neil Gaiman's Sandman in high school, but didn't really dig my teeth into comics until college.
I read Ninja Turtles too! And I only got rid of my 50-issue run a few years ago.  Siiiigh.  But Sandman was one that I still haven't picked up.  Where do you think I should start?
If you're going to read Sandman, start at the start. If you've heard less than awesome things about the start, and want to try some of the later stuff first (to check and see if you want to read the early stuff) I'd suggest Fables and Reflections (volume 6), and it's a collection of short stories which illustrate the kind of storytelling you'll see in the rest, but without any spoilers (that you'd notice without having read the first five volumes).
Then if you like that, go back and read the first five, in order.
Have you ever participated in the creation of comics of any kind?
Not really. I've been featured in the background of some online comic strips (webcomics) because of my role in organizing some comic/scifi conventions, but I'm not a writer or an artist (or even a terribly creative person who such people would chatter with while they're creating their own works).
Do you have an all-time favorite title, character, cartoonist, anything?
Batman is better than Superman. Next question.
Take that! (Image from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns2)
Oh wait, a real answer...
Gaiman's Sandman is kind of the go-to answer to this, though I'm really passionate about some other titles right now. The only two I'm actively collecting the trades of (at this time) are PS238 by Aaron Williams (we don't have it) and Fables by Bill Willingham (we have most of it).
What titles would you recommend to first-time comics readers?
That depends entirely upon what kind of media the person enjoys. If they're a kids who likes capes and cowls, I'd point them at some of the better quality, kid-friendly stuff coming from the big two (Marvel/DC). If they're a zombie/horror buff I'd point them at [Robert Kirkman's] The Walking Dead. If they're a big fan of fairy tales and folklore, Fables or Castle Waiting. If they love history, I'd suggest Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe/US/Modern World. There's way too many variables to make a single suggestion...
Some of the cast of Castle Waiting3

Who would you like to see make an appearance at a future Comics Fest?
Robert Kirkman or Aaron Williams. Kirkman would really pull in a bunch of people if he could be gotten (he's such a prolific writer, and his work is across so many different genres and styles of comic), but Williams is smaller and kid-friendly, and his active and popular blog would be excellent publicity if he enjoys his visit.
For Durham County Library patrons, here's where you can find the books John mentioned. Checked out? Ask a librarian to put the next available copy on hold!
  • Watchmen: Adult Graphic Fiction MOORE
  • Sandman (multiple volumes): Adult Graphic Fiction GAIMAN
  • Fables (multiple volumes): Adult Graphic Fiction WILLINGHAM
  • Castle Waiting (two volumes): Adult Graphic Fiction MEDLEY
  • The Walking Dead (multiple volumes): Adult Graphic Fiction KIRKMAN
  • Cartoon History of the Universe: Adult Graphic Nonfiction 902.07 GONICK
Top image 
1. Image source:, © DC Comics
2. Image source:, © DC Comics
3. Image source:, © Linda Medley

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