December 15, 2013

NextReads Newsletter, December 2013

December's 2013's NextReads newsletter on graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available, but because of some library website difficulties I'm sharing it here!  This month's list includes some titles dealing with identity issues, in coordination with John Davis' graphic book club, although I'm too late posting it here to be helpful.  Rats!

If I've got my intel right, NoveList is in the process of changing the format and delivery system from the NextReads newsletters, so the current Durham County Library's NextReads subscription page and NextReads archive page may or may not be working.  If anything changes, I'll be sure to post new directions and links here. In the meantime, enjoy this month's list. 

New @ Durham County Library
Avengers: Endless Wartime - Warren Ellis, Mike McKone
Publisher: Marvel Enterprises Check Library Catalog Pub Date: 10/01/2013 ISBN-13: 9780785184676 ISBN-10: 0785184678 reports that Endless Wartime is "a full blown Warren Ellis superhero story, [with] plenty of aspects familiar from his oeuvre. There is archeology, pulling a threat from the past. There are military folk doing military things beyond the ken of human minds. [And] there are horrors that man would not have made, and echoes of what the Nazis did, being replicated now... It is very much a superhero comic book about superheroes that doesn’t exactly challenge the medium. But there is enough about modern war, modern government, history, duty, pragmatic policy against idealism to provide plenty to chew over."

East of West book 1 - Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
Publisher: Diamond Comic Distributors Check Library Catalog Pub Date: 09/24/2013 ISBN-13: 9781607067702 ISBN-10: 1607067706

Death himself is "protagonist" of this story, for lack of a better term, and he's not making anyone happy.  He's angered the other three horsemen after abandoning them in favor of a quest to free his wife.  Leaders of world powers plot his destruction in response to his reckless path across their nations.  Traitors among this group allow his existence but are even less trustworthy than his more obvious enemies.  It's not looking good for Death. This promising book expertly combines elements of science fiction, alternate history, mythological fantasy, and western epics, and it's especially recommended for fans of Saga and the like.
Law of the Desert Born - Charles Santino, Louis L'Amour, Beau L'Amour, Katherine Nolan and Thomas Yeates
Publisher: Bantam Books Check Library Catalog Pub Date: 10/08/2013 ISBN-13: 9780345528124 ISBN-10: 0345528123

A Louis L'Amour short story adaptation!  In 1887, the drought-stricken New Mexico Territory sees a series of revenge killings that stir the blood of local law enforcement and citizen alike. The killer is hunted by a posse whose unlikely leader is a half-Mexican, half-Apache convict who has more invested in the capture than the lawmen who reluctantly rely on his guidance. A classic plot of betrayal and redemption lies here, told with naturalistic black-and-white artwork that reminds us of classic E.C. Comics or even Will Eisner at its best moments.  It's no Blueberry (which is sadly out of print), but hopefully this publication will usher in a new round of westerns for comics readers!
The Sixth Gun (series) - Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt
Publisher: Oni Press Check Library Catalog Pub Date: 01/25/2011 ISBN-13: 9781934964606 ISBN-10: 1934964603
And speaking of westerns, here's a western of the weird variety, another subgenre we could use more of!  In The Sixth Gun, young Becky Moncrief is thrown headlong into a post-Civil War adventure with apolyptic consequences, thanks to her psychic tie to one of six cursed weapons that are in high demand by groups trying to bring about and/or prevent the destruction of the world.  Aided, sometimes reluctantly, by a group of gunmen who include an ex-Confederate soldier, a runaway slave turned freedman, and a faithful golem, Becky is drawn ever deeper into a supernatural plot that may take her life rather than free it.  This is a fun book with just the right balance of action and character, and its well-crafted artwork strikes a sweet spot between "cartoony" and realistic.  Recommended -- start at volume 1!

Secret Identities and Alter Egos
Superhero Origins and More 

It's no secret (get it?) that identity is an important issue in superhero comics, and rarely more than in origin stories.  Here's a selection of superhero origins and some other superhero books where identity is front-and-center.
  • Omega: The Unknown by Lethem, and Dalrymple (Editor's Pick!)
  • Batman: Year One by Miller and Mazzucchelli (Editor's Pick!)
  • Saga of the Swamp Thing , book 1 by Moore and Bissette
  • Spider-Men (featuring both Peter Parker and Miles Morales) by Bendis and Pichelli
  • Identity Crisis , a gritty examination of amnesia in the DC universe by Metzler, Morales and Bair
  • Wolverine: Origin by Quesada and Jenkins
  • Top 10: The Forty-Niners , set in a world where everyone is a superhero and everyone's identity is a secret, by Moore and Ha
  • Watchmen (Moore and Gibbons) and The Dark Knight Returns(Miller and Jansen), two classic stories of ex-heroes finding themselves in uniform again
  • Dial H , about an ordinary guy who accidentally adopts numerous heroic identities by dialing letters on a pay phone, by Mieville and others
  • Sleeper , which features a superhero (or is he?) working undercover in a crime syndicate, by Brubaker and Phillips

Identity Issues in Other Genres 

And of course, identity issues aren't limited to books in the superhero genre.  Give these a try if capes and tights aren't your thing.
  • Petrograd by Gelatt and Crook (spy fiction): An Irishman working for British intelligence infiltrates both Tsarist and anarchist circles in pre-revolutionary Russia. (Editor's pick!)
  • Phoenix Without Ashes by Ellison and Robinson (science fiction): A member of an isolated community defies his elders to explore the edges of his world, causing him to doubt their teachings and his own identity.
  • Good Dog by Chaffee (period realism of a sort): Stray dog Ivan goes on a journey of self-discovery without leaving town in an attempt to find where he belongs -- on the streets, in a pack, under the care of humans, or somewhere else entirely.
  • Fun Home and Are You My Mother? by Bechdel (memoir): Bechdel relates a series of recollections about childhood with her closeted gay father and repressed but artistic mother.
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Parker (science fiction): This expert adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel (which was inspiration for the film Blade Runner) explores what it means to be human, particularly in comparison with the androids that the main character is paid to track down and "retire".
  • City of Glass by Karasik and Mazzucchelli (crime/mystery): In this Paul Auster adaptation, a mystery writer adopts the persona of writer Paul Auster (!) to solve a mystery.  Existential crisis ensues.  (Editor's pick!)

November 10, 2013

New Shelf: Superheroes Documentary on PBS

A few weeks ago, PBS aired a new documentary about comics called Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle.  While I don't quite get the subtitle, I found it to be a surprisingly good program, and not just because I'm a sucker for Liev Schreiber's narrative skills.

I went into the show skeptically because I've seen more than one made-for-TV documentary about comics that left me disappointed because they were superficial, USA-centric, and blind to any comics that aren't superheroes.  Last issue first: PBS' program was explicitly about superheroes, so its subject-specific focus was explicit and not part of an oversimplification of what comics are, what they have been, and what they can be.  The USA-centricity issue is addressed by this as well because the superhero genre is, on the whole, an American phenomenon (along with some very notable contributions from the U.K.).  And finally, the matter of superficiality is a mixed bag: a retrospective history film of anything is going to leave a lot out by its nature, but dealing with the lack of opportunity for depth is the final mark of its quality.

Stan Lee on set
The PBS show uses its brevity in the best way possible: it presents a selected timeline of superhero comics and uses it to cover historical events that shaped what followed and still resonate with readers today.  These are big moments that will be familiar to most long-term superhero comics readers (albeit presented with enlightening commentary by personalities close to the events) such as the anti-comics craze of the 1950s, the Vietnam-era shift in socio-political perspectives in comics, and the cynicism of the superhero stories of the 1980s and beyond.  Other topics include the unique partnership of Stan Lee with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in Marvel's early days, the 1990s' investment disaster, and superheroes' movement into film, television, and video games.  Scattered throughout are amazing moments like Adam West reading dialogue from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns (somehow bringing together the opposite ends of the campy-to-psychopathic Batman spectrum) and tantalizingly brief comments from a very wide-eyed and startlingly optimistic Grant Morrison.

My complaints are few. I'd like to have seen at least brief commentary on superhero stories that didn't start in comics such as the television series Heroes and Alphas and movies like The Incredibles and Hancock, as well as countless computer and video games. Coverage of race, gender, and sexuality are unsurprisingly minimal, but that doesn't stop my wishing for more.  Finally, most of the cartoonists, historians, actors, and other commentators featured here are given very little screen time -- hopefully this inevitability is countered by some DVD extras!  (A few are among the show's YouTube playlist.) 

Overall, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is a documentary I can heartily recommend to viewers of all sorts.  Comics experts won't learn any new facts, but they'll delight in seeing the faces behind countless familiar names.  Comics readers who are new to the world of superheroes, including young readers, will learn a ton of history and will no doubt find themselves seeking out the many books that flesh out these stories in deep detail.  It's an excellent tool for librarians of all sorts -- any age group; public service or collection development -- because it works as a primer on what superheroes are, what their stories are all about, why they're so popular, why their readers and fans are so passionate, and sometimes so angry about a given storyline or adaptation.  It'll also give them a fighting chance when trying to help patrons searching for comics by giving them a handful of notable titles, plot points, and characters to be familiar with.  

The film is for sale from the PBS store on DVD and Blu-ray, along with an accompanying book called Superheroes!: Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture -- I haven't seen it in person, so I can't comment on its quality or whether or not it diverges from the documentary.

November 3, 2013

Upcoming Events: DICE, NC Comicon, ComiQuest, and Chris Hardwick

This weekend is going to be FULL of events for the Durham-area comics lover!

Friday, November 8 and Saturday, November 9 find the Durham Indie Comics Expo (acronym'd as DICE) downtown at Durham graphic arts studio SUPERGRAPHIC, including a gallery show and appearances by Durham County Library Comics Fest alums Rob Clough, Eric Knisley, Rio Aubrey Taylor, and Jan Burger, as well as a visit by Amy Godfrey and the beloved Durham Comics Project's Comics Contraption. Special guest appearance by Tom Hart (Hutch Owen)! DICE is free to the public.

Saturday, November 9 and Sunday, November 10, the annual NC Comicon will taking place at the Durham Convention Center, and is packed full, as always, of events, panels, vendors, and guests including Gail Simone, Adam Hughes, Neal Adams, Frank Cho, Jeff Darrow, Jeremy Bastion, perennial Comicon pal Tommy Lee Edwards, and many, many more. Tickets are available at different price ranges.

Meanwhile, the Carolina Theatre will be hosting the first ever ComicQuest Film Festival, featuring a fun-looking range of comic- and superhero-themed movies that include Dick Tracy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mystery Men and more! Tickets are available for purchase at the door.

Finally, and least directly comics-related, nerd entrepreneur extraordinaire Chris Hardwick of The Nerdist will be at the Carolina Theatre Friday, November 8 for a talk/stand-up show/something-or-other.  More info and tickets at

November 1, 2013

NextReads Newsletter, November 2013

November 2013's NextReads newsletter on graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available! Along with new releases, this month's newsletter includes a list of comics with female protagonists in superhero books, contemporary realistic fiction, and other genres too.  Comics with female protagonists is the theme of this month's Graphic Book Club at Main Library, organized and hosted by John Davis.

Subscribe to this and other NextReads newsletters by visiting Durham County Library's NextReads page, and just select the check boxes for the genres and subjects that interest you and scroll to the bottom of the page to create your subscription account.  Enjoy!

October 21, 2013

Greensboro Comics Event

This weekend - October 26-27 - Greensboro, NC will be the site of the first ever Comic Book City Con!  The event, sponsored by Acme Comics of Greensboro, will host a ton of artists and other guests, including cartoonist Hope Larson and editor Susana Polo on a panel about the growing presence of the female fan and creator in the industry and community.  I'm sorry I'll miss it, and I'd love to hear from anyone who attends.

NCLA Conference Report-Back

NCLA, for those who don't live my state, is the North Carolina Library Association, and its biennial conference was held last week in downtown Winston-Salem, NC. Events, workshops, sessions, posters, and a solid vendor presence make it an excellent opportunity to find resources and contacts relevant to whatever your library interests may be. Case in point: my informational haul on comics librarianship.

Although I didn't have a chance to make the full rounds through the vendor haul, I was lucky enough to stop by the booth of McFarland & Company, a Jefferson, NC-based publisher of academic texts on all topics, including an excellent-looking body of comics scholarship.  Since I take the library angle, I was especially pleased to see editor Robert G. Weiner's Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives: Essays on Readers, Research,  History and Cataloging, upon which I pounced immediately.  Since I just purchased it a few days ago, I have yet to dig in, but I will surely post my thoughts when I've read it.  My initial impression from the table of contents is that it has a lot to offer, and I'm looking forward particularly to read the section on "nomenclature and aesthetics" and the chapters on cataloging.  There's even one on shelving strategies in public libraries -- words cannot express how excited I am about that!

Amy Godfrey demonstrates
how to use panels and gutters
on the Comics Contraption;
photo by Jennifer Lohmann
The highlight of the day, comics-wise, was a presentation by my Comics Fest collaborator Amy Godfrey about her (and my, to a much lesser extent) efforts to involve the Durham community in the creation and appreciation of comics. Amy told the audience about Comics Fest and her many workshops with children, teens, and adults throughout the community. A special treat, and an attention-grabber as we carried it through the hallways, was the Comics Contraption, custom-designed tool for comics programming and outreach in Durham. The Contraption holds a giant spool of paper that allows two panels to be viewed at a time: one by a previous artist, and a blank one for a new artist who can only see the panel before, resulting in a (nearly) never-ending comic jam / exquisite corpse deluxe.  (Read more about the Durham Comics Project and the Comics Contraption -- and see the resulting strips -- at  Amy's excellent presentation drew a good crowd of engaged, question-asking librarians working many roles in libraries around the state, and at the end they rushed the stage for even more Q&A and networking.  Well done, Amy!

NCLA is a great support network for NC librarians and becoming better every day, and this year's conference demonstrated the need for folks like Amy, who is bringing comics to the people everyday, to demonstrate her methods to like-minded librarians. It also demonstrated the role that library conferences can play as venues for discussions about comics librarianship and its future.

October 8, 2013

NextReads Newsletter Update!

I'm happy to report that during my extended leave from writing posts, the Durham County Library website has added an archive of my NextReads graphic novels and comics newsletter! Visit and click on the Graphic Novels and Comics link to access the most recent editions. Recent themes covered include adaptations and spinoffs, indie and creator-owned titles, and memoirs, biography, and other nonfiction works.

Image from Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks, retrieved from

October 7, 2013

Back again!

After too long away, I'm back to keep up the work of writing about comics librarianship!  I'll have posts up soon catching up about my NextReads newsletter, a (very late) recap of this year's Comics Fest, and more updates besides.  Here we go!

Image from "Absoluten Calfeutrail" by Moebius, retrieved from

February 12, 2013

NextReads Newsletter, February 2013

This month's NextReads graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available!  This month, along with new releases, I've selected some fiction and nonfiction prose books that are sure to appeal to comics readers.

Read this and other NextReads newsletters by visiting Durham County Library's NextReads page.  To subscribe, select the check boxes for the genres and subjects that interest you, then scroll to the bottom of the page to create your subscription account.  Enjoy!

January 25, 2013

New Shelf: Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture

I picked up Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture from Durham County Library's new nonfiction shelf (not just the new shelf in my mind), assuming I'd ultimately find it disappointing, but I'm happy to report that I was thoroughly mistaken! Author Rob Salkowitz frames it as a book about business -- although it's shelved among books about comics, large chunks of the text could easily put it with the business philosophy books -- specifically, the San Diego Comic-Con business and its impact on the entertainment and comics industries.  I thought I'd skim over a bunch of superficial observations written for business readers, pick up an occasional nugget about comics-related event planning, and then go back to skimming.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!  It turned out to be a fascinating read, providing excellent insight into the experience of the event (both as a visitor and a participant), a look at its history, character, function, and future within the world of comics and beyond. 

The first thing Salkowitz gets right is explaining that he is a genuine comics reader/fan/nerd, and as a result will not be writing about all the "weirdos" who attend such an event.  This perspective allows him to write about geek culture as a hotbed of creativity, passion, and community, as well as one of prejudice, exclusion, and scenesterism, rather than just stopping with "Look! Nerds!"  It also allows the book to avoid being lumped in with the so-called "geek-chic" phenomenon, giving him the ability too look at Comic-Con from every angle and at every level of depth.

Salkowitz takes us with him and his wife as they attend the con, starting with pre-show setup (a luxury they afford by volunteering for the Eisner Award program), through as much attendee activity as possible, and even some exclusive after-hours events, all the while elaborating on the history and significance of this or that detail.  His descriptions cover panels and programs, controversy over vendor table geography, the culture of booksigning/sketching, the debatable significance of comics awards, competing conventions and the ways they do and do not overlap in function and attendance, and even the economics of event attendance.  He also looks at these and other phenomena through time, examining their past and speculating on their possible futures.  Although I have not attended Comic-Con myself, this appears to be as thorough as you can get without doing an intense ethnography.  All this, and it's well-written and engaging, presenting the event without fawning or being ignorantly critical -- there is certainly room for these perspectives, but Salkowitz's middle-of-the-road perspective is exactly what's needed for the book he set out to write.

As always, I kept the comics librarian in mind when reading. In my initial skepticism, I thought that maybe there would be something about programming that would be relevant; in fact, there was much more to take note of.  For one, Salkowitz helpfully breaks down Comic-Con's programs into several categories (pg. 59) and explains their purpose and structure in enough detail that programming librarians can consider how these can be modified for use in the library setting.  His exploration of the relationship between allied or competing conventions (pg. 171) is a great jumping-off place for discussing the library's relationship to existing comic shops and events.  He even devotes a significant amount of space to comics in the library (pg. 179), a discussion that he effectively segues into a consideration of changes in comics culture generally and problems with the many names people use for the medium.

The book's biggest "contribution" to the body of comics librarianship, through, is his extensive look at the rise of digital publication and its implications for publishers, sellers, and readers (pg. 190).  I don't have to tell anyone reading this blog that ebooks are at the front of everyone's minds when it comes to libraries.  Comics publishing's variable nature (issues vs. trad paperbacks vs. web-only, etc.), along with their serial storytelling, periodical format, and visual component make them an especially interesting challenge to consider in the library of the future.  I can't think of a better introduction to this issue than Salkowitz's.  Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture is an accessible, enjoyable, and informative book, and a quick read as well, so I'd definitely recommend it for comics librarians and anyone else interested in the future of ebooks in the library.

January 16, 2013

NextReads Newsletter, January 2013

This month's NextReads graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available!  This month, along with new releases, I've selected some "all-ages" books that are actually great reads for adults, and not just "kid-friendly".

Read this and other NextReads newsletters by visiting Durham County Library's NextReads page.  To subscribe, select the check boxes for the genres and subjects that interest you, then scroll to the bottom of the page to create your subscription account.  Enjoy!