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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Barefoot Gen
Sailor Moon (manga)
Sailor Moon (anime)
Mixx Entertainment/ Tokyo Pop
X-Men
Michael Chabon
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Kefauver Senate hearings
Comics Code Authority
Famous Players: The Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor
The Umbrella Academy Volume Two: Dallas
The Anchor #1
Recent Books of Interest
Famous Players: The Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor by Rick Geary (NBM)
Famous Players: The Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor Acclaimed creator Geary explores the true story of the infamous Taylor murder. Set during the early days of Hollywood, when movies were silent and a person could hide from a questionable past, Famous Players opens with a brief overview of the film industry circa 1922 and then dives into the murder itself. Found dead from a single gunshot wound, successful director Taylor left behind a bevy of jilted women and unsavory associates. Geary succinctly and deftly examines the lives of Taylor and the key suspects without casting aspersions or conclusions, and his decorative, precise art perfectly encapsulates the period.

The Umbrella Academy Volume Two: Dallas Written by Gerard Way Art by Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
The Umbrella Academy Volume Two: Dallas Way and Bá return to their surreal world of powers, time travel paradoxes, and self-aware chimpanzees. Following the events of the Harvey and Eisner award-winning Apocalypse Suite, the lives of the Umbrella Academy family lay ruins as they attempt to regroup. Creatively, both the narrative and the art falter in the opening sequences, but as the group delves into the mystery of their time traveling brother Number Five, the duo crafts an unforgettable and absurd time travel adventure centering on JFK. While not as engrossing as its predecessor, this often ludicrous, beautifully rendered world continues to entertain.

The Anchor #1 Written by Phil Hester Art by Brian Churilla (Boom!)
The Anchor The powerful, hulking "Clem" lives in two realities. Partially amnesiac, he physically appears in contemporary Iceland to battle a giant ice monster while his soul resides in Hell. The torments of hell manifest as wounds on his earthly body. Hester, author of The Coffin and The Wretch, and artist Churilla (Rex Mundi) explore the interesting dichotomy of this unique hero. Simultaneously filled with vibrant action and thought-provoking metaphysical exploration, this first issue successfully lays the groundwork for what looks to be a very intriguing, fun-filled series.

What the Hell Happened? Part II

Our story thus far:
Following the publication of several critically acclaimed graphic novels including Maus, Watchmen, The Sandman: The Doll's House, The Cartoon History of the Universe and the widely-reviewed, deconstructionist groundbreaking work Understanding Comics, the much maligned comic book edged toward the precipice of mainstream acceptance.

 

In the late 90s, manga, Japanese comic books, finally exploded into the
Barefoot Gen
Sailor Moon
X-Men
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
American consciousness. Unlike its animated cousin, anime (popular since the early 60s following the introduction of Astro Boy to the US), manga didn't make a significant impact in the United States until the 1980 release of Barefoot Gen. Keiji Nakazawa's autobiographical tale of the Hiroshima bombing demonstrated the potential of the medium and attracted fans, and caught the attention of educators. Japanese titles such as Golgo 13, Akira, Lone Wolf and Cub alongside successful manga-influenced American titles like Frank Miller's Ronin, Stan Saki's Usagi Yojimbo, and Ben Dunn's Ninja High School furthered acceptance of the imports. By the mid-90s, manga was common place in comic book specialty shops but, much like their American brethren, had difficulty selling in general bookstores. Then Mixx Entertainment (later TokyoPop) introduced the worldwide phenomenon Sailor Moon to the United States in 1997.

In Sailor Moon, Usagi Tsukino, an ordinary middle school girl, meets Luna, a talking cat. The cat warns Usagi of an impending attack against the world by ancient enemies who once destroyed the Kingdom of the Moon. After Luna helps to re-awaken her dormant powers, Usagi, actually a reincarnation of one of the defenders of the Moon, dons the identity of Sailor Moon and defends the Earth. She is later joined by other teenage girls who all transform into heroes named after planets (Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, etc.).

The anime version of Sailor Moon, introduced to the US in 1995, was a massive hit among young women and was the first successful shōjo1 in the United States. The Sailor Moon series created an entirely new segment of comic book buyer. Outside of the occasional Elfquest or Strangers in Paradise, the vast majority of graphic novels in the US were purchased by men. Suddenly, a large influx of teenage women were looking for Sailor Moon, most of whom had never set foot in a comic book store. It paved the way for the large manga selections in bookstores and the decade-long deluge of original English-language manga (manga-style works produced by American creators).

Two events in 2000 cemented the financial, cultural, and critical success of the graphic novel. Beloved by fans and critics, the movie X-Men, based on the long-running Marvel comic book, sent the new buyers into bookstores looking for further adventures of their favorite mutants. A succession of popular movies (and their sequels) has followed: three Spider-Man films, two more X-Men, two Fantastic Four, two additional installments in the Batman franchise, and Iron Man. Each new film increased the visibility and interest in comic books. Additionally, several movies based on non-super-hero properties such as Ghost World (2001), Road To Perdition (2002), American Splendor (2003), and A History of Violence (2005), received measures of acclaim and profit while offering a welcome mature perspective for grown up audiences.

For booksellers, Michael Chabon's 2000 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay irrevocably altered the landscape. A literary darling, Chabon employed the tropes, characters, and subjects of his beloved pulps and comics to craft his Pulitzer Prize-winner. Chabon's protagonists, former escape artist Kavalier and Clay, son of a circus strongman, work in the booming comics industry of 1939 New York. The pair creates a sensation with their anti-fascist hero Escapist. The novel, based in part on the lives of comic book luminaries Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Joe Simon, Will Eisner, and Jim Steranko, follows the artist's lives from the birth of Superman to the controversial Kefauver Senate hearings, which lead to the industry-crippling Comics Code Authority.

Chabon's story not only made comic books cool with The New Yorker set but also ushered in a wave of nostalgia for older comics. Over the past ten years, nary a month goes by without some older work, worthwhile or not, being published in a slick format hardcover. Chabon's work has affected the newer stuff as well. Nearly every comic book published in the past 15 years has been collected into bound books.

When I first started working in comics, the industry focused on an insular market of specialty shops for budding geeks and collectors. Thankfully, though comic book shop sales spiral downward, graphic novels remain one of the few growth areas in both specialty shops and mainstream bookstores in an otherwise depressed market. The entire industry is shifting for the better from individual comic books to bound books. This change welcomes newer talents and allows for a wider variety of genres and subject material within in the burgeoning medium.


1 Japanese comics written for girls 7-18 years old

Copyright © 2009 Rick Klaw

Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century. He can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.


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