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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Monkey Girl & Dragon Dude (some Bigerel digital comics)
Mark Waid
Below the Line Con coverage
Batwoman Elegy
Richard Feynman
Feynman, the book
FF Issue One
Recent Books of Interest
Batwoman Elegy by Greg Rucka (words) and J.H. Williams III (art) (DC)
Batwoman Elegy I know it's not "new" -- the collection having come out last year, but I only/finally caught up with it at this year's Comic Con, at a handy-dandy booth with many graphic novels at nearly half-off. And given that I'd watched a crime comics panel the night before, with Rucka, Gary Phillips, and Mark Waid, where an audience member called Rucka's writing on the distaff caped crusader "life changing." So it occurred to me, having not read it yet, to check it out. It's immediately engaging stuff, in part because Williams's art and layouts are so terrific (as it was for Alan Moore in Promethea, though disclaimer-wise, I should note he did the art for the original Tricycle Press versions of my Danger Boy books, as well). The arc is at its strongest when we're delving into Batwoman's back story -- what happened to Kathy Kane as an Army brat put through a horrific event, and what's happening to her now, after being drummed out of West Point for being gay. There's a subplot involving werewolves I didn't quite grok -- don't know if I need to re-read the thing, or get more Batwoman to have the story's universe better fleshed out. The collection ends on quite a cliffhanger connected to that previous, horrific event. Since things remain under-explained about the twist/cliffhanger right 'til the end, I'm hoping there's more.

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani (words) and Leland Myrick (art) (First Second)
Feynman A great use of the graphic medium to give us a biography of famed physicist/trickster Richard Feynman. The book is basically linear, covering Feynman's NY boyhood, his time working on the A-bomb (is that what engendered his eventual cancer?), though will sometimes move around within sections, if the speaker -- "Feynman," as it were, narrates first person, in material drawn from other biographies and his copious public life -- has views of a place,person or incident from different vantage points in life. Given that this is ostensibly pitched to "younger readers" --First Second's main audience -- the book is fairly frank about Feynman's love of the female form (he often did his "office work" in a topless bar near Cal Tech) and his second thoughts about working at Los Alamos (or at least, following up on that work), to take but two aspects that may provide interesting moments in school book reports. No mention of his brief use of LSD, but most of Feynman's adventurousness and merriment -- even in the face of personal loss -- comes through in the writing, and Myrick's almost New Yorker-like cartooning style. The book even makes a stab at explaining relativity in the form of the Nobel-winning "Feynman diagrams," which are used, in the art, during the course of one of the replicated public lectures. I need to re-read this section, cause I only got a teeny bit on first pass. But it's a work that lends itself to the re-read.

FF Issue One by Jonathan Hickman (words) and Steve Epting (art) (Marvel)
FF Issue One So I always try to make it a point of reviewing one free thing-I-was-handed-and-wouldn't-have-reviewed-otherwise from the Con, and whaddya know, I was given (well okay, my son was, then he passed it along) a special "Convention edition" of the FF re-launch. While this has been out awhile (see first sidebar review!) we never get to talk about Marvel much here, since they're so skinflinty about sending out review copies. And there's always other stuff to read. But in this season of reboots, this con edition (replete with sponsor ad on the cover, and excerpts from other Marvel relaunches, with scenes from newish Daredevil and Cap'n America books) allowed me to catch up with the death of Johnny Storm, and the new addition to what is now being called the "Freedom Foundation" (with its number no longer capped at four): Spiderman. Marvel loves their superhero teams, but I gotta say, having not kept with "FF" continuity for years, this was a pretty fun ride. Nice dinner table scenes with Spidey, nice semi-growing of Reed and Sue's kids (of course, they actually should be middle-aged themselves now, but never mind), nice Dr. Doom twist at the end of the story, and good work with one of favorite Marvel hero-types, The Thing. It would've been good if The Thing smoked a cigar or two, but maybe that's not allowed anymore. But really, I haven't been this curious about that group of meta-humans in awhile. Nostalgia? Or am I hankering for a stogie myself?

The Comic Cons of Summer

crowds at Comic Con I'm back from my hiatus -- well, if being away for two weeks teaching counts as a "hiatus" in the usual sense of the word. But thanks to Cullen Bunn for ably filling in for me a month back. I read his column while out on the hustings, and now have a yen to watch some Wild, Wild West episodes.

Since it's early August, I'm also back from my annual trek to Comic Con, where I normally wouldn't go, each and every year, except that teen son and friends love to go, so I find myself in chaperone mode.

Well, no. They light out on their own, once we're there. Mostly I'm charge of transport and lodging.

I stayed for all four days this time (or at least parts of all four days) so took in more Con than usual, and even covered various aspects of it for Below the Line, the showbizzy paper/web site I write for here in L.A. That coverage took more of a filmic bent, though I was also taking in "where are comics headed?" panels to use in the "What the Tech" column I write for the SCBWI -- the society of kidlit writers and illustrators. Mainly, my thesis is that ways of using arrays of information on screen are -- or increasingly will -- affect comics as they become more and more of a digitally delivered medium.

The semiotics of the device -- the medium, as it were, being the message -- will affect ways in which the story being conveyed by that device, will be told.

What follows is a chunk of the ruminating I did for the upcoming SCBWI magazine.

Yves Bigerel I'd gone to see a crime writers panel one of the evenings I was there (I'm still convinced there's a case to be made for rarely-written "YA Noir") which included renowned comics writer Mark Waid. When the panelists were asked who they were looking forward to seeing at the Con, Waid started to rave about the digital comics work of Parisian-based animator/artist Yves Bigerel and how it was changing his own thoughts about narrative form.

Well, I'm always interested in fluctuations in narrative forms, so I went to next day's "two-fer," with Waid doing a Q&A with Bigerel, who showed some of his work on screen. It wasn't animation that he was working on. No, he had a form of comics worked out, using a form of fixed sequential art to tell a story, an interplay of image and word whose delivery in digital form may be of some use to the picture book creators among us.

Basically, Bigerel was able to let the reader move through the frame (at her own pace) in a way that increased both tension and suspense in the storytelling.

As Waid added, he -- as a comics writer -- only has one chance to really surprise readers -- in the top left panel of a book's two open pages. Visually, said reader's peripheral vision takes in everything else; if a UFO scoops up Superman in the lower right, you've already "seen" it, even before you've read it.

Yves Bigerel Bigerel, however, was able to use frames so that the surprise remain constant. A gun is revealed in a panel between protagonists only after Ms. Reader has clicked to that point, seeing the images and dialogue that lead to the exposition. In printed form, you'd know about the gun before you knew about it.

Whether this will make storytelling "better," of course, is another question entirely. But Bigerel's talk also got me thinking how the medium -- even if not quite the message -- will change the way prose stories are "received" by the reader, as well.

In traditional print novels, we have chapters, page breaks, white spaces -- all used in conjunction with letters to tell the story. One great example of using the physical array as part of the storytelling comes in No Country for Old Men, where Cormac McCarthy kills off his seeming protagonist right after a page break. Indeed, the shift between the previous paragraph, where said protagonist is chatting away, and the next, where his body is in a morgue -- all coming casually within the chapter -- is meant to reinforce the nonchalance with which such awful violence is performed.

How will this work with prose on a lit screen? How will authors conceive of similar effects for e-readers? In other words, if you're "flipping" on screen, does the author need to know if you're flipping left to right, or scrolling "up" with your finger?

What will we mean by "chapters" when a screen, freed from the physical constraints of printing, offers infinite real estate for your words? What is the natural "segment" of a longer story on that machine?

Comic Con And what is the prose equivalent of revealing a sudden gun (or more happily, sudden kiss) between frames -- or nonchalantly killing off your protagonist -- on one of those screens?

Just as a physical "book" becomes part of the storytelling convention, so too will the physical screen. It doesn't mean books should become video games -- just as comics can remain distinct from animation.

But what should they be? The answer will "reveal" over the next several Comic Cons.

...and also, during the upcoming digitally-delivered "reboot" of the DC Universe, one suspects. Since that will be starting when my next column rolls around, at the start of September, it may fall to me to weigh in on it here. Which I might. Or might not.

I'm not sure I'm looking forward to it, though.

Copyright © 2011 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series. Strong rumors abound about its simultaneously protracted-yet-imminent eBook return, with a first volume set to appear by summer's end. Meanwhile, he gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.

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