Hey Bartender! pg. 12

August 16, 2010

More →

Will Dinski "leaves his fingerprints" all over his exclusive interview at Things From Another World!

Here's a bitchin' print Will made with Aesthetic Apparatus to promote his new book.

August 6, 2010

More →

Oregon Cartoon Institute collaborated with filmmaker Karl Lind and Crumb scholars Patrick Rosenkranz and Charles Boucher to create this guide to R. Crumb's Oregon influences. We're calling this installment Carl Barks + Basil Wolverton = Genius R. Crumb.

kochalka kochalka kochalka

July 31, 2010 / More →

Good Comics for Kids does James Kochalka at ComicCon.

breathing a sigh of relief...

July 29, 2010 / More →

ComicCon is now again in the review mirror. This year, for whatever reason, i was really zen the whole trip, after a depressing Thursday. (Staying mostly sober might have had something to do with this.) In any case, i had a great time.

We had a boatload of peeps at our booth. And it was hoppin' all weekend.

Matt Kindt pressing flesh. (And two con sketches.)

Jeffrey Brown

Nate Powell, pimping last year's Eisner Winning Swallow Me Whole.

James Kochalka Superstar! (With Kathyrn and Stuart Immonen in the background.)

Surrogates team Brett Weldele and Rob Venditti.

Sean Michael Wilson selling a copy of AX to Maeby (Alia Shawkat) from Arrested Development.

• Here's me and some droid friend of R2D2. (Who IS this green R2 unit?)

• James Kochalka made it back to ComicCon! Here are his fabulous American Elf strips from the show.

And with release of his SuperF*ckers collected edition, i thought this would be a great time to trot out the Super Awesome theme song video.

We're always in our clubhouse getting high
Everybody wishes we would die

Here we come
like a bomb
everybody run and hide!

Our dicks are stuck in the Playstation 3
Everybody wishes they could be

Here we come
like a bomb
Everybody f*ckin' run and hide!

Henry Chamberlain posted two video blogs on Top Shelf at San Diego for CNN. (Thanks, Henry!)

• Talked with Emily Brundige, who turned me on to her terrific student short film, Pubertina.

Pubertina from Emily Brundige on Vimeo.

• Jim Demonakos (he of Emerald City) gave me the new Kirby Krackle cd... yet more fabulous nerd pop-rock, sporting another sweet cover by the great Jim Mahfood.

[Debut disc.]

[New disc.]

Dig on their music vid for "On and On."

• Speaking of Jim Mahfood, here's some snaps i took at the live art party at Soda Bar, sponsored by Things From Another World and Nerd City, featuring the work of Jim, Scott Morse, Mike Huddleston, Ray Fawkes, King Gun, Jason Shawn Alexander, and some really cute talented girl they didn't list in the press kit.

• Here's a beautiful site — the keg room at The Yard House at 4th and Broadway. Mmmm... beer....

• And finally, the last people standing in our neck of the woods on the floor, were the always delightful Mike & Janice of Fantagraphics.

San Diego beckons... NERD ALERT!

July 20, 2010 / More →

The geeks are armoring up their stormtrooper costumes, and studio execs are praying for successful sneak-peak rollouts for their next bloated blockbusters. Hard to believe, but this will be this bartender's 16th ComicCon!! Oh, how the time flies. And moving right along...

Max Estes sent this Summer greeting around. I really dig this.

• James Kochalka has a new t-shirt coming out with this sweet Johnny Boo image.

• Drew Landry brought a tear to my eye with his plea to yet another fucking commission regarding the Gulf Spill. Spread this around folks. This guy is my new hero.

• Finally, before i continuing preparations for San Diego, here is a short piece by a Brazilian cartoonist named Rodrigodraw, who generously invited me as a guest to the comics and animation festival in late October he organizes called Animaserra, just outside of Rio de Janeiro. Besides all of this (organizing a show and writing and drawing comics), he is a university professor as well.

El Vocho, baby!!

July 13, 2010 / More →

Buenos noches, mi amigos! This just in...

Steve Lafler, mastermind behind the mind-bending Bughouse Trilogy, will be right here in Portland this Thursday, signing copies of his swingin' new graphic novel El Vocho, at Reading Frenzy. The fiesta starts at 7:00. Steve lives in Oaxaca, Mexico, so his visits here are rare.

Reading Frenzy
921 SW Oak St.
Portland OR 97205

July 7, 2010

More →

If anyone is in Santa Cruz, this Saturday, July 10th, Johnnie Arnold will be celebrating the release of BB Wolf and the Three LPs (written by Johnnie and drawn by Rich Koslowski) with a book signing and party at: Comicopolis, 829 Front St., from 4-8 pm. Free food, drink, and entertainment for all! In addition to the book, we will be debuting the CD, BB Wolf and The Howlers, The Lost Recordings. Deluxe BB Wolf coasters and shot glasses will also be available for sale.

• Top Shelf alum Steve Lafler is coming back to America (from Oaxaca, Mexico) to do two new book release events, promoting his incredible new book El Vocho.

Steve writes:

First, I'll be at Reading Frenzy, 921 SW Oak St. in Portland, Oregon on Thursday, July 15th at 7 p.m.

One week later on Thursday July 22, I'll be in San Francisco at the Mercury Cafe, 201 Octavia St. at 7:30 p.m.

I'll be signing books and showing some of the original art from El Vocho too.

I'll also be performing a short stack of my Oaxacabilly tunes (Oaxaca + Rockabilly) -- this graphic novel emerged in conjunction with a bunch of country punk hillbilly music, so it makes sense to present it all together!

Yup, I've gone all cow punk with a motley crew of expats down south of the border, and I can tell you it's just as much fun as slingin' ink.

If you can't make it, you can purchase a copy of El Vocho here for $12.00 plus postage.

One of the tunes is the them song for El Vocho, entitled "Ballad of the Bug" -- give it a listen!
This version was produced and recorded by Bill Stair, one of my music making friends in Oaxaca.

• Finally, i'm off to catch the rest of the World Cup semi-final between Germany and Spain. My pal Gregory Benton is responsible for this "footbal" enthusiasm, and even my 5-year old son is into it. If anyone can make a dvd of the final for me, i'd be much appreciative, as i'll have to miss it. In any case, here's one of the many pieces Gregory has been sending me in his drunken World Cup-fever emails.

fingerprints rolling off the press

June 28, 2010 / More →

Will Dinski's disturbing tale of the depraved depths people will go for perceived beauty, Fingerprints, is inching closer to a comics shelf near you. This is not only a great read, but one incredibly designed jewel of a book to hold in your hands. (So put THAT in your iPad and smoke it!)

Here are some of Will's developmental cover thumbnails for your enjoyment.

• Ed Piskor, hard at work on his excellent magnum opus Wizzywig, has written an excellent essay called "The Art Of Cause and Effect In A Solitary Comic Panel," which is super insightful. Nicely done, Ed.

Um, yeah... i have no idea what the contents of this newsletter says...

June 24, 2010 / More →

but these images arrived in my inbox, and they are spectacular. If you speak French, then you can read up as well.

Eddie Campbell waxes philosophical at TJC...

• Sketchbook art by Gregory Benton.

• A new issue of Stripburger is out. This is one bitchin' cover, eh? Unfortunately, i'm not sure how to get this.

mighty mike dawson on the mic

June 16, 2010 / More →

Mike Dawson sent me issue 4 of his hilarious mini-comic series Troop 142, an ensemble piece about a Boy Scout Summer Camp. I'm really loving this. Mike's ear for dialog is right up there with our own astounding Alex Robinson, and his situations are so relatable, every issue i read takes me back in time to my own sad-sack youth, and the cast of characters that included. Ass-hole adult, bent on forcing his will on fellow adults and kids alike. Check. Wussie adult, willing to acquiesce and look like a tool. Check. Misfit kids ranging from dick-head bullies, fat nerds (that was me), and all stripes in between. Check. Crazy side characters, like the camp nurse. Check.

Do yourself a favor and check it out at Mike's website.

And speaking of Mike Dawson and Alex Robinson, their bitchin' blog The Ink Panthers reaches episode 50, this time out featuring a 2-part interview with (i think recent Portland transplant?) Matt Fraction, whose Invincible Iron Man is required reading for fanboys like myself.

summer has arrived at Top Shelf West.

June 13, 2010 / More →

Portland has been raining non-stop for weeks. Thank the gods, the sun is finally back. After i post this update, i'm off for a bike ride.

Otherwise, it's relatively quiet around here. I feel like i'm in the eye of the hurricane, and this is merely the calm before the storm. Better button down the hatches...

• Wow. This is a really solid essay on why Jeffrey Brown's comics are so great.

• I picked up a few items of note recently, that are pretty sweet.

Greendale (based on Neil Young's multi-media story). I haven't read this yet, and to be honest, i wasn't that interested in it as first, if only because i'm always suspect of adaptations. Then i read a few stellar reviews of the book, and considered the pedigree behind it; one Josh Dysart, a truly terrific writer and a heck of a nice guy; one Cliff Chiang, an absolutely amazing artist; and one Dave Stewart, certainly in the upper echelon of comics colorists. This is one gorgeous book, and i can't wait to find some time and dive in.

The Invincible Gene Colan. Unlike most comic artist biographies, this came out from Marvel itself. Being shrink-wrapped and at standard comic size, i figured it would kind of suck, so i passed. Curiosity got the better of me, however, and after begging my local retailer to let me peek inside, i must say i'm floored by the quality of its contents. Chock full of Gene's mind-boggling and surreal art, this choice little hardcover delivers. If you're not familiar with this legendary creator's work, here's a terrific introduction.

And finally, the recently released James Bama Sketchbook, from Flesk Publications. Zowie! I was super impressed with the monograph the mighty John Flesk published a couple years back, and i've come to trust his publishing instincts. Mostly comprising "unfinished" sketches and color studies, the book is a veritable gold-mine of luscious art. Seek this out.

• The music geek in me should point out the staggeringly awesome documentary i saw last night, called Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. Whether or not you like this band (and i certainly do), the doc is a genuine inspiration, and a beacon for artists of all strips working in any medium, to first and foremost, be true to yourself and your art.

'Nuff said.

slow days at Top Shelf West

May 31, 2010 / More →

Hanging out with my son Carter. Couple items of note.

• Top Shelf alum Tom (Hutch Owen) Hart writes in:
I'm teaching two classes this summer at the School of Visual Arts in New York City:

First, a solo class called Comics Storytelling. Tuesday nights. This class will be about finding your voice, about following, focusing and articulating your idea in comics. I bring in tons of work to pour over, we begin with a number of quick exercises to get us going, then work on longer projects towards the goal of a single large-scale piece. It’s always a good class. Usually I teach a separate Monday class, this summer I'm taking Matt Madden's Tuesday night slot.

Next is the SUMMER INDEPENDENT STUDY SEMINAR that I am co-teaching with Matt Madden. This class, always a great success for students, helps self-motivated students develop and finalize their longer projects. We meet on three Saturdays over three months to critique, outline plans and discuss ideas and options for our stories. Matt and I give small lectures.

• Former intern and current Top Shelf Submissions Editor Claire Siepser writes:
As some of you know, I have spent the past few months oil painting insects with single haired brushes onto wooden spools and making paper in which I have embedded insects then drawn upon to place the insects
in places such as a frog's stomach.

I have joint-show opening June 4th (First Friday)
Clawhammer & Clothespin
7:00 - 9:00 pm
SE 3611 Division


PORTLAND, OREGON—Claire Siepser grew up on a horse farm collecting every creepy-crawly she could get her hands on. Years later, after forgetting her unwieldy obsession with insects, Claire Siepser found herself with a bunch of wooden spools. Combining her love of nature and concern for the environment she started by painting a single silk worm on a silk spool—exploring the relationship between the man-made and the natural world. Suddenly noticing insects that she hadn’t noticed since childhood she painted more and more of this unseen world. Then she started embedding insects into handmade paper. Since paper is a man-made object made from plants, it was only natural that she combined this newly rediscovered fascination with insects with her love of papermaking. After drawing on the paper to place the embedded insects inside frogs stomachs or caught in spider webs, she decided to exhibit all this new work on insects together.

Her work opens on First Friday June 4th at the new vintage boutique and gallery Clawhammer & Clothespin and will be displayed until July. The 67 spools will be hung side by side to allow the viewer access to all sides of the insects along with simulating the flight of many of these creatures. The work invites the viewer to relive the fascination with insects that most people had in childhood and have since lost to the detriment of the environment in which we live. It is rooted in such work as that of Cornelia Herman-Honegger, Kiki Smith, and the tradition of cabinets of curiosities.

YES! Ax: Alternative Manga has left for the printer!

May 25, 2010 / More →

Here is Eric Skillman's sublime cover.

• Terrific cartoonist Jesse Hamm penned two stellar blog posts on what made the late, great Frank Frazetta's work so transcendental. Frazetta was blowing my brain on his Conan and sundry Howard paperbacks, long before my comics addiction.

Frank Frazetta

More on Frazetta

• Steve Lafler has released a new song The Ballad of the Bug, in honor of his forthcoming graphic novel called El Vocho.

When i was in Mexico a few months back i had the pleasure of reading this new book (from the original art) and listening to Steve perform this song on his rooftop, enjoying local moto and mescal. With his penchant for metaphysical spiritualism in full force, i can't recommend El Vocho highly enough. Steve is a truly gifted storyteller.

• Officially booked travel and lodging for Minneapolis Indie Expo (MIX) this August. Looking forward to checking out the comics scene there!

• Random art that arrived with a communique from Gregory Benton.

• What Bob said...

• World Cup, baby!!

Stumptown and TCAF have both come & gone...

May 17, 2010 / More →

Great time had all around. Three gents sitting across the aisle at Stumptown, sharing a table, really blew my brain — Matt Sheean, Jed McGowan, and Malachi Ward — all worth your attention. Everything they had to offer was sweet, so just check out their links.

It always great bumping into old friends, like Chris (AdHouse) Pitzer, Josh Cotter, and Jimm Rugg, and making new ones, like the super-charming Anne Koyama of Koyama Press. And while i do love Portland, it sure is great to visit Toronto. Hands-down, Christopher Butcher and Peter Birkemoe are smooth operators and run my favorite comics festival in North America. Oh, and i spent no less than three hours rummaging through the best comics shop in North America, The Beguiling.

Between these two shows i scored lots of swell loot. To be honest, i'm not sure exactly which of these two conventions any of this came from. It's all such a blur. Standouts include:
- The Klingon, by Ian Smith. (Cover by Mike Russell.) Tiny little chapbook that made me laugh out loud. One of the funniest things i've read in a long while.

- Tigerbuttah. A faux Little Golden Book by Becky Dreistadt. I wrote about Becky's work after APE last year. I don't see her name around a lot, which is a shame, as she's one of the most talented young artists in working today.

- Rambo 3.5, by the aforementioned Jim Rugg. Oh shit! Rambo and George W. mixing it up against the commie scum of the earth. Rugg is nothing short of a fucking genius. So much so, even his "throwaway" stuff is brilliant.

- Solipsistic Pop volume 2, anthology of British folk. I'm a lover of anthologies, and will be the first to admit, most of 'em are more miss than hit. The puppy is almost all hit. Great stuff by Jack Noel, Daniel Locke, Sally Hancox, Adam Cadwell, Lizz Lunney, Marc Ellerby, and more, all in a fancy-pants black & blue color pallet. Good stuff.

- And HUGE thanks to Peggy Burns from Drawn & Quarterly for the copies of James Sturm's Markey Day, and Dan Clowes' Wilson, two gorgeous new books i can't wait to dive into.

Kevin Cannon has tweaked his awesome website! This mother-fucker can draw! And did i tell you his book Far Arden has been nominated for an Eisner this year? I did? Well, one more time, For Your Consideration

You can read the entire book for free right here.

Lizz Lunney (Mentioned above) just keeps cranking out the great mini-comics. Her stuff is witty, cute, and funny as hell. Big Cat Parade arrived in my po box, to my delight and my son as well, who laughed mightily at "The Food Dudes." I got to see Lizz briefly at TCAF too! Whoo hoo!

• Caryn A. Tate's Red Plains gets high marks AND an interview at Sequential Tart, then a fine interview over at Comics Bulletin.

• Another TOTALLY worthy Kickstarter project, this one from T. Edward Bak. Take it was, Bak:

"I am at work on the natural history-oriented graphic novel biography, WILD MAN - The Strange Journey and Fantastic Account of the Naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, From Bavaria to Bolshaya Zemlya (and Beyond), currently serialized in the Fantagraphics quarterly comics anthology, MOME.

"WILD MAN is a work-in-progress, with a little over 100 completed drawings, so far, and hundreds of new drawings forthcoming.

I was recently awarded a residency in Talkeetna, Alaska, to work on this project during the summer, and aim to raise $3000 by July 1, 2010 to cover supply costs, travel expenses and a field drawing expedition through the Aleutian Islands, where the subject of my biography traveled with the Second Kamchatka Expedition's return trip to Russia in 1741. Your support not only insures the success of WILD MAN, it enables you to own an original drawing from the book, or art from the limited edition supplementary, "Beasts of the Sea".

Sample drawings and art can be viewed on my blog and you can follow Steller's story beginning in the Summer 2009 Volume 15 of MOME, through to the current issue, with more episodes on the way.

• Finally, here's what's killing the Gulf of Mexico as i write this.

picturebook pedagogy #3.

May 3, 2010 / More →

Here, ladies and gentlemen, for your reading entertainment, is the third in a series of guest columns by Trevor Dodge. Take it away, Trev.


Picturebook Pedagogy #3: The Medium is The Message

I'm fully realizing this term how impossibly ambitious most college-level comics courses are, especially ones that mostly function as gateways to the picturebook world. Taking introductory courses in comics isn’t at all like taking intro courses in such absurdly/broadly/badly-drawn literary genres like fiction or the essay. Because at least as far as these particular genres are concerned, they have a mommy, and mommy’s name is Prose. Prose, of course, is the low-tech artform of clunking down letters next to other letters so as to create things called words, (which are of course clunked down to other words), and when you get enough words together, you call that a sentence (which of course are clunked down next to other sentences), and when you get enough sentences together, you call that a paragraph (which aren’t exactly clunked down next to one another so much as stacked on top of each other like a tower of Jenga blocks).

I belabor this digression with you here only to underscore how ingrained these ideas are for us because we’ve been taught these systems of ciphers and architecture from, well, before we were born (if your mommy never talked to you in utero, shame on your mommy. Bad mommy!), to the point where these systems feel completely natural to us.

But you know something? They’re not. Words are comprised of letters. And letters are pictures for sounds. Remember Hooked on Phonics? And but also, why does your alphabet (ahem, The Romans’ alphabet, sorry) look and sound different from someone else’s alphabet (say, The Persians’)? Because it was designed that way, silly. Didn’t mommy never teach you nothin?

I brought this genre issue up with Mister Warnock, who immediately took issue with the comparison and fired off this response:

Really? Fiction and essays are genres? Really? I bristle when comics are mentioned as a genre, because anything under the sun can be the subject matter in a comic. And I would think the same about an essay. Fiction? Not sure. But even within that rubric the potential seems rather broad.

I, too, bristle at the description of comics as a “genre,” and I wonder if we too often confuse that particular term with the term “medium.” Because with comics, this simple transposition could too easily privilege the subject matter of comics over its form (or its genre, which may very well be connected to issues/ideas of form). An example of this problem might be easier to see in the assumptions of lay readers of poetry. A lot of students in my own survey courses assume a poem largely to be a derivation of a genre we can easily identify as the sonnet: it has an iron-clad rhyme scheme, runs 14 lines, and usually has the same sensibility of an emo kid crying. To view all of poetry (which is a medium) through the narrow lens of the sonnet (which is a genre) is largely to not see the medium at all.

To Brett’s point, though, the same could be said about the medium of prose, which takes specific form in genres/traditions we might label as the short story, the novel, and/or the essay. Because where The Bartender and I might quibble over what is/isn’t a genre, there’s no doubt we are in lockstep in believing very fervently that comics is a medium, and thus is capable of doing a wide range of communicative tasks.

So to the pedagogical problem at hand: with only three months to teach a course introducing an entire medium, what are the essential works in said medium? I wrestle with this question at least three times every academic year, when I draft my reading assignment sequences and submit orders to the campus bookstore. And at least three times every year, I end up feeling like I’ve cut corners in all sorts of ways (time, mostly, but also factoring in price, length and relevance) to boil down an entire medium to an arbitrary list that always leads to the “But What About ____?” nagging that haunts me from week to week.

This winter/spring, I’ve been teaching two courses on comics at two very different colleges. One is a private fine arts school, the other a public community college. The former uses the traditional 16-week semester schedule, the latter an 11-week quarter. Both courses approach comics for their narrative/literary qualities, and largely serve as introductions to the medium. As I mentioned in my inaugural post here, I’m finding that as I teach these courses more and more, a wider and wider range of students are coming out every term to take them. This is both exhilarating and daunting, and I’ve had to adjust my reading assignments accordingly.

Here, then, is a combined list of the texts I’m currently teaching between the two classes. I’ve also done my best to provide a brief rationale for each text because, well, I like to think my mommy taught me plenty. (The Bartender, too, as far as that’s concerned!):

Scott McCloud: Understanding Comics
(What, you didn’t read my last post? For shame!)

Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore: The Walking Dead Vol.1: Days Gone Bye
Zombie comics always hit a nice gooey soft spot with my students for some reason, and Kirkman’s series is arguably the best thing going in monthly horror books. I usually work in some cultural studies work on the Comics Code Authority, which always brews an interesting conversation about the lines between making art and consuming product.

Chris Ware (ed.): McSweeney’s #13
No single book convinced me I needed to teach a course on comics more than this one. Ware gives us not only a beautiful art object, but an impressive history lesson in the Western comics tradition. The range of contemporary work in this single collection is unmatched.

David Mazzucchelli: Asterios Polyp
Believe the hype. AP was worth the wait. It’s quite literally something theory heads, philosophers, graphic designers, narratologists, art critics and a whole gravytrain of academics have been waiting for years to talk about. I recently hosted a reading discussion about this book at the Stumptown Comics Fest, and I was amazed by how quickly a group of strangers could fall so easily and deeply into a sustained conversation about representation, structure, and human relationships.

Matt Kindt: Super Spy
Gorgeous design both in its artwork and narrative interlacing have always entranced me. I was fortunate enough to get Kindt to visit one of my classes a few weeks ago, and he was completely comfortable sharing his process, aesthetics and agenda for comics with us. Also, students who read this book the first time I taught it (three years ago) are still talking about it.

Frank Miller, Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
I taught an entire literary theory course at Clackamas CC last year on Watchmen, and I burned myself out not just a little on the experience, this despite having Dave Gibbons beam into the classroom via videolink and charm the collective/proverbial pants off us for a full hour from half-way around the world. Because Watchmen is frequently paired with TDKR both aesthetically and rhetorically, I thought it was simply time to swap them out. Yes, it’s cliche and pat to describe Miller’s characterization of Bruce Wayne as having almost timeless relevance for whatever political strife we might be experiencing, but that doesn’t make it any the less true.

Will Eisner: Last Day in Vietnam
Until this year, I had never taught a full Will Eisner book. Now, after doing so, I will never repeat the mistake. In Western culture, Eisner is to comics what Shakespeare is to drama; it’s getting harder and harder for me to see them sharing variants of their given name (“William”) as mere coincidence. This isn’t about genius either, necessarily. Both Mister Eisner and Mister Shakespeare fundamentally retooled their respective artforms and updated them for application in their contemporary culture. One of those things people like me like to talk about with Shakespeare is how he blurs high and low art forms in drama, appropriating from and rebroadcasting to the popular culture. Eisner does exactly the same thing in comics. Neither men were careless about what they were doing, either.

Will Eisner and Frank Miller: Eisner/Miller
I’ve been excerpting from this book for years, but deliberately bringing TDKR and LDiV into the reading assignments set up the perfect theory + practice framework for me to use the full monty. Plus it gave me an excuse to have Diana Schutz come in to talk about how editing comics is an artform entirely unto itself.

Diana Schutz (ed.): Sexy Chix and Noir
I just mentioned Schutz’s editorial prowess, and this term I’m teaching two of her anthologies from Dark Horse Books. Academia tends to give a lot of attention to long-form work in comics, but not nearly enough to the medium’s ability to tell effective stories with a shorter burn. Just as we differentiate between the novel and the short story in prose, we need to be better about differentiating between the “graphic novel” and the “graphic short story” in comics. And probably the first place we need to start is being more precise and responsible with that well-meaning but nonetheless terrible catch-all phrase “graphic novel,” which is far too often used euphemistically by people who are actually talking about the medium of comics but are somehow incapable of using the term “comics.” But I digress, per usual. Short-form comics have a wide range as well; we can talk about cartoons, webcomics and newspaper strips as kindred spirits to prose poems or micro fictions, but there is definitely a lot of room between these ultra-compressed forms and much longer pieces we call graphic novels/memoirs. The work of Yoshihiro Tatsumi comes immediately to mind, whose work always reminds me of the best stuff by clear masters of the short story in prose, writers like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Raymond Carver, Eudora Welty and Jorge Luis Borges, as well as contemporary genius-craftspeople like Gary Lutz, Monica Drake, Matt Bell and Lidia Yuknavitch.

Alison Bechdel: Fun Home
In past years I've used Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis in my intro classes, but after teaching Bechdel’s book in an expressions/articulations of femininity in comics course last year, I decided to swap them out. Autobiographical stories are arguably the medium’s most poignant and powerful expressions, and this is something the New York publishing houses have known for quite some time. There is literally way too much to choose from when it comes to amazing autobio comics, so any single choice is doomed to come across as myopically arbitrary. But as much good stuff is out there, Bechdel’s Fun Home stands above most in terms of its emotional resonance, intellectual playfulness, and meticulous composition. Craig Thompson's Blankets is a close second for me in these regards by the way, and you have to know that I really hate even the possibility of implying Thompson is in ANY way secondary. This is partly why this upcoming fall I’ll teaching an entire course in autobio comics, and yet another in the winter, where I’ll have the opportunity to teach both Bechdel and Thompson, plus a whole bunch of others—-Harvey Pekar, Jeffrey Brown, James Kolchaka, Phoebe Gloeckner and Aline Kominksy, just to name a few.

Lynda Barry: One! Hundred! Demons!
During my first year as full-time faculty at the community college, Lynda Barry graced our department by both giving a lecture and writing workshop that still has the campus buzzing nearly seven years later. The frenetic energy and honesty in her work—no matter if it’s her comics, collagework, or even her prose—-always catches at least one student in the exact place and time that (s)he needs to be caught, and I’d be lying to you if I tried to downplay how much of teaching boils down to turning on just one person to an artist that utterly blows their mind and forces them to see the world from a different point of view. For many students, Barry has been that artist. The planet is truly a better place because she is on it.

Tezuka Osamu: Buddha Vol. 1: Kapilavastu
I am largely ignorant when it comes to comics in other cultures, especially Japanese comics. Last year I decided to take a play out of one of my literature prof’s books and to assign one text/artist in the class that I knew was of significance but had not read yet. In essence, to force myself to engage the material much the same way my students are asked to do. Osamu’s mashing up the spiritual with the carnal and commodity fetishization is an astonishing artistic move; where most efforts like this come off as sophomoric hackery, Osamu’s work manages to find a truly transcendental mindspace that only the comics medium can deliver.

So there’s the list, and there are huge, obvious omissions to be sure. What are they? If you were designing your own “Comics 101” course, what would be mandatory reading for your students? Any particular works in this medium you'd use to draw their attention and make your arguments?