Torsten reminded me to write a quick note about an upcoming book: Bertrand Russell appeared in my first book, Two-Fisted Science, in a story beautifully illustrated by Colleen Doran. He’s back in LOGICOMIX, by Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna. It looks excellent — I can’t wait to read it.
This constellation of words is a map of the script, so it’s all in there (except for the structural stuff like “Panel X” and “Page Y”).
Now you have T-Minus and its director’s cut, all at once, with the main characters looming large! Think of all the time you’ve saved by not having to deal with messy details like story or plot. I’ve even spared you the pictures, so you don’t have to feel sad because the book you’re reading right now doesn’t feature art by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon.
But your next book will be chock full of Cannon and Cannon goodness, right?
As a comics writer, with every new book I get the pleasure of rediscovering a story through the eyes and skilled hands of artists. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the thrill of seeing a script come to life in ways that I’d imagined…and even better, in ways that I didn’t imagine.
A new thrill has come my way in the past couple of years — editions in other languages, for non-U.S. audiences. So far, only Suspended in Language has made it overseas, but a couple more will appear in the coming years. I can’t read ’em, but I sure do like looking at ’em! So over to the right you see the cover of the Indonesian edition, copies of which just arrived in the mail today, and here’s the machine-translated ad copy for the Italian edition, courtesy of Sironi Editore:
More or less all you have felt to speak, to the times of the school, the atom of Bohr. But you knew it that, during the war, its inventor risked the life traversando the Sleeve hidden in the space bombs to an airplane? Reading this comic strip you will understand that the life of a theoretical physicist can be much enlivened, above all if that physicist is Niels Bohr: not only the father of the quantistica mechanics, but one between the more important figures of XX the century. You will discover, as an example, that it helped Firm to scappare from Italy, than as well as the nazis how much the Soviet ones wanted rapirlo, that Churchill considered it the more dangerous man in the group that she constructed the atomic bomb. You will see to battle with those cocciuto of Einstein, to taken with that impertinente of Heisenberg and that maleducato one of Pauli… You will have the vertigos – because it cannot be spoken about quantistica mechanics without to have them – but you will make also a bag of risate: after all, the “spirit of Copenaghen” was also this. Final designs of Jay Hosler, Steve Leialoha, Linda Medley and Jeff Parker. Jim Ottaviani has felt to name Bohr for before the time when it studied in order to become engineer nuclear. Now ago the librarian in a university and when the others sleep, writes. He is author of many comic strips with scientists like protagonists. A dazzling thought is the first one translate in Italian. Leland Purvis, graduated in History, is a narrator and an artist self-taught. It has begun publishing in just the story anthology to Vòx comic strips, for which the Xeric has won Grant. The history to comic strips of its Pubo personage have been ripubblicate recently like series from Dark Horse Comics.
“[W]hen the others sleep, writes.” I like it.
And I also like trailers!
[The original version of this review appeared in The Comics Journal #220, Feb. 2000.]
Comics are a silent medium, so sound and music, however hinted at by a comic book artist, don’t sing on the page. (Though some artists, including Mark Badger, Megan Kelso, Dave McKean, and Paul Pope, manage to at least suggest music well). That means when this week’s thug connects with the Spirit’s jaw we may feel the impact but we don’t hear it, and we can only imagine what Hopey Glass’s band sounds like.
“[T]he thing is, radio is a very visual medium”. So says Ira Glass, host of NPR’s This American Life, talking with Jessica Abel about making radio that’s good. (Jessica’s original title page said “How to make radio that’s actually good”, but Glass thought that obnoxious.) The quote shows up on page eleven of this excellent thirty page comic, and by the time you reach it you won’t agree with her initial response: “That’s sorta counterintuitive.” Yes, on the surface it’s counterintuitive, but only to the degree that a comic book about creating radio interviews can be this good is counterintuitive. It is, until you’ve seen it done. Abel applies a variety of formal techniques and sure-footed pacing to this unusual subject. The result was hands-down my favorite single issue comic book from 1999. That I’m a hopeless NPR addict might bias me, but I don’t think so, since I still look at the book regularly.
To sum up why, let’s skip to the last page, where Glass tells Abel: “The key to the whole thing isn’t structure. In fact, the simpler the structure the more space you have to follow your curiosity, to work in the movements and quotes that give you pleasure, or evoke some feeling in you, or amuse you.” Combined with the other major point Glass and Abel hammer home, it sums up why the book succeeds. That other point is that effective storytelling preserves the rhythm and structure (and not just, or even necessarily, the words) of natural speech, and maps that rhythm and structure onto the narrative as a whole. Sentence-breath-sentence. Anecdote-reflection-anecdote. It’s what makes radio stories work, and Abel captures this on both a micro- and a macro- level in the comic.
On the micro-level, Abel knows when to let a picture do the work, giving the reader and her narrative time to breathe on the page. There’s not a single panel in the book that doesn’t incorporate text, and most of them have a lot of text. (Example: The long quote about structure above is only half of the dialogue in the panel, and that’s typical of the whole book.) But in many cases that text functions more as symbols — or background music — than as words, and in doing so promotes to the picture without commanding attention to itself.
On the macro-level — that is, within a page or scene — the book as a whole meshes story (the making of a particular show called “Do-Gooders”) with how-to instruction in much the same way. The comic begins anecdotally, at 31 minutes to air with the producers glancing nervously at the clock while Glass works out the timing of his intro. From there it cuts to a segment called “Where do stories come from?”, which describes how a theme-based radio show gets pulled together over the course of many months. Abel then cuts over to an illustrated example of a story the show ran years before and we come ’round to an anecdote again. But within that anecdote, we get interrupted by an iconically drawn Glass who stops the narrative to talk about why a seemingly banal beginning to a story (“a guy sees another guy on a subway platform”) can hold a listener’s attention and how, if done correctly, the storyteller makes us want to find out what happens next.
So what happens next? In the comic, we return to the subway story (anecdote), followed by a depiction of Glass talking about the structure of the story itself and reflecting on the anecdote-reflection-anecdote structure. And then the cycle begins again. If all of this sounds awkward and formal, blame my inability to describe in words alone what Abel does by combining words and pictures.
Speaking of pictures, Abel uses some subtle (and not-so-subtle) tricks that only work in comics to pull things together and maintain the story’s flow. When she depicts Glass stepping outside of the narrative to comment on technique, she does so iconically. Characters look back and down at preceding panels to comment on their contents, panels repeat, their borders get different weights or disappear altogether, and typeset text mingles with hand lettering. All of these elements combine to good effect and make the book lively and engaging, even though this may be the wordiest thirty pages of comics I’ve read. My guess is that Radio clocks in at roughly 10,000 words, making it the densest and most prose-reliant single issue since Shane Simmons’ Longshot Comics. Abel makes it work, though, and does so while dealing with topics as diverse as the art of interviewing, logging transcripts, selecting equipment and settings, cutting/editing tape, getting started in public radio, and how best to incorporate music into a narrative.
She tells the story, too, integrating it so neatly that you’ll find yourself almost hearing the show in question while you learn how it got made. Not quite — comics are a silent medium, after all. But don’t worry, the end matter and credits include information on how to get a copy of the “Do-Gooders.” And that you get to donate to This American Life to get your own copy of Radio: An Illustrated Guide (it’s not available in stores) is a bonus.
The (potentially) most awkward convention neighbor of all time (that turned out fine)…
The setting was Heroes Con, 2008. My first time at that comic book show, or in Charlotte, which was exciting. The week before was exciting too.
Monday, First Second sent the latest batch of samples for the Trimates (Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Biruté Galdikas) book. They were by Maris Wicks, whose work I knew (I had some of her minis) but didn’t remember very well, and never would have thought of approaching on my own for the story. What do I think, asked the fantastic Gina G.? I thought they looked great. I’d been impressed with all the batches of samples I’d seen, frankly, each for different reasons. But the First Second crew thought these were the stuff for the book, and I agreed. The thing is, I told Gina, I see that we’ll both be at Heroes Con this weekend. So. On Tuesday, :01 editors talk, on Wednesday they hook up with Maris, and on Thursday they tell me we are go! On Friday, I arrive in Charlotte and find my table and begin setting up. And setting up at the table next to me, touching mine, right there, less than spittin’ distance and barely more than arm’s reach away?
Karma? Fate? Funny as hell? Who knows…
But the thing that still makes me laugh is this set of hypothetical questions: What if (a) she hadn’t decided yet, or (b) I’d said “no way, can’t stand her art”, or (c) she’d said “on second thought, that’s the worst script I’ve ever read and I wouldn’t do it on a dare or for 3.7 million dollars,” or (d) neither of us had heard back from :01 yet? Answer: The Most Awkward Three Days Ever!
“So, um. Hi. My name is Jim.”
“…Hi. I’m Maris.”
“Cool. I, uh, I’ve seen your work and really, um. Like it. Have you ever seen my–“
“Yeah, sure. It’s, um. Good. Non-fiction comics are really… Good.”
Followed by 72 hours of dead silence and no eye contact.
Instead, we chattered constantly, talked about the book over a gut-busting and tasty breakfast, and the thumbnails I just saw look terrific. I can’t wait for this book to come out.
Two-Fisted Science and Dignifying Science are close to being sold out in their original, comic book-sized editions. I will reconfigure them to a more…or less, depending on your perspective…conventional trim size of 6×9 in. (15×23 cm) for reprinting this spring, so if you really love the book in the 7×10 in. format, now would be a great time to order them.
(Suspended in Language will probably go back to press at about the same time.)
I’m grateful to all the readers who have made their success possible. Thanks!