It’s the final episode of the first season of Critically Comics! This month we discuss Nimona by Noelle Stevenson and try determine if it should go into the canon of all time great graphic novels. Will the young adult LGTBQ fantasy novel make the cut? Or will this former webcomic fail to live up to the hype? Listen to us battle it out and then cast your vote! Let us know what you think of Nimona and if it is indeed canon worthy!
Last month, the 2019 Eisner Award nominations were revealed. The Eisners are awarded to those who are succeeding in the comic industry and pushing the envelope in comic book storytelling. One category to watch this year is the The Best New Series category. For the first time in Eisner history, publishing company Image Comics has completely swept the category. Despite knowing about some of these books, neither of us have ever read any of the series nominated. In order to figure out what all the fuss is about, we each read the first issue of each nominated series at random and have provided our initial thoughts below!
Bitter Root #1
Creators: David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sanford Greene, Rico Renzi Publisher: Image Comics Release Date: November 14, 2018
Steven’s Initial Thoughts:
I was very impressed with the first issue of Bitter Root! Despite being a fan of Walker & Green’s Power-Man & Iron-Fist book that was published at Marvel in 20__, I must admit I was unaware that this book even existed. The premise of an all black family based out of 1920’s Harlem, who uses a combination of witchcraft and steampunk technology to fight demonic manifestations of racism and hate, is a book that I never knew I wanted. The family dynamics of the Sangeryeo clan are laid out clearly in a way that doesn’t feel like the characters are exposition machines merely there to catch the reader up to speed. Artist Sanford Greee and colorist Rico Renzi are a fantastic combination. The opening pages that take place in a Harlem Jazz club feel alive and full of creative energy. Bitter Root feels right at home in a world where creators like Jordan Peele, Ryan Coogler, and Boots Riley are attacking age old problems that people of color face in the modern world. By the end of the first issue, I can see this book potentially finding its place into the canon one day because of its unique ethnogothic flavor.
Tara’s Initial Thoughts:
This book seems to be the most complex and important of the nominees. It’s well researched, and it’s clearly driven by passion and rage. I don’t think it’s my favorite book at this point, but I can tell that this book is needed in the industry. It’s one of the books where I’m not the target audience, but I can still see why the book matters— I’m sure many comic book readers feel similarly about ManEaters. I do like the characters in this book, especially Blink and Berg. The way Berg uses language is entertaining for the reader, and also serves to slow the reader down to process what is being said, which is a nice touch.
Creators: Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein & Ted Brandt, Triona Farrell, Cardinal Rae Publisher: Image Comics Release Date: August 15, 2018
Steven’s Initial Thoughts:
Out of all the issues we reviewed for this post, I found Crowded to be the book I was least likely to return to after its first issue. The book is wonderfully clever with its satirical look at the modern practice of relying on crowd sourcing apps and where that practice could potentially take us. However, its central characters were not compelling enough for me to continue to follow. The twist at the end of the first issue was easy to guess and the central dynamic between the main characters felt so strained that I can not seen how this book can exist long term. I think this story is better suited as one off OGN.
Tara’s Initial Thoughts:
I liked this book reasonably well. When it first opened I was reminded of Heroes for Hire in the sense that you could hire superheroes. As the story progressed, that idea combined with what was basically Kickstarter Murder. The emphasis on technology in this work makes it grounded and relatable, but also runs the risk of making it too trendy.
My favorite character is Vita and I’m interested to see where her character development goes. Charlie stresses me out, and I kinda want to see her get her ass kicked. However, I can see the chemistry between the two, and I suspect that there will be a romantic plot line between them, although I’m not sure if there’s any textual evidence for that prediction.
Creators: Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, Rachelle Rosenberg Publisher: Image Comics Release Date: September 26, 2018
Steven’s Initial Thoughts:
I have made no secret about how much I’ve missed Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Bitch Planet series. After the first read through of Man-Eaters by Chelsea Cain, Kate Kiemczyk and Rachelle Rosenberg, it is seems a worthy successor has made its way to the spinner rack. By utilizing a ludicrous concept (that women get their periods they become unstoppable feline killing machines), the creators take aim at the stigma around mensuration and femininity in our society. The quirky narration is aided Niemczyk’s clever splash pages that firmly establish the book’s satirical tone. Out of all the first issues selected, the final page cliff hanger of this book felt like a gut punch. I am intrigued by how long the creators can sustain this book and how far they are willing to push the envelope.
Tara’s Initial Thoughts:
I like the humor of the book a lot. It’s very sarcastic and witty. It takes a normal bodily function and exaggerates it to the point of “horror”, but it’s a comedic horror. The idea of women’s mood swings and hormones coming from their “pussy” and not men’s rather intolerable behavior is definitely inventive. Taking it to the next level with women’s periods turning women into literal pussies, or giant cats, is also interesting on an animal studies level. I would have to do more research into this, but on a first take, I’ve never heard of a big cat attacking someone for no reason. It’s always because someone invaded their personal space (like we see with a lot of attacks that happen at zoos), or because they were kept domesticated in private homes, or because of illegal hunting (which also makes a solid parallel to rape, unfortunately).
However, I was expecting a bit more substance from the first issue. I might be biased on this front because, as a comic book reader, I generally trade-wait. But I got to the end of the issue and was surprised that was I there— I turned the page, the story was over, and I was disappointed because nothing much had happened. The entire comic was this weird exposition-through-action thing that writers do when they have to world-build. And I get that a lot has to happen before the story can really unfold; world-building, mood setting, and characters are all things you have to develop up-front. However, I still feel like the entire first issue could be summed up in the one page summaries that some comics have before the story starts— you will especially see it with cross-over events. Which is basically all a way of saying that the first issue felt like exposition, and that the real action will start in the next few issues. I loved the first issue, and I wanted more, but it reminds me of Y: The Last Man and I’m slightly worried that it will be too trendy of a book because of the sarcasm; since comics are written in a serial format, that trendiness can work for sales and not for long-term canonical reasons.
Gideon Falls #1
Creators: Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino Publisher: Image Comics Release Date: March 7 2018
Steven’s Initial Thoughts:
The first issue of Gideon Falls reads like the fist chapter of a long forgotten Stephen King novel. Jeff Lemire— best known for his quieter and more introspective pieces like The Nobody, Essex County & The Underwater Welder —is charging head first into new territory with his first horror series. The mysteries set up within in the inaugural issues are compelling — but also carry faint echos of LOST or the Dark Tower series where threads are laid but I’m hesitant to pull on due to fear of unsatisfying resolutions. However, without a doubt the most promising part of Gideon Falls is the art of Andrea Sorrentino. On the Secret Empire episode of the Critically Comics podcast, I previously declared my admiration of Sorrentiono’s style and innovative layouts. It is my hope that Gideon Falls will unleash the creative floodgates and let Sorrentino go absolutely bananas with his art duties.
Tara’s Initial Thoughts:
I think I read the first issue when it came out, but I had forgotten about it. So reading this felt familiar and distant all at the same time. I loved this first issue and would 100% keep reading. I’m curious to know how Norton and Father Fred will intersect. I also want to know why Norton is drawn upside down so much. I’ve always enjoyed reading about people who are maybe crazy, but probably aren’t, and this book has that. I feel like my love for this book means that I should be saying deep complex things about it, but I don’t have deep complex things to say. I liked the tone and how it reminded me of Castle Rock and Fargo. I’m drawn to the characters— I immediately trust both of the m but am wary of that fact at the same time.
Creators: Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett Publisher: Image Comics Release Date: April 18 2018
Steven’s Initial Thoughts:
Despite its simple concept, Sky-ward seems primed for an multi-media adaption. The main concept of living in without gravity seems perfect for a film or VR video game — it would allow for the world to feel so much more alive. Based on the first issue alone, I can’t shake the vibe that this book was created in hopes of auctioning off the adaption rights in the future. While the world of Skyward is fun, none of the characters or conflicts created within the first issue do not demand that I return in the future.
Tara’s Initial Thoughts:
I really like the cover, which is why I read it before Jeff Lemire’s book, and let’s be clear: that is the only reason. But it turned out to be a solid read. I felt like there was action, without giving away too much of the plot. The ending was great because it introduced a new character and a new set of stakes for the main character (who at the beginning of the book, I wasn’t expecting to be the main character). The plot of 20 years without gravity and people can’t even remember life without gravity. How. Fucking. Cool??! Also, based on they first issue, I expect that this will be a great book for disability studies.
One thing that I like about the book is that it feels outlandish without feeling crazy. I don’t expect to start floating, but if I did start floating and there was a scientist saying “I told you so” I’d be like “yeah, you did, but I didn’t read your article because there are way too many articles in academia, also I suck at math.”
But I really love that it features a woman of color because the world needs more WOC-led books. Also, the prose is great. It’s been really hard for me recently to be invested in a story for the story and not for feminist, animal studies or non-fiction characteristics, but this book does exact that. But also I feel weird about it because Joe Henderson is a white guy and not a POC.
Creators: Brenden Flethcher, Karl Kerschl Publisher: Image Comics Release Date: April 4 2018
Steven’s Initial Thoughts:
Disclaimer: High fantasy is typically not my cup of tea. However, the world and characters introduced in the first of Isola have intrigued me to return for at least one more issue. As a fan of the creators previous Gotham Academy book, I have no doubt Fletcher & Kerschl can successfully manage the task of world building at an appropriate rate. Despite feeling like this is equal parts King Arthur legend, Star Wars, and Avatar, Isla still feels fresh in large part to Kerschl’s art style. If the creators play their cards rights, Image may have another Saga level smash success on their hands.
Tara’s Initial Thoughts:
As far as quality goes, this book is definitely top tier—up there with Gideon Falls. It did a ton of world building in a way that didn’t feel like world building, but instead felt like I was just reading a story. It also set up a lot of questions that I look forward to finding out the answers to. The art was beautiful, and I absolutely loved seeing how the Queen looked compared to the other animals in the story. My only complaint is that I would like a bit more character development— at this point I don’t know if the main character is a woman or still a teenager, or why she is with the Queen and no one else is. But I suspect those questions will be answered in the next few issues.
Steven’s Prediction: I think the book that impressed me that most was Bitter Root. Out of all of these books, Bitter Root has a premise and world I’ve never seen remotely like. After the first issue I’m rooting for this book to have a health life span. However, the book I am most likely to follow the most is Gideon’s Fall. Based on how other locked-box mystery stories have let me down in the past, I am not quiet sure if I’m ready to commit to another story in that genre.
Tara’s Prediction: My favorite book was Isola, mostly because of its incredible art, but also for its beautiful prose. However, the book that I think is most likely to win the Eisner for Best New Series is Bitter Root. Its subject matter is both important and timely, and the voices feel very fresh.
On the fifth episode of the Critically Comics podcast, Steven and Tara discuss the Marvel comics event Secret Empire by Nick Spencer! This episode covers the event series that focused on an evil Hydra controlled Steve Rogers taking over the Marvel Universe. Now that two years have passed since the series ended, did the event live up to hype? Is making Steve Rogers a nazi a step too far or is it an incident where life imitates art? Listen and let us know your thoughts on whether or not Secret Empire goes into the canon of all time greats!
On the third episode of the Critically Comics podcast, Steven and Tara discuss Marvel’s Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson! This episode covers the first three volumes of the series and the representation of the character in outside media. Will Squirrel Girl be the best comedy series to be introduced into the canon or will it divide the hosts? Join the debate and let us know what you think of the series!
Welcome back to the second episode of Critically Comics! This month Tara & Steve discuss the 1992 Pulitzer Prize wining graphic novel, Maus by Art Spiegelman. We discuss the legacy of Maus and how it manages to be more than just a depiction of the Holocaust with cats and mice. Download and listen now! Let us know your thoughts as to whether or not Maus goes into the comics canon!
When Critically Comics was still in its incubation stages, we debated if we should have addressed Bill Maher’s previous comments regarding comic books and the associated fandom. Ultimately, we decided to pass on doing anything about the comments, thinking that by the time the site went live almost everyone would’ve forgotten about Maher’s comments. However, on this week’s episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, the host decided to up the ante on his anti-comic sentiments by stating that those who believe comic books are any form of literature need to “grow up.” To add insult to injury, he proudly proclaimed he was sad that “[comic book fans] are still alive.” With the broadcast of these new inflammatory comments, we’ve decided to address Maher’s tirade.
The most important thing to remember about Maher is that he is, first and foremost, a comedian. Maher got his start doing stand-up in New York during the early 1980’s and rose quickly due to his naturally smug persona, quick wit, and fearlessness. Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher was the show that granted him the ability to speak on air to comedians, politicians and other influencers about current day issues. ABC decided to cancel Politically Incorrect in 2001 due to controversial comments Maher made on air. However, due to the fan base that Maher had amassed over the years, HBO hired him to develop Real Time with Bill Maher, which premiered in 2003 and is currently in its seventeenth season. Maher has used both of his television programs to tackle social issues with his trademark wit and aggressive onstage persona. Describing himself as a “rational” person with progressive liberal views, Maher never attempted to hide his disdain for those he disagrees with. Despite identifying as liberal, Maher has often taken an authoritarian-type persona where forces his beliefs on others. A prime example of Maher’s self righteousness is the title of his 2011 book —The New New Rules: A Funny Look At How Everybody But Me Has Their Head Up Their Asses. While we agree with some of his politics (Maher has been on the board PETA board since 1997), it is undeniable that Maher has a serious issue with demeaning those he disagrees with.
With his January 25, 2019 tirade, Maher focuses on a towards a long-standing stereotype that has plagued the comic book community. Maher made it clear that he believes the average comic book fan to “play with dolls”, “[have] X-Men bedsheets” and be a virgin (“there’s a reason why comic books are sold next to Pokemon cards and not on the aisle with the condoms and the lubes”). Essentially, Maher believes every book fan to be a mirror image of The Simpsons’ s Jeff Albertson – a.k.a. Comic Book Guy.
To pretend that some comic book fans don’t match that description is asinine. Yes, there are some individuals out there are who live up to the stereotype of the fabled and basement dwelling “neckbeard”. However, out of the millions of individuals who enjoy comic books and superheroes, not everyone fits that mold. Painting groups of people in such broad strokes is par the course for Maher, who has spent decades reducing entire political ideologies to a small and outlandish core that Maher has targeted for comedic effect. One individual that Maher calls out as belonging to his perception of the comic book community is Kevin Smith. Smith is an easy target due to the image he has created over the years; Smith leans into the stereotype of a comic book fan by making it a part of his core identity and openly talking about his love of the industry. Smith has cultivated an image of being an easy going and approachable celebrity — similar to the way Maher has cultivated his own image of being a lighting rod of controversy. We will eventually get around to discussing Smith’s comics work (primarily his Green Arrow and Daredevil arcs), and the issues we have with how Smith presents himself to the world as a comic book fan. While we may not agree with Smith’s viewpoints (or how he expresses them), we can still recognize the great work he has done for the comic book community without wanting to be represented by him. Similarly, as a self-identifying liberals, we surely do not want individuals to think that Maher represents all components of our political beliefs.
Maher openly mocks the idea of graphic novels being put on the shelf as other recognized literary greats, putting him in direct opposition to a belief we strongly hold at Critically Comics. Maher suggests that Americans are wasting their time by reading “childish” comic books when they should be reading the works of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Michael Eric Dyson. He rebuffs the idea that Steinbeck, Melville or Shakespeare were ever met with criticism for their works. Balwin, Morrison, and Dyson are amazing, and you will never hear us say that you shouldn’t read them. But to assume that any author is never met with any criticism is ignorant at best. Let’s break that argument down.
Maher stated that “no one has ever said King Lear and Moby Dick was childish and unsophisticated.” Technically, he is right. Critics did not use those exact words to describe the works being referenced. Instead, they said that Moby Dick: “repels the reader instead of attracting him”, that “its catastrophe is hastily, weakly, and obscurely managed”, and “Bad stuffing it makes, serving only to try the patience of his readers, and to tempt them to wish both him and his whales at the bottom of an unfathomable sea….” (http://www.melville.org/hmmoby.htm).
Another writer that Maher claims no one has ever called unsophisticated — Charles Dickens — has been described as “not an imaginative writer, he is not a philosophical writer; he pleases the sensation, but he does not satisfy the reason… therefore, though he is probably the most widely-popular writer, he is not a great writer” (http://dickenssociety.org/?p=1909).
East of Eden by John Steinbeck was described as “a huge grab bag in which pointlessness and preposterous melodrama pop up frequently as good storytelling and plausible conduct.” But perhaps more interestingly, Steinbeck intended for East of Eden to be “so simple in its difficulty that a child can understand it” (http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/john-steinbeck-vs-the-critics-of-east-of-eden). For him, childishness is desirable trait in good writing. Which makes sense; after all, when experts teach writing, one of the key skills they focus on is clarity. Writing, reading, and manipulating language are all ways of communicating, as are speech, body language, and pictures.
Maher fails to realize that the multimodal nature of comic books invite readers to analyze the content that is on the page. In November 2018, Maher posted on his blog that “Dumb people got to be professors by writing theses with titles like Otherness and Heterodoxy in the Silver Surfer”. ( That article can be found here). Comics, like all art forms, cause individuals to critique and analyze what creators put out into world. What separates comics from other forms of art is that it actually combines the fields of literature and art, and allows for a much clearer artistic vision. For decades people have debated the animalistic nature of Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuethering Heights and fantasized about J.R.R. Tolkien’s descriptions of the Shire. Similarly, artists have debated the true meaning behind the Mona Lisa’s smile or the logic behind DuChamp’s The Fountain. While art is meant to be subjective, sometimes artist’s message can unintentionally be lost. Comics allow for creators to precisely convey their vision to the readers. Writing and art when separated are highly upheld in their own respective disciplines — so why is it so hard to appreciate the two the moment they are paired together? If it is acceptable to dedicate your life to studying the plays of Tennessee Williams or the art of Pablo Picasso, then it should be acceptable to dedicate your life to the art of Jack Kirby or the words of Grant Morrison.
If Maher’s own argumentative style were used against him, his entire argument would be reduced to the soundbite of: “Comic books are not great literature…superhero films are not great pieces of cinema.” When determining what novels have literary merit, it is clear what criteria must be met; in order for a novel to be considered “literature”, typically the work has a timeless story, is written in a distinctive writing style, and has had some type of historical significance. Superhero comics provide timeless stories with their easily recognized characters who mostly share the same universe. The shared universe aspect of comic books are unique only to the comic book industry. The most ambitious examples of shared universe in literature are J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth series and the underlying weave of the Dark Tower series that loosely connects almost all of Stephen King’s fictional works. By writing stories in a a shared universe as big as the DC or Marvel Universe , most creators don’t have to spend time focusing on world building since it has already been done by previous writers. This frees creators up to focus on telling stores and exploring themes that interest them. The same way that Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, and Hemingway had themes and writing styles personal to them, certain comic creators can be identified in a single panel due to their signature style leaping off the page. For example, if you have a panel in which characters are contemplating their existence in the multiverse while flying through a submarine powered by sound — you are most likely reading a book by Grant Morrison. Similarly, the use of shadows and earth tones in Mike Mignola’s work make his work instantly recognizable.
Some works have achieved social significant and received some of the highest awards in the literary field. Significant achievements achieved by comic book creators included Alan Moore & David Gbbons’s Watchmen winning the Hugo Award 1988, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman winning the World Fantasy Award in 1991, Art Spiegelman’s Maus winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and Ron Lewis’s March winning the Robert F. Kennedy Award in 2014. Even if superheroes are unappealing to you, there are still plenty of other comic books that focus on a variety of other topics. We would personally recommend, Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta to Maher due to the graphic novels’ underlying themes of journalism, anti-authoritarian and the importance of free will.
In addition to exploring timeless themes, comics also allow the reader a form of escapism. In his November broadcast, Maher used comics as a partial scape goat for the election of Donald Trump; Maher stated “Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.” Maher has it wrong — in a country where Donald Trump is president, it is impossible to not see comics as important. Comics provide readers with worlds in which tyranny is battled and people can openly stand up to bullies. Due to the visual component of the medium, comics also allow for the representation of minority groups that are often underserved by other mediums. While comics face scrutiny from fans who do not wish to see inclusivity in the medium, such as the “Comicsgate” scandal from 2018, the comics community is able to rise above that level of hate. The characters that found themselves in the center of the Comicsgate scandal, (Kamala Khan/ Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales/ Spider-Man and Riri Williams / Ironheart) have continued to find success with both fans and critics. Even though it is easy to dismiss comics as escapism, at least they are a form of escapism that allow for powerful social messages to be conveyed.
Finally, the last comment we want to address is Maher’s most hurtful statement: “I’m not glad that Stan Lee is dead, I’m sad that you are still alive.” The pure spite that is in this statement goes against everything the comic industry stands for. At its core, comics are about individuals overcoming adversity. The beautiful things about the comic book industry is that it always meets the challenges against it while inspiring its fans to overcome the own challenges they face in their own life. People get particular panels or emblems permanently tattooed to constantly remind them of their own strength that they discovered through comic books. The fact that comics inspire so many people is the reason why comic books will outlive a self-righteous bully who over-simplifies an entire industry for a series of poorly thought out jokes.