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Interview with Ryan Claytor, creator of A Hunter’s Tale

Comics@SDSU met with artist and professor Ryan Claytor about his new comics project, A Hunter’s Tale. A graduate of SDSU’s School of Art + Design, Ryan has a rich career developing his art and teaching comics. He is currently a professor at Michigan State University where he both developed and taught the first comics studio course in the school’s history. Additionally, he coordinates MSU’s Comic Art and Graphic Novels Minor. Join our librarian and comic arts curator, Pamela Jackson, in conversation with Ryan about his project, his work at MSU and his time at SDSU!

To back this project on Kickstarter project, see:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ryanclaytor/a-hunters-tale

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Comics@SDSU Goes to Comic-Con

After a two-year hiatus on in-person events, San Diego Comic-Con International was back last weekend and members of Comics@SDSU were well represented. We presented on three panels! But first, let’s hear from our co-founders about their individual experiences and impressions of the event.

Pamela Jackson’s View

Librarian, Comic Arts Curator, and pandemic diehard Pam here. I thought I would frame my comments in terms of the pandemic and in comparison to my experiences at Comic-Con over the last 15 years. I recently read a poll that said 75% of Americans have nearly gone back to their normal, pre-pandemic lives. As someone in a higher risk household, I guess I’m a solid 25-percenter. My last public event was San Diego Comic Fest in March of 2020. I still work from home. I don’t attend social events or even eat out at restaurants. Comic-Con was me ripping off my pandemic band-aid for the first time in 21 months.

I picked up my badge on Wednesday before the event not knowing what to expect. To my pleasant surprise, I was able to secure a wristband that cleared my vaccination or negative Covid test status, pick up my badge, and grab a goodie bag stocked with free “hanitizer” from a company I regularly patronize (that smelled… interesting, but I was still delighted to see it in my bag) in a mere 17 minutes! 

The scene on opening day Friday morning was much different outside with long Covid clearance lines. Those of us already wearing our scarlet wristbands were allowed to enter. “Right this way,” Security said. “Through door F.” I walked into a large indoor staging area with fans standing shoulder-to-shoulder in multiple lines waiting to enter the Exhibit Hall, quickly spun on my heels and hustled right back out of there muttering, “Nope nope nope.” Hard pass. I was not ready for that. 

The crowds outside on Friday morning. One of the few lines this year!

One of the joys of Comic-Con has always been that it’s like a live-action “choose your own adventure” book. There is so much to see and do that if you don’t like what’s in front of you at the moment, go do something else. The ability to set my own boundaries during the pandemic and still have an engaging Con experience that matched my comfort and safety concerns was stellar. I popped up to the spacious hallways by the programming rooms, then moved through the sparsely-populated Sails Pavilion (that was only ever moderately busy when fans paused to eat lunch) and on to the Mezzanine windows that overlook the Exhibit Hall. 

I had not intended to walk the Exhibit Hall this year, but Saturday morning was freakishly calm and comfortable. I walked the entire floor twice, safely visiting with friends, creators and dealers. It was the best place in town for attendees to do their Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping with row after row of toy dealers, pop culture tchotchkes, and creators sharing their hand-crafted arts. Notably slim this year were publishers and comic book dealers. Though there were a few, this was a bit of bummer to me. I am a librarian afterall – buying way too many books at Comic-Con is what I do! I ran into one of the founders of Comic-Con, Mike Towry, and asked him what year this felt like? He explained that it was a difficult question to answer because while attendance may have been around the same as the late 1990s/early 2000s (estimated at 40-60K this year; it’s normally well over 130,000), the facilities would likely have been smaller so the event back then may have felt more crowded. 

A birds-eye view of the Exhibit Floor from the Mezzanine windows.

Mask wearing was enforced (even for panelists) and mostly honored, which I appreciated. I’ve been asked by many, “Did you feel safe?” Overall, in a vaxxed or tested Delta world, the event felt safe, in part because I could “choose my own adventure.”

The staff, volunteers and security seemed as thrilled as the creators and fans to be at Comic-Con. It was great to be back. It felt like a displaced community finally coming home.

Beth Pollard’s View: “Something to Sing About”

Pam and I have been pandemic buddies since March 2020… logging countless Zoom hours talking about (deviously plotting) how we could convince SDSU that comics bring meaningful social change. As with Pam, my last pre-pandemic public event was March 2020’s Comic Fest. At that event, I sat elbow-to-elbow with maskless strangers at a mock-trial for parenting rights over Grogu (“Baby Yoda”). All of us were willing ourselves — a skilled jedi mind-trick, given the various bouts of coughing by folk in the room — not to think about the pandemic that was slowly spreading our way. Driving home from Comic Fest, my family and I stopped to eat our last meal not prepared at home by me for more than 18 months. Yup! Like Pam, my existence was near-hermetically sealed until relatively recently (I even kept my kids in home/Zoom-school until this Fall)… and I still haven’t been in a grocery store.

But who needs food, when there are comics … and tens of thousands of people you’ve never met, who share your love of the same! I already ripped off the band-aid in early September, when I flew to Portland to present a paper, “Punching Romans, the OG Fascists,” on a Punching Nazis: Fighting Fascism in Comics panel at Rose City Comic Con. That experience gave me some clue of what to expect with Comic-Con Special Edition.

I started attending San Diego Comic-Con around 2005, before the days of the giant studios and the glitzy Hollywood types. I remember when the Twi-Hards (rabid fans of the Twilight series) set the bar for camping outside of Hall H several days before Con started (I should know… by the end I, too, was sleeping under a tent with thousands of people to get into the room for Twilight’s last hurrah). I recall when you could walk-up and buy a badge the day-of… and when you could step out of Ballroom 20 (without a bathroom pass!) to purchase your next-year’s four-day badge with preview night. 

Badges could be purchased on-site, something we haven’t seen in many years!

Comic-Con Special Edition reminded me of those days. No tents. No pre-dawn lines or, worse-yet, hunting the volunteer holding the “end-of-line” sign along the waterfront. No shoulder-to-shoulder shuffling across the convention floor.  

My Comic-Con strategy, in recent years of its incredible (over)crowding, has been to “camp” a room… choosing which room (Hall H, Ballroom 20, Room 6… you name it) would have the most overall payoff. I’d carry a veritable extra-dimensional bag-of-holding with food and drink for four, as well as activity books, legos, and fully-charged devices for the kids (I’ve brought both my kids, now 14 and 10, every year of their life). We’d stay in the same room, from 9AM to 5PM, enjoying what we came to see and being pleasantly surprised by whatever else happened in the room. What I appreciated about this Con was that there was no camping required! One could genuinely plot an adventure that took you from the smallest rooms to the biggest… able to see a panel about CBLDF’s education survey in the morning but still get to a bigger room on the other side of the Sails Pavilion later that afternoon to participate in the Buffy Musical Sing-Along (which, like Rocky Horror Picture Show, has its own set of audience participation rules).

The Ballroom 20 “Bathroom Passes” were happily unnecessary during Comic-Con Special Edition!

Perhaps Buffy is the best way to wrap up my part of this blog… Little could be more cathartic after 18 months of pandemic isolation and stress than belting out — with hundreds of now-MASKED people one doesn’t know — Buffy’s demand to “Give Me Something to Sing About” and, better yet, Spike’s response: “Life is just this… It’s living. You’ll get along… The pain that you feel, You only can heal… By living.”

Tens of thousands of us showed up at Comic-Con Special Edition to do just that. Heal. And live.

Panel, Panel, Panel!

We were honored to present alongside Betsy Gomez and Jordan Smith from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund on Friday. Our panel entitled “CBLDF: Civic Engagement and Comics,” explored how civic engagement has been an integral part of comics since the format’s origin, addressing issues as diverse as women’s rights, civil rights, LGBTQ+ representation, antiracism, and so much more. We examined how comics have been used to address social and political issues in the past and how contemporary creators and educators are using comics to engage the community. Our librarian, Pamela Jackson, presented about civic learning in both historical and modern comics about voting and democracy, and Elizabeth Pollard shared how she uses comics and civic engagement in the classroom with her students. 

CBLDF: Civic Engagement and Comics panel from left-to-right: Betsy Gomez, Pamela Jackson, Beth Pollard, Jordan Smith

As part of the scholarly Comic Arts Conference that takes place annually at Comic-Con, Comics@SDSU presented “Comics and Social Justice at SDSU.” We explored the intersection of our efforts with Comics@SDSU and the power of the medium to bring about social change. Five of us brought different perspectives to the panel: Beth Pollard (the professor) reflected on the goals of our campus Initiative as well as the scholarship and opportunities for student learning and research that the Initiative fosters; Pamela Jackson (the librarian) discussed the role of the SDSU Library’s comic arts collection in supporting the Initiative and engaging researchers with social justice through comics; William Nericcio (the publisher) discussed how SDSU’s comic imprint, Amatl Comix, supports social change; Neil Kendricks (the artist) shared his perspective as both an artist and teacher on the power of comics to foster diversity and social change; and Fawaz Qashat (the student) explained the importance of comics courses and the Initiative to his undergraduate SDSU experience, including his creation of a new student Comics Studies Club.

Comics@SDSU panel in action.

One of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards judges for 2021, Librarian Pamela Jackson presented alongside a few of her fellow judges on Saturday morning on the panel, “Judging the Eisner Awards 2021: Behind the Scenes.” Judges shared some of the challenges in judging and their favorite works published in 2020. 

Judging the Eisners panel from left-to-right: Alonso Nunez, Jackie Estrada, Pamela Jackson, James Thompson, Keithan Jones

Comic-Con will be back July 21-24, 2022 and we cannot wait!

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Luke Heine

Shang-Chi: From the 1970’s Comic Page to 2021’s Silver Screen

Written by Luke Heine
SDSU History Major / Weber Honors College, 2021

The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, has hit theaters to widespread critical and financial success. Already, it’s the highest grossing movie during the 2020-21 pandemic to date, and has scored above 90% for critics and fans alike on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also a success in presenting the MCU with its first Asian-American protagonist, a sign of a growing commitment to diversity and representation in the coming phase of the cinematic universe. With SDSU recently becoming a certified AANAPISI institution, the film’s focus aligns with the vision of our campus and Comics@SDSU. Like all MCU heroes, Shang-Chi has his origins on the comic book page – but how much has changed about the character since he first debuted in 1973 in “Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15”? 

Top: Bolo Yeung and Bruce Lee. Enter the Dragon. Warner Bros., 1973. Bottom: Shang-Chi vs. Tak. Englehart, Steve, and Jim Starlin. Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15. Marvel Comics, 1973, pg. 17. 

In August of 1973, Bruce Lee’s landmark martial arts film “Enter the Dragon” was making waves with US audiences. Eager to cash in on the new enthusiasm with their own Kung Fu star, Marvel writer Steve Englehart and Penciler Jim Starlin created Shang-Chi in December of the same year. The debuting issue follows martial arts master Shang-Chi confronting his mixed feelings towards his villainous father and his own dark past as a trained assassin. In this way, it is similar to the film, portraying a hero’s journey in which he comes to terms with his lineage and chooses to use his skills for good. However, how Shang-Chi and his father are portrayed has changed significantly across the decades; quite considerably, in fact, for the better.

Cover of Shang-Chi’s Debut Issue. Englehart, Steve, and Jim Starlin. Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15. Marvel Comics, 1973. 

The origin of Shang-Chi himself bears several similarities between the original comic and the 2021 film. In his debut issue, Shang is an adult man who has lived his life in China under the control and tutelage of his father, and his living American mother. In the film, in contrast, a 14 year old Shang-Chi immigrated to America, adopted the name Shaun, and only returned to China to confront his father a decade later. Both versions of the character hold a Chinese-American heritage: one by birth, the other by immigration. In this way, continuity across time is presented in the character, as well as the background he represents. His father, however, is a far different story. In the film, Wenwu is an ageless warlord who has lived a centuries long life, using that time to establish the Ten Rings organization which puppets world events from the shadows. He is approached with nuance and compassion, a loving yet troubled father struggling with the loss of love and the burdens of his cruel past. In contrast, Wenwu’s comic book counterpart is Fu-Manchu, likewise ageless and powerful but depicted in a far less flattering (and often overtly racist) fashion. Englehart and Starlin did not create Fu-Manchu, but rather adapted a crime-pulp novel character of the same name which debuted in 1913. The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, written by novelist Sax Rohmer, presented the titular antagonist as an emblem of prominent attitudes towards Asia of the time: Fu-Manchu is characterized by what Rohmer describes as “Eastern devilry” and “the unemotional cruelty of the Chinese” (Rohmer, Sax. The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, ch. 7, 10.). Regrettably, these hateful sentiments sold, with 20 million copies sold in his lifetime, a clear reflection of the fearful and xenophobic perspecitve towards Asians held by many of an invasion from the East (Seshagiri, Urmila (2006). “Modernity’s (Yellow) Perils: Dr. Fu-Manchu and English Race Paranoia”. Cultural Critique. 62 (62): 162–194.).  

Sax Rohmer’s “The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu”. Rohmer, Sax. The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu. London: Methuen Publishing Ltd, 1989. Cover image from pulpcovers.com

By the 1970s, one might have hoped that this depiction would have changed to one less marred by damaging stereotypes, but unfortunately this is not the case. Fu-Manchu continues to hold ambitions of world domination, an Eastern menace who has plagued the “heroic” Western colonial authorities. Written amidst the Vietnam War and growing concerns towards Communist China, the cultural backdrop which influenced this characterization is clear. Likewise, racist adjectives persist, with Fu-Manchu referred to as an “inhuman yellow fiend” and other derogatory descriptors (Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15, pg. 10.). Negative characterization of some nature is expected for the portrayal of any villain; clearly, however, these negatives were rooted in bigotry. Even Shang-Chi’s birth itself has a basis in white supremacy, with his white American mother selected as the “scientifically perfect mother” to bear Fu-Manchu’s child (Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15, pg. 16.).

Shang-Chi and Fu-Manchu. These panels blend the two characters together, using imagery to highlight their similarities and differences. Englehart, Steve, and Jim Starlin. Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15. Marvel Comics, 1973, pg. 3.

This brings us to 2021 – have depictions of these characters changed for the better? Thankfully, the answer is yes. The film captures a respectful and open-minded perspective on its characters and their cultural origins; the characters are first and foremost human, relatable, and free from stereotypical depiction. Fu-Manchu, now Wenwu, is still a significant threat for Shang-Chi to overcome, but not for the xenophobic reasons of the 1913 novel or the 1970s comics. Both Chinese and Chinese-American culture is respected and are woven into the story such that they encourage inclusivity rather than inspire fear, and allow for storytelling that will doubtless better stand the test of time than its predecessors. Perhaps this might be attributed to its director and screenwriter, Destin Daniel Cretton (SDSU Alumnus, Film ‘11) and David Callaham respectively, both of Asian American descent. However it came to be, the story of the character of Shang-Chi lends an optimistic message: that we can learn from our mistakes, learn about each other, and overcome the biases of our past for a more diverse and inclusive future. 

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Celebrating Filipino Comic Artists

Filipino American History Month (FAHM) is celebrated in the United States during the month of October. Comics in the Philippines have been published since the 1920s when Liwayway magazine began running comic strips under the direction of Romualdo Ramos and Tony Velasquez, who is considered by some to be the father of Filipino comics. After World War II – and perhaps inspired by the comic books Americans brought to Southeast Asia – Filipino comics were frequently published as the serialized issues we think of today as “comic books.” In addition to a vibrant komiks (Filipino for comics) community in the Philippines, Filipino and Filipino-American artists frequently dazzle the panel on the pages of American-published comics.

Let’s take a look at some amazing Filipino comic artists! Please note that this list is far from complete and is meant to serve as an introduction to the many contributions to the comics industry made by Filipino artists.

Comic artists such as Mars Ravelo (1916-1988), Francisco V. Coching (1919-1998), and Pablo S. Gomez (1929-2010) were pillars in the Philippines Komiks industry and published in Tagalog or Filipino.  
Antony de Zuñiga (1932-2012), who worked primarily under the name Tony DeZuniga, was a Filipino comics artist and illustrator best known for his works for DC Comics, many of which were published in the early 1970s and 1980s. Notably, he co-created the fictional characters Jonah Hex and Black Orchid. 

In the 1970s, in part due to the success of Tony DeZuniga with comics readership, DC recruited a cadre of Filipino comic artists, including Alfredo Alcala, Ernie Chan, Steve Gan, Alex Niño, Nestor Redondo, and Gerry Talaoc.

Alfredo P. Alcala (1925–2000) was an established illustrator whose works appeared in the Alcala Komix Magazine. Notable works include Ukala, Voltar, Savage Sword of Conan, and Swamp ThingErnesto Chan (1940–2012), sometimes credited as Ernie Chua, was born in the Philippines. Notable works include Batman, Conan the Barbarian, Detective Comics, Kull the Conqueror, and Savage Sword of ConanSteve Gan (1945-) is a Chinese-born Filipino comics artist. He co-created Marvel Comics’ Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy! Alex Niño (1940-) is best known for his work for the American publishers DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and Warren Publishing, and in Heavy Metal magazine. Notable works include Ghosts, House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, and Weird Tales MagazineNestor P. Redondo (1928–1995) was known for his work for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and other American publishers in the 1970s and early 1980s. Notable works include Darna (which he co-created), Rima the Jungle Girl, Savage Sword of Conan, and Swamp ThingGerry Talaoc‘s notable works include Marvel Comics Presents Wolverine, The Incredible Hulk, House of Mystery, and Weird War Tales.
Doroteo Gerardo N. Alanguilan, Jr. (1968-2019), a.k.a Gerry Alanguilan, a.k.a. Komikero, was a Filipino comic book artist, writer, and architect from San Pablo, Laguna. He was an important figure in the Philippine comics renaissance of the 1990s and early 2000s. He was noted for his inking on Wetworks, X-Men, Superman: Birthright, Wolverine, and Fantastic Four, and for his works Wasted and Elmer, which examines racism and prejudice. 
Romeo Tanghal (1943-) is noted for his work on DC Comics’ The New Teen Titans.
Rolando Medina is commonly known as Lan Medina (1961-). Notable works include Fables,  Aria, District X, and Deathlok
Whilce Portacio (1963-) is a Filipino-American comic book writer and artist noted for his work on such titles as The Punisher, Uncanny X-Men, Iron Man, Wetworks and Spawn. He was also one of the seven co-founders of Image Comics in 1992.
Wilson “Wunan” Tortosa is known for his works on Tomb Raider and the American re-launch of one of my favorite TV cartoons, Battle of The Planets for Top Cow Productions!
Leinil Francis Yu’s (1977-) notable works include High Roads, Superman: Birthright, Silent Dragon, Wolverine, Fantastic Four, New Avengers, and X-Men.
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Fawaz Qashat

Tragedy in the Marvel Universe

Written by Fawaz Qashat
SDSU Biology Major, 2021

Comic book titles from the same publisher often overlap and interweave character histories and storylines… so much so that novice comic book readers sometimes complain that they do not know where to begin (see my earlier blog post on how to start collecting comics). This blog post explores a tragedy in the Marvel universe that spans multiple titles and years and highlights how fans can create a deeper and more fulfilling reading experience by exploring multiple, interconnected titles. There are spoilers ahead for Trial of Magneto #1-2 and Death of Doctor Strange #1. You have been warned.

Spoilers aren't all rotten, they can enhance thrills for some moviegoers -  UMaine News - University of Maine

Tragedy has struck in the Marvel universe. Two of the most beloved characters have suffered a terrible fate. The Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange have recently been slain by an unknown murderer . Although their deaths have taken place separately, they seem to be connected.

Back in June and July 2021, the X-Men (those not-quite-human “mutants” whose special abilities singled them out for othering and this a topic for social justice commentary) invited humans to visit their new home, Krakoa, in a bid to build good relations with the nations of the world. They held a large gala that spanned several comics in the X-Men’s several teams. One key issue, SWORD #6 (2020), showed Wanda visiting her once-believed-to-be father, Magneto, after the gala had ended because she felt that having once wiped out 90% of the mutant population’s powers, she should not be the “pretender” at the event. X-Factor #10 (2020) shocked us with the discovery of the death of the Scarlet Witch after the X-Men found her lying on the ground in Krakoa. In Trial of Magneto #1 (2021), Wanda is chased by a mysterious figure who ended up taking her life with a magical dagger. Although she was pronounced dead, Wanda remains conscious and talks with the reader about her current condition. It is still unknown where she is exactly, but a surprise awaited readers as she eventually appears at the end of Trial of Magneto #2 (2021). The peculiar part about the Scarlet Witch’s reappearance is that she seems to be an older version of herself since she believes that her relationship with Vision is still ongoing when it had actually ended several years back.


Scarlet Witch recalling her murder. (Trial of Magneto #1, by Leah Williams)


Scarlet Witch reuniting with Vision. (Trial of Magneto #2, by Leah Williams)

Stephen Strange faced a similar fate in the recent Death of Doctor Strange #1 (2021). After completing his daily tasks, Strange senses that something is off in the balance of dimensions. He is then visited by a mysterious figure who carries a similar dagger to the one that killed the Scarlet Witch. We later discover that Strange is pronounced dead, with the dagger in his heart. Not only was his death similar to Wanda’s, he also had an older version of himself appear at the very end to help fix the imbalance in the universe because the Sorcerer Supreme position was left vacant.

The same murder weapon, the same mysterious figure, and a time traveling reappearance? “Once is chance, twice is coincidence, third time is a pattern.” -Patrick McKenzie. You can read more about what happens next in Trial of Magneto #3 and Death of Doctor Strange #2 on October 20, 2021.

From left to right, Doctor Strange being tied up by the killer, his friends finding him murdered, and his past self appearing out of a portal (Death of Doctor Strange #1 by Jed MacKay).

There is more to come for these two characters and this crime investigation storyline; however, they present us with a spectacular aspect of  comics that differs from other mediums of storytelling. Comics add layered storytelling by allowing characters and events to span different issues. As in the murder of Wanda and Strange, it took several comic runs to establish such a big event and was able to engage readers by entering into the different comic worlds and following a trial to the ultimate point. Other mediums of storytelling frequently include all of the events within the work itself and are not as open to the idea of spanning their story across different works (and sometimes different authors and artists)  to be able to immerse the reader into a scavenger hunt of finding out what happens next. This makes comics a great medium to work with and study because it involves the reader and includes them by asking them to do the work in the gutters not just between panels of a page but in the space between issues. Readers can discover what happens in real time and as they wait for the next issue, they are able to connect with a community of other readers who share their experiences and collectively wait to open the next door and follow the plot.

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Fawaz Qashat

Spotlighting Comics in Special Collections

Written by Fawaz Qashat
SDSU Biology Major, 2021

San Diego State University has an amazing selection of comics that anyone is welcome to use! From the Comics Corner on the 1st floor of the Love Library to the Juvenile collection on the 4th floor, the treasure trove of comics at SDSU is vast and librarians are on hand to help you find titles we may not own. One important place where you can find comics of all types from across the ages is Special Collections. Located on the 1st floor of the Love library (directly next to the Comics Corner), Special Collections has rare, unique and specialized collections, including texts from across the world and as early as the 1200s. A big part of the collection is comics that range from floppy comics to graphic novels and ephemera. Pamela Jackson is the popular culture librarian and she curates the comics in SCUA (Special Collections and University Archives).

SCUA’s comics collection is made up of several donations from comics enthusiasts. All of the bound comics can be found on SDSU library’s One Search site. Floppy comics can be located in the Comics Hub catalog. One Search allows you to find bound comics (and other printed texts) by searching for title or author as well as the library location. Any search can be narrowed to Special Collections which shows exactly what is present in the collection.

The first step to being able to read a comic from Special Collections is using One Search or the Comics Hub to find the desired comic. Once that comic is found, the next step is to make an appointment. At the door of Special Collections, a QR code is present that sends you to a page where you can make an appointment. From there, further details are given on when you can come in to read your comic. After coming into Special Collections, a series of steps must be followed in order to handle the material with care since everything in SCUA is also being preserved for future generations. Some of the rules and guidelines include: No pens are allowed to be used for note taking (but we provide pencils), water and all belongings must be placed in cubbies, and masks must be worn at all times. Additionally, no comics or other material can be taken outside of the Special Collections Reading Room. But do not worry! Each person is given 2 hours to look at their material and if they have to leave and come back at another time, SCUA can put the comics on hold for a later time. You can enjoy the comic you have chosen, take pictures of certain pages without using your camera flash, and even scan the comic so you could have a digital copy! Not all comics can be scanned, however, because some are in delicate condition, but don’t worry, friendly library professionals will be available to guide you. Learn more about the Comic Arts Collection at the SDSU Library here: https://libguides.sdsu.edu/comicarts

If you would like to make an appointment and take a look at a comic from the vast selection in SCUA, the barcode is here below:

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Julia Wros

The Low, Low Woods: A Story of Pain and Trauma

Written by Julia Wros
SDSU History Master’s Student, 2021

The Low, Low Woods follows the story of Octavia (Vee) and El, two girls in the town of Shudder-To-Think; a town over a perpetually burning coal mine where women have strange lapses in memory and monsters of flesh roam the woods. Vee and El go see a movie and have a lapse in memory where they forget what happened during the entire show. There are strange things haunting the forest, and there is a history to the town that people are reluctant to speak about – or just do not know. 

It is revealed that the reason for the memory issues experienced by the women is related to water from a specific spring in the town, one that is compared to the Greek river Lethe from mythology, a river that takes away all of the memories of anyone who drinks it. The six issue comic follows the two girls as they struggle with the question of what happened during that short time period, and if they want to know at all. In the end, it is revealed that the memory problems are induced by a group of men in order to make women forget the abuse that they suffer at their hands. 

When this is revealed Jessica, Vee’s girlfriend, joins in remembering the trauma that they all went through, and her body opens up into a sinkhole that sends the boys responsible and the monsters that taught them back down to the everlasting fire. Her body, like the body of other women in the town, is transformed into a tool of justice – and of pain. 

The Low, Low Woods. Published by DC comics. June 23, 2020. Written by Joe Hill and Carmen Maria Machado. 

Jessica’s mother suffers from the same fate earlier in the comic, but unlike Jessica she was transformed into a sinkhole that never closes. The turning of a woman from the waist down into a sinkhole reminds me of the idea of the monstrous feminine. 

Written in 1993 by Barbara Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine presented a way to look at the role that women held in horror movies; analyzing the way that women’s actions would play on the fears of the men watching. The roles of women in horror, Creed argued, could show what society feared.  

In the case of The Low, Low Woods – the fear is consequences. The flesh monsters that plague the town are remnants of men who also abused women, stopped by the witch of the town, a young girl who was taught witchcraft by a trans-woman. She tried to destroy them all, but ended up starting the fire in the mines and turned the men into reflections of their monstrous deeds.

Jessica turning into a sinkhole here sends not only the old monsters, but the boys who continued the abuse against her and the other women of the town, back down into the eternally burning coal mine – a representation of hell, where the boys will presumably pay for their crimes. The ability of women to cause consequences to men, by using a supernatural ability that stems from their body, is a form of the monstrous feminine. 

The ending of The Low, Low Woods is not necessarily a victorious one, even after Vee and El figure out how to restore the memories that were lost, some people chose to forget rather than remember. And as the comic says poignantly; the lesson for the men was not that what they did was wrong, it was that they got caught doing it. 

The choice to remember is poured over by everyone in the town, and also Octavia, who gets accepted to college and has the choice to leave the pain behind. The comic leaves us in the dark on whether or not Vee chooses to remember or chooses to forget in order to leave the town behind. It mirrors the language around the choice, something that Vee talks about earlier, saying that people could pretend to know who had remembered and who had not, but no one could, that was the nature of the choice. 

We are left with a sense of curiosity, even as the comic hammers home the lesson of bodily autonomy. Rarely do we get a sense that some questions should not be answered, but these characters reach through to remind us that even as actors on a page, the characters have an agency of their own.

Through using bodies as a tool of justice and as a remembrance of autonomy, The Low, Low Woods is a poignant discussion on marginalized bodies and how we view them in media. 

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Luke Heine

Comic-Con@Home: Comics Take Center Stage!

Written by Luke Heine
SDSU History Major / Weber Honors College, 2021

Comic-Con is a staple of San Diego, but if there’s one thing anyone trying to get tickets for the first time knows, it’s that the world-famous convention is very hard to get into. Despair no longer comics fans! This year, the convention is coming to you with Comic-Con@Home. Comics enthusiasts everywhere can tune in to watch a myriad of exciting programs, panels, and more. The virtual setting does mean the convention will be missing a lot of the spectacle from the big names that it has come to be known for in recent years. But there’s a silver lining for those who are fans of the ‘ol printed page: a focus on comic books themselves, and also their value to education and social justice. Let’s preview a bit of what this virtual convention has to offer. 

One panel which may interest professors and social advocates alike is Teaching and Learning with Comics, a panel on July 22nd bringing together university professors and comics creators. As the listed description states, their goal is to “connect the dots between comic books and civic action” through their discussion; those of you familiar with Comics@SDSU might recognize a similarity  to one of our initiative’s goals! For anyone looking for some professional insight on how comics and social justice can work together, this panel is a must see.

Another panel which might catch the attention of faculty is Content through Comics: Teaching STEM and Humanities with Graphic Novels, which will also take place on July 22nd. A diverse panel of educators has come together for this panel to discuss the ways in which graphic novels can increase interest and engagement in the sciences and humanities for students who might not “see themselves as scientists, engineers, or historians.” As a student myself, I have to agree; graphic novels like Speigelman’s Maus and Takei’s They Called Us Enemy connected me to the material in a way few other mediums can. Finding new ways to use comics to spark interest in new subjects certainly has exciting potential, and for faculty wanting to explore it this panel is for you.

These are only a few of the programs which the event has to offer, with well over 100 different options to watch and learn from. ‘Variety’ is an understatement; you’d be hard pressed to find a more diverse assortment of discussions on comics. Here’s a few more panel names to give you an idea: Hip-Hop And Comics: Cultures Combining; The Science of Art; Afrofuturism, Funk, and the Black Imagination; What’s New in Independent Comics; Graphic Novels Lost and Found… the list really does go on and on! And the diversity of topics doesn’t end there: there are panels for film, videogame, and anime enthusiasts as well.

In total, while Comic-Con@Home might not have the goodies and giveaways, cosplaying convention-goers, and stunning spectacle of the in-person event, it makes up for it in the wide variety of thought provoking and entertaining panels which highlight the value of the medium which started it all. So wherever you are, consider swinging by – tickets are as cheap as they come (free!) and getting there is as easy as opening your laptop (sure beats finding parking!). There’s sure to be something for everyone.

Programming for Comic-Con@Home will take place from July 21st to the 25th. For the full programing schedule, and the video links once the event goes live, go to https://www.comic-con.org/cci/programming-schedule.

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Fawaz Qashat

A Wanda-ful Masterpiece

Written by Fawaz Qashat
SDSU Biology Major, 2021

When reading comics, some stick to reading the word balloons of the writer and ironically ignore the hard work of the artist who created the images. In fact, if we ignore those images and only focus on the text, we lose understanding of the story and miss out on vital plot points! The art and illustrations are key to fully understanding the comic you are reading as well as the characters that show up. Art allows you to see the expressions made by the characters, the emotions they feel, and the movement they make. The art works with the words to create the overall feeling of the comic. Not only is the art for depicting the characters crucial, but the art style used for the setting enhances the experience of the story. 

Scarlet Witch #1-15 (2015-2016) by writer, James Robinson and artist, David Aja are great examples of the art of the setting adding to the storytelling. In Scarlet Witch #2, Wanda makes a trip to the Greek island of Santorini. The art style in this issue is very much the Greek style of art because of its portrayal of realistic faces, the natural setting, even the way the sunset is portrayed on Wanda’s face. The reason this is important is that it evokes a feeling of relaxation in the reader, as if we were on vacation too and we could feel the breeze. The smell of the ocean and local restaurants. The chattering of people all around. The warmth of the setting sun on their faces. It also augments the plot point that Wanda is traveling across the world to fix magic and we are also taken on that journey and explore the different places in the form of different styles of art. As she moves to different locations, the different styles of art evoke the sense of the environment and situation to the reader. I’ll provide a brief description of each setting below along with its picture. (All images are from Scarlet Witch #1-15 by James Robinson).

Soft sunset, the glow of the evening sky, the renaissance figure of Wanda, the beautiful architecture are all representative of Santorini, Greece giving it its exotic aesthetic (Scarlet Witch #2).

The thick, messy lines all around Wanda, the glowing magic lines appearing brightly, the soft appearance of colors all give off the sense of a murky, humid swamp that is The Witch’s Road (Scarlet Witch #4).

The plain blue sky, the simplistic greenery of the surroundings, the rounded look of the characters, and the rosy cheeks on Wanda are all reminiscent of Logroño, Spain and its feeling of warmth (Scarlet Witch #5).

The sharp lines of the face and body, the use of the bright red with light pink, the shades of gray for the suit and rest of the soldiers, the boldness of Wanda’s expression are all representative of Paris, France giving it a sophisticated look (Scarlet Witch #6).

The detailed lines to represent the fur, the boldness of the black lines around Wanda’s lips and eyes, the small red nose and soft pink cheeks, and the clean lines of the architecture which all represent Kyoto, Japan and its edge (Scarlet Witch #10)

Each location has a distinctive art style that is different from the rest which is reminiscent of the culture and geography of the location Wanda is in. I picked out a couple of locations for you to see, but you can explore all 15 issues at SDSU library in special collections.

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Julia Wros

Bobby Drake – Out and Proud

Written by Julia Wros
SDSU History Master’s Student, 2021

In the world of X-men, mutants face social stigma for their mutations. Some of these “mutants” banded together to create the X-men, a team of superheroes to combat this discrimination. One of the original X-men was Iceman, Bobby Drake, who joined when he was a teen and became a core member of the X-men and a popular superhero. 

In the 2017 run of Iceman, Bobby’s struggles with being a mutant are more family-oriented, with his father not supporting his career as a superhero and his mother backing his father up on that.  We can see this dynamic on the page shown, where Bobby’s dad tells him not to discuss mutant business at the table, saying that mutants are allowed to be themselves all the time, and that no one was angry about mutants anymore, while also suggesting that mutantism is not “normal.”

Iceman Vol 1: Thawing Out. Published by Marvel comics Dec 27, 2017. Author: Sina Grace. Illustrator/Artist: Alessandro Vitti

This line from Bobby’s father resonates in my mind with how queerness is treated in families, and with the way that dialogue can take place over the dinner table. The way that his dad discusses how mutants can be “out” in public, without anyone being mad about it, is similar to discussions that may be had around the dinner table when it comes to discussions that can happen around pride.  

The scene also takes place at the dinner table, with Bobby’s parents on one side with the food spread in between them. They present a united front against Bobby, all framed as a family discussion around the dinner table, with Bobby on one side alone.

Reinforcing this connection is Bobby’s parents’ reaction to his coming out, shown later in the volume, where their first reaction is to blame each other. His mom blames his dad’s side of the family, both for passing on mutant genes and gayness. Everyone and everything around Bobby is blamed for his sexuality – his ex-girlfriend, genetics, mutantism – without considering that it is as much a part of Bobby as his powers over ice.

Iceman Vol 1: Thawing Out. Published by Marvel comics Dec 27, 2017. Author: Sina Grace. Illustrator/Artist: Alessandro Vitti

They also talk about him as if he is not there, as the argument devolves into the two of them trying to pass the blame. It becomes a fight as Kitty Pryde tries to stand up for him, but only devolves further, ending with Bobby’s father saying that Bobby is dead and that Iceman wins. This dual sense of identity and pronunciation of death is something that many LGBT+ readers may be familiar with as a common thing that parents have said to their children upon their coming out.

Bobby’s experience is a real one, even as a superhero this part of normal life is strikingly familiar to many readers and helps to give an even further human element to one of the most well-known X-men.