Episode 52

Episode 52 is live! You can find on itunes, on RSS, or online here. This episode is a special format, dedicated to an in-depth interview with Frank Santoro, who talks about his career as a cartoonist, critic, and educator. 

Frank is raising money to create a unique opportunity for comics education: the house next to his is up for sale, and he wants to use it as a residency and teaching space. 

Go here to support his fundraising efforts on IndieGoGo.

You can also follow the Rowhouse Residency on Facebook here.

Frank is on Tumblr and Instagram. Much of the work on Comics Workbook is generated by his students. 


Cold Heat


The Silver Surfer

A beautiful piece of art - “Colorado” - by another favorite comic artist of mine, Frank Santoro.  I discovered Frank’s work in 2007, when I got the first 4 issues of Cold Heat at the MoCCA festival in New York.  Blown away does not aptly describe my reaction upon first reading those comics.  Santoro has quickly shot to the “top of the pile” of my favorite comic artists.  His work is visceral and beautiful and really speaks to me.  If you love comics - and cool comics, at that - you need to check out Cold Heat, done with Ben Jones, and Storeyville, available from Picture Box Inc

And you should check out his writings on comics and art over at the Comics Journal site, or search his name at the archived Comics Comics site for more of his thoughts on comics.  Seriously - great, great stuff.


I heard a story once about a Madame in New Orleans.

When she was a little girl, her family was poor. Very, very poor. Their house du jour was on the same block of Salcedo as a bakery that made lemon pies. All she ever wanted was a lemon pie. Her family had a boarder, and finally her mother told her that the next he paid rent, she could have a lemon pie. His rent was due in three weeks. She counted down the days. On the twentieth day, Mr McCann was in the bathroom quite a while before someone went to check on him. He had drank carbolic acid and died.

Sometimes, life is like that.

The Indy Graphic Novel Library Project

I managed to finally land a full-time job a year ago.  It’s at Fogler Library at the University of Maine, my alma mater.  It has been fantastic.  I was already in love with the campus after my four and a half years there almost twenty years ago, so getting an opportunity to work there, in the library, is amazing.

The library has the beginnings of a respectable graphic novel collection (though they are found in various spots throughout the stacks) including books by Joe Sacco, Art Spiegelman, Chester Brown, Neil Gaiman, Brian K. Vaughan, G. Willow Wilson, and others.  But I really wished they had more.  And then I noticed the suggestions sheet in the main reading room on the first floor.  So, a few months back, I began putting suggestions there.  One a month.  And the library has purchased every one, thus far.

I’ve steered away from the obvious books and tried to get in some eclectic work from small publishers.  So far, the University has added the following books:

Vietnamerica by G.B. Tran.  No, not a small publisher (Villard), but a book worthy of a wider audience and one I don’t believe has gotten the attention it deserves:

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Inanna’s Tears by Rob Vollmar & mpMann (Archaia Press).  I was introduced to this story by Brett Warnock, when he discussed its online serialization at the Topshelf blog.  Great book that I featured in my Pulse column, back in the day.  Plus, it has a quote from me on the back cover.  So, cool!

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Storeyville by Frank Santoro (Picturebox Inc.).  Santoro is an artist who has shot to the top of my must-read list since I first encountered his work in Cold Heat after the MoCCA Fest in 2007 (I believe).  His colors and fine-art background, coupled with a wealth of comic historical knowledge, makes everything he does interesting and challenging.  Great, great stuff.

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and the latest addition is Joshua Cotter’s Skyscrapers of the Midwest (AdHouse Books).  I only have a screenshot from the online catalog, as I am currently reading it.  At the halfway point, I can tell you the plaudits it has received are well deserved.  Emotional, heartfelt, and compelling - Cotter’s story and art mesh together nicely to create something special here.  Well worth checking out.

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As more graphic novels get added to the collection, I’ll drop them here on the blog.  And if you have suggestions of some great independent graphic novels, let me know.

Holding the Center - "Reading" Sam Kieth's ALIENS
It’s funny how, once something is in your head, you begin to see it everywhere. It’s understandable. With a new understanding, you become more aware. Anyway. That’s what occurred this past week.

One of my favorite blogs is the Comics Comics blog from the guys at Picturebox. They know comics - not just what is good, but the process, the history - and the insights you can glean from the posts at the site are fantastic. Definitely worth checking out if you love comics.

Anyway. Frank Santoro - whose books Storeyville and Cold Heat (with Ben Jones) are two of my recent favorites; great, personal comics that don’t look like anything else on the stands - likes to write about process over at the Comics Comics site, and recently he’s been discussing the “center” of the comic page. How (if I may paraphrase), if you utilize a 6-panel or similar grid, then the center is being given up to the gutters, and the prime portion of real estate on that page, the involuntary focus of the page, is lost.

Santoro goes into this in more depth in his two recent Comics Class posts - Class #1 and Class #2 - and does a far more informed job than I of discussing the importance of the center. It’s intriguing and I would recommend hitting the links, and then put Comics Comics into your RSS feed.

This relates to my “Halloween month” revisiting of Mark Verheiden’s initial ALIENS trilogy from Dark Horse in the late 80s/early 90s. I hadn’t read them in years, and after watching Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of the original ALIEN, I was excited to dive into the longbox. I’ll write about the stories therein later. But what I found interesting was a particular page of art from the third series, subtitled Earth War and drawn by Sam Kieth. The page in question is this one:

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This is a complex layout, considering the reading of the panel does not follow the traditional left-to-right/up-and-down path. It goes down the left side of the page, and then jumps back up to read down the right side, despite the lack of dialogue in that final panel.

It made me think of debates I hear on some of my comic podcasts, where they lament the fact that there is no more centralized office where new artists get to learn about comic storytelling from masters of the form, similar to the mythical stories we hear of the Marvel bullpen where artists like George Perez interned with Rich Buckler while learning from others working in the same space. Some artists today want to create these elaborate page layouts, but then we, as readers, don’t know how to follow the action on the page.

But Sam Kieth’s layout for this page works perfectly, and he is ably assisted by Jim Massara who did the lettering for this series. You can follow the action with my rudimentary photoshop arrows below:

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In the first panel, we have a marine reaching into a hole where a second marine has fallen. Our eyes follow the word balloons as they wrap around the first marine’s head, following the final balloon as it stretches out into the second panel below, leading us directly to this marine’s head in that second panel which is blown through by the alien. The trajectory of the alien’s inner mouth (what is that called?) and the blood and brain matter sends our eyes away from the center of the page down to the bottom left corner. The blood spatters all the way to the edge of this panel and our eye falls into the bottom left panel, which has the second marine turning away from the spattering blood and brains - which tie this panel in with the previous one above it. Our eyes then naturally cross over to the panel beside this one - and it is important to note that these two panels at the bottom left of the page are as wide as the second panel right above it, the single gutter going up the right side of these panels effectively demarcating the left and right of the page. In this fourth panel, our eyes are raised up toward the top of the image by the retreating bit of food the alien took with it and the word balloon that falls out of the upper boundary of this panel. And this leads our eye over to the final, tall panel on the right and to the alien hanging above the marines. The dripping blood from the alien’s mouth then leads our eye back down to the bottom of this panel and the two marines looking up into its hideous maw.

I was really impressed with how this page was laid out. I know I have encountered some difficulty in reading recent comics, mainly because enough thought has not been put into the layout of the page.

This is what I appreciate from Frank Santoro and other artists like him, and like Sam Kieth in this example. I also found it interesting to note that Kieth, whether conscious or not, refused to give up the center of this particular page. You’ll notice that the dividing line between the right and left of the page is off-center, nudged toward the right. And it is telling that the main focus of this page - the alien’s attack on the marines - is found within the center, as noted below.

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These are things I didn’t think about when I was just reading comics. But now that I’m trying to write comics, I examine the books more closely than I ever did. And having teachers like Santoro to show the way at Comic Comics is certainly a help.