Thursday, March 1, 2018

American Social Discourse

     As reported in the New York Times, Ta-Nehisi Coates, "one of the country's best known intellectuals" and recent writer for the Black Panther comic, will be taking over writing on Captain America in July.  So, to sum up, one of our preeminent social thinkers is consistently choosing the form of comics to hold a discourse with the American people.  In the immortal words of Stan Lee, "'nuff said."

Thursday, February 22, 2018


     I got a look at Library Quarterly's full review of Graphic Novels in Your School Library recently, a review I'd only ever seen the first page of previously.  Written by Rebecca Oxley, it's an extended, scholarly take on the book, satisfyingly cogent in both it's praise and it's criticism.  While I must concede that she's got me on my relatively small amount of attention paid to manga and to dealing with challenges to graphic novels in libraries, she also said "Karp is cognizant of diversity throughout the selected works, supporting representation of multiple racial, ethnic, disability, gender, and sexual orientation groups and identities. . . His lessons of how to read, make, and evaluate GN not only legitimize them as invaluable tools, but they teach a new generation of stakeholders that the ability to negotiate within this esteemed art form is itself an emerging twenty-first-century skill."
     Though my book was written only a relatively short time ago, we're are now living in a profoundly different era when it comes to diversity and gender identity.  I'm very happy to know that my messages in those areas remain relevant and useful today, but I'll also say that, having gone back through my book after a number of years, it's bracing just how much is in there that I've completely forgotten about.  There's an assumption, perhaps, that having constructed a book from within your own mind, it sticks with you always.  But I found rereading the book like having a conversation with another man, my younger self, who retains ideas I've long since assimilated into my practice and thus given little thought to.  It's somewhat alarming to find out that my younger self still has plenty to teach me.     

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Comics Literature
From Set to Sea by Drew Weing
     Recently assigned to review the magnificent The Vision by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta, I got to thinking about what could be considered literature in comics form.  If literature is "writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest" (according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary), then let us say that graphic literature does the same, but in the form of sequential art; not simply excellence of expression in the writing and the art, but also in the power of their synthesis to express those ideas of permanent or universal interest.
     So, this is a list of ten pieces of graphic literature.  By no means complete (shouldn't something from Crumb, Pekar, Hernandez or Morrison be here?  Doesn't Black Hole by Charles Burns deserve a spot? Was "Corpse on the Imjin" by Harvey Kurtzman perhaps the earliest example of graphic literature?  What about more work from other countries?), these are what I reckon to be the core titles of graphic literature, extraordinary works that have been, for the most part, culturally embraced.  The list is in chronological order.

Maus by Art Spiegelman
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Allison Bechdel
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Thursday, December 21, 2017


     While Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi seems to be eliciting a complicated reaction from Star Wars fans, among its sundry pleasures and occasional frustrations, I found a piece of wisdom that really resonated for me as a teacher.  Commenting on the relationship between teachers and students, a Jedi master of some note poignantly observes "We are what they move beyond.  That is the true burden of all masters."
    If we did our job right, our students leave us far, far behind.  It gets you right in the heart sometimes, but how will the world get better unless the young come to understand more deeply and act more bravely than their mentors?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanks 2017

     On Thanksgiving last year, the country was on the cusp of a momentous change.  Things have not particularly calmed down since then (do they ever, really?), and however you feel that change has paid off for the country, you'd have to agree that things have not exactly become easier or brighter.  But one of the ways we get through it is by finding things we're thankful for, too.  As on Thanksgivings' past, here are a few small things I'm thankful for, that offer sheer enjoyment, but also a deeper perspective on things we take for granted.

All the President's Men by Carl Benrstein and Bob Woodward - As an account of Watergate by the two journalists who broke the story, it's not exactly a light read, nor an escape from the real world.  Adapted into a riveting movie, the book illuminates just how much bigger the story was than the actual break in at the Democratic National Convention headquarters.  Most astonishing is just how deep President Nixon's rabbit hole of corruption went and the lengths he and his people would go to destroy their enemies, both real and imagined.  It happened in the 1970s, but it's still (or once again) a timely read and, ironically, a hopeful one.  Watergate, which felt every bit as cataclysmic as our own era's problems feel now, did change our country forever.  But if we survived that, maybe we can survive a lot more than we think we can. 

Channel Zero: No End House - Comprising the second season of the SyFy Channel's anthology horror series overseen by off-beat horror writer Nick Antosca, this takes the frame of the creaky old scary story standby, the haunted house, and builds something new out of it.  A small group of college-agers are lured by urban myth and social media into a mysterious, intermittently appearing and disappearing house.  Braving its increasingly terrifying rooms, they find that the true danger comes after they leave . . . or think they have.  Creepy, weird and psychologically insightful, this draws its fear from its characters and their relationships and, in a growing pool of TV horror anthologies, puts Channel Zero as the top of the heap.

Cinemaps by Andrew DeGraff and A.D. Jameson - A follow up to DeGraff's Plotted: A Literary Atlas, which provides maps for and commentary on several literary works, this does the same for thirty-five different movies.  You could spend plenty of time pouring over the intricate maps themselves, especially in such clever forms as the multiple time-period representation for Back to the Future, but the perceptive essays that accompany the maps draw insightful new thematic elements out of well-trodden and often-analyzed classics (The Empire Strikes Back and Alien are two particular stand outs).

     Have happy Thanksgiving and take a free, bonus turkey joke while you're at it.