Thursday, April 09, 2009

Unpacking My Comics Library

[Walter Benjamin: The Arcades Project]

In 1931, Walter Benjamin wrote an essay called "Unpacking my Library: A Talk About Book Collecting" (included in the collection Illuminations (1968)). It's been a comfort ever since to obsessive bibliophiles. He makes the activity sound almost respectable!

The conceit of the essay is that its author is unpacking the various crates that make up his library, and musing on the various treasures they contain:

I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order. I cannot march up and down their ranks to pass them in review before a friendly audience. You need not fear any of that. Instead, I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with the dust of wood, the floor covered with torn paper, to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood - it is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation - which these books arouse in a genuine collector.

He rejects the notion of simply listing or enumerating the books, or even just the obvious gems of his collection:
I ... have in mind something less obscure, something more palpable than that; what I am really concerned with is giving you some insight into the relationship of a book collector to his possessions, into collecting rather than a collection.

Recently I myself have become aware of the need to cut down a bit, to spend less time snouting around bookshops (new or secondhand) - or around, for that matter - and the solution I've come up with is to expend the same energy cataloguing the books I already have.

It'll take quite a while, that much is certain. But then it's hardly worth having books if you don't know what you have, is it? The last rough census I conducted (in December 2007) left me with a grand total of 12,838 books, but I can't help feeling the number may have grown a bit since then (that was after a massive purge of more than 30 boxes of books, in any case).

Anyway, I have no intention of inflicting too much of this catalogue on you, but it did seem like a good pretext for doing a post on comics and graphic novels. I know some see them as intrinsically lowbrow and unrespectable, but I had the good fortune to grow up in a house full of Tintin and Donald Duck. Both my parents were extremely fond of comics, and while my tastes have broadened a lot since then, I'm afraid that my definition of literary genius is still as likely to be inspired by Hergé or Carl Barks as it is by John Ashbery or Angela Carter ...

So here are a few of some of my more interesting comics. I keep them in a series of plastic cubes, so you can see this as parallel to Benjamin's unpacking the 12 crates of his own library (if you want to, that is):

[Classics Illustrated]

Writers are really people who write books not because they are poor,
but because they are dissatisfied with the books
which they could buy but do not like.

- Walter Benjamin

Classics Illustrated:

  • Classics Illustrated (Featuring Stories by the World’s Greatest Authors). New York: Gilberton Company, Inc. / London: Thorpe & Porter, 1946-?.

    1. No. 1: Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers.
    2. No. 2: Sir Walter Scott: Ivanhoe.
    3. No. 18: Victor Hugo: The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
    4. No. 29: Samuel L. Clemens: The Prince and the Pauper.
    5. No. 46: Robert Louis Stevenson: Kidnapped.
    6. No. 47: Jules Verne: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
    7. No. 63: Jules Verne: Off on a Comet.
    8. No. 78: Joan of Arc.
    9. No. 81: The Adventures of Marco Polo
    10. No. 105: Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon.
    11. No. 142: Abraham Lincoln.
    12. No. 144: H. G. Wells: The First Men in the Moon.
    13. Classics Illustrated Junior, No. 525: Hans Christian Andersen: The Little Mermaid.
    14. World Illustrated, No. 514: Story of Great Explorers.
    15. World Illustrated, No. 531: Story of the Northwest Passage.

It became a kind of a cliché at school, I remember.

"Have you read so-and-so?"

"No, but I've read the classic comic."

They were terribly drawn, hopelessly clunky in the way they ran through the plots - but somehow magical. It's hard to blame parents who saw their kids reading them for concluding that comics were intrinsically inferior to "proper" books, but they still seem to me a cut above Coles' (or Cliffs') Notes ...

In any case, there are a lot of images from the group above which are indelibly seared onto my mind's eye - from Jules Verne in particular.

[Barry Windsor-Smith: The Lurker Within]

Every passion borders on the chaotic,
but the collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories.

- Walter Benjamin

Conan the Barbarian:

  • Savage Tales, 2: “Rogues in the House.” By Roy Thomas & Barry Smith. Melbourne: Gordon & Gotch / Sydney: Colour Comics Pty, n.d.

  • Savage Tales, 3: “A Sword Called Stormbringer!” By Roy Thomas & Barry Smith. Melbourne: Gordon & Gotch / Sydney: Colour Comics Pty, n.d.

  • Savage Tales, 9. Melbourne: Gordon & Gotch / Waterloo: Federal Publishing Co., 1985.

  • Climax Adventure Comic, 11: "Conan the Barbarian in the Coils of the Man-Serpent.” By Roy Thomas & Barry Smith. Melbourne: Gordon & Gotch / Sydney: Colour Comics Pty, n.d.

  • Conan the Barbarian, 3: “The Garden of Fear.” By Roy Thomas & Barry Smith. Melbourne: Gordon & Gotch / Sydney: Colour Comics Pty, n.d.

  • Conan the Barbarian, 7: “The Monster of the Monoliths.” By Roy Thomas & Barry Smith. Melbourne: Gordon & Gotch / Sydney: Colour Comics Pty, 1970.

  • Conan the Barbarian, 254: “Hyperborean Horror.” By Roy Thomas & Mike Docherty. New York: Marvel Comics, March 1992.

  • Conan the Barbarian, 255: “Priests of the Purple Plague.” By Roy Thomas & Mike Docherty. New York: Marvel Comics, April 1992.

  • Conan the Barbarian, 260: “The Second Coming of Shuma-Gorath.” By Roy Thomas & Mike Docherty. New York: Marvel Comics, September 1992.

  • Conan the King, 35: “The Ravaged Land.” By Don Kraar & Judith Hunt. New York: Marvel Comics, July 1986.

These sword-&-sorcery epics exerted even more of a fascination on me, I recall. Best of all was the comic where Conan met Michael Moorcock's hero Elric and his terrible soul-eating sword Doombringer (the second in the list above). Barry Smith's drawings were elegant and precise, though few of his successors could emulate him in this. The Roy Thomas scripts managed to convey a good deal of the mad intensity of Robert E. Howard's Nietzschean original ... I remember writing a poem about it once, in fact: "Memories of Conan the Cimmerian":

Death which would have skewered the barbarian
like unto a worm …
if not for his steel-spring quickness!

– Roy Thomas / Barry Smith, “Rogues in the House”

Across the dark lands, the dark republic
of dreams, coming for you, running, running


on eager feet, tamped dry-earth roads,
irresistible, sure-footed, in the dark


with death in hand, with weapons,
weapons at the ready, keen, blood-thirsty


He comes, he comes, Brüder

the girl in the denim skirt
laughs at a fat man’s joke

as dawn arises, he is on the scent

[First published in Tongue in Your Ear 7 (2003): {19}]

[Carl Barks: A Christmas for Shacktown]

the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes
are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of these books.

- Walter Benjamin

Walt Disney:

  • The Carl Barks Library of Walt Disney’s Donald Duck. Ed. Bruce Hamilton, with Geoffrey Blum and Thomas Andrae. 30 vols in 10 Boxed Sets. Scottsdale, Arizona: Another Rainbow Publishing Inc., 1983-89.

    1. 1942-1949: Donald Duck Four Color 9-223 (1984)
    2. 1949-1971: Donald Duck Four Color 238-422, 26-138 (1986)
    3. 1952-1958: Uncle Scrooge 1-20 (1984)
    4. 1958-1963: Uncle Scrooge 21-43 (1985)
    5. 1963-1967: Uncle Scrooge 44-71 (1989)
    6. 1945-1974: Giveaways, Annuals, Miscellaneous (1983)
    7. 1943-1948: Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories 31-94 (1988)
    8. 1948-1954: Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories 95-166 (1983)
    9. 1954-1959: Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories 167-229 (1985)
    10. 1959-1969, 1974: Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories 230-405 (1983)

  • Barks, Carl. Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Adventures, 3: “Lost in the Andes.” 1949. Prescott, Arizona: Gladstone Publishing, Ltd., Feb 1988.

  • Barks, Carl. Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Adventures, 14: “Donald Duck and the Mummy’s Ring.” 1943. Prescott, Arizona: Gladstone Publishing, Ltd., August 1989.

  • Disney, Walt. Walt Disney’s Donald Duck, 262: “Donald’s Cousin Gus." 1938. Prescott, Arizona: Gladstone Publishing, Ltd, March 1988.

  • Disney, Walt. Zio Paperone, No. 10. Milano: Mondadori, Agosto 1988.

Well, these are genuine masterpieces, I have to say.

I won't claim that Carl Barks had much of an opinion of human nature, but he taught the basic principles of society and its rules through the protean figures of Donald Duck, his know-it-all nephews, and his uncle, the tycoon Scrooge McDuck.

I can't agree (pace Ariel Dorfman) that the latter is simply an embodiment of Yankee imperialism. As you can see from the extract above, the bitter black humour of the narratives masked an intense knowledge of and sympathy for the sufferings of the poor. Barks wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He never forgot the fact, either.

His body of work is as massive and complex as Balzac's.

[Bryan Talbot: Alice in Sunderland]

"The only exact knowledge there is," said Anatole France,
"is the knowledge of the date of publication and the format of books."

- Walter Benjamin

Graphic Novels (miscellaneous):

  • Crimmins, G. Garfield. The Republic of Dreams: A Reverie. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998.

  • Dille, Robert C. The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. 1969. USA [Chicago:] Chelsea House Publishers, 1970.

  • Horrocks, Dylan. Hicksville: A Comic Book. 1998. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2001.

  • Jane at War: The original and unexpurgated adventures of the British Secret Weapon of World War Two. 1939-45. Illustrated by Norman Pett. London: Wolfe Publishing, 1976.

  • Reynolds, Chris. Mauretania. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

  • Smith, Jeff. Bone. 1991-2004. Columbus, Ohio: Cartoon Books, 2004.

  • Talbot, Bryan. Alice in Sunderland: An Entertainment. London: Jonathan Cape, 2007.

Here's a group of very disparate works, each brilliant in its own way: Dylan Horrocks' homegrown epos Hicksville remains as relevant today as when it first started to come out in Pickle in the 80s and 90s; Bone is a picaresque and amusing tale, on a pretty large scale. Alice in Sunderland is probably the one which delights me most at present, though. It's hard to characterise, a sort of genre-bending history book and revisionist biography: a labour of love in the truest sense of the word ...

[George Herrimann: Krazy Kat]

if there is a counterpart to the confusion of a library,
it is the order of its catalogue.

- Walter Benjamin

Krazy Kat:

  • Herriman, George. Krazy & Ignatz: The Komplete Kat Komics. Volume 1: 1916. Forestville, California: Eclipse Books / Turtle Island Foundation, 1988.

  • Herriman, George. A Katnip Kantata in the Key of K: The Komplete Kat Komics. Volume 7: 1922. Forestville, California: Eclipse Books / Turtle Island Foundation, 1991.

  • Herriman, George. Inna Yott on the Muddy Geranium: The Komplete Kat Komics. Volume 8: 1923. Forestville, California: Eclipse Books / Turtle Island Foundation, 1991.

If you haven't met Krazy Kat you really should do so at once. About the only thing I ever heard to William Randolph Hearst's credit is that he insisted on having the strip run in all his newspapers, and came down hard on any that dared to drop it.

Most of them did try to drop it, at least once. It was, after all, the closest thing to Dada that the comic strip has ever attempted. A kind of mad linguistic fantasy more along the lines of Finnegans Wake than Huckleberry Finn.

Not that the concept is complex - just the number of variations that can be played on the basic love triangle of Krazy, Ignatz Mouse and Offissa Pupp.

[Jack Kirby: New Gods]

Collectors are people with a tactical instinct; their experience teaches them that when they capture a strange city, the smallest antique shop can be a fortress, the most remote stationery store a key position.
- Walter Benjamin

Jack Kirby:

  • New Gods. Issues, 1-11: 1971-72. New York: DC Comics, 1998.

Late Kirby worries me a bit, I must admit. After reinventing the aesthetics of the action comic with his work on the Fantastic Four and Hulk in the early 60s, he eventually parted ways with Marvel's Stan Lee in the 70s - and was never quite the same man again.

There are flashes of genius here, but also a kind of static anti-narrative grandiosity which lacks the lightness and balance of his earlier work. I suspect that dyed-in-the-wool Kirby fans will take great umbrage at this put-down of any of the master's work, though ...

[Los Bros Hernandez: Love and Rockets Sketchbook]

How many cities have revealed themselves to me
in the marches I undertook in the pursuit of books!

- Walter Benjamin

Love & Rockets:

  • Hernandez, Jaime. Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories. A Love and Rockets Book. Seattle, Washington: Fantagraphics Books, 2004.

Oh God, who can resist Love and Rockets? My own preference has always been for Jaime's "Locas": Maggie and Hopey, over the complex interrelationships of Gilberto's imaginary Central American village Palomar, but it's strictly a choice of excellences.

The Hernandez brothers have to take their place in any pantheon of the greatest comics heroes. And it's nice to have their strongest work collected in these (massive) omnibus volumes.

[Frank Miller: Sin City]

the most distinguished trait of a collection
will always be its transmissibility.

- Walter Benjamin

Frank Miller:

  • Miller, Frank. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Introduction by Alan Moore. New York: DC Comics, 1986.

  • Miller, Frank. Elektra: Assassin. 1986-87. New York: Epic Comics, 1987.

  • Miller, Frank. Sin City. 1992. London: Titan Books, 1993.

Well, here's a man who needs no introduction. When I first read Elektra Assassin back in the 80s, I could see that this was something altogether exceptional. Funnily enough, it took me longer to get to The Dark Knight Returns, one of the "big three" graphic novels of 1987, the ones which finally persuaded virtually everyone who didn't have their heads terminally up their arses that here was a form which had finally come of age (the other two, if you're curious, were Alan Moore's Watchmen and the first volume of Art Spiegelman's Maus).

It took me longer to "get" Sin City. Now, post the film, I can see it for the masterpiece it is, but at the time it seemed to me to lack the complexity and layers of his earlier work.

Boy, was I wrong!

[Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie: The Lost Girls]

the phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning
as it loses its personal owner.

- Walter Benjamin

Alan Moore:

  • V for Vendetta. Illustrated by David Lloyd. New York: DC Comics, 1990.

  • Saga of the Swamp Thing. Issues 21-64: 1983-87. Vols 1-6. New York: Vertigo, 1987-2003.

  • DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore. New York : DC Comics, 2006.

  • Watchmen. Illustrated by Dave Gibbons. New York: DC Comics, 1987.

  • From Hell: Being a Melodrama in Sixteen Parts. Illustrated by Eddie Campbell. 1999. Sydney: Bantam Books, 2001.

  • A Disease of Language. Illustrated by Eddie Campbell. 1999 & 2001. London: Knockabout – Palmano Bennett, 2005.

  • America’s Best Comics. No. 1. (2000)

  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Illustrated by Kevin O'Neill. Vols 1-2. La Jolla, CA: America’s Best Comics, 2000-2003.

  • Lost Girls. Illustrated by Melinda Gebbie. 3 vols. Atlanta-Portland: Top Shelf Productions, 2006.

Moores has suffered from a series of terrible film adaptations of his major works, but anyone familiar with the comics which gave rise to them could see at once the intensely innovative and nervous brilliance which informs his best work.

V for Vendetta wasn't so ill-served as the earlier, completely-rewritten From Hell or (shudder) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It's taken till now, though, with the sheer punch of Zack Snyder's new adaptation of Watchmen for non-comics fans to understand something of Moore's sheer narrative power.

They dont' call him a genius for nothing. Though he's a terrifyingly uneven one.

[Harvey Pekar: American Splendor]

Even though public collections may be less objectionable socially
and more useful academically than private collections,
the objects get their due only in the latter.

- Walter Benjamin

Harvey Pekar:

  • From off the Streets of Cleveland Comes … American Splendour: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar & From off the Streets of Cleveland Comes … More American Splendour: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar. 1986 & 1987. Introduction by R. Crumb. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.

  • The New American Splendour Anthology. New York / London: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1991.

  • Pekar, Harvey, & Joyce Brabner. Our Cancer Year. Art by Frank Stack. New York / London: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1994.

Once again, a film tie-in that helped to publicise a genuinely worthwhile and original comics talent. Harvey Pekar's American Splendor of course drew initially on some of the counterculture clout of R. Crumb and his other friends, but his naturalist vision is quite distinct. I'm not sure it would be praising him to compare him to Frank Norris or Theodore Dreiser. In many ways he's a better writer than either, but their projects seem in many ways related.

[Art Spiegelman: Maus]

O bliss of the collector, bliss of the man of leisure!
- Walter Benjamin


  • Adelman, Bob. Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s. Introduction by Art Spiegelman; Commentary by Richard Merkin, Essay by Madeline Kripke. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

  • Spiegelman, Art, & Françoise Mouly, ed. Raw. Vol. 2, no. 2. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990.

  • Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, I: My Father Bleeds History. 1986. London: Penguin, 1987.

  • Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, II: And Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon Books, 1991.

  • Spiegelman, Art. In the Shadow of No Towers. London: Penguin Viking, 2004.

He's tailed off a bit, but there's still no getting past Maus. As Oscar Wilde once put it, "There are two ways of disliking my plays - one is to dislike them. The other is to prefer The Importance of Being Earnest."

There are two ways of putting down comics now. One is to put them down. The other is to extol the merits of Maus and only Maus.

Raw is still worth a read after all these years. What a cool idea for a magazine! Each issue is a little work of art. I wish that Spiegelman would allow himself to make more mistakes now, though. Oh, for the fecundity of an Alan Moore! Fall flat on your face - we don't care. Only publish some real comics again ...

[Sacco in Bosnia]

as Hegel put it, only when it is dark does the owl of Minerva begin its flight.
Only in extinction is the collector comprehended.

- Walter Benjamin

Joe Sacco:

  • Palestine. London: Jonathan Cape, 2003.

  • Safe Area Goražde. 2000. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2005.

  • Notes of a Defeatist. London: Jonathan Cape, 2003.

Joe Sacco is kind of a god to me. I like him even more than Harvey Pekar (if that's possible). To call him influential would be to imply that there's anyone capable of following his lead, but, really, isn't this a great way for comics to be going?

Investigative journalist / War Correspondent in some of the most troubled corners of the globe - and he does it with a sensitivity and balance, a lack of self-aggrandizing grandiosity, which would do credit to a latter-day Ernie Pyle or Stephen Crane ...

[Neil Gaiman's Death]

ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects.
Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.

- Walter Benjamin


  • Carey, Mike. Lucifer. Issues 1-75: 1999-2006. Vols 1-11. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2001-7.

  • Carlton, Bronwyn. The Books of Faerie. 1993-99. Vols 1-2. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1998 & 2007.

  • Gaiman, Neil. The Sandman Library. Issues 1-75: 1988-96. Vols 1-10. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1995-97.

  • Gaiman, Neil & Yoshitaka Amano. The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1999.

  • Gaiman, Neil. The Sandman: Endless Nights. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2003.

  • Gaiman, Neil. Midnight Days. 1989-95. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1999.

  • Gaiman, Neil. The Last Temptation. 1994-95. Oregon: Dark Horse Comics, 2000.

  • Gaiman, Neil. The Books of Magic. 1990-91; 1993. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2001.

  • Rieber, John Ney. The Books of Magic. Issues 1-50: 1994-98. Vols 1-7. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1995-2001.

  • Horrocks, Dylan, & Richard Case. The Names of Magic. 2001. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2002.

  • Willingham, Bill. Fables: Legends in Exile. Issues 1-51: 2002-6. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2002-2006.

  • Willingham, Bill. Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2006.

"I loved Enitharmon, and I was not ashamed." (W. Blake). I loved Sandman, and, yeah, maybe I was a little ashamed at first, and maybe they don't seem quite as cool now as they did when I first read them, but there are certainly parts of Neil Gaiman's huge, motley edifice which remain as enchanting as ever.

What's more, Sandman has given rise (directly or indirectly) to a whole slew of sequels and spin-offs. Tim Hunter and the Books of Magic is basically okay, I think, though it tailed off sharply towards the end of John Ney Rieber's run. Fables, similarly, hasn't really lived up to a very strong start, I feel.

But Mike Carey's Lucifer is a masterpiece. Better even than Sandman (though dependent on it in various ways). Here's where you should start if you want to know what a serious writer can achieve through the pages of a mere "fantasy comic." It's no accident that I own the whole run of volumes.

[Chris Ware: Jimmy Corrigan]

I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as is only fitting.
- Walter Benjamin

Chris Ware:

  • Quimby the Mouse: Collected Works. 1990-1997. London: Jonathan Cape, 2003.

  • Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid in the World. London: Jonathan Cape, 2003.

This guy is seriously weird. Brilliant, yes, but self-loathing on a level I've seldom encountered outside the pages of Kafka or Beckett. He may be up with them for sheer originality, though. You need good eyes to make out his mad, minuscule, packed pages.

[Scott McCloud: Reinventing Comics (2000)]

Of no one has less been expected, and no one has had a greater sense of well-being than the man who has been able to carry on his disreputable existence in the mask of Spitzweg's "Bookworm."
- Walter Benjamin

Secondary Literature:

  • Bender, Hy. The Sandman Companion. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1999.

  • Chin, Mike. Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel: Everything You Need to Know to Create Great Graphic Works. London: New Burlington Books, 2004.

  • Cotta Vaz, Mark. Tales of the Dark Knight: Batman’s First Fifty Years, 1939-1989. London: Futura, 1989.

  • Estren, Mark James. A History of Underground Comics. 1974. Berkeley, CA: Ronin, 1993.

  • Geissman, Grant. Foul Play! The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics! New York: Harper Design, 2005.

  • Irvine, Alex. The Vertigo Encyclopedia. Foreword by Neil Gaiman. Introduction by Karen Berger. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd., 2008.

  • Mackie, Howard, ed. The Very Best of Marvel Comics. New York: Marvel Comics, 1991.

  • McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art. 1993. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.

  • McCloud, Scott. Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology are Revolutionising an Art Form. New York: Perennial, 2000.

  • McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

  • Wolk, Douglas. Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Cambridge, Mass: Da Capo Press, 2007.

I suppose the one of these you really need to own (or at the very least read) is Scott McCloud's classic Understanding Comics. Its two sequels supplement it in various ways, but the original work remains the single most cogent and persuasive plea for the possibilities of the medium that I've ever come across.

Actually that's understating it. No matter what medium of communication you're interested in, you owe it to yourself to read McCloud. His book is as thought-provoking as Erich Auerbach's Mimesis or John Livingstone Lowe's Road to Xanadu.

The Douglas Wolk book is good for its coverage of more recent work in the field, but it isn't a patch on McCloud's extraordinary work.

Oh, and did I mention, I haven't even started talking about foreign-language comics yet: all those manga and Bandes Dessinées ...

[Carl Spitzweg: The Bookworm (1850)]


Giovanni Tiso said...

Oh, what a beautiful post. And oh, the envy. 30 volumes of Carl Barks... What little I had I had to hastily get rid of before leaving Italy. You reminded me of the pain of unpacking that particular library.

Ross Brighton said...

Wow. I am very glad that you are a fellw comics nut.
Have you read much (any?) Warren Ellis or Grant Morrison? I also have a weakness for the HP Lovecraft and pulp-horror worship of Mike Mignola's Hellboy.

Dr Jack Ross said...


I do have to specify that these are simply comics that I happen to own, not all the ones I read. I constantly call down blessings on the head of Auckland's Central Library for its wise policy of having the graphic novel section right on the ground floor where I can make a beeline for it every time I go in ...

I'm not that familiar with the whole range of Warren Ellis's work, but I have greatly enjoyed Transmetropolitan - sure, Spider Jerusalem is just a slightly futurised Hunter Thompson, but what's wrong with that?

Grant Morrison I find a bit more frustrating, I must confess. The Invisibles largely left me cold. I did like Arkham Asylum, though. haven't read Animalman (I'm not sure that the library has it, in fact).

Yeah, I like Hellboy, too. There've been some quite good "straight" graphic adaptations of Lovecraft here and there, too ...

Dr Jack Ross said...


I know it would be very cold comfort indeed, but I'd be happy to donate my copy of that one issue of Zio Paperone to you if you'd like it - it's a fairly chunky anthology of some Barks classics in Italian translation, including my personal favourite, "The Flying Dutchman." I guess you're familiar with the magazine's format, though.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Oh, no, that would be far too kind - sounds like a pretty cool item of your collection! A bit like my Asterix at the Olympics in greek.

And also, I was kind of lying, two large books packing quite a few stories (including some of my favourites - the fateful dime, the square eggs, the one with the diggers at Christmas) turned up on a later trip at the bottom of a wardrobe at my mum's and have since been repatriated. They are by no means good editions - the panels are shrunk to fit more stuff in - but very sturdy and therefore perfect for the kids, who love them and will sometimes fall asleep on them.

I think I had some of the Zio Paperone books, but the number of different publications is fairly staggering. Are you aware that after the war the rights to the characters were transferred (or extended, I'm not sure) to the Italian subsidiary of Walt Disney, where the stories are being written even today in a very successful weekly called Topolino? We've had some excellent writers and artists over the years - none more so than Romano Scarpa - and I know their work was translated in the rest of contintental europe because we'd buy them for fun during our holidays. I wonder if they made it as far as the English speaking world though.

Ross Brighton said...

Re Grant Morrison - I enjoyed Arkham Asylum as well, but have it on very good authority (from he who runs that The Filth and WE3 are well worth reading.
I kind of like to think of Spider Jerusalem as the bastard offspring of Hunter S Thomson and Philip K Dick's worst nightmare. or somesuch.

Dr Jack Ross said...

As well as the Italian-language Disney writers in Topolino, there also seem to be quite a few Scandinavian ones -- mainly Danish, I believe. I've seen some of their work in English translation (slavishly Barksian to the point of becoming almost static). I'm not sure any of the Italian ones have made it into English, but they're probably better, I suspect ...

Richard said...

Jack - beautiful - haven't had time to read it all but you have some beautiful books - I last seriously read comics in about 1956! Superman and Donald Duck etc

But my daughter and partner are experts in this area and sell them online...

A quick one re libraries - I read Illuminations - it has an interesting discussion on translation - recall you enthusing about Benjamin some time ago at the London bar.

But I found and then read this intriguing book by chance at my local library the other day - there is much reference to libraries (and the philosophy of how to order or collate knowledge) and books and such as writers (and librarians) Borges:

'The Library at Night' by Alberto Mauguel.

"Inspired by the process of creating a library for his fifteenth-century home near the Loire in France, Alberto Manguel, the acclaimed writer on books and reading, has taken up the subject of libraries. 'Libraries', he says, 'have always seemed to me pleasantly mad places, and for as long as I can remember I've been seduced by their labyrinthine logic'. In this personal, deliberately unsystematic, and wide-ranging book, he offers a captivating meditation on the meaning of libraries.Manguel, a guide of irrepressible enthusiasm, conducts a unique library tour that extends from his childhood bookshelves to the 'complete' libraries of the Internet, from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Arab world, from China and Rome to Google. He ponders the doomed library of Alexandria as well as the personal libraries of Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. He recounts stories of people who have struggled against tyranny to preserve freedom of thought - the Polish librarian who smuggled books to safety as the Nazis began their destruction of Jewish libraries; the Afghani bookseller who kept his store open through decades of unrest. Oral 'memory libraries' kept alive by prisoners, libraries of banned books, the imaginary library of Count Dracula, the library of books never written - Manguel illuminates the mysteries of libraries as no other writer could.With scores of wonderful images throughout, "The Library at Night" is a fascinating voyage through Manguel's mind, memory, and vast knowledge of books and civilizations."

Harvey Molloy said...

Lovely post, Jack. Just a minor correction: Elric's sword is Stormbringer, not Doomsbringer (the other sword, less mentioned, is Mournblade.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Oh, I meant to mention upthread that you would be guaranteed to greatly enjoy this novel by Umberto Eco, if you haven't come across it before.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Harvey - mea culpa. I thought I had the name of the sword wrong ... Thanks for the heads up.

Giovanni - yes, I've read it. I loved the concept, and the format (ah, to have a publisher who could afford all those elaborate colour reproductions) - I did feel certain aspects of the execution slightly let him down, though.

I guess my very favourite Eco is Foucault's Pendulum, closely followed by The Island of the Day Before. My least favourite is Baudolino, though his novels never fail to be stimulating and informative, at the very least ...

Richard said...

Giovanni - interesting the connections - all this memory stuff reminds me of Oliver Sachs and the man (Italian then living in the US) who kept painting his old village in fantastic detail. Sachs - his "reality" beggars fiction...

I loved The Name of the Rose and the Island of the Day Before. I haven't read that latest book...

I cant read his theoretical stuff - but his books are great.

Richard said...

"A bit like my Asterix at the Olympics in greek."

I have an Agatha Christie in German - looks like a first - valuable? Lol...
Also I have some of Perec's work in French but I suppose their relatively common in France - but not so much here.

O.k. what about my Turkish-English technical Dictionary (in Turkish) once owned by the daughter of Douglas Mews the Musician and scholar - she was clearly deeply into languages (of all kinds I guessed she must have worked as translator of books for a publisher - perhaps in technical and science books because there is such a wide range I am still collating them and pricing them) as I have many books with her or his name signed on it - books of many languages -not necessarily rare but often for kiwis pretty strange...

I also have a strange Dutch book with line drawings (humorous I presume as it's all about penises!...I presume it is jocular - but not knowing Dutch I am not sure!) about...

Then once I (helping out at a bookshop of friend's) was offered a book of Robbie Burns that had wooden covers!
I was new to the "book world" (selling etc) and had no idea what it was worth - certainly it looked quite unique so I just sent the seller to the more experienced dealers..

And this strange illustrated "classic" - that is early 20 Cent. classic then Aspect Books and see what I have...I one sold Jack a book by Borges... it maybe one of his 14,000 odd books...

Good idea to collate what you have Jack though - I started reading D H Lawrence - I had read one or two things by him - but I wanted Women in Love and bought it then when I was in book shop the other day I got anther copy! Thinking I didn't have it...

Asterisks sell well - but I average NZ$100 (they sell fast if I can get them)) for first English of Tintin - I knew a woman how had a small exchange bookshop and sold first Tintins in French for about NZ$20 ....!!! She realised her "mistake" lives and hopefully learns...

But the divide between books as fetish and books as carriers of information and pleasure etc...?

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