Author Archive

Superheroes KICK ASS

Monday, March 15th, 2010

This week Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass rocketed to the top of the NYT Graphic Books Hardcover Best Seller list. Heralded as one of the very few comics to treat superhero traditions realistically while also taking place in our world, Kick-Ass is a darkly humorous look at what might actually happen if a disgruntled teenager decided to don a costume and take to the streets to fight crime. Namely, he’d suffer horrifying injuries and have little, if any, success. The key is not giving up. The film adaptation (see trailer here) is due out in theaters April 16th, so the buzz on this first collection is high and gaining ground. Worldcat shows that only 19 public libraries own it, and in my system the reserves have been going steadily up.

Mark Millar
Retail Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Marvel Books
ISBN / EAN: 0785134352 / 9780785134350


Kick-Ass: Creating the Comic, Making the Movie
Mark Millar, John Romita Jr, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Retail Price: $19.95
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Titan Books – (2010-02-23)
ISBN / EAN: 1848564090 / 9781848564091

While only a handful of comics present superheroes in our own world, there are a number of series that should appeal to the readers of Kick-Ass.

Millar is famous for pushing boundaries in terms of violence, and he has a blast defying the conventions of superhero stories. The Authority, which Millar took on after the equally acerbic series creator Warren Ellis departed, takes the trope of a superhero team and mucks up their missions with fascist agendas, reckless destruction, and bitter infighting. The world at large begins to question just why these people are in charge, and realizes perhaps too late that The Authority dictates behavior precisely because they have the power and no one is capable of stopping them.

The Authority Vol. 1: Relentless
Warren Ellis
Retail Price: $17.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Wildstorm – (2000-05-01)
ISBN / EAN: 1563896613 / 9781563896613

Warren Ellis has created numerous series over the years that share that glee for flying in the face of expectations and reveling in dirtying up the perception of what people do with their superpowers. The most irreverent of these is the out-to-shock humor of Nextwave, a series that pulls a number of forgotten heroes from Marvel pages and unleashes them as one of the most dysfunctional teams yet portrayed on the page. The key to this series is humor rather than grit, but the series includes wonderfully rendered action sequences and a strong attitude.

Nextwave: Agents Of H.A.T.E. Ultimate Collection TPB
Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen
Retail Price: $34.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Marvel Comics – (2010-03-10)
ISBN / EAN: 0785144617 / 9780785144618

Akin to Ellis’s lighter side, Adam Warren’s manga-style superheroine comic Empowered has gained fans with every issue. Empowered follows the struggles of one young woman to be the best superhero she can be despite crippling self-esteem issues, a power-giving suit that barely holds together, and a less than stellar record of heroic saves. Her buxom form is frequently on display in her skin-tight, constantly ripping suit, so the sexy imagery is high and may keep readers from realizing how engagingly critical the series is. Empowered is a laugh-out-loud satire of female superheroes and Warren knows very well how to skewer the genre.

Empowered Volume 1
Adam Warren
Retail Price: $15.95
Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse – (2007-04-04)
ISBN / EAN: 159307672X / 9781593076726

Brian Michael Bendis’s epic superhero police procedural, Powers, mixes superheroes with noir and constructs true-to-life policies that would fall into place if superheroes existed. In the world of Powers, if have to have actual super-abilities to don a costume. If you don’t, masked heroism is illegal. The second collected edition in the series, Roleplay, takes a hard look at fans and what happens when ordinary folks get mixed up in trying to be superheroes without any true power or skill.

Powers Vol. 2: Roleplay (v. 2)
Brian Michael Bendis
Retail Price: $13.95
Paperback: 0 pages
Publisher: Image Comics – (2002-01-04)
ISBN / EAN: 1582406952 / 9781582406954

If it’s teenage superheroes readers want, one of the best recent continuing series is Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, which covers Mark Grayson’s coming of age as both an ordinary teenager and as the super-powered son of Omni-Man. He’s inherited many of his father’s strengths, but he must also contend with his father’s secrets. Kirkman and artist Cory Walker display impeccable senses of comic timing and family dynamics.

Invincible (Book 1): Family Matters (v. 1)
Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker
Retail Price: $12.99
Paperback: 120 pages
Publisher: Image Comics – (2007-01-18)
ISBN / EAN: 1582407118 / 9781582407111

Special thanks to James Sime, of Isotope, the coolest comic book lounge I know, for help in brainstorming titles.

Plagiarism, Fan Culture, and Libraries

Monday, March 8th, 2010

The comics and manga blogosphere has been buzzing this week, and not in a good way: creator Nick Simmons, rock star Gene Simmon’s son, has been accused of plagiarism in the creation of his manga-style comic Incarnate.  Initially reported on the blog Robot 6, part of Comic Book Resources, the infringement appears to have first been identified by fans of Tite Kubo’s extremely popular series BleachA post comparing scans of Bleach and Incarnate shows fairly damning evidence that Simmons did not just pay homage to Kubo’s work, as he claims, but lifted layouts and character designs directly off of the page.

The initial charges of plagiarism, however incendiary, quickly shifted into some fierce back and forth discussions between bloggers, fans, and industry commentators arguing plagiarism and the dangerous waters of copyright, artist’s rights, and fan entitlement.  Heated discussions lit up Twitter, blogs, and message boards, reported by’s Deb Aoki, suggesting that plagiarism by a celebrity creator is a minor aspect of a much larger issue.

Scanlations have a long been a part of comics and manga fan culture here in the US. Scanlations are digital copies scanned from original Japanese language manga, translated by fans into English, and then posted online for anyone and everyone to read.  Scanlations arrive promptly after a story is published in Japan, often in a matter of days, compared to the years it often takes publishers here to license, translate, and print the same story.  Publishers have been tangling with this problem for years, especially in how the practice has created fans that want immediate access to titles.  Titles become old news, and fans move on to the latest hot series, and in the process the eventual print releases are left sitting on the shelves.

In the many discussions on the internet surrounding justifying scanlations (check out the comments on Deb Aoki’s initial post, if you dare), fans claimed that reading scans online was the same as reading manga from the library.  Both provide free, easy access to titles.  Several distinctions are lost on fans.  One, libraries pay for licensed translations, meaning the manga creators and publishers are compensated for their creations.  While libraries serve a specific community, scanlations are available to thousands of readers and can be downloaded and copied indefinitely.  Libraries lend out one copy to one person at a time, and the number of copies they purchase increases with the number of readers interested in a title.  At this time, it’s very difficult to judge what percentage of manga fans read scans.  At conventions and within fan circles online, it is a widely spread practice.  In the general public?  So far, no numbers have been authoritatively gathered.  Anyone who works with teenagers has undoubtedly seen it — I have as many teens sitting around reading stacks of manga as I do teens logged into our computers reading the latest chapter of Naruto.  It’s free, scans are easy to find, and readers have little reason to care that it is officially illegal.

Librarians are already contending with the problem of how to meet fan demand in their collections, and we should start thinking about how we might fit into a future scheme for online access.  If manga publishers start providing free access to manga before it arrives in print, as VIZ is already doing with their sites for IKKI ( and Shonen Sunday (, how can we as librarians show our patrons the way to the sites that comply with copyright?  It may be as simple as maintaining a website which encourages readers to visit publisher sites, or it may eventually be a library model for gaining access to online editions for our patrons a la Overdrive.
Being aware of the demands from readers is key to keeping libraries vital, and we need to advocate for our role in a world where scans and online access are already the norm.  That instantaneous gratification that young readers expect is already impacting our way of doing business, and we need to start guiding readers in a world where online access is free, easy, and ubiquitous.

A New Look at Superman

Monday, March 1st, 2010

The significant change to this week’s NYT Graphic Books Best Seller lists is the arrival of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman Volume 2 at #3 on the Paperback list. The teaming of this particular writer and penciler signal a stellar graphic novel; readers immediately know that a title by the two of them will be popular and, while even great creators have off days, of high quality. Superman, while still in the top pantheon of superheroes, has recently been lagging behind Batman in popularity, and All-Star Superman, free of the dense continuity that keeps new readers away, has been a strong step in bringing Superman back to the forefront.

Morrison and Quitely first paired up to create the praised JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel, astonished readers with the grim, wrenching standlone We3, and then shook up the status quo working on New X-Men, reinvigorating what many saw as a tired parade of expected storylines. They are currently endeavoring to do the same with DC’s Batman and Robin series.

To give you a better sense of Quitely’s distinctive style, we’re running a larger than usual version of the book’s cover.

All Star Superman, Vol. 2
Grant Morrison
Retail Price: $12.99
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: DC Comics – (2010-02-16)
ISBN / EAN: 1401218601 / 9781401218607

Many librarians don’t realize how many people contribute to making a graphic novel. There are some creators who do everything themselves, such as Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, Bryan Lee O’Malley, and R. Crumb (whose Genesis is currently number one on the Hardcover List). Most graphic novels, however, are identifiable by two main creators, the writer and the penciler, with strong contributions from inkers, colorists, letterers, and editors. In this field, it’s equally important to recognize the top-name authors and pencilers; they are the Dan Brown’s and Michael Connelly’s of the format.

Grant Morrison, one of the British invasion of comics authors that also brought in Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore, is best known for his work on Batman: Arkham Asylum and various series including Doom PatrolJustice League of America and the current All-Star Superman. He is hailed as one of the best writers in the business.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (15th Anniversary Edition)
Grant Morrison
Retail Price: $17.99
Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: DC Comics – (2005-11-01)
ISBN / EAN: 1401204252 / 9781401204259

Pencilers, as the artists who set the style and tone for the look of a graphic novel, are just as important in a format where art and writing have equal weight in storytelling. Readers used to straight prose think first and often only of the writer, but in graphic novels, the pencilers and other artists involved, from colorist to inker, are invaluable. Their style and layout gain fans just as much as an elegant turn of phrase.

Frank Quitely currently holds a lofty position among the main pencilers, having won four Eisner Awards and one Harvey Award, and has his pick of projects.  He is noted for his inventive and compelling layouts, and while his substantial figures take some getting used to, readers are won over by his obvious skill with pacing, tone, and visual storytelling.

In upcoming posts, we’ll be writing about other important names in the field.

L.A. Times Book Prize Adds Graphic Novel Category

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

This year’s Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalists include a list of five graphic novels, a first in the award’s thirty year history.  The inclusion of graphic novels is highlighted enthusiastically in their announcement, and rightfully so.  The five finalists represent a strong selection of titles, from journalistic nonfiction Joe Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza to the fan-favorite Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe.

It is particularly pleasing to see Taiyo Matsumoto’s GoGo Monster on the list, as often manga is left off of U.S. awards lists unless recognized in a separate category.  The mix of publishers, from the more independent comics publishers like Fantagraphics (Luba) and Oni Press (Scott Pilgrim) to the mainstream book publishers like Random House’s Pantheon (Asterios Polyp), also represents the diversity of current graphic novel publishing.  Noticeably absent are any mainstream comics titles from any of the major publishers including Marvel or DC Comics.

A graphic novel also appears in the Young Adult category; Shaun Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia.

Luba (Love and Rockets)
Gilbert Hernandez
Retail Price: $39.99
Hardcover: 608 pages
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books – (2009-06-23)
ISBN / EAN: 1560979607 / 9781560979609


GoGo Monster
Taiyo Matsumoto
Retail Price: $27.99
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: VIZ Media LLC – (2009-12-08)
ISBN / EAN: 1421532093 / 9781421532097


Asterios Polyp
David Mazzucchelli
Retail Price: $29.95
Hardcover: 344 pages
Publisher: Pantheon – (2009-07-07)
ISBN / EAN: 0307377326 / 9780307377326


Scott Pilgrim Volume 5: Scott Pilgrim vs The Universe
Bryan Lee O’Malley
Retail Price: $11.95
Paperback: 184 pages
Publisher: Oni Press – (2009-02-18)
ISBN / EAN: 1934964107 / 9781934964101


Footnotes in Gaza: A Graphic Novel
Joe Sacco
Retail Price: $29.95
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Metropolitan Books – (2009-12-22)
ISBN / EAN: 0805073477 / 9780805073478


Tales From Outer Suburbia
Shaun Tan
Retail Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 96 pages
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books – (2009-02-01)
ISBN / EAN: 0545055873 / 9780545055871

The Graphic Novel Connection

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

From the wild success of films like Avatar to the nation’s obsession with stealth science fiction TV shows like Lost, stories that are just sideways from reality are becoming more and more mainstream.

Titles on the NYT Graphic Books best seller list reflect the fact that speculative tales are strong in this format as well, giving readers advisors a wealth of titles to recommend, and an opportunity to introduce readers to the format.

Willingham’s Fables, volume #13 arrives at #1 on the Paperback Graphic Books list this week. A rich and complex fantasy series, it started off as a police procedural with fairy-tale characters hiding out in New York but has grown into an examination of the impact of a long war on a beleaguered people. You can recommend Fables to fans of Neil Gaiman, Patricia Briggs or Kelley Armstrong, but the procedural and war aspects make this series even farther reaching.

Fables Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover
Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges
Retail Price: $17.99
Paperback: 232 pages
Publisher: Vertigo – (2010-02-09)
ISBN / EAN: 1401225721 / 9781401225728

Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead (volume 11 is on the new list at #2 after 6 weeks; volumes 1 and 2 also continue) remains a favorite because Kirkman doesn’t just revel in jokey zombie mayhem but uses the long form to ask the questions about where survivors could go, and how (and if) civilization could be preserved.  This series will hook in to buzz-worthy titles like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Carrie Ryan’s teen novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth or Justin Cronin’s much-anticipated literary vampire apocalypse tome The Passage.

The Walking Dead Volume 11: Fear The Hunters
Robert Kirkman
Retail Price: $14.99
Paperback: 136 pages
Publisher: 801 Media, Inc. – (2010-01-06)
ISBN / EAN: 1607061813 / 9781607061816

On the manga list, Fullmetal Alchemist reappears every time a new volume is released. Author Arakawa uses the trappings of alchemy and steampunk style to spin a story intensely focused on the morality and dangers of going against the natural order of the physical and magical worlds.

Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 22 )
Hiromu Arakawa
Retail Price: $9.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: VIZ Media LLC – (2010-01-19)
ISBN / EAN: 1421534134 / 9781421534138

The most intelligent and politically resonant science fiction titles this past year are Naoki’s Urasawa’s series Pluto and 20th Century Boys. They are constantly checked out of my library, even though they’ve yet to crack the NYT list.

20th Century Boys, with it’s strong sense of destiny, conspiracy, misdirection, and a storyline that jumps around in time, is a strong recommendation for fans of Lost. Volume 7 in the series has just been released.

Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, Vol. 7
Naoki Urasawa
Retail Price: $12.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: VIZ Media LLC – (2010-02-16)
ISBN / EAN: 1421523426 / 9781421523422

Volume 7 of Pluto came out last month, and with only one more volume until the finish, it is a standout blend of old-school science fiction, where robots and humans blur until they’re indistinguishable, and modern wars, honing in on the psychology behind entrenched conflicts.  This series should connect to fans of classic sci-fi such as Isaac Asimov’s tales, but will also lure in fans of Battlestar Galactica and its new spin-off, Caprica.

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 7
Naoki Urasawa
Retail Price: $12.99
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: VIZ Media LLC – (2010-01-19)
ISBN / EAN: 1421532670 / 9781421532677

In addition to recommending these titles to readers interested in speculative fiction, also consider slotting some of these titles into displays.  You will help readers make the connection and discover a whole new world of stories.

Graphic Novels’ Biggest Fans? Adults

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Editors Note: I’m pleased to announce that Robin Brenner is a new EarlyWord contributor covering Graphic Novels. Her first post is below.

I first met Robin when I was trying to understand a manga series that appeared on the NYT’s Graphic Books Bestseller list. I was so impressed with her obvious love for the format and ability to explain its appeal that I asked her to begin sharing her knowledge via EarlyWord.

Robin is a Reference/Teen Librarian at the Brookline (MA) Public Library and was the Chair of the ALA/YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection List Committee in 2008. Her guide Understanding Manga and Anime was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award. She is also the editor-in-chief of No Flying No Tights, a graphic novel review site (for more about Robin, click here).

Robin wanted to become a Disney animator when she grew up, but found her true home in libraries. She continues to draw, however, and created her own manga image, in the style of CLAMP,  for her “badge,” which will appear on her weekly posts.


The latest volume of the dark fantasy series Dark Tower, inspired by Stephen King’s epic novels, debuted at the number one spot on this week’s New York Times Graphic Books Hardcover Best Seller list, joining two earlier volumes of the series already in the top ten.

Some people feel that graphic novels are only for teens, but as the NYT list proves, the books that rise to the top are aimed at adults. Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, V for Vendetta, and Sandman consistently appear on the list.  While each holds some appeal for older teens, they were crafted with adults squarely in mind.  The Walking Dead, FablesUmbrella Academy, and Y the Last Man achieve high ranking and consistently reappear when new volumes are published: adult territory all the way.  Over the course of the lists’s fifty weeks, only seven titles aimed at younger readers have made the hardcover or paperback lists. (The manga list, on the other hand, is steadily teen-oriented, which is a post for another day.)

How many public libraries provide graphic novel sections for adults in their collections?  A majority of librarians I’ve consulted put graphic novels for adults in their teen sections (crossing their fingers that no one objects).  Those that do maintain adult collections focus on award winners or literary titles including the deservedly acclaimed Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home or David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp, but not popular series.  Many also interfile graphic novels with fiction or nonfiction, unintentionally obscuring their support for the format.  Far too many libraries don’t collect them at all. Some librarians struggle to convince their administrators that graphic novels are not just for teens.

A glance through the past lists makes it clear that libraries are doing their patrons a disservice when they sidestep popular graphic novel series for adults. Library holdings as reflected in  Worldcat, indicate there is more awareness of teen favorites than of those aimed at adults.  Over 700 libraries own the first volume of Naruto, a mainstay on the manga bestseller list. In comparison, 420 libraries own the first Dark Tower graphic novel, A Gunslinger Born, and at this point just thirteen own the third volume in the series, Treachery, and only four own this week’s number one title, The Fall of Gilead.

In the past, bestseller lists served as justification for adding popular titles to collections; the graphic novels lists can serve that same function today.

Dark Tower: The Fall of Gilead
Robin Furth, Peter David, Richard Isanove
Retail Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Marvel Comics – (2010-02-16)
ISBN / EAN: 0785129510 / 9780785129516