Below is a guest reading list from Daniel A. Gross, a journalist and public radio producer who lives in Boston.
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Comic books bridge continents. Superman spin-offs are a hit in China; Japanese manga trickled into American culture through Frank Miller’s Ronin and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Adventures of Tintin was translated from French into more than 50 languages. Alongside the superhero franchises and funny pages, a thriving genre of nonfiction comics has created new audiences and new appreciation for everything from war reporting to memoir. Here are five modern classics whose intricate illustrations have shaped the form.
The Fixer is a war story set in peacetime. In 2001, Joe Sacco traveled to Sarajevo, hoping to find the interpreter who’d helped him during the Yugoslav Wars. By this time, correspondents had cleared out and soldiers had become civilians. Memories of atrocity were starting to slip beneath the surface—but Sacco’s book excavates them. During one flashback, Sacco portrays his wartime arrival to Sarajevo, and it’s styled like film noir: hulking architecture, empty streets, long shadows. In a surreal scene at the Holiday Inn, the concierge points to the hotel on a city map. “This is the front line,” she says. “Don’t ever walk here.” Then, in the lobby, Sacco meets his fixer. Read more…
Let me break my situation down for you in a way my doctor did not. Not much is known about my autoimmune disease, except its associations with other diseases and the antibody marker for it, anti-Jo1. Antisynthetase Syndrome is incredibly rare. One to ten people in every million have it. For comparison, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. have lupus. Whereas approximately 318 to 3,180 people in the U.S. have Antisynthetase Syndrome. I felt very alone…
Doctors give characters in tv shows, movies, and comics a moment to let the news sink in. Doctors in real life have other patients waiting to be told different news. They talk straight through all of the things you should now know about your situation, ask if you have any questions and then rush you on your way. Maybe this isn’t true everywhere. Maybe somewhere there are doctors who really say, this is serious, take your time, I’ll let you have your moment of silence.
— For years, unhelpful doctors and misdiagnoses plagued Al Rosenberg’s life. At Women Write About Comics, she discusses the validation she found in graphic novels and comics.
An excerpt from Howe’s new book on how internal arguments, drugs, failed feminism, and the exploitation of minority characters in comic books and the freelance writers and artists who drew them, changed Marvel Comics during the late ’60s and early ’70s:
‘I was just as crazy as everybody else post-Watergate, post-Vietnam,’ said Starlin, whose hobbies included motorcycles, chess, and lysergic acid diethylamide–25. ‘Each one of those stories was me taking that stuff that had gone before and trying to put my personal slant on it. Mar-Vell was a warrior who decided he was going to become a god, and that’s where his trip was.’ In the pages of Captain Marvel, existence itself might be altered several times in the course of an issue. ‘There is a moment of change, then reality becomes a thing of the past!’ howls the evil ruler Thanos, before everything morphs into funhouse-mirror images. His sworn enemy Drax responds: ‘My mind and my soul are one — my soul — an immortal intangible, nothing and everything! That which cannot die cannot be enslaved, for only with fear is servitude rendered!’ On the following page, Drax’s shifting realities are represented by thirty-five panels of warped faces, skulls, eyes, stars, and lizards. Captain Marvel had practically become a black-light poster with dialogue. Its sales kept increasing. Soon Starlin was opening his fan mail and finding complimentary joints sent by grateful, mind-blown readers.
Before Wonder Woman there was Miss Fury, the first female superhero, introduced in 1941:
Miss Fury was created, written, and drawn by a woman, June Tarpé Mills, who published under the more sexually ambiguous Tarpé Mills. Had Miss Fury entered an enduring canon like DC’s, it’s possible that the template for female superheroes, as well as for superhero comic readership, would have depended more on the influence and perspective of actual women.