Peanuts and Race
Published on November 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

In honor of Charles Schultz's birthday, SEK over at Lawyers, Guns and Money has posted a nice series of comics examining race in "Peanuts."

"Peanuts" was not overtly political, but in 1968 Schultz took the bold step of introducing his readers to a black boy named Franklin. In the strip, the existence of Franklin wasn't a big deal - he retrieved Charlie Brown's beach ball and helped him build a sand castle. This might not sound revolutionary, but it did generate controversy, with one letter writing telling Schultz, "I don’t mind you having a black character, but please don’t show them in school together." The post includes a horribly racist Dennis the Menace comic from 1970, which helps provide a sense of how forward-thinking Schultz was.

Anyway, it's a pretty interesting piece, especially if you like comics. Click here to read it.

All Ages Comics
Published on January 11, 2012 by Sara Foss

The A.V. Club has provided a decent primer on which comics are suitable for kids, such as "Tiny Titans" and "Takio."

At one time, of course, most comics were suitable for kids. But comics have evolved, and today many of them are written for a much older and more jaded demographic.

A few years ago I wrote an article about this trend, and I looked at how the primary buyers of comics and video games are teens and adults. There's even a term for this type of buyer - the kidult. Creating comics for adults has fueled a creative renaissance within the comics industry, but the A.V. Club suggests that sometimes we should indulge in more innocent pleasures.


Best Comics of 2011: The Weird, the Wacky and the Wonderful
Published on December 12, 2011 by guest author: Eric J. Perkins

I read a lot of comics. Not so many that I have a pile waiting for me at the comic book store every week, but probably more than the average adult. Enough that on my old blog, I presented a 5 part comics primer for the completely uninitiated. For my take on how I define comics and how they can be subdived, please take a look at the first part of that primer, which you can find here.

In general, I think comics are one of our most underrated forms of art. Here I present some of my favorites of this past year.

Best Continuing Series
Chew, written by John Layman, drawn by Rob Guillory
Tony Chu is a detective turned FDA agent. An FDA agent in an alternative future in which bird flu has killed 23 million Americans and the buying, selling, preparation of, or consumption of chicken is completely illegal. So the FDA is actually now one of the most powerful branches of the government. Also, Tony is a Cibopath, which means he can telepathically see the history of anything he eats ... except beets. Agent Chu eats a lot of beets, because really, not many people really want to know where their food comes from. Unfortunately for Tony, he can see the history of anything he eats, including human murder victims. That's why the FDA hired him, and that's why he kind of hates his life.


Bil Keane, R.I.P.
Published on November 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

"The Family Circus" is not the world's most cutting-edge comic. At times, it can make me roll my eyes. And yet I enjoy it. Maybe it's because I grew up reading it as a kid, and enjoyed how the action was confined to a single circle. The antics of the kids were amusing, but never cruel or overly cutesy.

Bil Keane, the strip's creator, died Tuesday at the age of 89. Years ago, I had the honor to interview him, for an article about the use of religion in comic strips. (If you visit this web page and scroll down to a story from February 2000 called "Faith in the Funny Pages," you can read my quotes from him for yourself.)

The impetus for the story was my editor, who suggested that I write about humor in comics when I was covering religion for the Birmingham Post-Herald. I'd always enjoyed the comics, and enthusiastically set about contacting cartoonists who occasionally draw strips on faith. I researched Charles Schulz and "Peanuts," reading the book "The Gospel According to Peanuts" and interviewed Schultz's editor. (Schultz himself declined to be interviewed.) I also talked to Chris Browne, who draws "Hagar the Horrible," Johnny Hart, who draws "B.C.," Wiley Miller, who draws "Non Sequitor" and Keane.

In the article, I wrote:

"Schulz's religious references didn't sit well with all readers.

'I believe it is inexcusably poor taste, and offensive to manyh readers both Christian and Jewish, to use texts from and reference to the Bible ... especially in a comic strip," one reader wrote to Schulz in 1969. The letter is included in 'Peanuts: A Golden Celebration," a collection of comics by Schulz.

But some people offered praise.

Like Schulz, 'Family Circus' creator Bil Keane, 77, said he used to get an occasional complaint about using religion in his strip.


An Excerpt from "Habibi"
Published on September 21, 2011 by Sara Foss

The new graphic novel "Habibi," by Craig Thompson, has been getting a lot of attention. Set in a fictional Islamic fairytale landscape, it depicts the relationship between Dodola and Zam, two escaped child slaves. "Habibi" is 672 pages, but those seeking a taste of Thompson's work can visit Guernica.

The Need For Women in Comics
Published on September 5, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over the weekend I attended a wedding, for friends who met while working at DC Comics. The man who officiated the ceremony hired the bride, and during his brief remarks he made a comment about the need for women in the comics industry.

Over at ComicsAlliance, Rachel Edidin, an editor at Dark Horse Comics, writes about this issue, and proposes some solutions. Here's an excerpt:

"At the same time, we need to stop grouping women in gender-based creative and marketing ghettoes. Womanthology is a valuable project because it's a vivid and inarguable demonstration of both the volume of female comics professionals and the demand for comics of, by, and for women. But it's not a panacea, nor a substitute for not only hiring but seeking women across the board. Likewise, Marvel's Girl Comics did a great job of spotlighting a great many women who do want to work in superhero comics, and the wonderful range of perspectives and styles they'd bring to that table, but because it was a self-contained project, none of that made its way into the main Marvel universe.

And to make a place for those women, we need to radically redefine not only how we discuss the question of women in comics, but how we discuss and define comics, and in particular, superhero comics. This change must take place at a systemic level, and it must be spearheaded by publishers, because they're the only ones with the money and market power to affect a paradigm shift on that scale.

If, as Dan DiDio implied, superhero comics are hiring only a few women because only a few both want to work in superhero comics and possess aesthetic and narrative sensibilities to match superhero comics' current climate, then perhaps we should be asking different questions. Instead of, 'How can we make more women qualified to make these comics,' perhaps we should be asking, 'How can we define a line of comics that welcomes and uses the skills and sensibilities of these women?'

It's going to take more than an imprint, or a few titles, or a few big names. It's going to take rebuilding not only the borders, but the center of comics -- industry, medium, and market. For as long as we keep those alternative voices and narratives on the margins, they'll fail, not because of what they are, but because they have been made marginal. We need to set about deliberately creating a new status quo, one in which those narratives and the voices behind them are popularly recognized and valued -- critically and financially -- as a significant and definitive portion of the comics canon: not fringe, not alternative, but a vital, central component of a diverse whole." 

The essay reminded me last week's hilarious post on The Awl, about the "Try to Sit Like Impossible Mary Jane" Spider Man contest.