Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Blair Davis

Blair Davis is an associate professor of media and cinema studies at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of several books, including Movie Comics: Page to Screen/Screen to Page.

His new book is Comic Book Movies.

Recently I asked Davis about what he was reading. His reply:
What Editors Do: The Art, Craft and Business of Book Editing

Reading What Editors Do felt like the publishing-equivalent of when I first encountered Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential so many years ago. It’s a tell-all about the publishing industry as much as a practical guide to working with an editor or being/becoming one. It’s an anthology with a range of chapters tracking each stage of the publishing process, from acquisitions to copy-editing and promotion, all written by professionals in the industry.

Having worked with a few different editors myself over the last decade, I quickly recognized the different personality types, common laments, potential pitfalls, etc. But I was pleased to learn more about the financial, creative and social factors that drive different types of presses – academic ones like those I’ve worked with, as well as those serving other markets. Anyone who’s ever been an author or sought to be one would do well to read this book.

Present, by Leslie Stein

Leslie Stein is a tremendous talent in the comics world, so when I saw her new book Present on the ‘new releases’ shelf at my local library I snapped it up with glee. Call the stories in this book autobiographical, call them diary-based, call them slice-of-life… they are regularly focused on random encounters and minor moments, along with equal doses of delightful and trying experiences (for her, not the reader).

While Stein’s drawing style has remained relatively similar over her young career, a small evolution can be seen when comparing her most recent work to that from only a few years ago. Her approach to drawing the human figure is distinctly minimalist, much closer to the sparse lines of Ivan Brunetti’s work than to most other cartoonists. But where she would draw the outline of a face in past years, Stein now typically leaves a blank space atop her character’s shoulders, favoring only a hairstyle and two small dots for eyes. This approach works like a visual signature because it is so unique, but what I love about it the most is how it pushes Scott McCloud’s ideas about the role of the icon as it applies to human faces to new extremes. McCloud tells us that we only need a circle with two dots and a line inside of it to recognize the image as a human face with eyes and a mouth. Stein foregoes the circle and the line altogether, choosing only the two dots for eyes with other elements (hair, clothing) used as surrounding contexts for our ability to see the sum of these parts as human.

It’s a style that might take some readers a few pages to fully appreciate, but its formal innovations will surely grow on you if they don’t immediately spark joy…. especially once Stein’s watercolors begin to flourish on the page. I will say that, though, I do find that Present is a book best read in small doses at a time. Its many chapters are brief and episodic, and best savored over time rather than guzzled quickly all in one go (…given the amount of wine consumed by the characters in this book, I think it’s a fitting metaphor!).

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Monthly from Marvel Comicss)

I've championed Marvel's Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur for a few years now, being an early fan of the series. Nine-year old Lunella Lafayette is a super-genius with a pet dinosaur. She's officially the smartest person in the entire Marvel universe. She mind-swaps with said-dinosaur when the moon is full (it causes problems, as you'd expect!). She's by-far the best thing going on at Marvel right now... and she's my daughter's favorite super-hero, which is hard not to be contagious about. I pick new issues up for her now on a monthly basis at my local comic shop, and we both look forward to reading it. It’s a perfect blend of Jack-Kirby-tribute plus superior role model for young girls… crosses off both my old-school fanboy and concerned-parent checklists in one swift stroke, huzzah! But in all seriousness, this really is superior storytelling… it’s not just a fluffy kids-book, even though my local library keeps it in the children’s section. It’s super smart and deftly-constructed, issue after issue. I point my students towards it as often as I can and they keep coming back with good things to say about it. Amazing. Joyous. Moon-tastic. Disney recently announced they will produce an animated series. I want a feature-film, too.
Learn more about Comic Book Movies at the Rutgers University Press website, and visit Blair Davis's Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue