Sunday, September 28, 2008

September in New York City

I had the privilege to be part of two comic book related events this past September in New York City.

Howl! Festival
The first event I attended was a panel discussion called "Inside Out: Self and Society in Comic Art: Trends in Autobiography, journalism and social critique in graphic novels.”with moderator Calvin Reid (Publisher's Weekly Comics Week); artists Jillian Tamaki (Skim), Josh Neufeld (A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge) and James Romberger (Seven Miles a Second); and editor at DC/Vertigo, Pornsak Pichetshote. It was held at St.Mark's Church in the Bowery, New York and was one of the panel discussions held as part of the annual Howl Festival. Sept. 10, 2008. Edward Carey from Comics Culture was present and has loaded the complete transcript of our discussion in two parts called Inside Out: Self and Society in Comic Art.

Calvin Reid, Josh Newfeld, David Berona, and James Romberger

Columbia University Book History Colloquium

The second event I participated in was a presentation and discussion held on Sept. 25 with David Hajdu, Columbia University and Mike Kelly, New York University entitled “Reading Pictures, Burning Comics: New Perspectives on the History of Graphic Narrative.” This was one of the scheduled events for the Fall 2008 Columbia University Book History Colloquium held at Butler Library, Columbia University.

The publication of my book, Wordless Books (2008) and Hajdu’s Ten-cent Plague (2008) inspired this panel discussion that was organized by Gerald Cloud, Librarian for Reference and Research at Butler Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Moderator, comics scholar, and rare book curator Mike Kelly lead this discussion with myself and Hajdu on current scholarship, historical perspectives, and a consideration of the place wordless books, graphic novels, and comics hold in both contemporary culture and the History of the Book.

After our presentations and a lively discussion there was a book signing and we later continued our conversation at a restaurant, joined by my wife, Rose O’Brien and Charlie Kochman, Executive Editor of Abrams ComicArts.

Rose O'Brien, David Berona, David Hajdu, Gerald Cloud, Mike Kelly, Charlie Kochman

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Home Town Event, July 24-25, 2008

I was looking forward to returning to my hometown of Enon, Ohio and Springfield, where I went to school. In addition to visiting family and friends this past week, I made plans for two books signings, while I was in the area. Much of the work for these events was accomplished through the untiring efforts of Rick Benning at Ambience Events, who not only organized the fantastic event on Friday but also put me in contact with Andrew McGinn, a writer at the Springfield News and Sun who wrote an article about my work "Central alum writes the book on wordless books."

Book Signing and Presentation at Ambience

Rick also put me in contact with Mary Alice, the owner of the Dark Star Bookshop in Yellow Springs, where I arranged a book signing on Thursday. I had the opportunity to meet some old friends and talk with a number of interesting people who stopped in the bookstore to hear more about my book.

Rick Benning, David McDargh, and Rose O'Brien

The main event, though, was held the following night at Ambience Events which was hosted by David McDargh and Rick Benning . Rick had blown up some of the woodcuts from my book and displayed them around the showroom. It was absolutely breathtaking to see these prints enlarged in the expansive room. The event was catered and offered an assortment of scrumptious dishes and appetizers to the numerous people who attended. I gave a twenty minute presentation on wordless books and graphic novels before signing copies of my book and talking with everyone present.

It was so great to see my brother, sisters, nephews and nieces; friends from high school; neighbors and friends from Enon and Springfield; as well as a number of interested people who showed up after reading McGinn's newspaper article. This was a really festive and memorable evening I will never forget!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Reading Pictures: The Language of Wordless Books, LES Panel Discussion ALA, 2008

Poster by Eric Drooker

As part of the Literature in English (LES) section, sponsored in part with the ARTS section of the Association of Colleges and Research Libraries, I was pleased to be part of a presentation and panel discussion that was organized by Juliet Kerico, from Southern Illinois University--Edwardsville and Chair of LES (Literature in English Section) Conference Planning Committee. The panelists were Dr. Charles Hatfield (UCalifornia-Northridge), Eric Drooker, Perry Willett (Michigan), and myself (Plymouth State University, New Hampshire). There were over 150 attendees at the panel discussion held at the American Libraries Association annual conference in Anaheim on June 28, 2008. This was an introduction to the history of adult wordless books from the early twentieth century to the contemporary wordless graphic novels. Elements of visual storytelling were examined as well as various controversial social issues associated with adult wordless books. Guidelines for using wordless books in Higher Education was also discussed.

Charles Hatfield, Eric Drooker, Perry Willett , myself, and Juliet Kerico.

Perry Willett began with his presentation and his own obsession with wordless books that started 30 years ago and his experiences in researching them in various libraries. He talked about Frans Masereel, the father of the woodcut novel, and discussed the importance of these wordless books and why they might matter to people in the audience even if they don’t care about graphic novels. Perry discussed how popular these books were in their time, and how quickly and ruthlessly culture moves on and obliterates what came before, and that librarians need to consider this as they make collection development decisions. He explained that his experience with these books and as the Managing Editor for the Victorian Women Writers Project taught him how our collection development decisions form the basis by which people will be able to re-evaluate contemporary art, literature and cultural expressions later on. This incredibly great beginning set the focus for the rest of the panel.

Next on the panel, I covered the artists from Lynd Ward to the present. These included many artists from my book, Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels, like Ward, Otto Nuckel, Helen Bochorakov-Dittrichova, Szegedi Szuts, William Gropper, Giacomo Patri and Laurence Hyde, as well as artists I cover in my next book, who inlcludes Werner Gothein, Si Lewen, Felix Gluck, Palle Nielsen, Ken Currie, Eric Drooker, Peter Kuper, Erez Yakin, Thomas Ott, Peter Kalberkamp, Anna Sommer, Olivier Deprez, Hendrik Dorgathen, Jason, Shaun Tan, and Sara Varon.

Eric Drooker presented a slide show from one of the chapters in his American Awarding winning wordless book, Flood! a Novel in Pictures. It was a stunning show with sounds of rain showers and music that brilliantly coincided with the images from his book that were projected on a large screen. The room was darken to provide a theater-like atmosphere. I heard later from some attendees that it brought tears to their eyes in some of the more emotional parts of his book. The similarities of silent films and wordless books became very evident in this demonstration. Eric is an artist with strong political views and a life-affirming suspicion of authority and technology and shares the ideas of the early wordless book artists like Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward. His confidence in himself, both as an artist and a politically active human being, was clear in his presentation and during his participation in the audience questions.

Charles Hatfield used the wordless strip called "Champion," by the French artist, Zou, from the monumental survey of wordless comics called Comix 2000, in his presentation that provided an overview of how he teaches visual communication to his students. What was fascinating to me as well as the audience during the discussion period was how Charles described his students "reading" this comic and their various interpretations. Charles is so aware of comics as a means of communication, which he thoroughly covers in his book Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature, that his insights invited more questions about the importance of us, as individuals, in learning how to best interpret the icons, symbols, and visual images that we are daily confronted with in our contemporary culture.

What followed was a dynamic panel discussion with probing questions from the audience that prompted a lively discussion with the panelists. In many of the evaluations, the attendees commented that this was one of the best panel presentations they had ever attended at an ALA conference. The four of us had dinner the night before and were joined by Charles' wife; Michelle; Zofia Losinska, chair LES; Jen Stephens, LES planning committee member; and Juliet. This dinner and relaxed atmosphere brought us all closer together and certainly attributed to the personal mood on the panel. We covered ideas about the history of printing; the use of woodcuts; the reason for the focus on social injustices; reason for using older technologies like slide projectors; and even the best way to read a picture book. I couldn't help but relate the event that when I was a child, my father read to me and my brother before we were old enough to read. However, when we had a wordless picture book, my father always asked me to read him the book, allowing me to use my own imagination and to understand that there is something very personal about "reading" pictures. I also enjoyed discovering in an interview from one of Lynd Ward's daughters, Nanda Ward, that when she asked her father what one of his wordless books was about he always replied with the same answer to her question: "It means exactly what you want it to mean." Read Charles' blog on this event.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Why Wordless? Part 2

When I first read Storyteller Without Words: The Wood engravings of Lynd Ward, published by Abrams in 1974, I was immediately awestruck by the intense stories told in pictures without words. These were not your children’s picture books but rather books for adults that displayed themes of social injustice, family squalor during the Depression, and fantasy worlds that reflected a strong psychological focus. I looked for more information on Ward and a few other artists who published wordless books, like Frans Masereel and Otto Nückel and was surprised how little had been written about their work. I was first encouraged by Professor Estelle Jussim when I was in graduate school at Simmons College in Boston to pursue this area of research. While I pursued my professional career as an academic librarian after graduation, I continued my research on wordless books. I have, in the last twenty years, made contact with many print makers like Kurt Webb, scholars like Perry Willett, cartoonists like Eric Drooker, and the Ward family and friends. In addition I visited many Special Collections, such as those at Georgetown University and Columbia, to research the papers of Ward and others. With my research skills as a librarian, I was able to track down many original books and began to deliver papers and write articles on this topic. I paid my own travel and expenses as well as received funding from grants to support the research I conducted during my summer vacations. My big break came when noted scholar and writer John Lent heard a paper I gave about these books at the Popular Culture Association Annual Conference in 1994. He mentioned my topic to Lucy Caswell, editor of Inks: Comic and Cartoon Studies, which was one of the few peer reviewed journal on comics and where I published my first scholarly article on wordless books. With the growing interest in comics and graphic novels in the last ten years, public attention grew for my topic on wordless books. I shared a feature story I had written for AB Bookman with Will Eisner, father of the term, “graphic novel.” Will appreciated my thoughts on this topic and wrote a chapter in his book, Graphic Storytelling, on wordless books and credited me in his Foreword. I continued to write and present papers on this topic and went back for my second Master’s Degree where I wrote my thesis on Lynd Ward. A few years ago, during one of my visits to the Center for Cartoon Studies, where I lectured on wordless books, James Sturm, the director of the college, and I talked about a book on this topic. When James and I were down in New York for an opening of the exhibit, “The Jewish Graphic Novel,” I met his agent, Judy Hansen. When I mentioned my research on wordless books, she became very interested and asked for a book proposal. Since I had most of the book already written, I took a few months to polish up my manuscript, which I sent to her. She sent this later to Charles Kochman, senior editor at Abrams, who was excited enough about this material to buy the rights to my book.