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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Comics are pretty cool, etc.

<gine your life as a three-panel comic strip.

In the first frame is some seminal childhood memory: Dad takes you for a ride on his motorcycle while Mom is at the grocery store, kicking the soccer ball into the lake and taking off all your clothes to get it back, sleeping in a tree.

The second frame characterizes your college experience in a way that relates to the trajectory of the rest of your life. Maybe it shows you throwing a frisbee on the Bald Spot on a sunny day.  Maybe it shows you typing the last paragraph of your 15-page essay standing up because the Libe is closing, and you want to give the impression that you’re about to leave. Maybe it shows you falling asleep as you float down the Canon.

But what happens in the last frame? Does the comic of your life end with a punch line? Other people might like it more if it did, but it’s not like your life gets a comic strip in every Sunday paper. So is your life a joke? Is it sad? Is it meaningful? Does it have a surprise ending?

I’d like to see an anthology of this kind of comic. Maybe I’ll throw a party where we all draw our lives in comic form. How’s Saturday of fourth weekend? Ok, great. Email me.

When you say “comics,” most people think of one of three archetypal images: Superman (and other superhero comic books), Calvin and Hobbes (and other humorous three-panel strips) and Naruto (and other manga).

This is because comics fall victim to something I would like to call the conventional fallacy (coming to a dictionary near you!). By conventional fallacy, I refer to the tendency to confuse the conventions of a given medium for the essential qualities of that medium.

Let’s unpack that a little more. By conventions, I mean the techniques and themes that frequently show up in a given medium.  In comics some conventions could be superheroes, or putting a punch line in the final frame (not to mention ComicCon (lol)). The fallacy comes in when you’ve only ever seen a few issues of X-Men or the strips in the newspaper, and you assume that all comics are either interminable story arcs about superheroes or short, visual jokes. You decide that you aren’t a huge fan of either, so you decide you don’t really like comics.

Counterpoint:  What if the only movies you’d ever seen were Stephen Seagall action flicks and Meg Ryan romantic comedies? Maybe you’d decide you don’t really like movies (except for “Hard to Kill;” everybody loves “Hard to Kill.”)

Luckily, through TV and trailers and the recommendations of family and friends, many of us are exposed to a wide breadth of movies at a relatively young age. We learn that movies don’t always need to have sappy endings or gratuitous violence. We learn to find the genres, actors and directors we like, and reviewers help guide us to new movies to check out. This is because movies are an integral part of mainstream culture. 

The same cannot be said of comics. Despite their long-running roots from cave-paintings to Hogarth’s 19th century woodcuts, comics have remained on the margins of popular culture, either glanced at in the Sunday paper or obsessed over in huge collections heaped up in nerd caves across the country. You have to dig deep to find reviews of comics in the New York Review of Books, and the comic sections of major bookstores tend to equal the cookbook sections in size.

I’m willing to bet that if you don’t have comic-reading friends (like I did) or a comic-book collecting family member (like my dad), you can probably count the number of comics you’ve read cover-to-cover on one hand. And with that little exposure, how do you know which artists genuinely move you and who’s telling the stories you want to hear?

Comics are more than superheroes, Sunday strips and manga (although there are greats within all those categories.) There are graphic novels, and webcomics, and every topic you can imagine. But the people who make comics don’t have enough money to force it in front of your eyes; you’ll have to go looking for the stuff you like. I promise it’s out there.

For what it’s worth, here are some of my favorites:
“Scott Pilgrim” (O’Malley):  Yeah, the one the movie was based on. It’s our generation condensed into  six volumes of vintage video games and hipster jokes. And love. A whole lotta love.

“Blacksad” (Canales + Guarnido): 20s style detective stories told through humanoid animals. The art is unreal, and the stories carry that real -Chandler grit.

“The Adventures of Sock Monkey” (Tony Millionaire): Offbeat, hilarious and bleak.

“Perry Bible Fellowship” (Gurewich):  A huge twist on your typical three-panel strip. Too funny for words. Online at In print at my house. Come over and laugh with me.

“The Carleton Comics Journal” (Your friends): Free, well-drawn comics every week! Speaking of…

Two “story of your life” comics that I would definitely want to see would be those of Andreas Stoehr ‘11 and Jacob Canfield ‘12, two editors of the Carleton Comics Journal (along with Kailyn Kent ’11 who is abroad this term). I sort of imagine Stoehr’s would start with him killing a polar bear with a spear on the coast of Lake Superior. The second frame might show him watching a movie at 4 a.m., and the final frame would probably show him putting the finishing touches on “Spring Lake Massacre,” the Comics Journal’s seventeenth issue, which came out last Friday.  I got the chance to talk with Stoehr and Canfield about this milestone release earlier this week, and you can check out what they had to say in my article elsewhere in this issue. And finally…
Fact of the week: The word swagger comes from the Swedish word svagga, meaning “to sway.” I think SVAGGA would be a great name for a 170-proof grain alcohol.

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