Reacting and/or Romping Through Manga and Manwha


 color of earth    Naruto 1    Ranma One Half vol 1    Ranma One Half vol 2


Manga and manwha comics offer a variety of features that evoke reactions in the reader.  [Such features appear in two preliminary examples here, and a third title is discussed in more detail.]  In Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Earth (manwha; 2003), for example, the fine lines, careful textures, and contrasts in visual tone evoke feelings of fascination and compassion.  This first comic in a trilogy tells a poignant story about coming of age, young love, and yearning.  Perhaps less subtle artistically, Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto (manga) series presents the story of Uzumaki Naruto, a rascally young ninja with secret power and a spirited goal.  In Volume 1 (1999), there are varied facial expressions, full-body action, and depictions of struggle within adventure.  Such features evoke empathy (Eisner, 2008, p. 47) for Uzumaki’s no-holds-barred approach, and anticipation and excitement about his actions and reactions.

In Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2, Volumes 1 and 2 (manga; 1993), the main character (Ranma) is a spunky young man whose body hosts the spirit of a girl.  He navigates through martial arts and sports training, arrangements for a bride, high school bullies, fights, sports contests . . . and sex-changes dependent on douses of cold water (instant girl, breasts and all!) or hot (a guy again!).

In the Ranma 1/2 volumes, there are features that evoke reader reactions more conspicuously than do the features in The Color of Earth and Naruto, Volume 1.  Ranma’s hairstyle, for example, is always the same – a fluffy ‘do’ with a distinct braid in the back – regardless of the moment’s gender.  This consistency evokes an “Ahh, there you are!” reaction, and the reader can continue without having to backtrack through Ranma’s transformations.  The prominence of characters with black hair also catches the eye; the reader can effortlessly note their presence and involvement in the story.

Other features in Ranma 1/2 include the books’ endpapers and inside covers; circles of sarcastic pandas introduce comedy and elicit chuckles, and expectations of action ‘literally’ result from a  page devoted to the definition of “action.”  Within the books, predictable panel layouts and black-and-white images are easy to examine (McCloud, 1993, p. 192), supporting expectations for a friendly, unruffled read.

Onomatopoeia is the most provoking feature in the first two volumes of Ranma 1/2.  A plethora of action/sound words appear in a variety of lettering (Eisner, 2008, p. 61), from petite examples (“SNFF SNFF”) to moderate (“TUMP TUMP TUMP”) to bulbous (“PADAPADAPADAPADA”) to page-filling (“YAAAAAA! SHRAKKKKK”).  The reader swirls effortlessly into the story and stays there to ‘hear’ the scuffles and feel the fun of wild, fast-paced action.  The literary ‘icing on the cake’ consists of silly sights here and there, such as a silent panda holding up a sign that says, “Uh-Oh!”

Put together these features of Ranma 1/2, Volumes 1 and 2, and these “madcap” manga comics (Ranma 1/2, n.d., page title) render the reader helpless to resist moving quickly through the pages feeling entertained, amused . . . and wide awake!


Eisner, W. (2008). Graphic storytelling and visual narrative: Principles and practices from the legendary cartoonist. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Kim, D. H. (2003); Na, L. (Translator). The color of earth. New York, NY: First Second.

Kishimoto, M. (1999). Naruto, Volume 1: The tests of the ninja. San Francisco, CA: VIZ.

McCloud, S. (1993). Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York, NY: William Morrow/HarperCollins.

Ranma 1/2: The all-time classic hit series of gender-swapping, species-bending, madcap martial arts mayhem! (n.d.).  Retrieved from the website of VIZ Media at

Takahashi, R. (2002). Ranma 1/2, Volume 1. San Francisco, CA: VIZ.

Takahashi, R.; Jones, G. & Thorn, M. [Adaptors]. (2003). Ranma 1/2, Volume 2, Action Edition. San Francisco, CA: VIZ.

Maus Told Me a Mountainous Story

MausI  MausI  MausI  MausII  MausII  MausII

“I value literature because in it men look at life with all the vulnerability, honesty, and penetration they can command . . . and dramatize their insights by means of a unique relationship with language and form.” (Hoggart, as found in Chambers, 1973, p. 132.)

The comics excellence of Art Spiegelman’s two-volume Maus (1986, 1991) certainly exemplifies Richard Hoggart’s comments (above) about valuable literary qualities.  Even so, I was afraid to read a comic about the Jewish Holocaust.  The enormity of that history weighs on me like a mountain, and the prospect of reading the comic sickened me.  I have already sobbed, had nightmares, and trembled over The Diary of a Young Girl (Frank [English translation], 1952), Sophie’s Choice (Pakula, 1999), and Schindler’s List (Keneally, 1982)My psyche buckles and weeps when my friend, Stan, talks about being a young Polish Jew at the time, witnessing atrocities, and surviving hidden in a pantry.

The importance of Maus, however, is compelling.  Noted as a comics paradigm (Martin, 2011, p. 172), it is recommended as significant to readers and celebrated by a Pulitzer Prize.  And so, I decided to ‘meet’ the titular ‘mouse,’ Vladek Spiegelman, a human Holocaust survivor whose story is told by his son, Art.

Maus includes the experiences of Vladek and his wife, both Polish Jews who survived a Holocaust ghetto, concentration camps, and life-threatening times after World War II.  Concurrently, Vladek’s relationship with Art and other family happenings are disclosed.  Now having read it, I believe humankind must know the history and the account. Librarians need to know more than is conveyed by the summaries and subject headings.

Art Spiegelman mixes a mammoth story with ‘undersized’ comics features, making Maus readable and engaging.  At just 23-24 centimeters with fewer than 300 black-and-white pages in all, the physical books are easy to handle.  Small panels laid out neatly allow accessible bits of story to form impressive sequential art.  The text font is small and does not overwhelm.  Human characters have familiar animal heads (Jews are mice, Polish folk are pigs, Nazis are cats, and more).  This anthropomorphism becomes understated as it continues but demands constant visual interpretation.  As a result, various players and their plights become familiar.

What happened to me as I read Maus was unexpected.  My fears did not keep me from reading on, and horror and grief did not make me cower, buckle, or weep.  This comic provided a reading experience diminutive enough to be safe, yet it was potent and gripping.  Vladek’s feisty survival, albeit imperfect and painful, serves as a powerful example of response to unbelievable brutality.  Art’s candor is refreshing.  At the end, I was somber but revitalized.


Chambers, A. (1973). Introducing books to children. London, UK: Heinemann.

Frank, A.; Mooyaart-Doubleday, B. M. (Translator). (1952). The diary of a young girl. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Keneally, T. (1982). Schindler’s list. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Martin, E. (2011). Graphic novels or novel graphics? Comparatist, 35, 170-181.

Pakula, A. J. (Screenplay and Director);  Pakula, A. J., & Barish (Producers). (1999). Sophie’s choice [DVD]. Santa Monica, CA: ITC Films.

Spiegelman, A. (1986). Maus I: A survivor’s tale: My father bleeds history. New York, NY: Pantheon.

Spiegelman, A. (1991). Maus II: A survivor’s tale: And here my troubles began. New York, NY: Pantheon.



Reflection on ‘Fairy Tales in Comics’ Seminar


Free Google Advanced image – Dale Chihuly – glass in boat – morning – Palm House

I had a profound sense of my topic’s timelessness while presenting this seminar.  Given that fairy-tale adaptations in the form of comics are part of a folklore process that has churned and persisted for thousands of years, I was excited to share my interest and findings with my classmates.  I felt humbled and honored to be part of a larger process.

It was a pleasure to receive positive feedback about ‘setting the mood’ for the seminar with a photo of a Dale Chihuly glass creation.  Libraries serve and operate within multi-faceted communities, and works of art speak well to the importance of including multidisciplinary components in our services. For a comprehensive source about Dale Chihuly and his work, visit – the Timeline (, in particular, is mesmerizing!

Presenting my seminar within a class on superhero comics was serendipitous in a way, as it made me think about Ranganathan’s library-science laws, especially the third law (“Every book its reader”) and the fifth law (“The library is a growing organism”) [Rubin, 2010, pp. 407-410].  Since there are many comics styles with which both fairy tales and superhero stories can be told, adding such comics to our library collections can add a wealth of literature choices for our patrons.

Not presented in the seminar, and possibly a topic to include in a seminar on censorship, is an idea that I came across in Linda Hutcheon’s theory of adaptation (2013).  Hutcheon comments  that “Adults . . . ‘censor’ adaptations, deciding that some are appropriate for children and others are not” (p. 118).  Our responsibilities as librarians behoove us to consider and to discuss this.  Views and information on child development, morals, and ethics should be part of such a discussion.

An aspect of my presentation that didn’t fit was my plan to share resources with my classmates via the PowerPoint slides.  I had thought that this would be efficient (I am an avid note-taker), but realize that a different format may better serve my classmates.  My recommendations are, therefore, listed here:


The Visual Literacy Toolbox: Learning to Read Images


SurLaLune Fairy Tales


Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tales  (Marina Warner, Oxford University Press, 2014)


Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts


The Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature  (Russ Kick [Ed.], Seven Stories Press, 2014)


Linda Hutcheon, Bill Willingham, Jane Yolen, Jack Zipes


Willingham, B. (2012). Fables: Volume 1, Legends in exile. New York (NY): DC Comics.


Duffy, C. (Ed.). (2013). Fairy tale comics: Classic tales told by extraordinary cartoonists. New York (NY): First Second.


Hutcheon, L. (2012). A theory of adaptation (2nd ed.).  London, UK: Routledge.

Rubin, R. E. (Ed.). (2010). Foundations of library and information science, 3rd ed. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman.

Comics Can Capture First-Person History

MarchBookOne JohnLewis


L to R: Book cover image from; current photograph of U. S. Congressman John Lewis retrieved from; screen shot of page 100 in March: Book One; photographs in which John Lewis appears retrieved from Google Advanced Images

John Lewis (b. 1940; U. S. Congressman since1986) is a living legend and incredible figure from the 20th century Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Powerful accounts from his life appear as elements of a conversation depicted in March: Book One (Lewis & Aydin, 2013). This title is worthy of attention because it contains exceptional sequential art about a pivotal person and a pivotal era which changed individuals and the nation.

Growing up on an Alabama farm, Lewis’s spiritual passion translated into sermons, baptisms, and funerals for his chickens; he abhorred that they were killed for food. He was a black boy with a smart mind and a treasured education. He paid attention to segregation, Rosa Parks, racist murders, and the ideas of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Driven by the exigent need for the establishment of black civil rights, Lewis marched straight into the horrific dangers of nonviolent activism. Neither racism nor injustice, nor jail, nor beatings stopped him from spending his adult life as a nonviolent icon and a national leader of the Civil Rights Movement.

The passions and horrors of that time appeared in ‘black and white’ newspaper articles and photographs, and on black-and-white TV. (I saw these images myself.) Features of March: Book One keep this history and her lessons vibrant in black, white, and gray once again. The panels appear as if to be photographs laid out and bound together, but this comic goes beyond facsimile. The layouts change constantly and backgrounds alternate between dark and light. Gutters and lines move ceaselessly. There are meaningful perspectives, effective narration, and concisely-worded philosophic assertions. Subtle musical notes recap lasting folk music that rose up from turmoil and change. Readers will be moved, educated, and eager to absorb more about John Lewis and the Civil Rights Movement in March: Book Two (Lewis & Aydin, 2015).

PLEASE NOTE: The drive of Lewis and others was rallied by another comic: Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story (Fellowship of, Hassler, & Resnik, 1958). See the next post (March 8, 2016) for further information.


Congressman John Lewis: Representing Georgia’s 5th District. (n.d.). Retrieved on March 6, 2016 from

Fellowship of Reconciliation, Hassler, A., & Resnik, B. (1958). Martin Luther King and the Montgomery story. Nyack, NY: Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Lewis, J., & Aydin, A. (2013). March: Book one. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf.

Lewis, J., & Aydin, A. (2015). March: Book two. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf.


Find Slices of Life in A Contract With God

folding fan

Image retrieved from The Graphic Mac (Dempsy, 2008)

Notes to readers:

1) A Contract With God, as discussed here, is one comic in a collection of Will Eisner’s works (2006); it is grouped therein under the same title with three other comics.  This story quartet also has been published as a stand-alone: A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories.

2) The length of this essay corresponds to the great number of features necessary for the study of four deeply meaningful comics.  The result shows the cohesiveness of the comics, and the organization of this essay will help to locate features of interest.

— A. Quinn


Four stories, originally published between 1978 and 1995, make up “Part I: A  Contract With God” in Will Eisner’s comics trilogy published in 2006.  In the information-packed Preface, Eisner explains that he was born and raised in New York City, and influenced by the graphic art of Otto Nückel, Franz Masareel, and Lynd Ward (pp. xiii-xiv).  Eisner’s career was devoted to “combining and refining words and pictures” (p. xix).

In the stories, Eisner’s fictional tenement neighborhood is home to characters which are, at times, visually stereotypical. They include slouched elderly rabbis, a dolled-up young girlfriend, a busty musical diva, a drunken failure of a man, a lonely building ‘super,’ a sweet looking but evil young temptress, a gold-digging chick, and a frumpy intellectual.  Nonetheless, the characters experience and propel them up and down in life, and Eisner’s storytelling is compelling for new comics readers as well as established fans.

This reading response focuses on what Eisner offers his readers as he asks them to relish his ‘slice of life’ stories.

A Contract With God

Frimme Hersh is an orphan in late-nineteenth century Russia.  As a boy, he is rescued from ferocious anti-Semitic persecution and he dutifully creates a contract with the Divine. Later, in his permanent home in New York City, he lives his adult life as a devout Jew. The death of Frimme’s adopted daughter, however, devastates his faith and leads to a furious end to his commitment to God. Frimme becomes a greedy and unhappy businessman. His perceptive girlfriend offers to convert to Judaism, and Frimme is moved. He demands a new contract with God from synagogue elders. The results, however, are literally short-lived. The reader is left to ponder some basics in the human condition: spirituality, organized religion, ethics, economic class, grief, disillusionment, and emotional emptiness. In the “Epilogue,” heroic young Shloime Khreks finds Frimme’s original contract, and possibilities are left to the reader.

The Street Singer

The main character in this story is a poor husband whose melodic voice echoes in tenement alleys, earning him tossed coins and a promise of fame from a bygone operatic diva. She will make him a star! After returning to the reality of home with a badgering wife and baby on the way, he convinces his bartender and himself that stellar days are ahead. The problem is that he absolutely cannot remember where the diva lives and he only knows her stage name.  It’s back to drudgery and unfulfilled potential. The hopes in the story line are punctured by the realities of poverty, hunger, sex for favors, domestic violence, and giddy promises of success and fame.

The Super

Unlikable Mr. Scuggs is a cranky, scary looking tenement super.  He is fed up with his tenants, and finds relief in alcohol and the pin-up girls on the walls of his basement apartment.  When Mrs. Farfell fetches him to fix the hot water, her young niece catches his eye and later arrives at the door of his apartment.  The combination of his inebriation and her startling behavior leads to the provocation of violence and a suicidal ending.  These events are not unheard of in cruel domains where alcohol use leads to raw emotions and where evil causes tragedy despite the appearance of innocence.


Tenement dwellers escape to the country during the summer, and ‘cookaleins’ are inexpensive hotels where moms-in-charge cook for their vacationing families.  Other hotel-bound vacationers in Eisner’s story include a secretary looking for a rich husband, a conceited young man masquerading as a well-to-do, a medical student who plays sax in a hotel band, lonely Mrs. Minks, and fifteen-year-old Willie – who is strapping and naive.  None of the characters dominate this rollicking story, and neither do their summer experiences.  Plausibility and probability (terms from animation discussions in Disney’s Fantasia [2000; originally 1940]) fill this visual narrative with commonly known happenings: flirting, travel preparations, snobbery, chauvinism, unhappiness, infidelity, seduction, rape, rescue, and loss of innocence.

Eisner’s sequential art and the evocation of reaction

Each of Eisner’s stories begins flatly with a full-page illustration that has no frame, no gutters, and no text save for a simple number indicating the order of the stories.  These pages provide scenery, but no emotion. It is within each comic that the art conveys depth of meaning.  In “A Contract with God,” there is text-as-image, (such as Hebrew letters and punctuation which convey Judaic themes), predominance of full pages with no frames (surrounded by white spaces which serve as large gutters that emphasize the importance of the panels’ contents), and overflowing water and pelting rain that submerge Frimme Hersh in overwhelming grief.  Most pages are saturated with plentiful ink striations – angled to lead the reader through a driving story, or horizontal/vertical to halt the reader for moments of thought. From childhood through Frimme’s self-determined amoral metamorphosis, the panels go from small and detailed to large and blackened, communicating progression from the past into stark reality.  The catalyst for Frimme’s return to religion is his girlfriend, pictured close up with simple, appealing features.  The art quickly returns to striation with movement that culminates in a swirling yet rainless storm of death.  The backgrounds in the final two pages of the “Epilogue” are black and strong, forcing the reader to be somber.  Striated rays of lamplight and a glare of light on Sliome Khreks ask for closure: What is in that aged contract, and what will come of those who enter into its terms?

At the beginning of “The Street Singer,” vertical striation surrounds text in the atmosphere of an alley; this feature stops the reader and starts a new story.  Most of the subsequent pages contain three to five panels, with medium/neutral views and black or white backgrounds that allow for the exploration of numerous characters and components of the tale, and a variety of emotions.  High views and bird’s eye perspectives accentuate moments wherein the reader may ponder realities such as urban confinement, looming pressure, post-coital return to routine, and various bits of litter in the life of the everyman.

Close-ups, cluttered panels,  and moment-to-moment transitions give the reader plenty of tools for closure (McCloud, 1994, p. 70) in “The Super.” The reader gets to know Mr. Scuggs as a larger than life character on single-panel pages.  On pages where he is small among the details, however, circumstances are seen to whittle him down under the pressures of his job.  Swirling images ‘describe’ his sad escapes into alcohol-induced fantasy.  Dark surroundings on pages 116 and 117 give way to glaring, bright backgrounds that clearly show the rapid pace of Mr. Scuggs’s growing despair, and a billowy text balloon with creepy musical notes draws the reader’s eye to evidence of a twisted victory near the story’s end.

With a large variety of characters and events, the art in “Cookalein” is busy with details and a great number of text balloons.  In this final story of Part I in Eisner’s trilogy, vertical striations slowly return and increase, leading the reader to gaze down into pools of thought as “A Contract With God” nears its end.  The backgrounds get busy, and depictions of young Willie become more prominent.  By the final pages, Willie is large, deep and dark in thought, and surrounded by a sky filled with lines of background.  There is hardly a gutter in which the reader might look away.  The reader’s perspective is from behind Willie, and together they can look down on a city of many stories.

Other features of this comics quartet

The lack of color (i.e., the use of black and white only) in these comics suggests the years when color images/photographs might not have been commonplace.  For example, “A Contract With God” takes place toward the beginning of the twentieth century, and “The Street Singer” takes place “during the early 1930s” (p. 65).  Based on personal observations, the world of “The Super” includes a child in dress from the early to mid-twentieth century, and the vehicles depicted in “Cookalein” are from that era as well.

Audience and collection development

Six libraries in the Suffolk Cooperative Library System own this trilogy title.  Three place it with adult graphic novels, and two place it with graphic novels for young adults.  One library places it on the 741.5 shelves.

The content of the stories are appropriate for young adults and adults, but this title will probably circulate more in an adult collection serving readers who have observed or experienced some of the events.  Also, interest in middle-aged characters may be found more among adults.  Minor depictions of nudity and sexual activities are further considerations.  Regardless, young adults interested in comics in the library may know of Will Eisner, making it easy to search for his work by author regardless of collection.  Cataloging this work as a 741.5, however, may ‘maroon’ it; this consideration echoes Kat Kan’s ideas in “Cataloging Graphic Novels” (2016).

Final thoughts

A Contract With God was chosen for review here because at first skim among four choices, it appeared to be the least appealing.  A potentially negative review was in the works.   After reading only a few pages, there was an about-face in direction!  One can really sink their literary teeth into Eisner’s offerings.

If there is any doubt that comics can address everyday moments and the human condition with meaningful art, the stories explored here are evidence that comics can do just that.  Also, Eisner’s masterful comics make it easy to forget about format and think about content that is from the real world.


Dempsy, J. (2008). Create a hand-held fan from your favorite image [sample of a product created with a Photoshop action: Panos FX Fan]. Retrieved on February 22, 2016 from the website of The Graphic Mac at

Eisner, W. (2006). The Contract With God trilogy. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Fantasia [60th anniversary DVD edition of a motion picture originally released in 1940]. (2000). Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Enterprises.

Kan, K. (2016). Cataloging graphic novels. Retrieved from Diamond Bookshelf at

McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.

Dungarees and Comics: Evolutions and Acceptance


Allen Ellis and Doug Highsmith’s “About Face: Comic Books in Library Literature” (2000) surveys and discusses information and views about comics from the 1940s through the 1990s.

While studying the article, I found myself thinking about my high school days. At the time, there were school dress codes which forbid students to wear denim pants, known then as ‘dungarees’ or ‘blue jeans’ – pants made of heavy, dark blue fabric, affordable and essential for laborers who needed sturdy and comfortable work clothes. Eventually, such pants became popular garb for youth. School dress codes came to permit ‘jeans’ – pants made of heavy, dark blue fabric, affordable and more form-fitting than dungarees, but still sturdy and comfortable.

Looking back, the anti-dungarees rules and attitudes appear elitist (those pants were cheap), fussy/arrogant (those pants were not ‘school’ clothes), and restrictive (those pants might allow students to relax).

Perhaps comics have been the ‘dungarees’ of literature for youth. Views of comics have been elitist (Ellis & Highsmith, 2000, pp. 1, 14), fussy/arrogant (Crutchfield, n.d., as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 9), and restrictive (Price, 1941, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, 2000, p. 11).

Ellis and Highsmith discovered the abovementioned views, as well as changing perspectives and evolving attitudes. On pages 7-13 of their 2000 article, they discuss literature and commentary considered or written by library professionals. Examples include Frederic Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent (1954), Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965), Comics Librarianship: A Handbook (Scott, 1990), and articles by library professionals with views ranging from anti-comics to pro-comics to mixed, including Helen M. Wright (Ellis & Highsmith, 2000, pp. 10-11), Margaret E. Kalp (p. 13), Ann Prentice (p. 15), Will Eisner (p. 17), and Scott McCloud (p. 25).

Views toward comics in the 1940s included a judgement of “national disgrace” (North, 1940, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, 2000, p. 1) and mixed views from professionals and mothers. Views in the 1950s were similar (p. 13), and there were discussions about crime and horror in comics (p. 4) and the role of comics in literacy development (Kalp, 1951, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 13; Nyberg, n.d., as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 10). In the 1960s, views were influenced by “scholarly study of popular culture” (Ellis & Highsmith, p. 6; Sadler, 1964, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 15) and the needs of comics readers (Clarke, 1973, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 15). Caveats explained that comics differ from traditional children’s literature (McGuff, 1968, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 16). The 1970s reveal a “growing appreciation” for comics (Eisner, 1974, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 17) and increasing interest in quality comics collections (Parker, 1971, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 16). Motivation toward library use and literacy needs were discussed in the 1980s (Dorrell & Battle, 1980; Dorrell & Carroll, 1981; Sparks, 1981 – all found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 32), but there was also criticism of the “fun” in comics (Schubert, 1981, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 18) and the “[pollution of] children’s minds” (Van De Voorde, 1981, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 19). There was evidence that some librarians themselves were comics readers (Alward, 1982, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 19), and that technical processing and cataloging of comics was developing (Scott, 1984, as found in Ellis & Highsmith, p. 20). In the 1990s, some discussions celebrated comics in the library and the marketplace (Ellis & Highsmith, p. 23), and noted service to students (Barron, 1991; Sherman & Ammon, 1993 – both found in Ellis & Highsmith, pp. 23-24), although there was debate about the presence of comics literature in library holdings (pp. 24-26).

Based on Ellis and Highman’s six-decade survey, I predict that comics will become commonly accepted as valuable reading choices in libraries and communities, much as jeans have come to be ‘routine’ apparel choices and absolutely acceptable in schools and on the street.

It is fitting to note here the impact of terminology. The term ‘dungarees’ has been part of evolving popular views about denim pants, and can communicate work-use by laborers. The term ‘comics’ has been used regularly, but can communicate that their contents are humorous (Ellis &Highsmith, 2000, pp. 8-9).

I suggest that we use the term “sequentially illustrated stories,” as per Eisner’s suitable term, “sequential art” (2005).  Further, I suggest we put on our jeans –  or any garb of choice,  go to the library, and get reading comics!


Eisner, W. (1985, 2005). Comics and sequential art. Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse.

Ellis, A. W., & D. Highsmith. (2000). About face: Comic books in library literature. Serials Review 26(2), 21-43.

Feiffer, J. (1965). The great comic book heroes. New York, NY: Dial.

Scott, R. W. (1990). Comics librarianship: A handbook. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Wertham, F. (1954). Seduction of the innocent. New York, NY: Rinehart.

Terms and Concepts for a Comics Newbie


Google Advanced Image retrieved on February 7, 2016 from

A first step in studying comics literature is to learn about arranging visual language and written language to tell stories (Cohn, 2013, pp. 2, 13; Eisner, 2005, p. 7; Eisner, 2008, p. 7; McCloud, 1994, pp. vii; Wolf, n.d., as found in Eisner, 2005, pp. 1, 8).

Will Eisner explains in Comics and Sequential Art that depictions and words together in sequence can produce both meaning and aesthetic impact (2005, p. 8). Eisner’s remarks and comics examples (from his mid-twentieth century work) are highly detailed and mesmerizing. The presentations are academically complex, and visually powerful due to illustrative intricacy and copious tone gradients of black and white. As such, Eisner can – to the point of ‘brain-strain’ – sate a student’s wish to understand mechanisms that function within comics. (Pushing through any intellectual fatigue, however, is worth it because the result is utter fascination.)

Neil Cohn’s introduction to visual language in comics (2013) leads the reader down sophisticated linguistic lanes, winding through the use of tools such as modality [e.g., visual markings], meaning [e.g., abstract or practical suggestions], grammar [e.g., a system of rules for visible presentations], and sequential units [e.g., frames and placement] (pp. 4-8).

Moving forward in Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art to a chapter on “The Frame,” there are presentations more accessible to a comics-neophyte, including encapsulation of events and flow of the narrative (p. 39). There is more text than illustration in these lessons, with step-by-step commentary about the creation of panels (pp. 42-44, 64-89), borders (p. 44), outlines (pp. 53-60), dimension (pp. 50-52, 54, 59), illustration as narration (pp. 45-50), and perspective (pp. 92-101). These presentations elicit feelings of curiosity and awe concerning the mastery needed in order to create comics that speak to readers.

(Please note: Eisner presents R. Crumb’s “A Short History of America” [which depicts a geographical location over time] (2005, pp. 46-47], a grand example of subtle content and panel sequencing which make it almost effortless to read the images. Crumb’s panels bring to mind the visual impact of Virginia Lee Burton’s splendid Caldecott-winning picture book, The Little House (1942), which tells the poignant story of the House’s evolution from rural-to-urban-to-rural.)

Scott McCloud’s ‘gift’ to comics newbies, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1994), encompasses the concepts above and shapes them firmly into an effective foundation for the study of comics. This is the text that brings together Cohn’s and Eisner’s lessons (and surely others) for the neophyte! McCloud’s presentations are bold and contain a wide variety of pedagogic examples; there is a targeted “Introduction” on page viii and a logical, enthusiastic development of comics-creation processes on pages 2-23. After studying Chapter 1: “Setting the Record Straight,” the reader will shout a literary “Hallelujah!” because they will understand that comics are “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (p. 9).

McCloud also enlightens with a helpful lesson in similarities and differences between film and comics: Visual animation contains a procession of filmed images on one screen in prearranged time, and comics contain a procession of images in spaces, which readers explore in their own time (1994, pp. 7-8).


Burton, V. L. (1942). The little house. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Cohn, N. (2013). The visual language of comics: Introduction to the structure and cognition of sequential images. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

Eisner, W. (2005). Comics and sequential art. Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse.

Eisner, W. (2008). Graphic storytelling and visual narrative: Principles and practices from the legendary cartoonist. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York, NY: HarperCollins.