Monthly Archives: January 2010


“A single photograph, it’s provocative, it’s an idea, but if you can do two or three you make of that a phrase and if you can do ten maybe it’s a sentence. It’s a hard obscure language but it’s worth studying.” — Dorothea Lange

I recently read Linda Gordon’s excellent biography of photographer Dorothea Lange. I enjoyed learning about Lange’s process— from the way she put her subjects at ease to her thoughts on arranging groups of photos. In 1939 Lange, along with her husband, the academic Paul Schuster Taylor, put together American Exodus, A Record of Human Erosion, a “photo-textual book,” According to Hill, Lange was looking for a full synthesis of text and image with the goal that the two parts “so mesh that their impact transcend either medium alone.”

To combine photographs and text and have them read as a fluid language is a very difficult task.  A single photo stops you in your tracks. A still image is pulled from the stream of time (evocative in and of itself) and invites the viewer to linger and seek connections in the image’s details. An ominous sky, an ill-fitting suit, and calloused hands reveals character or become representational of some larger truth.

Reading comics comprised of photos instead of drawings (often referred to as “fumetti”) can quickly induce headaches. Because each panel contains so much information it is hard to slip from image to image. It’s a halting experience, like trying listen to someone struggle to speak in a language that isn’t their native tongue.

Photo-textual books grew out of the body of work created by Lange and her fellow FSA-OWI photographers that depicted beauty and dignity in the trying circumstances of the depression. Lange and Taylor hoped American Exodus would be a call to action and help sway public policy. The Movement, Documentary of a Struggle for Equality (1964) also seems to be cast in a similar mold.

In each of these works captions and short descriptions are sprinkled throughout, but the books’ engine are the photos. If a strong breeze blew the words off the page they wouldn’t be missed. These books are content to visually document their selected subject. As a cartoonist I’m often trying to ground my work in a specific time in place and books like The Factory, Portrait of a Leathergoods Factory in Downtown New York City (1977) provides the type of telling details that can help make a comic feel authentic (and who knows when I’ll want to create a comic set in a leathergoods factory!).

The photo-textual books that I’ve come across that rely more heavily on text like Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941) have a hard time in crafting a singular aesthetic experience. Walker Evans’ photos are austere and arresting but are all bunched together, separated by James Agee’s rambling text that makes up the majority of the book.

In Invisible Strangers (1999), Arturo Patten’s portraits of residents of a small Maine town are accompanied with text by Russell Banks. Five-to-seven pages of text alternate with a similar number of pages of photos throughout the book. The New Englander’s steady, weary, and guarded gaze confronts the reader but Russell Banks’ text strains to find some larger philosophical meaning while also celebrating Patten’s work. The portraits, however, speak quite capably for themselves—and for Patten’s skill as a photographer.

The most successful photo-textual book that I have seen that combines text and words to create something greater than the sum of its parts is The Oxford Project. Photographer Peter Feldstein juxtaposes photos of residents of Oxford, Iowa, taken 25 years apart. The writer, Stephen G. Bloom, asked the residents about their lives and then expertly distilled their responses and placed them alongside the photos to create an indelible portrait of a small town. Some Oxford residents are incredibly candid, others reveal more in what they don’t say. Comparing the two portraits taken two and half decades apart along with the text was often heartbreaking and awe-inspiring.

By adding comics, Guibert, Lefévre, and Lemercier’s The Photographer (2009) successfully weds photos and text into a seamless whole. Perhaps one reason it works so well is because the photographs telling the story are photos taken by the book’s protagonist as he documents his own narrative.  Photographs function not just as a storytelling technique but as the actual story.

But that conceit aside, Guibert’s drawings are spare and bold and hold their own graphically against the more detailed photos. I’d be curious to know more about the process between Guibert and Lemercier, the book’s graphic designer and colorist, and how they went about designing the actual pages. The Photographer, as much as The Oxford Project, represents the full synthesis of text and image that Dorothea Lange aspired to create and never did.

Have there been a lot of other good photo-textual books put together? I’m pretty ignorant of this field so if anyone knows of others (with or without comics) let me know.

— James Sturm

New Donation: Bound Groo

Thanks to Robin McConnell over at Inkstuds for a recent donation to the library including these fantastic bound issues of Groo the Wanderer.  There are 2 handsome volumes containing issues 1-60 by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier.  These are a very welcome addition to our collection filling a hole we have been saving for some Groo.  Thanks, Robin!

-Chuck Forsman

Doggone Drawings

Ralph Steadman defines a cartooning constant in my life. One of the few cartoonists my father spoke of was Steadman and as I mature, albeit at a slower rate than most, I definitely can see why my father enjoyed Steadman’s work. His quick stroke and rawness is so addictive! A brother to Tomi Ungerer, Jules Feiffer, James Thurber and Ronald Searle, I would never call his style careful (the word ejaculatory comes to mind) but the work that goes into it undoubtedly is thorough and loving. When Dogs Bodies (published in 1977) was donated to the library I could not have been happier!

In addition to these handsome portraits of dogs in various recognizable positions, Steadman imparts a bit of wisdom on the training of such companions.

The panels make you laugh, cringe, wince and never want to touch a dog again. Steadman does the canine species a huge favor in revealing the finer aspects of life.

Jen Vaughn

CCS Portfolio Day, March 6

Save the Date!

CCS PORTFOLIO DAY Saturday, March 6

Bring your sketchbook! 
Show your portfolio for an admissions review • Learn more about the program and courses • Meet faculty and students • Tour the campus

Who should attend? 
Prospective students 
High School seniors and graduates College students  

Space is limited! 
Please register online

Location: The Center for Cartoon Studies, 94 South Main Street, White River Junction, Vermont

( 802) 295-3319

– Robyn Chapman

Mini Comics of Note, 2009

Compiling a comprehensive “Best Of” list would be a monumental task – instead, I’ll share some of my favorite mini comics from 2009.

Best Innovation in Mini Comics

Minicomic of the Month Club

by Liz Baillie

As soon I read about the Minicomic of the Month Club, I had to join (see, I’m member #15)!  This was a smart and completely new idea.  Here’s the skinny, in Liz’s own words:

“For the duration of 2009 I would like to embark upon a possibly insane experiment. And like anything worth doing, you can pay to watch it happen!

Every month in 2009 I will release a new minicomic, not previously released, all-new material. These comics will be available exclusively to those lucky voyeurs who choose to subscribe and receive these comics in their mailbox once a month. They will not be available for individual sale, you have to be a member of the Club to get them. The Club comics will NOT include any comics that are part of an existing series (no issues of MBH, no issues of Freewheel, no new series). Each comic will be its own thing.”

A 12-month subscription cost $40.  I paid my dues and a mini comic appeared in my PO box each month, like a letter from my special penpal.

From what I can tell, Liz is not repeating this experiment.  But it was fun while it lasted!

Best Humorous Autobiography

Just So You Know #1

by Joey Alison Sayers

 I’m a big fan of Joey’s sharp and often morbid humor.  Most of her work is 1-panel gags or 4-panel strips, so it was exciting to see her tackle a longer story.  The story itself is more serious in scope, it chronicles her transition from male to female.  It’s certainly the most successful comic I’ve read on this topic.  Plus, it’s really funny.

Best Swords and Sorcery Mini Comic

Ramble On

by Calvin Wong

I just discovered Calvin’s work this year.  This comic is witty, imaginative and a lot of fun.  It’s a playful story, and you don’t see enough of those in mini comics.  The perfect gift for the D&D playing Led Zep fan in your family.

Best Coming-Of-Age Story


by Samuel C. Gaskin

Sam handed me this book and said “I have a feeling you’ll like this”.  I’ve been a fan of Sam’s work since day one, but I found this book especially good. It’s about Sam’s diabetes diagnosis and how it changed his life.  This honest story is told in a bare-bones style that really resonated with me.  I think I may have mentioned this in one of Sam’s class: it is more important for a story to ring true than to be true.  This story rings true.

– Robyn Chapman

The Comic Book Legacy of Nickelodeon Magazine

Like many comics lovers, I was saddened by the cancellation of Nickelodeon Magazine.  Since its first issue in 1993, its Comic Book section has featured some of the greatest talents in alternative comics.

The debut issue of Nickelodeon Magazine’s Comic Book included a cover by David Mazzucchelli,

comics by longtime contributor Sam Henderson,

and Mark Newgarden, among others.

Nickelodeon Magazine’s contributor list included Richard Sala, Kaz, Kim Deitch, James Kochalka, Craig Thompson, Nick Bertozzi, Brian Ralph, Johnny Ryan, Ellen Forney, Steve Weissman, Alec Longstreth, Jason Lutes, R. Sikoryak, Art Spiegelman, Gahan Wilson and many, many more.  The quality of its comics can be attributed to its comic editors, Chris Duffy and Dave Roman.  Both cartoonists themselves, they love comics and they understand comics – a rare quality in mainstream magazine publishing!

When I arrived in White River Junction after my holiday break, I received a special package for the Schulz Library.

A gift from Garth, circa 1993?

No, a gift from Chris Duffy!

Fourteen years of Nickelodeon Magazine, collected into special, bound editions!  This rare and unique donation will be a great resource for our students.

Thank you, Nickelodeon Magazine!  And thank you, Chris and Dave, for a long and succesful run.

– Robyn Chapman

Romance Comics, Two Great Blogs

I just stumbled onto these two blogs.  They are both excellent resources, with lots of scans.  Just when I think I know a thing or two about romance comics, the internet reminds me that I’m just a dabbler!

Sequential Crush, by blogger Jacque Nodell.

“Sequential Crush is a blog devoted to preserving the memory of romance comic books and the creative teams that published them throughout the 1960s and 1970s.”

Out of This World, by blogger KB.

“The premise for this Blog is that a comic book is like a time capsule that allows us a glimpse into the thought processes and behaviors extant in our society when the particular issue was written, drawn, and published.”

– Robyn Chapman