News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Book review: Washington’s Gay General: The Legends and Loves of Baron von Steuben.

reviewed by Cord Scott

Trujillo, Josh and Levi Hastings.  Washington’s Gay General: The Legends and Loves of Baron von Steuben. New York: Abram’s Surely Press, 2023. $24.99 ISBN 978-1-4197-4372-6.

 In today’s politically charged cultural atmosphere, the argument that history is often written to fit social events of the day is one that resonates.  Permeating aspects of current society across the board, many Americans are uneasy with thinking of national heroes having what they perceive as less than desirable traits. This sort of argument could, and most likely will, be made by anyone trying to ban this book from libraries.  However, Steuben’s life is a great example of how complicated the stories of the Founding Fathers truly are.

The graphic novel centers on Trujillo, the writer, finding out about Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian soldier who was brought to the American colonies to help train George Washington’s forces.  Von Steuben was instrumental in creating a training regime for the colonial army, was the first Inspector General of the US Army, and created the “Blue Book” a training manual that still has relevance to the modern US military. Trujillo was drawn to von Steuben as an openly gay man in a time of history when it was literally a crime.  While his affectations were widely known, there are few firm pieces of direct evidence, as many personal references or thoughts on homosexuality would be destroyed (p. 15). Narratively interesting is that Trujillo readily identified his own shortcomings in terms of scholarship, interest in history, or proximity to the actual areas where von Steuben lived. But this is something that historians often must face: how does one make a story complete, warts and all?  To that end, the result was commendable.

Friedrich von Steuben was born in Prussia in 1730 and had wanted to pursue a military career.  He was a shy child, and not above exaggerating stories or his own feats to get ahead in life.  As Trujillo wrote (p. 24) von Steuben often embellished stories to attain promotion or higher status.  He felt that he deserved such things as he was professionally that good, but this was a lifelong trait.  Von Steuben came to adulthood at a time when the Prussian military was used as the model for training, discipline, and strength in battle.  King Frederick I (Frederick the Great) of Prussia often outfitted his soldiers in smart-looking uniforms and had requirements for height.  Trujillo argues that Frederick was also gay, and so the “Prussian Giants” (p. 73) appearance may have been for his own proclivities as well as that of military prowess.

He had made close connections with Frederick, Frederick’s brother Prince Henry, and Claude-Louis, Comte de Saint-Germaine, a noted mercenary general from that era.  While von Steuben was known for his dalliances with men, it had never been overly dangerous as his military standing shielded him to an extent. Following the Seven Years’ War in Europe (known as the French and Indian War in America), von Steuben was virtually destitute, and living on the kindness of others.  Due to military cutbacks, the costs of war, and his own indebtedness, von Steuben had constant worry about money.  However, his reputation as a rake was becoming more of a liability and that is when he was introduced to Benjamin Franklin.  The reputation of both men for preferring younger lovers was well known, in Trujillo’s narrative.

Hired by Franklin, Von Steuben was part of a foreign contingent of military officers who rallied to the American cause. Trujillo noted that the stories of von Steuben appearing at Valley Forge in a flamboyant uniform were not true, although he did often have uniforms that were made to impress his importance.  His aides who were often very young (in their teens and early twenties while von Steuben at this point was in his fifties). These aides helped with the problems with his lack of English. When training soldiers, he was having to rely on one or two languages as well as interpreters which made immediate training corrections a bit strained, but his men liked him for the care he took of them.

Where Trujillo comes into some minor historical issue is with descriptions.  He notes that von Steuben was considered an outsider as he only spoke German.  This may not have been the issue it appears as German was under consideration for the official language of the colonies.  Second, the commentary on Benedict Arnold was awkward.  Arnold is correctly considered a traitor, but he was never seen as inept, as Trujillo described him.  Arnold was a tested commander who is recognized at both Saratoga and West Point New York for his importance. He, like von Steuben, felt he was deserving of far more than he had received.  In Arnold’s case, it led to his betrayal of the colonial army.

The later part of the book describes von Steuben’s struggle to be recognized, and more importantly paid, for his contributions following the American victory.  As with anyone had kept personal aspects of his life from the public eye (and history), the book ventures into the realm of speculation.  However, Trujillo acknowledges that it is hard to be accurate when facts are unknown.  A strength of the story also lies in the creator’s relating it to modern hardships of those in the LGBTQIA+ community.  The story also doesn’t shy away from von Steuben’s faults, from excessive drinking and vanity, to his ownership of slaves, to the complicity of treatment towards minorities in America.  People often approach historical figures as perfect people, and either have issues with, or outright deny, any wrongdoing.  This is dangerous as it sets a false narrative, and the authors avoided it here.

The issue of homosexuality in the American military is still a confusing one.  On one hand, the modern military often tries to emulate the warrior ethos of the ancient Spartans of Greece, with motivational t-shirts such as “Molon Labe” (Come and Take them – them being weapons).  However, the Spartans also fought with their male lovers, which runs in opposition of mainstream America’s concept of Greek society. It may be worth noting that Abrams did not publish this under their ComicArts imprint.

This book can create an interest in history, biography, or the American Revolution, and be a good starting point for future reading.  As in other Revolutionary War comics (Rebels from Vertigo and U.S. the graphic novel come to mind), it is a bit muted in colors, as though the past was a less vivid place. There may be some issues marketing it towards teens, beyond the obvious one, as there are a couple of swear words.  There is no gratuitous nudity, which does not detract from the story, but some will no doubt still find it offensive, in the way they might object to Maus.  Any historical-based book should have a bibliography for reference, and it would benefit this book as well.  These are minor issues.  In all, it is a good starting point into the lives of the “Founding Fathers,” glaring issues and all. 


Book review: J. Andrew Deman – The Claremont Run: Subverting Gender in the X-Men - a review by James Willetts

J. Andrew Deman, The Claremont Run: Subverting Gender in the X-Men, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2023.

 reviewed by  James Willetts

                 It’s rare that a work of comics criticism emerges that boasts both academic bonafides and the promise of cross-over appeal for general audiences of comics readers. The Claremont Run has the potential to be that, thanks to author J. Andrew Deman’s popular Twitter (now X) account – @ClaremontRun – which spent the past few years analyzing X-Men comics and became a critical part of both comics fandom and public scholarship on the platform. Boasting an introduction from Jay Edidin, the co-host of podcast Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, Deman’s book is positioned squarely as a potential crossover work combining criticism with wider comic book audience appeal. As such it treads a difficult line between being engaging for those who are approaching it as fans of the source material, and those looking for deeper scholarly analysis on Chris Claremont’s time as lead writer on the X-Men comics. Fortunately, Deman is more than up to the task, presenting a rich dive into Claremont’s legendary run on the X-Men that will prove valuable for casual fans and academic audiences alike.

                 At the heart of this is Deman’s engaging prose and clear love for the subject matter. These allow him to move effortlessly back and forth between explanatory close readings of X-Men storylines and deeper dives into the technical craftsmanship of Claremont’s work. Deman utilizes a mixed-methods research methodology in order to bring in quantitative data to guide his readings and research, examining the ways in which Claremont presents characters, and exploring questions of team dynamics, changing representation, and portrayals of gender within the X-Men. This methodology adds what Deman refers to as a “holistic, evidence-based perspective,” missing from most examinations of Claremont’s work. Covering almost 200 issues of Uncanny X-Men across sixteen years, Deman’s methodology analyzes a vast range of metrics. This includes everything from the percentage of times characters appear on covers of issues they appear in (showing that Storm, Wolverine and Cyclops were the characters most likely to appear) to the number of times characters interact with one another and in what contexts. Interesting enough alone, this data-led approach allows Deman to make claims about commercial and storytelling concerns that might otherwise be overlooked.

                Indeed, Deman explores some intriguing – and often surprising – avenues of research. The Claremont Run demonstrates that Cyclops, for instance, is a character who shows remarkable and consistent growth over the course of the Claremont run, developing into a character with both internal and external emotional depth. Under Claremont’s pen, Cyclops is thus one of the most physically expressive characters on the X-Men, despite a reputation for being stoic and closed-off. This is supported by evidence, thanks to the quantitative base of Deman’s research. A key benefit of this is that it allows Deman to push back against close readings which might otherwise approach characters based upon their broader histories. Deman is careful to note that because these characters operate in a shared universe, characterization is typically reverted to the most well-established archetype under other writers. By treating Claremont’s run as a singular piece of work, however, Deman demonstrates an impressively ambitious and cohesive set of story-arcs. He argues that Claremont’s work was defined by arcs like the Dark Phoenix Saga; “massive and ambitious storyline” (27) which formed a collective story told over dozens of issues.

While much academic scholarship on Claremont’s work has dwelled on the “Claremont women” – the strong, independent female characters that defined much of his run – less attention has been paid to Claremont’s male characters. Deman rectifies this, devoting the latter half of the book to an examination of the varied ways in which Claremont portrays masculinity, including the paradigmatic shift of Cyclops from patriarchal leader to supporting character in the stories of Storm and Jean Grey, to the hypermasculinity of Wolverine, and the emasculation of Alex Summers/Havok.

Deman’s work thus adds an important inflective to conventional narratives of gender and sexuality in X-Men comics. These typically dwell upon Jean’s journey, or the sapphic undertones present in Storm’s relationships with other women, or the importance of a teenage Jewish girl, Kitty Pryde, for expanding the readership. While these aspects are acknowledged in The Claremont Run, they are presented as both significant moments in their own right, but also as part of a broader examination of the ways in which Claremont undermined and subverted ideas of masculinity, femininity, sexuality, and gender roles.

The Claremont Run thus stands as an excellent extension of existing scholarship and a critical addition to the canon of Claremont studies. As a thin monograph it’s not comprehensive – there is still much to be said about how other X-Men characters are presented – but it’s an admirably thorough job in regard to the characters it does cover and is sure to be successful in expanding the field of comics criticism to a wider audience.

Editor's note: We'll be running two reviews of this book on the blog, as one of the editors (ok it was me) assigned it twice. However, I think there is enough room in the field for multiple reviews of the growing literature. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

IJOCA wants you! to help celebrate its 25th anniversary




John A. Lent

Founding Publisher/Editor-in-Chief

669 Ferne Blvd., Drexel Hill, PA 19026, U.S.A.

Tel:  (610) 622-3938    Email:




November 14, 2023


The International Journal of Comic Art ("IJOCA") celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary with Volume 25, Number 2, now in preparation. At the time of its first number in 1999, it was the only academic journal on comic art, preceded by INKS, which had folded, though later revived. IJOCA continues to be the oldest, continuously-published comic art journal.


Remaining independent of established journal publishers and academic institutions for funding and the tainted, conglomerate-owned peer review system for evaluation, IJOCA takes pride in not having been hemmed in by a prescribed quota of pages per issue, a limited number of illustrations, or long publication delays caused by peer reviewing.


The journal already has published about 1,470 articles with a total of 30,600 pages, encompassing 35 symposia on varied topics, in addition to approximately 300 each of book and exhibition reviews, all the time, keeping to its mission of being encyclopedic and interdisciplinary.


Quality, innovativeness, and variety have marked IJOCA's history. Most of the world's leading comic art researchers have published in IJOCA; on many occasions, the journal was the first to introduce topics, never shied away from broaching topics perhaps off-limits in other periodicals, and varied content on all aspects of comic art.


As we celebrate our quarter century, we invite comments from those familiar with IJOCA, to be included in Vol. 25, No. 2. Thank you.


And, our gratitude for all your support.


John A. Lent


International Journal of Comic Art

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Georgia Higley, "America's comic book librarian," retires from Library of Congress

by Mike Rhode

I don't know if anyone actually ever called her "America's comic book librarian," but someone should have.

On October 31, 2023, Georgia Higley retired from the Library of Congress (LOC) where she had worked for 33 years upon joining the staff as a library intern in 1990. Georgia had been in charge of the Newspapers and Current Periodicals division and had overseen the rebuilding, strengthening, and spotlighting of one of the largest comic book collections in the world and possibly the largest in America. The website for the collection calls it, "The largest publicly available comic book collection in the world is comprised of over 165,000 original print issues and 12,000 different titles that span 1934-present."

The following bullet points about her career were initially pulled from the LOC's internal newsletter The Gazette (January 30, 2004) and updated by one of her colleagues:

  • Began her career at the Library of Congress on September 4, 1990.
  • Served in varying capacities: intern, reference librarian, automated reference service specialist, acting head of Reference Section, co-founder of the LOC Reference Forum, trustee for the LOC Professional Association Continuing Education Fund, section head of Newspaper and finally newly reorganized Physical Collections Services Section
  • Headed the Newspaper Section from 2004 to 2020.
  • In 2020 appointed head of the Physical Collections Services Section – a combined section of newspapers, government documents and current periodicals, responsible for acquiring, preserving and serving physical collections of the division.
  • Significant force behind the expansion and preservation of the comic book collection in the early 2000s through today.

While Georgia was running the section that collected comics, in 2011 the Library and the Small Press Expo (SPX) began to work together to ensure the preservation of America's alternative and mini comics through a cooperative program that saw LOC librarians fanning out throughout the SPX exhibit floor and asking cartoonists to donate copies of their works. Those works were then added to a Small Press Expo collection (actually two - one of comic books, and one of original art, prints, and ephemera) at the Library. As of this writing 3,345 comics have been cataloged. The project is the work of scores of people, but Georgia has been one of the mainstays of it.

When asked about her plans at her recent retirement party, Georgia said that she might volunteer for SPX in the future, but in the meantime she would be working on cleaning out an old shed falling apart in her backyard. We wish her well in both of those endeavors. 

The comic book collection remains open for research and the division is currently being overseen by longtime comic book reference librarian Megan Halsband. 

This article has been posted simultaneously to the ComicsDC and International Journal of Comic Art blogs.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Book Review: Drawn to Satire: Sketches of Cartoonists in Singapore by CT Lim and Koh Hong Teng.

 Drawn to Satire: Sketches of Cartoonists in Singapore. CT Lim and Koh Hong Teng. Pause Narratives, 2023. 144 pages, $26.89.

 reviewed by Felix Cheong

If one uses a metaphor of satire as the art of stabbing an issue to draw humor instead of blood, so too does the biographical Drawn to Satire -- in ways that are as inventive as they are at times infuriating. Therein lies the double-edged sword of this lovingly produced book -- you wish it could have done so much more, but paradoxically, so much less.


Written by CT Lim and illustrated by Koh Hong Teng, Drawn to Satire sketches, both literally and figuratively, the lives of eight pioneering cartoonists, from well-known names like Morgan Chua, to the relatively obscure Dai Yin Lang. While the chosen cartoonists tend to be ethnically Chinese males, the book also includes one Malay, Shamsuddin H. Akib, and one woman, Kwan Shan Mei – which begs the question if they were added as token gestures. I will return to this question later.


Each chapter begins with a quick overview of the cartoonist’s backstory and before you know it, drives directly into his themes, motivations and, occasionally, hang-ups. Here, Lim, the go-to authority on comics in Singapore, has obviously used his extensive research, having published previously on the history of comics (in particular, political cartoons) in the Lion City, in addition to being an IJOCA editorial advisor for the city-state. For this book, he has also conducted interviews with the cartoonists who are still alive, such as Shamsuddin and Koeh Sia Yong, and with relatives of those who have passed away, such as Tchang Ju Chi and Lim Mu Hue.


In keeping with its subtitle that the book is nothing more than “sketches,” each chapter (14-15 pages) reads rather, well, sketchily. It is akin to the experience of speed-dating, but on the printed page; just as the reader gets into the story – whoosh! –  it is gone. 


A case in point: the opening chapter on Tchang Ju Chi, a political cartoonist who was abducted by the Japanese military and presumably executed during the Sook Ching massacre of 1942. He was only 38 years old at that time. While the narrative tries to know the man, instead he comes across as a type -- the Chinese émigré with apron strings still knotted tight to the motherland, rather than a person in his own right. The in-your-face thought bubbles do not help by merely telling, rather than showing why, that despite having found his calling in Nanyang, Tchang still harkened back to China and viewed Sino-Japanese tensions with growing unease.


Indeed, if Drawn to Satire has a failing, it is how it sacrifices depth for breadth. Instead of featuring eight cartoonists, it could have gone with just five. Pioneer artist Liu Kang, for instance, could have been dropped; after all, his life is already well-documented and his comics output was limited to just Chop Suey, published in 1946Similarly, Kwan Shan Mei’s reputation rests on her children’s picture books, rather than satirical cartoons. Perhaps she was included to showcase a fair representation, but much of her chapter is devoted to conjecture and a summation of the authors’ intentions for the book. And while Din Yin Lang’s life certainly makes for an intriguing espionage tale, too little is known about him to be anything more than a sidebar.


So, while covering eight cartoonists might fulfill Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) required by funding bodies – the authors acknowledge support from four institutions, such as the National Heritage Board, the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts – the book does itself a disservice when more could have been done with less. 


Still, Drawn to Satire is a breezy read, helped, no doubt, by Koh’s unfussy art style, and at the same time, pays homage to the cartoonists by reproducing their works (and even two iconic Singapore paintings, Liu Kang’s “Artist and Model” and Chua Mia Tee’s “Epic Poem of Malaya”). 


What ultimately sells the book for me is Lim’s unconventional storytelling, which takes a leaf from the growing creative graphic biography field. Instead of writing a Wikipedia-like chronology, Lim dips into each cartoonist’s life and extracts specific incidents that define and shape him. More interestingly, he introduces an interloper (or provocateur), a fictional foil who flits in and out of the panels with time-travel ease and with whom the cartoonists interact. This unnamed character (who sometimes breaks the fourth wall) creates a Brechtian effect, a narrative device used either for Lim to set the context of what you are reading, or to slather asides and editorial comments.


In fact, Lim even cheekily inserts himself into the narrative; after all, he is as much part of the comics ecosystem in Singapore as the cartoonists he writes about, but he does it in a way that neither grates nor gloats. If anything, his self-referential character borders on self-deprecating, particularly in a funny sequence when he is depicted as a clueless emcee at the launch of Koeh Sia Yong’s art exhibition in 2023. Indeed, as befitting a book about satirical cartoons, humor is its chief calling card; sequences such as Morgan Chua fleeing to Hong Kong (to avoid the Singapore government’s crackdown on The Singapore Herald, a newspaper it had deemed subversive) have a Looney Tunes zaniness.


While it is not perfect, Drawn to Satire is what the comics scene in Singapore needs – it plugs a gap of scholarship and, in equal measure, is entertaining and enlightening.   

Monday, September 18, 2023

MSU hires Comics Studies Librarian Jason Larsen

Since August 14th, Jason Larsen has been the Comics Studies Librarian at the largest comic book collection in the world. While getting his library degree, he interned at MSU. The Library is currently working on a renovation which will see the collection moved out of the basement. Larsen was  at University of Illinois where he studied under Mara Thacker, (who is building a Southeast Asian collection at that library, although she just began a year-long sabbatical).

Randy Scott, the founding and guiding force behind the collection, retired in 2022 after 49 years in the position.  Scott made MSU a major force in comic studies, expanding on the foothold that Russell Nye had built with a popular culture collection. The collection focused on American and European works as well as South American and is by far the largest most publicly available collection in the United States. During that time he established the Reading Room Index, an attempt to describe material in more detail than the standard library catalog, so you could decide what to look at before getting to the library. The RRI has not been updated since his departure.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Book review: Marvel Comics in the 1970s: The World inside Your Head by Eliot Borenstein

 by CT Lim

Marvel Comics in the 1970s: The World inside Your Head. Eliot Borenstein. Cornell University Press, 2023. 267 pages, $23.95.

Do we really need another book on Marvel Comics? Hot on the heels of Douglas Wolk's monumental All of the Marvels (2021) comes a book about lesser discussed Marvel comics of the 1970s - focusing on the literary efforts of Steve Englehart (Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Captain America, the Avengers), Doug Moench (Deathlok, Werewolf by Night, Master of Kung Fu), Marv Wolfman (Tomb of Dracula), Don McGregor (Killraven, Luke Cage, Black Panther) and Steve Gerber (Man-Thing, Omega the Unknown, Howard the Duck). I am definitely more of a Marvel zombie than I thought, and I was intrigued enough to volunteer to review this book.

There are several questions to answer:

·         Why would Eliot Borenstein, a Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University, write a book about Marvel comics in the 1970s and what is the connection between that and his own discipline of Russian and Slavic studies?

·         How does this book compare to or complement Wolk's All of the Marvels?

·         Is Borenstein convincing in his arguments?

First, Borenstein has been teaching an annual general education course on graphic novels at New York University since 2007. As he explained in his preface about his 'secret origins.' the 1970s was the decade he discovered comics. But more importantly, in Marvel comics, he found a reflection of the concerns that occupied his teenage mind. As he explained, "Marvel was filled with characters who narrated their experience, second-guessing themselves. They got me out of my head by getting into theirs, which in turn helped me explore my own head better." In that sense, Borenstein pointed out Dostoyevsky was inevitable. While the fate of Rodion Raskolnikov now matters to him as much as the fate of Jean Grey, Borenstein never stopped being a comic fan nor forgot about the inner worlds and turmoil of Shang-Chi, T'Challa and Howard the Duck. (Borenstein also acknowledged the model provided by Jose Alaniz, another Slavist and fellow comics scholar, who also blurbed the book.)

It took some decades to reconcile the two worlds of Pushkin and the Punisher and to avoid incursions of having two parallel universes colliding and destroying one of them (apologies to Jonathan Hickman). Borenstein managed to construct a Battleworld (more apologies to Jim Shooter) where his two worlds coexist in his serialized blog on Marvel comics in the 1970s. This book is an extension and expansion of that - it is like the Ant-Man entering the body of the Vision to save him in Avengers #93 (drawn by Neal Adams, cover date Nov. 1971) but presented in the deluxe over-sized artist's edition format. But unlike superheroes, when we go deep into inner worlds, it is not just to save others. It is to save ourselves.

As for the comparisons with All of the Marvels, Borenstein acknowledges it as a book with "many points in common" especially Wolk's deep dive into The Master of Kung Fu, but the two approaches are very different. Borenstein made it very clear that his book is firmly planted in a crucial yet understudied decade that marks a turning point in the artistic development of the comics medium. To me, both complement each other. After reading Wolk's take on the Black Panther, you can easily pick up the Penguin classics Marvel collection with its valuable foreword and introduction by Nnedi Okorafor and Qiana J. Whittted respectively. And then move into Borenstein's chapter on Don McGregor's tortured romantic individualism and suffering black bodies.

For my third question, I must say Borenstein, makes a compelling case of the world inside your head created by the above-mentioned Marvel writers. This underscores the intentionality of these writers in focusing on creating an internal world of subjectivity for their readers. The action and violence in these Marvel comics mirror the inner (conflicted? confused?) state of the heroes and villains. I would like to linger on Borenstein's choice of phrase, "your head." It could be "our heads" but he chose yours. But this “yours” is not just the readers, but the fictional characters of Captain America, Captain Marvel and the Man-Thing as well. As Borenstein said, "I felt more like myself when I was able to sink into the minds of others." Is it a form of escapism? Or a way to figure out ourselves when we see some of our internal selves mirrored in the inner worlds of a Marvel comic?

As for the chapters, I enjoyed the Introduction the most - where Borenstein made the case for a 1990s Vertigo title, Enigma as the best Marvel comic of the 1970s. I won't go into the details as it is quite delightful to follow Borenstein's arguments when he made his case. I would just add that writer Peter Milligan's explorations into "your heads" began much earlier in his 2000 AD days when he wrote a wonderful strip, Hewligan's Haircut, drawn by the mercurial Jamie Hewlett.

You may ask what's new about these 1970s writers' approach. Didn't Stan Lee in the 1960s put forth the "drama of the visible self?" Spider-Man will talk through his problems (via internal and external monologue) while fighting Doctor Octopus. Borenstein explained: "If Lee's plots provided the opportunity to learn about his characters' inner lives, the 1970s writers often came close to prioritizing interiority over plot itself."

This goes back my own first encounters with Marvel comics in the 1970s. Having read The Beano and The Dandy British weeklies, some DC, and also Chinese comics, one of the first Marvel comic I laid my hands on was, of all things, Man-Thing #22 (cover date Oct 1975). I can't remember how I got it, but it was the most bizarre thing I had read when it landed in my hands. It starts with writer Steve Gerber writing to editor Len Wein about why he cannot continue to write the Man-Thing anymore and it just becomes more metafictional and internal from there. My curiosity about Borenstein's book probably stems from this primary reading experience.

If there is a weak chapter, it is the coda of Chris Claremont’s rise in the popular Uncanny X-Men comics of the late 1970s and 1980s. After making his argument of the complex inner worlds created by writers like Steve Gerber, Borenstein's concluding line leaves much hanging: "Claremont, his collaborators, and his heirs found that presenting their heroes as superficially complex open books was a recipe for success." He argued that Claremont's X-Men invites readers into the heroes' minds while making the process of identification effortless. I feel more elaboration and examples are needed. What led to the 'decline' of writers like Steve Englehart (who went on to write a memorable Batman run at DC as well as the Justice League of America - how does that compare to his Avengers?) and the rise of Claremont, whose interiority was not that of Gerber or Moench or Wolfman? What happen to these writers when they left Marvel and the 1970s receded into the past? Did they leave interiority behind? For example, did Wolfman follow the success of the superficiality of Claremont for his Teen Titans series in the 1980s? For that, one would have to look for answers in recent books like The Other 1980s: Reframing Comics' Crucial Decade which has chapters on Moench and Gerber, and also Steve Gerber: Conversations. It is unfortunate the Kickstarter of Moench's Aztec Ace has gone off rails with money collected and the backers not receiving their copies. Some of these comics can be reprinted and reevaluated - Gerber's Phantom Zone stories for DC, Gerber's return to Howard the Duck in She-Hulk, and McGregor's Sabre.

Borenstein states that Claremont's approach was a much more commercially appealing formula that combined the prolixity of McGregor with the declarative tradition of Stan Lee. This deserves fuller exploration. I, for one, would like to understand the rise of Claremont studies, as seen in The Claremont Run on Twitter at and now also collected as a book, The Claremont Run: Subverting Gender in the X-Men by J. Andrew Deman (University of Texas Press, 2023).

Nonetheless, this book is an excellent read for the Marvel fan and a worthy contribution to comics studies of serialized American superhero comic books of the 1970s. Long may the 70s run. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Table of Contents for Vol. 25, No. 1 Spring/Summer 2023

The e-version of this is now available; if you're a subscriber or want to purchase the single issue, email "John A. Lent" <> The print edition should be shipping in a few weeks.

IJOCA Vol. 25, No. 1 Spring/Summer 2023

Comics and Propaganda: World War II

Ester Hotová


The Modern Imaginaire in Cao Hanmei’s The Golden Lotus

Xiutang Li


Chatting with 1/6: A Graphic Novel Writer Alan Jenkins about Insurrections and Threats to Democracy

Mike Rhode


In Favor of Happy Endings: An Interview with Bane Kerac

Darko Macan


Japanese Jesus: The Humanity of Jesus in Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Men

Daniel D. Clark


Cartooning the Inverse Zoo: The Forgotten Comic Art of Kurt Wiese

Aaron Humphrey


“Here Is a Man Who Would Not Take It”: The Contemporary Revival of the Newspaper Comic Strip

The Outbursts of Everett True 1905-1927

Richard A. Voeltz


“Do I Really Need Color in This Story?” An Interview with Reinhard Kleist

Mark David Nevins


Sabaibukei: Critiquing Capitalism in the Death Game Genre

Joseph Christopher Schaub


“What’s Funny about AIDS?”: How Howard Cruse’s “Wendel” Confronted a Crisis

Cassia Hayward-Fitch


War, Gender, and Diaspora in Clément Baloup’s Memoires de Viet Kieu

Mattia Arioli


The Boom of Female Comics in the 21st Century in Brazil

Daniela dos Santos Domingues Marino

Natania Aparecida da Silva Nogueira


Flash Gordon, Blake and Mortimer’s American Uncle Chapter #1: What Is a Superhero?

Éric Dubois


Cartoonist Ambassador of Hope: Nigar Nazar of Pakistan

John A. Lent


Texas Jack Kent: A Comic Storyteller in San Antonio

Paul V. Allen


Basohmics: Reviving Basohli Art Through Modern Indian Comics 

Aditi Magotra and Varsha Singh


Sanctioned Satire: Political Cartoons from China Daily

Linn A. Christiansen


A Chat with Chad Bilyeu of Amsterdam

Mike Rhode


The Duality of Manga in the Work of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Freya Terryn


“The Rebirth of Angus Og”

Laurence Grove


Karimata 1890: Silent Comic with Nusantara Concept

Iwan Zahar


Maurice Horn: a Memorial

Kim A. Munson


An Essay

From Material to Meaning: Implications of Challenges to Young Adult Graphic Novels

Jason DeHart


Not All Heroes Need Museums: Brussels’ Marc Sleen Museum Closes

Wim Lockefeer


Quadrinhopédia, a Brazilian Comics Biographical Dictionary Database

Lucio Luiz


Demystifying The U Ray, the Better to Rewrite the Origin Myth of “Blake and Mortimer”

Éric Dubois


Lianhe Zaobao’s 100th Anniversary Cartoon Exhibition and the Role of Comics in Asia in 2023

Lim Cheng Tju


Book Reviews

Michel Matly. El cómic sobre la guerra civil, by Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste, p. 542.

Chesya Burke. Hero Me Not: The Containment of the Most Powerful Black, Female Superhero, by Stephanie Burt, p. 561.

Miguel Ferguson and Anne Timmons. Brigadistas! Am American Anti-Fascist in the Spanish Civil War, by Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste, p. 566.

John. A. Lent. Asian Political Cartoons, by Matt Wuerker, p. 579.

Michelle Ann Abate. Blockheads, Beagles, and Sweet Babboos: New

Perspectives on Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts,” by Chris York, p. 581.

Edward Sorel. Profusely Illustrated, A Memoir, by John A. Lent, p. 584.

Simon Grennan, Roger Sabin, and Julian Waite. Marie Duval: Maverick Victorian Cartoonist, by Lizzy Walker, p. 588.

Simon Appleford. Drawing Liberalism: Herblock’s Political Cartoons in Postwar America, by Christina M. Knopf, p. 593.

Jimmy Kugler and Michael Kugler. Into the Jungle! A Boy’s Comic Strip History of World War II, by James Willetts, p. 597.

Heike Bauer, Andrea Greenbaum, and Sarah Lightman, eds. Jewish Women in Comics: Bodies and Borders, by John A. Lent, p. 600.

António Antunes. Angeli: 50 anos de humor, Bárbara Reis, José António Lima, and António Antunes. Cartoons do ano 2022, by John A. Lent, p. 602.

Michael Rhode and John A. Lent. Comics Research Bibliography 2022 E-book Edition, by Michael Rhode, p. 605.

Michael Rhode. The Wonder of Sound and Vision: Film, TV & Other Media Adaptations of Comics (2022 Edition), by Michael Rhode, p. 607.

Michael Rhode. Public Radio and Voice of America on Comics & Cartoons: A Bibliography (2023 Edition), by Michael Rhode, p. 608.

Compleating Cul de Sac 2nd Edition Available in Print by Michael Rhode, p. 609.

Exhibition Reviews

Laurie Anne Agnese

Michael Rhode


Letters to the Editor



Michael Hill


Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Book Review: Desegregating Comics: Debating Blackness in the Golden Age of American Comics, edited by Qiana Whitted

Reviewed by Michael Kobre

Desegregating Comics: Debating Blackness in the Golden Age of American Comics, edited by Qiana Whitted. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2023. 358 pp. ISBN: 9781978825017. U.S. $34.95.


            Taken together, the critical essays in Desgregating Comics: Debating Blackness in the Golden Age of American Comics tell a history of American comics that many of us don’t know or, at best, only know in part. As the collection’s editor Qiana Whitted points out in her introduction, “the earliest and most prolific decades of the comics industry also correspond with the Jim Crow era” (6). Consequently, like pretty much everything else in American life, comics pages too were places where borders (both literal and figurative) were regularly policed and sometimes subverted, where equal opportunity was constricted and mostly denied, and where struggles were fought all the time over representation and images of blackness. As Whitted goes on to say, our understanding of this convergence between comics history and Jim Crow America raises important questions “about access, ideology, and the politics of interracial contact, both in the panels and in the production of comics” (6).

            In exploring this history and taking on these questions, Desegregating Comics ranges widely. Some chapters examine the work of well-known creators like George Herriman, Will Eisner, and Matt Baker. Some discuss the early comics work of Black painters and muralists like Romare Bearden and Al Hollingsworth, whose achievements in the visual arts were, as the authors here argue, shaped at least in part by their work as cartoonists at the beginning of their careers. Many chapters highlight the importance of the Black press, notably the comics section of The Pittsburgh Courier and the paper’s vibrant print culture. Other chapters examine characters who are obscure to us now, such as Neil Knight, a Buck Rogers-like space adventurer fighting colonialism on other planets in The Courier’s comics section; Lobo, a Black cowboy in a typically short-lived series (for titles with Black characters, that is) published by Dell in 1965; and The Voodoo Man, a Fox Feature Syndicate series in which the villainous title character was invested with a rare sense of agency for Black characters in the 1940s in stories created by whites. Whitted’s chapter details both the rare achievement of All-Negro Comics #1, published in 1947, “the first comic book to be to be written, illustrated, and published by and about African Americans in the United States” (182), and the all-too-familiar disappointment of its lost second issue, in the face of resistance to the title from white vendors, distributors, and retailers —a fate reprised in another chapter on the truncated run of Fawcett’s Negro Romance comic in 1950, which lasted for only three issues of original content. Still other chapters focus on Black readers, trying to imagine their responses to comics and their reading habits, in one instance detailing how a group of students from Harlem went to the offices of Fawcett Comics to protest Captain Marvel’s minstrel show sidekick, Steamboat. “This is not the Negro race, but your one-and-a-half million readers will think it so,” they told Fawcett’s executive editor (214).

            That issue of representation opens some of the first chapters of Desegregating Comics. Ian Gordon and Andrew Kunka respectively look at the use of racist stereotypes in the cartoons of Rosie O’Neil, one of the first women cartoonists whose work was published regularly in the humor magazine Puck from 1897-1905, and in Will Eisner’s character Ebony White, the minstrel show sidekick to the title character in The Spirit. Gordon’s chapter, which describes O’Neil’s use of “the sort of typographies found in minstrelsy, the bumpkins Tambo and Bones, the dandy Zip Coon, and so on” (27), effectively begins the collection by pointing to the long history of the kind of stereotypes that would routinely appear later in works of white cartoonists like Eisner, who, at the height of his acclaim, would struggle again and again to explain or justify his creation of Ebony. Kunka’s essay scours Eisner’s varied and often defensive responses to criticism of Ebony. Of Eisner’s claim that he was just following the popular conventions of his time—a defense repeated by many other white creators—Kunka argues that “such defenses stand in curious contrast to Eisner’s claim to an important historical role as an innovator and experimenter in the comics form: on the one hand, he actively pushes against many comics traditions and connections; on the other hand, he stands helpless in the face of another” (63).

            Yet most of Desegregating Comics focuses on the work of Black creators pushing back against these stereotypes and the racist power structure of American life that they helped to sustain and justify. In Nicholas Sammond’s chapter on Krazy Kat and in Chris Gavaler and Monalisa Earle’s formal analysis of Matt Baker’s art on Fox Feature Syndicate’s Phantom Lady, for instance, the authors examine ways that Black cartoonists slyly challenged and subverted that power structure. As Sammond suggests, Herriman in Krazy Kat—particularly in the strip’s “playful, polysemous, and allusive” language (45)—appropriates tropes and techniques from the tradition of minstrelsy. Yet like such Black minstrel show performers as Bert Williams who used their blackface masks for their own subversive art, Herriman, a Black man passing as white for most of his life, “borrowed freely from, and reimagined, white fantasies of Black speech to deform and destabilize language and meaning in Coconino County” (48). In so doing, Sammond argues, Herriman also used the unstable landscape of Coconino County and Krazy’s ever-shifting gender formations as “a useful metaphor for a life lived in passing,” creating in his pages a world that rejected the rigid racial binary his society was built around (41). In a comparable fashion, Gavaler and Earle suggest that Matt Baker, “the most successful Black artist in midcentury U.S. Comics” (95), used what Joseph Witek has called a “high baroque” layout style with complicated designs that disrupt the reader’s movement across the page to subtly express Baker’s own “protest against his racial relationship to the midcentury comics industry” (98). In particular, they note the subversive quality of the way Baker’s layouts routinely broke panel borders in order to extend a character’s body—notably the long legs of The Phantom Lady—into another panel. These page designs would offer the white boys or young men reading the comic an opportunity to let their eyes linger over the legs or torso of The Phantom Lady in a way that would be dangerous for a Black man like Baker, hiding behind the pseudonym of the strip’s supposed creator Gregory Page and complicating the operation of the male gaze even more by his own sexuality as a gay man. As Gavaler and Earle note, the very act of seeming to look at a white woman with desire was enough to get Emmett Till murdered in the very same year that Baker’s “good girl” art was condemned on the Senate floor during a hearing on comics and juvenile delinquency.

            Many chapters though discuss the more explicit resistance to the Jim Crow era in the comics, columns, and editorial cartoons in the Black press. As Julian Chambliss writes in his chapter on the Neil Knight comic strip, “Black newspapers offered an essential space for extending the visual language around blackness and the vision provided to African Americans about their place in the visual culture of the United States. In particular, the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the largest Black newspapers, which claimed over a million coast-to-coast readers by the 1940s, was a crucial space for offering an alternative vision of blackness” (284). So Neil Knight, introduced in the Courier’s new color comics section in 1950, evolved from the adventures of Black air ace in its first four years into a science fiction strip with Knight as a space explorer, who in one signature storyline defends a helpless planet of aliens whose skin “is presented in green and brown hues” against the colonialist aggression of another alien empire (290). This “intersection of speculative practice and liberation” (290) helps define Neil Knight, Chambliss argues, “as the earliest example of Afrofuturism in newspaper comic strips” (293). In other strips too, like the single-panel gag strip Patty Jo ‘n’ Ginger and the romance strip Torchy in Heartbeats, both by Jackie Ormes, the first Black woman cartoonist, Eli Boonin-Vail finds not only politically-tinged jokes and storylines, but “a complex and playful relationship with Black middle-class ideas of gender and respectability” that also extends into Ormes’ own early column writing and other women’s columns in the Courier (152). Examining the editorial cartoons in the Courier and other Black newspapers, Rebecca Wanzo analyzes the early work of Black artists like Romare Bearden to show how their mature styles reflect their work in comics—as Bearden’s cartoons, for instance, manifest “representational practices that gesture to the universal and an embrace of nonrealist aesthetics” in his later work (82). Delineating these connections, for Wanzo, is a way “to push against artistic silos that limit the frameworks through which we interpret Black liberatory aesthetic practice” (82). Yet the commitment of a newspaper like the Courier to promote a kind of respectability politics within the Black community could be problematic too. As Mona Beauchamp-Byrd shows in her chapter, Kandy, a romance strip created in 1955 by Al Hollingsworth, featured a protagonist whose “racially indeterminate [features and skin tone] and/or white-passing ‘Good Girl’ figure” reflected “a colorism that was actively present in African American media” (229).

            Yet many important chapters of the history that Desegregating Comics brings to life are haunted by counterstories that attempt to fill gaps in existing evidence or scholarship—as in Carol Tilley’s effort to imagine the comics reading experiences of Black youth by analyzing three photographs, including the photo of the bed with a handful of comics strewn across it that Emmett Till was taken from on the night of his murder—and by what the poet Kevin Young has called “shadow books.” In Young’s massive critical attempt at a field theory of Black culture, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, he describes the concept of “a shadow book”: “a book that we don’t have, but know of, a book that may haunt the very book we have in our hands” (11). In The Grey Album, Young identifies three kinds of shadow books: ones that were never written or completed, like Ralph Ellison’s second novel; ones with “removed” meanings, which gesture toward unspoken ideas, “the secret book just behind the others, its meaning never to be fully revealed” (12); and a third kind, the lost shadow book, “at once the rarest and most common—written and now gone” (13), like Phillis Wheatley’s second book of poetry and, as Whitted argues in her chapter of Desegregating Comics, the unpublished second issue of All-Negro Comics.  In characterizing All-Negro Comics #2 as a lost shadow book, Whitted cites comics historian Tom Christopher’s assertion that the issue had been planned and that at least some of its art had been completed; its fate, Whitted suggests, “offers a disruptive counterhistory of the comic book industry’s Golden Age of success” (184). Though All-Negro Comics #1 was filled with promises of future issues and further installments of individual stories, its creator and publisher Orrin Cromwell Evans suddenly found that no one would sell him the newsprint he needed to publish a second issue. As Whitted writes, “its haunting absence echoes all the unrealized comic books of the era that attempted to underscore Black lives, that became ensnared in the power differentials behind comic book production, distribution, and sales” (184). For that matter, other shadow books too, representing each kind that Young conceptualizes, also haunt Desegregating Comics. There are the unwritten and undrawn comics that might have been produced if Negro Romance and Lobo hadn’t both been abruptly cancelled, and there are the “removed” meanings that Sammond finds in Krazy Kat and that Gavaler and Earle see in Matt Baker’s baroque page designs. As Young writes, in a passage quoted by Whitted too, “In some crucial ways, the lost shadow book is the book that blackness writes every day. The book that memory, time, accident, and the more active forms of oppression prevent from being read” (14).

            Ultimately, the counterhistory of American comics that Desegregating Comics presents is panoramic, with connections that abound across chapters. As previously noted, for instance, multiple chapters detail the importance of the Pittsburgh Courier and other Black newspapers. But lives and careers of important creators intersect across the book as well, like the comics artist Al Hollingsworth, whose work is the subject of two separate chapters. Hollingsworth worked alongside Matt Baker in the comic book industry and may have been one of the artists on Negro Romance; his comic strip Kandy replaced Jackie Ormes’ Torchy in Heartbeats in the Courier; and later in his life, in his career as a celebrated painter, he joined the Black art collective Spiral co-founded by Romare Bearden. Yet the most difficult and heartbreaking connections across chapters involve the murder of Emmett Till. In her effort to imagine a counterstory inspired by the photo of Till’s bed on the night of his murder, Carol Tilly cites a neighbor’s comment in a Chicago Defender article two weeks after Till’s murder that his enjoyment of comics never included “any dirty ones or nasty pictures,” a comment that was, in the context of popular condemnations of comics in the 1950s, a way of asserting Till’s fundamental innocence and good character in the midst of what Tilley calls “the precarities of both comics and Black boyhood” (172). Elsewhere in Desegregating Comics, we witness the outrage that Till’s death inspired in the Black community when Eli Boonin-Vail cites a Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger cartoon by Jackie Ormes that appeared “on a page where ten of the twelve letters to the editor decry the acquittal of Emmett Till’s slayers the previous week,” in which little Patty-Jo tells her sister angrily, “I don’t want to seem touchy on the subject … but that new little white tea-kettle just whistled at me!” (143). In Gavaler and Earl’s reading of Matt Baker’s art too, we’re reminded of the potentially fatal consequences of a Black man sexualizing a white woman in Jim Crow America. Citing Frederic Wertham’s and a Senate subcommittee’s condemnation of one of Baker’s Phantom Lady covers, Gavaler and Earle ask, “How would Till’s murderers respond to Baker’s cover image knowing that [in Wertham’s words] its ‘sexual stimulation by combining “headlights” with a sadist’s dream of tying up a woman’ was a Black man’s?” (115).  

            Not every chapter of Desegregating Comics is equally revelatory and powerful, and occasionally its authors get bogged down in what, to this reader at least, felt like too much plot summary—although, to be fair, such summary may be necessary to recreate a lost work like a story in Negro Romance. But the cumulative effect of the collection’s panoramic perspective forces us to reconsider what comics fans have sentimentally called the Golden Age of comics, not simply as a halcyon period when a new form burst into popular culture, but as a site of conflict—again, like so much else in American life—where the country’s racial divide was enacted, reinforced, and challenged too. And this quality makes Desegregating Comics not only an important book for any serious student of comics history, but a timely one as well. At a moment in American life when political and cultural forces are actively working to restrict what can and can’t be said about America’s racial history—like the Oklahoma school superintendent who said of the 1921 Tulsa massacre, "Let's not tie it to the skin color and say that the skin color determined that" (Qtd. in Khaled)—Desegregating Comics offers a sweeping and nuanced exploration of how the country’s troubled racial history played out on comics pages too.



Khaled, Fatma. “Oklahoma Superintendent Denies Race Caused Tulsa Massacre.” Newsweek, July 7, 2023,

Young, Kevin. The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness. Graywolf Press, 2012.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Book Review: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: The Art of the Movie, by Ramin Zahed

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: The Art of the Movie, by Ramin Zahed. New York: Abrams, 2023. 224 pp. ISBN: 9781419763991. U.S. $40.


Reviewed by Michael Kobre


            At a moment when the cultural and box office behemoth that is the superhero movie seems, at last, to be faltering (as evidenced, for example, by the disappointing returns for Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania and the historic box office failure of The Flash); when even the director of the upcoming 33rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Marvels, concedes that “superhero fatigue is absolutely real” (qtd. in Sharf), Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a notable exception. With rapturous reviews, as good or better than those for its 2018 Academy-Award-winning predecessor Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (which Zahed also did a book for), Across the Spider-Verse was a critical success that was almost universally acclaimed. Even the august New Yorker devoted not one, but two articles to comment on Across the Spider-Verse’s “comic book aesthetic” and “post-racial vision.” At the box office, Across the Spider-Verse overtook the first film’s total returns in two weeks and went on to earn over $600 million in ticket sales around the world in a single month. Moreover, the film, even more so than its predecessor, was seen as triumph of representation. NPR reported that “In North America, exit tracking found that the audience was about one-third Latino another third Black and Asian, diversity percentages far higher than for most superhero films” (Restrepo). As Jay Caspian Kang wrote in The New Yorker, “If there were an award for ‘the most universally enjoyable and palatable vision of race in a blockbuster film,’ ‘Across the Spider-Verse’ would win going away.”

            So the book Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: The Art of the Movie offers fans of the movie—and, to be honest, count me as one too—an opportunity to immerse themselves in the film’s lavish, comics-inflected aesthetic and its many densely imagined worlds. Like the film, the book is a visual feast, filled with character and set designs and other production art. Details we glimpse in passing on the screen as the plot and action hurtle forward are displayed here on page after page, giving the film’s multiple worlds and legion of Spider-Men and Women even more texture and variety. A two-page image by Jesus Alonso Iglesias, for instance, features designs of ordinary bystanders in crowd scenes (at least that’s what I think we’re looking at), who are each beautifully differentiated and diverse, with clothes, body types, postures, and expressions that suggest distinct lives and personalities. A section on Pravitr Prabhakar’s Mumbattan on Earth 50101 opens with a double-page image by Felicia Chen of a densely cramped cityscape of skyscrapers decorated with stone carvings of Indian temples, towering over layer upon layer of roads that crisscross between them in a crazy mosaic of underpasses and overpasses. Turn the page too and we see image after image of the taxis, trams, maps, and signs that fill this city. Indeed, throughout the book, as we wander through all its worlds, we see detailed images of stores, bedrooms, offices, even stairwells, filled with props and objects that evoke depth and character.

            And, of course, we also see lots and lots of Spider-Men and Women. A section  on “Other Spider Characters” features four pages of artist Kris Anka’s designs for some of the other Spider-beings moving through the background in the Spider Society’s headquarters in the film’s third act, including a robot, a zombie, the Spider-analyst we see briefly onscreen before the film’s main characters crash through the wall of his office, and various other men and women in multi-colored costumes with radically different body types, including the kind of ordinary body types we see everyday in our world too. As Anka explains in the book’s text, “While I was able to add forty-plus pre-existing characters into the movie, there’s always a need for more, so I ended up creating almost an additional one hundred completely original Spiders. These are supposed to be Spiders from all over the multiverse, which allowed me to experiment wildly with both the costume designs and the render style” (120).

            But the book not only details the people, places, and things that fill the film’s many worlds; it also illuminates the different visual choices and techniques used to depict these worlds—choices which ground the film’s comic book aesthetic. “We were inspired by the look of those early comics which were made with the more limited printing processes of their times,” art director Dean Gordon says in describing the visual style of Miles Morales’ world, Earth 1610.  “They used two or three colors, and frequently misregistered color, floating inside and outside the lines that define figures and environments” (138). Miles’ world, like much of the rest of the film, also feels like a comic book in its use of half-tones and Ben-Day dots, a signature of color printing in old comics, to create texture, along with what look like hand-drawn lines over the tops of CG figures. Other visual influences that the book details include 1970s Indian Indrajal Comics on Earth 50101’s Mumbattan and the work of futurist Syd Mead, whose film designs include the Dystopian cityscapes of Blade Runner, on the look of Nueva York on Earth-928 where Miguel O’Hara, Spider-Man 2099, has built the headquarters of the Spider Society. Among the most interesting choices for me was the influence of comics artist Robbi Rodriguez’s covers for a 2015 Spider-Gwen series on Gwen Stacy’s world, Earth-65. Rodriguez’s silhouetted figures are combined in the film with abstracted backgrounds that are rendered in a way that looks like watercolor to evoke Spider-Gwen’s state of mind. “The look of Gwen’s world combines the graphic styling of her comics with watercolor,” visual effects supervisor Mike Lasker explains, “and the relationship between the two is driven by Gwen’s emotions and focus. Far distances are painted with washy brushes to push back and simplify detail. Inversely, the foreground uses linework and sharper brushes to bring the details forward” (132).

            The text of the book is written by Ramin Zahed, but its cover only features the corporate logos of Marvel and Sony Pictures Animation below the book’s title, which is fitting for a book that feels more like a corporate product—one of many that will be rolled out to accompany a successful franchise, of course—than the product of an individual author’s vision. Consequently, for all of the valuable information that the book offers, the prose itself is bland and serviceable and given to self-congratulatory paeans to the filmmakers’ and the studio’s vision. We’re told many times in the opening pages, for instance, about how much bigger and more ambitious the new film must be. The filmmakers’ “common goal,” Zahed writes, “was to make Miles Morales’s second cinematic adventure even more mind-blowingly cool and engrossing than the original” (8). And there are many attestations, in particular, to the genius and leadership of writer-producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. In the words of Joaquim Dos Santos, one of the film’s three directors (along with Justin K. Thompson and Kemp Powers), “One of the greatest assets of being in a Lord and Miller production is that everybody has a voice in the room. If an idea is working or playing, it doesn’t matter where it comes from” (18). But this self-congratulatory tone also glosses over a more complicated reality of the movie’s production that was revealed in multiple news stories after the film’s release, about the crushing work conditions for the movie’s animators, which caused more than 100 of them to quit the film during production. In contrast to the book’s description of Lord and Miller’s collaborative spirit, many of these animators complained that they were “forced to constantly revise their work due to Lord's nonstop tinkering. Insiders said Lord wanted final approval on every shot in the film, overshadowing the project's directors” (Price). In the book though, whatever difficulties the animators faced are simply waved away. As art director Dean Gordon says, “Our mission is to create the art and then hand it over to the technical departments” (27).

            There are a few frustrating omissions in the book’s text too. While the artists for every image are carefully identified, we’re never given any sustained discussion of how the art department was organized and functioned. How were the characters and worlds parceled out among the different artists? The images in the book suggest answers to some of these questions—as, for example, when we see the work of Ami Thompson, which consistently focuses on facial expressions and body language in sequences of small close-up drawings for many of the major characters—but the breakdown of responsibilities among all the artists is never clearly explained. It would help too if the book included at least some captions to accompany the images and comment on what we’re seeing. What, for instance, was the purpose of that two-page image by Iglesias of ordinary people that I mentioned earlier? Where they, in fact, designed to be bystanders in crowd scenes? When did they appear in the film, or was this just preparatory work in the early stages of imagining the film’s worlds? Other pages show what look like painted storyboards of key scenes, such as the confrontation between Gwen and her father early in the film. But how exactly were these images used? When were they created in the production sequence? Some discussion of what we’re seeing would make the book even more informative.

            Because, at bottom, the book does offer a deeper look at what seems now like a classic of animation and a late masterpiece in the overwrought genre of superhero movies. Yes, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: The Art of the Movie, with its clunky but functional title, is a corporate product created as part of an entertainment franchise, but it’s an informative book (though not as much as it could be) and, best of all, it’s beautiful to look at. The work of these artists across these pages is consistently vibrant and kinetic, colorful and expressive, and vividly detailed and imagined. However difficult the movie’s production may have been, Across the Spider-Verse is the best realization so far of that comic book aesthetic on the screen. This book helps us understand why.


Burt, Stephanie. “The Comic-Book Aesthetic Comes of Age in “Across the Spider-Verse”” The New Yorker, June 14, 2023,

Kang, Jay Caspian. “The Post-Racial Vision of ‘Across the Spider-Verse.’” The New Yorker, June 16, 2023,

Price, Joe. “Over 100 Artists Quit ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ Due to Working Conditions: ‘They Couldn’t Take It Anymore.’” Complex, June 26, 2023,

Restrepo, Manuela Lopez. “The new Spider-Man film shows that Representation is a winning strategy.” NPR, June 6, 2023,

Sharf, Zack. “’The Marvels’ Director Says Superhero Fatigue ‘Absolutely Exists,’ New MCU Film is “Really Whacky and Silly’ Compared to Others.” Variety, August 11, 2023,

Zahed, Ramin. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse -The Art of the Movie. Titan Books, 2018