Johanna’s MoCCA Anthologies: Side B, Secret Identities, Ghost Comics

Ghost Comics

Ghost Comics

edited by Ed Choy Moorman
Bare Bones Press, 176 black-and-white pages, $10 US

This benefit anthology (proceeds go to RS Eden, a substance abuse treatment facility in Minneapolis) is loosely themed, keeping with the title. The ghost approach was reinforced by the first piece, an odd wordless thing with small pen-and-ink drawings by someone called Hob featuring the ghost of a brontosaurus (or whatever they’re calling long-necked dinosaurs these days). It sets things off with a good tone. Other stories are less connected, being only about memories, or losing a loved one.

Pieces that stood out to me: Maris Wicks draws cute little formless ghosts in a short series of funny strips about living in a haunted house. (Turns out she’s illustrating Jim Ottaviani’s upcoming book from First Second about women who worked with monkeys, which means I’m now looking forward to it even more.) Lucy Knisley contributes a story about going to an outlet mall and passing by the boarding school she once attended, but I’d already read it in one of her books. Jessica McLeod‘s story, featuring the ghosts of dead tomato plants, was adorable.

Some of the stories are little more than doodles, with the kind of scratchy naive art I’ve given up reading. Others appear intended for somewhere else (the Japanese folktale, the knight slaying a beast). The editor’s piece, about music-driven memories, also appears in Side B (see below).

A practical note: the table of contents lists only the artists’ names. The stories themselves may have a title or may have nothing at all. All entries in an anthology should have the story title and author’s name clearly listed in the same format whenever the stories change, and so should the table of contents. Since so many contributors to these kinds of projects may not be well-known to the readers, full identification should be used in all cases. Without it, I had to flip back and forth between story and table of contents to see who’d drawn what I was reading.

Secret Identities

Secret Identities cover
Secret Identities
Buy this book

edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma
New Press, 200 black-and-white pages, $21.95 US

This Asian American Superhero Anthology has an admirable purpose — to address under-representation of Asians in comics and demonstrate the abilities of Asian American creators — but the results are too often uneven.

Some of the characters are utterly generic, heroes that have nothing to recommend them beyond their ethnicity. Other stories were barely a prologue, just establishing a premise or introducing cast members when they ended. (The best of this bunch is The Citizen, by Greg Pak and Bernard Chang, which features President Obama activating an Asian American hero to kill Nazis. It’s of a distinctly more professional level in both art and writing than some of the other pieces.) Instead of a showcase, sometimes this seemed like a pitch book, a try-out for getting more work.

The history-influenced section, “War and Remembrance”, is the longest in the book and the best. Some stories focused on downturns of oppression, especially during the section set during the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. I don’t dispute those feelings, but it’s a bit weird to see stories that demonstrate no hope, no view for a better future, especially those set in the past. I would think that the existence of this book serves as a small counter-argument for that view.

It seemed to me that some of the heavily shaded entries were designed for color reproduction, and the result when printed without was dark, muddy, and hard to read. There is a short color section, but it’s used for character profiles, a kind of who’s who of ideas for other comics.

I liked the revisionist take on the Green Hornet by Gene Yang and Sonny Liew called “The Blue Scorpion and Chung”. It’s got a drunken racist crimefighter and his hard-working chauffeur, and it’s really about the despair of sacrifice.

There’s one section dedicated to “Girl Power”, either female creators or characters or both. Lynn Chen and Paul Wei tell a folklorish story dealing with body image that was a pleasant change of pace while still keeping with the theme. “Sampler”, by Jimmy Aquino and Erwin Haya, is an odd piece about superpowered costumes with a distinct look that suits its fashion focus. The rest of the book is as typically male-dominated as other superhero comic projects and companies, with women showing up as girlfriends or scantily clad superheroines when they appear at all.

The strips I enjoyed most were those that directly addressed the problem of representation and spoke to individual experience. For instance, Tak Toyoshima’s one-pager where his character Secret Asian Man talks with Larry Hama. Or the page where Greg Pak talks about his goals, art by A.L. Baroza. (The writer is credited as Keith Chow; there are two more of these short interview pages in the book, talking with Gene Yang & Michael Kang and Greg Larocque.) I wish there had been a lot more of this kind of material, but that would have been a different book, one about the work of Asian American creators, without the superhero hook.

Side B: The Music Lover’s Comic Anthology

Side B

edited by Rachel Dukes
Poseur Ink, 232 black-and-white pages, $22.99 US

As with Ghost Stories, I would have liked to have seen a design element introducing each story with a title and author, but at least here, most of the stories do that themselves. The theme, comics about music, is a great one, as well as immensely challenging. You can’t convey sound through a silent paper medium, so the artists must instead cover the emotions raised.

I was generally impressed by the high quality of the work here. Even with the pieces where I didn’t care for their chosen style, I could see skill underneath (as opposed to the “I drew better than this in 4th grade” feeling I sometimes get in these cases).

Brian Butler had an interesting collage-like piece about life as an indie band. Dominique Ferland’s two-pager about meeting in a club says it all in a short space. Joshua Rosen starts out talking about having to come up with an idea for a comic music anthology (boo! to too much self-referentiality) but it turns into a piece about how music matters differently to us as we age. Elizabeth Gearhart’s accomplished lines and toning illustrate the story of an opera singer’s ghost and a cat told in verse! Impressive and cute!

Many of the pieces are semi-autobiographical, or seem that way. I liked the approach, since made the book feel like hanging out chatting with friends. Lucy Knisley ponders technology changing our musical memories (and this one I hadn’t read before). Katie Shanahan talks about having tastes outside of the usual, open-mindedness, and acceptance. Cindy Hui and Joe Laquinte share family memories in an imaginative piece that uses comic symbolism to capture emotion. Andy Jewett remembers home taping from the radio; it brought back strong memories for me, and the urge to find my old homemade cassettes. Jamie Campbell has two pages on music in soundtracks, combining with visuals. Megan Rose Gedris’ piece on muses helped me understand why some young comic makers are also into other arts.

Other contributors you might recognize are Jeffrey Brown, Todd Webb, Jim Mahfood, and Ryan Kelly. There’s music as proposal, music as elegy, music as lifesaver. Several of the pieces, as expected, are about favorite songs, bands, or albums. Only two mention downloading in any way, which surprised me. (One’s about the Rock Band video game, which was cool.) Then again, many of the stories are about memory, and online music is still relatively new. With stories about record shops, mixtapes, and listening to entire albums, the book is almost a time capsule of how things used to be. Lawrence Gullo’s “Summer 1968″ sums it up: music is about freedom.

So far, the best anthology I’ve read this year. Get a copy and see for yourself.


5 Responses to “Johanna’s MoCCA Anthologies: Side B, Secret Identities, Ghost Comics”

  1. Johanna’s MoCCA Books and Comics » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] year’s MoCCA Art Festival. For more coverage, see Ed’s comics, Ed’s books, or some anthologies I got [...]

  2. Poseur Ink » MoCCA, Side B, and SDCC signings! Says:

    [...] hit anthology, Side B: The Music Lover’s Comic Anthology. I think Johanna Draper Carlson at Comics Worth Reading put it best: “So far, the best anthology I’ve read this year. Get a copy and see for [...]

  3. Big savings on Side A and Side B | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    [...] and Mitch Clem, among others, is $11.99. (Here’s a review, and Johanna Draper Carlson, who picked it up at MoCCA, said “So far, the best anthology I’ve seen all [...]

  4. Secret Identities: Shattered Seeks Contributors » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Asian American superhero anthology Secret Identities previously announced a sequel volume, Shattered, will be coming in 2012. In a departure from the [...]

  5. January 2011 Previews: Indie Month, DC and IDW Recommendations, and Snark » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Side B: The Music Lover’s Comic Anthology (Poseur Ink) [...]

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