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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Despy Boutris

The new Shenandoah is live. I’ve served four years as comics editor now, and each issue has been an expanding preliminary response to the question: What is a literary comic?

I still don’t have a complete answer yet, but I know that checking Shenandoah‘s submission page won’t help. In order to throw the widest net of possibilities, the portal guidelines include no definition, only an aside that comics “can be in black and white or color” (which is more about technology than aesthetics).

But in one sense, the question is easy. If defined by medium, a literary comic is any comic published by a literary publisher. Since Shenandoah is a literary journal, anything listed under “Comics” in the table of contents is a literary comic. The new issues features nine by six creators:

I suspect some viewers would not consider everything on that list a comic. That’s partly because “comic” has multiple overlapping meanings. For the purposes of Shenandoah, I happily entertain them all, requiring no common denominator other than image-based composition.

I recently published a book titled The Comics Form, but not all of these publication-defined literary comics are in the comics form (which I define as sequenced images). David Sheskin‘s, for instance, is a single image (and so not sequenced):

Neither are Sarah J. Sloat‘s four erasures. Each combines words (left exposed from an otherwise obscured page of text) with collaged images. If the collage is perceived as a set of distinct images, then they could also be sequenced and so in the comics form. I happen to perceive each page as a unified whole.

Formally, Kathleen Radigan‘s five-page “The Cloud” behaves more like a traditional comic — even though it is also a collage, combining drawings and photographs for a pleasantly discordant stylistic effect.

In her two-page “Prairie Psalm,” poet Despy Boutris explores the edge of minimalistic style, rendering her speaker as a stick figure within a 4×4 grid (which coincidentally was Joe Shuster’s layout preference in 1939 Action Comics).

Richard Bonhannon avoids human figures entirely, rendering his family memoir in maps in his twelve-page “The World Is Not My Home.”

At yet another stylistic extreme, Sija Ma‘s 35-page photo essay consists entirely of photographs, with no text. I suspect many viewers would not consider “A Hundred Stories” to be a comic, but since photographs are images and the images are sequenced, it is in the comics form.

Taken together, I don’t think these new works produce a coherent definition for “literary comic.” Fortunately, that’s not the goal, but it may be an eventual side effect as Shenandoah continues to publish two issues each year.

The next will be guest-edited by José Alaniz:

So please stay tuned!

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