Goodreads Review: Comics and Sequential Art

Comics and Sequential ArtComics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In what is probably the most academic text on comic books I have ever read, I was introduced to the works of Will Eisner in “Comics and Sequential Art.” I’d heard of Eisner before in passing, but had never given the man much thought. But after being twice recommended to read this book, I am now glad I finally did.

Simply looking at Eisner’s sample work from “The Spirit” and his other works featured in this book made me realize that he wasn’t just ahead of his time. Rather, comics have fallen backward. From what I’ve read in various comics from the 1980s to the early 2000s, Eisner’s influence on comics as a storytelling medium was strongly felt during this time period, but has slowly faded.

Chuck Dixon continues to lament to this day that the writing in American comics has weakened while the art has made leaps and bounds. Eisner, who wrote this book in 1984, foresaw this trend thirty years ago. He not only boiled down the raw principles of comics into a coherent whole, he noted that new technology will create both new challenges and new opportunities for comic book artists and writers.

In addition to that prognosis, he suggests that comic book writers and artists focus on crafting a good narrative in order to take advantage of a world where digital rendering and computers allow perfect coloring and shape-forming to be available to all, thus considerably leveling the playing field. I swear, this guy was a genius!

I now look forward to looking into his works with more detail, such as his graphic novel (a term he coined, I believe) “A Contract with God.” As someone who can’t draw to save my life, I would respectfully dissent from this great master’s judgement that the duties of artist and writer be vested in one person. However, I now know that such an arrangement was once the norm, not the exception. The more you know!

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Never Judge a Book by It’s Cover. Seriously, Don’t Do It.

I recently finished reading a book called The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer. My dad bought it and gave to me, instructing me to read it and glean whatever sales knowledge I could from its pages.

I took one look at the book, and I thought, “Are you kidding me? This thing’s a McBook!” McBooks. The real-life, physical equivalent of clickbait.

This book had the all the indications of such a book. Chapters containing lists. Multi-colored contents. Lots of exclamation points. A writer with a smarmy sense of humor, no doubt a pretentious blowhard who thought he was just so clever.

But having resolved to read every book on sales and marketing that I could get my hands on, I picked up the book and began to read.

A few weeks later, I closed the book, satisfied that I was mostly wrong in my prejudgment of The Sales Bible. The introduction did have a lot of fluffy, self-help, positive-thinking mumbo-jumbo that I could have done without, but in the meaty center of the book was a load of good sales advice.

For more on my thoughts on this book, please see my review on Goodreads. In the meantime, please remember that the old cliché is in fact worth heeding: “Never judge a book by its cover.”

The folly of judging a book by its cover nearly led me to ignore a pretty good amount of good sales advice. Likewise, the impulse to judge a book by its cover has led me to waste time on mediocre or bad books.

There is one such book of this sort that I have read several times, and no matter how many times I read it, I just did not find it memorable enough to enjoy those repeated readings. My only reason for rereading this particular book was that I thought I could somehow find it more enjoyable the second time around.

(If you want to know what that book was, please send me a message and I’ll consider discussing it in a future post.)

The point of this post is to read indiscriminately. If you are told to read a book for a class, read it. If there are books assigned for extra credit, read those too.

If you see a book on a shelf, and it catches your eye, read it. If you hear about a book that sounds interesting, read it. If you receive a book as a gift, read it.

If somebody else recommends a book to you, for goodness sake, read that one too. There are plenty of books that have been recommended to me that I didn’t read or read later, convinced that I knew it all and would find it dull or uninteresting, only to have my mind utterly blown over how this masterpiece almost escaped me due to literary chauvinism.

That’s how I discovered Redwall by Brian Jacques. Thank you, Emily.

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Don’t Get Your History from Comment Sections

Shortly before I started this blog, I signed up for a Quora account. On Quora, you can write detailed answers to people’s questions, complete with editing tools absent from standard comment sections. It allows you to find, ask, and answer pretty much any question related to any topic under the sun.

But while this is a useful and fun tool, the information available from Quora is not infallible. Although useful for finding specific and arcane knowledge from people of various walks of life, it shares all the shortcomings of any social media outlet. This includes the tendency of people to give extremely lopsided, ax-grinding accounts of rather prickly issues.

For example, one thread involved a handful of people comparing Winston Churchill to Hitler and Stalin. Comparing just about anyone to Hitler is not new on the internet, but as a lover of history, I found this assertion incredibly asinine. The topic in question involved Churchill’s stance on the British Empire’s rule of India.

I am hardly an expert on Churchill, but I knew enough about history to think a detailed response was warranted. I was fully prepared to do so, except I was out of internet range and my phone was nearly dead, if I recall correctly.

The long and short of it is that I completely forgot about this incident until a few days later, and then got the idea to write this blog post. Mercifully, my now cooler head prevailed and I did not write a reply to that Quora comment.

Nothing I say is going to stop people from getting information online. Plenty of people continue to do so, and I think it’s for the better. More information, true and false, accurate and mistaken, is readily available to more people than at any other point in history. The question is being discerning enough to sort out the good from the bad.

But there is a reason that I prefer books over the internet. It is easier (for now) to qualify the author as a reliable source, whereas on the internet, literally anybody could be writing about anything. Typically, when one seeks an incisive record of past events, they either get a sterile catalog of the raw facts, or else they get a polemic infused with the most virile historical revisionism.

It is absolutely possible to find trustworthy information on the internet. It’s only a matter of seeking out the right sources. It’s no good trying to find a completely “unbiased” account of history, as so many people foolishly yearn for. But it is equally foolhardy to believe that no account of history is to be trusted, from which we get the moronic truism, “History is written by the winners.”

(A more accurate statement would be, “History is written by historians.” Please remind me what Herodotus or Thucydides “won” that made them able to write their historical accounts.)

If you really want to learn the history of Winston Churchill, find an article about him on the internet which has citation notes. Yes, Wikipedia counts. Then find citations which refer to books. Read those books, and then you’ll have a good idea both of what actual historians have to say about Churchill, and you’ll know the context of the hodge-podge of information you read on Quora.

Just don’t, by all that is holy, get your information about history from comment sections, whether on Quora or anywhere else. Even the History Channel is better than that.

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1984: A World Without God

I read 1984 earlier this year, and found it to be one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

It’s utterly bone-chilling, moves at a break-neck speed, and foretells all sorts of things happening in this day and age, from microaggressions (see “thoughtcrime”) to NSA shenanigans. It also reminded me that the novel is indeed an art form, and should be treated as such.

But my biggest takeaway from reading 1984 was on a theological level. Simply put, 1984 depicts a world without God. Such a world is a very scary place.

In this book, evil has gone ape over the whole world. The terms “true” and “false” have no meaning, because “the Party” determines by fiat what the facts are.

War, death, and sex are the primary objects of worship. The state effectively controls reality, and there is no means of stopping it from within or without. There is no hope of freedom or happiness, for the Party actively suppresses both through the omniscient Thought Police.

In this world, the character of O’Brien bluntly denies the common justification for Communist dictatorships, that such tyranny is necessary for the ultimate good. He instead states that “God is power” and that the Party seeks only to maintain its control over Oceania.

They know that they will forever remain in perpetual warfare with Eurasia and Eastasia and their people will continue to wallow in poverty. They rejoice in their evil, fully immersed in the concept of “doublethink.”

“God is power.” How appropriately demonic. Having just recently finished rereading The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, which seems like an amusement park compared to 1984, I can see the connection with new clarity.

In a world where the Devil has won and God has no power, good has no hope of winning because He that is good, God, does not exist. If God existed, the Devil could not win.

The novel’s protagonist, Winston Smith, is asked at one point by O’Brien whether he believes in God or not. Winston replies in the negative, instead appealing to “the spirit of man” as the source of truth and goodness. But when O’Brien demonstrates from Winston’s own words that he was perfectly willing to do evil things in the name of freedom, Winston realizes that he has no moral high ground to stand on.

The book’s author, George Orwell, an anti-religious atheist and, paradoxically, a socialist, probably would not agree with my interpretation of his work. From what I’ve read of him online, his personal biography and writings are rife with contradictions and leaps of logic.

All that said, I am only encouraged to read more of his writings, namely Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia, his autobiography. It’s important to read primary sources.

1984 is a novel which I was thoroughly engrossed by, but which I would be reluctant to read again. But Orwell was without a doubt a visionary. He wrote of a plainly totalitarian, fascist regime which is not too far off from what you might see in North Korea and China, all in the year 1949.

Orwell may not have had much affection for God, but he undoubtedly understood that the principles which spring from the Bible, on which Western civilization is built, are incompatible with Communism. If only this colorful Englishman had been able to see the full implications of this line of reasoning. Perhaps he did.

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Why Read Fiction?

I’ve known at least one guy who just doesn’t read fiction.

This particular guy is an incredibly smart man. He’s a student of mathematics and physics, having formerly been employed by Boeing. But he plainly told me that he does not read fiction, preferring to instead read books on those areas of expertise.

Being a “Live and let live” type of person, I am happy to let my acquaintance read about mathematics and physics to his heart’s content. However, I am left wondering just how many educated, employed, successful persons share this view, that reading fiction is a waste of time that is better spent “learning” about “practical” subjects.

I instead assert that reading fiction is good both as a means of recreation and as a way to sharpen the imagination.

As children, we are encouraged to read, at least I was, and I was of course drawn to fantasy. I remember being curled up on the sofa for hours on end, absorbed in a Redwall book. I often found myself cajoling my dad into journeying to the nearest Barnes & Noble so I could use my hard-earned lawn mowing revenue to purchase the latest Bionicle pulp novel.

But as I got older, especially in recent years, I began to read fiction less and less. I had important things to do, like reading books on history, politics, economics, business, and theology.

I enjoy all of these subjects thoroughly, but I found myself seldom reading prose fiction. I was instead drawn to comic books and graphic novels, fine stuff in their own way, but not quite the same.

Before this year, I can remember reading two fiction books within the last three years: The Book Thief and Ender’s Game. Both were remarkable books, and I got such a thrill out of reading them from cover to cover. Ender’s Game blew my mind and The Book Thief made me genuinely  sad. But I soon was back to business as usual.

Eventually, out of some fervent desire to get back to what I was missing, I finally cracked. I picked up an old, dusty copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, and sat down and read it in two days.

Up to this point I had rigidly been abiding by a complicated series of reading lists, where I just had to read these books in that order, never mind what I actually wanted to read at any given time.

But emboldened by my sudden, out-of-the-blue reading choice, I checked out 1984 by George Orwell from the library. Thus began the transformation. 1984 was an absolutely thrilling novel, and the only one to actually scare me in years. I swear I jumped in my seat while reading the thing during a ten-minute break in the Burger King break room.

I began listening to fiction audio books on my phone on the walk home, including The Iliad and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I balanced these out with works of non-fiction, but the course was set. I was now consuming real, prose fiction again!

I have just finished reading The Pilgrim’s Progress for the first time all the way through. Now I’m happily rereading The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, a remarkable work of epistolary satire. I hope to read a comic book next, just to spice things up, though I hope to continue on my fiction streak after that.

I’ve found that since deciding to make a concentrated effort to read more fiction, my creativity and critical thinking skills have improved fantastically. I feel I can solve problems more quickly, more easily overcome obstacles at work, and more effectively engage in problem solving.

To summarize, reading fiction is not only fun, but also useful for expanding the imagination and encouraging innovative and ingenious thought. If I can’t find a solution to that marketing problem at work, I’m bound to have something brewing the next day after having spent the evening reading.

Without imagination, there is no ingenuity. Without fiction, there is no imagination. Therefore, I will read fiction.

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