Midtown Comics Rules

May 12, 2007 at 3:40 am | Posted in comic books, fantasy, pop culture, SCI FI | Leave a comment

yellow-line.jpgThe Reading Interests of Adults course at Rutgers for MLIS librarians-in training ended the semester with a NY field trip. I’ll blog about the bookstore visits in the next few entries. 

Midtown Comics Times Square(Comics, Collectibles, Manga)200 W 40th Street, 7th Ave., New York, NY 10018
Phone: 800-411-3341 or 212-302-8192 
(Mon-Sat: 11AM – 9PM, Sun: 12-7PM) http://www.midtowncomics.com 

Our store tour guide was Jerry, one of the founders of Midtown Comics. Its two locations and website sales have been going strong for over 10 years. Midtown is so well-known and respected that Entertainment Weekly reprints their website’s weekly bestseller lists. Comics and graphic novels are exploding in popularity thanks to movie/video game/comics tie-ins with media events such as Spiderman 3, the death of Captain America and the launch of the last Harry Potter book all in 2007  

Hot Releases New comics are issued every Wednesday. Midtown added a “do not cross” yellow checkered line on the floor to manage the midweek crowds. New issues are shelved by publisher (eg. DC,Marvel…,) with the last 4 weeks of issues on display.  Midtown is a strong supporter of Indie comic presses too manga2.jpg 

Mangadominates left wall space on the main level. Titles are shelved alphabetically but Jerry notes “there’s a raging debate about this”. Some of the staff are lobbying for shelving it by type (eg. shonen jump vs. shojen jump). The hottest trends are manga from China and Korea. Midtown stocks only English-language translations of manga.

Back Issues and CollectiblesMidtown has a Queens warehouse for back issue storage and order shipping. The store’s upper level features comic book, sci fi and fantasy collectibles like action figures. Midtown is proud of the “certificate of authenticity” it offers with its signed copies. Jerry noted that they charge a “fair price” for these, and often see the items resold on EBay at higher prices.   

rare-comics-wall.jpg Age Range Midtown Comics’ customers are “about 98%” adult males in their 20s and 30s although manga is attracting more female buyers. The store enforces comic book codes : M titles can only be purchased by adults with ID. The upper level has an “adult only” titles section. Midtown offers a “Young Readers” section where you’ll find kid-appeal comics like Calvin & Hobbes or Bone. Jerry noted that http://www.tokyopop.com  has a new age/content code for manga as of 2007.

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Sidekicks in Boneville Comics

April 24, 2007 at 5:35 am | Posted in awards, comic books, fantasy, sidekicks | 1 Comment

out-from-boneville.jpgSmith, Jeff (1991,2005). Bone: Out from Boneville.New York: Scholastic.

“Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures! “n. Exclamation of disapproval, Bone Comics –CYBERSPEAK, Random House Dictionary of online phrases (1997)

How did I know Bone was an excellent choice for comic book analysis?  Because I was introduced to the smiley.jpgseries by an impeccable source: word of mouth from tween boys. I was struggling to find graphic novels in my library system’s catalog. Morris County public libraries do collect some soft and hardcover comics. Yet, subject and keyword searches for “manga”, comic books”, “anime” and “graphic novels”were fruitless. Then, a fifth grade boy requested a Bone book while I was on the reference desk. When I figured out he wanted a comic, not a science book , I tracked down the author on the internet. Voila– eight Bone volumes surfaced in the catalog with holdings at multiple locations. This search experience demonstrated the need to display comics prominently in the juvenile/YA section. The kids are not going to find them through our catalog.

dragon-fone-bone.jpgBy coincidence, my 10 year old son brought home Out from Boneville a few days later. His school library did have a Bone display, and the boys were jostling to see who’d get to check them out first, like they had with Captain Underpants in third grade. When I asked my son why he liked Bone, his first response was “they’re cool and funny”. His favorite parts were the characters of Smiley and Phoney Bone as well as the fantastic rat and red dragon creatures which he described as”weird but not too scary”. He liked the adventure storyline and that scheming Phoney Bone gets tricked back by his fed-up cousin.

 In Out from Boneville, the three Bone cousins,  Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone, are run out of town when Phoney’s scheme to become mayor backfires. They are separated and lost in a vast, uncharted desert. They each find their way into a foreboding valley filled with bizarre beings, some friendly (red dragon and possum) and some evil but  stupid (rat creatures). The cousins are reunited at a farm run by tough Gran’Ma Ben who races cows with her feisty granddaughter, Thorn. At the book’s end, Phoney is secretly conniving to fix the cow race and stalling the Grim Reaper.

Bone comics were written, drawn and self-published by Jeff Smith from 1991 to 2004. Bone is notable as one of the first comics published on the internet. It was also one of the longest-running self-published comic book series created by a single author. Smith hyped the series through unique publicity stunts such as drawing jams at comic conventions. His comics were originally black and white drawings, serialized in Disney magazine in the mid-1990s. 

 Bone’s popularity surged after 2004 when Scholastic released color versions of the 9 volume, 1300 page series. Like Trekkie fans, fans collect a wide array of Bone merchandise by visiting the official site, http://www.boneville.com/ . There are two popular video games, but Smith vetoed plans for a movie with kid actors doing voiceovers.  

pogo.jpgfone-bone.jpgBone has won numerous honors, including ten Eisner Awards and eleven Harvey Awards. The series is appealing because of its unforgettable characters, its fresh, witty writing that resonates on many levels, and its epic fantasy storyline inspired by Lord of the Rings. Smith’s characters have been compared to those of Walt Kelly’s comic strip for social commentary. The hero, Fone Bone, is a little guy with a big head and feet who bears a striking resemblance to Kelly’s Pogo.

One of the hallmarks of Smith’s illustration style is his versatility. In Volume One, his drawings convey the shift in mood from the flat, comic appearance of the Bone cousins to a dark, detailed illustration style for battle scenes between Thorn, Fone and the rat creatures.thorn-and-creatures.jpg

There are several sidekicks who serve as foils to the level-headed, honest hero, Fone Bone. There is irresponsible, affable Smiley Bone, the perennial follower. In contrast, there is his scheming Phoney Bone, who must be rescued in each episode by Fone Bone.  Our  hero’s vulnerability is revealed by his comical crush on Thorn, the beautiful “princess in disguise”.  The sidekicks are foils who mock Fone’s intellectual fervor and earnestness. Even sweet Thorn goes unconscious when Fone drones on about his favorite book, Moby Dick. The first episode hints at dark secrets about the charactersand their journey. Like all good comics ,  it introduces the cast of players in the first volume: villains, allies, sidekicks and heroes.  Nevertheless, it  leaves the reader in suspense about what will happen next.     

American Born Chinese

April 21, 2007 at 4:53 am | Posted in awards, comic books, fantasy, genre fiction, monsters | 5 Comments

american-born-chinese.jpgYang, Gene Luen. Color by Lark Pien (2006). American Born Chinese. New York: First Second Press. 

 I discovered American Born Chinese in a display of manga, comic books and graphic novels near the YA section at my local public library. Based on the book’s cover, I picked it up with mixed feelings. The title ABC is derogatory slang familiar to 2nd generation+ Chinese-American families such as mine. (Fresh Off the Boat–FOB— is retaliatory slang for recent Taiwanese and mainland immigrants). I couldn’t dismiss the novel as inflammatory junk though, because the graphics were artfully rendered and the cover featured 2 book award medallions. Once I opened the cover and saw the words “Monkey King”, I had to read it. The Monkey King is one of the most famous characters in Chinese folklore, but I haven’t been able to get my kids to slog through a full translated text.   abc_monkey1.jpg

American Born Chinese has three storylines. The first is a comical retelling of the Monkey King legend, with kung fu and Chinese fable elements for authenticity.  The second story features Jin Wang, a Chinese-American teenager in a white neighborhood. Jan perms his hair and rejects his Asian school friends to win a date with a redheaded honor student. The final storyline is an over-the-top paper sitcom featuring Chin-Kee, the ultimate Oriental student stereotype. Chin-Kee has a pigtail, wears a kimono, eats strange animal parts for lunch, is the class know-it-all and oblivious to his social gaffes. Yang deftly interweaves the three separate stories to a surprising, but satisfying end involving the mischievous Monkey King.

 082806_americanbornchinese03.jpgI was blown away by this book! I can understand why American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel nominated for a National Book Award and was Amazon’s “#1 graphic novel pick of 2006”. Writer-illustrator Yang also won the ALA Printz award. His novel is both hysterically funny and brutally honest in its exploration of image, identity and self-acceptance. Although the characters represent different Asian stereotypes, the story will resonate with readers from age 10-adult who are struggling to define themselves and to belong. There are story elements of teenage romance, Chinese folklore fantasy, supernatural monsters, spirituality, and hidden clues for a mystery relevaled in the climax. The only genre missing is the western, though there are elements of adventure, a long journey and the hero’s lone battle to conquer a harsh environment.    

 There are books by Laurence Yep, Amy Tan, Allen Say and other Asian-American novelists who’ve written serious novels about their experiences. What makes Yang’s book different is its iconoclastic, hip approach to the issue of cultural identity. In a December 2006 interview with The Trades, Yang speculates on why he’s seen as blazing a new path in fiction. Growing up in San Francisco, Yang was told to “Keep your head down, study hard, and make a good life for yourself. Don’t make any waves.”  The idea of writing caustic social commentary is new and frankly scary for many Chinese who lived through the upheaval of the Communist regime.

Yang’s content takes risks in confronting prejudices and misconceptions about American Born Chinese. In contrast, his illustration style is skillful but abcmeeting325.jpgconventional, even conservative. Each page contains 4-5 panels which read left to right. The book is read as an English-language text, from front to back (the opposite of the manga page pattern). The text is conveyed through standard thought bubbles. Characters are 2-D rendered in flat colors, with the visual style of an Archie Comics. His Asian characters, aside from Chin-Kee, are visual amalgams of Western and Eastern features, reinforcing his message of assimilation. This message is hammered home on page 194, as Yang shows a freeze-frame transformation from black haired Oriental Jan to blond, blue eyed Danny as the teenager’s wish to be like his classmates comes true–briefly.  

American Born Chinese was originally presented in serial form as a web comic self-published by Yang. This is his fourth published graphic novel, and his first published with a promising new graphic novel press which debuted in 2006, First Second.  For more information about Yang’s works, visit his website, Humble Comics or check out Comic Book Resources.

Science Fiction Subgenres

February 25, 2007 at 5:20 pm | Posted in fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, subgenres | Leave a comment

flash-gordon.jpgBerger, A.A. (1992) Popular Culture Genres: Theories and Texts. NY: Sage.

Herald, D.T.& Wiegand, W.A.(Ed.)(2006). Genreflecting  A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (6th ed.).Westport,CT: Libraries Unlimited.  

Saricks, Joyce G (2001). The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. Chicago: ALA Press. 

aliens.jpgThe science fiction and fantasy genres encompass a rich variety of themes, and both may be subsumed under the category of  “speculative fiction”. Berger (1992) identified 8 science fiction subgenres: aliens, alternate history, dystopia/utopia, postcastrophe (apocalyptic), sword & sorcery (fantasy), space travel (technology), time travel and unknown worlds.

Below are  recommended online resources which define and give examples of popular SF subgenres. Although the lists differ, most distinguish between “hard” technology or science driven works vs. “soft” works focusing on psychological or social  aspects of the “what if?” question.  

Fiction Factor: Science Fiction sub-genres   Concise descriptions of more than a dozen SF sub-genres, including a few missing from other sites: dystopia, extrasensory perception, and religious SF. (Accessed 2/24/07) http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/sfsubgenre.html 

Genreflecting.com  Science Fiction  Good list of themes, but no explanation or examples provided. Genreflecting observes that SciFi genres are numerous because they’re based on content rather than being driven by plot or structure differences. Subgenre themes include: aliens, alternate history ,bleak future, cybernetics, high tech (hard), humorous ,militaristic, parallel worlds, shared worlds, space opera, time travel, and cross- genres (detective, fantasy or romance Sci Fi). (Accessed 2/24/07). http://www.genreflecting.com/Science02.html 

 CT Readers Advisory Intro to SF Good overview of style and content characteristics of the SF genre. Discusses Joyce Saricks’ model of two major SF subgenres:  Storyteller Focus and Philosophical Focus. Fascinating discussion of which works example each type and why. (Accessed 2/24/07) http://www.conknet.com/~fullerlibrary/ReadersAdvisory/SCIENCE%20FICTION%20READER/Introduction.htm 

SF Site: Science Fiction & Fantasy: A Genre with Many Faces Defines and lists representative books for seven science fiction subgenres: alternate universe, cyberpunk, military, hard, space opera, speculative and science fantasy as a cross-genre. (Accessed 2/24/07)  http://www.sfsite.com/columns/amy26.htm

Writing-World.com :  Sci Fi Sub genres Overview for potential science fiction writers on alternate history, apocalyptic, cyberpunk cross-genre, first contact, Hard SF, militaristic, humorous, near future, future fantasy, time travel, slipstream, sociological and space opera. Doesn’t address “speculative”. (Accessed 2/24/07)   http://www.writing-world.com/sf/genres.shtml

SCI FI Online Resources

February 22, 2007 at 4:09 am | Posted in fantasy, SCI FI, science fiction, SF, websites | Leave a comment

isfdb.jpgInternet Speculative Fiction DataBase (ISFDB)   A respected, top -five site for SF fiction bibliographies, author biographies and myriad links to SF resources, maintained by Texas A&M University.  ISFDB  includes 38,327 authors and 92,750 publications. They have added a community, editable wiki link.  (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/index.cgi 

Locus Online  Since 1997, online version of award-winning SF magazine Locus . Daily news updates (blinks) about science fiction publishing ,plus interviews, reviews, and new releases coverage. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.locusmag.com/  

SciFan   Site for fans and readers of science fiction and fantasy. Foscifi_fans_deviantart_id_by_scifi_fans.jpgcuses on reviews, bibliographies and biographies of authors, with entries searchable by series and themes. Searchable database includes 58,000 books, 15,000 writers and 3600 web links. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.scifan.com/  

Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database   Searchable index of 76,000  articles, news clippings, movie reviews and other print material  from 1878-1991 devoted to science fiction and fantasy, with some coverage of horror, gothic and utopian literature .Excludes book reviews, and SF fiction. Index maintained by Texas A&M. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://lib-edit.tamu.edu/cushing/sffrd/ 

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America  Founded in 1965, writers’ organization responsible for annual Nebula Awards.  Links for bestseller lists and awards, press releases, industry and publisher news, and site of the week. (Accessed 2/21/07) http://www.sfwa.org/ 

Science Fiction  Bibliography  Excellent resource for SF research project, with extensive list of reference print resources available in public and academic libraries. Last updated 11/06 by Washington State University, it recommends encyclopedias, critical analyses, and SCI FI literature review indexes. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/science_fiction/sfresearch.html 

SF-Lovers    Since 1979, dedicated to SF-fandom and updated by fan S. Jaffe. Archive of SF- Digest, Convention lists, WorldCon history, Resource Guide and info on SF TV and movies. (Accessed 2/21/07) http://www.noreascon.org/users/sflovers/u1/web/ 

SF Site  A mainstay on “top 5 links” lists for science fiction and fantasy, this  website  offers biweekly reviews, interviews, fiction excerpts, lists, news and previews with a searchable archive spanning more than a decade. It covers print, online (zines), TV, and movie SF works, with links to fan tribute sites, conventions, publishers and writer resources. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.sfsite.com/         

 Uchronia The Alternate History List is an annotated bibliography of over 2800 novels, stories, essays and material involving the “what ifs” of history. (Accessed 2/21/07)  http://www.uchronia.net/ 

Ultimate SF Web Guide    Text-heavy and last updated in 2004,  but over 6000 links to SF web resources  and unique features: SF readlikes by themes, SF timeline by decade, pages on aliens, time travel, games (Accessed 2/21/07) http://www.magicdragon.com/UltimateSF/SF-Index.html  

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