Comics: Still Going Through Puberty

The medium of comics, in many ways, continues to be viewed through the eyes of a child. While comic have gained more legitimacy recently and have been written for adults there is still a sense that the medium lends itself to topics related to childhood. Perhaps this sense lingers over comics because their early history is almost entirely focused on comics for kids. The history of the form has very clearly influenced the modern content of the form.

For instance, many of of the comics in the Brunetti anthology are written about childhood insecurities and coming-of-age stories. An example of this is Pie Face by Kevin Scalzo. I think artists like Scalzo use the form of comics for stories like this because the form is already associated with the idea of coming-of-age. The form itself is still coming-of-age.


Also, superhero comics are still incredibly prevalent and are written with kids in mind. There have been obvious attempts to break from this tradition (Art Spiegelman’s Maus comes to mind), but the tradition remains. Comics are still in their infancy and they may in the future completely leave behind any kind of bias towards children. We already have many comics written strictly for adults and I think it is ideal that comics appeal to a wide demographic. As comics mature, so do their readers and there can be a natural “graduation” from children’s comics to adult comics.

With that being said, I think the form of comics should be applauded for its ability to capture the attention of children. Comics allow for easier reading and engage children into the world of the arts much easier than literature. Films are even easier to engage with, but they do not stimulate the imagination in the same way that literature or comics do. It seems as though there is a trade off between imagination and accessibility and I think that comics finds a workable balance. Perhaps it is not simply the history of comics that makes them so suitable to notions of childhood, but it is the form itself.


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How Comic Companies Handle Video Games, and What Does it Mean?

Comic characters have been used in video games for many years, through various genres, but for this blog I will be concentrating on one genre of games in particular, that I have a personal fondness for: fighting games. In the last two years, both Marvel and DC have had fighting games with their characters in them published by different studios. Marvel vs Capcom 3 (and its Ultimate expansion),  published by Capcom, makers of the Street Fighter series, and Injustice: Gods Among Us, published by NetherRealm Studios, creators of the most recent Mortal Kombat games.

The way Marvel and DC approached the use of their intellectual property by an outside company was very different. Marvel was incredibly specific about the use of their characters, and how those characters were portrayed. Ryota Niitsuma, producer of Marvel VS Capcom 3, stated in an interview that: “With Dr. Strange, Marvel had some very special requests… They wanted him to do this this and this. It was very specific what they wanted him to do.” and “the comic publisher even sent along illustrations showing exact hand positions for Dr. Strange to use in the game.” (Kotaku).

In contrast, DC was willing to hand over full creative control over their characters to NetherRealm. Ed Boon, producer for Injustice… spoke to IGN about how easy it was to work with DC to create his game. “I’ve been very impressed with how cooperative they’ve been,” he says. “I think that they just basically realise that if you give that freedom that you’re gonna get a game that will be a better game.” (IGN)

This defined contrast between the two studios seems to say a lot about them. The Disney controlled Marvel seems to be willing to sacrifice quality for control, letting comic experts dictate the design decisions of video game creators, where DC seems content to let game designers design games. This may also have a long term effect on the community for the game. Despite repeated requests by the fighting game community for more UMVC3, be it in the form of a balance patch, or even downloadable content, it seems Capcom’s hands are tied.

Despite numerous fan requests, petitions, twitter rallies and the like, Capcom USA vice president Christian Svensson has stated numerous times that because of licencing, they are unable to further expand the game. This has left many fans feeling put out, as Capcom’s Street Fighter IV is still receiving balance patches and expansions five years after its initial release.

It is yet to be seen how the competitive and commercial lifespan of Injustice will fare, as it is only weeks old, but by allowing video game publishers to make games how they see fit, it is an important step forward for a comic company, and worth watching.

– James macrae


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Why is Maus Viewed in Such High Regard?

How can the mass murder of 6 million Jews be respectably narrated in a comic book? Comic books are a medium which has “a great deal of monotonous stupidity [and] cheap jocosity.” (Seldes, Gilbert) How can one describe such a time in history using the tools that depict stories such as Bad. bad

Gilbert Seldes follows this up by noting that “The comic strip is an exceptionally supple medium, giving play to a variety of talents, to the use of many methods, and it adapts itself to almost any theme.” There is no reason for comic books to be confined to one genre, such as newspaper funnies or cheap jocosity; it is a medium that can use the symbolism of image along with text to create a deeper impact than either could alone. Many critics focus on the bad connotation associated with comics and think of Maus as “the most compelling … perhaps because only the caricatured quality of comic art is equal to the seeming unreality of an experience beyond all reason.” (Buhle, Paul) this is not why Maus is worthwhile. It is worthwhile because of its ability to transport between past and present without confusion, its ability to symbolize the Jews as mice not to mock but to inform, and lastly its ability to “construct the past” (Brown, Joshua)

artinterviewing                 Scene from Maus depicting the balance between present and past.

Bart Beaty says that “autobiography is the genre that offers the most explicit promise of legitimizing cartoonists as authors.” It has the most authenticity because the story that is told is rooted in truth. The story Art Spiegelman tells is not simply an account of the holocaust it is his account of his father’s memory. “As opposed to all forms of fiction, biography and autobiography are referential texts: exactly like scientific or historical discourse, they claim to provide information about a “reality” exterior to the text, and so to submit to a test of verification.” (Lejuene, Philippe) Since the subject matter is truthful it is honest. The reason why Maus is so highly regarded is above all else it deals with serious subject matter in a personal way. It does not appear to be far removed from the readers.


– Dan Silver



Seldes, G, “The ‘Vulgar’ Comic Strip,” in Heer, J & Worcester, A Comic Studies Reader (University Press of Mississippi, 2009)

Buhle, P, “Of Mice and Menschen: Jewish Comics Come of Age,” Tikkun 7.2 (1992): 9-16

Brown, J, “Of Mice and Memory,” Oral History Review 16.1 (Spring 1988): 91-109

Beaty, B, “Autobiography as Authenticity,” in Heer, J & Worcester, A Comic Studies Reader (University Press of Mississippi, 2009)

Lejuene, P, On Autobiography, trans. Katherine Leary (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, (1989):22


Paper Rad, “Bad” in Brunetti, I, An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons & True Stories (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008)

Spiegelman, A, Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History (New York: Pantheon, 1986)

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Color In Comics: Is It Necessary

When reading comics, especially older ones, I am often struck with a thought: “This would look so much better in black and white”. So often in comics, the coloring is sloppy and one dimensional, and often takes away from the comic rather than adding to it. For example, rereading Batman: Year One, I was constantly bothered by how flat the coloring made the whole thing seem.

In contrast, some of the greatest artwork I have seen in comics is in black and white. Be it the intricate, thin lines of Craig Thompson’s Blankets and Habibi, or the heavy, dark, and rich inking of Charles Burns’ Black Hole, color seems to not be necessary to achieve beauty.  On the contrary, in each of these examples, I strongly believe the addition of color would take away from the art.

Part of this, I think, stems from the fact that many artists who do their pencils and inks, are not the ones who do the coloration on the same comic. Having a different individual color from the person who has created the drawings within a comic seems to make it less personal. Having the production of the final artwork pass through more hands seems to ultimately create a much less cohesive result, and as such, a much less visually stimulating one.

When pencils, inks and color are all done by one artist however, the results can be stunning. Scott C ( creates some of my absolute favorite artwork, using loose watercolors to add to his loose and sketchy drawing style. If anyone else was coloring his work, it would probably look absolutely horrible, as it is the consistency in the artwork that makes it so exciting. Kazu Kibuishi ( also colors his work tremendously well, combining his clean lines with beautiful digital color.

As such, the issue of color seems less a problem of the color itself, and more of a problem of division of labor. The less personal a comic is to one specific individual, the less exciting it is to the reader, or, at the very least, to me.

– James Macrae

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The High/Low Split Within Comics: An Observer’s Notes

We’ve been talking a lot in this class about comics’ place in the cultural hierarchy or the distinction between high/low culture, in which comics is most often relegated to the low end of the artistic spectrum. This is something that I’d say we’ve mostly exhausted, but there is one facet of this subject which we’ve barely broached — the high/low split within the comics genre itself. I’ve been noticing this split a lot lately, especially on these blogs and in the “Nerds!” lecture of our class (which, let’s just say, got a little heated). As someone who doesn’t read comics outside of this class, or partake much in the (sub)culture surrounding comics, I find this distinction, which manifests itself in debates between groups of fans who, at the outset, seem indistinguishable, incredibly interesting.

Before approaching the study of comics in a University setting, I had never really known any “hard core” comics fans. My only sense of what to expect in this class were the stereotypical characters portrayed in such media as “The Big Bang Theory”. Coming into this class, I guess I knew there would be a lot of comics fans, but I got even more than I bargained for. It became clear pretty quickly that I was out of place in that majority of the people in the class, it seemed, had a pretty enormous breadth of knowledge when it came to comics. It seemed, at first, like there was two groups in the class: those two were comics fans, and those who were not.

Soon, however, another split among the fans became apparent. It seemed to me that my original conception of comic books fans – those who buy every issue of their favorite comic, who dress up for conventions (which there is nothing wrong with, in my opinion) – was represented in the class, but there was also another group of fans I hadn’t really considered before broaching the subject of comics in an academic setting. This group of unfamiliar fans were those who seemed to take a more intellectual approach to comics; those who read not superhero comics, but more ‘intelligent’ (trying really hard not to offend any one here) volumes such as Sandman or Maus. 

What was interesting to me was not only that these two divisive groups seemed to exist within one fan culture, but that they seemed always at odds with one another. The seemingly more intellectual fans looked down on the fans which seemed to fit the classic conception of a comics fan; likewise, the classic fans regarded the intellectual fans as, for lack of a better word, snobs. Dr. Beaty brought this up in class, though not mentioning our class population, when he talked about the rise of Image comics, which contained mostly empty, though visually pleasing, images in contrast with stories which had rich narratives alongside their sub-par art, like those coming out of Vertigo. He told us that this was what first enacted the high/low split within comics and said “those who read Sandman looked down at the people reading anything from Image”. This is something that I definitely see at work in the population of our classroom, especially towards the end of the semester when heated debates rose in class during the “Nerds!” lecture, and on the blogs after that contentious issue was raised.

I even noted this divisive split as apparent in our textbook, Of Comics and Men. Gabillet refers to what I here have (probably irrationally) termed “classic comics fans” as “speculator-collectors”. When discussing the sales enhancement techniques of publishers used in a bid to sell more copies, such as creating multiple covers or simply printing “collector’s edition” on the cover, Gabillet says the publishers did so under the certain principle that their target audience of spectator-collectors’ reactions would be “predictable, immediate, and entirely irrational” (154). Following this, he states, “for the first time, a publisher exploited the irrational comportment of speculators to artificially boost sales” (ibid). While he is speaking from a publisher’s point of view, the words Gabillet uses to describe his “speculator-collector” are quite harsh, and give the sense that he, as an academic in the comics field (who is no doubt, too, a fan), is above these lowly, irrational consumers.

In summary, in this class, I not only learned about comics, but also about the interesting, somewhat disjointed culture surrounding comics. I came to see in our class not only a split between comics fans and non-comics fans, but between separate groups of comics fans themselves. It became not a case of me, being someone who is not a comics fan, feeling outcast by my lack of knowledge, but rather, a case of two groups of those who are fans of comics duking it out while the rest of us sat on the sidelines.

PLEASE note that I am not looking to get into a debate with any one myself, just thought it was interesting to note this division within the comics culture of fandom as viewed from an “outsider”. Though, of course, if you have anything to add, feel free to comment.

Works Cited

Beaty, Bart. “Authorship.” University of Calgary. 27 March 2013. Lecture.

Gabillet, Jean-Paul. Of Comics and Men. Trans. Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi (2010). Print.

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A Death in the Family

Something had to be done about Jason Todd. Introduced in 1983, Todd was created to fill the void that Robin #1, Dick Grayson, left behind when he graduated to Nightwing.

Could I just say that Nightwing's original costume is one of the ugliest things I've ever seen?

Could I just say that Nightwing’s original costume is one of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen?

Jason, at first, was a carbon-copy of the original Grayson; he was involved in the circus, he lost his parents, he was bright and energetic. However, when Crisis on Infinite Earths happened, the writers had the opportunity to allow Jason to be a character all of his own. No longer did he borrow from Grayson’s origin story. Instead, he was an orphan, a kid with street smarts who hits Batman’s radar when he’s trying to jack the tires off the batmobile. From then on, he became the problem child. He talked back, he didn’t take orders well, and he was volatile. When the writers began getting hate mail regarding this new Robin, it became clear that Batman wasn’t the only one being bothered by Todd’s attitude. So, when the opportunity arose for Jason Todd to die, the creative team decided to do something that had never been done before: they let the people decide. In a way of letting them “put their money where their mouth is,” if the audience really hated Jason Todd, they could kill him.

"...this is going to hurt you a lot more than it does me."

“…this is going to hurt you a lot more than it does me.”

With the Death in the Family story arc in full swing, issue #427 ends on a cliff-hanger. The Joker beats Robin to a bloody pulp with a crowbar. Batman races to save him. The building explodes with Jason inside…that page is followed by the telephone poll. The people were to call one 1-900 number to save Robin, or a different 1-900 number if they wanted Robin not to survive (worded that way because the printing company didn’t allow the word “die” for the ad). The poll was open on September 15, 1988, and closed on September 16, 1988. phonenumbersEach call cost 50cents and they received over 10,000 calls, which was high for the time. With a difference of only 65 votes, the people decided that Jason Todd should die. The result was big news and people were not happy. There was a lot of anger (how could they kill off a child?) and some controversy (it is said that there was a lawyer who programmed his computer to call the “kill him” number every few minutes), but the poll also inspired thought. In a time where comics were getting a lot of attention for being increasingly more violent, the poll became very telling of the readership and of the creators themselves. Was the readership so dark that they promote the death of a child, whether he is ink and paper or not? Did the creators encourage their readership to be that way? Personally, I think the readership was simply fed up with the character, and that those who were angry were those who still saw Robin and the energetic kid they had all grown up with (Grayson). This poll was the pinnacle of giving the readers what they want and editor, Dennis O’Neil, vowed that on his watch, Jason Todd would stay dead. A year later, Tim Drake was introduced to the series and became the third Robin (because a healthy Batman is a Batman with a Robin) and it seemed as though the Batman franchise was moving on from Jason for good. That is, until 2005 when writer, Judd Winick takes over Batman. And what is the first thing he wants to do? Bring back Jason Todd. To be continued…

The alternate panel if the poll had determined that Jason Live...

The alternate panel if the poll had determined that Jason Live…

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The Universality of Fandom: The Nerd

Fanfiction is fan labour in which fans of an original work write about the characters and settings they love so much in that work. It is a fan based force, meaning all the works in fanfiction are written by fans, rather than any external influence from the writer of the original work. Fanfiction is rarely permitted by the authors of the works that get used, so the fans are essentially stealing, or appropriating, the works they wish to write on. It is also rarely ever published, and is simply meant as an outlet for the fans to present their ideas, and is used as a kind of social network for fans of specific works. Fanfiction exists for almost every notable work from Spiderman, as we saw on our midterm, to Harry Potter, to Don Quixote; if you are a fan or any book, movie, TV show, comic, graphic novel, game, cartoon, and basically anything else, almost guaranteed there will be someone writing fanfiction on it. What is interesting about fanfiction is that it offered a new, refreshing take on the original text, one that is often outside the box, but can help in understanding the original work.

The 2 Spiderman fanfiction pieces that we looked at on our second midterm were analyses of Spiderman during his teenage years. They helped to shed light on a side of Spiderman adolescence that was not illuminated in the comics. Fanfiction works much in this way: although the content typically seems humorous and a bit out to left field, it is typically meant to help the reader further comprehend the work. And, as I have stated, fanfiction can be found on nearly any medium, so long as it engages with an audience. This makes fanfiction an broad community of “nerds”, in their own fields, and brings different art forms together. It can spark interest in mediums that would otherwise not have been browsed by some due to the interconnectivity of the genre. For example, if someone goes to find fanfiction on Twilight, perhaps they will be lead to fanfiction on “30 Days of Night” and from there “The Walking Dead”; soon they will be a graphic novel junkie!

Believe it or not, there is a fanfiction website – – where one can search through an encyclopedia of fanfiction on nearly any work. The most popular work on the website, meaning it has the most fanfiction written on it, it Harry Potter. The books, not the movies. Harry Potter has 640, 073 fanfiction pieces written about it, which is about twice as many as “Naruto” (a Manga series; also the runner up), 3 times as many as Twilight and 20 times the amount written for Star Wars, the most popular movie. It is also about 60 times more popular than the most popular comic, being X-Men. Why is Harry Potter so popular? Well, because he’s awesome. But the point of saying all this is to establish the idea that being a nerd is not designated only for comic book lovers: being a nerd is a cross-medium title. This is actually a really good thing, because, as I have said, it means there can be an overlap in people’s interests. This can lead to, and I believe has lead to, an increase in interest in comics and graphic novels and a renewed success in the industry. Fanfiction can help pave a way for comics and graphic novels into the future, helping sustain it, ensuring that comics and graphic novels will continue to me a medium well into the future.

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The Genius of Gary Larson


Have you ever read any of Gary Larson’s The Far Side comics? If you answered ‘no’ to that previous question, you need to give your head a violent shaking.  When you’ve finished that, you’re going to want to go out and buy any collection of Far Side comics you can get your dirty little hands on.  Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE HILARIOUS! And I don’t mean hilarious like when you run into a person you didn’t expect to see at a certain place type of hilarious (if you’ve seen the latest Louis C.K. special on HBO you know what I mean).  No, I mean the kind of hilarious where you have to stop reading those comics because the people on the train are all staring at you for laughing uncontrollably and wish you would just shut the hell up… but you can’t.  Larson has an incredible talent for transferring comedic timing onto a page.  David Carrier talks about Gary Larson’s work but does not include images to further the point.  I intend on doing just that, as well as talking about some of Larson’s other finer points that Carrier simply misses (because he is too busy musing whether or not we, as a society, are full of pricks because we enjoy Larson’s violence and doom filled cartoons)


I’ll show a few examples of how Gary Larson is able to generate such pants-shitting hilarity while only using one panel and some text underneath (and sometimes not even needing the text).


The pending doom that is about to happen in 3…2…1… : Larson’s signature style is that of showing the calm before the storm.  Put another way, you see the step that leads up to a catastrophe, without seeing the catastrophe itself, thus YOU as a reader get to make that up.  That’s where the humor comes from.  The idiot characters doing stupidly hilarious things, leads to awful consequences, and you get to imagine it all.  This is done simply through the prompt of a one panel image.  Take the following example.  These idiots have just tunneled out of what appears to be prison, and they’re obviously right near the surface.  Except the surface is underneath what looks like it could be an ocean or a lake or maybe even a river. It’s clear these idiots didn’t think this one through. The text says “We’re almost free, everyone!… I just felt the first drop of rain.” This enhances our enjoyment of the situation—their misreading of the situation makes their obliviousness that much funnier.  But you don’t even need the text to understand what’s going on.  It’s the classic tunneling out of prison gag, except this time there won’t be a big manhunt to catch the escapees. Instead their own stupidity is going to finally catch up with them.larson inmates


But Larson also has a knack for drawing the impossibly fantastic, yet completely bizarre.  It’s really his art that shines here.  In this comic, you see a couple of bears riffling through some poor mans wallet after they had just mauled him.  The reader gets to play out the mauling beforehand if they wish, but it’s not tantamount to the humor.  The humor comes from the sheer ridiculousness of the matter.  Not to mention the way the bears are drawn.  Tiny little dot eyes, big fat bodies; you’d think these bears were innocent if you saw them in any other context.  But no, they are currently mugging some poor hiker.  And what the hell will they do with any money they find? Well in Larson’s world, it probably wouldn’t be an uncommon sight to see a couple of grizzly bears in a bar having a couple drinks. The violence is overshadowed by the humorous personification of these bears, who have turned into mere street thugs.


larson bears


If you haven’t spent any time just flipping through old Gary Larson books, you need to do so.  Your sanity will thank you for it.


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Why Early Batman Comics Suck

While “the first comic book published in the United States was a story created by the Swiss Rodolphe Topffer,” in 1842 it wasn’t until May 1938 when the first superhero comic Action Comics featuring “Superman” appeared. “The Batman” appeared exactly a year later. With almost 100 years of comics before it why does “The Batman” fail to utilize text and image effectively? Comics like Mutt and Jeff didn’t have redundancies between image and text. The following comic doesn’t describe Jeff being kicked by Mutt it simply shows it.


However in Bob Kane’s The Batman almost every action sequence is described so unnecessarily it becomes painful to read. There is no need for any of the captions in the following panels.

batman 1

robin We can clearly see that Batman is jumping or is swinging a rope above his head. We can also quite easily tell that Robin falls and then grabs a pole jutting out from a building. The artwork of Bob Kane speaks for itself and Bill Finger’s terrible writing describing every panel ruins the story for me. It’s possible to read the panels without the square captions and understand what is happening much less distractingly. The combination here between excellent artist and mediocre writer makes the comics almost unreadable for me. Especially when compared with something such as Batman Year One where Frank Miller’s writing matches the great art of David Mazzuchelli.

batman yr 1

As you can see the captions don’t describe his actions but actually tell us his thoughts. It adds another dimension that the image itself can’t give. This is a prime example of text and image working to enhance each other.

I really do appreciate the first Batman comics but I find that the writer didn’t fully understand the purpose of the hybrid medium. The text isn’t used like in a novel in order to describe the action, instead it is used to enhance the action depicted in the image. I feel this may be in part due to the relatively early period in American comics this was made but seeing as they had been around for nearly 100 years it’s hard not to see it solely as the writer’s shortcoming.


– Dan Silver



Gabilliet, J, From Comics to Comic Books & The Beginnings of an Industry: Of Comics and Men (The University Press of Mississippi, 2005)

Images and Jeff

Kane, B, Batman Chronicles, pages 12,13 & 187, (DC Comics, 2005)

Miller, F & Mazzucchelli, D, Batman Year One, page 12, (DC Comics, 2005)

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Chris Ware’s Use of Text

Gene Kannenberg writes that text and image enlighten each other without one system dominating the other. This is very apparent with Chris Ware’s work. Chris Ware is known for his dynamic use of text in comics. He is able to combine the text and image in a certain kind a harmony. The text becomes a part of the image, but it also is able to maintain a distinction and still pull the reader towards it. Despite the fact that Sparky and Quimby is one of the most obvious examples of Ware’s fantastic use of text and image, I’ll be analyzing the excerpt from Ware’s Building Stories in the Brunetti anthology.

Kannenberg talks about there being a narrative and meta-narrative within Chris Ware’s work with text. The narrative is the way the text guides the reader’s gaze. The meta-narrative is the way the text is placed to serve the themes of the narrative. He says that both of these things allow the text to direct the reader. In Building Stories you can see examples of this.

There are only two fonts Ware appears to use in Building Stories. One is slightly bigger, and often blue. It almost works as a drop cap, beginning a sort of new idea, thought, or subject, and bringing emphasis to it because of that visual difference. It makes the pages more dynamic and separates itself from the one main font used throughout this series. This font is used for the narrator’s retelling of events as well as for the dialogue in speech bubbles. The ability to distinguish between the dialogue and narration is easy and Ware places and mixes this text in such a way that it compliments one another. His awareness of page design is great and the text isn’t laid out in any old fashion, but it is very much incorporated with the images. Spaces where a panel obviously fits but are missing are replaced with text that acts as the missing panel. In some parts, he puts some of the narrator’s texts into colored panels in the shape of circles that draws the reader to them. There is a great bit on the bottom of page 376 where the dialogue in the speech bubbles of the two arguing parents is cut off. In this case it really makes the text work like an image because of how portions are hidden and you really get the sense of how the main character is hearing this argument. On page 372 a consistent “RRRRRRRRRRRRRRR” of an alarm clock flows throughout the bottom of the top panels and it’s so visually repetitive in how it works with the images that you feel the same tedium and monotony that the character feels.

Building Stories is a less obvious example of Ware’s when it comes to interesting uses of text. However, his creative use of it is still very prevalent and goes to show the thought Ware puts into the visual arrangement of text in all of his work.

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