Sunday Substack Comics Rack: November 7, 2021
DARKEST NIGHT, VANISH, Watching DUNE, and BENDIS and WALKER'S Writing Class
This week on the SSCR: discussing comics from Molly Knox Ostertag, Donny Cates/Ryan Stegman, and ND Stevenson. Process peeks from Sophie Campbell and Kelly Thompson/Meredith McClaren. And a Flubstack on my subscribing to Bendis and Walker’s SCHOOL FOR THE GIFTED.
Comics Syllabus Substackees, my gratitude as I continually readjust to the moving target of covering comics on Substack. And as I try to find my own readership/listenership for Comics Syllabus. Your reading, tweeting, comments, sharing speaks volumes to me.
While we’re starting to get some comics on Substacks (shout out to Lemire, Zdarsky, and the works I review below), I’m adjusting to just enjoy the…
insider-y patron promo access,
instructive craft and industry lessons, and
gradual, webcomic-like releases
that constitute Substack comics’ rich rewards.
Unfortunately, my life allows little of the engagement with actual community— on a Discord, or in comments threads, or at the live events, like the 3W/3M DUNE watch party about to happen as I write!— that might be the missing piece to all my comics engagement. I am, for reasons largely of my own making and circumstances, a very avid but quite lonely comics fan. Public school teacher and parent on the struggle side of the Bay Area’s inequality tracks… doesn’t leave many margins for cultivating sought-after friendships. But reading comics can be that lonely thing, long sojourns in fictional desert worlds.
So thank you so much for supporting and sharing!
the Comics Stack
DARKEST NIGHT 1.1 and 1.2 by Molly Knox Ostertag
Molly Knox Ostertag is serializing DARKEST NIGHT, a new graphic novel that also sees Ostertag returning to the webcomics mode of storytelling via “In the Telling.” The serialized comic is about a main character’s secret (locked in a basement!) that must be confronted when a childhood best friend comes back to town.
In Chapter 1.1, Ostertag also posts musical accompaniment, a song called “lost” by Joy Oladokun, that matches perfectly with the hazy but hopeful sunrise scene somehow captured in blacks, whites, and grays. We meet Mags, the protagonist Ostertag introduced in this opening post. We see Mags wake up in an instantly social media-touched world, responsibilities to Abuela, and a hint of that secret in the basement still yet to be revealed.
That post’s and each chapter’s content warnings, as well as Ostertag’s partnership with sensitivity readers Mey Rude and Phoenix Mendoza, is super helpful and meaningful for me in how I engage with this “older YA” book Ostertag presents. I’m always navigating these concerns as a teacher of young teens, not from a censorship vantage point, but from my own gradual and growing awareness of how literary/arts can be healing and liberating but can also be re-traumatizing and difficult for folks, especially if presented unexpectedly, treated as drama fodder, or decontextualized.
In Chapter 1.2, an older high school milieu, concomitant complicated relationships and social scenes, and more of the ways our phone-facilitated existences change how we first encounter human others. Ostertag is so at home in this scrolling webcomics visual syntax, and attaching musical background tracks goes a long way to complementing tone that might otherwise feel a little missing without colors.
I was already hugely high on “In the Telling” as a graphic novel-making class/process peek newsletter, but now that we get to be first readers of DARKEST NIGHT, Molly Knox Ostertag might be my Comics Substack champ at the moment.
VANISH pencils by Ryan Stegman, written by Donny Cates
If Substack has changed my tune on any creators, it’s probably Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman over at KLC. Watchers of this space may know, they were the only creators in this first wave of Substack comics that I passed on at first, not because I never enjoyed “God Country” or “Superior Spider-Man” (I did), but just that the overall tone and vibe of “Kids Love Chains” always felt reminiscent of the less welcoming or relatable parts of comicsdom to me… to put it bluntly, the chains-wearing, “Venom”-adoring parts.
But Cates, Stegman, and company have been just putting themselves out there with such exuberance and positivity that I can’t deny a slice of fan-ish connection. They just fully lean in and own the CAPITAL LETTERS and CHAINS! and enthusiasm. Along with THE ONE YOU FEED, and next to the many podcasts and livedraws and other fun offerings at KLC, I’m also enjoying seeing the in-progress penciled pages subscribers get of VANISH (first seven, next five, then four more, and finally the issue-closing last four pages).
Again, at first blush, VANISH feels big and dark and splashy with defiant bits of child endangerment that ARE what makes American comics American comics but AREN’T always my preferred brew. But I also came into my early teens in the era of Art Adams and McFarlane and Wrightson and Windsor-Smith, and the way that Cates and Stegman embrace those aesthetics to re-articulate fables of morality, fidelity, and acceptance… I can get over my hang-ups from ghosts of disappointing fandom past and value the work here.
Moving along those chunks of pages, and reading how Stegman and Cates introduce the gradually-less-lettered-and-finished pages, it strikes me the quandary of these Substack newsletters. Do subscribers want finished comics? If so, we’ll have to wait. Do we want to see the process pieces before being able to consume the comics? That’s left up to us, to surmount the paywall, giant spoiler alert warnings, and habits of expecting a story to come to us in finished forms.
I’m Fine I’m Fine Just Understand by ND Stevenson
Stevenson’s comics here are profoundly personal and I’m awed with respect for the outreach they represent. The most recent post speaks directly to the hopes of this project, a “golden thread” of unspoken connection to an unnamed someone who might be considering… longing for… a similar transition. This is what it’s like to live and move in bodies in public, and this is what it is to walk in a space like Substack and move in a way that purposefully reveals and frees. I love this.
the Process Peeks and Promo Leaks
If you subscribe to Sophie Campbell’s BARF, you’re being treated to page processes that show real-time decision-making and the layers of visual development that are delightful for fans, especially of Campbell’s visual style. Among creators on Substack, Campbell’s might be the style that I’d most aspire towards if I could actually competently pull off an art style. These regular SHADOWEYES pages we’re treated to are wonderful to get in my inbox. At some point early on, I weighed in on Campbell’s comments affirming that we Substackers are actually interested in seeing these process pages, not just the finished products, and that’s been a super rewarding request from Campbell.
Meanwhile, speaking of Campbell, Kelly Thompson features some cool Campbell art for her novel “Storykiller” in a retrospective post about projects and pitches that, her success notwithstanding, DIDN’T find the footing or become the reality that Thompson had hoped for. Lemire’s deep dives into his writer autobio have been super interesting, but teases of these from the likes of Thompson really leave me hopeful for more.
Thompson also posted some very flair-y and rarely bare Meredith McClaren Character drawings for BLACK CLOAK, one of the 1979 Semi-Finalist forthcoming comics, that look super cool! That stuff is all pre-paywall, but exclusives come soon, Thompson says. Now’s the time.
At 3 Worlds/3 Moons, the Hickman/Del Mundo/Huddleston crew has been consuming all the corners of DUNE adaptations, culminating (as I write) in this live-watch of the Villeneuve rendition, which is great fun. I’m not versed in DUNE lore but I thought the film was breath-taking, and watching it right now with Hickman, Bidikar, Huddleston, Del Mundo, and company commenting minute-by-minute is a fun peek into the tastes and judgments of these professional world-builders. This is the stuff!
Finally, I just have to say, Chip Zdarsky’s been sharing various podcast and YouTube interviews about “Newburn,” his new Image book with Jacob Phillips. Somehow, as with almost every Zdarsky project, I intuitively resist being interested. I don’t know why. Oh, Zdarsky’s writing Daredevil? Meh, we’ll see. Oh, a Justice League maxi? Maybe I’ll be into it. Oh, a Brubaker and Phillips (senior)-like crime book? Maybe it’ll be aite…
And then, every time, I read the actual book and I’m like, “phoosh. Well, ya got me I’m in.”
What I’m saying is: “Newburn” #1 is goooooood.
In-progress MA in Substack Comics Creating
I am very confused about my subscription to Brian Michael Bendis’s JINXWORLD Substack.
Did I pay for a paid subscription? Or am I free subscriber? I DON’T KNOW! I can’t find receipts.
But I DID just discover that somehow I didn’t have the email newsletters checked off for the Brian Michael Bendis + David Walker comics class “School for the Gifted” that has existed on this site a couple months now.
HOW DID I MISS THIS?
Year after year, I try to NaNoWriMo, which rarely comes to fruition and usually ends in another mountain of regretful eulogies for the creative me buried by the teacher me. But this year, rather than self-recriminations for unmet page goals, I decided I’m just going to let teachers teach me and inspiration carry me as far as it’ll go. Diary comics about teaching in diverse urban schools, and a YA cli-fi project. Those might be pipe dreams, but maybe the real novel is the friends I’ll make along the way (winking at Bendis, Walker, Ostertag, Snyder… pretty good company.)