The Graphic Format: Picture the Possibilities | Day of Dialog 2019

Exploring the history, future, and philosophy of comics, the inaugural graphic novels panel, “The Graphic Format: Picture the Possibilities,” featured two giants of comics publishing: DC Comics and Fantagraphics Books.

Exploring the history, future, and philosophy of comics, the inaugural graphic novels panel, “The Graphic Format: Picture the Possibilities,” moderated by LJ Reviews Assistant Managing Editor Annalisa Pešek, featured two giants of comics publishing: DC Comics and Fantagraphics Books.

To begin, Fantagraphics cofounder and publisher Gary Groth (editor in chief, The Comics Journal, print edition) highlighted four fall releases exemplifying the range of Fantagraphics’ output and mission to “publish great cartooning in whatever form it takes.” These included the “brutal, existential, and truthful satirical works” of the late cartoonist Tomi Ungerer (Underground Sketchbook, Oct. 2019); a new page-turning story collection from underground comics pioneer Kim Deitch (Reincarnation Stories, Oct. 2019); an immersive graphic biography of a 17th-century female Italian painter from debut author/illustrator Gina Siciliano (I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi , Sept. 2019); and a fictional tale of three siblings returning to their family home after their father’s death from Spain’s most celebrated cartoonist, Paco Roca (The House, Nov. 2019).

"The Graphic Format" panel: Standing, l.-r., Annalisa Pešek, Tom Batten, Sean Murphy, and Kim Dietch. Seated, l.-r., Kelly Sue DeConnick and Gary Groth

"I wasn’t so much trying to sell reincarnation as create a platform for a string of related, entertaining stories," noted panelist Deitch. On process, the oft-described “writer who draws,” said that “When I’m writing I’m also sketching, and by the time I’m done writing I also have a huge pile of artwork…they both absolutely happen at the same time.”

Conversely, process for Eisner-nominated writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Aquaman. Vol. 1: Unspoken Water, Aug. 2019), representing DC Comics, includes a ton of collaboration; Aquaman was cocreated with artist Robson Rocha and colorist Daniel Henriques. This ensures “there’s not a singularity of vision,” said DeConnick, citing a third channel as the authorial voice of her work that is “neither mine nor [that of] my collaborative partner.” Writer/artist Sean Murphy (Batman: White Knight. Vol. 1 [available now]; Vol: 2: Batman: Curse of the White Knight, Jul. 2019), also with DC, concurred. “As you pass the ball more, the book gets better and better.” Speaking to his own work, “doing it by myself it’s easier…the risk is that you don’t get checked as much…it’s good to have someone challenging you.” LJ Graphic Novels Columnist Tom Batten offered the reader/selector experience, “if you luck out you can get this amazing synthesis between the writer and artist where it’s something much greater than it could have ever been before,” but also “it’s a great joy to commune with an interesting, exciting mind, with an unencumbered vision.”

Shifting from process to characters, both established and original creations, each panelist expressed a slightly different approach. DeConnick first identifies where a superhero’s pain might come from to move her story forward, while Murphy draws from a Ten Commandments–like checklist for his characters then digs through decades of storytelling continuity to find something that hasn’t been done. Deitch consistently incorporates recurring figures, along with himself, his wife, and other family members into his stories, basing much of his work on real and imagined experiences. Batten explained that some fans might feel protective of their established heroes, a point well taken when the works by DeConnick and Murphy offer new visions of their iconic characters. “When I’m writing reviews of these books it’d be impossible not mentioning that this [story] might be taking things in a different direction. But if I’m recommending these books to someone, I don’t know that I bother to say any of that…. If it’s well done, they’ll figure it out,” said Batten.

Fantagraphics is indeed more author- than character-oriented, pointed out Groth in closing. “Ninety-five percent or more of the books we publish are written and drawn by one person…. So we gravitate toward cartoonists like Kim who write and draw because the best cartoonists are writers who draw and drawers who write, and they think a certain way and their drawing reflects that thinking…. There’s something about the way they perceive the world or interpret the world that has to be one vision.”

Photos by William Neumann

Author Image
Annalisa Pešek

Annalisa Pešek ( is Assistant Managing Editor, LJ Reviews
[photograph by John Sarsgard]

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