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Tara Woodall
If Tara's son were tasked with writing this bio, he would simply say that Tara is nice, that she loves cats, and that she reads a lot. Tara's son thankfully does not notice that she spends too much money on comics, listens to too many podcasts, and runs too many miles in the name of fitness.

Tourist in Comicbooklandia 3: Beginnings

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I’ve been thinking about the trouble with writing beginnings. Crafting the exposition for a story has to be the most challenging feat that a writer must accomplish. All of your writerly might must be funneled into creating a beginning so compelling that the audience wants more. Considering the minimal amount of space a creator has in an comic book issue, I know that it takes a true team of craftsmen and craftswomen to make me want more.

October has been rich in new series. I’ve been giving a few new titles a shot. Here are my thoughts on three from different genres. All started this month.

Jughead #1 by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson

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Zdarsky and Henderson are lucky in certain respects. They have a beloved character and universe with which to play. Because I’m sure they expect that their readers have a passing understanding of the Archie universe, they jump right into conflict: Mr. Weatherbee is forced into retirement and the new principal makes some changes that bother Jughead Jones so much that he faints. During this fainting spell, we get to see his mind deal with the conflict as if it were Game of Thrones. It doesn’t get better than that. Except it actually does! At a point in the story, Chuck proclaims, “It was a ballet of ground beef.”

Jughead is a fun character to place in the protagonist position. I am very excited to read subsequent issues because of what I have already seen as Jughead’s penchant for fun dialogue.

Saints #1 by Sean Lewis and Benjamin Mackey

Saints_01-1In the middle of Saints, I thought that I wouldn’t be back for issue 2. By the end, I was tentatively excited for what might come next. How did that happen?

Even though I loved the minimalist art by Mackey, I didn’t really like the primary characters, the Saints, for the bulk of this first issue. They were obviously incompletely rendered, but the pieces that I did see didn’t ping my empathy. I just didn’t like them. Furthermore, I felt that the writers were trying to create mystery to motivate me to continue on by holding back information, but too much mystery can confuse and alienate–especially if I don’t have a reason to care about the characters. I was ready to give up on the comic, but the end gave me pause. The character introduced at the end, the angel Michael, made me think that I might enjoy reading more about him because he is set up to cause our heroes some serious problems. Interesting villains are a must, but without intriguing protagonists, I’m not sure how much longer I can last. I might be back for Issue 2, but if the writers don’t make me care about the three titular saints, I don’t see myself continuing.

Codename Baboushka: The Conclave of Death #1 by Antony Johnson, Shari Chankhamma, and Simon Bowland

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This particular issue checked off a lot of boxes for what I like in an opening story. We start in media res during an spy operation. We are not sure of who is narrating the panels until the reveal. There is a very bad dude, some arrogance, a slick move engendering an assassination. The narrator is revealed. Action ensues; we are unsure if our hero/narrator will survive when we are hit with flashback which goes back three weeks prior to explain the motivation for the opening moves of this story. The writers play well with transitions into and out of the flashback. The action continues. Spy gadgets appear. There seems to be a set up for an arc and a cliffhanger to come back to. I’m definitely on board for the next issue. The art has a lighthearted tone (despite the spy storyline) that I appreciate. Sometimes I want a fun little spy story; this delivers so far.

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Concluding Thoughts on Beginnings

Whenever I struggle through an opening issue, I think about a few things: the opening four or five pages of The Great Gatsby, the stress I feel when having to write an opening to anything I write, and the problems with television pilots. Sometimes a story takes a while to get really, really good. One cannot determine how well an arc will be based on one issue alone.

Tourist in Comicbooklandia 2: Backmatter Matters

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No Mercy coverI used to be an English teacher. In fact the change in my work identify has been so recent that I had a very difficult time typing that very simple declaration. Having worked in education for fifteen years, I have made tons of friends in a variety of professional contexts. My circle of friends is mostly comprised of readerly types who can eloquently persuade me to pick up a book. One such friend posted a picture on her Instagram about Issue 2 of No Mercy by Alex De Campi, Carla Speed McNiel, and Jenn Manley Lee. She mentioned the creators, telling them that she couldn’t wait for the next installment.

That was all it took. I went to the comic book store and picked up issues 1 and 2. The women behind this book know what they are doing with the story: diverse group of teenagers in a foreign land leaving us with cliffhangers. They also know what they are doing with the backmatter, the extra stuff that single issue buyers get in the back of the comic.

In addition to the standard note to the reader and letters from readers, No Mercy runs an emoji recap contest.

I repeat: an emoji recap contest.

Brilliant, right?!

nunIt is obvious that everyone can appreciate emoji recaps of comic books, but it seems odd to enjoy letters to the creators in the back of comic books given the easy access I have to various forums out there filled with readers discussing comics. Just because I can easily navigate to a forum does not mean that I can easily devote time to reading all the content. I love that the internet offers opportunities for all to be heard. However, when I don’t have time, I do enjoy reading a curated list of letters to the creators. Often the creators answer questions posed in the letters. I love this reminder that there is a community of people out there who love comic books enough to write and send letters.

This backmatter does not make it into trade paperbacks. The only way to get the content is to purchase single issues. Fantastic backmatter means I am more likely to purchase single issues. My favorite backmatter generally involves essays. Two books on my pull list provide both amazing letter sections and essay content: The Fade Out and Bitch Planet.


The Fade Out from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is perfect reading for a girl like me: a girl who likes watching Turner Classic Movies, a girl who named her son after a titan of hardboiled detective fiction, a girl who loves voiceovers in movies. I read the first four issues of this one in trade paperback, but starting pulling immediately thereafter. I discovered in Issue 5 the best letters and essays. The writers invite the readers to send in answers to questions such as “Who is your favorite actor from the 1940s. The responses from the readers have helped me create a list of movies from the 1940s to watch in the future. The backmatter essays are about actors from the 1940s. We’ve already established that I love Turner Classic Movies. These essays are sort of like when Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz provide background on the movie that is about to be shown on TCM.


Bitch Planet from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro also have essay content in addition to the letters. Since Bitch Planet is a “women-in-prison sci-fi exploitation riff,” the amazing essays are on feminism and feminist issues. The letters often feature readers expressing gratitude that a story of non-compliant women is being told. There are not many spaces where I get to see feminism have a space to breathe. Feminism is often discussed online, but when everyone gets to comment, it becomes a battle. This is not a battle space; it is a safe space.

maxresdefaultI would be amiss to neglect the backmatter in from the new Archie series by Mark Waid.

The new Archie comic is amazing. It is charming and up-to-date. I honestly am surprised by how much I like it. It feels like a fresh story about teenagers. The backmatter called “An Introduction to Classic Archie” is written by Mark Waid. After each issue he present an old Archie story from the 1940s. The juxtaposition of 2015 Archie with early 1940s Archie is fun for readers who value all things vintage. I appreciate Waid’s commentary to help guide my reading of the classic story that follows. And the classic story brings treats in the form of hilarious fashion and slang.

Comic books with backmatter are a treat. A reader gets a serialized story, fantastic art, interesting essays, a reminder of community, and the occasional fun contest. If you are lucky, emoji are involved.

Tourist in Comicbooklandia: My Origin Story

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I suppose if I really thought about it, my first foray into comic books all started back when Tori Amos sung “Me and Neil will be hanging out with the Dream King” in her song “Tear in Your Hand” from Little Earthquakes.  Despite the lack of ready access to the Internet (Oh!  I miss the 90s!), I somehow learned that Neil was Neil Gaiman and the Dream King was The Sandman.  I must have read an article in Entertainment Weekly or Rolling Stone.  

Somehow I tracked down all ten volumes of The Sandman for reading.  I remember really enjoying the entire experience even though I was initially thrown by the changes in artists through all the issues.

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Sandman by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

And then I just stopped.Read more

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