What makes comics unique? That question has fueled Hass Otsmane-Elhaou for many years. If you haven’t been following Hass’s work over at Strip Panel Naked, then you’ve been missing out on arguably the premier analysis of the comics medium. Formerly of the now defunct Comics Alliance, Hass has long championed the need for a more reflective brand of comics journalism. Sites have too often focused on the fandom side of the industry over the art-form itself, how it came about, and what it means. Indeed, a fatal gap in comics journalism has been the failure to engage with creators on the process of making comics beyond a surface level discussion. Hass’ latest editorial and journalistic endeavour is a digital magazine that aims to fulfill the need. Panel x Panel provides a refreshing break from the current trend in comics journalism by promising an in-depth take on what makes the medium unique and what drives the creators that make it possible.
Panel x Panel, like many great literary magazines, splits its attention between featured and regular sections. However, whereas others have a multitude of features offering insights into different works, it opts instead to examine a single book. For this inaugural edition, we are invited to discuss Beautiful Canvas #1 (in-stores June 28th) by Ryan Lindsay and Sami Kivela with colours by Tríona Farrell and letters by Ryan Ferrier. In this way, both author and reader have a common frame of reference. Our first substantive piece is an interview with the books co-creators as they walk us through their partnership which has endured over four projects. Its a fascinating look into their creative process and how they conceive the structure of a comics. Everything from panel composition to the utility of dramatic devices and purpose of genre is given space. Lindsay and Kivela revel in the chance to welcoming the reader into their workshop and pulling back the curtain without spoiling the magic. This opening interview ends with what is promised to be a re-occurring question of the Inside the Actors Studio variety. “Why does this story need to be told in comics?” That question is one we all should ask when picking up our weekly pull-list and oddly, its one that some creators struggle to come to terms with. Their answer is as instructive as it is enlightening.
Panel x Panel’s consideration of Beautiful Canvas is bolstered by articles focusing on shamefully neglected work of colourists, the role of the femme fatale in fiction and a breakdown of its hidden meaning in its visuals. These contributions by Tríona Farrell, Laura Fagan, Deniz Camp, and Hass himself all add to our appreciation of the base work. They are academic in the sense that they seek to thoroughly dissect these various elements of the comic and in doing so, understand it. To say they are academic is not to say that they are exclusionary. The language and reference used is welcoming for the lay observer. Panel x Panel merely asks that you meet it halfway and think critically about the media you consume.
The magazine’s regular items are a joy to peruse. For those who think that there is too much talk about comics and little of them, fear not. The issue features a short 14-page comic entitled Time is of the Essence by Romain Brun, Deniz Camp and Julien Brun. This heartbreaking tale examines the theme of love through a sci-fi lens and asks what lengths we are willing to go to experience it, even for a short amount of time. It is stunningly rendered. Each panel practically oozes with character, adding to the world these individual occupy. It is a fine example of why this medium excels and a fitting companion piece to this issue. It alone is worth the price of entry.
Panel x Panel is rounded off by a number of compelling articles. Comics Showcase sees creators, journalists, and others industry professionals give their recommendations of books to pick up. Its more than a mere reading list, each paragraph is an mini-essay on why a given book has effected them as it has. Its always inspiring to hearing passion people speak to what currently inspires them. Anyone in need of a break from the deluge of the Big Two owes themselves to add some of these titles. Craft Corner finally gives letterers their due and to prove why it can make or break a comic. Lettering is often a character in and of itself. It subliminally adds to the world the creative team is building. Few have managed to convey their importance than Aditya Bidikar in this issue. The two further interview sections, Five Question With… and Creator x Creator respectively, are utterly fascinating. The former emulates Inside the Actors Studio even more so than the featured interview allows Ibrahim Moustafa to gush about his comic influences. The latter is a truly unique relay format where one creator interviews another of their choice on a topic of their choice. The interviewee then morphs into the interviewer for the next issue and follows suit. The premiere installment sees Ollie Masters interview Rob Williams about the drafting and scripting processes. It is required reading for anyone even somewhat interested in writing their own comics.
At a glance, this may seem like magazine for creators by creators. However, it is anything but a private club. Panel x Panel is for anyone who is drawn to comics in more than a passive sense. It is for those who wish to understand the creative background that goes into making comics. Each article is bursting with information about why comics are so special and why they only continue to grow. Like the medium it champions, it welcomes its reader without ever talking down to them. Discussions which may have previous been the reserves of creators is now squarely open to the public. Panel x Panel is our answer to The Economist or the London Review of Books and it has been long overdue.
Panel x Panel launches on June 28th and is available for pre-order. An advanced review copy was kindly provided by the editor.