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Advance Review: Banned Book Club

Banned Book Club

Banned Book Club is an inspiring and educational piece of graphic non-fiction from writers Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada with manhwa-influenced visuals from artists Ko Hyung-Ju. It tells the story of the 1983 student protests about South Korea’s authoritarian Fifth Republic from the perspective of Hyun Sook herself, who begins as a young, timid girl that just wants to study English literature, and ends up joining the revolution via extracurricular activities. (I will be using Kim Hyun Sook for the character and Hyun Sook for the creator.)

However, between dodging cops, dealing with her friends being arrested, and sexual harassment from her once respected literature professor, Kim Hyun Sook finds self-actualization and also learns a little bit how the world works. I mean why would a regime ban books with fascist enemies if deep down, they didn’t see a little of themselves in these books. Banned Book Club is also a strong narrative argument for the power of literature, including fiction and nonfiction, to effect change and use things like imagery and metaphor to expose the truth about the world. In that case, maybe this comic is just a tiny bit metafictional.

Hyun Sook, Estrada, and Ko Hyung-Ju do an excellent job harmonizing the words and visuals in Banned Book Club to create a certain feel on different pages or get a point across. For example, there’s a flurry of word balloons when the members of the book club get in an argument when one of their members are jailed. On the other hand, they drop out the dialogue for more tense, action-driven scenes like when Hyun Sook takes multiple buses to deliver a package from the club to one at another university as part of her “public relations” duties.

Panel Mania: Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju, and ...

This variety in storytelling keeps Banned Book Club interesting, and I love how Hyung-Ju’s characters wear their emotions on their sleeves. He also uses shadow and differences in line thickness to show when they’re afraid, embarrassed, or more relaxed. The relaxed emotion doesn’t pop up that much in the story, but it’s on full display during the club’s 2016 class reunion when they band together to protest another authoritarian South Korean president. This epilogue adds perspective to the events of the previous chapter and also is just a damn good testimonial to the power of protest. I mean, imagine if Americans went out and protested Trump every weekend of his impeachment hearings…

Hyun Sook, Estrada, and Hyung-Ju aren’t afraid to whip up a little controversy in Banned Book Club with the club member Jihoo reading the writings of North Korea’s authoritarian dictator Kim Il-Sung under the guise of a book of love poems. (Of course, he’s the one club member who actually gets arrested.) Jihoo gets some gentle ribbing from his friends for reading “government propaganda”, but it’s a testimonial to their dedication to freedom of speech and the press that he doesn’t get censured.

The pages where he reads Kim Il-Sung’s overwrought, loaded writing shows that the freedom to read extends to books that one doesn’t agree with. But it’s also connected to the freedom to critique books. I have to give kudos to Hyun Sook, Estrada, and Hyung-Ju for using this consequence-infused scene to add ambiguity to the club’s activities. They weren’t just reading Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Noam Chomsky and trying to save South Korea; they were also reading North Korean propaganda to compare it to the techniques their government were using. It’s an example of the book club just wanting to have freedom of inquiry at university instead of being stuck reading, thinking, and publishing (In the case of the school newspaper.) what the government approves.

Banned Book Club has its fair share of dark and tragic material like any time a member of the club is hauled in for questioning by the government. Hyung-Ju use thick cross hatching to show the pain and stress the club members are under, which is contrasted with Hyun Sook and Estrada’s dialogue for the guard, who talks about catching “bad guys” to his son on the phone. It’s the banality of evil in action showing that authoritarianism is propagated by its yes people.

Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada, and Ko Hyung-Ju turn in the next great historical non-fiction comic in Banned Book Club as they portray a pivotal time in South Korean history from a ground-level point of view. They also explore the relationship between politics and art through three-dimensional characters with even Hyun Sook’s father getting a spotlight when he tells the backstory of why he decided to start a steak restaurant and letting his daughter know that it’s okay to have dreams that aren’t in line with societal norms. Finally, Banned Book Club is a wonderful showcase for the connection between the visual and verbal, which is what the comics medium does best.

Story: Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada Art: Ko Hyung-Ju
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.2 Overall: 9.1 Recommendation: Buy

Banned Book Club is out May 19, 2020, Preorder: AmazonBookshop
Iron Circus Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Preview: Banned Book Club

Banned Book Club

WRITERS: Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada
GENRE: YA / Memoir
SRP: $15
PUB DATE: May 19, 2020
ISBN #:  9781945820427
PUBLISHER: Iron Circus Comics

When Kim Hyun Sook started college in 1983 she was ready for her world to open up. After acing her exams and sort-of convincing her traditional mother that it was a good idea for a woman to go to college, she looked forward to soaking up the ideas of Western Literature far from the drudgery she was promised at her family’s restaurant. But literature class would prove to be just the start of a massive turning point, still focused on reading but with life-or-death stakes she never could have imagined.

This was during South Korea’s Fifth Republic, a military regime that entrenched its power through censorship, torture, and the murder of protestors. In this charged political climate, with Molotov cocktails flying and fellow students disappearing for hours and returning with bruises, Hyun Sook sought refuge in the comfort of books. When the handsome young editor of the school newspaper invited her to his reading group, she expected to pop into the cafeteria to talk about Moby Dick, Hamlet, and The Scarlet Letter. Instead she found herself hiding in a basement as the youngest member of an underground banned book club. And as Hyun Sook soon discovered, in a totalitarian regime, the delights of discovering great works of illicit literature are quickly overshadowed by fear and violence as the walls close in.

In BANNED BOOK CLUB, Hyun Sook shares a dramatic true story of political division, fear-mongering, anti-intellectualism, the death of democratic institutions, and the relentless rebellion of reading.

Banned Book Club

Iron Circus Kickstarts Webcomic Lackadaisy into an Original Animated Short

Iron Circus Comics Publisher Spike Trotman, cartoonist Tracy Butler, and director Fable Siegel are partnering for an ambitious multimedia crowdfunding campaign to adapt Butler’s webcomic phenomenon Lackadaisy into an original animated short, along with a new collection of art and never before published mini-comics, The Lackadaisy Essentials.

The 32-day campaign is the first ever multimedia undertaking for Iron Circus Comics. The trailblazing comics publisher that has funded more
than 20 graphic novels and raised close to $1.5 million in funding on Kickstarter.

Set in St. Louis, Missouri during the days of Prohibition, Tracy Butler’s Eisner Award-nominated webcomic Lackadaisy features the Lackadaisy, a speakeasy tucked away in a cave beneath the Little Daisy Cafe, where flashing the club symbol from a deck of cards grants every cat in-the-know access to more moonshine than they could ever drink. The joint’s packed full of tough dames, crooked cops, rum-runners, and wide-eyed ingenues. And they are, literally, all cool cats. The jazzy, sepia-toned crime story features action and adventure, comedy and crime, and a colorful cast of cats, including the Lackadaisy proprietors Atlas and Mitzi May, rumrunner Rocky Rickaby, and the sharp-tongued heiress to the quickly-dwindling Lackadaisy fortune, Ivy Pepper.

As the creator of the comic, Tracy will play a role as co-director on the animated short, overseeing art direction. Voice actors include:

  • Michael Kovach  (@kovox) as Rocky Rickaby! 
  •  Belsheber Rusape (@BelRusapeVO) as Calvin “Freckle” McMurray! 
  •  Lisa Reimold (@lisareimold)  as Ivy Pepper! 
  •  Ashe Wagner (@TheQueenViking)  as Mitzi May! 
  • and SungWon Cho (@ProZD) as Mordecai Heller! 

Pledges for Lackadaisy range from The Lackadaisy Essentials eBook to The Complete Lackadaisy Goodie Bag (featuring the Lackadaisy Essentials art book, volumes one and two of the Lackadaisy comic collections in ebook form, a digital wallpaper set, the completed film as an HD digital download, and a download of the soundtrack and storyboards). Lackadaisy even includes a pledge level to receive an Associate Producer credit on the Lackadaisy Animated Short.

If funded through Kickstarter, pledges will be delivered to backers this fall. Lackadaisy is live as of March 16, 2020 and runs for 32 days.

Around the Tubes

The weekend is almost here! We’re still recovering from AwesomeCon (literally, stupid con crud). Some of the team will be at C2E2 (which we’ll have coverage) and of course we’ll be having some geeky fun! What are your plans? Sound off in the comments below! While you decide on that, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web.

Chicago Tribune – Iron Circus Comics brings diversity to the comic book market – And you should check it out!

Kotaku – Report: Stan Lee’s Stolen Blood Was Used to Sign Marvel Comics Sold in Las Vegas – As if things couldn’t get any weirder.

Broadway World – Nanits Universe Launches New Digital Comic Book Platform – Ok…

Newsarama – Black Panther to be First Movie Shown in Saudi Arabia in 35 Years – This is pretty cool.

The Comichron – How Action #1000’s reported 500k copies, DC Nation #0’s million might rank among century’s top comics – For those that enjoy the horse race.



CBR – Venomized #1

The Comics Are All Right: Iron Circus Shows Alternative Paths are Winners

One reason I generally dismiss a lot of takes on the “state of the comic industry” is their focus on the big two, traditional distribution, and traditional retail. I’ve written before that the comic industry is so much more than Marvel and DC, Diamond, and local comic book shops. Many creators are paving their own path by creating new revenue and distribution models that break the mold and can find success.

One example of this is C. Spike Trotman and Iron Circus Comics who has carved their own niche in the industry and doing things in a way that works for their product, fans, and building a community.

Founded in 2007, Iron Circus Comics is Chicago’s largest alternative comics publisher. The publisher is dedicated to strange and amazing comics, amplifying unheard and unique voices, and giving creators a fair deal. ICC pioneered the widely-used bonus model that has reshaped the compensation system of small press, and helped jump-start the current renaissance of alt-comics anthologies. ICC is an example of a publisher incorporating crowdfunding into its business model, netting over $1,000,000 on Kickstarter to date for its slate of new work from emerging talent in the comics field.

Yes, you read that right, Iron Circus Comics has netted over $1 million on Kickstarter but also hasn’t ignored traditional brick and mortar stores either. ICC is distributed to the trade by Consortium and you’ll find physical comics in local shops and through conventions.

Trotman has founded a publishing empire focused on inclusive, diverse, sex-positive books, an audience and genre overlooked and under served by publishers. And that’s not to mention doing so in an environment filled with hostility and harassment by regressive trolls. There was a space and Trotman has filled it to the tune of seven figures and counting. Titles have “netted five-figure unit sales before major trade distribution” and you can find Iron Circus at conventions, look for the mobbed table (that’s my experience at SPX).

But when “experts” talk about the comic industry, they’re excluding Trotman and this new model to their dismay. Yes, some comics are hurting, but others are booming and this is an example of that. And example other publishers and creators should be learning from. The industry has been in the middle of a disruption that has been occurring for years in other industries, and those disruptions create new entrepreneurs to stand out and fill a needed space.

So, when other sites and individuals talk about the failing comic industry, step back and wonder if they really are talking about all comics or an ever shrinking outdated genre and business model.

Around the Tubes

It’s new comic book day! What’s everyone excited for? What do you plan on getting? Sound off in the comments below! While you await for your comic stores to open, here’s some comic news from around the web.

Newsarama – Venom Begins Production – Cool?

The Beat – Spike Trotman’s Iron Circus Comics has raised $1 million on Kickstarter..and to celebrate they’re having a sale – Awesome! Congrats to Spike and crew!

Image Comics Announces Creators for Creators

Creators for CreatorsAt Image ComicsImage Expo it wasn’t just new products that were announced, they also announced a new non-profit, Creators for Creators. The goal of the organization is to “encourage, support, and promote original works through grants and education.”

The program will be a combination of financial backing and mentorship. The plan is to give $30,000 to a single cartoonist or a wrister/artist duo to support their creation of original work of between sixty-four and one hundred pages over a single year. A committee will decide the recipient.

The mentorship mentioned will be beyond creation and will cover all aspects of the comic-creating experience to help create a firm foundation when it comes to the creative, business, legal, and financial aspects of the business.

Recipients will retain rights to their works and will not just be supported by Image, but also Iron Circus Comics. The long term goal is to also make the website a resource to educate creators.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old and you have until May 1, 2016 to apply. You can learn more here.

The Creators for Creators grant was founded by Charlie Adlard, Jordie Bellaire, David Brothers, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Nick Dragotta, Leila del Duca, Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen, Jonathan Hickman, Joe Keatinge, Robert Kirkman, Jamie McKelvie, Rick Remender, Declan Shalvey, Fiona Staples, Eric Stephenson, C. Spike Trotman, and Brian K. Vaughan.

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