Friday, 3 October 2014

Introducing Jennifer DePrey

Or introducing a new writer at Atoll Comics

I've come to realize that one of the biggest limitations of Atoll Comics is me. I mean, I think I'm doing an okay job and have finally found a mode of talking about comics that isn't terrible. But, I'm only me! I only read so many comics and only certain kinds of comics, I only have so much time to write, and I'm writing from the perspective of the default audience. I would love to learn more about comics I don't read, especially European, Manga, and Literary comics, and I'm always interested in the views of readers with perspectives outside the mainstream. And it occurred to me that I could fix the narrowness of Atoll Comics and increase the amount of interesting criticism on the internet by inviting other authors to write on this blog.

And it also occurred to me that I already know some articulate, cool comics people.

Jennifer DePrey is one of those people. I met her through a chain of friends as a savvy geek girl  and then was inundated with a deluge of photos of her at comic conventions posing with favourite authors. Here was a comic fan who didn't just read comics but actually participates in the broader geek culture in a way that reflects a deep passion for her media and for the broader community. Jenn cosplays, she attends cons, and participates in the comics community of the Carol Corps which are all aspects of comics I find really interesting but have no experience with. Jenn reads a lot of my favourite comics and within the teeny confines of a tweet articulates thoughts that I'd love to see expanded in longer form writing. She is also a female reader and someone who professionally works with youths who are the future of comics, and so I think she may have a valuable and interesting perspective on the geek media we all love.

So, welcome Jenn!

Comics and stories matter to me. I’m not an author or an artist, but I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life, devouring stacks of books from a young age. Comics have always been part of that stack—there’s something particularly special about a story that is just as much art as it is words. Professionally, I’m a school counselor and a life-long member of the mental health and education communities, which I think may contribute to the high value I place on stories.

I think stories that stay with us say something important about who we are. I could go on for hours about the ones that are most important to me, and the characters that have wormed their ways into my heart. As kid, teenager, and now a young adult, I think my heroes tell can you something about how I want to live; I know that I’ll never be Princess Leia, for instance, but I certainly still want to care as deeply, and lead from the front lines of every cause. I’m fascinated by worlds that aren’t ideal, that have super villains or evil empires or unjust war; when these worlds are fiction, I find I have more freedom to explore our own world, all of it’s good and bad and ugly parts, as well as the role I play in it.

I think the stories we want to share can say even more; these stories say something about not just who we are, but how we want the world to look, the things we want to experience and understand with the people around us, and the kind of communities we want to build. For a long time, I only had a handful of friends who liked comic books; in the last couple of years percentage of my social circle reading comics has expanded in a huge way. I like comics better when I’m part of a group or conversation. I also work with teenagers everyday, and more and more I catch myself thinking about the kind of stories I want my students to hear, explore, and hold on to. Maybe it’s because I find strength in my own personal favorite stories, and I want them to have that too, but I’m interested in stories I want to pass on. 

The love I have for sharing comics, specifically, fuels a lot of my free time:  I go to conventions (Geek Girl Con in October will be the 3rd one this year for me!), see almost all of fantastic comic book movies hitting theatres, wear superhero-themed clothes and/or jewelry (even at work), and talk about comics on twitter and tumblr around everything else. Reading is solitary, but the community around comics is anything but—it’s about ongoing conversations with others who are just as passionate about the material as I am.

Writing about comics for an audience is new to me. For so long, reading comics has been a hobby that’s just been a part of my life. But these stories matter to me. The medium of comics allows stories to be told in ways that straight prose can’t accomplish, and they have a big space in my heart. I want to challenge myself to think critically about the comics I am reading, about the stories and characters as well as what those stories and characters reflect about the world we all share. I want to contribute more thoughtfully to this discussion; to refine and develop my own clear voice, and invite the perspectives of others to challenge me in return. I’ve grown up with comics, and I want the to continue to help me grow.


Every once in a while I realize my pull list has gotten out of control. Frankly, it’s a good thing I’m not addicted to any other sort of high-expense hobby, because being a comic book fan is expensive enough. Sometime last year I did the math and figured out that my monthly comic habit came out to about the same as buying a $3-4 drink at Starbucks everyday. Instead of cutting down the list of books on my pull, I just started hitting the coffee stands up less frequently in the morning—I could be buying a comic book instead of that drink.

But things edged up again recently, and I sat down to reevaluate my list. I went in with a few rules: I had to care about the book, I had to look forward to reading it every month, and I should keep my total list under twenty books.

So here it is: these are the stories I keep up with, in monthly singles or in trades. These stories matter to me. They make me smile, or laugh, or cry, or think—sometimes all of those at once, in a concise 20-30 pages. Undoubtedly, as time goes on, I’ll be sharing more with you about who I am though the lens of the stories I value. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to put into words why each one of them matters to me, and what about them I want to share with everyone around me.

On the monthly pull list:

Captain Marvel (Marvel Comics: Kelly Sue DeConnick, David Lopez, Lee Loughridge)
Carol Danvers has taken to space in this book, spreading the Captain Marvel goodness across the galaxy as she adventures and kicks butt. I always describe this book as the book I wish someone could have given me when I was a teenager— staring a really strong and impressive hero who is aware of and trying to overcome her flaws and her insecurities.

Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics: G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Jake Wyatt)
Kamala Khan is a 16-yr-old Pakistani-American girl who is struggling to fit in, find her purpose, and figure out who she is—while she deals with some recently acquired super powers and a new secret identity. While Captain Marvel is the book I want for my teenaged self, Kamala’s story is the one that I see as super relevant to my students now.

Hawkeye (Marvel Comics: Matt Fraction, David Aja, Annie Wu, Matt Hollingsworth)
This book about what Hawkeye (Clint Barton) is doing when he’s not being an Avenger—including adopting a dog, helping out his neighbors, and confronting the tracksuit mafia in his neighborhood with the help of Hawkeye (Kate Bishop). It’s consistently funny, thoughtful, and beautiful.  I’m heartbroken this run is only a few months away from it’s finale.

Secret Avengers (Marvel Comics: Ales Kot, Michael Walsh, Matt Wilson)
A secret team of avengers takes on a variety of very secret missions. This book is full of great character moments, and is just the right mix of action and comedy.

Black Widow (Marvel Comics: Nathan Edmondson, Phil Noto)
Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, accepts a lot of solo work she views as repentance for her past actions.  This is everything I want from a solo hero title—big action missions, quite moments of character exploration, and consistently stunning art.

Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Comics: Brian Michael Bendis, multiple artists)
This book is on my list purely because it’s a fun read. I’m really enjoying getting to spend a little time with the Guardians team every month (and the guest spots by Angela and by Carol Danvers have not hurt).

Nova (Marvel Comics: Gerry Duggan, David Baldeon)
Sam Alexander discovers that dad was a Nova, member of an intergalactic police force of sorts. In this book, Sam is taking up the mantle, trying to figure out what happened to his missing dad, and doing his best to balance all that with the concerns of being a 15yr old kid in a southwest town.

Avengers (Marvel Comics: Jonathan Hickman, Leinill Francis Yu)
The biggest team book I read right now, this book is the ongoing adventures of the Avengers, a team that keeps expanding in size and in responsibilities.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse (DC/Vertigo: Mike Carrey, Peter Gross)
Stories are given a huge amount of power in the world of the unwritten—a world that is now starting to come apart at the seams, with stories spilling into reality and mixing to a point it’s hard to tell where “real” ends and story begins. Rich with literary references and call backs, this is an ideal comic for someone who has read widely and regularly considers what impact fiction has on the world.

Fables (DC/Vertigo: Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham)
The longest running title on my list, Fables is the story of fairy tale characters living in the mundane world. Many of my favorite versions of fictional characters come from the pages of this book.

Fairest (DC/Vertigo: current arc is Mark Buckingham, Russ Braun)
This spin off of fables focuses in on some of the impressive ladies of the Fables world and their adventures. From Sleeping Beauty and an Ice Queen battling it out to Cinderella’s continued adventures as Fabletown’s best spy, this book is consistently fun.

Star Wars (Dark Horse Comics: Brian Wood,  Carlos D’Anda)
This ongoing title follows Han, Luke, and Leia as the Rebellion works to set up a new Rebel base and continue making progress in their fight against the Empire.

Star Was: Legacy (Dark Horse Comics: Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Gecko)
Set many generations after the original Star Wars trilogy, this book follows the story of Ania Solo, who is working a junk heap on a backwater planet when the series opens. The discovery of a Jedi lightsaber and an imperial droid catapults her into a world of Knights, bounty hunters, and galactic government.

Lazarus (Image Comics: Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, Santiago Arcas)

Saga (Image Comics: Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples)
This space opera-style book follows the story of Alana and Marko, soldiers from different sides of a war who feel in love, had a child, and are dealing with the fall out of their marriage. My words cannot do this book justice; I think it’s absolutely the best  comic book being published right now.

Books I’m reading in trades:

Sex Criminals (Image Comics: Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky)
This funny and sweet book is both a ridiculously fun sex comedy and a remarkably sex-positive exploration of human sexuality and relationships.

She-Hulk (Charles Soule, Javier Pulido)
I nabbed a free #1 of this series and really enjoyed the art and playful story. It never made it to my pull list, but I’m eagerly awaiting the first trade to devour.

Pretty Deadly (Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios)
Beautiful, ethereal art and a story unlike anything else I’ve read in comics, this western style tale of death and destiny is a perfect read for a sunny afternoon.

Rat Queens (Kurtis Wiebe, Roc Upchurch)
This fantasy comics series reads like a Dungeons and Dragons session between foul-mouthed friends.

Changes I made to my list this time around:

I dropped all of my Star Trek titles from IDW. I found myself getting weeks behind and not caring to catch up, which is a bad indicator. Although I enjoyed the stories, they weren’t anything special or new, just fairly predictable ways to pass some time. Avengers is also on the potential cut list, but I’m going to hold onto it a few more months and see how I feel then. I’m hopeful that my current ambivalence to the title is related to the fact I’m not following the Original Sin event as closely as I followed say, the Infinity event last year. Avengers continues to have some moments I really enjoy, so I’m hesitant to cut it out just yet.

I’m planning to read Pretty Deadly in trades from here on out. I shared with a friend that I was struggling to connect with the book issue-to-issue, and she suggested that she reads it with the same part of her brain that reads poetry. Once the first arc was out, I sad down with a glass of wine and read all five issues back to back; I enjoyed the story so much more when I approached it this way.

A large number of my books are ending soon: Hawkeye, Fables, Fairest, and both of my Star Wars titles only have a handful of issues left. Whether or not Star Wars titles from Marvel will interest me as much as those from Dark Horse has yet to be seen.

I plan to add Thor, Bitch Planet, Spider-Woman, Angela: Assassin of Asgard and Ody-C to my list in the coming months as well. I’ll determine whether they’re monthly books for me, something I want to read in trades, or books I will pass on completely after the first few issues, but I’m excited about each of these books and can’t wait to give them a read.

With all these changes, my overall list should settle at between 15 and 20 books…manageable, affordable, and completely composed of books I’ll make time for during the busy part of my year.

Post by Jennifer DePrey

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