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Welcome to 
The Middle Spaces

(Infrequent)
Newsletter

This is the newsletter we send out whenever it feels right (but not too often) to let you know what's been going on with The Middle Spaces blog of comic, music, culture, and what is on the horizon. 

This is our first newsletter in nearly a year! We'll never spam you! Heck you probably don't even remember signing up for this!

IN THIS ISSUE

When I named this the (Infrequent) Newsletter, I didn't realize how infrequent it would really be, but it has been nearly a year since the last time I sent one out. . . and what a year it's been!
 
As I mentioned last spring, I moved from my home planet of Brooklyn to Pittsburgh, PA in June of 2019, and a lot of life before and after that time has been about that homeowner's dream of making the place your own, which meant a lot painting, building a game room in the basement for the ultimate RPG experience, and re-shelving what we jokingly call "the wine cellar," which is just a root cellar cold storage space where we keep household supplies and dry goods (something that has come in quite handy with the quarantines in place and our desire to stay home as much as possible). My wife and I also got a new dog, Winnie the ChiWeenie (Chihuahua/Dachshund mix). I had also been trawling some of the local comic shops and taking advantage of a very different back issue market in a much smaller city. I have probably gotten about 200 or more back issues since I've moved. Though obviously, like so many other of our common activities, comic-hunting (at least in person) is on pause.

As for The Middle Spaces, things are chugging along. While 2019 turned out to be a slow year in terms of traffic and total number of posts, there are plenty of good things on the horizon, which you can see in the announcements below and in the "Coming Soon" section (assuming La 'Rona doesn't put the kibosh on even more plans). However, I am trying to take advantage of my bursts of productivity amid my recurring general despair, including doing stuff like making unboxing videos when my pull-list books arrive (something that may not happen again for a while since Diamond announced its halt on distributing any comics and Marvel - as of this writing - is cutting back on a third of its titles in response to Corona-related disruptions). Nevertheless, if fewer new comics are coming in I will have more time to spend with my old comics and making more stuff to share on the site, Patreon, and here.

In the meantime, we also want to hear from you! This seems like the right time to reach out, reinforce our social networks, be patient with our professional networks, and be kind to everyone we meet. So if there's anything we can do, if you have questions, suggestions, complaints, just checkin' in, whatever, reach out by email or on Twitter! 
Announcements
 
Welcome Nicholas Miller! Our New Regular Writer!

In the 2019 Year-End Meta Post, I mentioned my desire to continue to expand The Middle Spaces by bringing on two to three regular writers and maybe an associate editor or two. Nick joining the team is the beginning of that process and his brilliant analysis of comics and other popular culture through the lens of transmedia studies, queer studies, Latinx studies, and more, will be a great addition to the site. As many of you probably know, Nick has been contributing to the site semi-regularly already, including participating in both of our roundtables, and writing two guest posts (one of which went up since the last newsletter went out). His first post in his role as staff writer was published near the end of March and he hopes to be contributing a new post four times a year (so we have three more in 2020 to look forward to). Nick is one of those rare examples of a person you meet in a professional context that becomes a real friend so I was so happy when he suggested coming on before I even got to ask him (like I was planning to).

Nicholas E. Miller (@uncannydazzler) is Assistant Professor of English at Valdosta State University, where he teaches American literature, gender and sexuality studies, and comics studies. His work has appeared in many journals and other venues, including his essay, “Asexuality and Its Discontents: Making the ‘Invisible Orientation’ Visible in Comics,” in Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society (2017) and “‘Now That It’s Just Us Girls’: Transmedial Feminisms from Archie to Riverdale,” in Feminist Media Histories (2018).

What's New on Patreon?

We started a Patreon for The Middle Spaces in September of 2018 and the support of readers has been an immense help in keeping the site ad free and paying guest writers. We also recently hit the goal that allowed us to provide our copy editor (who proofreads and gives feedback on every post) with some modest payment for his work (even though he originally volunteered, not compensating someone at all for their work doesn't feel right to me).

We appreciate any and all support (even if it doesn't take monetary form through patronage or donating through ko-fi), but have also recently tweaked some of the reward levels and created more patron-only content to help thank the people who have been kicking us bucks.

The "World's Finest" reward level ($5/month) wasn't rewarding folks enough. So, we extended the special offer we ran in September to be a permanent thing. Now, in addition to the No-Prize and sticker rewards, those giving at the World's Finest level will also be getting a comic chosen from my collection once a year, accompanied by some brief writing on it by me.

In addition, now all patreon supporters will be acknowledged on the "Our Supporters" page after 12 months of giving.

Furthermore, I have been working towards monthly patron-only video content. I am still learning the ropes of recording and editing, but The Middle Spaces has a You Tube channel (that includes a playlist of select songs that have been written about or referenced over the years), some of which is public content, but some of which is only accessible through our Patreon page.  Originally, the video content was only going to be available to Two-in-One supporters or higher, but since the content is not yet coming out as consistently as I'd like, I am leaving it accessible to all supporters for now.

So far I have made videos digging into short boxes from my collection like the ones labeled "Kirby & Kids" and "Odd Ducks" (the latter of which specifically looks at my collection of Assistant Editor's Month comics from 1983), and my next video is going to take look at my "F.F. & Beyond" box.

If you want a sense of what these videos are like and you are are not a Patreon supporter, you can check out the teaser version on the YouTube channel or check out the video I made for the 2019 Year-End Meta post below, which takes a peek at my custom comics closet.
A glimpse into my custom comics closet and the various short boxes and their labels. 
Since Last Time 
on The Middle Spaces
Since last May we've had quite a few posts, including more guest posts than we've had in that length of time. 
 
Currently on The Middle Spaces
A crushing riot of teenyboppers attacks Moon Knight backstage at a boy band concert (from Marvel Fanfare #38 (June 1988).  Creative team Jo Duffy (words), Judith Hunt (pencils), Bill Sienkiewicz (inks), Eric Lee (colors), and Jim Novak (letters).
On my very last visit to a used bookstore to trawl for back issues before La Rona arrived to lock us down and make even the most dedicated collector of comics hesitant to handle countless dusty comics in boxes or else risk a life-threatening illness, I grabbed a handful of random issues that looked interesting and that cost no more than two bucks each. Among that last stack was Marvel Fanfare #38, and when I got it home I realized that not only were both stories in it written by Jo Duffy (a Marvel mainstay writer of the 70s and 80s, who is probably best known for her wild run on Power Man & Iron First and co-creating the delightful and underrated Fallen Angels), but they were penciled by women as well (Judith Hunt drew the Moon Knight main story, and Colleen Doran drew the Dazzler/Rogue back-up).
 
I was fascinated by this 34-year old comic and the rarity of it having women together in those roles in a Big Two comic of that time. The stories within were also fascinating and in some ways reflected something about the dominant perspectives about women and girls and what they like. However, when I noticed the editorial comic strip by Al Milgrom on the inside cover, and its misguided TERF-y joke, I knew I had to write about the issue. So I did.
 

All-Female Fanfare:
Examining Marvel Fanfare #38

 
One of the concerns I have when writing something like this about women comic book writers and artists, is avoiding the suggestion that there is something inherently different about this writing or art because it is done by women. I don't want to be reductive. While our lived experiences and identities certainly shape how we see and act in the world and how we represent it, there is no one to one correlation. While some women writers and theorists like Virginia Woolf and Hélène Cixous have tried to identify and encourage what the latter termed écriture féminine, a kind of writing that adheres to the goal of how a "woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies" (1975), I must admit a too strict correlation between embodiment and gender as expressed through cultural production makes me nervous. While I agree that writing should work to transgress against the phallogocentric default of literature (something that Cixous thought men were also capable of), this perspective strikes me as too easily reduced to a biological essentialism that excludes rather than includes. As such, I think the kind of analysis I try to apply in this essay, walks the line between considering how the female identities of these creators contextualizes the work through the position of women in the field of comics production but not through some essential "woman-ness" that comes out in their work. In fact, I ended up cutting a paragraph from the essay specifically bringing in the work of Cixous and other French Feminist post-structuralists like Luce Irigaray because the essay was already overlong and to do this work justice I would have to have elaborated quite a bit more than I had room for. Nevertheless, I hope that this question of women's writing and art—one that has shaped feminist thought for a century—continues to find its way into discussions of comics.



Something else I cut from the essay for length was in the section where I mention that it is not my intention to "cancel" Al Milgrom for a 32-year old problematic joke strip. In an early draft, I discussed how I probably would not have done much better in terms of implicit attitudes towards women and ignorance about gender and trans* issues in 1988 or 1998, and how even in 2008 I was still pretty early in my efforts to inform myself and to be sensitive to those issues. Ultimately, this seemed irrelevant to my analysis, but I think it is important to give people room to learn and do better, including ourselves.

Anyway, the art included in the two stories is amazing and there was more of it than I felt I could reasonably include given both fair-use guidelines and just not making the post into a hard to follow mess of text wrapped around countless examples of panels. As such I decided to include some more examples here (including the panel above which is from "Whatever Happened to Podunk Slam?"
The image above (by Colleen Doran, Terry Austin, and Petra Scotese), from "Duet," is a fantastic representation of rocking out on a guitar and a reminder of how much I love the intersection of comics and music. In an essay about Dazzler I wrote for Sounding Out! some years ago, I explored how affect becomes the substitute for sound in depicting music performance.
Speaking of depicting performance, I liked this panel of Podunk Slam on stage from the perspective of the audience (same creative team as the top panel).
Finally, Colleen Doran included four pin-up images in the backmatter of the issue, and I thought it'd be cool to reproduce such obscure images here, since they involve fan favorites (or maybe just my favorites?), Longshot, Magik, Medusa, and Balder the Brave.
Dr. O's Recos!
SHELFDUST
 
In the past this was the space where I recommended podcasts, but I decided to expand that mandate and make this a space for recommending. . . well, just about anything I think our readers would be interested in. 

Shelfdust.com is a site that focuses its wide range of kinds and styles of analysis on single comic book issues. In the words of the site's proprietor, Steve Morris, "Comics should last longer. If you’re like me, you find that once you’ve read your comics you stick them on a shelf, forgotten and gathering dust for years. Here on Shelfdust our goal is to give a reason for people to pick up and re-read the comics they love!"

The wide range of approaches to this simple framework means there is something for everyone who loves comics on the site, so even if its occasional "silly recaps" aren't for you, then maybe its critical essays or "wandering annotations" might be. Shelfdust also has a wide range of people writing for it: Charlotte Finn writing about Astro CityClaire Napier on X-Men #1 (1991),  Samantha Puc on Bitch Planet, and Tiffany Babb on Franklin Richards, among many other writers writing about many different comics, including a roulette of Amazing Spider-Man issues chosen at random by Patreon supporters and written about by Steve Morris himself.

The site has also compiled two different "best of. . ." lists, which usually is not the kind of thing I like much, but rather than make specific arguments about why one issue is better than another, the list is compiled from the ranked lists of comics critics. In 2018, Shelfdust presented the Top 100 single issues, and in 2019, the Top 50 first issues. While Steve writes a brief bit about each issues, many of the individual issues are also written about from a range of perspectives by different writers (it was for one of these lists that I wrote about Omega the Unknown #1).

Along with the list of best first issues, in 2020 Shelfdust premiered Shelfdust Presents. . ., a podcast that is currently going through the entire list of fifty first issues with a short episode about each one, where host Matt Lune discusses the comic with a guest. (full disclosure: I was the guest for the episodes on Love and Rockets #1 and Gotham Central #1, though they won't be released until later next month and over the summer). Each episode is a delightful 15 to 20 minutes long (perfect length, if you ask me) and is an informal but cogent conversation about what makes that issue so great. Some great examples include David Brothers on The Question #1 and Samantha Puc on Monstress #1.

I strongly recommend taking some time to explore Shelfdust and to listen to a couple of episodes of their podcast, and if you like it I also want to encourage you to support it on Patreon! 
COMING SOON TO
THE MIDDLE SPACES
There is quite a bit coming down the pike at The Middle Spaces (assuming plans are not changed by the pandemic and its cascading social and professional consequences). Coming up soonest is  a guest post by Andrew Deman and Laura Grafton, entitled "Harley Quinn’s Sexuality: A Tale of Three Lusts," examining the titular character through the lens of a recent issue of her post-Rebirth series and considering the interaction of the character's three main relationships in shaping her identity: the Joker, Poison Ivy, and her framing for the gaze of a (male) audience. I am very much looking forward to it.

Soon after that will follow "WAUGH and On and On #5," which will look at the final arc in the first volume of Howard the Duck that was written by Steve Gerber. After that I'll move on to the Howard the Duck that followed, first written by Marv Wolfman and later Bill Mantlo. My hope is to find a complete set of the second volume of Howard the Duck (in magazine format) and to continue the series with that. So far I have found five of the nine issues that make up that truncated follow-up series.
 
Lastly, the next academic roundtable that I am co-editing with Leah Misemer, entitled "Reading Comics At The Threshold: A Roundtable On Letter Columns & Other Comics Paratexts" which was originally scheduled for April has been pushed back indefinitely. While we are hoping to have something to share by the summer, given the global pandemic, we have made all the deadlines into soft deadlines and will publish only when we have enough finished material to move forward (whenever that is). Or, failing that, we are waiting to decide if we need to go in a different direction with the material and scrap the roundtable. We'll see.
 
That's all for this installment! Thanks for reading and until next time I wish you all well!

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions don't hesitate to reach out via emailFacebook, or Twitter, and be sure to also check out bonus content on my Notes from Comics Collecting tumblr.

Kind regards,
Osvaldo Oyola
Editor, The Middle Spaces
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