LAAB And The Gigantic Potential Of Comics

by Hannah Means Shannon

Comics have been around long enough that it may sound strange to talk about untapped potential in the medium, and yet is commonplace among comic readers to reflect on the fact that the contents we find in comics format in shops and bookstores is still relatively limited in comparison to the comic market in countries like Japan and France where almost any kind of narrative or approach to topic is enshrined in the comics page.

And some of the ways in which comics have been used in the past, even in the USA, seem to have been forgotten as the industry has narrowed over the years. Then we have a publication like LAAB, a giant broadsheet experience that was first launched on Kickstarter by Ronald Wimblerly and Beehive Books, and is now available for direct order, and even wholesale through Beehive as of this week. And a publication like this takes the medium and seems to re-up that sense that comics can be much bigger than we think.

LAAB uses a comic and magazine format to bring us large-scale comics that sweep over the newsprinted page in bold colors and striking statements. It’s an experience that many comic readers have never had, simply to have one’s entire field of vision caught up by a comic narrative. Alongside the comics come illustrated essays and interviews that bring us into a much-needed discussion and remind us again of the importance of comics in introducing important conversations.

As Beehive described LAAB:

Presented as a massive 16×23” newspaper, LAAB #0: DARK MATTER uses a combination of comics, essays, interviews, illustrations, critiques and manifestos to explore how identity drives and is driven by culture, and how craft and aesthetic strategies are used as tools of oppression and liberation. This debut issue features contributions from a number of writers, artists anx hihas a special focus on representations of Blackness in speculative fiction, comics, and visions of the future.

As you can see from the images I’m going to walk you through below, LAAB is a reflection on comics, but also on color, race, representation, and the text and sub-text of the narratives that we create.

The cover itself makes quite a statement, as we see a group of people pushing down a statue of the iconic and culturally-consumed Mickey Mouse.

LAAB contains challenging essays that take on racism and the roots and enduring presence of racism in language and terminology. This alone would be interesting, but the essays and interviews gear toward an intersection with comics.

LAAB is a publication with a perspective and a purpose, as you can see from the presence of a hand-written Manifesto from Wimberly. The idea that LAAB is a “process, not a product” is something that really opens up the potential content of the magazine in future issues.  

But let’s look at the glorious comics content, too, with two small newspaper-smell-loving dogs for size comparison: 

These comics are a gigantic and impressive reading experience, and reminds readers of the tradition of comics published in broadsheet format as well as reminding of the link between comics, illustration, advertizing, and fine art prints.

As you’ll see below, we also have essays written in the personal voice, reflecting on the experience of creators and readers encountering problematic concepts in culture.

The link between comics and fine art is further cemented by an actual essay about a fine artist who has influenced pop culture greatly, Basquiat.

It’s pretty satisfying to encounter a breakdown of how news operates in newspapers in newspaper format, too. The essay below breaks down the way violence and racism are presented in the press with actual annotation of existing articles.

And, of course, more glorious comics.

LAAB lands with a revelatory first issue that’s striking, even at first glance, in its difference from what you may have encountered in comics or in magazines before. Not only does the size of the project feel like it’s opening its gates to readers, but the content does, too. LAAB is an interesting, aware, and important read that promotes conversation, right now, right here, about the limiting and oppressive things we have inherited via culture and pop culture, and an invitation to throw off those limitations.

LAAB issue #1 is currently available from Beehive Books.

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