Comic Studies Club Fawaz Qashat

The Comics Studies Club!

Written by Fawaz Qashat
SDSU Biology Major, 2023

Image that says, "Join us!"

Calling All SDSU Students! I’m Fawaz Qashat. Some of you may recognize me as one of the student researchers for Comics@SDSU, now the Center for Comics Studies! My work with Professor Pollard in History and Comics Arts Curator, Pam Jackson, in the Library began my first year at SDSU in 2020, and inspired me to launch the Comics Studies Club in 2021. Although we are currently an informal student club, we are on the path to becoming a Recognized Student Organization (RSO) through SDSU Associated Students as soon as the remaining officer positions are filled. The club is a branch of the Center for Comics Studies tree and explores the deeper messages of comics as well as facilitating fun events that build community surrounding the comic arts. Drawing on the kinds of skills that HIST/ENG 157 and other comics classes here at SDSU build, the club gathers to explore formalistic aspects of comics such as the cover, paneling, bleed, graphic weight, and splash pages as well as how they speak to various social issues. Most recently, the club has moved to book club style meetings, where we read a comic individually and then gather as a group to discuss. We have an upcoming meeting Wednesday March 22, 2023 from 11:00am to 12:00pm on zoom, at which we’ll be discussing James Robinson’s Scarlet Witch Vol.2 #1 (2015).

The Comics Studies Club is working towards becoming a “Recognized Student Organization,” but we still need two more officers to sign up for the roles of Secretary and Treasurer. Once we have those two officers, we can formalize our status with Associated Students, which will give us the ability to advertise our club, reserve a meeting space, apply for funding, host on-campus events, and so much more! Our plan for the future includes creating fun events to build a sense of community such as trips to comic book movies that can be paid for through fundraising. Another is visiting and supporting a local comic book shop by purchasing comics for the club. If you would like to become a member, we would love to have you join! If the officer positions interest you, please reach out to me and let me know. The details for our next meeting can be found on the flier below as well as my contact information if you would like to join the club.

Flyer for the 4th Comics Studies Club Meeting to be held on March 22, 2023 from 11-12pm on Zoom (meeting ID 89388520580). Flyer shows an image of Scarlet Witch and the Center for Comics Studies logo.
Flyer design by Fawaz Qashat
Flyer for the 4th Comics Studies Club Meeting to be held on March 22, 2023 from 11-12pm on Zoom (meeting ID 89388520580). Flyer shows an image of Scarlet Witch.
Flyer design by Renee Roldan
Fawaz Qashat

Tragedy in the Marvel Universe

Written by Fawaz Qashat
SDSU Biology Major, 2021

Comic book titles from the same publisher often overlap and interweave character histories and storylines… so much so that novice comic book readers sometimes complain that they do not know where to begin (see my earlier blog post on how to start collecting comics). This blog post explores a tragedy in the Marvel universe that spans multiple titles and years and highlights how fans can create a deeper and more fulfilling reading experience by exploring multiple, interconnected titles. There are spoilers ahead for Trial of Magneto #1-2 and Death of Doctor Strange #1. You have been warned.

Spoilers aren't all rotten, they can enhance thrills for some moviegoers -  UMaine News - University of Maine

Tragedy has struck in the Marvel universe. Two of the most beloved characters have suffered a terrible fate. The Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange have recently been slain by an unknown murderer . Although their deaths have taken place separately, they seem to be connected.

Back in June and July 2021, the X-Men (those not-quite-human “mutants” whose special abilities singled them out for othering and this a topic for social justice commentary) invited humans to visit their new home, Krakoa, in a bid to build good relations with the nations of the world. They held a large gala that spanned several comics in the X-Men’s several teams. One key issue, SWORD #6 (2020), showed Wanda visiting her once-believed-to-be father, Magneto, after the gala had ended because she felt that having once wiped out 90% of the mutant population’s powers, she should not be the “pretender” at the event. X-Factor #10 (2020) shocked us with the discovery of the death of the Scarlet Witch after the X-Men found her lying on the ground in Krakoa. In Trial of Magneto #1 (2021), Wanda is chased by a mysterious figure who ended up taking her life with a magical dagger. Although she was pronounced dead, Wanda remains conscious and talks with the reader about her current condition. It is still unknown where she is exactly, but a surprise awaited readers as she eventually appears at the end of Trial of Magneto #2 (2021). The peculiar part about the Scarlet Witch’s reappearance is that she seems to be an older version of herself since she believes that her relationship with Vision is still ongoing when it had actually ended several years back.

Scarlet Witch recalling her murder. (Trial of Magneto #1, by Leah Williams)

Scarlet Witch reuniting with Vision. (Trial of Magneto #2, by Leah Williams)

Stephen Strange faced a similar fate in the recent Death of Doctor Strange #1 (2021). After completing his daily tasks, Strange senses that something is off in the balance of dimensions. He is then visited by a mysterious figure who carries a similar dagger to the one that killed the Scarlet Witch. We later discover that Strange is pronounced dead, with the dagger in his heart. Not only was his death similar to Wanda’s, he also had an older version of himself appear at the very end to help fix the imbalance in the universe because the Sorcerer Supreme position was left vacant.

The same murder weapon, the same mysterious figure, and a time traveling reappearance? “Once is chance, twice is coincidence, third time is a pattern.” -Patrick McKenzie. You can read more about what happens next in Trial of Magneto #3 and Death of Doctor Strange #2 on October 20, 2021.

From left to right, Doctor Strange being tied up by the killer, his friends finding him murdered, and his past self appearing out of a portal (Death of Doctor Strange #1 by Jed MacKay).

There is more to come for these two characters and this crime investigation storyline; however, they present us with a spectacular aspect of  comics that differs from other mediums of storytelling. Comics add layered storytelling by allowing characters and events to span different issues. As in the murder of Wanda and Strange, it took several comic runs to establish such a big event and was able to engage readers by entering into the different comic worlds and following a trial to the ultimate point. Other mediums of storytelling frequently include all of the events within the work itself and are not as open to the idea of spanning their story across different works (and sometimes different authors and artists)  to be able to immerse the reader into a scavenger hunt of finding out what happens next. This makes comics a great medium to work with and study because it involves the reader and includes them by asking them to do the work in the gutters not just between panels of a page but in the space between issues. Readers can discover what happens in real time and as they wait for the next issue, they are able to connect with a community of other readers who share their experiences and collectively wait to open the next door and follow the plot.

Fawaz Qashat

A Wanda-ful Masterpiece

Written by Fawaz Qashat
SDSU Biology Major, 2021

When reading comics, some stick to reading the word balloons of the writer and ironically ignore the hard work of the artist who created the images. In fact, if we ignore those images and only focus on the text, we lose understanding of the story and miss out on vital plot points! The art and illustrations are key to fully understanding the comic you are reading as well as the characters that show up. Art allows you to see the expressions made by the characters, the emotions they feel, and the movement they make. The art works with the words to create the overall feeling of the comic. Not only is the art for depicting the characters crucial, but the art style used for the setting enhances the experience of the story. 

Scarlet Witch #1-15 (2015-2016) by writer, James Robinson and artist, David Aja are great examples of the art of the setting adding to the storytelling. In Scarlet Witch #2, Wanda makes a trip to the Greek island of Santorini. The art style in this issue is very much the Greek style of art because of its portrayal of realistic faces, the natural setting, even the way the sunset is portrayed on Wanda’s face. The reason this is important is that it evokes a feeling of relaxation in the reader, as if we were on vacation too and we could feel the breeze. The smell of the ocean and local restaurants. The chattering of people all around. The warmth of the setting sun on their faces. It also augments the plot point that Wanda is traveling across the world to fix magic and we are also taken on that journey and explore the different places in the form of different styles of art. As she moves to different locations, the different styles of art evoke the sense of the environment and situation to the reader. I’ll provide a brief description of each setting below along with its picture. (All images are from Scarlet Witch #1-15 by James Robinson).

Soft sunset, the glow of the evening sky, the renaissance figure of Wanda, the beautiful architecture are all representative of Santorini, Greece giving it its exotic aesthetic (Scarlet Witch #2).

The thick, messy lines all around Wanda, the glowing magic lines appearing brightly, the soft appearance of colors all give off the sense of a murky, humid swamp that is The Witch’s Road (Scarlet Witch #4).

The plain blue sky, the simplistic greenery of the surroundings, the rounded look of the characters, and the rosy cheeks on Wanda are all reminiscent of Logroño, Spain and its feeling of warmth (Scarlet Witch #5).

The sharp lines of the face and body, the use of the bright red with light pink, the shades of gray for the suit and rest of the soldiers, the boldness of Wanda’s expression are all representative of Paris, France giving it a sophisticated look (Scarlet Witch #6).

The detailed lines to represent the fur, the boldness of the black lines around Wanda’s lips and eyes, the small red nose and soft pink cheeks, and the clean lines of the architecture which all represent Kyoto, Japan and its edge (Scarlet Witch #10)

Each location has a distinctive art style that is different from the rest which is reminiscent of the culture and geography of the location Wanda is in. I picked out a couple of locations for you to see, but you can explore all 15 issues at SDSU library in special collections.

Fawaz Qashat

Comics and History Annotation Process

Written by Fawaz Qashat
SDSU Biology Major, 2021

HIST-157 will always hold its place as my favorite class that I have ever taken. Taught by Professor Elizabeth Pollard, the class focuses on comics and their roles and significance in history. In Fall 2020, we specifically focused on social justice in comics and read a variety of graphic novels and comics: from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, to Art Spiegelman’s Maus, to even Steve Englehart’s Avengers #128 (a comic that focused specifically on Scarlet Witch, so you know I have to include it!). One of my favorite assignments that we did for HIST-157 was annotation. At the end of each week, we selected a specific page from our favorite comic that week and annotated it using the comic vocabulary established by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics

A walk through the steps of how to annotate a comics page shows just how much you can learn from a close analysis of how text and image work together. I liked to start my annotation process with a page that has a really captivating graphic weight, or something (an image, a color, an action) that draws your eye to it first. From there, I looked at the list of comic terms that Prof. Pollard helped us understand and I thought about how they apply to the page I’m looking at. The comic terms include: panel; frame; bleed; gutter; closure; icon; text; splash pages; time; motion; synaesthetics; word/image combinations; fore/mid/background; figures; color; and graphic weight. If you want to learn more about what these are, you can take HIST-157 or get started with skimming one of many discussions online about how-to-read-comics, like Alex Abad-Santos’s, “How to Read a Comic Book” in Vox (2015) or CBLDF’s Raising a Reader! (2015).

After thinking about how the comics terms apply to the page I’ve chosen, I would begin to mark the comic page using an annotation tool. Prof. Pollard invited Dr. Pam Lach (Digital Humanist librarian at SDSU Library) to our class to explain the variety of tools we could use to annotate directly on the page (from making a .png of a googleslide to using a more advanced tool like Adobe Illustrator). I chose to use Apple’s draw feature on a screenshot to apply text boxes and type in the annotations. I color-coded each term to ensure that each annotation stood out. After each annotation, I asked myself, “Why did the creator of this comic use this comic device and how does it apply to the message they wanted to convey?” Then I typed into the text box my explanation of the author’s process and thinking in using that specific comic term for that moment. Once I did this for all of my terms, it was only a matter of uploading the annotated page in the correct format to my assignments folder and pressing “submit”. 

Here are a few examples of comics pages I annotated for HIST-157 in Fall 2020. These span history and go as far back as Mesopotamian civilization and as recent as comics from the 1980s.  Across almost three thousand years, the same steps for annotating can help viewers “read” the story.

My annotation, from early in the semester, of a Neo-Assyrian relief from the first millennium BCE. Even though I can’t read the words on the relief, I could annotate the relief with comics terminology to analyze what might be going on in this sequential art.

From mid-way through the semester, my annotation of Maus, by Art Spiegleman. My understanding of how to apply the terms had come a long way; plus the graphic novel is in English so the combination of word and image is easier to analyze.

My annotation of Vision and the Scarlet Witch #4 (1983), by Steve Englehart, from the end of the semester. After fifteen weeks of practice, my annotations not only point out features but connect the story to a social justice theme (in this case, treatment of inter-racial relationships).

Fawaz Qashat

We Are An Unusual Couple You Know

Written by Fawaz Qashat
SDSU Biology Major, 2021

A re-watching of WandaVision is richly rewarded since Marvel is known to bury clues and Easter eggs for fans of the MCU and of the comics to find and enjoy. And this enjoyment kicks in at the very start of Episode 1, in 1950s sitcom land where Wanda and Vision are living blissfully in Westview. Episode 1’s opening theme shows Wanda and Vision driving in their car as a newlywed couple. This shot is similar to a panel in the comics in which Wanda and Vision are driving to get to their new home. Later in the episode, we meet Agnes, Wanda’s neighbor whom any reader of the comics knows to be Agatha Harkness. Agnes/Agatha can be seen giving Wanda a plant as a housewarming gift which is a direct nod to Tom King’s The Vision #7 (2015) where Agatha gives Wanda and Vision a magical plant as a gift which allows a person to see into the future. Not only is the plant a nod to the comics, but so is the brooch which she can be seen wearing. Later on, as Agnes and Wanda are planning Wanda’s anniversary, the phone rings and Wanda answers, “Vision residence.” This is a reference to Tom King’s The Vision where Vision’s mailbox reads, “The Vision” symbolizing that the family has taken on his name rather than the Maximoff last name. If Wanda had taken Vision’s last name in the show, she would be Wanda Vision, which is why the title of the show is so creative. 

Vision and the Scarlet Witch #1 (1985) Steve Englehart
The Vision #7 (2015) by Tom King
The Vision #2 (2015) by Tom King

The first commercial in WandaVision Ep. 1 advertises the Toast-Mate 2000 by Stark Industries. This commercial has so much significance to unpack. First off, it represents the missile that destroyed Wanda and Pietro’s childhood home as seen later in the show. Second, it is part of the six commercials which can be compared to the infinity stones due to their nature, which would make this commercial the mind stone. The reason for that is because that event led Wanda to go to Hydra and get in touch with the mind stone. Finally, it is a nod to the comics where Wanda calls Vision a toaster after getting into an argument with him in Tom King’s The Vision #7. 

The Vision #7 (2015) by Tom King

During the dinner party scene, which itself is a nod to the Vision and the Scarlet Witch #6 by Steve Englehart (1986) where the couple host a Thanksgiving dinner, Vision is called dense by his boss as a way of referencing Vision’s ability to alter his density. Furthermore, Wanda calls Vision a meat tenderizer and hands him the tenderizer which looks like Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, referencing Vision’s ability to lift the hammer. The label of the wine bottle reads Maison du Mepris which translates to House of Misery in french and is a reference to House of M by Brian Michael Bendis (2005), a comic where Scarlet Witch loses her mind and creates an alternative reality where everyone gets what they want. This show is heavily based on that comic. Mr. Hart tells Vision that there is chaos in his household because everything is going wrong and that is a nod to Wanda’s powers in the comics, called chaos magic, that allow her to make this alternate reality. Towards the very end we see a hexagonal shape which references the shape of the town Wanda has controlled as well as the name of her powers in the comics, called hexes.

Image of Scarlet Witch from Google Images

Vision and the Scarlet Witch #6 (1986) by Steve Englehart

Having knowledge of the comics allows the viewer to have a sense of connection with the show. It helps provide the viewer a better understanding of the characters as well as the plot. They understand more of what is going on in the show and do not have as many questions as a viewer who has no knowledge of the comics. Furthermore, it provides this rush of excitement to see something on screen that you have read about in the comics. You feel more experienced than the average viewer and can start to understand the direction of the show before anyone can guess it. Finally, it helps you develop a greater appreciation for both the comics and the show because of the way their elements have been incorporated.