It would be hard to argue that Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou has become the preeminent comics critic over the past several years. His YouTube channel Strip Panel Naked examines some of the best comic book storytelling and what makes it so effective, and the magazine PanelxPanel. He’s also the editor of the digital magazine PanelxPanel, which features in-depth discussion with some of the biggest names in comics and critical analysis from Otsmane-Elhaou and other talented contributors.
Hassan recently launched a Kickstarter for PanelxPanel One Shots, print magazines edited by him and written by contributors to the magazine that each focus on a different comic book topic. Read my chat with Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou about how the project came together and how he approached his latest endeavor.
What made now the right time to debut a new line of PanelxPanel books?
I would love to give you a great answer that sounded smarter than this, but we had them ready? Haha. It was an idea I had a while back to do some print editions of accessible writing about comics because it’s the kind of thing I’ve really enjoyed finding for film but found a bit more lacking in comics. There are plenty of really great academic books, but I wanted something that fit like PanelxPanel, which is a little poppier than that, I think. So there felt like there was some space to try it! We got a bunch of writers together, and these four books were the first we got to a point where we felt they were complete. We’ve got other books currently in the works too, so I hope it’ll be an ongoing series!
Did you ever consider selling print copies of the PanelxPanel issues?
I’ve done print copies of the magazine before for shows and always got a great reaction from it, but it’s a much more difficult thing to keep in print regularly because of the monthly nature of it, so at least for the foreseeable future, the monthly magazine will remain primarily digital. The fun thing about the book format is they’ve been designed from the ground up to be physical products, designed to be as accessible as possible in that format, and super readable. The way they’re presented as individual deep dives on a single topic or comic means they also exist outside of any recurring model while still being part of a series, and feel (hopefully) more timeless because of that. I definitely think it’s good to think about form when thinking about writing and producing this sort of thing, and the One Shots are really designed to be books first and foremost.
What was your process for assembling writers for the one-shots different from your approach for standard issues of PanelxPanel?
To begin with, they were definitely a bit more of an experimental thing. I was putting feelers out for who’d like to try this thing out and see what we can do with it. So I had open pitches, and many of the projects I said yes with initially, and we figured out the narrative through lines for the books and how they’d work. From there, it was just a case of pushing ahead with the people that were interested and seeing what we managed to make. The four books we’re launching with are the first four we got to the level to be published. It’s been a process of a few years from first talking about the books to today, but I think we’ve got some really strong pieces. For the magazine, it’s a little different in that the pieces are a fair bit shorter than the books, and the topics are at least partially set by what we’re covering in the issue that month. But yeah, it’s a different process as we’re looking at a book that is the length of about five or six of the regular feature essays from the magazine, as though the first half of the magazine is just on one topic by one writer.
And laying them out was different, too. The magazine’s design is very image-heavy and works with fluid layouts on blocks of text and the like. I really wanted these to feel somewhere like academic books but with more accessibility, so the image usage is much lighter, really just on very, very key images for analysis where necessary. So in that regard, it was figuring out how else I make them easily readable. I worked in mini-breaks and subheadings throughout to really have a chunked approach to each chapter, and I think it creates a really fun way to read them. So from the design side, it was really different, being print-first, the style of the books, all that!
Does print-first mean that you plan to release the one-shots digitally at some point after the Kickstarter?
They were designed entirely for print, so there isn’t a plan, for now, to release them digitally, nope. I like thinking format-first, and they definitely excel as print items.
Are you planning to sell copies of the one-shots to comic book stores?
Yeah, there’s been interest from some stores already, so we will be hopefully shipping out copies to stores that are interested after the Kickstarter has finished. We’re offering good retailer discounts on these, so we would love to hear from more shops who may be interested in stocking the books!
What have you learned from managing your Patreon for Strip Panel Naked that you think will help you run this Kickstarter?
Really just to put out work that you think will be interesting and be passionate about doing so. That’s always been the approach with Strip Panel Naked and the PanelxPanel magazine, and it’s fed through into these first four books with these amazing writers, too.
Comics criticism usually isn’t a particularly profitable endeavor, but you’ve built large, loyal audiences around Strip Panel and PanelxPanel. What do you think it is about your approach to criticism and analysis that appeals to so many readers?
I can only speak for myself, I suppose, but what I really like about PanelxPanel is the deep-dive approach to particular series. I’m someone that really likes to read a lot about the things I like, like if I go and see a film I loved, I want to read about how it was made, other people’s takes on things I may have missed, or interesting thoughts springing off from it. So I want to do a similar thing for comics, really.
I think much of that, through Strip Panel Naked and into these PanelxPanel One Shots, is just creating spaces to have conversations around why comics are particularly interesting. With all that comes passion, too. I think you have to really be passionate not just to make comics, but especially to want to write about them, and I want to make sure that in everything that love for the medium comes through because that’s also what I want when I’m looking for something to read!