Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou is (or should be) known for his video series Strip Panel Naked. He frequently breaks down the tools and trade secrets utilized by professionals in order to bring comics to life before our very eyes. Now, he’s taking comics journalism one step further and raising the bar once again. PanelxPanel, edited and curated by Otsmane-Elhaou, is a digital zine which reads very much like a love letter to the comics industry and is accessible for both pros and fans alike.
Each issue is divided into two parts, shining a spotlight on one specific comic and also compiling a series of regular columns that include prose essays, short comics, interviews, recommendations, and more. It’s simplistic in layout and interspersed with comics panels in various stages of being complete, giving a behind-the-scenes look and feel to many of the images supplied.
The inaugural issue focuses on Beautiful Canvas #1, from Black Mask and creative team Ryan K. Lindsay, Sami Kivela, Triona Farrell, and Ryan Ferrier. The only question you will need to ask yourself is whether you want the guided reading experience or the ability to compare notes once you’ve read the issue. If you’re not sure, read PanelxPanel and I guarantee by the end of it, you’ll want to pick up Beautiful Canvas next.
For anyone who is sensitive to spoilers, try reading through PanelxPanel after the first issue of Beautiful Canvas, as co-creators Ryan K. Lindsay and Sami Kivela delve deep into the themes of the series straight away in the first article. Colorist Triona Farrell follows suit with a discussion of color themes and choices, complete with multiple panels from the first issue. Most images can be found in the preview pages as well, but there are a few surprises in there as well as a delineation of who we might be rooting for and against in the series.
Otsmane-Elhaou himself jumps in to do a Strip Panel Naked analysis, while contributors Lauran Fagan and Deniz Camp take the themes previously discussed and relate them even further out into the pop culture sphere. It’s rare that a single issue gets this much analysis, both with the creative team and through the lens of others, but it served to not only pique my interest in the issue, but to get me excited about this series.
PanelxPanel could end there and I would be completely satisfied if we’re being honest, but it doesn’t. There’s a mini comic to be read and plenty of recommendations to sift through from writers, critics, and more (I think one rec solidified my need to hunt down Winnebego Graveyard). A “Craft Corner” segment tackles lettering, while “Creator-vs-Creator” lets one contributor to the issue pick an interviewee of their choice about the topics of their choosing. A questions segment and the discussion of a comics ending rounds out the issue.
If ever you were concerned that there might not be enough to talk about when it comes to comics, Otsmane-Elhaou has drawn a road map through a tiny section of that landscape. Each article is brimming with knowledge ready to be shared with even the newest comics fans, welcoming new and old fans alike with an all-access tour behind the veil of comics creation.