Tim Leong’s ‘Super Graphic’ blasts comics universe into chart mode

July 10, 2013 | 9:00 a.m.

The cover of "Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe," by Tim Leong. (Chronicle Books)

A chart from "Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe," by Tim Leong. (Chronicle Books)

A chart from "Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe," by Tim Leong. (Chronicle Books)

A chart from "Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe," by Tim Leong. (Chronicle Books)

If you’ve ever wondered what Batman has carried in his utility belt over the years, or which rappers have taken their names from comic books, or how the “Peanuts” kids are all related, Tim Leong has the answers for you.

Leong’s slick new book “Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe” uses bar graphs, scatter plots, pie charts, venn diagrams, timelines and other gorgeous (and often humorous) infographics to explore Wonder Woman’s ever-changing hemlines throughout her comic history, the life spans of the characters in “The Walking Dead,” the evolution of the Green Lantern Oath and plenty more comics trivia. (Click through the gallery above or the links below for a preview.)

“Super Graphic,” from Chronicle Books, is slated for an Aug. 1 release, but the book will be available early at next week’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, where Leong will be signing copies on Saturday, July 20, at 2:30 p.m. in autograph area No. 19. The Chronicle Books booth will also be handing out free “Super Graphic” posters while they last.

Cover | Superhero tropes | The Flash | Death Note

Hero Complex caught up with Leong about “Super Graphic” and the lifelong love of comics that inspired the book.

"Super Graphic" author Tim Leong. (Chronicle Books)

“Super Graphic” author Tim Leong. (Chronicle Books)

HC: How did this project come about?

TL: I’ve always been a comic fan. Back in 2005 I started a comic book website and magazine called Comic Foundry. It was meant to embody what a modern comic reader looked like — people that liked superheroes, indie, manga, etc., not just one genre. That magazine eventually folded in 2009, and it left a big hole in my life. After I moved to San Francisco to work at Wired in 2010, I’d been dying to be more active in the comics world. It was around that time at Wired that I started working pretty heavily with infographics and that’s when the light bulb went off to combine these two things I was really passionate about. I had the idea but am easily distracted by shiny objects, so it took me awhile to actually settle in. To jump-start everything, I decided to take a test run at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con. I took lots of notes and observations and tried to collect as much data as I could. When I got back I did a few Comic-Con related charts. They were raw, but I knew there was some potential there. I built on those and created about 50 more charts and pitched them to Chronicle Books, and surprisingly they said yes. I still don’t think they’ve quite realized they’ve agreed to publish a book of infographics about comic books.

HC: Why are comics a ripe genre for this sort of graphic representation?

TL: Comics were the perfect medium for this project because one of the best things about comics — its long history — is also one of its biggest weaknesses. During the industry’s long history there hasn’t exactly been the best record-keeping. Different creators steer characters in different directions and consistency can be a hard thing. It can be just as difficult to find ways to introduce new readers to comics, especially when the new issue of a comic might be in No. 112. I’ve already missed more than 100 issues? That’s why my goal was to synthesize interesting and important parts of the comics industry into something entertaining and informational. To create something that is accessible to every reader, whether they’re a lifelong reader or someone who has only seen “The Avengers” movie.

HC: Superhero comics have been around for 75 years. That’s a lot of data to process. How did you go about doing that?

TL: The charts came about in two different ways. First, I tried to think of what stories would be interesting to tell and what would be good points to make in chart form. I then tried to find the data to flesh them out, which was met with varying success. Sometimes the data just wasn’t there or would be near impossible to collect. Other charts came during the research process. I’d find a big data set and then try to come up with an interesting chart based on that.

A chart from "Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe," by Tim Leong. (Chronicle Books)

A chart from “Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe,” by Tim Leong. (Chronicle Books)

HC: Which chart was the most difficult to research?

TL: I thought it would be funny to try and track the frequency of the letter V in “V For Vendetta.” That was more monotonous than difficult, though. The hardest was probably a Batman Relationship Map I have in the book. It maps Batman’s different relationships, both personal and professional, and how all the other characters relate to one another. It was tough for two reasons: 1. Batman has such a rich and interconnected history, and 2. Trying to figure out how to make it work visually was near impossible. I started sketching it on an index card and ran out of space in a few minutes. I tossed that and started over on an 8.5-by-11 piece of paper. Ten minutes later I started over on an 11-by-17 sheet and wrote as small as I could.

HC: Why do you think comics are an enduring medium for storytelling? What has creating “Super Graphic” led you to believe about the future of comics?

TL: One thing that definitely helped was the access to digital comics. It would’ve been extremely difficult to get my hands on some issues if it weren’t for digital comic, especially for the older stuff. Embracing digital will definitely be a bigger part of the industry’s future, which is why it’s exciting to see announcements about Infinite Comics and things going DRM-free. Which is not to devalue printed comics — they’re vital to the industry’s success both as a commercial entity and also as an art form.

HC: Can you tell us a little about your introduction to and love of comics?

TL: Of course. I don’t know where I first got my first issue — probably at supermarket or 7/11. I started early with Spider-Man and Superman, both of whom were journalists, so maybe I knew what I had in store for me early on. I still have a set of Superman bed sheets from when I was a kid. And sometimes, just sometimes when we’re behind on laundry, my fiancée lets me put them on the bed. For me, comics has always been escapism and immediate access to a community of like-minded folks. I love that comics mix amazing stories and amazing art. It’s never one or the other. There’s the potential to create really interesting stories that can’t be told any other way. The stories are what piques my interest, and it’s the art that seals it for me. I actually started collecting original comic book art a few years ago. You can find some not-too-expensive pages that are just gorgeous, and then you own a piece of comic history.

HC: Anything else you’d like to add?

TL: If you flip to the back of the book there’s an acknowledgments section. Nothing against my fiancée, but I truly owe this book to the fans of Comic Foundry. When CF was up and running — and there might be more gas in the tank this year — the fan support was just as overwhelming as it was humbling. I owe so much to them, and I really want them to know it.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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