ENGL 300: The Graphic Novel George Mason University (Spring 2011)

5May/11Off

Hark, A Bayou Rebel!

Posted by agreeng

Without a working router I was without internet for most of last week and as such forgot all about this. But as I was making a blog post about the strips I showed to the class last time I suddenly realized I hadn’t shared the (meager) fruits of my (equally meager) Bayou related research. So here it is anyway! It being a one-week late entry for The Searchers, the new hit show on AMC. Speaking of AMC an interesting article I found about Bayou was actually just a short piece about the adaptability of Jeremy Love’s work into the screen medium. Television screen that is, as I realize it already exists on the screens of computer monitors the world around. This would of course be the second time I’ve found something dealing with the nature of converting comics to cinema and further illustrates how many players, both big and small, in the comic book world are relying on adaptations and merchandise to make a profit on their work.
I also read an interview with Jeremy Love about his past and the influences that went into creating Bayou. I find it interesting that this is the second recent literary example I’ve come across of an African American creator leaving behind the South as a child and then revisiting it as an adult. The other was the work of a young playwright named Marcus Gardley who, similar to Love, lives in California but writes about his family’s home of the south.
Finally, the webcomic strips. First I showed Odysseus the Rebel which is the story of Odysseus as the first atheist. Unlike most webcomics this is not an inherently comedic strip and instead tells an ongoing narrative as opposed to being short one-and-dones. It’s also by established comic book creators Steven Grant (best known for creating the Punisher for Marvel Comics) and Scott Bieser (largely unknown for doing indie-graphic novels). The second webcomic I showed was Hark, A Vagrant. Hark is a more traditional webcomic in that it is short one-and-dones and they are intended to be humorous. It’s also created by Kate Beaton (best known for having a weapon named after her in Fallout: New Vegas) an up-and-comer who didn’t really have much to her credit before starting the webcomic. But hey I think it’s great!
And there you go, another over-produced, under-satisfying episode of… The Searchers!

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4May/11Off

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja

Posted by Kristine Brown

This is what I was going to present on yesterday, but unfortunately the Dr. McNinja website was down and I couldn't get it to load. Fortunately, now it is back! Check it out, it's totally hilarious (if you need proof, it rated #3 on Cracked.com's listing of the 8 funniest webcomics). It's about a doctor, who is also a ninja. Or a ninja who is also a doctor. Either way. He's supposed to be a batmanophile whose ninja parents are disappointed in him for pursuing a career where he saves people, rather than killing them. Not that he doesn't kill people. He kills tons of people. Sometimes with the help of his secretary. Who is also a gorilla. Okay, that's enough.

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3May/11Off

Just To Name a Few. . .

Posted by snigh

I didn't know which web comics to choose (I have twenty bagillion bookmarked right now), so here's a list of some pretty descent ones I know of:

1. Rice Boy: A surrealist story wherein the titular character is thrown about by fate to fulfill a prophecy.Order of Tales is good, too, but this is worth spending a night reading and pushing off a paper. . . which I wouldn't know anything about. Nope.

2. Romantically Apocalyptic: Green screens, actors, and some intense patients make this one of the most involved web comics in existence. I think.

3. Happle Tea: Mythology is hilarious on its own, so really this guy's just lazy. Well, except for the whole scripting, drawing, inking, and  coloring thing. Other than that, freeloader.

4. Scary Go Round: This is the only sci-fi/horror/comedy comic I know of that's lasted long enough to have "eras." I wonder why?

5. Girl Genius: Look! Steampunk that isn't made weird by Will Smith!

6. Gypsy: Proving once and for all that too much learnin' will, in fact, give you brain freeze. This is a hint.

7. Blip: God is a jerk, and I'm not sure about Satan yet.

8. Hanna is Not a Boy's Name: Yeah, yeah, vampires, werewolves, wizards, and zombies are overdone. But this one's pretty!

9. Subnormality: Because, looking over this list, I realize that having 9 links is way better than having just 8. Also, this comic is pretty thoughtful and funny, too. But mostly because I'm OCD.

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3May/11Off

2 More Random Web Comics

Posted by Phil Scofield

The 1st one just recently stopped being written.  It is called "Oh My Gods!"

The 2nd one is just a really ADD about video gamers.  It is called "Ctrl+Alt+Del"

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29Apr/11Off

It’s not even past

Posted by ehackett

Just wanted to highlight and/or revisit this idea from Faulkner's brain in relation to Bayou. I think the notion that we talked about in class, as the past being a constantly hanging thing, always present and reoccurring, influencing the present and the future is a pretty truthful and complex idea. The fact that a comic in the 2000's can revisit the planes of the past and make them bright again is a baffling kind of idea to think about. This occurrence of the old rekindling in the form of the new seems to back up Faulkner's words pretty seamlessly. By taking the recent past (recency depending upon perspective) and shaping something new, "the past is never dead, it's not even past" holds true. But I'm rambling right now. What I mean is, this notion of creating new from old ideas, ways, existences etc. in terms of time backs up Faulkner's words in a metaphorical sense: that is, it's not even past as the "past" representative of time or an idea of time as humans know it. However, if we read Faulkner's statement more literally, time becomes less important. If we read: "it's not even past" as "it's not even itself," now this statement suggests something about the past being something else entirely, or not entirely.
So if the past is not the past as we know it in terms of just what happened before now, the wtf is it? Your guess is as good as mine. But I guess that maybe it is Bayou that is this "otherly" sort of past. The past is never dead. Yeah okay, we understand, Maus brings back Holocaust, Fun home brings back Bechdels childhood, Bayou brings back the racist South. But do they really bring them back? Or are they bringing back something else? Maybe, I dunno, whatevs. poop

28Apr/11Off

Bayou’s “Shelf Life”

Posted by Kristine Brown

For my link this week, I wanted to post this really (no, really, it is very) short interview that Jeremy Love did with Comic Book Resources online. My main interest in this interview was specifically for this question that CBR asks Love: "Knowing what you know now, and how popular “Bayou” has become, do you wish you would have released it in a traditional format from the outset?" I thought this really tied in well with the discussion about the digital form that we were having on Tuesday, but I have to say (And maybe you will agree) that Love's answer was fairly anticlimactic. He responds, "Not at all. I love the “shelf life” of a web comic. “Bayou” wouldn’t be as widely read if it were released traditionally. This story, more than anything, needed time to cultivate a following." Interesting that the interviewer and Love seem to talk about it as if the digital form and the book form are these interchangeable ways of selling comics, the online form simply sounding like a better way of advertising them, and of reaching a larger audience in general. In class we approached this topic as if the comic had specifically been written for the digital format, and while in part it probably had, it doesn't seem like Jeremy Love would have changed it at all if it would have been originally released in print. I guess I just wish Love had had a more in depth answer that maybe, possibly, included a small mention of how the mediums were different, and that that had had an impact on why he choose the online format for Bayou (instead of just saying that web-comics have a longer "shelf life").

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26Apr/11Off

“JESUS WEPT, MOTHER F#*%ER!”

Posted by agreeng

Bear with me here, I know that late posts aren't accepted but I'm doing this one anyway, because I wanted to get it out before the Easter holiday weekend and the food service hell that it is engulfed my life, but I failed. So here I am anyway. Also, the title of this post doesn't actually come from The Unwritten but rather from Rick Moody's novel The Diviners but it is close enough to one of Mr. Bun's lines that I felt it appropriate (that or I just love that line).

I also am going to outright state that I suck at Weekly Reviews because I'd rather just hone in on one topic and discuss the shit out of it. Well, maybe not that much discussion, but still. So today's agenda is a response to a question posed by the illustrious Prof. Sample himself. Is the Unwritten just a collection of cheap literary references (paraphrased)? I couldn't adequately answer this in class but having re-read both volumes I feel like I am a little more equipped for the task. The answer: No.

….

Well I guess I should probably “Show My Work” in the words of innumerable math instructors from my youth (whom would probably be tickled pink that I've managed to apply something they taught me for a “real world” purpose).
The Unwritten isn't a collection of cheap literary references, it IS an ever expanding tapestry OF literary references. The difference is in the “cheap” part. Without them there would be no story. They would be cheap if the story itself could exist independent of literary references. Sort of like how the Xenosaga games for the PS2 don't really need those Nietzsche quotes in their titles to work as a game or as a narrative and they could be considered guilty of a cheap use of a philosophical reference. But the Unwritten is more like an Austrian Death Machine song that use of lines from Arnold Schwarzenegger movies as their lyrics and thematic grounding point. That's the entire purpose of their music. To re purpose shitty dialog into terrible yet awesome heavy metal. Without the reference there is no music (or a career for Quentin Tarantino). Without the literature before it there would be no The Unwritten. It almost seems like Sample's friend just isn't that into post-modernity. I can dig. As much as I love the mash-up of reference, genre, and style that marks the movement there's always some asshole that takes it to far and ends up without a genuine work as a result (fuckin' Jeff Koontz, lookin' at you).
But I feel that Mike Carey (whom is, by the way, currently writing the best X-Men comic out at the moments) and Peter Gross have created a valuable work that does need these references to exist but is not itself without an underpinning of narrative that make them click in a satisfying manner. The influence of fiction on reality is a common theme amidst modern (or post-modern) creative types (almost as if they're saying “Look at me, I don't cure diseases but I still matter”) and it is a theme worth exploring. Because fiction, whether literature or hearsay, does matter and it does impact our lives. This para(theticals)graph hopefully illustrates that (there are too many of them, sorry) you can tell one story and a completely different one and have them both matter. Even if that matter is composed of highly dense mass of literary Easter eggs hidden in a story that, if removed, has several egg shaped holes that will surely cause it to fail a home inspection (what too many mixed metaphors too?).

I also find it interesting that Paul Cornell, the man who wrote the intro to Volume 2, lists his I'm sure famous to the Brits screen writing credits but utterly fails to mention that he also writes comic books. His Marvel comics miniseries Wisdom is actually quite excellent and even has to deal with the very same theme of the fantastic and fictional becoming altogether real (albeit his story involves Oberon and H.G. Wells and has a lot more punching involved).

26Apr/11Off

Pan’s Labyrinth Meets Nat Turner

Posted by drosales

 Once I got over the fact that I was reading a web comic and focused on the art/story line, I couldn't help but find parallels to the two mentioned titles.

The art reminded me of a more youthful version of Nat Turner. Perhaps I'm making the connection because Bayou also deals with themes of racism and discrimination, but I think it also has something to do with the point of view. For example, in the opening chapter we see a man hanging from a tree, not unlike the final scene in Nat Turner, and the panels that follow share an equally eery feeling as Lee dives into the pond. I would also like to note that the color schemes here, browns and greenish grays, resembles the art in Nat Turner. The difference between the two, however, lies in that Nat Turner ends with a tragedy, while Bayou starts with one.

This leads to a bizarre coming-of-age story reminiscence of the film Pan's Labyrinth, where, through our protagonist, we enter a world similar to our own though full of magic and strange creatures. In Bayou's alternative view of history we dance a fine balance between what could be real and what is not. Furthermore, because our main character is so young, there is a level of skepticism about how to accept what we are presented with- at least, I am a skeptic (Call it a biased against children in literature/art, but a combination of children & magic is almost too predictable). I am not a big fan of magical realism, yet I think this is kind of the graphic novel is its equivalent... and strangely enough, I did not dislike it.

I'm still questioning how viewing this in book format as opposed to web format would be different. I understand the difference in mediums and tend to prefer book to online, but for some reason I found the art incredibly accessible in the format in which I viewed it.

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25Apr/11Off

Bayou: On Reading Web Comics

Posted by Katy McCaddin

Reading a comic online was very different than reading one in print.  In the first few issues (mostly 1 and 2) I didn't mind the interface at all, and the ability to see all the pages all at once was very interesting.  However, as I kept reading I had more problems.  Once there was more dialog and longer passages to read I had to keep zooming in to read the words and then zoom back out to actually see the page.  It got very frustrating for me.  I like that when you are reading something in print you can see everything at once, and if you focus on one part you don't have to spend so long scrolling and zooming to see it.  The interface really interfered for me. I am willing to say that the interface may not be such a challenge on normal sized screens, but on my net book it was a huge failure.  The interface became my main focus rather than story.  The fact that this is the first thing we read in serial form may have also added to my frustration.  I got tired of having to stop reading, click the back button, click the next issue, and open it and then read.  Maybe if we had read more shorter works rather than longer compilations that would not have phased me, but since we haven't I got distracted.

Over all the constant need to zoom in to read the words then zoom out to see the pictures plus the constant need to open the next issue caused a frustration that overpowered the story.  I never connected with the characters, I was too busy trying to read the comic.  I never cared about Lee or her father or Lilly or Bayou.... I didn't care about the story.

Had I been reading this for pleasure I may have read to issue three.  After that I would have stopped. Why? Because reading should not be about keystrokes.  I like to read when reading, not have to maneuver around in a desperate attempt to catch everything: I could easily read with out being able to read the dialog or without seen the images, neither was a good option and being able to  see both proved more frustrating than my enjoyment of the novel.

I would read Bayou in print. But online, it just didn't work for me.

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25Apr/11Off

Goin’ Down to the Bayou

Posted by Lauren Walker

So far, Bayou has been an awesome read. I was a little worried at first that I’d be put-off by reading the comic online; I’m one of those old fashioned types—I love to be able to hold the actual book in my hands. I was also a little nervous about the prospect of navigating the comics on the website. But my fears were completely quelled by the straight-forward, simple, and smooth layout of the Comixology site. Not only was it aesthetically pleasing, but it WORKED—I was never frustrated about how the comics were organized, and there was never any confusion over how to transition between them. I was never “lost,” as I often am when trying to get around any sort of website that relies so heavily on an organized format. It was a seamless experience, which I think is an integral part of any reading, and especially so when reading graphic novels.

So of course, the ease of reading Bayou online made it possible for me to focus on the story being told, and the way it was being told. Bayou recalled some previous texts we’ve explored, mainly Nat Turner for obvious reasons, but some of Swallow Me Whole (the blur between reality and imagination, dreams, insanity, whatever you want to call it) and even Fun Home (the theme of a father-daughter relationship). I’m taking a Southern Lit course this semester with Prof. Anderson, and there were definitely moments when I forgot which class I was reading this comic for—Bayou is rich with elements of Southern literary traditions, exploring ideas about race relationships, allusions to the past, ties to the land, family dynamics, and so on. It’ll be interesting to see if our class discussion explores what Bayou tells us about the South, and how it could possibly be considered a Southern narrative.

And one last note—as I said, I found reading this comic online through Comixology.com to be a very easy and enjoyable experience. Personally, I think it’d be a great tool in a high school or even middle school English classroom. What a great way to introduce kids to the literary merit of graphic novels. Any classroom equipped with a SmartBoard would make Bayou easy for an English class to read and explore together.

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24Apr/11Off

The Unwritten Round-Up

Posted by Kristine Brown

One aspect of The Unwritten that I really wish we would have got to explore further were the ideas of fame and celebrity. I do think it was important to talk about the merging of fiction and reality and the influential power of stories over society, but the book also seemed just as preoccupied with how our (western, middle-class) society tends to obsess over the famous, and how public opinion can be so easily swayed by negative press. As I said in my presentation, the general public's opinion of Tom Taylor was massively affected by the fiction, a rumor, gossip, that he had killed everyone at the Villa Diodati, as reflected in online auctions, message boards, and new forums. This reaction seems typical, and one that we're used to seeing all the time in an age of tabloids and entertainment news shows. In fact, I think that Mike Carey and Peter Gross' decision to use a character so familiar to us all, the lovable boy-wizard, is a play on our popular opinion (our popularly agreed upon decision) that Harry Potter, Tommy Taylor, and even Timothy Hunter are genuinely good and trustworthy people, and how if one of them had ended up murdering some people suddenly the public would feel incredibly betrayed because we had got it in our minds, and all agreed, that this boy (or the man based off of him) would never do anything so heinous and awful. By putting Tom through a series of "wrong-place, wrong-time" trials, Carey and Gross are not only showing the reader how easily affected by fictions the public is, but also revealing how personally it can be felt by a society which had uniformly agreed to trust their vision of a person and then to have to doubt that belief (as shown in the Dr. Swann question where the mother equates Tom's "betrayal" to a rape of her daughter).

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21Apr/11Off

Collaboration

Posted by Michael Gillespie

http://www.mikeandpeter.com/

I found this website to be interesting. It is a website representing Mike Carey who worked on the story and Peter Gross who worked on the artwork for The Unwritten. There is biographical information on both and there is also articles and podcasts that can be listened to. I have always found it interesting to look at the writer of books and whatnot as to see how they act and how they are influenced. It is also cool to see two people come together to collaborate on a project such as this.

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20Apr/11Off

Unwritten & Watchmen

Posted by Nikki

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen

I understand that this link is from wikipedia, but I found the information to be pretty concise. I found a connection between Unwritten and Watchmen in the ways that they both involved heroes that are used to "reflect contemporary anxieties and critique the superhero concept." I feel that in the same mission of Watchmen, Unwritten also takes on the mission of seeking to alternate the views of the original superhero concept. Tommy Taylor, though he is a very popular type of super hero, he is portrayed by a very young boy, yet lives in an alternate reality as Tom Taylor. I found this connection to be a bit askew, but I did notice a relationship between both graphic novels.

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18Apr/11Off

The Written Unwritten

Posted by mswisher

I'm definitely a fan of the Carey/Gross team, so I might be a little biased in saying that this is probably the best graphic novel we've read this semester. It's smartly written and well drawn, with a compelling storyline full of humor, history, pop references, vampires and all sorts of other strange things.

One of the most important elements of The Unwritten is, obviously, the literary references. They are constant throughout the story and there are many hints that Wilson's training of Tom in "literary geography" will be his salvation, even though the jaded Tom doesn't believe it (yet). One doesn't need to be intimately familiar with literary history to appreciate all the references, but it certainly helps.

I especially like the title - the unwritten. It's mysterious in its own way, and ironic since it's a graphic novel about written stories and the shadowy cabal that is behind all of them.

The Unwritten is, as we know, an ongoing series and the end of each issue always leaves me waiting impatiently for next month's release. I just finished reading the latest issue, #24, in which Pauly Bruckner has his triumphant return. Each issue adds significant elements to the plot and there isn't a single wasted page. I don't know how many issues will be in the run, but I do know I'll be disappointed when this one is over.

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18Apr/11Off

Unwritten meets Page Master!

Posted by ahart9

The Unwritten was one of the few books that I found to be quite exciting. I love the drawing style and how the title fits so perfectly with story but before reading it you would have no idea what it meant. When i first started reading it I was worried that it would be another one of those books about manga writers or whatever and it would just be about a kids basic life. I was happily proven wrong. I didn't expect what I got from this book at all. It was exciting and compelling. It was cool how the things that were happening in the book were coming to life and how it was surrounding the main character Tom who his father named the main character in the book after. Reading through these two volumes I couldn't help but be reminded of the Page Master! An old kids movie where Macaulay Culkin gets sucked into different books. I even looked up the third volume and Tom is supposedly going to be in the story of Moby Dick! Just like in the Page Master! I really liked this book and plan to read the rest of the volumes.

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