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

18Apr/11Off

The Unwritten Volume 1

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Going in I had no clue what Unwritten was going to be about, books I assumed.  I was pleasantly surprised with the story and style.  One thing I didn't really like was the main character.  There was something about Tom that just seemed annoying.  He only really ever talks about how he was left and abandoned by his dad who never said goodbye, did I mention his dad left him?  Tom has a little too much angst to go with his abandonment issues.  I guess it's a major part of his life and the story, but it just bugged me.  Overall Unwritten was great aside from Tom's annoying character traits.

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18Apr/11Off

Weekly Roundup: Swallow Me Whole, Asterios Polyp

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While reading both Asterios Polyp and Swallow Me Whole I found myself constantly drawn to the way the authors incorporated much ambiguity within their stories. This left the reader constantly wondering what the true hidden meaning behind the piece was. This led to much discussion on both pieces of work as there were many questions to and thoughts to what these hidden meanings could be. I was interested at how we looked at how in Swallow Me Whole we couldn't exactly tell if we were in real life or if the visions were schizophrenic episodes. I constantly wondered these things while I was reading through the novel and love the fact that I couldn't exactly put my finger on it. This will allow me to enjoy the graphic novel many more times as I attempt to find the meaning of the piece. The same can be said of Asterios Polyp. We also looked at the used of empty space in Asterios Polyp. This was incorporated into the overall meaning of the piece which allowed us to look at negative space and reference that to Gods' Man. I liked how off the wall the story was and wasn't the same as graphic novels like We3 or The Dark Knight Returns. I really enjoyed getting to look at the graphic novels and see what other people thought the hidden meanings were within these pieces. I really enjoy ambiguity as it keeps a story fresh for many reads to come.

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14Apr/11Off

Scott McCloud’s thoughts on Asterios Polyp

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I found a journal archive that is done by Scott McCloud and he gives his thoughts about Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp.  The journal article is from 2009, but it touches upon a few things that we talked about in class on Tuesday.

 

http://scottmccloud.com/2009/07/17/some-thoughts-on-asterios-polyp/

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12Apr/11Off

Defying Ideologies

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David Mazucchelli's Asterios Polyp defies limitations of the mind by telling a story that alters between intellectual thoughts, sentimental notions, present events, past memories. Everything from color to texture to narrative forms are used to expand the universe in which the story is told.

The first way Mazucchelli breaks from the mold of conventional storytelling is through the use of the narrator. In most cases, the narrator of a story is either the protagonist of the tale or an omniscient being who is not an actual character in the scenes. However, in Asterios Polyp the story is told through Asterios's dead brother, Ignazio. Ignazio appears in a number of scenes throughout the graphic novel, all of which are dream sequences that occur within Asterios's mind. Through using Ignazio as the narrator and including him in multiple dream sequences, Mazucchelli causes the line between figments of the mind and reality to become blurred. While there are certain scenes that feel real and others that seem too surreal to be reality, it is never clarified as to which sections are the truth and which sections of Asterios's memory are stretching the truth.

The other way Mazzucchelli breaks the mold is through the use of colors and texture. While it's not necessarily a color graphic novel, it is not a black and white novel either. The colors blue, purple, white, yellow, and pink are the only colors used throughout the course of the entire novel. This, like the use of Ignazio as narrator, helps blur lines between reality and dream. Yellow, blue, and purple seem to be used just to convey every day actions (much like black and white do in a black and white film). The pink comes into motion when there is a great deal of feeling behind the actions taking place. In the scene where Asterios is seeing his mother feed his dying father, Asterios's shirt is pink. Whenever he talks about Hana, pink is in the scene. The scenes with Willy Ilium use pink (showing his anger and irritation toward the man).

The final thing I realized about the colors, whether it was intentional or coincidental, is that the colors used in Asterios Polyp are associated with 3D. When you think of 80s 3D glasses and 3D film reels, they are composed of the same colors this graphic novel is. Maybe Mazucchelli did this on purpose to convey to the reader that the stories within the realms of the pages have more to the eye than what appears on the 2D surface.

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11Apr/11Off

Lines and circles

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I enjoyed the book Asterios Polyp. Well, I've actually enjoyed all the books we've read so far so that really isn't saying much. Anyway, I haven't read many graphic novels, but I enjoyed the way the author used panels to show speech and action in the book. For example, whenever a character is talking over someone else their speech bubble (or in the case of Asterios his box) overlaps the other persons. He also used the panels to show how we sometimes drown out others when we're focusing on something else. An example of this is when they're at the parade and Ursulas speech is shifted just out of frame when Asterios is looking at something else. I also liked how Mazzucchelli turned characters into their views on life. What I mean is that Asterios was drawn with just circles and squares and Hanna was drawn cross hatched. He used this technique to show when the characters were getting close (i.e. at the party they're drawing both cross hatched and in circles and lines) and when they're arguing (i.e. when they're arguing...). The story was very enjoyable and was told anachronistically.(I love Memento, 500 Days of Summer, and Annie Hall are movies that I love. So this was just down my alley.) While I did get confused a few times—I always do—the book did a great job in using it to tell the story because it could get very confusing and jumbled if not done right. The ending of the book was...depressing. I guess. They're happy and together, but, you know, dead. Or at least about to die.

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11Apr/11Off

Fire and Ice in Asterios Polyp

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            I quickly noticed all the geometrical shapes and objects illustrated in the graphic novel and related them back to the main character being an architect. His personality is very calculating. He must always be right, and his answers always seem like they are planned or scripted. I also noticed the amount of changes in color schemes in the Graphic novel. One example that really caught my eye was the blending of blue and hot pink when Asterios and Hana meet. Asterios is usually colored blue when he is around her (he is blue for the most part, anyway). I think the color shows how cold and mechanical he is. In contrast, she is more like fire. She is often drawn with very dynamic lines, especially when she is mad at Asterios. And, when Hana is mad at him, he is usually drawn in simple geometrical blue shapes. Once again, this adds to his lack of warmth and his motorized and often emotionless attitude.

            The scene when Hana is trying to explain how Mother Nature is the perfect creator by using a pine cone also points out the contrast between Hana and Asterios. He is sitting down smoking his cigarette in the park. He looks like he doesn’t belong. He is kind of at odds with nature. His apartment building is struck by lightning and goes up in flames. Apparently, it sounds like it has happened more than once. His life kind revolves around numbers and precise measurements. Hana, on the other hand, is an artist, who enjoys nature for its seemingly effortless ability to create perfectly symmetrical and beautiful objects.

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11Apr/11Off

Dualism: Asterios/Daisy

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Dualism is what made Asterios Polyp such an interesting book for me. Mazzucchelli is a genius at expressing dualism through out the book. One of my favorite comparison was between Asterios and Daisy, during one of their confrontations. Asterios is made up of these blue geometric figures, that create the outline of his body. They mimic the general shape of his body, and reminded me of blueprints an architect would use. Daisy is drawn completely differently. She constructed to look like she was sketched with a pink colored pencil, with heavy emphasis on the cross-hatching. They create a visual contracts but to each other, but also in the way of their lives.

This is not the only difference that was displayed visually between Daisy and Asterios. Their speech bubbles reflect who they are as people. Asterios has rectangular forms around his text, showing he is precise and sharp edged. While Daisy has loose circular forms around her text, showing she is more of a free spirit. Their living spaces are also drastically different. Asterios has a sterile modern styled living quarters, completely clean with everything in its right place and the furniture is formed perfectly to reflect his manner. While Daisy's apartment is filled with her art work, there are messes all across the room. The contract between these two charcters and the way they are displayed makes for quite the intriguing relationship to be drawn into. I think that they were a perfect compliment to each other, and I was pretty pleased with the ending.

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11Apr/11Off

Apollian and Dionysian

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In Asterios Polyp, there is a juxtaposition of Apollian and Dionysian tendencies.While Asterios tends to be more Apollian, Hana is defenitely Dinoysian. I found a quick article about the two views of Apollo and dionysus on wikipedia:

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

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9Apr/11Off

Swallow Me Whole: Echoes of Madness

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When the class was talking about Swallow Me Whole and the themes of madness that are present throughout, I thought it was very interesting when we considered the grandmother's little pill-creature as not so much a negative thing, but more like something that protected her from Ruth's madness with the side-effects of the drugs.  The entire subject of insanity is, by its nature, very controversial and I felt that Nate Powell wanted to convey just how disturbing it can be for everybody involved.  He also wanted to show that it's not just the elderly who can lose touch with reality; it can happen to anybody,  at any age.  With Ruth, Powell explores how someone who is insane can perceive reality and if they allow their madness the "swallow them whole", so to speak, it can consume them utterly.  All-in-all, Swallow Me Whole was a chilling graphic novel when I first read it, and while the class discussion cleared a few things up, it still left more questions unanswered.

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8Apr/11Off

Swallow Me Whole Weekly Round Up

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So, as we all know, we only had one class period to discuss this really dense book.  While we got a fair amount of stuff covered in class, we also have a lot of material that we didn't get a chance to discuss.

For one, we never got as in depth with the subject of the Schizophrenia as I would have liked.  The Wizard, the Cicadas, and the little Pill-Monster were obviously embodiments of each characters mental illness, but it would be interesting to find out if there was any sort of significance to them.  We discussed how the little Pill-Monster might have been the Grandmother's disease triggering Ruth's illness, or possibly representative of the ineffective medications that they were taking.  The Wizard and the Cicadas never really came up though, so it will be interesting if anyone has anything to say about them next Tuesday.

The other big thing that we didn't really get to was the end of the book.  The ending was very confusing as to what was actually happening.  I doubt that Ruth was actually buried by a swarm of Cicadas, and personally think it was representative of her disease overtaking her.  But it gets really weird after that section because it appears that she actually has died as evidenced by Peri and her boyfriend digging through piles of dead bugs and her parents seemingly identifying a body based on a picture.  Peri then seems to slip into Ruth's world, and ends up in the same realm with Ruth and the Grandmother.  This could be taken as his succumbing to his disease, or possibly dying, or some other equally valid interpretation.  In any event, that was a pretty awesome way to end the book... even if it was really weird.

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6Apr/11Off

Interview with Nate Powell

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I found this really interesting interview with Nate Powell.  It's in 4 parts, but well worth the read.  He discusses a vast number of topics from moving around the country to music, and eventually talks about Swallow Me Whole. Apparently he basically dreamt the entire concept in one night, which seemed really intense to me.  He also mentions the movie Donnie Darko coming out right after his dream and having weird connections with that movie.  Most prominent to me was his discussion of gender within the novel and how he went about critiquing that.  He also talks a lot about working in the mental health and human services field, which gives him a lot of credibility in my mind.  This interview really gives a great background to where Powell was coming from while writing Swallow Me Whole and brings up a lot of interesting issues and questions that I had not thought of previously.

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5Apr/11Off

Swallow me whole

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When I started reading the first few pages, I had no idea what was going on. As I thought about it, I realize that may be the point; Ruth and Perry may not have been able to make sense of their earlier memories and hallucinations. I feel like my confusion was a reflection of theirs and was intentional.

As I continued reading, I started to at least understand the plot and the characters. I really like a lot of the random, unique parts of the book that weren't necessary part of the story, like the small illegible writing, the representation of darkness, and the things filling the gutters. It was very captivating.

I agree with the person who said it was the most engrossing novel so far, I really enjoyed it. It kept me interested and the visual aspect was very appealing.

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4Apr/11Off

Small Text and Fuzzy Timelines

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Swallow Me Whole, while unlike any of the other graphic narrative we have read so far this semester, is extremely reminiscent of another graphic novel chronicling mental illness called In My Darkest Hour. IMDH is a portrait of a bipolar man as he goes through a normal day; normal including multiple flashbacks and hallucinations. I saw a lot of similar conventions used in Swallow Me Whole that appear in IMDH, such as the non-linear storyline and panels/pages where much of the image is obscured. Granted these two works are attempting to depict different mental disorders, but on the whole they have the similar task of trying to represent a type of altered reality narratively and graphically. As I said before one of the conventions for representing the reality of a character with a mental disorder is to have some part of the page be unclear or concealed. Interestingly, this plays out in SMW most of the time as obscured text. We run into everywhere: text bubbles in the background too tiny to read, or text so squiggly and loopy that it almost looks like it's covering itself up. I think this has two effects, one is that we get the sense that Ruth (and maybe to a lesser extent Perry, though he isn't explored nearly as in depth as his sister) is unable to be heard by or make herself understood to other people, as with the very literally case of her mother not being able to hear her from behind the refrigerator door because she is hard of hearing. The other is that the world around Ruth and Perry isn't always intelligible to them, as we see when Ruth is in class and her teachers text balloons get smaller and smaller until they become the background buzz that so often accompanies Ruth's hallucinations of the cicadas.

The other convention, the non-linear timeline, is one that I'm only mostly sure exists within this book. I inferred from the changes in the length of Ruth's hair and facial features every now and then that we were jumping between time frames. However, I was confused at times whether or not we really were proceeding in a linear fashion despite the fact that at some points Ruth looks younger/the same age than/as at the beginning. Like when she's talking to Perry and asks if he can believe that just a year ago Pogey and his friends were beating them up and now they're dating; in the future scene where she's talking about them getting beat up she actually appears younger than the scene where she and her brother are actually getting beat up. I couldn't tell if this was just the art throwing me off because the character's visualization wasn't uniform throughout, or if maybe the timeline was meant to be confused on purpose due to Ruth's supposed problems with perception.  Whether or not the timeline was linear or not, the fact that I'm even asking the questions says that Powell succeeded in depicting a narrative, a reality, where it's very hard to ever tell what exactly is going on. In fact, most of the scenes seem to beg questions from the reader like "why is this happening? when is this happening? is this even real?" which are probably questions Ruth and Perry asked themselves at least once or twice.

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4Apr/11Off

Swallowed Whole

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Whoa. What an interesting novel....

I read the review that "ekimo" wrote and I would definitely agree that "Ruth doesn’t fight it, while Perry does."

I loved how many full-page spreads there were in this novel too -- they were all very, very memorable, especially with Powell's fantastic use of black and white imagery. The pill bottle alone in a page full of black? Wonderful.

Lastly, I'd be lying if I said that this wasn't the most engrossing novel so far. I really felt part of the world they were in (or thought they were in) and seriously began to hear insects by the end of it XD

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4Apr/11Off

A bit hard to swallow

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I’m afraid I’m not completely sure what to make of Swallow Me Whole, particularly the ending, so I apologize for my subpar review.  There were a number of things I saw that I felt were important in some way, but couldn’t grasp beyond that.

I noticed that while both Ruth and Perry appear to be schizophrenic, Ruth doesn’t fight it, while Perry does.  Ironically, or perhaps because of this, help is sought out for Ruth while Perry’s issues are simply brushed off.

Though it’s implied that the characters experience hallucinations, I’m hesitant to say that none of it was real.  Near the beginning the grandmother is able to perceive somehow that Ruth also has visions, and later when they talk, she states “…if you call for it, it’ll be there.”

Some of her grandmother’s issues seem to be “passed on” to Ruth, as she has her epiphany shortly after her grandmother’s death, and looking at her face despite trying not to.  From this point onward it’s event after event until the end; her outburst at school, her parents finding out that she stole the frog from the museum, etc.  Throughout all this she’s able to justify all her behavior—to herself—until she is “swallowed whole” as it were.

On that note, Ruth’s visions are mostly manifested in hordes of insects, and her grandmother’s issues seem to be represented by that adorable little pill-monster thing, which is consistent with the statement that her hallucinations are medication-induced.  At one point the monster is depicted as swallowing the insects, maybe showing that Ruth's condition persists, despite medication.  It could also signify that the nature of her issues has changed, so as to become more problematic.  So perhaps Perry’s feeding of the frog-vision at the end is an indication that another “passing on of issues” has occurred?

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