ENGL 685: Graphic Novels George Mason University (Fall 2010)

13Dec/10Off

Suffering in Context

Posted by deb56

I found the descriptions of Will and Nat in both the blog and the comment to be deeply perceptive, particularly Kay's military leader analogies.  I see Ian's summary of Will's exit as Frank Miller-esque as a juducuous incorporation of two dramatically different topics within the graphic novel genre, showing us how nonfiction and fiction collude and collide to make text and illustration the tantalizing connections with which students can readily engage.

While compelling, these portraits are, as is all literature, only a slice of the whole we continually try to make of anecdote and information.  To understand the spark behind the true story of the Rebellion, we need to include those aspects of real life that are alien to us today:  the actual social, political, physical, and economic status of slaves in 19th century America.  The illustration posted here is from Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain published in 1883 from the online North Carolina History Project in Chapel Hill (13).  In it, we see what looks like a friendly enough scene.  The fellow in the foreground is comfortably expressing himself with one hand, and, with the other, he lays a proprietary yet amicable hand on the left shoulder of the slave he is about to sell.  The three comfortable-looking while men in the picture have appropriately fitting, probably clean clothing, good boots, and hats to protect them from the hot sun in the south.  The slave is wearing overalls that are too short, a long-johns shirt, no hat, and heavy shoes.  The two men in the background are probably the potential buyers for the slave and want to be convinced of his merits.  The conversation probably includes humiliating details like how many hours he can be worked without food or rest, how he has either never run away, or preferably how he did so once, and after a severe beating, has been compliant ever since, and the most devastating weapon to hold over the slave's head, his family either lives with him or nearby and the loss of which can be held over him to force him to remain in his position.

After taking the emotional resources into context I think I can agree with the characterization that Nat was more of an organizer than Will, and that Will's strength became his greatest weapon in participating in the Rebellion.  They were both using their survival skills to take the best advantage of the situation in which they found themselves.

13Dec/10Off

Can political correctness and self-esteem get along?

Posted by deb56

Response to post by

Josh,

I am familiar with the angry student's reaction to being blamed for deeply immoral acts in which they did not participate.  I don't think any of my students were initially guilty though, in fact, a feeling of entitlement toward the separation from acts of their ancestors or ethnic group is what I have encountered.  I completely agree with your stated dilemma:  "Do we have to ignore history and responsibility to move on?"  Between political correctness and worries about self-esteem, it's hard to put an idea out there that doesn't offend someone and still makes a point.  In a much lighter take on a serious subject the Marjane Satrapi book Persepolis, mentions this phenomena in relation to how Iranians are viewed outside of the Middle East.

The protagonist is a bright, outspoken girl who grows up during the Islamic Revolution and the War with Iraq.  Her family sends her to Vienna to attend school where she would be safe.  Marjane makes two trips back to Iran and always feel like an outsider no matter what culture she is in, Middle Eastern or European.  Once Marjane and her mother are ridiculed by their own countrymen in a supermarket for having taken in refugee friends at a time when the food supply in Tehran is sparse.  Later, when Marjane is in a French convent, a nun shows contempt for her because she ate pasta out of a pot instead of putting it on a plate first, "It's true what they say about Iranians, they have no education.

Responding, "It's true what they say about you too.  You were all prostitutes before becoming nuns," gets Marjane thrown out of the boarding house to live on her own, while the Mother Superior writes a letter to her parents that she left voluntarily because she was caught stealing a fruit yogurt.

Marjane's method of survival is to endanger herself.  When she is in Iran, she constantly flaunts Islamic dress codes and behavior norms.  Once she tries to commit suicide by drinking vodka, cutting her wrist, and taking pills, and laying in a hot bath.  Alone is Vienna, she spends about two months on the streets in the middle of winter, eating out of trash cans and smoking dropped cigarette butts.  Imperiling her health, yet, she luckily ending up in the hospital, she tries again to make a go of it in Iran.  There she goes to a therapist and takes antidepressants make turn her into a zombie.

While talking to psychologists she realizes she has tremendous guilt because, as hard as her life was on the street was, it was nothing compared to the political murders and bombings her family was experiencing at home in Iran.  She will never forget the terror of being arrested on the street or having her favorite relatives executed.  Marjane sustains the collective trauma of the Iranians who lived through that period and the burden of personal family trauma going back several generations to the family of the shah.  She, like Spiegelman, uses writing to convey the times as they were, leaving a detailed and generous view into something I can only imagine.

-Deb

8Dec/10Off

The New Medium – Travis

Posted by travisrainey

I have to admit that the majority of my experiences with only comics have come in the variety of Japanese manga; that said, I was glad to at least be familiar with the presentation of this new medium.  Unfortunately, like Phineas, Shooting War was simply way to complicated in it’s delivery for me to completely appreciate the text. I don’t personally have own a laptop newer than 2002 so I had to borrow one of my peer’s laptop’s when I discovered the obvious problems with this micro (or was it macro…) media flash player.  What can I say, I don’t do the online thing much…Even with the borrowed, new, seemingly top-of-the-line laptop, I still had issues with the difficulty of fluidity as each page had to load and I would sometimes lose the ability to view the next page with some sort of error message.  I received the error messages so much it forced me to “put the book down” and occupy my time elsewhere, something that doesn’t happen with texts. Bayou was better, but not my much.

Still, I love the concept of Shooting War; the title is ALMOST ideal.  “Shooting” introducing the idea that the camera is the weapon in the “war”, exchanging film for bullets.  Not a new idea, but nicely represented in the title.  The camera’s lack of bullets instead uses the lens to provide the focus for the subjectivity of the narration, which forces a lovable appreciation of the “battery life”, “password…login…” type realism that the comic maintains.  It helps to remind the reader that the camera is still rolling, and it is providing for your viewing pleasure. There are a number of more things to be said on this comic, of which I will reserve for class but I will conclude that I wish the title were “Shooting Life”. It would have moved up two notches in my book.

7Dec/10Off

Webcomics

Posted by Ian Miller

As a longtime webcomics fan, I was very excited to think about the sub-medium for this class. While I thought Bayou and Shooting War were both enjoyable comics, I felt that neither really utilized the medium of webcomic as my experience had led me to expect. Just as Dickens trained his audiences to expect and enjoy the serialized format through his insanely popular magazines, so I've become emotionally attached to two distinct styles of webcomic, neither of which are really imitated by either of the readings this week. Furthermore, despite the polish of Bayou's flash interactive layout, it lacks the brilliant design of Scott McCloud's experimental "The Right Number" (http://scottmccloud.com/1-webcomics/trn/index.html), which uses flash or a flash-like software to not just imitate turning pages, but transitions you could never hope to achieve in paper and ink, such as multidirectional panel closure, and zooming into an image to the next one.

The two formats I've become accustomed to in webcomics are perhaps best exemplified by two webcomics I read fairly frequently: xkcd (http://xkcd.com/) and Marry Me (http://marryme.keenspot.com/main/2007/02/14/page-1-ex-boyfriends/). The former is a decently popular comic for nerds, utilizing a stick-figure aesthetic and extremely narrow cultural and scientific references for humor (when it doesn't get classy and make sex jokes). The latter is an attempt to attract attention from production companies to make a movie based on the storyline, first published as an online comic page by page, and now available in stores as a trade paperback.

xkcd (the name stands for nothing in particular) epitomizes the idea of the one-off comic - sometimes the updates are only one panel, like a Family Circus cartoon. Each tends to be unrelated to the previous or subsequent update, with rare occasions of a week-long storyline, or occasional recurring characters or events. The webcomic is unified by the sensibility and artistic style. The creator, Randall Munroe, also makes a humorous use of the medium by including a "mouseover" text in each of the strips, which usually elaborates on the punchline or adds a funny remark. While this kind of addition is not nearly as experimental as McCloud's foray, I think it more creatively utilizes the format of the webcomic than even the slickness of Bayou. Furthermore, xkcd also has spawned a large community, not only on the sites own forums, but also being linked on blogs, facebook, and even inspiring sites which are devoted to antagonistically picking the strips apart. In my mind, part of the appeal of a webcomic is not just the place you read it, but the fact that instead of having to wait to talk about the story or joke, you have a read-made community because the text is automatically online, available to all for free.

Marry Me functions quite similarly to Bayou. Both are basically advertisements for their creators, with the former attempting to sell both the storyline as a film and the trade paperback. The latter clearly intends to hook readers into purchasing the rest of the issues. However, Marry Me utilizes a method of storytelling that Bayou tends to eschew. Because it was updated a week at a time, each page builds to a moment of humor, not always an outright joke, but a miniature emotional climax, which leads to a sense of satisfaction at the end of each page. Bayou is structured more like a traditional print comic, with the climax being restricted to the end of the page sequence. I think the limitations the serialized format places on the creative team really allows them to hone their art, as Dickens did. Actually, I've been kind of sad that we've not really talked about the effect of serialization on the comics we've read - since structurally, serialization is the way most of the comics we've read function, even though we read them in one long trade paper or hardback.

All in all, I think webcomics offer hope for the future of comics, as they open up realms of genre not generally published (as Kacy notes about manga). The self-biography study, the slice of life, the fantastic, the mudance, the romantic, the historical, the romantic comedy - all these I've found in webcomics with art and writing to rival or better much of the dreck Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, and their competitors churn out in the superhero and scifi genres. Not that I wish to smack either of those genres - some of my favorite stories have been told in them - but there is so much more to comics than men and women in tights or with ray guns. People create webcomics that mirror their lives, from screencap parodies of nerd culture (Darths and Droids - http://www.darthsanddroids.net/; DM of the Rings - http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=612) to dark fantasy stories (Garanos - http://www.garanos.com/pages/page-1/) to absurdist but sweet and often depressing hipster chic (Questionable Content - http://questionablecontent.net/). Here's to that future.

7Dec/10Off

How to Read Manga- very different version…

Posted by Kacy Gibbons

I kind of got my hopes up when I read the title for this weeks extra reading, "How to read 1,000,000 Manga Pages." Of course, I didn't realize it would be a discourse by Lev Manovich in which he analyzes the color spectrum of images. Or that's the closest to understanding that I had while listening. Admittedly, his accent on top of the images he used caused my concentration to fade in and out. Maybe some of you were better students when it came to that lecture...

But that title led me to this post.

I am guessing that most people in this class had picked up a graphic novel and had some type of interest before attending. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for me. But sense I had read so much Japanese manga I thought that there would be some type of bridge that linked the two, some way to further my understanding. But I was wrong. It's not that the art is different, that's to be expected. Japanese manga functions under different mores. They have different lines to denote certain emotion, their frames are not as linear and their backgrounds have a formulaic set that mangakas use when not applying a place.

This is the traditional reading direction, by the way. I had to train myself to read from right to left again. And I still initially read left to right before realizing something is wrong.

Another difference between manga and graphic novels/comics are the audience. There is a large audience for Manga in America, but most of the readers are female or elementary age boys. I kind of doubt that can be said for graphic novels/comics. The reason being is largely due to manga having more genres to attract a wide array of people.

Going down the list

  • Action/Adventure
  • Romance
  • Sports and Games (Ranging from soccer to Majong)
  • Historical Drama
  • Comedy or gag
  • Science Fiction/Mecha
  • Fantasy/Supernatural
  • Mystery
  • Horror
  • Psychological
  • Tragedy
  • Ecchi (lewd or lascivious manga, involving a lot of panty shots)
  • Business/Commerce
  • Shounen ai (directly translated means "Boy's love")
  • Shoujo ai ("Girl's love)
  • Yuri ( a more "mature" relationship between two women)
  • Yaoi ( a more "mature" relationship between two men. Oddly enough, this is more likely to be read by female fans due to the forbidden relationship aspect. Japanese plots also like to toy with incest for some reason.)
  • Josei (manga geared toward women in their late teens and early twenties)
  • Seinen ( manga geared toward men in their late teens and early twenties)
  • Shounen (geared toward elementary boys)
  • Shoujo (geared toward younger girls)
  • Doujinshi (self published or amateur manga- mainly sold at places like comicon)

Manga is something that you can walk onto a subway and see a business man and a high school girl reading. Of course with vastly different plots.

Anywho, to get slightly back onto the topic of this week. Reading online comics is a much more mainstream notion than most would think. That's how I got addicted to manga. Because it was easily accessible, easily updated and free. This seems like it would be a detriment to the author, but I think it runs along the lines of downloading music. People still want to own a copy or have something tangible. Also, the manga that is translated onto an online format is normally sold in weekly magazines and then larger volumes following an arc. People are still definitely getting paid. Especially, if it turns into an anime, movie or drama.

I am sorry if this was all over the place, but what I am basically saying is that comics or manga being online just leads to a larger audience.

7Dec/10Off

Questions on Bayou and Shooting War

Posted by hhilton

I raise two questions for the web-comics, one each, that stuck with me as I read through each of them.  In Bayou there is a strong repetition of the hand and butterflies throughout, what do these symbolize in the story?  On the third frame we see the image of the dangling feet of a man hanging from a tree with the images of the butterflies becoming visually integrated with the drops of blood/they are the drops of blood?  Also, the tree roots are drawn like fingers holding onto the land and we could also say strangling the man.  The images of the butterfly or the shape of the butterfly continue throughout, but become most apparent again when Lee sees the butterfly-man underwater and frame 16 when the butterfly appears before Lily's locket is taken.  The repetition of the butterfly in these scenes brings both a sense of death since they appear in scenes of death or possible drowning of Lily.  At the same time they appear to be forces of life/protection for Lee.  We see in 13 that she is surrounded by butterflies and nature can hear the sounds of the Bayou while Lily cannot.  What does this say about the black slaves relation to the land and life?(tree holding ground, maybe not part of hanging, but rather holding the man?)--particularly when 3 frames later we see the white hand come out of the water and grab the locket--a white man sees only the material and monetary? Seems appropriate considering the white men paid for Lee and her father to risk her life to find the little boy, relying on their knowledge of the bayou.

And for Shooting War I held many of the sentiments that have been posted already.  One question I have is if anyone else felt a lack of movement throughout the piece? And by movement I mean simply within the images themselves.  The images seemed to me to be very stagnant, on contrast to every other graphic novel we have read.  I think this may be because of the mixture of media and how those created different distances for each layer -- it just did not blend well.  I was also thinking it could be because of the lack of the traditional frame/gutters of traditional graphic novels, but Bayou did not have gutters either and I did not have the same sensation.  The lack of movement of motion made this web-comic difficult for me to get through, especially paired with the large amounts of text that bogged down the images.

7Dec/10Off

Fast Food

Posted by Tim

I’m not sure who the intended audience is for Shooting War.  It does have a couple levels of appeal – pimply 16 year old boys come to mind.  Some drinking, drug references, graphically enhanced breasts, things that go ‘boom’ and the nasty guys get their due.  I liked it.  I don’t think I’d pay for it, but it would be an amusing way to kill time in a dentist office or airport.

More than anything, I found myself chuckling a lot: “History needs you.  Global needs you.  And we got great dental.”  The Dan Rather cameo – “what’s the frequency Kenneth?” The oblique reference to Monty Python’s Life of Brian – “Abu, respectfully, it was the Iraqi People’s Front for the Defense of Islam.”  Terrorists fretting over the set dressings before the televised beheading, and the comments from Global (read “Fox News”) executives: “Nice technique.  All in the wrists.” Also note the Apocalypse Now reference in chapter 3, page 3.

It doesn’t have the gravitas of many of our readings this semester, but sometimes a comic is just a comic – not a graphic novel.  Funny, interesting to read, some suspense, but in the end, more like fast food.  No nutrition, but tastes okay.

The format reinforces my impressions.  I’ve never been a big fan of reading on-line – there are too many distractions to give the material my full time and attention.  That’s what’s nice about Shooting War – it’s a pleasant diversion between writing papers, answering emails and grading homework, etc., but you can’t put it on your shelf and easily pull it down when you want to browse on occasion.

7Dec/10Off

Comics through the Online Medium

Posted by ksmith

I enjoyed reading the comics (graphic novels?) online this week. At first, as reflected on Twitter, I thought the medium would be a hindrance. Some Twitterers (Tweeters?) seemed to enjoy the zoom in capabilities of reading the comics online. Theoretically, this would give us more time to get into the nitty-gritty of each panel, taking time to savor, but for whatever reason, I felt less compelled to zoom in, even when all it did was take a click. I enjoyed the ability to, and I think I did a few times, but I didn’t feel as compelled to read “close” like I did when I had the graphic novel in front of me wherever I happened to be reading it.

I found some elements to be pretty interesting about this week’s readings and movie. For Shooting War, I liked the ability of the comic to be so “in your face” and relevant for today. The guy was a blogger, vlogger, multi-media journalist, and that made it seem all the more realistic or at least all the more present, even when the comic was straying from the current reality (President McCain, for example). Maybe I just like that the comic is that relevant, an element that will probably be a moot point soon enough. I think I liked that initial reaction more than I liked the comic itself. I was taken back by several of the panels (in a good way), but overall, I’ve just never been into political…anything so it’s not Shooting War’s fault necessarily that it couldn’t completely keep my interest.

I did enjoy Bayou, however. The colors and the drawings themselves reminded me of a children’s book, even when the content was disturbing. The colors were washed out enough that we knew we were in a different time without them saying anything, but they weren’t sepia enough to be distracting, which I thought was well-done.

Stylistically, both of the comics had something to offer the reader, and I took away something from each. With Bayou, I was more taken with the story, and with Shooting War, I found myself more impressed with the form (running camera feed, etc) and the notion of the comic than I was with the actual product.

~Kelley

7Dec/10Off

Hit Counts and Comics

Posted by Phineas Dowling

I've read several different types of webcomics before but what struck me as a somewhat different with Shooting War was the fact that each "page" was essentially a single panel. Some of them obviously were broken up into several panels, but the experience of reading this comic online is completely different from reading a physical comic. With this webcomic in particular I found I had to wait for a new page load almost every panel, which makes a smooth reading especially complicated. I agree with many of Josh's comments about this particular medium and his impressions, but I found Shooting War more frustrating than any other webcomic I've dealt with.

With a physical comic, you can see what is going on peripherally on the page which adds to the general impression of each page, putting the panel in a larger context. Even most webcomics I've experienced follow this kind of flow, but you still have to click over to the next page. As with any website, it is always about generating higher hit counts and increasing ad value. I accept this without complaint (free material is never without a price), but in the case of this particular webcomic I found it very disruptive to the reading.

I'm not sure why, though. Maybe it's because it slowed me down considerably. I found myself eventually just clicking "Next Page" almost immediately and reading the panel as the next one started to load. This made me feel pulled out of the reading experience because I had to be consciously aware of what I was doing and when I needed to click.

Or, perhaps it was that the stutter-like flow of having to switch pages made it difficult to get into the story. I did not find the character uninteresting per se, but I did find it hard to get interested in what was going on because of the way the material flowed.

On the other hand, I found Bayou very easy to read. Even with the clicking from one page to the next, because of the pacing of each page it did not feel like an imposition in any way. The story flowed from page to page pretty evenly and I was able to get absorbed into the text as I would with a physical book. I agree with Josh the the navigation bar could be a nuisance, but there were only a few places where I felt it impacted the reading experience. Maybe it is as simple as this being essentially a comic "viewer" displaying a webcomic, rather than a webpage, but I found Bayou's page flow much more conducive to the story  than Shooting War's.

I am curious if the creators planned Shooting War around this page break idea or if it was merely a limitation they butted up against. If the former, I would question its usage. More likely is that it is a technical limitation and I am just a jerk for ragging on their comic, but I've seen similar limitations used to significant effect.

7Dec/10Off

Bayou’s Simplicity

Posted by Lindsay Helms

Bayou uses a technique we’ve seen many times throughout the semester (Maus, Jimmy Corrigan, Exit Wounds), where the simplicity of the art (or masks in the case of Maus) is used specifically to endear the reader and enhance specific aspects upon which the comic is commenting.  For instance, in Maus we saw the cartoon-like overly simplified mice masks offer a door through which the reader was able to connect more strongly with the characters and surpass the atrocities of WWII in order to see the story of Maus.  I won’t go into Jimmy Corrigan, because I still don’t think I understand that one.  Bayou seems to do a similar thing, both in its form online, and in the art itself.  The simplicity of navigation and straightforward instructions, along with the ability to zoom-in (Josh, I think there was something wrong with however you were looking at it, I could zoom in just fine) made my experience of reading the comic easy and enjoyable (as opposed to Shooting War, where my eyes were completely exhausted by the time I finished because I couldn’t zoom in without distorting the images.  I know that comic doesn’t have a lot of money, but there’s something to be said about a comic that doesn’t let the reader zoom in perhaps not really caring about the reader experience.  I digress.)

My point is that the simplicity of the drawings in Bayou and the way such simplicity has been used in what we’ve seen parallels the story of Bayou itself.  The first chapter seems pretty typical of the societal norms of the time (segregation, racism, hangings), but there’s something else going on that we don’t yet see.  Lee sees some sort of fairy under water, while her white friend has her necklace stolen by a overly large dripping hand that comes out of the swamp. In the first three images we have a similar thing happening: First we see a house in the background with flowers in the foreground in an extremely picturesque and perhaps romantic rendering of a place.  Next we see a pickup truck, very cute rabbits and a sign, “welcome to Charon, Mississippi” with the confederate flag as its background.  We still have a hint of the picturesque in the bunnies, but the confederate flag diminishes said picturesque-ness.  And finally we have a hanging of presumably a black man (feet dripping blood with flies around it, we don’t actually see the face) and a group of white men in the distance.   It’s as if the comic is telling us not to necessarily believe what we first see, or understand.  Lee’s friend’s bruise underscores this point, playing with reader expectations.  For me, at least, I assumed she was rich and educated and generally had a good life thus far, except that her mother beats her and she has bruises under her clothing.  The simplicity of the art also underscores this point because we only see a surface and easy art style that has few details and very little background.

6Dec/10Off

Is “Shooting War” embarrassed to be a web comic?

It's difficult for me to think about war reporting without Michael Herr's Dispatches quickly coming to mind. Seeing as Herr's account of Vietnam inspired elements of Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now, and that Herr helped write the screenplays for both films, it's not difficult to see how my fondness for Dispatches played against "Shooting War." Where Herr's Dispatches viscerally displays the horrors of war, with the author himself changed by the events he lives through, Jimmy Burns' emotional register seems rather limited -- he sometimes looks scared, looks bored a lot, drinks a bit, shoots off a few snarky remarks, lusts after women, and that's about it. In many ways, Jimmy is not very different from the soldiers continuing the wars he claims to be against. Because of his detachment and distance, the horrors of war are little more than background noise (a remark the character himself basically makes when talking about sleeping in the hotel in the green zone, how the blast shields keep out a lot of the noise, but not the mortar blasts and gunfire), unpleasant detours and interruptions, and so on. With the authors and artists choosing to mix brutality with satire, parodying almost everyone in the text, including Burns, it's difficult to see "Shooting War" as anything but a doomsday scenario played out by vaudevillian actors, none of which I particularly cared about.

The medium of the web comic seems to have led to many of the creative decisions behind "Shooting War" -- the focal character of a web comic is a blogger, the archetypal detached, snide rabble-rouser or hipster "douchebag." The fact that we quickly see Jimmy on television screens and on the covers of magazines is interesting, almost as if the creative forces behind the web comic still see older, established manifestations of mass media as "more authoritative." (It's also difficult to ignore the constant advertisements for the print publication of "Shooting War," a text that allegedly offers the narrative a life it couldn't find online, with "important story & art changes" that I shouldn't miss.") The web gives birth to both "Shooting War" and the journalistic career of its focal character, yet the story moved to the "established," "respected" medium of print, a medium in "Shooting War" that eventually claims Jimmy is impotent, unable to "get it up" in the world of television journalism. A web comic finds an audience and jumps mediums; a blogger stumbles into a journalistic career, but fails to connect with anyone but "sluts" who want to have his baby. What is "Shooting War" trying to tell us about the internet? Is it really just a place to watch porn and bitch about movies, to paraphrase the once-humorous filmmaker Kevin Smith, and not a legitimate medium for the expression of ideas? It's interesting that the longest web comic we read seems almost ashamed to have started out on the internet.

6Dec/10Off

Presentation of Politics in Shooting War

Posted by jlowrey

 

I found Shooting War to be a really interesting read on a couple of different levels.  Its pointed commentary on contemporary media and U.S. foreign policy doesn’t pull any punches, and makes Wilfred Santiago’s political condemnations from In My Darkest Hour look mild by comparison.  I tend to find myself in agreement with much of the criticisms the creators lob at the increasingly irresponsible, corporate media machine, and the neo-con politicians who pushed so adamantly for the war effort. These criticisms, along with the larger themes present in the text obviously make the story very relevant to ongoing discussions on the contemporary convergence of politics, war, corporate America, entertainment, and media.  With all of that said, I do feel the work suffers from being too overt in these criticisms. 
 
In general, I think the political and cultural criticisms of the text might have been more effective, or at least easier for the reader to take seriously, if they were presented in a more subtle fashion.  In particular, the climactic moment in which the terrorist leader lectures Jimmy in front of a huge screen of George W. Bush was so blunt and obvious in its political message that is seemed more like a Michael Moore documentary than a work of fiction.  I don’t want to characterize this moment as creatively lazy, the shock value of the over-the-top violence and true to life political criticisms is certainly intentional on the part of Lappé and Goldman, but a more subtle approach might have ultimately had a stronger resonance for me.  I think in most cases, the reading audience is smart enough to get the political message – the creators don’t need to hit us over the head with it.  
 
Changing gears here, but from an artistic standpoint, I really enjoyed the use of photographic images to create the background for the many of the full page panels that dominate the text.  This technique added to the gritty feel of the text, and strengthened the too-close-to-reality-for-comfort atmosphere.

John

6Dec/10Off

online publishing (yaddayadda)

Posted by Josh Ambrose

Much has been written about the digital revolution and what it portends for the regular reading experience. I don’t want to add too many more vagaries to already nebulous philosophizing, but I read the webcomics this week with great interest in the actual experience.

The newer (flash-powered?) Bayou was clearly the more immersive of the two. True, it wasn’t perfect—the navigation bar often obscured critical text until I clicked to hide it—but it certainly felt more like a page on a book, in contrast to the ads, extraneous text, and choppy chapter transitions on Shooting War’s site.

That said, as a very casual web-designer, I can understand the appeal of the barebones, simple html of Shooting War. It’s easy to create and maintain, in keeping with the stereotypic punk ethos of its “radical” political message; Bayou is part of a much more “mainstream” portal that features work from many of the major publishers. Likewise, I can understand why the well-funded Bayou host could forgo ads, whereas the poorer Shooting War could manage the swallow the ironic pill of ever-present, sponsored entreaties.

I read both comics on an old PC on campus. It was slightly weird to pore over a static image in the glow of a stationary monitor after the relative freedom of thumbing through a book throughout the course. Granted, I am not one of the lucky masses to own an iPhone yet (let alone an iPad), but I can see those devices becoming much more enjoyable readers for this type of medium. In fact, I suspect that I’m more tolerant of the electronic glow for this type of presentation than I am for text alone (I confess I find Kindles and iPads equally unsatisfying for a good sit-down read).

Anchored to my desk chair, I did appreciate the left-over outlines in some frames of the Bayou preview—somehow it definitely helped make the experience more organic and deceivingly tactile. That said, I was unable to zoom in on details as promised by the beginning instructions (perhaps a problem of my web browser?) This problem was just as great in the text-heavy Shooting War, where I had to resort to keyboard tricks to force my browser to zoom in on the abundant amount of text. Moreover, as I’m sure others noted, several images on the Shooting War site are noted as "moved/deleted."

Which of course is the problem of all these reading experiences. When a book is printed, everyone experiences it in the same way, relatively speaking. When something is printed online, the reading experience is disconcertingly fluid. This is symptomatic, of course, of a huge range of software and hardware variation--I still remember the shock I felt a decade ago when I realized pictures that were beautifully edited on my home computer looked like blown-out, pixellated crap on others.

The video this week from the MIT lecture was introduced with the intriguing statement that “media is something we do.” It is the possibility of audience participation that is perhaps one of the most intriguing possibilities of online publishing. Of the two, it is most clearly explored via Shooting War, where readers from around the world weigh in with their take on the hyperbolic political messages therein. At times, the weight of the unseen comments awaiting a simple scroll down from the comic was nothing if not distracting—but a quick scan showed the comments to be surprisingly on-topic and intelligent—at least, as far as internet comments go!

Anyway, as a reader, small-time lit journal web editor, and potential future online GN contributor, I continue to be fascinated by the online reading experience and the challenges therein. If nothing else, now is a good time to find friends with mad web and programming skillz--or maybe learn (more than?) a few ourselves.

6Dec/10Off

Stylistic Elements of /Shooting War/

Posted by Kristine Brown

Overall, I wasn't blown away by Shooting War. However, that is not to say there aren't parts of it that really got my attention, especially stylistically  so. I'm not exactly sure how the authors created the webcomic, but it looks like something straight from Comic Life, the Mac application that comes automatically with most of their newer computers. The way the word bubbles look pasted on top of the art instead of fully integrated into it is what specifically reminds me of this program, and it is this perceived lack of integration between the words and the images that initially put me off from the comic. I thought it looked cheap, and sort of rushed through; however, that's not to say that the creators didn't succeed in doing some pretty cool things with what they were working with.

One thing the creators did that I liked can be seen in Chapter 2, scenes 5 and 6, where the interviewer's word bubbles are literally laid over top of Jimmy's when she is interrupting him. It's not a huge thing, but it was a place where I felt the word bubbles were doing more than just sitting on the page narrating the story. I feel like in so many of the scenes the bubbles begin to take over the frames, mostly due to what looks like a lack of space. In other cases, instead of doing bubbles, the narration or dialogue is simply typed on the side of the frame with a black background. At least in Chapter 2/Scene 5 and Chapter 2/Scene 6 the bubbles are given the physical task to represent the actual overlaying of voices (the interruption) in the story's action. I felt this was one place that the word bubbles were doing more than just sitting on the page taking up space.

Another place where I think the author's succeeded in doing something interesting with the words was in Chapter 2/Scene 13. Here, in the middle panel, some of the words  ("There's nothing left for you here.") are actually taken out of a bubble and placed directly in Mr. Newfeld's eye. The effect is that Mr. Newfeld's eyes are what is conveying the message to Jimmy that nothing is left for him in New York, or even in America. While the text could logically follow from the bubble immediately before it, and then the bubbles after it could act as further explication of Burns' situation, I read it as all the bubbles being a continued sentence/thought, and the text in Newfeld's eye as it's own message. This is both because of the placement of the text outside a bubble and because I think the look Newfeld is giving Jimmy is supposed to convey a much more direct and to-the-point message than his actual words. Newfeld is a news man and a business man, and as such quite throughoutly long-winded, but here we encounter a place where the man can convey a simply, though depressing, message with just the expression of his eyes.

I'm going to stop with these two examples of interesting things done with the text, but another sort of related cool thing is in Chapter 3/Scene 4, where the rocket actually stretch the length of the scene, across 3 panels. The way it connects the scenes and portrays a sense of time and imminent danger, I though, was really cool.

2Dec/10Off

Waltzing With Apocalypse

Posted by Tim

Interesting visual parallels between Waltz with Bashir and Apocalypse Now that show the surrealism of war.  The first is Folman’s head emerging from the Mediterranean with the lights from Beruit lighting up his face.  He appears transfixed as he as is drawn slowly towards the city and the massacre that is yet to happen. The second is the surfing scene.  Ronnie Dayag and Frenkle lounging on a beach where soldiers are doing drugs and trying to avoid becoming friendly fire casualties.

There are other scenes where Waltz seems to have taken cues from Apocalypse.  Little bits of surreal dialog pepper both movies. “How should I know?  Look for a bright light.  That’s usually where they dump bodies” is equal to the answer Capt. Willard gets when he asks a soldier who is in charge: “I thought you were Sir.”

In Waltz and Apocalypse nobody seems to be in charge.  Ariel Sharon on his ranch and General Corman in his air-conditioned trailer in Vietnam are nominally in command and both could probably point to maps and intelligence reports to sum up the current military situation, but you get the impression that neither has any idea of what is going on with the rank and file.  If they did then massacres and renegade Colonels wouldn’t happen.  Or perhaps it is unavoidable.  As Corman says when he orders Willard to find and terminate Kurtz: “…there's a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.”

1Dec/10Off

Sometimes a movie…-Travis

Posted by travisrainey

I must say I found something in common with both novels at my completion; I was shocked that they were completed so early.  In complete agreement with Jared, I truly felt that the graphic novel of Waltz with Bashir was a meager attempt to place in literature something that was better served on screen.  I am very appreciative of the quality of the artwork and the was incredibly distraught when i discovered that the quality of each page was so fine that I was leaving finger prints on each amazing image.  The illustrations are clearly of a literal effect, almost an exact cartoonic re-crafting of the real world, unlike Asterios Polyp which enlisted very simplistic lines for effects.

The plot was simple enough, and there seems to be no end to the discourse of unreliable memory, but it was truly the "Waltz with Bashir" that officially left me in the text.  The waltz amidst the gunfire seemed to portray an incredibly dramatic scene the likes of which I really felt like I needed some background music, popcorn, and a more comfortable seat to appreciate.  I understand that there were other dynamic scenes in the work (like the sniper-work on the beach) but the entire piece seemed to culminate at that one moment to attain the most "drama", as if time were at a stand still so that Frenkel could complete his waltz amidst a world that I thought would be focusing on the action across town.  I guess pictures just didn't do it for me.

I actually did like the novel, short as it was.  I was more fixed on the quality of the pictures than of the story or characters, but who can argue against me there?  With such a short story and no great amount of character development, it is difficult to have much more with which to bargain.  I am looking forward to seeing more movies created with this animated appeal as I'm also tired of disney and pixar look to animation (although the movies are commonly funny).

30Nov/10Off

Religion in Exit Wounds and Waltz With Bashir

Posted by Ian Miller

(The following discussion focuses on a tiny element of this week's texts, and I make no claim that the issues of religion are a paradigm-shaping theme in either narrative. However, I do think that the way religion appears or disappears is very interesting as a picture of the artists and the society they portray.)

When I first read these two stories, both dealing with the impact of wars with significant religious inflection, I was surprised to find so little exploration of the actual beliefs and subsequent behaviors of the combatants and victims. Waltz With Bashir particularly mentions that the perpetrators of the massacre which drives the protagonist's search for his own actions are Christians, even mentioning that they carved crucifixes on their victims as a precursor to the massacre, but no real explanation of their position or beliefs other than the simple label "Christian Phalanges" appears in the novel. While such an omission could be merely because these facts would be apparent to anyone reading the account in Israel or Palestine, I think that combined with an earlier scene, the unspoken method of presenting religion without explanation actually mirrors the way religion is perceived by the artists.

On page 31, the soldiers in the tank debate over what to do. One offers up the suggestion that they pray, while another argues that shooting is more effective, and that you should pray while you shoot if you have to pray at all. Importantly, no mention of what belief system the prayer would fit into appears, nor do we see any praying soldiers, merely apocolyptic streaks of fire as the soldiers reject appeals to spiritual authority and instead become the life-and-death authorities. Despite this attempt to control their own situation, the powerlessness of the authority taken appears in the very next scene, as the desperate soldiers drive up to an point where death has taken over, and the soldiers merely take charge of the remains of anonymous corpses.

Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds, though it presents religion as much more present, seems to regard it again as merely a superficial covering of a person's behavior, rather than any significant influence for changed life patterns. Numi makes some very bitter and political statements about the exclusion of unidentified bodies from Jewish cemeteries, and Kobe's father Gabriel appears to have embraced the appearance of Judaism for the sake of his new wife, but neither of these actions appears to have any weight for Kobe, and, since the values Kobe represents don't seem to be significantly different from the narratives' themes (though naturally he undergoes change, as all traditional protagonists tend to), I generally take his view of his father's religion as that which the narrative presents as fact. In that view, Gabriel's piety becomes a complete sham, a shell he uses to hide from his wife the fact that before (and perhaps even during) their marriage he pursued sexual relationships with several women, some of them very young like Numi, some women his own age who were married to other men - all of them profoundly unethical, involving multiple betrayals. In light of this kind of relational viciousness, Gabriel's facade of religiosity appears as nothing more than a sop for his overly gullible wife, who also seems to have her sincerity undercut by the anger she displays when Gabriel is late while Kobe waits.

All in all, the appearances of religion seem very similar in these graphic novels to the elusive "truth" that both portray the protagonists searching for. Whether it is the guilt one has no high power to absolve one of, or the pain from absence that is part of no providential plan, religion offers no comfort for the characters. Often, instead, it exacerbates the problems. However, the authors' attitudes towards religion leaves the underlying motives behind this treatment difficult to discern. Since they provide no real presentation of the beliefs which motivate the atrocities, whether massive in scale or subtly emotional, the result is a world which functions on a surface level on the spiritual plane, using labels and images (such as the crucifix or Star of David) as an excuse or condemnation rather than exploration. The lack of curiosity here displayed does rather interest me, even though I cannot really say I have a conclusion to the issue presented by the two texts.

30Nov/10Off

Reality of PTSD

Posted by hhilton

When I finished reading Waltz with Bashir I was not sure what to make of the novel as a whole. The reality and brutality it portrays and the journey to rediscover that reality and bring it to light.  But when I was able to set the novel down and step back I was drawn back to the article we read with Maus on PTSD. I feel that this graphic novel really captures the stress of trauma and the power of the mind to both cover up and remember traumatic events.  While reading I often found myself trying to figure out the chronology of events as the novel jumps from one person's memories to another person's, and going from an anecdote back to the memory of the war.  The Traumatic Stress article notes that the difference between a stressed person and someone suffering with PTSD is that "they start organizing their lives around the trauma" (6).  The closed nature of a novel, and the fact that this novel is one man's journey to uncover the reality behind one particular memory, for me, presents the tension and stress behind trauma, war, loss, etc. that the other graphic novels we have read about war were not able to capture.

The novel begins with the image of the hungry wolf-like dogs hunting down the narrator, which immediately put me on guard for what would come -- it set up a sense of insecurity, entrapment, fear which parallels the feelings created from PTSD.  And then the novel ends with the abrupt switch to actual photos from the massacre that has remained in a limbo state between real memories and false/uncertain memories, but then becomes too real.  The reality of the final images i think shows the power of the mind to forget such images, and the power of the mind to protect oneself from those images and memories.

30Nov/10Off

Exit Wounds

Posted by Kristine Brown

I was kind of at a lost as to what to write about in terms of Exit Wounds. Like discussion on the Twitter shows, I just wasn't sure why this graphic novel received such mass amounts of praise, recognition, and awards. Upon finishing the book I was at a complete loss as to what made people think it was such a substantial piece of work. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the story, and I didn't have the desire to put it down out of boredom once; however, it also didn't strike me as something that would be on Time Magazine's best graphic novels of 2008 list. I just didn't think the love story or the mystery story were that original, or that amazing, and the art left something to be desired.

Maybe it's the subtlety with which Modan goes about conveying themes and meanings that made me sort of miss the triumph of the book on the first time around. After reading the interview and some others' blog posts, I can see I missed a lot of the successes of the book. For instance, I automatically assumed when characters were talking about suicide bombings that they were directly referencing the Palestinians, but as Joe Sacco points out, they are never actually mentioned. In some ways, my assumption is exactly the point Modan is trying to convey: this conflict is so very everyday to those who live in Israel/Palestine, as well as those of us who watch CNN or BBC.

I also didn't really bat much of an eye at the fact that we don't meet Gabriel the entire book. I guess it was another assumption I made that plot-wise Modan would either choose to Gabriel discovered (in one way or another) or make him end up being dead. It wasn't until John pointed out that his absence is "haunting" the text that I put anymore thought into it. That, combined with Phineas's post about the title pointing out that people are scarred by others' exits, and therefore absences, made me realize that Modan could never actually let the reader see Gabriel in order for the love story between Koby and Numi to have weight.

In the end, I find a lot more to be impressed about by Exit Wounds, but I guess I still take issue with so much of the brilliance being in what is left out, than what is actually there. I think this is why I was generally unimpressed to being with: what we are presented with is a fairly average story. What Modan actually shows us and gives us isn't this spectacularly brilliant thing until we realize that something is missing, that this is unusual, unique, and brilliant because it is somehow out of the norm of the way real life is.

30Nov/10Off

Dissonance

Posted by Kacy Gibbons

I've always been intrigued by the idea of cognitive dissonance.

Direct from Wikipedia:

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions.[2] Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

What I get from this theory is that people have an idea of what they are. Mostly we believe that we are good people. But what happens when we are placed in a situation that causes us to come face to face with the cracks in our humanity? On top of Waltz with Bashir being a pretty clear case of PTSD, I also think it deals with this notion of dissonance.

In this graphic novel we are led through Ari Folman's quest to recover his memories of the 1982 Lebanon War. As reader's we are aware that soldiers are asked to do and witness some pretty traumatizing events. But what was it about the massacre that led him to completely wipe his memories of what occurred? Did he corner a group of women and children and then was asked to kill them? Maybe some of us were slightly confused by the passive role he played in the massacre, as in how could just lighting a few flares create enough guilt to erase a chunk of memory?

In reality, the leap from doing something like lighting the way and actually being a part of murder is not that hard to make. I can say from personal experience that doing nothing is almost as culpable as actually taking a part. And both acts will change or haunt a person.