Hark, A Bayou Rebel!

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!


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).

Teaching Maus; Critical Comics

In one of the earlier posts (I was searching for it but couldn’t find it) Prof. Sample posits that one of the reasons why Maus may not be more widely taught in the academic world, in particular in high schools, is because of a built in prejudice against the graphic narrative as a medium.  This is a sentiment I agree with.  It also got me thinking about what it would take to establish the legitimacy of the art form as well as what adjustments would need to be made in order to make Maus a “proper” history text.

In the introduction to the Los Bros Hernandez’s Love and Rockets Vol. 1 the author/critic Carter Scholz argues that the main reason that comics haven’t been treated as a serious art form is because they lack a history of criticism necessary to establish an academic tradition.  Initially only Europeans like Umberto Eco treated comics as works of art deserving of critical thought and analysis wrote deeply about the subject.  In Scholz view having a critical body to work from allowed the artists/writers to hone their craft and develop the art form but also said to the world at large that comics are worth of critique, therefore they are worthy of being considered art.  I would argue that in todays comic world that body of criticism does exist, but that sadly outside of Europe and East Asia it is still widely ignored.  How do we change this?  We teach the art form so that the youth going forward will know how to approach and even respect it.

So with that in mind I found these links about how to teach Maus in the classroom.  The first is about using the work as a way to engage less literate students as well as a means of introducing controversial topics, such as guilt and the erasure of atrocities from history.  The second introduces the concept of a Readers’ Circle where the students all read a piece of the work and then convene for a Q&A session asking questions as; “Why does Art shrink when he goes to see his shrink?”

Finally we have Art Spiegelman himself, now 61, talking about a seminar he is to deliver about his work on chronicling the history of the medium.  Perhaps comics most celebrated creator talking the issue of a critical body will be good, no?

I also find it amusing that when I typed Spiegelman into the post, Firefox said it was spelled wrong and suggested Spielberg instead.  Perhaps proving the point Scholz, Sample, and myself are all trying to make.

Week In Maus

This week we covered the use of animals as “masks”, and as division between nationality vs race.  What the aesthetic, cultural, and narrative affects that are the result of the anthropomorphic nature of the text.  We observed some of Art Spiegelman’s earlier work and how that shaped Maus, even becoming incoporated into Maus via Prisoner on the Hell Planet.  We covered the various times we all came into contact with the work (I myself had been familiar with its existance since ever, but regretfully never got around to reading it until this class) and what that means of our readings today.  We even got Inglorius Bastards, Daft Punk, and An American Tail into the discusion.

So what did I most take away from this week?  The utter humanity of the piece, the dynamic artistry applied in its construction, and the surprisingly large amount of metanarrative.

From what I had heard about before of Maus it was a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel/comic book about mice as jews during the holocaust.  Not much else.  I kept hearing about how it legitimized the medium (often from non-comic afficianados).  How it was innovative in its use of the mechanics of the comic strip (often from comic afficianados).  And how it, along with Schindler’s List, was essential literature to understand the blight on human history that was the Holocaust.  I didn’t appreciate how sorrowful and humanizing it actually was.  When I picked it up to read Maus Book 1 I read the entire thing in one sitting.  And then the next day I re-read it all again, in one sitting.  I would agree with the sentiments about its mechanical complexity as well.  Through the use of limited details and cramped illustrations we get the simultanous sense of isolation of humanity, and the crowding of people.  We also have several visual motifs to guide us, the white circle as covered in class, the use of swastika like images throughout, the juxtaposition of modern and past scenes.

But again, what no one mentioned was how meta it was, I nearly always heard it described as a story of the holocaust, not of the story of the child of a survivor of the holocaust.  That immedialty took my by surprise.  And the story amongst Vladeck, Mala, and Art himself was a real driving force to keep reading for myself.  It was also amusing how he mentioned maus essentially within it’s own pages.

And that’s the week in review, and my reactions to the work covered.

Academic Intersections

I know I’ve already posted about Nat Turner but I felt like sharing even more;) .

In a comment earlier I had mentioned that my reading of DKR was likely colored by the fact that at the exact same time I was reading the works of August Strindberg, well in another amusing academic intersection of sorts while we were covering Nat Turner in this class I was reading a play called “The Escape; or A Leap To Freedom” by William Wells Brown in another.  It’s a slave narrative about escape inspired by the authors actual escape and is the first play to be published by an African American as well as the first near-Modern play to be published in the Americas.  The Link to read it, if you are so inclined is here.

Nat’s Voices

Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner is an interesting, exciting, and somewhat disturbing read; an examplary graphic novel (Fun Fact:  Werthams’s studies on childhood delinquancy and comic books was conducted largely in harlem; a predominantly african american readership.  Also a Fun Fact:  Matt Baker was one of the first African American illustrators working in comics, including the art for the world’s first graphic novel, he even has the same last name as Kyle Baker).

I found it very fortunate that we started this class off with viewings and discussions focused on Gods’ Man because there where several similarities with it to Nat Turner.  Both feature a predominantly black and white color scheme and most of the narrative (or rather all in Gods’ Mans case) is conveyed entirely through image, not wordcraft.  The use of the written word is an innovative, and sometimes extraneous, feature of Nat Turner.  There is very, very few spoken dialogue by the characters within the piece, and their doesn’t need to be.  Baker is such a master of his craft that he is able to illustrate the scenes with clarity, and confusion, and although there are many images where the faces are rendered in a nearly flat, heavily shadowed manner, whenever you absolutely need to see an expression or thought occuring, it’s there for you to see.  The text itself does provide an intimate access to Mr. Turner’s thoughts and recollections.  Had they not been there than perhaps the entire extent of his religious influances would not have been revealed nor would the inquisitive nature of Nat been properly explored, this was a boy who tried to make experiments out of dirt afterall.  I feel that the narration, coming from Nat himself serves more to validate the happenings of the book as being history, and less so a companion to the action unfolding on the pictures.

Except for the rebellion itself that is.  We had a minimally textual novel for the majority of the work and then again at the very end, but during the majority of the bloody rebellion we have text.  Is this to convey the chaotic nature of the scene?  Was Kyle Baker simply not comfortable illustrating in vivid details the terrible deeds the rebellion did?  I would argue against the latter sentence because he illustrated the boy being decapitated by Wil.  Rather I feel he uses the historical evidence to give a clear picture of what was happening and instead keeps the images for only the most prescient, telling acts of violence.  At the time of Nat Turner’s publication there was  trend in both cinema and comics known as “gore-porn” where the extreme acts of violence (e.g. Hack/Slash in comics, Hostel in film) where the draw and by avoiding excessive displays of violence he forces Nat Turner to be appreciated outside of that trend.  It also, perhaps, displays a desire that images alone couldn’t fulfil the narrative needs of the rebellion. 

And finally I find it interesting that his mother is such a prominent character in the first half, far more representative of the family unit than Nat’s own family was.  Their tenure in this novel was brief, never allowing us to feel for them as individual characters.  Is this a critique on the unreliable nature of domesticity within slavedom or a necessity of craft to keep the space needed in the narrative to a minimum?

The Dark Knight Returns, Responds, and then Rambles off.

I realize that this is being posted very late, I was in a small war with Agora and Agora fights dirty.  But e-mails have cleared the way for this delayed responce to Tuesdays Carrie based presentation.  Looking at it now it seems less like a responce and more like thoughts fed through a Ramblematic-5000.  In that vein, enjoy:

This is a response to the presentation on the Dark Knight Returns in today’s class and the discussion around it. During the presentation the character of Carrie Kelley was the focus, a strong female character (which she most certainly is). However, on the very same page used as the prime example in the presentation, page 89 in the edition I’m using, we also have the picture of a woman in the news wearing a shirt saying “all this and brains too” whom seems to be only interested in the perception of the mayor as opposed to the way things actually are. The style that the woman is presented in screams 1980s but it also, like nearly all portrayals of the media in the Dark Knight Returns, seems farcical. It always seems to me as sort of an example of feminist movement as a failure, or as a woman not belonging in the man’s world. I’m probably being colored by my familiarity with Miller’s later writing (300 having virtually none, and Sin City having none that aren’t battered, a whore, or a soon-to-be-killed lesbian) but I certainly wouldn’t call it misogynistic either. Rather I think its an example of opposition.

Miller loves oppositions. This entire graphic novel is full of them. We have the character of Dr. Wolper whom exists to espouse the ideology of the hypodermic model of media consumption. In the ludicrous level of naivete that Miller gives him, coupled with the constant farcical scrunched facial expressions leads one to believe he’s a simple attack on that mode of thought, especially seeing as how it nearly destroyed the comics industry several decades prior. But then we are presented with the crazy gunman and the thug without a purpose on pages 89 and 90 as being clear examples that the media coverage, if not directly influencing their behavior is at least exposing them to the concepts (or person as the case may be) that is. Furthermore, we have a reactionary, vigilante force that is the Batman (seriously though, the Wayne fortune would probably be better spent on education and rehabilitation than squandered on crime fighting gadgets) as an example of justice and civic virtue, but the president whom built his reputation on such values (or perceived to have such values at any rate) is made to be the fool throughout the piece. This is clearly a younger Miller open to embracing the Modernist theory on multiple and potentially equally valid viewpoints (something that is less obvious in his later works).

However there is still on opposition that isn’t quite representational fair, the only positive African American mentioned is Detective Dale, whom is never actually seen on panel, and the only other African Americans in the first two chapters are a pimp that’s cutting a whore and a street corner conman. I think I went above 250 words if that’s alright.