This is what I was going to present on yesterday, but unfortunately the Dr. McNinja website was down and I couldn’t get it to load. Fortunately, now it is back! Check it out, it’s totally hilarious (if you need proof, it rated #3 on Cracked.com’s listing of the 8 funniest webcomics). It’s about a doctor, who is also a ninja. Or a ninja who is also a doctor. Either way. He’s supposed to be a batmanophile whose ninja parents are disappointed in him for pursuing a career where he saves people, rather than killing them. Not that he doesn’t kill people. He kills tons of people. Sometimes with the help of his secretary. Who is also a gorilla. Okay, that’s enough.
For my link this week, I wanted to post this really (no, really, it is very) short interview that Jeremy Love did with Comic Book Resources online. My main interest in this interview was specifically for this question that CBR asks Love: “Knowing what you know now, and how popular “Bayou” has become, do you wish you would have released it in a traditional format from the outset?” I thought this really tied in well with the discussion about the digital form that we were having on Tuesday, but I have to say (And maybe you will agree) that Love’s answer was fairly anticlimactic. He responds, “Not at all. I love the “shelf life” of a web comic. “Bayou” wouldn’t be as widely read if it were released traditionally. This story, more than anything, needed time to cultivate a following.” Interesting that the interviewer and Love seem to talk about it as if the digital form and the book form are these interchangeable ways of selling comics, the online form simply sounding like a better way of advertising them, and of reaching a larger audience in general. In class we approached this topic as if the comic had specifically been written for the digital format, and while in part it probably had, it doesn’t seem like Jeremy Love would have changed it at all if it would have been originally released in print. I guess I just wish Love had had a more in depth answer that maybe, possibly, included a small mention of how the mediums were different, and that that had had an impact on why he choose the online format for Bayou (instead of just saying that web-comics have a longer “shelf life”).
One aspect of The Unwritten that I really wish we would have got to explore further were the ideas of fame and celebrity. I do think it was important to talk about the merging of fiction and reality and the influential power of stories over society, but the book also seemed just as preoccupied with how our (western, middle-class) society tends to obsess over the famous, and how public opinion can be so easily swayed by negative press. As I said in my presentation, the general public’s opinion of Tom Taylor was massively affected by the fiction, a rumor, gossip, that he had killed everyone at the Villa Diodati, as reflected in online auctions, message boards, and new forums. This reaction seems typical, and one that we’re used to seeing all the time in an age of tabloids and entertainment news shows. In fact, I think that Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ decision to use a character so familiar to us all, the lovable boy-wizard, is a play on our popular opinion (our popularly agreed upon decision) that Harry Potter, Tommy Taylor, and even Timothy Hunter are genuinely good and trustworthy people, and how if one of them had ended up murdering some people suddenly the public would feel incredibly betrayed because we had got it in our minds, and all agreed, that this boy (or the man based off of him) would never do anything so heinous and awful. By putting Tom through a series of “wrong-place, wrong-time” trials, Carey and Gross are not only showing the reader how easily affected by fictions the public is, but also revealing how personally it can be felt by a society which had uniformly agreed to trust their vision of a person and then to have to doubt that belief (as shown in the Dr. Swann question where the mother equates Tom’s “betrayal” to a rape of her daughter).
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.
So when I was searching the great wide interwebs looking for interesting links about Maus and Art Spiegelman, I ran across the Steven Barcley Agency website’s biography of Art Spiegelman. More interesting than the (very standard) biography is the link in the right-hand column which lists Spiegelman’s works and has a picture of a book called Meta Maus. Indie Bound and Amazon both list it as coming out in October of 2011, but interestingly, on both sites there is no product description explaining what this book is: another sequel in the series? Something entirely new? Something entirely unrelated?
As it turns out, the book is going to be “like the Criterion DVD [of Maus I and II] that has [Spiegelman’s] notebooks, [his] sketches, rough drafts, interviews, transcripts, photos, historical references made into a work that can sit next to Maus.” I found this description of the book in an online interview with Art Spiegelman, conducted by Rebecca Milzoff. Personally, I’m very excited for this collection to come out as I’m interested to see how Spiegelman organizes or narrates the material. The books are already highly saturated with metamoments so having all of this outside information will make for another of layer of meta in which the author is telling us about being the author who is telling us about being told his father’s story of the Holocaust. Anyways, the rest of the interview is pretty entertaining as well, especially Spiegelman’s take on therapy as vomiting, and how he does not consider his work therapeutic.
Oh, and one last thing that probably won’t apply to many of you, but if you happen to read Portuguese, I found this Portuguese language edition of the book online. I just think it’s funny because on page 41 he’s talking about how the 15 foreign editions of the book like it’s a bad thing and here’s one of them.
We had been talking in class about what happened to Nat Turner’s body. This is a link to a Google Books version of Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory by Kenneth S. Greenberg, and starting on page 18 of the Preview you can read about the supposed history of where Turner’s remains may have ended up/were last seen.
I noticed that a lot of people had been writing about the first chapter on Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner, and while this isn’t supposed to be a response post, I thought I would share my thoughts on why I think the first chapter is even present in the story.
First of all, I think it’s really important to notice the lack of text in the first chapter. Save the onomatopoeia in a few frames (pgs. 20, 22), a brief excerpt from the memoir of Captain Theodore Canot (who is not the author of the rest of the book’s text) on page 36, and another brief quotation from The Confessions of Nat Turner by Thomas Gray on the last page of the first chapter (pg. 57), the chapter is composed entirely of illustrations. Obviously this isn’t a great departure from the rest of the book, which also barely has any text, but I think it is interesting that Baker doesn’t introduce what will become his only source of text (Gray’s Confessions) throughout the book until the very last page of the first chapter. It seems like Baker wanted to be able to tell the story of the enslaved woman without any interference from another text, but why wouldn’t he maintain this textless style (or at least only incorporate very short, factual tidbits along the way as with Captain Canot’s memoir excerpt) throughout the rest of the book? Why does Baker use another man’s words to narrate his account of Nat Turner’s rebellion? Why does Baker share this act of telling Nat Turner’s story?
It is this establishing of different narrators (/sharing of narration) that I believe is the reason for Chapter 1 (“Home”)’s inclusion in the story. Baker must first establish in a chapter with very few words that his narration exists within the illustrations of the book, not the text, and then subsequently incorporate Gray’s account of the insurrection into the book. By doing this Baker has established a tension between the his narrative (which seems fairly sympathetic so the slaves in the first chapter) and Gray’s narrative, and despite the images being supportive of the violent nature in which the slaves are described, the way in which Baker’s illustrations are exaggerated and hyperbolic such that Will almost appears to be a giant suggest that he is not agreeing with Gray’s account so much as he is questioning it. Baker sets up two interwoven narrations of the same event to show how perspective is important in a story like this. Gray’s account might say something like “Will killed the little boy” (not actually text from the book), but then Baker’s illustration will show a gigantic mammoth of a man wielding an axe and chopping a little boy’s head off. So, even if Baker’s illustration are in support of Gray’s text, they are somehow different. With a different narrator, with a different perspective, the truth of the history can become distorted (whether good or bad).
Like I said, I don’t think Baker was just trying to go against Gray at every turn to produce sympathy for Nat Turner, or that I think Baker thought Gray’s account was at all fictitious, I just think Baker wants the reader to understand that the circumstances surrounding Turner’s rebellion were not as cut and dry as “those people enslaved him so he killed everyone around.” I think Baker wants us to recognize that in dealing with historical subjects like slavery we must not only try and put ourselves in the historical context of the time, but also understand that from different perspectives (as acted out in this novel with “different” narrators) things can appear better or worse or completely different than we thought.