Goin’ Down to the Bayou

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

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

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

Emma Watson, or Hermione Granger?

I found this article on Twitter today and thought it would be relevant to share with our class. Apparently Emma Watson has dropped out of Brown because she was getting too much heckling for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter film series.  Sounds a lot like our Tommy Taylor, no? Just shows the relevance of the messages about fame and blurring fact with fiction that The Unwritten discusses.

Like some of my classmates, I was really captivated by this story’s subject matter of schizophrenia, delusions, hallucinations, and the like. I was a little shocked at first to hear that Powell himself doesn’t suffer from mental illness, but it made more sense to find out that he had been working with mentally disabled adults for some time. I thought he did a great job at capturing something that so many find impossible to communicate. Since I don’t suffer from these conditions myself, I can’t attest to whether or not he did them justice. But I can say that I did learn how terrifying, disorienting, and disruptive it can be to suffer from a mental illness.

For my web search, I wanted to find some other pieces of fiction that attempt to do the same thing as Powell did here–fictional accounts of a mental illness or condition that try to give the reader/audience a glimpse at what it’s like to live with it. One I kept running in to over and over again in my searches was I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb.  Lamb’s novel is supposed to be quite long (most publishings seem to be between 800 and 900 pages) but like Swallow Me Whole, it tells a story of two siblings, one of whom is schizophrenic and the other has his own emotional problems to boot. I imagine if, like me, you were really compelled by Nate Powell’s gripping representations of mental illness in Swallow Me Whole, this book by Lamb is worth checking out.

However, the one I’ve read and can personally vouch for is The Whalestoe Letters by Mark Z. Danielewski. The Whalestoe Letters are actually a part of Danielewski’s larger work House of Leaves, which is a trip in and of itself. But the Whalestoe Letters stand alone as a deeply moving account of living with mental illness, and the way illness can affect families. Like Swallow Me Whole, it’s also fictional, but somehow Danielewski seems to draw us right into the mind of a seriously disturbed person. It’s a short piece (much shorter than Lamb’s novel) so look into it if you get a chance. (You can explore it some through the “Look Inside!” feature for free on Amazon, but I don’t think this does it total justice).

Exit Wounds exited too soon.

While seeing all of the other students’ tracing projects was insightful (I really liked each novel got a good representation, so I learned something new about each of them), I wish we had some more time for discussion on Exit Wounds this week. There were quite a few things that we didn’t get to examine with this novel, and it would have been cool to talk a little more about Modan’s style. For example, someone brought up in their tracing project how Modan masterfully captures emotion in her drawings of facial expressions. I thought this was so true in this novel, and I’m glad someone brought it up. One example is on page 77, where Numi is staring at Kobi from the corners of her eyes…Modan is able to capture this perfectly, with such simple line drawings. I wonder if anyone else noticed any other great examples of this?

Overall we focused a lot on the story and less on the style, and I think that at the end we all just decided that it had a crappy ending (I disagree with this, by the way–maybe she’s too open-ended about what happens between Koby and Numi, but she did clear up the story’s big mystery about what happened to Gabriel). I wish we could have talked more about how Modan told the story–why she included such a graphic sex scene, yet left out any real graphic violence, for example. Also, we could have looked at Modan’s use of humor–sometimes black humor–in her story, and what implications this might have.

Ms. Mouly

While reading Maus, I was oddly fascinated by Art Spiegelman’s depiction of his wife, Francoise Mouly. She’s not exactly a central character to the novels, but her involvement in shaping Spiegelman’s art really compelled me to research more about her. I found a really neat interview she did with one of my favorite websites Big Think, where she answers some questions that are particularly pertinent to our class, such as “are comic books good for kids?” and “Francoise Mouly’s Recommended Comics” (which includes some of the comics we’re reading in this class.)

Check it out.

Images of Auschwitz

What I found most interesting about this first section of Maus II was Vladek’s experiences in Auschwitz/Birkenau/Dachau, and how Art chose to represent them visually. Young Spiegelman struggles with this himself, unsure of how to draw such horrendous events that he’s never actually witnessed. Personally, seeing such gut-wrenching images as the sick and dying mice made me shudder at the thought that this actually happened to people—and even crazier, that they managed to lived through it. Maybe I was the only one who did a few Google searches to look up images of the real Auschwitz and the horrors that happened there? I found some pictures of the Kremas and those haunting Auschwitz gates. Even looking at real photographs, it is still hard to imagine that these tragedies happened. I think it’s actually a testament to Spiegelman’s project—I don’t think he misrepresented anything that happened there, because it can’t be represented at all. Even photographs don’t seem to do it justice, and I think that even if a real survivor illustrated Maus, I still wouldn’t understand what seeing those things in real life was actually like.

Also, the more I read Maus, the more I really appreciate Art Spiegelman’s storytelling. Everyone seems to be focusing a lot on the visual representation (myself included, no doubt) but I’ve been thinking about the incredible job Spiegelman does in capturing his father’s voice and dialogue. Everything seems so natural, and the reader is able to catch on to the subtle nuances, like when Art is being sarcastic toward his father or when he’s being inconsiderate or too persistent in pushing Vladek to continue narrating the story. As much as seeing the images on the paper really helped me visualize the story, I felt even more immersed in Art’s narrative pieces—it’s so easy to “hear” the characters speaking in my head, and I think that really sets Maus apart from some of the other books we’ve read in this class (particularly the ones without any words—obviously).

Inglourious Basterds

This isn’t my week for a Link post, but Here is the link to PART of the Inglourious Basterds scene that Michael was talking about in class, for everyone who hasn’t seen this amazing film. This isn’t the whole scene, but you can see that it definitely parallels some of the themes brought up in today’s class. When I saw this movie in the cinema for the first time, I instantly thought of Maus also.

History through Images

What really struck me about Nat Turner was the whole concept of retelling a real historical event through the medium of the graphic novel. The ability for the images to stir up such intense emotions in a reader really speaks to the power of graphic novels as an art/storytelling form. And certainly after reading Barker’s novel, we’re all very aware of the historical events surrounding Nat Turner and won’t soon forget them. It seems to me that if you really want a story to be told, and want it to resonate with readers who might otherwise be unfamiliar with the events surrounding it, you could really make use of storytelling through a graphic novel.

We’ll be seeing this again later in Maus, for sure, but I was curious to see what other pieces of human history have been retold through the eyes of graphic novelists. I came across a pretty long list of graphic novels that deal with “historical events,” which indicated that a lot of writers have already latched on to my assertion about this medium is perfect for connecting readers to people, places, and events of the past. I’m providing links to the PDF “Learning History through Graphic Novels” as well as some links to the particular novels I thought paralleled the conceptual storytelling behind Nat Turner.

Yossel, April 19, 1943 by Joe Kubert: a story about the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
Fallout by Jim Ottaviani: graphic novel about the Manhattan Project’s key players, like Oppenheimer
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno: follows the story of a family post-Hiroshima bombings
Vietnam Journal by Dom Lomax: the story of a war correspondent based on real events from the author’s life.
Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda by J.P. Stassen: deals with the Rwandan genocide

There were tons more, so definitely check out the PDF if you’re interested in doing some graphic novel reading outside of our class!