Nat and Hobbes?

Again, I feel like I have nothing too new to contribute to the blog discussion. Everyone has given really awesome suggestions! I think the pre-reading exercises are the key. It helped just to have someone say “slow down! look at all these triangles” to make me slow down and actually think about triangles. I think a discussion of visual literacy (admittedly a concept much broader and applicable to much more in life than just graphic mediums) needs to head off any work with graphic novels.

Again, I am confused on the purpose of my own blog. Am I trying to get students to slow down while reading Nat Turner or slow down while reading the diverse genre of graphic novels/narratives? The question seems a little nitty-gritty, but I think these differences are also key. Before Professor Sample pointed out the differences of Nat Turner and other influential graphic novels (I’m thinking of Maus) I didn’t even think of differences. I was too busy trying to situate myself to what I assumed to be the general graphic novel genre expectations. Now, comparing and contrasting Nat Turner from these expectations gives me a much deeper reading of Baker’s novel. I am really stuck on the question of why the English department choose Nat Turner as the special community book over the other more popular and, apparently, more influential graphic novels at play in the literary community. So, I would argue, for the slower, deeper reading of Nat Turner, which Professor Sample’s lecture provoked, students need to be familiar with other graphic novels.

As others have pointed out, McCloud’s comix theory does provide this genre background, but I would argue for more examples of departure. I want to talk about Calvin and Hobbes and how it always blew the other comics on the Sunday funnies out the water. Yet, when I look at a collection of just Calvin and Hobbes it doesn’t seem as groundbreaking because it is not situated in the context of the other standard form comics with Peanuts to the left and Blondie to the right. When I didn’t have a Maus comparison I didn’t know how groundbreaking Nat Turner really is.

I’m still stuck on why George Mason picked Nat Turner, but with so many of us have commenting on our discomfort with teaching and discussing the deadly issues Baker expertly brings to the front of his novel, I think I have my answer. We must slow down to really chew on these issues and I think our students will want to slow down to chew on these issues. As Susanna aptly pointed out: violence needs to be discussed and discussed now and Nat Turner allows us to talk about our culture’s comfort with violence and to also make violence uncomfortable again.

P.S. For those bitten by the “What is literature?” discussion and debate, I really recommend John Guillory’s Cultural Capital: the Problem of Literary Canon Formation. It’s a deep thinker.