Archive for April, 2013

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Winston Churchill

Some of you, my professor included, may have noticed my lack of a blog post on a professional development book. truth time: I didn’t read one! My week was insane, and I kinda didn’t wanna read it because as much good stuff as I’m sure was in there, teaching strategies, at least right now, are not my bag. MOVING ON

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30 books. 30 books is what I’ve read between January and today, if you count some rather sizable graphic novels and some over-arching comic books story arcs (a.k.a spanning several issues). For some time now, I had been down on myself for not doing as much reading as one would expect from a literature major. The classics were wearing me out, the 5 page papers were driving me insane, and I had had it up to here -invisible line- with obscure poetry about a certain red-f’cking-wheelbarrow. And just then.. a light at the end of the tunnel – an excuse to read novel after novel, not necessarily as brooding and complex as any Scarlet Letter, but much more readable, and definitely more relatable. Hell, sign me up!

And sign up I did, sign up for an “A” contract in a class called “Adolescent Literature”. After getting a look at a reading list including the likes of The Outsiders, the Hunger Games, and some graphic novels I’d never heard of, another class of reading Walden could kiss my happy, anti-transcendentalism ass. Thanks to this class, I’ve done some things I would not have before – such as start a Twitter feed, and this blog page! No one wants to hear the dumb crap I have to spew, I thought to myself. What good is a blog past me just talking to myself?
Little did I know – these blogs and tweets and crazy technological wonders were to be used as part of a learning platform – to network with other human beings. Damn! What a concept! And here I was thinking the internet was around for little more than cat videos and obscure, brooding facebook statuses (SARCASM).

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This class is unlike any I’ve taken before, in the combined sense that I not only enjoyed what was required reading (most of the time), but doing my homework was a bit of a relief. Being forced to blog every week means having to regurgitate my thoughts about a book or a theme, and if I thought the author was a jackass or the book was pretentious, being able to say so for the world to see felt kinda good (still waiting on Sherman Alexie to explain to me how owning a kindle makes me a fucking elitist. Genius.) If I thought a book was awesome, being able to compare reasons why with someone else was also awesome. I wish in-class meetings had either been more frequent or had more people, but that kind of thing happens with an online medium. I still managed to get some good back-and-forths going with people, and this blog has forced me to pick back up a once-frequent medium of posting angry things on the internet. While it’s not fiction writing, it is something. I’ve decided that I’m going to start calling myself a writer. Not pretentiously, mind you, and not in the sense of “I hang around coffee shops and write” writer. But it’s something I do, and it’s something I do well. Why not take the title? I feel like I meet the qualifications.

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With such a comprehensive reading list, one is forced to gain some perspective outside of the (typical) middle-class, white American adolescence. I do not know what it’s like to be an indian on a reservation, to be a raped teenage girl, a (fabulously) gay man, or anything else of the sort… and being able to glance into that lifestyle, even for just a little bit, broadens an otherwise small horizon. I won’t lie, when I first heard “adolescent lit”, I thought of some rinse-and-repeat franchise like A Series of Unfortuante Events or Goosebumps, I hadn’t considered works like The Hunger Games. This kind of literature can provide an escape point or a point of identification for adolescents – I’m just wondering where the drop off is between “young adult” and “adolescent”. Plus, what exactly is “middle grade”? Problems are not  specific to a grade level. I come from Alliance where parents can’t buy their children toys off of infomercials because they aren’t old enough to call the hotline – I know a thing or two about early onset problems. Problems in adolescent literature aren’t problems exclusive to adolescents, they just come from different perspective. Plus, every parent in every adolescent novel or horror story for that matter is a total douche. If you had just believed your kid in the first place, maybe you wouldn’t have gotten abducted by aliens.

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Above: Somewhat related.

When it came to my independent reading for this class, I tried my best to convince my fellow readers and compatriots that Superman and Captain America had just as much literary complexity as lame-ass Arthur Dimmesdale or Charles Dickens’s Pip. A good 3/4ths of my independent reading had to do with graphic novels and comic books, and the accompanying blogs were me trying to convince a class of mostly women to pick up a comic book. Did I fail? Most likely. But luckily, Dr. Ellington included 2 graphic novels in the syllabus, so I can hop on the bandwagon of the success of that week. This all culminated in my inquiry project being my own syllabus for a graphic novels course. If I changed even one mind, I call that success. If I didn’t, well, you can’t win ’em all. In fact, you lose most of them it seems. Seriously though. Break the stereotype. Comics aren’t just for teenage boys, aren’t just for nerds, aren’t just for dorks. Yeah, shows like “Comic Book Men” don’t do us comic readers any favors, but come on. Dudes dig chicks who read comic books! Fact.

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So I guess the question that remains now is will I continue to spill my brain droppings all over this page, even recreationally? It’s hard to say. I guess that really depends on if anyone else does. I definitely plan on continuing to skulk my Twitter account. I dunno if I’ll continue to update it, but too many people share too much cool stuff for me to just ignore it all together.

Either way, if you’re reading this, thank you for joining me on this ride. I don’t suspect it’s over – but for right now, we need to head to a rest stop. My brain can’t handle much more responsbility.

Excelsior!

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“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” – John F. Kennedy

This is it folks – not only are we on the home stretch of the year, on the last book talk of the semester.. but we’ve also reached the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy after beginning the semester with the first two. The popular opinion regarding Mockingjay seems to be that it is everyone’s least favorite of the series, but they still enjoyed it.. despite it being “boring”. Today, I’m going to explain to you not only why that is wrong, but why the series needed a clincher like Mockingjay. (spoilers: it has to do with not writing the same damn book 3 times in a row).

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So, what’s going on here?

For the rare breed of the uninitiated in the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay is the third and final book. The Hunger Games entail the story of the country of Panem, the shambled remains of the United States after some great war, and then following said great war, a great rebellion. Panem is split into 13 districts with a capital, and every year, each district offers up a boy and a girl to fight to the death in a televised event as punishment for a rebellion some 75 years ago. Crazy stuff. Specifically, the books follow Katniss Everdeen of District 12 and her friends in their attempts to first survive the Capital’s wrath, then quell the rebellion, and finally in the ultimate table-flipping move say “fuck it” and join the revolution. That’s Mockingjay. Katniss and Peeta Mellark (her faux love interest) have survived 2 go-rounds in the Arena, and the rebellion against the tyranny of the Capital and President Snow is fully under way. The rebellion needs a figurehead to lead them – and Katniss is first in line. With her allies either being damaged goods or captives of the Capital, the Mockingjay (Katniss’s rebel persona) is going to need a miracle for this to work.

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So, why is this different from The Hunger Games and Catching Fire? Is that good or bad?

Mockingjay, rather than dealing with Katniss and Peeta’s attempts to survive in the arena (as in the first two books) take us away from the arena and place us into the thick of a warzone. Refugee camps, drone strikes, active warfare in the streets: the tensions have been building for two books, and the rubber bands are finally starting to snap. And personally, I think this is what the series needed. The first two books are great, don’t get me wrong – but they both largely have to do with the Arena and what goes on between the people inside. Catching Fire has some elements of the incoming rebellion going on, but ultimately we find ourselves back in the formula of *survive nature, kill other tributes*. A third book taking place in the arena or a 3rd set of Hunger Games would have been too much. We’ve seen it before. We don’t need another Catching Fire or Hunger Games – those books exist already! Suzanne Collins could have easily milked this series into a 5-7 book franchise, continuing to recycle the different arenas and tributes. Thankfully, she gave us instead what we needed: a change. The book is about a revolution! RE-VO-LU-TION. The entire point is breaking out of the norm, disrupting the established order in favor of something else. The arena feels claustrophobic and clamped down – but an active warzone in the streets of the capital! That’s chaos! That’s disorder! That is the change we need. Might not be what we want, but complacency never got anyone anywhere, now did it?

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So, the verdict then?

I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone can see this book as boring. The book is separated into two halves – Katniss learning to be the Mockingjay and how the rebellion works, then after rescuing Peeta, actually planning and commencing the attack on the Capital (which, Hollywood is conveniently turning into MOCKINGJAY pt.1 and 2. Thanks, Harry Potter. I’m never going to get to see an entire story in one movie ever a-god-damn-gain.) The first half can tend to lag in places. Katniss spends a lot of her time dealing with an internal struggle the likes of which most of us have never even come close to experiencing. Her brooding can begin to grow tiresome, but it’s made up for with every snappy remark and every loose-cannon approach she takes to her field missions. At no point did I find myself bored, however. I always wanted to know what happened next. It was worth the wait.

Obviously, I can’t recommend that you read this if you haven’t read the first two. I mean, you could – but you’ll miss a ton of past references, have no clue who certain characters are, and probably won’t care much about this ragtag group of rebels if you don’t know how they got there. Looks like you’ll just have to read the series!

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Si vis pacem, para bellum

ENG355 GRAPHIC NOVELS & COMIC BOOKS
(click ^here^ to download this syllabus as a .doc)

Professor: Dr. Jeffrey McFarland

Office: Admin 666

Office Hrs: Tues Thurs 12-2 or by appointment

Phone: 555-555-5555

Email: pretend.emailaddress@eagles.csc.edu (putting your e-mail up online is a good way to get spam)

Class Meets: MW 2-3:15

As you can see, I have memorized this utterly useless piece of information long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system. Congratulations.”

– Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes infamy

Course Description:

Personally, I hated the term “graphic novel”. To me, graphic novel was just a “politically correct” term stuffy literary critics made up in an attempt to mask the fact that they were actually reading something a lot of adults would consider childish: a comic book! After further study, however, I acknowledge that there is a difference between the two – but neither carries less weight than the other! The objective of this course is to take a medium of writing often disregarded by many readers and attempt to demonstrate its ability to stand toe-to-toe with some of the greatest literary classics. The graphic novel or comic book consists of the sequencing and melding together of visual images along with writing. The presence of brightly-colored superheroes donning capes and tights often bring the comic book under fire, but with the right material, capes and costumes can stand for much larger issues. Through graphic novels and comic books, we will examine and discuss several diverse themes relevant around the world, including, but not limited to, governmental power and dystopia (V for Vendetta, Superman: Red Son), gang violence and justice (The Dark Knight Returns, Yummy), the complexities of everyday life (Calvin and Hobbes, Everything We Miss), and struggles arising in cultures not our own (Maus, Persepolis). We will take a look at what makes certain comic strips able to stay relevant and endure the test of time while other literature fades (Garfield), all the way up to asking at what point a comic truly becomes a “graphic novel” (Watchmen). We will not only be examining the writing in these novels, but also the artwork. Why do artists position panels in the way that they do? Why are certain colors used in lieu of others? These questions tag-teamed with traditional literary questions provide levels of depth and complexity not offered in some classic texts. We will be asking questions such as, is reading a novel and reading a comic book the same to your brain? Are comic books any worse for you than some novels? By exploring thoughts and ideas often tackled by classic and modern literature alike through the eyes of the graphic novelist, our goal is to not only understand the graphic novel as a serious literary contender, but also to discover an alternative route to the truths that literature can provide us besides just the traditional wall-of-words.

Required Reading:

Brosgol, Vera. Anya’s Ghost. ISBN 1596435526

Busiek, Kurt. Marvels. ISBN 078514286X

David, Peter. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born. ISBN 0785121447

Davis, Jim. 30 Years of Laughs & Lasagna. ISBN 0345503791

Hinds, Gareth. Beowulf. ISBN 0763630233

Hinds, Gareth. The Odyssey. ISBN 0763642681

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. ISBN 006097625X

Millar, Mark. Civil War: A Marvel Comics Event. ISBN 0785121781

Millar, Mark. Superman: Red Son. ISBN 1401201911

Miller, Frank. The Dark Knight Returns. ISBN 1563893428

Moore, Alan. Watchmen. ISBN 0930289234

Moore, Alan. V for Vendetta. ISBN 140120841X

Neri G. Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. ISBN 1584302674

Pearson, Luke. Everything We Miss. ISBN 1907704175

Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. ISBN 0375714839

Siegel, Mark. Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid Of The Hudson. ISBN 1596436360

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. ISBN 0141014083

Watterson, Bill. The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. ISBN 0836218051

Attendance/Participation Policy:

You guys are adults and should be responsible enough to show up to a class that you signed up for. Whether or not I take attendance points will depend on the frequency of absences. You are the ones paying to take the class, not me. I expect you to show up to class, have the material read, and be ready to participate in in-class discussions. This class will be fun, we want you and your input there! That being said, more than 2 unexcused absences will incur my wrath, and your grade will most likely begin to reflect this. I understand that things come up – so long as you e-mail me and don’t have a grandma who’s sick every week, I can be pretty lenient.

Weekly Assignments (Blogging):

Besides just having to read the material, each week you will have for an assignment a blog post (on WordPress.com) reflecting upon the reading material. Any thoughts, connections, concerns, or questions you had raised by the text will be brought up in your blog. I had originally considered making you maintain a weekly reading journal, but I think it would be better if you were able to see and comment on each other’s thoughts.

These weekly assignments are to make sure that you are in fact doing the reading you claim to be doing, and so that we may get some decent use out of the internet besides cat videos and Facebook walls. One word of caution – read the material. I will be able to tell if you’ve read or if you’re flying by the seat of your pants: you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.

Weekly Blogging Requirements:

  • 600 words at the least.

  • Each post must contain 2 links you found interesting or relevant to the material

    • These can be anything: another blog, news articles, quirky youtube videos

    • Links can be either included in the post or attached at the bottom

  • Comment on at least three fellow classmate’s blog posts (*groan*)

    • These responses have no requirement, but “great post” probably won’t cut it.

NOTE: A blog is a public medium. Once your thoughts are out there, they can’t be reeled back in, so be at least a little wary of what you say. Preferences can be set to restrict people’s comments, but that doesn’t change the fact that almost anyone can see what you have written: employers, authors, professors, students, etc. etc.

Your blog is yours, so make it your own! Almost any personalization, any thought, idea, question, comment, concern, complaint is up for grabs. Think of this less like homework and more like a chance for you to spill the innards of your brain! (gross)

Final Creative Project:

You will have a creative project due the week before finals that can entail almost anything so long as it is relevant to a work or a theme that we have discussed at some point during the semester. I’ve seen it all in my day: YouTube trailers and movies, Minecraft models of locations in books, songs written, cakes baked, pictures taken.. your imagination is the only real cap on this. If you’re unsure about a project or a topic, run it by me and I’ll try to get the ball rolling. This is your chance to do something cool with the subject matter we’ve dealt with. Seeing as how I’m being pretty relaxed about what this project entails, please don’t half-ass it. Why would you ever want to half-ass self expression? This project can be worth up to 10% of your final grade, and you have all semester to decide on what it is. Fair enough? We will present our final projects the week before finals, using whatever time is remaining to review for the final.
Wait, what final?

Mid-Terms and Finals:

There will not be a mid-term in this class. I don’t feel like putting one together, and you don’t feel like taking one. Take the free time to read ahead (or do some independent reading!) The final will be composed of a single, 5-page essay question asking you to identify the presence and the relevance of a theme or themes found in multiple works we have read this semester. More details will be made available to you in class and online as we continue down the line. We will not meet in-class on the day of the final. Instead, your essay will be due by the end of the regular time window in which we would have taken a final exam.

In-Class Behavior:

Turn cell phones off or on vibrate only. Don’t spend the entire class period looking at your crotch – either you’re texting or doing something far worse, and either way, it shouldn’t be happening in class. If you need to take a phone call or a message, step into the hall in an incognito fashion. Laptops, Kindles, and other digital devices are allowed, and as much I would prefer that you use them for strictly educational purposes, if (when) you’re going to use them to browse tumblr, please be discreet and don’t disrupt the class.

If the digital devices get out of control, colleagues of mine have suggested an interesting idea: giving students extra credit when they catch others goofing off with their devices. As much as I don’t want to resort to that, it would be interesting to see how well you all mesh as a unit – don’t test me!

Getting a Hold of Me:

My (fictional) phone number and e-mail address are available at the top of this syllabus. I would prefer if you insist on using my number that you text me, unless it’s a life or death situation, in which case feel free to call me. No drunk calls or texts. I will not bail you out.

Late Work:

Weekly assignments are due preferably by Friday at midnight, but no later than Monday at class time. All I’m asking is a blog post and a handful of related links, blogs posted later than class time on Monday will be rewarded with an “Incomplete”. If you have a (damn) good reason to need more time to complete an assignment, you can contact me at least 24 hours before the assignment is due and ask for an extension. Catastrophic failure of the internet connection due to a snow storm is acceptable. Partaking in a Game of Thrones marathon and completely forgetting about your homework, however awesome, is not.

Escape Clause:

If for whatever reason you are not totally enthralled by my hilarious sarcasm or are not prepared for the reading load this class entails, the class can be dropped and taken again at a later semester. Word of warning: the required reading list will most likely be jumbled around in future semesters. Information about dropping a course and deadlines can be obtained at http://www.csc.edu/registrar/withdrawal.csc or call the Registrar’s Office.

Academic Honesty:

Plagiarism will not be tolerated. I’m not going to give you examples of what plagarism is and is not. If you truly don’t know what encompasses plagarism, Google is your friend. As they say, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Plagiarized work will be returned to students marked “Unsatisfactory” and students will be placed on a probationary period of grading. Students who plagiarize more than once are in danger of failing the course. Students caught plagiarizing will be subject to discipline, as per campus policies outlined in the CSC Student Handbook. Cite your sources, don’t steal other people’s work, don’t reuse old work of yourself or another. Simple.

Nondiscrimination Policy/Equal Opportunity Policy:

Chadron State College is committed to an affirmative action program to encourage admission of minority and female students and to provide procedures which will assure equal treatment of all students. The College is committed to creating an environment for all students that is consistent with nondiscriminatory policy. To that end, it is the policy of Chadron State College to administer its academic employment programs and related supporting services in a manner which does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, national origin, age, religion, disability, or marital status. Student requests for reasonable accommodation based upon documented disabilities should be presented within the first two weeks of the semester, or within two weeks of the diagnosis, to the Disabilities Counselor (Crites 338).

Disclaimer:

The instructor reserves the right to make changes in the syllabus at any time (but will not be so imposing as to not let you know about said changes). Any changes made will not modify the objectives (or expectations) of the course.

“Comic books and graphic novels are a great medium. It’s incredibly underused.” – Darren Aronofsky

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to formally welcome you into my domain! This week in ENG438, we have cast off the cape in favor of two graphic novels that have nothing to do with Kryptonite, billionaire-playboy-genius-philanthropists, or (mostly) nefarious villains. Nope, this week we’re tackling young children in gang violence and the tortured artist’s attempts to break out of her shell – no superheroics required! The first of the two (that I read, anyway) being Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri & Randy DuBurke, and the other being Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge. I enjoyed both of these novels very much, which will come in handy seeing as how I’m putting together a syllabus for a graphic novels course!

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Graphic as in novels. Not explicit material. No one wants to see you do that.

Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty

Yummy will do something many conventional novels you’re force-fed will not: morally struggle. Yummy entails the story of an 11 year old boy from Chicago named Robert who is given the nickname “Yummy” because of a pension for sweets. Yummy’s father is in jail, and his mother is just short of batshit crazy, so obviously, Yummy doesn’t have much in the way of family. His talent for petty crime and lack of any kind of stability in life means that when he is offered the chance to join a gang, the closest thing he’s had to a family, he snatches up the chance. And things go sour from here. This (mostly true) story is actually told from the perspective of a fictional classmate of Yummy’s named Roger, whose brother also happens to be in the same gang Yummy is caught up in.

Yummy, in an attempt to move up in rank, goes to get rid of some members of a rival gang playing a game in the street – and instead, succeeds in eliminating an innocent girl. Thus, a manhunt begins for him. The ultimate culmination is not a happy ending, but I won’t spoil it for you. What Yummy does best (besides be wonderfully and realistically drawn) is make you feel torn. You want to hate the criminal that took an innocent life, held up innocent people, and would not reform. But then you see panels of this same criminal sitting with a teddy bear in front of Saturday morning cartoons. The issue here is not black and white (as the panels are), but something deeper. This is an issue that our narrator, Roger, deals with himself. Do we feel bad for Yummy? Do we scorn him for what he has done? What could have been done differently? Sure, he’s a murderer, but he’s also only a kid. Unfortunately, Yummy’s story isn’t fictional. And it isn’t the only one of its kind. This is a story that will make you appreciate your loved ones.

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Results after googling “Southside Chicago”

Page by Paige

It took me a little while to get into Page by Paige. I couldn’t really relate to the whole “small town kid moving to the big city” thing – mostly because I was a big city kid who moved to a small town, and it was when I was 5. And we lived in the suburbs. Not a lot of adjusting to do, but anyway! Page by Paige is the story of one Paige Turner (her parents are writers) moving to New York from.. I can’t remember for the life of me where. Somewhere where they actually have yards and porches instead of stoops and towering skyscrapers! Paige is an introverted teenager with a pension for drawing who wants people to notice her and wants desperately to be a people person.. but can’t seem to get over her social anxiety. Will people like her? Will they think she’s weird? Are they just being nice because they feel sorry for her? Paige is worried about fitting in – a problem every teenager has faced since the beginning of time.

Paige is also the tortured artist type. Through her sketchbook, she creates images of how she really is on the inside. The drawings range from really intricate and sometimes shocking to the sweet simplicty of a flower blooming. In the beginning, Page by Paige was not really roping me in. I’m not sure why. I enjoy the art style, I enjoy Paige as a character, and I enjoy the lack of any horrible tragedy occurring (for once). I think I couldn’t really relate to Paige’s reasons for being such an introvert until the book began to get going. Paige wonders why people act happy when they know things aren’t okay. She wonders about the “masks” that people wear – why they shut out others or act one way when they really feel another. Eventually, she realizes that this is just part of day-to-day life. The important thing is finding people who you don’t have to wear a mask for.

Said no teenager ever.

Both of the graphic novels we read this week tackled real-world, albeit very different problems effectively. And they did it without being 600 page, sprawling, wordy, boring and presumptuous-as-hell “classics”. I would recommend both Yummy and Page by Paige to anyone who’s interested in graphic novels, but thinks superheroes are lame. As for convincing nay-sayers to pick up a graphic novel for the first time, my best recommendation would be to find one that tailors to their interests. There are no shortage of graphic novels to choose from. It’s just about finding the one.

Videre

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” ― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Ladies and gentlemen, this week I decided I was going to cast off the cape and begin digging into what else the wide world of graphic novels held in store for me. Given my literally limitless options, I decided to jump off with the first graphic novel to ever win a Pulitzer Prize, the ever-popular Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”. Despite the resounding swastika on the cover of (both) books, I was not prepared for the ride that ensued. That being said, both parts of the novel were page-turners from start to finish, with my favorite being the second. I thoroughly enjoyed “Maus” as a whole, and if one is prepared for some heavy-handed subject matter, I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to get into graphic novels (and anyone already initiated!)

http://artspiegelmanandmaus.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/maus-1.jpg

So, what’s going on here?

Maus consists of two separate but connected main storylines: Art Spiegelman’s estranged relationship with his stingy (and of poor health) father, Vladek, and Vladek’s recounting of his life up to and during the Holocaust. Art, a cartoonist (in some crazy breaking-the-fourth-wall-style) decides that he wants to tell the story of his father’s life in a comic strip format. But this requires rekindling a tumultuous at best relationship with Vladek. Art’s mother and holocaust survivor alongside Vladek, Anja, has died sometime ago, having committed suicide without leaving any note or last testament. In between his father’s tales of WWII and trying to keep Vladek’s new wife, Mala from tearing her hair out, Art comes face to face with not only horrors of the past, but the ghosts that haunt his present.

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The washed-out and destitute look of Maus is no accident.

So, it’s a graphic novel about the holocaust? What makes it special other than that?

Maus’s art style is strictly in a black and white that sometimes feels like a noir tone. The title “Maus” comes from the fact that very rarely are actual human beings depicted in the book at all: different races of people are depicted as different animals. Jews are mice, Polish are pigs, French are frogs, Americans are dogs, Gypsies are moths, and of course, Germans are cats. There are certain panels or scenes, however, where the characters do in fact have human bodies and even human heads – but wear animal masks that hide their faces. Some have accused Spiegelman of blatant racism with some of his animal choices – Polish people being depicted as pigs when the Jewish belief is that pigs are unclean creatures being an example. What these people ignore are the portions of the book where the animal divisions blatantly break down: what about the people who are both German and Jewish simultaneously? Not all mice are good, not all cats are evil. Mice often have to wear cat or pig masks to disguise their true selves. Some crazy allegorical stuff starts going down here.

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Above: historically accurate depiction of WWII

This is, of course, a Holocaust story, but instead of some piss-poor textbook representation of “-blank- million people died”, the reader gets a real story from a real survivor. These are things that really happened, these are real people that are dead and gone. There were moments where I felt my gut wrench because I couldn’t believe people got away with this behavior. This, Emmett Till, Stalin’s Soviet Union(that they don’t teach you about because they’re too busy telling you about the Holocaust), sometimes it seems as though a totalitarian regime led by Superman doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. But even eliminating the WWII aspect of the story, there is still Art’s struggle with what is essentially survivor’s guilt. He didn’t have to face the struggles that his mother and father did. He outlived his younger brother, who didn’t survive the Holocaust at all. He wonders if he would have had the strength to survive, or how things would have fared if his parents and his brother had escaped altogether. There’s more going on here than the re-hashed atrocities of WWII.

So, the verdict?

Read Maus. Read it, read it, read it! And for you teachers-to-be looking to infuse some graphic novels into your class, but you aren’t so much digging my idea for Watchmen, definitely use this. For Watchmen, I felt as though I had to step up to the plate and defend the superhero genre from the criticism of “it’s too campy, it’s not capable of being serious, it’s just comic books”. Maus makes no bones about it’s seriousness. As desperately as these people needed a Superman, one never came. There’s enough historical relevance and social significance here for classroom gold: everything from racial stereotypes to genocide and back again.

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Somewhat Related: in episodes 24-26 of the Justice League, the League goes back in time and fights for the Allies in WWII. Special cameo appearance by none other than a cryogenically frozen Adolf Hitler.

Concordia

“When life gives you lemons, chunk it right back.” ― Bill Watterson

I’m going to get this out of the way first and foremost: I neither loved nor hated Virginia Euwer Wolff’s “Make Lemonade”. For me, it had its touching moments, but on the whole, I wasn’t super impressed, nor did I walk away bleary-eyed. There were times when I was genuinely enthralled, and others where I felt my hands turning the page simply so I would have the necessary fuel for this blog post. Usually, a book I love (or hate) creates very polarizing feelings in me. This book left me with an “eh” and shrugged shoulders.

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I know what we’re going to do today!

So, what’s happening?

For the uninitiated (that is, anyone reading this not in my adolescent lit class), Make Lemonade entails the story of 14 year old Verna LaVaughn, who takes a job babysitting 17 year old Jolly’s two (fatherless) children. Jolly is barely managing to hold the shambles of her life together, scrambling to be able to pay for rent, bills, and the things that young Jeremy (3) and Jilly (no older than 2) need. Verna takes the job, despite the fact that it could possibly begin cutting into her study time. Verna fears nothing more than the possibility of not going to college and ending up like Jolly, and her mother finds no shortage of ways to make it known that she is skeptical at best about Verna’s decision. Oh, and for any of you wondering where “Make Lemonade” comes from as a title, 3 times over Verna plants some lemon seeds for Jeremy, the first two times yield no results. This, and also an anecdote from Jolly about an old blind woman trying to buy an orange for her children being knocked down by some thugs who replace the orange with a lemon (guess what she does with this lemon?). It’s all very symbollic, the whole “life gives you lemons” schtick, yadda-yadda-yadda, overcoming adversity time!

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You don’t seem thrilled with this. Why not?

For one thing, I, on general principle, am not fond of kids. And by “I’m not fond of kids” I mean I seriously want to tear my ears off whenever children are in the vicinity. I know some of my fellow adolescent-lit-bloggers are parents, and I apologize if this opinion is for some reason offensive, but sweet jesus kids bug the crap out of me. I know they don’t know any better, but (like Verna mentions, having to stop herself from acting like I would) when a kid is being a whirlwind of destruction, that shit is not cool. You want to be angry, but can’t because they don’t know better, so you’ve got nowhere to put your irritation, and then someone will inevitably say “WELL YOU WERE A KID ONCE TOO” (no shit, lady), and it all just devolves into a big mess.

Reason #2 is there were multiple moments in this novel where I wanted to dropkick either Jolly or Verna’s mother. Hypocrisy seemed to be the word of the day for these people. Here are my brief impressions:

Jolly: “WAH HELP ME I NEED HELP I CAN’T DO THIS ALONE – OMG YOU’RE STEALING MY CHILDRENS FROM ME I DON’T NEED ANYONE I CAN DO IT MYSELF”

Verna’s Mother: “DO WHATEVER IT TAKES YOU NEED MONEY FOR COLLEGE – HOW COULD YOU TAKE THIS JOB THAT PAYS MONEY YOU BETTER NOT START SLIPPING IN SCHOOL BECAUSE SCHOOL MEANS COLLEGE”

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Above: somewhat related

Rinse and repeat this for about the entirety of the novel. And it drives me nuts. Verna’s mother offers hollow, lifeless praises to her daughter when things go right, but spends most of her time rolling her eyes, saying snappy things under her breath, and peeling potatoes. So, maybe the woman lost a husband to a freak accident. That would explain the cold exterior, and she does mean well when it comes to Verna. She just wants to see her succeed, but she’s pretty much the cliche “overworked mom” from most teen novels, shows, etc. etc. Jolly on the other hand whines and complains about needing help and about how everyone looks down on her, everyone tells her that she deserves her place because she should have “known better” – and then promptly refuses Welfare (yet accepts food stamps) and instead writes a letter to a billionaire to get him to pay her rent. Fucking genius. Plus, I just hate the names “Jolly” and “Jilly”. In the sequel, a love interest for Verna named “Jody” shows up.

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Jolly is supposedly in talks with MTV (this is a joke).

Wait.. so should we read this or not?

I’m gonna throw you guys for a loop here – I genuinely think you should read “Make Lemonade” for yourselves and form an opinion. If you enjoy it, there are two sequels. It has its redeeming moments, some of the moments between Jeremy and Verna are pretty touching (getting Jeremy new shoes, reading to him, etc.), and Jeremy as a whole serves well as a symbol of hope. Just because I didn’t on the whole like the novel doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a read. I’m sure I’m going to be the one person out of the 6+ billion on the earth that openly says I didn’t care for it much. The copyright date on the particular copy of the book I have is from 1993, the year I was born. By now, we’re desensitized to teenage pregnancy. The shit is on television and practically celebrated by our (mindless) culture, but I’m wondering if in 1993 it was a different story. I’m wondering if I would have a different disposition towards this novel had I been born prior to 93. Either way, I want to know what others think, whether they like what I’ve had to say or not.

veni quid veniat

“The dust came in so thinly that it could not be seen in the air, and it settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes.” – John Steinbeck

The sandhills can get to be a pretty dry place. When the infamous Nebraska wind kicks up, innocent topsoil can turn into thousands of tiny needles pelting you all at once. And this is 80 years after the dust bowl. Sometimes you have to count your blessings, such as “I’m glad I don’t live in Oklahoma in the middle of a dust bowl” and “I’m glad I’m not a piano player with hands burnt to a crisp”. It’s all about perspective – today I am indeed a glass-half-full kind of person!

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So, you guys hear about North Korea?

Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust had moments that made my heart ache. Trying to comprehend the weight of being inadvertantly responsible for the death of your mother and newborn brother? Being a musician with nothing left but the ability to play.. and having ruined hands? I felt like Billie Jo and Mel from Laurie Anderson’s Speak carried their burdens in the same fashion, Mel’s outlet being artwork and Billie Jo’s obviously being music. The sensation I felt myself feeling above anything else, and maybe this was just my imagination.. was dryness. Not boring-dry, but like “jesus help me someone get me some water” dry. Everytime Billie Jo writes of the thin layer of dust on the food they choke down, everytime the dust creeps in while they are trying to sleep protected under blankets – I lick my lips and look over at the fridge just to make sure it’s still there.

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Above: You are getting verrrry thirsty.

I’ve already mentioned this on Twitter (laaaaaame) but Out of the Dust is essentially a novel in poem structure – and that kind of messes with my brain. Poetic structure instantly throws up red flags of “prepare for hard-to-understand-hyperbolic-bullshit!”, but when it actually starts telling a story, it throws my calibration all out of whack. Let me just say thank jebus that this was easily readable – and interesting to boot! I can totally see another author taking a whirl at this technique and just tearing it to shreds (it would probably have something to do with vampires. JUST SAYING.)

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Above: Unrelated to the discussion at hand, but not unrelated to being a Literature major

While we’re here, I’m going to take the time to (ashamedly) mention that this is only like Newbery book #4 for me. I know. Let he who has read all the way through Moby Dick without falling asleep once cast the first stone! No one? No takers? I thought not! Here’s an interesting tidbit about me: when I decided to be a lit major, I only knew the barebones of literary analysis. I have not read half of the books every lit major probably “HAS” to have read by this point. And you know something? (arrogance switch: engage) I’m damn good at what I do. Ask me sometime what I think of half of the “classics” we’re force-fed from high school up. I can’t divulge here, but the answer will involve lots of swear words. I can pull just as much if not more meaning out of the entire Injustice comic book than I can out of The Scarlet Letter. There’s a difference between being classic and being less-shelf-space. Out of the Dust ranks as “classic” in my book. My book of books. Meta-booking, I’ll call it.

#realtalk

#micdrop

#outtie