Archive for the ‘On Novels’ Category

You know, I’ve never been on “vacation.” Not in the idyllic, get-away to a beach or a cabin in the woods sense. I’ve had time off, and I’ve travelled, but I’ve never been able to just laze about on a beach. It’s a dream of mine to be able to take the ladyfriend and I on a cruise or something like that eventually, but right now the moths in my wallet are starving.

All that being said, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s graphic novel “This One Summer” is quite the one-two punch. In a nutshell, it deals with the coming-of-age tale of Rose Wallace and her friend Windy at their summer cottages at Awago Beach.

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Photo CC- by Kim Seng – is this really paradise, or just what we’re tempered to consider paradise?

The Story:

I’ve gotta give it to Mariko Tamaki, I was never a teenage girl, but she nails all the struggles of the transition between being a kid and a teenager / “young adult”. Rose has been going to this cottage with her parents since she was five, but something’s different about this year. The rose colored glasses are starting to crack. Rose’s parents are fighting, her dad is immature, her mom is reserved and on-edge, and her friend, Windy, is a bit immature for her tastes. The book is filled with its fair share of carefree summery fuckery; Rose and Windy take an affinity to horror movies, swimming, the freedom of being able to spend their own money (on candy, but still), but for every carefree moment there are three that are emotionally exhausting.

Rose and Windy (moreso Rose) take a fascination with some local teenagers who run a c-store. They’re your typically crude, bumbling teenagers, but the mysterious of their romances and where their crude behavior / vocabulary comes from fascinates the younger girls. I remember being a kid and incorporating certain.. uh.. explicit words I didn’t quite understand in my vocabulary, and being red-faced when I was caught using them.

Largely, the story tackles the conflicts people come across in their life, despite being in “paradise.” Pregnancy, puberty, relationships, issues everyone deals with one way or another. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the story after I first finished the book. I had to chew on it for awhile. There are some loose ends that are never tied off, but that’s how life is. There is often no answer to the question. It was interesting to peer into the world of a pre-teen girl, though. While the book is by no means “feminist,” it is very new-wave, demonstrating how certain sexist misconceptions get placed into girls’ heads, featuring non-conventional characters (adoptive parents, lesbians, larger women who don’t look like Barbie dolls). The story really has to be read to be appreciated.

Copyright – Jillian Tamaki

The Artwork

This is where “This One Summer” really shone. Jillian Tamaki has made some of the best artwork I’ve seen in a graphic novel to date. Her style consists of some very stylized backgrounds, with some simpler looking characters – a technique Scott McCloud in “Understanding Comics” mentions is often used to make it easier to substitute yourself into the character’s shoes. The colors are very de-saturated, mostly blue line shading that makes the entire book feel like a memory.

Copyright – Jillian Tamaki

And that’s precisely what the book is – a memory. Not just of Rose, but of any of us who have experienced some difficulty coming into adolescence. Tamaki makes frequent usage of some interesting techniques, including crazy shaped speech bubbles, written out sounds in true comic book fashion (click, splash, whif, etc.), and a really great shot of the ocean that, after a page turn, becomes the sky for the next scene.

When it’s necessary, characters are drawn in more fleshed-out detail to add some weight to the seriousness of certain scenes. The artwork of this novel is what kept me page turning, perhaps even moreso than the story. I love it. It’s simplistic enough when the mood is light, like when Windy dances around Rose in what is surely a Calvin and Hobbes throwback panel, but when Rose’s parents (Alice and Evan) are going at it, the detail becomes much more surreal.

The artwork is highly non-conventional in that there are multi-page spreads, often no panels at all, and often entire portions of blank page sectioned off for text. It helps to break up the pacing of what is actually quite long for a graphic novel.

Copyright – Jillian Tamaki

The Verdict

“This One Summer” evokes this feeling from me like there’s so much under the surface that I’m not quite scraping up. It’s there. I know it is. It’s hidden right under the sand. But even just looking at the surface, I enjoyed “This One Summer” thoroughly. I think it would make a great staple for Young Adult lit classes, as well as those looking to break into graphic novels. It’s more serious (to me) than something like Laura Lee Gulledge’s “Page by Paige”, has an art style I’m in love with, and despite having weighty elements, isn’t serious to the point of inspiring depression. I’d say give it a go. It was, after all, one of Dr. Ellington’s favorite books of 2014. 

To close, here’s this:

Aestas

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As I stare at this empty text box, something Scott McCloud says in his textbook, for lack of a better term, on graphic novels, rings true in my head. He emphasizes that something that is unique to the comic as a medium of communication, is the significance of absence.

Wait, what?

I mean, novels do it to an extent. Oftentimes a chapter will end with an exceptionally shocking event, and those are the last words of the page before you flip it. But it isn’t the same. In a comic, a blank panel contains nothing, but suggests everything. A narrative in novel form can’t do that, at least not in the same way. The way your mind fills the gap between what is suggested and what is reality, jumping the empty space between panels of a graphic novel, is referred to as closure.

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Photo CC-by Tom Magllery, and I shudder to think of what a “manly closure” entails

That sentence sounds far too serious for a comic book, doesn’t it? Closure. Finality, mortality, the terminal destination, the ultimate, etc, etc. I’ve done my preaching on this blog about comics as a serious art form. The unconvinced aren’t going to be convinced, and for them, I am genuinely sorry. They are intentionally depriving themselves of a world of learning and growth that could provide invaluable. I’ve made my case for and against capes. The short of it is that to your brain, it’s all the same. Dickens and Gaiman fire off the same synapses. Disagree all you want, the truth of science doesn’t care about your belief.

If you haven’t gathered, I’m working independently with Dr. Ellington this semester in a quest to study the graphic novel. I’ve spouted on about them before, but I felt like I needed a true foundation before I could actually speak with any credibility. Like so many before me, I’ve started with Scott McCloud’s textbook-cleverly-disguised-as-a-graphic-novel, “Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.” The book provides a handy history of the comic, a rigid criteria of the difference between a comic and a picture or a cartoon, and a handy glossary of terms to encompass what are some pretty nebulous ideas. For a graphic novel, it’s incredibly dense. The only one I’ve read so far to rival it has probably been Watchmen, which is, dare I say it…? A classic.

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Did I really just say that? Photo CC-by Fellciano Guimaraes

Upon further review of the book, I find that it’s a year younger than I am, which is daunting, and probably one of the most universally accepted and praised books on the graphic novel, which is impressive. I can see why, as well. I’ve only read three chapters, and my mind has been blown numerous times. Like, it’s getting to be a mess in here. One of these particular thoughts that threw me for a loop is an analysis of why we’re so attracted to cartoons (be us young or old). Let me borrow some of McCloud’s thunder for a moment (see what I did there?)

When I put a semi-colon next to a closing parenthesis, what do you see? 🙂
You see a face. No matter what you do, you cannot un-see a face. It’s the simplest pair of characters, and yet your brain makes it into a simplified version of one of the most complex things to convey in drawing or in descriptive storytelling. Isn’t that incredible? Cartoons (be them the Saturday morning style or a single panel of “Family Circus”), amplify by simplifying. You didn’t mishear me. You didn’t hear me at all, for that matter.

By stripping down a visual style to the most barebones details needed to retain meaning, the meaning retains the greater significance. You can focus more on ideas or concepts and worry less about realism. Another reason cartoons will favor simplicity is because it’s easier to insert yourself into the story. Prime case-in-point: Bella in the Twilight novels. She’s so agonizingly plain and boring that 13 year old girls and depressed housewives can effortlessly drop into her shoes and take her place without thinking about it. Without characters that can be identified with, or a world that readers can be immersed in, you’ve got nothing.

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Photo CC-by Jayhem, maybe there’s something to all this “We have to go deeper!” stuff.

This is me scratching the surface of McCloud’s work in the book. I mean, I’m only on chapter four, and I don’t want to worship the text, but it does provide a great diving board for true dissection and analysis of the graphic novel. It’ll be me feeling it out as I go, but in blog posts following this one, I intend to go over the narrative (or lack thereof) that I find in any comics, as well as the significance in the art style. I am not an artist, at least, not in the drawing-painting sense. This entire endeavor equates to me looking at a bookshelf, going “Oo, this looks kinda neat,” and then putting on my literary pants and trying to find significance.

But that’s life, right? I believe it’s more about creating significance than it is about finding it. We’ll see if I feel the same way when mid-term rolls around.

Quaerere

“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!)

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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