Posts Tagged ‘books’

I’m not sure about you guys, but I would hardly call myself a fan of modern art. I mean, between Andy Warhol’s neon florescent soup cans and Jackson Pollock accidentally spilling paint onto a canvas, I’m not sure I really grasp the meaning here. Is there even one? Is it one of those lame, modernist takes on “the meaning is there is no meaning, maaaaaan!” Maybe it’s above me.

Or, maybe, as Scott McCloud would have me believe, I’m looking at it the wrong way.

Copyright Jackson Pollock – I call this one, “condiments a la mode” 

The Book

This week, I finished Scott McCloud’s aforementioned “Understanding Comics: The Individual Art,” and the last few chapters dropped some pretty big bombshells on my conventional way of thinking. Just a few heavy-handed bulletpoints that may or may not have anything to do with graphic novels:

  • a single, still picture is a cartoon, not a comic. Comics = sequential art
  • Cultures cut off from the world-at-large tend to develop stylistically independent (like Japan’s manga vs. conventional comics)
  • Creation is a 6-step process, beginning with an idea and ending with the surface of the creation
    • However, the order people take this process in is often non-linear!
  • Comics (or at least cartoons) are an ancient artform, cave paintings and hieroglyphs do count!
  • Human instinct has 2 critical components: Reproduction and Survival. Anything outside of these is… art

I think any teacher hoping to include graphic novels in their courses, even just a few, could stand to throw in a few chapters out of this book. It offers some interesting commentaries on the relevance of cartoons and comics in society throughout different periods of time. Besides that, though, it also offers some interesting perspectives on artwork, and the manifestation of ideas into creative formats.

Regardless of whether or not I think Pollock’s “paintings” count as artwork, McCloud makes an interesting assertion: anything that doesn’t fulfill our primary human functions of surviving and reproducing is art. It’s self expression, even if nothing is being created. McCloud says that if anything aside from our basic animalistic instincts are cutting through, that’s artwork. It’s an interesting and perhaps radical way to look at creativity. This little bit of the book is worth the price of admission in and of itself. Scott has done his research. He’s scoured artists and contrasted their styles, done historical and sociological research, the whole nine yards. There’s a textbook’s worth of knowledge in here, cleverly hidden behind

The Artwork

The six step process of creation, Copyright Scott McCloud

McCloud hides genuine research and good information deep within each line and panel of his book. His art style throughout the book varies wildly depending on the chapter. When McCloud wants the emphasis to be on the information, the art style often takes on an extremely simple look, so we pay more attention to what’s being said. When an emphasis is being placed on the art style, the necessary touches are added; for example, the only chapter of the book to feature any color is a chapter on.. color.

Rather than opt for the lazy way out, when McCloud makes reference to hieroglyphs or the artwork of another famous painter, he does his best to draw these things himself. He emulates the style of other cartoonists (sometimes directly referencing their own panels), and points out the stylistic differences between artists. When discussing the importance of panels and shading, McCloud toys with those particular aspects to demonstrate their importance. The same can be said about most other topics Scott touches on. When he describes the collaborative process between writer and artist, he doesn’t simply opt for panels of himself speaking to us. He shows us:

The Verdict:

McCloud’s book was surprisingly dense for a 9 chapter graphic novel. A little research helped me discover that it’s part one in a trilogy, with the other two dealing with Reinventing and Making Comics. It’s hard to really compress parts of this book down into a blog post, at least for me. McCloud hammers the reader with a wealth of information in an easily digestible format. However, a lot of what he says is augmented infinitely by the panels and drawings that accompany it. It isn’t enough to summarize his points, they have to be seen for one’s self.

Ars longa vita brevis

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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

Hey boys and girls, did you miss me?

Yes, yes, the prodigal son returns much to the chagrin of all 20 or so people that actually follow me. I haven’t updated this blog since roughly September, when my first publication(s) were headed out. Annnnd a lot of new things have happened in my life since then. With a little encouragement from a certain special someone, I decided I should breathe some life into this. Especially considering that I haven’t written for “The Eagle” (our College’s newspaper) more than once this whole semester.

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above: semi-accurate representation of me this semester

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say, “holy shit I’m almost a senior in college.” When I walk out of this place next year with a Bachelor’s in Literature with a minor in Music, how unemployable do you think I’m going to be? Here’s a shocker for you (that some people will hate me for), I’m pretty sure I’m going to get my first few B’s of my college career. Granted, that doesn’t upset me. There are people that will be disgusted with the fact that I’ve lasted this long with all A’s, because, you know, <sarcasm> I wake up every morning with the thought “I’m just going to put everyone else to shame.” That’s just how I operate. I’m kind of a dick. </sarcasm> I knew going into this semester it would be a transitional one for me.

My relationship of 4 years ended back in November, and with that came an entire paradigm shift that most people probably experience once or twice in their lives. It started back when I was in high school, persisted through some rocky times, and stupidly, I proposed because of the promise of a false sense of security. But, as a good friend of mine says, “a ring never plugged no hole,” and indeed, it did not. It takes two to tango, folks, but three’s a crowd. On the bright side, that paradigm shift allowed me to pursue a 2-year-long crush that happens to double as the love of my life, so, there’s that. Am I sharing too much with you people?

the above statement is false

In terms of writing, I’m in a really strange place. I have ideas for miles and miles, and unlike when I was just starting off, I actually believe I can do these ideas justice. That was why I never wrote before, I was afraid of the “loss-of-self” that would happen to the idea between my brain and the paper. To any other writers in this predicament, my best piece of advice is: get the fuck over it. Write it down. If you hate it, you can edit it and edit it until you don’t, or sometimes you just have to hate it. H.P. Lovecraft loathed some of his most famous works. Anyway, point being, I have ideas, and I have (enough) confidence to give them a whirl… I just need to actually sit down and write them out. Typically, about the time I feel “inspired” to write is the time when I’m tired enough to want to pass out. This is called creative insomnia, and I feel no strong desire to be an insomniac. As well as it would work with my “brooding author” image, I like sleep.

Since September, I’ve had 5 short stories published. 4 in the Demonic Visions series, books 1, 2, and 3, editted and compiled by Chris Robertson. 1 by the lovely ladies at Sirens Call Publications, a few of which join me in said Demonic Visions books. In June, Demonic Visions 4 will come out, and provided I can pull my head out of my ass, I’ll have a story or two featured in there as well. My goal over the summer, as far as my writing career goes, is to branch out a bit. I love the DV series, but I feel like I need to get around a bit more with my writing, so that I might not seem like a one-trick pony. Hopefully I’ve impressed a reader (*cough* publisher) or two with my work.

Is anyone really surprised that I have work in a book with this kind of cover? You knew what you were getting into.

Recently, I feel as though adulthood has slowly settled its way into my brain. I haven’t necessarily felt ostracized from my friends, just like we are growing in separate directions. I no longer feel the need to empty my wallet during each Steam sale. Instead, payday usually brings a new slew of books onto my shelf. This year, I made it a point to be sociable and a party kind of person. Now that I’ve experienced that and found my happy medium, I’m retreating back into cynic-mode. People here at Chadron are really big fans of compromising their beliefs or opinions depending on who’s around, and I hate that shit. I have a Metallica tattoo on my left shoulder, but don’t tell the music department. They’ll all laugh heartily and scoff at me, despite the fact that half of them are most likely Metallica fans themselves. But it isn’t the cool thing to do. Apparently, high school mentality dies hard.

Thoughts of post-college life used to petrify me. Now, I’m excited to see what it holds. Even if it’s sorrow or rage or whathaveyou, at least I will have lived and learned outside of the realm of my hometown. I’m gonna pass the mic to my man William Blake to close this one off: “Expect poison from the standing water.”

 

Vola libere, sed semper domum redi

 

“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!

When I was in the 3rd Grade, I read the first four (then the only four) Harry Potter books. By 5th Grade, I had made my way up to Tom Clancy novels, and by 7th Grade, a Stephen King book was pretty much always within my reach. Books cowered in fear at the sight of me, and I was no stranger to the librarians (in both the school and the city library). But then something happened.. something I can’t quite explain. Something that would alter my relationship with reading for years to come.

I went to High School.

Wait, what? What exactly does that mean?

It means that, in terms of Don Gallo’s article “How Classics Create an Alliterate Society”, I was part of a rare area in the middle. I didn’t absolutely hate the reading that was required of me, I didn’t have trouble connecting with the novels because the characters “weren’t like me” or because the themes were “too adult” for me (Tom Clancy in 5th Grade, people), but I was very, very much so in the category of those disinterested in the reading.. or at least most of it. The Scarlet Letter, Romeo and Juliet, Once Upon a Town… all of these nearly bored me to tears. The Scarlet Letter was melodramatic nonsense in my high school self’s opinion (and while I appreciate it now, it still is). Anything Shakespearian still busts my chops, simply because the language he is writing in is not English. It’s not. Asking us to read Shakespeare UNTRANSLATED in 2013 is like asking someone from Shakespeare’s era to try and read text-speak.

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Despite my lack of interest in these various “classic” titles, I did read them, all the while wondering just who the hell was part of the tribunal that gathers to pick the most painfully dull books to teach as “classic”. There is perhaps nothing more torturous, in my opinion, than having to read something you are plainly not interested in. High school’s method of teaching didn’t help much, just as Gallo mentions, nonsensical quizzes over trivial details in the books ensured not only that I didn’t want to read it, I didn’t care enough to keep track of details like “exactly how much time does the turtle spend on the road in The Grapes of Wrath? Round to the nearest hundredth”. That type of curriculum is choking and fosters only resentment for books. If you really want someone to be interested in a book, talk about it. I don’t mean quiz, I mean sit around and BS about the book; leave no thought unacknowledged and no question unanswered, no matter how trivial.

Gallo mentions the amount of good even 20 to 30 minutes of free reading could do in high schools, and I agree wholeheartedly. In grade / middle school, we had an “A.R.” reading program. We chose a book, read it (with allotted time in class that was usually used for the teacher to grade or wind down), and took a short quiz on it. There wasn’t any required reading, it was whatever we chose. I think the sudden shift from open fields to bleak cells is part of the reason that my relationship with reading has / had been tentative throughout and since high school. Being told what is classic, what is well written, what is good reading and what is not is definitely not my bag.

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As a teenager (which I still am), I plunged headfirst into the dark and the strange that literature had to offer. I went through Stephen King titles like candy, H.G. Wells and I become well acquainted, and I even sampled the occasional thriller by Tom Clancy or Steven Gould. The Goosebumps books from my childhood (and my earlier blog post) and the Lois Duncan novels from grade school had led me to this path, had given me a taste for the macabre and the darker side of what literature had to offer. My path had been determined. If given a choice, red definitely would be the color of my lightsaber.

As I got older and continued deeper down into the literary trenches, two pieces grabbed a significant hold of me and haven’t let go since: The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe, and The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft, both a culmination of years and years of horror films, books, and TV shows. Both deal with the dark recesses of the human mind, both drip with hopelessness and insanity, and both were exactly what I had been searching for. The writing styles, while a bit purpley in the case of Lovecraft, were perfect. The description of dank, dark catacombs beneath a manor or the bizarre geometry of a city lost to the city could not have painted a more vivid image in my mind. I had finally found my literary holy grail. Hopefully, through the duration of our time together, I can share this sinister grail with you.

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Carpe Noctem.