Posts Tagged ‘life’

(Disclaimer: all images in this post are the property of / creation of Bill Watterson. All hail.) 

If I had to think back to the origin of my fascination with comic books, it didn’t come from superheroes. It didn’t come from dark, gritty graphic novels, or from webcomics, or anything of that nature.

It came from a newspaper.

bill watterson

A year after November, 1985 a daily comic strip by a man named Bill Watterson was running in 250 newspapers nationwide. The strips often tackled the daily antics of Calvin, a mischievous, imaginative, and surprisingly philosophical six year old and his sarcastic, equally philosophical best friend / stuffed tiger Hobbes, Granted, I wasn’t even a thought in either of my parents’ lives at this point. I was only 2 when the strip’s syndication ended in 1995.

Calvin and Hobbes is often considered the holy grail of Sunday strips, the pinnacle of the funny pages, and is without a doubt one of the most enduring tales in the world of graphic novels. It’s one that I can still stay up late and flip through time and time again, no shortage of humor from the last time, not an ounce of boredom, and not a sliver of the wit lost. Watterson himself was actually one of the inspirations of Gavin Aung Than’s Zen Pencils comic I mentioned in my post from last week.

But why does this comic resound with so many people? Why has it endured the test of time? What makes it so special?

Calvin-and-Hobbes-Euphoria

Imagination is Everything

Did you read that strip above? That’s a six year old and his stuffed tiger. Those thoughts are astronomically complicated / sarcastic / hilarious to be coming from these characters. And that’s just it. The antics of Calvin and Hobbes almost always come back around with something more than a weak-ass feel-good moral. They discover real life lessons. They grow together as friends. They learn about hardship, girls, the world’s expectations, and the importance of the simple things. You’d be hard-pressed to flip through a C&H compilation and not find at least 2 dozen strips that relate to your life.

But the comic isn’t all heavy thinking and life pondering. A lot of it is goofing off: sledding, building (demented) snowmen, starting clubs, making forts, and torturing the babysitter are all included in this package. I’m sure you’ve all seen the bumper stickers and the shirts and that dorky shit with a demented Calvin-lookalike peeing on things or flipping the bird, but that shit’s all bootleg. Bill Watterson never, to this day, has sold merchandising, film, tv, or any type of rights for C&H.

In some panels, Calvin is Spaceman Spiff, getting into and out of trouble in far-off galaxies. In others, he’s Stupendous Man, saving the world from total annihilation. In others, he flips the role – he’s a Godzilla-sized six year old terrorizing the town! He’s a t-rex rampaging through modern-day museums. Calvin’s imagination takes us everywhere we could ever possibly hope to go. Give he and Hobbes a cardboard box, and hilarity is bound to ensue.

lolwat

Memory Lane

The funny thing is, I can’t remember why I first picked up a C&H book. My memory of it is hazy. I remember being at my public library when I was only in grade school. I had rode my bike across town to get there, and I think I was looking in the section to see if I could find some old Garfield or Peanuts books to see what the fuss was about. As I searched the shelves, I stumbled on something I was unfamiliar with. Calvin and Hobbes? Curious.

A few flips through the book, and I decided it was coming home with me. The panels I read were funny, but not in a lame Family Circus kind of way. The humor was smart, not dumbed down or cheap. I took it home, read it, and immediately went back to retrieve the other 3 or so that were there.

Calvin and Hobbes books were the only books I ever did the quintessential “flashlight-under-the-covers” routine for. I would stay up and read them until my eyes got droopy. I remember the immense disappointment I felt when I had ran through all the library had to offer me. Fast forward some decade-and-a-half or so years, and I’m in college, on a date at a bookstore with a certain T.Hust (you’re all jealous), and while looking through a section of adolescent lit, what do my eyes fall on?

The “kid in a candy store” didn’t have shit on me. If I had bought that book any faster, it would have caught fire. Going back and reading through it again, I know my nostalgia lens hasn’t compromised my feelings about this comic strip. If anything, my age and experience have allowed me to better understand jokes that would otherwise soar over my head.

calvin-hobbes1Whether you’re a fan of comics or not, I know for a fact when sifting through a newspaper in a waiting room, you jump to the comics section. As of late, there might not even be one in your local paper. They’ve gotten smaller and smaller with the passage of time.

If you haven’t ever experienced the antics of Calvin and Hobbes, please do. All at once the scholar, the artist, the child, and the adult in me light up when I read C&H. To me, something that powerful, something that has that effect on a person, is something everyone should experience at least once.

Pulchra memoria

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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