Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

Well, we’ve reached the end of the line. The end of the rope, more like it. The bell does indeed toll for me, and I figure there isn’t much of a better way to go than to bring it full circle, and evaluate the (sizable) list of graphic novels I’ve chewed through this semester and semesters prior. I wouldn’t call myself an expert on graphic novels by any means, more of an enthusiast. Thanks to Scott McCloud, I know how to analyze them a bit better, and I know a bit more about the components that make them up. Ms. Fish has expressed an interest in writing for graphic novels – I wonder how one breaks into that. Maybe that’ll be my next pursuit of knowledge.

Regardless, I figured after hours of reading, I would go back through the list with my newfound knowledge. Here are my (personal) favorite top 5 graphic novels of all time.

#5: Watchmen by Alan Moore

Moore

I struggled with whether or not to throw Watchmen on this list. It’s by far the longest and one of the most difficult graphic novels I’ve read, regardless of having capes in it. It’s some seriously dark, heavy stuff. Watchmen tackles what happens when superhero teams fall out, the United States government bans vigilantism, and is essentially a “whodunnit?” murder mystery between superheroes. Couple that with the constantly recurring theme of “who watches the Watchmen?,” in other words, who polices superheroes, and you’ve got quite a lot going on in this one.

Part of the reason I debated throwing it on the list was sheer length: this one is long from beginning to end. This is by no means a 20 minute breeze. It’s tough to press through. The cast of characters is diverse and infinitely messed up, each “super”hero is a human at the core with problems and dark personal places they are trying to run from. Another reason I considered axing this one from the list is simply because the author, Alan Moore, has said some pretty outlandish and foolish things in recent years about the recent surge of comic books and their popularity. Though, I felt it would be unfair to punish the work for the creator’s flaws, so it made it. This is not for the feint of heart.

#4: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Jen Wang 2

To be honest, I didn’t expect In Real Life to make the list. It had a beautiful and charming art style, but was a relatively quick read. However, the more I chewed on it, the more I grew to appreciate it. In Real Life is about a lot of things: teenage nerdiness, video games, other cultures, economics, social plight, and friendship. There isn’t an overly sexy or overly homely protagonist: she’s a normal, everyday girl who happens to be into some dorky stuff.

In Real Life landed on my list because it portrays real gaming by real people, and doesn’t propagate the “gamer girl” stereotype. Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang have done their fair share of gaming, or at the very least, research on it. There aren’t any complete jumps in logic to make the “video game” segments of the novel work. TV shows and movies are infamous for absolutely butchering any attempts to include video games in a storyline. They’re often unrealistic in terms of actual games, and I can’t stand when some actor sits with a 360 controller and pounds on the buttons like they’re playing a game.

Being a gamer with an MMO gaming girlfriend, I appreciated these details. Short as it may be, In Real Life makes my list.

#3: Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman

If there is a literary canon for graphic novels, Spiegelman’s Maus is definitely at the top of the list. The book is both about Art’s as well as his father’s tale: his father retells how he became part of and survived the holocaust, and Art is depicted grappling with the seriousness of the subject and frequently butting heads with his father. Their relationship is somewhat strained, but still loving.

Maus’s art style is simplistic, but highly effective. Different ethnicities are depicted as different animals: Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, the Polish are pigs, etc. etc. The animal characters allow Spiegelman to play with symbolism he wouldn’t have access to otherwise: there are cats wearing mouse masks and things of that nature all over the novel. Obviously, the subject matter is an extremely heavy one, couple that with the tale being true, and you have a must-read for anyone looking to break into graphic novels. Think it’s all superheroes and capes? Think again.

#2: This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Tamaki

This One Summer is a novel I was introduced to during this semester, and of the new ones I’ve read, it is most definitely my favorite. It’s a coming-of-age tale between two teenage girls at their own little summer retreat, but it’s so much more than the quintessential “both characters learn a lesson and have a happy ending.” It deals with some pretty heavy themes: miscarriage, teen pregnancy, friendship, maturity, societal pressure, and awkward first love. It has its feel good moments, but ultimately, it’s about relationships between people as you age and mature. Friends, parents, etc. People grow apart. They come together, Adolescents discover things about themselves that they aren’t sure how to feel about.

The thing that really sold This One Summer for me besides the unique story, was the phenomenal artwork. This very well might be my favorite artwork in a graphic novel, bar none. The whole thing feels very dreamy, memory-esque, but never bleak or dark. The art style is highly detailed, yet flows effortlessly into simplicity when the moments call for it. The dark color used is a shade of blue, rather than black, avoiding the noir-like flashback feeling. I understand it also made Dr. Elisabeth Ellington’s list of the top books in 2014. I see why.

#1: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Millar, Klaus Johnson, and Lynn Varley

Johnson

This isn’t your mom and dad’s Batman with Adam West in it. No, no, no. This is a much darker, and a much different take than one we’ve seen in television or movies before. The Dark Knight Returns follows Bruce Wayne 8 years after having given up being Batman. Gotham is more run-down than ever, dominated by gangs and half-witted politicians, with news anchors of FOX News caliber constantly spewing nonsense about whether it’s Batman’s fault crime exists in the first place. When Bruce reaches a breaking point, he’s back in the game, but there’s a problem: he’s old.

He’s old, and his body only has so much left to give to this kind of work. Robin is long gone, and Batman must work his way back into favor with the people. Batman is more brutal than ever in this one, fighting to survive rather than just to dish out justice. He’s fighting a passive public, incompetent police force / politicians, and most of all: his own doubts. Things get even more jumbled up when a teenage girl in a Robin costume saves him from certain death. Batman here isn’t just about beating the bad guys: it’s a social commentary from the 80’s. The president is a grinning fool who sees only his own agenda to forward, the media is filled with fluff and pointless debates, the public either blame Batman for everything or depend completely on him for protection, there is no winner in this one. This is all before “gritty superhero reboots” were all the rage. This one pushed the Bat’s envelope to somewhere it had never been before.

In case you’re wondering, a few familiar faces do show up. In particular, one with a ridiculous grin, and another with a red cape flowing from the back…

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Well folks, that does it for me. As I said, this is my list of personal favorites. Pick and choose as you see fit. I would recommend any of these as a read in a half second. I think my list really reflects the diversity that can be found in graphic novels: we’re not living in a world of solely capes and superheroes. There are graphic novels on nearly every subject under the sun. You’ve just gotta look for them. We may have reached the end of the road, but the journey isn’t over for me.

Catch you all on the flip side.

Amata

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Weird at last, weird at least, god almighty, weird at last.

Commonplace Books Photo Copyright – Commonplace Books

Story Time

When I was a wee lad, my mom would read me Goosebumps books before bedtime (explains a lot, right?) Being read to then created images just as vividly in my mind as reading itself did. When I got older, I obviously fell out of touch with being read to – I’m an adult, dammit! I can read my own books!

Well, turns out, being an adult has literally nothing to do with it. Make a 6 hour commute (one way) every two weeks with only country and gospel stations at your disposal, and you’ll find something to pass the time in a big fuckin’ hurry. I decided to give a few e-books a whirl, ones by Stephen King which I had already read, but it had been a few years. Why not, right? What I wasn’t expecting was to have images play in my head, just as vividly as when I read, just as vividly as when I was a kid.

What a revelation! In between Stephen King books, I would tune in to NPR for as long as I could get the signal. All Things Considered and This American Life became staples of my journey – and major sources of news for me as well. Something clicked in my head, here: I can listen to these people talk about things.. Podcasts are usually just people talking about things.. I think I’ve got something here. But where do I start? There are literally an infinite number of podcasts on an infinite number of topics, and some people just are not interesting enough to listen to.

Welcome to Nightvale. Figuratively and literally. Short version: Imagine “This American Life” from a community radio station in a small desert town in the Twilight Zone. Ms. Fish and I have been tuning in for several months now, and this addiction is far more rewarding and less expensive than crack. The most intriguing thing about Nightvale: It’s not a one-shot deal. It’s a continuous, ever-extending plot line. It’s a story. It’s a book that comes to us chapter by chapter. There are characters that appear continuously, plot lines that have ran (and continue to run) since the beginning of the cast almost 3 years ago, and a wide and interesting array of voice actors. Nightvale has become so ridiculously popular that they go on tours regularly, performing live renditions of shows, and have a novel coming out in October. Pre-order on lock.

Scottish Libraries Photo CC-by Scottish Libraries

Application

Certain classrooms in the U.S. are utilizing podcasts as tools – why bother forcing students to slog through classics if you can give them a story they’re interested in? Podcasts give stories that students can most likely better relate to. They can listen to podcasts while doing other activities. I know several people that would be more inclined to listen to a podcast as a homework assignment than read 85 chapters of Great Expectations. Digital storytelling as a medium, whether we like it or not, can appeal to students who rely so heavily on tech more than a conventional book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for ink and paper, but e-books are a thing, it’s still an e-book, the second half of that phrase being book. Pen-and-paper elitists can get right the fuck outta my face wit dat.

That being said, it’s significantly more difficult to take notes in the margins of a podcast. Unless you can find some pretty interesting readings of said classics (which I hate but are necessary at times), students may miss out on some pretty important literary / story milestones if classics are skipped in favor of podcasts. Digital storytelling allows for an infinite realm of creativity and access, but also allows some pretty garbage material through. Many podcasts are poorly-written, gimmicky, or recorded through something that provides the audio quality of a potato. Quality control is an important consideration.

When it comes down to it, I’m of the opinion of “whatever you can do to get students interested jesus go with it why would you give up that opportunity.” The less students rolling their eyes in angsty disgust and actually engaging in something, the better.

Fabella

It’s rare, but occasionally, even on the Internet, I stumble upon something that seems almost beyond description.

In the beginning of our digitally literate journey, we had to do some digging and discover what exactly it meant to be digitally literate. If we had to dig deeper and find something, like an online class, that perfectly embodied putting what digital literacy is into practice, it would be ds106.

digistorytellin Photo CC-by digistorytelln

Digital Whosawhatnow?

Digital storytelling. In a nutshell, without Wikipedia’s help, digital storytelling is the usage of all mediums of technology both audial and visual: written, filmed, recorded, drawn, photographed, read, etc. for the sake of telling one’s life story and sharing one’s life experiences. Each and every one of us is on a journey, and no two are ever the same. We feel a basic need as human beings to connect with one another – how better than to swap stories, even if by non-conventional methods?

ds106 is an open source, open-enrollment online course, originally offered at the University of Mary Washington and now available as a drop-in, drop-out, all resources available online course. No enrollment fee, no grading, all it takes is some participation, and a hell of a lot of creativity.

Something in me is inherently leery about something this open. Where’s the catch? All these resources, all these testimonials at my fingertips. I’ve been here before. “Hear our glowing customer testimonials!” “See what others think!” Page after page of falsified reviews and bogus claims give the Internet and I a love-hate relationship.

The thing is, I see no reason to disbelieve. All over the place there are videos offering reviews / advice to oncoming students about the class. Everywhere you look: Twitter, Gravitar, YouTube, WordPress, you see the real work of real people as they try to flex their creative muscles and learn a thing or two about technology in the process. As an educational tool, this is the real deal.

opensourcedotcom Photo CC-by opensource.com

Talk Techy to Me

I’ve made the analogy several times already that creativity is a muscle, but it’s something I truly believe. Use it or lose it – great ideas are good, but they benefit no one trapped inside your head!

Scam or no scam, cult or no cult, aliens or no, ds106 wins in my book for two reasons.

  1.  Promoting Digital Literacy
    1. A huge part of ds106 is learning how to tangle with the Internet’s different beasts: Twiter, YouTube, Gravitar, WordPress, Facebook, Internet Radio, Flickr, video manipulation software, photo editing software, etc. all are part of the many various creative assignments offered by ds106. In order to participate, you’ve got to be ready to tackle some serious tech. This is a great way to introduce those unfamiliar or leery of some of the many services offered online: I was the type of person to scoff at both blogs and Twitter feeds until I was forced to maintain ones of my own.
  2. Creativity
    1. “Storytelling”. That’s the focus of the class. It just happens to be digital. ds106 offers an untold number of different ways to put your creativity into practice. Writing prompts about fanfic characters? Check. Conversations with celebrities using soundboards and audio editing software? Check. Photography exercises focusing on colors? Check. Creation of old-school, 50’s style educational videos in favor of a topic of choice? Check. The possibilities here are nearly limitless. There are even assignments focused around creating animated GIF images, and if that’s not outrageous enough, there are 3D Printing based assignments. Holy hell.

The applications for this class, to me, transcend the bounds of education. Teachers who are passion-focused or looking for ways to hack education: this is it. Students learn practical / new skills, students learn (and tell us) about themselves, and students are allowed to be creative and kept from doing needless busywork. Hell yes. For others, it’s a great crash-course in Internet-ing. For others still, it’s a good chance to experiment with different forms of creative expression.

So, it’s a free, open-source, do-as-you-please class where all the material is available online, the assignments are all open to tweaking, and you’re heavily encouraged to share your work with others and network with people about what you’re doing and what you’re learning?

Sounds like digital literacy 101 to me.

Ex nihilo