At Last, I Have Returned…

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Hello everyone,

It has been entirely too long since I’ve written on, or even visited, my blog. Life has been indescribably busy but unimaginably rewarding. I’ve finished my first semester of grad school and my first semester of teaching, and I could not be happier with both. Being a teacher and a student simultaneously has provided me with a unique but useful perspective on education. I believe this duality has allowed me to become more effective as a teacher and as a student due to the fact that I can understand where my students and professors are coming from. However, understanding is not enough–I try to constantly consider the other’s point of view when planning lessons or doing coursework. I feel like I’ve learned so much and grown so much as an individual during this last four months, I cannot wait to return to education next year.

Anyway, that is enough about my life…now onto the reason I wrote this post. I have just begun my winter break and plan to spend several days reading and analyzing graphic novels. I will post AT LEAST 1 essay during this next week, although my goal is 2. But since I’ve neglected my blog during these last few months, I would like to write about a graphic novel that I KNOW you will enjoy; I’ve attached a poll to this blog and would like you to vote and choose the graphic novel that I write about. Below you will find information about each (the titles are hyperlinks to even more information) and the poll:

V for Vendetta:

A powerful story about loss of freedom and individuality, V FOR VENDETTA takes place in a totalitarian England following a devastating war that changed the face of the planet.

In a world without political freedom, personal freedom and precious little faith in anything comes a mysterious man in a white porcelain mask who fights political oppressors through terrorism and seemingly absurd acts. It’s a gripping tale of the blurred lines between ideological good and evil.

Arkham Asylum:

The inmates of Arkham Asylum have taken over Gotham’s detention center for the criminally insane on April Fool’s Day, demanding Batman in exchange for their hostages. Accepting their demented challenge, Batman is forced to endure the personal hells of the Joker, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Two-Face and many other sworn enemies in order to save the innocents and retake the prison. During his run through this absurd gauntlet, the Dark Knight’s must face down both his most dangerous foes and his inner demons.

Identity Crisis:

This volume collects 2004’s evocative 7-issue miniseries that took an all-too-human look into the lives of super-heroes, and the terrible price they pay for doing good. When the spouse of a JLA member is brutally murdered, the entire super-hero community searches for the killer, fearing their own loved ones may be the next targets! But before the mystery is fully solved, a number of long-buried secrets rise to the surface, threatening to tear apart and divide the heroes before they can bring the mysterious killer to justice.

Thank you in advance for your input; I’m excited to return to the world of graphic novels. Oh, and your questions/comments about my journey as a teacher/graduate student are always welcome 🙂

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Update and New Essay on Waltz with Bashir

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Hey everyone,

I know that it has been a LONG time since my last post, but I have been incredibly busy training for my new job and have not had much free time to write. With that said, I want to keep my blog updated and continue to write about graphic novels; so, I will commit to publishing one new essay every month beginning next month (August 2013). I am not sure if I will write several essays on the same graphic novel or write about a different graphic novel every month, but if you’ll have a preference, please let me know.

Below you will find an essay on the award winning animated film Waltz with Bashir. I highly recommend the film and if you’ll are interested, more information can be found here.

Thank you for your continued  support and interest.

Waltz with Bashir Movie Poster

The Impact of Animated Violence in Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir distances its audience from the horrific events of the Lebanon war in three separate, yet connected ways: through its animation, through its surreal images, and through its reliance on memory for the basis of its narrative structure. Because this film is animated, the violence that it depicts takes on an unrealistic or cartoony quality which diminishes its impact on the audience; the violence is not shocking or appalling because it is not realistic or lifelike. In conjunction with the animation, the dull and washed out colors that are used in many of the flashbacks further reduce the impact of the gruesome violence on the viewer—the blood tends to blend into the background instead of sticking out, rendering the violence less potent. Additionally, there are even instances where the violence seems comical. For example, the film shows several people being randomly or accidentally murdered through drive by shootings, a missed sniper shot, and a bombing, while the lyrics, “at the pull of a trigger/ we can send strangers straight to hell/ sure we killed some innocent along the way/ …I bombed Beirut every day,” play in the background.  The lyrics along with the images cement the fact that the violence being shown is inconsequential. The unrealistic violence along with the aloof attitude, encourage the viewer to mentally remove himself from the horrors and atrocities of war that he is witnessing.

The surreal images shown throughout the film further the dissociative effect that the animation produces in the viewer. The hypnogogic imagery allows and encourages the viewer to find the graphic violence insignificant, because the circumstances surrounding it seem dream or trance like—the violence just doesn’t seem real. For example, Shmuel Frenkel’s memory of the firefight he had in the woods has many surreal elements: the characters move in slow motion which gives them a weightless quality (they seem to be almost floating through the air), the setting is very picturesque which makes it appear imaginary, and there is very little diegetic sound (the non-diegetic classical music is overpowering) which also makes the scene appear dream-like. Due to the hypnogogic quality of the scene, the gruesomeness it portrays—a tank blowing up and a child being shot to death—seems unreal, and this prevents the viewer from feeling the immense weight of the violence that he just witnessed.

In addition to the animated and surreal images, the unreliability or undependability of memory further removes the viewer from the violence in Waltz with Bashir. Near the beginning of the film, the main character, Ari Folman, goes to see his childhood friend in hopes of finding answers about a recently resurfaced memory of the Lebanon War. Ori Sivan, his friend, does not offer him much help but he provides insightful information about the nature of memory. He explains that “memory is dynamic. It’s alive…if some details are missing, memory fills the holes with things that never happened.” This information casts doubt in the viewer’s mind about the factuality or reliability of the wartime events that are depicted in the film, since they are just characters’ reconstructed memories. In fact, it allows the viewer to distance himself from the various acts of violence shown throughout the film, because they are just creations of the characters’ minds—they do not seem real.

Unlike the rest of Waltz with Bashir—which is animated—the final scene in the film is composed of news footage showing the aftermath of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Even though this news footage does not show any acts of violence being committed, it is incredibly powerful and disturbing because it provides such a stark contrast to the rest of the movie. Unlike the surreal animated scenes that allowed and encouraged the viewer to distance himself from the violence and horror, this real and historic news footage forces the viewer to acknowledge the disturbing reality of the Lebanon war. The viewer can no longer be aloof toward the violence because it is unrealistic, dreamlike, or fragmented; the people shown are actually dead and the footage is realistic, tangible, and cohesive.  Furthermore, this footage causes the viewer to realize that all the previous “unrealistic” and “insignificant” violence he witnessed actually happened; the surreal animation and the reconstructed narrative acted like a lens or barrier, which allowed the viewer to witness the violence without being affected by it. The news footage is so jarring because it shatters this barrier—it forces the viewer not only to come to terms with the weight of death that is present in the footage itself, but also with all the violence and death that was present in the rest of the film.

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication in Andrian Tomine’s Shortcomings

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Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings is relentlessly negative, argumentative, and filled with “asshole” characters, yet it is strikingly realistic and compelling. One of Tomine’s strengths lies in his amazing ability to authentically portray the exchanges between his characters, especially their verbal altercations, debates, and disputes, which comprise the majority of their interactions with each other. His other strength lies in the level of detail that he devotes to the illustrations of his characters’ facial expressions and body positions, which are unspoken yet critical components of their exchanges. The realistic quality of Tomine’s graphic novel stems from the interplay between the two central characteristics or components of conversation: verbal and non-verbal communication.

The verbal communication, or dialogue, in Shortcomings is remarkably authentic and natural because it is un-stylized and unrefined—the characters do not always express themselves clearly or elegantly. Near the beginning of the graphic novel, the main character—Ben Tanaka—is upset because he feels that his girlfriend—Miko Hayashi—turned their “conversation…into a personal attack” on him. Shortly after, he sits down to lunch with his friend Alice Kim and begins to express his frustration(s) over this change, stating, “I mean, she didn’t give a shit about any of this community…political…whatever when I met her” (Tamine 13-14). Ben’s inability to precisely communicate his annoyances can be seen in his struggle to find the “right words” to describe his problem—he tries two different words before resigning with a bolded “whatever,” signaling his giving up out of frustration. The trouble Ben has expressing himself is closely linked to the emotional element of the conversation; in other words, it is hard for him to effectively communicate since he is distraught—a phenomenon many people experience. It is also important to note that Ben uses colloquial and inelegant diction, such as the phrase “she didn’t give a shit,” to convey what is bothering him—something that is often done when speaking with close friends, especially when one is “venting.”  In addition to the dialogue being unrefined, it has a tendency to turn argumentative, become illogical, and escalate quickly or “spiral out of control,” due to the strong emotional force driving most of it. For example, after Miko moves to New York City—a very tense situation, due to the ambiguity of their relationship or relationship status—she and Ben have a phone conversation which begins rather cordially and ends in a violent shouting match:

Ben: So how’s the internship going? You haven’t told me much about it.

Miko: Oh, I’ve learned not to bore you. But it’s incredible. I’m meeting so many amazing people.

Ben: That’s great.

Miko: I keep having these moments where I’ll stop and think, “Wow…I’m in New York City!”

Ben: Well, that is where you are…

Miko: I know, Ben. You don’t have to get all sarcastic because I’m enjoying myself.

Ben: What? You started it with that “I’ve learned not to bore you” comment! I’m trying to act interested, and you…

Miko: “You started it?” How old are you? And why can’t you ever just be genuinely interested?

Ben: You really want me to answer that?

Miko: You know what? Maybe we should just not talk for a while this is-

Ben: Fine. [Ben hangs up] (Tomine 47-48).

It is precisely this emotionally driven, erratic, and volatile characteristic of Tomine’s dialogue, coupled with its unremarkable and often banal diction and subject matter, that gives it such a strikingly realistic quality.

Unlike the aforementioned verbal communication which derives its realism from its unpredictability and unsophistication, the non-verbal communication in Shortcomings appears realistic because of its incredible detail and photo-like quality. The vividly detailed facial expressions and body positions are important because they communicate the characters’ emotions that cannot be accurately conveyed through the dialogue.  This is seen for example, after one of Ben and Miko’s arguments, when they are apologizing to each other and trying to figure out what sparked their argument and how it got so “out of control.” In the midst of these panels that are heavy with dialogue, there is a silent panel in which Ben is facing forward with a pensive look on his face (his lips are closed, forming a straight, horizontal line, and his eyes stare past the reader and off into space) and Miko is looking down toward Ben’s side with a remorseful look on her face (her eyes are slightly closed and angled down as if she were about to start tearing up, and her lips are closed, forming a slight downward droop or bend that gives the appearance of a slight quiver).

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Through the dialogue it is clear that Ben and Miko are trying to simultaneously discover the cause of their argument and apologize for their role in it, but it is only through their body positions and facial expressions that their feelings are revealed—his meditation and her remorse. It is also important to note that the use of a silent panel in the midst of several dialogue heavy panels is in and of itself an essential contribution to the graphic novel’s non-verbal realism; this panel not only effectively draws the reader’s attention to the characters’ facial expressions and body positions, but it also simulates a pause in conversation—something that often happens in thoughtful exchanges or interactions.

Despite the sharp contrast in the level of detail and sophistication between the verbal and non-verbal communications, it is through their combination that the incredible level of realism in Shortcomings is achieved. The un-stylized dialogue accurately portrays the frequently banal conversations of everyday life—seldom do people express themselves perfectly and elegantly, especially when arguing or “venting”—while the incredibly detailed facial expressions and body language faithfully reveal the emotions and feelings that are frequently “shown” and rarely (if ever) “spoken.”

Now That I’ve Graduated, What Should I Do With My Blog?

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Hey everyone,

I know it has been a very long time since my last post but I have been incredibly busy over the last few weeks. Here’s a super condensed summary of what I have been up to since my last post: I wrote my senior paper, I graduated from the University of Minnesota, and I moved to Phoenix, where I am currently attending teacher training for the next six weeks. Although I have finished my directed study on the graphic novel, it was such a wonderful experience that I would like to continue my blog. It will take me a while to get adjusted to my new schedule, but once I’ve gotten the hang of it, I should be able to make semi-regular posts. I plan on continuing to provide textual analysis and literary criticism related to graphic novels. But, I was also considering writing about my journey of becoming a teacher. Would anyone be interested in reading about that? And if so, should I do both (i.e. make two separate blogs)? Thank you in advance for your input and I look forward to hearing from you.

P.S. I will post an essay on Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings tomorrow.

A Change of Heart: Frimme’s Transformation in A Contract with God

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Although there were many unsympathetic characters in A Contract with God, the character of Frimme Hersh caught my attention because he was very sympathetic at the beginning of the story, yet became quite unsympathetic at the end. In fact, I actually identified rather strongly with him in the beginning, as I think almost anyone who has lost a loved one would, yet by the end of the story, I found myself almost taking pleasure in his misfortune. As I began to think about what produced this sudden change of heart in my opinion of him, I realized the cause was his lack of integrity and his betrayal of those who helped him.

After his daughter died, he used the synagogue’s bonds, that were entrusted to him, as collateral, under false pretenses, so he could purchase a tenement building for personal gain. Although he got lucky, he risked the financial well-being of the Jewish community that not only provided him with much support in New York City, but that had saved his life by sending him to America when he was a child. Furthermore, when he acquired his first tenement building, he immediately raised the rent, cut back on the heat, and forced the tenants to make their own repairs, effectively placing undue financial strain on the very people who offered him comfort after his daughter died. He also used his newly acquired money and power to coerce the Jewish elders into drafting him a new contract with God, something they were opposed to. And for the grand finale, he scolded God, shouting, “This time, you will not violate our contract! This time, I have three witnesses” (Eisner 52).

After watching Frimme transform from a humble and pious man, to a greedy, heartless tycoon, I no longer felt sorry for him, and when he suffered a heart attack while flaunting his new contract at God, I could not help but think that he had it coming.

Below I have included several panels that visually illustrate Frimme’s transformation throughout A Contract with God.

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A Pure Comic Experience: The Marriage of Text and Image

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As I read Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, I was struck by his unique approach to narration. Unlike the traditional comic format which separates its narrative text from its illustrations, via a box or a bubble, Eisner seamlessly blends his narrative text into his illustrations, and sometimes, his narrative text even becomes part of the illustration itself.  To help you visualize this, I’ve set the opening page of Watchmen by Alan Moore next to the opening page of A Contract with God.

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Comics are unique in their ability to utilize the combination of words and pictures to express meaning that neither element is capable of expressing on its own. Ironically, the traditional layout of comics hinders its ability to unite these two elements; by separating the text and the image, via the narrative boxes, the traditional layout sets these two elements in opposition to one another. In other words, it facilitates a binary relationship between the text and the image, where one aspect is always privileged at the expense of the other. In fact, it is because of this opposition that I typically must read a comic three times before I am able to appreciate it. Usually, I am drawn to either the text or the illustrations, depending on the comic, and focus on that element during the entire first read; then, after I am familiar with the one element, I re-read the comic, paying special attention to the other. It is normally only on the third read that I am able to unite these two elements and gain a fuller understanding of the work.

It is because of these aforementioned reasons that I believe Will Eisner’s A Contract with God is an such an incredible important text; through its melding of text and illustrations, it produces one of the most coherent, uninterrupted, and in my eyes, pure comic experience. By smoothly blending these two elements together, Eisner’s avoids setting them in opposition to each other; and instead, allows them to beautifully complement each other, like they should.

The Votes are in and the Winner is…

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First off, I’d like to thank everyone for voting and helping me choose the next graphic novel to read. And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for…the winner, by unanimous decision, is A Contract with God by Will Eisner! I am very pleased with your choice and very excited to start this story; I have heard wonderful things about Eisner’s work but I have never had the pleasure of reading any of it before.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the work, A Contract with God is graphic novel composed of four short stories that take place in New York City’s tenements. And although these stories are independent and stand-alone works, they are all thematically connected; each of them shares overarching themes such as frustration, violence, and even religion. Furthermore, this graphic novel was one of the first comics to attract recognition for both its beautiful artwork and for its literary significance. It is also important to note that while the term “graphic novel” originated fourteen years before the released of Eisner’s masterpiece, A Contract with God is credited with popularizing the term’s use.

As I explained in my previous post, my schedule is terribly hectic at the moment as I juggle school work and prep work for teaching, but I will have my first post on A Contract with God up by this Sunday, at the latest. I will leave you with a few panels from Will Eisner’s brilliant work. Enjoy 🙂

 

Which Graphic Novel Should I Read Next?

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Hey everyone, you’re all probably wondering why I haven’t made a post for the last couple weeks. I have recently accepted a position with Teach For America[1] and have since been incredibly busy preparing for teacher certification tests and writing my senior paper. However, I have not forgotten about my blog or my readers. In fact, I would like to let you’ll choose which graphic novel I read and analysis next. For those who are unfamiliar with the various stories, I have linked their titles to their Wikipedia pages. Please comment below which one of the following you would like me to cover next:

• Apollo’s Song by Osamu Tezuka

• V for Vendetta by Alan Moore


• A Contract With God by Will Eisner


• Watchmen by Alan Moore

I will leave this “survey” open till Wednesday at midnight; Thursday I will begin my next graphic novel and Friday I will publish my first post on it.

Thank you in advance for your help.

[1] More information can be found about this incredible organization at their official website: www.teachforamerica.org

New Page Added: Helpful Resources, Insightful Essays, and Recommended Readings

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Hey everyone, as promised, I have added a new page to my blog and here is the link: Helpful Resources, Insightful Essays, and Recommended Readings. I think the title sums up its content nicely. Anyway, this page will be constantly updated as I come across new essays, received new recommendations, and read new graphic novels. With that said, this project will take a long time to complete on my own, but with everyone’s help, it will progress much quicker and be much better; so, please feel free to share your essays, favorite comics/graphic novels, and any resources that have helped introduce you to, or further your understanding of this medium. Thank you in advance for your help and contributions!

Update: Adding a New Page to my Blog

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Hey everyone, I will be posting my last or second to last essay, I haven’t decided which yet, on “Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot” later this week. This essay will focus on the graphic violence in the story, the utterly despicable characters, and their relation to the genre of noir. I also wanted to thank my readers for their suggestions of new graphic novels to read, as well as for the excellent comments and feedback they’ve provided.

I am also going to add a new page to my blog which will be dedicated to outside information about the graphic novel (i.e. material that I did not author). This page will include links to other blogs about comics, helpful YouTube and TED talk videos, and books on the medium that I think are useful in achieving a deeper understanding of the graphic novel. This new page should be up sometime this weekend or early next week, but in the meantime, here are two really interesting videos on the medium of the graphic novel: Scott McCloud’s “On Comics” and Michael Chaney’s “How to Read a Graphic Novel.”

P.S. If you would like a link to your blog included on my page, or if you have a good book or video to suggest, please leave a comment.