Monday, February 2, 2009

Theory and Practice: It's a Bird

We had a very interesting discussion in today's Graphic Novels Seminar about It's a Bird by Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen. It's a "semi-autobiograpical" piece that weaves the Superman mythology with the story of a writer who is both dealing with the existence of Huntington's Disease in his family and with the offer to write Superman. It's a story that works because of the intertextual relationships created by the story (in Genette's terms, Superman is the hypo text, while It's a Bird is the hypertext that comments on and extends it, while at the same time deriving much of its meaning from the relationship it has to the original text). In an interview with UGO, Seagle said that
The story is semi-autobiographical because it has elements from my family's story. I wanted to look at why Superman is resilient because I think he still has importance in the world today. I know there is a lot of bashing when it comes to Superman such as people say he is outdated but he's not. If he was outdated he would cease to exist. I thought the right way to do that was to compare him to an average Joe or in my case an average Steve.
That, to me, sounds a lot like Ndalianis's idea that Superman is "a mythology that is both already said and which is in the process of being said" (see previous post).

As we read It's a Bird, then, we extend the mythology of Superman as we participate in its ongoing process of creation (the hypotext can be seen as the entire Superman mythology and the hypertext is any text that extends it by acting as a kind of intertext to the overall mythology). Or, in terms of Design, we make meaning during the reading process by bringing to bear our Available Resources for Design. The intertextual resonances created by the book depend on the Available Resources each person brings to the text, or the extent to which each person has been involved in the process of articulating the mythology of Superman through his or her own reading/viewing experiences. The results of our reading It's a Bird -- the meanings we make -- then loop back into the process and are made available for our next readings. The next time we pick up a Superman comic or see a reference to the Man of Steel, our experience of reading It's a Bird forms part of the context for making meaning. As readers, then, we are part of the fabric of the Superman mythology, a point Ndalianis explicitly makes as she complicates Eco's ideas.

Why do I mention all of these theoretical ideas? Because they can act as lenses through which we can think about how meaning is created within and between the multiple stories that are woven together in It's a Bird. As well, they can help us to think about how and why Superman "still has importance in the world today" and how we as readers are part of the ongoing process of the Myth of Superman.

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