Monday, April 19, 2010

Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s "Local", Site Specificity and Character Development

A post by Cristina Naccarato, a student in my Winter 2010 Graphic Novels class.

Writer: Brian Wood
Illustrator: Ryan Kelly
Publisher: Oni Press
Analysis: Cristina Naccarato

Local was a twelve-part limited comic book series, written by Brian Wood, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, and published by Oni Press. Each issue of Local (like Wood’s more recent series, Demo) was intended to be a stand-alone short story that took place in a different city across North America. Though each issue was mean to be self-contained, a recurring character, Megan, acts as a thread for the reader of this monthly who followed the series in sequence. In some issues, Megan is the main character, and in others, she is merely a spectator, or background figure, yet always recognizable, with her large oval eyes, freckled nose, and key around her neck. As Local went on, it became more of a coming of age story for Megan, while still maintaining it’s establishment as a stand-alone series.
Local in many ways, explores the notion of personal identity, and the idea of how identity is often shaped more by where you are, rather than by who you are. Location in terms of identity is crucial, and for Megan, in every city she travels to, she can reinterpret herself recreate her image as much as she wants. For example, in issue #5, “The Last Lonely Days at the Oxford Theatre,” located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Megan recreates personal and physical identity throughout the entire narration. Her hair progressively gets shorter, and shorter, her personal history changes each time she encounters a new person, and she also presents herself with a different name each time. Being new to Halifax, Megan’s location allows her to do this without any repercussions, and emphasizes how location is at times indicative of how you identify with yourself.
In terms of locations, and Megan’s constant traveling, the site specificities of each issue make it “Local” to the people who are familiar with the locations, and act as a way in which Wood and Kelly could relate on a more personal level with their readers. Wood mentions in an interview with Comic Book Resources, “I picked twelve cities and towns for the stories, both for aesthetic reasons and commercial (I wanted cities that has strong indie comic shops, so that the book would actually be found there).” Each issue contains real places that readers can identify with, and in turn, also draw from their own personal memories of said places, which creates another element that readers can connect with in a profound way.
As above mentioned, though each issue is meant to be self-contained, and can be read this way, the progression of Megan’s identity throughout the entire series, shows a movement from a confused drifter, to someone who is more self-aware and stable. Another element most young adult readers can relate with. This progress, however, can only be seen by reading the entire series in succession.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, the Visual Construction of Identity, and "The Veil"

A post by Cristina Naccarato, a student in my Winter 2010 Graphic Novels class.

Persepolis by: Marjane Satrapi
Cristina Naccarato
Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, as mentioned by J. Kyle Lebel in a previous post, is an autobiographical memoir about a young woman growing up during the Islamic Revolution, the capture of the American Embassy, and the Iran-Iraq War. Persepolis is an autographic (as Whitlock and Poletti describe in their essay, Self-Regarding Art, " Life narrative fabricated in and through drawing and design using various technologies, modes, and materials") exploring Satrapi’s own personal history, but also how her own history is intertwined with the history of her country, and in turn how her identity has been constructed through these relationships.

Satrapi’s recollection of her experience depicts how great of an impact the Islamic revolution has on her own life, as well as the lives of young Iranian women. One of the biggest impacts these women had to face was the forced wearing of “the veil.” This was a direct symbol of the force that Islamic fundamentalism had on the bodies of Muslim girls and women. Satrapi specifically, growing up in a radical family with two parents who were Marxist intellectuals, found this particularly restrictive, and threatening, and in turn, experienced a loss of self in this process.
Satrapi’s use of a black and white panel, emphasizes this lack of individuality, yet, she very consciously individualizes each character through herdrawings. Her female figures are human, have their own character, and individuality traits even with the veil on. By visually showing their restrictive appearance, but then adding specific character differentiations, Satrapi multi-modally constructs the identity of her characters, emphasizing that each woman is unique.
For example, in this frame, each girl has been drawn, seemingly exactly the same, but on closer inspection, Satrapi has given each female a different hairstyle, different eyes and different nose, which emphasizes her notion that these girls are all unique.

By consciously constructing individuality, Satrapi’s intend to honor the resistence of Iranian women is successful. Veiled women are often dehumanized and classified as indistinguishable, but Satrapi breaks these barriers and subverts the view of Iranian women, presenting them as individual as Western women.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Arthrology in "Incognito"

A post by Deni Kasa, a student in my Winter 2010 Graphic Novels class.

Incognito Iss. 1
Ed Brubaker (writer)
Sean Phillips (penciller)
Val Staples (inker)
Icon [Marvel Comics]

"Incognito" is the story of Zack Overkill, a superhuman criminal who confessed against his employers to get accepted into the witness protection program. He is safe so long as he stays "incognito", but his boredom with ordinary life leads him to try to get his powers back. Needless to say, his cover is blown shortly thereafter. This sets up the plot of a very interesting and morally gray superhero story centered around self-discovery, rather than abstract ideas of right and wrong.

The first issue establishes Zack's dissatisfaction with his everyday life as an office clerk in the witness protection program. The main plot of the issue follows Zack's movement from one rebellious act on a Christmas party (he has sex with one of his co-workers) to his renewed adoption of a super-persona. This plot is mirrored as a subtle arthrological "narration" in some recurring vertically-oriented panels on the left page of a few two-page spreads in the issue. I believe that, if they are taken alone, the progression from the first of these panels to the last mirrors the general plot of the issue.

The first vertical panel on page 6 shows Zack right after having sex with his co-worker, thus breaking the rules of his workplace. The perspective is from the top of the city--as a superhero might view the city--and it is only until the next panel that this perspective makes sense: Zack is standing on the roof of his building. This panel, therefore, foreshadows the implications of his first transgressive act. On page 10, the second vertically oriented panel occupies the same space in the two-page spread as the one on page six. This panel offers a view of the city from the street-level: Zack has just been reminded that he is just an ordinary person now, and the panel reflects the deflation of the hopes he had in page 6. On page 14, the next vertical panel--in the same place and of the same size as the previous two--depicts Zack standing over a ruin of a recent fight between supermutants. Although it is white-washed by the media, the truth behind the event is clear as day to Zack, who then meditates on the way he will use to regain his powers. The last vertically-oriented panel on page 18 (the appropriate page according to the pattern every four pages) is not as long as the others, making it stand out. It also stands out because this is the first panel when Zack Overkill appears in his new costume. The mini-plot of the vertical panels is complete: Zack proceeds from great hopes to a sharp emotional deflation, then to an assessment of the activity of superhumans in his universe, to his new resolve to assume his place among those superhumans again.

The arthrology of these vertical panels on pages 6, 10, 14 and 18 constructs a compendious version of this issue's plot. This means that in addition to the ordinary ways in which arthrology constructs a text, in this particular issue it allows for panels that form part of both the larger text of the comic as a whole and a four-panel "mini-text" that summarizes the plot.

Deni Kasa

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Comic Book Covers and Paratextuality

Next week in the Graphic Novels seminar, we will be discussing Gerard Genette's idea of paratexts, those elements that surround the narrative text itself. He writes that, "the paratext is what enables a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers and, more generally, to the public. More than a boundary or sealed border, the paratext is, rather, a threshold, or -- a word Borges used apropros of a preface -- a 'vestibule' that offers the world at large the possibility of either stepping inside or turning back" (Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation 1-2). Prefaces, introductions, publisher's information, author's names, and titles are just some of the paratextual elements that can contain and act as thresholds to comics narratives.

Of course, the cover, with all of its individual paratextual elements, also acts as a paratext itself, quite literally a threshold for potential readers as they decide whether to step inside or turn back. With this in mind, I want to draw your attention to a new series at Newsarama called "Cover Story" that involves interviews with creators about comic book covers. The first interview is an insightful talk with Gabriel Ba about the cover of Daytripper #3 (a very interesting new book that's well worth a look). Here's a snip of what Ba has to say:

"This issue tells a very heavy story of loss, and that's what I wanted on the cover. Opposed to the two first ones that are very happy and full of colors, because we were still dealing with a word full of possibilities, this cover needed something different. The colors are more intense, stronger, and the images are darker."

It's a useful interview to read and to think about in terms of the idea of paratextuality. I'm looking forward to more of these kinds of interviews as part of the "Cover Story" feature.

Inking and Comics University

There's a good post on the process of inking right now over at Comics University. In it, Jonas Diego, the inker, explains how he works and how inking fits into the creative process of putting together Lola: A Ghost Story. Here's a sample of what Diego has to say:

"With Elbert’s pencils I don’t go immediately to inks.

I spend some time figuring out the intent for a particular page via a script I was provided with. After that I spend some time with a blue Prismacolor pencil adding elements which I feel will help in the storytelling, setting up shadows to help create the mood and ambiance the scene needs, and correct some details in the art.

It is only after accomplishing this that I start inking over the blue lines."

Too often, I think we overlook the contributions of inkers, letterers, and colorists to the process of creating a narrative in comic form. Posts like this one are a good reminder of these kinds of important collaborations.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Coming Soon: Guest Bloggers from the Contemporary Graphic Novels Seminar

Over the next several months, the members of my Contemporary Graphic Novels seminar will be on board as guest bloggers on More Than Words. Each of them has to read a monthly comic book for the duration of the class and then post 2 entries on that comic. In addition, each of them will be blogging on one book from the Leddy Library collection of graphic novels (a collection you should definitely check out if you are in Windsor). If you were reading the blog when last year's class guestblogged, you know that the next few months will feature some lively and engaging writing about comics. I'm looking forward to reading their posts and seeing the range of texts they have chosen.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Teaming Up for Literacy: Spider-Man and The Electric Company

Right now I’m working on some more material related to the idea of multimodal literacy sponsorship. I’m particularly interested in the multiple ways that comics have sponsored multimodal literacy throughout their history. From the critical literacy that the EC horror titles sponsored in the 1950s through their continual re-examinations of contemporary society, to the educational comics that were published in response and that sponsored a more conventional literacy that aligned with the contemporary educational practices and social values. From the religious comics published by Oral Roberts in the 1950s and Spire in the 1970s and the ways multimodal literacy was used to promote Christianity, to the rise of Marvel Comics in the 1960s and the creation of a specific multimodal discourse community centered around the Marvel narrative continuity. I’m interested in the ways in which literacy sponsorship happens outside schools and the complex webs that these multiple sponsors of multimodal literacies create. But I’m also interested in the ways that multimodal literacy sponsorship happens in conjunction with educational programs. Hence my interest in the 1970s partnership between the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) and Marvel Comics that brought Spider-Man to The Electric Company and The Electric Company to Spidey Super Stories.

The Electric Company, a show produced by the non-profit Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) aimed at teaching reading through the use of television, debuted in 1971. The target audience for the show was poor readers, 7-10 years old, who had, as The Electric Company Final Report put it, “already tasted failure in school reading programs and for whom television could provide a non-threatening and familiar alternative to the classroom experience” (6). In other words, the aim was to use a multimodal medium (i.e. one in which viewers not only made meaning through the linguistic mode, but also through the audio, visual, gestural, and spatial modes) in order to promote linguistic (or print) literacy which students would then presumably be able to transfer to the books they would encounter in school and other settings.

As the show was being aired, researchers connected with CTW pushed for more inclusion of opportunities for sustained reading so that viewers would engage with print that was longer than a single sentence and that was embedded in a narrative. One of the ways that the producers decided to introduce such sequences was through the use of Spider-Man, a character with whom viewers would be familiar. The idea was that in these live-action narrative sequences, Spider-Man would never speak. Rather, his speeches would appear in word balloons above his head, drawing on a familiar convention from comic books in order to promote reading as a way for viewers to follow the simple narratives.

Beginning with Spider-Man’s debut on The Electric Company in 1974, a partnership ensued between Marvel Comics and CTW based around short self-contained narratives that appeared on both the television show and in Spidey Super Stories, a comic introduced by Marvel in the fall of 1974. According to The Electric Company Final Report, the use of Spider-Man in The Electric Company

provided considerable motivation to read and became extremely popular with viewers. Capitalizing on the popularity of these segments, a special Electric Company “Spidey” comic was designed for newsstand distribution as a way of providing additional reading matter of a controlled kind. This comic looked much like any other, but had carefully placed print, short messages, controlled vocabulary and was designed to encourage the poor reader to read rather than to merely rely on pictures. (66)

Though the two groups had different reasons for this cooperation, the partnership clearly benefitted both CTW and Marvel Comics as they reached out to their target audience of poor readers, 7-10 years of age.

In other words, both Marvel and CTW, can be seen as sponsors of literacy, a concept I take from Deborah Brandt. In her article entitled “Sponsors of Literacy,” Brandt defines literacy sponsors in this way: “Sponsors, as I have come to think of them, are any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy – and gain advantage by it in some way” (166). Though their reasons differ (as one is a non-profit educational group and the other is a for-profit comic book publisher), both Marvel and CTW sponsor literacy and their cross-media partnership is an excellent example of the ways in which content can be linked across media even at the earliest stages of literacy development.

So, what I’m doing right now is examining this partnership, the ways in which the two groups used their partnership to sponsor both print and multimodal literacies for their target audience, and the benefits each derived from such sponsorship of literacy. I’m having a lot of fun hanging out with Easy Reader, J. Arthur Crank, and Spider-Man, and thinking through how this complex web of multimodal literacy sponsorship happened.

Monday, January 11, 2010

David Finch Signs Exclusive With DC

I don't normally announce industry happenings on this blog, but I wanted to take this opportunity to mention that Newsarama is reporting that Windsor's own David Finch has just signed an exclusive with DC Comics. Not only is Finch an incredibly talented artist, but he has been very generous in giving his time to talk about comics in various settings around Windsor, including on programs like The Comic Book Syndicate and at BookFest Windsor 2009. At the end of the BookFest session he did with fellow Windsor comics creator Tony Gray, Finch was presented with the Schuster Award for the Most Outstanding Canadian Artist of 2008. I was pleased to see him recognized for his work.

I've heard Finch speak a couple of times about his artistic processes and about collaborating with different writers within the confines of working for one of the big companies. Those talks are always informative and I really do appreciate the time that he takes to give some insight into what goes into putting together a commercial comic book. So, here's a big congratulations going out to David Finch. I, for one, am hoping we get to see what he will do with Batman.

New Narrative Conference, Toronto, May 6-7, 2010

Just before the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (May 8-9, 2010), an academic comics conference is being held at the University of Toronto. Both TCAF and the New Narrative conference are great events if you're serious about comics.

Here is the call for papers:

3rd annual New Narrative conference:
Narrative arts and visual media
An interdisciplinary conference at the University of Toronto
6 – 7 May 2010

In keeping with the spirit of sequels, we are again soliciting papers on a wide range of graphic novels, comic art, and related visual media. Comics, whether in the form of novelistic illustrations, newspaper serials, animated films, film adaptations, graphic novels, or sequential art narratives, have been with us since the rise of literature itself, yet until recently such media have never been considered “serious”—or at least, serious enough to be considered novels that might be on university syllabi. But are illustrated novels and live action films really about the pictures and not the narrative? How can the history of the form be reconciled with consumer culture and the ill-defined categories of “high” and “low” culture?

Papers which examine and interpret these narratives in interdisciplinary forms are most welcome. Essays on novelistic illustrations, newspaper serials, animated films, film adaptations, graphic novels, or sequential art narratives may consider the following (incomplete) list:

graphic novels and auto/biography illustrated and multi-media works
web design and on-line comix film adaptations of comics
series; engravings and caricatures the Comics Code Authority
the “invention” of manga geopolitics/war and the graphic novel
bande desinée & European comix early comics & comic history
illustrations in (literary) novels woodcut and “silent” artists

Proposals should be 400-500 words and must clearly indicate significance, the line of argument, principal texts considered, and relation to existing scholarship (or originality). One email copy of the proposal, and a 50 word bio note must be included, as an attachment in MS Word.

Deadline for proposals is 31 March 2010 (responses by 08 April 2010)

Jeff Parker, Assistant Professor, and/or Dr Andrew Lesk
Department of English, University of Toronto

See also

This Conference will take place just before the Toronto Comics Arts Festival on May 8 and 9. (See