Hello. My name is John Sines.

   I was born an uneducated and illiterate infant without any motor skills in the city of Annapolis. In the years following my birth, I constantly labored to develop myself. Learning to read and write rudimentary sentences was especially difficult for me, a victim of borderline ADD.
     As the years progressed, so did I. My mind was blossoming and, before I knew it, I had mastered the skills of arithmetic and language. I even became competent in the art of baseball. I graduated from Arnold Elementary in the fifth grade with a healthy interest in Harry Potter books, baseball and children’s poetry. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was in Severn River Middle School. It would serve as a place of transition; I lost weight, grew taller, my hair changed from a dirty blonde to a robust auburn, and acquired a taste for history.
But let’s rewind a little, and add a little focus. Throughout my lifetime, from early childhood, I have maintained an affectionate relationship with the comic book / graphic novel medium. I grew up with the X-Men (especially Gambit and Cyclops), Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Thor, Swamp Thing, Fantastic Four, and the list goes on – super heroes occupied a large portion of my reading time. I won’t deny that, for a little while, comic books were fantasy fulfillment – I loved seeing super awesome powerful dudes fighting other super awesome powerful dudes. It’s was cool. Then, as I entered into adulthood (which I continue to do, against my strongest of urgings), I kept comics around. Their merits, I recognized and knew, run deeper than sci-fi/fantasy gimmicks. In fact, I find it surprising that this medium of storytelling is so often subjected to that stigma. Popular culture can find art in plays, novels, novellas, and vignettes. It can also find art in drawings, paintings, pastels, and watercolors. So, why is it that a blending of the two mediums is met with dismay? The comic book / graphic novel medium is a unique method of storytelling and expression. They often boil a story down to it’s essentials. I don’t mean this in the negative way, as there is no loss of meaning. In fact, I find it similar to poetry – which I like quite a bit.

Hello. My name is John Sines.

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Jane Eyre via Classics Illustrated

Cover for Classics Illustrated Jane Eyre

Based upon the novel by Charlotte Bronte. Helene Lecar, ed., Sidney Miller, art director. Jane Eyre. Classics Illustrated #39. Gilberton Company, Inc. 1974. Print.

Character – While there was not the depth of development of character that can be found in the novel Jane Eyre, the editors did an admiral job of characterization within their limited means. The reader comes away with a basic understanding of the story behind the characters and their motivations. The illustrations definitely help distinguish between characters, i.e. it’s obvious which one is Mr. Rochester’s crazy wife due to her long, undone hair and disheveled appearance.

Plot – The plot follows the original story without any major portions left out. The editors made heavy use of plot explanation in this Classics Illustrated compared to others I’ve read, which were largely driven by dialogue. It works for this particular story to have the plot moved along in this fashion.

Setting – There is obvious movement of place throughout the story as indicated by both plot cues and illustration. It is a bit difficult to distinguish when the story is occurring and would have been a nice insert at the beginning to at least give the time period to readers. The clothing worn by the characters in the book are not from the early 19th century, which is when the story takes place. This is, according to Donna Richardson’s American Heritage article, “Classics Illustrated,” a common problem among the series.

Style – The art isn’t amazing, but it is good. The characters are easy to distinguish, even when following Jane from childhood to adulthood it is easy to tell which is her. As noted earlier, the artist made the personalities of the characters show in their depictions, such as Rochester’s wife looking crazy, Rochester himself looking rather stern and gentlemanly and Mrs. Reed looking rather grouchy and horrible.

Theme – The main theme, Jane’s quest for family and a place which to belong, is conveyed rather nicely through the CI version, but I think it is a bit overshadowed by the drama created by the crazy wife in the attic and fire. The cover of the CI is of Rochester basically surrounded by flames. While this is very dramatic and interesting, it’s a bit misleading.

Viewpoint – The CI is written in third person omniscient. It allows the reader to follow the story rather easily and is very accessible to young readers and those intimidated by the actual novel. It serves as a good introduction to it, cementing the major characters and plot in the reader’s mind before they embark upon the actual novel.

-Darlene

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Stitches: A Memoir

Overview: In his New York Times # 1 Bestseller graphic memoir, David Small recounts his childhood and adolescence in Midwestern USA during the 1950s, relaying the simultaneous whimsy and trepidation inherently embedded in the universal process of growing up.  Suffering from sinus and digestive tract problems from the
time he was a baby, Small writes that he was “born anxious and angry,” but was constantly treated for his condition by his father, a radiologist, who Small, although distant from him, nevertheless conceived of as a “soldier of science” who could “cure anything” (Small 20, 27).  Amidst his prescribed medications, shots, osteopathic manipulations, enemas, and X-Ray medical care, Small found escapism in drawing, trying to combat his illnesses, angry mother, bullies, and other negative encounters, with art.  When, ironically, considering all the treatment his father offered up, Small develops a tumor in his neck that remains ignored by his family for years, he is forced to utilize his art as his sole means of communication and expression, as he finds that his voice has quite literally been taken away from him.

Character: With his blend of concrete reality and abstract imaginings, Small brings his childhood perspective to life as he illustrates with his drawings and brevity of words his experiences as a sickly boy struggling to maintain some sense of normalcy in his world.  Besides his every day confrontations, Small manages to depict his childhood interior feelings and thought processes by showing how his drawings for him, sprung off the paper and came to life; or how when he doodled, he felt as though he was becoming a part of the page, a part of an alternate reality that was in

David disappearing into the page

some way less plagued with fear and pain than his own. As another step in the direction towards magical realism, Small represents his psychiatrist as a rabbit, perhaps an allusion to Alice, who he so loved, as the therapist did indeed help lead him into a wonderland, or at least help him cope with his situation.   When he loses half of his vocal chords and for a time cannot talk, he imagines himself inside his own mouth, “a hot, moist cavern in which everything I thought, every word that came into my brain, was thunderously shouted back at me” (Small 217).  And such a scene is indicative of the reader’s transportation into Small’s life beyond the tangible, actualities of his experience and into the intimate broodings of his mind.

Plot: CAUTION – This portion contains serious plot spoilers.  Proceed at your own risk!  When David develops a lump on the side of his neck, mysteriously referred to as a “growth” by his father’s friends in medicine, his mother resentfully ignores it, telling him that doctors’ visits are too expensive, and that he couldn’t possibly understand the strains he continually caused to the family financially on a day-to-day basis.  After

David's resentful mother

many years of letting the lump be, he finally as a teenager sees a doctor, who tells him that it is only a cyst, but should be removed immediately.  When, in the operating room, however, the surgeon discerns he has something bigger on his hands, he is unable to complete the procedure and calls in a specialist to carry out the task; though David himself will not find out until months later when he happens to accidentally read a letter his mother wrote to her own “mama,” the ostensible cyst in his throat was actually a cancerous tumor.  With only one vocal chord remaining after the operation, and thusly unable to talk at all for months, Small rapidly realizes, “when you have no voice, you don’t exist,” and is forced to learn how to cope in a world in which he feels he has no place (Small 212).  Just when David is feeling more estranged than ever from his family, he discovers that his father was responsible for giving him the disease: the X-ray treatments that were supposedly therapeutic were in reality quite life threatening.  Though Small is obviously the main character in his own memoir, the other people in his life are shown in the panels filtered through his eyes, further lending the audience an understanding of his perception of his own milieu.

Setting: The setting of this graphic novel oscillates, as aforementioned, between the real-life happenings of Small and the ruminations of his mind.  Certain era-specific details – like the 1950s Cadillac and other cars, the drive-in movies, the use of X-Ray technology, the fur coat and deep-colored lips of the woman he loves as a child and who his mother has an affair with, as well as his mom’s cat-eye glasses – distinctly place this graphic novel during a particular era.  But like any great work of art, Small’s memoir transcends the boundaries of time, becoming universal in its commentary on what it’s like to feel alone growing up.

Style: Framing his panels like shots created for a storyboard, Small’s drawings take on a story of their own, only needing a sparse smattering of words here and there to fill in the details of the action: “[Small] employs angled shots and silent montages worthy of Alfred Hitchcock,” writes Michael Sims of the Washington Post.  When the narrative at hand shifts from Small’s present existence to a side story or a family history relayed to him by his mother, he changes his illustrations stylistically to

David escaping to an imaginary world with the characters he draws

represent that shift, so that the pictures themselves take on an antiquated quality that conveys well David’s imaginings of the past.  Small’s ability to relay every aspect of his childhood self – from what he saw, to what he dreamed, to what he thought and felt – creates a style reminiscent of magical realist fictions.

Theme: Like any coming of age story, the themes in Stitches complement the ubiquitous experience of growing up: finding a voice, overcoming impossible hardships, breaking away from one’s family in order to develop an increasing sense of self-reliance, facing depression, and finding one’s place on a social, intellectual, and grand scheme level.

Viewpoint: Starting the memoir from age six, the story follows David until he is fifteen, and at the end, the still profound impact on Small of the events of his youth is made clear when he illustrates a dream he had just a few years prior to creating his book.  In the dream, he is a child, haunted by a fabricated image of his mother sweeping clear a path for him from his house to the state insane asylum.  Finally, in his adulthood, his is able to resist the cutting impact of his mother’s maltreatment of him, and he ends his novel not with an illustration, but with the two bold words, “I didn’t” – he didn’t follow the path his mother dictated for him, but instead took his own.

Concluding Remarks: If you’re looking to pick up a highly renowned example of how the graphic novel teeters artfully between classic film and anthologized literature, Stitches  has got to be one of your best bets.  You will be amazed at his use of shadows and light, and how the nuances of character and emotion can be displayed so well in black and white depictions, that as Small, an award-winning children’s book illustrator, himself noted are “more like handwriting than regular drawing” (from an interview with Small via Amazon).  Just as in any good piece of writing, where the form often deliberately mirrors the content, the use of this genre as the medium for recounting his memoir was an artful choice, as Small explains in the aforementioned interview:

…it’s a story about being voiceless.  It demanded a visual treatment because it involved so much of that guessing game we played in our family, of trying to figure out why someone was mad at us–someone who refused to communicate by any other means than slamming things around. If told in words–even if I could have–the story would have lost that visceral impact.

Perhaps in our ever-technologizing world and with our subsequent ever expanding vehicles for storytelling, educators and the public at large need to reconsider the sometimes rigid boundaries of the category, “literature,” allowing it to include unconventional modes of storytelling that can convey all the same harrowing realities and yet stoic truths that a book with thousands of words and hundreds of chapters can. I would like to pose too, that arguably, sometimes, graphic novels and memoirs manage to do so even more movingly and honestly than their more conventional counterparts.

-Elizabeth

P.S. – You might be interested to know that besides making it to the top of the bestseller list, Small’s memoir has also been named a National Book Award Finalist, an Alex Award winner by the American Library Association, and labeled one of the best books of the year by NPR, Indies Choice Book Awards, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly, and countless others!

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100 Panels of Twain

Mark Twain, Jean Morvan, Frederique Voulyze, Severine de Fevebvre. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Classics Illustrated Deluxe #4. Papercutz, 2009. Print.

Character- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer does a fantastic job of creating character, giving each one the unique voice it had in the original text. From Tom’s false sincerity to Huck’s boasts and brags, many lines of dialogue are taken from the original text to maintain the character fidelity. Le Fevebvre (whose name I won’t even try to pronounce) did a fantastic job with the stylized, almost manga-style full color illustrations, giving each character vastly different appearance, costume, and actions. The most obvious examples of this are Huck’s scavenged too-big top hat and tailcoat, giving him a unique look that makes him immediately distinguishable.

However, I share librarian Douglas Davey‘s concern that, “Visually, it is often difficult to distinguish among the supporting characters.” (You’ll have to scroll through a few reviews to get to his). So, although the Frenchman’s manga-style illustrations make for captivating and original iterations of our favorite Twain characters, the other Sam, Joe, and Johns Tom hangs with will be lost in the background. If you’re okay with that, then there is more than enough characterization here, possibly more so than in the original text!

Plot– This Classics Illustrated faithfully recounts the entire plot of Tom Sawyer down to excess scenes in which Huck and Tom argue about the best magical method for wart removal. As is to be expected from the series, it follows the story to the T (for Tom!). You will sometimes have to read pages more than once to keep up with the action and dialogue, and make sure you understand exactly what happened; between the irregular speech bubble layout and action filled, sweeping panels, it can be hard to pin down exactly did what to whom.

Setting- The setting in Twain’s novel is loving crafted, and in later works it becomes a major focus of the text. Here, Fevebvre’s art does the brunt of the work, depicting Aunt Polly’s house and the schoolhouse with as much historical accuracy as Tom’s shirt and slate. This rural town feels rural, and Tom’s fight with the “city-slicker” early on hints at larger class tension that adds to the feeling of community throughout the text. St. Petersburg felt like a small town, not a series of backdrops for Tom’s antics.

Style- The choice of eastern-style art with a distinctly American text was an interesting one. Add on top of that the fact that it was originally written in French, and the cultural layers get really confusing. However, I never felt like I was reading a translation, showing just how much time and effort went in to the English release. This is an important point, because often authorial style can be decimated by poor translation. The dialect is maintained lovingly, and every extra apostrophe and inverted sentence seems to fit. After a few pages of the manga artwork, it actually becomes a unique and dynamic way to look at Tom Sawyer. Manga (I should really do a review of a manga one of these days) makes use of altered character design, expression and impressionistic background alteration, and other meta-literary techniques to make the form a reflection of content. This is done less in Western art, which leads to more dialogue and narration/exposition-heavy text (see my review of The Hobbit to see why that isn’t always a good thing).

Theme- I’ll admit I’ve found it difficult at times to find themes in Twain’s work. However, I will say that I’ve always thought of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a bastardization of the popular “school books” of the time (as explained in David Russell’s article “The History of Children’s Literature”); however, instead of placing the boys in a boarding school to have adventures, they’re placed in Missouri instead. The themes of the text involve coming-of-age, learning to be a more responsible member of the community, and that sometimes snooping around in a graveyard leads to thousands of dollars! (Maybe not that last one)

Viewpoint- The viewpoint is generally Tom’s, and we rarely go somewhere he doesn’t. The limited 3rd person offers no narration whatsoever, which is great for keeping readers in the world of the text. This book is aimed directly at people reading Tom Sawyer for the first time (or avid Twain collectors, I suppose). The limited text also allows readers who have difficulty with the written dialect (and if I remember correctly, that was everyone in my 10th grade English class struggling through Jim’s speech in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) work through it on a smaller scale, offering non-verbal cues to help support understanding of the new language that is rural, American English.

This book does a better job (in my opinion) than The Hobbit did of relating the original text to new readers. This might be the result of Twain’s novel just being better suited to the medium; Twain was a stage performer and comedian, Tolkien a linguist; I think we know who was more set of using written language. The art is captivating, the story faithfully recounted, and the multiple translations are done amazingly well, making the story and dialects easy to follow. This is how novel-to-graphic translations should be done, and I hope this is the standard for Classics Illustrated.

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A.D.: New Orleans After the Flood

Overview: In his web comic turned graphic novel, A.D.: New Orleans After the Flood, Josh Neufeld follows the stories of five real-life Katrina survivors along with their friends and family, chronicling the experiences of these disaster-braving people before, during, and after the hurricane and subsequent flood.  Writing in a style that has been deemed “comics reportage,” Neufeld poignantly utilizes the graphic novel as his form to bring to his readers jarring images of the 2005 disaster along with the idiosyncratic voices and episodes from a diverse array of New Orleans dwellers, who for a number of different reasons, decided not to evacuate the city upon the mayor’s recommendation and with the impending doom of the oncoming hurricane.  Moving beyond the generic and often distorted lens of the media, Neufeld, who volunteered in New Orleans for three weeks after “the deluge,” pieces together the events of Katrina and its aftermath as experienced and understood by ordinary people caught in the midst of it.  An alternative method for researching and discussing current affairs, this book could be used in the classroom in lieu of news articles, or as an opportunity to talk about digitized technology and self-publishing as an alternative platform for expression: Neufeld was discovered by an executive at SMITH Magazine because of a zine he issued about his experiences volunteering after Katrina, and was asked to create an online graphic novel depicting the voices of several unique survivors, bound together by their shared experience in New Orleans.

Character: The voices of the characters in this story are literally brought to life through the distinctive dialects of everyone involved, whether it be Denise’s profanity-infused Black English Vernacular, the medical doctor’s decidedly Yat infused speech (for all y’all regulah podnas who never been down da road to New Orleans, dat’s da way dey talk down der, named for da common expression, “where y’at?”), or Abbas’ Iranian meets New Orleans accent. The visual nature of this novel lends to the reader the ability to interpret the emotions of the characters in a manner that moves beyond narrative description and dialogue: through the expressions represented on their faces. Denise’s infuriated impatience with the way the disaster was handled by various bureaucracies becomes clear from her seemingly permanent scowl, lifted only when she witnesses something that sends her eyebrows shooting straight upwards and mouth gaping open, in utter shock by how “this whole situation is fucked up” (Neufeld 111). Abbas’ ostensible nonchalance and desire to not “wussy out” is made more complex when the reader knowingly witnesses the deep concern in his frowning face as his convenience shop is gradually destroyed before his eyes during the course of the storm and flood (Nefeld 159). These well-defined aspects of the characters allow Neufeld to seamlessly slip in and out of the various situations without even an ounce of momentary confusion on behalf of the audience.

Denise: blunt language, shocked expression

Plot: Though the format of this book is non-traditional, the plot itself follows closely a fairly traditional narrative arch.  The book is divided into several sections, each indicative of an element of Freytag’s structure and other recognizable components of a story.  The action in  A.D. is presented as follows: “The Storm” (exposition, setting); “The City” (rising action, character introduction, development, and motivation); “The Flood” (climax, conflict); “The Diaspora” (falling action, continued character motivation); and finally, “The Return” (denouement/resolution).  Though as aforementioned, the characters portrayed represent a breadth of social and economic backgrounds – anyone from a high school senior who is son of a minister, to a stubborn doctor who eats daily at the legendary restaurant, Galatoire’s – the people in this graphic novel are united through plot: through their endurance of the same situation in the same city, even if each of them has a different experience of the hurricane.

Setting: The setting is elucidated not only more indirectly through the region-specific dialects voiced, but also through the panels that allow the reader to travel through the disaster-ridden city, seeing the water accumulating above cars, trees performing back-bending stretches to the ground, storefront signs dangling by a thread, and motorboats traveling along former streets, searching for bodies and attempting to offer help and in some cases, hope.  The story also moves from the exterior landscape of the city itself to the highly personal, interior houses of the characters, as the spectator watches comic book collections dissolving, pets getting pinned under rubble, foundations and walls crumbling upon the bed where a character slept only a few hours prior, and so on.  The panels, prevalent in any graphic novel, allow Neufeld to sometimes simultaneously show on a page the action taking place both inside and outside, expanding upon the way we normally ingest a novel’s setting in a more traditional story format.

Style: Exploring the possibilities that the graphic novel as a genre has to offer the creator, Neufeld varies the size and number of panels on a page in order to best capture the aspect of the images he wishes to convey in each delineated space: a close-up expression of a character’s face or a particular part of an object, a bird’s eye view of the flooded city, or a two-page spread that forces the eye to linger on the vast destruction of

Bird's eye view of the destruction

the environment or distress of the character.  Interesting to note as well is Neufeld’s monochromatic color scheme: he utilizes only one hue at a time in his panels, although the colors themselves vary from green to blue to purple to orange – perhaps to suggest the numbing sameness of the literal and figurative drowning at hand.  It is only in the last two sections of the novel, as the character’s lives come back together and some form of sanity or routine begins to be returned to them, that colors start to interact with one another, though only two at a time – purple and orange, green and blue – to indicate the still very gradual nature of the process of rebuilding lives and homes.

Theme: The themes in A.D. are subtly depicted, so much so that it might seem overly moralizing, simplistic, and reductive – three things that this novel is definitively not – if I try to state them here.  That being said, there is certainly an emphasis on the individual, particularly his triumph – or at the very least his survival and certainly his evolution – over and through a difficult situation.  Neufeld’s story can, in my opinion, hold a variety of purposes for its readers, whether it be helping our often desensitized youth to remember what it is to have empathy, or showing to all audience members that the media presents situations with a very specific agenda in mind, or simply just informing the uninformed about the gravity of our current events, and ideally inspiring some sort of desire to become involved in the world at large.

Viewpoint: The first three sections of A.D. are relayed by an omniscient narrator who illustrates the story playing out in present tense.  In an experimental shift perhaps only

The Doctor explaining the aftermath to Neufeld

possible in a format like the graphic novel, the last two sections interject this narration, placing Neufeld himself in the story as he talks to the characters over the phone, answering his questions about what happened after everything the reader just saw, and where they are now.  Using himself as a tool, Neufeld effectively moves the story towards its finish, all the while reminding his audience that the characters were in a sense not characters at all, but real people living under real circumstances.

Concluding remarks:  My recommendation?  Experience the detailed events of the hurricane yourself and go read Neufeld’s novel. I’m not the only one who appreciates his take on the events surrounding Katrina, either: “MTV,” Vanity Fair, The Daily Beast, Salon, and The San Francisco Chronicle have all included A.D. in their “best of” lists or awarded it recognition in some fashion.  While I would encourage offering financial support to the artist, if you simply cannot wait to get your hands on this one, you can read the original version of the piece here, at SMITH Magazine, as well as hear updates from Neufeld on his blog, watch and listen to interviews with the real characters, and learn more about the project!  And just in case you had any doubt about the nuances and literary merit of not only this graphic novel but the genre as a whole, listen to what Neufeld himself writes in the afterword to the print version of A.D.:

…I always planned for “A.D.” to be a book.  When comics are presented on the web –often one panel at a time–something of the gestalt of the comic book is lost: the interplay of the tiers of images on a page, the way a two-page spread can work to frame the argument and the drama, and aspects of timing, meter, and rhythm (Neufeld 193).

To use a reoccurring, ever-preferred word of us graphic novel hovel writers: sounds poetic.

-Elizabeth

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Feature: Graphic Novels in High School Libraries

In researching other online platforms advocating for the usage of graphic novels in the classroom as a contemporary, relevant genre of literature, I stumbled across this great roundtable discussion, facilitated by Josh Hogan on Graphic Novel Reporter, with three high school librarians from various states across the U.S.  It’s well worth your read, so take a look at what the participants have to say about the popularity of graphic novels in their respective schools, how they’ve incorporated these visual books into their collections, and the reactions they’ve received from the public concerning their decisions here, or, check out my favorite moments from the aforementioned conversation below!  If you like what you read, be sure to look into the site’s other roundtable discussions regarding graphic novels for more up-to-date commentaries.

From Heidi Hammond, a librarian at Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, MN, who wrote her Ph.D thesis on reader responses for the young adult, Printz Award winning graphic novel, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang:

“Students were surprised how much they enjoyed reading a graphic novel. Initially, some balked at reading a ‘comic book.’  It didn’t seem like serious literature to them. However, they found a graphic novel could include serious issues such as immigration, culture, racial identity, and stereotyping. While they had no trouble reading and understanding the book, they appreciated it even more after lessons about comics conventions. Asked to read and respond to the book a second time, they felt they noticed more in the images and grasped more of what the author was attempting to communicate.”

“I think school libraries have a responsibility to include graphic novels in their collections. Not only are there graphic novels to support just about any curriculum, graphic novels also support literacy. Our concept of literacy must expand beyond reading and writing print on a page. Texts come in a variety of combinations of modes, and print alone does not dominate. These multimodal texts require multimodal literacy. Graphic novels, combining print literacy and visual literacy, help our students develop the multiliteracy skills necessary to be literate in these times of ever-new information and communication technologies.”

photo source: Becky Malewitz/SourceMedia Group News

From Melissa Neace, librarian at Larkin High School in Elgin, IL:

“English and reading teachers accept GN reading as reading: students may use them for sustained silent reading, book reports, etc. I have GN adaptations of several works of literature and have teachers who use them in class to visualize an author’s mood or setting. When I do professional development for teachers to help them select materials for classroom libraries, GN titles are always included, and many teachers have GNs in their classroom libraries.”

Hope you enjoyed these two specialist’s insights into the genre, and perhaps had elucidated for you some previously unforeseen or unexpected uses of graphic novels in an educational atmosphere!

Elizabeth

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Hello there!

First, an introduction for myself; then, one for the “The Unwritten.” My name is John Sines, and I have maintained an affectionate relationship with the comic book / graphic novel medium for some time now. I grew up with the X-Men (especially Gambit and Cyclops), Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Thor, Swamp Thing, Fantastic Four, and the list goes on – super heroes were a large part of my childhood. I won’t deny that, for a little while, comic books were fantasy fulfillment – I loved seeing super awesome powerful dudes fighting other super awesome powerful dudes. It’s was cool. Then, as I entered into adulthood (which I continue to do, against my strongest of urgings), I kept comics around. Their merits, I recognized and knew, run deeper than sci-fi/fantasy gimmicks. In fact, I find it surprising that this medium of storytelling is so often subjected to that stigma. Popular culture can find art in plays, novels, novellas, and vignettes. It can also find art in drawings, paintings, pastels, and watercolors. So, why is it that a blending of the two mediums is met with dismay? The comic book / graphic novel medium is a unique method of storytelling and expression. They often boil a story down to it’s essentials. I don’t mean this in the negative way, as there is no loss of meaning. In fact, I find it similar to poetry – which is widely known and appreciated for loading meaning into few words. As noted by Elizabeth earlier in this blog, Spiderman is poetic – practically a series of alliterative picturebook poems. The latest comic I’ve read is titled, “The Unwritten” by Mike Carey, creator of the Eisner Award nominated comic “Lucifer.” Now to put my point bluntly, “The Unwritten” fulfills every requirement of being literary, well. At it’s base, “The Unwritten” is a discourse on the creative power of an author. The story revolves around Tom Taylor, a man who was made famous by the novels written by his father. The novels are akin to the Harry Potter series, and enlist the authors son as the protagonist (similar to how Christopher Robin of Winnie-the Pooh was based on Christopher Robin Milne). This became a great source of discontent for Tom. When it comes to light that there is no proof of Tom Taylor being his father’s biological son, many (eventually including Tom himself) begin to question if he is in fact the Tommy Taylor of the novels brought to life. From this, the cultural and ideological power of stories is explored. The comic makes use of literary allusion and reference, using Shelly’s “Frankenstein,” Melville’s “Moby Dick,” the French epic, “Song of Roland,” and many more. More importantly, these stories are not randomly pulled out of the literary hat, but chosen to interact with the story in interesting and meaningful ways. Frankenstein’s monster often appears to Tommy as a friend, which plays on the idea of Tommy being created rather than birthed naturally. I’ll add a Character, Setting, Plot, Style, Theme explanation soon, but I wanted to offer up a quick introduction first.

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