Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Arrival Rewrite

Revisiting The Arrival by Shaun Tan, it is even more apparent how incredibly unique this comic is. Almost every panel could be it's own work of art and the fact that this novel is filled with hundreds of fully rendered drawings is just astounding. The rich details of the art bring you into this bizarre new world along with protagonist. The pacing of the novel is also much more even than in other comics. Most pages just have rows of the same neat identical squares placed side by side. It gives the story a sense of routine. A feeling that the events happening are just part of daily life in this new land. While the father in this story is overwhelmed by how vastly different this new place is, he eventually is able to find his own place in society. he becomes a part of the everyday. The panels in the The Arrival are either the repetitive small squares or very large full page images. These are almost always used to establish the setting on an grand scale.

Something else that I noticed was the bookending pages in the novel that list off the things found in the man's room. On the first page the items are all easily recognizable and common. We understand objects like origami birds and cups of coffee because they are objects from our world. They are within our frame of reference. In this story we are the father and we are experiencing this journey through his eyes.  Near the end of the novel there is a page that harkens back to this list of objects in the room. On this page are the objects the man has assimilated into his daily routine now that he lives in this new world. The paper bird is now a paper dog creature that resembles the monster that became his first friend upon arrival. He now has a bowl of tentacles to eat and his cup of coffee has an uncurled handle. There are two constants between these images and those are a the man's hat and coat and a picture of his family all together. This shows that no matter where we are in the world, the importance of family never dies. Family will keep you grounded and give you something to live for regardless of where you live. The picture of the coat and the hat is an example of how we mix and match our cultural influences. Even though this man lives in a new country he still maintains the sense of style that he is accustomed to. His clothing finds a place even though it is surrounded by foreign objects. This is the result of the melting pot that allows new traditions and customs to grow in a society.

The Arrival is a story of hard work paying off. It gives you a sense of hope and peace in the end with the family able to survive in their new home. By the end of the book they are part of society, so much so that they are able to take on the responsibility of helping new immigrants find their way.

Paradise Kiss

Spending two weeks on Manga gave me a chance to try reading different stories in a genre that I tend to avoid. Paradise Kiss is a shojo manga by Ai Yazawa that exemplifies all the reasons why I tend to find shojo so insufferable. Something that is very common in girl comics are main characters who are over emotional and spastic. In Paradise Kiss, Yukari fits into this mold as the young college student who just wants to do well in school. Throughout the comic she goes from panel to panel jumping from one extreme emotion to the next. One second she’ll be crying over not passing an exam and the next page she’s getting a nose bleed over a hot guy. Maybe the heightened emotions found in Manga are a way for the Japanese to overcompensate for a society where people tend to be quieter and to themselves. While reading the story I can just hear the characters screaming from panel to panel and it quickly gets exhausting. I'm can see why this genre is so appealing to young teenage girls. It's wish fulfillment with plenty of romance and I'm sure this style would make more sense to me if I had read it earlier in my life.

Yukari essentially lives what I’m sure many girls would consider a desirable fantasy of being discovered by young fashion designers to be runway model. Though she is hesitant and insecure at first, modeling eventually gives Yukari newfound confidence. The way all the melodrama is presented in the comic is so over the top but this is only because I am not used to this style of comic. For instance, when Yukari is looking out a window contemplating if she should be a part of a fashion show she is sitting in shadow and a huge beam of line emits from her forehead. When the bisexual fashion student George appears he tends to be standing in front of a background of flowers, signifying how attractive he is. The issue reads like a romantic comedy as the romance between Yukari and George rolls along with will they/won’t they sexual tension until the issue ends with an expected kiss. This book is tries to incorporate a lot of female fantasy into the narrative. Anchoring the story around a fashion school allows for a lot of elaborate costumes and dresses. The characters identify themselves by their appearance. If anything it’s setting that is very visual and appropriate for a comic narrative.  

Scott Pilgrim

It's no surprise that this series of comics is so popular with people in our generation. It mashes together two very popular aspects of "geek" culture: manga and video games and combines them with sharp writing and an adorable big eyed cartoon style. The book is printed like a Japanese manga despite that fact that the story and artist are very Canadian. The heavy manga influence can also be found in the extreme expressions that pop onto the characters and the action lines that appear behind them when emotions run high. The videogame influence can be found in both the style of writing in the novel and the plot itself. Scott wants to date the mysterious and extremely sarcastic Ramona Flowers but can only be with her if he defeats her 7 Evil Exes.

The battle in the first book happens completely out of the blue and Scott begins fighting as if he's a hero in an action game. The fight against Matthew Patel is like a boss battle, he throws an array of showy moves and tricks at Scott to try to defeat him but in the end Scott wins Here's the first battle from the very true to the source film adaptation. You can tell from the movie clip how the film was able to capture the derivative nature of the comics. In this one 90 seconds clip you get references to a Bollywood style musical number, punk rock imagery of the floating goth girls, and fire ball hands straight out of Dragon Ball Z.  Patel turns into a handful of coins when he is defeated, much like a common reward found in most video games. A lot of the humor of the book comes from the contrast between Scott's completely average life as a broke 23 year old and this larger than life situation he finds himself in. Scott is a normal dude and it says a lot about his character that he is completely unfazed at the thought of having to defeat all these exes, so long as he gets to make out with his hot new girlfriend. The relationships are really what drive the story. Scott has to learn to deal with every aspect of dating throughout the story: The excitement of having a new crush, dealing with a resentful ex, the awkward attempts at being friends with an ex,  and how immensely difficult it is break up with someone without feeling like an awful person.  In the end Ramona's evil exes are no different than the past relationship baggage you have to deal with when going out with someone new.

Good Bye Chunky Rice

"Good Bye Chunky Rice" is Craig Thompson's first graphic novel. It's the tale of small tea turtle who decides to leave his home and his best friend/ (girlfriend?), Dandel the mouse, in search of something more. The novel begins with Dandel and Chunky enjoying a day at the beach. Chunky is leaving the next day and is worried about saying good bye to his best friend. She assures him that he has so much to see in the world. There is a theme of loss and longing that permeates the entire novel and gives the book a very somber feeling. The main characters are adorable, small cartoon animals and yet the emotions they evoke are so poignant. There is a scene after Chunky leaves when Dandel is on the beach. Now alone, she watches the crashing waves and says,

The feeling is heartbreaking and completely relatable. The emotions are heightened by the drawings of a poor little mouse curled up so tightly amongst the endless dark ocean. Loss is something everyone is dealing with on the ship. Livonia hasn't been able to sleep since she lost her favorite teddy bear and the ship's captain is morning the loss of his wife Glenda. Chunky deals with regret as he keeps questioning whether he made the right choice to leave. In the end the power of Dandel's determination and friendship by never giving up on contacting her friend brings Chunky a sense of hope. The novel ends with him finding one of her bottles while she's on the beach saying "There is no Good-bye, Chunky Rice."Friendship is driving force of happiness in this novel and it's the thing that everyone is trying to achieve in their various quirky ways. The art style is appealing with a cast of slightly bizarre characters. This is a world where no one bats an eye at a talking animal but none of that hinders the believeableity of these characters and their problems. The emotional impact in this short tale really packs a punch because the act like real people. 

Marceline and the Scream Queens

I read the entire Marceline and the Scream Queens series this week and I found it especially interesting when looking at it through the context of fandom. The comic is a spin off of the very popular Adventure Time comics, which are based off of the even more popular cartoon show on Cartoon Network. Adventure Time is a series about two best friends, a boy and his dog, who go on strange, fantastic adventures. The show's mix of humor, action, and at times poignant drama has lead to an enormous fan base that includes just as many older viewers as young children. The internet fan community for Adventure Time is very expansive and there are hundreds and hundreds of fan works based on the show online. 

The show's popularity lead to an expansion of the story by the means of a comic book series. This is a very common practice in the world of comics, especially with series that have a very prolific "cult" fan bases who are more inclined  to read comic books.  For example even though it finished it's run on television in 2003, Joss Whedon has continued the story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer  well into it's 8th and 9th seasons through monthly comics published by Dark Horse. Comic book publishers are more likely to publish series based on television and movie franchises because of their pre-established fan bases. Not only is Adventure Time a popular comic series, but the creators also take in a lot of input from fans to see which characters and stories would be the most popular. 

Marceline and the Scream Queens is a 6 part series that spawned from the large popularity of two main characters from Adventure Time: Marceline the Vampire Queen and Princess Bubblegum. The story of the comics follows Marceline and her band as they go on their first tour across the Land of Ooo. Marceline is the artistic voice of the band while Bubblegum is the band's manager, booking shows and making sure everyone in the band is getting along. The two girls are very different and constantly bud heads over which direction the band should go in, but over the course of the series they learn to understand each other and become good friends. The stories are fun and simple and the art has the same bright and expressive style of the cartoon. It's fun to see these characters be the star of their own story lines. The Adventure Time T.V. show mainly follows the adventures of Finn and Jake with other characters getting one off episodes here or there so it's nice to read a story focusing on these two girls. These more specific stories are perfect for the world of comics because they are faster to produce than the television show and they are able to give fans exactly what they want. The comics were written and illustrated by Meredith Gran who is most well known for her web comic "Octopus Pie".  The artist both stays true to the style of Adventure Time while also adding in her own artistic charm which makes for a very appealing story.

The fandom influence of the comics can be found in the subtext sprinkled in throughout the series. There is a very large group of fans online who “ship” the characters Marcline and Bubblegum together. The couple has been addressed by the creators of Adventure Time and one of the show’s character designers, Natasha Allegri, has even posted her own fan art of the pair. The subtext is a fun little wink to fans who want to make it into something more while being subtle enough where it isn’t a distraction. This is just one of many examples of fandom influencing comic books and I’m sure it’s something that will continue to happen more and more with the internet bringing fans and content creators in easy contact.  There are even more Adventure Time Comic spin offs in the works, proving the success of a short series like Marceline and the Scream Queens. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Manga Week

What I found surprising about Osamu Tezuka’s “Buddha Vol. 1” was how diverse the character designs are. I am not very well versed in either manga or anime and one of the things that has always deterred me from delving into that world was the fact that so many character look exactly the same.

 A lot of manga uses a very specific style of character with similar giant eyes, small nose, and elaborate hair. To someone who isn’t familiar with the genre, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a lot of the characters because of the style. Determining a character's gender can also be a shot in the dark. So I was happily surprised to open Buddha Vol. 1 to find that these characters weren’t drawn in the stereotypical anime style at all. They have a huge variety of face shapes, nose sizes, and even huge ranges of tone and style. Some characters are more serious and realistically rendered with wrinkles and individual strands of hair while others look like they are from an old Beetle Bailey strip. This kept the comic much more visually interesting.

It was a bit strange that this is supposed to be a story about Siddhartha and Buddha and Siddhartha isn’t even born until half way through this volume. The Tatta character was a lot of fun. Him using his powers to possess different animals was my favorite part of the comic. His character was used to reinforce the importance of respecting all animals, and the fact that life is sacred whether or not it’s human. I’m not sure how all of these characters will connect into an over arching story but I’m sure there is plenty more to read in the following volumes.  From this initial volume it’s clear that this is a story with lots of dynamic anction, high drama, and even some romance.

I also read some Cinderella Boy which was much more in the typical Shoujo style that I was expecting from Manga week. The story involves what seems to be a common romance trope in Mangas with a girl, Riku, who has to dress up like a boy to be a part of a famous boy band. The dialogue is all very melodramatic with Riku constantly trying to figure out what fellow band mate Touya thinks of her. This kind of story seems to be written for a young girl demographic with all the romantic tension, sparkly backgrounds covered in roses, and a plot line revolving around a group of beautiful entertainers.  I would assume this story also appeals to fans of Yaoi since Riku is supposed to pass as a boy and  her and Touya can’t go a page without plenty of sexual tension. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Underground Comixs

I really enjoyed reading the stories from the underground comic scene. Easily my favorite collection of stories was Gay Comix. These were very personal stories about the artist's lives as gay, lesbian, and bisexual people living in the 70's. (I found it interesting that transgender people were not represented, when nowadays they are synonymous in the LGBT acronym.) Some of the stories were about an artist's entire life: growing up, falling in love and the unique challenges that come along with being gay. Some stories dealt with having a partner that recently died of Aids, while others were about dealing with a parent coming out later in life. When I first saw the cover of this book, I was expecting the comics to be a lot more salacious and shocking than what was actually inside. I'm sure the cover falls into the typical underground comics quota for being eye catching and overtly sexual. And while there are a few more raunchy strips that focus soley on sex humor (talking penises!) most of the comics inside are  deeply personal and touching. It's clear that these queer artists were desperate to have a voice and they really put their all into these comics. It says a lot about where America was culturally when these honest, heartfelt depictions of homosexuality in comics could only be found in the same dives next to underground comics that were made for just pornographic shock value. Only 30 years ago just the subject of homosexuality was completely taboo and it's clear that the stories in Gay Comix were trying to dispel that. It's just sad that the comic would never have the wide reach to impact the people who needed to see this perspective the most. It's even more depressing to think that in this day and age these stories by gay people would still be deemed too shocking in many parts of the country.

The thing I took most from these comics is how lucky we are to live in a time where queer stories are easily accessible. The internet is filled with the personal stories of LGBT people through blogs, video posts, and even web comics. A lot of the stories I read in Gay Comix reminded me of some of the gay web comics that I've read like Go Get a Roomie. While the honest account of gay people are still not widely found in mainstream culture, there is at least some progress. For instance you don't have to go looking in a seedy underground record store anymore to find stories about gay characters. Big name comic book publishers like Marvel and DC have begun to put a little effort when it comes to queer representation and diversity. Most notably the current incarnation of Batwoman is an out lesbian who's sexuality is handled rather seriously and isn't just fetishized for a male audience.

Stereotypes in Comics

This week I read American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. This novel is very interesting because it both involves the author's first hand account of constantly being judged for his Asian heritage as a child in a very realistic way while also dealing with some of the self hatred that comes along with years of being criticized for the way he looks and speaks with a character that is a very blatant racist Chinese stereotype. The novel was told in three separate stories that all converge at the end, but my favorite of the three was easily the autobiographical coming of age segments. Jin grows up constantly feeling like an outcast because of the cultural disconnect he has with his peers. His peers and teachers instantly dismiss him because of his race and his accent. When a person is being bullied, normally authority figures are the most obvious allies in the situation, but Jin shows on his first day of elementary school that this isn’t the case. His teacher instantly makes assumptions about him by mispronouncing his name and assuming he’s from China without any real care if she’s correct or not. To her Jin is just another Chinese student in her class. And that’s the main point the author is tries to drive home with the story of his childhood: That most people are willing to rely on stereotypes to explain others who are different from them because it’s much easier than trying to get to know a person. All of the negativity Jin receives for being a child of immigrant parents is absorbed to the point that he is just as mean to the next Chinese student that enters his class later on in school. Because when it comes down to it, Jin just wants to fit in. He wants to be accepted just like anyone else and that’s something that most of his peers just don’t want to put an effort into doing. Even though Jin understands exactly how alienated Wei-Chen feels as a new student from another culture, he initially distances himself from him just like everyone else in class.

 The self-hatred that the author felt as a child that is built up from so many years of bullying and feeling like an outcast is all dealt with through the “Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee” portions of the novel. This story is told in the style of a traditional American sit-com where Danny is an all American kid living in a white suburban family. But things take a turn when Danny’s embarrassing cousin Chin-Kee comes to visit! Chin-Kee is depicted as a stereotypically racist image of a Chinese person. He has yellow skin, large buckteeth, permanently closed eyes, completely broken English, and he’s always wearing traditional garb. His race is played for laughs and absolutely no one takes him seriously. This is exactly the kind of image of an Asian person that you would find in a comic from the early 20th century, especially during WWII when propaganda was made to rally people against the Japanese. The Chin-Kee character is very uncomfortable to read and the story becomes pretty heartbreaking when it’s revealed that Danny is who Jin desperately wanted to be growing up. Because of the way he looks, many people just assumed Jin was like “Chin-Kee”. If he had been born with blonde hair and blue eyes his peers would have actually tried to get to know him. Jin even tries to become more like a “Danny” when he perms his hair to look like one of the more popular Caucasian boys in his class. While Chin-Kee is a very stereotypical character, he is used for a purpose to shine a light on how people treat people from different cultures. It should make you uncomfortable because we all know it’s wrong to judge people just on race and where they are from. But even if you aren’t blatantly a bully to someone, dismissing them can be just as hurtful.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Maus is the story of a cartoonist who is documenting his father’s first hand account of the Holocaust. The author illustrate his father's story and he also illustrates the, at times difficult, process of getting his father to talk about his past. The story jumps back and forth between the present and the past . The artist telling his personal story brings an interesting perspective to the novel. Not only is this novel telling history in an original format, but the process of creating this book is also helping Artie understand his father. Their relationship has never been all that strong and through the creation of "Maus" Artie learns a great deal about the hardships his father had to survive in his youth. In his old age, Vladek is bitter, stingy, and very weak. He doesn't seem to love his 2nd wife and Arthur is stuck in the middle as his father and step mother come to him with their marital woes. The modern day family drama frames the Holocaust story and shows how surviving such a horrific situation has effects that last a life time. 

The choice to tell this story with animals is a very interesting decision. The novel starts with a quote by Hitler which says “The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human.” This must have sparked the original idea to depict the characters as rodents and other animals. I don’t think the decision trivializes the weight of the subject matter either. Scott McCloud explained that the more simplified a character is drawn, the easier it is to project yourself into the story. I think this idea is amplified even further when using animals as characters. People naturally personify animals in their lives everyday and I think that’s why we connect with comics and cartoons about talking animals so easily. There is a connotation with wholesome, mass appeal when a story is about talking animals and I think the stark contrast between those preconceived notions and the novel’s subject matter were a key part as to why the novel was told in this fashion. The mice are also very simplistic and don’t even have mouths to express with. The simple design allows the reader a lot of room to fill in the blanks with who these characters are.  Maus is truly unlike any other Holocaust survivor’s account and the style does not take away from the power of the story. The animals rarely took me out of the story except for a few (I’m assuming intentionally distracting) moments. For instance, there is a scene were Vladek tells the other prisoners that if he has to die he wants to be treated like a human being. It really drives home the point of how literally inhumane the Nazis are to the mice.

I guess one complaint I have with the novel is the fact that the characters were drawn simplistically to the point that you really can’t tell any of them a part. There would be scenes with entire families of people and the only distinguishing factor was when they were addressed by name. If there were only two characters in a scene the differences were fairly clear. Overall this was a fairly minor issue that didn’t ruin the novel by any means.  

It's very clear why this novel helped legitimize the graphic novel as a mature art form. It deals with a lot of mature themes and takes on one of the most painful events in human history. Along with the Holocaust, the novel has themes of suicide, post traumatic stress, and falling out of love. This novel takes it's subject matter very seriously and it pairs all of this with illustrations that are effective and possibly even deceptively simple. It's clear that most of the story is word for word what Arthur's father recited due to the broken english and Jewish dialect found throughout the story. This is a personal piece and true work of art that deserves all of it's critical acclaim. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Will Eisner’s body of work helped legitimize the graphic novel as a relevant form of story telling and books like “Contract with God” show prove exactly why. The novel tells many short stories about people’s lives in neighborhood in the Bronx. Most of the characters are either miserable, vile, aggressive, or disgusting. There are no heroes in this book, just regular people dealing with life and their own personal demons. The subject matter alone sets this novel a part from traditional comic books but Eisner also pushes the boundaries of what comic book art can be. He illustrates only what is needed, sometimes only hinting at a background. There are very rarely any actual panels. He instead plays around with the organization of each image depending on what would best tell the story. For example, on the page where Hersh angryily tries to reason with God and suffers a heart attack, the panels are tilted as if they are coming undone. The heart attack panels are diagonal and overlapping one another which really builds the tension and represents that something is clearly not right. Some pages are just a full illustration and the format feels more like a political cartoon than a comic book.

 Eisner also uses font to tell the story. The letters on the page change size and style depending on what is being said. It makes the pages feel more alive. The words are just as involved in telling the story as the images are. The characters are also incredibly expressive. While the subject matter is very mature, the characters are still rather cartoony. And of course as Scott McCloud professes,  it’s easier to relate to images of people who are more simplified than those that are extremely specific and detailed. I’m sure Will Eisner was very keen on this fact and used it to his advantage. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Comic Book

I read Weird Fantasy #13 from EC comics, which was a story about a comet that almost destroys the Earth before exploding. While the Earth remains intact, the radiation of the comet renders all mammals infertile and the comic chronicles the last human born on Earth. I had a lot of fun reading this story and I was genuinely invested in the plot. These short sci-fi scenarios remind me a lot of “Twilight Zone” episodes I used to watch as a kid. The ending really threw me for a loop. The story is very urgent and serious throughout the comic but the final reveal in the last panel is so incredibly silly that I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity. Adam, the last man born on Earth, and one of his scientific partners decide to create a portal to transport fertile people from the past to their future to repopulate the Earth. They are baffled when they only attract men through their door. Adam decides to enter the portal to see where all these 1950s women are and he is shocked to see that their portal was placed in a Men’s room. The final panel is essentially him lamenting the fact that he is too old and creepy to ever attract a woman into the portal. All of humanity is doomed because of a bathroom. Since this was my first Weird Fantasy story I didn’t know to expect such a silly punch line, but I was happily surprised.

I also noticed that almost every line in the comic ended with an exclamation point. This seems to be an ongoing trend in genre comics, especially adventure and super hero stories. The format made me read the words in my mind as if they were spoken in the urgent voice of a 1920’s newsreel. 

It’s also fun to see how the comic portrayed the near future. 2012, in this universe, promised flying cars and fashionable neon capes. It’s always fun to see how past generations envisioned our present, and how far we are from achieving it (especially the capes). 

The Comic Strip

This was easily the most nostalgic week because, like most of America, grew up always excited to read the comics in the Sunday newspaper. The pull out section of comics was like the main attraction of the entire paper. The panels were so colorful and there was such a wide range of fun characters and stories to choose from. One of my favorites growing up was Charles Shulz' Peanuts. Part of this was because I also grew up with all the Peanuts holiday specials and cartoons but a lot of my love for the characters came from the comic strips and the small truths they had to share. When you read a lot of Peanuts comics at once, you quickly realize that most of them are not intended to be all that funny. Sure a lot of them end with a traditional punch line, and you can always count of Snoopy for comic relief, but a lot of the time it's just a bunch of kids trying to deal with life's ups and downs. Charlie Brown is an average kid who always gets the short end of the stick. He tends to give things his all only to have mediocre results. Because of his experiences he has plenty of sad observations about the world that tend  to hit a little close to home as a reader. It's clear that the Peanuts comics were a vehicle for Charles Schulz to share some of personal philosophies with the world. Even though the target audience for these comics were children, Schulz trusted that kids would be able to handle characters dealing with realistic everyday problems. The world isn't always perfect and even children understand that and I think that's a major quality of Peanuts and why it has remained so popular.

While Charlie Brown may never be a star pitcher or a straight A student, there is one thing in his life he can always count on: his friends. Peanuts celebrates the importance of friendship and how necessary it is to have someone who can pick you up when life gets you down. All the characters have best pals that are never far from their side. For Charlie it's the quiet young philosopher Linus. Snoopy and Woodstock are constantly having adventures with each other and you rarely see Peppermint Patty without Marcy by her side. These strong friendships quickly build the world of Peanuts into something much deeper than a silly newspaper comic strip. These are characters with full lives and relationships and it has a relatable appeal that has kept the characters relevant to this day.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Understanding Comics

“Understanding Comics” is a perfect blend of educational and informative literature. It delves into the psychology behind cartoons and how we relate to them in a way that I’ve never read before. The novel sparked a lot of “aha” moments when describing what makes cartoons and comics so appealing and I completely understand why this is known as the definitive book on comics.

An idea that I found fascinating is when Scott McCloud explained why it’s so easy to relate to cartoons. The more simplified a cartoon is, the easier it is to relate yourself to the character. He explains that the human brain takes in the appearance of others in vivid detail while our sense of self is more vague. We don’t see what we look like all the time. This is a concept that I’ve noticed for years but have never been able to explain. I see these principles all the time when I babysit. I can watch any cartoon with a group of kids and they will immediately start assigning who in the room is which character on the show. Regardless if the characters are crudely drawn or even a completely different species. They become instantly invested in what’s happening because they have made this connection to the character that they think best encompasses them. 

McCloud then makes the distinction between the sensory and conceptual world in cartoons. Everything in relation to us, or the character we are relating to, is a part of the conceptual experience while the objects and settings are sensory. This is why a lot of cartoons place their simplistically drawn characters in much more detailed worlds. The cartoon is the mask that we as the viewer are putting on and the world is a rich and exciting place for us to explore. This concept is used all over the place in animation and it’s even apparent in CG movies. For instance, in the movie Tangled, all of the characters are modeled to be stylized in a typical Disney fashion. They all have large expressive eyes and their faces aren’t too realistically textured with extraneous details like pores. Despite the character’s simplicity, the landscapes of the film are almost photorealistic. There are individual blades of grass in the fields and rays of sunlight shining through trees.

It’s exactly the aesthetic type that Scott McCloud describes in the graphic novel and now I understand why so many cartoons choose this technique. How could you not want to picnic in that forrest? This technique is so common place in comics and cartoons that you don't even think about it. "Understanding Comics" gave me the underlying meaning behind comic book conventions and my experience with the medium will become much richer because of it. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Max Ernst

1. "Alas! My cobbler." The old maid flailed her arms in anguish as her kidney bean surprise fell from her lap. "Honey, I told you your knees are too fragile. I offered my wings..." clucked the chicken in disapproval. The couple had hit a rough patch after Mr. Chicken found the maid's male concubine at the bottom of the stairs earlier that morning.

2. "But if true love's kiss won't wake this fair maiden, what will?" The large chicken man began to sob.

3. The ceremonial burying-of-the-dairy maid was almost complete. "Now to set the girl on fire," cooed the rooster priest.

4. "I really don't think this woman goes with the decor." The badger nodded in agreement.

5. "I finished my thesis!" The scientist was too excited to notice his children's homicidal practices.

The Arrival

“The Arrival” by  Shaun Tan is a powerful achievement in pure visual storytelling. It strips away one of the major components of the graphic novel (the words themselves) and is able to tell the story of a man who immigrates to a new country to build a better life for his family. Every page is a testament to the power of juxtaposition of images in telling a story.  From the very first page the reader is presented with nine separate illustrations that, on their own, seem like a random collection of pictures: a paper bird, a clock, a child’s drawing. But when placed one after the other you are able to effortlessly get a sense of a morning routine.  Tan lets the images speak for themselves and it’s astounding to see how much information can come across with simple objects.  There are also plenty of pages where actions are shown in a more step-by-step fashion. To me, these illustrations felt like slowly going through a flipbook. The movement on these pages almost comes to life like an animation.

            While reading the story it took a little while for me to fully grasp the meaning of all the abstract elements in the novel. But looking back it’s rather genius on Tan’s part that he makes the reader feel this way early on in the book because it puts you in the shoes of the main character. You go from the relatable, natural world of his homeland to this chaotic, foreign, and at times disturbing new country. The novel illustrates the uneasy feeling of being in a foreign country where everything from food, language, customs, and currency are completely different from what you’re used to.  By the time I got half way through the novel I started to get accustomed to this strange world and slowly understood what all these surreal monsters and objects stood for which is the same journey the main character follows. 

The art in the novel is beautifully executed with an interesting blend of realistically rendered people surrounded by bizarre elements. Subtle color shifts in the panels indicate a change in tone, mood, or even flashbacks. The novel also uses the negative space in the page for storytelling as well. Some panels are framed as if they are old photographs or pages in a journal to represent people’s memories. Every aspect of this novel is used to convey something specific to the reader and it’s truly inspiring to see that all of this information can be absorbed without a single word.