Fandom, Entitlement, and the Evolution of diversity in popular culture

*A research assignment written for SLIS 518 

 Introduction

Let me paint you a picture.

It is 1987. A little girl, five, is sitting in front of her television at noontime, eating a bowl of Kraft Dinner, while the Holograms and the Misfits battle for music supremacy on the fan favorite girl cartoon series, Jem and the Holograms.Topimage

In 1987 I fell in love with storytelling and I fell in love with science fiction.

Jem, through her holographic fairy godmother, Synergy, opened my mind to contemplating the wonders of technology and the evolution of human life, and the human possibilities in tandem with it. Since 1987, science fiction has been my favorite genre of literature, film, and television entertainment.

You can imagine, then, my rage when the live action Jem and the Holograms was released, devoid of science fiction, replacing a holographic and technological feat of empowerment with a roving projector robot and no science, simply the metaphor for masking true identities. The message might have been a good one, but to me, a lifelong fan, the soul was lost and my childhood corrupted.

I was furious. So, against my better judgment, I joined a discussion forum to complain about the movie. Instead of being an observant fan with the ability to distinctly appreciate different mediums, evolution of stories, and creative license, I grumbled (however eloquently) like an entitled fan whose childhood had been personally attacked.

I became part of the growing trend of entitled fandom.

Fandom is life

download (5)The first reported case of fandom, before it had a name, was in 1893, when Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle had his beloved detective, Sherlock Holmes, plummet to his death with his
greatest foe, Professor Moriarity. Fans were outraged and petitioned for Holmes’ return, prompting one of his most popular works, The Hound of Baskervilles.

In a post about fandom on The Mary Sue, Thomas Maluck describes fandom as “the drive to create and control the narratives and experiences that engage” (2016). It is an opportunity for fans of art (in its many forms) to share their opinions, to contemplate, to reproduce, and to play with their particular brand of art. According to research by PhD. Student, Chole Galloy, apart from watching or reading narratives, fans “engage with, appropriate, share, debate, and create through their favorite stories, [moreover,] they pre-view, and constantly re-view their texts, and seek out and exchange all possible information relating to those texts” (2012).

Fandom then, is not just a passing interest; it is a lifelong investment.

It is a way of life, often harkening back to childhood. Many fans today feel their childhoods and lifelong relationships as fans are being attacked or ruined by the contemporary diversification of stories and characters. In an interview with Joss Whedon, Todd Martens contemplates the battle cry of a suffering generation whose childhoods are lost to a new generation of fans who expect change (2016).

So it should not be a surprise that when fans are disappointed by the treatment of their favorite stories or characters, they want to be heard. And in the age of social media, fans have never been louder.

Broken boundaries, rage, and an old market

Megan Purdy, from Women Write About Comics, states that the advent of social media has collapsed both geographical and social boundaries, and as a result “made the vulnerable people more vulnerable, the powerful people more accessible” and has made communication, its pleasantries and its vitriol, more widespread (2016).

As social media connects us, it also divides us. In the world of fandom, its inhabitants are devoted to the art they worship. The Internet, a bridge that serves to connect those of us within, also pushes the boundaries to keep others out. The current outrage against the new reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise with four women carrying on the torch from the original men has sparked heated debates and vehement anger online.

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Fandom and the art that inspires it, most notably science fiction, fantasy, and the medium of comics, is taking the cultural world by storm. But before the rise of this sci-fi comic culture in the mainstream, this fandom belonged, primarily to a demographic of white, middle class men.

In 2016, the world of fandom is much more diverse, and as a result, fandom is shifting, and a lot of fans are fuming and using the Internet as their sounding board.

As Purdy notes, “Social media does not eliminate systemic, institutionalized power imbalances- it reflects them […], nor does it dissolve traditional power structures [it] amplifies, it does not imbue ” (2016). What this means in the realm of fandom is that the vocal minority that are loudly shouting and making demands of creators online are hard to ignore.

Today, when fans are let down by the “text they used to admire, they will strive to provide direct feedback” (Galloy, 2012) right away, reaching out to their favorite authors or directors through mediums such as Twitter. The result is often an opportunity for conversation with the creators, but it comes at a heavy cost when they are bombarded by hatred.

After the release of 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, writer and director Joss Whedon quit social media after a storm of hate tweets and “polite inquiries to why [he] has not killed [himself] yet” (Martens, 2016).

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Writers at Marvel were boycotted for the changes made when Falcon took on Captain America’s shield in 2015, and when the original Captain America was written as a secret Hydra agent (his foes for decades) in 2016. Some vocal readers stopped reading altogether. Most recently, Ghostbusters actress, Leslie Jones was forced off of Twitter by a tsunami of racial and misogynist slurs, as well as death threats. Purdy captures the sentiment perfectly when she writes about the sexist and misogynist outbursts of GamerGate against female game creators and gamers. She notes, “[w]hen GamerGate trended it was a terrifying reflection of what marginalized people have always seen in the Internet: that we are not safe. That harassers and abusers too easily find support from the “reasonable”. That standing up for ourselves too often means painting a target on our backs” (2016). The Internet offers the potential to raise awareness and share ideas, but it also opens up less popular opinions to trolls.

In a post for the AV Club, Jesse Hassenger contends that “fan culture becomes dangerously anti-art, promoting a form of conservative stasis rather than active engagement” when entitlement affects creative choices (2016).

The immediate connection of social media that inspired communication between fans and creators has become a mine field for creators, companies, and fans who still enjoy the art.

Where fans used to raise their voices to save beloved characters (like Sherlock), cancelled shows (Firefly, please come back!!!), or support niche publications, now fans not only cry out to save the art, they make demands on how they want the art to be, and if it does not meet these demands, rage ensues (Faraci, 2016).

Entitlement and the corporatization of art

As science fiction comic culture becomes popular mainstream culture, it also becomes popular corporatization.

Marvel is no longer the publisher of comics, but also the production company behind movies, toys and clothing lines, same for DC. Therefore, these corporations must heed the call of the masses consuming their products.

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If fans are outraged over changes made to a character, they need to listen. If they are up in arms about the direction of a story, they must pay attention. The fans are not just fans, they are consumers, often rabid consumers buying scores more than just the book or film, but all of the extended merchandise associated with it. Dolls, action figures, books, bed sheets, lunch boxes, collectibles, all exist to further a brand that grew out a hardcore fan base. Despite this, however, there exists a fine line between what fans want and what fans demand. Devin Faraci believes that this corporatized nature of stories as a product to consume makes it hard for fans to appreciate the distinction between creative license and fan entitlement, taking on the “customer is always right model” and infusing it with art (2016).

But the final product does not have to be one of entitlement, and as 2016 moves forward, the companies most closely associated with fandom are starting to listen to the vocal minority who are asking for changes to better reflect the current diverse cultural climate, regardless of what the angry mob decries.

A ray-blast of hope

One of the most popular areas of contention, with regards to fandom and comics, stems from a growing female readership who buy comics and engage with the greater comic culture. While the perception of the white-middle class man is the reigning one for comic fans, sales figures indicate that in 2015, 46.67% of comics’ readers were women. It seems, then, that a vast majority of women are just as involved with the world of comics as men are. The corporations cannot ignore these figures if they want to be profitable.

While the vitriol continues about a female cast of Ghostbusters, or grumblings about a female Thor, it is evident, by the numbers, that women have a place in fandom. Stephen Wecker and Kelly Sue DeConnick, editor and writer of the new iteration of Captain Marvel recently made changes to an old overtly sexualized representation of the character. Wecker notes that the reason for the change comes from the vocal minority asking for better representation of women superheroes. His response,

Like Wecker’s daughter, more young girls are asking for better female representation in comics. A fifth grader in Illinois championed for more female merchandise and women in mainstream shows and films by DC comics. The response she received from DC was a promise to work toward those goals and a personalized drawing of her as a superhero.

Over at Marvel, diversity in its comics, its films, and its editorial staff have been in the works for the last few years. Newly created heroes like Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), Cindy Moon (Silk), and Miles Morales (Spider-Man) are appearing in their own popular and successful runs. Wolverine is now a teenage girl named X-23, Thor is worthy again, but this time it is a woman who wields the hammer, the A-Force is the all women avenging team fighting to save the earth. Carol Danvers is finally a Captain, a title she has long been deserving, and most excitingly Lunella Lafayette (Moon Girl), a nine year old, African American Inhuman girl is officially the smartest member of the Marvel Universe, more intelligent than fan favorites and old staples like (the Caucasian) Reed Richards, Bruce Banner, and Tony Stark.

Changes are coming to fandom whether the old fandom wants them to or not. Fandom is growing, is becoming more inclusive, and is asking to challenge the norm.

As Siddant Adlakha notes, “On the one hand, we can engage with opinions in our own clear and concise ways, and we can learn to disagree while keeping art and entertainment squarely in focus. On the other, we can presume ulterior motive in order to discredit people whose opinions we don’t like” (2016).

I’d like to think we, as a collective fandom celebrating the mediums and art we love can embrace the ideas of those we have trusted to tend to our beloved narratives and characters in the past.

When I think back to how appalled I was when the Jem live action film was released, I shudder a little. The truth is, I haven’t even seen the movie. I was too arrogant to even deign to deny my childhood its perfect memories of my favorite cartoon character. The result is that I was acting like an entitled fan. One who would not give a new medium a chance to engage and speak to a new generation. In the end, this movie has not dulled my love of the original television cartoon. I still get excited to watch it. But in retrospect, I am not sure it sends the message I want my daughter to take away about love, honesty, and relationships. I suppose I should consider something else entirely for her. Maybe the Jem movie is exactly what she needs, and maybe I will watch it after all. After all, it could be truly outrageous.

References

Adlakha, S. (2016). The Dark Side of Fandom. Birth. Movies. Death. Retrieved fromhttp://birthmoviesdeath.com/2016/03/21/the-dark-side-of-fandom

Faraci, D. (2016). Fandom is Broken. Birth. Movies. Death. Retrieved fromhttp://birthmoviesdeath.com/2016/05/30/fandom-is-broken

Faraci, D. (2016). Yes, Disney should have a queer princess. Birth. Movies. Death.Retrieved from http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2016/05/31/yes-disney-should-have-a-queer-princess

Gagliardo, D. (2013). Comic book fandom and stigma consciousness. Scholar Works Michigan University. Retrieved fromhttp://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1134&ontext=masters_theses

Galloy, C. (2012). Evaluating fan power- The influence of online fandom on film production, promotion, and distribution. Crack in Films Blog. Retrieved from https://crackinfilms.wordpress.com/evaluating-fan-power-the-influence-of-online-fandom-on-film-production-promotion-and-distribution/

Glasner, E. Fan fury, fan power: The changing relationship between creators and consumers. CBC. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/fan-fury-ghostbusters-the-100-1.3678897

Hanover, N. (2016). A tale of two entitlements: is it fandom or comics that is broken?. Loser City. Retrieved from http://loser city.com/features/a-tale-of-two-entitlements-is-it-fandom-or-comics-that-is-broken

Hassenger, J. (2016). Ghostbusters, Frozen, and the strange entitlement of fan culture. The AV Club. Retrieved from http://www.avclub.com/article/ghostbusters-frozen-and-strange-entitlement-fan-cu-237139

Luchins, M. Vocal minority in comics. Retrieved from https://geekdad.com/2015/03/vocal-minority-comics/

Maluck, T. (2016). The Rise in Fandom in Libraries, a Panel Report. Panels. Retrieved from http://panels.net/2016/07/01/rise-fandom-libraries-panel-report/

Martens, T. (2016). Creators, fans and death threats: Talking to Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman and more on the age of entitlement. LA Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/herocomplex/la-et-hc-comic-con-fan-entitlement-20160722-snap-story.html

Marvel Comics. (2016). Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. Retrieved from http://marvel.com/comics/issue/57014/moon_girl_and_devil_dinosaur_2015_1

Pulliam-Moore, C. (2016). Marvel fans demand more diverse editorial voices. Fusion. Retrieved from http://fusion.net/story/178290/marvel-fans-demand-more-diverse-editorial-voices/

Purdy, M. (2016). This song was written b a committee: What Devin Faraci gets wrong about audience, ownership and power. Women About Comics. Retrieved fromhttp://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2016/06/01/this-song-was-written-by-a-committee-what-devin-faraci-gets-wrong-about-audience-owners-and-power/

Serico, C. (2015). Girl, 11, demands more female superheroes: See how DC comics responded. Today. Retrieved from http://www.today.com/news/girl-11-demands-more-female-superheroes-see-how-dc-comics-t4361

Sridhar, P. (2016). Kids, Teen Titans Go and Fandom. Panels. Retrieved from http://panels.net/2016/07/28/kids-teen-titans-go-fandom/

Wigler, J. (2015). Why do some fans reject diversity in comic books?. MTV. Retrieved from http://www.mtv.com/news/2111077/the-nightly-show-diversity-in-comics/

 

Intellectual Freedom: Spotlight on Drama, by Raina Telegemeier

*Intellectual Freedom Assignment for SLIS 518*

Lights, Camera, Action!

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Drama is the book middle school teens have been waiting for!

Callie loves drama, and drama loves Callie! It is her sophomore year in middle school, and though Callie can’t sing, she won’t let that stop her from having an integral role in this year’s school musical, Moon Over Mississippi. Jumping at the chance to be the production’s set designer, Callie has ambitious goals to make the play as authentic as possible. But in her quest to be the best-ever middle school set designer, Callie realizes that she cannot plan for every eventuality in theatre, and she cannot plan for every eventuality in life.

With her ragtag team of theatre friends, Callie learns about the importance of believing in her ideas, the drive it takes to bring those ideas to life,
and the courage to put herself out there, even if she fails. Middle school is a time for exploring self-identity, and Callie, through her tenacity, kindness, determination, empathy, and joy for life, teaches us all that a little bit of drama goes a long way for a fulfilling  life!

Overture: About the Author

downloadDrama was written and illustrated by Raina Telegemeier, the bestselling author of Smile and Sisters. After the success of her first two autobiographical books, Telegemeier created the fictional, Drama, which is loosely based on some of her own experiences in a drama program in high school.

In an interview with Teen Reads, Telegemeier discusses her inspiration for the story, which began as a young adult title. Her intention, she professes, was to write a high school story borrowing from her own experience as a member of her high school choir. In this role, she participated in various drama productions as a member of the ensemble and through this experience she developed a deep appreciation for theatre culture and the power and excitement of putting on a play. Though she used her own memories as a springboard for Drama, Telegemeier chose not to base the story solely around her own experiences so that she could push the narrative in different and new directions, also focussing on a casDrama1t of diverse characters (2012); however, Callie’s good friends, Justin and Jesse, for example, were inspired by Telegemeier’s own twin male best friends.

Telegemeier is immensely popular in the graphic novel community among young and old audiences alike. Her style is reminiscent of early two dimensional weekend funny pages cartoons like Calvin and Hobbes and For Better or Worse (Telegemeier, 2016). In her own words, Telegemeier has said that her art is often considered cartoony, rounded, friendly, colourful, warm, and young (Telegemeier, 2016).

Drama exemplifies these qualities, allowing the reader to reminisce about old Saturday morning cartoons, or the brightly coloured manga-inspired cartoons of today. As a whole, Drama is a thoughtful and wholehearted interpretation of self-reflection, friendship, and courage, where the characters beckon readers in with their gentle and kind physical presence, but invite them to stay for their courageous and powerful performance.

 Act I: Significance to Readership

In 2014, Drama appeared on the American Library Association’s Top 10 List of frequently challenged books. The most controversial of these challenges was at an elementary school in Mount Pleasant, Texas, where the book was banned (Lawrence, 2015). The reason it was removed from the school library was because of the explicit sexual content appearing near the end, where a male character, who has taken on the last minute role of the female lead, kisses the leading male actor on stage, as the script calls for. The real reason this moment was so controversial, however, stems from the slow personal realization of this character that he is, indeed, gay.

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What makes Drama so significant to the graphic novel medium, and in fact, to youth literature generally, is that its target audience is a middle school demographic. Preteens and teenagers alike are enticed by the books striking colours and cartoonish characters, but also by the story of an empowered and self-affirming girl navigating the waters of teendom, while also grappling with her friend’s coming out (he is also her crush, so she also deals with heartbreak), and offering him the encouragement and friendship he so rightly deserves during this time in his life. Callie’s rejection of another possible boyfriend in preference for some time to herself juxtaposes the typical lovelorn middle school heroine so often promoted in youth literature. Being single or being gay are seen as positive attributes, not negative ones.

Telegemeier has noted that her intention was to always include a gay character, and that she had originally planned to address a high school audience. It was in deliberations with publisher, Scholastic, that she was encouraged, and ultimately excited, to change the characters to middle school teens, as they are largely underserved when it comes to representation of LGBT characters in literature (Lawrence, 2015).

Act 2: Encapsulation, Layout, and Composition in Drama

Panels are a defining characteristic of graphic novels. Through the use of panels, readers can interpret movement, time, intensity, and emotion, without the need for detailed description. The void between panels, in the gutters, helps the reader interpret action and fill in the blanks between panels. In Drama, Telegemeier uses this panelling to great effect to capture the range of emotions for each central character. Nowhere is this more apparent than when Jesse, the controversial LGBT character, takes to the stage dressed as Ms. Maybelle in the school production of Moon Over
Mississippi
. In this scene, Jesse not only confronts his sexuality by sharing an onstage kiss with the lead actor, he also embraces his talent and desire to be a part of a school play.
He accepts himself in this moment, all of himself, and shows the members of his community who he is and what he is capable of. At the height of the scene, where the characters embrace, Telegemeier accentuates the experience with vibrant colours and a page split into two large panels to devote solely to the experiences of these characters. No one else is visible until the next page, bringing the moment back to reality. This encapsulation is a remarkable example of giving meaning to a narrative, but also shinning the spotlight on those who deserve a moment to shine.

Similarly, the art within the panels guides the story. I am not sure how this story would be related in a prose only narrative. Part of what makes it so exciting, honest, and intriguing is the art that propels the reader into the story. One way Telegemeier hones in on this is her acute sense of emotion on the faces of her characters.She has
an uncanny ability to convey a breadth of feelings, and her sparse use of text is a testament to the power of her art. This coupled with the cinematic elements heighten the intensity of emotions. For example, when Callie and Jessie are dancing at the school dance, and Callie begins to get too comfortable for his liking, Telegemeier gradually brings the frame up close to Jessie’s face to show is building discomfort. As she pans out, she adds space between Callie and Jessie, but also distances the reader from the intimacy.
Telegemeier joined forces with Gurihiru, a two-women art design team from Japan to infuse colour into her story (TeenReads, 2012). The colours and shading used are vibrant. Protagonist, Callie, has bright pink and purple hair, a visual representation of her strength and uniqueness that sets her apart from many contemporary middle school heroines. Telegemeier has also noted that they included specific colours to imageshighlight the tone of the book (bright pastels and vibrant funky colours), while also being attuned to the distinct colour pallet of California weather (California is where the story takes place) (TeenReads, 2012). Hints of the year 2012 are apparent with images of texting and instant messaging.

Act 3: Drama and Me, Or Why I Love This Book So Much

I bought Drama during Banned Books Week 2015. I was interested to know more about frequently challenged titles, and when I saw the cover title of this book appear on the ALA website, I was intrigued. Without reading why it was banned or where, I decided to pick up at my next book buy outing and see what all the fuss was about.

Needless to say I devoured this book.

I loved it for so many reasons. The first, and most personal is probably because it reminded me of growing up as a Drama student; participating in plays, learning about stage management and directing. I love the theatre and still sometimes participate as actor and director. Reading a book about drama students, their obsessive desire to succeed, but not to be overshadowed by a love story, hugely impacted for me.

I also loved this book because Jessie, a male character, unsure of his thespian abilities, rises to the occasion and saves the day in a Civil War Era inspired red dress. It takes tremendous courage to walk out on stage, recite lines, sing, pretend to be in love, stage a kiss, and add confront one’s sexuality in front of an entire school to the mix, well, there is a scene that cannot be undervalued!

When I realized why it had been banned, because of Jessie’s sexuality, which critics concede was a “hidden agenda” intent on preaching a lesson, I was shocked!  For me, this scene was so powerful from a thespian’s point of view! The courage displayed in this scene is powerful, and I am dismayed that so many people would prefer their children not have access to it. This is a book that gives voice to the underdogs; a variety of them, and it is a shame that their stories or representations should be contested.

My son has just read Smile and Sisters, Telegemeier’s other books. I can’t wait for him to take this one off of our shelf!!

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Standing Ovation: Critical Review by Ada Calhoun

In her review for the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Ada Calhoun contemplates the relevancy of Drama among tween readers.

Of the artistic style of Drama, Calhoun writes,

There are also some deeply emotional scenes. The pages showing Callie running to the baseball field to meet the boy she likes only to find an empty playing field encapsulate young-adult existential misery (2012).

This testament to Telegemeier’s ability to draw emotion, and let this emotion be extended to the readers without the use of words echoes my own opinion that Telegemeier is a pro at showcasing a range of feelings. Calhoun also considers the colour styles of the Gurihiru team, which she interprets as bold and eloquent (2012).

Calhoun notes that Telegemeier is an author who encapsulates on the teenage experience while rooting her work in the reality of teenage life, unlike other contemporary graphic novelists who chose fantastical or science fiction inspired characters instead. She also concedes, (rightly so!!) that Callie is a positive protagonist role model for tween girls because she is “relatable”, she “makes the first move”, and she can “roll with [the] setbacks” of life (2012).

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Calhoun’s interpretation of Callie is perfectly summed up when she states,

“Drama” has an inspirational message for girls […]. What makes Callie happiest is not catching the eye of that week’s crush, but winning the coveted position of stage manager and finding her place in the world (2012).

Calhoun and I agree that Callie is someone to look up to, and someone with whom a young readership can relate. Calhoun also states that with the growing fear of the Internet Age and the possible corruption kids are exposed to, Drama, as well as Telegemeier’s other works, is an opportunity for wholesome and good hearted fun and enjoyment. It is ironic, I suppose, that such a positive, and I believe, on the mark interpretation could be challenged for explicit sexual conduct and hidden agendas.

Calhoun signs off saying that if this book is what the kids are into, “the kids are going to be alright”(2012). What a pity for those denied the opportunity to experience it!

Curtains Down: References

Brenner, R. (2013). YALSA Hub Challenge: Drama, by Raina Telegemeier. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/goodcomicsforkids/2013/02/12/yalsa-hub-challenge-drama-by-raina-telgemeier/

Calhoun, A. (2012). Life Backstage: Drama, by Raina Telegemeier. Sunday Book Review. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/books/review/drama-by-raina-telgemeier.html?_r=0

CBLDF. (2016). Drama: Case Study. Comic Book Legal Defence Fund. Retrieved from file:///Users/leighachiasson/Documents/University/U%20of%20A/518%20Comics/Drama/Case%20Study_%20Drama%20_%20Comic%20Book%20Legal%20Defense%20Fund.html

Jensen, K. (2013). Graphic Novel Review: Drama by Raina Telegemeier. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2013/02/graphic-novel-review-drama-by-raina-telgemeier/

Lawrence, M. (2015). “Drama”: 2014’s Most Gay Banned Book You Haven’t Heard Of!. Unicorn Booty. Retrieved from file:///Users/leighachiasson/Documents/University/U%20of%20A/518%20Comics/Drama/_Drama__%202014’s%20Most%20Banned%20Gay%20Book%20You%20Haven’t%20Heard%20Of%20_%20Unicorn%20Booty.html

Roman, D. (2012). Writing, Reading, and Inspiration in Drama. An Interview with Raina Telegemeier. Nerdy Book Club. Retrieved from https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/writing-reading-inspiration-and-drama-an-interview-with-raina-telgemeier-by-dave-roman/

Scholastic. (2016). Drama, by Raina Telegemeier. Teacher Resources. Scholastic. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/book/drama#cart/cleanup

Teen Reads. (2016). Interview with Raina Telegemeier. Teen Reads. Retrieved from file:///Users/leighachiasson/Documents/University/U%20of%20A/518%20Comics/Drama/Interview%20with%20Raina%20Telgemeier%20_%20Teenreads.html

Telegemeier, R. (2012). Drama. Graphix. Scholastic Inc. New York, NY.

Telegemeier, R. (2016). What is Style?. Go Raina!. Retrieved from http://goraina.com/2013/08/what-is-style/

 

 

Owly: A Humble Tale

I was eager to read Owly because I had seen it so often as a display text at my public library, but had passed it by every time in favor of something that struck me as more compelling. You see, the cover art did not attract me due its simplicity and cartoonish, animal art. It struck me as a simple story.

I am so glad I was WRONG!!! J

Owly is deeply moving, honestly real, and tremendously humble. It is the age-old story of discovery; the owlystaple of children’s literature as the journey tale. Owly, with his large, expressive eyes, and small stature is more than an animal; he could be any child or any adult, for that matter, who is lost in his story.

Through very basic, black and white art (almost reminiscent of sketches) author Andy Runton transitions from complete delight to utter sorrow within the space of a few panels and the direction of a few lines upon Owly’s face.

The book is made up of two short stories, both of which are engrossing. In both tales, Owly experiences the highest highs and lowest lows of friendship, and through minimal detail and varied panel size and layout, a complete range of emotions is exchanged between Owly himself and the reader. When he waits patiently by the bedside of his new friend, nursing him back to health, Runton creates atmosphere and tension in three pages of a single 3/4 panel each to convey the dismay, the worry, and the patience it takes to heal the sick. Runton’s ability to convey the passing of time is seamless as Owly waits worriedly beside a dwindling candle, or as he and worm experience a snapshot of seasons while awaiting the return of their hummingbird friends.

It is hard not to see yourself reflected in at least one moment of Owly’s story. Whether you are a nature lover, as he is; a committed friend, as he is; suffering from loneliness, as he does; or living for quiet moments, as each panel shows, Owly is a book that spans ages. The minimal to no dialogue and text makes this a perfect story to read across languages and cultures as well.

In the beginning this was a book I was not interested in from seeing the cover art alone. In the end, Owly has become a book I cherish, a gem in my collection, and one I instantly handed off to my eight year old son, who’s initial reaction was, “Oh, what a nice looking owl. I bet I will like him”. I know he will!

The Arrival, A Timely Tale

ShaunTanTheArrivalTitlePageShaun Tan’s beautiful book, The Arrival, invites readers to experience the pain, fear, despair, longing, and ultimate hope in this intimate experience of life as an immigrant.

From the moment it is picked up and it’s weight felt in the reader’s hands, we know a profound read awaits us. Coupled with the tattered replica of an old photo album or passport as the front and back cover pages, and the strong and dense interior pages, the book itself is a work of art that looks old and wise beyond its years.

The fine pencil art, various tones of sepia, which mirror Victorian photography, captures the essence of each individual in his or her passport photo. The asynchronous items on the first page, stilled in time and through large gutters and small panels place equal importance and insignificance of what is left behind. The acute detail of husband and wife, their hands on each other, is so real and intimate to look at the tenderness feels almost intrusive.

Words in this story are unnecessary.

As the visual narrative progresses, the identical panel sizes and gutter spacing is reminiscent of an old silent film, moving quickly with small gestures as to bring them to life. The contrast of whole page images, splash pages, or blank pages reminds us we are reading and privy to only a moment in time.

The representation of corruption and power as reptilian shadows looming overhead resonates with the world we live in today. This is not the tale of immigration of days past, nor solely of the futuristic landscape created in the images, this is the timely tale of immigration as it happens, whenever it happens.

Close up drawings ofimages (19) physical exams, teeth checking, eye tests, the struggle to communicate, are powerful and honest statements of what immigrants endure to enter a new country. Flashbacks, rendered in darker tones, but with the same physical layout and paneling give life to secondary characters, which informs and expands the protagonist’s own personality and moves the story along. Again, the art captures what words would most often convey, but in such a delicate and seamless way that words are not required at all.

The companion animal, a futuristic pet of sorts, reminds the reader that appearances are not the foundation of a person, and that different is not necessarily frightening or bad. Likewise with the food, homes, and clothing in this new land, Tan is encouraging readers to consider that different can be good. The bird, which appears in a variety of incarnations throughout the book (at home with his daughter, upon the statue in the harbour, through the steampunk city) is the visual reminder of hope through uncertainty.

This book is exquisite and I can’t help but think that if everyone on the planet were required to read it, the world might be a better place.

High Literature and Fun Home

First published in the Feminine Pulse.

James Joyce’s seminal post-modernist masterpiece, Ulysses, has been collecting dust on my bedside table for five years. Occasionally it changes location from under the lamp to the top of the pile, but there it remains, spine un-cracked, pages pristine, metaphors and ambiguities unearthed- unread.

I can hear the guffaws of my peers in the literary community as I type this. That strange comic book reader calls herself an English graduate?! Blasphemy!

I am a fraud.

My entire degree in English literature is a lie because, not only have I not read Ulysses, I don’t really want to.

imageAt least I didn’t, until a comic book changed my mind.

I was late getting around to Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical, Fun Home. In fact, I was late getting around to autobiographical comics, in general. When I did, Fun Home didn’t pull at my inner historian’s curiosity like Maus, nor did it make me want to self-evaluate my own anxieties like Marbles. Like UlyssesFun Home was a book I knew I should read, a contemporary classic (a game-changer in the world of comics), but I was in no hurry to pick it up, and it took me years, collecting dust on the shelf below Joyce.

Now, I guffaw at myself.

 Fun Home just may be the most important comic I have ever read, but not for the connections I made with the characters. I have very little in common with Alison, the young protagonist who comes of age in a home devoid of outwardly affection, who watches her parent’s marriage deteriorate behind a velvet facade, brought up in a house that is both staged for beauty and death. Sure, I cheered for her as she reached her milestones and personal enlightenment, I joined her on her quest for identity, but the connection to the character was not what kept me up reading all night. I was connected, instead, to what sustained her.

Bechdel’s intimate relationship with English literature is enviable and, I would argue,  the crux of her book. This is where she got me. Hook, line and sinker; the way to a literature junkie’s heart (even one that hasn’t read Ulysses) is through reference and allusion. I could not relate to Alison’s plights and conflicts, but I could relate to the way she engaged with books to get her through each major event in her life. Like her, I lost myself to works such as The Importance of Being EarnestThe Taming of the ShrewAn Ideal HusbandThe Wind in the Willows, The Great Gatsby, and poetry by Wallace Stevens. Here was a protagonist, an author, pulled between her love of great literature and her desire to live in a world of comics- such is my plight!!!

I could’t put Fun Home down. In the panels of a graphic memoir I saw my own reflection- someone filled to the brim with literary passion, but someone who did not quite belong. A poet and a comic. An essayist and artist. I may not have seen myself in her story, but there I was front and centre in the medium.

Fun Home has broken barriers across genres, has incited discussion for gender identification and sexual orientation. It has shed light on the secrets between family and the darkness of both life and death. But for me, much more simply, it has validated my love of reading, most especially my love of reading comics.

As my foray with Fun Home came to an end I realized Bechdel likened herself and her father to the two main characters in James Joyce’s Ulysses. For the first time, ever, I had the urge to read Ulysses, not because it belongs in the pantheon of books I am supposed to read, but because the characters suddenly became real to me. Joyce didn’t do this. Alison Bechdel did. Not a seminal novel, a graphic one. But hey, no matter the medium that is what a good book does; it encourages a reader to read on, read more, and read unabashedly. It is time to dust off Ulysses. Fun Home, on the other hand, will never collect dust again.

Loneliness, Poignancy and Brilliance in This One Summer

First published in the Feminine Pulse.

This is a brilliant novel and a worthy example of how powerfully sequential art can convey a narrative.

The story begins with the cover. In tones of blue, accented by a purple hue, it is evident that this is a tale about change. Two young girls, jumping feet first into rolling waves, are leaping into thedownloadunknown. One has her arms outstretched, body open in welcome; the other is rigid, her body closed, face omitted conveying reluctance. This One Summer, the title, occupying the vast space between the girls and their rolling future; this is the summer when everything changes.

Rose, the protagonist, is struggling through the transition from child to teenager. Her summer friend, Windy, is still clinging to that innocence. Together they contemplate boys, puberty, horror films, and adult life; conventions of a bildungsroman that we have all seen before. What sets this book apart, however, is the delicate illustrations that accentuate the movement of the tale. The story as it is written, colloquially, and the elaborative illustrations that accentuate it, are a perfect marriage.

Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations are exceptional. The reader watches a freighting movie scene from under the comfort of a thin blanket with the young girls.  As Rose begins a one-sided love affair images (5)with Dunc, the older store clerk, Tamaki encapsulates his romantic dalliance with Jenny in the frame of a chewy foot candy; sweet, youthful, and hazily understood by Rose. Later, an aerial view of the beach is gently sexualized as it is drawn like the contour if a man’s body. Tamaki envisions nature as a character as much as Rose or Windy.

Character development is rich and poignant. Rose struggles to understand the adults around her: her mother dealing with a secret, personal loss; her over-compensating father; Dunc and Jenny’s badly dealt with pregnancy; even Windy’s subtle, yet profound, contemplation of adoption.  The illustrations further convey the dichotomy of youth and maturity when Rose and Windy frolic through the waves of the lake  on a splash page, as Dunc sits in an state of nervous agony in the following panel. But perhaps the most lovely figurative element of the book is the duality between the mother’s story of having miscarried in the lake, only to be redeemed by having saved Jenny from drowning in the same spot, and in so doing, saved her baby’s life.

This is a book that appeals to the senses.The feel of the rough paper asks for a degree of respect that a glossy page would not garner. Sounds, more than figurative onomatopoeia, drive the story. The ground crumbles beneath the feet of a man carrying a sleeping child; embarrassment is accentuated when Rose’s uncalled for name calling follows her walk home, “slut”, “slut”, “slut” crunching beneath her feet; and the soft ticking of the clock and the woods fills the empty home as Rose leaves her cabin and youth behind her at the end. IMG_1758

This One Summer is a story about growing up, and how adulthood and age, regardless of the physical company one keeps, is a lonesome road.  This novel is a prodigious example of the beauty, intricacy and the splendour of sequential art. It is a beautiful union of words and pictures, worthy of every award for which it was nominated and has won.

This book is a quintessential example of how reading can shape our perceptions of the world, and how comics can shape and enlighten our perceptions of reading.

I have a Crush on Archie Andrews

First published in the Feminine Pulse.

That’s not a sentence I thought I would ever say. But there it is, for the world to see.

I have a crush on Archie Andrews. Archieandrwcmc

And yes, I mean that Archie Andrews.

Archie. The redheaded, commitment-phobe, serial dater and jalopy driver. The kid who was always blundering about Riverdale like he owned the world, despite his penchant for being perpetually in debt.

Growing up I was a huge fan of Archie comics. I liked the stock characters, the predictability, the wholesome town, the fashion pin-ups. I could never decide if I identified more with the loveable and reliable friend Betty, or the selfish and conniving (yet good hearted) Veronica. I always wondered what the appeal was for these striking girls who were so in love with the humdrummery that is Archie Andrews. And more than that, I was perpetually flabbergasted by his ineptitude for healthy relationships. I mean, Dude, pick a girl already!

As I matured, the comics did too. The last decade saw a tremendous shift from the cartoonish short stories about Riverdale shenanigans, to sophisticated and contemplative narratives. My generation of Archie fans was consumed by the Archiesoap opera that was Archie: The Married Life, where a walk down Memory Lane gave readers a glimpse into the life he woALWAmag#1uld lead should he choose either Betty or Veronica. This culminated with the tender and retrospective Death of Archie. Later,  Afterlife With Archiewould rock my post apocalyptic sensibilities with a zombie takeover. But the real deal, the really great reading and visual experience of my life with Archie Andrews is only just beginning.

The first Archie #1 issue in 75 years has hit the shelves this past week. Written by the incomparable Mark Waid (Daredevil) and illustrated by the game changing Fiona Staples (Saga),  Archie is no longer just a fun, cartoonish blip in a larger reading experience. Archie is finally a guy I can relate to. A guy I can admire. A guy I want to get to know. I guy I could totally crush on if I was a comic character, too.

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Waid brings us to Riverdale in the middle of high school. Archie greets his readers and invites us into his world with an intimacy never before experienced in an Archie comic. Archie looks cool, too. The bowties are gone and he looks just like an ordinary North American teenager, thanks to Staples’ realism.

Also, he’s been dating Betty Cooper since the fifth grade.

That’s right ladies, Archie learned to commit and Betty Cooper was his first true love. It’s on the record, it’s part of canon now, and it’s ABOUT TIME!

But don’t worry, Veronica fans, the series begins with Archie and Betty’s mysterious breakup; which is handled with such maturity that it is my hope that young people reading this new series will glean some insight into healthy break-ups. (Please deliver, Mark!)

Jughead, Dilton, Kevin Keller, and Reggie make appearances, satiating the reader’s hunger for the old Riverdale crew we grew up with, but the cast is much more ethnically diverse, a long overdue necessity underserved in the Archie canon. But perhaps the most interesting plot twist is that Veronica Lodge hasn’t been introduced yet. Instead of picking up a comic long in the midst of a love triangle, this first issue gives Betty a chance to be missed, to be longed for, before the buxom brunette enters the scene.

Archie, at long last, is the character we have been waiting for. The guy next door we can relate to- andwant to relate to. Mark Waid and Fiona Staples are giving Archie lovers an icon to admire and a story to sink our collective teeth into.

Archie1That’s why I have a crush on Archie Andrews. He is finally the guy he was supposed to be all along. Considerate, humble, devoted and mature. He not only commits, but he loves fully in the process. He handles losing love with reflection and introspection. His friends see it too. And maybe Ronnie will throw us all for a loop, but the damage has been done. Archie is a good guy, better than I have ever known him to be. I won’t unsee that now. And if readers can have literary crushes, than Archie Andrews is mine. And I am crushing hard.