Thursday, April 26, 2018

In the Mind of a Jewish American

When initially choosing a novel, we were immediately 
drawn to the art style and color usage in How to 
Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, which
prompted our decision to read it. Little did we know 
that thenarration would contain heavier topics than we 
had envisioned with the watercolors and thin outlines.
One question that kept popping into our minds was, 
“Howdoes Glidden’s view of Israel develop throughout 
the novel? ”From the beginning, it is made clear her 
decision to go on the birthright trip is to reassure her view
of Israel as the “bad guy” in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Because of her determination, we often found ourselves
frustrated at her lack of empathy and closed mindset. 
This particular page of the comic is a scene where the tour
guide and Sarah are talking, and she brings up why Israel 
has to be a Jewish state. Hurt, the tour guide retorts back to 
make her understand his side. On page 119, Glidden says,
“It’s just more complicated than you think”. 

Glidden refuses to take anything at face value and 
always makes an effort to nitpick others’words. She frequently
reminds the reader her goal is to reassure her previous
assumptions about Israel as the bad guys too. On page 104, “ 
I came here… I think I wanted to know for sure that Israel 
was the bad guy. I wanted to know that I could cut it out of
my life for good.”

Up until her visiting Tel Aviv, she is opinionated and 
desensitized; however, the speech delivered in 
Independence Hall makes her change a little. She 
becomes vulnerable to thereal pressing issues, recognizing 
it is more than just politics. Her empathy takes over and
sends her into episodes of emotional breakdowns. As
she continues to learn more and be receptive to others’ 
perspectives, she finds herself caught in a limbo. There
is no definite right or wrong, and it deeply bothers her
as it was her mission to prove to herself Israel is the bad 
guy. Glidden begins to acknowledge that the solution is not
clean cut, and everyone has different opinions. Ultimately, 
everything is more complicated than she thought.
Pg. 106

We think it’s left to the reader to interpret her feelings at 
the end of the novel because it isn’t explicitly stated, but
it is clear that something has changed. Her 
closed-mindedness gradually changes into an 
understanding and sympathetic nature. And so, her 
originalplan to turn her back on Israel didn't work out in
the end.Instead, she finds her second home and grows a 
little closer to it. If you are interested in learning more 
about her journey, be sure to visit Glidden's website.

If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, How Many Can I Get For a Caricature? (Larry Donahue, Kate Rabideau, Julian Martinez, Dannie Lee, Lucas Urbanski)

In his graphic report, Palestine, Joe Sacco tackles the extremely involved conflict between Israel and Palestine while seeming to evade the complexity of the issues on the whole. Although for the most part he blatantly ignores the Jewish perspective, while writing about the Palestinians he does acknowledge a very wide range of the effects of the conflict by specifically relating how it affects individual people--an important deviation from mainstream journalism that sets this work apart. In the same way, his ability to convey the humanity of the conflict continues past his text and into his cartooning style; that is, he chooses to portray the complexity and dramatic essence of situations by extremely dramatizing the facial features of those involved in the demonstrations and skirmishes. Examples of this almost caricaturistic depiction of events can be seen on pages 38 and 127.

This trademark rugged cartooning style heavily benefits his work, as the subject matter tends to be more serious and, of course, real than that of most other graphic novels. Sacco’s heavy shading and lack of color helps convey the grimness of his message regarding the conflict. Many of these elements can be contrasted with the style of another graphic novel we’ve studied: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Persepolis’ images and characters consist of mostly simple, solid lines and colors, and extremely iconic characters. In the case of Palestine, however, Sacco’s more emotive, expressive style makes it so the story is portrayed as not only more serious, but more personal. In Palestine it is rare that objects are filled in as a single color as in Persepolis; rather, they are drawn with interlacing black and white, allowing Sacco to more subtly incorporate themes of tedium, weariness, outrage, and fear into his characters’ faces. As for the narrative itself, an important distinction lies in that, whereas Persepolis serves primarily as a coming of age story about an individual, Palestine’s lens focuses on a broader conflict and its subsequent effects on an entire populace.

However, as a reader this lens seems rather difficult to adjust to. Rather than making an effort to engage his readers by providing any contextual framework for the book, Sacco wastes no time in jumping into the gritty details of his subject matter. In other words, his intention is clearly not to engage a relaxed audience. In fact, the raw, unbeautified style with which Sacco depicts the faces of the Palestinians perfectly reflects his crude expository style, and it is in this way that Sacco takes graphic journalism to the extreme. Denouncing the charm that many graphic novels embrace, Sacco turns to this bare-bones appeal, as exemplified perfectly on page 117. Here, in a series cut-out boxes running down the page in a loosely structured curve, he cuts right into chapter five with a smattering of sentence fragments that reflect the direct eye-to-page approach with which he observed the events in the first place.

Despite such a direct approach to his writing, in the end, Palestine can still be identified as a polemical work considering the fact that Joe Sacco is simply an American visiting Palestine and recording the “interviews” of the people he meets--that is to say, he is an outsider looking in. It may seem that such a situation would result in a more undiluted view of the conflict and perhaps a lighter prevalence of bias; however, Sacco himself almost directly contradicts that, reminding readers of a bias that is so ubiquitous throughout the book that it is almost invisible: that his interpretation of the conflict is entirely one-sided. Near the end, he depicts the Jewish characters coming to him to file grievances about their lack of representation in his work. To this, Sacco, essentially agrees, but refuses to make any accommodation, as he explains that the Jewish side of the story is not what he is there for in the first place.

In conclusion, if you’re a history professor looking for a book recommendation, you’ve found it. Unfortunately, for those of you not so well-versed in politics and history, Joe Sacco’s Palestine is more likely to confuse and bore you than to enrich you. Nevertheless, if you’re set on reading it, make sure to take what meaning you can from Sacco’s powerful images and expressive caricatures--he may not be the most effective narrator, but as a graphic journalist he has certainly taken advantage of his format, and there is no doubt that within his images hides just as much meaning, if not more, than his words.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Mile in Their Shoes - How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

"This isn’t fun, this is carnage!"
          —How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (2010)

As Sarah Glidden notes in her critically acclaimed memoir, swimming in the Dead Sea isn’t all fun and games. Coincidentally, neither is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So, in all seriousness, we decided for this week’s blog to take a closer look at Glidden’s work, which documents her experiences on a birthright trip to Israel. Along the way, she considers the global and personal effects of the conflict and ultimately finds herself reevaluating her initial opinion of her surroundings. By being in a war-torn country steeped in blood and history and interacting with its people, Glidden starts seeing her preconceptions about it break down. It isn’t difficult to take sides, yet understanding both sides’ stories is easier said than done. Glidden learns this the hard way and takes us along for the ride as she discovers the value of walking a mile in other people’s shoes. Hold on tight!

Throughout Glidden’s memoir, she highlights the cartoony look of her characters using vibrant hues and clear lines, giving us a filter of childlike innocence for everything she sees and hears. After all, in this foreign country that she understands next to nothing about, her ignorance is as good as a child’s. In portraying her experiences through watercolor rather than photojournalism, Glidden also inserts herself into imagined scenarios,

transports herself to hundreds of years ago,

and even talks to ghosts of the past.

By painting her wild “what-ifs” and regretful “if-onlys”, she shares a part of herself with us through her art.

Beautiful art aside, Glidden’s journey starts off pretty problematic. Despite having extensively researched the conflict and considering herself quite liberal, she takes off for Israel with the narrow-minded outlook that the Israelis will brainwash her into sympathizing with them. Also problematic is the fact that she expects to cleanly and conveniently separate good from evil. We see this mentality when on the tour bus, she mentally acts out a courtroom case of “Birthright is trying to brainwash me vs. Birthright is actually pretty reasonable.” Glidden escapes into the courtroom within her mind to declare a clear winner and loser, but in reality, there is no way to draw such a fine line.

However, her visit to Independence Hall, where Israel declared its independence in 1948 (see below), becomes a turning point for her view of the war.

The Israelis’ strong will to continue struggling for their country finally hits Glidden, and she has an emotional breakdown because she feels torn between her sympathy for Palestinians and connection with Israel. Instead of covering her ears, she begins opening her heart to the people and the multifaceted stories they carry. At the same time, she wonders, “[I]s this a story in which there are just no ‘good guys’?”

Her cynicism gives way when her mental courtroom empties out, and she stops trying to compartmentalize the conflict and take sides. Multiple conversations she has with people of different opinions (from a supposedly anti-gay guy who actually is anti-marriage to a supposedly idealist and escapist oleh who actually is really self-aware) topple her predispositions. Rather than constantly insist she’s morally and politically correct, Glidden learns to accept her differences with others. Through comprehending their thought processes and experiences, she gains the context to look at the bigger picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As skeptical as she is at first, Glidden undergoes a lot of change over the course of her birthright by witnessing Israel for herself. Up until then, she’d pored over books and academic material, regurgitating cold hard facts instead of formulating her own opinion based on a place and people she had no experience with. She couldn’t reasonably have a viewpoint without being able to fathom life thousands of miles away or setting foot in Israel first.

That’s all well and good, but the ending leaves a lot to be desired. Despite the fact that much of the trip has revolved around question-answering, we get the sense that Glidden still hasn’t cemented her stance on the conflict. What gives?

Ultimately, the journey towards clarity and understanding transcends the 208 pages we’re offered. It’s a journey that forever continues because we can never stop learning more of what we don’t know. Yes, maybe like Glidden, we’ll be at some arbitrarily higher level of understanding but ironically be more confused than ever. And maybe we don’t know where to go from here on out. But that’s all the more reason to keep our minds and hearts open.

- Amy Wang, Jen Song, Kris Griffin, & Gina Chung

├ęste es un borrador

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Akram Khaja, Kyle Mou, Justin Sass, Lee Tang

Dr. Hancock

Graphic Novels: Image and Text

15 November 2012


As the esteemed visionary of our generation, Aubrey Drake Graham, wisely observed, “You only live once.” If life itself is therefore priceless, then how valuable would the ability to instantly take it away from others be, and what would one do with this power? Tsugumi Ohba’s manga Death Note is the story of Yagami Light, a brilliant Japanese high school student, who acquires a supernatural notebook, or Death Note, that allows him to kill people simply by writing their names in it. There is a catch, however; the owner of the notebook must picture the face of the people he is trying to kill. Light decides to use his newfound power to kill criminals whom he judges worthy of death. His deeds are soon recognized by the public, and he gains a following of people who support this new deity, Kira (“killer”). Light’s ultimate goal is to create a perfect world of good-hearted people, and he intends to be the god of this utopia, passing judgment upon evildoers. However, Light meets opposition in the form of a group of investigators led by the world-famous detective known as L, who sets out to find the person who is killing masses of criminals. An intriguing story unfolds as Light and L attempt to outsmart each other, further complicated by the appearance of other Death Notes. Full of plot twists and battles of intellect, Death Note is an exciting examination of the ethical, legal, and psychological complexities that arise from supernatural control over life and death. A closer inspection reveals the artist’s excellent use of comics techniques as well as deeper themes underlying the story’s riveting plot.

Death Note features many visual elements commonly found in manga. The precise, detailed drawing style allows the artist to depict fine subtleties in characters’ facial expressions and body language, allowing a wide variety of distinct combinations of feelings to be conveyed. In addition, the manga style often contains effective techniques to portray the passage of time, such as aspect-to-aspect transitions. In many instances, the same image is shown in multiple panels, with only slight differences in perspective; this stretches out a brief moment by allotting it an ample amount of page space, slowing down the action to encourage focusing on minute details. Furthermore, Death Note includes the use of many stylistic conventions familiar to readers of graphic novels. Notably, it frequently features striking backgrounds and strong lines to visually emphasize moods of surprise, action, or other strong emotions.

As you can see, facial expressions are emphasized and backgrounds containing high contrast and repeated straight lines create an interesting effect that represents the tension and excitement of the events in visual form. Death Note also provides a variety of angles and perspectives to maintain visual diversity, often showing close-ups of objects or other points of importance. Again, this kind of technique is common in graphic novels. In summary, the multitude of visual devices employed by Death Note give it many successful ways to clearly tell its story.

The visual style of Death Note involves the juxtaposition of the supernatural upon an otherwise ordinary universe. There is a notably Gothic style present throughout the manga. Gothicism is culturally associated with darkness and the occult because of its relations with punk-rock, which, in turn, is culturally associated with death. In fact, the title is written in a Gothic font to represent the importance death plays in the anime series; after all, the entire plotline is based on a character capable of killing at will.


Amane Misa, a prominent female lead in Death Note, is typically dressed in Gothic Lolita fashion.

Death Note is also unique in that it invites the reader to judge what is “right” and what is “wrong.”  It raises the question of whether or not killing evil doers is a justified act, but does not give an answer.  Light thinks that it is right to kill evil people and acts accordingly.  On the other hand, the Japanese police and the detective L mark Light as a murderer who is evil and try to bring him to justice.  With interesting, slightly ambiguous themes such as the notions of justice and evil, Death Note captivates the reader and allows the reader to uniquely interpret the story.  

Apart from addressing interesting themes, Death Note is one of the few manga that draws heavily from both Western (Christian and Roman) and Japanese cultures. The Shinigami, translated from Japanese as death god or spirit of death, is a relatively modern idea in Japanese religion: it was only introduced to Japanese folklore in the 19th century. It stems from the Western idea of the grim reaper. Japanese Shinigami dictate the lifespan of humans and are responsible for guiding them to the afterlife. According to the author, Tsugumi Ohba, the idea for the Death Note originated from the medium, such as a scroll or notebook, upon which Shinigami recorded the lifespan of humans. 
On the other hand, the most obvious Western religious symbols are the notion of justice, the letter “L”, the Gothic font and art, and the apple. In Volume 1, Lights sees himself as a god who has an obligation to purify the rotten world. He believes that he is the chosen one and the only one who can bring peace and justice to the corrupted society.

The entire storyline of Death Note involves Light’s judgement on whether one should live or not. Acting as the savior, Light judges people based on his own system of justice.   

In this panel, the author depicts Light in a pose that is similar to that of Jesus on the crucifix.

Further along in the story, Light begins to overuse his abilities to crush his opponents, the police and L, who hold different views about justice. The police believe that even if the victims are criminals, the crime is still murder, and that Kira is a vicious serial killer. Light holds the Hobbesian belief that humans are inherently evil and violent and thus require guidance to remain civil. His ideal society where evildoers are sentenced to death is what he believes to be a utopia. However, Ohba leaves it up to the reader whether this world where people live in perpetual fear of punishment is a utopia, or rather a dystopia.

The letter “L” also has significant religious connotations. L is the Roman numeral for 50, and in the Bible, the number fifty represents jubilee or deliverance; In other words, it means  liberty and justice. Through the storyline, L acts and serves like the God of Justice who tries to free people from the hands of Kira, or Light. 

To support this idea, in Volume 1, L states that what Light does is evil, and he will find and dispose of Light because he is the righteous. Later in the story when he formed the investigation group, he encouraged the rest of the members that justice will prevail no matter what.

“Did you know Death Gods only eat apples?” ----Yagami

The apple, the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, is another western religious symbol employed by Death Note.  The Shinigami Ryuk only eats apples from the human world.  Without them, his body becomes convoluted to the point where he is almost non-recognizable as a Shinigami.  The apples that Ryuk eats are analogous to the apple from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden.  This apple gives Adam and Eve knowledge, but lowers them from the perfect world of the Garden of Eden to the world of pain and misery of Earth.  Therefore, the apple symbolizes not only knowledge and wisdom, but temptation and sin. The powers that Death Note provides cause many temptations for people to use the Death Note for selfish purposes. Even though some people, such as Light try to use its powers to purge the world of criminals, killing with the Death Note can be considered the sin of murder.

In conclusion, Death Note is a thrilling and thought-provoking manga with a uniquely fascinating premise, a pleasantly convoluted plot, and expert artistry. It employs well-known visual techniques to send powerful, engaging messages. Readers are sure to be entertained by Light’s and L’s mental acrobatics as they struggle to outwit one another; at the same time, Death Note invites readers to ponder the morals and ethics of whether humans should ever claim the authority to pass judgement over the lives of others.

Works Cited

Ohba, Tsugumi (w) and Obata, Takeshi (a). Death Note vol 1-7, 13. San Francisco: Viz Media, 2008.

It's a Bird! Review, by Mikayla, Devin and Henry

It’s a bird!  It’s a plane! NO!  It’s a man coping with the inevitability of genetic disease and an inability to do his job!  
Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s It’s a Bird was published by the well known comic book and graphic novel production company “Vertigo.”  “Vertigo” is known for producing other successful names such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Y: The Last Man, and V for Vendetta so it is not a surprise that they published a graphic novel as compelling as It’s a Bird.  This autobiographical graphic novel tells the somber story of a man whose family lives under constant duress, their lives in no small part defined by their fear of a lethal disease called Huntington’s.        
The story opens up with a flashback to Seagle’s childhood.  He is sitting in the hospital reading a Superman comic book with his little brother while waiting for news about his sick grandmother.  She is dying of Huntington’s disease, a rare genetic disorder that causes tissue in the brain to waste away, leading to permanent brain damage, loss of motor function, and ultimately death.  While absorbed in reading the comic, Seagle overhears a conversation between his relatives that plagues him for the rest of his life.  The negative implications of that conversation taint his perception of Superman and everything associated with him.  
Jump forward. Seagle is now an accomplished comic book author, and he is asked to don the cape and become the next writer for the Superman. His boss pushes for him to write the story and his girlfriend supports him fully.  Most sane people in the graphic novel industry would jump through hoops for a chance at this opportunity, but due to Seagle’s past with this legendary icon, he has reservations. From this job offer on out, the Seagle’s story flies by like Superman in the sky. Arguments erupt, fists fly, and people go missing, all while Seagle consistently struggles with his internal conflicts.  However, despite its breakneck pace and somewhat unconventional artistic style, in the end the story comes across as clear and, above all, poignant.   
        Now go back a little bit. To understand a review of a graphic novel, it is best to understand what exactly a graphic novel is. In a very broad sense, graphic novels are an artistic medium integrating words and pictures. They are the literary successors of Action Comics #1 (the very first Superman comic).
Of course, the first thing that most readers notice when picking up a graphic novel is the artwork.  It’s a Bird has a unique and well thought-out art style, although at first glance it almost seems amateur.  For instance, the panel borders are not perfect black lines that contain within them a finely colored, or computer simulated image. Instead, the borders are jagged and rough, and in some areas give off the feel of a watercolor painting. The deliberate simplicity of the art is meant to amplify the relationship between the reader and the characters in the novel, namely the troubled protagonist Seagle. One panel in which Seagle depicts the deformed and depressing state of his aunt currently suffering from the disease exemplifies this.  Take note that while the artwork is gorgeous in execution - not all people will like it, as with any art style - it serves for the most part as only a pretty backdrop for the plot and as a direct representation of Seagle’s inner turmoil.
Seagle himself is an interesting character. While he leads a seemingly normal life writing comic books for his job and living with a loving but nagging girlfriend, his inner self is darkly vibrant and intriguing. Throughout the novel Seagle slides down into deep despair, which makes sense considering the conflict is mostly internal.  Seagle resurfaces later in the story as a (mostly) normal human being after the stunning climax. The plot for It’s a Bird is relatively simple, but like its artwork uses this simplicity to draw in the reader and make emotions hit home.  
        However, while the plot is straightforward as whole throughout the novel it strays and roams, detailing Seagle’s acute case of Superman’s writer’s block. Seagle presents his myriad and fragmented ideas for Superman in little, twisted vignettes sprinkled throughout the novel. These one to two page spreads are different from the rest of the novel both visually and conceptually, and serve as the link between the Superman mythos and Seagle’s inner conflict. He uses these little blurbs to expound on, or rather dissect, each aspect of Superman’s history and personality. Seagle takes Superman’s invulnerability, his secret identity, his weakness, and even his costume design and twists them, making them the inspiration for the increasingly touching and nightmarish vignettes mentioned earlier. Each vignette has its own visual style, ranging from completely abstract to extremely realistic. Seagle also pens in several flashbacks to his childhood, which are much brighter and simpler than the rest of the novel. These flashbacks maintain a sense of innocence and youth in order to contrast the dark vignettes of the adult Seagle.  
        This book is inspired by Seagle’s linked, twin childhood fears of Superman and Huntington’s. Unlike Superman, not very many people want to talk about Huntington’s disease, even though a lot of people carry it.
Why would people talk about the time bomb tick, tick, ticking away in their veins?
This work is brave in that it calls attention to such a time bomb, to the disease. In some regards it is a work that needed to be published; It’s a Bird may be a personal story but it deals with the hopes and dreams of generations of people affected in one way or another by Huntington’s. Superman is just the icing on the cake.

Brevity: A Review of Brief Lives

Jessica Mo, Andy Alonso-Emanuel, and Josh Fornek

Neil Gaiman as a storyteller can be likened to a slightly deranged man leading strangers on a harrowing walk—the paths aren't always straight, the vistas are dark, and the way he goes about things is equal parts hard to follow for the inexperienced and fascinating. Brief Lives, the seventh volume of the Sandman series, is by no means a new work, nor is it one that breaks the pattern of other Gaiman works, but it is one that stands apart for its accessibility to the casual reader. Brief Lives, in a way, works as an entry point for those unfamiliar with Gaiman's style with its relatively fanciful tone and linear story progression with a main plot thread that hasn't been tangled up.

Before the actual first page, there's a brief introduction to the basis of Sandman explaining that there are seven powerful beings called The Endless, which are Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium, who embody their respective attributes. Once that much is established, the story starts in earnest. Brief Lives' story follows Delirium in her search for her brother Destruction, who abandoned his duties as one of The Endless three hundred years previous. She is accompanied by Dream, the main character of the Sandman series, and the search ends up taking a toll upon the people who get caught up in it, mortal or no.