Thursday, November 15, 2012

Akram Khaja, Kyle Mou, Justin Sass, Lee Tang

Dr. Hancock

Graphic Novels: Image and Text

15 November 2012



#DeathNote

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
Light



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.

One Hundred Demons: A Review



Monica Kim, Grace Li, David Wang
Dr. Michael Hancock
Graphic Novels: Images and Text
15 November 2012


There are no restrictions when it comes down to Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons. It contains themes of childhood—some light-hearted, and others more serious—that people of all ages will be able to relate to. Also, the layout is simple, making the graphic novel an ideal starting point to people new to the comics genre and an easier read for those who are more experienced.
The layout of the panels in One Hundred Demons is always the same and very easy to follow. The top half of every panel is reserved for large text boxes which contain Lynda Barry’s running narration. Even though the panels are spaced apart, the contents of the text boxes never lose their continuity of thought, and each chapter is a stream of ideas represented in panels. The bottom half of Lynda Barry’s panels is reserved for illustrations, many of which are filled with word balloons. Many of the childhood stories Barry portrays in One Hundred Demons are tinged with loneliness, and the word balloons emphasize this fact because they are usually placed between characters to separate them. The text in the panels always crowds around the characters and gives an oppressive feel. In contrast, above and below the panels, there is always a large blank space. The overall effect is a claustrophobic one, which is fitting because the story contains themes of loneliness, oppression, and emotional turmoil.
Though the bulk of the story is told through words, One Hundred Demons is filled with rich visual images. From cover to cover, the graphic novel is filled with bright watercolors. Because each chapter has a different colored background, even the sides of the book are a rainbow of colors. Lynda Barry’s artwork is surprisingly detailed. She meticulously adds designs to clothes and objects, and uses slight color changes to add depth. However, though her panels are detailed, they are by no means realistic. Barry uses a childish art style, and her characters have the disproportionate characteristic of children’s drawings. Their movements are not portrayed realistically, and their bodies are often bent at odd angles. For instance, in the chapter, “Dancing”, as the characters dance, they appear to have no joints and their movements rival those of contortionists. However, the unrealistic and sometimes grotesque art style is not a negative aspect of the graphic novel. Most of the story takes place in either Lynda Barry’s childhood, or teenage years. Though much of the narration in the panels has the nostalgic tone of someone looking back, the artwork always portrays events as they happen. The childish art style emphasizes the fact that scenes in the panels are seen from a child’s point of view.
Lynda Barry’s characters often have exaggerated features, and certain features stand out more than the others. For instance, when Lynda illustrates herself as a child, she covers her entire body with freckles. This helps emphasize the fact that she has a very Caucasian appearance and is contrasted with the dark skin of her Filipino mother and grandmother. When Lynda draws her mother, she especially exaggerates the mouth and teeth indicating to the fact that her mother was always yelling at her. The exaggerated features of Lynda Barry’s characters also highlight how she is remembering childhood events from decades ago. After over 30 years, memories have definitely faded, and the features that Lynda Barry exaggerates are probably the ones that she remembers the clearest.
              The straightforward writing style of Lynda Barry undoubtedly provides a strong, distinct narration that guides readers through One Hundred Demons. Though the style can be seen as banal, something about the voice makes the readers feel as though they actually had traveled back to the time when Lynda Barry encountered her demons. Additionally, the dialogues added in the graphic novel make each of the characters believable. For example, the grandma’s dialogue has the tone of a real grandmother, and uses incorrect grammar and even some Tagalog words, which makes her seem realistic.
           One of the big challenges, and perhaps the biggest challenge, of reading this graphic novel is understanding what “demon” means. For Lynda Barry, the demons probably represented the many social challenges she experienced in her troubled childhood. The graphic novel has a reflective tone, seems to be a cathartic release for her emotions. This is more evident in certain parts of the graphic novel. For example, despite the ambiguity of her artistic style, which made it difficult to tell the characters’ emotions from their depiction, it is clear how frustrated she was with her first job working for a group of hippies. She bounces from one panel to another, changing from standing on the left side to the right side of the panel. This, combined with copious use of swear-word indicators in the text boxes, highlights her struggle to win respect in her job. In this case, it could be said that the demon for this chapter is a desire to be respected, and the work experience is used as a representation of that endeavor. Perhaps drawing and writing this chapter enabled her to release some of that residual emotional difficulty on paper.
        Equally important is the meaning of the demons to the readers. While Barry may have sought emotional release in her novel, to us, as readers, the book represents a list of lessons learned. The chapter “My First Job” warns readers to choose a workplace environment with more respect between managers and workers, and choose employers with more stable backgrounds and established business practices. Barry infuses each chapter with recommendations about what she believes to be the right attitude towards life’s problems. In her chapter “Hate,” Barry insinuates that hate is never an emotion to adopt, not even as retaliation to some external cruelty. Through these lessons, Barry creates a sort of handbook for living to young adolescents, where each demon signifies the consequences of naiveté, prejudice, and disrespect.
Though the tone and writing style make One Hundred Demons an easy read, the fact that the story is not structured in chronological order makes the book a bit difficult to follow at first. The demons seem to be presented in no order at all. Also, Lynda Barry’s reasons for her choice of demons are unclear. Some of them are quite light-hearted, such as the dancing demon. through which she realized she’s bad at dancing, but some are more serious, like the lost and found demon, which is about her finding her true passion. They are not organized by order of seriousness and so the end of the book may have some readers thinking, “That’s it?” The ending of the book leaves readers with a lot of questions and an urge to reflect on their own childhood experiences. Perhaps an author’s note, similar to the one included at the beginning of the story could have been added to the end of the book to tie up the loose ends and give the readers a feeling of closure. On the other hand, perhaps Barry purposely left the ending open so that readers have a chance to reflect and find our own answers to the questions left unanswered.
        Whether or not you are looking for some deep philosophical meaning or just plain reading for fun, Barry’s One Hundred Demons is a highly fascinating and graphic novel that is definitely worth reading. The true gift of this work is its ability to represent serious issues of adolescence and societal discrimination while retaining a certain air of light playfulness. Through colorful, childish art, intelligent text placement, and thought provoking themes, One Hundred Demons presents a light-hearted way to gain insights into life’s trials.

Safe Area Gorazde


Kit Chinetti, Sharadyn Ciota, Navika Shukla, Aditi Warhekar, Kevin Zhang
Dr. Michael Hancock
Graphic Novels: Images and Text
14 November 2012
Safe Area Gorazde: The Sights and Words of War
            To many in the United States, Yugoslavia seems like an exotic, distant land nestled away in the part of Europe that simply seems irrelevant. Thus, following a wave of political instability that swept Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia suddenly was thrust to the international stage as violence not seen since World War Two ripped the ethnically diverse nation apart. Safe Area Gorazde, by wartime journalist Joe Sacco, is a contradiction: a graphic novel depicting serious topics, stories of individuals interspersed with a grander narrative, and gruesome images combined with informative text. In many ways, Safe Area Gorazde exemplifies the brutal chaos of the Bosnian War by focusing on the individual narratives strewn throughout larger plot, intentionally leaving an emotional chasm between readers and characters, and using the interplay between text bubbles and images to enhance the plot.
On May 4, 1980, Josip Broz Tito died, ending his long, dictatorial reign over the Balkan nation. For much of the world, this event simply marked the end of the reign of an oxymoron: a benevolent dictator of a neutral Communist state in the Soviet era. While the rest of Eastern Europe had darkened behind the oppressively heavy hand of the Iron Curtain, Tito’s Yugoslavia had unexpectedly risen as an economic powerhouse. But for Yugoslavians, Tito’s death did not just mark the end of his rule. Rather, it marked the end of the fragile peace that had somehow existed for nearly four decades. Less than a decade later, Tito’s precious Yugoslavia would tear itself apart in bitter ethnic struggles.
The apparent, disconcerting disconnect between the international community and the those caught in the vicious warzones plays a central role in Joe Sacco’s stunningly insightful graphic novel Safe Area Gorazde. The honest depiction of the raw, human element of the brutal four-year long Bosnian War is unique in its scope and personalization. Sacco focuses on the UN-designated ‘safe area’ of Gorazde, the only eastern Bosnian city to hold against repeated Serbian onslaughts. Within this precarious settlement, thousands of Muslim refugees – men, women, and children carrying the heavy burden of horrific trauma – huddled, fearing daily for their survival.
But it is not this subject matter that sets Safe Area Gorazde apart from the libraries of Bosnian War journalism. For all intents and purposes, this book should be forgettable. It was written by an American journalist in late 1995 with less than four weeks of interviews and observations, taken largely after the guns had already been silenced. Most importantly, it is a comic book competing against reams of newspaper articles and hours of television broadcasts, comfortably in their element. The larger stories that Sacco tells here are nothing new. They have been splashed across the world’s living rooms in quick flashes of horror overlaid by the grave commentary of reporters.
What distinguishes Sacco’s graphic novel from its numerous contemporaries is its attention to the true Gorazde. He pays meticulous attention to the visceral human dimension, allowing the greater narrative of treatises and politics to fall to the background. His characters are not martyred heroes, flawless and perfect; rather, they remain ordinary people pushed into an extraordinarily ruthless world. As he reports rape, genocide, and other grave violations of human rights, Sacco devotes whole pages to the gut-wrenching description of life in a seemingly doomed town, surrounded by death pushing insistently, inexorably inward. Among these panels, though, he spends an equally long time developing his characters. He unabashedly illuminates their complex personalities, emphasizing that they are whole people, not just stories. As such, we see that Safe Area Gorazde walks a careful line between individual character development and the grander scope of events in Bosnia.
            Safe Area Gorazde’s comic book format makes the story of the Bosnian War more accessible to a wider audience of people by sharing individual stories, often lost within the chaos of war. Regular coverage or stories regarding the war are distant and esoteric, but the personalization of Safe Area Gorazde displays the plight of ordinary, everyday citizens. These panels accentuate the human dimensions of the Bosnian War, which is mainly reported through numbers, figures, and statistics. By evoking reality in its vivid details, Safe Area Gorazde portrays emotions impossible to accurately depict in prose or the usual journalistic mediums.
Nonetheless, local people in Safe Area Gorazde are drawn more realistically in order to better emphasize the inevitable emotional disconnect between the reader and the survivors of Gorazde. As Sacco depicts a mass burial of innocent civilians, each unfortunate victim is unscrupulously depicted, and surrounded by carefully drawn faces of mourning survivors (Sacco 92-93). This happens once more when Serbs are gruesomely depicted slitting the throats of innocent Muslims on a now-infamous bridge, drenched with pools of blood running down into the gutters (Sacco 3-5/110). The details make such scenes realistic, and ironically also distance the reader from the event. While the realistic properties of the drawings appear to make readers more sympathetic to Muslims, the realism causes readers to remain unable to emotionally connect to these scenes. However, although the reader cannot easily put themselves in the position of an average citizen of Gorazde, the reader can better relate to Joe Sacco because of his exaggerated self-portrait (Sacco 8). Safe Area Gorazde was not meant allow readers connect to the depicted situations, on the contrary, readers must act as a helpless observer, much like Sacco himself. Because of this emotional disconnect, Sacco’s artwork fits with the needs of the novel.
In addition to Sacco’s artwork, the interplay between different types of text creates a powerful medium in which each contributes to plot by moving it forward. Sacco’s use of textual bubbles is unique as narration bubbles abound, and speech bubbles do not predominate. Given the journalistic nature of the novel, narration bubbles present vivid details that speech bubbles cannot provide without interrupting the flow of the story. Understandably, the majority of the plot is moved along by the narration bubbles, while the speech bubbles serve to supplement the story with additional personal details or opinions interviewees. As such, both speech and narration bubbles are crucial in continuing the plot in an efficient, fluid manner.
Another method of moving the plot forward is Sacco’s unique placement of textual bubbles in order to physically lead the reader through the plot. Some bubbles are seen in traditional locations on the top of each panel; however, many text bubbles are scattered throughout such that each bubble lead the reader through the action inside the story. In a way, the reader becomes a part of the story, and the textual bubbles become the transitions through separate scenes. An example can be seen on the first page where the textual bubbles are read from the bottom up as they mimic the movement of the trucks in the panel and thereby leading the reader’s eyes, and attention, throughout the scene (Sacco, 1). Thus, we see how the textual aspect of Safe Area Gorazde plays a crucial role in advancing the plot.
As a whole, the effect of the text is much broader as it serves to convey emotional details and more nuanced elements of Gorazde’s story that cannot be portrayed through images alone. While images may not be able to convey all the elements of the plot, they remain crucial by producing the emotional aspects of the story. It is through these images that Sacco creates the emotional impact of the graphic novel, as readers connect more effectively and efficiently to images than compared the text. The horrors of the war and its effects on the people of Gorazde are most effectively portrayed through the images, such as the gut-wrenching, disturbing wartime injuries portrayed in the hospital (Sacco 122-123). The contrast between reading about atrocities and visually perceiving them is apparent as readers gain an unabashedly emotional reaction to these images. Another unique example of the interplay between text and images can be found on page 108: Sacco juxtaposes two connotations of the Drina- the cigarette and the river- to create another powerful image that invokes the reader’s emotions by exemplifying the drab, monotonous life in Gorazde. Overall, Sacco uses the images effectively in that they convey emotion and mood more directly than text ever could. 
            Yugoslavia, in all its ethnic and religious diversity, was a great contradiction. The fact that such a nation, riddled with nationalistic tension for over four decades, survived for such a long time is a testament to the effectiveness of Tito’s dictatorship. Nonetheless, Safe Area Gorazde tells the tale of the aftermath of these long-suppressed tensions: brutal violence, unthinkable horrors, and unimaginable, callous disregard for human life. To portray this myriad of terror, the graphic novel employs a multitude of unique tools, such as the balance between individual character development and the greater story arc of the war, the realistic art in each panel, and the usage of speech and text bubbles. In the end, Safe Area Gorazde is an emotionally riveting tale of average people, struggling to survive in a stupendously dangerous and seemingly hopeless situation.

It's a Bird... Review


Austin, Mia, Morgan, Theo
Dr. Hancock
Graphic Novels
Nov. 13, 2012

It’s Superman’s Symbol; It’s Huntington’s; It’s Just a Red S

It’s a Bird, written by Steven Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen, is a semi-fictional autobiographical story about an artist’s struggle with writing one of the most legendary comics, Superman.

The writer Steven Seagle, is the narrator and main character of the book. He can best be described as the brooding artistic type, but he has good reason for his dim outlook on life. In the beginning of the novel it is revealed that Huntington’s disease, a fatal neurodegenerative disorder, runs in his family. Seagle lives in fear of this disease, constantly aware of his own age approaching the average age of onset symptoms. His struggle to cope with the disease affects his relationships with his girlfriend and family, as well as his career. Seagle is approached by his editor to write the next Superman comic; his peers see this as a great honor and opportunity, while Seagle is thrown into a personal and artistic crisis when he cannot find inspiration in the Superman legend, only antipathy.

Throughout the novel, Seagle’s struggle to find truth and inspiration in the Superman legend is told through multiple short fictional stories. The stories sometimes present historical lessons, other times simple anecdotes, or stories of Superman. Through these, Seagle attempts to discover why he is so fundamentally anti-Superman. Seagle’s final conciliation with the Superman legend ultimately leads to him strengthening his relationships, boosting his career, and accepting his disease.

One of the greatest conflicts we see is the main character Steve’s battle with himself over whether or not he will write the Superman comic. At young age, he was put off by Superman due to the connection it had with his grandmother’s diagnosis and passing due to Huntington’s. Later on in life, when he was approached by his editor Jeremy about doing a Superman comic, he replied with being not interested in doing any such thing. Steve isn’t just apathetic towards Superman, he actively dislikes him.

Superman is one of the most prominent American cultural icons today. He represents “truth, justice, and the American way”. Whenever there is a just battle that needs to be fought our hero never hesitates to rise to the challenge. When the threat against the people of Metropolis is gone, he continues about his day-to-day life. People in America relate to Superman and see him as a true force of good. Superman is also relatable in another sense because he is the greatest immigrant; assimilation and a sense of duty are embedded into his character despite having lost his true home. As America is “the great melting pot”, all we are is a nation of immigrants from all corners of the world. Everyone could relate to Superman and that is what made him a huge cultural success.

These are exactly the things Seagle despises about this limitless all-American hero and fights to break down in the Superman mythos. Steve’s biggest gripe is that Superman is perfect in every sense, except for his deus ex machina weakness to kryptonite. Steve struggles with Superman’s superiority and loathes how Superman is never faced with a difficult question of right or wrong. Steve also finds that Superman is taunting Americans with the fact that none of them were born “super”. This is in particular is directly contrasted to Seagle’s sort of “anti-super”, Huntington’s. He thinks that Superman is nothing than a brute that uses his fists to solve problems that he could also solve with his words. In the end, his struggle may reflect an inner
self of superiority as being above writing Superman and at the same time being completely helpless to Huntington’s.

Seagle masterfully dissects the meaning of symbols in this brief, but powerful book. One of these icons is particular is the letter S. The letter haunts him, being one of the few things he can vividly remember about his grandmother’s death in the hospital. The red letter hastily written in on the diagnosis sheet was reinforced by a Superman comic his father gave him to be entertained in the waiting room. Seagle not only talks about the physical representation of the letter S, but also its incredible power in the English language by its ability to “turn an isolated tragedy into an epidemic,” “literally steal time,” and “own what it touches.” He does this many with things, for instance, have you ever fully considered why Superman’s suit is red, blue, and yellow, or why each part is the color it is? He even considers the meaning of a costume, and its purpose for a sense of belonging. It’s far from a boring analytical read about Superman, quite the opposite, it’s one of the most powerful and emotional comics you’ll read.

The most ensnaring thing about this graphic novel is the artistic style Teddy Kristiansen uses. Kristiansen use of sketch and watercolor are sure to dazzle and leave no mistaking the distraught and confusion our protagonist lives through. The muted palette and muffled overtones set an emotional atmosphere that prepares the reader for the sobering tale ahead. The colors of the overarching storyline gradually change with Seagle, as he builds of breaks down his connection to the world. Seagle’s side stories and early renditions of superman are presented in numerous styles, each style adding exactly the right touch of distance, emotion, or confusion. The constant use of varying styles also helps the reader relate to the estrangement he feels from the life of Superman. The style of the book as a whole focuses greatly on emotions and relies on
the reader to be accepting and open-minded. This allows readers to follow along with the emotional path of the story along with the more textual plot line.

In short, Seagle’s semi-fictional autobiography is one simply about an artist dealing with a neurodegenerative disease. It’s a real world study of the ridiculous and how we can connect with stories and heroes that are impossible to begin with. It’s a dissection of the Superman mythology, and how we interpret the symbols he and everyone else is made of. Finally, it’s a story about being human, made possible by poignant artistic vision and a wonderfully touching narrative. It is well worth a read and consideration; we guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam


            As Ann Marie Fleming unveils the secrets and history from her uncle’s life in a manner resembling a scrapbook, she utilizes creative and entertaining methods to convey her story. The intertwining of her story with Long Tack Sam’s creates both an informative and well crafted biography for the reader, rather than a boring or tedious block of text. The details of her uncle’s life are gradually revealed as Fleming constantly discovers more and more about her uncle. In some instances, the information she receives contradicts her previous knowledge of her immensely talented uncle. She employs a variety of images and emotions to create a more interesting presentation of what she has learned about Sam, interweaving fact and fiction. For example, when she first learns of the origin of Long Tack Sam, the first interview she read by him displayed Sam as a poor child who wanted to eat and subsequently learn magic. Soon afterwards she uncovers another version with Sam as the son of an imperial officer who got into trouble and was forced into the circus life to survive.
            The author who presents the story takes the form of a stick girl, roaming the world for simple scraps of information about Sam. As she interviews relatives and other civilians, she discovers pictures, posters, and extraordinary stories about her well respected uncle. Her interesting style of presentation makes the story more unique and appealing. The start contrast between her stick figure and the actual photographs of her uncle as well as the drawings of her uncle’s life separate the story into distinct fragments that creates a more bearable way of reading a biography. Fleming’s knowledge of her uncle’s life is in fragments, with bits of gossip here or an old family friend there. She accumulates stories of the discrimination that Sam faced because of his race, despite his status as a prominent entertainer, as well as stories of Sam’s vaudeville endeavors.
            Throughout all of the exaggerated or imaginary myths surrounding Sam’s existence, some facts remain more reliable in his life. From his childhood, Long Tack Sam was trained in China to be a magician and acrobat. Shortly after, he toured Europe with his troop to perform and married an Austrian woman while buying soap and toothpaste. When he arrived in America, he performed magic with many of the most famous magicians, including Cary Grant, George Burns and Jack Benny. However, during this time there was intense discrimination and his traveling was limited by immigration laws from Canada. Long Tack Sam also refused to act in theatre because movies during this time only offered the Chinese roles as villainous, sneaky and degrading characters. Because of Long Tack Sam’s limited scope in terms of where he could perform and what he could do, his fame depleted as Vaudeville became less popular, until it deteriorated to the point where Fleming needed to scour the world for information about him.
            In order to convey her findings of Sam’s life, Fleming utilizes a unique combination of real photos and cartoonish drawings further serve to personalize the history presented in this story. Indeed, it is mostly likely that the first thing the reader will realize is the unique method of presentation The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam offers. While a graphic novel, this book distinguishes itself by interweaving real photos from the time period into the story, often presenting contrasting panel's of the artist's personal work and historical images. This contrast allows for a more personal feel to the whole story, as the Fleming would show an actual photo from the time period, and then draw her own imagination of Sam's experience. Combined with a font that mimics handwriting, this entire novel presents Fleming's search for answers in a very casual way that becomes easy for the reader to accept and relate to. 
            Fleming also changes the balance of historical photos and her own drawings depending on the subject and the mood she wishes to convey. An example can be found on page 112, where Fleming describes the negative attitudes towards the Chinese during that time. On these panels, there aren't any of her own drawings. The first panel and the last two show Sam and his daughters, while the two in the middle column shows how Chinese were portrayed during the time; namely as bandits, opium smokers, and other villains. By using only film stills, Ann avoids to mitigate the seriousness of the racism during that time. Had she included the Stickgirl and other comical features, some of the severity in this issue would definitely have been lost. In stark contrast, the three “biographies” of Sam are presented in entirely comical fashion, complete with with crude approximations of Golden Age comic book covers. By avoid any actual photos from the time period, Fleming ensures that Sam's past is continually shrouded in mystery, and leaves the reader guessing as to how much is truth, and how much is myth.
  Yet as the reader becomes engrossed in the life of Long Tack Sam, Ann Marie Fleming consistently maintains her narrative of genealogical discovery. By weaving into the biography the interviews of Long Tack Sam’s contemporaries and bits of her own life, Ms. Fleming not only recounts soundly the life of her great-grandfather, she also presents a strong, vivid account of how personal historical discovery can be. Rather than simply detailing his life, Ann Fleming has written an illustrated memoir to her discovery of Long Tack Sam. Fleming first explores her motivation in studying the distant exploits of a distant relative. As her grandmother’s death brought the stories of performance, fame and celebrity of her father back into Fleming’s mind, she happened upon some film connecting the Long Tack Sam she had heard little of to the great-grandfather she had seen nothing of. Ann Fleming conducts her biography with the curious mind that many come upon when looking through photographs of relatives or hearing stories of people long passed. In fact, many of the panels in the graphic novel are simply photographs of Long Tack Sam and his family. As his story progresses through the book, Fleming maintains the visual atmosphere of the young historian, pouring over snapshots strewn about an attic. Her interviews with Long Tack Sam’s colleagues are also accompanied with pictures bringing an air of reality to their accounts that would not be found in a standard biographical work. That Ann Fleming also includes, pictorially and in narrative, tales of her traveling to these knowledgeable treasures in her comic do much to enhance and make prominent the active aspect of history. Elaborating Long Tack Sam’s circumstances during the world wars ties those events to his person, and her recollections, such her Chinese hospitalization, ties him to a child looking towards his ancestors. Ms. Fleming does more than effectively make the reader and herself empathize with Long Tack Sam, she creates an accurate image of historical study most don’t envision.
            Another noticeable feature is the lack of a uniform layout for the panels, which draws parallel to Fleming's wandering search of Sam's history. Indeed, very rarely will two pages feature the same layout. Instead, each page differs from the other, and by eliminating boundaries between the graphics, Fleming presents an open world for the reader to explore through. The random setup, sometimes featuring seven pictures on one page and one the next, also juxtaposed with the occasional historical timeline, deprives the reader of a sense of rigid path to follow. In fact, some pages, such as 100, lack even panels around the images. This loose and open format mimics the meandering path Fleming took in search of Sam's past, spanning from large American cities to remote Chinese villages. The reader, instead of viewing her experience through a strict setup, joins her as she drifts from hint to hint, lead to lead, with only Stick girl as a signpost, although at times she is just as lost as anyone else.
            In The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, Fleming creates a fascinating tale about her exotic uncle while simultaneously creating another equally entertaining story about her adventures to discovering her uncle’s life. The intricate mixture of realistic and animated images helps to develop both plots in the clearest possible manner.     

Works Cited:
Fleming, Ann, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. New York: Penguin Group Inc, 2007. Print.