Thursday, November 15, 2012

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.

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