Online Comics, the next new thing in comics?

Online comics, like the ones depicted in Scott McCloud’s The Right Number One and Two and The Superfogeys by Heasely and Lapierre do fall into the genre of comics. I think that as the progression of other media such as newspaper and books have started to integrate into the internet, I think that is a natural progression comics to do the same.

The Superfogeys 

Most online comics such as The Superfogeys are just publications of comics only online. I think just because it is up a digital screen doesn’t make it not a comic. In the Superfogeys, we read the online comic just as we would any other comic in any other format. Our conceptualization of the idea comic does not change, just as our digital graphic novels are read any differently than a printed version.

from The Right Number

However, Scott McCloud’s The Right Number One and Two are different from the Superfogeys in the fact that it is not a static webpage upon which a comic is presented. These comics are interactive and engage the reader physically in the presentation of the comic. We get to choose when and how the story is displayed to us. The juxtaposition and movement of the frames is very active in the comic, and though I thought that it was very distracting at first, as I continued to read there was a flow that formed and became very natural. And the presentation include frames of its own, like style frames within frames. The idea of frames was not lost, only presented differently. If anything, it allows the viewer more artistic freedom in how they want to interpret the work and maybe they will get a whole new meaning from the work. I think it is important for comics, just like any other form of media, to remain intriguing and exciting has to take chances. The Right Number doesn’t lose it’s comic integrity, rather it doesn’t limit to what comics can be, rather what they can’t be.
I think like everything else, there is room for experimentation in every genre and media whether it be comics or television or video.

Reflection on the completion of Essex County

As some of you who have been keeping up with our Graphic Novel class this semester know that we have been reading Jeff Lemire’s Essex County. I recently finished the entire three-story collection, and as a class, we were asked to discuss how we felt each story was tied together. What were the overall main themes, characters, or sequences that brought the collection together as whole?

For those of you who have not read Essex County either at all, or in it’s entirety, I strongly recommend it, because it for me, Jeff Lemire is an excellent storyteller! For Lemire, the story isn’t complex in the way that it makes it hard to understand, but complex in the way of subtlety. It is the responsibility of the audience to piece together and gather the information to complete the overall “big picture.”

For Lemire, the themes of family, redemption and loss weave the three stories together just as much as the characters’ connections do. All of Lemire’s characters strike at our hearts, because just like his characters, often in our own lives we are faced with complicated and heart wrenching situations, often with circumstances that we cannot control.Often times as a family, people talk about the threads that hold them together. Lemire examines these threads and then stretches them, pushing them to their limits and really showing us that there can be redemption through forgiveness, and the chance to rebuild.

 In the first book, Tales from the Farm, we experience Lester coping with the loss of his mother living with his grief stricken uncle, to the second book Ghost Stories where Lou copes with losing his dream of hockey glory and the estrangement of his brother Vince. Which left book three, The Country Nurse to try and pick up the shattered pieces of lives and reconcile them.

I think one of the most important lessons that Essex County tells the reader is that life goes on, and that it is never too late to forgive the ones we love, even if it the damage seems too deep, even if we have to forgive ourselves first.

Frame Compare/Contrast, Essex County Book 2: Ghost Stories and Blankets

Today’s scoop:

Craig Thompson’s
full page characterization frame
for the character of Craig.

In our Graphic Novel class, we were asked to read three graphic novels in addition to Jeff Lemire’s Essex County as part of the required reading. For my first novel, I chose Blankets by Craig Thompson.

For those familiar with the world of comics and graphic novels, you will know the significance of frame usage and design in these kinds of publications. Frames, as we have been taught, are more than simple containers that hold the text and pictures on the page, they themselves are part of the storytelling and help subconsciously relay information to audience just as much as words or photos do.

Jeff Lemire’s full page
characterization frame
for the character of Lou.

 In Essex County Book 2: Ghost Stories, Lemire uses frames very similarly to Craig Thompson in Blankets. Both include framing panels that are mostly rectangular and provide action-to-action based transitions through the story. I also noticed that both contain high-impact large frames sometime enveloping the whole or most of the page to provide emphasis, usually for personal character reflection, especially in characterizing the main characters of each story.

Frames as
hockey arena

  In these frames, each author symbolizes the main desires of their characters. For Lou, it is the desire and remembrance of memory, and catharsis and rebirth for Craig. I also noticed for both Lemire and Thompson that they both abstained from using color within the frames of their novels, but rather used shadows and shading to give depth to both frames and photos.

Frames as
 a scrapbook
In Essex County: Book Two, the frames become something else entirely. They become not only a way to tell the story, but they are integrated into the story. The frames become a scrapbook on which we are able to see into the past and learn about Lou and his brother Vince through their mother’s clippings, or a hockey area where we see Lou and Vince obtain their hockey prestige.

Snow metaphor  

 In Blankets, however frame usage does not put us in a physical place,  rather Thompson taps more into our emotional and conceptual reactions to things. The frames become metaphors for themes throughout the story. We see the patterns of Raina and Craig’s quilt actually weave itself through the pages, so that it is always lingering in our thoughts and emphasizing the emotions and the time and effort and dedication that Raina and Craig used to have for each other. But then we also get frames of white and snow, that is the metaphor for Craig’s quest for purity and peace.

Blanket metaphor

Lester vs. Vladek, Character Showdown

As those of you who have been keeping up to date on my Comm blog, in my graphic novel class we’ve been studying different elements of graphic novels and how each element has been contributing to the overall purpose of the comic. Most recently, we’ve read Art Spiegelman’s Maus and the first two books of Jeff Lemire’s Essex County. This week, we discuss the characterization of Maus‘s main character Vladek in comparison to Essex County‘s Lester.

Art Spiegelman’s Maus

We are first introduced to Vladek in Maus through his own recollections and his conversations between himself and his son Artie. Everything that we find out about Vladek are inferences from other characters in the story. Vladek’s character is actually presented to us first through the filter of Artie’s reactions and dialogue with him.  The way that Artie feels about his father ( overbearing, somewhat ridiculous) influences the way that we as an audience begin to view Vladek. We also understand his compulsive waste-not and thrifty ideals, and his family central lifestyle. Spiegelman illustrates many times  how Vladek came to be who he is, we experience and discover him through his own storying telling. Not only do we come to understand Vladek through Artie, but also through Vladek’s own actions in his memories. We hardly ever hear or see Vladek’s internal thoughts or feelings. This creates a division in his character, Vladek the narrator and Vladek the father. We are told everything that happens to him throughout his years in the Holocaust, he recalls every memory and therefore we can judge him and understand him based on what he has been through.

Cover of Jeff Lemire’s  Essex County

However, Lester in Essex County is presented to the audience in a very different way. Instead of developing his character through the other characters, Lemire gives the audience bits and pieces of information about the character, through memories and facial expressions and his reactions to others. He leaves it up to the reader to fill in the gaps and make their inferences about Lester. Lemire’s approach to characterization is a bit more subtle and makes his character feel more relatable. Unlike Vladek, Lester is a bit more complex and difficult to understand. He does not give every detail about his life away to us right away but we must rely on his surroundings and environment to reveal his character.

Comic Transitions and Maus

In Understanding Comics, author Scott McCloud lists six different panel to panel transitions in comics. He defines six transitions from one panel to the next:
1. Moment-to-moment, where relatively little change takes place between the two panels.
2. Action-to-action, where the actions of a single subject are shown.
3. Subject to subject, which transitions between different subjects in the same scene.
4. Scene-to-scene, which “transports us across significant distances of time and space.”
5. Aspect-to-aspect, which “bypasses time for the most part and sets a wandering eye on different aspects of a place, idea, or mood.”
6. Non-sequitur, “which offers no logical relationship between panels whatsoever.”

These transitions help us to understand the relationship between each panel and how we as readers are supposed to view them and interpret them. In the novel Maus, by Art Spiegelman, these transitions are not always obvious to the reader because our brains are  synthesizing their information without even thinking about it! And Spiegelman’s work often has panels that are relatively all the same size and shape, which doesn’t automatically signal to us that a transition has occurred. We as readers fill in the gaps already!

Moment to Moment transition.

Take these panels here (right), which depicts the main character Artie having a conversation with his father. As you can see, this panel shows moment to moment transition, where there is the subjects Artie and his father hardly change position and there is little left to the readers to have closure on.

Subject to Subject transition

Other times, in Maus, there are subject-to-subject transitions (left), such as  the scene when Artie’s father is describing how it was to be a POW of the Nazis. The panels include how they passed the time while imprisoned, which for Artie’s father included playing chess with the other prisoners and writing letters to his wife Anja.

Most common in all graphic novels are action to action transitions (bottom center), which are the actions in progression of a single subject.  In Maus, on of the more memorable action-to-action sequences for me was in the POW camp when Artie’s father has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. However as he goes outside to pee, he is shot at by guarding soldiers and must quickly go back inside before he is shot. The sequence of showing all of these actions together draws your mind to show you how actions and time has passed in this scene.

Action to Action transition

All images from Maus by Art Spiegelman, for educational use only. Taken by Rachel.

Let’s Talk about Maus

Just from day one of our Graphic Novel class, I ‘ve learned there is so much that readers and audiences have to learn about comics. There are so many misconceptions and preconceived notions about comics, that a general audience does not realize that the appeal comics have and their role in our lives is so much more apparent than what we know. As Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, notes that comic appeal to us because humans have a tendency to assign identities where none exist, and how not only we make out our world in our image, but how we can project that image on to other symbols and images to better understand the human experience.McCloud argues that audiences pay too much attention to the messenger (of an idea or story) and not the message. In Art Spiegelman’s Maus, a novel depicting one experience of the Nazi regime around WWII, Spiegelman uses the idea of assigning human identity to his ‘mice’ characters, in an attempt to make the audience focus more on story events, rather than the characters themselves. 
Art Spigelman, author of Maus.
Photo by Nadja Spiegelman, 2006

In Maus, all characters are personified mice (though some are other animals, but mice mostly) , though they do have distinct personalities and character traits, I found as a reader that I focused more on the text of the frame, rather than the image to understand what was happening.  I wasn’t as focused on their facial expressions, which I think helps me as reader take away more from what characters say. Main character Artie’s, father’s recollections of the first Nazi takeover in Germany create more of an environment for a reader to lose themselves in, rather than a character’s specfic thoughts or motives. The readers do not care that the characters are not human after awhile because it doesn’t matter. We’ve all heard stories about the Nazi regime, and anyone can tell what a Holocaust victim was or looks like. We know as humans the differences in the appearances of our race and the qualities and characteristics that each person is supposed to have. We know what Jews look like, what Aryans look like. But what does a mouse Jew look like? What do we care? All mice look the same to us. We look at the events that Artie’s father is retelling, but our lens is different.  Identity is challenged, we are forced to revist our concepts of race, of character. Maus is successful because of the environment that the author has put the reader in. Almost all of the time, readers are forced to make connections with the characters, because we empathize with them as humans do to each other. Very rarely are we forced to make it through a setting or through events by ourselves,  because we can rely on the characters to help us or to guide us. But if we experience it ourselves, we understand what the story is about, what it is trying to present without out filtering out character development or influence, because then it is like “we” experience it
.