Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Maus

Maus is one of the deeper comics I’ve read in that there’s a lot to it both with the characters and with the story. It feels a little cliche though, maybe because the whole idea of the cartoonized “Holocaust story” has become another trope like the “Christmas Special,” or the “Holloween Episode.” My biggest problem with Maus isn’t with the wrting, or the art – the comic definitely excels in those departments with deep interesting dialogue and and narration and simple, appealing designs. My problem is with the concept of the holocaust story itself. Everyone know’s the plot. The nuances of the ending might not be obvious, but outcome of the events that will take place in the story are already known. The “bad guys,” are set in stone – we’re not being invited to question who is at fault. And all of the main characters, by comparison, seem flawless.

Maus wasn’t enough for me. The story isn’t some vague allusion to word war II, it is clearly about world war II. The characters are all animals, but only visually – none of their animal qualities come through in their characters.

I liked the interaction of the old father and his son – I got an especially good chuckle when the father threw out his sons jacket and gave him a “better” one. Overall though, I can’t say the story had much of an impact on me. I did feel for the characters, but the feeling that the whole purpose of the novel was for me to empathize with the characters and gain a renewed appreciation for the people that suffered through the holocaust left me with a strange, unsettled feeling, and the fact that the author chose to communicate that with such a heavy-handed story ruined it for me a little.

If I was asked to make a parallel between Maus and my own life, I would mention my own father, who's stories from Ghana, though sparse, often seemed worthy of their own novel. Much like the father character from Maus, my own dad often had a way of making extracting stories from him painfully frustrating. In a way though, this made them more interesting; that they had to be extracted was probably what made them stories and not just lectures. You can see this same affect in Maus. The main character spends a of time badgering his father to keep talking and to stay on topic, but the fathers reluctance to talk is often what makes the stories so interesting.

Mr Natural and Underground Comics

I can appreciate the novelty of a comic that goes far beyond what considered culturally appropriate and throws sex, drugs, violence, and general immorality in the face of the reader, however reading something like this after the time during which it was culturally relevant isn’t a very exciting experience. Through the magic of the internet, most people in this day and age have seen every one of even the most horrifyingly lewd sex acts by the time they reach puberty. Violence constantly on television and you can find drug references pretty much anywhere. With content like always so readily available, seeing a comic book with a giant penis on the cover loses a lot of the shock factor it probably would have had when it was created. I read some of Robert Crumb’s Mr. Natural, and although I was surprised by the content in that I was not expecting it, I wasn’t shocked by it for what it was.

I did enjoy the psychedelic films we watched during class though, especially the Beatles videos. They were silly, and didn’t take themselves too seriously, and I think that goes a long way.

The Dreamer and Blankets

I read “The Dreamer,” by will Eisner and didn’t enjoy it all that much. One of the things people pointed out about the other reading selection for this week, “Blankets,” was that the author seemed very arrogant. I got that feel from reading “The Dreamer,” far more than I did from “Blankets.” The Dream is about a lone comic artist, trying to follow his dream while still keeping within his morals, his foray into the world of comic publication is trying on his character, however he eventually achieves his goal. Eisner’s drawings were very nice in and of themselves, but they had no subtlety. I’m sure this was due in part to the time in which they were done, as we’ve since grown much more sophisticated in our ability to gather information from comics. Appreciating this fact though doesn’t make it any easier for me to overlook the fact that this comic is essentially a heavy-handed success story about a morally perfect comic artist, written by a comic artist. The heavy-handedness of Eisner’s work helped set me up for Blankets; reading a story with more subtlety and character was like a breadth of fresh air after the bland vanilla experience that was, “The Dreamer.” I especially liked the first volume, before it turned into a more clich├ęd love story. Reading about the main character and is brother in the harsh environment they grew up in was much more satisfying than trying to empathize with a spoiled 20something drowning in his own ennui.

Jack Cole and Plastic Man

I absuletely hated Jack Cole and plastic man. The humor was juvenile and unfunny, and the style was not at all appealing. The only endearing feature the comic had other than featuring plastic man, was that it made what Kyle Baker did what the character seem even more impressive.

I did, however enjoy the uncle scrooge stories. I’ve been watching “Duck Tales” since I was a kid, and I’ve always been a fan of scrooge McDuck. I really liked how they portrayed him in the comics. In the show he’s generally pretty greedy and will talk about golden and diamonds a lot, however in the comic his avarice is taken to a whole new level. In the comic, he’ll look for gold, diamonds, and platinum, but he’ll also pay attention to small change, making a quick two bucks wherever he can. Its that level of penny-pinching that makes him really fun as a character.

Little Nemo, Calvin and Hobbs, and more

I did not particularly enjoy reading little nemo in slumberland. I felt some elements of comedy beginning to show themselves - there was always the setup, a fantastic scenario, followed by the an escalating problem, and the inevitable bunch line of little nemo waking up tussled in his bead. There weren’t really funny to me though, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the style Mcay used to render his characters and environments.

Having been a huge fan of calvin and hobbs for a long time, going back and rereading some of the 10th anniversary book was a joy. I noticed the same sort of linear set up in a lot of the calvin and hobbs strips that I did in little nemo, although because they were funny I found the setup endearing rather than boring. Calvin and hobbs discussing philosophy while riding down a hill, for example would always end in a crash with an ironic philosophical twist. No matter how many times I read those strips, however, I always found myself laughing at the end. I took another look at some old penuts books, as well, and enjoyed those nearly as much as I did calvin and hobbs. One thing I like a lot about peanuts is that there is a whole family of characters, and each has a very specific personality – Charlie brown, for example is constantly fighting a lose battle with low self-esteem, while Lucy is almost always sure of herself to a fault. A big part of the gags in each peanut strip are about playing one character’s personality against another. That’s why watching snatch the football away before Charlie brown can kick it is always funny. I also went back a read a few family circus strips followed by an online version called “Scott meets family” circus. Family circus takes the simple setup – punch line idea to the extreme, often setting up jokes that aren’t really jokes so much as cute anecdotes given by the kids in the strip. Scott meets family circus plays on this fact, injecting a bitter, unfriendly character into the strip. Hilarity ensues.

I watched prince achmed not too long ago…It was definitely an interesting experience. It was one of the first “early animated films” I’d ever scene and I wasn’t initially impressed. When I considered however, that the filmmaker had virtually no history of animation to draw from for her style, the film became much more impressive.

Understanding Comics

I really enjoyed Scott Mcloud’s “Understanding Comics.” The book was both fun to read and informative. I noticed a lot of people mentioned during class that the book did not have the kind of pacing a comic book usually does, however I disagree. Even though there was less action, I felt that the pacing of each panel was quick and snappy. Mcloud often used multiple panels and poses to bridge a single thought together giving the effect of a single person talking to you while gesturing quickly. Were the book animated, I could see it taking on the pacing of an animated internet miniseries like “Extra Credits,” from penny arcade or “Zero punctuation,” from the escapist magazine.

I was also impressed by the content of Mclouds book. One section in particular that struck me was when Mcloud talked about how in manga, main characters are often rendered very simply with little detail, so that we can empathize with them more easily, while other characters, especially evil or bad ones are rendered more realistically. I’ve read a fair share of manga, but I never really appreciated this until Mcloud pointed it out.