Sunday, January 13, 2008

Publication: Essay on Peanuts Parodies

Delayed Notification Dep't: The academic journal Studies in American Humor published my essay "Chips Off the Ol' Blockhead: Evidence of Influence in Peanuts Parodies" a while back (New Series 3 no. 14 [2006]: 91-103). (Actually, I think the issue wasn't published until 2007, although I could be mistaken.)

Like this announcement, the piece itself is a bit dated, but still worth it (if I do say so myself). I originally wrote the essay at the request of my good friend and mentor M. Thomas Inge, for a special memorial session on Charles Schulz and Peanuts at the Modern Language Association's 2000 convention. I was honored to be asked and to be able to discuss my deep admiration for Peanuts in a public forum. And public it was: Given people's general love of Peanuts, and Schulz's then-recent passing, the panel attracted a standing-room-only crowd. Lots more people than this then-graduate student had ever addressed before!

The panel generated lots of discussion, both during and after. The New York Times even featured an article about the panel (Hey Mom, I'm in the Times, I've made it!). Sadly, not everyone thought the panel was appropriate for a scholarly venue; nevertheless, I proudly wear our condemnation by the "research group" Accuracy in Academia as a badge of honor ("Sanity MIA at MLA Panels").

Finally: Although I wouldn't have written this essay without Tom Inge's invitation, I never could have written this essay if it weren't for my younger brother John. When we were kids, he bought practically every Peanuts book ever offered by the Scholastic Book Club, the grade school kid's best friend. Thanks for letting me read all your books over chicken soup at lunch, bro!

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"The Sleeker Superhero"

How much muscle does it take to look manly? But there’s a trickier follow-up: How much is too much?

The comic-book fantasy of humongous muscles "wore off when fitness gained widespread appeal, [Christopher] Hart says, "because, seriously, who wants to look like that?"
That's the central idea behind "The Sleeker Superhero," an article posted at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette website on Monday. In it, writer Ron Wolfe interviews Christopher Hart, the author of many "how-to-draw" books, about his latest, Simplified Anatomy for the Comic Book Artist.

For background information, Wolfe compares the popular conception of the über-muscled superhero with another comic-book mainstay, bodybuilder Charles Atlas, whose advertisements for the "dynamic tension" exercise program appeared for decades. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the article quotes "The Ad that Made an Icon Out of Mac!," my essay that appears at the Hogan's Alley website. It's always encouraging to see your writing put to use.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

New Journal Article on Ted Naifeh'’s "Polly and the Pirates"

Dale Jacobs, Associate Professor of English at the University of Windsor, announces his new publication. It looks to be of particular interest both to teachers and to scholars of comics' formal properties:

Jacobs, Dale. "More Than Words: Comics as a Means of Teaching Multiple Literacies." English Journal 96.3 (January 2007): 19-25.
Historically, comics have been viewed as a “debased or simplified word-based literacy,” explains Dale Jacobs, who considers comics to be complex, multimodal texts. Examining Ted Naifeh’'s Polly and the Pirates, Jacobs shows how comics can engage students in multiple literacies, furthering meaning-making practices in the classroom and beyond.
English Journal should be available in most academic libraries and/or via Interlibrary Loan.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

CFP: The Jewish Graphic Novel

Just received this interesting call for papers for a proposed scholarly essay collection:
The Jewish Graphic Novel

Essays sought for an interdisciplinary collection co-edited by an art historian and literary scholar. The growing subgenre of Jewish literary and graphic culture contains a number of significantly innovative aesthetic works that are increasingly recognized by literary critics as an exciting form of alternative narrative that may also represent the inception of a new visual literacy that has significant implications for the future of Jewish literary and artistic expression. As the catalogue of a recent art exhibit devoted to this cultural phenomenon states,
Jewish graphic novels represent an important genre in artistic expression and assert the intensity of word and image in conveying narratives that speak eloquently to the contemporary viewer. [They] offer intense visual elucidation of Jewish historic and literary events by combining intense illustration with searing social issues.
Works to be addressed may include graphic novels by Will Eisner (A Contract With God: and Other Tenement Stories, Fagin the Jew, The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion); Czech writer Vittorio Giardino's trilogy of volumes about Jewish life under the shadow of totalitarianism (A Jew in Communist Prague: Loss of Innocence, A Jew in Communist Prague: Adolescence, and A Jew in Communist Prague: Rebellion); Ben Katchor's The Jew of New York; Miriam Katin's memoir of WWII survival, We Are On Our Own; Neil Kleid's portrayal of mobsters in Brownsville; Etgar Keret's surreal tales, Jetlag: Five Graphic Novellas; Joe Kubert's stunning account of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in Yossel: April 14, 1943; Joann Sfar's whimsically philosophical The Rabbi's Cat; James Sturm's disturbing parable of American racism, The Golem's Mighty Swing; and J.T. Waldman's recent bold retelling of the essential Jewish myth of power and powerlessness in Megillat Esther. The editors also hope to include an essay or two on the impact of Art Spiegelman's seminal works of Holocaust oral history in Maus: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began, which crystallized the acceptance of the graphic novel as a legitimate literary form.

This collection aspires to fill an important gap in existing scholarship by offering the first collection of critical discussions to solely address the way that Jewish graphic novels grapple with Jewish history, cultural politics, antisemitism, portrayals of Ashkenazi and Sephardic identities, the role of the Holocaust in the artist's cultural and moral imagination, political controversy, literature, sacred texts, and myth through these captivating works that render image and text in hitherto unimagined forms. Other essays might consider the important role of autobiography in the graphic novel and the role of the graphic novel in the Jewish Studies classroom. This list is by no means exhaustive; other relevant theoretical, pedagogical, or cultural approaches will be considered. Authors are encouraged to use images whenever appropriate but they are individually responsible for all necessary permissions. Papers from all disciplines, or interdisciplinary submissions (whether focused on single works or comparative discussions), are welcomed.

Send brief bios along with abstracts (300 words) or complete essays that follow the current edition of the MLA Style Manual to both Ranen Omer-Sherman and Samantha Baskind by 11/30/06.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Now, More Than Ever, A Need for Science

A recent scientific study only re-emphasizes this country's need for increased scientific education, as well as the need for less stringent restrictions on scientists themselves and their exploration of the benefits of nuclear energy. Be sure to read We Must Expand Our Nuclear Power Program If We're To Realize Our Dream Of Superhero Mutants by T.J. Prima, scientific adviser for The Onion.

Image: Benefits of scientific experimentation begin to sprout forth.

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ditko = Ditko

I first discovered cartoonist Steve Ditko's work in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man - or, more accurately, in Pocket Books' three-volume Spider-Man Classics series, published in the late 1970s. Technically, the first Ditko art I saw must have been in Origins of Marvel Comics- but the Pocket Spider-Mans gave me hundreds of pages of Ditko artwork, and I devoured them all, over and over again. Ross Andru was the current Spider-Man artist at the time, and I liked that work a lot; but the old books drawn (and often plotted) by Ditko were quirky, instantly recognizable, intensely felt: They were magic, and I couldn't get enough of them (or reprints of his early work on Doctor Strange). Fans of Ditko's Marvel-era work will be interested in the recent Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko volume, at right.

It wasn't until years later that I discovered Ditko's own, more personal work, on characters like Static, The Mocker, and - of course - Mr. A (you might still find copies of The Ditko Collection, with lots of Mr A., if you're lucky.) Ditko had become a student of Ayn Rand, and Mr. A. was the living embodiment of Rand's philosophy of "Objectivism": A is A. In Mr. A's world (and in Ditko's) there can be no moral grey areas; there is good, and there is evil, and there is nothing else. I think the icongraphy in the following image (from the Heritage Comics website) makes the stark argument quite clearly, itself:

While I find Ditko's personal work fascinating, I can't say that I could ever agree with it philosophically; I guess I'm too much of a grey-area kind of person. But that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy Mr. A; it's clearly passionate, heart-felt work. How many commercial artists of any stripe are that willing to put their innermost beliefs down on the page, this starkly, with no apologies or hedging?

Thanks to a post by Dr. Chris R. Tame on the Ditko-Kirby email list, I was happy to learn about the following article:
"The Illustrated Rand", by Chris Matthew Sciabarra. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 6.1 (2004): 1-20. (Download a PDF version of the entire article here.)
The article, part one of two, catalogues Rand's cultural influence by listing some of the scores of academic journals, magazines, televsion shows, and more media which have quoted or mentioned Rand's work. Unfortunately, the bulk of the article is little more than a list. There's precious litle analysis here, although there may be more extended discussions in part two, which I haven't yet read. We don't even learn if most of these mentions are positive or negative, informed or throw-away.

The largest section of the article by far, however, is devoted to Steve Ditko and Frank (Sin City) Miller (pages 8-12). While the section includes several meaty Mr. A quotes, we still don't find much in the way of analysis. I'd love to learn more about how Objectivism plays out in Ditko's work: How accurately does his work embody the philosophy? Does Ditko's thought expand on, embellish, or even contradict Rand's? Again, perhaps I'm asking too much of an admitted "overview" article; but if anyone out there knows of more critical looks at Ditko's pesonal work, I'd love to hear about them.

And since I haven't mentioned it yet, the premiere website for Ditko is Blake Bell's Ditko Looked Up. Watch for Blake's Steve Ditko: Mysterious Traveller, a biography forthcoming from Fantagraphics. I'm sure that Blake's book will get into the questions I've asked above - and more - with relish.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Comics Studies at the University of Florida

In the last few years, the University of Florida has become a magnet for graduate studies in comic art. When you know that pioneering scholar Dr. Don Ault teaches there, this information isn't terribly surprising. Don's scholarly interests range from William Blake to Carl Barks, the "Good Duck Artist" who is best known for bringing life to Scrooge McDuck in Disney comic books. (Here's one of Don's articles, encompassing both Blake and Barks!) Florida also hosts a yearly conference on comics and now hosts the Comics Scholars' Discussion List.

Don is quoted today in an article on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln library's new comics collection, where he briefly discusses the growth of comics scholarship. He also drops this tidbit about comics studies in his own backyard:
[T]he University of Florida has more students applying for post-graduate work in comic books than any other field this year.
This statistic is great news for the field, and is a tribute to all of the hard work and dedication put forth by Don and his host of graduate students.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Nieman Reports on Editorial Cartoons

Welcome to "Comics Research & Such" - I'll get to a proper introduction soon, but let's just jump right in for our first post...

While it might be old news to you, it's new to me - and that's enough to qualify listing it here. The Winter 2004 issue of Nieman Reports (vol 58, no. 4) focuses on editorial cartoons, featuring 18 essays by and about editorial cartoonists (as well as other journalism- related features). Download the entire 2.6MB PDF file of the whole issue here. [Get the free Adobe Acrobat reader here, natch.] Glad to see the USA's "first journalism review" - the official house organ of The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University - focusing on this endangered (but still vital, damnit) branch of the Fourth Estate.

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