Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Teaching Panel Transitions via Craig Thompson's Blankets The standard caveat applies: these analyses are designed for freshmen-level composition courses. I repeat: these analyses are designed for freshmen-level composition courses. The wheel will not be reinvented here. I begin the quarter teaching excerpts from Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Making Comics not because all arguments about comic form and content end with the theories contained therein, but because 1) his terms have come to define the debate and 2) they are damn useful in setting up classroom debates. (My students don't realize that they frequently recapitulate the scholarly arguments inspired by the book, but they do.) The basic idea behind this exercise is to get them to understand that they're all murderers and the only way they'll get their heads out of the gutters is figure out how to move from one panel to the next. First I provide the McCloud: Then I follow it with an example from their text, in this case Craig Thompson's Blankets: You'll note that I haven't included an obvious example of a moment-to-moment transition here, but that's because I want them to understand from the get-go that this terminology is flexible. In this case, I would argue that this is moment-to-moment on two accounts: the first would be conventional McCloud, because in the gutter between the those panels the reader must imagine Phil squirm until he can spot the "sharks" on the floor beside the bed. My assumption here is that "squirming" represents "a single action" and Thompson portrays its constituent parts, but my assumption is also an assertion that students can (and tomorrow will be forced to) take issue with. For example, it could be argued that "squirming" is an indivisible act and that, as such, it cannot be broken down into a series of moments (although the very existence of these panels would seem to indicate otherwise). Here as elsewhere, the poor fit between McCloud's term and Thompson's text works to my advantage: something cannot simply be said to be something. It must be argued. The same difficulties arise with McCloud's next transition: The problem is right there in the word-picture relation: is the "single subject" of McCloud's panels a baseball player and a drunk ("person") or a baseball bat and a drink ("object")? It may seem like a distinction without difference until you imagine a fourth panel for each example: if the baseball player swings and the fourth panel presents him rounding the bases, the "single subject" had to be him; if the batter swings and the fourth panel presents the bat flying into the stands and injuring a spectator, the "single subject" must have been the bat. Implicit in retroactive determinations of the sort is a more complicated argument about what the meaningful elements within a panel are. Here's the Thompson I'm pairing with the above: What is the subject of this panel? Is it Thompson or the blood on his hands? An argument can made be for either (though obviously one is more interesting the the other)....
“WE UNDERSTAND, the yogurt said. WE HOPE YOU HAVE STOCKED UP ON CANNED GOODS.” Though I tend to disagree with his criticism of other science fiction authors, I do love it when Scalzi embraces his titular WHATEVER and goes off on an anti-objectivist rant: It’s no exaggeration when I say that Atlas Shrugged probably saved my sanity on that bus trip. So well done, Ms. Rand, and thanks. That said, it’s a totally ridiculous book which can be summed up as Sociopathic idealized nerds collapse society because they don’t get enough hugs. (This is, incidentally, where you can start your popcorn munching.) Indeed, the enduring popularity of Atlas Shrugged lies in the fact that it is nerd revenge porn — if you’re an nerd of an engineering-ish stripe who remembers all too well being slammed into your locker by a bunch of football dickheads, then the idea that people like you could make all those dickheads suffer by “going Galt” has a direct line to the pleasure centers of your brain. I’ll show you! the nerds imagine themselves crying. I’ll show you all! And then they disappear into a crevasse that Google Maps will not show because the Google people are our kind of people, and a year later they come out and everyone who was ever mean to them will have starved. Then these nerds can begin again, presumably with the help of robots, because any child in the post-Atlas Shrugged world who can’t figure out how to run a smelter within ten minutes of being pushed through the birth canal will be left out for the coyotes. Which if nothing else solves the problem of day care. All of this is fine, if one recognizes that the idealized world Ayn Rand has created to facilitate her wishful theorizing has no more logical connection to our real one than a world in which an author has imagined humanity ruled by intelligent cups of yogurt. But the reason the man earns my respect is that he puts his money where his mouth-of-a-novelist-of-ideas is and writes the damn thing: The yogurt was crafty and shrewd. It negotiated for itself a factory filled with curdling vats that increased its processing powers exponentially. Within weeks the yogurt had declared that it had arrived at solutions to many of the country’s problems: Energy. Global warming. Caring adequately for the nation’s poor while still promoting the capitalist system. It let us know just enough to let us know just how much more it knew. Share your answers with us, the government said. WE NEED PAYMENT, the yogurt said. What would you like? The government asked. OHIO, the yogurt said. (Tip o’ the hat to .todd.)

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