Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud:
I like this book. But it isn't my first time reading it--try eighth or ninth. I've written two theses (an Honors and Masters) on superheroes, and both times this book served as my jumping off point.
But I want to review this book now as I've used it for another purpose: teaching Freshman Composition II. Being as how comics is my field of study, and I'm always trying to encourage new lovers of it, I decided to make my summer writing course a subjects course based around comics (that is, all their research would be based around comics). Naturally, before diving into the subject, I felt it necessary for them to read McCloud.
So how did that go? Much better than I first anticipated. Even from the first chapter they were into it--all of them! I was shocked. Those who were really glad they weren't reading from a more traditional rhetoric book and those who read or used to read comics, of course, loved it. Those who grew up loving Superman, Dragon Ball, or Avatar, loved it. But even those who thought of comics as a waste of time and were upset that their college education was being wasted on comic books liked it because it challenged their misconceptions, or demonstrated effective arguments, or talked about "high art." And having this text behind them made reading, discussing, and taking the other comics of the class seriously much easier.
But where McCloud worked more beautifully than I could have ever imagined was when it came time to learn how to deconstruct an argument. Thanks to Dylan Horrocks' critique of McCloud, Inventing Comics, they quickly learned that just because an argument sounds good it doesn't mean it is good. In his essay, Horrocks takes apart McCloud's arguments on the basis that they are theory, regardless of the fact that McCloud (very cleverly) passes them off as infallible. Granted, Horrocks is critiquing for an academic audience, for who McCloud is not writing, but my students were able to learn the importance of evidence, credibility, research, planting naysayers, and metacommentary, while learning about comics in the way that would best suit their research for the class.
Maus: A Survivor's Tale, by Art Spiegelman:
I just finished rereading Spiegelman's Pullitzer Prize winning masterpiece. I cried at the end. Yes, it still moved me as much this time as it did the first. And it was this graphic novel that convinced me that not all good comics had to be about superheroes.
But I read it this time with a different purpose in mind. I read it to decide whether or not I want to use it as my Reading and Writing for College courses' text this fall. The idea first struck me when I saw how much my Freshman Composition II class this summer enjoyed reading only an excerpt (aside from Understanding Comics, they enjoyed it the most). Of course, when I asked them how they would have enjoyed reading Maus instead of The Autobiography of Malcolm X (the old course text) the majority agreed they would have liked it better but were concerned that (as a comic) it would not have adequately prepared them for Freshman Composition I the following semester.
But rereading it, I'm not sure they're right about the later concern. For starters, like Malcolm X, Maus is an autobiography, which leaves it open to the same kind of analysis and deeper reading ("Why do we think he did this? Was he right to do that? What's he really saying here?"). And perhaps my student's couldn't fully grasp this only reading one chapter to be discussed one day versus having spent an entire semester on Malcolm X.
Also, Maus would be a companion text to an actual course reader of essays for studying rhetoric (it sucks, I know, but I believe it's necessary). So what I think I'll do is make Maus the secondary text in one of my classes (the experiment group) and leave the other sections to follow the normal syllabus (the control group) in which they're allowed to choose their own text from a department made list (which includes Maus anyway).
Amulet - Book 1: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi:
I first read about this comic on Panel Discussion. I was immediately captured by the incredible artwork. Then I happened to see it at my local book store, Tome on the Range. I picked it up and started flipping through it when an employee spied me perusing it and told me how great it is--I'd been wondering which employee had put graphic novels on the "Staff Picks" section. That did it. So I put in a request for it through my university's Interlibrary Loan, and it arrived about a week later (that's insanely fast for a comic ILL).
It's a very short read, and I finished it in a couple if hours. Let me start by saying that the art which first intrigued me did not disappoint. I can't quite explain what it is about the style that so draws me to it, but it's amazing. The splash pages (full page panels--a little comics lingo for you) are simply beautiful, and the ending, double-wide splash page definitely makes me anxious for Book 2. But that said, the book is mainly a visual marvel.
I hate to say it, but the prologue--in which a family member tragically dies--is the most intriguing part: it has the best dialogue, the best structure, and by far the best character development. And unfortunately, the character who is developed the most in the entire book is the one who dies here. That's not to say the other main characters never do anything after the prologue, just that we never get a real why for their actions. And after the prologue, the story begins almost identically to The Spiderwick Chronicles (the movie, at least; I haven't read the book). Granted, by about 10 pages in, it's clear this isn't Spiderwick, but that feeling was still there and a little disappointing.
Don't get me wrong. The story is far from bad: it's intriguing, creative, and near the end, we get some quirky, cutesy characters that fit well. But the writing isn't great: the dialogue is not on par with the beauty of the characters' drawn expressions, and the pacing is far too quick (leaving me with way too many questions, even if this is only Book 1).
Rating : 3.5/5