20 June 2009

Catching Up: Tom DeHaven's "It's Superman!" and "Under the Hood" Ch. 1-5 AND A Link

For homework this weekend, we're reading a few chapters from the climax of Tom De Haven's novel It's Superman! and the "Under the Hood" chapters from Alan Moore's Watchmen. Since these selections do not entirely stand on their own, this will be a quick synopsis to place them within the context of their greater works.

It's Superman! is a novel I read for my Master's Thesis, but it isn't you're typical superhero novel (most of which are just really cheesy prose versions of popular story arcs from the comics). De Haven's novel takes place in the late 1930s, coinciding with the actual release of Action Comics #1 and, of course, the first published appearance of Superman. It tells the story of young Clark Kent's life leading up to his decision to don a costume and use his newly developing superpowers in the form of a road trip with his best friend (ironically, a photographer who can actually keep Clark's secret) from his hometown of Smallville, Kansas, to New York City. Along the way, Clark deals with the problems all American's were facing in the late '30s--rampant racism, recovery from the Great Depression, and the looming threat of war in Europe. Also along the way, Clark is tested with opportunities to save people, all of whom he fails. Soon after arriving in New York, he meets the headstrong Lois Lane and is persuaded by his friend to intervene when a crazed robot, invented by none other than Lex Luthor begins terrorizing the city.

We discussed in class how 1986 was a big year in comics history, with the near simultaneous release of Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale, Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and Moore's Watchmen. One of the things that really makes Watchmen stand apart--from not only other comics but the the other two works that were published that year--is its use of large portions of prose. Every issue of Watchmen ends with a large segment of text that is not (according McCloud's definition) comics. In some cases, this text supplements the ongoing story. "Under the Hood" is an autobiography written by one of the superheroes whose story is told in Watchmen, and these five chapters from his book are the text that appeared at the end of the first three issues of the comic. They serve as background information to explain how the America that exists in Alan Moore's 1980s came to be.

That should catch you up so you don't feel lost when reading this weekend's readings.

Something else of interest it this webcomic that Scott McCloud posted a link to on his blog: Jason Little's "Motel Art Improvement Service." This is an interesting comic. It's pretty short; I started reading it and suddenly realized I'd read the whole thing. It's pretty good. It follows the story of 18 year old Bee heading out on a cross-country bike ride at the start of her summer. As with most coming of age stories, things do go quite as well as she'd planned, and she finds herself falling in with an artist who cleans hotel rooms by day and "improves" lame hotel room paintings by night. It's a good read in that "summer time adventure" kind of way. A warning to those made uncomfortable by overt sex and drug use: there's a fair bit of it :-) But really, that's what most "coming of age stories" are about, right? I mean, look at American Pie ;-) Of course, this reading isn't required, but you might find it useful depending on your Research Paper topic, so keep it in mind.

18 June 2009

Blah, Blah, Blah... That's All I'm Getting From You

The conclusion for Up, Up, and Oy Vey!, by Simon Weinstein is about how Jewish culture is so entwined into superhero stories. There are four “rules” that most superheroes follow that goes the same with Jewish beliefs: good always wins over evil, normal people can do super things, it is never too late, and you cannot hide from yourself. In superhero stories there is hardly ever a situation when the villain comes out of battle as the victor. Weinstein writes about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, as “a recurrent theme in the holiday prayers is envisioning a time in which good and righteous people will look at the world and ‘They will see and rejoice… and all corruption will disappear like a puff of smoke, and evil rulers will vanish’” (Weinstein 124). We all have the abilities to overcome bad temptations which makes us strong even if we are “normal.” Also there is never a moment in our lives that we can’t return to. We have the abilities to make up for our wrong doings. It does not matter when we do it, as long as we do it. Superheroes are always battling themselves and trying to fit in, but the truth is that they can’t just as we can’t. You cannot hide from the person that you are inside. Weinstein encourages his readers to be themselves and be more than that, whether it is saving someone from a burning building or offering your seat to someone on the bus.
I liked the conclusion of Up, Up, and Oy Vey! It encourages me to be myself a little more. I know it is true that everyone does hide a fraction of themselves from the public, so I’m no alone. I think that I would achieve total peace if I could just be myself on a regular basis.
“The Myth of Superman” by Umberto Eco is about Superman and how he relates to normal people. Superheroes are equipped with a lot of abilities, but these abilities are rooted to human characteristics. Even though Superman has so many powers, he never seems to help places outside of the United States, unless he leaves the planet altogether. Superman has achieved such a sense of immortality as well because the stories have presented in a way that does not represent time.
I didn’t like this reading very much because it confused the crap out of me. I could barely even write a summary about it.

Up Up and Up as long as we keep Superman out of it.

Up, Up, and Oy Vey is how Jewish history, culture, and values shaped the comic book superhero. Weinstein talks about how many Jewish themes and ideas the are in both older and modern superhero comics. Weinstein discuss how every new generation of hero comics show themes found in the bible. Some examples of this are heroes such as Superman invoking integrity, Batman-justice, Captain America-patriotism, Justice League- teamwork and Spider-man responsibility and redemption. Weinstein then goes on to discusses Spider-man and how his struggle in particular shows a lot of Jewish themes. Such as Spider-mans guilt for the death of his uncle. Then Spider-man thinks he could have prevented the death merely by stopping the robbers. So Spider-man spends his life “trying to pay down his own guilt” The slight difference in this opposed to other Jewish stories is that this guilt is caused by his uncle not his mother. Another similarity is the physical appearance of Peter Parker, Weinstein says “he is drawn as a dark haired, spectacled, neurotic worrier...has a dry sense of humor.” All things you hear stereotypical Jews being noted for.
I found this to be such a fascinating read. I had recently found out that most of my family came from Germany in the late 30’s and early 40’s to escape Nazi Germany. My family is predominantly German-Jew so any time I come across something that can help me get a better grasp on the Jewish identity I’m in. However, this reading gave me more. Not only has my appreciation for comics grown in these last two weeks I even feel like I might be connecting with them even more now, never mind if Weinstein’s ideas or theories are correct, it still gave me a connection with a medium that until two weeks ago was nothing more than “kiddy fare.” I fully plan on finding the book this reading came out of and giving it another look.
Unfortunately, the second reading was not as enjoyable as Up, Up, and Oy Vey. I found myself getting lost over and over, and I never really grasped the idea or concept that Umberto Eco was trying to get across. I guess after reading Scott McCloud I expect everything on comics to have some kind of spice, or at least the ability to hold my attention for longer than 30 seconds.

History, Biblical History & More History

Chapter four, The Myth of Superman written by Umberto Eco, discusses how heroes from “Hercules to Siegfried, from Roland to Pantagruel, all the way to Peter Pan” have been equipped with powers that are not common to men (107). The myth of Superman is describing the many differences in the structure and the “civilization” of the novel (109). According to Eco, the main interest of readers in a “civilization” modern novel is how the plot of the story gains the attention of the readers (109). He discusses that in order to understand the plot of the story/comic the character must be defines for the readers to understand what is expected and how the story will play out. In a novel the hero is characterized with events that lead to catastrophe. In Superman it is a little more difficult because it was published only in weekly editions with a couple of pages where the problem was identified, he solved the problem and it things were back to normal. It kept the readers waiting till the next issue was released. Unlike a novel that tells the whole story in one book and does not end until the book is finished. The reading myth of Superman, included: Superman as a model of ‘heterodirection’, civic conscious and political consciousness, and the role of the reader.
As if I was not already confused about comics we read the Myth of Superman that incorporates the history comics and superhero’s with Superman as a model, heterdirection, civic conscious and political conscious and the role of the reader came about. I tried to be open minded and learn from the reading but after reading it three times I realized that I must be stupid because it made no sense to me. Maybe while discussing the reading in class I can understand something of what I read.
In the Up, Up, and Oy Vey written by Simcha Weinstein, the author tells us that there were superpatriachs and supermatriarchs of the Bible before any of our superhero’s like Superman, Spiderman, and Batman. Jewish Americans were amongst the first to created superhero’s that were going to conquer evil. They created hero’s that represented Jewish traditions like Superman personifies integrity, Batman personifies justice, Captain America was identified as personifying patriotism, Hulk as anger, Spiderman as responsibility and redemption and so forth. Jewish people are under the assumption that if the word “man” is written afterwards a last name it’s probably that they are Jewish or a superhero.
I was amazed to see the origination of our superhero’s and how they carry values that represent good and noble behaviors. When these comics were created it seems that they were created to inspire young children and teach moral values. I enjoyed the religious aspect of the reading as well I never really thought of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David, Samson, and Elijah as hero’s. I just knew that they protected and served their people.

Mice Hate Germans

I was told was to go ahead and read the comics on the list from e-reserves. Not knowing which one specifically, I read one, Maus, a Survivors Tale. The story started out very weird and I admit, I didn’t quite get the introduction and the author’s direction seemed a little off. I also didn’t like the way the author chose to end his tale. I wanted to know how his will played out and if the son ever learned to not take his father for granted. It ends real sudden and with no closure whatsoever!
Anyway, I’m really glad this was one of our readings. I was very fortunate to see the holocaust museum on Monday and learned a lot more about the whole Nazi organization, Hitler’s plan and “human” standards, the “ghettos,” and tons more. I even noticed in one of the panels, the mice are wearing striped attire, which was the Jew forced attire.
At first look, anyone would refer to this comic as a cartoon, but it’s anything but a simply child’s story. The mouse is telling his particular experience through the concentration camps and ghettos and how he managed to dodge the Germans and keep safe.
Still, the ending and beginning are confusing, but nonetheless, holocaust stories are most interesting…especially the survivor ones.

17 June 2009

An Increased Interest

All I can say is WOW! Before reading Up, Up, and Oy Vey!, I really had no idea that, for one, Jewish men were the ones that created comics, and two, superheros in those comics were created to relate/reflect on Jewish tradition and "superpatriarchs and supermatriarchs" of the Bible. This increases my interest in comics more than before. Superman "personifies" the Jewish tradition of integrity, Batman "personifies" justice, and Spider-Man "personifies" responsibility and redemption..just to name a few. It's crazy to think about all the history and values comics have. Never would I have guessed that the history had so much meaning.

It was interesting to read that, at first, Marvel publisher Martin Goodman didn't like the idea of a teenage superhero; Spider-Man. When Spider-Man creator, Stan Lee, first pitched the idea of Spider-Man in the 1960s, Goodman "hated it," but his "philosophy about adolescent superheros" soon turned. Two men, Michael Chabon and Sam Raimi (director of the Spider-Man movies), believe that Spider-Man is a "character that spends his life trying to pay down his guilt." This is shown to be a Jewish quality. Spider-Man is also shows "anonymity" which is another Jewish quality in that Jews give to charities anonymously. Many young male readers can also relate to Spider-Man by the simple fact that he, or should i say his alter ego Peter Parker, is just an average teenager with usual teenage issues.

Now, for The Myth of Superman...I have absolutely no idea what Umberto Eco wrote! I probably only understood his description of Superman's powers and how Superman is a myth but at the same time is accepted by most readers. I can see how Superman's tasks are those which take place in real life, thus making him well accepted. Also, Eco does make some sense in writing about how the stories of Superman need to be well thought out in the attempt to not kill off his character right away. Eco gives an example of Superman not marrying Lois Lane because this would mean Superman is another step closer to his death.

The Myth of Superman definitely made my head hurt, but it certainly did not decrease my interest in Superman. I just kind of wish I can understand what Eco's words mean!

Blog Blog Bo Blog Bananafana Fo Flog

Wow.  Are you kidding me?  I did not understand The Myth of Superman no matter how hard I read it.  In fact, the harder I read it the more my eyes and head started hurting.  Wait, let me take some of that back.  I did understand the first two sentences and that was it.  It stated something about super powers being a constant of the imagination ever since hero comics have been around.  That everyone secretly wishes to attain these powers for themselves but means of obtaining them are only impossible.  For example, being exposed to gamma radiation is how Bruce Banner was turned into the gigantic beast know as the Incredible Hulk.  Peter Parker is bitten by a radio-active spider and now he can climb walls and has super strength and agility.  So, there is absolutely no way any of this can happen to anyone here living in reality land.  Again, I apologize but this is seriously all I can understand from The Myth of Superman.
So let's move on to Up Up and Oy Vey!  OK so a bunch of Jewish people have created a few super hero comic books, and Superman, Batman, and Spiderman all have names that resemble Jewish last names if you consider their "man" suffix.  All this is coincidence to me.  Though, whether it really is or not is actually no concern to me.  I read comic books for a pleasing story and well drawn art.  I do not read them because of the main character's nationality or religious views.  On that note, I'm glad Jewish people like comics and now that I'm done reading The Myth of superman my headache went away.

History, Comics and Superheroes

As I read the next few required readings, and listening to the discussions in class about comics, from Scott McCloud to Horrock's, I see that comics have a lot of history, which I never realized comics had so much of. The various authors who write about Superman, Spider Man, Batman and the history of comics all together seem to have done plenty of research to go back to the beginning of superheroes and comics. I find all of the writings interesting, somewhat confusing, but helpful in understanding the origin and explanation to these comics, how and when they were started.

I find it somewhat ironic when Weinstein in Up, Up, and OyVey, states, "Before Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, there were super patriarchs of the bible and heroic figures named Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David and Samson-not to mention the miracle-working prophet Elijah and those Jewish wonder women Ruth and Esther just to name a few." I would have never thought of knowing about our superheroes in our religious history, and using superheroes from comics in the same paragraph.

As I read on, I find myself becoming more and more interested in not only the superhero of the comic, but also reading deep into the history of comics and the superheroes that come along with the comics. In my opinion, there is much more into comics, that seems to come out in the readings on E-Reserves such as "The Myth of Super Man." I guess there is history to everything we read and learn, it just depends on how much we actually read and learn about the subject. When we read and learn the history, I think this is when we either find the topic interesting, or we don't, in my case, I have found the topics on comics and superhero's very interesting.

I am excited to continue and becoming familiar with other comics in the future.

16 June 2009

Let's Wrap It Up.

McCloud’s definition of art was brilliant. My own definition of art is not even close to his. This guy is obviously on his own level beyond many. Anyway, in Chapter Seven, McCloud states that his definition of art is any sort of human activity besides our two basic instincts which are of course, survival and reproduction. I thought about that for a second and thought… “Okay, that could be anything…don’t get it.” Then McCloud stated that because art is something on another level than eating or having sex. It’s the way we express our own identities and break out of nature. He breaks art down into three uses: one, being exercise for our own mind and body, two, self expression, and three as a (sometimes random) discovery tool. I love how McCloud explains art to be “pure” and once an artist sells his art (for money-survival) it’s no longer “pure.” That makes total sense and I’ve seen that situation in many local artists here in Las Vegas. “I paint for the expressionism, not money.” The second he got a chance to sell his work in a gallery he did and has been selling his “art” –no matter how silly it looks, for a few months now.
McCloud’s six steps to the creation of “any work in any medium” are also very informative. This is another thing that applied to my own life without me even noticing whatsoever. It makes sense to say that any type of creation without one of these steps will not be successful and McCloud gives many examples to explain how.
Chapter Nine, Putting it All Together is pretty self-explanatory. McCloud is basically, refreshing the reader by mentioning the whole juxtaposed, pictorial…definition. Also, he tries even harder to help readers see comics as he does by asking the reader to clear our mind of any pre-negative comments about comics and separate the word “comic” from it’s contents. Beautifully done and overall, McCloud has succeeded in changing my own opinion of comics.

15 June 2009

Two Weeks Down, Six More to Go!

Well, our second week of class has come to a close (only six left!), the first round of essays have been turned in (well, most of them...), and we're done with Scott McCloud (for now, anyway). To kick off our next "unit" of the class, we're starting by reading Dylan Horrocks' critique of Understanding Comics and McCloud's theories in general: Inventing Comics. Just click on the link and enjoy pure, unadulterated rhetorical critique! Besides the fact that Understanding Comics is probably the best analysis and entry into the medium of comics, I also chose this book to study McCloud's brilliant rhetoric (the way he formulates, presents, and defends his argument that comics are art). Our first essay was basically the same kind of writing Horrocks is doing but to a very scaled down degree (we only analyze one topic where Horrocks is analyzing...all of them, I think). And Horrocks' probably isn't as nice about calling out McCloud's rhetorical trickery as our essays are :-)

One of our next readings we'll be the Superman story from Action Comics #1! This marked the very first appearance of Superman and really kicked off superheroes as a genre. You only need to read the Superman story for class, but you should really read the rest of the comic, as well. For one, that we have access to the comic (even in digital form) is a huge deal seeing as how a mint-condition copy of it is worth around $500,000. But you might also find something useful in there for your research paper. I had a student who analyzed the kinds of advertisements that appeared in comics as a paper topic, and that issue was helpful for her. Just sayin'.

After that, our next few readings will be from E-Reserves. That link should take you to the page, as well. I'll give out the password in class...when I know what it is :-/ But we'll talk about that more on Tuesday.

Lastly, despite a lackluster showing on the poll in our sidebar, it looks like the blog is largely fine as is? Okay then. Look for a new poll soon...about something or other...In the meantime, I look forward to reading some essays!