I thought I would start out by conveying some of my coworkers’ thoughts on graphic novels. One of my coworkers said that they are usually “too busy,” and that it’s hard to get through a graphic novel in a timely fashion. When another coworker agreed with her, she added that our high school students cannot possibly get through graphic books quickly enough because, while we would focus on the text and concentrate on the story, they would make the mistake of concentrating too much on the images. In the course of that conversation, when I realized I didn’t quite agree with those two coworkers, I also realized just how much these two graphic novels would appeal to a number of my students…. and then I remembered that I could never quite get away with teaching books this racy in public school.
That said, I love both of these books. The Shooting War read like a movie to me, if that makes any sense. It reminded me of a visit I made to a friend who worked at Disney Pixar Studios. I happened to visit just after the release of The Incredibles, and I got a chance to see those graphics displayed on boards along the hallways of the building. It was enchanting to see computerized graphics identifying the characters and the scenes, just displayed as wall decoration.
In any case, the animated form of such a traumatic tale really renders a different kind of tone to this book. I realize that graphic novels must take an incredible amount of collaboration and a broad range of skills in order to be successful and powerful. I think these two books succeed– and though others may find characters or plotlines to be trite or contrived, I thoroughly enjoyed the juxtaposition of the serious topics with the representation which we have often called “comic.” I understand the correct terminology is graphic, but there are certain comical elements in each book– well, obviosuly in In the Shadow of No Towers– so I wonder what it means to draw out a story. Is comedy an essential element, something we expect from “cartoons”? It is always so striking to read about melancholy topics when the stories are animated– like Art Spiegelman’s other famous graphic novel, Maus, based on his father’s struggle to survive the Holocaust.
So what does it mean to create a trauma tale using pictures? In film, it means that you are able to have images speak for themsleves; take for instance the scene in Atonement (which is actually just one five-minute tracking shot that took tens of thousands of extras to film) which pans the shore of Dunkirk as something like 300,000 British troops await evacuation during World War II. In The Shooting War and in In the Shadow of No Towers, trauma is almost made comical, perhaps as a coping mechanism, but definitely as part of a larger political message.
Both books clearly present liberal messages, which follows with the tradition of many of our visual industries– particularly Hollywood and the American media (or so the conservative party cried during a somewhat biased coverage of Barack Obama during the election). I wonder whether video games, another venue for graphic representation, could be categorized as much less liberal. I wonder whether the politically charged themes in these books contrast with the shoot-’em-up style of so many popular video games. I am not sure where I am going with that, but I guess I am noticing a connection between a lot of graphic images we “read” today– and a liberal spin on the messages implicit (or explicit) in those images.
That also brings to mind another question that occurred to me as I read these two books: Does Postmodernism lean left? Or does literature do that more generally? As for these books, clearly Lappe and Goldman had concerns over McCain becoming president. Alanna expressed the opinion I share, that The Shooting War has not necessarily become outdated or “unprophetic,” but rather it has presented an alternative universe. I have to wonder whether Lappe and Goldman wanted to at all influence the impending presidential election with this book. Likewise with In the Shadow of No Towers on page 10, the inscription under the mice being clobbered by cowboy boots reads, “And September ’04? Cowboy boots drop on Ground Zero as New York is transferred into a stage set for the Republican Presidential Convention, and Tragedy is transformed into Travesty.” Though he does try to balance out criticism of Democrats and Republicans, the anti-Bush sentiment throughout the text and the overwhelming discussion of the rip-off in the 2000 election clearly come from a liberal point-of-view. If that kind of conversation’s not politically charged, I don’t know what is.
Overall, in spite of my convoluted and rather jumbled train of thought in this entry, I really enjoyed reading these two graphic novels. I know that they are both rather controversial, too, which should make for fun class discussion, and more so, make for an interesting consideration of what makes these texts postmodern. And in response to my coworkers, I do want to say that though these texts are too controversial to teach at the high school level, I am going to see what I can do to get my hands on some other graphic novels because I believe that younger generations (myself included) really benefit from and enjoy the combination of animation and text when reading a story.