Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Cow Talks Comics

This is a second installment as an assignment for my Topics in Professional Writing class at Idaho State University. We read three comics (Boxers & Saints, Asterios Polyp and Logicomix) and are to discuss them in a blog.

I loved the Sunday comics. This is not about comics like that. Another term for the medium is "graphic novel."  I've confessed before that I’m not a much of a reader and this assignment has let me know that even when encased in comics, I still don’t love to read. Of the three comics we read, I found the experience of reading two of them to be pleasant. The third just stressed me out.
Maybe if I assumed the lounging &relaxed position,
in a cow suit, that's what I'd feel while reading.
Boxers & Saints by Geen Luen Yang

The first graphic novel I read is Boxers/Saints. I went into this prepared to hate it. I didn't. Win! From the Amazon description, Boxers & Saints are two companion graphic novel volumes set during China's Boxer Rebellion.

I read Boxers first & wonder how my impression
of the series would differ had I read it last.
I'll never know
The exercise in reading these two books was fun for a few reasons:

(1) It was quick. I often feel the stillness involved in reading is wasteful and maddening, but because these went quickly, reading didn't lead to any bouts of mad cow. The panels were succinct and laid out orderly to facilitate quick consumption. My kind of comic.

(2) The content was interesting.  The characters were surprisingly and quickly well-developed in the graphics and I was engaged in the story line immediately. 

(3) It was thought -provoking. I began with Boxers so I found myself much more sympathetic to their side in the Chinese rebellion rather than the side of the Christians or the "white devils" portrayed in Saints, but realizing my shifting or questioning attitudes as I progressed through the second book was great fodder for the mind. 

(4) I experienced something new and therefore learned a few new things about myself. On the rare occasion that I do read, I find myself thinking about characters and story lines. I did that here too, but I realized that my mind's images traversed between the comic characters and more lifelike inventions in my mind. 

Something still unresolved for me, however, is that there is considerably more color in Boxers than there is in Saints.  I brought this up in class and we wondered if this was the authors way of painting the Chinese in a more positive light than the Christians, but in researching him, he identifies as a Catholic so that wouldn't really make sense.

I spent a fair amount of time googling these books to see if I could find a reference to the colors and palate, but I haven't turned up anything yet.  I did learn, however, that the amount of information available on the internet relating to this series or anything else I may be assigned to read is astounding. 

The media with which we are creating and producing assignments has changed since I was last a student as has the setting for research. It would be easy to borrow or flat out steal content for these assignments, but I luckily, in addition to being a staunch rule-follower, I view that as self-defeating and classless.  And this cow's got class, darn it. (As the previous blog explained.)

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

I liked this book more as it went on, but it took a bit. It was busy and hard to follow until my eyes and mind were used to digesting the material.

Asterios Polyp is narrated by the main character's (Asterios') still born twin brother.  Yeah. That right there lets readers know they are in for a ride.

As the class embarked upon a discussion of this book, we flitted from talking about themes, plots, foreshadowing, character breakdowns and allusions to Greek mythology to the media itself. The graphics in a graphic novel add an entirely new dimension to analyze and dissect. I found myself grateful that this genre wasn't prolific during my youth because this extra dimension of analysis in any high school essay would have seriously encroached upon my social life.

[I'm torn and a little confused here with the directive "Discuss the readings." As this is a class on various media used to create professional writing, should I be focused more on the content here or the media? Oy.]

The story begins with a storm and lightening bolt graphic and then Asterios' disheveled apartment catching on fire. He flees and then the story features present day and flashbacks illustrating the rise and fall of his architecture teaching career and his marriage with brief commentary from his bitter, never-born twin, Ignazio. Ignazio loves Asterios and is rooting for him, but he does wonder why he had to be the one to die and Asterios lived. Asterios wonders the same thing.

Asterios Polyp is not delivered in neat, organized panels, but rather the comics are all over the place. Some pictures have a border, some don't. A rhythm in the design and delivery might appear for a few pages and then BAM! There'd be a highly detailed and scattered graphic that demanded I divert my focus from words and dialogue of the story and focus on the artistic content. I realize that this is part of the overall experience of this genre, but the stop and start reminiscent of a lurching amusement park ride did not amuse me.

Asterios is an arrogant jerk with whom I sympathized throughout the novel. That's likely due to his being drawn in vitro with that same baby-esque head that he maintained throughout the work. Children evoke empathy. Although, his round, baby head was contrasted with a stiff suit and collar and a cigarette, he is clearly just a kid trying to get by in spite of his own folly. (Aren't we all?)

 I was initially distracted by the number of fonts until I realized that each different font represented a different character. It seemed to add to the chaos of the material, but once I realized that differentiation, my mind could parse and accept it better.

I could write about the symbolism in the text and graphics of this book until the cows come home. Really. This book alone could be the topic of a single class with weeks on end.

We could take a week for color and color pairings. Font styles and character matching. he flowers on the inside cover. The content in and out of panels and frames. The angles and curves. The cat. The fat guy. (Cats and fat guys ALWAYS mean something.) The knick-knacks. The airplane that shows up in the clouds throughout the book. The allusion to numerous Greek classics. Asterios' watch, lighter and pocket knife that he saves in the fire. The lack of page numbers. (Who does that!?)  This would be a class I may or may not sign up for.

Fortunately this is supposed to be a blog and blogs are supposed to be short (ish), so until that class...thanks Asterios, Ignazio and David Mazzucchelli. It's been real. 

Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis,  Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos PapadatosAnnie Di Donna

I had such high hopes for this read.  I began it on the recumbent bike at the ISU gym—but not in a cow suit. After ten minutes on the bike, my overwhelming thought was,  "Holy cow! I'm out of shape because this book is heavy and my elbow creases are too sweaty to keep reading."  The book hardly snagged my focus as I was more focused on my physical  ineptitudes. I tried reading it at the gym, a coffee shop, in a hammock, during breakfast, in my lazy boy, and before bed. None of these places made this more readable for me.

Logicomix is a non-fiction graphic novel which details the life of Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, mathematician and logician. The present day authors show up every now and then--in comic form--to discuss their endeavor of writing a comic about ole Bertie.  In present day, "Bertie" would either be dirt poor and considered eccentric or teaching. Oh. Wait.

The book discusses the madness that many a philosopher and logician of the time was thought to suffer. Stories and accounts like this have me waffling between wishing for that same zest for knowledge encroaching madness and living the life of simpleton Forrest Gump. I'll settle somewhere in the middle as an engineer in a cow suit, thank you.

The present day authors' intrusion upon the story was exactly that. A distracting intrusion. I realized that I find present day philosophers and logicians pompus and irritating while there's much more romanticism surrounding those of old. Bertrand was likely just as much of a self-unaware jerk but he's got history to help soften the lens through which I see him. Enjoyed the old guys; resented the new ones.

Someone in our class discussion characterized the book as "dense." That really is the perfect word. The topic itself is dense and dizzying and the cartoons and dialogue telling the story were as well. Many of the page's panels broke the rule of of 20-25 words to a speech balloon and 30-25 words per panel. Dense is great for fudge; not for a graphic novel. (For me.)

I appreciated the color and the actual artwork and the page numbers of this work, but I honestly couldn't quite finish it. It spark barely enough interest in Betrand Russell for me to look him up on wikipedia and to wonder how I might respond to other works about his life and accomplishments, but that's about it. I only wondered.

Closing Thoughts

One of my lil calf buddies had his first gymnastics practice this week. He did great for the first 10 minutes during the jumping, tumbling and headstands, but when the coach corrected his form on a handstand, he cried and quit. He said it was too "hard."

This kid never sits still. He does headstands ANYWHERE and can boost himself into a pike position and hold it for over 20 seconds. He just fears the new and uncomfortable and it takes a few experiences before he realizes, "Hey. I like this."

That could be me and the comic genre. Could be.  I like to moooove almost as much as this kid though, so I probably won't be spending much spare time seeking out the latest and greatest graphic novel let alone talking about them. I'm intrigued at the possibility of incorporating a comic or two into some of my professional blogs, however. This cow might want to talk about those comics.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Cow's Got Class

Oh how I wish I were dolled up in mascara and pearls and sipping wine.

THAT would be a cow with class.

But nope. I’m taking Topics in Professional Writing at Idaho State University this semester. This blog is an assignment for class. And to get in the blog, there must be a cow suit.

The College Market.
I loved coconut lattes & Italian sodas here
20 years ago with my engineering books.
Now it's an almond milk latte with no flavoring.
I miss coconut & the ability to consume
700 calorie beverages without a second thought.
The assignment is to (in a blog) discuss Ch 3 and 9 from our text. 

Wait. So in a blog? Does that mean I get to disregard virtually all protocol for proper writing and citations? Can I lace the text with my inner most thoughts about anything at all that no one really wants to read on the Internet? Might I dip in and out of first and third person and offer opinions with zero data to back them up? I'm not sure how to merge a class assignment and a blog. This could be an udder disaster.

The New Media Writer
The class text is The New Media Writer by Sean Morey. My verdict is still out on the book, but my first thought is that the choice of green, yellow, and orange for the cover seems old fashioned. They remind me of the 70's avocado, rust and maize which seems misaligned with a text on the latest software and media to produce an array of professional writings. But then...most college students today have no schema for the colors of 70's appliances or shag carpet.

Reading books like this is best at coffee shop tables.
Chapter 3 "Reading Visual Arguments"

The best part of this chapter is the opening paragraph which reminds me what I'm doing with the darn book in the first place. I like reminders, reframing and recaps.

"As mentioned in the preface, this text's primary goal is to have you making your own images for your own rhetorical purposes. However, an understanding of how to 'read' or view other people's images from rhetorical perspectives can help make you a better designer and producer of new media texts."

Most of this chapter and subsequent class discussion reminded me of the marketing classes I took years ago. The content wasn't all that new, but it was blissfully full of reminders, reframing and recaps.

It seems like a lot of my educational content through the years has entailed either snazzy mnemonics or concepts conveyed with shapes.  For instance, I learned the ordering of the planets from the Sun with My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nachos corresponding to Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. I also still visualize the checks and balances triangle representing the three branches of government. This text has followed nicely by introducing me to the rhetorical tetrahedron. (Sigh, I miss coaching the middle school math kids.)

Here's a little animated GIF that the author came up with to illustrate it.

The four faces include the following:
logos: the logic of an argument
pathos: an appeal to one's identity in which most people have an emotional investment
ethos: a writer's credibility
kairos: the timing of when a message is communicated

I was mildly disappointed that the GIF above doesn't include the edge labels that the author discusses in the book which are writer, audience, message, design, medium and genre, but it does offer a pleasant visual as we got started.

This entire chapter encourages the reader to assess visual arguments--ads, internet memes, illustrations, anything other than text that our eyes come across--and identify their elements corresponding to the rhetorical tetrahedron "edges and faces". After we are able to assess them, we'll be equipped to create good ones. Hopefully.

Chapter 9 "Scripts (Writing)"

The best line of this chapter comes on page 267:

"Writing in words has always been an important tool for writing in images, and this chapter will cover the ways that traditional writing can transfer to final outputs, which may not even contain words."

This is my first real look at screenplays. It makes sense to me as it pertains to movies or TV commercials, but our instructor asked us to specifically consider the content for directing or generating a comic, either a single panel or series of them. This was a little new for my cow brain.  I'm not artistic. I've never considered authoring or drawing any kind of comic since the "Design an Ad" contest I was forced to enter in elementary school. After this foray at learning something new, maybe I can try juggling on a unicycle in the homecoming parade.

I read about script formatting, dialogue, narration, storyboards, captions, and instructions as they pertain to movies, plays, commercials and shorts. The example movie script was from The Hangover. (OK. That's kinda fun.)  But, I'm still figuring out how to best apply all of this to a comic. Oh yeah. We have to make a comic. Luckily we'll get some time in class this week to discuss our comic and our scripts with classmates. Also lucky is that this professor touts revising as part of the writing process. I foresee a "Billie's Comic Script, Take 2" in my future.

I read most of this chapter AFTER turning in my comic script. Pft. The hard part in that assignment was choosing a piece of writing to adapt into a comics format, and harder yet, has now become turning off my cow brain to STOP imagining all of my weekly columns and cow blogs as comics. [FADE TO: cow on unicycle with pearls sipping wine.]

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cows Keepin' It Weird

Our California redwoods and Oregon coast vacation drew to a close with two nights in Portland. THIS is the picture I hoped to capture and these are a few thoughts on “weird.”

Located in downtown Portland across from the original Voo Doo Donuts.
I went to college in my home town.  Shortly after having dinner at my childhood home with my mom and me, one of my best friends in college told me that my mom was weird. That I grew up "weird." I thought she was weird for saying or even thinking that! My mom and my childhood weren't weird! Or were they?

Our house was full of color. The first thing you saw when you walked in was a set of bi-fold closet doors painted with bright blue, red, yellow and green squares. Mom had a wall with with chincey, plastic fish plates because she loved their whimsy and color. She framed brightly colored fabric all over the place. Our couch was red velvet and complementary red lamps hung from the ceiling. We talked and joked and laughed. A lot. None of this was weird to me, but maybe for my friend who simply grew up differently, it was. I’m sorry her home life wasn't more weird (fun).

These little guys are growing up with cow suits and cowing. Is it weird? Perhaps.  Is it unique and fun? Absolutely!
What's weirder? Their cow suits or that we let them eat McDonald's on this day?
It DID feel a little weird while we were getting suited up in our downtown Portland hotel room and the little guy was resistant to put on his cow costume. His older brother, mom and I proceeded to cajole and convince him that he wanted to cow.

While I was rinsing out a pair of shorts, I overheard the older brother after he'd gotten his shirt and hood on.
The weird part here may be that I'm only wearing one shoe.
I kept forgetting to rinse out the ocean-soaked shorts &
as soon as I remembered, I HAD TO DO IT NOW
Older calf: Come on, Man! You knew the deal. First we had a delicious breakfast. Then we took our sister to the airport. And NOW we are going cowing so we can go to Powell's Bookstore later and THEN take the train to the Spaghetti Factory. Come on! Don't you want to go to Powell's? We have to cow first. That was the deal. Besides--you know it's fun. (Their sister got to take her first solo trip to visit grandparents, so we wanted to make sure that these guys had fun stuff in store so they didn't feel like they were missing out. Boy, do we know how to have fun or what?)

As both their mom and I added words of encouragement (sigh) and threats of confiscating toys or withholding planned activities, I did wonder what in the heck we were doing. I didn't wonder for too long. Smiles, cartwheels and a sprint to the elevator to push the buttons convinced me that the last 7 minutes in their young lives probably hadn't ruined them. We set out on our adventure to find the "weird" mural.
We always guess which elevator will arrive first.
The calf on the right just finished a handstand.
Yeah--he's fine.

A NBA game was going on with the Portland Timbers &
a whole group of people wanted their pictures taken with us one-by-one.

With the lil calves jonesin' to get to Powell's Bookstore,
there was no way we were going to make them wait in line,
but I had to get a picture at Voo Doo Donuts!
He was so excited to find this little seat JUST for him.
Yep--that's us. Portland Prime!
There were dozens of Portland landmarks I considered tracking down for photo ops, but we'd achieved our original goal of hitting the mural. Every time these little guys dress up with us, I wonder when they'll decide that it IS weird and that they're too cool to cow. So far, it's not weird to them and it's still fun. My personal hope is that they don't ever think "weird" and "fun" have to be mootually exclusive. So often--espectially with cowing--they are one in the same.

On the way home, I asked this little guy what his favorite part of the trip was. He could choose from hiking in the redwoods, beach combing for shells, swimming in the ocean, visiting a cheese factory, scouting out star fish in tide pools, going on a whale watch tour, and visiting Portland. He loved Powell's Bookstore but said his favorite part of the entire trip was the Old Spaghetti Factory. Weirdo. [wink]
I got my "Weird" picture &
they got their Old Spaghetti Factory.