Why a Graphic Novel?

As this is the first graphic novel I have read, I would like to make that the focus of my post.  In the first three chapters, Bechdel has given the reader quite a bit of material to work with- in terms of plot, themes, and countless allusions.  I could probably write a completely separate blog post for each of those, but I will focus on the graphic novel for now.

Most if not all of the works we have read in this course have included detailed plots, several themes, and at least a few allusions to other works, but Bechdel has chosen to present those same topics in the form of a graphic novel.  Why would she chose to tell her story through a graphic novel?  She clearly is not short of information to give the reader,and she could probably just as vividly fully explain the same ideas through words– so why a graphic novel?  The conclusion I have come to is that Alison Bechdel chose to write a graphic novel because, much like the way she relates to her family through allusions of literature and drama, she can most clearly relate to the reader through words and images.  The matter-of-fact approach Bechdel has to important topics in her life such as death, potential occasional abuse from her father, and her sexuality is reflected in the way she tells these stories to the reader.  She is not trying to hide behind stories, sugarcoat details through euphemisms, or allude to other works to let us fill in the blanks, she is painting the clearest picture possible so that the reader can fully understand her story without secrets or shadows which seemed to dominate so much of her life (father’s homosexuality, distant relationship with parents).

If Bechdel were to tell this story in a more narrative form, I think the reader would lose a lot of the information as we would have a harder time pulling out the exact details amid long descriptive paragraphs.  By using the graphic novel, Bechdel not only tells us the exact dialogue she wants us to see, but she shows us the scene we should be imagining in our heads. I think this comes from a desire to have a straightforward connection with the reader.  Bechdel’s complacency to tragic or shocking life events is almost worrisome to the common person, and she enjoys this as we see during moments when she informs others of her father’s death/suicide.  The way she tells us moments of her shocking life story almost have that same effect.  It is as if she wants to vicariously feel the shock and emotion of the reader the same way she vicariously feels the emotions of the people she converses with in the story.  I sort of compared her to Sula in this same sense that she almost lacks empathy or the ability to understand not only the emotions of others, but also her own emotions which have been hardened by many of these events. The matter-of-fact way she discusses these troubling/life-changing topics has a certain shock value that she can most easily attain through a graphic novel, which leads little to the imagination and ensures we don’t miss the point.

Also, since Bechdel seems to relate to all of the people in her life through literary means by using allusions to other works to show her relationships with her parents, the relationships between her mom and dad, and her relationship with Joan, it seems fitting that she has chosen a form of literature to relate her story to the world.

I think that there will be more to interpret as we continue reading the story, but for now, these are the conclusions I have come to regarding the use of a graphic novel.  Did you come to similar conclusions?  What differences, if any, would occur if this story were told as a regular novel?

Shambleau’s Commentary on Humanity

There are many reasons why it’s hard to accept Shambleau as just pulp science fiction. For one, instead of being some horrible space demon that melts people’s faces the Shambleau give people a sense of “terrible ecstasy.” Another odd thing about the Shambleau is that it takes the form of a woman or a girl, a dangerous seductress.

I think the time period has a lot to do with the image the Shambleau gets — that of the kind of won-ton seductress Sula was characterized as — a curse on society. However, the short story seems aware of this. The sheer number of times the phrase “terrible ecstasy” is used can’t be attributed only to the fact that this story is pulp fiction. Moore is obviously signaling readers to a more complex meaning of her story; although, we don’t become completely aware of this until the last few pages.

After the horrific scene where the Shambleau nearly sucks the life out of N.W. Smith, his friend Yarol goes on a tangent about good and evil. This section seems a little long and awkward, like a lecture just thrown in the middle but it gives the entire story a whole lot of significance. Notice how in this section the blame is transferred from the woman to the man. It becomes Smith’s fault that he gave in to the “nucleus of utter evil” inside of him. Once seen through a third party, this case begins to look vaguely like a rape case. I know the connection between the two is a little weak, but it would explain why Moore seems so intent on discussing the dark side of men’s sexual desires.

Given this, do you think Smith would really be able to resist another Shambleau? Do you think Moore’s stance on sexuality would allow him to resist?

Closer and Todays Technology

Science Fiction in my opinion is way under rated, and Closer is a perfect example of science fiction that is as confusing as it is intriguing. Closer is one of the most interesting in how the story perceives relationships with the added headache of technology. This story, although written in 1992, is still completely relevant today.

           

We live in the fast-paced world of instant communication, where almost any person in the U.S. can be reached within minutes but what are the downfalls. When people become too close could it actually lead to their demise? According to Closer, yes. This is perfect critique of the modern relationship as texting and social media are now a main part of communication. But is there a point where too much connectivity can be a bad thing? In Closer it talks about how most people accept the idea of changing and “switching” using technology to make memories with the hope of a better life. Today I and most likely others have become so used to technology sometimes we forgot to look into the consequences that come with it. As Closer shows it has the ability to completely ruin a relationship because the characters become so intertwined they can no longer find enjoyment in each other. Could technology ruin relationship even with today’s technological advancements?

           

Another thing to look at is how the characters have no problem with this idea of changing. We as a society must decide what is ethical; technology is perfect example of people struggling to decide what is right and what is wrong. Texting has created instant messaging that connects the world in 200 characters but as we text more we begin to see some people’s communication and grammar skills greatly decline. People generally like the quick easy communication of texting but seeing kids communication skills tumble is something all of society should be concerned about. Will we be like the people of Closer and turn our backs to this problem because of the convenience of texting or will we look at this as a major problem with our society?

           

Closer is a great story of how technology can actually ruin relationships and a society but the technology also sounds new and intriguing. Will we decide with the moral minimum and choose the risky yet interesting new technologies or will someone stand up and say when something is wrong in order to protect the greater good of society? 

Science Fiction As Medium for Social Critique, & Cliches

In Moore’s “Shambleau,” one doesn’t require a wide swath of nuanced cultural knowledge in order to detect societal parallels. In other words, despite the sci-fi veneer, clear lines between “real” world elements and their exaggerated counterparts in the science fiction form manifest themselves in Moore’s work. Racism, objectification of women, class differences, justice, falsity, and moral ambiguity are generally themes present within works deemed classic literature, and they are vivid in “Shambleau,” too. So, for me, the question is why utilize the science fiction medium — which can distract from the actual purpose of the content — or what can science fiction accomplish that more realistic, conventional literature cannot, particularly from the perspective of social critique? First, Smith functions as something of an amoral character, which allows him to be an objective lens through which to view this wild-west mirror world of Mars, where lynch mobs impart their own vigilante law, citizens nervously clutch futuristic guns, and dusty bars serve whiskey to rough hewn subhuman outlaws. It’s a technologically advanced caricature of an actual setting, essentially. But Smith is a perfect narrator for offering a wide, panoramic glimpse of the various seedy forms in this social microcosm. Shambleau herself — brown-skinned, consistently referred to by the mob as “it,” blatantly cast as an oppressed “other,” stifled in voice, draining others’ vitality, painfully coy — embodies qualities stereotypically attributed to women, which is curious. When Smith invokes God’s name (a “far more ancient invocation against evil than he realized”, p. 119), it seems to firmly square Moore’s critique as one against something primal and innate as human nature. Perhaps a hint at the layered thematic intent beneath the aforementioned sci-fi veneer? Anyway, in a sense, the mob mentality and group condemnation is then justified: the lynch mob at the book’s inception turns out to be correct in their contempt and disgust. This witch hunt against a strange and culturally marginalized subject is proven effective, which seems problematic. As a result, when it is discovered that Shambleau is not what she seems, Smith’s apparent virtuosity in rescuing her appears foolish and shortsighted, as if Moore is mocking the idea of dignity and selflessness in such a wild, violent survivalist setting where individual wits take precedence. Regardless, I’m especially intrigued by the science fiction elements in this story, as I have little experience with the medium outside of Vonnegut, Childhood’s End, and stuff I read as a kid. I think some of the lurid/erotic or fascinating technological elements in sci-fi (i.e., ray guns, violence, Martian presence, etc.) can really mask the true nature of what is actually occurring in the story. One easily inhabits such a world and becomes attracted to it for the wrong reasons, as the subversive or imaginative aspects of a future world almost become exploitative and the story loses its resonance with humanity. I’m curious as to what the rest of the class thought here, and how science fiction can perhaps alternatively occupy a distant (and safe) perch to critique big picture human themes in a unique, entertaining fashion.

Lastly, I’m confused about the swollen presence of cliches in Moore’s work. First, the wild-west setting is a bit of a caricature, with a desperado narrator, colorful lynch mobs, and rugged taverns where bar fights can erupt at any minute and tired Slade-types guzzle whiskey to numb anxieties. Smith’s narration is very brusque and trite, typical of the genre (“God knows I’m not angel”) and fixing him solidly as the anti-hero with a conscious archetype seemingly monopolized by Ryan Gosling lately. Shambleau is consistently described as cat-like, manipulative, weak, passive, and utterly dependent, the cunning female figure gradually luring an unsuspecting dignity-fueled male with mythical looks and faux-meekness. Are these cliches intentional or just typical of the medium? By casting conventional characterizations, is Moore simply building a relatable (and generic) model for her human critique?

Understanding

Closer was an odd and confusing story for me, it took me awhile to understand the point. Although they were no longer in their human bodies, they still thought as humans. We as humans have always have had this natural curiosity. I believe this story captures the essence of wanting to understand your significant other. Getting to know this person is way different than anything we experience. Your family is there from day one, you grow up side by side with your siblings and share the same blood. Your significant other is someone you have to form a bond with and continue to grow and learn about each other throughout your lives together. This is what makes that relationship more fascinating than any other.

You grow to understand each other and learn together, and I believe that is what this story is trying to show. It is about a couple going to extreme measures to understand as much as they can about each other. In the end it shows that love is never suppose to be like that, you are never suppose to understand everything about someone. It outlines the importance of a relationship and how it is suppose to grow and form trust between each other and strengthen your commitment as one. Many times you see movies or here a couple say tell me everything about you, you can not do this at one time. This is where understanding each other throughout time is important, you eventually share your memories and the highs and lows of your life. Yet, as you tell your story this person can never experience life as you have. This is what makes a relationship great, and this is what was taken away from Sian and Michael. They were able to experience life as one another and once this was accomplished they never be able experience life together. 

How close is too close?

“Closer” left me thinking about something that I have not thought much about in regards to this class: a traditional relationship.  Remove all of the complications—age differences, societal norms, and uncertainty of sexual orientation—and boil things down to the standard relationship between a male and female, and it seems there are still thousands of moving parts.  Between all of the characteristics that make up our personality–moral values, intelligence, political views, religious beliefs, tastes and preferences, etc., etc.—is there a formula for compatibility?  How like or unlike should your partner’s personality traits be in order for the relationship to work?

Michael claims “nobody wants to spend eternity alone,” and ultimately he proves how this claim can hold true even when you’re in a relationship.  My interpretation of the story is that Michael has a desire, border lining on obsession, of knowing how Sian experiences “being”.  The first experiments leave one partner with a physical copy of themself and fail to allow Michael to experience being Sian on an intellectual level.  The final experiment leaves them with a complete understanding of every detail of their relationship from the perspective of the other person.  Removing the boundaries as they did has the effect of making them one person and effectively alone.

Although the story takes things to extremes, it did have the effect of putting some weight into the old saying that “opposites attract” for me.  If two people are a lot alike to begin with, is it possible that they will eventually grow into one personality?  Is there a point where you become “too close” and one person (or both) stop getting what they want and need out of the relationship?  Is not being able to fully see things from the other’s perspective what keeps the relationship alive? 

I don’t have answers to all of the questions above, but I think the dynamic of personalities in a relationship is extremely interesting.  I definitely think that having some differences makes things interesting and keeps the “spark”, but there’s a fine line between good different and bad, i-can’t-tolerate-you, different.  What are your thoughts?!

Many Sides to Sula

The section we had to read this weekend definitely has a lot going on. I’d like to talk about the many new sides we see of Sula. There are many conflicts that revolve around her and it is interesting to see how she handles them.

The biggest surprise to me was her interaction with Jude. I was immediately confused when I read this. I was under the impression that Sula and Nel were best friends. My understanding of being a best friend is that you can trust that person with anything. Their previous relationship was one that appeared strong and unbreakable. When Sula has her encounter with Jude the friendship was broken. I am shocked that Sula did this in the first place but am more surprised by her reaction. Sula is described as sitting on the bed and she appears to be unaffected by the events that just occurred. Why didn’t she react strongly? Why did Sula appear to think what had just happend was wrong? Her reaction here strikes me as unusual and this behavior doesn’t disappear.

The carelessness of Sula is amazing to me. I can not understand how she goes through life with no worries or stress about her actions or life around her. After the events with Nel and Jude, Sula gains a terrible reputation. She is living in a town where nobody likes her and everyone wants nothing to do with her. Additionally Sula has been accused of pushing a boy named Teapot down some steps which only further separates her from her community. She still is responsible for the death of the young boy Chicken and has lost her only true friend yet again, shows no sorrow. After all of these things, Sula does not display a drop of care.

All of my previous thoughts about Sula are completely thrown off when Ajax comes into the story. Ajax brings out a side of Sula that I have never seen before. We learn that Sula wonders one day if Ajax will come by. This little thought shows that Sula cares, even if it is only a little, about this man and if he comes around. For the first time she questions her beauty because Ajax is around. Once he leaves she is lost and alone, looking for something to remind her he exists. All of these behaviors reveal the first sign of a caring person. This relationship leaves me wondering, why care now? Why does Sula only show these characteristics towards Ajax? Why can’t she feel some sort of loss towards her old best friend? I am curious to see what role Ajax plays in the rest of this book. He clearly has something about him that triggers emotion in Sula.