Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An Overview on Webcomics

Since we have been exploring the medium of manga and moving towards Art Spiegelman's Maus, I decided this was the perfect time to bring out another branch of comics known as webcomics. Webcomics are comics published on the Internet. Unlike published comics, creators of webcomics have complete freedom in terms of writing and artwork. This means no censorship is imposed on any of the comics. As a devoted fan of webcomics such as Star Cross'd Destiny, Megatokyo, Little Gamers and Post Nuke, it will be a genuine pleasure to cover this relatively young but growing branch of comics.

The earliest webcomic to be found is T.H.E. Fox, published in 1986 by Compuserve and Quantum Link. Scott McCloud, creator of Zot! and Understanding Comics, is one of the earliet advocates of webcomics and has displayed very innovative ways of playing with the medium that even the most acclaimed of webcomic artists have not taken advantage of. The techniques include using the whole web page as a storytelling medium than using a "print page." Some webcomic creators are crafty enough to use interactivity. Still, most webcomics are used on the "print page" format. Some webcomics require a subscription but most do not. Some webcomics, such as Megatokyo, have published editions but most webcomics are supplied through archives on the website they are located.

Webcomics are independently created in various styles and forms, from the "comic strip" format to manga, to pixellated imagery and even photography! Because of the freedom web comic artists possess, there is no censorship which it comes to creating comics on the Internet. For this reason, some web comics( such as Fetus X below) have garnered a heavy amount of controversy. Then again, it is not too different from comics which are published by a company such as V for Vendetta.

Very few webcomics have been able to support themselves financially. There are a few successful examples, such as Penny Arcade and 8-Bit Theater. Webcomics have merchandise for fans to purchase to supplement income for the comic. The web comic is a labor of love most of the time. Updates are given on the websites but there are times that updating comics become fairly sporadic. An example would be Juno Blair B.'s Star Cross'd Destiny, which the creator might go through personal reasons of why the next comic has been delayed. Creators also have to deal with the cost of art supplies and the cost of the server and bandwith. They would sometimes rely on donations from the comic's fans. Webcomic creators usually rely on advertising to make money than the comic itself. McCloud is an advocate of the micropayment system and some publishers such as Modern Tales already use a subscription model.
Like graphic novels, webcomics have accumulated several awards. The Eagle Awards was established for the Favorite Webcomic Category and the Ignatz Award was founded for the Most Outstanding Webcomic Category in 2001. The Eisner Awards began awarding webcomics for Best Digital Comic Category in 2005. The Harvey Awards began establshing the Best Online Comics Work in 2006 and the Shuster Awards commenced the Outstanding Canadian Web Comic Award in 2007. The Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards, established in 2001, is an online ceremony where a series of comics depict the ceremony itself! In 2007, the ceremony was held in real life at Megacon. The Clickburg Webcomic Awards, established in 2005, is held annually at the Stripdagen Haarlem comic festival. This ceremony requires a creator be located in the Benelux countries with the exception of an international award given.

I am personally enthusiastic about webcomics because they were a staple of my reading when I was a teenager growing up in difficult times. I also praise webcomics because they are an art medium that defies conventions and opens windows of opportunity on what the comics medium can do. If you haven't already, check out a webcomic online and see where the fun is.

- Kristopher

Monday, November 24, 2008

Meet Keiji Nakazawa

Recording horrible events effectively sometimes takes personal experience and Keiji Nakazawa, the author of Barefoot Gen, witnessed the destruction of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb first hand. You can say Gen is an offshoot of Nakazawa, who at six years old lost most of his family to chaos and death that struck Japan.

After the destruction of Hiroshima in 1945, Nakazawa went to Tokyo to become a cartoonist. His works set of manga was produced for Shonen Gaho, Shonen King, and Bokura. In 1966, Nakazawa dug deep into his memories of Hiroshima and created two biographical works; Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Struck by Black Rain) and the autobiographical Ore wa Mita ('I Saw It'). Barefoot Gen, produced in 1972, was the first manga to be translated into a Western language. When the English translation debuted, there were many complaints about the graphic depictions of victims after the bomb's explosion. The comic was never meant for shock value, for it was a searing message against militarism and the war which helped bring the destruction of Hiroshima.

In an interview with The Comics Journal, Nakazawa recounts his involvement with the comics based on his experience:

"Since coming to Tokyo, I hadn't said a word about being an A-bomb survivor to anyone. People in Tokyo looked at you very strangely if you talked about it, so I learned to keep quiet. There was still an irrational fear among many Japanese that you could "catch" radiation sickness from A-bomb victims. There were plenty of people like that, even in a big city like Tokyo."

"I was enraged that the bomb had taken even my mother's bones. All the way on the train back to Tokyo, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I realized I'd never thought seriously about the bomb, the war and why it happened. The more I thought about it, the more obvious it was that the Japanese had not confronted these issues at all. They hadn't accepted their own responsibility for the war. I decided from then on, I'd write about the bomb and the war, and pin the blame where it belonged. Within a week after getting back to Tokyo, I wrote my first work about the bomb, Kuroi Ame ni Utarete [Struck by Black Rain]. It's about young people in postwar Hiroshima getting involved in the black market for weapons. The main character is an A-bomb survivor whose hatred drives him to kill an American black marketeer. He asks the Americans, 'Who are you to talk about justice when you massacred hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Hiroshima, in Nagasaki, in the firebombing of Tokyo? Was that what you call justice?'"

The editors who read Struck by Black Rain were very moved by it and told me to write more. I wound up writing five books in my "Black" series -- Black River, Black Silence and so on. Black Rain was published in serial form in Manga Punch, an "adult" manga magazine by a small publisher, Hobunsha. The big publishers turned it down. They said it was too radical for them, too political.

I recall conversations with my class that Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors were not given adequate treatment in their own country. They were not even able to find jobs or apply for health insurance! Japan has become more democratic in recent years but the country is still ashamed of its own militaristic past. Japan should be thankful that some people remember the atomic bomb and recount it in any way they can. Nakazawa's bitterness towards Japanese militarism is apparent in Gen and sometimes knowing the painful truth of people graphically dying from radiation sickness with skin falling off and maggots feasting on dead flesh on living people is horrible but necessary.

I have probably sounded preachy by denouncing nuclear weapons and policies in the blog so far but I will say this: we must acknowledge the past so we do not repeat it.

- Kristopher

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Discussion on a Scene from Barefoot Gen - Trailing Through Atomic Death and Destuction with Hope

Despite Hiroshima's horrific destruction by the atomic bomb dropped by the United States, there was still the human element of hope persisting. Gen, whose father, sister and younger brother were killed after the explosion, does not give up hope for survival. This page reflects this home trailing amidst death and decay. The picture could also reflect more troubles that Gen will run into. I noticed the human skeletal remains were close to the top of the page above Gen's footsteps. I could be overanalyzing, but I do not think the picture is completely optimistic.

There is optimism in Gen's words as he walks in the sand but the optimism is eroded with death symbolized by the skeletal remains. Gen not only endures the dying villagers (Whom most have gone mad.) but bandit children who run around unwatched because their parents are dead. Gen will run into indifference and selfishness of people bitter about the bomb and about what they lost in the fire.

Gen will also find a struggle within himself. He possesses persistent memories of his dead family and about the life he had before the atomic bomb. Gen struggles with his hunger, his anger towards the Americans for dropping the bombs, his fear of the loss of his mother and baby sister. The only way he is winning that struggle is continuing a positive outlook on life that did not vanish after the bomb exploded. Children like Gen are more resilent than even the toughest adults and I believe that is why Gen had not broken down into despair like most of the population.

Barefoot Gen is a reminder of when humankind grasps power such as the atomic bomb and uses it to end a war. The bomb not only created a new type of war which every finger is held over the fat, large red button but one debating whether new types of weapons should be created or not. The atomic bomb and every other nuclear device proved that all humankind needed to destroy itself was a weapon to set the atmosphere ablaze. Is proof of the survivors of Hiroshima not enough to dissuade more nuclear arms development? Are we that desperate to destroy our own species through arrogance, bigotry and misled ideology?

I wish I could answer that. I wish anyone could answer that. Anyone knowing that the Doomsday Clock reads five minutes to midnight would be nervous.

- Kristopher

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Overview on Manga

Our class will be venturing into Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen shortly, so I decided to bring up the basics of manga (Which is Japanese for "whimsical pictures.") first. Only recently has the public been aware of manga even though it has not achieved total mainstream success. You have Pokemon, Naruto and Dragonball to name off your tongue. But where did this art form come from? A fellow classmate once said that manga was basically "anime on paper." I would not agree with that statement entirely, because anime (Japanese animation) is usually adapted from manga. As a manga reader and supporter, I will be happy inform visitors about this encompassing art medium.

The format of manga that is known today emerged shortly after the U.S. occupation of Japan after World War II. U.S. GIs would bring comic books and cartoons from the U.S., especially Disney cartoons. Ever wonder why most manga and anime characters has such large eyes? Compare those characters to Disney and the connection shall strike you. Osamu Tezuka, considered the "grandfather of manga" and the creator of Astro Boy, was credited for pioneering a medium in a time when Japan was shifting from an imperialist government to a more democratic one.

Unlike Western comics, which are read from left to right, manga is read from right to left. New readers will undoubtably be confused by the reading style (I myself was thrown off at first.) but reading right to left will become second nature for those who continue to indulge into the medium. There is controversy of Western editors whether to reformat Japanese comics into a left-to-right format. Critics argue that would mess up the flow of the storyline if the format was altered from its original form. I would have to agree with the critics, even though there are a few exceptions of manga series being translated such as Hiroaki Samura's Blade of the Immortal and Barefoot Gen.

Also unlike most Western comics, manga is not directed just for children and teenangers. In fact, manga is read by everyone in Japan! Manga encompasses a wide range of ages and backgrounds. A business suit would be reading the Wall Street Journal on the way to work but a business suit in Japan would be reading into their favorite manga while taking the subway. Japanese writers and artists command high respect in the craft of creating comics, much like the acclaim is received by film directors and writers in the West.

Are Western comics and literature influenced by manga? The manga version of Karl Marx's Das Kapital was recently released in light of the current recession Japan is undergoing. Manga was a heavily influence on Frank Miller, who used a Japanese influence in the Sin City series. American artists have jumped into the act of creating their own manga-inspired comics. One famous example would be Fred Gallagher, creator of the popular webcomic Megatokyo. Manga is especially a heavy influence for webcomics, which I will explore in a future post.

Like Western graphic novels, various Japanese comics have won various prestigious awards. Blade of the Immortal, which is about a samurai who tries to rid of his immortality by slaying a thousand evil men, earned the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award in 2000.

To me, manga is a fun subject to cover because of its history, its cultural roots and even controversies. There are people out there who claim that manga is not really "art" but have probably either been turned off by Japanese comics at first or never took a glimpse at them at all. In manga, there is always something for everyone.

- Kristopher

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Meet Jim Ottaviani

Jim Ottaviani writes heavily in the field of science, which is the subject matter for Fallout. This fact should come to no surprise since Ottaviani is an experienced scientist himself. He is the Chief Researcher for G.T. Labs, the company that produced Fallout, Two Fisted Science and other scientific graphic novels.

Ottaviani was born in San Francisco in 1960. His jobs included chauffering former Senator Al Gore about the Information Superhighway, worked on a couple of nuclear reactors, worked as a librarian, and even climbed Mount Fuji! Ottaviani's interest in science began as a teenager when he read an issue of National Geographic:

"I was just entering my teens, and there were these fascinating diagrams about energy, the Sun, nuclear fusion, and other next-generation technologies..."

This persuaded Ottaviani to look into nuclear engineering. He earned his B.S. at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 1986. Ottaviani later acquired a master's degree at the University of Michigan. He joined United Engineers and Constructors, working on power plants. After a stressful term of trying to fix power plants, especially since the Three Mile Island Accident, Ottaviani turned to the University of Michigan's Library and Information Science Program. He enjoyed his position as a research librarian tremendously, taking interest in the comics revolution of the 1980s when spandex-clad superheroes were either becoming dated or updated with human failings (Such as Alan Moore's Watchmen).

Ottaviani teamed up and worked with artist Steve Lieber, the result creating comics about scientists such as Galileo and J. Robert Oppenheimer. The books include Dignifying Science, which is about women and science; Safecracker, about physicists; Wild Person in the Woods which depicts Biruté Galdikas studying orangutans in Borneo; and Fallout, which tells about the development of the atomic bomb.

Ottaviani is a wonderful new addition to the comics medium, especially when expanding the medium outside of the super-hero realm. Scientists and science are explored in interesting new ways with the comics medium, and we have Ottaviani to thank for it.

- Kristopher

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Discussion on a Scene from Fallout: Oppenheimer Invokes the Destroyer of Worlds

The atomic bomb was meant to end a war, but J. Robert Oppenheimer realized he helped create a weapon that would destroy not only nations in the world but the world itself!

Oppenheimer was quoting from Hindu scripture in this page. Oppenheimer quoting the scripture alludes to the reference of the Hindu god, Vishnu. Vishnu manifested in front of him as a blinding light radiated towards anyone and anything outside its radius. The light was followed by a large cloud of smoke expands up to the sky.

Vishnu's presence indicates the atomic bomb was "godlike" in its potential for destruction. Anyone who was "god fearing" would assume the explosive was a god's wrath instigated. Oppenheimer is small compared to Vishu, to illustrate that the power of the atomic bomb was more than humankind ever predicted. The atomic bomb may have been too much power for humandkind to wield! Every day, new types of nuclear arms are developed disregarding the fact that there are many, many existing warheads waiting to be used. As a individual who believes nuclear deterrance and development of new nuclear arms is absolute stupidity, I would assume Fallout depicted Oppenheimer as a man who realized he has committed a mistake to end a war. The damage was already done, with the results of the atomic bomb's success breeding development the more devastating hydrogen bomb.

The story of Fallout, and the people involved in the Manhattan Project, is a sad one. The beginning showed the idealization of science saving the world. Yet science throughout history is not an exception for pioneering new methods of warfare and political manuevering.

- Kristopher

Who Was J. Robert Oppenheimer?

My graphic novel class is currently exploring Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and The Political Science of the Atomic Bomb, which depicts the events of J. Robert Oppenheimer and Leo Szilard involved in the conception of the atomic bomb that would end World War II by destroying the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When folks think of Julius Robert Oppenheimer, the first thoughts come as "...destroyer of worlds," "the man who built the atomic bomb" and "died of lung cancer." Oppenheimer was more than these labels, possessing a facination and knowledge of foreign languages such as French, Greek and even Sanskrit. Oppenheimer continued learning about languages and eastern philsophy for most of his life.

Oppenheimer's early education started at the Ethical Culture School in New York. He took math and science classes as well as becoming versed in the classics. Oppenheimer earned his Ph.D in Germany after studying in Harvard in 1925. Described as an "intense person, tall, thin, contemplative, and probing," Oppenheimer even intimidated an instructor during the oral exam! The instructor's words? "Phew, I'm glad that's over. He was on the point of questioning me."

Oppenheimer returned to the States in 1929, teaching in Berkeley and Cal Tech. He proved to be efficient in teaching and was a skilled theoretician, with analyses resulting in neutron stars, neutrons, positrons and mesotrons.

In 1942, Oppenheimer was appointed director of the Manhattan Project, a project conceived by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to construct an atomic bomb before the Nazis constructed their version in Germany. Oppenheimer set up his base at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Oppenheimer witnessed the first explosive go off in July 16, 1943. He was claimed to have uttered "I am become death, destroyer of worlds," fully realizing his creation has changed the consciousness of the world forever.

After World War II, Oppenheimer became a member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission where he opposed development of the hydrogen bomb. President Harry S. Truman gave the order to create the bomb and Oppenheimer was under suspicion of being associated with Communists. He was associated with Communists but only because they had antifascist views. Oppenheimer's hatred of fascism, especially of what horrors the Nazis were conducting in Germany, motivated him to become involved with the Manhattan Project. Oppeheimer's cause could not save him from having his security clearance revoked.
Oppenheimer helped create a legacy that is depicted in Fallout, with intellectuals at odds against the military not heeding the morals of science. His legacy ended a war but would create a new conflict. This conflict brought the fear of the apocalypse, and almost all countries in the world with its nuclear programs have the potential to bring a human-made armageddon on Earth.

- Kristopher

Sunday, November 2, 2008

So...Who is Still Watching the Watchmen Film?

A new trailer popped up for the Watchmen movie a while ago. It originally premiered on Spike TV's Scream 2008 awards. For all the naysayers claiming the movie will be another victim of "badadaptationitis," I will declare "Oh come on! Watchmen may not be 100% like its comic book counterpart but it will still rock!" Even Alan Moore, the writer of Watchmen, stated he would put a curse on the film production. So far, the curse does not appear to have taken effect in the trailer.

So, enjoy the latest trailer!

- Kristopher