Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thanks for the Fun Class! And Then Some...

This is the last week I would leave a post for Dr. Clemente's Graphic Novel class. This post is a formal goodbye to the class itself. I enjoyed creating this blog and working with the people who managed to help me early in the semester. I also enjoyed reading and commenting on other's people's post. To me, checking out if someone made a new post was a genuine surprise. It made the blog watching more entertaining!

For now, I would like to say a formal goodbye to the class for this semester. This class satisfied my taste for knowledge about graphic novels. The class informed me further about the material we read in the class. I managed to learn the history of Iran, the dystopia that is North Korea, the war zone that is Gorazde in Bosnia, the development of the atomic bomb, the horrible effects of dropping the bomb and the history of the Holocaust. I am happy we were able to read some high quality graphic literature that was not just about people in tights. For anyone new to graphic novels, these books (and the class) would blow anyone's expectations away.

Of course, I enjoyed reading about the comics featuring costumed heroes. In all honesty though, I was skeptical at first. I mean, when people think of high quality writing, superheroes don't come to mind. What is so sophisticated about Batman drawn and penned by Sin City creator Frank Miller anyway? Why did anyone bother to put Watchmen up for the Hugo Award Anyone unfamiliar with the graphic novel medium would assume all comics is "kid's stuff." In the words of Scott McCloud:

"When I was a little kid I knew exactly what comics were. Comics were those bright, colorful magazines filled with bad art, stupid stories and guys in tights."

McCloud's perception changed when he gave comics another look. I was close to that perception too of thinking that comics was a "childish" medium filled with nothing but shallow and overdramatic stories of superheroes and supervillains beating the stuffing out of each other. I read comic books like Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men and even comic book adaptations of Sonic the Hedgehog and Gargoyles. As I became older, reading through a comic format that lasted close to twenty pages was getting ridiculous. Most stores in my hometown stopped keeping comics on the shelves. So what convinced me to give comics a second look?

The answer, simply put, was rereading through a stack of comics I was given for my fourteenth birthday. There were obscure titles like Sludge and Archer and Armstrong to peer through, each containing characters with quirks and issues. Of course, there were also issues of X-Men and Indiana Jones. What really got me into the comics medium (and even spurred at interest in making "serious" comics) were webcomics. I did not set out to get into webcomics. I didn't even know they existed! All it took was my interest in video games to get me sucked in. I was treading through Gamespy one evening as a teenager. Then I saw a link to its comics section, which included the first webcomic I ever read. It was a strange journey towards my interest in webcomics and other stuff related to webcomics.

This webcomic is Little Gamers, and it was about a trio of Swedish gamers who cursed at each other and made hilarious video game and pop culture references. I admired how this cartoon was drawn: all the characters were a human version of Hello Kitty, save that they were never family friendly. After reading some strips on Gamespy, I spotted the link where I could go to the main Little Gamers site. It was a laugh fest. In all honest, the comic made obscure refrences to game-related knowledge that even I didn't know about. It was a good learning experience, not only because I absorbed the gamer culture into my system but because the website had a list of other webcomics to explore.

From Little Gamers, I soon checked out the soon-to-be-acclaimed Megatokyo. From Megatokyo came the highly controversial Exploitation Now. Both Megatokyo and Exploitation Now were drawn in a manga style format by American artists. Before these comics, I had a limited knowledge of the Japanese comic art form. These comics made me curious about Japanese comics and Western comics based on the popular Japanese art style. The comics introduced me to another culture entirely that interwines with video game culture. The comics introduced me to the culture of the otaku, which is a comics geek interested in manga! I began to explore various art sites like Elfwood and DeviantArt for manga-based artwork and even non-manga related art styles. I continued exploring and reading more webcomics. I began to pick up volumes of Japanese manga at certain book stores. I started to check out books like The League of Extroadinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta and the Hellboy series after initially seeing the movie adaptations. All I had to say was that the original source material was better!

The trouble was, few people in real life understood my love for webcomics, manga, graphic novels and the video game culture. Very few people, I must emphasize. In high school, I was a fairly soft spoken kid who did not share a passion for American Idol, football, MTV or anything of the "mainstream." In fact, most things "mainstream" made me angry because it was not as good as the stuff I was into and the people who liked it really annoyed me. I started to think of myself as a rebel because I did not share the interests of most people. McCloud would confess that he tried to understand his love for comics and drawing comics. But people would just laugh at him! I did not try to explain my love for webcomics, manga and the video game culture. Most people would go "Huh?" or "You weirdo!" or "You're a communist because you don't like football!" I don't want to get off topic of this post but I (and other people) were at the business end of the barrel from people who did not understand. Their perceptions of comics (and everything else) was far too limited.

When I read the reading list that included Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, I would not help but be skeptical at first. Then I dug into The Dark Knight Returns and was enthralled. Batman is not the stock superhero he was sometimes portrayed as. He is a bitter warrior whose pure soul is tainted with the necessary darkness of the bat and his parents' murder. Batman had to deal with his familiar foes such as the Joker but also had to contend with the real problems of a corrupt government, an arms race, the media and old age. Watchmen blew my mind entirely because I had no idea what to expect. It is a well-written murder mystery, adventure story and character study all in one. Its "heroes" were people who we could relate to. Each was extremely troubled in their own way. No supervillains were necessary to fight these heroes. All it took was for the heroes to fight themselves.

Now older and wiser, I'm happy to say I have experienced a whole variety of graphic novels. I feel lucky to explore different subject material from them all, from aged superheroes to atomic bombs to the Holocaust to the Iranian revolution.

For those who happened to check out the blog from time to time, I want to let everyone know that The Graphic Maelstrom is not retiring anytime soon. I will still post new material whenever I can. To me, blogging is a young experience. I first learned how to create a blog after taking Dr. Clemente's Shakespeare class in January of 2008. I was nervous at first. I will be honest I was not too high on blogs in the first place. I did not like MySpace or Facebook, which I kept seeing many people do. It's a long story to why I was not a fan of either of these "social networking" programs. Are they designed only to put useless information on there? To place random photos on the Internet? Would anything I typed be understood by people who used these programs? How useful were the programs anyway? That was my initial perception. The controversy of many people getting into trouble with their personal pages also kept me back.

But Dr. Clemente's Shakespeare class changed my whole perception on blogs. I had a rocky start learning how to make posts, post pictures and put on videos. I learned with a blog, you can put up some useful information. A blog can be useful under capable command. So I started to really get into blogging. I did not get into it just for the grade but because there were limitless opportunities on how to play with the blog. I am even continuing working on the blog I made for Shakespeare class, Much Ado About Nothing and Everything Else Shakespearian. I am also working on a young blog called Call of Cthulhu and Everything Else Lovecraftrian, which focuses on my interests about the works of horror author H.P. Lovecraft.

I understand that this post spans quite a bit. At the same time, I felt compelled to explain my interest in graphic novels and my interest to continue creating new blog posts. The Graphic Maelstrom will still continue along with Much Ado About Nothing and Everything Else Shakespearian and Call of Cthulhu and Everything Else Lovecraftrian.

Till then, same blog time, same blog channel!

- Kristopher

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