Monthly Archives: September 2018

Life versus Art

The process of creating an autobiographical comic brought to light many of the challenges of the meeting of real, lived experience and image, text and narrative. As Yaël Schlick points out in “What is an Experience?” it is impossible to completely construct the self textually, leading to the unavoidable fictionalizing of experience in autobiography. As I wrote my autobiographical comic, I found that I ultimately told my story in a way that fell into the conventions of appealing storytelling: a narrative arc, a summary of only the interesting parts of the experience, a satisfactory conclusion. This is of course not a reflection of my lived experience, however, the autobiographic comic nonetheless conveyed a feeling that I was seeking to get across to my reader. Yaël rightfully ponders this tension of lived experience versus text and the role that intertextuality plays in constructing personal narrative.

In the case of my autobiographic comic, it was evident that intertextuality—whether directly referenced or not—always plays a role in the way that a text or comic is created. For example, despite that neither my demon or Lynda Barry’s One! Hundred! Demons!are directly referenced, they both entirely formed the style and topic of my comic.

One of the ways in which Barry directly impacted the construction of my text is the idea of bringing the present self into the text. Yaël argues that this layering of temporalities demonstrates the “palpable presence of the past in the present and the narrative struggle to render it so” (38). The structure of my autobiographical comic begins in the present day, which brought me back to a past memory in which I felt the power of my painted “demon.” My demon is a visual representation of the fear of judgment from others. The reader of my comic is brought back to a time in my life when I felt this “demon” strongly. Then, the reader is brought back to the present, demonstrating how the power of my “demon” has lessened over time. Ultimately, the panel ends on a reflection of both stories by myself, the narrator.

While this process seems truthful to me, the events are not as cut-and-dry as I presented them in the comic. Similarly, Yaël argues that Bechdel problematizes the distinction between life and art by saying her parents are most real to her in fictional terms (42). Similarly, in Barry’s text she tries to find “tangible objects for intangible or indigestible events for feelings” (36). The process of translating life experience into art is not a science. My own process of creating an autobiographic comic clued me into Bechdel and Barry’s insistence on the necessity to include—unintentionally and intentionally—fiction in their autobiographies. For me, conveying a feeling or life lesson was not possible to present without elements of fiction or dramatization. This is because it is perhaps my internal reality that I am attempting to portray more than that of a play-by-play of events. My fictionalization of the storyline gives my life experience more meaning than perhaps it would have otherwise—much like Bechdel and Barry’s goals in infusing intertextuality into their autobiographies.

 

 

Schlick and creating my own autobiographical comic

Upon reading Yael Schlick’s essay “What is an Experience?”, I had a hard time connecting it to the process of creating my own autobiographical comic because I did not consciously try to use any intertextuality. Along these lines, I also did not play with the relationship of truth and fiction, like the essay stressed upon regarding Bechdel and Barry’s writing. I merely came up with a demon (based on Barry’s writing which I suppose can be considered intertextual) and wrote about my personal experiences associated with the demon as accurately as I could remember. I did not relate my narrative to other stories, I just talked about my demon in very simple terms and it came most naturally to me to write only in truths. Perhaps if I had planned my comic out more or had it been longer, I would have alluded to more stories and made more intertextual connections, however, at the given moment, these things were not on my mind. Because I had a difficult time relating my webcomic to the intertextual aspect of the essay, I instead focused on other ideas Schlick mentioned. Schlick made the point that autobiographical narratives help the author make sense of things. This is clearly seen in both Fun Home and One Hundred Demons. Both authors go through major parts of their lives and reflect on them and try to figure out where each major piece of their life fit into the whole. I unknowingly took this approach when writing my comic about my demon. I chose to write about jealousy and how a few experiences impacted my life. I found the experience of writing this comic to be rather cathartic. At first, I struggled to think of something to write about, but as soon as I started, words and thoughts and emotions were spilling out. I learned a lot about myself through this process. I started writing and thinking about the roots of my jealousy, and then like a puzzle I connected pieces of my life as they related to this jealousy and it helped me figure out why I had certain emotional experiences throughout my life. I felt like I was in a certain writing zone that I’ve never experienced and I imagine that what I experienced is similar to Bechdel or Barry’s process.

I was also struck by Barry’s questions posed about experiences such as: “What becomes of an experience after it’s been had?” and “What form does it take?” My comic deals a lot with these questions. It focuses on negative experiences I had with my ex-boyfriend that hurt me and stood out from my typical experiences and then shifts focus to understanding what became of these experiences. In my comic, I talked about how the effects of these experiences transformed into a strong sense of jealousy that I have been fighting ever since. These questions and the writing process helped me reflect on my past and put it into simple words and drawings to make sense of them and better understand my emotions.

Handwriting and the Power of Looking in Fun Home

One piece of this text that stood out to me was the idea that handwritten comics are about as close to reading a personal diary entry as one can get. Fun Home’s general text did not seem to be handwritten, creating perhaps a more distant tone, however, Alison Bechdel sprinkled in some handwriting in various parts of the book, creating an equally striking impact. For example, Bechdel recreated her childhood handwriting when quite literally allowing the reader to peek inside her diary. The combination of sharing her diary entries as well as her personal handwriting (whether it actually looked like that or not) creates a deeply personal touch and reinforces the intimacy between the reader and author. In class, we talked about authenticity markers in Fun Home, and I think the handwriting is a perfect example of Bechdel’s tools to make the novel (or perhaps narrative as Chute would say) resonate with the reader as more authentic or true. It feels as though the reader is actually getting an inside glimpse of Bechdel’s personal collection of diary entries deepening the bond between the reader and author, which is quite unique to comics as a medium as Chute points out. In the novel, the reader can visually see the internal processing and anxieties Bechdel’s young mind went through as she obsessively wrote the words “I think” which later turned into symbols, which would eventually take up her whole diary entries. The fact that the reader is invited to see this process is special, and adds an extra layer of understanding to Bechdel’s character. Bechdel also included handwritten notes from her father. I would personally love to know whether this truly was his handwriting and if these were exact copies of his letters, but even if they weren’t, the handwriting still gives a sense of authenticity. The father’s handwriting is also distinctly challenging to read, which personally made me more invested in the novel. I would look closely at the book and squint while trying to decipher the letters, much like I often do with letters from my older relatives. This added an interesting interactive quality to the novel, which again is rare to other storytelling mediums.

I was also struck by the passage in Chute’s chapter where she talks about how women written autobiographical comics are a way for the audience and author to review events, causing the woman author to be both the object of looking and creator of looking and sight.  To me this is a fascinating dynamic, however it’s also very complex and hard for me to figure out what the implications of this combination are. I could not help but to think about John Berger’s Ways of Seeing and his chapter on women as subject to the male gaze. How is his theory affected by the fact that a lesbian woman is the illustrator of Fun Home? How does Bechdel’s use of nudity come into play? Bechdel also doesn’t dress or present herself up to the standard of gender norms, illustrating herself in a very gender ambiguous fashion, creating more complexities to the idea of the male gaze in relation to Fun Home.

Chute And Fun Home

Throughout the reading, Chute focuses on how the comic style has allowed a platform for depicting trauma and how this trauma is portrayed by women. She accentuates how important the depiction of a women in a traumatic situation is and she highlights her as an onlooker and curator, and importantly not only as a victim. Within Fun Home, Bechdel does not hide any truths about trauma and does not dance around the subject. She addresses it as her memory prevails and more importantly fully displays her emotional truths. Through this honesty and representation, Bechdel allows for the trauma she has experienced to become real to her audience and claims authority for the art form. Chute also states that “while a few decades ago comics by women about their lives had to be published underground, today they are taking over the conversation about literature and the self.” This statement clearly demonstrates the ways in which women’s issues have been reserved, pushed back, concealed because they were somehow not ‘appropriate’ for a wider audience. However we must view the fact that women comic authors were getting in trouble for their work about women as a systematic problem. Talking about the body, sex, feminism, etc. should not be censored material just because it is truthful or causes discomfort. I do believe that it is somewhat modern artist’s responsibility to re-introduce the body in a way that is not sexual to an audience. The body needs to be normalized and not only viewed as an object of desire as it has been repeatedly in the past. And this normalization needs to be seen not just in terms of the body, but also with trauma and mental states. Obviously trauma should not be normalized but it has to be separated from the romanticization that it has received. Constantly these topics have been romanticized and somewhat attached to a feminine lens. Once again Alison Bechdel achieves this neutral stance as she depicts herself within Fun Home, dealing with trauma, communicating it to the audience, and being truthful about it. If she were to hide truths from the audience this suspense about the trauma or the events of the story would add secrecy and give these experiences a strange power that she might not intend them to have. Therefore I applaud her honestly as it leaves the reader with little to imagine or fill in the gaps with. Further through the use of color scheme and facial depiction, Bechdel illustrates the true emotions attached to the trauma she experienced. The strictly blue, black, and white colors leave no room for excitement or warmth of any kind. Further, the blank stares throughout the novel leave you with a dull feeling. She does not overhype any aspect of the actions of her father or her mental state. It is truthful and the world needs more of these kinds of novels!

Rose and Misty

In analyzing the meanings conveyed by visual terms, I liked that Rose started off with the acknowledgement that no rendering is ever “innocent”. By the very action of rendering, even those actions as simple as the framing decision in a photograph, the person doing the rendering makes a decision, conscious or not, that filters, adjusts, or in some other way manipulates reality to represent it. What I thought was interesting in the distinction between vision and visuality is that vision, in terms of psychological processes, can be seen in terms of visuality. What we see is constructed, whether we notice it or not, by subconscious processes that filter for patterns, or fill in gaps; for example, our brains filter out what we see in those split seconds when we are moving our eyes from one thing to another, and edits together just what we wanted to focus on. In our daily lives, processes like that help us not go insane; in the world of visual production, such filtering processes construct not the world but a version of the world influenced by the constructer.

I also liked the connection between this manipulation and filtering sort of inherent in producing visual culture and the power it has on our perceptions of society and hierarchy. The potential for enforcing the hierarchies, inequalities, and constructed social categories of colonialism, patriarchy, etc., is all tied up in something as deceptively simple and “innocent” as an image.

As for unpacking Misty with the help of Rose, I see several relevant points to begin an analysis, particularly the considerations laid out for economic agendas, audience, and author point of vies. The comic seems to have been written in the 80’s, and aimed at younger girls, not too many years after the ERA failed to pass. Visually, the comic is littered with huge doe eyes and corseted waistlines, pastel colors, dainty poses, and informational labels on the clothing designers. In not so subtle or academic terms, the first story is pretty freaking sexist. Using tropes hardly modified from the decades where a female’s greatest potential lie in marriage, whichever patronizing, pandering fool wrote this comic seemed to be aiming to write the fluff they thought would sell the most copies to the target audience- a group of females whose major thoughts were occupied with designer dresses, petty inter-female rivalries, and marrying the cutest boy they could find. As for the second story, the entire plot is predicated on the fact that all girls really want to do is shop and all they can think about is clothes. The only way a female could be a super hero is some mistake she makes while on a shopping spree, apparently, in some sort of strange contrast to the female X-Men mentioned by the woman who almost got mugged. Of course, at that point, it was considered, especially by those writing superhero comics, that titles like the New Mutants were going to be read by boys.

Angry ranting aside, reading this comic in light of Rose highlights the ideas around the effects of visual production in society: the stereotypes in this comic, and the goals and behaviors laid out that were clearly expected of girls, would have served to promote and continue those social categories and the tropes associated with them.

Response to Rose

Rose’s analysis of culture, visual art, and the two combined, allows us to think about the boundaries of how we examine and interpret the sensory world around us. I thought it was very interesting how she referred to Berger’s paintings of nude women. Berger considers the audience to have control over what they are viewing, yet Rose also illuminates that Berger’s point of view in creating the painting is equally as important as those who view it. This point of view reminded me of the concept of the “male gaze.” This concept is the idea that women are depicted in the world from a masculine, heterosexual view. This “gaze” gains momentum in that those who view products of the gaze evaluate these depictions as norms and will them further perpetuate these ideas, concepts, images, stereotypes, etc. This endless cycle can be used to look at any kind of stereotype about sex, gender, race, nationality, etc. Although I might be looking at a piece of art from my own perspective, one must remember that through a certain perspective this painting was created and further, the creator’s perspective has been shaped by other perspectives and cultural patterns.

This article reminds me of a research project I did in high school that evaluated an ad from the 1950s. I looked at an Elizabeth Arden makeup ad that very subtly depicted the importance of beauty over knowledge in a college setting. While analyzing the ad, I had to think about the time period, the recent events taking place in America, who designed the ad, who the audience was for the ad, the cultural norms relating to women at the time, the mediums of art of the time, etc. While reading this article, I often thought of this research project and the way in which Rose provides great insight about culture as a more complex definition than we have perceived.

Another really wild thought that Rose brings up is the idea that we are constantly viewing perspectives other than our own and this practice has become a norm. She calls this “simulacrum” and displays how, with time, an object that is being viewed gets more and more unconnected from the “real world.” For example, virtual reality or the simulation of New York in New York. I would question if these kinds of visuals are actually moving away from reality or if the means by which we produce these visuals is getting harder to understand. For example, with this kind of art, it is suddenly harder to pinpoint who created this medium and what the creator intended the audience to see.

 

Reader Response to Gillian Rose

Gillian Rose’s Visual Methodologies was an interesting piece that brought together many different theories on visual culture studies into one succinct text. While I do not study Media studies or art history, I have taken classes in both areas and many ideas from other courses I have taken were incorporated into this piece. Specifically Rose’s discussion of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing  was interesting to think about in the context of our class specifically. I first watched Ways of Seeing in my intro to art history course and applied it to much more classical art pieces. Reading about it in this piece, even though it is not situated specifically in comics, made me want to apply it to the texts we have read so far in this class.

John Berger’s notion of “men act and women appear” I feel is incredibly applicable to this class. This may be stretching the way Berger meant that statement but I thought back to the piece we read for last class on the Nancy comic. The authors of that piece claimed that Nancy was the most universal and enjoyable comic they had ever seen. They broke down this well in the article and situated in specifically in style and structure. After reading Visual Methodologies though, part of me is left wondering if it is somewhat so universally loved because of Nancy being female. She is obviously a young girl and not a woman but she is still the object as described by John Berger.

This same argument can be clearly applied to the Misty comic that we read for the day. While Misty is not nude in the comic, she is often portrayed in a sexual manner, and appeals to very clear western and sexualized standards of beauty. Tying this into the notion of Visual Culture, the way women are portrayed in Misty is clearly reflecting the ways in which women were seen in the time that it was created. Going back to Rose, one must truly deconstruct the social forces behind the images in order to truly understand them. Misty does not have any sort of special talent or powers or anything in the comic, which is in stark contrast to the ads for other comics in the comic, where it is all male superheroes as the other option for comics one could mail in and order.

While Misty is clearly sexualized for the male gaze, I also felt that the comic was geared towards a female audience. Most of the letters to Misty at the end were from women, and most of the names of people who created the outfits were traditionally feminine ways. This signaled to me that even when sources of media or art are aimed towards women the male gaze is ever present. One thing that I really did enjoy about Misty was that she was clearly the protagonist and was never seen as relational to the male characters. Men took up very little of the page space in the comic.

 

The definition of “Ocularcentrism”

As a whole, this piece by Rose explores the way our society’s visual capacity works, and how intertwined vision and visuality are with the cultures of society. The first thing that I appreciated was the immediate distinction on pg. 6, between vision and visuality, the distinction between our eye physically viewing and the true manner in how we are perceiving what our eyes see. After reading something like “How to Read Nancy” and the first few chapters of Scott McCloud, I was able to appreciate the nuances between vision and visuality, but I just didn’t really have a term and definition side by side that “Visual Methodologies” gives.

At first, when “ocularcentrism” is defined on pg. 7, I disagreed with the basis of its definition, that the visual is central to contemporary Western life. (For argument’s sake, and what I believe the author’s intention, I view contemporary Western life as the contemporary consumerist U.S.). While I initially tried to think of one of the other four senses that could be argued to be central, I couldn’t. However, I think it’s possible that consciousness and the essential aspects that are associated with it like memory, emotions, and reasoning could be argued to be more central to Western life. With generally modernity and consumerism being so present in Western life, our thoughts seem to be more immediately important than our sight. People love to ruminate in nostalgia, things like seeing lose out to things like wanting, and we reason with our self more than anyone else. I think that while the visual has an extremely important place, consciousness is more of an apparent centrality in any life, including Western life.

But even as I say  that I listened to a podcast somewhat recently that was testing the limits of being able to visually and audibly fabricate famous or important people saying things they did not say (I believe it is actually the same one that Professor Biz talks about in one of her sample writings on “Visual Methodologies” by Rose). In this era of “fake news” running amok in our present-day lives, current technology that would allow for fabrication like this in the near future is a scary thing if you respect how central the visual is to our Western life. We watch the news and read headlines, and we consider what we see honest, hopefully with a reasonable amount of doubt about what we can’t confirm. But if we can’t even trust that the mouth we are watching move attached to the face we know is really saying what they are saying, it would represent a true compromise of the visual, of which the repercussions might really show how central it is to Western life.

The comic “Misty”, can somewhat represent this centrality of the visual as well. The thing I noticed first was the square text in the bottom corner of some panels, showing the name of the individual who drew the clothes the characters were wearing. This detail stood out to me as a representation of the centrality of the visual in contemporary Western life. Made in 1982 (contemporary for my purposes) and clearly depicting Western life, each fancy item of clothing has the author’s name taking up space, eerily similar to the named types of fancy clothes in current-day Western life (Vitton, Gucci, Prada, etc.). I think after thinking about it and seeing that in Misty, I am much more convinced of Rose’s definition of “ocularcentrism”.

Reader Response to Gillian Rose’s Visual Methodologies

The statement, the visions that Western societies hold is fundamental to the cultural construction of social life, is at first a very confusing statement but after I thought about it for a little bit and I began to decompress it down to simplify the meaning, I found that I agreed with Rose’s reasoning even though I had never thought of Western social construction in this particular way. Images surround us constantly, whether it be through social media, television, textbooks, pictures, art, etc., and these images allow us to look at the world in a graphic sense instead of our brains just processing gobs and gobs of words. I thought that Rose’s interpretation of the statement, “images are never transparent windows on to the world” was cliché but as I kept reading and as it reached the picture of the man and the woman looking through the window into what seems to be a store of some sort, it all began to make sense. The notion of ‘truthful’ photographs relates to this statement because even though the picture of the man and the woman seems to be natural and looks like a picture that I could possibly dissect to look at some instance of reality, the photograph very well could have been entirely staged and nothing about the subject’s expressions, body posture, etc., is natural.

Comparing the photograph of the man and the woman to the Conservative Party election poster, I saw that even though both of these visual images are photographs of humans, the message that they bring across right away is completely different. On the poster, even though the man is the subject of the poster and the poster is about him, my eyes were instantly drawn not to him, but to the large bold letters at the bottom that exclaim “LABOUR SAYS HE’S BLACK. TORIES SAY HE’S BRITISH.” Because the viewer’s eyes are instantly drawn to those two statements, then immediately the man on the poster is put into a category without any precaution.

I thought that it was interesting when Fyfe and Law stated, “It is to note its principles of inclusion and exclusion, to detect the roles that it makes available” and the way that this statement related to Berger’s thoughts on female nude paintings. I did not agree with Berger on the fact that nude art is made for the male spectator. Even though this may be true for some forms of nude art, I do not believe that all artists paint nude women solely for the eyes of men but instead they paint nude bodies because bodies are an amazing work of art all by themselves and they may be attempting to capture that beauty and grace. I also do not agree with him on the fact of “men act and women appear”. I think instead that many women choose to embrace their femininity and do not see themselves as any sort of object.

Audiencing in “Misty”

It occurs to me that these images of “Misty” are really perfect for thinking in terms of audiencing. Few other texts come accompanied by consistent labels indicating how the audience is participating with the story, as well as a write-in section for readers at the end.

What strikes me as interesting in terms of audiencing and “Misty” is the unique way in which “Misty,” as a text, interacts with its audience. The audience doesn’t just read the comic – they play a huge role in producing it, sending in their fashion designs from across the country, and apparently Canada, too. The names of audience members who have participated are printed right in the meat of the text. Then, the audience members are given the opportunity to talk to ‘Misty,’ ask her questions, and ultimately, feel as though they know her personally.

I think the interactive nature of the text falls under the first aspect of audiencing: “the social practices of spectating” (Rose, 27). “Misty” is not just a comic to be passively read – it is a group effort, and to read it is to be invited to participate. I imagine this must be part of why the comic is so influential to the young girls whose comments we read at the end. It is not just that, as Amy Holmes from Waterloo, IA, puts it, “Misty is for girls, it has paper dolls in it,” although I’m sure “Misty’s” rare girl-oriented marketing is certainly part of the appeal. I would argue that part of what makes the text so appealing to young women (or made it so at the time), is the fact that it was theirs. They had a chance to shape it with their own imaginations via their fashion designs.

Of course, I would not necessarily describe the text itself as particularly ‘empowering;’ Spike’s short hair and Misty’s stint as a super hero certainly have a feminist bent and warrant more analysis, but the cattiness of Misty and Darlene in the wedding story, as well as the fact that Misty’s super powers are rooted in shopping, naturally leave the modern reader somewhat dissatisfied from a feminist point of view.

That said, I would argue that if “Misty” was a source of empowerment in its time, then that empowerment lay less in the quality of its content, and more in the fact that it advertised itself in every way as belonging to young women. Uber-feminine main characters and the addition of paper dolls to comic books (which are both ways to bring the so-called ‘feminine’ into a ‘masculine’ medium), and the invitations of audience participation appear to have made “Misty” into a kind of hub for young women’s culture.

With “Misty,” girls could communicate with older women and with each other on the troubles and travails of growing up. They also were able to take “Misty” as a kind of universalized example of womanhood, knowing that other young women across the country were also looking at the comic and aspiring to these standards. This is not to say that the standards were necessarily healthy (consider the commentary on Misty’s waistline …) but I do mean to point out that “Misty’s” function as a cultural hub may well have been a much-desired place of guidance for young women at the time.