The Handmaid’s Graphic Tale

The enduring power of reading and teaching Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale lies in both her gifts for storytelling and her love for language revealed in her playing with words.

Regardless of the genre or form, Atwood loves to make us flinch with the turn of a phrase:

“You Fit into Me”

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

When I was teaching Advanced Placement Literature for high school students in the rural South, I found one of the best lessons revolved around Atwood’s investigation of graphic language during The Ceremony in Chapter 16:

My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for. There wasn’t a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose. (p. 94)

My students and I also found the wordplay throughout the novel as engaging as the characters and narratives, notably the scene when the Commander ushers Offred to his room for a rendezvous that turns out to be a surprising form of infidelity, Scrabble:

“I’d like you to play a game of Scrabble with me,” he says.

I hold myself absolutely rigid. I keep my face unmoving. So that’s what’s in the forbidden room! Scrabble! I want to laugh, shriek with laughter, fall off my chair….

Now of course it’s something different. Now it’s forbidden, for us. Now it’s dangerous. Now it’s indecent. Now it’s something he can’t do with his Wife. Now it’s desirable. Now he’s compromised himself. It’s as if he’s offered me drugs….

What does [Nick] get for it, his role as page boy? How does he feel, pimping in this ambiguous way for the Commander? Does it fill him with disgust, or make him want more of me, want me more? Because he has no idea what really goes on in there, among the books. Acts of perversion, for all he knows. The Commander and me, covering each other with ink, licking it off, or making love on stacks of forbidden newsprint. Well, he wouldn’t be far off at that….

Caught in the act, sinfully Scrabbling. Quick, eat those words. (pp. 138-139, 181)

This language-rich element of Atwood’s fiction as well as her wordplay poses a challenge for adapting this novel to film and more recently a series. Adaptation, however, allows a seminal work to grow, expand, and even change, as the series now moves beyond the original narrative in ways similar to The Walking Dead.

Atwood’s interest in blending and breaking genre and her work in graphic media suggest that the latest adaptation fits perfectly into the expanding body of work drawn from The Handmaid’s Tale:

The Handmaid’s Tale (Graphic Novel): A Novel by Margaret Atwood and Renee Nault

As part of the adaptation process from novel to graphic novel, Renée Nault notes that she did not watch the Hulu series, but the process entailed:

Nault worked first-hand with Atwood to pare down the story — about a dystopian future where America has become a brutal theocracy and fertile women are the property of powerful men — then bring it to life on the page.

The resulting tome…is 240 pages of arresting watercolor illustrations, depicting the novel’s grim world in muted grays and browns with shocks of red from the handmaids’ distinctive red cloaks.

“Some books would be very hard to adapt in this way, but ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is awash in visual symbolism — partly because women in it are not allowed to read,” the 79-year-old author said.

They were also able to convey some things that text — and even a TV show — never could.

My love for Atwood’s work and comic books/graphic novels informed my reading of this adaptation. Yet, I was initially concerned about how I would feel since much of the adaptation involves the loss of Atwood’s rich language, although the artwork is stunning in its place:

Language does not suffer, however, since Nault’s use of language includes a judicious series of decisions about when to be sparse and when to swim in Atwood’s language. As well, the graphic adaptation allows a diversity of fonts and word placement, notably in the Scrabble scene, that amplifies the power of language.

This graphic adaptation adds diversity of narrative pace and framing through Nault’s choices about page layouts, even, at time, conforming to fairly standard comic book panels:

Since Atwood uses iconography and color throughout the novel, the adaptation is rich with both:

One of the earliest versions of a first-year writing seminar I taught was grounded in works that are in multiple forms of adaptation, such as a novel to a film (from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to Blade Runner, for example). Often we examined the fidelity of the adaptation—the novel and film of World War Z come to mind—but we also tried to work toward evaluating adaptations on their own merits, not just “Is this a good adaptation in terms of remaining true to the original?”

My strongest quibble of the graphic adaption is that the Historical Notes section feels far too clipped, but in many ways, in the novel, it serves to reinforce much of the language and academic elements of the story. Noting this small weakness also highlights that the graphic novel tends to lose the humor, albeit very dark, weaved throughout by Atwood.

Ultimately, as a reader and a teacher, I think this graphic adaptation soars as a work on its own and as an introduction or companion to Atwood’s original work. Reading or teaching these works separately or together still leads to the final and haunting line: “Are there any questions?”

Thirty-plus years since Atwood raised this ominous question, we are finding ever-new and disturbing ways to shake our heads and wrestle with hard questions and maybe some answers that help us overcome our current nightmares depicted off kilter by speculative fiction, text-only or graphic, and avoid some Other World that feels just over the horizon.

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Super Sex: Body Objectification and Superhero Narratives

I want a perfect body

“Creep,” Radiohead

She’s suddenly beautiful
And we all want something beautiful
Man, I wish I was beautiful

“Mr. Jones,” Counting Crows

Superhero comic books have a long and troubling history of xenophobia, racism, cultural appropriation, sexism, and nearly any negative -ism you can imagine.

The comic book industry is obsessed as well with rebooting as an industry mechanism and rebirth as a recurring plot element. Whether reboot, resurrection, or adaptation, however, superhero narratives seem unable to shake the very worst aspects of cliche and reductive storytelling.

The adaptation of The Punisher (Netflix) and yet another rebooting of Daredevil, volume 6 (2019), share even more examples of failing to take advantage of starting over.

Season 2 Episode 1 of The Punisher puts Frank Castle, masquerading as Pete, in a dive-bar in Michigan.

Ever stoic, Frank cannot avoid trouble, interjecting himself between a crude bar patron and the bartender, Beth, who has remained nearly equally as distant as Frank. When the bar bouncer moves to expel both the creep and Frank, Beth intervenes, and despite her protestation that she doesn’t need any help, she ultimately makes the move on her knight in shining armor, offering a nightcap at her place.

As Beth and Frank (Pete) walk to her car, Beth asks Frank to assure her he isn’t an “asshole”; Frank replies, “Isn’t that the kind of thing an asshole would do?”

Soon, Beth and Frank are entwined in Hollywood montage sex, interspersed with some dialogue where Frank confesses his name is Frank, and not Pete as he has told her.

Once again, Beth struggles with a reasonable concern about whether or not Frank is an asshole, just another creep, one whose body is riddled with scars.

And for the second time, Beth just goes with a feeling and accepts Frank is essentially a good guy.

Not blessed/cursed with superhero powers, Frank is one of the mostly human superheroes although gifted with skills and the prerequisite rage-motivation: a well-trained killing machine spawned by the military and then driven to incessant vigilanteism by the slaughter of his entire family.

Castle and Mad Max were cast from the same mold.

The Hollywood montage sex of E1 is much less about the sort of sex people have on one-night stands and more about the objectification of bodies in superhero narratives. And these narratives never stray too far from the unexplainable magnetism of the white male saviors that nearly always sit in the center.

Superhero sex is a compelling topic when those superheroes have exceptional powers like Superman needing to be human to be with Lois (see the Christopher Reeves films) or the violent and destructive coupling of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage in the Netflix adaptation of Jessica Jones.

But Castle, The Punisher, is all rage and training so the super sex is titillating but mostly secondary to the standard messages being sent about Frank as white male savior and sexually irresistible.

In both the Marvel comic book universe and the Netflix universe, Castle/The Punisher and Daredevil/ Matt Murdock are paired as different sides of the same vigilante coin—Frank the-ends-justify-the-means Castle juxtaposed with Matt Batman-lite Murdock.

With Daredevil being resurrected once again in the comic book with 2019’s volume 6, on the heels of the Death of Daredevil and three seasons of Daredevil on Netflix, we are immediately confronted with super sex and body objectification.

While superheroes such as The Punisher and Batman are essentially humans with super abilities gained through training and trauma, Murdock is a step above since he does possess super powers, although his physical strengths are mostly acquired. In other words, Murdock/Daredevil does not pose the same sexual threats as Superman or, say, the Hulk.

Fresh from the edge of death and the hospital, like Frank in S2 E1, Matt in issue 1 (2019) moves from the bar to the bedroom:

IMG_1892.JPG

The panels preceding these are the comic book version of Hollywood montage sex, but this dialogue is significant for the ways this reboot approaches well and then fails the super sex motif.

In the early episodes of Netflix’s Daredevil, Foggy chuckles about Matt’s being blind but always attracting beautiful women. This adaptation remains uncritical in its use of the blind motif in Daredevil, which the comic book has tended to do since the early 1960s.

The scene above does complicate the blind motif when Matt implores: “Please don’t make my disability your fetish.”

However by the final panels of that page, the dialogue and artwork paint a disturbing, and far too predictable picture.

Matt’s partner in a one-night stand is aggressively establishing her seeking out his body. But she is drawn pencil-thin, and both she and Matt concur—despite her being attracted to Matt’s blindness (“I picked you up with my charm“): “I don’t have to worry if I am pretty enough,” she explains. “And yet,” Matt parries, “you’re beautiful.”

“And yet,” she echoes, “I’m beautiful.”

Superhero narratives remain compelling because they have potential, often underachieved potential, but potential none the less.

The Punisher and Daredevil are characters with moral and ethical imperatives about justice, but also embodiments of vigilante themes that are pursued uncritically.

They share as well the lazy super sex plot elements and body objectification that is reductive for women characters who are equally diminished by their capitulation to the irresistible white savior appeal of Castle and Murdock—stoic, scarred, and chiseled.

Real-life sex is almost nothing like Hollywood montage sex, and superhero narratives could benefit from realizing that as well as exploring the full physical and emotional complexity of humans, even when they have superpowers or especially when they are merely human in the presence of the superhuman.

Netflix’s Daredevil Adaptation: Miller Lite

The origin story for superhero comic books rests in the 1930s and 1940s, but those creators remained in relative obscurity, often with little or no financial reward. However, the 1980s and 1990s ushered in an era of comic book creators as superstars.

One of the most iconic and influential superstars from that period was Frank Miller, who built his comic book capital on a staple of the industry—the reboot.

Miller reimagined the canon for and resurrected Daredevil (Marvel) as well as Batman (DC). Some argue that his work on Batman: Year One (with David Mazzucchelli) and The Dark Knight Returns (with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley) is among the best in the history of superhero comic books.

Batman-Year One (cover).jpg

Miller’s artwork also proved to be a visually impressive source for film—notably his Sin City and 300.

Superstardom for Miller hasn’t avoided stumbles (his script for RoboCop 2) or controversy, as Sean Howe detailed in 2014:

But, as if Miller were one of his own antiheroes, his stark individualist philosophy has also led him down some lonely corridors. He’s written graphic novels that many of his fans recoil from—including one that WIRED called “one of the most appalling, offensive, and vindictive comics of all time.” And he followed that up with ferocious online musings that provoked an outcry, even from some of his most stalwart supporters. In recent years, he’s withdrawn from the public eye.

One of the newest renditions of  Miller’s work has itself been mostly hidden from the public eye: Miller’s The Man without Fear and his “Born Again” arc as source material for Netflix’s now cancelled Daredevil series.

Charlie Cox in Daredevil (2015)

The Many Universes of Superheroes: Netflix’s Miller Lite Adaptation

While rebooting characters and entire universes became a standard convention of comic books at Marvel and DC, the adaptation of superheroes from print to film sputtered throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s.

Marvel has mastered the film adaptation, and many in the public are far more familiar with the film Marvel Universe than the many universes of the comic books. Concurrent with the feature film success of Marvel and struggles with DC-based films other than Batman, Netflix launched serialized superhero adaptations in conjunction with Marvel: Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher.

These adaptations, I thought, held much greater potential than feature films; they matched the current generation’s lust for binge watching, but they also maintained one of the most compelling features of comic books, extended serialization.

The Netflix approach was well-suited to Jessica Jones since the adaptations downplay some of the main conventions of superhero comic books, such as elaborate and identifiable superhero costumes.

To their credit, Netflix adaptations have been character driven, often as much about the everyday person as the superhero alter-ego.

Season 1 of Daredevil traveled that muted approach to superheroes, and found the perfect source in Miller’s arc, later published as a graphic novel, The Man without Fear, written by Miller with dynamic artwork from John Romita Jr. (pencils) and Al Williamson (inks).

This first season follows a softened and tweaked Miller narrative and draws significantly from Romita Jr.’s art, notably the black non-costume Matt Murdock dons in most of the season:

Related image

The Man without Fear #5 (p. 136 in graphic novel)

While I have examined The Man without Fear and its relationship with the Netflix series [1], I want below to look at Season 3 and the use of the “Born Again” arc as more Miller Lite.

Daredevil Born Again, and Again

The “Born Again” arc (Daredevil vol. 1, issues 227-231, and often including 232-233) features Miller and Mazzucchelli, who also paired on Batman: Year One. This storyline builds on the rebooted Daredevil fashioned by Miller and includes some powerful religious imagery and themes.

Daredevil Born Again.jpg

Daredevil as a mythology and narrative has survived, I think, like other major superheroes because in its essence that mythology has compelling elements—structural justice versus vigilante justice, tensions surrounding the idea that “justice is blind,” etc. However, the serial rebooting of the character and the adaptations of the comic book medium into feature films and serialized filmed formats suggest at least that these essential elements have not in some real way been fulfilled.

This is where the differences between the source material and the adaptation come into play. Netflix’s S3 of Daredevil uses “Born Again” as the primary frame, as S1 used The Man without Fear. But S3 also pulls directly and loosely from other sources in the comic book universes as well.

Jesse Schedeen offers 9 changes made in S3 to the comic book sources:

  1. Schedeen focuses on Karen Page’s role in Wilson Fisk/Kingpin discovering Matt Murdock is Daredevil; Karen is manipulated into revealing Murdock’s secret in “Born Again” because Miller has reimagined her as a drug addict and failed-actress-turned-porn-performer. I want to add and emphasize here that the Netflix version of Karen is an important shift from Miller’s trite and reductive Karen. Netflix’s adaptation has clearly sought ways to keep Karen flawed (her backstory revealed in S3 is brutal and dark) but maintain a far more complex and fully human character than Miller has allowed. Like Matt, Karen feels a great deal of guilt and self-loathing in S3, but this adaptation resists a common flaw in comic book narratives to reduce women to one dimension.
  2. Another change involves pulling from a different source, “Guardian Devil” from 1998, as Schedeen notes. This change fits into my point above, I think, in that S3 character Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter (an adaptation of the Marvel character Bullseye) kills Father Lantom instead of Karen. Again, I see these changes allowing a richer and more complex version of Miller’s Karen Page and the wider Daredevil contemporary canon (in this case crafted by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada).
  3. S3 maintains the “Born Again” reveal of Matt Murdock discovering Sister Maggie is his mother, as Schedeen details, developing more tension in the adaptation version.
  4. The teasing out of Wilson Fisk/ Dex (Bullseye) and another assassin, Nuke, between “Born Again” and S3 demonstrates how the Netflix series often streamlines source narratives and characters while also in many ways blunting superhero elements.
  5. One of the most distinct differences is the use of Dex, and dropping the name “Bullseye” as well as the superhero uniform, in S3. Netflix’s adaptation has chosen to emphasize Dex as mentally unstable, paralleling, I think, in many ways the motif throughout the series concerning childhood trauma (shared by Dex, Fisk, and Murdock) and authority conflicts—the parent/child pattern seen also with Karen.
  6. The paralysis of Bullseye is shared between S3 and the comic book source, and as the Netflix S3 ends, Dex’s surgery clearly was designed to propel the series into another season.
  7. One of the key characters in the Daredevil myth is Foggy, and the Netflix version also develops from the foundational source character into a more complex and even realistic person, a necessary change, I think, in terms of how Foggy parallels Karen as they interact with Matt.
  8. Fisk’s love interest, Vanessa, proves to be another interesting adaptation in S3, much like the changes made with Karen. As Schedeen explains, “In the comics, though, Vanessa has a much more complicated relationship with her husband and his criminal empire.” Here, I think, the viewer of S3 is forced to consider Vanessa as a more fully human and independent character, again in similar ways to how we view Karen. In comic books, as in literature, women are often reduced to being merely symbolic or muses for men as heroes, or villains.
  9. Similar to Dex (Bullseye), Fisk (Kingpin) is essentially drawn from the comic book Marvel universe, and “Born Again,” but the superhero/villain elements are greatly muted. The “Born Again” Kingpin projects the sort of large ego we see in S3, but the fights and outcome for Fisk vary substantially in the adaptation. Schedeen adds, “Fisk doesn’t suffer quite so resounding a defeat in ‘Born Again.’ He does overplay his hand in his attempts to destroy Matt Murdock, eventually causing the deaths of dozens of Hell’s Kitchen residents when he unleashes the out-of-control Nuke.”

With the Netflix run of Daredevil finished, in midstream, we can see how Miller’s version has provided a powerful and compelling frame for the adaptation. But we should also recognize the potential and purpose of adaptation from one medium to another.

The Netflix series as Miller Lite presents an important argument for the urge in the comic book universe to reboot and retell. Daredevil as a foundational superhero myth has extremely important characters, motifs, and themes, but too often the array of creators positioned to soar with those elements has tended to flutter, falter, and even fail.

S1 of Daredevil was exciting in its potential, even as I found the filming too dark (although the dark tendency of the comic book with some artists, such as Alex Maleev, has been among my favorite qualities). By S3 and the abrupt end, I was increasingly hopeful that this adaptation was working its way in the right direction.

While episode 13 of S3 charged viewers with Matt’s “man without fear” speech at Father Lantom’s funeral, we are left once again with less than we had hoped for.


[1] Thomas, P.L. (2019). From Marvel’s Daredevil to Netflix’s Defenders: Is justice blind? In S. Eckard (ed.), Comic connections: Building character and theme (pp. 81-98). New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield; Thomas, P.L. (2012). Daredevil: The man without fearElektra lives again; science fiction.  [entries]. In Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes and Superheroes. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.

Daredevil in Trumplandia: “The Kingpin’s weakness is vanity”

The humanities have a long history of being discredited in the U.S. as impractical majors in college. The good ol’ U.S. of A. tends to calculate investment and return at a very simplistic level to determine when the cost of a college major can be linked directly to earnings in a career.

Business majors are destined to make bank, goes the investment/return narrative, but what you going to do with an English major?

Current times are particularly hard for the humanities, especially literature as a track of English as a major.

Here is the real-world irony in the era of Trumplandia: With Donald Trump at the center of 17 investigations, some have questioned why Trump would have pursued the presidency, which clearly opened the door to exposing his criminality.

The explanation lies, you guessed it, in literature.

While many of us found Greek and Shakespearean tragedy serious drudgery in our formal schooling, these dramas told a tale all too familiar: How the mighty are destined to fall because of their unbridled hubris, excessive pride.

Trump born into excessive and ill-got wealth has skirted along his entire life—cut to the scene where young bone-spurred Trump skips past active duty in war—without consequences for his greed, arrogance, and (to tick another work of literature) his pathological mendacity. (See also, like a good parallel subplot in Shakespeare, the Brett Kavanaugh saga.)

Keeping in mind that universal themes in literature are deeply problematic, we have abundant evidence that motifs such as the dangers of excessive pride are at least enduring, and for good reason.

Recently, I have been reconnecting with one of my favorite comic book superheroes, Daredevil.

Season 3 of the Netflix series, despite all the flaws in this adaptation and the original comic book created in 1964 by Stan Lee, Bill Everett, and Jack Kirby, represents what makes Daredevil compelling—the complex investigation of justice in the context of both human and spiritual justice. S3 draws on Frank Miller’s “Born Again” (1986) while maintaining the Netflix toned down approach to superhero narratives.

Matt Murdock as righteous lawyer and simultaneously the morally ambiguous vigilante Daredevil (the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen)*, at its best, is a much more powerful and compelling examination of justice than, for example, Batman.

While the religious debates in S3 are key elements of why I am drawn to Daredevil, picking up the Conclusion to The Death of Daredevil (612) serves well my point above about the value of literature and the enduring motif about the folly of excessive pride.

Charles Soule (writer) and Phil Noto (artist) dramatize the Murdock/Daredevil duality well as Murdock seeks Daredevil as a witness to remove Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin as mayor of New York.

Four pages provide a thinly veiled indictment of not only Fisk/The Kingpin, but also Donald Trump.

When Murdock confronts the district attorney, we witness how political might trumps ethics and even the law:

DD 612 3

Murdock’s idealism is highlighted in his plea: “But Wilson Fisk is a criminal. He does not deserve that office.” And this exchange also addresses how those connected to an administration are themselves complicit; as Murdock asks the question often repeated in the real world of Trumplandia:

Can you really keep working for an administration you know is illegal and corrupt at its core when you know there’s a way to take it down?

Yes, it’s a risk. But even if you lose it all, you’ll go out as who you are, not the compromised shadow of yourself the Kingpin’s hoping you’ll be.

It is, however, Fisk on the witness stand and then alone in his office that speak directly to Trump:

DD 612 5

DD 612 6

DD 612 4

Murdock/Daredevil narrates the scene and notes:

I can hear Fisk’s heartbeat. Slow, steady. He’s not afraid. He’s like me that way.

He’s not afraid of anything, and you can’t make him afraid. That’s not the way you beat him. That’s not his weakness.

The Kingpin’s weakness…is vanity.

Fisk as an allegory of Trump is yet another tale of excessive pride, hubris.

Not afraid and certain he is above accountability, Fisk storms from the stand: “Enough. This is a farce, and I will not stand for it any longer.” Might we hear “fake news” in the background?

The dynamic page with Fisk being introspective precedes his being removed from office. It appears the fantasy world of comic books still clings to some sliver of justice even as the real world seems unable or unwilling to take such stands against criminals in office.

However, this is only appearances as there is a twist; justice, you see, is no more simple in Daredevil than in our real world of Trumplandia. The battle between good and evil is never-ending, and more things than justice seem blind—and paralyzed.

The Death of Daredevil ends: “I cannot see the light. So I will be the light. I am Daredevil. And I am not afraid.” And let us not forget, walking unafraid is a trait shared by our so-called heroes and so-called villains.


* Season 2 effectively challenges Murdock/Daredevil’s righteousness with The Punisher, and others, noting little difference among Daredevil, The Punisher, and Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin.

See Also

Thomas, P.L. (2019). From Marvel’s Daredevil to Netflix’s Defenders: Is justice blind? In S. Eckard (ed.), Comic connections: Building character and theme (pp. 81-98). New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

Thomas, P.L. (2012). Daredevil: The man without fearElektra lives again; science fiction.  [entries]. In Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes and Superheroes. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.

Comic Book, Graphic Novel Scholarship and Blogs

Thomas, P.L. (2019). From Marvel’s Daredevil to Netflix’s Defenders: Is justice blind? In S. Eckard (ed.), Comic connections: Building character and theme (pp. 81-98). New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

Thomas, P.L. (2018). Wonder Woman: Reading and teaching feminism with an Amazonian princess in an era of Jessica Jones. In S. Eckard (ed.), Comic connections: Reflecting on women in popular culture (pp. 21-37). New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

9781138649903

Thomas, P.L. (2017). Can superhero comics defeat racism?: Black superheroes “torn between sci-fi fantasy and cultural reality.” In C.A. Hill (ed.), Teaching comics through multiple lenses: Critical perspectives (pp. 132-146). New York, NY: Routledge.

TeachingDemocracy cover

Thomas, P.L. (2014). Adventures in adaptation: Confronting texts in a time of standardization. In Eds. P. Paugh, T. Kress, & R. Lake, Teaching towards democracy with postmodern and popular cultural texts (pp. 7-20). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

CritSurveyGN2012

—–. (2012). Daredevil: The man without fear; Elektra lives again; science fiction.  [entries]. In Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes and Superheroes. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.

BoyCulture2010

—–. (2010). Comics and graphic novels. [entry]. In S. R. Steinberg, M. Kehler, & L. Cornish (Eds.), Boy Culture, vol. 2 (pp. 319-328). Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press.


See Comic Book and Graphic Novel blogs HERE.

NEW: Comic Connections Building: Character and Theme

Comic Connections Building: Character and Theme, Sandra Eckard, editor

Comic Connections: Building Character and Theme is designed to help teachers from middle school through college find exciting new strategies to help students develop their literacy skills. Each chapter has three pieces: comic relevance, classroom connections, and concluding thoughts; this format allows a reader to pick-and-choose where to start. Some readers might want to delve into the history of a comic to better understand characters and their usefulness, while other readers might want to pick up an activity, presentation, or project that they can fold into that day’s lesson. This volume in Comic Connections series focuses on two literary elements—character and theme—that instructors can use to build a foundation for advanced literary studies. By connecting comics and pop culture with these elements, students and teachers can be more energized and invested in the ELA curriculum.

Table of Contents

Preface: Becoming a Teacher

Acknowledgements

Introduction: Building Character and Theme, Sandra Eckard

1: Tales and Dreams: Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and Critical and Creative Thinking in the English Classroom, Carmela Delia Lanza

2: Marvelous Families, Epic Dysfunction: Combining Norse Mythology, the Thor Comics, and Marvel Films in a General Education Literature Course, Holly M. Wells

3: Flip the Hero Script: Kamala Khan and Katniss Everdeen Search for Agency, Purpose, and Identity, Mary T. Christel

4: Marvel’s Civil War: Interrogating Vigilantism and the Superhero Myth in the Post-9/11 Era, Jane Coulter and Keith McCleary

5: From Marvel’s Daredevil to Netflix’s Defenders: Justice Is Blind?, P.L. Thomas

See: Daredevil and Marvel Rising at Netflix 

6: Comics and Philosophy: Batman and the Nature of Evil, Jon Ostenson

7: Discovering and Discussing Tall Tale Elements Through Lemke’s Tall Great American Folktales: The Comic Anthology, Jennifer Toney

8: Finding the Panther: Marvel Comics’ Black Panther Socio-Historical Roots and Their Influences on Character Development, Scott Honeycutt, Karin Keith, Renee Rice-Moran, LaShay Jennings, Huili Hong

9: 21st Century Creature: Analyzing Frankenstein in the Medium of Comic, Jeffrey Hayes

10: Word from Krypton: Analyzing the Character of Superman, Richard Harrison

About the Authors


See Also

Comic Connections: Reflecting on Women in Popular Culture

“[A]ll this fiddle”: On Genre Wars in a Time of Craft Beer

Poetry MM

“Poetry,” Marianne Moore

Several years ago I was initiated into the craft beer world—having been a serious drinker of beer since high school but being a somewhat resolute low-brow consumer in many ways eschewing the snobbery I witnessed among wine connoisseurs.

Along with my cycling friends Rob and Brian, I made a couple trips to Colorado for bicycling and beer; while on those trips, I was gradually indoctrinated into a more refined understanding of craft beer, mostly guided by Brian.

Today, I frequent local and regional breweries almost exclusively for my beer drinking—along with my one remain low-brow habit of grande Dos Equis ambers a couple times a week at Mexican restaurants.

I remain far too naturally unsophisticated to ever grasp wine nuances, although I have friends who can easily convince me to enjoy wine with them, but my beer palate is moderately well educated, and I do enjoy a wide range of craft beers that I am certain baffles the mostly Bud Light crowd of my hometown and state.

Having come to beer snobbery late in life, I find the distinctions about “good” or “bad” beer quite similar to the genre wars that I have been living since I was a teen since my introduction to so-called literary fiction was significantly primed by my initial love for science fiction (mere “genre” fiction) and comic books (not any sort of literature at all!).

In Literary fiction or genre? When Megan Abbott and Naomi Novik are writing, who cares, Michale Robbins opens by confronting: “If there’s a distinction between ‘genre fiction’ and ‘literary fiction,’ it’s certainly not that the former isn’t literary and the latter isn’t generic. It’s mostly that the generic conventions of the latter are those that critics and professors are trained to value most.”

A former student, who was a top-notch English major and now teaches English, recently finished reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and drew the same conclusion—if we remain in a formalist paradigm of what counts as “literary,” then Tartt’s novel may well be pronounced so much popular fiddle.

Yet, as my former student noted, the novel could just as easily be praised if we change our metrics, set aside our snobbery.

John Warner’s Is ‘The Great Gatsby’ really required reading? Disrupt Texts challenges teachers to reconsider the classics also ventures into the debate about such snobberies grounded in the canon:

Much of the discussion among educators focuses on how using these texts can be enhanced by injecting marginalized perspectives. This is the “disrupt” part of Disrupt Texts. Rather than taking a single perspective as representative for all, the discussion challenges the notion of a single, fixed history. This is the root of critical thinking and a pre-requisite to lasting learning.

Education isn’t merely transmitting information; students must be taught to make meaning for themselves.

Warner’s last point can be extended, I think, to giving students not the right or only lens for evaluating texts (using the often unnamed New Criticism approach to dissecting text often written with New Criticism’s emphasis on craft and meaning in mind) but many and varied opportunities to examine texts in order to draw their own ways to navigate texts (a variety of lens, some more formal such as feminist or Marxist) and their own guidelines for what makes texts compelling, satisfying, and even “good.”

My former student and I continued to discuss her experience with The Goldfinch, the challenges, I noted, of making a really long novel satisfying. Tartt’s work, she said, was enjoyable to read, but she felt it failed in some important ways—ways I categorize as achieving or not that “satisfying.”

This discussion prompted me to think about Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, a very long and complex work.

When I first read 1Q84, I was initially drawn to the rotating main characters, but when a third focal character is introduced, I began to feel uncomfortable, a sense that the novels’ cohesion was being compromised.

Also I was uneasy with Murakami’s novel being labeled “science fiction”; I could not see anything about the work as I read it that would make me classify it as that genre (maybe something like fantasy or magical realism?).

I find all of Murakami compelling so I read quite eagerly even as I was uncomfortable with the possibility that the long work would not remain cohesive (I am sure my English training in New Criticism and literary snobbery were in play here as well). However, the work came together, fell into place—although how that happens is at least fantastical (one would argue a convention of genre not literary fiction).

All of this is to say that as an experienced and autonomous reader I have developed capacities for interrogating texts, mostly to determine if I enjoyed the work and the writer.

Some of my formal background as a student and English education major/English teacher actually inhibits my joy as a reader—a reality all too common for students.

The genre wars, then, often create barriers to reading and reading for pleasure.

In Moore’s “Poetry,” her second stanza evokes “high-sounding interpretation,” “unintelligible,” and “we/ do not admire what/ we cannot understand.”

Writers, like Moore and others, it seems, do themselves play into the genre wars and all that snobbery, especially about what constitutes the “good” writers as distinct from the hacks. But in the end, writers are mostly about having readers, readers eager to read, readers satisfied by a compelling and cohesive text—wishing for a next story, or book, or essay, or poem.

I cannot shake from my own mind as a reader the importance of texts being satisfying, cohesive. But I also think about my joy as a reader.

Two of the most wonderful texts I have ever read are Roxane Gay’s “There is No ‘E’ in Zombi Which Means There Can Be No You Or We”  and Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Husband Stitch”—beautiful, compelling works of fiction that depend heavily on so-called genre conventions but rise well above the bar of satisfying (even if we cannot resist the allure of evaluation, whether they are “literature”).

As a reader I am seeking writing that demonstrates purpose, a fidelity, I think, to the sort of writing the writer intends, the sort of text I am choosing to read.

Everything else is just fiddle, like calling Miller High Life “The Champagne of Beers.”