Posts Tagged ‘understandingcomics’


May 5, 2009


I.    OCTOBER 2004
In 2004, I move away from my childhood home in Mar Vista. Pressed for time and finances, we decide to move into an apartment near UCLA. It is a modest two and a half bedroom apartment, and considering that I will be living there with my mother and younger sister, I volunteer to take the “half” bedroom.

II.     NOVEMBER 2004
I have been living in the half bedroom for almost six months now. The room is long and narrow, with only one 2″ x 4″ window at the end of it through which. On clear days, sunlight shines in through the gnarled and spindly limbs of the barren jacaranda outside. In the spring, the view out my window will be awash with lush violets and greens. But right now, it’s mostly gray.


the apartment. my bedroom was on the third floor in the center. note the jacaranda.

The room is too small to accommodate a bed, so I sleep on a makeshift mattress on the floor. By makeshift, I mean a doughy mound of old sleeping bags and musty comforters. It resembles a dog bed fit proportioned for a human, and this will cause my mother much embarrassment and grief. I, on the other hand, love it.

Partly because it is a pleasant bale of blankets upon blankets upon blankets, and its proximity to the floor allows for me to fall asleep to the soft hum of the washer / dryers in the laundry room below (it is still to this day the comfiest place I have ever rested my head).

Another reason is that that due to my lifelong love of reading in bed, this will be the location in which I unwittingly discover my love for comics.


During a Christmas shopping excursion to the mall, I discover a peculiarly large “graphic novel” called BLANKETS in a Barnes and Noble. Though I enjoyed brief love affairs with PEANUTS and CALVIN AND HOBBES during my childhood, that interest quickly dissipated through my early teenage years, and I have never read a “graphic novel” and am still fairly comics illiterate. But intrigued by its stark yet serene cover of two lovers embracing in a snowdrift, I buy it on impulse and bring it home.

Later that day and completely subsumed (I’d say at least 100 pages deep) into BLANKETS, I receive a call from R******, my (first) girlfriend who I have been dating for about three months now. When she asks me what I’m up to, I tell her that I am reading this incredible graphic novel called BLANKETS. After a measured pause and an exasperated sigh, she informs me that she had just gotten me a copy of BLANKETS for Christmas. She says she’ll return it and try to find something else before the holiday, but I insist that she doesn’t. Despite my utter enthrallment with BLANKETS, I immediately shut the book and put it aside. The next day I gladly return it to the book store, and wait eagerly till Christmas to read the copy she has given me.

IV.    NOW

Craig Thompson’s BLANKETS is a painfully beautiful ode to young love and coming of age. Being my first encounter with comics via my first romantic relationship, it understandably holds a very special and important place in my heart. His expressive line (such as during his coughing fit on p. 153) and diverse panel / layout work (such as the snapshot mosaics on pgs. 228 – 229) effortlessly steers the reader through the crest and fall of Craig and Raina’s passionate and tumultuous relationship.

the lovers

Craig and Raina, "the lovers."

Though it is autobiographical and specific in nature, BLANKETS is also accessible in its encapsulation of many of the general experiences of first love and coming of age, such as trust, nostalgia, jealousy, lust and sexual discovery. Thompson’s honest and unflinching account of these topics effectively draws the reader in by playing on their own similar experiences, and in that sense, is perfectly suited for the graphic novel form.

understanding comics by scott mccloudIn UNDERSTANDING COMICS, Scott McCloud discusses how vague iconic comics characters (such as Tintin or Mickey Mouse) effectively allow us to transplant ourselves into their role in the story (see UNDERSTANDING COMICS page 36). And while Thompson’s characters are a bit more defined than the examples that McCloud provides, the effect is essentially the same. BLANKETS succeeds by inviting the reader to inhabit an extremely personal, albeit generally accessible, love story.

V.    FEBRUARY 2006

I am sitting in the Hammer Museum listening to Craig Thompson and B.J. Oropeza talk about “Spirituality and Comic Books.” While I am really only interested in what Thompson has to say about his master work BLANKETS, Oropeza most dominates the discussion, talking dryly about his own personal belief that the legend of Silver Surfer is a thinly veiled reworking of the story of Jesus Christ.

I really couldn’t care less. I fiddle with my well-loved copy of BLANKETS in my lap and think about R******. Like Craig and Raina, we too seem on the brink of unraveling. While their long distance relationship leads to their eventual break up, R****** and I seemed to be enduring an emotionally distant relationship. As she is a freshman at a college downtown and I am planning on leaving Los Angeles for school in the fall, our eventual departure looms heavy in the distance.

As the talk ends and my sister and I ask Thompson to sign our copies of BLANKETS, my sister asks him about a symbol – a halo-like sand dollar shape that, while ever present throughout the book, is never addressed or regarded.

this isnt it, but its the closest thing I could find.

this isn't it, but it's the closest thing I could find.

He told her that while he regarded it as symbolizing the soul or spirit-y stuff that is inside all of us, he seemed really hesitant to pinpoint concretely what it meant. He expressed a desire to leave it open for interpretation, to be endowed with whatever meaning the reader decided to instill in it.

Perhaps the sand dollar can be seen as a metaphor for the story of BLANKETS itself, a beautiful and nostalgic elegy to first love that invites personalization and reinterpretation.

Tracker – “Everything is Beautiful,” from the soundtrack to BLANKETS


Who Understands the Comics?

January 25, 2009

understanding comics by scott mccloud“Understanding Comics” was an incredible read. In the first two or three chapters alone, McCloud legitimizes the medium of comics (opposed to bolstering its status as the “bastard child” of fine art and literature) in a comprehensive and well worded / drawn argument. Having interned with a development office in a major studio for two summers now, I have been sadly accustomed to the treatment of comic books and manga as pulp-y stepping stones to the “higher art” of cinema.

I recall one especially depressing moment in which I was handed Kazuo Umezu’s THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM (adrifting-classroom particularly gorey and markedly sexist manga from 1970s Japan that, in one of its “tamer” sequences, features the horrific vivisection of a fourth grader in the mandibles of a large mutated space insect) and was told that a neighboring production company wanted to option it in hopes of developing it as a light family romp in the vein of early Spielberg. The integrity of the work was obviously being compromised (or wholly neglected), and I really didn’t know how to feel about that.

I understand why as of late, stacks of graphic literature (“sequential art”) have adorned the already crowded desks of Hollywood producers and their Creative Executives. Comics is a hip, fresh, and fun media that is raking in a mainstream following and box office dough.  With its inherent commingling of visual art and text, many might believe that comics may easily be transferred to the screen. And considering the recent influx of these “comics movies” in American theaters, it seems as though this belief has been widespread and firmly rooted amongst both Hollywood shot-callers and their audiences and benefactors. Does this in turn affirm the illegitimate status of comics? How could it not?

“There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can’t.”

– Alan Moore, on the eve of the release of  Watchmen (dir. Zack Snyder, 2009)

don't be surprised

a very possible future

While McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” was published in 1993, way before the current “comics movie” craze, I am curious as to how he would respond to it. Additionally, while his book undertakes an incredible analysis of the comics medium, it does so from the visual angle much more than the narrative / story angle. In the context of our class, I was looking for hints at what kinds of stories suit the medium of comics versus that of film, literature, theater, music, or any other. While I understand the profound differences between comics and other mediums, I am left wondering why these differences matter, and more importantly what kinds of stories can utilize these differences the best.