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Grad School Stuff: The Light at the End of the Tunnel!

Michigan_State_Spartans2For those of you that know me, you’re probably aware that I’m currently sludging my way through grad school. What you may not know, at least if we’re not in constant daily contact, is that if all goes according to plan, I’ll be finishing up my Masters degree at the end of May. Wild right? I can hardly believe it.

I mean where the heck did these two years go? However, before I don my second cap and gown and blow out of East Lansing for parts unknown, there are still a couple of important obstacles I must overcome. Specifically I need to submit a five to seven piece portfolio for review by my graduate committee as well as reflective essay tying the pieces together, and answer two specific committee ok’d questions at 10 pages a pop.

Doesn’t sound too bad right? That’s cause it’s not. At least I don’t think it is. I think I can do this! The beautiful thing about the portfolio review is that it’s already finished. I mean not totally finished, but the component parts are done. I’m thinking about including:

And I’m even looking forward to my reflective essay. It’s going to be fun tying all of these pieces together because very rarely do we get to articulate what our work means to us to an audience that’s willing to listen. Here I can trace a narrative through my time here at MSU and hopefully show my growth as a student, scholar, and writer.

I also turned in six questions to my grad committee, of which they’ll choose three, and I’ll choose two of those to write on. They went a little like this:

  1. Use the work of three rhet/comp scholars, specifically those who do work in digital rhetorics, to articulate one or two potential futures for digital comics.
  2. Choose a particular web comic and using it as an example, explore what digital rhetoric is in light of this web comic. How do the different modes of meaning-making in this web comic (e.g., visuals, audio, interactive experiences) change our understanding of digital rhetoric?
  3. How do technical communicators use comics? What industries utilize comics? What is valuable about comics that is able to translate across industries and disciplines?
  4. Due to the financial disparity between print and webcomics, most webcomic creators can’t afford professional editors to edit their work; thus they rely on family, friends, and fans. How do these non-professionals change what it means to be a comics editor? What sort of tasks do they engage in, what literacies to they bring to the table, and how does the immediacy of the internet and fan culture change the editorial experience?
  5. Editors are tasked with a multitude of duties and employ a variety of skill sets to accomplish their work. How has your own editorial understanding and philosophy grown, changed, or been influenced by experiences in the Writing Center and DRPW coursework?
  6. Look at your AL 805 final project, your Personal History of Rhetoric. AL 805 was the first class you took as a graduate student. In light of that, what have you learned about rhetoric and writing in the following three semesters? Specifically, address the five main points outlined in the Personal History: Questions, self-consciousness, appeal to classmates, an attempt at understanding historical contexts, a connection with comics.

And then I’ve just got to write ten pages on those bad boys and we call it a day! I’m not particularly fond of the third question, but I really like my fifth and sixth questions, and one and two are pretty awesome as well. Best part? I’m nearly ready to answer all of these, right meow!

Basically I just wanted to get all this stuff out into the ether so I can take a look at it. I’ve got some crazy busy weeks ahead of me, a conference to prepare for, big assignments due and everything, but like I said, I got this. Wish me luck folks.

V for Vendetta: Violence and Freedom

ROMOCOCO Logo

The MSU Comics Forum, and if I’m being serious really any comic con, reinvigorates my drive to write critically about comics. This year I answered ROMOCOCO’s (Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels) call for papers. The theme for the conference is violence, and they were specifically looking for essays “that investigate the representation of violence in comic books and graphic novels.” I’d like to applaud ROMOCOCO for embracing this topic given the tragedy in Aurora and for contributing to this national debate in such a potentially rewarding way. Really, my hat is off to the coordinators of the conference.

Cover to V for VendettaIn light of this I dusted off an idea that I’ve been nurturing off and on for a couple of years. It’s based on a book very close to my heart, the one tale that has undoubtedly had the most profound effect on my understandings of comics and the potential for the medium, Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta. I read it every 5th of November and just talking about it still gives me goosebumps. It’s gorgeous, visceral, and thought provoking and I could go on and on about why I love V, but I’ll try to focus on just what I want to talk about at the conference should I get accepted.

The threat of brutal violence permeates every page of V for Vendetta. The majority of the characters aren’t actually living their lives, but rather merely reacting to the terrifying society that surrounds them. V aims to change all that, and in doing so free dystopian London from the government’s heavy hand. He fights fire with fire, murdering and torturing his enemies and former tormentors. Violence is intrinsic to Moore and Lloyd’s crumbling London, but it is also the path to freedom for V, Evey, and Eric Finch. I’ve included my abstract below:

“Violence is rife within the pages of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta. Set in a dystopian future England ruled by a brutal and corrupt government, the titular character, a Fawksian-masked vigilante known only as V, embarks on a quest for vengeance. Evey Hammond, a young girl intimately familiar with the vicious world around her, and Eric Finch, the inspector tasked with tracking down V, are swept into the veneered terrorist’s wake and yet, unlike so many others, they do not drown. No, instead they surface from their trials born again, freed from the bonds of fear and society’s heavy chains. In the cases of V, Evey, and Eric, violence is never just violence for its own sake, but rather a complex series of motivations, interactions, and repercussions that lead each character on their own path to a unique type of freedom. 

This paper will focus on each of these character’s intricate journeys through brutality, murder, torture, and eventual freedom. It will draw upon visualizations of specific pages and panels to explore the complex, multifaceted nature of systemic societal violence found in V in an attempt to understand the ways in which horrendous acts can be horrible, but also liberating, both physically and psychologically. 

Alan Moore and David Lloyd have crafted a brilliantly dark and horrifying thriller in V for Vendetta, one that defies simple black and white, good or bad, notions of violence. Instead the pain and anguish is compellingly complex and morally ambiguous, showing that while acts of murder and terror are absolutely deplorable and oftentimes terribly tragic, they are sometimes necessary vehicles for change. V for Vendetta, through its use of explicit violence, glorifies the strength of the human spirit and lays bare a simple unavoidable truth – Freedom is not free.”

There’s just so much to focus on there. Really there is! If I get accepted expect a full rundown after the gig. If not, I’ll likely be posting up a long write-up of my ideas here. I can’t wait either way!

V for Vendetta #1 Cover

The NAMES AIDS Quilt and The Dark Tower

Until about three days ago I had never heard of the NAMES AIDS Quilt, never even consciously realized that there was an AIDS epidemic really.  I mean I was born in ’87 so that was a bit before my time, but I was reading an article by Kergan Edwards-Stout on the Huffington Post and when he mentioned this quilt, I mean I got goosebumps.  I get goosebumps now just thinking and writing about it.

I’ve quoted that bit that blew me away, but you can read the entire article here:

“Several years ago, there was an article in the L.A. Times which I still find haunting — perhaps because I so identify with it. The story was about the NAMES AIDS quilt and how it now lays largely in a warehouse in Atlanta, gathering dust. And yet there is a woman there who tends the quilt, who has been there since that first day in San Francisco with Cleve Jones. She works endlessly, patching and mending panels as they are returned from exhibits. She plays dance music to “her boys” as she works, often alone late at night, and wonders why people have forgotten.”

Powerful stuff right?  But I don’t know if this bit would have struck such a special chord if I hadn’t read Stephen King’s Dark Tower books once a year for the past five years.  I’ve started on my sixth go round and I’m on Book Three right now, following Roland and his ka-tet through the wastelands (the drawers to those who walk the path of the beam) to that terrible train, Blaine.

The hero of the books is the gunslinger, Roland Deschain of Gilead that was, a sort of cowboy knight-errant on a quest to save the Dark Tower, the lynchpin of all universes.  He’s the last of his kind, his brothers-in-arms are dust in the wind since the Good Man destroyed Gilead, the final bastion of civilization. They fought and died for the Tower, Alain, Cuthbert, Jamie, even Susan Delgado in Mejis on the Clean Sea, though she never knew it. Still Roland soldiers on, but he remembers them all. He keeps each one of them in his heart, and if he reaches the Tower, reaches the blood-red fields of Can’-Ka No Rey? He will recite their names at the foot of that terrible basalt monolith before he climbs to the room at the top to meet… God? Gan? No one?

This woman that Kergan mentioned, she reminds me of Roland.  I could see her so vividly and I can see her now. It’s dark and it’s dusty and it’s late. She sits at her sewing machine carefully reattaching pieces of cloth to the quilt, mending those that have been damaged during transport. Each piece she holds tenderly, as though the sanctity of the memory contained within the threads might be somehow tainted if she’s too rough. She looks sad; she is grieving. She is always grieving, yet beneath the sorrow she feels hope, and most of all she feels love. She feels the love of those that remain, of those that honor the lost, burned into every fibre of the fabric. She feels proud, not only of her duty, but that the quilt travels this country, a living, breathing, growing monument to the fallen and a reminder to those who try not to remember and pretend not to see.

She is the protector of a people gone to the clearing at the end of the path, a steward to a terrible time that should never be forgot, a mother to untold thousands, a keeper of a secret history, and she reminds me of Roland. Ever since I read that little article I’ve wanted to see the quilt. I’ve visited Hiroshima, seen the innumerable paper cranes at the Childrens’ Peace Monument. It was a sobering, humbling, and unforgettable experience and I think seeing the quilt would be something like that. I could pay my respects.

I know she probably isn’t real, maybe never was, but that doesn’t change the way that Kergan’s words affected me. He created a fictional character in my head, as I hope to have done in yours. It doesn’t matter that she might never have been real, or that the quilt hasn’t been forgotten, at least not in the time of this writing. What’s wild is that this text may never have meant much to me unless I had read the Dark Tower and had travelled so many wheels with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, Oy, and all the rest. Can fiction make things more real? That’s not a question I can answer, but what I do know is that the synthesis of these two writings created something incredible in my mind, something I hope to have communicated to you in some small way.

Long days and pleasant nights.

Diving into The Call of Cthulhu LCG

I’ve always wanted to get into collectible card games. In elementary school I was all about Marvel’s Overpower series but never played. I amassed my fair share of Pokemon and Magic cards in middle school – Pokemon because it was THE thing and Magic because of the incredible art. I played Culdcept Saga and a of couple Yu Gi Oh games for the PS2 way back when. I bought a starter deck of Avatar: The Last Airbender cards a few years ago on a whim, just because I love the TV series. Now, as an almost 25 year-old graduate student I think I’ve finally found a game that I’m willing to really learn and play: Fantasy Flight Games’ The Call of Cthulhu LCG.

I don’t know how I found out about it but after I did, I couldn’t get enough. I dug right into FFG’s top of the line tutorial vids, started reading all about the seven competing factions, read strategy stuff on the FFG forums, read/watched reviews; basically for about a two week period all I did was sponge up everything people were saying about The Call of Cthulhu LCG.  I didn’t own a single card but I couldn’t get enough! I think this was mostly to reinforce the decision I had already made, that I was going to get the core set and start playing, but I needed a good reason to spend that forty bucks. Then I realized I was going on vacation with my girlfriend. I started to plan.

It was the perfect time to rope my wonderful, beautiful, intelligent girlfriend into playing a card game with me that didn’t involve drinking copious amounts of alcohol, though as it turned out there were quite a few beers involved in our second game. We were heading up to Lake Huron to run a 10k on Mackinac Island and we were staying at my family’s cabin in Cheboygan. It’s remote: no TV, no internet, all I would need to do is hide the car keys and her phone, then I could spring my trap! She would be my captive, with no choice but to succumb to the siren call of H.P. Lovecraft’s most horrifying Ancient One!

Luckily my girlfriend is pretty great, so when I asked her to play I only got the requisite “the things I do for my boyfriend” eyeroll. We sat down and unboxed the game, chose our factions, she pulled Yog Sothoth/Syndicate and I got Miskatonic/Hastur, broke out the rule book and got started. While we had questions about domain draining, card effects, location support cards, and timing issues almost immediately, the games ran relatively smoothly. Some things became immediately apparent, that having domains free for defense is absolutely necessary, and that Miskatonic can rush really really well with low cost characters and investigation tokens up to wazoo.

What else did we learn? Oh that committing to stories so they’re not uncommitted seemed pivotal to defending stories and that, at least in the core set, the Ghost is a crazy awesome defense character for those situations without terror icons. The way you stack your domains matters, the characters you choose to have wounded matters, everything matters, and as much as my girlfriend says she didn’t want to play, I think she enjoyed winning some of those stories.

The most confusing thing for us was the timing. We were never quite sure when to play events, or rather we were confused as to when we were ALLOWED to play events. In the Operations Phase you can play characters and support cards, but can you play events before you have committed your characters to stories? Also, can you play events after the resolution of stories?

Because of this event indecision our second game devolved into a screaming match, my girlfriend claiming I was cheating, though I barely knew enough about the game to cheat. Oh and there was alcohol involved, so that may have had a small something to do with it. Now I think we’ve got a better handle on that sort of stuff thanks to the action diagram in the rule book, but at first we were totally lost and one of us was really salty. We also wondered about location support cards: are they permanent? Do they last the entire game unless destroyed? If so it seems like Victoria Glasser’s Apartment, which doesn’t allow players to restore insane characters during their Refresh Phrase, is a very very solid card, especially since Hastur is so good at making characters go insane.

Hastur bringing the crazy!

Other than that I had a great time. Through teaching the gf I think I learned a lot, though  I’d love to play against more experienced players who could really teach me the ropes. Also it has become abundantly clear that without collecting any of the Asylum Packs, which have replaced boosters thank gosh, you have relatively few options while playing the game. Out of the starter box you certainly get enough to learn, and for someone like me, who gets transfixed on possible strategies, it teases what would be possible with more cards, or copies of certain cards. I would actually say that’s the greatest strength of the core set, it give just a little taste of the possibilities, of the killer decks you could create with just a few more cards, and now I think I’m hooked. It was awesome to see that in two or three turns I could unleash a maelstrom of destruction on my unsuspecting significant other.

After we played for a while I found that I really liked the idea of playing Hastur and Mikatonic together. I tried looking up some possible deck ideas after I got home but there really wasn’t much out there, and I think I read somewhere that the combination itself wasn’t that great, or at least took a lot of work to make successful. However just from what I saw in the core set cards I started to strategize what I think would be a really cool way to win stories: pack in some seriously quick and cheap characters for a sort of investigation rush/success token battery deck.

My vision was to use three copies of Mad Genius and either send them insane through forced responses like after playing Victoria Glasser, overpaying for Bearer of the Yellow sign, or using them on defense to assure they go insane and can be restored at the beginning of my turn, giving me one success token basically every turn. In combination with Hastur and a three-resource domain, every turn can be used to get success tokens. Also, in combination with multiple copies of Dr. Carson’s Treatment, you have the potential to get as many as 2 extra success tokens on select turns, all without even committing to stories!








Seeing as the game has been out for so long I imagine people smarter than I have probably tried this, and being a skill 2 charater with no icons or text box makes the Mad Genius serious cannon fodder for anyone who wants him dead. Also the fact that you won’t always draw copies of the Mad Genius when you want, or Dr. Carson’s Treatment, or whatever, makes this strategy will undoubtedly hinder this strategy in the end but the thought of playing Dr. Carson’s Treatment right after my opponent has just exhausted his characters for a story and adding two success tokens for my restored Mad Geniuses and winning the story right out from underneath him seems so deliciously evil that I really want to try it out!

So there you go, my first experience playing The Call of Cthulhu. It was awesome and makes me want to play more so if anyone reading this is in the Lansing area feel free to hit me up!

The Changing Face of Comics Editorial – What Does an Editor do?

Before I start asking my fancy comic book friends about about what they think an editor is, maybe I should try to tease out what I think an editor is and does?  I think this will provide a sort of baseline for the insight I gain through my my interviews.

Alright, so most importantly the editor is the King of Clarity, or the Queen of Clarity if you so choose.  Their chief job is to make sure that a comic is readable, cover to cover.  Are the panels clear?  Do the word balloons say what they need to say?  Is everything drawn consistently?

OK, so if I wanted to break that down I could say: Panel Composition, Artistic Consistency…  And I’m totally forgetting the written element, the narrative.  Does the story make sense?  Do the things that people say sounds like the things people say?  Then I suppose it comes down to brass tacks.  Spelling, punctuation, standard editorial madness.

But then I think there’s a whole ‘nother level to editorial that I’ve never even glimpsed, sort of the managerial, project management style duties.  I feel as though this sort of thing only really happens when a book is making a bit of money and publishers want to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Ok, so as we can see through my rambling that I have a murky idea of who an editor is and what he or she does.  They’re the Kings and Queens of Clarity, they’re project managers, text editors, and art critics.  Now I just need to start talking to creators!

The Changing Face of Comics Editorial – Part 1

If there are any long-time readers out there you’ll know my ultimate goal in life is to edit comics.  I think I need to mention a necessary caveat here: I want to be able to sustain myself while doing it.  I want to edit comics and somehow make bank.  I know it’s probably not the most… feasible goal, but ever since interning at Marvel and working with Kelly Roman on The Art of War, I’ve known that I want to edit comics.

As a Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing Master’s student here at MSU I have the chance to study comics past, present, and speculate on their future.  Because there aren’t any classes that specifically address comics in this curriculum, I’m forced to somehow find ways to talk about funny books in every course.  It’s not as hard as you’d think, and actually all of my professors have been very open to exploring alternate forms of rhetoric.

This semester I’ve gone a step further and enrolled in WRA 470 – Editing and Publishing and I’m working with my friend Dr. Dianna Baldwin on an independent study focused almost solely on the editorial process in comics.  Our first assignment?  Thinking about the changing face of comics editorial in the digital realm.

But what the heck does that even mean?  Well I’m going to try to make this a little more clear by doing a little focused rambling here on the blog.

How did we come to this topic?  Well a man by the name of Agre wrote that to be successful you should try to become a thought leader in your field.  My field is comics and when I think about making my mark in the industry, I think about becoming an expert in digital and web comics.  It’s such a new space for the medium and we have so much to learn, and as a graduate student here at MSU I think I’m in a unique spot to actually contribute to these sorts of comics conversations. Specifically, I want to understand the editor’s role in this brave new world.

First I want to get an idea of what it is comic editors actually do!  What are their duties?  I have a general understanding of what they do on a very micro level, having done it myself with The Art of War, but I’ve only edited one graphic novel.  I would love to hear what industry professionals to say about editorial duties.  I also want to talk to writers and artists working in print about how they see editors and what they think an editor’s job is, and finally I want to talk to creators and web creators that don’t work with editors.  What is their editorial process?

You can’t not edit your comics right?  So if they don’t employ honest to goodness editors, they must resort to other means.  Is editorial work left up to the casual glances of close friends and family members?  Is it purely a personal editorial process?  Do they put their work away for a few days and let their future selves edit the comics?  Do fellow comics creators lend their editorial expertise?  If readers are able to write comments about pages or strips, could that be considered a new form of comics editorial?  These are some of the questions that I hope to address in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned my friends.

Weekly Want List – September 21st, 2011

TMNT #2 what what!

Comics this week are go!  Working on Nova stuff and a ton of other jazz.  So much reading for school, an anthology for the MSU comics class, The Art of War work, and what else?  Maybe that’s it.

Dark Horse Comics
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Russia #1 – Are you kidding me?  Of course I’m going to pick up an issue!

Dark Horse Presents #4 – I’d love to pick this up but honestly I can’t justify the $8 😦

DC Comics
Green Lantern Corps #1 – Yeeaahhhhh!

IDW
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2 – Are you kidding me?  I’ve been waiting for this comic my entire life!  Well I mean not really but you could imagine…

Image Comics
Chew #22 – I think I may have missed the last issue, So I might have to catch up on some stuff.  Great series.

Guarding the Globe #6 – Excited to watch the conclusion of this bad boy.

Invincible #83 – What more can I say but I’m ready to read this bad boy.

Marvel Comics
Avengers #17 – Hawkeye and Spider-Woman? Alright I’ll bite for an issue.

Captain America #3 – Give me more Steve McNiven!

Daredevil #4 – Amazing series.  Nothing else to say.

Fear Itself: Fearsome Four #4 – Do I need to write a little blurb for every comic I want?

Hulk #41 – Because I really don’t want to.

Spider-Island: Spider-Woman #1 – I like the Thing?

Ultimate Comics X-Men #1 – Maybe it’ll be awesome?

Uncanny X-Men #543 – Bring on the Colossus Juggernaut!

X-Men #18 – I like the Thing!

X-Men: Schism #4 – Yet another event that I need to read.

Vertigo
Fables #109 – Possibly writing a paper on Fables with one of my bosses.