LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Extra Credit: Bat… Woman?!

Batwoman_Earth_Two_1 Batwoman

I attended the “Marginalized Women: Out  of the Margins and Onto the Page” panel for the Graduate Comics Organization on Sunday, March 17th and I learned quite a lot about the history of a super heroine known as Batwoman as well as queer theory in comics. The first speaker, Dianna Baldwin, had a very intriguing argument about the portrayal of the Batwoman character in the DC Comics universe and expanded on her development as well as her back story. Her initial argument of Batwoman’s creation is that she was used to quell rumors that the two renowned heroes of DC Comics, Batman and Robin, were in a homosexual relationship. In fact, Batwoman was used as a potential love interest to Batman  and throughout her very few appearances in the late 1950s she was often the one appearing in the nick of time to rescue the caped crusader.

Moreover, Baldwin’s first part of her presentation focused on emphasizing and pointing out the many feminine aspects of the character of Batwoman including her very bright and womanly attire with her long hair flowing in the back, her make-up inspired gadgets, and even some girly phrases that further accentuated the female stereotype she portrayed. In addition, Batwoman’s weapons consist of feminine products such as cosmetic compacts, bracelets, hairnets, and even lipstick that are literally used to attack her opponents. It is also interesting to note that Batwoman always seems to fight against male villains and, in some cases, rescued Batman and Robin from a pickle, most likely displaying a bit of female superiority and equality with a strong superhero like Batman.

Furthermore, Baldwin also included the deterioration of the Batwoman role which included the character giving up her life as a vigilante because a man advised her to stop. In addition, she spoke about how the term “Women in Refrigerator Syndrome” fit so well to Batwoman as she is “depowered” by the masculine figure, Batman in this case, that discovers her secret identity. Batman warns her that she may be in danger considering any villain may discover her identity if he was easily able to uncover it. Baldwin also talks about the “Bechdel Test” used to identify the gender bias in the Batwoman comics. The test usually consists of following rules: the comic should have two or more women, the woman must converse with one another, and they are to talk about something other than men.

The second half of Baldwin’s presentation expands on the Batwoman character over the years as she began appearing less until she completely disappeared from the DC Comics issues. Baldwin asserts that there was really no use for her character and found it difficult to use her. However, in 2006, the Batwoman character returned and had apparently become a lesbian super heroine. In this iteration, she is more independent and strong willed. She no longer fits in with the typical female stereotype and has become a more masculine character that fights crime without the presence of Batman. She has a romantic relationship with another female and her character seems to be completely rewritten to appease a broader audience.

Overall, Baldwin organized her presentation really well and a lot of people were very attentive to her analysis of Batwoman. It was interesting to see the transition from a character that was practically the epitome of the stereotypical female of the Golden Age comics to a tough, independent, and well-rounded super heroine in the 2000s. Her presentation was perfect, in my opinion, and elaborated a lot on a character with a very limited background. Not only did she include the developmental history of Batwoman, but her argument was consistent with the facts she included on her presentation. All in all, this was a very interesting experience and would love to attend another panel like this in the future.

Advertisements
Leave a comment »

Extra Credit: Hush

I attended the Graduate Comics Organization on March 15th, and listened to three different speakers, two females, and a male. I did not enjoy the presentation style of the two females because it felt forced, and sans passion for their research. That being said, when Matthew Ziegler, a presenter from Truman State University, spoke, I was very impressed. He delivered his presentation with casual elegance and subtle poise. It was clear that this presentation meant a great deal to him and he used this opportunity to demonstrate that. He gave a very impacting speech about a comic called Hush. This is a comic that originated in India and really intrigued Matthew to learn more. It is a comic that has no words or text, but only images. This way, the story is completely open to subjective interpretation. While this is true, the fact that the main character of the story was raped by her father is very well supported. The images just reveal too much pain to deny that.

The characters of the comic have no names, perhaps as a means to relate to more exterior individuals rather than just the characters in the story. The images that I perfectly remember are images that show pain and sorrow. Images of the main character with a smoking gun in a classroom, which symbolizes the murder she committed as an act of vengeance to salvage some sense of strength. She shot a teacher, who happened to be her father, because he repeatedly raped her throughout the course of her life. She uses the same handgun to kill herself because she kept seeing his image. While this is the basic plot of the story, Matthew was more interested in the way the images were portrayed as means of “speaking” to the audience, because of the lack of any text. The use of emotions, shadows, and gloomy imagery spoke more to me than did the mere appearance of an image as a whole. Matthew mentioned that this story applied to conflicts that are ongoing in India, in which women are the oppressed gender and males have a sense of supremacy. The interpretation that the main character was raped can be used to signify the “rape” of women in a society that is fit for the male gender.

I agree with the speaker, especially because of the manner in which he developed his approach. He stated what he felt about the images as parts and as a whole to envelop the entire text. After he laid out his argument, he went into why he believed it. He was able to support every point he made with the use of the images provided in the comic as sites of evidence. He was asked three questions from the audience and he was able to answer them all with ready success and no hesitation.

I learned just how powerful a small, wordless comic really can be. It told a story simply through the use of images, but it told a much larger story about the strife in India. It made me aware of current events that I was not aware of, and made me feel proud to know that this is another means of getting the knowledge out there.

Image

Leave a comment »

Extra Credit Response: Hush, the wordless comic from India

hush-cover

The somber cover of the comic.

I attended the graduate school conference for comics and learned about three very different comics, none of which fell into the usual superhero or comedy genres. Three students presented their papers and discussed and argued for ideas concerning the comics, usually involving a combination of theme with the comic’s manipulation of its form. The topic that resonated most with me involved a student presenting a very unique comic in India, one that contained no dialogue and only utilized images to convey its story. The student argued that the comic, titled Hush, not only surmounted comic tropes but also conveyed an Indian woman’s feeling of helplessness and futility in a world dominated by men.

The comic itself follows the story of an unnamed student who is repeatedly raped by her father. After years of  abuse, she shoots him (or so what appears to be him) in a class room and eventually shoots herself, but only after hallucinating his appearance after killing him. The bulk of the student’s presentation centered upon the nuances within the text (for example, the use of shading and how it correlated with the protagonist’s mood) and how the author used unconventional methods to create a feeling of helplessness in a man’s world. Although the comic only detailed the woman’s struggle with her father and her descent into madness and misery, the student claimed that the comic could be interpreted as a microcosm for the frustration of women everywhere in India in the face of male dominance. I found this idea very compelling, especially since I know many books from the United States used similar (although not as drastic) plots and character arcs to build upon the idea of a frightening sense of male dominance. The student’s argument that rape is the best metaphor for the feelings of Indian woman in their society also strengthens his argument. Many literary scholars and critics point to the use of rape in literature as a device to communicate feelings of degradation, helplessness, and inferiority. A rape represents the sickest and most final display of power of a man over a woman, so it makes sense why an author would employ a rape as a metaphor for the woman experience in India.

The student organized his paper very well and managed a consistent flow throughout. After summarizing the basic premise of the comic, he showed the audience page by page the events that unfolded and offered analysis for each image and plot point. This helped greatly with buildings his arguments by informing the audience of the plot of the comic, with which he was then able to naturally analyze and argue to the reader without having the reader be potentially confused. The only issue I found with this method was its conduciveness to time, for each presenter was allowed only ten or so minutes to present their topic in full. Although a separate reader would have his or her own time to read and fully digest the paper, an audience member here is limited by the time constraints of the panel and thus could feel as though the paper’s presentation was rushed. However, I felt that the student aptly presented and explained his paper within the time constraints. I definitely learned a variety of ways one could present a paper from this panel, particularly the method of building upon an argument while simultaneously guiding the audience chronologically through a work. I could see how this method would fail to hold up with a longer work, though. Overall, I greatly valued going to the panel and learning how grad students present papers on works of literature.

Leave a comment »

Spandex and Sexism: Fun at Uf’s Comic Conference

On Saturday, March 16th I ventured out to Pugh Hall to attend the “Is Anybody in the Mainstream?” panel. I chose this panel because the papers that were to be presented sounded the most interesting to me; the Zombie Apocalypse, superheroes, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Sign me up! While I’m not a huge comic buff I have seen “The Fantastic Four” movie and I’ve also seen “The Walking Dead”, as well as “Buffy”, on TV. I found a couple of other UF students hiding among what we termed “the real experts” and happily sat with them to listen to the presenters of the panel.Out of the three papers presented I am going to discuss the two that were most interesting (and understandable) to me.

The first paper was by Chris Gavaler of Washington and Lee University.  His subject was that the wildly popular “The Walking Dead” series of comics is in fact a thematic reboot of “The Fantastic Four”.  His main argument focused on the main family groups and romantic love triangles of each series.  For instance both series initially focuses on the love triangle between a weaker woman figure, Laurie and Sue, and two vastly different male figures, Ben and Shane for the aggressive “macho” males and  Reed and Rick for the more cautious leaders.  Each group was also complicated by the presence of a weaker male relative: Sue’s younger brother Johnny and Laurie’s son Carl.  Gavaler, after presenting these initial similarities, continued to flesh out his argument through examples of how gender stereotypes were exploited in both series. Both series presented the main female as being less skilled in combat then her male swains and also they delighted in traditional tasks assigned to females such as dish washing, doing laundry and sewing. After this he tried to link the series again through how the romantic rivals in each series was dealt with. Here his argument became strained because while both series had the woman choose the less aggressive men in “The Walking Dead” Shane was killed and Laurie professed happiness at his passing while in “The Fantastic Four” Ben is simply rehabilitated and he is able to be accepted into the family group as a friend. Over all I really enjoyed his presentation, he had a lot of cool images of the two comics accompanying his presentation and for the most part his argument made since though I’m not sure they really surpass the general repetition of the love triangle theme and remaining gender issues.  It seemed as if though the general similarities were undeniable I could probably find the same similarities in other comic series or graphic novels.

 

The last presenter was Carolyn Cocca from the University of New York and her paper was “’It’s about Power and it’s about Women’: Gender, Power and the political Economy of Superheroes in Wonder Woman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Quite the mouthful. Over all though I really enjoyed her presentation, I hardly even minded that she went way over her allotted time. She first went through Wonder Woman’s history in comics; from her origins to how her costume shrunk due to increased sales. It was an interesting topic and Cocca was entertaining as she presented it, making jokes and making her presentation less of a lecture and more of a conversation. One thing that I enjoyed was that she passed around the comics that she was using in her paper so that we could actually hold them in our hands while also having them projected. Once she got to the 1990’s in Wonder Woman’s history she turned to Buffy and how she reflected WW and a new wave of feminism. She also went over some of their similarities and how they grew to mirror each other in the 2000s.

Leave a comment »

Final Extra Credit Opportunity: Graduate Conferences

Two organizations associated with the English Department are holding academic conferences this month:

  • The Graduate Comics Organization will present the 10th Annual UF Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels on March 15-March 17 in Pugh 210 and the Ustler Atrium.  The title of the conference is: “A Comic of Her Own: Women Writing, Reading and Embodying Through Comics.”  See link for complete schedule:

For up to 25 points extra credit, you must attend one panel or keynote speech one of these two conferences and write a 500-600 word response.  This response will be due by Monday, April 1 at 5pm and will be posted to the class blog. You may attend as many panels as you like, but you may only post one response.

Responses should not be merely summaries of the panels, but a thoughtful and well-developed short paper that includes your own analysis. You may write on one of the following prompts (or a combo):

  1.  Discuss one of the papers presented at the panel. What is the main argument of the paper? How did the author organize the paper? What techniques could you use to improve your own papers? What could the author have done better, either in the paper or during their presentation?
  2.  Discuss the environment of the panel you attended.  How did the papers on the panel work together?  How did the panel interact with the audience? With each other? What was your experience as an audience member? What did you learn from this experience?
  3. Discuss how one of the papers or a panel at large helped you to reconsider some of the topics we have regularly discussed in class.  Did this paper/panel add to your understanding of this topic?  What new ideas or points to you hope to use in our future discussions in class.
  4. Attend one of the keynote addresses.  What is the speech about? What are some of the main arguments? Do you agree/disagree with the speaker?  What did you learn from this speech?
  5. If you are an English/Humanities major and are considering going to graduate school, use this as an opportunity to reflect on what that might entail.  How would you feel about presenting in this professional setting?  Did your interactions with this group of graduate students, faculty or other professionals in the field change your concept of what graduate school would be like?  What challenges or opportunities do you see emerging out of this type of work?  What topics can you see yourself presenting on in the future?

A few quick notes:

  • This is a professional conference. Please conduct yourself accordingly. If I hear from any of my fellow grad students or faculty that students, specifically MY students, were texting, talking, snoozing or otherwise conducting themselves in appropriately, I will cancel the Extra Credit for EVERYONE. Conduct yourself as if you were in class: plan to take notes and turn off your cell phones.
  • There will likely be free food at these events.
  • Please do not attend a panel if you can not be present for the whole thing. It is extremely rude for you to enter late or leave early: it is distracting to the speakers and disruptive to the audience.
  • You may attend any of the panels that you find interesting, even (or especially) if it applies to one of your other classes.  However, if you are attending the same panel for two different classes, you must produce original response papers for both classes in order to comply with the UF honor code on plagiarism.  I am presenting on one of the MRG panels but you will not get EXTRA extra credit for attending that one 🙂
  • These papers will be written at the professional/PhD level. Do not worry if you find yourself confused. Try to follow the argument as best you can. Pay attention to the way the speaker organizes their talk, the things they emphasize and the way they respond to questions.  If possible, ask questions!
  • If you are interested in going to graduate school, this is an excellent opportunity for you to see up close what graduate research (especially in the humanities) looks like, and what professional conferences entail.  I highly encourage those of you in your junior and senior years who might be pursuing higher degrees to attend at least one of the panels.
  • This will be the final extra credit offering for the semester.
Leave a comment »