Monday, March 30, 2009


Matt Bochniak
Prof. Ellis
First Signifier
March 30, 2009

“Persepolis”, by Marjane Satrapi, gives the reader a unique story of a family in Iran. The book is named after ancient Persian ruins in northern Iran. Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of Persia. In many ways, Marj’s family is symbolic to the name of the book.

Marj’s family came from political power. “Since his entourage was educated, your grandpa was named prime minister” (p 23). It wasn’t too long before he was sent to prison with the charge of being a communist. This was the beginning of her family turning to ruin. Since that point, her family always fought for their rights against governments that ruled by religion. Their education was their biggest downfall against a government that shunned education over their beliefs. By the end of the book, you realize how Marj’s family, like Persepolis, is rundown.

Like “Maus”, this story is a difficult tale to tell. Both choose to use comic books as their stories vehicle. The biggest difference is that this story is told through the eyes of an innocent girl. The reader knows that there are more things going on then are being told. However, we are viewing only the story Marj is living. An example of this was when the young people are being told that their love ones were going away for a “long trip”, when in reality they are in prison.

After reading this book, you have to realize just how lucky we are here in the United States. We have basic freedoms that other countries do not have. With the exception of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, we have never been attacked by another modern country. I’m glad I haven’t had to live life like Marj’s family.

Persepolis Painting a Picture

Tekoa Smith

Paint a picture is exactly what a graphic novel does. The use of images to convey a story that would fall short with just text alone. To allow the reader to become involved in the story by determining what happens in the sequence with closure or by seeing oneself in a character(s). All of the significance of comics described when analysing McCloud's Understanding Comics. What Satrapi does in Persepolis is allows us to enter her world as a child. We follow back to that time with her so that we experience what she has already lived being in Iran during the time of regimes, revolutions, political confusion and war.

Being a child of war is something many are privileged to never have to experience. Being apart of that environment can force a child to grow up quick and become more in tune to mature matters, unlike most kids. Satrapi was definitely wise beyond her years early on. Knowing the inside outs of politics in her country as well as being well informed of the history of the events that are shaping her childhood. Because this story is a memoir of Satrapi's childhood I felt it only appropriate that is be told through the art of comics; which often are associated with children and the medium as a juvenile interest.

Persepolis puts into images the events that could quite possibly come from an adolescent diary. I thought I've had about sharing the interesting stories of my past to others.

To me a diary is a very intimate possession but denotes a sense of publicity. Ideals and discreet thoughts are often put into a diary but with conscience notion that it can be available to others. The intrigue details of a diary help to signify and event in a certain point in time. Help a reader and author to remember emotions or specific sensory information of a time and place. A diary is away for the author to have an intimate written conversation with something else. The joy of a diary is that no matter what the emotion portrays, weather a trying time or joyous, that specific periods continues to have life. An event placed in a diary moments after it has happened can feel like they just happened yesterday when revisiting that same diary entry years later. And because a diary is that private conversation between the author him/herself essentially, a reader is compelled to become active in the story.

Having kept diaries myself for years (and still do) and being a fan of works such as The Diary of Anne Frank and Little Women, Persepolis was of extreme interest to me. No better way to explain a coming of age during a time when words are only half of what a story can offer.

Kimberly's Persepolis Analysis

This book presented an interesting personal perspective on what it was like to be Iranian during a trying time for the average citizens in Iran. Something as drastic as being able to know what it is like to have one's entire way of life turned upside down, sans recourse, must be so frightening and emotionally challenging. It is something beyond comprehension, unless one had to experience it first-hand.

I have never been to the Middle East, nor have I ever really had any friends or many acquaintances from that area. At some point when I was at boarding school, an Arabian girl lived on my floor. She was extremely private, plain to a staggering degree to an American teenager, and I wrongly suspected she was poor. Later I wanted to see where in Saudi Arabia she lived and saw in the directory that her father was a sheik.

This girl was not remotely like Marjane, and I bring her up only to point out that she was extremely isolated and that she must have felt so homesick and thrown into a completely shocking and different culture for her. Despite serious efforts on my part to communicate with her, because I was mystified by her and felt sorry for her, this Arabian girl did a sufficient enough job in pushing me away that I eventually never bothered with her anymore. Before... I went in her room sometimes during free time and she had no posters, and in fact she had nothing at all except plain white bedding and the bland furniture the school provides. Her only clothes were a few white shirts and khaki pants. I offered for her to take some of my posters and other items, as I mentioned because I had incorrectly assumed she was the poorest person I ever encountered. I was either 14 or 15 and it never even occurred to me that this was her culture/what she wanted. I finally stopped visiting her because she would always ask me to leave because she said she had to pray. At the time, I thought it was just under the guise that she had to pray, but now I understand she likely really did have to pray. She never wanted to go out, borrow clothes, do anything I, or the other students, found remotely fun. Also, I recall her making some pretty shocking statements about "your" culture and how it's basically awful. I wanted to say, then why did you come to school in Massachusetts??? Of course, I did not dare.

I think Marjane and I might have gotten along better, but I felt sorry for Marjane as she left her country. Marjane and her family's rejection of the limitations in Iran, particularly for women were brave, and admirable, but that does not mean that people should not have freedom to believe what they want. The problem is forcing others to share those beliefs and denying rights over it that is wrong. I am embarrassed for our country's role in helping the Shah come into power, and do not blame people who suffered as a result for the resulting resentment. I feel sorry for the people of Iran who were hoping for improvement and then suffered worse under the Ayatollah. I think Marjane Satrapi accomplishes her goal of showing the reader that not all people in Iran are connected "with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism."

As in Understanding Comics and Maus II, the drawings in this book enable Satrapi to really show feeling through the images of the face. She was a precious looking girl who easily captured the reader's interest and sympathy. For instance, when she was crying in the middle of page 53 and the reader just wants to give the little girl a hug. Of course at the end, there was apparent pain when she looked back and saw her mother in her father's arms, and I just could sense the culture shock that would ensue when she arrived at school overseas.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Cory Matheny
Prof. Ellis
First Signifier
March 29, 2009
In 1979, during the Iran Hostage-Crisis, President Jimmy Carter openly questioned the Ayatollah’s interpretation of the Koran as being a misrepresentation of the ideology and intention of Islam. Carter had intended to initiate a dialogue with the Ayatollah on his own terms – theocracy. However, what Carter did not fully realize at the time, and what many American’s still do not realize today, is that those questions relevant to Islam and this political situation are not a functional field of discourse – as the Ayatollah reminded Carter before he refused to release those American’s held hostage in the Embassy. The Ayatollah’s, or any other fundamental, interpretation of the Koran and Islam may be flawed in some respect but these flawed or corrupted interpretations are such not because of their education or theocratic understanding but, in many respects, because they cannot be anything else. A thorough reading of Islamic discourse shines no light on contemporary regional politics, however, a glance at Franz Fannon’s Wretched of the Earth and/or Satrapi’s Persepolis provides a profound analysis of the people who live in this, or any, Muslim nation.
The violence endured by the peoples of ancient Persia over the past century – from WWI to the Cold War to the Revolution in 79’ – has been the violence of (neo) imperialism. This violence, like all violence, has exasperated the experiences of the Iranian people because, amongst other consequences, they have been forced to endure the subjectivity, and associate isolation, of modern society. Seemingly, for at least the past half-century, the question of Islam has been the only pertainent question of/for the people in the Middle East. However, this question is completely unanswerable, because in many respects it is completely irrelevant: the people of the Middle East have, seemingly, universally accepted fundamental interpretations of Islam because it represents the/an antithesis of, what they view, as their western oppressors. Thus, Islam has been assumed by large segments of the population as an affront to western civilization.
The question(s) of Islam are the last, not the first, question that must be asked of the people living in the Middle East. Further, if other issues can be resolved the questions of Islam may resolve themselves as the people’s reliance upon it becomes diminished. In this light, Satrapi and her family are at once the stereotypical Iranian family, divided between their past and their future and, perhaps, the stereotypical modern family, because of the challenges of modern culture: they have been severed from their past by larger cultural forces and are now left to ask, ‘what does it all ‘mean’.’ They no longer have an uncomplicated relationship to their home nation, to the people of their home nation, or, in some respects, even to themselves. Their very existence has been complicated by the processes of modern international reality(ies).
I want to offer McCloud’s appropriation of ‘closure’ as a suitable interpretation of the problems presented in Persepolis. However, I do not know that the media of comics and its philosophical underpinnings offer a more suitable engagement of the larger geo-political problems presented in the text – I do not know if cognitive engagement can offer an appropriate response to the problems of the Middle East. However, at best, perhaps, the comic media offers a unique means of addressing a world detached from itself. Because comics are a ‘duplicate’ media – they mirror reality without ever proposing to be ‘real’ – they allow the individual to assess their own condition. Comics, maybe better than other media, allow the subject to explore themselves as such and thus allow the individual to see their surrounding as a collection of signifiers and, perhaps, themselves as a signifier simultaneously reflecting and creating one’s self.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Understanding Comics

Tekoa Smith
Understanding Comics

Scott McCloud uses his professional and artistic medium to define the art of comics. The definition established in the beginning is comics are juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an esthetic response in the viewer (McCloud 9). This book was extremely interesting to me because I have never been a fan of comics. Honestly until this year and taking this class I wasn’t even aware of what a graphic novel was. If I were to pick up Art Spiegelman’s Maus a few months ago I would have just assumed it was an adult comic book.
Learning about and understanding comics is beneficial to understanding how we see ourselves and our own face. McCloud states that we see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist (McCloud 33). Yet even though we are able to see ourselves in almost anything the visual we have of our own face is somewhat generic and cartoony. That is why comics have such an effect on so many worldwide. We are able to become the characters in the comic because the way we see ourselves is similar to the way the comics is drawn.
When reading comics our minds do the same automatic things they do in everyday life to understand the world around us. We fill in information that we know is there even though we can’t see it. McCloud uses the example that even though you cannot see his legs in the panel we assume that he has legs and they are below him. As far out as comics may seem to reality they are more closely related than most think. At least I thought before reading this book. Comics takes everything: time, senses, emotions, space, and represents them all with symbols; signifiers.

Kimberly's Signifier Analysis 3/23/09

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud successfully attempts to show all the detail and nuance that goes into creating a comic book. He wants the reader to gain the understanding that comic books are an intricate art form, and often offer more to the reader than initially meets the eye.

As with any art form, "The world of comics is a huge and varied one." (p.4.) The world of painting is huge and varied, as is writing, sculpture, film, etc. The history that McCloud provided helped the reader see the evolution of his art form from thousands of years ago to the present day. In so doing, he made it seem less like an art form which appeals mainly to children and more of an important world signifier meant for all ages, depending on content, of course.

By using language along with pictures, the author is able to force the reader to stop and think carefully about what is drawn and written. For example, with "a printed copy of a drawing of a painting of a pipe," (p.25) the reader can see that there is depth beyond initial comprehension when looking at a comic book. Comic strip sequence, detail, color, motion and vocabulary are all parts of the way a comic can manipulate his/her work to appeal to the reader/viewer.

Apart from my adoration of cartoons such as those in the New Yorker magazine, and an occasional pause for Garfield or Cathy comic strips, I haven't really exposed myself to comics much. McCloud's book helped me to appreciate, if not enjoy, the artistic ability and tactics used in compiling comic books.

A lot of the art of comics that McCloud discusses is noted as "invisible." Recently, I was subbing for math and the class was to work on division. They had to solve 25 division problems, each with a numerical answer corresponding to a letter. At the bottom of the worksheet was a puzzle with numbers listed under spaces, and as the students solved the division problem, they were to fill in the spaces with letters to create words. When it was complete, one could see an answer to the question above, "What coin doubles in value when half is taken away?" The answer that was found was, " A HALF DOLLAR." No student in the class understood the answer. No matter how much I thought about it, I too could not explain the answer.

Later that night, I was still thinking about it, embarrassed that I couldn't offer the students an decent explanation for the riddle. There were drawings of all different coins and a paper dollar on the side of the page, which seemed like semiotics, but only added to my confusion. Finally I realized the answer, though too late to clarify it for the students. This is one example I can think of in real life where semiotics were not a helpful means of communication for me and only distracted me from thinking of the correct answer to the puzzle. Nevertheless, I see that a comic's use of semiotics can be beneficial to the type of art they are creating. I am likely not going to rush to Barnes and Noble in search of comic books, but I am so glad glad McCloud opened my eyes to understanding them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Understanding Comics

Cory Matheny
Prof. Ellis
Literary Analysis
March 22, 2009
The central focus of “Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art” seems to be an articulation of the origins and potential significance of, what he calls, ‘closure.’ For McCloud, the idea that comics mimic the processes of everyday cognition through the process of closure makes comics a unique media. As McCloud notes, Marshal McLuhan first theorized that comic books were one of two “cool” media – media that has the ability to ‘involve’ the audience. This phenomenon thus makes comics as a unique media that deserve more than passing pop-culture recognition.
Because of the process of closure the mind is forced to ‘fill-in’ the gaps and thus requires the mind to build a bridge, so to speak, from one frame to the next. This bridge which is built over the ‘gutter’ of the comic actually helps the mind to understand the flow of the strip, and to remain engaged in the process of reading. Because the mind is permitted to fill-in the gutter with whatever fill it chooses, the mind, according to McCloud, actually finds the movement from event to event, or scene to scene, less contrived that a ‘traditional’ media: the mind understands the movement of characters or plot as it deems appropriate. Further, because the mind is granted the power of choice it is continually involved in the process of creation. In this way the strip is never fully complete. Further, one could argue that a comic strip is an infinitely unfinished effort because the ‘final’ work is always and continually reinterpreted by each viewer.
Similarly, the comic strip ‘forces’ the reader in ‘involve’ themselves into the story because they are continually, and in varying ways, invited to envision themselves as the comic. McCloud notes that artists like Art Spiegelman purposefully place masks onto their characters so that the reader may understand that character from an infinite number of perspectives: the reader is invited to project h/er own expectations onto the character present in the work. However, as McCloud also mentions, the reader can be alienated from the same character or object if the artist chooses to ‘objectify’ the agent. According to McCloud, this is often done by providing the object with an abundance of detail relative to the background against which it may be placed. Thus, the artists may manipulate the reader and force/ allow the individual to be either active or passive in their participation depending on what the artists deems appropriate.
This pattern is further complicated by the interplay of images and words that, through the use of image based or language based abstraction(s) allows the reader to float in and out of participation. As an example, the artist may abstract language just as an image is reduced to a series of interpretive lines so that the reader is forced to infer what is or is not intended in the work. As McCloud articulates in his ‘cosmology of comic expression,’ (p. 52) the artists can chose the type and method of ‘closure’ s/he wishes so to generate the effect s/he envisions: abstract images, poetic language; base language realistic imagery etc.
Personally, I do not argue with McCloud’s understanding of the process of closure and how it is manifested in comics. However, and perhaps this is, more precisely, a critique of McLuhan, I do not understand the difference between Art Spiegelman and Ernest Hemmingway. If, as McCloud argues, Spiegelman’s art functions because of its use of closure and its subsequent manipulation of faces, language, and reader involvement than I question how these process differ from “Hills Like White Elephants.” In this short story Hemmingway allows the reader to become a voyeur, who, unaware of the origins of the argument that dominates the story, is invited to interpret, deduce, and, if all else fails, insert one’s own understanding so that the story may take shape around a, now, assumed narrative. True, this is not an example of closure, but it is a manipulation of the reader by the artists and it is the involvement of the reader at the behest of the artist.