When an Adult reads Hokey Pokey

Sometimes I think I forget what it was like to be a child. I remember lots of things about my childhood, but I forget the wonder. I forget what it was like to be a child, but I remember growing up. To quote Elizabeth Bowen, “I know that I have in my make-up layers of synthetic experience, and that the most powerful memories are only half true. […] this must surely be the case with everyone who reads deeply, ravenously, unthinkingly, sensuously, as a child” (48). Sometimes I have to ask myself, did that happen to you or to a character you once read about? Every time I inhale the ocean, am I inhaling it as Leigha or Charlotte Doyle? Every time I walk casually through the trail in the forest am I thinking as myself or Elizabeth Bennet? For me, childhood was a time of great fantasy and romance, and my coming of age years, followed by adulthood, have depended so greatly on what did or did not happen to me as a child.

13642591-_uy445_ss445_Once in a while, as a busy, organized, and routine adult, we stumble upon a book which acts as a portal back to our childhood when we thrived on wonder. Jerry Spinelli’s Hokey Pokey is just such a book. I ingested it ravenously in one sitting, a smile slowly broadening across my face, as I too remembered the vital rules of the dream land Hokey Pokey, The Nevers, as it where that stipulate never go to bed until the last second, never pass a puddle without jumping in it, never forget that [boys] have cooties- suffice to say, I have forgotten all of these things, and I suspect it affects deeply the way I parent. I get short tempered during a difficult bedtime routine, I warn of the impending health consequences of jumping in puddles without the proper foot attire- I have been so immersed in the land of adulthood for so long I forget the magic of play and its vital importance to sustain life. And now, thinking about this book and its effects on me as an adult reader I have to ask, was Hokey Pokey written for a young audience at all, or was it meant to be a reminder for adults who have fallen too far down the rabbit hole of humdrummery? And then I wonder, despite all of the things I have done and accomplished and excited over, is adulthood inherently dull? Once we enter the “Forbidden Hut” and board the train out of the dreamland that is our own Hokey Pokey do we forget the distinction of play (because even when we play with our children there is a nagging voice in the background saying, “did you remember to turn off the stove?” “Have you signed that permission slip?”)? And if so, when does this begin? Is it the teenage years when we learn that the uneasy feeling in our stomach at the sight of specific other is not disgust but lust? Is it when we feel the weight of a bike as less a means for random freedom and more a vehicle from point A to B? When it is no longer our vessel into the unknown, our ScramJet taking us on wild adventures, rather the vehicle we have to use, one which we have to remember to pedal to get us to where it is we need to be when we need to be there? And if so, if this book really for a Young Adult audience at all? Is its message that growing up is ok, but do not forget the magic and wonder you so recently possessed? Would I have been so moved if I were on the precipice of young-adulthood from years as a child? Would I have been so eager to grow up?

As I sit back and reflect on this book today, I am struck most by Mr. Shortstop, the baseball glove that gave Jack, the protagonist, his sense of duty and awe and I think of my young slugger who plays catch in the living room when it gets too dark outside, who dives at the rebounds coming off of the garage door, and who believes so completely in the magic of a baseball glove and its place in his own identity. I do not want him to lose this. I don’t want him boarding the train from Hokey Pokey anytime soon, and I think the best way I can encourage the wonder within him to remain is to keep reading myself, to get lost in imagination and to encourage the same from him. It is easy to forget childhood when it is so far away from you, the trick is to remember you do not need to pedal to go fast  to getlost in the wonder.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Bowen, Elizabeth. The Mulberry Tree. Virago Press. London. 1986.

Spinelli, Jerry. Hokey Pokey. Yearling Books. New York, NY. 2014.

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Eleanor and Park reminds us why romance and the ’80s matter.

download-35The only way I can think to profess my deep deep love of Rainbow Rowell’s novel, Eleanor and Park is to write this post with Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” playing in the background with memories of Lloyd Dobler holding a boom box over his head. For me, this is the epitome of popular culture and romance. So much of what I understand about romance is wrapped up in an orange trench coat, John Cusak’s smile, and the unyielding power of The Mix Tape.

 Eleanor and Park is a walk down memory lane where the reader cannot help but be immersed back in the 1980’s, back in high school, and back in love for the first time. For new teenaged readers, the demographic for which it was written, perhaps the novel acts more as a gateway, a glimpse into the power of first love with a displaced setting, but for the 30-something reader, it is a nostalgic freight train of walkmans, comic book characters, and the language of love that was dependent entirely on the interpretation of song lyrics.

This book struck me as a reader on a number of levels. Not least of which was Rowell’s language, which is colorful, provoking, and eloquent; a combination often overlooked when regarding a teenage audience, but one I believe many teens aspire to. The depth of characters, which is slowly revealed but accentuated through their coming to terms with the power of popular culture, is so personal. My heart beat for Eleanor when she sat so closely to Park on the bus, and I blushed for them both when he made her that first tape. How many hours have I spent listening to mix tapes on my own Walkman into the wee hours of the morning, rewinding the same song over and over thinking about my first love? “November Rain” still steals my breath.

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It is my opinion that this book is an experience. Though it captures first love so perfectly, the ups and the downs, it is also a social commentary on bullying, fitting in, sexism, rights of women, and physical discrimination. Eleanor’s tenacity and fear of her physical self is overwhelming as a woman, something I think we female readers can relate to on some level. Whereas Park’s obsession with popular culture is something that most teens can latch on to, even adults who were once (or like me, are still) comic reading, punk rock listening, youths at heart. In some ways we never grow up and the commitments we make to music and culture in those pivotal teenage-coming-of-age-years are ones we don’t let go of lightly, so that when we reach the final page of the novel and are left with three mysterious words to interpret, I cannot help but hope they say, “I’m coming home”, because as I read Eleanor and Park, that is exactly how I feel.

 

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

In Defence of Chopsticks

Chopsticks, by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

I did not love this book. Perhaps that is a strange way to begin a defence for a title that I believe, wholeheartedly, should be included in school, academic and public libraries. I did not love it, but I respect it immensely, and it should be read widely.

Chopsticks is a visual narrative. It is not a graphic novel, though there are stylistic elements found in that medium (such as paneling and void space and gutters) that affect the time lapse of reading as a graphic novel might. Instead, I would be more inclined to call Chopsticks a scrapbook narrative, and, quite possibly one of a kind.

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Relying more on visual nuances than prose, and more on critical analyses of images and promotional material (pamphlets, posters, scores) than descriptive text, Chopsticks demands a close reading of images to gather both plot and the crucial emotional subtext that drives the story.

Glory Flemming is a prodigy whose life revolves around honing her talent as a young pianist. She is at first, a difficult character for the average teen to relate to. Her days are planned rigidly, as evident from the daily schedule pasted in her scrapbook; she performs around the world in the most celebrated theatres, as the pamphlets from Carnegie Hall can attest. Where readers begin to emphasize WITH Glory is when they realize that the concept of prodigy does not mean only performing classics, rather Glory is so sought after because she blends classical music with contemporary pop. Bit by bit readers begin to see themselves in her. She falls in love with Francisco, the boy next door. She collects trinkets from encounters with him, she doodles, and she daydreams, she texts, she longs for freedom, and she just wants to feel alive. These are the attributes of the story that hook the reader.

What keeps the reader invested, on the other hand, are the clues and nuances inform the deeper intricacies of the book. All is not right with Glory. From the titles of the songs she performs, “Obsession Diabolique”, to the photos of the empty chair which represent a dead mother, it is evident that each photo, drawing, and keepsake are meant to be carefully examined to truly understand Glory’s struggle and subsequent descent from on high. When the reader reaches the end their senses are muddled and they are forced to reflect on each image and each moment of foreshadowing which they have absorbed to truly believe in the interpretive finale of Glory’s story.

Chopsticks is not an easy read. From an outside perspective it may look simple and quick- there are few dialogues and no descriptive prose to muddle over. But it is for this very reason that I believe it presents an opportunity for true critical analysis. Youth and young adults today are savvy in multiple literacies. They are accustomed to reading a variety of texts, often in short hand and prose interspersed with images. They are increasingly reading laterally, no longer requiring left to right, line by line, patterns to interpret information. It is crucially important that libraries that service this demographic collect and maintain resources that speak to the changing literacies these readers engage with.

Chopsticks demands close reading. It combines elements of fiction from plot, character development, figurative language, and multi-literacy reading skills. The book highlights the struggles of talented teens to achieve their goals and the burdens that come from sacrificing too much of one’s self for the sake of perfection. It is a love story and a cry for help. It is blatant as much as it is nuanced, and it is a book that requires a critical lens.

This is a story that deserves to be read by those who already accept evolving literacies, and it is a story that teaches those who are not accepting how to move their reading forward.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Read a Banned Book: Comics

Originally published in 2014.

This is the week to read. No, wait, this is the week to read a comic. No, no, even better- this is the week to read a questionable comic. Simply, this is the week to read a banned comic book. 🙂

My favourite week of the year, Banned Books Week kicks off Sunday, September 21, and runs until the 27th. The purpose of the annual event is to celebrate literature of all kinds, and most importantly the freedom to read. Banned Books Week is a celebration because it showcases titles that have been challenged and restricted but have stayed on the shelves because of the tireless efforts of the literary community who pursue the promotion of freedom to read.

This year spotlights the too often disgraced genre of comics.

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To say that I enjoy reading comic books is an understatement; I love them and read them voraciously. I advocate for their inclusion in classroom curricula, for community book clubs for youth and adults alike, and I encourage those who are foreign to the medium to pick one up and give it a try. But in my endless promotion of the genre I am faced with constant criticism from people who think comics are basic, juvenile,  and simple-minded. If you are someone who believes likewise I urge you to educate yourself, for if you sit down with a copy of Persepolis, Maus, Saga, The Long Halloween or Essex County I sincerely believe you will change your perspective- at least you will if you are someone who likes to be challenged by literature and can handle a little unorthodoxy.

Comics are both literary art and graphic art. They extend far beyond the realm of superheroes and address social and moral dilemmas, history, war, love, friendship, and coming of age. Comics challenge the reader to read on multiple levels. Unlike an illustrated  novel where the image captures a description of the narrative, the images in the comics are narrative themselves. They are as equally important as the text, often times more so. Learning to follow panels and paying attention to the intricacies of splash pages takes patience and practice. For some, reading a graphic novel can be as time consuming as reading one of full text because the subtleties and metaphors are often found in the drawings not in the words.

Seeing the story unfold before you is a powerful experience. The first time I read Maus, by Art Speigleman, I had to keep putting it down- this is very unlike me. Maus, the first and only pulitzer prize winning graphic novel, is the biographical account of the author’s parents enslavement at Auschwitz; the tale is anthropomorphic, with Jews represented as mice who are chased down and entrapped by Nazi cats.  Each character is given a distinct voice, each nationality a biting commentary through artistic representation. It is haunting and honest and from the point of view of the author, it is true. This is not a book to devour in one sitting. Nor is it a read to take lightly. But it has been challenged for being too graphic and for the misrepresentation of ethnic groups. This is not a simple minded piece of literature. The reasons for its ban do not conform to the base outline of comic discrimination, and sadly this is the case for the majority of banned comics across North America. Persepolis, Pride of Baghdad, Fun Home, The Killing Joke, Sandman, and Maus have been challenged in schools and libraries, not because they are simple stories, but because they are complex and mature.

No one has the right to tell someone what they can or cannot read. Sure, parents can choose to monitor their child’s reading habits, but to take that monitoring a step further and to protest the inclusion of a book on the shelves of a school or a library is violating someone else’s right to engage with literature. As a parent I understand wanting to protect children from potential harm, but it is our duty as parents to ensure children learn how to interpret the information before them and address how this information affects them. Reading is the gateway to knowledge. When we allow books, of any kind, to be banned we limit knowledge.  My role as a mother is to encourage a love of learning in my children. If they are exposed to something that may seem questionable to me, them, or society at large it is my duty to discuss the reading experience. Not to limit it, pretend it did not exist, or prevent the experience in others.

Banning books is taking away choice. As adults and role models we should promote choice. It is our duty to guide our children through this world, to teach them that sex, profanity, violence and different points of view exist. If we try to keep them from learning about these things, we are putting them at risk and worst of all, not giving them the opportunity to discuss and to feel safe to ask questions. Books often provide answers, but most always prompt critical thinking. Even the most basic stories have the potential to cultivate thought. I am reminded of the sophisticated artistic devices in Maurice Sendak’s wonderful children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. Max, who was naughty and sent to bed without supper, dreams of a wild world of fantastic beasts where he can escape the confines of reality and revel in fantasy. This classic has been frequently challenged for being too scary- but it need not be scary at all. Instead, why not marvel at the wonders and endless possibilities of imagination? Kids can be encouraged to think critically. In fact, without knowing it most do. Why cannot many adults?

At the end of the day your kids are going to learn about sex, they will fill their vocabulary (even just in thought) with profanity, they will be overwhelmed by different religions and ways of thinking. One day kids will learn that The Joker is a murdering lunatic, that sex is everywhere and death can be devastating. The more we try to censor our children from the realities of the world in their youth the less we prepare them for adulthood. Instead of banning literature, we should be exploring it and having conversations about it, all the while enlightening ourselves and them with the myriad of ideas that exist in this world.

Banned Books Week starts today, and as always, I am clearing my schedule to delve into the pages of “questionable” book. I wonder what I will learn this time?

 

Written by Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Short Shorts and The Troubling Perception of Women in Comics

Wherein I respond to a troubling segment of Fox and Friends.

http://comicbook.com/2014/09/22/fox-news-upset-popeye-isn-t-smoking-thor-is-a-woman-and-wonder-w/

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I don’t care that Wonder Woman wears short shorts and a strapless top. I don’t care that Emma Frost always looks cold because she lives in nothing more than lingerie. I don’t care that Ms. Marvel is often in danger of getting a wedgie from her body suit when she blasts off into space. I don’t care about these things because I don’t think about them. When I read a comic I actually read it for the content. Not the outfits. After a disturbing segment of Fox and Friends, I urge others to consider doing the same.

The blatant mockery of the unfinished editing of Sony Animation’s film, Popeye (for creating a title character without his trademark pipe and tattoos) is unfounded as the comments were made about test footage. We have no way of knowing yet if either of these things will make the final cut, but if they don’t, what is the hurt of having a protagonist who doesn’t smoke? What will it matter to kids of a new generation if Popeye’s arms are simply muscular? If an American icon is neither tattooed nor a smoker he should not be branded a “wuss,” and he should certainly not be emasculated. I grew up with Popeye, too, and his tattoos made very little impression on me. I remember the importance of eating spinach. 🙂

As for Thor, and the issue of Odinson now being unworthy so a woman has taken up his mantle, I say it is time to embrace change.  Thor is no longer worthy of Mjolnir, and this is not the first time, either. Remember when he used to carry around Jarnbjorn? (If not, Jarnbjorn is a really big axe.) True comic book fans should be able to at least make peace with the situation and greet the new Thor as a potential hero in her own right, not a new “bustier” Thor with “two additions”. Even in comic books women can be more than big breasts. At no point was her physical strength mentioned, which is hard to miss given that she is not much smaller than Thor Odinson. Also, women can be superheroes without having overtly female names like Thorina. In an age where we are striving for gender equality, it is important that female heroes have their own names. As all women should.

Many fans are upset because Marvel is making so many changes of major characters, many have been outspoken against a new Thor (even I wish Odinson could be Thor and Marvel would highlight a female character in her own right), but to regale her to the size of her breast plate is inappropriate. If we are going to cast her aside, let’s at least have substantial reasoning for it.

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Now, for the points about Wonder Woman. The truth seeking Amazon princess, Diana, who battles for justice alongside some of the greatest heroes ever written has been reduced to her short shorts and halter top. First, let me just say a halter top has a strap that goes around one’s neck. Wonder Woman’s top is strapless, just a fashion FYI.  I love Gadot’s costume in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which I know strikes a nerve  for not being patriotic enough, but as a reader of comics let me point out that she is coming into a film that has been said to be heavily influenced by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Saga, so dark tones will prevail. Also, she looks tough. Much tougher than the bright red and blues. Perhaps an icon like Wonder Woman deserves a costume better than that of a “roller skating” outfit. I wonder if anyone is offended by the changes to Superman’s costume, or can male superheroes undergo costume alterations and still be taken seriously?

We live in an age where women and men should be treated equally. The comics industry is making strides to accommodate this, so I would hope daytime television personalities would strive to do so as well. A true fan, I would hope, appreciates heroes for their abilities, cunning, wit and skill. They also love comics for the content, and yes, they probably enjoy the costumes, but the costumes can change without changing the integrity of the person who wears them. And as for Thor, let’s at least give her a chance. If she is good enough for Jason Aaron, she should at least be worthy of us.

Instead of focusing on the superficiality of character clothing, I encourage everyone to pick up a comic and read it for its originality and content. But if you cannot, try not to insult those of us who do.

 

Written by Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Sounds of a Library

*This is a response to an assignment for my MLIS program wherein I contemplate what I believe to be true about libraries.*

Listen.

Padded footsteps on a carpeted floor.

Clickity clack go the toy trains on their table tracks.

Whispers.

Teenage jabber.

Tap, tap, on the keyboards.

The clanging of the return slot- closing.

Toddlers bleating in a corner.

Swosh, doors open, swosh, doors close again.

Angry Birds, a theme song for iPad children.

The closing of a hardcover novel, fhwip.

A conclave of creativity.

Thank you, have a nice day.

These are the sounds of a library.

When I think of my experience with libraries, my own personal story collection, no tale is particularly quiet. From my days as a teenager sitting at the upstairs corner table, looking out over the harbor, the ships sailing in and out, the sun setting, I think of the stories I wove for my English class, the inspiration I got from the view of the city across the water, and the reading aloud of my work, editing with my peers.

I think of the first day I took my toddling son to explore the shelves and the worlds within. As he clambered to reach the texts that were too high and as they fell around him in a crash on the floor, I was met with smiles and squeals of delight from the staff who leapt into action to help me re-shelve the fallen tomes. With open arms and eyes brimming with delight, my son learned that a library was a welcoming haven. Somewhere he could be adventurous, mischievous, and greeted with smiles.

As he and I continued to visit the libraries in our community, I was struck with the plentiful program offerings for all ages, all manner of interests. My son learned to glue candles on a paper cake, shake an and get his sillies out, while I found free university lectures and met like minded mates at a graphic novel book club. Four years later their friendship, conversation, and shared interests contribute to the best nights of my months.

Every second month, as the new program guide is delivered, I wait patiently to pick up my copy. I circle dozens of programs. Some I will attend: book club, kids craft days, baby stories and songs. Others I will strive to make, astronomy 101, palm reading, laughter yoga- but in the end, I will concede to joining another time. There is not enough time to learn about all the themes the library provides through programs, but there is something for anyone who wants to learn. And this is the great purpose of our libraries today- to provide a place where people can learn, create and meet like-minded individuals. A library can be the setting for the forging of great friendships, as it can be a place to access and unlock information.

In that regard, librarians are no longer the gatekeepers of intelligence; they appropriate wisdom, share their knowledge and ensure their patrons are informed. Librarians guide their patrons to the information they seek, helping first to clarify and fully comprehend what is needed, then teaching how to access and unearth the information buried deep within electronic networks or between the dusty pages of a book. Librarians no longer shush us. They encourage us! They point us towards the answers we seek and sometimes, often times, they enjoy learning right along with us. They cheer on our desire to read and learn. They applaud our curiosity. They invite our questions.

The image of the library is changing, this I believe to be certain. Libraries are a powerhouse for innovation and creativity. They are no longer about amassing quantities of books (though the books are there for those who cherish them), neither are they there to provide a reserved, muted space for study (though these rooms do exist). When someone asks, Will there be need for librarians in the future? Shout a resounding, Yes! and explain their role in the creative community, their role as information harbingers and providers. Librarians are there to help you connect with information; the library is there to connect information with the community. Walk into a library with questions, with curiosity. Shuffle your feet through the aisles and drum your fingers along the stacks. Tap out your questions and print your findings. Raise your voice and ask a question.

Libraries are bustling. They bustle with knowledge. They bustle with information. They bustle with creativity. They bustle with life. Gone are the days when libraries were places of quiet, contemplative solitude. There is very little shushing in a library now, though a rowdy crowd might warrant one, from time to time. The library of today, on the precipice of the year 2015, is alive with ideas, people and noise! It is the epicenter of creativity; a place one can research business ventures of the past, flops and successes; a place to discuss and debate ideas; a safe haven of inclusion for those who need it most. Ideas are being exchanged and these ideas are making noise in the branches of their communities.

It is a wonderful feeling, knowing that I don’t have to hover over my children when we step into the library. They scuttle towards the children’s section, bumbling and fumbling as they make their way, and as they become chefs, conductors, puzzle masters, and elocutionists of fairy tales, I know they will not be silenced. They will be encouraged to play and create. They will be prodded into conversation by staff, and once and a while they will be listened to as they read their favorite books out loud. And as they grow they will learn to use the library and its staff as a soundboard for ideas, sounding their barbaric yawps, waiting to create and discover. Making beautiful noise as they go.

 

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

So, You’re Just Getting into Comics

To the thirty year old newly defined geek there is nothing more stinging than the question, “So, you’re just getting into comics?”. Ugh. It’s like piercing my heart with a jagged dagger, twisting until breathless. If you want to make me shudder and cower into a corner, here is how to do it.

“So, you’re just getting into comics?”bf-2

Some of the most interesting people I know, and people I would gladly listen to for hours on end, are true bonafide savants of the comic genre and industry. They work in comic book stores, give presentations at conventions, choose the reading materials for the city libraries, and have been fans of comics most of their lives. They, and the comics they read, have a history together. They don’t need movies to entice them into a comic book store, they are the people who have kept the stores afloat. They are the genuine article, and I feel like a poser.

This is a hard time to be a comic fan and to find footing in the vast clubhouse of the Comic Reader Brotherhood. Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe imploded and Chris Nolan’sBatman trilogy skyrocketed to success, comics have become the “it” thing. Everywhere you go someone is wearing a Spiderman t-shirt, children dress up as Captain America (I anticipate many Star Lord’s this Halloween), and the superhero and the actor portraying them have become synonymous (Nick Fury, anyone?). Comics have never been cooler, and it is at this juncture that I have jumped on the bandwagon. Or is it?

Let’s rewind. It’s 1987, I am only five, but I am glued to the television set at noon to watchJem and the Holograms. Soon after, She-Ra and He-Man come on. In the evening, I cap off the day with The Amazing Spiderman and Adam West’s beautifully drawn eyebrows in Batman. When I reflect on my childhood, these shows, their action figures and costumes resonate in my memories. I still watch reruns and introduce these characters to my children. My Little Pony, ThunderCats, and Transformers were as much in the books I read as they were on the screens I watched.  These characters hold a very important place in the hearts of the geek community. Mine too.

As I got older, I would watch Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson spar over and over until we needed to buy a new VHS. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my raison d’être every Thursday, then Sunday night. I read Spiderman comics and The Incredible Hulk, at first because they reminded me of a favourite cousin, but soon after because they were coming of age stories, and I was coming of age myself. Even the first Sam Raimi Spiderman left me speechless as my friends and I drove home from the theatres. I was completely engulfed in the story- despite their choice of using Mary Jane over Gwen Stacy. Tsk, tsk.

So for a while, I knew some stuff.  And then I kind of cut out.

I still watched movies and read all the time, but I tried to be too classic, too artsy, too grown up. Could comics be grown up? I wasn’t so sure. When my son was born, very stereotypically, superheroes crept back in. Then I met Alex, who gave me a world of graphic literary possibility on a jump drive. I joined book club. I read amazing graphic novels that had nothing to do with superheroes. I fell in love with reading and storytelling all over again, in the most visually stunning and visceral way. And yes, I have read (almost) every major Marvel event from the 1990’s onward, but I just did it a little late. Batman, we still have some road to travel, you and I.

In the end, I believe, to be taken seriously by a community driven to explore, accept and promote the wonderful world that is comics (and seriously awesome ’80’s cartoons) you just have to love them. Read them. Reflect on them. And not be afraid to engage. Some of the best people I will ever know are still out there for me to meet, to discuss comics and the things labeled as geeky that they and I love. And even though I might wonder if I am just a poser looking to fit in, the terrific people I have already met lead me to believe I’m not. Maybe I am on my way to being one of you, too.

“So, you’re just getting into comics?”

No. As it turns out, I have always been into them. Maybe I didn’t know it at the time. But in these last five years I have been consumed by them.

Maybe that’s the better question to ask, next time you meet someone like me.

“So, you’re consumed by comics, too?”

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Time to rethink your comic prejudice

The other day at the playground, a mother of a toddler made a passing remark that there was no way, whatsoever, that she would let her daughter wear a Spiderman t-shirt. “Superheroes,” she said, “are not for girls”.  I found myself ashamedly looking at my toddling two year old bounding up the slide in her favourite outfit (hand picked herself!), a well-worn
Halloween costume, which was, of course, Spiderman. Then I glanced at her shoes, again, Spiderman. To add insult to injury, I was wearing and X-Men shirt under my winter coat.Spiderman_Image

I spend a lot of time reading and advocating comics to everyone and for everyone, so it was hard for me to hear her point of view.There is a perception that comics are “sub-literature” or “comedy” or “for semiskilled readers” only. I vehemently oppose this because I am very well versed in Shakespeare, Keats, Whitman, and Tennyson, but also in Waid, Bendis, Lemire, and Loeb. This week’s readings remind us that this perception of comics is not new, that adults have been trying to censor (and still do!!) the availability and content within these graphic novel books because the very word “graphic” denotes something dirty or violent. Slapping a Comics Authority logo on the corner of books in the 1950’s began a censorship of freedom to read by putting the axe to horror comics and crime comics (the biggest sellers of the time), violence, sex, and social critiques for fear of delinquency and bad behavior among youth. (I can’t help but wonder how what logo they would stick on Stoker’s Dracula, or Conan-Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes.) I was most struck to find out that it was a panel made up of the majority of women deciding what is or is not appropriate. I suppose because librarianship was mostly a woman’s role then, and in the cult of true womanhood where values of the virtuous are concerned who better to show the way than the well-intentioned woman? It struck me, however, because I think there is still a (mis)perception of comics now that says comics are not the way to critical and calculated thought, and women still have a role to play in this.

The mainstream readership of comics (superheroes, in particular) is 90% male. I suppose I sit comfortably in the 10% as I know, without a doubt I am an Active Comics Enthusiast. Woman, on the other hand, make up for their lack of superhero reading by being the 40% readership of graphic novels of other genres. I guess I sit comfortably here, too. But 10% and 40% is low, to me. I know so many female fans. So many female con attendees that I am shocked this number remains this low. And after reading books like, Chicks Dig Comics, Ms Marvel, or Faith, I can’t help but wonder how quickly these percentages are changing.

Comics are great. They have been tackling social constructs and paying homage to ancient myths and stories since they began (Superman is not an original story, he is Hercules all the way!). There is more to a comic than most people realize, and just because there is a visual, a graphic component, to a narrative does not discount its effectiveness nor its power. I mean, come on, Maus won a Pulitzer Prize! As soon as we get rid of the misconception that comics are not real literature the sooner people can stop being ashamed of what they read, and the sooner my daughter and I can wear our super t-shirts without fear of ridicule!I am all for that!

 

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Owly, A Humble Tale

I was eager to read Owly because I had seen it so often as a display text at my public library, but had passed it by every time in favor of something that struck me as more compelling. You see, the cover art did not attract me due its simplicity and cartoonish, animal art. It struck me as a simple story.

I am so glad I was WRONG!!! J

Owly is deeply moving, honestly real, and tremendously humble. It is the age-old story of discovery; the owlystaple of children’s literature as the journey tale. Owly, with his large, expressive eyes, and small stature is more than an animal; he could be any child or any adult, for that matter, who is lost in his story.

Through very basic, black and white art (almost reminiscent of sketches) author Andy Runton transitions from complete delight to utter sorrow within the space of a few panels and the direction of a few lines upon Owly’s face.

The book is made up of two short stories, both of which are engrossing. In both tales, Owly experiences the highest highs and lowest lows of friendship, and through minimal detail and varied panel size and layout, a complete range of emotions is exchanged between Owly himself and the reader. When he waits patiently by the bedside of his new friend, nursing him back to health, Runton creates atmosphere and tension in three pages of a single 3/4 panel each to convey the dismay, the worry, and the patience it takes to heal the sick. Runton’s ability to convey the passing of time is seamless as Owly waits worriedly beside a dwindling candle, or as he and worm experience a snapshot of seasons while awaiting the return of their hummingbird friends.

It is hard not to see yourself reflected in at least one moment of Owly’s story. Whether you are a nature lover, as he is; a committed friend, as he is; suffering from loneliness, as he does; or living for quiet moments, as each panel shows, Owly is a book that spans ages. The minimal to no dialogue and text makes this a perfect story to read across languages and cultures as well.

In the beginning this was a book I was not interested in from seeing the cover art alone. In the end, Owly has become a book I cherish, a gem in my collection, and one I instantly handed off to my eight year old son, who’s initial reaction was, “Oh, what a nice looking owl. I bet I will like him”. I know he will!

 

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

The Arrival, A Timely Tale

ShaunTanTheArrivalTitlePageShaun Tan’s beautiful book, The Arrival, invites readers to experience the pain, fear, despair, longing, and ultimate hope in this intimate experience of life as an immigrant.

From the moment it is picked up and it’s weight felt in the reader’s hands, we know a profound read awaits us. Coupled with the tattered replica of an old photo album or passport as the front and back cover pages, and the strong and dense interior pages, the book itself is a work of art that looks old and wise beyond its years.

The fine pencil art, various tones of sepia, which mirror Victorian photography, captures the essence of each individual in his or her passport photo. The asynchronous items on the first page, stilled in time and through large gutters and small panels place equal importance and insignificance of what is left behind. The acute detail of husband and wife, their hands on each other, is so real and intimate to look at the tenderness feels almost intrusive.

Words in this story are unnecessary.

As the visual narrative progresses, the identical panel sizes and gutter spacing is reminiscent of an old silent film, moving quickly with small gestures as to bring them to life. The contrast of whole page images, splash pages, or blank pages reminds us we are reading and privy to only a moment in time.

The representation of corruption and power as reptilian shadows looming overhead resonates with the world we live in today. This is not the tale of immigration of days past, nor solely of the futuristic landscape created in the images, this is the timely tale of immigration as it happens, whenever it happens.

Close up drawings ofimages (19) physical exams, teeth checking, eye tests, the struggle to communicate, are powerful and honest statements of what immigrants endure to enter a new country. Flashbacks, rendered in darker tones, but with the same physical layout and paneling give life to secondary characters, which informs and expands the protagonist’s own personality and moves the story along. Again, the art captures what words would most often convey, but in such a delicate and seamless way that words are not required at all.

The companion animal, a futuristic pet of sorts, reminds the reader that appearances are not the foundation of a person, and that different is not necessarily frightening or bad. Likewise with the food, homes, and clothing in this new land, Tan is encouraging readers to consider that different can be good. The bird, which appears in a variety of incarnations throughout the book (at home with his daughter, upon the statue in the harbour, through the steampunk city) is the visual reminder of hope through uncertainty.

This book is exquisite and I can’t help but think that if everyone on the planet were required to read it, the world might be a better place.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke