Sunday, 5 April 2009

Sunday Salon - Nymeth's Mini Challenge Wrap up

The Sunday

and I were partnered in Nymeth's Mini-Challenge for Dewey's challenge, link here. The idea was to try something new. I decided to read the graphic novel Watchmen for the challenge, and Molly was going to read a Manga novel, A Midsummer's Night Dream. This is a first for both of us. We emailed back and forth several times, asking questions, thinking about what we were finding, if we liked it, what our experience was. So, I present to you:

Molly and the Manga

1. What made you think of reading Manga?

Well, I guess two ideas came to me on the same day -- so it seemed providential. I had been reading some of the blogs I follow and on the Bibliosshakespeare site someone had just posted a review of Manga Macbeth. I was in awe! I had NO idea that the Bard had been re-issued as a Manga series. I am constantly on the look out for lesson plan ideas to further enrich what I am teaching. I will be teaching Midsummer Night's Dream to my 8th class starting next week (I have taught it to my high school seniors before, but never to a group this young). I thought that this might be a way that the students could visually see that Shakespeare is as relevant in the 21st century as he was in the 17th century. A little later that day I read your site where you announced this mini challenge and your intent to read a graphic novel. I thought - perfect - I could join the challenge and perhaps be paired with someone who will also want to venture in this area (of course --- I thought manga and graphic novels were the same as they both involved pictures, but I think my logic was a bit faulty). Any way, as luck would have it, when I signed up for the challenge, you and I were paired and the rest, as they say, is history :-)

2.what brought it to your attention?
I think I answered the question above -- sorry

3. Susan says: I said to Molly in one of my emails: : I might be wrong, but I think there is a definite barrier between those who read graphic novels and those who won't, and I think it has to do with the idea of comic books.
Susan's note: in one of her emails, Molly said she didn't like Watchmen, was having difficulty getting into it, so I asked what happened:
ow, lest I appear like a literary snob, please let me assure that I am NOT! My less than enthusiastic review of graphic novels really has little to do with my literary intellect and more to do with my personal idiosyncracies :) I think I shared that I had a hard time getting into The Watchmen because I felt that I was taken back to my elementary years. I rarely read comic books at that age - and if I did, it tended to be of the Scooby Doo variety and less of the Super Hero variety. I have never been drawn to action adventure (what IS the matter with me?). I even picked up a copy of the recently published Alice in Sunderland graphic novel to try my hand at that (I really was bound and determined to give this a full-blown effort). Now...that has the literary appeal, and even great historical information --- a true educational experience, and yet, I could not get interested.

4. That's why I'm curious how you found manga, and if you could read the whole book you had. So please let me know how it went! Did you gain 'coolness' factor in the eyes of your students?
I did finish the Manga Shakespeare book, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Did it improve my coolness factor at school? Well, that is certainly debatable. I have not had a chance to share the book with the class that is actually studying it (we are somewhat behind due to oral reports, but I plan to share it on Wednesday). I did, however, share the book with some students who will study Macbeth next year. One of the students, a Manga aficionado, quickly informed me that this was obviously American Manga and not Japanese manga. Oh good grief, I was just thrillled I knew the term :) Manga Shakespeare is definitely more of an interest not necessarily because it is 'high brow" Shakespeare (to be honest, I still have a hard time understanding him) -- but more because of the practical application: I can use this book in class to make a point and educate the students.

5.and for when you finish the Manga Macbeth:

a) was the story satisfying on its own?
I did enjoy the book. I think I enjoyed it for three reasons. First of all, it was a story with which I was already familiar, so I could skim the words and focus on the pictures. Secondly (and closely related to the first), the pictures truly helped me to visual the story. This is a confusing plot - there are 4 main characters - Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius - who are to form 2 couples. As is typical with a Shakespearean comedy, however, the climax of the play has the couples totally mixed up. It certainly doesn't help that the 2 female leads share very similar names (Hermia and Helena) which contrbutes to the confusion. It was incredibly helpful to have a visual image to coordinate with each character; it made it easier to follow the plot. Lastly, I think I enjoyed the Manga Shakespeare because it was based on a work that I would consider of "literary merit" --- I could justify the reading of Manga for educational purposes.

b)what are the characters like?
Surprisingly enough, the characters are very close renditions of Shakespeare's originals. I have only read about half the book so far - and really just a skim (I need to read it more thoroughly by Wednesday) - but the 21st century Manga version is very similar. While the setting is still (ancient?) Greece, the characters' facial features do contain asian elements - but somehow it works. There seems to be some 21st century electronic features - but again, it works in the story and in fact, I think it will once again allow the students to better relate.

6) Did the art add to the story, or distract from it, for you? is it better than you thought? why? you mentioned you like - prefer the black and white art in this particular manga. Do you have any idea why?
Half-way through reading the manga, Molly answered: YES -- surprisingly, amazingly better. I think I am pleasantly surprised how the visual effect of the pictures actually bring Shakespeare's words to life. The main complaint that students have regarding the study of Shakespeare is that they don't understand his language. BUT...when you have the pictures you realize that his words are not that difficult to understand --- and in fact, if you take the time to really listen to the words (Shakespeare is meant to be read and heard aloud) - you also discover that the language is beautiful. is an interesting thought that I need to further develop before I send you a definitive answer --- I somehow do not mind the pictures of Manga nearly as much as I did the graphic novel. Perhaps - subconsciously, I find the Manga renditions in black and white more sophisticated? I don't know - need to explore it more. But I have thoroughly enjoyed the artwork as much as the storyline.

At the end of our discussion I asked her for a final verdict on her manga experience.
As I ponder this situation I think it is this: the graphic novel is too stimulating for my little mind. I cannot take in all the pictures - the word bubbles in various locales - the colors, etc. It is an overload for my simplistic brain and I become frustrated and exhausted. I think I prefer the standard book form because I only have to focus on words --- all of them are read left to right - all of them are black and white. It is an "auto pilot" activity and I like that. Odd, huh?!

7.Would you read Manga again?
Would I read another Manga book? Perhaps if it were in this vein - that is, another translation of a literary classic into a Manga format (Dickens might lend himself nicely to this visual medium) - but I am not sure that I will rush to my local bookstore and start buying Manga books off the shelves.

8.Or try another Graphic novel in the future?

No, I am not at all opposed to reading more graphic novels. As you know, science fiction does stretch my mind a bit (ok -- a lot!!) --- and super-hero action adventure stories are in that same category. Even when I was younger I rarely read the Superman and Spiderman comics - I went more for the "funnnies" :)
When I started teaching British Literature (with no prior qualifications or experience --- I am a French and Political Science major), I nearly shuddered to think that I had to teach Beowulf and Sir Gawain --- ancient super heroes, if you ask me. But a funny thing as happened -- the more I read these stories - and read the commentaries -- the more I truly appreciate this genre and the valuable lessons it teaches us.

Molly finished by adding: I , too, have enjoyed this foray into a new genre, and I have especially enjoyed doing this with you.

I, too, really enjoyed my experience of Watchmen, and after Molly posts her interview emails with me, I will do a final wrap-up here. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about manga through Molly's eyes, especially because we are close in age and as I discovered, we both had had similar views towards graphic novels and manga: ewww, comic books! As she said, and I've mentioned before, this was because when we grew up, it most definitely was frowned on to be caught reading comic books after a certain age. It took a lot of courage to pick up my copy of Watchmen (even though it is nicely bound in a softcover trade edition, thus hiding the graphic material within!!), but once I opened the first page, I didn't care if it was a comic book or not. It isn't, but I'll save my reasons why, for my post. What I do want to say here is that Molly raises an interesting point about how she had to learn to read graphic novels and manga, to go between the words and the images, and that it was hard work. I too, between reading Castle Waiting and then Watchmen, had to learn how to read the words and then the pictures, and how to decide what was important to focus on. It is an art, and I wonder if people who are more visually leaning towards learning, find reading graphic novels a more pleasurable experience than say someone who learns by experience, or auditory sound.

So, that's my Sunday Salon. Thank you, Nymeth, for a most exciting mini-challenge. It was challenging and fun!

And I have to add, anyone in the mood for fairy poetry today, should go check out Nymeth's post today.


Emily Barton said...

This is fascinating. I struggle off and on with the graphic format. Read three last year just to see what it's all about and attempted a fourth that I hated. I'm with Molly when it comes to action adventure comics, so I tend to shy away from that stuff. However, I would recommend Allison Bechdel to anybody: one of the best memoirs I've ever read and definitely a cure for my "snobbery" when it comes to graphic. I do think, though, that there's an added dimension with pictures. Not only do I have to be into the story, have characters I understand, and feel what I'm reading is well-written, but I also have to like the artist's style. And it does seem to me that the "well-written" part goes by the way-side with graphic books. Lots of typos and grammatical errors in my experience -- except Bechdel, of course. She's way too smart for that.

Susan said...

Emily: you aren't the only one to recommend Allison bechdel. I've seen her on someone's blog (Nymeth? Kailana?) and it looked really good. I just haven't come across it yet up here. Graphic novels are so new to me. I have seen a copy of Persepolis and I might pick that up. I almost wish I could add your comments onto my post with Molly, because i think you make really valid points about the grammar, and typos - and also that the story, the characters and the writing must be as good as the actual artistic style. I was lucky, I loved Castle Waiting, and I do find black and white easier on the eyes. That said, I absolutely loved Watchmen. It is beyond parallel. I will do my final thoughts as soon as Molly does her post with my thoughts; but I don't think all the same that graphic novels are going to be part of my regular reading oeuvre. Not after watching Northanger Abbey on our provincial tv tonight and remembering again why I love her so much! The best of graphic novels do have something worthwhile to offer, though. And isn't it interesting that you and I and Molly are all close in age, and aren't at ease with graphic novels, while many of the younger bloggers completely get them? I'll let you know when I get my hands on some Bechdel.

Nymeth said...

I'm glad enjoyed the mini-challenge, Susan! It's interested that people have trouble with this medium - I never really had any, but it might be a matter of habit. Or simple of taste. And I don't remember ever seeing any typos or grammatical mistakes in a comic, but then I'm not trustworthy in that regard myself.

Anyway, I definitely second the recommendation of Fun Home :)

Molly said...

Well, I finally overcame the formatting obstacles and my half of the post is now published.

This was SUCH a fun experience, Susan. I would love to do it again sometime.

Susan said...

Nymeth: I've added the Alison book to my 'to get' list! And I'm really curious if it is limited, the difficulty with graphic novel reading, to people of a certain age (my age) and older. I know I enjoyed Castle Waiting and Watchmen, and also that both are not to everyone's taste. you might be right, it might be down to something as simple as taste. I'll have to think on that some more! :-D

Molly: I'm so happy you enjoyed the experience! I'm coming now to see what my half looks like! :-D I enjoyed it too, very much.