Wednesday, November 26

Note for Teacher, with Annotations

Here's a sample of the sort of notes that I get from students at the University. It's (1) in taglish, (2) textspeak, (3) very very rude--at least for me. And apparently, somebody else feels the same way I do: Someone left a note on the student's note. S/he said, in gayspeak (or street parlance--whatever colloquialism you have in mind): How rude.

Click on the photo and read the note yourself.

Tuesday, November 25

Creative Writhing for Beginners

My favorite subject
Originally uploaded by xkg
Found this gem at the height of checking season last month. I know that a lot of students think CW 10 is an "easy" subject, something to squeeze in between 10-11.30 Math 57 and the 2.30-4 Physics 10. But really, writing for beginners is hard work. My Korean student from last semester got it right--maybe the course should be renamed "Creative Writhing 10."

Friday, November 21

Osamu Tezuka

I got locked out of my office for almost the entire day, and now that I finally got in to cool my heels (and my head), here are two trailers of movies based on works by Osamu Tezuka. So 2009 is turning out to be an interesting year for Osamu Tezuka adaptations.

First off is the rather "Americanized" version of Astroboy, which uses a lot of computer graphics (or is it animation?) Astroboy looks like he's ready to fight, none of the blink-blink niceness of the cartoons I grew up with.

Then here is the trailer of the live action film based on Tezuka's graphic novel M/W (pronounced "Mu"). I don't understand Nihonggo, so what the voiceover actually says, I just assume to be about the wipeout of the island's population because of the spill from an American military base. I can't embed the trailer here so just click this link to watch the trailer.

Wednesday, November 19

The Multitudes

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly spent some time interviewing and observing creative people and noted that:
Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it's complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an "individual," each of them is a "multitude."
Imagine the conversations an "individual" has with the "multitudes" in her brain. "Is this a good enough conflict?," she asks. "Nah," the other says. "Crossing bridges isn't interesting. Burn it!" Yet another raises her hand. "But that's not a revolution. Isn't that mere anarchy?"

Csikszentmihaly also observed that if most people are either introverts and extroverts, most creatives are both. They are also proud and humble at the same time, and this comes from an awareness that they did something important, but that others have also done more than they had. It's quite a contradiction.

He also says that the most excruciating thing for creatives is when they can't create. At all:
Perhaps the most difficult thing for creative individuals to bear is the sense of loss and emptiness they experience when, for some reason, they cannot work. This is especially painful when a person feels his or her creativity drying out.

Yet when a person is working in the area of his of her expertise, worries and cares fall away, replaced by a sense of bliss. Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.

Tuesday, November 18

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam

I found my copy of The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam in Powerbooks Midtown. I wandered over to the nonfiction section and was looking for Persepolis (which like Maus is frequently shelved with the other "biographies") when I found something bright bluish green. I looked at the cover and was fascinated by the little drawing:

It was drawn by Ben Gibson and the inside pages suggest that it be shelved under the categories of "Magicians-China-biography-comic books, strips, etc." and also "Long Tack Sam-Comic books, strips, etc."

So is it a book about magicians from China, or a biography of a magician from China, or a comic book, period? It is all three, but the weird shelving contributes to the confusion. If I'm into comic books, I'd look at the comics shelf, or if I'm into biography, I'll head into the nonfiction section, where I'll find this between the biographies of Clinton and Madeleine Albright. Meanwhile, the review from Entertainment Weekly recommends this for fans of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. Wtf? But anyway, who reads EW for the book reviews, right? Also, the American Library Association lists it as part of their Top 10 Comic Books for Teens. So what is this book really?

But anyway, I liked the cover and when I looked inside the book, there was this rather crude drawing of a girl telling me that her life was all about messing with the proper borders. Ann Marie Fleming was born in Japan, but couldn't get a birth certificate because her parents were not Japanese. Her mother is from HongKong, but they couldn't go there and so it happened that her birth certificate was issued by Korea. All her life, this is what would happen.

Then she discovers that she has a great-grandfather who was a magician with a touring company at the height of Vaudeville. But she knows almost nothing about this man because her grandmother wouldn't say anything. So she travels around the world trying to find out who Long Tack Sam is.

She pieces together old photographs, playbills, posters, and drawings of herself as "Stickgirl" interviewing various people who had known or had known about Long Tack Sam. There are pages drawn in the style of the Golden Age of comics which detail the origins of Long Tack Sam. There are many versions, but the gist is always this: that Long Tack Sam was from a poor village, and he was training to be an acrobat, or had a mean older brother so he ran away and went hungry but saw this young boy/old magician and became his apprentice and that's how he came into the magic trade.

From there he goes around the world, marries an Austrian girl in 1908, has two little girls who later join his act, and when the moving pictures came, refused to join the circuit because the movies put Asians in a bad light. After two world wars and a bad wound, he got gangrene in his leg and died. And now, nobody knows who he is until his great granddaughter stumbled upon an old costume, playbill or photograph. And I didn't know this book existed if I hadn't wandered over to the nonfiction section in a big chain bookstore.

What makes this book interesting is the mixing of different styles to tell the story of the girl looking at her family history. It's a collage of photos, posters, playbills, drawings, etc. On some pages, there's a sidebar detailing the things happening around the world on a certain year: the news headlines, historical events, popular movie or song, etc. It's an attempt to contextualize the world beyond Long Tack Sam's traveling act. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes I just wish the author could blend it with the narrative.

It's also interesting that it was first a documentary before it was a comic book/graphic memoir/whatever it wants to be. There's a note from the author saying that at first she didn't know how to tell the story on the page after doing it on video. I haven't seen the docu, but I have a feeling that it pretty much retains the humor and the collage of different elements and fusing them together into a coherent narrative. And that for me, is ultimately what it should be: a well-told story. And in that aspect, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam succeeds as a good read.

EDIT: Caleb Mozzocco of Every Day is Like Wednesday has a good review of the book. He shows page scans (which I can't do as I have no scanner and zero scanning abilities) detailing the different styles employed by Fleming in the book. Here is a sample from the Golden Age of Comics section:

Monday, November 17


I've been bingeing on comics recently, and for some reason, almost all the book covers are blue (or some shade of blue). This is really bad news for my bank account--what Christmas Bonus are you talking about?--and I don't even think the university will fund such purchases even if they're for my classes.

Anyway, first off is Ariel Shrag's Potential. Let's say if I got this on Thursday night, I'm done by Friday night. It's a chronicle of her junior year in high school, written the summer after that. The art is rather simple and the narrative isn't something out of this world: the protagonist finally decides that she only likes girls, she gets a girlfriend, dumps the girl, decides to lose her virginity to a guy friend, finds herself in a long, protracted relationship with a girl who "drains" her all the time.

It can be a bit episodic, but the real narrative anchor here is Ariel's relationship with the Sally character. I especially like the parts where Ariel's character is drunk, or dreaming, or high on drugs. The altered consciousness allows for more experimentation with visual style and narrative.

What I like about this best of all, even if let's say some will argue that Fun Home does it with more grace, is that it's a story of a teenage girl written by a teenage girl. There's a rawness and roughness to it, but you can't beat it in terms of emotional realism and (yuck!) sincerity.

Also, Shrag prefers that you her work "comics" instead of "graphic novel":

The word graphic novel is stupid. It sounds like a kid trying to use a big word and having no idea what he's talking about. It sounds like someone being obnoxious and pronouncing Nabokov's name correctly just to show off.

I got into this argument with someone when I was in high school about whether or not comics could be "real literature." He was adamant that they couldn't. They're "comics," he said, they're just "comics."

About six years later, I got an email from him apologizing for the argument. "You were right," he said, "I read graphic novels now." Oh, so now that they're "graphic novels" they can be literature. Also, Maus, Persepolis and my books are not novels of any sort. The Holocaust, the Islamic Revolution and my … "teenage sexual identity journey" … are events that actually happened.

I'm curious to read Awkward and Defintion, the earlier installments of her high school memoirs chronicling freshman and sophomore years. And I'm almost sure that the final volume Likewise, which looks at senior year, will be more mature in terms of art and narrative.

You can also watch Episodes 1-4 of Potential (The Video Comic) here.

Friday, November 14

How to tell if your cat is trying to kill you

My cat does this all the time, especially when I have a deadline.

I'm extra attentive though when she does this--it can only mean that she's pregnant. The first time it happened, I just thought that she's being affectionate. Several weeks later, she was getting heavy. Then I had to put a comforter on my lap because, man, those claws can dig.