Project Progress: Friday February 24, 2012

Mobile DesignThis quarter of planning and preparing for actual project implementation has just flown by.  Here we are at the end of week eight, and only two more to go.  Scary and exciting at the same time.  Really, I think that we are still on target with our timeline, but it still feels like there are a lot of little pieces that still need to come together.

Mobile Design 2

Mobile Design Jam

This week at our meeting we set to work determining the crucial elements that will need to be included in the mobile version.  I am really happy that we choose to develop the requirements for mobile first so that we can then view the full site as an expansion and we will have a much better grasp of what is crucial and what is not.

From here we will be able to work out the visual design and know that we have mapped out the conceptual and structural design as a foundation.  We have also been continuing to put the thesaurus to the test by doing a lot of indexing of real comics.  This has really helped us identify areas that need a little love.  We want the thesaurus to be useful for all the indexers at the MLLL, but we also want it to work for the system users. To accomplish this it must be clear, understandable and fun.  I believe that we are well on our way to reaching this goal.

Comics for Cinephiles – Animal Man & JCVD

For this edition of Comics for Cinephiles I will turn my attention to the trope from our thesaurus, Breaking the Fourth Wall.  This trope turns up throughout modernist and post-modernist art and writing as a way to break the artifice of the spectacle and call the audience’s attention to reality (whatever that happens to be) and sometimes to a pressing issue.  The prototypical version of this comes from film and television when a character looks right at the camera and addresses the audience. This effect or intent can be achieved in many ways other ways as well and can be found in most art forms.  What started as a way to shake audiences out of their stupor and call their attention to important issues of the day has now become a way for artists and writers to give a knowing wink to the media savvy audience a la Ferris Buller’s Day Off.  None-the-less, sometimes Breaking the Fourth Wall is still used in surprising and meaningful ways.  Here are two examples of meaningful and interesting uses of this trope from two stories that share a few other similarities as well – the comic Animal Man and the film JCVD.

Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man is the stuff of legend.  Although this one came out in the late 80s, I just recently got around to reading it.  Wow, this totally floored me.  I was expecting some good early Morrison, but this beast comes on like Athena.  There was a real magical alchemy at work and much of his following work has revisited themes and ideas on show in this series.  He managed to take a totally forgotten, small time comic character (much like Alan Moore had done a few years prior with Swamp Thing) and work with the raw material of that character and build on his relationship to the rest of the real superheros of the DC universe.  Animal Man Cover

Animal Man in Morrison’s comic is a pretty pathetic superhero, he has some interesting powers, but he never seem to get the lucky break that catapults him into the big leagues and stardom.  At the beginning of Morrison’s run the comic mostly focuses on Animal Man’s day-to-day existence as a family-man who is trying to put bread on the table.  Of course Morrison has much more in store for Animal Man than exploring the character’s family life and everyday troubles. Animal Man begins to get some paying superhero gigs and for awhile and the comic is action packed and entertaining.  Then things start to get really weird and out there, though still entertaining. Morrison begins to pull at the edges of Animal Man’s reality and Break the Fourth Wall to meditate on the nature of the comics medium, culminating in a grande finale.  Using this trope to do something more than wink at the audience, Morrison ultimately turns the plight of Animal Man into a truly moving work of art.

JCVD is a film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as himself, and before you run away shuddering with an image of his greasy, wavy mullet or the infamous split on top of a washing machine, let me tell you that, seriously, this is one of the better, more interesting films in the last several years.  And no, you don’t need to be a Van Damme fan to enjoy this one, although if you have seen another film of his, JCVD will be all the more shocking and interesting.  JCVD Poster

Van Damme starred in tons of action films in the 80s, but never really reached the success of Arnold or others.  The film plays off of his career trajectory, blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction while using post modernist techniques to Break the Fourth Wall and say something about celebrity, stardom and the medium of film.  JCVD stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as himself, a washed up has-been fighting to make ends meet, paying child support and making yet another lame action film.  The film is not all the sad-sack, everyday reality of a former star; at the same time there is an action plot going on that keep the story moving and tense.  Van Damme has an amazing, honestly moving monologue that is totally shocking to anyone who has sat through any of his other films and came to the conclusion that he is a pretty crummy actor who somehow got to make some films because he can do a roundhouse kick.  Turns out the truth is a bit tougher than that.


“A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.” -Justice OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, Towne v. Eisner, 245 U.S. 425 (1918).

We librarians live our lives by words.  From the words on the pages of a 500 year old book to the 140 characters of a tweet, words are one of the great beasts of burden that lug information around from one brain to the next.  Words are powerful, but nowhere are they more powerful than when we use them to organize and access information. 

Words are called terms when they describe something in a thesaurus, and terms must be the correct way to describe the stuff they are applied to.  In the context of our comics thesaurus, it must also be understandable to the user.  We get to decide what word will mean a certain kind of thing, and our choice must be successful or our terms will get our readers nowhere.

Recently I have been working with our thesaurus.  Considering its strengths and weaknesses, looking for holes that a great comic may slide through if we do not have the proper words to describe and connect.  I have found just such a hole, but oh if only I had the word to fill it!

You see there are these comics, some memoirs, some roughly based on the lives of their creators, others total fiction, but they all put the reader inside an experience or point of view.  These comics let the reader in on what it is like to:

Grow up in a culture of violence: Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: a Personal History of Violence by Geoffrey Canada, Adapted by Jamar Nicholas

Be a stay-at-home Dad: Little Star by Andi Watson

Feel different: Skim Words by Mariko Tamaki, Drawings by Jillian Tamaki

Emigrate: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Conquer self-hate: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Go crazy: Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell

Be a grumpy file clerk from Cleveland: American Splendor by Harvey Pekar

These works have dual strength; novelty for one reader who gets a peek into a different world view and the familiarity for another who learns she is not alone.  How do you sum up that super power? I don’t know yet, but I am working on it!

Candidate term: Pass the experience plea


Comics for Cinephiles

Creators working in both comics and films draw much inspiration from each other.  Sometimes this takes the form of a direct adaptation, which usually has limited success translating what was great in one medium to another.  More interestingly, one medium often takes inspiration and builds on ideas from the other in much more subtle, unexpected ways.  Comics for Cinephiles will write up comics and films that have some connective similarity that may likely appeal to fans of one or the other.

The Comic:


Written and Drawn by Dash Shaw

ISBN 978-0307378422

This comic is a drug crazed, psychotropic mind trip. Both the story and the art create a strange, tripped out, messed up world that sucks you in. BodyWorld follows the mis-adventures of a loser lowlife botanist Professor Panther as he runs tests, chain smokes and tries to get high from some mighty weird plants. Along the way he gets entangled with the locals of the strange small town, Boney Borough. The schoolteacher and two highschooler’s get sucked into Panther’s madness.  As Panther gets more involved with the locals, BodyWorld looks at the pressures to conform that adolescents face in small towns, in addition to questioning identity, perspective and reality.


Affect: Pessimistic / Humor

     Physical Location: Earth — Fictional Geography

     Plausibility: Imagined — Fantastic

     Plot: Quest / Relationships

     Time: Future

Art: Iconoclast – – Harsh  Following the psychotropic angle of the story the art is garish and psychedelic.  Clearly the art falls within the Iconoclast camp, but it seems like it could be mistaken for being surreal.  Although it is most definitely psychedelic, it does not try to represent reality in a seemingly realistic, but heightened way – as surreal does.  Rather the art here is of harsh juxtapositions of color and line.

Tropes:  Magnificent Bastard, Hero with Bad Publicity, Love Dodecahedron, Crapsack World, Moral Dilema — Black and Grey

The Movie:


Written and Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Its actually been a little while since I have seen this one, but its definitely one that sticks with you.  The film focuses on a loner weirdo who is trying to figure out mathematical patterns in all sorts of phenomena around the world.  This character Max lives in New York City, but spends most of the time locked inside his apartment, or symbolically locked inside his mind.  The main character’s obsession pushes his mind to the edges of reality, and maybe even over it.  There is a somewhat similar effect from the obsessive behavior of Professor Panther in BodyWorld. Unlike BodyWorld, there are not a whole lot of interpersonal relationships going on in Pi.  Even though Pi is shot entirely in black and white, while BodyWorld revels is glossy, garish color they actually share a lot of qualities related to the iconoclastic and harsh approach both take to the visual art.




Terms at work – Adults are Clueless or Useless!

Let’s take a couple terms from our thesaurus out for a spin and see what they have to say about some real comics.

Sailor Moon volume one coverEver wonder if there must surely be someone more qualified than that fourteen year old running around in a sailor suit to save the world in your comic book?   In the world of the pretty sailor soldiers in Naoko Takeuchi’s series Sailor Moon, adults are clueless to the galactic struggle being waged on the streets of Tokyo.  Even when the world is not at risk, adults can still be clueless and absent like the distant, unseen, mumbling giants of Peanuts, the comic strip by cartooning giant Charles M. Schulz.


In the worlds of some teenagers adults are much worse than clueless.  Their loss of innocence, their surrender to corruption of the world, make them useless.  The cast of Runaways, brain children of writer Brain K. Vaughn, live in a world where every adult is under the power of evil.  Even adult superheroes prove useless to the Runaways.  These kids aren’t the only ones on their own:  All but one or two rare adults are dangerously useless in Ted Naifeh’s series about the young witch, Courtney Crumrin. In fact, even the other children are useless in Courtney’s sad sack world, but that is a term for another day.

What are your favorite comic worlds burdened by clueless/useless adults?