Monday, July 23, 2012

Genres in Children's Literature, La Trobe University, Lecture 7: Caricatures, Cartoons, and Comics

Genres in Children's Literature is a course taught by David Beagley at Australia's La Trobe University. Lectures from the Spring 2012 semester are available for download on iTunes U. As I listen to the lectures, I am recording my reflections and responses here on my blog. This post focuses on Lecture 7: Caricatures, Cartoons, and Comics.

In Lecture 7 of Genres in Children’s Literature, David Beagley introduces the graphic format through a presentation about caricatures, comics, and cartoons. Even though I always read the funnies in the Sunday paper as a kid, when I got to library school I remember being very puzzled by the graphic novel genre, and skeptical about the educational value of reading books written in the format of a comic book. It is only within the last few years that I have come around a little bit on this point, and sometimes I still find it difficult to decide where graphic novels stand in relation to traditional text-only novels.

This lecture has helped me strengthen my understanding a little bit by laying out for me the way comics actually work. Though I think I knew a lot of the things Beagley mentions, I still found myself fascinated by the way the human mind interacts with the graphic format. I have always said that I enjoy reading graphic novels because I can actually feel my brain working differently, but it was enormously helpful to actually be told that, for example, the reader fills in spaces between static images with the actions that we expect to come between those moments. This ties directly into the idea that graphic novels can help readers - especially reluctant ones - understand the concept of story structure, and that reading the symbols in the illustrations is actually quite similar to reading words. It’s a lot more helpful to be able to explain that to a skeptical parent, than for me to just stand there telling them, “No, really, these are books, too.”

I also loved thinking about the different lines and strokes used to visually represent non-visual phenomena, such as smell. I was never expressly taught that squiggly lines rising from an object indicates that the object gives off an odor, but of course, I know how to read this in a comic strip or graphic novel. This lecture has made me want to pay closer attention to those little details and evaluate how well they contribute to a story as a whole.

This lecture also traced the history of serial comics from the 1740s to the present, which gives a great background for understanding how we have come to have the graphic novels we have today. I was especially interested in the development of the voice bubble, which is such an integral part of the way comics are written today. It never occurred to me to imagine a time without it! (I was somewhat puzzled during this portion of the lecture as to why David Beagley thinks Peanuts is still going, when the last new strip ran over 12 years ago, but perhaps he was just referring to the fact that old strips still appear in the newspaper.)

Beagley’s discussion of graphic novels will continue in Lecture 8, Graphic Novels, Anime, and Manga - I’m somewhat wary of those last two, so I’m curious to see what I might learn!

Want to listen along? Click here. Read about David Beagley here. Read my previous lecture responses here.
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