I've finally embraced the computer as the teaching tool it can be, and why did I fight it? After lurching through my first CCS sessions with slides, books, and handouts, Jane Wilde helped me through the learning curve using scanner and laptop and the results yesterday afternoon were a treat. The ability to scan and present comic art -- Sunday pages, dailies, and individual panels -- and project it on the screen is an ideal showcase for the medium. After 15 years of slide shows too-dependent on cover shots (evoking, via lecture, the contents within), the ability to step through narratives and/or sequences panel-by-panel after showing the full strip or page is a joy, retaining the power of the medium and its unique power.
We've now covered the first 40-50 years of the American comic strip -- as I've said to the class, this is more like skipping stones over the vast oceans of excellent work than the kind of in-depth analysis I'd like to pursue (and they crave), but time is short -- with an attempt to also touch upon the various strains and genres (from Opper to Crane, Foster to Segar). Pausing to trace the evolving art and narrative storytelling techniques of, for instance, Roy Crane to Noel Sickles to Milton Caniff (citing the classic death of Raven Sherman sequence in the Terry and the Pirates dailies), is essential, too: breaking down, within single panels, the bold simplicity and power of pen-and-brush work (and occasional use of gray tones, via zipatone dots or crayon pencil on textured board) and demonstrating how loosely-rendered patterns can evoke apparently detailed elements (backgrounds, settings, etc.) is part of the lesson plan. Moving from that to the lavish illustrative work of Hal Foster and Alex Raymond, and then on to E.C.Segar's hilarious Thimble Theater and the arrival of Popeye (the same year as Tarzan and Buck Rogers!) made for a lively session, which I capped with a brief overview of regional comics (including Texas History Movies), 'lost' personal, not-for-publication cartoonists like Fred Johnson (see earlier post), and an overview of the Tijuana Bibles brought us up to the birth of the comic book per se, which we pick up with next week. We wound up our session with a brief discussion of the changes involved in adapting popular comic strips to cinema, screening the first ten minutes of Chapter Six of the Universal serial Flash Gordon and the complete Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor.
All went smoothly with only the fumbling of setting up the various viewing devices -- but once that was in place, man oh man the laptop 'slide show' function worked like a dream. I'm hooked and this allows me to really get into the comics and artists ahead of us in the class chronology!
While multi-tasking yesterday morn (primarily in prep for my CCS session), I listened to President Bush's entire Rose Garden press conference. There were many chills therein, aside from the President's usual repetition of oft-repeated dogma as justifications for government policies more and more Americans are questioning, his halting, Shatner-like delivery, and his complete inability to articulate anything of substance. His exhaustion and occasional ire could be clearly heard, along with the usual impatience and characteristic attitude that we should simply accept what he profers as 'facts' and 'reason' at face value: if he states and restates (with little or no variation in wording) the same emphatic assertions, that should be reason enough. This, then, should damn well be all we need to know about Harriet Miers; never mind the conflict of interest inherent in her having been Bush's consultant in choosing Supreme Court candidates, or his skirting the direct questioning of whether he and Miers ever discussed abortion rights.
But the most chilling stretch of all came with Bush's rambling response to a question about US readiness for natural disasters like Katrina. Bush entered George Romero turf as he thoughtlessly prattled on about possible avian flu epidemics and the need for prompt military response and how quarentines might be enforced, demonstrating once again the blunt paucity of empathy and imagination characteristic of this Presidency. Jesus fucking Christ, all he can think of is fleet imposition of martial law while pondering the possibility of pandemic outbreaks of deadly infections??? Amid his morbid hawkish fantasizing about mobilizing the military might he so loves to misuse, Bush's indifference to the core realities -- (a) the necessity of focusing upon public health issues in a public health disaster (e.g., medical needs, hospitalization, mobilizing health care professionals, etc.), and (b) the fact that avian flus are so virulent because (duh) they can move from bird populations to humans (I mean, uh, avian flu, Prez!), meaning quarantines of poultry, food supplies, etc. are equally relevent -- while entertaining his destructive fantasies of further Commander-in-Chief abuses of power (ya, the Marines really could quarantine that populace; how about those mobile bird populations?) was the most hideous flaunting of Presidential lunacy I'd heard since Nixon's announcement of the bombing of Laos.
Bush is already screening a high-ticket, real-life revisionist version of Romero's The Crazies in his skull, and the American public is once again the faceless losers central to his power-fantasies.
WAKE UP, AMERICA! We have a true, A-1 sociopath in the driver's seat!!!