Wednesday, December 07, 2005

First post: Wednesday: CCS reflections as we near the first semester's close...

As the fabric of obfuscations, deceptive side-stepping, and outright lies unravels for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Europe -- volatile torture issues aside, there is no standing international treaty, agreement, or law that will permit indefinite incarceration of detainees and suspects, home or abroad, just because the current Administration "says so" -- the news continues to steamroll. It's a pretty heady mix coming in the door via the local newspaper, the radio, and via the internet. I'll leave it to you to sort out, but don't ignore all that's going on.

The penultimate Center for Cartoon Studies "Survey of the Drawn Story" class for this, the first semester of the school's existence, proved to be a lively session. Two students presented their oral final projects -- one on regional comics of the Northwest States, the other on Archie comics, providing an overview of the characters' and line's history and some analysis of the line's longevity -- and four presented their published presentations, which we'll be talking about next week. This leaves eleven students presenting their final projects next week, our last session, which I'm really looking forward to. Nice to be on the receiving end of the lectures for a change!

My presentation was a hands-on overview of the mid-1970s explosion in comics history: rather than using slides or projected images, all the work we discussed from this key period were passed around, almost all first editions. So, after laying the groundwork with discussion of the founding of the direct-sales comic market and pass-arounds of touchstones like Burne Hogarth's 1972 Tarzan of the Apes hardcover original graphic novel adaptation and samplers of the National Lampoon (the critical juncture between the underground comix and the mainstream newsstand), I tried to give the students a clear overview of the landmarks of the mid-1970s: a sampler of European (primarily French) comics in transition, primary among those the first six issues of Metal Hurlant; how that was transmuted (via National Lampoon) into Heavy Metal, followed by a sampler of the first Heavy Metal trade paperback collections released to bookstores; seminal (and usually forgotten) graphic novels like Richard Corben's Bloodstar, Byron Preiss's trade paperback anthologies of Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison stories adapted to comics, etc.; the turning point: the almost simultaneous release of Will Eisner's landmark A Contract With God and Other Stories, the first to assert itself as a 'Graphic Novel,' linked in time with Eclipse Comics release of Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy's Sabre, and Marvel's publication of the one-shot Stan Lee/Jack Kirby original Silver Surfer graphic novel; the 1977-78 surfacing of two innovative direct-sales-market creator-self-published epics, Dave Sim's Cerebus and Wendy & Richard Pini's Elfquest; and much, much more, up to the mid-1980s release of Will Eisner's self-analysis of the comics medium and Dave Sim's historic breakthrough self-publishing and self-marketing of the first Cerebus 500-pg. novels, breaking the glass cielings for price barriers, page counts, and formats for this new permutation of comics.

Now, I personalized this by emphasizing most of this was going on at the time I was sitting precisely where they are sitting: I was a student in the first-ever class at The Joe Kubert School as most of these key works appeared (1976-78), noting how many of us then felt the shift in the axis and hungered to be part of everything that followed. This was touched upon without derailing the overview of the works themselves, and their impact -- but I really wanted this hands-on, pass-the-books-around, drink-'em-all-in session to give them a taste of what it was for us, as first-year Kubert School students, to feel windows and doors open in ways few had imagined, and taste the potential we tasted.

This led, as I'd hoped, to the students opening up discussion of the their own thoughts on their potential: what paths they might take to bring their own creations to fruition. We've begun analysis of various modes and models (which included last week's invigorating session with guest artist Howard Cruse), and the students are definitely weighing their options. It was tentative but critical discussion, including discussion of the Xeric Foundation grants and more. All in all, an excellent penultimate session, and I'm looking forward more than ever before to the next semester, which we also discussed at the outset of this gathering.

More later today --