Application Approach 2.2

Entering the final chapter, Chapter 9 of McCloud’s Understanding Comics represents the end of what I am calling the Theory Phase of my students’ introduction to the graphic novel and interpreting the graphic novel. They will be finishing up their Literary Analysis papers for submission. Starting in Week 3, the class will shift into a Writing Workshop Phase of putting together their actual Research Papers.

Students, to end their examination of McCloud were given one final PowerPoint lecture on Ch. 9 (images used presented below). They were asked to take notes as the lecture was presented. Afterwards, students were asked to present in a discussion their final thoughts on McCloud’s presented argument about visual potential of graphic narratives (chapter 9 is a very good compact, conclusion point where McCloud summarizes much of his argument). Students were also asked to give a preliminary reflection about the usefulness and potential of this text in aiding them as a resource and potential source material for their papers.

Student conclusions I will present at the end of this post, what follows next is an annotated version of the PowerPoint where I provide my own analysis of McCloud’s argument as presented in Chapter 9:

McCloud: Understanding Comics, Chapter 9

Instructor Annotation

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This is McCloud returning, in a more concise manner, to the questions he postulated in Chapter 1. Of course, he now provides a bit more of the opening of a complex answer: The Human Condition.

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Of course, what McCloud is identifying about human isolation (or as individuals) is what Kenneth Burke would refer to as identification. Burke specifically quips that “If men were not apart from one another, there would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim their unity” (Rhetoric of Motives 22). To see this in a different way, one identifies his or her self as an individual, but also as part of a group of friends, member of a community, citizen of a town, state, country, or even species. Burke refers to this as the hierarchy, or “move by a sense of order” (Language as Symbolic Action 15). All of these groupings progressively move upward, to larger groupings and represent points of larger identification that can offer a way of overcoming the previous “division” in the pursuit of a larger sense of “unity.”

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This “wall” that McCloud is referring to here is part of the consequence found in Burke’s noting of identification.

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McCloud’s argument for the seriousness of comics, particularly as a means of communication, as noted below here, is part of looking to find that element of unity noted by Burke, to try and “understand” comics is itself a seeking of that unity.

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One might argue when McCloud, above here, notes “communication is only effective when we understand the forms that communication can take” that he is pointing out the rhetorical implications of any form of communication. In this he is echoing almost every rhetorical theorist since the ancient Greeks to the modern day.

In particular, Aristotle wrote that rhetoric was itself “. . . defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (The Rhetoric 24).

Wayne C Booth, for a more modern spin, provides a direct link between McCloud’s assertions of “understanding” and rhetoric by defining rhetoric as “The whole range of arts not only of persuasion but also of producing or reducing misunderstanding” (The Rhetoric of Rhetoric 10).

Ultimately, though Burke asserts that if one is to view identification as a means to overcoming division and possible isolation, as McCloud is offering up here, one must account for what are the overarching elements and substances  share in creating unity via identification. This requires the introduction of identification’s partner element that Burke calls: consubstantiality. Burke states that one is

“consubstantial with [one’s] parents [but at the same time] apart from them. In this sense, there is nothing abstruse in the statement that the offspring both is and is not one with its parentage. Similarly, two persons may be identified in terms of some principle they share in common, “identification” that does not deny their distinctness” (21).

The sharing of a common “substance” or unifying agent, agency, purpose, scene, etc. is at work here. So, McCloud begins this attempt to discover the shared “substance” via a process:

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This approach might seem silly. However, our modern world today tends to embrace TWO common assumptions made about comic books. One, there is the traditional assumption that comic books are “kids stuff.” Two, the newer/modern assumption that comic books are simply about “superheroes,” as evident in the cultural zeitgeist and popularity of movie franchises involving Marvel and DC superheroes.

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McCloud, however, attempts to separate the content of comics from the medium/form of comics. This itself an often overlooked aspect. Content in comics can have a wide range of both genre and age level. Content can be superheroes, or horror, or kids comics. The medium/form of comics, what McCloud is more directly addressing in his text represents the form. The form and the ability of the form of comics has potential that far outstrips any limitation of content.

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This refers back to Ch. 1 in Understanding Comics where McCloud defined what comics are. His definition was very generalist, but as he explained, that was intentional. The more general and expansive the definition, the more room for inclusion was available.

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McCloud notes here the 1896 publication of “The Yellow Kid” which is held up as the first modern example of the comic. However, comics as a form or medium go much much further back and McCloud asserts this early on in Chapter 1.

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Topffer’s quotation highlights both the ability of comics as a medium or form while openly noting the traditional assumption often attached to it. Topffer in his mentioning of “the lower classes . . .” is making note of the fact that early comics were employed by newspaper syndicates to promote distribution among illiterate and non-English speaking immigrants in large cities such as New York.

What assumptions, the traditional assumption, created was a divide:

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As noted in the two images above, some cartoonists were allowed to be upheld with those of “high culture” and “literary merit,” while others were segregated to a “low culture” kind of Hell.

Burke’s idea, and one that McCloud appears to second, is that via identification and understanding of the shared substance of the form of comics, this divide can be overcome.

In the end though, the form is what is most important for McCloud. It is also a form of massive potential as he launches into:

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Growth and Variation –

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Aspirations…

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McCloud is aserting here the fact that comics have (and always did have) the potential to reach out, as a form and medium to the highest kinds of aspirations: Fine Art, Truth, Literature. Why not? Why can’t the form allow for the visual expression of deep ideas found within the human condition?

Well…

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Of course, this is a major problem, but not an insurmountable obstacle. Comics creators often times, and in a digital age almost anyone can, find the freedom to express their ideas.

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Of course, from personal experience, I believe in McCloud’s argument. Additionally, his text, Understanding Comics, helped open the eyes of many of my students as well.

RESPONSE AND REFLECTION on McCloud

Student Responses

As noted earlier, I specifically asked my students in the original lecture to take notes and be prepared to discuss afterwards their thoughts on McCloud’s text in its whole. All of them agreed that his work would be invaluable resource to them in their research papers.

When asked about the work itself, here are some of the things, summarized, what my students responded with:

The combination of images and words is crucial to help thinning the wall that separates communication. In fact, the book itself would not work without the use of both really. The combination of words and images helped produce a profound and deeper understanding.

It helped some students see comic books as truly an artistic field rather than one concerned solely with making money (I called it artistic over avaristic).

Many of them also expressed a deeper understanding of comic book form as a result of their reading.

They also enjoyed the way that McCloud not only told you about something but showed you as well (visual rhetoric). It also helped show the potential of comics beyond the newer/modern assumption that comic books are just about superheroes (thanks to the movie success) and simplistic (good guy vs. bad guy).

McCloud helped expand their perception and helped move beyond the one postulated by Tara Schultz in the recent controversy at Crafton Hills College that she expected to read “Batman and Robin.”

McCloud offered many a feeling that the comic book form and certain materials expressed in it could rise to the level of literature. This was particular for one student who felt a deep connection to a character in her graphic novel.

Finally, one student who had been a fan and studied art found that McCloud had something to teach her too. He pointed out for her a deeper meaning in how it all worked, it showed her and helped her see the depth in her graphic novel. She specifically made note of an image from her chosen graphic novel, Marvel Civil War by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven.

She pointed out this image:

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Here is Daredevil, being put in prison by Tony Stark (Iron Man) and she specifically pointed out an Additive combination at work. Without words, one simply has an image of Stark with a coin in hand, looking at it, and Daredevil turning his head to the side. With the words you have a mentioning of a reference to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus from the Bible with the “silver dollar” standing in for “thirty-one pieces of silver.” This gives an enhanced meaning to the images, where Daredevil is about to be imprisoned, and turns it into a image of guilt, anger, and betrayal.

My hope is that students take this high level of inspiration and carry it forward into their Literary Analysis and Research Papers.

WORKS CITED

Aristotle. The Rhetoric. Trans. W. Rhys Roberts. New York: The Modern Library, 1984. Print.

Booth, Wayne C. The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

—. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. Print.

Dissertation Progress: Frustration at the corner of identity and authority

So, as of last week my Prospectus was officially all signed by committee, my department head, and now by the head of the graduate school. So, even though I have already been working under the precepts that it would be accepted for over two months, now it is official official and I have a nice letter from the graduate school declaring that “Critically Understanding Inspired Emulation: Seeing the Man of Steel as a Rhetorical Model of American Arête” is a definite and approved TWU Doctoral Dissertation topic.

 

Now, all that being said, getting this thing off the ground the last 2+ months was not an easy trick.

 

For starters, there was the rush at the end of the semester (grading and what not) then holidays where my wife and I were traveling, and then there was cleaning up at the house and rearranging to prep for our own little blessing from Krypton arriving this summer. So, lots of preparation and planning that through a wrench into acting on the writing process itself.

 

Another element that got in the way of moving forward was: where to start?

 

Now, I know that should be an easy answer, “duh, at the beginning.” However, I knew what and how I wanted to start but my problem developed from the fear, one born out during my prospectus process, of myself becoming repetitive and overstating things (as I do when I teach). This left me at a big impasse, not to mention figuring out how and when to do my work, that I let build and build from a Hobbit hole sized issue into the Lonely Mountain itself with me desperately looking for the keyhole on the last light of Durin’s Day (yes, I saw the Hobbit 2 over the holidays). This left me with what looked like one hell of a climb, so, I did the smart thing and turned to the sage advice of my dissertation director.

 

So, the answer of moonlight came in the notion that a non-linear approach might serve me best and allow me to work directly on the area in my project I felt most comfortable and eager to engage: the Analysis Chapters. Specifically, I took from the example in my prospectus and applied myself to looking at Analysis Ch. 3 containing an examination of All-Star Superman.

 

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s mythic and grand Superman narrative was what had created my own light bulb moment some years back and when I took note of it, it was that “duh” moment I had been searching for all along. All of sudden, a flood of ideas and information came pouring out of my head. I knew I wanted to look at All-Star Superman, Superman Birthright (Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu) and Superman: Secret Origin (Geoff Johns and Gary Frank), but what did not expect was the torrent that I had unleashed.

 

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I am not kidding when I say ideas came rushing out. I found myself attempting to limit myself to three examples from each and in that process I discovered the three primary points I wanted to make. For one, I specifically had chosen this analysis chapter to look at Bakhtinian theory surrounding the application of re-accentuation in the Superman narrative because the works here lent themselves quite specifically to that point. What ultimately came pouring out though lead to explorations of the identification (Burke), Aristotle’s points of noble virtue, and connections between ideas of self-fashioning (Greenblatt) and the model/anti-model idea of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca.

 

But getting back to the three primary points I wanted to examine in the chapter, they were:

 

1.Specifically attempt to re-accentuate a classic element, image, or aspect of Superman’s iconography. In the case of Superman: Secret Origin, this fell to looking at Superman: The Movie and Christopher Reeves.

 

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2.Make a specific illustration of the model and anti-model relationship, particularly and defined in all three by the relationship of Clark Kent/Superman and Lex Luthor.

 

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3.Look for and illustrate Superman’s ability to embody Weldon’s concepts of the basic Superman characteristics – help others and never give up – as found in the sources as ways to which Superman inspires those both within and without the narrative.

 

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Along the way, I had to add to this chapter and discuss the ramifications of these two audience perspectives along with the notion of how retrocontinuity or retcon functioned as a point within these three narratives I was examining.

 

So, altogether I have birthed a Leviathan and I hope I can survive it.

 

It will need revision and there is already a mountain of material I am starting to compile, not to mention visually mapping it out afterwards. Particularly, I need to investigate just how the external and internal audiences function.

 

Ultimately, what I am aiming to do, to keep myself poised on at all times, is the understanding of my central question: How does Superman maintain and enhance rhetorical persuasion? What is it about him that allows him to be as persuasive as he is?

 

So, now we move on to revision and more drafting. The next frontier lies with Analysis Ch. 2 and attempting the first major attempts to re-invent Superman and alter his narrative in order to update the changes in his identification and conceptions of virtue culturally (John Byrne’s Man of Steel). This will look at reinvention and exploration of Superman’s narrative when taken to extreme limits and appropriations in Superman: Red Son and Kingdom Come and what this reveals.

Dissertation Answers: Why Superman?

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Part of what I have to be able to do in order to “defend” my dissertation prospectus is to answer questions, to my committee, regarding my choice of topic, provide a justification for the theories and theorists I am aiming to use in my dissertation itself, and help make the case for my actual argument. So, where do I start…

 

1.Why Superman?

 

Why not? He is the modern manifestation of America, of modern myth. He is one particular interpretation for what America can be for the rest of the world, and in this world’s current state of the world and United States today, it seems to be something even more relevant than ever. Of course, there is more to this answer. This is just a start.

 

2.Why use the theorist you are using?

 

Currently I am working with the following (primarily):

 

1. The Rhetorical Model – Chaim Perelman and Laurie Olbrechts-Tyteca (primary)

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2. Identification and Cooperation – Kenneth Burke (persuasion and rhetoric)

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3. Self-fashioning – Stephen Greenblatt

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4. Dialogism and Reaccentuation – Mikhail Bahktin

 

The rhetorical role model is persuasive because it is self-fashioned to a form we (as a society) can identify with – both as an ideal (Superman) and as an everyman (Clark Kent) – and this identification allows the persuasion of the model to take hold and promote, inspired emulation, cooperation as found as part of Burke’s definition of rhetoric.

 

“self-fashioning” — “Identification” — “rhetorical role model” — “cooperation”

 

The dialogic and reaccentuation element develops via aspects that Superman and how he is connected to American culture and American culture is turn influenced/shapes Superman the character – it helps determine parts of the self-fashioning and choices that make Superman identifiable. Part of what of the achievement that also aids Superman in his identification comes from the ability also of the character to tap into reaccentuated, appropriated, identifiable elements of myth and heroism that are embodied in Superman.

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3.What is my major argument?

 

I think I may have just found what I really REALLY want to be as part of my opening introduction to my dissertation. In the opening segment of the October 19, 2013 episode of the NPR program “This American Life,” John Hodgman discussed a choice in superpowers. The debate surrounds a choice between the powers of flight versus that of invisibility. In the closing of segment, Hodgman summed up the discussion with a question by acknowledging he himself has trouble choosing and that it boils down to a question of choice: “who do you want to be? The person you hope to be or the person you fear you actually are?

 

This, for me, was a seriously compelling moment.

 

Superman flies. Superman goes without a mask; he acts with nobility and openness – exposed. This would not be everyone’s choice, but Superman does this because he is a hero – a superhero.

 

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Superman is the modern embodiment of the person who we all hope or want to be. That is what makes him, like all superheroes, different from you and me. This ideal of who we want to be, of inspiration and emulation that helps conform Superman so perfectly to Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca’s notion of a rhetorical model as laid out in their work The New Rhetoric.

 

In Ch. 3 of The New Rhetoric, titled “The Relations Establishing the Structure of Reality” and part of the first section noted as “Establishment Through the Particular Case,” Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca define what a model (by their definition) is for them. They define it as, that “In the realm of conduct, particular behavior may serve, not only to establish or illustrate a general rule, but also to incite to an action inspired by it” (362). This is definition of the model is something or someone that establishes a rule or code of conduct that then generates some kind of imitation inspired by it.

 

Say, for example, one applies Superman just to this initial example of the “model,” one can point out that on one level Superman is the template for all modern comic book superheroes. His creation, abilities, and conduct serve as the original template for all subsequent superheroes that followed, from Batman to Captain America, Spiderman to the Justice League. On another level, Superman, within in his own universe within the comic books established a model for how other heroes wanted to behave, he wrote the rules, and he served as the guarantee for the maintaining of those rules as well.

 

One could argue that Superman, as a “model,” would fall within the area where “imitative behavior” acts as part of a “rule of justice” (363). This rule is itself based on the fact that Superman acts as the guarantee of the model, of the conduct of a superhero through his prestige. It is through his recognizable standing that Superman is also able to portray and project the status of a model. His “prestige confers added value on [his] acts” and allows those acts themselves to become models for other superhero creators and superheroes creators to emulate (363). Take for instance, and Michael Chabon notes this in his novel (Amazing Adventures of Kavilier and Clay) that recounts fictional comic book creators operating around the same time as Superman’s creation, that Superman himself spawned many a copycat and still does. Superheroes such as Captain Marvel (Fawcett Comics), Hyperion and Sentry (Marvel Comics), and more recently Mark Millar’s Superior (Marvel Comics) and Utopian (Image Comics) are just a few of the many Superman analogues that have appeared over the past 75-years. Each of these analogues is, of themselves, homage to Superman and the power of the idea of that model. Superman’s nature as a superhero in his own comic presents inspired actions that model for other heroes the kind of behavior that, in fact, defines what a superhero is suppose to do and act like.

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Superman is an illustration. For, it is the “model shows what behavior to follow, and serves as a guarantee for an adopted behavior” and for this service, they are burdened with “an obligation which more often than not will determine his behavior” (364). One can see that the superhero, like Superman, is confined within a box. This box, to be the model, requires not only inspired action worthy of emulation, but can be seen as “imprisoning” the superhero in a position of extreme responsibility. It is a bit like Spiderman and Stan Lee’s wonderful line: “with great power comes great responsibility” magnified exponentially. It is fortunate then that Superman has chosen this mantel and is in fact able to project those qualities worthy of a model, but somewhere, on some meta-personal level, one might find it really hard to truly envy a life more inundated that any modern celebrity.

 

Ultimately, and perhaps thankfully, Superman is fictional. However, just because he is fictional does not render the power of him as a model inert. In fact, like any other fictional character, Superman’s popularity has transcended many mediums and has served, interpreted, as a kind modern mythical figure – paradigm – of human potential. He is the thing, to return to John Hodgman’s segment from “This American Life”: the person we hope to be.

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Prospectus 5.5 has arrived

So, this is the one, this is the one going to committee. There will probably be some minor changes and a tad more revision to it, but the ideas are in place – though I am working on and will continue to try and bolster my understanding of dialogics as I continue this journey. I am currently already excavating classic Superman stories through the lens of my theories and making notes, points of reference, and areas to build on. Beast 2.0 here we go (and for reference to Beast 1.0, I, of course, am referring to that MA thesis that now seems like a decade ago…well, 6 years and boy has a lot changed. So, without further ado…

 

Jonathan C. Evans

August 27, 2013

Dissertation Prospectus

 

Title

Self-Fashioning a Rhetorical Model from Another World: Understanding the Dialogic Relationship between American Culture and the Man of Steel

 

Statement of Purpose

Ever since Frederic Wertham published his work Seduction of the Innocent in 1954 attempting to warn parents of how comic books help contribute to juvenile delinquency, we have acknowledged as a culture the power of comic book superheroes, such as Superman, to serve as models. This dissertation will explore this phenomenon and begin by asking two questions: how does Superman (the first modern superhero and representing others) function as a model rhetorically, and what is the significance of Superman as a model? There are two approaches that offer insight into these questions. The first approach develops out of the definition of a model offered by Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca as envisioned in The New Rhetoric that “In the realm of conduct, particular behavior may serve, not only to establish or illustrate a general rule, but also to incite to an action inspired by it” (362).  By this definition, Superman inspires actions, specifically reinforcing behaviors such as being honest, doing the right thing, and helping others who are in need. As a model, Superman both reinforces commonly held ideas of cooperative behavior within society while also illustrating those rules and behaviors by turning them into demonstrated actions. His heroic deeds, in turn, promote and demonstrate to an audience the kind of conduct that should be emulated, emulation that Kenneth Burke might call “cooperation” (A Rhetoric of Motives 43). The second approach, related to the definition of the model, emerges in Stephen Greenblatt’s concept of self-fashioning. In Renaissance Self-Fashioning, Greenblatt describes how individuals have used influential models to construct identity. By symbolically representing the American Dream, Superman embodies and communicates values critical to American self-fashioning. Through the application of these two theoretical orientations a deeper understanding of how iconic figures function in correlation with the culture that creates them will reveal that Superman is more than mere entertainment, and in fact, impacts and shapes the American culture that birthed him.

Statement of Significance

Understanding Superman’s ability to function as an effective and sustained rhetorical model requires an understanding of the idealized view, an immigrant-orientated view, of the American Dream that Superman has come to embody. What Superman embodies is a kind of self-fashioning, a formulation, of an identity that tapped into the perceived social standards around him in 1938 America. Self-fashioning, as Stephen Greenblatt notes, requires certain conditions, such as the submission to an authority and the notion that it is always rooted, “though not exclusively, in language” and “occurs at the point of encounter between an authority and an alien” (Renaissance Self-Fashioning 9). Superman best embodies a self-fashioned version of the American dream, as an “alien” who has assimilated, through his ability to serve as a “representation of one’s nature or intention in speech or actions” (3). Superman can do this, break down and reinvent boundaries, because he is an amalgamation, a coming together of different traditions and ideas, like America itself, to form something that, as Greenblatt points to as “functioning without regard for a sharp distinction between literature and social life” (3). Superman is not limited in his “identity” to the original goals of his two poor Jewish-American creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster; instead as a model, he taps into the deepest aspirations of the American Dream – of reinvention and acceptance.

Superman embodies the idea that America is a land of the free, a land of opportunity, and welcome to all those who have made it what is and can make it better. This idea of connection between Superman and America reveals itself via his iconic stature, where even today, he remains admired and acknowledged in a world that does not resemble America in 1938. Superman is a symbol. Kenneth Burke would assert that Superman is symbolically persuasive because “rhetoric…is rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic, and is continually born anew; the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (A Rhetoric of Motives 43). What makes Superman so “super” is his ability to incorporate and express the melting pot of American culture via symbolic action that is malleable while retaining an original essence. Symbolically, Superman exemplifies the “best” of American (drawn from Enlightenment) values – truth, justice, fairness, and freedom. What comes out is an idealized narrative of America that is representative, “continually born anew,” into what those who have come to America have always wanted to believe was possible – an idea given form, like the Statue of Liberty that can move and even fly.

As a rhetorical model, evidence of Superman’s role can be found in the ways that he has shifted with American identity over much of the 20th century. He has been a champion of the oppressed ever since his first appearance in Action Comics #1 (1938). He later tackled fears of the atomic bomb and radiation in Superman #61 (1949). From his conception into the 1950’s, it was Superman who stood as a bull-work, a force, against these threats from beyond. He did all this while also inspiring boys and young men, such as comic book writer Grant Morrison, to be less afraid of “the bomb” because the idea of Superman was greater than it (Supergods xv).

In the 1950’s and 60’s, Superman modeled our desires to explore new frontiers, such as outer space, but he also battled our fears of alien invasion as well in Action Comics #242 (1958) and #252 (1959). The comic book medium allowed Superman to show kids that even though there were monsters out there, that there were problems and issues, one could rest easy because there are men, like himself, who were out there battling to keep them safe. In the 1970’s and early 80’s, and onward, stories such as the “No More Kryptonite” storyline of Superman #233-8, 240-2 (1970-71) brought major changes to the character’s powers that can be seen to match up against America’s own waning power in the wake of the Vietnam War. Questions, such as: “If Superman Didn’t Exist?” in Action Comics #554 (1984) and speculation was made about a world after Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow (1986). All of these stories allowed for deeper speculation about Superman’s relevance and meaning in American culture during times of change and transition.

Superman endured. In the late 80’s to the end of the 20th century witnessed Superman’s ultimate “self-fashioning” as a character in a quasi-Campbellian hero cycle of death, mourning, replacement, and finally return in Death of Superman event (1992), Funeral for a Friend (1992), and Reign of the Supermen (1993) story arcs. Superman’s “Christ-like” performance was followed up by a return to Superman as a model for what Americans should do, and in Superman: Peace on Earth (1998), he attempts to wipe out world hunger. He served to remind us, always, of our “better selves,” while allowing the character to engrain itself deeper into American culture by tackling the issues of his own time and place.

Change is never easy, and the dark tone of Kingdom Come (1996) offers up a Superman who will not kill even when the world, public opinion, demands it. The story poses a self-directed questioning as to whether Superman is really needed or even fits the zeitgeist of late 20th century America. The 21st century poses new and old challenges to Superman. Attempts to point to Superman’s relevance has come via works such as Superman: Birthright (2003-04) in which his origin and back-story is revised for the 21st century. All-Star Superman (2005-08), which reimagines Superman in his idyllic mythos as a savior who offers up a “model” for how we can all be better amidst all this change, helps establish Superman’s constant as rooted in his dialogic relationship with American culture – between the fictional character and the reality of history. For since its earliest founding, America has struggled to fashion a true social and literary identity.

All-Star Superman, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely provides a powerful example of how Superman functions as a powerful rhetorical model. Within this story, Superman is faced with the reality that he will die. Faced with his own mortality, Superman embarks upon a series of heroic deeds, like the mythical Hercules and his twelve labors, before his time is up. Within this narrative, and perhaps it is more telling of an example of just how Superman acts as a rhetorical model, there is a specific moment that encapsulates just how Superman can provide real hope and inspiration to others.

The page opens with a long shot of a young woman on the edge of the building, with the obvious depiction implicating that she is thinking of jumping to her death. Instead of seeing Superman swoop in and save her after she jumps, the audience witnesses a series of panels where he lands behind her, puts his hand on her shoulder, and reassuringly tells her that her doctor really was “held up” and that “It’s never as bad as it seems…You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me” (All-Star Superman, Vol. 2 96). Superman is not only modeling strength that can be seen by others, but also attempting, as Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca note, “to incite to an action inspired by it” (The New Rhetoric 362). He is attempting to, and one can infer by their hug in the final panel of the page, impart strength to this young woman, to present her with a feeling that if he can help her, she too can help herself, and that life will get better. This is but one of many examples of how Superman has and continues to function as a rhetorical model worthy of notice and imitation.

Statement of Research Methodology

An examination of the classical Greek notion of arête or excellence will help shine light on Superman as he can be understood as a bridge between modern and classical mythological heroes. In addition, examining Aristotle’s notions of attaining the “good” – for in the Nicomachean Ethics he states that “The good is that at which all things aim–all activities, choices, actions, investigations (seekings), arts or crafts or skills or trades” (1) – offers a connection and counterweight to negative attacks on whether Superman functions as an appropriate model at all. Through an investigation of these elements in relation to Superman, we will attempt to intertwine and analyze just how the formulation of such classical elements in conjunction with Superman’s creation function uniquely in relation to American history and culture.

Close attention will be paid to the ways that Superman has operated in the context of a rhetorical model to promote and facilitate cultural cooperation as found in Kenneth Burke’s definition of rhetoric. This cooperation operates as part of a dialogic exchange between Superman the character and American history and culture. Superman’s direct connection to the American values and dreams allows him to project a force for betterment of those same values and dreams while also helping to shape and define them as well. Application of Kenneth Burke’s notions of identification and its rhetorical role in helping persuade people will be examined in order to help facilitate the reasoning behind Superman’s continued relevance in our shared cultural imagination.

Special attention, as noted in the evidence above, will be given to Superman’s history and changes within the comic book medium. The reasoning for this emphasis lies specifically in the ability of comic books, published in recent decades in a monthly fashion (and previously in bi-monthly and quarterly fashion), to keep up with the changes and shifts in American culture. This is to say, unlike television or movies, comic books have, with the exception of perhaps radio and news, the unique ability to redress and pointedly mimic the subtle shifts of popularity and cultural zeitgeist. Works, such as Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art will help reveal the theory of the art form, medium, in its ability to communicate such complex ideas, and why we are “so involved” (McCloud 30).

Books, such as the Ages of Superman, edited by Joseph J Darowski, will help provide and identify key points within Superman’s own history as it relates to the American and world history he has “lived” through. Grant Morrison’s work Supergods will in turn help illustrate the ways that superheroes, particularly Superman, have in influencing the lives of young people and serving as creative vehicles of the expression and excavate deeper and more complex ideas. Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of the dialogic will be examined, primarily through his work The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, and applied to the ways that Superman has interacted with American culture and history, and how they have affected each other.

Tentative Working Organization for the Dissertation

Introduction:

This section will attempt to elaborate specifically on how and what helped shape and engrain Superman into a rhetorical model as in relation to American history and culture. Superman exists within a popularized American medium and even his own motto, “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” speaks to how connected the icon of Superman is to American culture and values. These very ideals have not remained static, nor has Superman. For this reason, Superman has himself had to adapt and shift, to reinvent himself to stay relevant. These reinventions and shifts functioned as a two-way street, both being influenced by American culture and history, and then influencing that same culture and history in turn. What emerges is an identifiable symbol of what is best in the American ideal- timeless – regardless if it is sometimes dismissed or ignored.

Literature Review:

Through a bibliographic excavation of the aspects of Superman’s own comic book medium history, as well as its dialogic connections to American history, a picture of how and why Superman has become the iconic figure he has will emerge. The result will aim to reveal just what it is that Superman taps into, what American arête he represents, and then projects into a concrete cultural icon that affects and is affected by changes in American history and culture over the past 75 years. Samples of sources under investigation here are including Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye, David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, and The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture by Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith among many.

Method:

The history of Superman as a rhetorical model is the history of American culture through much of the 20th and into the 21st century. This dialogic relationship Superman shares with America and through the comic book medium follows his creation in 1938. It continued to emerge, as Superman became an icon that faced down the greatest threats one could imagine as America struggled during periods of social and political change. It was the ability of the comic book medium, but more importantly, the essence of what Superman was able to embody about “America,” which allowed the character to adapt and reinvent himself. It is by understanding that complex dialogic relationship that allows Superman to operate as a rhetorical model that will help cast light on to what helps him maintain his relevance even 75 years later.

Analysis:

Chapter 1: This chapter will attempt to specifically analyze and critically understand the complex aspects centered upon Superman’s position as a rhetorical model – the good and the critical. Focus will be given to how this model of Superman has held up to criticism and has become engrained in American culture over the past 75-years.

Chapter 2: This chapter will attempt to specifically draw a dialogic connection between Superman’s history of reinvention, self-fashioning, in relation to the desired and continual need for relevance in a shifting and changing American culture while retaining his core essence.

Chapter 3: This chapter aims to place the rhetorical model of Superman and his dialogic relationship with American culture and history into an analysis of the impact such an understanding can provide towards a deeper understanding of what American dream can potentially embody and represent for those who recognize Superman as a worthy model

Conclusion:

The primary goal of this endeavor aims at revealing that Superman’s function as a rhetorical model dialogically intertwines with American history and through this exchange is created a concrete and self-fashioned representation of American ideals and values – a crystallization of the abstract. Through the comic book medium, Superman has developed and channeled innate “abstract ideals and values” of the American dream and potential into an icon worthy of praise and imitation. He represents the best of American ideals while helping to shape and inform those ideals throughout most of the 20th century and into the 21st, and through an understanding of these elements a deeper realization of just how a fictional character can embody and inspire generations – even one’s yet to come.

Working Bibliography

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. D. P. Chase. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 1998. Print.

—. The Rhetoric. Trans. W. Rhys Roberts. New York: The Modern Library, 1984. Print.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Trans. Michael Holquist and Caryl Emerson. Austin: U of Texas P, 1982. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

Darowski, Joseph J. Ed. The Ages of Superman: Essays on the Man of Steel in Changing Times. Jefferson: McFarland & Co, Inc., 2012. Print.

Duncan, Randy and Matthew J. Smith. The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture. New York: Continuum, 2009. Print.

Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2008. Print.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005. Print.

Hajdu, David. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. New York: Picador. 2008. Print

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Print.

Morrison, Grant. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2012. Print.

— and Frank Quitely. All-Star Superman, Vol. 2. New York: DC Comics, 2010. Print.

Perelman, Chaim and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Tran. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P. 1969. Print.

Tye, Larry. Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.

 

Stage 1: Prospectus…Version 2.0

So, piecing it all together for the first time here in its new version, let’s see what falls out.

*Kept the title I originally had, for now.

Jonathan C. Evans

June 2013

Dissertation Prospectus

Title

Graphic Narratives as Rhetorical Artifacts: Bridging the Divides Between Words and Images, Pop Culture and Literature, and Dramatic Unforeseen

Statement of Purpose

In an ever-growing visual culture, it is becoming more and more important for our culture to come to a deeper and more detailed understanding of how visual imagery and narratives can and do impact cultural expression, growth, and communication. The continuing popularity of superhero comic books and adaptation of properties into motion pictures demonstrates the potential cultural and rhetorical power encapsulated in these graphic narratives and the deeper impact such visual narratives are having in our current cultural zeitgeist. As human beings, we have a strong inclination to respond to visual/symbolic forms (signifiers) that often communicate complicated abstract ideas and values (signified). This propensity is reflects both a visual and dramatic orientation of human communication, and within modern American culture such communication lies at the heart of popular forms of entertainment from movies, to television, to comic book superheroes. This impact of popular culture, visually, upon the human imagination and the way we communicate complex ideas leads to an important question: How can one reach a better understanding of why society, particularly American society, is so susceptible to the application of visual rhetoric and signifiers in the rendering and expression of our beliefs, values, and ideas? To answer this question, I am aim to hypothesize that through an understanding of how Kenneth Burke’s concept of the dramatic pentad and close application of rhetorical tropes and figures to the analysis of cultural signifiers, such as comic book superheroes, a greater understanding of how symbolic and visual communication can impact the shaping and development of human ideas and values will emerge. This dissertation will attempt to do this by drawing upon theories and methodologies found in the works of Kenneth Burke, Chaim Perelman, Umberto Eco, Roland Barthes, Scott McCloud, Will Eisner, and Hans Blumenburg.

Statement of Significance

Will Eisner told a story from his childhood, recounted in David Hajdu’s book The 10 Cent Plague, where his father took him to the Catholic Church “Our Lady of the Assumption,” not far from where he grew up. Hajdu relates that Eisner noted that his father brought him here because “‘He wanted me [Eisner] see what he had done when he was an artist’” but more importantly to “‘to experience the power of visual imagery as a tool for communicating ideas and doctrine and so forth’” (71). This anecdote denotes a long and direct connection between the ability of visual images to convey and connect with a potential audience. There is a profound and powerful ability within visual images to communicate and persuade, to move, an audience that often goes unnoticed until someone comes along and points it out, and then, others often react in agreement.

Eisner, in his own book Comics and Sequential Art, points out that imagery, like written language, serves and acts as a communicator. He notes that  “Comprehension of an image requires a commonality of experience…the success or failure of this method of communicating depends upon the ease with which the reader recognizes the meaning and emotional impact of the image” (7-8). The power of visual images lies heavily within the folds of collective values and recognizable concepts – often unspoken – but very important to exchange and interaction within those groups that accept those shared values and concepts. Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, in their work The New Rhetoric, identify that when looking for objects of agreement, values fall within a second grouping, “concerning the preferable, comprising values, hierarchies, and lines of argument relating to the preferable” (66). These ideas are ones that foster agreement within their conception of a “universal audience,” one that is unknown, but also malleable. Expanding on how values work, they note that “Agreement with regard to a value means an admission that an object, a being, or an ideal must have a specific influence on action and on disposition toward action and that one can make use of this influence in an argument” (74). Superheroes, if one is the identify them as clear symbols of human potential, have the potential rhetorical power to act as visual communication and persuasion of inherent cultural values that they, in turn, represent or embody.

In his book Supergods, Grant Morrison offers a popular culture view and take on the superheroes by noting, in his assertion, that superheroes are “not afraid to be hopeful, not embarrassed to be optimistic, and utterly fearless in the dark [and that] the best superhero stories deal directly with mythic elements of human experience that we can all relate to, in ways that are imaginative, profound, funny, and provocative” (xvii). For Morrison, via his claim, superheroes are part of the human experience, and as Morrison’s final statement invokes, they can affect their audience on a number of levels. From their very beginnings, particularly in what is called the “Golden Age” of comic books and the comic book superhero – Action Comics #1 appearance of Superman in June, 1938 – superheroes have continued (though often repressed, hounded, dismissed, and ignored) to play and have an impact on human understanding and interaction.

Literature Review:

In his Grammar of Motives, Kenneth Burke conceptualized life as a form of drama, Dramatism, consisting of the five elements of a kin to the basic journalistic questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. These elements are: Act, Scene, Agent, Agency, and Purpose. These elements serve as a way of examining human relationships, a meta-method. It was, according to Burke, a “method of analysis and a corresponding critique designed to show the most direct route to the study of human relations and human motives…” (Overington). Turning this back then, what is Grant Morrison’s motivation, his dramatic move in his book Supergods. The Act (1) is a rhetorical analysis of the first appearances of Superman and Batman at the dawn of what is called roughly the Golden Age of comic books.  The Scene (2) is a reflection upon events coming out of 1930’s America and the Great Depression as an impact in our modern times. The Agent (3), as Morrison is illustrating are the characters of Superman and Batman, their creators, and Morrison himself. Their role form of tiers: creation, creators, and analyzer (who is himself a modern day comic book writer). The Agency (4) here calls upon a rhetorical analysis that dissects the roles that occur with the interaction of all three tiers, covering decades of time and analysis. Finally, there is the Purpose (5), and Morrison this purpose comes the direction that comic books have a way of communicating with an audience on levels that sometimes, and most times, are overlooked by many – legitimacy.

Applying Burke to what Morrison is doing conveys the place of visual rhetoric as it holds a place, worth noting, for how such an artifact, as a comic book cover, can come to embody, reflect, and identify the values that would appeal to young boys during the late 1930’s and 40’s. Morrison is pushing for the recognition of what is often seen, comic books, as a “popular medium” as a more serious, philosophical and even rhetorical, medium and mode of expression, by drawing upon Burke’s notions of the dramatic pentad for analysis, as well as Burke’s notions of identification to lay out the beginning framework of his personal accounting and exploration of the history of superhero comic books.

Furthermore, comic writer/artist and theorist Scott McCloud, in his work Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art ascribes that “we [humans] see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we make the world over in our image” (33). McCloud’s assertion points to humanity’s prominent role in shaping reality in its own image and suggests a very relativist perception of how instrumental humanity is in creating the boundaries and definitions of everything. Since “we see ourselves in everything” one might conclude that of course we see ourselves in Superman, in Batman, in Iron Man, in Captain America, and so on. So why do we not readily admit it? There is a rhetorical, personal, element to be found there in the superhero narrative.

Statement of Research Methodology

To begin a close examination of the rhetorical impact of symbols upon human interaction and communication first requires an understanding, a definition and approach to symbols and how they function within the realm of human interaction and communication. Umberto Eco defines symbols as “something representing something else by virtue of an analogical correspondence [a logical picture of elements in question]” (Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language 130). The conception of symbolism offers up a need for distinction between what makes something a “sign” and what makes something a “symbol.” Superheroes may act then as signs of something more symbolic – Superman : Truth, Justice, and the American Way. For Carl Jung, symbols and signs interlinked and operated in reversible roles. For Jung, “living symbols become signs when read as referring to something known…A sign [in turn] becomes…a symbol when it is read as pointing to an unknown” (Portable Jung XXVIII). One could point to Superman as a sign in the form of a man, but with powers beyond ours and abilities that are aspirations and “unknown” or symbolic. The human fascination with the unknown drives the internal expression of signs as symbols in order to understand that beyond human understanding. It is “the study of [symbols that] enables us to reach a better understanding of man – of man ‘as he is’, before he has come to terms with the conditions of History” (Eliade 12). Once again, the very fundamentals of humanity rest in symbols and any quest to uncover such “fundamentals of humanity” requires that one study and understand symbols – to study Superman is to understand his function, perhaps, to inspire humanity.

Kenneth Burke, in his work A Rhetoric of Motives, noted that “the role of rhetoric…is rooted in essential function of language…a function that is…the use of language as symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (43). What better place to begin by examining the uses and capabilities of comic book superheroes to carry out that expression. The approach here will be to apply rhetoric, primarily through the lens of Burke and Chaim Perelman (along with L. Olbrechts-Tyteca with The New Rhetoric) to examine the ways that individuals and groups can come to identify with superheroes, how these superheroes embody rhetorical potential – as demonstration, amplification, illustration, and via presence. Understanding the potential of the superhero as enthymeme as a tool for communication, a function of language, and what Ann Barry, a perceptional theorist, noted as a potential “visual turn” that “it is images, not words, that communicate most deeply” (Visual Intelligence 75). In an increasingly visual age, with movies and advertisement growing – even literature itself is being reformatted into graphic novel form – it is important to realize the power of symbolic images as superheroes and the power they can have to teach, delight, and persuade.

To examine the role of the superhero as meaning communicating symbol, I will attempt to rhetorically analyze, visually, the functions of iconic superheroes. I will turn Grant Morrison’s Supergods as a launching platform for this visual rhetorical analysis, as well as engage specifically chosen forms of comic book superhero narratives – including Mark Miller’s Superman: Red Sun and Superior, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Morrison’s All-Star Superman and Flex Mentallo, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers, Frank Miller’s Batman Year One and Dark Knight Returns, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, and Kurt Busiek’s Marvels – to unpack the ideas, concepts, and rhetorical potential found within.

Tentative Working Organization for the Dissertation

Introduction:

This section will open up with attempting to draw out a general history and understanding of how symbols and signs function in engaging human reaction and communicating human ideas and values. The use of the comic book superhero will help draw in how this concept works and functions, dramatically, upon individuals and groups. I will lay out the argument that the superhero functions as a visual rhetoric that embodies real, human characteristics and ideas via close rhetorical analysis. The purpose aim is to show that via its role as a rhetorical artifact, the graphic narrative format of the superhero narratives, modern myths so to say, are valuable means for engaging audiences on many different stylistic levels that grant greater significance to this form of story telling than previously recognized.

Literature Review:

The literature review, partially demonstrated above, will open up and examine closely both the debates and discussions surrounding the role of symbols and semiotic relations in communication and language, but how the use of images, particularly the comic books superhero, have come to represent rhetorical tools for engaging and motivating audience in engagement. Examples of currently under investigation here are Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication by Ann Marie Barry, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Wolk, Douglas. Finally, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. These, along with other journals and works, will help develop both a framework of comic book history and development, but particularly look to reveal the growing mainstream acceptance of the medium and how this opens up greater opportunities to closely examine the deeper rhetorical meaning and potential existing within.

Method:

This section will be a direct application Burke’s theory of the dramatic pentad and Chaim Perelman’s updated conceptions of rhetorical figures and notions of rhetoric and its appeal to values to formulate and bring together the conceptions surrounding the strong formation of the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme. A groundwork will be introduced to allow for the responses of the audience and how the impact of the superhero is developing and exploring complex ideas and concept. More importantly, it will be important to set out a method of recognizing and decoding of the superhero as rhetorical constructs as presented in the comic book medium by close analysis. This will rely on turning to Umberto Eco and semiotic theory, as well as Douglas Wolk and the work of Scott McCloud, in addition to Burke and Perelman. The production will aim to layout the groundwork for looking at the superhero via the lens of visual and symbolic rhetoric.

Analysis:

  1. This chapter will to look at close visual rhetorical analysis aimed at understanding the ability of comic book superheroes to teach. Specifically targeted, so far, for this chapter is a close examination of Mark Miller’s Superior. The superhero as teacher here serves as a tool for acceptance, toleration, and doing what is right.
  2. This chapter will engage in a close rhetorical analysis of comic book superheroes and their ability to delight. It will focus on works like Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s Marvels and Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, as well as a variety of other books. This chapter will attempt to look at the superhero as enthymeme through the lens of the enjoyment of both the writing and artistic forms that can be presented. This will specially explore the aesthetic qualities found in the comic book medium.
  3. This chapter will turn back and attempt to look deeper at the rhetorical power found in the superhero to engage in high minded and deep philosophical debate. This chapter will focus on certain archetypal characters: Superman (Morrison’s All-Star Superman), Batman (Morrison’s Batman: Arkham Asylum), and Captain America and Iron Man (Mark Miller’s Civil War and Hickman’s Avengers).

Conclusion:

The primary focus of this exploration is to offer up a direct and relevant understanding of how superheroes can and do function as potential rhetorical artifacts. The comic book/graphic novel medium has in fact become a sort of middle ground, a commonplace for the words of novels and books, and the images of motion pictures. The superhero narrative is one that carries specific rhetorical power due to its connection and formulation within symbolic communication. There should and needs to be a greater acceptance of this aspect of human nature and imagination that occurs subconsciously daily but remains consciously unnoticed.

Working Bibliography

Barry, Ann Marie. Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication. Albany: State U of New York P, 1997. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

—. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

Eco, Umberto. Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1984. Print.

Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2008. Print.

Eliade, Mircea. Images and Symbols. Trans. Mairet, Philip. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1991. Print.

Hajdu, David. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. New York: Picador. 2008. Print

Jung, C G. The Portable Jung. Ed. Joseph Campbell. New York: Penguin Books, 1971. Print.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Print.

Morrison, Grant. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2012. Print.

Overington, M. “Kenneth Burke and the Method of Dramatism.” Theory and Society 4 (1977). 131-156.

Perelman, Chaim and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Tran. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P. 1969. Print.

Stage 1: Prospectus, Section 3

Now we start getting into the work…

This is the part in the dissertation prospectus where we begin to attempt to point out how we plan to go about conducting our research.

Real quickly, something to note, for the official Dissertation Prospectus document there are limits. A limit of 10 pages really kind of forces one to try and be concise, and as you will see in section 5 – Working Bibliography, sometimes cut things down to the bare bare bones.

But, moving right along, here is the original stab at a Research Methodology:

Statement of Research Methodology 1.0 (OLD)

Umberto Eco defines symbols as “something representing something else by virtue of an analogical correspondence [a logical picture of elements in question]” (Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language 130). The conception of symbolism offers up a need for distinction between what makes something a “sign” and what makes something a “symbol.” Superheroes may act then as signs of something more symbolic – Superman : Truth, Justice, and the American Way. For Carl Jung, symbols and signs interlinked and operated in reversible roles. For Jung, “living symbols become signs when read as referring to something known…A sign [in turn] becomes…a symbol when it is read as pointing to an unknown” (Portable Jung XXVIII). One could point to Superman as a sign in the form of a man, but with powers beyond ours and abilities that are aspirations and “unknown” or symbolic. The human fascination with the unknown drives the internal expression of signs as symbols in order to understand that beyond human understanding. It is “the study of [symbols that] enables us to reach a better understanding of man – of man ‘as he is’, before he has come to terms with the conditions of History” (Eliade 12). Once again, the very fundamentals of humanity rest in symbols and any quest to uncover such “fundamentals of humanity” requires that one study and understand symbols – to study Superman is to understand his function, perhaps, to inspire humanity.

This exploration of the understanding of symbols and their impact is the first layer in the approach to examining the superhero as a type of archetypal/rhetorical construct of expression. Studying the aims and positions found both in the use of symbols with the study of Semiotics and Psychoanalysis will formulate the beginning of coming to understand the impact that the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme is able to carry through with the audience or potential audiences it may encounter. In addition to understanding this element, another key identifier to communicate in laying out the superhero impact on a potential audience will incorporate Hans Blumenberg’s conceptions of “reappropriation” and understanding the ways that human culture tends to act in ways that constantly reappropriates and both borrows and builds upon past ideas. This ties in with both Jungian conceptions of archetypes and the collective unconscious, as well relates to ideas that Grant Morrison, in his work Supergods, and elsewhere professes about as part of what superheroes are capable of expressing. Blumenberg notes specifically that “secularization” as he use the term “signifies [the] designation for a long-term process by which a disappearance of religious ties, attitudes of transcendence, expectations of an afterlife, ritual performances, and firmly established turns of speech are driven onward in both private and daily public life” (3). Focusing primarily on the idea, as Blumenberg later asserts, that this is a mode of historical interpretation, it is interesting to note just how far back the idea of heroes, from the Greek meaning “demi-god,” have captivated human culture. How has this “ritual performance” migrated and evolved and repositioned itself within our society today? This will be part of what will be explored, attempting to understand the history and relevance of images, and their symbolic power, in our culture as a ground work for both understanding the superhero as enthymeme but also an understanding of audience response to such images.

Kenneth Burke, in his work A Rhetoric of Motives, noted that “the role of rhetoric…is rooted in essential function of language…a function that is…the use of language as symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (43). What better place to begin by examining the uses and capabilities of comic book superheroes to carry out that expression. The approach here will be to apply rhetoric, primarily through the lens of Burke and Chaim Perelman (along with L. Olbrechts-Tyteca with The New Rhetoric) to examine the ways that individuals and groups can come to identify with superheroes, how these superheroes embody rhetorical potential – as demonstration, amplification, illustration, and via presence. Understanding the potential of the superhero as enthymeme as a tool for communication, a function of language, and what Ann Barry, a perceptional theorist, noted as a potential “visual turn” that “it is images, not words, that communicate most deeply” (Visual Intelligence 75). In an increasingly visual age, with movies and advertisement growing – even literature itself is being reformatted into graphic novel form – it is important to realize the power of symbolic images as superheroes and the power they can have to teach, delight, and persuade.

To demonstrate the superhero as enthymeme, to see the styles (as Cicero and others have noted) I will turn Grant Morrison’s Supergods as a launching platform, as well as engage specifically chosen forms of comic book superhero narratives – including Mark Miller’s Superman: Red Sun and Superior, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Morrison’s All-Star Superman and Flex Mentallo, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers, Frank Miller’s Batman Year One and Dark Knight Returns, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, and Kurt Busiek’s Marvels…plus more – to unpack the ideas, concepts, and rhetorical potential found within. The primary aim throughout will be to understand the superhero as first a symbolic construct that has relevance and impact upon human action, to explore the rhetorical potential of such “relevance and impact” via the understanding of the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme, and then to reinforce all of it by analyzing specific examples and drawing out the encoded messages and ideas held with.


Interesting note, when looking at the new methodology, with the exception of some new points and streamlining, and some cutting down, not a whole lot has changed…just tightened and focused (hopefully).

 

Statement of Research Methodology 1.5 (NEW)

To begin a close examination of the rhetorical impact of symbols upon human interaction and communication first requires an understanding, a definition and approach to symbols and how they function within the realm of human interaction and communication. Umberto Eco defines symbols as “something representing something else by virtue of an analogical correspondence [a logical picture of elements in question]” (Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language 130). The conception of symbolism offers up a need for distinction between what makes something a “sign” and what makes something a “symbol.” Superheroes may act then as signs of something more symbolic – Superman : Truth, Justice, and the American Way. For Carl Jung, symbols and signs interlinked and operated in reversible roles. For Jung, “living symbols become signs when read as referring to something known…A sign [in turn] becomes…a symbol when it is read as pointing to an unknown” (Portable Jung XXVIII). One could point to Superman as a sign in the form of a man, but with powers beyond ours and abilities that are aspirations and “unknown” or symbolic. The human fascination with the unknown drives the internal expression of signs as symbols in order to understand that beyond human understanding. It is “the study of [symbols that] enables us to reach a better understanding of man – of man ‘as he is’, before he has come to terms with the conditions of History” (Eliade 12). Once again, the very fundamentals of humanity rest in symbols and any quest to uncover such “fundamentals of humanity” requires that one study and understand symbols – to study Superman is to understand his function, perhaps, to inspire humanity.

Kenneth Burke, in his work A Rhetoric of Motives, noted that “the role of rhetoric…is rooted in essential function of language…a function that is…the use of language as symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (43). What better place to begin by examining the uses and capabilities of comic book superheroes to carry out that expression. The approach here will be to apply rhetoric, primarily through the lens of Burke and Chaim Perelman (along with L. Olbrechts-Tyteca with The New Rhetoric) to examine the ways that individuals and groups can come to identify with superheroes, how these superheroes embody rhetorical potential – as demonstration, amplification, illustration, and via presence. Understanding the potential of the superhero as enthymeme as a tool for communication, a function of language, and what Ann Barry, a perceptional theorist, noted as a potential “visual turn” that “it is images, not words, that communicate most deeply” (Visual Intelligence 75). In an increasingly visual age, with movies and advertisement growing – even literature itself is being reformatted into graphic novel form – it is important to realize the power of symbolic images as superheroes and the power they can have to teach, delight, and persuade.

To examine the role of the superhero as meaning communicating symbol, I will attempt to rhetorically analyze, visually, the functions of iconic superheroes. I will turn Grant Morrison’s Supergods as a launching platform for this visual rhetorical analysis, as well as engage specifically chosen forms of comic book superhero narratives – including Mark Miller’s Superman: Red Sun and Superior, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Morrison’s All-Star Superman and Flex Mentallo, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers, Frank Miller’s Batman Year One and Dark Knight Returns, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, and Kurt Busiek’s Marvels – to unpack the ideas, concepts, and rhetorical potential found within.

 

The purpose here is to attempt to provide an idea, a road map of your intentions to how you plan to try and go about completing this massive undertaking while trying to focus up a bit to avoid spiraling into an abyss from which you may never escape.

 

No kidding…some people never escape, at least not without ejecting and losing the craft. I do not have any intentions of doing that myself.

 

Stage 1: Prospectus, Section 2

So, I am still kicking the title around a bit, but as I do I am becoming more and more sold on it…we”ll see.

Looking back at the last post I noted that the section 2 of the dissertation document is a what is called the “Statement of Significance.” Basically, this is where I sort of summarize what is known and out there regarding what it is that I plan to address from my “Statement of Purpose”

Now, with my old version I was originally going much broader and attempting to look at superheroes as rhetorical enthymemes.

Statement of Significance 1.0 (OLD)

Within the past year there has been a publication of works and parts of works of literature in a collection called the Graphic Cannon. This work, already in three volumes (3rd volume coming out in April 2013), produces graphic novel formatted versions of famous works of literature. In the Editor’s introduction to volume 1, Russ Kick notes that “We’re living in a Golden Age of the Graphic Novel, of comic art, and of illustration in general [and that] Each piece [found in the work] stands on its own, but taken together they form a vast, rich kaleidoscope of art and literature” (1). This is literature as art and art as literature, but not separate and distinctive, but interactive and consubstantial (to use a Burkean term). There is both a unique quality to both the art as expressed via words and vice versa, but there really should not be a division that precludes the interaction and combination of the two.

The “Golden Age of the Graphic Novel” is a statement that highlights the growing importance and realization of just how effective graphic narratives of both images and words can serve to relate and communicate language and ideas between individuals and groups. Collections like the Graphic Cannon highlight an appropriation by art of literary works. In fact, one might see this collaboration as a “re-appropriation” of the earliest form of human expression (image) of its more complicated offspring (language). The key-underlying element that is often neglected is the interconnection between the formations of language via symbolic use of image (letters) that create larger pictorial images (words, sentences, paragraphs, etc.). Language is the social creation and arrangement of images in recognizable patterns that allow for interactive communication. Symbols can be viewed as the “passive” element in human communication and interaction – on, like ethos in rhetorical persuasion that we recognize are not always in the active role, but remain fundamentally important. Language, from one perspective given by Robert Staintion, exists as “a system of symbols which we know and use” (Philosophical Perspectives on Language 13). Humanity builds, like blocks, language from simple to complex, utilizing symbols as the core. Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann point out that, “the symbolic universe is…constructed by means of social objectivcations…yet its meaning-bestowing capacity far exceeds the domain of social life” (The Social Construction of Reality 96). There are the deeper representations and meanings, that humanity gives objects, people, or places. The physical or tangible part of symbols – signs – operates in facilitating the construction and continuity of culture. 

For Scott McCloud, in his work Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art ascribes that “we [humans] see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we make the world over in our image” (33). McCloud’s assertion points to humanity’s prominent role in shaping reality in its own image and suggests a very relativist perception of how instrumental humanity is in creating the boundaries and definitions of everything. Since “we see ourselves in everything” one might conclude that of course we see ourselves in Superman, in Batman, in Iron Man, in Captain America, and so on. So why do we not readily admit it? There is a rhetorical, personal, element to be found there in the superhero narrative.

Superheroes, if one is the identify them as clear symbols of human potential, then what is the potential rhetorical power, the enthymeme, that they represent. In his book Supergods, Grant Morrison offers up the realization that superheroes are “not afraid to be hopeful, not embarrassed to be optimistic, and utterly fearless in the dark [and that] the best superhero stories deal directly with mythic elements of human experience that we can all relate to, in ways that are imaginative, profound, funny, and provocative” (xvii). Superheroes are part of the human experience, and as Morrison’s final statement invokes, they can affect their audience on a number of levels. From their very beginnings, particularly in what is called the “Golden Age” of comic books and the comic book superhero – Action Comics #1 appearance of Superman in June, 1938 – superheroes have carried and delivered a continued (though often repressed, hounded, dismissed, and ignored) to play and have an impact on human understanding and interaction with both the world of the imaginary and the real.

The true power of superheroes and superhero comic books, their enthymeme and argument lies in their potential as a tool, like rhetoric itself, and medium of expression where ancient Greek myths, Campbellian/Carlylean notions of heroes, philosophical ideas, and so much more can find a voice. Not unlike the written word, and literature, comic book narratives allow for just another medium, but one that can go just as deep, express just as much emotion, and create just as much movement and contemplation in the audience as any work of William Shakespeare or the Holy Bible. They are the secular gods and heroes of a society that is always searching for a higher calling.

Now, you can see that I was a bit all over the place there, and I like a lot of the ideas I was mixing, but again, what is above is practically 3-5 dissertations of their own. So, “FOCUS up!” is what my major professor kindly and constructively direct me towards and I, yelling, do to myself.

Let’s try this again…

Statement of Significance 1.5 (NEW)

Will Eisner told a story from his childhood, recounted in David Hajdu’s book The 10 Cent Plague, where his father took him to the Catholic Church “Our Lady of the Assumption,” not far from where he grew up. Hajdu relates that Eisner noted that his father brought him here because “‘He wanted me [Eisner] see what he had done when he was an artist’” but more importantly to “‘to experience the power of visual imagery as a tool for communicating ideas and doctrine and so forth’” (71). This anecdote denotes a long and direct connection between the ability of visual images to convey and connect with a potential audience. There is a profound and powerful ability within visual images to communicate and persuade, to move, an audience that often goes unnoticed until someone comes along and points it out, and then, others often react in agreement.

Eisner, in his own book Comics and Sequential Art, points out that imagery, like written language, serves and acts as a communicator. He notes that  “Comprehension of an image requires a commonality of experience…the success or failure of this method of communicating depends upon the ease with which the reader recognizes the meaning and emotional impact of the image” (7-8). The power of visual images lies heavily within the folds of collective values and recognizable concepts – often unspoken – but very important to exchange and interaction within those groups that accept those shared values and concepts. Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, in their work The New Rhetoric, identify that when looking for objects of agreement, values fall within a second grouping, “concerning the preferable, comprising values, hierarchies, and lines of argument relating to the preferable” (66). These ideas are ones that foster agreement within their conception of a “universal audience,” one that is unknown, but also malleable. Expanding on how values work, they note that “Agreement with regard to a value means an admission that an object, a being, or an ideal must have a specific influence on action and on disposition toward action and that one can make use of this influence in an argument” (74). Superheroes, if one is the identify them as clear symbols of human potential, have the potential rhetorical power to act as visual communication and persuasion of inherent cultural values that they, in turn, represent or embody.

In his book Supergods, Grant Morrison offers up the assertion that superheroes are “not afraid to be hopeful, not embarrassed to be optimistic, and utterly fearless in the dark [and that] the best superhero stories deal directly with mythic elements of human experience that we can all relate to, in ways that are imaginative, profound, funny, and provocative” (xvii). For Morrison, via his claim, superheroes are part of the human experience, and as Morrison’s final statement invokes, they can affect their audience on a number of levels. From their very beginnings, particularly in what is called the “Golden Age” of comic books and the comic book superhero – Action Comics #1 appearance of Superman in June, 1938 – superheroes have continued (though often repressed, hounded, dismissed, and ignored) to play and have an impact on human understanding and interaction with both the world of the imaginary and the real.

Literature Review:

In his Grammar of Motives, Kenneth Burke conceptualized life as a form of drama, Dramatism, consisting of the five elements of a kin to the basic journalistic questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. These elements are: Act, Scene, Agent, Agency, and Purpose. These elements serve as a way of examining human relationships, a meta-method. It was, according to Burke, a “method of analysis and a corresponding critique designed to show the most direct route to the study of human relations and human motives…” (Overington). Turning this back then, what is Grant Morrison’s motivation, his dramatic move in his book Supergods. The Act (1) is a rhetorical analysis of the first appearances of Superman and Batman at the dawn of what is called roughly the Golden Age of comic books.  The Scene (2) is a reflection upon events coming out of 1930’s America and the Great Depression as an impact in our modern times. The Agent (3), as Morrison is illustrating are the characters of Superman and Batman, their creators, and Morrison himself. Their role form of tiers: creation, creators, and analyzer (who is himself a modern day comic book writer). The Agency (4) here calls upon a rhetorical analysis that dissects the roles that occur with the interaction of all three tiers, covering decades of time and analysis. Finally, there is the Purpose (5), and Morrison this purpose comes the direction that comic books have a way of communicating with an audience on levels that sometimes, and most times, are overlooked by many – legitimacy.

Applying Burke to what Morrison is doing conveys the place of visual rhetoric as it holds a place, worth noting, for how such an artifact, as a comic book cover, can come to embody, reflect, and identify the values that would appeal to young boys during the late 1930’s and 40’s. Morrison is pushing for the recognition of what is often seen, comic books, as a “popular medium” as a more serious, philosophical and even rhetorical, medium and mode of expression, by drawing upon Burke’s notions of the dramatic pentad for analysis, as well as Burke’s notions of identification to lay out the beginning framework of his personal accounting and exploration of the history of superhero comic books.

Furthermore, comic writer/artist and theorist Scott McCloud, in his work Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art ascribes that “we [humans] see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we make the world over in our image” (33). McCloud’s assertion points to humanity’s prominent role in shaping reality in its own image and suggests a very relativist perception of how instrumental humanity is in creating the boundaries and definitions of everything. Since “we see ourselves in everything” one might conclude that of course we see ourselves in Superman, in Batman, in Iron Man, in Captain America, and so on. So why do we not readily admit it? There is a rhetorical, personal, element to be found there in the superhero narrative.

This time I dropped in more of what I wanted to say my taking note, adding, to my “Statement of Significance” a “Literature Review” section to try and add direction and points of interest/research to what I will attempting.

So, now it is on to “Statement of Methodology”…