Grant Morrison, in describing, in a bit of existential retrospection, how people come to perceive or interact with the 2D world of superheroes and comic books from the “higher dimension” of the real world recounts how:
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby could send drawn versions of themselves into the created world of Fantastic Four, and those little drawings of Stan and Jack were like angels, UFOs, avatars from a higher universe, entering a world they’d made to interact with its inhabitants. They created, as I cam to call them, ‘fiction suits,’ like space suits for sending yourself into stories. (Supergods 226-7)
Let’s be honest…this sounds pretty freaking awesome. Morrison enacted a similar feat of sorts at the end of his run on Animal Man for DC Comics from 1988-90. The final story saw the character of Animal Man, who had already experienced (while on peyote) a breaking down of the 4th wall in his reality and realizing that he was a character of fiction, had the character arriving at Grant Morrison’s very door-step to confront his own creator. This meta-confrontation/discussion was the final issue of Morrison’s run and ended with the character of Animal Man receiving his life back, including his murdered family.
To step beyond Morrison’s “meta-narrative” a bit more, one can find a similar discussion perpetuated by Nick Sousanis. In his work Unflattening, describes the way humanity perceives things, in his opening, by recounting how:
…flatness permeates the landscape. This flatness is not literal… No. It cloaks its true nature under a hyper-real façade. This is a flatness of sight, a contraction of possibilities…where the inhabitants conform to what Marcuse called ‘a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior.’ Lacking ‘a critical dimension’ of potentialities to transcend their existing state, everything has its place. Here, even choices (of which there are seemingly many), are predefined. Forgotten is wonder of what might be. In this place, a single chorus… (Sousanis 5-7)
Sousanis’ Unflattening is a publication of his doctoral dissertation that is actually done in the form of a graphic novel. His statement appears in the vein of a warning about how human’s can and do limit ourselves in thought and ideas. This is something we need to break free. We have become the limited two-dimensional creations in how we think and the lack of any critical examination. We have forgotten Socrates and the need to examine life.
Of course, these are two different writers looking at similar material, but in two philosophically different ways. Morrison is looking towards a means of interacting with the comic book world by “entering it” on a hypothetical level. Sousanis on the other hand is speaking of an almost two-dimensional way that humanity, perhaps, has come to perceive the world around it.
Interestingly enough, one can argue that both are talking about the same thing. Morrison’s notion of the “fiction suits” is meant to express an idea of interaction and communication between the world of our reality and the world of the comic books and their characters. Sousanis speaks of the ways humanity is limiting its perceptions through a “flatness” or 2D method of thought. Both men are talking about perception; both men are talking about opening up the human capacity for expression, thought, and communication.
Its time we embrace more steadily the opening of the book on not only how we perceive the world, but also how we communicate in it. It’s not really a new idea. It’s just an old idea that needs revisiting, re-examination.
One approach already in existence is the one laid out by Scott McCloud in his work Understanding Comics.
“Amplification through simplification” is a key tenant of McCloud’s short hand for our cultural obsession with cartoons and the potential they have (30). He states that “When we abstract an image . . . we’re not so much eliminating details as we are focus on specific details by stripping down and image to its essential ‘meaning’” (30).
Later on McCloud points out that the simplification leads us, often in our younger years to identify with cartoons and their essential messages (36). He even illustrates this in the following image:
He follows this up by expounding, “I doubt it! You would have been far too aware of the messenger to fully receive the message!” (37). What he is pointing out is that through the route of simplification, cartoons and comics are able to deliver messages visually in a way that amplifies the message without complicating it or letting the visuals get in the way.
APPLYING IT TO STUDENTS
So, what does any of this have to do with engaging students? Well, it goes back to what I called my idea for using images to engage students in the classroom: The Adaptation Approach. This approach centers upon:
Utilizing the creation of Graphic Narratives and other forms of Visual Rhetoric to communicate concepts, ideas, etc. found in the Composition classroom
This approach has been something under thought and gradual process for several years now. Originally it was born out of a desire to convey or get across to my students the genres I was having them write about, in both Comp 1 and 2, out the St. Martin’s Guide to Writing during my PhD studies at TWU.
Initially I wanted to partner up with an artist, such as my friend Dave Andrews, but I dragged my feet on writing the scripts. The project eventually took a back burner to my dissertation.
However, I have now been looking to revive this project and apply my own artistic skills (dust them off from my high school days) and take it on both as an aid to students and as part of an overall visual rhetoric approach to the First Year Composition classroom that more or less defines part of my pedagogical identity.
Here are some sample images I am using, as well as an example of some of my creations:
STAY TUNED to find out how this goes over when I apply it this Spring.