Monday, November 5, 2007

I am really bad at coming up with titles!

"The future ended in 1962 at the Seattle World's Fair. This was everything we should have inherited: the whole man on the moon within the decade-- asbestos is our miracle friend -- nuclear-powered and fossil-fueled world of the Space Age where you could go up to visit the Jetsons' flying saucer apartment building and then ride the monorail downtown for fun pillbox-hat fashions at the Bon Marché."

-Chuck Palahniuk (Invisible Monsters)

Disregarding the fact that there was a complete lack of any Palahniuk reference in my last entry you should all know by now that I am obsessed with Chuck Palahniuk. Furthermore, it may or may not be known that my favorite book of is Invisible Monsters. Anyways, I was reading about the book online after having read it for the umpteenth time. I was browsing the ‘main’ Chuck Palahniuk fansite, and I came across an IM graphic novel. I went to read it, but after looking over the first couple of pages, I turned away. It didn’t have the same effect as the book. Something just didn’t seem right. Now I’m in college and I have found a legitimate reason to force myself to read the graphic novel which I was so opposed to in my younger years. So, here we are…

After having read both Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth and the Invisible Monsters graphic novel I have come to one major conclusion: comics aren’t for everyone. The readers’ satisfaction with the text depends on a multitude of factors. For me, JC was one of the most humorous things I have come across in the last few months. Honestly, I found myself laughing out loud more times while reading this than I have laughed since I’ve been back at school. Simply put, the story of Jimmy is tragic, but it is relatable. However, this was not the case with IM. I enjoyed it, yes; but only because I enjoy the original story. Beyond that, I have little to say. In reading the book, I was able to relate in at least the smallest way to one or more characters, but it was completely lost in the transformation into a graphic novel. This may not be true for others, it is simply what I got out of my reading of the two texts.

As with any text, everything is relative to the reader in a comic. If the reader is able to connect with the characters, there will be a sense of understanding. JC deals with the struggles of one man (but he could be any man). IM is about a particular story, that few (if any) can sympathize with. This is where I think Ware had the upper hand; his story was about life whereas Palahniuk’s story was about one particular life.

I believe I have reiterated myself enough and exhausted the idea of ones ability to relate to a story and I feel it is time to me to move on to the techniques of the two stories. On my desk I have a sheet of paper that says “Similarities” at the top, and about halfway down the page it says “Differences.” This was my way of comparing the two texts. Although they are both categorized as comics or graphic novels, the two could not be any more dissimilar. The only similarity that I could find was that neither story is chronological. Both jump back and forth between the past and the present; in IM you get a better sense of this by reading the book but the concept of jumping through time is still present.

The main difference that I noticed, that which makes a huge impact on the overall understanding of the story, is that Ware had a general audience whereas Palahniuk had a specific audience. With JC, anyone can pick up the book and read it from beginning to end with little difficulty. This, however, is not true for IM; unless you have read the book, you will find yourself confused and altogether frustrated. While this technique makes JC more understandable (as I have said) the way Palahniuk does it goes along with the tone of his original story and enhances the storyline.

Beyond that, there are two structural difference that I noticed between the texts that both help to set the tone of the story. The first deals with the color scheme. If JC was considered to be in technicolor, IM would be said to be in sepia tone. IM is a very dark story and I feel that the use of minimal color was another way for the artist to portray the tone. In Corrigan color was not used in such an extreme. Although most colors were dim, the artist used a full range of colors to depict a potentially real life situation in a realistic way. The second difference is that of the images themselves. The images of JC are clean and uniform whereas those in IM vary greatly; some were computer generated, some are very put together and others were mere scribbles. While the images in JC are straightforward and understandable, the images in IM are deconstructed and cause a sense of confusion in the reader.

At this point I am unable to say whether one of the texts was more successful than the other. I definitely enjoyed Jimmy Corrigan more than I did Invisible Monsters, but the way that Invisible Monsters was created somewhat furthered ones understanding of the story.

The comic in question can be found here.

Postscript: Maybe it’s just me (and I probably should not admit to this) but, I sometimes space off in class, periodically going in and out of the class discussions. I always seem to go off on some tangent in my head that is strangely related to Invisible Monsters. Generally how it happens is I see something or someone says something vaguely related to something from IM and it reminds me of a quote from the book. Today Adam gave us the Peanuts comic strips and I was reading the one in the middle of page 133, with the boy who comes over to Charlie Brown and starts talking about how he doesn’t feel well. Which reminded me of the line: "The only reason why we ask other people how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our own weekend." I don’t even know if there is any point to me talking about this aside from proving that my relationship with IM is not just a casual reader-book relationship. It’s more like an obsession. Or a stalkership. Yeah, I made up a word. Deal.

Post-postscript: I'm sorry for how long this post ended up being. I didn't intend for it to be this long, it just sort of happened. Weird.


Adam Johns said...

My responses will be somewhat scattered... For one thing, I don't have much of a relationship with Chuck P. myself (I read and enjoyed Fight Club, but haven't been motivated enough to read anything else, partially because of my impression that his books are awfully similar to one another).

I had a look at the graphic novel, and I think your central observation is spot-on. It's pretty incomprehensible without being familiar with details of the book.

Your opening quote was spectacular - I enjoyed the connections you made, but this one you hinted at is arguably better.

This entry intersects in interesting ways with McCloud's work on comics (which James has read more recently and in more detail than I have); McCloud basically claims that a main character with a fairly "abstract" face is one we easily identify with. Which makes me think you could have done a little more talking about other details of the art (although you did well with color).

Does it bother you at all that Palahniuk's website is so, well, commercial? Just curious what you think about that.

Good entry, albeit with unexploited potential.

Adam Johns said...

One more comment. Here's the other thing I have to add re: the art of Invisible Monsters: it's actually pretty bad. Not badly drawn, necessarily, but bad _comics_: it's more like a set of illustrations (James' post gets indirectly at the difference -- he acuses McCloud of being an illustrator at some points)