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Hunter Joyce English 102 – H Dr. Shannon Carter 09/25/2009 (Fall 2009) Redrawing Literacy One Panel At A Time “Put that down young man, that right there is nothing but nonsense and a sheer waste of time! Make use of yourself and read some actual literature,” scoffed my middle school teacher as I glared at her from under the closest thing to a comic book I had managed to scour up. “Who are you to decide what constitutes actual literature. What is it that makes A Farewell to Arms so much more worthy of my time? This is just as good, if not better, a reading as anything,” I contemplated silently to myself. I dared not hurl my inquiries at my teacher, for I’ve always been the meek type, but she did strike a nerve that continues to resonate to this day. This fluctuation of emotions found it’s way upon a more definite form in the shape of a question. What effects do comic books have on us? This of course spurns a horde of similar tangent questions. Are comic books really literature? What is literature? Who decides what literature is? Can something be literature to one, but not to another? Of course, these are questions for another time, for my main discourse is with the first, the effects that comic books have on our reading. Certainly comic books effect us in a multitude of ways, just look at what all they do for society. They not only bring us an entertaining form of writing, which most kids don’t object to reading, but they also bring with them morals and lessons to be learned that carry on past the dazzlingly decorated pages. I defy you to take a look at your surroundings for just a brief moment and question just how much of your life has been shaped by comic books or by the heroes that are derived from them. You may be surprised by what all you find. I embarked on an odyssey not too long ago combing through my local college campus, Texas A&M University –

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Commerce, and I stumbled upon a cornucopia of students, as well as teachers, who must pay homage to these masked mercenaries derived from the depths of our imaginations. With “rush week jitters” fully intact, I stepped into Henderson hall on the hunt for my ever elusive Calculus classroom. Flight of stairs here, short walk down the wrong hall there, comic strip on the teacher’s door – wait – what? Yes, I didn’t have to have X-ray vision to see the small collection of comics dangling from the bulletin board outside of one of the classrooms. As I sat contemplating how oddly out of place it seemed, I took a few moments out of my previously rushed and frantic life to skim over the short section before my eyes. Turns out it was a short piece exposing the humor that can be found in students stressing over their various exams, but of course hardly any of that goes on at TAMU-C. The purpose of this seemingly random scrawl of ink and paper was to lighten the air in an otherwise confusing, and especially if you’re like me, stressful environment. Continuing on my way, I was even more dumbfounded when I saw that ninety percent of the bulletin boards hanging outside of the classrooms had a comic on them. This just continues to validate the point, that heck anybody can love comics, even teachers, who knew? In addition to giving much desired comic relief, comics have always been aimed towards conveying life lessons and portraying ways to be a better person through a light-hearted and magical medium. Superman always does what is just and noble, Spider-Man struggles in almost every conceivable fashion to uphold the values of right and wrong, and the crew from Watchmen urges everyone to hold true to their values despite what society says. Enter the perfect real-life

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example - John Huizar. John grew up in Emory, Texas and is currently enrolled in TAMU-C pursuing a major in sociology with a minor in philosophy. “Always look for the catch, but never let anything get between you and the truth (Huizar),” his favorite comic book character Spider Jerusalem (from the comic book Transmetropolitan) stressed to him. Philosophers study general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language; so I can think of no better advice to give a man pursuing wisdom in every field of life. Always strive for what people want to know, but don’t be blinded by anything along the way. As if I haven’t warped your view of comic books enough already, allow me to propose to you another unorthodox use for them – teaching. Don’t worry it was weird for me to think about it at first as well, but when I asked Erin O’Brady if there was any class in particular that affected the way she read comics she parried with, “Eng 202 with Derek Royal, Multi-Ethnic American Literature; he chose to do class that semester entirely in comic books and really opened my eyes to how they are literature as well. (O’Brady)” Not only was there a teacher brave enough to consider these “mutants of literature”, forgive the X-Men pun I couldn’t resist, a viable resource for education, but he also merged two seemingly contradictory literature classifications established by Lauren B. Resnick. In Resnick’s article she explains three types of literacy: useful, informational, and pleasurable (Resnick, 119). A quick background, for those of you unfamiliar with this specific work of Resnick’s, enlightens one to the facts that useful literacy is written texts to mediate action in the

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world (Resnick, 120). Informational literacy is reading to learn about the world when there is no immediate practical utility for the information acquired (Resnick, 123), and pleasurable literacy is any form of literacy practice in which reading is its own end (Resnick, 126). It’s easy to see how someone can read literature that is informational, like a history book or science magazine, for fun, or even how someone can read something that is useful, such as notes from coworkers or recipes, just for grins; but what is sheerly baffling to me is the fact that O’Brady’s teacher took a form of writing designed primarily to entertain and reincarnated it as a viable teaching tool. All of a sudden we see how comics have the ability to go beyond their initial form of pleasurable literacy, straight to a legitimate form of informational literacy. So now we’ve seen how comics can affect one’s mood, what one learns, and even how one goes about learning, which begs the question; is there anything powerful enough to influence comics? I had to find the comic books’ kryptonite, the one thing that was strong enough to shape and mold their very existence. Little did I know that all I really had to do to find the answer was to look into my own past. In a time not so long ago, in a town not so far away the key to comic book formation made itself known to me. The key was imagination. During my short time as a comic book writer, a phase I went through to help me through those awkward middle school years, I would utilize every resource possible when seeking inspiration: books, movies, television shows, you name it. Surprisingly most of my inspiration would come from the books I had read. The very super-hero I created was the product of one such inspiration. Cheeseman was the name I adorned my first epic hero, and yes he was as “cheesy” a comic hero as you can imagine. He trekked from the back of my brain to paper after years

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of subconscious metamorphosis, for you see his birth was the product of me melding my modern idea of heroes with a childhood book Mom once read to me. The book was simply called The Pickle Book. Let your imagination run wild there for a second and I’m sure you can guess that in this book various people and objects were all portrayed as pickled versions of themselves. Throughout the years this book stuck in my brain and it manifested itself when, subconsciously, the need arose for the creation of a protagonist for my new hobby of comic book writing. The imagination is what drives other comic book writers and myself to write, and quite simply we’re going to write about what we know. I find it such a weird phenomenon that the two (comic books and outside literature) actually play quite well off of each other. One writer may work what they’ve read into their comic, while another writer then reads said comic and incorporates what he has read into his comic, and so continues the process until the writing stops. Comics have touched everything from the surfaces of our office desks to the very core of our hearts and souls. They are literally everywhere and for a good reason. Comics proffer a lighthearted and miraculous world to which we can make our exodus from the trials and tribulations of our everyday lives. These prudently printed pages also offer a wonderful tool “to help students create the texts of their lives as we connect to and carry forward the larger history of composing (Yancey, 8).” The efficacy of comics is indispensable to every aspect of human life, for it is through this medium that we have learned to express some of the deepest levels of our imagination. Fortunately, thanks to the unique nature in which they both effect and are affected by their authors, comics have inaugurated their own personal safe-guards which ensure their continuity in our society. It is with firm conviction that I beseech you to see that comics have played more than their fair share in the formation of our literary society today, and it is with rampant anticipation that I await the next panel of this great comic we hail as literature.