Just got back from an overnight trip up to St. Lawrence University in Canton NY, near the Canadian border. I had to fly to Syracuse, then rent a car and drive for two hours to get there, so it’s pretty remote, although I feel the local Baptist church was overstating things a bit:
The Language of Comics show–which, by the way, has been extended to June 15 if you happen to find yourself at THE END OF THE WORLD this summer–looked really good, our work was displayed in a hallway gallery in the Fine Arts building on campus:
I gave my 99 Ways slideshow talk on Thursday evening and on Friday morning I gave a small comics workshop consisting of two activities: a jam comic where everyone has to choose a rule to follow: tell a story backward, use only one word per panel, and so on; and text v. image exercise I like where I give students a comics page with the text removed from the word balloons and ask them to fill the balloons with nonsense. We then put the pages on the wall and arrange them according to which ones make more or less sense. Because of the cognitive urge to create meaning from disparate elements, you often find that the comics make more sense than they might seem to at first. When I get back from Italy I’ll post a few examples for you to see what I’m talking about.
One exciting discovery was that SLU had in their library collection the ultra-rare 1964 edition of Queneau’s Exercises in Style featuring typographical variations for all 99 exercises and a bunch of clever illustrations by OuPeinPo (the workshop for potential painting) member Jacques Carelman, including his own take on the Bayeux tapestry. Here’s a photo of the cover (I now wish I’d taken more photos of the interior pages since who knows when I’ll come across a copy again…):
After my workshop I had a short but very interesting lunch with a bunch of faculty members who are trying to work visual literacy into the school’s academic culture. They’re not just talking about having a Comics as Literature class (although they seemed excited about that sort of thing) but more generally making comics and visual culture as a whole part of the learning process. The teachers were from English, Film Studies, and Fine Art, unsurprisingly, but also from Music and Psychology, and there was also a guy who is in charge of the school’s multimedia facilities. They seemed frustrated by the lack of progress in getting the Academy in a general sense to treat visual culture with the same respect as written culture, but I came away excited by the number of professors even at THE END OF THE WORLD who are excited by and seriously engaged with visual literacy and who see comics as being a crucial element of it (they weren’t even ALL longtime comics geeks (although most of them were!)).
The psychology professor (I’m sorry, I already forgot everyone’s names) confirmed as an actual cognitive phenomenon something that we cartoonists tend to assert a lot in interviews and on round tables without really knowing for sure, namely that comics mimics our true experience of time in that the immediate past and future exist to some degree simultaneously to the “present,” which in comics is whichever panel you happen to be reading at the moment.
Everyone loved the notion of “emanata,” Mort Walker‘s tongue-in-cheek yet very practical name for all those sweat beads, squiggles, and lines that emanate from comics characters to express emotion and movement. Jessica and I, among others, have taken to using it in our teaching and are featuring it prominently in our textbook (which will be out in Spring ’08 by the way–much more news about that to come). The psych professor noted that emanata are essentially “morphemes,” units of meaning within the language of comics.