Monday, December 22, 2014

Matt Madden's 99 Ways to Tell a Story (2005)

"Can a story, however simple or mundane, be separated from the manner in which it is told?" (Matt Madden) 

I often teach a short Intercession (2 week) course on Comics/Graphic Novels at ECU, and in that class I try to stress the limitless possibilities of the comic medium.  A simple story, with a slight shift in words, perspective, shading, sound effects, color, or frames, can gain hidden depth and purpose.  Or it can simply become another simple story.  We always do an exercise early on lifted from Scott McCloud's seminal book, Understanding Comics, where I ask students to fill in dialogue and narration for a basic 5-frame story.  Depending on what words the students add, the story either sticks close to the visual narration or becomes hilarious, tragic, or disturbing.  Matt Madden takes this exercise to a whole new level in his amazing book, 99 Ways to Tell A Story: Exercises In Style (2005), where he tells the same story 99 Ways.  These "ways" include everything from changing the style, the genre, the order, and even questioning what story is being told in the first place.  It's a clever, but surprisingly captivating read inspired by Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style which does much the same thing in words.  Yet the sheer range of Madden's technique and his profound imagination make this book more than a mere exercise; it's a story in its own right, and one that changes from page to page, even if you think you know the outcome.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

BOOKS ARE NOT PRODUCTS: Reflections on Reading Bad Reviews of Classic Books On-Line

I recently confronted someone on one of these endless book review sites (Goodreads, etc.) who gave Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a 1-star review.  The review consisted of little more than an expression of annoyance that she had even picked up the book; it was boring, it had no interesting characters, and worse still, it wasn’t even scary!  She dismissed it with a one-star review and warned others not to bother with it, since she had no idea why people considered it a classic.  I asked her if she didn’t think it was a bit harsh to give a book that had survived well over a century and was beloved by millions (and had created a cultural myth that had given rise to countless copycats, such as The Hulk) a mere one-star.  The reviewer hotly responded that it was “her right” to give the book one-star, and that “you can’t censor my reviews!”  She went on to say that “I hardly think I’m going to hurt Stevenson’s book sales, so what does it matter?”  Clearly, my “attack” on her (as she called it) was based more on capitalism than aesthetics: once assured that his books would continue to sell, and make money for his estate, I should rest easy and withdraw my petty scruples about damaging the book’s reputation.  Isn’t it all about money, after all?  Clearly that’s what pissed her off so much...that she had spent, what, a few bucks for the book (or the e-book) of the novel only to be so bitterly disappointed?