Thursday, November 29, 2007

Interpretation of TIME

As I finished reading the rest of Clockwork Angels, I was still perplexed by the confusing construction of the comic. Instead of reading the comic right to left, like we had discussed in class, I found myself pausing and reading the comic from all different angles. As I was doing this I was noting the different interpretations of the plot, and every interpretation differed slightly. How could this be possible? The same pictures, the same story, and characters could be interpreted and seen through a different lens because of a slightly different angle. Hernandez is hovering over something, which causes confusion and relates to how humans connect with their world, and I believe it’s the interpretation of history and the concept time. Through her comic, Hernandez is able to not only suspend time, but also morph it so it may be seen through a different perspective.
The concept of history resonates all over this comic. The interpretation of history has always been a confusing, and a distorted “story” which no one can simply agree on. An event might occur, and two different people can see the same event and have a completely different understanding what actually happened.
The present war can attest to this situation. Some Americans view the war as a righteous and noble cause, while some see the war a ill struggle in an attempt to gain power, and even beyond the united states other countries and the civilians view the war as an invasion. It is the same event, but no one views the same war from the same perspective.
Humans do not all read the same, and they all do not see time through the same lens. I believe Hernandez incorporated this concept into her art in order to touch upon a idea, that literature can have a hard time conveying. Many novels give a straight forward moment-by-moment picture of the plot. The author controls the story, but Clockwork Angles, the author put the steering wheel in the reader’s hands, and allows for more room to move around. Hernandez allows the reader to apply his/her ideology to the work.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

To Wander

A point was made in class yesterday that “heightened reality in fact says something about reality”. I agree with Doug’s point that Hernandez uses a unique style that, when examined closely, acts as a signifier of human nature: the tendency to jump from one thought to another, to speak in response rather than always in a complete thought—the disjointedness of our communication with one another is so easy for us to understand, and yet presents itself as muddled and confusing in this medium at first glance.

When I thought more about the idea and the fact that I could do it, but not understand it, it reminded me of how my mom and I talk to each other when we really get going. I spent last semester abroad, and this past summer at the shore, and then this semester back at Loyola…so as a result the time I do spend at home is all the more important. I walk in the door, and take a seat at the kitchen table after hugging my mom and dad, and we start filling each other in on what we have missed. I respond to what my mom says; as I think of something else, and start another topic, she remembers a different story she has to tell me. As we attempt to make up for lost time, we jump around from topic to topic. When my dad or younger sister, Lizzy, enters the conversation, they have no idea what could have prompted us to talk about what we’re discusses. And yet, we precede for hours as if it’s logical that we touched each subject.

McCloud notes that the Western idea is to start with a goal…to converse with an end in mind, to have a start and finish. The Eastern trend, contrastingly, wanders—which is what the Manga style demonstrates; it illustrates the style that my mom and I talk in. A lot of what we have read this semester follows that trend—whoever introduces a topic leaves it open to discussion. The style of the authors, as well as the presenters in our class, has left open-ended questions that are meant for us to explore about what we are reading. This last work by Hernandez is the epitome of the idea of the class--we have to work through what we are reading to identify the signifiers and signified that we are presented with. The story illogically, at times, (during the train scene, or when Temper’s wedding is referenced) depicts events that are explained later. It is not the details of how the climax was reached, but rather the relationships (Amy and Temper, the people of Heaven and the sisters that were separated) along the way that solidify the meaning of the story. It exemplifies the pattern of reality, and its unpredictability—and yet, when the details are revealed, still leave the reader in question. As Anzaldua points out, the creative have the responsibility to communicate their ideas, and as students, we have a responsibility to examine this points and explore what they signify.

A Question of Genre

As a comic book, Clockwork Angels portrayed an interesting story of two women struggling against a (near) faceless villain in 19th century New Orleans/Texas. Even though the story contains elements of myths, science fiction, and romance, it also contains a hint of the “fairy tale” convention. This, I think, was implied in the “Director’s cut” version of the graphic novel. In the end notes, Hernandez references many Disney movies, e.g. Aladdin and Lilo and Stitch, and I remember her inspiration to be a comics artist from another Disney movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This led me to think of the parallels and the contrasts between the typical Disney fairytale and Hernandez’s Clockwork Angels.
One of the main similarities between the two types of “fairytales” is, of course, the happily ever after ending given to the “good guys” and the not so happy ending for the “bad guys.” The sudden and unexpected turn of events in the favor of the “good guys” seem to always undo the “bad guys” in the most ironic ways. Hernandez references this favorite ending in Aladdin, whereas I could also see it in Hercules, The Little Mermaid, and The Beauty and the Beast (just to name a few!).
The most interesting, however, lies in the differences, which ironically enough are somewhat based on the similarities, between the two “fairytales.” First, the two genres are catered to the girls, yet each addresses a different perspective to the audience. The Disney movies seems to promote the ideology that a girl is always in need of some rescue, favorably by a cute guy or a handsome prince, who will whisk her away from the “bad guys” and keep her somewhere safe, like in his castle. This perspective instills, what I like to term, the “damsel-in-distress syndrome,” which plagues our society in different mediums.
Hernandez, however, counters this syndrome in Clockwork Angels. She presents her “good guys” as women, who not only save themselves but also save their friends/sisters from a monstrous (male) villain, the “beast.” Their acts become a means of female empowerment, which not only repels the typical fairytale but also other comic books that include women for the main purpose of the hero’s rescuing them. In this graphic novel, Hernandez promotes the idea that we started out with this semester: Girls could be superheroes too!

Sex, Sexism, and the Clockwork Angel

One of the things that I found interesting in our class discussion of Lea Hernandez as a comic book/graphic novel writer was the fact that she was so frustrated and appalled by her creative contemporaries and the genre in general. Her frustration stemmed from her belief that the medium had too strong of a sexually-driven concentration. In addition to the gratuitous focus on sex, she felt that the industry consistently degraded the status of women, objectifying the female body and role in society.
I was surprised, however, not that the comic book industry is fueled by raging hormones (how many times have we heard the tired advertising strategy, “sex sells”), but instead that the material in Clockwork Angels did not seem to be too far from that with which Hernandez had become concerned. It might make sense that Lea’s approach would be very conservative, an opposite focus on empowering and promoting women and their respective place in comic culture. Instead, however, Hernandez’s graphic novel is extremely sexually-charged and in some places, downright explicit.
The Victorian style dresses, which Hernandez researched and wrote about in her acknowledgements, are indeed an interesting topic at which to look. While the clothing of the girls might not be as outwardly graphic as the scantily-clad behind in the picture on Hernandez’s website, the girls are by no means strangers to deep-plunge necklines and ample cleavage. I know my mother would never let me go out of the house like that, but then again, Temperance and Amy’s maternal situations were not exactly ideal.
The real issue for me, however, was the subject matter. I’m not saying that I find the material offensive; instead I am merely surprised by the fact that Lea would choose to include such a bizarre, sexually-charged storyline involving a love affair between two girls, complete with a climax in a less than innocent bedroom scene, if she wants to be taken seriously by her chauvinistic male colleagues. Is this her best attempt to de-objectify women? Is this her way of trying to assert girl power?
Of course, an argument can be made that maybe this was written before Lea Hernandez got fed up with the machismo and sexism of the industry, but I am merely suggesting that before Lea begins throwing stones, she makes sure they won’t fall at her feet.

Clockwork Signifiers

When Temper gives a real reading of the deceased Parrish's belongings in Clockwork Angels, the reader sees three specific objects in her mind's eye that she is able to read: a book, a shirt, and a set of tools or toiletries. These are highly personal items and representative of basic signifiers that have been incorporated throughout our readings this semester. The book is symbolic of the written word, one of the earliest common signifiers. In Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, special attention was paid to the written word and its evolution from visual representations. Thus, this signifier symbolizes communication, which becomes especially important when considering the format of the texts that we have read in this course. The comic strip to poetry to the short story are all related, and in some ways interrelated, by the simple human need to convey ideas to others. The shirt is important as an outward display of a culture or time period. As we noted in Clockwork Angels, the clothing style is typical of the time period in which the story is set and grounds the more fantastic elements of magic and psychics in reality for the reader. Clothing can also be the only accurate way to distinguish between the characters such as Temper and Amy who are drawn in a very similar manner. The tool or toiletry kit, whichever it may be, is representative of basic human needs and functions. The idea of either the simple needs of a particular trade or caring for one's appearance and outer seeming in a private environment signifies the relationships between people on either a personal or professional level. Generally speaking, most human interactions can be divided between these two categories.
It is also significant to note that Temper is unable to describe the face of the murderer that she senses in her vision. The face as signifier and object has been an important theme in our studies. Temper is unable to identify with the murderer on a human level and, as a result, cannot perceive or remember his face. In this case the signifier holds a meaning or insight into a particularly abhorrent aspect of human nature that Temper either does not relate to or insists on ignoring. As a result, a gap is created between her and the subject of her vision as a person that cannot be bridged until she comes to an understanding of him as a person.

The Black Sludge

Last class we talked about the black gutters during the scene where Temperance is reading the dead. Everyone noted it as an instance of time stopping and dislocation for the reader. After all, the black background with white spots looks like the sky with stars. People were saying that it illustrates the suspension of time during Temper’s out-of-body experience. However, I took the spotty black gutters to be something different when I initially read the story. To me, the black in between the frames reminded me of sludge, and the white spots as almost complete over-taking of the original, standard gutter by this blob.

During this scene, Temper reads a painful death; she herself is left disillusioned and pained by it. It gets to the point where she falls to her knees in mental and physical agony. The black gutters, or sludge, as I saw it was representative of this experience. The normal notion of time is vanquished with the implementation of this different style of gutter; here, time seems to slow down lag, where one earth second could feel like hours within Temper’s mind as she reads the death. Moreover, she is trapped by these gutters and her reading. At the bottom she is drawn completely surrounded by the visions and the sludge, asking bewilderedly, “What kind of crap was that?” She is even blindfolded, indicating that although she is still within the world – the white between her and the gutters and frames – she is still wrapped up in darkness.

These gutters do still represent the passage of time; the white spots in between the cells facilitate this. However, the amorphous black ooze, the nothing, dominates these pages. They relate to Temper’s other-worldly experience and translate it visually for the reader, slowing him/ her down to feel the pain as acutely as Temperance does.

The Faces of Clockwork Angels

While working on my presentation for Clockwork Angels, I came to an interesting conclusion about the novel. I believe that the plot of Clockwork Angels, while unique and riveting, is essentially inconsequential. Clockwork Angels is, for me at least, an exercise in redefining the way a story is told. As I read it I paid specific attention to the faces throughout the story, how they were displayed and what they represented to me.

I don’t know if I was drawing more on LĂ©vinas or McCloud, but the depiction of faces in Clockwork Angels was like none I had ever seen before. A large part of my attention to their detail was a function of necessity; often I found myself examining the faces of Amy and Temper in an attempt to distinguish between the two. Adding Milly and Glory into the mix only complicated matters further—but as I read the story I came to find that to be a result of their familial bonds. The confusion I found in the faces of the characters was confusion not only to myself, but to classmates, and even characters in the novel. The blurring of identity lends itself to make possible the transformation at the end of the novel—the seven sisters are so alike that they share countenances.

When Amy and Temper are presented in the same frame, I could not tell the difference between them except for the jewelry they wore around their necks. When I saw a frame of them later in profile, looking at each other and embracing, a thought struck me. Amy and Temper are so similar because they are like mirrors to one another—not only can they not exist without each other but they fulfill each other. The love they share as the novel progresses is quite explicitly described not by words or action, but sheer visuals. They are depicted as one figure when transformed to the angel, and this signifies both their unity and similarity at once.

On the other end of the face signifier is the male antagonist, Sacerdote. Sacerdote is depicted sharply in contrasting black and white, often wearing suits. His face however, is a blank canvas. It is nondescript, shaven, lacking any significant features. His eyes hide behind large spectacles, blacked out so the eyes cannot be seen. This dually prevents us from knowing Sacerdote, but also impresses upon us predisposed notions of visual. He appears evil, lifeless—and that is what he is. His face is a blank canvas for us to impose our own judgments, our own ideas. Because he represents nothing outwardly, we are so easily able to imagine him as evil incarnate. He functions perfectly as a villain, mysterious yet concretely nefarious.

Clockwork Angels becomes a work of art to me. Rather than focus on the story I focus on the details such as these. It is a great example of a playing with how a story is told. Clockwork Angels signifies all the things that make a great story, it resonates to us—but not because of the story. It is powerful because of the way it is told, and in doing so serves as an example of unconventional storytelling.