Tag Archives: history

Comics In The Classroom: Grand View University

By Greg Goode

Watchmen, the seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, appears on Time magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century list.  In 2009, The New York Times began publishing a graphic novel bestseller list.  The same year, Heath Ledger wins an Oscar for his portrayal of The Joker, Batman’s arch-enemy, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

The comic book, long considered a disposable object exclusively for children, is finally getting some respect. Further validation for the art form can be found on college campuses, where graphic novels are becoming an increasingly common part of the curriculum, including at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Matt Plowman, Grand View’s associate professor of history, first experienced comics in the classroom at another institution as part of a critical thinking class on the Holocaust. Plowman said one of the most powerful texts the class read was Maus by Art Spigelman, a graphic novel about Spigelman’s father’s experience in a Nazi concentration camp.

“I’ve seen [graphic novels] used very effectively, and communicate things that just weren’t alive on the page of a history book,” Plowman said. “Literally, it’s graphing reality for them, picturing reality and playing with it.”

Later this semester in his European Cultural & Intellectual History class, Plowman will be using V For Vendetta by Moore and David Lloyd, a graphic novel about an anarchist’s war against authority in a near-future totalitarian England.

“With European intellectual history, you kind of have to show where society’s moving,” Plowman said. “So I was looking for something that was late 20th century, and particularly with where a lot of European thinkers were going, there’s a lot of dystopia. And the graphic novels tend to be on the edge of that.”

Plowman said he picked V For Vendetta partly because of the students familiarity with the story from its 2006 film adaptation.

“I wanted them to be able to see the original intent of Alan Moore and what he’s really trying to say about society,” Plowman said. “Sometimes it’s easier for some students, rather than trying to find a movie that has a traditional novel, where they have to do more literary criticism. Especially for the visual learners.”

Kevin Gannon, professor of history at Grand View, said he’s always been intrigued by the use of graphic novels in class. Two years ago, Gannon took part in a summer reading program for the Grand View freshman class that used Gene Luen Yung’s graphic novel American Born Chinese.

“I had never taught with that before and in my discipline, it’s not very common. We use pretty standard vanilla textbooks. I was intrigued with the idea,” Gannon said. “I was a bit intimidated by the idea, too, because I had no idea how to teach it. What I learned is that it’s just like any other text.”

This semester, Gannon is assigning A People’s History of American Empire, a graphic novel that adapts writings by radical historian Howard Zinn. Gannon said students have responded to the text enthusiastically.

“For me personally, a graphic novel fits right in with the way I structure my courses and what I want students to be able to do with the texts that we read,” Gannon said.

Other Grand View instructors utilizing comics include Ken Jones, who assigned the zombie apocalypse story The Walking Dead in his Introduction to Ethics class this semester and Jim Whyte, who has given students the task of creating their own comics in his Principles of Management class.

Gannon said he sees the use of graphic novels in his class as a way of expanding his students’ ideas of what materials can be used in the classroom environment.

“I ask my students to be open-minded and look at different things as text, not just the standard printed page,” Gannon said. “If I’m going to ask my students to look at a text in that way, I should be willing to do the same myself.  And that’s where graphic novels help stretch me as a teacher.”

Album Review: Michael Jackson’s “Michael”

Michael reached number 3 on the Billboard album chart

The first release of Michael Jackson’s since his death a year and a half ago, and the first album with all new material in nine years, Michael is an amalgamation of tracks. Many sound similar to different albums of his career with small touches to make them sound more modern by various people though it’s hard to tell what was changed by ear alone.

The most modern sounding of these tracks is “Hold My Hand” and “Monster”, thanks to appearances by Akon and 50 Cent respectfully.  Unfortunately, the weakest song is his duet with Akon which was to be originally released on Akon’s 2008 album, until the unfinished track was leaked. The first track to chart on the Hot 100, it reached the Top 40.  “Monster” on the other hand is much better, with anger and persecution in the vocals you would find in the last three of his studio albums.  Indeed,many of the songs sound as if they came from these albums. “Best of Joy” sounds like a song from Invincible, “Hollywood Tonight”,with its opening reminding one of “Who Is It” and a catch phrase and spoken vocal reminiscent of “In the Closet”,from Dangerous.  Originally recorded for Invincible, “(I Can’t Make It) Another Day” sounds as though it came from Blood on the Dance Floor or HIStory. It was produced and written by Lenny Kravitz with guitar and background vocal by Kravitz.

The three best songs on this album are “Breaking News”, “Behind the Mask”, and “Much Too Soon.”  The latter two were both written or cowritten by Michael during the Thriller era and it’s not hard to tell.  “Behind the Mask” is the best track on the album, with the sounds of a concert crowd  opening the song.  It includes a sample of the Yellow Magic Orchestra song of the same name.  Yellow Magic Orchestra was a pioneering electropop group from Japan, who released their original version in 1979. The only criticism is that the saxophone on the track may be a little cheesy for some.  The album closes with the song “Much Too Soon”, the title  seeming to comment on Michael’s untimely death.  However,the lyrics itself have nothing to do with the death and instead talk about love lost.  The finale harkens back to Michael’s solo songs before Off the Wall, but this time with a twenty-something voice.

Overall, the album has received reviews that were neither strongly negative or positive.  Personally, I would recommend it especially for fans of MJ.



Laconic Oration – December

Here are a small number of images from Laconic Oration, an image-blog maintained by Natalie and myself.

They were all posted during the month of December, and there are plenty more where these came from.

ps-  click  here, here, and here to see small collections from September, October, and November.

View more at http://laconicoration.tumblr.com


Mickey Mouse in the Gurs Internment Camp

There was once an internment/refugee camp in France that went by the name of Gurs. During WWII, after France joined up with the Nazis, Camp Gurs became home to non-French Jews and other “dangerous” people. Although this was a concentration camp, and obviously not a nice place to live, the people within Gurs were able to create for themselves a community that thrived on the arts. One prisoner, named Horst Rosenthal, created a couple of comic works before his death. One was titled “A Day in the Life of a Resident: Gurs Internment Camp, 1942”. I can’t find much about this one, but the other one, which a lot of people seem to love, is called “Mickey Mouse in the Gurs Internment Camp – Published without Walt Disney’s Permission.” Here are some panels:

you can read more about it in a paper titled: Mickey Mouse in Gurs – Humour, Irony and Criticism in Works of Art Produced in the Gurs Internment Camp.


via Boing Boing, Scribd, and Disney History.

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Are We Not Men

ever wondered what you or your loved ones might have looked like millions of years ago?

well! now, using the glorious power of the “computer”, you can finally learn the answers!

click here! now! NOW!

i didn’t have a handy photo of myself, but i did have a handy photo of natalie. here is her transition from 21st CENTURY BABE to HOMO HABILIS BABE:

devolve BEFORE

and here is current greg and prehistoric greg:

devolve BEFORE

i could do this all night.


related posts:

Beati Paoli In The Daily Iowan

Beati Paoli was written about recently in the daily iowan.

you can check it out here after the old break:

Continue reading

single, ep, mini-album, album . . . oh, and “mixtape”

The RIAA and Britain’s The Chart Company have official rules regarding just EXACTLY what defines a single, EP or LP/album. In the UK, these rules are just as excuses to exploit consumers with multiple versions of the same single but here the rules are pretty much just ignored. And ANYWAY, we shouldn’t really be letting the RIAA, which only represents the major labels for the most part, dictate what we can call an EP or LP, etc. Here’s what defines the various formats in MY mind . . .

Info: In the old days a single was pretty damn simple. It was usually on a little 7″, 45 rpm record that really only had room for a few minutes on each side. So usually there were just 2 songs on the single. Then disco and hip-hop groups started releasing 12″ 33 1/3 RPM singles with long-ass remixes. Then cassettes and CDs came about and suddenly “singles” would have a half-dozen tracks, usually consisting of remixes, album outtakes or live tracks.
My Definition: I think there is a fundamental difference between a single and an EP which is that a single is typically a temporary release that isn’t kept in print over the years. The single is often defined by the fact that it’s being sold on the strength of one (or occasionally two) songs, while the rest is more or less filler (even if it’s strong material). Additionally, the featured track on most singles is taken from an album that the musical artist is currently promoting. However, there are also many standalone singles that little to do with a full album release.

Info: “EP” is short for “extended play”, due to the fact that, in the past, some EPs were released on 12″ records that had the same program on both sides. Much like the single, the EP has evolved over the years and the term has been used in some pretty strange ways. In the old days they were basically just longer singles where 4 songs might be crammed on a 7″. One band famous for the EPs is Alice In Chains, whose first EP, Sap contained 4 tracks (+ 1 bonus track) and clocked in at 20 minutes. Their second “EP”, Jar of Flies, has SEVEN tracks and clocks in at 31 minutes! How the hell is that an EP? There are a hell of a lot of full albums that aren’t that long? Regardless, the release is regarded as the first EP to top the album charts. What? How can it be an album if it’s an EP? How can it be an EP if it’s 31 minutes?! There are several other dumb examples, like Anthrax’s Attack of the Killer B’s, a 9 minute rarities compilation, which the packaging calls an EP.
My Definition: For me, the main thing that distinguishes an EP from a single is that it’s a cohesive piece of work and includes songs that were meant to coexist, rather than the random nature of singles b-sides. EPs are also typically kept in-print and are not simply released in short runs that only last a few months.

Info: Well, I don’t think any OFFICIAL organizations use this term but I’ve seen it used a lot.
My Definition: It’s just a long EP. Or a short album.

Info: You know, that thing that has several songs and takes awhile to listen to.
My Definition: It’s long, maybe at least 20 minutes? It’s a complete product and is kept in print for a long time, if possible.

Info: This is a hip-hop phenomenon that has completely grown out of control over the last few years. Originally, mixtapes were literally cassette tapes on which people just dubbed whatever songs they wanted in some preferred order. Eventually, DJs made mixtapes in which they displayed their skills, like transitioning from one song to another. In the early 2000s, DJs, producers and MCs started releasing mixtapes basically as outlets for leftovers or for exclusive tracks, sometimes even from other artists (ie a DJ Muggs mixtape might have some tracks that Muggs did not create but simply enjoys). These were typically made in a DIY manner, as in CD-Rs. This format still exists but now many “mixtapes” are factory-pressed and even distributed through Amazon, in spite of the fact the mastermind of the mixtape may not have the rights to the recordings included within. NOW mixtapes have gotten even goofier, as may they may take the form of completely normal albums that are distinguished solely by packaging that refers to the release as a mixtape. The main point behind this distinction is to say, “Don’t slam me if this sells poorly, it’s just a mixtape.” This kind of “mixtape” is usually released less than a year before a “real” album, in order to raise awareness. However, several of these mixtapes have had singles released for them, which is ridiculous! Argh. I have one of these fake mixtapes by rapper Prodigy who repeatedly mentions that the CD is “just a mix CD” and “we’re just having fun”, even though the CD has 14 brand new tracks.

My Definition: I dunno, I don’t get it.

Are your definitions different?