Column time

I have a “Worlds in Panels” deadline coming up and this month I think I am going to write about fan/artist redesigns of women superheroes. What interests me about this subject is how often the re-drawing of these characters involves giving them outfits that are better suited to what they do – fly, fight – or that give them more of an edge than they often have in their official guises, where bodily display tends to dominate character concepts. I have been thinking about this subject since seeing this reworking of Supergirl by Mike Wieringo late in the summer.

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Recommended daily reading – 19 October

Hey, two days in a row:

First, a quick report on Arsenal’s dismantling of Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League today.

From the world of webcomics, John Allison starts a news series featuring Esther from Scary Go Round (yaye!), and ComicCritics takes on APE in a strip featuring Shannon Wheeler and Too Much Coffee Man.

Finally, I may find the time to do my own Mad Men review, but in the meantime, Daynah Burnett at PopMatters considers Sunday’s finale to be a brilliant close to a season marked by “dark ideas”, while Amanda Marcotte on Pandagon sees it as a mess of an episode that, among other things, seems to duck the abortion question for Joan.

Recommended daily reading – 18 October (mid-day, better late than never edition)

A few things I have collected over the past several days:

First, a recent Radio Open Source podcast with Harvard History Professor, Jill Lepore talking about her book, The Whites of Their Eyes, which puts the current ‘Tea Party Revolution’ in historical perspective. The interview is seriously entertaining and Lepore is smart and engaging.

Next, via Anne-Marie on delicious, is Overthinkingit’s “Female Character Flow Chart”, which guides readers through a set of criteria that can be used to distinguish ‘strong’ women characters in prose, comics, film and television (and maybe video games). Illustrated with examples.

On Top Shelf 2.0 is a short, funny play on Greek/Roman mythology and social media from Erik Bergstrom.

Last Saturday was Arsene Wenger’s 800th game with Arsenal (a 2-1 win over Birmingham City).

Finally, yes, this would be cool (via MTV’s Splashpage).

Why my intro class has been so good this term

Before Fall started I posted on changes I have made to the syllabus for my introductory cultural geography course in the hopes of improving the experience of the class for both myself and my students.

So far so good.

I have an enrollment of about forty and on any given day twenty-five to thirty show up, which, historically, is very respectable for this course. More importantly, I have a critical mass of students who act fully engaged, who do the reading, and who ask questions and are interested in what we are talking about and learning. That is not a luxury I often have at this level. I think that there are a few reasons for why this class is working so well, at least thus far.

My new main text, Jon Anderson‘s Understanding Cultural Geography: Places and Traces (Routledge, 2009), is a selection I was optimistic, but wary about at the beginning of the term. It is more sophisticated than the average basic text for cultural geography. One reason for that is that it was written with British college students as the models, and, for the most part, those students are further along in their geographic educations by the time they reach college than are their American counterparts. So, I was also concerned that some of the language and many of the examples would be alienating to my students.

Not only has neither issue been a problem, but students seem to be enjoying the book. Certainly, on the whole, they seem more intrigued by it than I have seen from any other standard text I have used. I am gauging this from what happens in class, from assessment tools I employ weekly, and from comments to the class blog.

What accounts for this I think is that Anderson uses a consistent, accessible, but still robust theoretical framework, the ‘places and traces’ of the subtitle, throughout the book. I think that this is more effective for intro level students than is the traditional survey approach where you spend a few paragraphs on a lot of ideas. Regardless of what additional topics Anderson brings in, he always pulls it back to people, animals, things, and forces making places by making/leaving traces through their actions and relationships (where ‘action’ includes doing, thinking, sensing, and feeling). I think that this consistency gives students a clear sense of building a body of knowledge.

Anderson’s framework is also easy to translate into activities that students can do, and I have designed a series of ‘field exercises’ for the class to apply what they’re learning from each chapter. This helps me show how relevant cultural geography can be, and makes it easy to mix up my teaching for students with different styles of learning. I have not had a chance to see any completed exercise yet, those come next week, but the initial experience appears to have been nothing but positive.

It may also be the case that I simply have an exceptional group of students this term. I am teaching at 8:00 am, and based on past experience, many students who choose early classes are often more serious about being present, in an attention sense, than are those who opt for more comfortable start times. But there’s clearly more going on here than just that, maybe something that won’t be replicable.

On the other hand, Western students have been getting ‘better’ over recent years. Admission standards have been raised (still in the sub 3.0 gpa range), and there’s more of an effort to exclude from admission those students who show little promise for succeeding in college. The unversity has also been expanding its recruitment well beyond the local region which, if nothing else, means that you get a more diverse mix of students in terms of their high school experiences and preparation for higher education.

So, maybe this will be a good year and not just a good term. For now, I am enjoying having an intro class that I don’t see as a chore.

Recommended daily reading – 13 October (late edition)

Much to do the past few days, but here are some items I have been saving:

On the PopMatters “Marginal Utility” blog, Robert Horning has a post about his recent vacation to Winnipeg, Manitoba. His anecdote about Canadian border guards acting skeptical about people actually wanting to visit is true for me, too, and I’ve heard this attitude on my way to Vancouver BC, which, you would think would not generate much disbelief as a destination for international visitors. And, honestly, Winnipeg is a perfectly pleasant and interesting place; I understand why Horning feels, “strangely hesitant to recommend it to anyone”. Alas, for him, I think that Winnipeg is kind of an open secret at this point. After reading his blog post, read this from Kim Morgan.

Keeping with Canadian cities, Kevin Plummer on the Torontoist has a long essay on Goin’ Down the Road (1970), a film that is a fixture in the Canadian film canon, and one that I routinely screen in my Canadian film class. Whether the film’s stature says more about it or about the canon is one of the questions Plummer addresses, as well as how the movie got made, its themes and visual style, and reception. Ultimately, he chooses to see the film as a snapshot of late ’60s Toronto.

And, finally, a few comics related pieces:

  • On Acephalous, Scott Eric Kaufman has a short, but effective exercise on the power of authorship, text & image in comics using a single panel from Scott Pilgrim.
  • The oft-linked here Renee French has an interview at Robot 6 about her new book, H Day.
  • And Comics Alliance has news about Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle making way for Nick Spencer and Bernard Chang on Supergirl. I have been reading the new Supergirl in trade, while also going back to Peter David, and hope that the character is allowed to continue to develop on her own. Spencer is a writer that I have a love-hate relationship with. As in Forgetless, I think that he shows a strong sense of the current cultural moment, especially for young, urban creative types, but he also has a real taste for the seamier sides of human behavior. It will be interesting to see how his talents work on a title like Supergirl.

Recommended daily reading – 9 October (heavy on comics edition)

Some items from the last few days:

First, a couple of past due pointers. On Motley Fool an article about Warren Buffett advocating for higher taxes on the super-wealthy, like himself. That’s not so surprising, but the civilized debate in comments is (at least when I last checked). And then on The American Prospect a report about for-profit colleges and their success in lobbying progressive Democrats to forestall student loan reform.

Now, comics.

  • A wicked fun and intriguing reveal in last Friday’s FreakAngels.
  • A vintage, early 80s, panel of Storm on ComicPunx (and, yeah, the site likes to point out the absurdity of a lot of these images, but as A said when I showed her this, “That’s Storm? Why can’t she always look like that?” And it should be noted that Marvel allowed this transformation at a time when it was still culturally relevant – not saying it was edgy, only that punk was hardly passe or mainstream at the time).
  • And a tired or sad-looking rabbit-y thing from Renee French.

Lastly, not a comic, but comics related. OPB’s Oregon Art Beat has a feature on Periscope Studio. I interviewed a number of Periscope members for my documentary, and I think this segment does a good job of conveying the current state of comics art for a broad audience. It takes the studio and the professionals who work there seriously, in the best sense of that word; the piece itself is pretty lighthearted.

Watch here, or from the Periscope blog.

Recommended daily reading – 6 October (early morning edition)

A couple of items from the last couple of days:

Dr. Crazy has started a conversation about tenure on Reassigned Time 2.0. I think the point I would draw from her post is that it’s silly at best and disingenuous at worst to hide anti-tenure agendas behind a screen of ‘saving’ higher education, particularly from problems related to cost and finances. Tenure manifestly does not guarantee faculty from having their departments or programs cut, or duties reassigned. Whatever minimal restraint tenure places on boards and administrators works for institutions as much as against them, particularly when it comes to preserving their academic missions. And, as the opening comment from nicoleandmaggie suggests, in many cases tenure likely saves colleges and universities money by offering a certain measure of freedom and security in exchange for lower pay than could be had in other professions with similar educational requirements.

And then there is this delightful weirdness from renee french.