I decided to begin this post not with a standard personal introduction, but with an introduction of a different kind. I decided to begin by confessing my love for comics.
An explanation of this love is not only important for the reader’s understanding of this post, but it can also function as a simple summation of my character. I am a rather shy, timid sort of person by nature, and I don’t like violence. Comics, as I’m sure you are aware, are often seen as havens for mindless depravity and wickedness. I, like many other comics lovers, feel that this perception is unfair. After all, comics are rarely mindless.
Nevertheless, several comics that I have encountered depict depraved acts of violence and buckets full of wickedness. That is why my relationship with them has been one of occasional tumult (much like the relationship between Superman and Batman). There are often works of great historical and artistic importance, even works of philosophical brilliance, that, because of their violent nature, I simply cannot read.
But there is still something magical about comics. When an author is able to take a plain, ordinary sentence and elevate it to a level of remarkable emotional resonance by simply (though laboriously) adding a drawing—there are few things I enjoy more.
Another comics stereotype that has inexplicably survived decades without sustenance of any kind is that they are only about super heroes. This is an untruth of the highest order. Comics are of an astounding and incredible variety. I would even say that the majority of comics published today (if we consider “comics” to include graphic novels, newspaper comics, webcomics, mini comics and comic books) are not about super heroes at all. From Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant, a witty, historical webcomic, to Andy Runton’s Owly, a children’s comic of delightful imagination; from Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, the exquisitely drawn tale of a wandering rabbit samurai, to Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, a beautiful, somber, autobiographical love-letter to the author’s hometown (and mine too, so I’m partial), comics are capable of exploring anything, in any way, with the same emotional and literary quality as a novel or work of non-fiction.
But despite all the wonderful things that comics are capable of, I still think that they have an untapped potential for good that needs to be developed. As an educational tool, comics are unmatched. They have the extraordinary ability to present subject matter that may be considered boring or dull, and make it exciting and entertaining. Plus, comics get kids reading. In today’s world of screens and machines, reading is taking a backseat to many other activities. But comics are there, welcoming new or reluctant readers into the fabulous world of words and pictures.
So, yes. I love comics. You may be wondering what that has to do with anything else. Actually, it has quite a bit to do with “anything else.” My love for reading comics, as well as writing them, and my belief in their educational potential, directly influenced my decision to create a comic book for my Semester Project. My goal was to take a subject that few would read about “just for fun”, and present it in an enjoyable, easily accessible way. Choosing that subject was easier than expected.
Our first reading in Natural Sciences 1 was The Presocratics, edited by Philip Wheelwright. In it, Wheelwright explores the lives and ideas of the philosophers who lived and thought before Socrates. It was a fabulous read, one that made me even more excited about my Shimer future than I had already been. Each reading was challenging and thought-provoking, and each class discussion was stimulating and invigorating.
I so enjoyed reading The Presocratics that one day I suddenly thought, “This would make a great comic book!” It had long been my ambition to create an historical comic book, especially one geared toward younger audiences, and I did so love those wonderful ancient thinkers. Therefore, I was quite excited by this new idea.
However, as the semester continued, I began to doubt my decision. I was worried that my project wouldn’t be academic enough. I was worried that I wouldn’t meet the deadline. I was worried that I would again encounter those prejudices against comics that I had encountered before. To my delight, my idea was met with enthusiasm and encouragement by both my Shimer friends and my facilitators. By the time Writing Week came along, I was feeling motivated and inspired.
I began my project by deciding which philosophers I wanted to cover. There are many included in Wheelwright’s book, and narrowing that list down to six was quite difficult. In the end, I made my selections based on personal preference.
After making that decision, I researched representations of the chosen philosophers (statues, paintings, etc.), and based my character sketches on those representations. Upon finalizing the design of the characters, I began to fully research the comic by returning to Wheelwright’s book. I used other sources as well, including Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy, and some reputable philosophy websites.
Once research was completed, I began to write the comic. Writing, in this case, was basically storyboarding. The information, dialogue and characters were hastily sketched in a notebook. All the panels were planned out, and ready to be drawn.
After the comic was approximately 80% written, I began to get discouraged. I looked at all those hastily sketched pages of stick figures, all of those illegible notes, and I couldn’t see the comic beneath the scribbles. Fortunately, Writing Week is only a week long. I knew that I had to finish. So I took up my pencil somewhat hesitantly, and started to draw.
Drawing was the most time consuming of all the aspects of this project, but it was also the most rewarding. It was in the drawing phase that I experienced the “comics magic” that I mentioned earlier. I soon saw all the text and dialogue that I’d written spring to life when the drawings were added. I tried to make each panel as aesthetically pleasing as possible, and with every additional detail my project began to look more polished and complete.
This momentum carried me through the rest of the week, and on Wednesday, December 5th, my first Writing Week ended. I was done, I was relieved, and I was quite happy with my project.
In a blog post from last year, a fellow Shimer student described Writing Week as a chance for students to personalize their semester. I think that’s an excellent description. I, for instance, had the opportunity to combine my love for a medium that is often overlooked, with an historical, academic text that I thoroughly enjoyed. What else would grant me this opportunity but Writing Week? Where else could it occur but at Shimer?