Review: The Stringer graphic novel

Mark Scribner

StringerThe details about the declining US press are so accurate. You might think that the graphic novel The Stringer was a piece of nonfiction. Surely writer Ted Rall has captured the essence of newsrooms experiencing severe budget and layoffs.

As the publisher’s description notes, “veteran war correspondent Mark Scribner is about to throw in the towel on journalism when he discovers that his hard-earned knowledge can save his career and make him wealthy and famous.” All he has to do is reframe his entire journalistic ethos.

The title, incidentally, describes “a newspaper correspondent not on the regular staff of a newspaper, especially one retained on a part-time basis to report on events in a particular place.” They are generally poorly paid, with little or, usually no job benefits or security.

The Stringer shows how “fact-based journalism,” which means reporters on the ground, has often taken a hit. What’s more important in an age of social media, is to get eyeballs to view your “content” on social media. It might make someone rich and famous but at the potential cost of one’s soul.

Mark Scribner, as shown by Rall and Pablo Callejo, has figured out the system and how to game it. The book is an “action-packed timely statement about how a society without a vibrant independent culture of reporting can degenerate into chaos and a warning of the dangers of sophisticated new technologies that enable the manufacture and modification of ‘truths’ with no basis in fact.”

Would Bryan Cranston approve?

Some have compared Scribner to the Walter White character in the TV series Breaking Bad. He was once a decent person who, due to circumstances, ended up committing acts that he once could not have imagined doing. And cynically rationalizing it.

Publishing Weekly calls the conclusion “well-crafted overkill,” and I would agree, though I found Scribner more than “two-dimensional.”

Ted Rall is “a nationally syndicated political cartoonist, columnist, graphic novelist, editor, author, and occasional war correspondent.” Rall and Callejo have worked together previously on The Year of Loving Dangerously, a semi-autobiographical tale about getting booted out of college, then grifting.

The Stringer is available from NBM Publishing, Amazon, and Target.

Graphic novel: Michael Jackson in Comics

as talented as he was eccentric

Michael Jackson in ComicsA friend of mine provided me with a digital version of Michael Jackson in Comics, a 190-page item from NBM Graphic Novels, officially released on February 12. Conceptually, I liked the idea of a narrative, broken up by various artists showing bits of the story.

It’s interesting to me that I actually knew a fair amount of the Michael Jackson story beforehand. I was familiar with his abusively controlling father, Joe trying to whip the Jackson 5 into shape. Like millions, I watched the 25th anniversary of Motown, when he debuted the moonwalk. But I had forgotten about his friendship with young Ryan White, who had become the face of HIV/AIDS in America.

Specifically, I wrote a paper in library school about how MTV didn’t allow black artists on the channel until the Columbia/Epic label threatened to pull ALL of their artists. Now, it’s hard to think of MTV without the videos from the Thriller album.

But the writer gingerly deals with the more “wacko” elements, such as his surgeries, his children, and the allegations of abusing young boys. Clearly, he believes Michael’s versions of the stories or thinks we just don’t know the facts.

The graphic pieces, done in the many styles, I enjoyed, for the most part. I preferred the pieces that actually expressed a point of view, rather than merely restating what was in the text. In particular, I thought Vox’s The Man With the White Socks, about a goofy fan, was a bit humorous.

Prolific

I take it that someone named Céka wrote both the text and scripted biography. He’s noted on Amazon as “also the author of the Rolling Stones in Comics. Formerly a copywriter in advertising, he has scripted over 30 graphic novels.”

The narrative is much better with the art. While some of the text was necessary, especially in the beginning and the very end, the story got very repetitive. If those text sections were edited down by about 50%, it would be a much better collection.

Moreover, he tended to use a lot of exclamation marks unnecessarily! And whoever did the layout would put hyphens to break up words in a most bizarre way! Mon-ths, for instance!

MJ was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Twice in five years. As the introduction to Michael Jackson in Comics notes, well beyond his passing in 2009, he “remains one of the most adulated and mysterious stars in the world.” I expect that is still true.

“Incredible singer, brilliant musician, amazing performer, he was just as talented as he was eccentric, adored as well as reviled with sordid accusations, sadly caught between a stolen childhood and a suffocating star system.”

The graphic novel as learning tool

Meryl Jaffe is the rock star in the graphic novel as an educational tool genre. She’s been to New York Comic Con, promoting the gospel.

Worth A Thousand WordsAs you may know, I used to work at a comic book store called FantaCo on Central Avenue in Albany for 8.5 years, May 1980 to November 1988. It was the second-longest job I ever had.

During this period, Marvel put out something they called a graphic novel. It was a squarebound comic book of the X-Men, 81/2″ by 11″, with much nicer paper, and a price of $4.95, when regular comics were still under $1.

How the graphic novel has changed. I came across Meryl Jaffe through her participation in the ABC Wednesday meme. She has a blog Departing the Text, which is still interesting, although she has’t updated it in a few years. She wrote Using Content Area Graphic Texts for Learning: A Guide for Middle-Level Educators (2012), which is more readable that the title might suggest.

Meryl is the rock star in the graphic novel as an educational tool genre. She’s been to New York Comic Con, promoting the gospel. Yet she makes a confession in the preface of her new book, with Talia Hurwich, Worth a Thousand Words: Using Graphic Novels to Teach Visual and Verbal Literacy (2019).

“Until fairly recently, I didn’t think graphic novels were appropriate for my classroom or for my kids’ reading at home.” But her children, “as comfortable reading Neil Gaiman as Alexandre Dumas,” gave her I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Nimura, and Meryl did a 180. BTW, Talia Hurwich is Meryl’s daughter.

Chapter 1 addresses the fears of using the graphic novel in the educational setting. Chapter 2 is the necessarily “scholarfied” stuff to sell the concept to the principal or school board. It uses the word “multimodal.” Several times.

After that, Worth A Thousand Words is a great read, very practical and hands-on. The book has sections on how to interpret the elements of graphic novels – narrative and thought balloons, e.g.

The authors show how to teach reading, but also how to do create instruction in writing, with students encouraged to create their own illustrative narratives. And it’s not just for prose, but social studies, science, even math. I realize that my creative daughter might be able to use the tools laid out therein.


A commercial: I will be reviewing March, Books One, Two, & Three, graphic novels by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell for the Friends of the Albany Public Library on April 16 at noon at 161 Washington Avenue. Not incidentally, the March books are cited in Worth A Thousand Words.

May Rambling #2: New Zealand music

I rant about the JEOPARDY! Million-Dollar Tournament.

America.duck
Descendants of Solomon Northup, who recounted his story in a memoir, 12 Years A Slave.

The Real Origins of the Religious Right. “They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record’s clear: It was segregation.”

Dustbury points to an article about how the ineptitude of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and its predecessors, go back nearly a century.

The Worst Argument Ever Made Against Gay Marriage.

Amy Biancolli’s book: To plunge is to live. Also, her parents in love.

Judy Sanders, former local news reporter and photographer, is dying of ovarian cancer. Confronting the long goodbye from Paul Grondahl, and a piece by her former colleague, Ken Screven.

Diane Cameron’s blog Love in the Time of Cancer has been going on since 2008, but I just discovered it.

Getting kicked out of the prom.

New York Erratic asked: “Have you ever dated anyone who turned out to be gay?” Continue reading “May Rambling #2: New Zealand music”

BOOK REVIEW: Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning

Regarding the graphic novel: I remember when the title was first being bandied about in the 1980s, I hated them, because they seemed like large, squarebound comic books.

I’m someone who used to sell graphic novels in a comic book store, not a teacher. My wife IS a teacher, though, and was excited to see that I had received a review copy of Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning.

Even Meryl Jaffe, co-author of this book, with Katie Monnin, mentioned in her blog that the title of this book is a bit of a mouthful. Basically, this should be called “Teaching with Graphic Novels.” Regardless of the name, this volume makes a convincing argument for using graphic novels in teaching math, language arts, social students, and science. More importantly, very early on, it makes the case, in the strongest terms, that the graphic novel is a legitimate teaching tool that broadens the educational palette for an increasingly diverse population.

Not that Meryl was always a believer. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning”