Wednesday, 13 May 2015

A Conversation about Comics (full version)

Interview conducted by Alex Masters with Professor Patricia-Pia Célérier, Professor Hiromi Dollase, and Professor Peter Anteleyes.

If you wouldn’t mind just introducing who you are and what department you are in that would be great.

PC: My name is Patricia-Pia Célérier. I teach in French and Francophone Studies and I’m a member of Africana Studies.

PA: I’m Peter Anteleyes. I’m in the English Department. I also teach in Media Studies and Jewish Studies.

HD: I’m Hiromi Dollase. I teach Japanese and Japanese literature, popular literature, and I belong to the Chinese and Japanese Department, but I’m also a member of the Asian Studies program.

CM: The first question is a classic question: How did you get into comics? What age? And how has that developed into your academic life?

PC: I’m French, from Paris. Graphic novels and comics are everywhere in French culture. You collect books, you collect comics, and people go about it very systematically. Just as you know your filmmakers, you know your graphic authors. It’s part of the general culture. From my own story, I’ve always read comics. My family kind of tends to horde things, keep memories, history from the great grandparents, so when I was 8, 10 years old – they must be very valuable now – we had copies of old publications by LE POILU DE DIX ANS. This was a comic that was very nationalistic and was created after the First World War. It was supposed to enlist, creating ties, nationalistic pride. We had that around the house. My grandparents, my paternal grandparents had that.

PA: Were Hergé and Asterix, you know?

PC: Asterix came afterwards. But, Hergé, basically, it’s a staple in all French households. You have Hergé, and it’s not a matter of generations. You have it around, you grow up with that.

HD: Is it common in France to encourage kids to be familiarized with comics? Do they encourage kids to read comics at a younger age?

PC: Yes. Everybody reads comics. The press, the publishing world, has really, I would say in the past 20-25 years, the French publishing world has really developed. Many kids have subscriptions. Some of them more expensive than others. You also have a system of public libraries that is very developed. So, people go on Wednesday afternoons, when you’re off from school, you go to your public library. That’s what kids do. They read comics from very, very, very young, 3-4 years old.

PA: It’s so different here. What’s it like in Japan?

HD: I have a very different experience. I think I started reading comics, but graphic novels, we call it manga, around 6 years old. I started reading manga because of the influence of animation, TV animation, a series called Candy Candy.

PC: Oh, je la connais !

HD: Yes it was in Europe too.

PC: I know Candy. We had Candy on public television. (Starts singing the theme song.)

HD: It takes place in America. It’s a story about an orphan girl adopted by a rich family, but she decided to live independently. She eventually becomes an artist (?). But, she’s always supported by someone who never reveals his identity. So it’s like Daddy Long Legs. There were all of those girl’s stories like that, so that was extremely popular on TV around that time, around the mid-70s. Then I decided to read manga, which it is based upon, but my parents didn’t like that kids read manga. They want kids to read more like literature, written like a novel, written not in comic form. So, I asked my parents for just one volume, I’ll just read it once, and then that’s it. Then the neighbor and I used to read hidden behind my parents, hide the comics and circulate them among my friends. A very negative view back then.

PA: Interesting because it’s changed now. Manga shops are everywhere. It’s something that people are very comfortable going into shops, sitting down, and reading.

CM: But there is still a stigmatization in Japan of the obsession with manga. I know there’s the pejorative term otaku.

HD: Yeah, yeah, there is a stigmatization, but at the same time, young kids don’t read anything nowadays except for the Internet! So even schools, even the government, encourage kids to read manga. There are a lot of historical stories, actual history, in manga form, teaching about economics in manga. There are a lot of educational manga at the same time.

PA: It’s similar to earlier on in Japan because comics were criticized for causing juvenile delinquency and they were considered a low art form. It’s hard enough to get Americans to read anyway. Though, all my students talk about how avid they were reading comic books, reading Archie, reading superhero books, which are getting increasingly sophisticated. But, even so, their younger siblings don’t feel that comfortable walking around with comic books. Because comics were not that well accepted when I would young, I was reading newspaper comics mainly and those fascinated me. It wasn’t until the ‘80s and Art Spiegelman’s Maus came out that I realized this was something else. This could be a richer field. As a result of that, I started reading interviews of him and he would mention a number of other people and I would go to them and I would start this network. I was lucky because that’s when comic studies in the States began to emerge. I don’t know what its status is elsewhere, but people then started collecting early newspaper strips, early comics. At the same time, there was this incredible marketplace of collectors that started to emerge in the States. Suddenly, all the materials became re-available. I can’t remember when comics could be taught in American academies. For all of us, it’s fairly recent.

HD: In Japan, also. Around the ‘80s is when manga began to be treated as an academic subject.

PA: Is that right? Yeah, because it was later here.

PC: Popular literature. Sociology and literature coming together and looking at popular productions. I want to come back to the issue of manga. In terms of France, mangas are being appropriated by French and francophone graphic artists. In France, I would say very generally, the comic/graphic novel scene, as is music, is organized around festivals. There are many, many festivals, particularly in the summer. The two big comics and graphic novels festivals are Angoulême, which happens in January/February. It’s a great mass of comics. You could say it’s the equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival for graphic novels. Then you have Saint-Denis, which is right outside Paris, more geared towards chilPren’s comic production. This year at Angoulême, the person who got the first prize of the awards was [Jiro] Taniguchi for all of his works. You have people, mangakas, like Junji Ito who works with horror manga and Atsushi Koneko who works in the detective genre of manga. And they all got prizes, they all gave master classes that were very attended.

HD: What do you mean by master classes?

PC: Well they show how they build scenarios, how they draw manga. They basically do a master class in manga.

PA: It’s such a syncretic business. I was thinking about manga, too. Manga started partly out of Japanese traditions and culture, but partly out of American popular culture. You have Disney, film noir. They adopted these aesthetic elements and changed them, and then they came back to the states as anime, before manga, and anime then influenced American writers, who were sort of being influenced by themselves.

HD: If you go back to the origin of manga, especially girl’s manga, we can find the origin in art nouveau, from early 20th century type of drawing. It is really cross-cultural, influencing each other internationally.

PA: If you look at contemporary American comics now, aside from the fact that they are digitally designed, which is different from most manga that you find, they’re using the same sort of page designs as manga. They’re incorporating the sort of comics within comics, the hyper expressive.
C: It’s a series type of thing.

PA: Yeah, it’s a fascinating question as to how one locates national characteristics now around manga. That when you study comics, the things that I’ve found, you have to think about aesthetics, you have to think about the socio-economics of the industry, you have to think about sociology, you have to think about reception and demographics. There’s no end to what you can do when you think through these lineages and what they actually mean.

CM: The connection that you see historically, do you see it in your work here at Vassar? In your academics? Are you studying manga in the English Department? Are you looking to American comics to explain historical changes in manga over the years? In France, you’ve discussed manga themes or ideas but being taken by French writers.

PC: I mean no, I don’t start from manga. The class that I teach is a specific class. The course is on comic art, but also in Africa. It’s very specific. It’s very intricate; it’s a very ambitious class because we’re doing a lot. We’re looking at techniques, like what is comic art, how does one produce comic art, how does one analyze comic art, what is the terminology, how do you get in, what do you see. We’re looking at history. We’re looking at francophone production and we’re looking at francophone production in Africa, in the press, and also the intersection with Hergé for example, with Tintin au Congo, we’re looking at thematically, what Africa has meant in some francophone productions. And what does this mean, what has been the reception. What was the reception in 1937? What is the reception now? And why might there be some issues that are being discussed in new terms. So, we’re doing a lot. But, your question was do we look at manga. Yeah so we come to manga at the end of the class. We look at francophone manga production in basically right now Guadeloupe and Martinique, which is where it’s emerging, and Mauritius. The manga techniques are being used increasingly.

HD: When I use manga in my class, I just spend one day briefly talking about them from a cultural perspective. I haven’t really developed a nice curriculum of teaching manga comics. I think my focus is more on content than culture, so it means that I don’t look at manga from an American perspective or anything like that, but eventually I would like to broaden my knowledge. I think it’s a great opportunity to learn from each other.

PA: Sure. I think that for a field, and not an academic field, I mean for modern comics and graphic novels themselves, which have been around for 150 years, it’s sort of stunning we’re just, within the last 5, 8, 10 years beginning to do this in our own teaching. I don’t know if you’ve been doing it longer.

PC: I’ve been using comics for a while. It’s true that there was a, just as you said Alex that the teaching of graphic novels and comics has been hindered by perceptions that it was 1. not a deserving kind of objective study and also if it were deserving by any chance it was related to children.  So we had to work from under that. It just so happens that in the American academic world, and particularly at Vassar, we are very lucky to have extremely creative students, and students who have wonderful imaginations. I think for me, I think for all of us, teaching about comics allows us to tap into many different resources.

PA and HD: Yeah, yeah.

PC: For me, I try to underline for my students that studying graphic novels allows us to rethink how literary analysis, how one comes to a text, how unique a text the graphic novel is.

PA: Especially with the increasing visual sophistication and visual saturation that our students are going through, even a term like graphic novel – it was a term that was designed to elevate the field, even though some graphic novels are just comics in sequence put together in one binding – so that there are all these sorts of collateral circulations that we developed as a way to talk about these things. When I started teaching, I had parents that would complain.

HD: Really?

PA: That “I don’t understand. You’re at Vassar. Why are you teaching comics or graphic novels?”

HD: When was that?

PA: I would say that was 7-8 years ago.

CM: That recently.

PA: That recently. Even colleagues of mine

PC: Yeah. Yeah.

PA: who would argue “I don’t understand. You should be teaching.” As if this material is something you enjoy under the covers, but not something that as you say.

PC: But I think it would still be very much of a question. Let’s say if a course were to be cut for any financial issues, I mean it’s still up in the air that this could be a graphic novel class. The question is: Would a course on graphic novels and BD, bandes dessinées in general, be more deserving of academic credibility?

HD: In Japan, the study of manga is pretty respected. There are schools with manga studies program. I never experienced any criticism or anything like that. But, to legitimize the reason why I study manga, I think that particularly manga is media for young, for example shoujo manga, girl’s manga, that’s perspective is usually from young women’s perspective. I find that manga has a lot of potential for feminist reading. That area hasn’t been really studied well in the US, I think. In Japan, I think can be used as a case study or as psychoanalysis or things like that. It is pretty well respected.

PA: I also think there’s a kind of environment where people are increasingly understanding that media, that no medium stands alone. If you’re going to study manga, you have to understand the differences, but you might want to study anime, you might want to study video games, you might want to study MMOs, film, television, even painting and sculpture, since part of what comics does is freeze time and space. So, that once you start thinking about these things as integrated rather than here’s this one little thing we can elevate, it becomes more respectable but even more necessary as a way to think about critical thinking and critical reading.

CM: How do you bring that into the class, the interplay between the art? The images and the scenario? How do you contrast that with only written literature?

HD: I haven’t really developed my way of teaching by using manga, so I have always been focusing on content. So the area of art is probably something I have to learn from other professors. How do you teach it?

PA: I started by integrating film actually. I found that I could teach things through film, even theory through film, that was harder to teach through literature, but when they became better readers of film, they became better readers of literature. The more I add dimensions, dimensions of text – I’ll do music in class, I’ll do a graphic novel – I keep increasing what is a text, what needs to be read, what are the various discourses one has to be aware of, that they become better integrative readers. I actually find that the students don’t at all find that to be difficult. It’s like changing a key in a popular song. It’s sounds like something new but you can come back to it in all new ways.

PC: In my class we do several things. We start with Tintin au Congo. Then we look at the corpus of graphic novels that have developed since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, for example. And that’s hard. In doing that, we look at technical issues, colorization, we look at how the subject matter is being dealt with, the points of view. Of course we look at content. We also look at the limital apperitives. Does it come with a preface? Does it come with a postface? Then we move to bandes dessinées of conscientization. We look at the press. After that we go back for more uplifting comics, Aya de Yopougon for example, and how you mediate, representation of Africa, how one can move from bandes dessinées dealing with genocide to Aya, a more uplifting vision of Africa. What we think about this. Towards the end of the semester, we move towards music. We go back, we look at bandes dessinées, La dette odieuse, The Odious Debt, and which is the debt, the IMF which is very political. But, we look also at it from the standpoint of music. We listen to Tiken Jah Fakoly and Alpha Blondie who are Ivorian reggae people, who have been demonstrating against this type of new forms of colonization. And also towards the end we look at the connection between bande dessinée and film. We move to [Marjane] Satrapi, we look at Persepolis, and then we look at Aya, which has been newly adapted.

CM: Even Aya has heavy themes to it, which separates it from the common conception of comic books as being

PA: Escapist

CM: For children. Yes, Calvin and Hobbes, which also has heavy themes in it. Beatle Bailey. I’m just thinking of American short comics. How do you break away from this conception in your academics?

PC: We have bright students who break away from it.

PA: I’m not sure it’s necessary to fight that fight. Like you say, all you need to do is present them as cultural vehicles like any production of art, and say, “What are the assumptions going on here? How are these ideas not only being embodied in but constituted by the forms of the art?” You can talk about anything.

PC: Any artistic production is an historical production, so are not ahistorical, so they come in a context that when being explained brings up questions that students get curious about and hungry to answer.

PA: One of the things that struck me, Patricia, when you were talking, the extent to which – we’ve just started our own conversations, becoming aware of each other, and partly because it’s so nice to see this spreading out in the curriculum, other people taking chances, who aren’t as comfortable and trying to figure out how it might work, so we’ve talked about coming to each other’s classes, how we think about the works, how we teach the works. It breaks my heart of how little is translated. In terms of manga, I’m having a class with a student who did a thesis for me last year, which was basically a graphic self-critical thesis, where she’s looking at her notebooks at age 12, where she was influenced by manga, by anime, by online role-playing games, and so on. I said “Okay why don’t I spend this last class talking a bit about manga”, and I was about to call you [Hirome] up, because then I thought “Oh my God” I put together a Powerpoint of seven or eight of the types of manga, even though there are way more. And they were overwhelmed. There are kinds of manga I don’t even have access to that I don’t know about historically.

HD: Translation is a problem, and translated works are very limited. Very recent ones which have been adapted in anime or manga. Talking about translation, I sometimes encourage students to use manga for a senior project. So, this is an example I brought. This is a translation of a manga a student did in 2007. This is a story about ghosts. This one is about a daughter’s incestual relationship with her father and really scary and interesting. She used a demon mask, which is very traditional image. It has a lot of depth in it. And this student translated it. And I used this work when I taught my Gothic and Supernatural Literature course and circulated this translated work among other students who don’t know Japanese at all. But, they can get to read this manga. These are from the 1980s. This author is very knowledgeable about feminist issues. I can tell that she really understands feminism. It is the perfect material to teach gothic tradition and gender issue. I think teaching through manga has a lot of potential. I’m a language teacher as well, so I try to integrate a language teaching aspect.

PA: When Emma worked on her thesis with me, Emma ended up doing a hybrid thesis that was part graphic part written that integrated images from the works she was looking at, women’s diaries, comics, and also it integrated her own drawing. It was a way of recognizing there are different ways to learn than simply the model of writing the argument, it being completely verbal or literary. These other ways are different kinds of ways of constituting knowledge, of doing reading.

PC: In my class, we have a syllabus, but also each student draws their own comic. It’s portfolio based. We have this intricate syllabus, but then I teach them each stage of creating a graphic novel. At different points, they will have to hand in this and that, and at the end they do beautiful things. Really interesting stuff.

HD: How do you evaluate the students?

PC: That’s a good question. Participation, reading, presence, they have to do research and identify a francophone comic, a current graphic novel, that they are going to do an oral presentation on. They will have an oral presentation grade. They have three written papers in French, so they’re working the French, and they have their own artistic creation. They can do it two students together, or they can do it by themselves.

HD: So the students all understand French?

PC: The course is cross-listed in Africana Studies and French, but it is in French. So it’s also a language class, like yours, and also a class in which we work on the French, written and oral. So they do two versions of the papers, and I correct the mistakes. We do workshops with the language. Once or twice in the semester.

HD: So they read graphic novels in French?

PC: Yeah absolutely. Francophone graphic art production is huge. You mentioned feminism in manga. There are many ages of feminism in francophone graphic art and many forms. Teaching that class, I’ve had to make strong choices and, in a way, to reduce, to go a little deeper, to bring it down. In a way it’s frustrating, but that’s what you have to do.

HD: I think language is always a difficulty when I seriously teach manga because translated materials are very limited. It’s very difficult to teach about manga history by using some of the examples.

PC: And the theoretical texts available. Right now, I don’t know if I’m right about this, but right now in terms of theory, you have many more things written in English than in French.

PA: Yeah.

PC: But in French, you have a lot of sources. But, they tend to be shorter articles. To a certain extent, it’s a relief because in my syllabus I’ve put mixture of English theoretical texts and French theoretical texts. In a way, it serves my purpose because it allows my students to breathe, to reach more, but have a little bit of a break in terms of the study of French.

PA: Well I think a lot of the really interesting theory in comics was coming from France, in the same way with theory generally. But only a little of that has been translated into English. So it’s a struggle to get access to each other’s work. But what you say about having to reduce, one of the difficulties of even having the three of us focusing on this material is how much we’re not able to do. I have a class which is basically modular now, where I want to teach American things, I want to teach French things, I want to teach manga, I want to teach issues of race and representation, I want to teach about gender and sexuality in comics, I want them to know about something comics’ history. And that’s like an 82 week modular course, so you have to kind of mix and match and realize that there should be a broader curricular range available.

PC: This type of course elicits in students a lot of passion. So, the students come up with questions they want to explore. They open new doors. As instructors, we want to answer these types of questions. Sometimes we have to take something out of the syllabus to allow the students to deal with their own questions.

CM: Especially with Charlie Hebdo.

PC: Charlie Hebdo is a very good example because you’re looking at a question of presentation and freedom of speech.

PA: But then there’s a whole history with political cartoons, which are different from comics. Then it’s sort of a genre issue.

CM: That’s going to go way back into France.

PC: Right. Then you’re looking at ARA QUI RIT (?). But you’re also looking at very thick histories, since the seventeenth.

PA: Including in the 18th century, Hogarth and people like that. The use of satire. Comics originating in satire.

HD: Political comics can be a one semester course!

PA: Absolutely!

PC: When you deal with Africa, you have a lot of very important satirical newspapers such as Le lynxe, Gbich ! in the Ivory Coast. You also have to look into the culture itself, the Ivory Coast. You have to look at Senegal, look at the press. You have to look at literature in these countries.

PA: That’s the problem. You want to give them as much coverage, and you lose that ability to adapt like you’re talking about. Going off of just what you said earlier, students come in with these niche interests, so I get a lot of superhero comic people there are DC comic people, there are Marvel comic people. I get a lot of people who are interested in manga, particularly young women who started reading manga when they were young. They all come in with these “I thought that’s what comics was”, so you have to destabilize the idea of what they thought the field was and understand it in terms of the larger field. But, you also want to speak to their interests because they bring extraordinarily rich and often archival knowledge of what these fields consist of.

PC: And a keen vision. And a wonderful, younger vision.

PA: On some level we’re all dealing with the Internet, too. The sort of proliferation of materials not just made available the Internet but being constituted on the Internet. I was thinking about when you brought the person to talk about shoujo, I hadn’t known that there’s this underground economy that immediately translates manga like the second it’s released.

CM: Yeah, I use that.

PC: What do you mean you use it, Alex?

CM: It’s not the most legal method of reading manga. I go to a website. I used to go to a website, but the manga that it was “producing”, by that I mean manga in Japan. As far as I understand, it’s photocopied into someone’s computer, someone sends that to someone else, they Photoshop out the Japanese characters, someone translates the Japanese characters, and then replaces it with English.

PA: And then posts it.

CM: And then posts it online. And I’ve been through several websites that have had their whole archive of Naruto or Bleach taken down because of copyright laws.

PA: And they keep popping up elsewhere.

CM: You can still find it. When I was looking for comics to buy for Madame Célérier’s class, it was harder to find a place to buy French comic books. You have FNAC, you have To just find African comic books in general…

PC: It’s hard.

CM: These manga websites are exhaustive. They come out with at least 20 new manga volumes each day and every week.

PC: It’s on the move. There are new platforms now.

CM: It is moving to the Internet. I used to buy Shonen Jump.

A: But it’s so expensive after awhile.

CM: It is! Especially with manga. Where it’s volume after volume after volume, because it’s a really long story. That’s what I was thinking about when you were talking about trying to broaden the idea of what comic books are, what graphic novels are, where you have the US and French, they create one story in 120 pages, 80 pages and manga has a lot of volumes.

HD: That’s why it’s difficult to teach manga.

PA: What are you going to do? Show one volume?

HD: Normally with manga, one whole set comes with something like 20 volumes. I can’t ask students to purchase that.

PC: I think it’s also a trend generally. For example, in my “field” which is African literature, the publications since the ‘90s have books and books being published. It used to be that in the ‘80s, you could “keep track of the field”, who was publishing what and when. Now I can’t keep up. So there’s a general trend, there’s a tremendous multiplication of increasing production.

PA: Right. I was just thinking about this issue of what’s accessible and what’s not, because in some ways there’s increasing access, but then I wanted to teach Tintin in the Congo but, of course, you can’t buy it in the US now because it’s considered a racist text.

CM: In English?

PA: In English you can’t buy it. There are a few EBay people who have it for $235. But, that should be taught. And even Hergé had his thoughts about it later, and you want to teach that history but you don’t have access. I’m lucky if I get a couple pages off the Internet. I got the French version, and I can translate a couple of pages, but I can’t teach that in my English classes because they won’t know what to do with it. I can show them a page and say, “Look at the minstrel figure and let’s talk about that”. The problem is having too much and too little at the same time.

PC: You can invite me and I can translate in class.

PA: That actually would be really useful. I also want them to see that it’s an act of not just literal translation but of cultural translation. I want them to think about that process: moving the text into this context in an American college, what that means. That’s actually what we’re all doing.

PC: I just wanted to come back to the idea of comics and academia. I want to put that argument on its head to a certain extent. We said before that academia was resisting the comic world, it didn’t have enough credibility, etc. So, we’re going around this. I want to say also that at least in France and francophone circles, the comic world is sort of the world of geeks. It’s a world of people who are artists, sort of edgy, edgy and not pretentious, kind of relaxed, open-minded. To a certain extent, it’s bringing something precious to the academic world, which is a non-stiff creativity that has increasing value.

PA: Yeah. There’s a language that was framed called termite art, which is the art that’s allowed to flourish without anybody looking at it. So that the sense of it being regulated and public and viewed and judged, when you take all those away, this thing flourishes. It starts to create its own histories, its own references, its own power in its relationship to its own readership. And that’ becomes a really sort thing that’s valuable for us to reach into.

PC: And it’s also a way – you know Duffy [and Jennings], those two artists who came last week – they also brought to their art – they’re a couple of geeks – they gave their art, they are incredibly talented, what gave their creations a backbone was their original analysis of race and gender. They brought through their art very cutting edge ways of looking at gender, sexism, racism, that redefine how we think, I thought.

PA: What’s fascinating is that this book that they were talking about this time, The Hole, which is about consumer culture, they constructed it very self-consciously as a book available to the academy because they’d been working with transient publishers, sort of struggling to find their access to a larger audience. And one of the ways these books gain that kind of audience is through the academy, so they produced a sort of apparatus to the book. It was a very smart move where the art remained radical, and the apparatus, which was also radicalized in the book, becomes a way that this material can be integrated into courses. That’s a different way of going about this process, of producing art, of having it addressed, of having it considered. I think we’re at this wonderful time when we can start drawing in these materials that are just under the surface of awareness.

CM: This is coming back to conception of comic art as lowbrow – that’s what academia sees it as.  Doesn’t it give it the perfect ability to undermine the stuffiness of academics? Because people who are going into comic art as a profession are the kind of people who didn’t want to go into academics and use big words and confuse people. Something in the comic art touched them and don’t you think that’s how they want to affect people through their comic art? They do bring up very mature subjects like Maus with the Holocaust or sexism, racism, colonialism all in one comic book. That’s heavy.

PA: There’s a famous conference in Chicago where Hilary Chute was interviewing a series of comics artists. She’s an academician - and she, in fact, co-taught a course with Alison Bechdel. She’s up there asking questions about “Why did you frame it this way?” and one the artists, Lynda Barry, started to mock the proceeding saying “When should this happen? In an unconscious place.” There was a really rich conversation, which seemed to me to lend itself more to the possibilities of what it meant to have these two groups communicate and learn from each other rather than separate, or see themselves as opposing factions. I think a lot of comics now are using the language of the academy to pursue their art. And, a lot of comics artists are drawing on someone like Lynda Barry to think about “What’s the source of comics?” and “What are alternative histories we can constitute? Or alternative lexicons for dealing with it?”

HD: These artists are more conscious about feminist issues and so on than we think. They are not just drawing fantasies. They study, they read a lot.

PC: It’s being taken for granted, it’s been recognized that literacy includes visual literacy. This is the time we’re living in, so we should align our teaching with it.

PA: I mean, there’s the phone. It’s a screen, and a screen functions in the same way a comic’s panels do. Students know how to read their screens when they’re god knows how young. They come into these classes already being incredibly sophisticated, at least intuitive readers of how these visual strategies work.

CM: Any final comments? Any comments about where you hope to go with comic art in your academic fields? Pull from each other? Pull from different media?

PA: I have to say, we’ve been at this institution for God knows how many years and we didn’t know each other. And now we can get to know each other. You [Patricia] and I just worked with each other on Blue is the Warmest Color. I went into Patricia’s office thinking one thing and came out thinking twelve different things and thinking about visual strategies. In the clinical term, it’s faculty development. In a larger term, it’s just being intellectually alive.
PC: And fun.

PA: And fun! The joy of being able to talk to these two people is just astonishing to me.

CM: It’s kind of Liberal Arts turned back around. I’m supposed to be taking a Chinese and Japanese course, an English course, and a French course, and science, but now it’s the faculty who are exploring. Liberal Arts is an opportunity to explore all the disciplines. It’s not separate.

PA: It’s both collaborative, but it’s also a sense of knowledge not being based around disciplines so much as other ways of thinking about those connections, as a network of bodies of knowledge and approaches.

HD: I think my idea of literature and comics also has been confined in a cultural notion. “I’m studying Japanese.” So theory, articles, everything, I just read some articles written by someone who does Japanese Studies. But now, after having this conversation, I feel like should probably start reading comic series or books written about comics and articles, then think about how I can apply those theories to Japanese manga. That would be an interesting approach that nobody has done in Japan, right? That’s a new project for me now. [Laughs.]

PC: I come from dance. I’ve always been into music. To me, it’s also a wonderful pretext to further include my loves, what I like to do. African literatures, they intersect. Of course it’s a written word, but it’s very much music. You have a lot of subtext. So it’s just one more way to try and do my job well and also to learn, because, as teachers, we want to be in a position to constantly learn. I think, possibly for you too, teaching comics and graphic novels keeps me on my toes. I’m learning. I need to learn fast because the production is fast, because the students are fast, and because the material is wide but it has to be broken down in creative ways so that we can teach it.

CM: Ok. Perfect. Awesome.

PC: Et voilà.

CM: Et voilà.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Contrast in the Press

Check out these two articles recently written about our fashion show and our editor-in-chief!

Miscellany News: Art for fashion’s sake: Loeb becomes runway in Embodied

College Fashionista: Around Town: Contrast

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Contrast Presents: Embodied


Join Contrast in collaboration with the Student Advisory Committee of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center for our Fourth Annual Fashion Show.

Thursday, November 13th,
7 PM in the Loeb

Thursday, 30 October 2014

#ThrowBackThursday with Lil Kim

"October is almost over? November is almost here? We're at what point in the semester?!"

Then again, why would any of these details interest me when I'm reminded of the legacy of the one, the only, Lil' Kim. On this Throwback Thursday lets take it back to 1996 (what a great time to be in diapers), when life was on the cusp of a new millennium, the economy was relatively stable, and Lil' Kim was showcasing "Crush on You" off her debut album Hard Core. The song featured fellow Junior Mafia members Lil' Cease and Notorious B.I.G. This song peaked the UK Singles chart at 23 and number 6 on the Billboard Top 100, becoming Lil' Kim's second consecutive number 1 hit on the Rap Song chart.

See anything familiar? If you look closely in the vid you should be able to spot Luther Campbell, Aaliyah, and Sleek Touch from "The Lox." The music video for "Crush on you" began the featured colored wig look that Kim became known for. The theme of the video, seen in the vivid color changing of the outfits and the glowing floor was inspired from the movie The Wiz (1978). After deciding on the theme, Kim and her stylist thought to add changing colored outfits into the mix too (I mean, why not??). The video features bold and bright set ups of blue, yellow, green, and red.

Halloween is tomorrow friends! No idea what to be? Maybe take some inspo from this vid so you can be as legendary as my mom :+)

Later ghouls and gremblings!
Iyana <3

Monday, 20 October 2014

Welcome back!

What's the news all my stylish people! 
Welcome back to another year of stress, learning, but mostly a time to debut good looks even when you feel like a turd. Autumn is finally here and your Vassar contrast exec team is hard at work twisting and turning every gear possible to make sure our first semester back kicks off with a bang. Your Vassar contrast team is ready this year to take the larger Vassar community on a spin. We're more than just your simple ~style~ team, we're dedicated to keeping a keen eye on the greatest style, fashion, and art our eyes can spot.
Now, you may be wondering "Hey, what the use? How is any of this possible and who the hell is putting this all together?" 

Well my friend, meet your bombin' exec board dedicated to redefining mixed patterns and over starched crease lines.

Rachel Garbade, Editor-in-Chief

Rachel Garbade is the editor-in-chief of Contrast. She started out as a photographer in her first year with the magazine and later became photo editor, alongside Jacob Gorski. Rachel comes from Short Hills, New Jersey. She is a double major in Art History and French, currently writing her thesis on Georgia O'Keeffe's urbanscapes of New York City. This year, Rachel hopes to expand the content of Contrast to further capture the many lifestyles lived on Vassar's campus.

Kristell Taylor, Treasurer

Hi I'm Kristell and I am the Treasurer for Contrast this year. I'm currently a junior and a Neuroscience and Behavior major. Last year I was a part of the fashion show and I'm thrilled that I have the opportunity to be more involved with Contrast this year. I loved the "getting out of the Vassar bubble" theme from last semester's issue, so I'm really excited about our next issue since we have a very creative team putting it all together! I have a feeling you'll all love the ideas we're throwing around right now.

Olga Voyazides, Co-Head of Style Committee 

Hi! I'm Olga, I'm a junior, and one of the Contrast Style Editors thisyear. I've been working with Contrast ever since my freshman year,doing makeup and styling models for shoots. This is my second year onExec board for Style, and it's been amazing working with such great people to create such an awesome magazine. I'm so excited for this upcoming issue, with all the great shoots and articles we have planned thanks to our amazing committees!

Lydia Ciaputa, Co-Head of Style Committee

Lydia is a senior Art History major/Greek and Roman Studies correlate originally from Bronxville, NY.  She was a member of the style committee last year and modeled in the Fall 2013 issue.  Lydia loves magazines, fashion, photography, makeup, and most of all, the inevitable hoarding that goes along with all of those things.  She looks forward to Contrast’s first couple of photo shoots this year, one of which involves the juxtaposition of models with architectural features on campus.

Dion Kauffman, Co-Editorial Editor 

Dion Kauffman is an editorial editor of Contrast. He has been involved with Contrast through writing articles and being photographed. He studies Geography and Creative Writing. 

Taylor Pratt, Men's Style

“Townie Tay” was formed from brother Adam’s rib, raised in Poughkeepsie and will never leave until the demise of the post-grad apocalypse. An Urban Studies major with focuses in Geography & Architecture and a desire to debase the inherent colonizing/hegemonic nature of architecture. Tay’s commitment to Contrast aims to sharpen, question and articulate more clearly, the nuanced plurality of lifestyles and voices within the Vassar community. Fuck it though, I just want to change where this college is going and what it’s erasing while adding some minimalist layers along the way.

Jacqueline Krass, Co-Editorial Editor 

Jacqueline Krass is an English major and junior from Brooklyn, NY. She is the co-editor of Editorial and has been involved in Contrast since freshman year, steadily progressing from writing a weird creating thing on the blog to a less weird interview thing for the print magazine. She is excited to be on the board this year and looks forward to a great semester with Contrast!

Jacob Gorski, Co-Photo Editor

When he’s not training to be a Ryan Gosling impersonator, Jacob Gorski can be found taking photos for Contrast, where he is co-photo editor with Macrae Marran. Jacob is a senior psychology major and art history minor from New Haven, Connecticut. He began shooting for Contrast in his sophomore year and later became co-photo editor his junior year with Rachel Garbade. Jacob is excited to continue working with Contrast in capturing Vassar's people and spaces.

 Olivia Michalak, Head of Publicity 

Olivia Michalak manages publicity for Contrast. She started as a member of the style committee and modeled in Contrast’s annual fashion show last year. Olivia is from Chatham, New Jersey. She is planning on majoring in Media Studies when she actually gets up the nerve to declare.

 Lauren Garcia, Layout & Design Editor 

Lauren Garcia is kind. She is  smart. She is important. She is also from Omaha, likes to watch movies in her underwear, and is the Layout & Design Editor of this magazine.

Iyana Shelby, Blog Editor

And last, but not least, is me! My name is Iyana and I'm your blog editor this year. When I'm not obsessing over how my blacks don't match, I'm evoking a spooky persona as I travel through my science classes. "Nerd by day, goth girl by night" is the lifestyle I tend to lead. Throwing things together that magically work out is how I live (and more than likely) will be what this year's blog will follow.

Be sure to stay tuned for more wild Vassar year including our annual fashion show, TBTs of past shows, junior JYA special appearances, recipes, and more. We've got a lot in store for you all this year, so sit down, pop in some brewed coffee beans, and lets get to work!

Yours truly,
your Contrast 14-15 Exec Board 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The “ART” of the Internet

by Stephanie Muir         

For many college-aged students, surfing the web is both a veritable skill and treasured past time. While you can attempt to find the bottom of your News Feed (It doesn’t exist — I’ve tried!), you can also use these skills to “peruse” the collection of your favorite museum. Nothing compares to seeing a work of art in person, but some amazing initiatives exist that combine art and technology in ways revolutionizing how we access visual art. Far from your typical museum website, these projects demonstrate a commitment to public education by providing inventive opportunities for personal discovery. It doesn’t matter if you’re an art history expert or know nothing about the subject, the following websites promise hours of enjoyment to anyone with an Internet connection and a sense of curiosity:
Google Cultural Institute

The Google Cultural Institute makes available online cultural exhibitions through its partnerships with a variety of arts institutions and heritage organizations. Within the institute, the Google Art Project publishes extremely high-resolution photographs organized for maximum browsing potential. Zoom in to see textures and brushstrokes not easily visible to the naked eye. You can also use the site’s compare feature to simultaneously contemplate works located in, say, Italy and Brazil (and basically defy the limitations of time and space, nbd).
Just as Google Maps’ Street View famously enables users to view panoramic images of streets around the world, the Google Cultural Institute employs similar technology to allow users to virtually visit a number of cultural sites and institutions. Check out the Taj Mahal in 360-degrees or use Museum View to virtually walk through the galleries of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. No longer must art viewed on the Internet be removed from its architectural context or separated from the surrounding works with which it converses.   

Source: Google Cultural Institute


With a collection of over 140,000 artworks, similarly commits to making art accessible to the masses. Partnered with over 1,800 galleries and over 250 museums/institutions, Artsy seamlessly brings together the cutting edge and the historical via fresh editorial content and extensive archives. You can even buy original works off the site and start your very own collection. The site’s real gem, however, is the Art Genome Project headed by Matthew Israel ’99. Often compared to Pandora Radio, the “recommendation engine” enables you to find art similar to what you already like by categorizing works and placing them in an easy-to-use format.



In my opinion, posts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Instagram account can easily be considered works of art themselves. From #tbt posts depicting crowded, early 20th century gallery walls to their recent #emptymet campaign, technology is allowing users to see the museum in ways otherwise impossible. Better yet, since the posts automatically enter your feed, following @metmuseum ensures you have an art-filled day with little to no effort on your part.  

And the Met’s not alone; art museums, auction houses and artists alike now run Instagram accounts regularly giving followers behind-the-scenes information and updates. A highly visual medium, Instagram proves to be perfect for sharing visual art.

Source: @metmuseum on Instagram

So what do you think?  Does viewing art this way detract from the experience or do these projects mark an exciting new era of open access in the arts?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Kind of Girl

After being sent Pitchfork’s interview with Greta Kline there was a lot of me talking to myself saying, “Yes, okay so how do I be her? How do I be her best friend? She’s the coolest. That girl rules.” The final No-ViCE show answered my prayers and featured Frankie Cosmos, Alex Bleeker & The Freaks, Thea Ballard, and Del Water Gap. It was all happening.

I was initially magnetized to her because there was someone playing great music that looked like me. When I was little, I thought I would turn 20 and look like Beyoncé. I’m still little and will never look like Beyoncé. It’s comforting and encouraging looking up to someone I can relate to.

Frankie Cosmos vocalizes a lot of the Ping-Pong thoughts bouncing in our heads. Zentropy is delivered to us in a trinket box. Each bauble inside is something different to the listener. It’s like listening to the diary you wish you wrote.

I knew that Greta and her band would have a distinctive style with plenty of personal narrative. So I Facebook messaged Frankie Cosmos (as professionals do) and Greta charmingly accepted.

I met Greta and her band outside of the Mug on the backdoor steps. We sat down outside and after introducing ourselves we got serious about Frankie Cosmos’ passion for fashion.

Click below to see photos from the show.


“Ryan Holguin”
I feel like there is a certain point when you’re little and you realize you want to look a certain way. What point was that? When did you start dressing yourself?

Greta Kline
”Frankie Cosmos”
I actually was not little when that happened. I honestly just wanted to wear my brother’s clothes throughout high school and past that and then I made this friend. These two friends. Leonie and Joanna who are just really fashionable and they’re from Germany and they came to America with just like suitcases overflowing with amazing clothes. And my friend Joanna was like, “You could just wear a costume and be like a different person everyday. And I always think about that. That inspires my uh, my passion for fashion. Ron?

Aaron Maine
”Ronnie Mystery” or “Ron”
I guess I’ve always been picky. My mom said I used to just do this little finger test when I was younger for the material and say like “no” or “yes.” I mean, I don’t know when I started dressing myself. I don’t know. Maybe I was, I was in fourth grade or third grade or fourth grade or something.

Gabrielle Smith
”Gabby Teardrop”
I think I started dressing myself when I was in third grade. Because I got this like velour—no—ya, a crushed velvet like blue leopard print suit [laughs] that I wore like every day for the second half of third grade. So that’s when I started dressing myself.

Greta: That’s awesome.

David Maine
”David Mystery”
Um, I’d say like early college. I started buying my own clothes. Before my mom would just like take us to Kohl’s and I didn’t really care but then I had some cool new friends in college [Half-sarcastically] And I had to get skinny jeans to fit in with them. So…

Greta: Where’d you go to get the cloooothes, David?
David: Oh, was that the question?
Me: Ya, sure!
Greta: I wanna know
David: Dude, Levi’s all the way and then Uniqlo. And then Starbucks.
Greta: We’re sponsored by Starbucks by the way. If you could just add that.
Ron: Ya we have to plug
Greta: Ya we have to plug stuff in about how we’re sponsored
Me: Wait, are you guys serious?
Greta; No no
Ron: No
Ryan: Okay, I was just like “I don’t believe that. I can’t believe that”
Greta: We like to lie about sponsorship. If you could just put that we’re sponsored by [laughs] Starbucks.
Aaron: David gets his jeans from Starbucks.
Greta: David is inspired by the fashion scene surrounding Starbucks.
Me: Barista scene.
Greta: Ya totally.

Me: Okay, do you guys have any style influences? I know like being in the city you have fashion week and every day is like a fucking fashion show. Any style influences?

Greta: I would say the movie Clueless
Aaron: Ya, I would just say looking around in New York. Like all sorts of fashion.
Gabby: Uh, Starbucks… [laughs]
Greta: [laughs]
Gabby: I think… Actually, Greta is a big one
Greta: Shut. Up. Gabby.
Gabby: It’s, it’s true!
Greta: Come on! You’re my idol.
Gabby: And also, Susanna.
Greta: Yeah, Susanna honestly since I was like in eighth grade is my fashion icon probably
Gabby: Susanna is our friend who looks amazing even on days when she isn’t going to leave the house. She just looks so good.
Greta: When I laid eyes on her I was like, “I’d like to wear a dress sometime.” I saw her and I was like, “Maybe I could wear a dress one day!”
Gabby: Me too! That’s exactly what I thought.
Greta: And be cool. Yeah, she’s definitely an icon. I had a couple of friends like that.
David: I’d say my bro… Aaron.
Aaron: Oh, no. Don’t! Stop!
David: I dunno. My friends in college. Leon Fraun. Very fashionable guy. Starbucks. That’s it.
Me: Just Starbucks.
Greta: The Starbucks logo
Aaron: Such nice colors.

Me: So how has your style changed through touring? Are there any things that you gotta bring every day?

Gabby: On our last tour I brought so much clothing and I only wore like one shirt and one pair of pants like every single day.
Greta: I changed every day. Oh no I didn’t
Aaron: You wore tights every day.
Gabby: Ya you wore the same outfit.
Greta: No but I changed my shirt every—no actually what I did do I would wear an outfit two days in a row and then change.
Aaron: You wore the Scooby-Doo pants every single day.
Gabby: They were Joe-cool.
Greta: They were Joe-cool.
Aaron: I’m just sayin’
Greta: But I only own like one pair of pants. I just changed like my shirt. Cause it’s stinky to wear the same shirt.
Gabby: I always get shirts from the bands we play with and that replaces what I thought I would wear.
Greta: Yeah and you end up with a really heavy suitcase.
Gabby: Yeah!
Aaron: We go to like Salvation Army if we have hours to kill.
Greta: My go-to tour packing thing is just like definitely more underwear than days that we’re gonna be away and also I—I always wanna wear—I always bring three pajama shirts that I know I can also use as a face towel. Like that’s actually how I think of it like, “Oh I’ll bring this soft shirt so I can wipe my face with it every night.” It’s really weird but that’s how I pack. Ya it’s sort of a fashion influence. Ron? Ronnie picked up these glasses on tour.
Aaron: Yeah I like going to try to find a thrift store if there’s time to kill.
[. . .]
I just feel like on tour you have more of an excuse to be adventurous with what you’re wearing cause you are going to a new place every day and maybe finding new clothes and people expect to—you know, you already look kind of crazy cause you’re driving around and stuff. But it’s funny going back to New York. It’s like every piece of clothing has a different meaning in that context. There’s like such a weird unspoken code of what to wear whereas if you’re in Ohio you can like you know, wear absolutely anything and look totally crazy.
Greta: Also, you have no friends with expectations of what you’re gonna look like whereas when you’re in somewhere like Ohio. You’re not going to run into someone and them be like, “Whoa! Weird shirt,” which happened the day we got back to New York.
Gabby: But it also changes depending on whether it’s cold on tour. On the first tour we did, I only wore like those fleece leggings with those socks and this really huge t-shirt. That was like my whole outfit the entire time.
Greta: Cause you thought it was going to be warmer I feel like.
Gabby: Well because that’s like the best thing to put things on top of. So I just kept like—but then this tour I got to be a little bit—well I guess I did just say I wore one outfit for this tour too so maybe I should just own it.
Greta: Ya, I feel like I was trying to be like versatile, I was trying to bring versatile clothing. Because it was April I was like, “Well it could be freezing or it could be warm like burning hot so I’ll just bring shorts and like this long johnny type pants and wear them under the shorts on days when it’s not hot.” And then it was cold every day so I was very Joe-cool pants every day under shorts. That is true, okay I forgot. Anyway. Alright next question. Uh “my client will take the next question.”

Me: What is something you would never wear?

David: Uuhh, so many things. Colors, that aren’t grey or blue. Blue is pushing it. Shoes. I can’t wear most shoes. I’ve been trying to find a new pair of shoes, that I do not hate, for the past three months.
Me: What shoes are you wearing now?
David: These are—I borrowed these from Aaron cause I had my work sneakers on that I was too embarrassed to wear out. Cause I’m a freak! And I can’t pick out shoes so…
Greta: They’re a little too colorful for you David.
David: They’re black. Black on black. Too much color. So ya, just shoes. And colors.
Greta: Gabby? What would you never wear?
Gabby: Um, I would never wear a tube top. I like… That’s so freaky to me. [Laughs] I can’t deal with that. I think that’s it. I think I would wear most other things.
Aaron: I never wear yellow.
Gabby: Well, I wouldn’t wear fur either.
Aaron: Hmm.
Gabby: Cause that’s like… That’s gross.
Greta: I feel like for me it’s just like anything itchy. I would just never wear anything itchy. Ever. But especially not a feather boa. [Laughs] When you say “What would you not wear” like feather boa cause it’s not comfortable! And cause it’s creepy.
Me: I love when you can’t tell if a skirt is a tube top or a tube top is a skirt.
Greta: Oh I know. Oh my god.
Gabby: But then you put it on and then it’s obviously a tube top.
David: Also, a fedora.
Gabby: Ya, I would never.
Greta: None of us.
Me: Ya, all around.
Greta: The one thing none of us would ever wear: A yellow fedora.
Me: Fashion faux pas.
Greta: With fur.
Gabby: With feathers on the brim.

Me: Does anyone have any family heirlooms that are very dear to you that you wear or that you’re so scared to wear because they’re so important to you.

Greta: Honestly, I just found out today that my dad’s mom left me a gold bracelet and my mom’s friend borrowed it and has it still. And you know cause I never met her, “I want some day for Greta to have this chunky gold bracelet. Like from her grandma.” And I just never got it. My mom’s friend has it so we’re gonna try to get it back. That’s the only heirloom I can think of.
Gabby: My grandma tried to give me her wedding dress. And she was like, “You will never believe it but I used to be your size!”
Greta: That’s so cute.
Gabby: But then I tried to put it on when I was like fifteen and it was like, it was actually too small, which is so crazy! I feel like she must have been wearing the craziest corset ever to fit into that.
Greta: Do you still have it?
Gabby: No.
David: My mom gave me one of her wrist supports once. [laughs] I use that sometimes.

Me: What about like favorite pieces? Or good luck charm clothing? Or things that you find yourself wearing over and over.

Greta: I have a necklace that Aaron gave me for my 18th birthday that I wear almost every day but which I put on Gabby at a show a couple weeks ago and I keep forgetting to ask her to give it back.
Gabby: I look at it every day. And I’m like “Oh man, I have to give that back.”
Greta: It’s like a really good luck charm. Like my life is pretty much in shambles since I gave it to her since it’s like my Zen good luck charm.
Me: What does it look like?
Greta: It’s like a piece of quartz like a Zen quartz.
Gabby: It also has an opal or moonstone.
Greta: Yeah, it’s kind of is funny that whole thing.
Gabby: No, it’s really pretty.
Greta: It’s cool. Basically Ronnie made me this necklace when we were first dating that was just like an actual piece of quartz that he found in a wood pile that he glued to a chain and it was really beautiful but it broke a bunch of times and finally we lost it for good and then he got me a weird fancy version of it for my birthday and that’s the one that we share. It’s a good luck thing.
Aaron: I like your (Greta) dad’s green sweater a lot. It’s probably the thing that I wear the most. It’s a nice Scottish sweater company.
Gabby: I think that—Well I mean I wear this vest every day.
Greta: It’s true
Gabby: And it has all the pins from tours on it but it’s not really a good luck thing, it’s just a utility belt. It has my wallet in it.
David: I had a little packet of Frankincense that my teachers at massage school gave me that I kept in my pocket forever and then my pants went through the dryer. So it’s gone now. So my life has been spiraling out of control ever since.

Me: Alright last thing. What is something, anything, that’s got you really happy or excited lately?

Greta: I met my teacher’s baby today who is five months old and it made me so excited and I can’t stop thinking about him ever since I left their house.
Aaron: Emmmm, I need to think about it for a second.
Gabby: My puppy Frankie. Who is not named after Frankie Cosmos. [Laughs]
David: I was at work today and saw a baby and thought it was hysterical and locked eyes with it and I laughed cause I was like, “hah that’s a cute baby,” and it had the same thought as me and was like, “Hah!” and it started laughing back at me. It was so amazing.
Greta: So pretty much puppies and babies.
David: Puppies and babies.
Greta: Ron, what do you say? [sarcastically] Drugs? Cigarettes? It would be funny if Aaron was like  [drops voice] “I’m so excited to smoke weed later.”
David: We don’t do that!
Aaron: I’m just happy to be like making music constantly with Frankie Cosmos and Porches.