Humanities department gets graphic

Faculty and undergraduate students join Katharine Burnett of Fisk University in discussing graphic novels and their importance in literature


Sara Myers photo

Professor Teresa Burns seaks on Native American culture.


The “Let’s Get Graphic: The New Visual Storytelling” event was held Monday, Oct. 30 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Nohr Gallery of Ullsvik Hall. The event was run by assistant professor of English Phillip Gordon, and the event was Humanities Department’s annual fall festival. Last year’s theme was Edgar Allen Poe.

The event was split into four parts. The first hour was hosted by Audrey Wedig, president of Sigma Tau Delta, an English Honor Society on campus. Audrey invited people to perform their favorite poems in the first hour. She started the event off by reciting “Say You Want To Be a Writer” by Charles Bukowski. Others who shared included Wesley Wingert and Exponent’s members Dalton Miles, Samantha Hoppert and Abbey Pignatari. In between those sharing poems, the audience played an interactive game which allowed them to use their phones in order to answer questions about graphic novels on the interactive website, Kahoot.

In the next hour there were two student presentations, the first was by senior English education major Wesley Wingert.

Wingert spoke about Batman’s history in graphic novels. His first appearance was in Detective Comics. “He went by ‘The-Batman’, hyphen and all,” Wingert said. The comics went through different phases. During a period, they were careful not to offend kids and their parents, so they got rid of the sexual Catwoman, and the villain Two Face because he was too gruesome. Batgirl and Batwoman were introduced in this time because “they didn’t want anyone to think Batman and Robin were homosexuals!” Wingert laughed.

Of course, there were many variations of the Batman character in film and books. The Batman TV show, featuring actor Adam Scott as Batman, Wingert described as ‘very campy’. In the 1970s, there was a drastic change to the more dark and gritty Batman we know today in films. The comics reflected that turn as viewers saw the return of the characters Joker and Two Face, as well as showing more graphic violence like the Joker literally beating Robin with a crowbar while his mother watched.

The next presenter was Editor-in-Chief of the Exponent and senior professional writing major Mackenna Moralez. Moralez spoke about social media as a useful tool for professionals. She started her presentation by talking about the first social media to hit it big, Myspace. It was on Myspace that Moralez learned important tools like the Web programming language known as HTML and networking or ‘whoring’ as the idea was first introduced.

“Networking is a more appropriate term to use,” Moralez said. “I started to connect with all of these people that I went to school with and then they connected me with more people that they knew. Throughout my time on Myspace my friends list started to grow and I started to learn about the website more and slowly and steadily my profile started to get more and more views.” The last time Moralez checked her Myspace she had over 14000 views on her profile. “When you a middle school kid that’s a lot,” said Moralez followed by some audience chuckles. However, Myspace started to decline when Facebook was introduced. Moralez then showed a slide with tons of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, to name a few.

“I have this very strong theory that there are two types of people who use social media,” Moralez said. “The first one is like my boyfriend. He has it but doesn’t really use it unless he needs to. And then there’s myself, whose obsessed with it and is constantly connecting with other people.”

Moralez goes on to explain if you run social media for a company you don’t really get a choice to participate in trends and be on people’s feeds all the time promoting. Depending what your company or business is looking to do, you can use social media in a variety of ways. Moralez speaks on how you may use social media to do a variety of things like increase traffic on your website, get more sales, or count your leads. You can look at targeting a specific demographic with your posts, as the Exponent targets college students.

The third hour of the event was presentations by humanities professors. The first presentation was by assistant professor of English David Gillota. Gillota discussed the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman. It’s the story of the author’s parents experience during the Holocaust, as well as his role in his own story. Gillota describes it as “non-fiction” because the characters are mice, not human like in real life. Spiegelman has many different animals in this book, and it’s all depending on where you’re from. The Jews were drawn as mice, Germans as cats, Americans as dogs, Polish as pigs and French as frogs. The themes of the story include trauma, history, memory and storytelling. “A lot of the text is Art Siegelman just thinking,” Gillota explains. Spiegelman draws himself in the story as a human with a mice mask on it. “I think he’s questioning where he fits in in this,” Gillota said.

The second speaker in this hour was Exponent adviser and assistant professor of English Enrique Reynoso. The title of Reynoso’s presentation was “Other Visualizations”. In his presentation, Reynoso discusses how data and visualizations can play an important narrative in how minorities are represented. He showed two different data visuals that showed immigration records as well as violence in the city of Chicago. In the visuals, numbers were used to describe people. “Data is used to justify stereotypes,” Reynoso said. Although the data in the visual on Chicago gun violence showed Chicago as the worst city when it comes to gun violence even though they have some of the strictest gun laws, it doesn’t show the whole story. Sixty percent of guns recovered in crimes in Chicago were coming from states with weaker gun laws. “Context is important when combatting racial stereotypes,” Reynoso said.

The last speaker of this hour was professor Teresa Burns. Burns discussed the Old Spanish Mission [Zuni] Murals of the Sewotema family. A big part of her presentation was Native American culture and the idea of paradigms. “History is how we view paradigms,” Burns explained. Although we may view something true as the way it was presented to us, that doesn’t make it the whole truth. In one of the pieces she showed from the Zuni people, there was a painting of Jesus Christ as the ‘Rain Priest’, a religious figure in their religion. The art piece was seen as very controversial, but the Zunis simply saw it as an expression of combining cultures.

The speaker for the last hour was Katherine Burnette. Burnette is a professor at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. She spent the first half of her presentation speaking on her love for graphic and comics books. On the screen she showed different comics ranging from the Peanuts to Superhero comics. An example of one of the superhero comics, Captain America is shown punching Adolf Hitler. “I feel like we could all use a little of Captain America punching Hitler,” Burnette remarked receiving audience laughter. Burnette discusses different elements of graphic novels like iconography, framing and closure. Iconography is an image that is easily recognizable, Framing is thinking about how close-ups and long shots can show a character’s emotion or give more dimension to the scene, and finally the concept of closure, closing the gaps between frames and filling the gap for yourself.

Burnette used the rest of her time to discuss the text, “Confessions of Nat Turner.” The graphic novel is part slave narrative, autobiography, and a historical account. There have been different adaptions of the story, but her focus was on Kyle Baker’s graphic novel of the story. The graphics close the distance between the readers to the text and connect to the inherent humanity of the story.