Getting Graphic

I am absolutely in love with illustration and graphic novels. When there are beautiful illustrations in a book, I am compelled to pay the full RRP for a book. If you know me this means serious business.

I have noticed that a lot of the graphic novels I have borrowed from my University Library had a similar style. They seemed very modern, current in graphic design and the covers were softback jackets (except Science Tales which was hardback) so the in-between to the softback and hardback where it is sturdier than softback and has the flaps like a jacket but not as rigid as hardback. Those sort of cover jacket very much appeal to me. But then I suddenly realised after finishing my most recent read at the back, these books (in the gallery above) were published by the same publisher, Myriad Editions. I’m unsure if that was coincidence or the University on purposely chose the books from that particular publisher, but I found it interesting how the publisher was able to make a subtle coherence to the books as to being from the same publisher, but they still had their own individuality. You also wouldn’t immediately know they are from the same publisher which i have to admire them on for achieving. Thumbs up!

I don’t know about you, but I think there is an underestimation to the narrative and even literary function of Graphic Novels as people might think of the harsh, dark and edgy graphic style which is often used to re-tell a literary classic i.e. Frankenstein. There is also the overwhelming market that is comic books and more specifically, superhero comic books from the likes of DC and Marvel (I mean, people haven’t spent millions on films to not get millions in return) which can overshadow graphic novels that have a different way of story telling. This especially if they are leaning towards non-fiction i.e. Autobiographical Graphic Novels, and aren’t also about a man with special powers yet still doesn’t know which way to put their underwear and glasses aren’t a good enough alter-ego disguise.

It’s art. Illustration is art. Illustration is in Graphic Novels and yet they’re only really found in the secluded corners of bookshops from the local family businesses to the giant conglomerates like Waterstones (I like them both, books are books). Probably because they don’t have the same monolithic fanbase as all-text books such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings do where they are worthy of being on a clear, plastic pedestal.

YouTuber, Fran Meneses is a freelance illustrator. Her illustration work is very soft and charming with a feminine touch in terms of the style and the choice of colours. Very sweet that I do feel I could eat her illustrations like marshmallows. But I won’t, because I can’t, because it’s not possible… Anyway, in one of her videos, Awesome Books – Jane, the Fox and Me, she discusses this book in terms of the narrative and the illustrations in depth.

If you are used to shorter videos, this isn’t one of those. It is 13 minutes long so you are going to need to sit back, have a cuppa at hand (unimportant note: she starts the video with taking a sip from her mug so you might feel as if she is talking to you, as if you and her are just grabbing a cup of coffee or tea together at a cafe and she is recommending a book to you, I mean, even her Pantone mug is cute… I’m not jealous) and really listen because what she says about this book and illustration, in general, is gold (when I have underlined something, you know graphologically there is a reason). I think it is worth the watch because the depth she goes into wouldn’t be the same if it was edited shorter. Bless her, bearing in mind English isn’t her first language, she struggled to say ‘Eyre’ which I’m not surprised because…English Language: Quite Difficult to Learn as a Second Language.

The reason apart from the fact I want you to have a look at her work, she said something about the importance of illustration as a method of narration that I think is a really good point into knowing the difference between a well-illustrated book and a great illustrated book.

Awesome Books – Jane, the Fox and Me

I am going to paraphrase what she says so you have to watch the video to know her exact words (mua ha ha). But this is what she says about illustration and text that makes the narrative of the book flow and become inherently ‘awesome’.

Illustration and text should be a couple that has been in a relationship for quite a few years and whenever they go to parties, people ask them how they have met. Because they have been asked this so many times and have been in a relationship for so long, they both know what to say as if it has been rehearsed and know who says what. Not only that (and this is the hitter), but when one partner talks, the other one shuts up and when the other partner begins talking, then the other one shuts up and there is no need for interruption. Texts speaks, illustration shuts up; illustration speaks, text shuts up. Both illustration and text contribute when they share different bits of information to make a cohesive and fluid narrative.

What was that? I think I heard a boom because your mind is blown! (Although I won’t really hear that because the whole screen situation and the fact I’m probably a disembodied voice to you in your head and if your mind was blown then there would be a (very messy) problem.) Mine certainly was because it was only when she pointed it out I realised how important that is to understand what a good book is. Neither the text nor the illustration needs to repeat itself when the one has expressed something already so well.

After I watched that video, I was compelled to get my favourite graphic novel off the shelf and took a moment to re-read the first few pages and see if it met this new-found criteria I have discovered. I was not disappointed. Thank goodness it didn’t let me down! I think the danger is that if you did read a graphic novel or illustrated book that you enjoyed, it’s like applying media theory to a film you have already watched and enjoyed. If it doesn’t meet some sort of expectations or criteria you have learnt then referring back to something, it kind of bursts your bubble and when reading a new book, you get distracted by that rather than fully immersing yourself.

However, I think the whole point of this approach to illustrated books and graphic novels is that you don’t really have to pay attention to that. The same way you know a film has good editing when you don’t realise the shots have been edited and become a fluid scene, the illustration and text dialogue should almost become one and unnoticeable because it is that fluid and coherent. Unlike my blogging abilities.

So with this new information, you might (might) be thinking ‘what graphic novels should I read?’ Well, I’m not going to make a list of ALL the illustrated books I recommend but I think one to mention immediately is the latest Graphic Novel I have read: Becoming Unbecoming [by] Una.

becoming_unbecoming

 

A devastating personal account of gender violence told in comic book form, set against the backdrop of the 1970s Yorkshire Ripper man-hunt

Goodreads

This has a very hand-drawn style to the illustrations and you can almost see the pencil marks made. But what I love most about it is that at times the text becomes the image and very typographic in terms of the use of graphology. Sometimes the test wraps itself around the illustrations which I quite like. Even though it makes reading the text a little trickier especially with such a hard-hitting and topical subject about women and violence especially in this day and age, but it does add something to the reading experience, because the line between image and text becomes a single unit, a couple if you will.

What I also liked about this book was that very often graphic novels have that structured grid and look like storyboards for making a moving image text, but this one didn’t. The lack of structure meant the illustration and the text have been given the freedom (which when reading the book could be suggestive of certain themes) on the page and there is breathing space for the narrative to become a whole image for readers to explore in detail. This becomes quite a refreshing change from the restricted structure of the grids you often find in Graphic Novels, it has that sort of breathing space you would find in illustrations for children’s books that combine typography and graphology as well but in this case, it is dealing with a mature and thought-provoking subject matter.

The decisions in the way the illustrations and text interact with each other is actually very sophisticated and clearly, a personal way the writer expresses their thoughts and feelings about their adolescence as a girl during a time when prostitutes were being hammered and stabbed to death ripper-style and the ideas of being a (female) target. Because on a few occasions there are pages of a single, full illustration that aren’t accompanied by text and I personally don’t think need because for this woman, these images expressed something that words can’t really describe and readers can only think upon rather than try and analyse. I think is a unique way in which illustration and text have the relationship Fran described in her video.

So what are your thoughts about the relationship between text and image? Do you think Graphic Novels are underrated? What do you recommend because I am always interested in finding new ones to read. And lastly: what role does illustration have in a narrative if the text doesn’t shut up? When does illustration become overwhelming and take over the text? Do you think Graphic Novels are not considered much for literary analysis because of a prejudice towards its sophistication in the eyes of the masses?

 

Feature Image URL: https://comicbookjunkie.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/powerupcollage-blam.jpg

Blast From My Past: Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

I was going through my books to see which ones I was going to keep and which ones I had to give away. It was then I found a book from my first year of A level English Language and Literature: Enduring Love. We looked at key parts of the book and the film for coursework in order for use to be inspired to create a creative writing piece of fiction based on the book with a 500 word commentary. This was the reading piece and we also had to do a listening piece mainly based on a selection of sources including Coleridge’s work oddly enough.

For my (now-old) college, the examination board was changed and this meant the coursework was no longer required to do in the A level. For me, this would have been a shame. Also, the texts studies were going to be things like Shakespeare and Chaucer rather than the words we studied which were Joyce’s Dubliners, Tennesse’s The Glass Menagerie or Pinter’s Betrayal. Please don’t mis-understand, I enjoy the early works but arguably ‘contemporary’ pieces were more up my street like the works we studied.

My edition of the book (shown in the featuring image) is close to the DVD cover and posters of the film. The red lettering of the author’s name matches nearly the colour of the red balloon. In terms of sensuous language, the balloon is the catalyst to the events cataphorically referenced by the main character and narrator. The red balloon connotes how that one event created certain amounts of danger fro different people. This shows only through the cover alone how simple symbolism for that one event is key to foreshadow what happens to the main characters.

Back to Enduring Love, it was very interesting and clever how the voice is written to reflect the narrator’s character and unreliable part in telling the story. Especially when he forgets, goes off tangent or doesn’t remain true to the story since the entire story is in his first person narrative. It is also a meta-fictional narrative so adds another element to the fact this character is writing this story off the top of his head like a diary entry so parts of it are going to be untruthful to what actually happened. Even when the narrative is mainly about his partner, her point of view is still manipulated by what he thought she would be thinking, especially about him in an admirable way. In my opinion, it was nice to learn all of this and I do give props to McEwan with how he able to create such a voice for this one character who is being stalked by a mentally unstable man after a balloon incident (in a nut-shell).

However, even though I was very interesting, because this characters was such a strong character in his matter-of-fact-because-I’m-a-professor voice, it can get very annoying very quickly and you might feel as if you want to say ‘WE GET IT, NOW GET TO THE POINT.’ Not only that, but because McEwan has a background knowledge in film, you also get multiple perspectives from the ground to the sky to being in the balloon which in a way suited to the different technical shots in the film adaptation. Again, people might enjoy this and other might find it annoying and want a more coherent narrative. Because of this, I unfortunately struggle reading this again and I think if you are interested in alternative forms of narration, this might be worth a read.

There are spoilers of the techniques if you don’t want over-analysis, my commentary is the last 500 words of this post but if you want to read it, I advise reading it even though I just mentioned it now, reading it after my creative writing piece ‘Missed.’ that way, you can make your own judgements on the piece as an independent piece of work, in comparison with the book if you have read it or any other way you like reading this type of work.

Sit back with a cuppa tea, your scrolling finger and enjoy Missed by Hannah Rose Govan.

Missed:

I can’t remember how it actually started. I can’t recall why I’m here. But it started when I entered the room. The doors where china white, and the windows on them looked as if they had been cleaned. They were small windows, possibly larger than very small but I don’t think you were able to see beyond the glass. I opened the one to the right and entered. It was humid. In the corner of my eye I noticed there were grey cracks on the ceiling. Likely from the pillars being less than substantial in a solid structure, causing an irregular pressure and therefore the cracks. Maybe that’s why it’s still humid. I sat on a chair; the oldest one. The threads from it were hanging in clumps and reached the floor. If I knew it was that hazardous I wouldn’t have sat there. But it was the closest to the door, and I would then avoid walking down that intimidating corridor, with little peeping eyes and faces in different shades of mood sneaking their gaze at you. It might have been before I opened the door or after I sat down, but I saw Catherine waiting in line to the reception, with four or five people waiting in front of her.

I don’t recall ever being in this building, but the faces appeared so familiar it was as if I’d give them a crooked smile when we’d cross roads, one day. There was one that was the most perplexing, was also the most average. The woman sat beside me. As I did when I entered the room, she was staring at the ceiling.
‘Humid in here, probably from cracks in the ceiling’.
Best to pace myself here, but I need to tell you about Jen; I learnt her name later. Her hair was in ringlets of blonde which covered her face. She tucked a lock behind her ear once we began to exchange words. This was a pin to the timeline of this day, or at least what I recall of it. She was a writer on neuroscience so we quickly fell into a discussion about the biochemistry by which the feeling of love is created and gravity pulling on them with this sensation people call ‘falling for someone’. I was lucky to have had Catherine in my life when I did, and this woman was the uncanny resemblance of her. The same hair, but only shorter, and the gaze Jen gave me when she deeply listened to me showed how intense her green eyes were. All the things I found physically attractive in Catherine was exaggerated in Jen’s physique. It was as if she was to my specification (and her words would’ve appeared in the perfect textbook on our knowledge). Would I still have met her if I hadn’t sat there? I wandered.

‘Have you never read the book then?’ Jen was curious about why I hadn’t read a particular book. A novel written a few years ago, the unravelling of three characters after a balloon incident.
‘To endure, one must have patience to do so, not this malarkey!’ I may have known about the book anyhow if it wasn’t brought up in our conversation again and seemed familiar.
We then imagined testing a hypothesis about this room. We chose those four or five people waiting in line. One was a man not unlike myself, bellowing to the receptionist with a string of curses attached like ‘tmesis’. He seemed flushed. As if he was going to be attacked.
‘You have got to listen. Take this man off the street. He is off his rocker and should be locked away!’
The receptionist was trying to reassure him it might not be what he thought , but at the same time anxiety was quickly spreading over her face and I saw her slamming various buttons down with one hand and a phone in another. It was clear he felt fear, he was exhaling heavily and his hands had a subtle quiver as if he exerted too much energy. There was a knock on the door, the one I opened, and the man began yelling at it. To go away and leave him be. I don’t think anyone saw who it was because of the slit of glass from the door, but it was clear it was going to be the same person he was catastrophizing about to the receptionist. He eventually left; we still don’t know who he was or what happened. It was only later we took it more seriously.

It wasn’t the end of the story, but something that happened earlier led to that bursting through the doors. It was a balloon incident. This isn’t part of the story but it creates cohesion with one of the people in line. With a bouquet of lilies. She was next and the top of her cheek bones looked sore, the bags underneath her eyes puffy and raw red. At the top of her lashes was residue in small coal-like clumps that just hung on. It appeared to be left after the rest wiped off. Or were a result of tears for some personally explicable reason. Her talk withered, the eventual pauses were frail at the end as if she was overwhelmed by what the day had already brought her. We all knew what happened. It was in the paper. Her husband died, falling to what was his inevitable end. He held onto a balloon that flew away with a child inside. Somehow thinking back, the flushed man looked familiar. An odd feeling he was somehow a part of this loss. And maybe who he was yelling at too.
‘Cu-Could have a-anything be done? Eh-anything?’ The receptionist responded with disappointing news that nothing could have been done to help Logan. To think saving a child resulted in a death. The receptionist apologized for what had happened him. It wasn’t her fault though. Nor was it the wife’s, but somehow it’s the only thing we’re able to say. The widow then kept asking if someone came by to see him. Another woman. I don’t think anyone took notice of the apprehension in her voice. I knew there was something she was fishing to hear, to want to hear so she wasn’t just seeing things. The agitation would have been from the rumours that she had been searching for someone that was with her husband that day, that he had the feeling of gravity for this other person. I do say person. She left after asking questions that obviously couldn’t be answered.

Jen and I looked to one another and our mind was one. It was as if we knew everything in this room, and now in this position I wish I had done something. The chair clamped me down and only left my thoughts floating. If only both of us had been aware of the two men in black. And their faces hidden in back hoods.

We didn’t have any time to say anything else though, because suddenly our eardrums burst from the fire of a bullet. This was a pin that now exploded the timeline, and the chain of events still missing obvious links. Someone got shot. One of the hooded bodies swivelled out of the queue, through the right door that was now the left and the other followed. Another fire was shot outside. The man who was trapped in line tried to leave by the other door. The one that had a sign saying it was locked. No one had time to react. Everyone had their own ‘dazed’ face. Someone had their hands covering the mouth; another was jumping out of their chair. It was an emotion circus. Jen and I joined in, baffled that we witnessed a murder. Sirens were ringing and fired a jet of noise into our ears. The wounded man was taken out through the open door and to A&E. It was the anxious man from earlier, but this time with blood trickling down his shoulder. And he was gasping for oxygen. At this point I didn’t believe it was attempted murder. We then heard shouting. A police officer was having to drag away another man that shot through the door, calling out the injured man’s name and what seemed to be an apology. He nearly tripped over my chair.
‘JO-JO! You led me to this Joe! I’ll never forget you, our love will be forever. God wanted you and me to be us! We’ll find each other again!’
He was hanging by one arm to the door, presumably hoping to see Joe, but the officer was pulling his other arm back into cuffs. This man. Must be him, the guy that earlier Joe was yelling to through the door. To see this man’s face now, he appeared remorseful, guilt ridden. And his features showed that love’s gravity was tripping him up; that he had fallen for Joe. I hypothesize: this wasn’t a mutual love.

It was the butterfly feeling that urged me to hold Jen’s hand, but she got there first. The idea of holding someone in a life and death moment made the shock less. Now everyone waiting felt as if they were waiting for something else, something unexpected. The death cast gloom over us and the white walls which now I looked closer were more of pale beige, speckled with grey from the humidity. The cracks were showing more clearly. In my moment of weakness that I shared with Jen; I kissed her. Nothing more, nothing said, just that.
The minutes stretched to what felt like hours [with just talking yet nothing said to what happened]. But again we both knew what the next step would be…

Sadly, I was interrupted. Catherine had finished, and did I just imagine five people when there were only four? She was with someone.
‘James, this is Nurse Karmen, she’ll take you to your room. I’ll visit next week, who were you talking to?’
I found that there was no-one beside me: Just me in an old chair. The one beside me no sign of an imprint. No recollection of people seeing me with someone. I know now, why I was waiting…

If you want to read the commentary I had to write for my reading piece, then continue if you want. But if you do, you commit to it and deal with the weird way it’s written. It essentially explains the way I have written the piece and my influences from the book.

My short story influenced by ‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan is about a man in a waiting room watching events unravel in front of him including those waiting in line who are all characters and events from the book [‘ widow then kept asking if someone came by to see him’]. He shares this with his ideal woman but readers realise at the end she doesn’t exist [‘who are you talking to?’]. The story stands alone but also creates intertextual links for those who have read ‘Enduring Love’.
The title ‘Missed’ is slightly punning like ‘Enduring Love’, and connotes being missed, have something/one physically missing and a missed shot (as in Chapter 19/ the waiting room).
The first person narrative reflects Joe is narrator in the book and is aIso unreliable narration [‘I can’t remember how it actually started’], pinpointing time of events [‘it started/this was a pin to the timeline of this day’] also used as a metaphor for cohesion throughout and often going at a tangent [‘they were small windows, possibly larger than very small’] reflecting realistic spoken features but also the unreliability. I linked to Joe’s character with the lexical field of science and logical thinking [‘less than substantial in a solid structure/ irregular pressure’]. Like Joe’s, cataphoric links are made to the story James is trying to tell [‘if I knew it was that hazardous I wouldn’t have sat there’] and writing a meta-fictional narrative. [‘Best to pace myself here’] to develop tension and involve the reader.
The whole story develops elements of the Chapter 19 shooting, placing them in a new story. Intertextual link to Logan’s widow, looking for the mistress but it might not be a woman (could it be Joe?)[‘I do say person’] includes the connotation of death with her holding ‘lilies’, foreshadowing the balloon incident.
I wanted to linked Joe’s relationship with Clarissa into James’s ideal woman by having ‘Jen’ imagined because that is all she can be [‘Catherine was exaggerated in Jen’s physique’].
Further intertextuality with the book by having James and Jen talk briefly about [‘unravelling of three characters after a balloon incident’] also foreshadowing James’ ‘unravelling’ sanity using the declarative sentence ‘it was a balloon incident’ foregrounds the interlinked reality for James.
As McEwan has done, I have included clues to event that readers don’t notice at [‘four or five people’] to suggest James lost perception of reality, the obsession with the door (lexical link to Joe’s obsession with the balloon) and the ‘cracks in the ceiling’ (connoted physically and in James’ dawning realisation). Obsessive reworking of detail also reflects the book and film.
The twist that James imagines things foreshadows the ‘cracks appearing’ in his narrative and life, the walls ‘more of pale beige’ symbolizes his viewpoint too. The last words answer the question he first asks [‘who are you talking to/I know now why I was waiting’] but the answer is only implied, allowing interpretation for the reader, like the open ending of ‘Enduring Love’.

Please let me know what you did like, didn’t like and anything else, bearing in mind I am trying to imitate a style not necessarily my own and it was written two years ago.

DNF a Book

I am the poster-girl for not finishing books. Mainly due to time management between education and mental breaks, but this summer means no excuse…in theory *damn you YouTube!* This post just makes me happy I’m not the only one, and that there is an acronym for it.

Live to Write - Write to Live

Vintage Books copyright Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon © Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon

DNF

I remember the first time I saw the acronym in a Twitter conversation between an editor and an author. I politely intruded to ask what it meant.

Did. Not. Finish.

What? Read a book and not finish it? Back then, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the concept. I was fairly new to the romance genre at the time and was thoroughly enjoying everything I was reading. Prior to that, my love of reading had taken a back seat to my life as a working mom and a visually impaired person who struggled to read small print. Then came the Kindle and my reading addiction kicked into high gear. Not finish a book? Perish the thought! These days I’m an avid reader and more than one book has moved to my DNF list. In the last six months, I’ve had two…

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Blurred Lines: Our Moral Compass and the Anti-hero

This was the latest and last article I had written for my college magazine in a series called ‘Blurred Lines.’ In this article I explored an an audiences’ perception of the good, the bad and the ugly realities of escapism.

Covers

Whilst reading the third and final book from ‘The Halo Trilogy,’ Heaven by Alexandra Adornetto, it introduces these being called Shadow Hunters, partly fallen angel, partly human (that I can recall). They were presented as the antagonists, beings that were set out to destroy ‘star crossed lovers’ and their relationship. In this, I was positioned on the side of the couple and their romantic journey and therefore was told by the narration that Shadow Hunters are bad, and my effort as a reader went into hating them as the journey progressed. However, after finishing the trilogy, I started reading City of Bones by Cassandra Clare before its film adaptation was released.

City_of_BonesIn this book, I had been innocently following these characters as protagonists, trying to solve the enigmas of ‘who’s Jace? What does he do?’ etc. etc. But through the story I realised that the protagonists or more specifically, Jace and his group, were Shadow Hunters. As a reader, I was positioned on the side of Shadow Hunters who were given a slightly different definition to the one I have learnt about previously and honestly, I stopped reading. I was slightly thrown by the fact what I regarded as Harry-Potter-death-eater-like evil beings in Heaven, were what I was now siding with in City of Bones. This was then I realised, it’s fiction. I got so caught up in plots of these stories to satisfy my need for escapism, I believed for a small portion for my life a fictional thing, created purely by words and a reader’s imagination, was evil and would always be evil. Clearly, that isn’t the case. A different author with a completely different story subverted by previous perceptions, and I accepted it based on the fact I enjoyed this book too much to let my fictionalised knowledge ruin it.

My ‘confirmation to the rules of conduct,’ (Dictionary.com) my moral compass or ‘anything which serves to guide a person’s decisions based on morals or virtues,’ (Dictionary.com) had been in a somewhat insignificant and yet, personal way had been tested. I constructed in my head my own sense of betrayal from two narratives when really, I just read two books that called their own thing ‘Shadow Hunters.’ I needed to detach myself from Heaven the same way I had to detach myself from 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, in order to actually enjoy Maleficent. Even then, I was frustrated by the portrayal of the fairies and other things I just couldn’t let go of from my experience of a made-up world. But essentially, I was punishing myself from not separating the same character into two films for different generations.

This is one of many examples of how the perceptions of a ‘goodie’ and a ‘baddie’ can rationalise our moral compass, our sense of right and wrong, ‘the good and the bad.’ This means ‘the ugly’ must be when our moral compass is subverted into unknown territory that as rational people, we can’t figure out the “why?” of the situation presented to us by the creator. The most recent and personal example for me is: Pain & Gain.

‘The woman tucked her small baby into the soft yellow blanket. Her arms gently cradled the new-born and lifted the hood of the blanket away from its face… She cushioned the child into the cot and let her stir naturally. The woman turned to the window to shut the red curtains… A man sauntered in waiting to see his wife with a cup of tea in his hand for her, the cup clattered on the wooden floor bounced onto the carpet… nearby was a red pool, tracking back to a small hole in the woman’s head where she lay stiff. Her eyes unaware and bleak. The last thing those eyes saw was of their child, resting in peace…. But what can I say, it wasn’t easy to get a silencer for the rifle. And that window wasn’t the widest of ones either. I packed away the weapon into the carrier as I heard large footsteps on the roof climbing to my direction. It was time to disappear again.’

pain_and_gain_02034114_st_4_s-high

This is a small extract from a personal project I have been writing after I was inspired by my media studies coursework and the research paper I did: ‘How far can it be argued that Hollywood biopic genre films, such as Pain & Gain (2013) and Coach Carter (2005), manipulate narrative conventions to appeal to a mass audience?’ Prior to the essay, I watched Pain & Gain and I was intrigued by it. IMDb outlines the plot as ‘A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong.’ This anti-hero biopic had humour in it and what made the story all the more disturbing was that the film was based on fact and Michael Bay (director) exaggerated all the dark humour in it to appeal to a massaudience, an audience who like comedy, i.e, me. I had been targeted among the masses to watch this film and I laughed, I thought the violence was too good to be true, but that was the point. Two examples that can summarise the tone of the film is on YouTube called ‘Honest mistake’ and ‘Wood bat’ provided by MOVIEScomingsoon and Paramount Pictures (respectively).

paingainbigstill In this essay, I write that ‘Hollywood’s conventional narratives make audiences ‘feel inclined to warm’[1] towards protagonists as ‘the concerns are so important’[1] for the characters; there is also a strengthened sense of personal identity.’ Essentially, sometimes we can’t help but side with the people we have gotten to know, we were purposely positioned that way. In Pain & Gain, the first person we see and get to know is Mark Wahlberg’s character, Daniel Lugo, who in real life and at the end of the film was sentenced to death. This was shocking for myself and for a focus group I did for my essay, because we had gotten to know a bit more about these ‘protagonists’ and so we felt a strong inclination for them to get away with their crimes, as funny, violent and horrific as they were. This means that our expectations for a satisfying ending in terms of them still being alive, is challenged with their demise. But as an audience, we are brought back into reality, the side of law and order, the side as people we have grown up with: criminals get punished for their crimes (putting aside whatever opinion you have about capital punishment). Killing people is wrong, torturing people is wrong, grilling severed hands from people you smashed on the head with a dumbbell…is disturbing and wrong.

breaking-bad-1

The creation of an anti-hero is most popularly known in the form of Breaking Bad’s Walter White, a chemistry teacher and meth dealer, dying of cancer. Walter is ‘a protagonist who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure,’ (Dictionary.com) someone who lacked the behaviour, actions and attributes we often see in Superheroes such as The Man of Steel (but even with for example, The Avengers, no super hero is perfect and we like that human attribute in the superhuman). However, audiences are positioned with what in the law and order’s eyes would be an antagonist, with an imperfect protagonist. In the first season, we see an innocent man, trying to pay for his son’s treatment and his only option left is creating the bluest form of meth (which, spoiler alert, isn’t truly possible… apparently…).

Breaking-Bad-Season-5

It isn’t until season 5 where dedicated audiences see the transformation in Walter, physically, emotionally and mentally. Best example being his lack of sympathy and naivety (which we previously saw in season 1) when he basically blows up half of villain, Gus Fring’s face, killing him becoming the villain himself. No escape of rationality this time.

Audiences go through their own turmoil with their morality, Walter has transformed into an anti-hero before our every eyes, and we can’t help but still sympathise and try to rationalise his actions as avenging Gus’ awful nature. This is because of the journey we have been through with him. We want him to live, to succeed, but reality gets in the way. People change and the audience know inevitably that Walter will die. And when he did so, despite the person he has become, it is still emotional because of the person we saw him as, a Chemistry teacher, a rational and decent person who didn’t deserve to have his life end. But let me remind you, this is fiction. This was created to put you in turmoil whilst at the same time be entertained and have a fresh, innovative sense of escapism. That is why Breaking Bad was given the Guinness world record of ‘Highest-Rated TV Series’ for a Metacritic score of 99/100. Audiences had their moral compass put to the test and in the result, loved it.

So if this was to have a conclusion, it would be that we choose whether to accept the side we are positioned with, hero or anti-hero. We can choose to oppose it (i.e. I could have stopped reading City of Bones altogether and refuse the idea of good-intentioned ‘Shadow Hunters’) or we can negotiate our morality. What these characters are doing is morally wrong and punishable but for the purpose of entertaining ourselves, we still want to watch it and get to know them and personally identify with them.

Our morality can be played with like a devil’s advocate by the creators of a book, or a film or a TV series. But in the end of it, our moral compass is ours also to control, and it can be refreshing to have it challenged from time-to-time. To challenge us to re-evaluate our perceptions, ideals and belief systems. To check the validity of our own moral compass…. The eternal debate of bad versus mad. Ironically, anti-heroes in our life: not such a bad thing.

Notes: [1] Realism and ‘reality’ in Film and Media (2002 edition from university of Copenhagen)