Sunday, September 1, 2013

Week Three: The Act of Reading a Comic Strip

For this week’s assignment I chose to read Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie.  Having never read a collection of comic strips such as this, I wasn’t sure what to expect and was actually surprised to find not a flowing story, but instead a series of short scenes.  I felt that the act of reading a comic strip more closely paralleled watching a weekly television series than reading a novel.  Like a TV show, all you obtain from a comic strip such as Little Orphan Annie is dialogue and visuals; there is no narration or description or thought.  Yes, Annie has many soliloquies and monologues, particularly when she’s expressing her opinions of people or questioning peculiar happenings, but the reader rarely gets insight to her deeper thoughts or the opinions of those around her.  She had to endure so many tragedies, but when she had something taken away from her, when she was fooled by her guardians, when she was sent back to the home when the guardians didn’t want her anymore – she always put on a smile and claimed to be lucky for what she had, forcing herself to keep a positive attitude.  However, these were words she spoke aloud to herself.    As a reader, how do we know she’s not secretly feeling anger or remorse underneath false convincing?  We don’t – we only know the limited information that a comic strip is able to convey.

There are many factors that assist the dialogue in telling the story.  For example, when Annie was beating someone up (which was strangely cavalier, even for a girl growing up without steady guardianship), or when disasters occurred, onomatopoeia helped give a better sense of the emotion or environment.  And in the rare occasions when Annie did cry over her adversities, “sniff sniff” or “boo hoo” were the only reasons we knew she was crying.  That’s one advantage a television show has over a comic strip: still images can’t convey much action.

Another reason that the act of reading a comic strip is like watching a television series is that they both typically follow an actual calendar.  For instance, Christmas in Annie’s world echoes Christmas in reality.  What’s more, the time period plays a huge factor in the overriding story.   Money was one of the major themes in Harold Gray’s writing, which presented much conflict in conjunction with The Great Depression.  A reader gets the chance to see the world he or she knows through someone else's eyes.

Finally, one of the biggest differences in reading a comic strip is the lack of a set climax and resolution.  It’s just a series of short scenes that jump through life spontaneously, which mirrors the way the work was written.  I think it’s safe to assume that Gray did not plan the entire plot prior to writing.  This yields less expectation; like life, the story continues with no particular focus.  Fate jumps in whenever it pleases and the author has a lot more freedom in plot twists.   In this way, a comic strip allows for the reader to develop a strong connection between his or her life and the life of the characters.  The act of reading a comic strip leads to a strong relationship between the life inside and outside of the fantasy world.

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