Category Archives: graphic novel

Torso: Biopsy

Torso:Biopsy from Jim Groom on Vimeo.

Two weeks ago the True Crime course Paul Bond and I are running discussed the graphic novel Torso. We’ve adopted a new approach for teaching this Freshman seminar. On a weekly basis the course is run by rotating groups of three students . I’ve loved this approach, students are working together, doing research, adeptly leading discussion, and take=ing ownership of their course. We’ve been asking them to make sure all their prep work for each week is added to the course wiki, and together they’re building a comprehensive document of what we’ve discussed throughout the semester.

The other side of this is because the students truly own the course discussion, it doesn’t always touch on various elements Paul and I might want to lecture about. Let’s face it, I love to talk. I have no problem dominating a course session with my views of what something means, but I’ve been resisting this impulse. That’s very much a side-effect of co-teaching this course, something I find has been awesome for pushing my teaching outside my comfort zone.  That said, the student-driven discussions don’t always cover certain themes, issues, close readings that we might thing are important. And while everyone talks during class, including Paul and I, we try not to hijack the conversation. This is where we use typically targeted posts, comments, etc., to cover anything we think has been missed.

Two weeks ago, while we were talking about Torso, it became apparent that a number of students were uncomfortable with reading graphic novels. Rather than this viusal medium being second nature, as folks might assume, more than half the class found the book confusing because of the format. Give that, Paul and I decided we would try and do a video discussion, like we did for 10 Mario Bava films over the past six months, talking specifically about how you read graphic novels.

Paul put together a presentation with the first 15 pages of the graphic novel, and he took me through doing a close reading in this visual medium on video. I learned a ton about reading graphic novels, and I love the idea of supplementing what the students are doing in their discussions with some follow-up, formalized video discussions like this one. I want to do more with Paul (which is always the case because I love talking to him about this stuff), and I think if we were to teach this course again this would be one way to do a back flip of a particular class. A post-facto wrap-up and recap of the discussion to highlight student points from the discussion they led, and also the opportunity to share our own ideas, readings, and thoughts more extensively. That said, I might just like it cause I can talk more :)

“Find the heads.”

torso1Bendis tells the Torso story in a very cinematic fashion. The dramatic lighting and the camera angles all look like something out of film noir. Then there’s that repetition from panel to panel, sometimes with slight variations, that gives it a filmstrip feel. At the same time, each section opens and closes with a fade in/fade out, zoom lens effect, but the transition isn’t from image to blur but rather image to halftone dot. In one way this reminds me of the Pop Art of Roy Lichtenstein, probably because I’ve studied art history, but the intention is probably to tie the story to newspapers, which are becoming a thing of the past, at least in printed form. Bendis also incorporates photos from news archives in the illustration, in a very deft manner. It’s sort of reminiscent of Cold Case, although the graphic novel predates the TV show. There was a grubbiness to newsprint and ink. It would smear easily and get on your fingers and make you feel dirty. Bendis recognizes this in an interview: “Crime stories should be dirty and seedy and there is nothing dirtier and seedier than rubbing ink on the page.”torso2

Another atmospheric element Bendis brings into the design is the spiraling pattern of the panels on some of the pages. Maybe this is to show that things are spiraling out of control, or spiraling down the drain. It pulls control away from the reader, in that one has to turn the book to read it properly. It’s a little heavy handed and a little annoying, but I like the experimentation anyway.photo