Passionate Pursuits: David Seelow, PhD, Director of Writing Programs
11/5/12 4:30 PM
By Excelsior Life News Staff
Excelsior Life sat down with David for “Passionate Pursuits” to discuss his piece, what drew him to the comics as a child, and the similarities between today’s comic writers and Charles Dickens and other great fiction writers of the past.
Your lifetime love of comics began at an early age. Do you remember your first comic that you ever purchased?
Comics came out every Tuesday at our local variety store in Broadalbin. I would run down the hill with my pals to buy the latest editions of the super hero comics after school. Comics cost only 10 cents when I first started buying them. I bought every first edition of Spiderman and issue #4 of The Fantastic Four.
What drew you to comics, and eventually, graphic novels? What is it about the story telling that interests you?
I like the inter-animation of image and text. In particular the art of Jack Kirby and his dynamic superheroes inspired me to continue reading.
We have lived in a visual age for some time now, probably since the supremacy of TV as an entertainment media, and, for sure, now we live in a multimodal age of multiple learning styles dominated by the image. Life on the screen is a life defined by the consumption of images and comic book readers need to decode both text and image to negotiate the meaning of a graphic text.
Graphic novels have now superseded the superhero limitation of most comics to present sophisticated multilayered narratives that represent the complexity of life in a way Dickens and Hardy did over 100 years ago at the height of fictional narrative.
What are your thoughts on the recent box office success of comic characters – are comics now officially part of mainstream America?
Yes, both Marvel and DC are major corporations that have successfully merchandised their characters to mainstream America. I suspect we like to idealize heroes and transcend our often mundane lives in a poor economy.
Which comic character would best describe you?
I'll refrain from that difficult question and say I most think about the character of Batman - he does not kill, but does establish an in-depth vision of life representing the ultimate good. He has no super powers but uses training and intelligence to aid his crime fighting. Finally, Batman is rich- and who wouldn't want to be rich and glamorous? That's part of our celebrity obsessed age that even us so-called intellectuals can fall prey to. On the other hand, he is a dark knight and that's troubling, an anti hero too. In other words, the character is a complex enigma like most humans when you delve into the matter.
What are some of your contemporary favorite graphic fiction novels?
There are so many!
Maus: It won the Pulitzer Prize and deservedly so - a brilliant and wholly original way to describe the experience of the Holocaust.
Watchmen: The ultimate superhero story and the deconstruction of the superhero mythos by a masterful story teller, Alan Moore.
Persepolis: A brilliant coming of age story that portrays revolutionary Iran in 1979 and the surrounding years
Fun Home: Another coming of age story that grapples with sexual identity while representing a literary feast of allusions modeled on the 20th century’s greatest writers such as James Joyce,
Ghost World: A beautiful understated satire of suburban America and teen angst.
DayTripper: A Brazilian marvel about writing.
So, what is the focus of your recent piece in the English Record?
It is a new genre of writing called graphic fiction; an extended form of the comic book but more serious, varied and complex in its narration.
What was your motivation for writing it?
I designed a course on The Graphic Novel for RPI in summer 2004. It is now the most popular Humanities course in the summer.
Who would be most interested in reading your article?
All high school and college English and reading instructors.
What do you hope readers take away from your piece?
A brief history of the genre, why it is important for motivating today's reluctant readers, and how to teach the genre in the classroom.