Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Behold the Super Wizard!

Today I had the students read Stardust.

"Oh," you say, "you mean Stardust, the fantasy story by award-winning author Neil Gaiman, lushly illustrated by Charles Vess?"

No, no. That's an illustrated novel, not a comic. I mean STARDUST THE SUPER WIZARD.

Back in the early days of comic books, when Superman was a sudden hit, every publisher wanted to come up with their own Superman. Stardust the Super Wizard is what you get if you try to copy Superman without understanding anything at all about the character.  Stardust is not about protecting the innocent; Stardust waits until evil-doers have committed some horrible atrocity, then swoops in and deals out a gruesome punishment.

The other day I showed the class the original two-page origin of Superman from Superman #1 (which is really charming). So once they've seen Superman, they should see an example of what Superman inspired, right? Many of those early super-hero comics are fairly boring in execution. But Fletcher Hanks, creator of Stardust, was far from boring.

There are generally three reactions to the work of Fletcher Hanks:
1. "This is terrible!"
2. "This is so bad it's good!"
3. "This is awesome."

I'm in the third camp. I can, however, understand the other two viewpoints. Hanks's work is . . . unconventional.

Anyway, we've been reading Understanding Comics, and we're on chapter 3. We've been talking about the six kinds of panel transitions. It's good stuff, but we need a break from it every now and then. So I promised them that we would read an actual story.

I got out my copy of I Will Destroy All the Civilized Planets!, flipped through it, and chose the second Stardust story in the book. This one has everything you want to see: mass destruction, bodies floating in space, cruel ironic punishment, and, most importantly . . .

Stardust crushing a man with one hand.

Tomorrow I'm going to give them a writing assignment based on this story.

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