Comics in Response to Literature

by Owen Landefeld and Summer Mills

Owen Landefeld:

For my comic, I chose to interpret Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl. I chose this because 1) I particularly enjoyed the story when we read it the first time and I was curious how it would feel to try and interpret the ambiguous storytelling into a graphic medium and 2) I didn’t feel that I could add anything particularly novel to a Leaving-BC-because-of-Coronavirus story. I depicted a few scenes from the dialogue, such as hanging clothes, sitting in Sunday School, sewing a button, and then feeling bread in a bakery. The dialogue from the original short story overwhelms each panel as it overwhelmed the narrator (excuse the dense handwriting). At the start, there’s a little more scenery for the girl and a little more free space and slowly grows until the fifth panel where it crowds the girls ears. Then, as the grown girl is squeezing the baker’s bread as a woman, the mother’s words echo throughout the scene as the final lasting memory.

Regarding Maus, I chose to only include the text boxes that served as the omniscient, reflective narration. Those few lines in text boxes and then over the whole sixth panel were the only lines from Girl that appeared as direct dialogue between the mother and daughter. They’re the only example of the actual relationship between the two and I believe the most important 64 words in the story. Kincaid was very selective about the actual dialogue that she included in her story and I felt that the same should be applied to the comic.

Summer Mills:

Reading MAUS really made me reflect on my own family’s experience under Hitler’s regime and how there are different sides to every story. For instance, so often does “being German” become synonymous with “being a NAZI” if it was during the time right after WWII. My Grandmother married my grandfather, an American soldier stationed in West Germany post WWII, and moved to the United States. When she came to the US, she refused to speak German and worked very hard to lose her accent because she was fearful of the negative images that could’ve been projected on her. This oversimplification reminds me of our current situation with people using hateful language regarding COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus”. I only ever heard her speak German when she was suffering from a broken hip and in her pain, she was calling out for her little brother: reliving the fear she had felt in her younger years when he was missing during a heaving bombing of their home town. While I still pity the trauma that my grandmother’s family went through (and that far worse of countless other families), MAUS really made me start to question the facts I have been told and the black and white lines fed to me about how my family was wholly in the right. This is why I chose to end my comic with the panel of my dad discussing my Opa’s time as a soldier. Art’s father chose to tell his story in a way that made him out to be the hero of all situations. If I can see that and understand the danger of accepting a single story at face value, how am I supposed to blindly believe what my family has told me about themselves? While I still take pride in my family heritage and do not think I have been told any lies, MAUS has taught me that there is no concrete line between good and bad, and there is probably more to the story of my grandmother and her family in NAZI Germany than I will ever be told.

Therefore, I approached this comic by making it about my relationship with my dad and about me listening to my dad for information on my heritage. This element was inspired by Spiegelman’s MAUSI, as this was also centered on his relationship with his father. Even though the history I was discussing was multiple generations removed, I think there is something powerful behind going to your father for answers. I also took advantage of the space between panels to denote different sequences of time similar to Spiegelman.

My overall approach was to emphasize the importance of knowing your family’s heritage, understanding different perspectives and the danger of a single story, and how different questions yield different answers. For example: Was grandma a NAZI? and Did grandpa fight for the NAZIS? yielded two very differently toned responses from my dad on the subject. One question provided very easy yes or no, good or evil, answers where as the other showed the true blurriness of good and bad in times of war. Yes my great grandfather tried to work against Hitler, and yes he was shipped to Siberia to fight on the front as punishment, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t fight the allies’ soldiers and didn’t contribute to the NAZI efforts in the war.