Friday, January 31, 2014

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: January 2014

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story
Writer and Artist: Peter Bagge
via Drawn & Quarterly
As discussed previously (here), I generally try to avoid both politics and religion on my blog.  However, the intersections of those spheres with the arts are numerous and inevitable.  If I can write about Israel/Palestine without ruffling too many feathers, surely I can manage the same with birth control, right?

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) opened the first birth control clinic in America.  She was an outspoken international advocate for women's reproductive rights and many of the organizations she established eventually evolved into Planned Parenthood.  While current public perception of that entity might lead one to expect otherwise, Sanger was firmly anti-abortion.  Her mission was preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place, especially for women in poverty.

I will admit upfront that I'd never heard of Margaret Sanger before My Wife bought this book, a biography in graphic novel form.  While I certainly found her to be an admirable person, I have issues with the comic book treatment of her life.  For starters, the story moves too quickly, decades covered over the course of a few pages.  There are extensive notes at the end of the book for those eager to learn more but 20 pages of footnotes for a 72-page story is bassackwards by my reckoning.  Also, Bagge's artistic style is too caricature-esque for the serious subject matter.  Comics can work for darker topics - Maus, Palestine, Louis Riel - but matching the style to the content is crucial, just as it is with any book.

My petty gripes aside, I do think it's a good book and well worth reading.  Any frank discussion of responsible sex that's accessible for young readers is fine by me.  While Bagge's book only scratches the surface of the issue, it does provide a meaningful introduction.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post February's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is February 28th.


41 comments:

  1. Comic book format is not well suited to biography. Or, really, adapting any novel, unless you're going to do a series. One issue just can't cover it.

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    1. I've seen it work. Chester Brown's Louis Riel comics are good. He struck the appropriate mood and it made all the difference.

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    2. The Riel comics are standouts. It's always excellent to have an example at hand of 'what works.'

      This was a very good review. Succinct but substantive. Also, is that you holding the book?

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    3. No, it's not me. It may be the author, actually. I think he did a book signing at the store.

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    4. The author! I sooooo thought it was your Girl...until I looked closely.

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    5. She's growing like a weed, but not quite that much yet.

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  2. Interesting that there's a comic biography of Margaret Sanger in the world. I really want to check it out now.

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    1. I hope you will. Please share your thoughts if you do.

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  3. I wouldn't pick Margaret Sanger's biography as comic book material but it does open up the issues of responsibility and sex, so I wouldn't poo-poo it either. Interesting stuff! For myself I'd prefer a boring old book of words with some photographs.

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    1. The footnotes add a bit of scholarly credibility but I agree, it's a strange choice. Still, I'm glad to have read it.

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  4. I think the format is odd but it is good to see it available to young people who might not read traditional books.

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  5. Whoa! such a subject in graphic novel form? So much wrong with that idea I think.
    That said, the subject is a good one and needs discussion. I didn't know Ms. Sanger was against abortion so it sounds like a innovative way to get the info out.

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    1. The issue is a complicated one and this book is more a conversation starter than anything else - probably a good thing.

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  6. This looks like a good way to introduce Sanger to high-school students, who might not have the time/interest to devote to a longer biography. The cover is kind of annoying, though, isn't it? It doesn't seem dignified enough for such a subject.

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    1. Yes - undignified. And that's really my problem, mostly because I don't think it's actually the author/artist's intention to mock her. But the style occasionally comes across that way.

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  7. Sounds like the ambition outpaced the skill of the creator in this instance. Although a footnote-heavy comic is certainly a unique idea.

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    1. Ambition outpaced skill - that's a good way to put it. I admire the effort tremendously but it fell short of the intended mark, I feel.

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  8. I'm all for the medium--it can draw in young people--and is disarming to the eye. Think of it this way, if it was a regular book with a title that hinted at birth control and Planned Parenthood, it would probably get on a 'banned' list throughout America's Bible Belt. And, in reality, Margaret Sanger (synonymous with Antichrist is some locales of the US) was a champion for women and the poor. Her legacy should be shared, to borrow from another 'subversive' group, "by any means necessary." If people see this, they may ask new questions, learn more. I think of it as a 'gateway' comic, if you will.

    Thanks, Mr. Squid, for bringing this gem into the light!

    Veronica
    http://vsreads.com

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  9. It's hard to imagine Sanger's life as a comic but I agree with others that if this is a more accessible format for some than it's all good. I've just never seen biographies in this format before so it surprised me LOL.

    Thanks for hosting as always, Armchair! Enjoy your weekend.

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    1. The Louis Riel biography is really good. My wife recently read one about Gandhi that she didn't care for so much.

      Always glad to have you join us, Julie!

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  10. Ditto the words of Julie, it may fit the audience it's trying to reach. I would prefer the regular, but if the message is important - a unique way to get it out there!
    Thanks for bringing to light here!

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    1. My pleasure. I hope others will seek it out.

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  11. Interesting that Margaret was anti-abortion. I wonder what she would think of Planned Parenthood now.

    Like others have said here, I suspect the strange format may have to do with the audience it's trying to reach. Perhaps it's a way to introduce teenagers to the history of birth control? Sounds like an interesting book.

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    1. I feel that adults, rather than teens, are the target audience but that doesn't mean accessibility for a younger demographic wasn't a consideration.

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  12. Graphic novels are a great way to tackle tough subjects. MAUS is the best example of thing.

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    1. Maus is excellent, and most certainly the standard by which other non-fiction comics are judged. I read it long before I jumped into the comics hobby whole hog. Its success, though, is due largely to achieving an appropriate tone. Maus is satirical at times, but never trivializing. This book comes perilously close to that line on occasion.

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  13. Feels like more of an introduction than a real story. I'd never heard of her until now so I'm sure there are a lot of people who are the same. But I'd probably be more inclined to read it as a regular book if i wanted the low down on her life.

    mood
    Moody Writing

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  14. I don't know, but I guess for me, this would be a strange topic to tackle in comic book form. I agree that darker material can work, like you mentioned, but if everything seems off (i.e. the way the material is presented, the drawings not fitting the subject matter, etc.) then maybe it's best to hold off until the story can be properly told through this medium. And, yeah, 72 pages of footnotes for something shorter than the footnotes doesn't make any sense.

    Thanks, though! I find this to be an interesting topic.

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    1. I should clarify a couple of points. First, the narrative is 72 pages long, the footnotes are 20 pages long. It's still way out of proportion but the story is at least longer than the notes.

      Also, I should make clear that I do admire the attempt. The subject is worthy and the artist has every reason to try to match his style to the material - just didn't quite work for me.

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  15. Well, I'm really interested in reading this book now. The Louisville library has a copy of it, and I'm checking it out, thanks for the review!

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    1. Excellent! Please let me know what you think.

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  16. It seems the author could have at least put some of that footnote material into the book to pad it out to 100 pages :P Footnotes are hard work because you have to keep flipping to the back of the book to find out more.

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    1. That's exactly it, Trisha. I would have liked to see a fuller body in the graphic novel, lessening the need for extensive notes at the end. I'll confess, I didn't bother reading the footnotes at all.

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  17. I have to agree with others that this is a strange way to introduce anyone to Margaret Sanger. I'm not much of a graphic novel person, but I can't for the life of me understand why there are footnotes, never mind why there are so many of them.

    Anyway, it is a worthy subject, I'm still just trying to make sense of the concept.

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    1. Graphic novels can work for serious subjects. I'm happy to provide examples. I think the trouble with a biography is simply that there's so much ground to cover. And in truth, biographies are tricky in straight text as well. A life is long and complex. What do you leave out? How do you manage the passage of time? How does one maintain objectivity about the subject?

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  18. I think I'm going to look around for this book, see if the library has it. I'm reading a biography right now and wish it were in graphic novel form. It's the story of financial wizard Hetty Green & is rather boring in print.

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    1. This book definitely isn't boring, I'll say that!

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