Graphic Nature — Junior reads graphic novels as part of research

Some students may read graphic novels in their free time, but Audrey Huggett, Traverse City junior, made them her research topic for her summer FURSCA project. Huggett examined nature as a theme in graphic novels, eventually writing a comparative analysis between two – “Pride of Baghdad” by Brian Vaughn, and “We Three” by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.

How did you develop this project concept?

I had read manga for a really long time, and I had just started discovering American comics and it was kind of just like, “Well, why couldn’t I do a project about them?” Actually, how I came up with my idea was that I was at TKE, and we were watching the Adventures of Batman, that cartoon that had been on the WB for a really long time. I was just watching and I realized that the main character’s name is “Batman,” and he fights against people like Poison Ivy and Catwoman and the Penguin and all these nature-based names, but the setting is so urban. And I realized that there’s this really weird thing going that was really interesting.

How did you define “graphic novel” for your research?

I kept the term pretty open because there is a big debate over what the term is. There’s no set definition even among scholarly work; it’s pretty up to interpretation. I actually ended up reading a broad spectrum. I read stuff that would be considered comics, and I read two graphic novels from Japan that are more highly acclaimed-“Buddha” and Hayao Miyazaki’s” Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” I tried to get big names in there, and some less-known names. What I tried to do was just sample everything, and I tried to keep an eye out for stuff that had a more nature theme or emphasis.

Why did you decide on “Pride of Baghdad” and “We Three” to write about?

I ended up choosing them because they lent themselves really well to comparison because they were both about groups of animals that broke away from human control and struck out on their own. I was also drawn to them as something I thought was really interesting. Both were stories that I really enjoyed reading.

What did you find by comparing the two?

What I found was that human interaction with animals-we really only define animals as “wild” or “domestic”-makes it impossible to define them that way. For example, in the “Pride of Baghdad,” it looked at this group of lions that escaped from a zoo, and if you saw them you would think “those are wild animals,” but they didn’t act in ways that normal lions would act-the way they hunted defied normal lion-hunting techniques. These animals aren’t wild, but they aren’t domestic, either-they’re not under direct human control. And with “We Three”  you have these clearly domestic animals-a pet dog, a pet cat and a pet rabbit-that escaped from the military but because they are in these robotic suits you would call them “wild” because they could do so much damage. What I came to realize is that definitions of wild and domestic are changed in those novels so that a “domestic animal” is one that is in direct or indirect human control, so they’re “safe.” And a wild animal is one that humans can’t control in some way.

How important was the art in this regard?

The art’s really important in communicating the story. In “We Three” for example, you get these animals committing these very violent acts. The cat has these claws it can shoot and you see them going through someone’s eyes and ripping it apart. You see these domestic animals doing insane things you would connect with the military. It really emphasized that these are dangerous things. In “Pride of Baghdad,” it was important because you get a group of lions in a city, and you see how out of place they are. It’s just this weird visual because they’re lions and supposed to be doing things lions do, and they’re trying to do things that lions do in the city and it’s really clear that it doesn’t fit. It’s interesting because you can get a different sense of things than you would in a novel.

Do you plan on turning this project into an eventual thesis?

This could be a potential thesis, but I kind of want to go to grad school and get my PhD, and from what teachers have been telling me, if I submit this as my writing sample, grad schools will be like “this is what you want to study” and I’m not sure I want to study graphic novels.

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