Pitch Black by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton focused on the life of a homeless man living in the darkness of the NYC Subway tunnels.
The comic book’s main character was a young black man living in the streets of NYC. After having been abandoned, he found himself trying to survive in the streets of this jungle and he finally made his way to a homeless shelter. At the homeless shelter, life was worse than it was in the street. It was so terrible that he made his way back onto the streets to avoid all that happened in there, eventually making his way to the Subway tunnels.
If I were to discuss or teach this comic book to either High School or College students, the discussion would be focused around the environments of homeless shelters in the city and how the government seemingly turns a blind eye to the epidemic.
If life inside a shelter is worse than outside, what does that say about these shelters? The book showed the reader how people would die everyday in the shelters, how there would only be a certain day of the week where the food wasn’t bland and disgusting, how the homeless people would just practically be thrown in a room and left to their own devices. Conflicts arise in those rooms, government officials bring up the issues of shelters or the growing number of homeless people but they never seem to actually do anything about it.
I would bring up past issues with homeless shelters and people in them, I’d even bring up today’s issue of our Mayor’s dilemma with the old hotel in Queens being turned into a homeless shelter and both sides of the story. There is a wide variety of subtopics to cover when it comes to homelessness, but the rates in NYC are going up and that can only mean the hellish shelters are bound to become even worse. Focusing on life inside of said shelters seems like the most reasonable thing to discuss with students.
In Will Eisner’s A Life Force, the reader encounters numerous characters living in a tenement in the Bronx in the 1930’s. The characters span from a newly poor young man to a Rabbi with a wife who isn’t quite well in the head.
A character I really liked in the graphic novel was Elton who was a victim of the Crash of 1929. He grew up in a wealthy family and was accustomed to money so he decided to venture out of the family business and find his own path. As soon as his father passed, Elton got rid of the family business and lived just on the stocks until the market crash where he lost his job, money, friends, basically everything in his life. From there he had to move to the Bronx to Dropsie Avenue in a tenement. Elton met Rebecca there, his soon to be wife, and her Jewish Family. Eventually, with support from Rebecca, Elton got a new job, moved up in the ranks, and got Rebecca’s father a business of his own and managed to make good money.
The Great Depression affected everyone and their jobs, economic status. Elton, for example was left without a penny after the business was gone, his neighbor had no jobs to do or was getting paid very little and split the pay with his other neighbor, and other neighbors were getting into communism after being failed by the democracy they trusted.
What I learned from Elton’s relationships with all the other people in the tenement is that they all stick together and help each other out. Living in such close quarters, everyone was always in everyone’s business but that never kept anyone from lending a helping hand when the time came.
In Unterzakhn, the two main characters are twin immigrants Fanya and Esther. The two are brought up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early 1900s and their story is told in a back and forth fashion between the different lifestyles that they are each living and headed towards. Their choices mirror that of many young immigrant girls growing up in tenements and the same part of town by the lack of education they have and all that is kept from them.
What truly started each of the girls off in the paths that they ended up in was their mother. Since most immigrants are traditional, the twins’ mother oc culted a lot from them and in turn they never learned a lot about being a woman so they were left to try to figure that out on their own. Fanya was left to figure out the mysteries of sex and babies through her job with an abortion doctor while Esther was left to figure out sex as a job through her job at a brothel. Their mother didn’t want them to be educated and I could only imagine that that was the case for most immigrant’s growing up in the Lower East Side, so they were left to fend for themselves and discover things in not so good places. Most girls probably took the paths that these twins did just out of lack of knowledge or money and the graphic novel portrays the two lifestyles perfectly when juxtaposing them.
In the beginning of the graphic novel you get a sense of a mystery or tragedy that will unfold as you read along. I was enticed to say the least with this comic since I really love the idea of starting at the end or the middle then making your way back to piece everything together, so I knew I’d really enjoy this book.
One of the major aspects portrayed in the book was life on a steamboat and the Hudson. We met the crew members and got a sense of most of their pasts. Sailor Twain prides himself on being a good captain and Lafayette just followed in his family’s footsteps. Twain seems to let his title as captain rule his life since he constantly leaves his wife Pearl for long periods of time and seems to have no remorse. Lafayette as well doesn’t like to leave the boat and it just shows how life on the Hudson takes some people over completely. The passengers are also illustrated well in the beginning of the graphic novel. Life on the Hudson was portrayed well through the passengers and how rich they all were. Overall life on the Hudson and steamboats alike was portrayed mainly through the lifestyles and choices of the characters within the novel. Choices as leaving their loved ones behind, not leaving the ship at all, and getting on board as a crew member or passenger in the first ship just shows you what type of people those mentioned really are.
There is a huge theme of duality in Sailor Twain, Or The Mermaid In The Hudson and the readers most note it toward the end of the graphic novel.
All the characters in the comic have a dual image of themselves, the good and the bad side. For some, it might be literal (meaning they’re split in half) and for others their other half is a completely different character.
Take Pearl, Twain’s lovely wife, and the Mermaid. Pearl is the good side, she’s the light that is Twain’s genuine love, she’s caring and patient and the love of his life. The Mermaid on the other hand is his temptation, she has a certain darkness, and is completely selfish. While Pearl genuinely cares for Twain’s well being, the Mermaid just uses him and everyone else she encounters to get what she wants, a curse taken off her.
Captain Twain serves as Lafayette’s counterpart in many ways. Captain Twain is the responsible and bland captain that keeps to himself. He prides himself on being a better boss than Lafayette since all Lafayette seems to do is mess around with women on the boat. Lafayette is cheeky and all over the place and serves as what Twain wants to be and what all his temptation is leading him to while Twain is what Lafayette used to be and truly is beneath all his inner conflict.
Beaverton and Lafayette are also counterparts to one another, but not like the previous pair. Twain and Lafayette mirror each other in their ethics and way of life while Beaverton and Lafayette mirror each other as soul mates. Beaverton represents the life that Lafayette wants to lead, but he can’t since he’s bound to the sea. Lafayette is a marvel in Beaverton’s eyes since he’s living the life she writes so much about but doesn’t dare dwell in.
In the end of the book, the dualities of characters takes a literal turn and it is explained how half of a person is taken by the Mermaid to the sea if they hear her sing while the other half remains above. The theme is evident throughout all of the graphic novel and many characters act as another’s mirror, but the three pairs mentioned represent some of the deepest reflections of the characters and their morals.
Journey into Mohawk Country by George O’Connor is the tale of Harmen Meyndertsz Van den Bogaert and his journey with two of his mates from the bottom of Manhatas Island to Mohawk Country in seek of new friendships to strengthen the Dutch trade.
Coming from different cultures leads to clashes between the Native Americans and the Dutch explorers, but since the two sides were able to tolerate one another and even become friends in the end, the only underlying tension was prejudice coming from either side in the course of their travels.
A specific example of prejudice coming from the Dutch side is when Bogaert mentions the keepsake that most people keep as a sign of their faith and he seemed to have been a little put off by the fact that the keepsake in that tribe was a “marten’s head,” while Bogaert’s own keepsake is a cross he wears around his neck. So the difference between the two icons made Bogaert kind of step back from his reality and realize how far on each side of the spectrum the two cultures are.
An example of prejudice from the Native American side is every instance when Bogaert and his friends arrived at a new tribe. The masses of people that wanted to get a look at the light skinned foreign men that had just arrived never ceased to astonish Bogaert. He would constantly explain how they would “throw each other into the fire,” to take a peek at the Dutch explorers. It’s understandable that they never encounter light skinned people but to the Dutch men it could be taken offensively the more it occurs to them.
Overall, the book was a fun adventure from the point of view of the main Dutch explorer. I liked the fact that what was left untold by words was told by pictures and it broadened the actual content of the graphic novel and it’s plot. There were many cases of prejudice or bias but all those instances are completely understandable since the two types of cultures never really come together and they’re all from different places on earth. The same type of instances still happen all over the world and it’s due to the little amount of bridges between cultures even to this day.
Shaun Tan’s beautiful graphic novel about the story of an immigrant and his journeys through his brand new world and life hit pretty close to home for most Americans. Being a country formed by immigrants makes this book all the more relatable when thinking of one’s own journey, or their parent’s, or their grandparent’s.
The audience experiences the journey of a man leaving his family behind in their home country to come to a better one before sending after them. He escapes the “creature” in his home and makes it to the dream world safely. After exploring and getting aided by other immigrants, the man manages to send after his wife and daughter. Before doing so, we see the man journey on a ship to the dream world, arriving and looking for a room, finding a very small one and making it as homey as possible with a photograph of his family, finding a pet that he goes almost everywhere with, looking for jobs, visiting the market and making friends, and finally the arrival of his family.
The Arrival captures the true immigrant experience in many ways. From the long journey to a new land, to leaving a family behind in hopes of a better future for them all. I found myself thinking of my parents arriving in this strange new land seeking better opportunities for themselves and the future family they were to have. The “creature” aspect of the comic was great and it made me think of communist leaders or any type of rebel group or terrorist groups in other countries and how they are part of someones decision to escape their reality and come to the “dream world” that Tan re-imagined in his book. Immigrants helping one another out was another really great and true point that the author drew about and it made me think of one of my favorite movies, Paraiso Travel (2008), in which the main character gets lost and a woman begins to help him; the woman’s husband begins to scold her for helping out a “miscreant” and she says if they don’t help each other who will?
Being out of place was also a huge part of the book and it made me think back to my Sports Management class. I love the class and all but the majority of the time it’s just the teacher talking about football or baseball and all the guys in the class getting riled up over something that I know absolutely nothing about. It makes me feel a bit inadequate about my knowledge in my own major, but then I think about how the majority of them would be absolutely lost in a class that just spoke about soccer (which would be my ideal class) and I just try to go along with it all.
The Arrival was overall very insightful in what it would be like to be an immigrant and putting in work to bring your family over, and it gave me an image of what my family members did when they arrived to this country. It was truly a beautiful story told through amazing illustrations and it had no need for words to accompany the drawings.