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CRACKING THE CODE

CRITICAL WORK: A Sampling

 

Design Samples:

 

Promotional Materials Design & Production for

RSVP, Research Society of Victorian Periodicals

International Conference

Fall, 2007, VCU, Richmond, VA

 

RSVP Promotional Pieces, a selection:

 

8 page 2-color program

 

24x36" 2-color poster

(small posters & folder labels, now shown, are of similar design)

 

lunch list insert

 

dinner list insert

 

         This past Fall, 2007, the International Conference of the RSVP Society was hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University here in Richmond, V

A under the local direction of Dr. Latané of the English Department.  I designed and produced the promotional materials for that conference, using primarily Adobe Suite’s Photoshop and InDesign layout programs.  These promotional materials included a two-color red and black color palette and an overall design conception that could give a unified and professional look appropriate to the Victorian Periodicals theme of the Conference.  The Design Packet included an eight page saddle-stiched program; 24x36” large posters (one of which is now framed in the English Department conference Room), 11x17” posters, two different 8.5x11” black and white flyer inserts using the design and appropriate illustrations and presenting available lunch and dinner destinations; and large labels that also showcased the design to adhere to and dress up the covers of the white packet folders that were used to enclose the materials.  Putting this packet together also included the most interesting task of researching and scanning a large selection of images from authentic Victorian Periodicals from the 1800s to use in the designs.  I have submitted samples of this packet for my files as an example of the design work and knowledge in which I have expertise.  This packet not only displays my design and production skills (and I teach Design Class for the Communication Arts Department), but also showcases typography (I teach that course for the Communication Arts Department as well).  This design process demonstrates the need to take into account the interests of the client in designing such materials for them.  A job based on a Victorian subject is going to require a much different feel and overall look than one for a Science Fiction Conference, for example—different artwork and image choices, different typeface choices, different color palettes, different use of white space, different layout and design choices, etc. 

 

         In addition, I have worked on several other design/layout jobs while in this program.  Links to a sampling of them follow:

 

Victorians Institute Journal Vol. 35 2007 Cover Design Link

(For this book cover, I designed several optional designs for the cover, from which this design was selected.  The book has recently been published.)

 

Blackbird – An Online Journal of Literature & the Arts Logo Update Link

This past year I worked as an Asssociate Production Editor for Blackbird: An Online Journal of Literature and the Arts (current issue linked here), a cooperative project of New Virginia Review, Inc. and Virginia Commonwealth University's Department of English. In this capacity, I was involved to a limited extent with text and audio input and editing, but my main projects dealt with updating and expanding the branding opportunities for this journal.

 

In this capacity, the current logo was revisited, with alterations and adaptations made to enhance its impact, overall professional appearance and clarity of its concept.  The bird’s tilt was adjusted to center the logo; the dot/berry that the bird is stealing was repositioned to emphasize the meaning of the bird's action and the berry's connection with the rest of the letter “I;” the word “Blackbird” was redrawn to smooth aliased edges; the moon slightly enlarged, smoothed and given a gradiant screen; additional text, a url and red rule were incorporated to strengthen brand recognition; and all logo elements drawn together for unity.

 

Two variations of the final design choice were developed for different applications against light and dark backgrounds.

 

Blackbird Splash Page Redesign Link

Blackbird, the Online Journal, is currently developing its next generation concept for its splash page (the opening page/portal to its journal). For this revisioning, I explored some possible changes in a Powerpoint, pulling together multiple designs from which to choose.  The changes will begin being introduced in the near future.

 

Blackbird Branding Business Package Presentation Link

Continuing to unify and upgrade Blackbird’s presence online and in print, this Powerpoint presents possibilities for several pieces in a Business Package, including Stationery, Envelopes, etc.  In future, this will also include a promotional brochure.

 

Also for Blackbird, I designed and prepared for press three different postcards for promotional purposes and use at major conventions.

 

In addition, I prepared the updated Blackbird logos for use on multiple Blackbird branded products available for purchase through Café Press.

 

 

Critical Paper Samples:

 

Breaking Alberti’s Window and Escaping from Medium Specificity Criticism:

Moveable, Paper-Engineered Picturebooks—

Moving Towards a Miniature Version of Gesamtkunstwerk

 

Paper Link                       Powerpoint Presentation Link

 

         In his chapter, Medium Specificity Arguments and the Self-Consciously Invented Arts: Film, Video, and Photography from Theorizing the Moving Image, Noël Carroll, scholar and professor of film theory, philosophy of literature, visual arts, social and cultural theory, described medium specificity arguments as “arguments that purport to establish that the new media have a range of aesthetic effects peculiar to them whose exploitation marks the proper avenue of artistic development within the medium in question” (3).  In other words, such arguments make the case that, because mediums accomplish different tasks in different ways due to their basic nature, there exists subject matter that is more suitable to one medium than to another.  On the other hand, folklorists, anthologists, critics, and specialists in Children’s Literature, Iona & Peter Opie suggested, in “Books That Come to Life,” from The Saturday Book, "Mechanical books should look like ordinary books. Their success is to be measured by the ingenuity with which their bookish format conceals unbookish characteristics." This sounds, on the surface, like an argument against medium specificity as applied to paper-engineered picture books.  Books that look like books but do not act like books, books that break the boundaries of  what is considered traditional for the book form to accomplish-- these are the types of mechanical books for which these reputable critics in the Children’s Literature field are lobbying.  This paper first reviews the ideas of “medium specificity” as applied to various mediums of creative art, as well as the term “Gesamtkunstwerk,” or total work of art.  This is followed with an overview and history of paper-engineered picturebooks for children, offering some examples of the various effects achieved and how they might relate to effects achieved in other newer, and often more technological mediums.  The paper concludes with a discussion of the applicability of those critical terms to this art field.

 

 

Children’s Picturebook as Artist Book:

Peter Newell, American Golden Age Illustrator, Author and Innovator—

Turning the American Children’s Picture Book Form “Topsy & Turvy”

 

Paper Link               Images Link: Page 1  2  3  4  5

 

After a dynamic discussion and “show & tell” class with Johanna Drucker, visiting University of Virginia professor and author of a collection of “artist’s books,” followed by an equally fascinating visit to the special archives collection of artists’ books at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Cabell Library, I found myself in a lively discussion with fellow class members about whether the concept of the “artist book” could apply to the field of children’s literature and picture books. 

It was Drucker’s judgment in her article The Artist’s Book as Idea and Form from A Book of the Book that artists’ books interrogate “the conceptual or material form of the book as part of its intention, thematic interests, or production activities” and that they are “almost always self-conscious about the structure and meaning of the book as a form” (378).  With that in mind, in this paper I explore the idea of the “artist book” as it could apply to the field of children’s literature, researching the emergence of children’s picture book creation, where the author/illustrator and/or publisher play with the book form itself as an important part of the book’s meaning and purpose.  I used, as a case study, the work of an American author/illustrator that I believe is a creator of among the earliest of this type of children’s picture book.  Peter Newell (1862 to 1924), author, illustrator and creator of novelty children’s books that explored the book form directly earned the following description by Michael Hearn, Trinkett Clark and H. Nichols B. Clark in Myth, Magic & Mystery:  One Hundred Years of American Children’s Book Illustration:  “Perhaps the most inventive American children’s book illustrator of the period was Peter Newell. . . . He was also one of the first artists to recognize the picture book as a unique object”  [italics, my emphasis] (16-17).  In this paper I argue that Peter Newell deserves careful consideration when discussing possible picture book crossovers into the artists’ book area because of the way he creatively interacted with the book form; because he crossed disciplines in creating his books by writing, illustrating and designing them himself; and because he consciously utilized new media and methods of art production in developing his style, beginning with his book Topsys & Turvys, and continuing with several other of his picture books that this paper discusses.

 

 

 

The Effects of Hypertextual Mediums on the Picture Book:

How Picture Book Forms are Adapting to the Influences

of “New” and often Non-Linear Mediums

 

Paper Link including Images          

 

Some scholars have identified the codex book form, with its front and back covers enclosing a set of pages that are read in linear and orderly fashion, as a major catalyst for the linear writing and sequential processes pervading all aspects of life in most Western societies for centuries.  According to these scholars, this has occurred to such a great extent that Western humans began to see linear systems as the “natural order” of many aspects of existence.  Linear plot-lines were the norm.  Linear cause-and-effect seemed most natural in the maths and sciences.  It is, perhaps, because of this mindset that western cultures, often, could not see that other orders could also be natural; such as, for example, the non-codex Peruvian version of the book, the quipu, a form of rope knot writing.

Linear systems of sharing information created in alphabetic societies dominated until very recently, when, in the 1940s, Vannevar Bush, in his 1945 essay, As We May Think, first considered new ways of storing information in a new machine he called the “Memex.” This machine would allow connections similar to the way humans think.  “The human mind,” he observed, “operates by association.  With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in association with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain” (Lister 25).  In hindsight, Bush’s observations sound remarkably like the way in which today’s World Wide Web works, using such “jump-link” technology.  The Web has spurred the growth of many new non-linear technologies and mediums.  Today, cell-phone use, text-messaging, web-cameras, computer gaming, on-line shopping, “surfing the net,” i-podding, YouTubing and blogging, among other technological phenomena, infiltrate societies across the world.  Exposure and experience with these new technologies has helped develop a new public no longer so confused by non-linear models in other areas of life. Such models are beginning to emerge in the workplace, in math, science, in news organizations, and, yes, in the world of literature, art and publishing.  In literature, for example, this is demonstrated by the emergence of such forms as narratives with branching plotlines, or hypertextual narratives. 

I contend that these new non-linear, hypertextual models inevitably have begun to impact the field of children’s picture books. This paper explores this idea, identifying several of the basic formats being experimented with in the hypertextual world, then attempting to identify emerging examples from the world of children’s picture books that appear to be informed by such formats.  Because more models exist than there is room to explore them here, this paper focuses on only seven of the most recognizable of these emerging formats, primarily concentrating on those formats that try to stretch the picture book format and traditional linear plotting without too many gimmicks, maximizing the possibilities of the page and book form specifically. Because paper-engineering and moving parts books is a large field that deserves more attention than can be given the subject within the scope of this paper, that discussion is reserved for another paper.

 

 

 

An Overview of the Picture Book Career of David Macaulay

With Special Examination of

those Picture Books with Non-linear Plots

 

Paper Link including Images

 

While best-known, perhaps, for his illustrated books for young readers on engineering and architecture, David Macaulay, recent recipient of one of the MacArthur Foundation so-called “genius” awards in 2006, is also an accomplished author and designer of fictional picture books.  In this writer’s view, one of Macaulay’s primary strengths with the fictional picture book is that he explores and stretches the dimensions of the linear plot and the picture book form as it has traditionally been used up until now.  In his award-winning Black and White (1990) which won the Caldecott Medal, the United States’ top honor for children’s picture book illustration, Macaulay completely abandoned the linear story form to explore four simultaneous stories that appear to be entirely disconnected.  How he presented them on the book page so they made sense to the reader took an expert understanding of book design, as well as considerable talent as an illustrator and writer.  While Black and White was truly a groundbreaking children’s picture book when it was published, if one examines several other picture books Macaulay created in that same period of time exploring similar themes of linear versus “other” forms of story plotting, one cannot help wondering if Macaulay, however subconsciously, is being informed and influenced, perhaps, by the new generation of hypertextual authorship.

  Following a short history or background on the field of children’s literature and picture books, this paper turns its main focus to an overview of David Macaulay’s children’s picture book career with a specific spotlight on those fiction picture books that play with altering the traditional linear plot trajectory of picture book stories.  First is a review of those picture books that Macaulay both wrote and illustrated, accompanied by a description and short discussion of each type of book, with examples.  Then the paper examines more closely a specific selection of those books that have particularly experimented with altering the dimensions of the traditional linear plot.

 

 

 

No New Ideas Under the Sun:

Exploration of the Development and Identification of the Basic Story Plots Theories

Throughout Literary History

 

Paper Link

 

Carolyn Handa, in her book, Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World, poses the following questions,

 

“What then are the social consequences of composing through an interface that is visual and iconic in its focus, as opposed to one that is exclusively verbal in its procedures and results?  What are the sources of dissonance when a writer brings both verbal and visual impulses to bear on a single page—whether in the case of Web authorship or the composition of any example of what W. J. T. Mitchell calls the “imagetext” (9)? What would be the tensions inherent within the hybrid products of a visualized English” (17)? 

 

Queries such as Handa’s seem to question the very survival of traditional story plots, as narratives in a variety of hypertextual formats appear more and more frequently on-line and as new forms of narrative plots are explored.  But what are those basic story plots that are in danger of being supplanted?

This paper first reviews the reasons that western narratives have taken the forms they display today, how those forms have tended to affect western societal views of other cultures with their independent styles of narratives.  The paper, then, discusses the catalysts and changes that are occurring in traditional narrative plot formats due to the advent of hypertextual narrative forms.  It continues by researching and identifying the most significant of the “basic story plot” theories that exist.  It concludes by arguing that “new” forms of plots may not actually be new, but could simply be based on structures that were more common in pre-codex narratives or non-codex-oriented societies—structures such as that of the oral narrative.

 

Seeing Red:  The Revolt of the Beavers

How a Children’s Musical Helped Bring Down the Federal Theatre Project

 

Paper Link including Images     Voices Inside the FTP Handout

 

I was in children’s theater. 

We did the famous “Revolt of the Beavers”

 which seemingly almost destroyed the U.S. government it was so subversive.

– Julles Dassin, FTP actor/director –

 

Picture this scenario:  A group of hardworking beavers are on stage being forced to overwork as they build many things.  Their boss rollerskates around on stage eating icecream with his cronies as he bosses the worker beavers around.  Two children and one courageous leader beaver decide to overthrow the boss and set up a utopian society where they share everything [Figure 1.]. The theatre overflows with pleased spectators, many of them children.

What is so frightening about this scenario that it caused one reputable theatre critic of the time to call the production, “Marxism á la Mother Goose,” prompted the Federal government to shut down the production and, in fact, the entire Federal Theatre Project as a whole? First, for clarity’s sake it becomes necessary to back up a bit to ask the question, what was the Federal Theatre Project?  Where was it located and what did it spring from? Who supported the project and who didn’t? This essay will attempt to provide answers to these questions by tracing the social and political journey to the Broadway performance of the 1937 children’s musical, The Revolt of the Beavers, described above, in order to fully understand why a simple children’s musical exhibited such enormous power over the United States Congress.

 

A WINDING JOURNEY IN INTERTEXTUALITY

A Case Study Examining the Multi-Layers of Intertextuality

from the Starting Point of the Movie, “Anger Management”

 

Paper Link including Images

 

In his essay, Metamedia Literacy: Transforming Meanings and Media from Carolyn Handa’s 2004 text, Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World, J. L. Lemke states, “Every time we make meaning by reading a text or interpreting a graph or picture we do so by connecting the symbols at hand to other texts and other images read, heard, seen, or imagined on other occasions” (73). In the graduate class, Texts and Textuality, that I took in the Fall of 2006 at Virginia Commonwealth University, our class explored much about texts.  We examined their many forms, their new forms, the impact old forms are having on new forms, and how new media are impacting older forms.  One of these areas that piqued my interest during that class is how a huge number of texts are informed and impacted by previous incarnations of the same stories or elements of other stories, bits of history, or pieces of cultural experience; how this often occurs, not just on one level, but on many.  As a specific case study, our graduate class explored the intertextuality of such musicals as the 1996 Tony Award-winning Rent’s reincarnation of the Puccini’s opera La Boheme.  It was during our class’ examination of this particular case study that an odd bit of intertextuality, the presence of a famous musical song, “I Feel Pretty” in another narrative I had recently seen, the movie Anger Management, floated back into my brain, inspiring the desire to investigate its past.  From there I developed the idea for this exploratory paper in which I would start with one oddly-placed song, that originally appeared in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, a musical that I knew was inspired by Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet.  Beginning from one random movie, Anger Management, I would march backward; first to the source of the song; then continuing to trace the multiple layers and generations of intertextuality of this very recent movie as far back as I could find information.  Just how far back in time could I trace the intertextuality of this new movie, I wondered?  I pictured this as a sample case study of the often huge impact of extremely old texts on modern texts, sometimes through so many incarnations that we, the public readers/ viewers of recent versions of these stories, no longer identify, comprehend, or acknowledge their hidden origins.

 

 

 

Examining the Cinderella Tale:

Searching Intertextually for Cultural Origins of Key Elements of Fairytale Type 510a

 

 Paper Link

 

It occurred to me in the middle of a Google search that one could view the ancient network of travelers, and the commercial hubs through which these travelers passed as an early, primitive and much slower counterpart to the worldwide web.  These cities, or commercial centers would have acted as the server collection points for all the information that travelers would have shared about their adventures in far-off corners of the world. At these hubs, oral tales from distant localities would have been told at public fountains, pubs and restaurants and sent forth in new and different directions.  Perhaps a tale from China would be shared in Italy, heard by a traveler on his way to Western Europe, and then retold by that traveler as he made his way to Ireland.  Since methods of travel and communication during this part of history were much more arduous and tedious than they are today, it would have taken months, years or even decades for information to travel from one region of the world to another.  During that travel time, with mostly oral dissemination of information and stories, those stories and information would inevitably have undergone change and taken on some of the trappings of the cultures in the regions through which they traveled and resided for awhile.  This tendency for oral tales to slowly evolve from telling to retelling is described in Laurence Behren’s, “Fairy Tales:  A Closer Look at ‘Cinderella’” from Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum

Written literature, produced by a particular author, is preserved through the generations just as the author recorded it.  By contrast, oral literature changes with every telling.  The childhood game comes to mind in which one child whispers a sentence into the ear of another; by the time the second child repeats the sentence to a third, and the third to a fourth (and so on), the sentence has changed considerably.  And so it is with oral literature, with the qualification that these stories are also changed quite consciously when a teller wishes to add or delete material (467). 

With this sort of evolutionary change in oral stories taking place, it would be possible over time for a tale from Egypt to travel to China and pick up a detail there, then make it’s way back to Italy, where it might pick up and lose details, and then travel over to Western Europe, picking up details in France, or Germany along the way.  Because this type of evolutionary process affected oral fairytales, it should be possible, theoretically, to examine a popular folk tale and trace the cultural origins of some of its core elements by examining versions of the tale from around the world while simultaneously considering the cultural traditions of those regions. In this paper, I first identify and select a common variation of the Cinderella tale and then examine ancient versions of that variation from different time periods and cultures to attempt to determine the origin of certain of the story’s motifs. 

 

William Blake--Marginal Illuminator:

Bridging the Gap between Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts & Modern Illustrated Picture Books

 

Paper Link                    Images from Paper Link

 

Northrop Frye, in his book, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake, suggests, “It is always dangerous to assume that any poet writes with one eye on his own time and the other confidentially winking at ours.  Yet the impression that there is something peculiarly modern and relevant to the twentieth century about Blake is very strong” (12).  Not only would I concur with Frye in his assessment of Blake’s modernity, but I would go a step further and suggest that William Blake’s illustrative work is not only ahead of his time in its approach, but also reminiscent of a time prior to the Gutenberg printed book, to those centuries dominated by the medieval illuminated manuscript; and, further, that Blake’s work acts as a bridge between book illustration from these two very different eras.  In this essay I will demonstrate that William Blake’s illustration, writing and book design acts as a bridge spanning these two eras by first discussing the changes that occurred in book production between the medieval era of the hand-drawn manuscripts and the age of the printed book that arrived with Gutenberg’s press, following that with a comparison of the work of William Blake with that of the illuminated manuscript and a modern day picture book, specifically as exemplified by Blake’s pair of books of poetry for and about children, Songs of Innocence and of Experience in comparison with a work by Caldecott award-winning author/illustrator Trina Schart Hyman, her 2004 Merlin and the Making of a King

 

 

Code Analysis of  Jorges Luis Borges’ 1941 Short Story,

The Garden of Forking Paths

 

Paper Link

  

Jorges Luis Borges’ 1941 short story entitled The Garden of Forking Paths confounds readers’ expectations from the inception of the narrative to its conclusion.  Readers find their expectations challenged from the beginning of the story (set in World War I and written during World War II) when the main character reveals himself to be a German spy who is also Asian; to the story’s middle where there is an interesting discussion of an ever-branching narrative that sounds very much like a description of the World-Wide-Web or emerging hyper-textual experimental narratives half a century before they came into being; to the end of the story when the “hero,” if one could call him that, kills a British friend who has shared a huge gift of constructive knowledge with him to share destructive knowledge with a country in whose cause he does not believe, this story questions the normal expectations of narrative.  This discussion illuminates some of the expectations that Borges challenges with a careful exploration of the codes used by Borges applying Roland Barthes’ system of five narrative codes. 

 

 

An Analysis of the Narratization and Focalization techniques

used in Ambrose Bierce’s short story,

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

 

Paper Link

 

            While Ambrose Bierce’s 1890 short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, is well known for it’s element of surprise, what may be truly surprising about this story is that, upon reading it a second time, its readers discover clues the author included in plain sight that pointed to the ending all along.  While first-time readers of this story may feel, initially, as though some unfair trick has been pulled on them upon reaching the conclusion of the plot; the evidence, upon close examination, does not altogether support such a conclusion. This paper will show that, after analyzing Bierce’s shifts in narratorial perspective within this story, his uses of focalization, and the possible purposes behind his use of these techniques,  and, after comparing the story’s effects with those of Director, Robert Enrico’s 1964 television adaptation of this story,  what becomes clear is that Bierce presents his readers with the information necessary to decode the plot, while, at the same time, purposefully encouraging the reader to misread the story; and he does this by playing with the reliability of both the narrator and the focalizer in the story.

 

 

Other Presentation Samples:

 

In the course of my study in the MATX Ph.D. program, I am required to put together other types of projects, in addition to critical papers.  A sampling of these are listed below, and range from Powerpoint Presentations to Book Reviews:

 

Sample Book Review on Theatre Culture in America, 1825-1860.  By Rosemarie K. Bank. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. 

 

Sample Seminar Lecture Powerpoint on Ronell’s The Test Drive,

 

Sample Classroom Powerpoint Presentation on Children's Picture Book Ecotopias: Utopic or Dystopic? (presentation proposal for a critical paper)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stella viewing the Rosetta Stone, British Museum, London
pulsing star
Stellar signature Stellar signature link to professional bio. Bonus downloadable sample illustration by clicking here!