Unbelievably, for most classes the Short Story Festival continued today. Tomorrow we will have finalized the tallies for the Le Mustache D’Or award for best character, and the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Best Story of the Festival award. When I know the results, I’ll post the winner’s names along with a summary of their achievements in the field of creative writing.
In first period, however, because of the modesty of many students in either creating very brief stories, or in super-modestly not even writing or handing in any story whatsoever, we did manage to finish the Festival events last Friday. These lucky students had a real treat today. We spent the day enjoying a couple of alternate forms of short-story telling, namely the comic strip and the ballad.
The first comic strips we looked at were a couple of episodes of the classic strip Krazy Kat, by George Herriman. The most interesting thing about Krazy Kat is that, although the comic ran for something like 40 years, it told the exact same story in every single episode: Krazy loves Ignatz the mouse; Ignatz devises a scheme to acquire a brick and throw it at Krazy; Offisa Pup (a dog) looks out for Krazy and arrests Ignatz before–or shortly after–Ignatz pegs Krazy with the brick. It turns out that this is a very powerful formula, and it seems to yield countless funny, poignant, and even depressing iterations.
The next “comic” we looked at was an episode from American Splendor, by Harvey Pekar. Harvey Pekar is one of my all-time favorite writers and, with the demise of Kurt Vonnegut last week, Harvey’s now a major contender for my “Favorite Living Person” award. Anyway, Harvey has a lovely way of writing little essays about life, and couching them in a subtle plots drawn from the actual events of his daily life. In the episode we looked at today, for example, Harvey dreams of working out a publishing deal while he drives to the bakery to purchase a loaf of hot rye bread. Although not much actually happens in the plot of this strip, students never have any problem identifying the “climax” of the episode, which occurs in a panel where Harvey sniffs the fresh bread. This is pure genius–so subtle, but also universal. Harvey’s abstract concerns about fame and fortune are interrupted by the visceral experiences of his normal life, which snaps him back into “reality.” The steady undercurrent of this strip and others is that, although Harvey longs to break free from his normal life, it is his everyday activities which provide him with the unique perspective from which he observes the world. The drawings for this strip were done by the great R. Crumb, and his famous textures and grotesque character embellishments add so much to the context of the story.
After that, we considered narrative storytelling in music, otherwise known as “the ballad.” For this part, we listened to and discussed the storytelling techniques in Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” and a newer song, “Leslie Ann Levine” by The Decemberists. Both of these songs use music and words to convey all the elements of plot, setting, character, and irony that we’ve been discussing in class.
Look out tomorrow for a complete listing of the awards.