Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Faker #1: Dr. K's Academic Analysis

After reading the first issue of Mike Carey and Jock's Vertigo miniseries, Faker, I thought I'd steal a page from Dr. Scott's blog over at Polite Dissent. Just as Dr. Scott raises issues of medical veracity in comics, I thought I'd use my experience as a college professor to make some comments about the accuracy of the representation of academia in Faker, as there were some issues that stood out to me while I was reading it. I also thought I'd bring in another area of my expertise, as I got my undergrad degree at a college in Minnesota, and I'm familiar with the St. Cloud, MN, school represented in the comic.

However, as far as the accuracy of St. Cloud is concerned, the comic gets it dead on--St. Cloud is fucking cold in January. That's really all you need to know.

I also want to say up front that I enjoyed the issue for the most part. While some critics have panned the book for a lack of likeable characters, that element doesn't bother me so much, and I'm intrigued by the mysteries involved, especially the issue of identity loss.

Pages 1 and 2: Sexual Harassment

The single most tired plot in any story taking place in a university setting--whether it be on television, in prose fiction, or in comics--is the faculty member who has an affair with the student. Though I understand that we need it here to establish Jessie's character, I wish Carey had found a less cliched way to do so. Carey does score points, however, for having Professor Gelb follow protocol and advise Jessie to see a counselor first. However, Gelb doesn't stick to protocol for long. At the very least, this comic is a good cautionary tale about the dangers of sexual harassment.

I haven't been following The All-New Atom for a while (which is another comic in an academic setting that could also be a part of this feature), but I sure hope that this plot hasn't surfaced there as well.

Also, in Jock's panels, Gelb's office looks huge, and it appears to have empty book shelves. Though I don't doubt that such an office could exist, it does make me jealous in comparison to my office. I do suffer tremendously from office envy.

Page 3: The Setting
The narration establishes here that the story is taking place at a school called "Minnesota University at St. Cloud." The real school is called "St. Cloud State University," but I'll give Carey artistic license here. It seems, however, from information given later in the story, that Carey is presenting this school as a large research university, whereas SCSU is a small liberal arts college, and the community of St. Cloud is not big enough to support a research university. Again, all this is a matter of artistic license.

A couple of other issues stood out to me on this page, though. First, the spring semester is starting on January 4. This seems very early to me. January 11 or 18 would be more realistic dates. A semester that starts on January 4 would have to end in early April, I would think.

Also, in this story, students are signing up for classes the day before classes start. That seems highly unlikely. For one, some students like to use their breaks to get ahead for the next semester, so they would need to know what classes they were taking by the end of fall. Also, universities have bottom limits for enrollment where, if a class doesn't attract enough students, it doesn't "make." In the system presented here, faculty would not know if their classes "made" until the first day of class, which wouldn't give them enough time to be reassigned to new classes. And, perhaps most significant, this would mean students have to buy books that same day, which would then mean that the university bookstore would be a madhouse that day. Again, Carey probably needed the registration scene later in the issue to establish Nick's loss of identity, but I think this particular plot element stretches credibility a bit.

Page 14: The Cybernetics Lab
During the group's party in the cybernetics lab, Jessie points out some "brain structure diagrams" on the monitor, and Marky responds, "Angel's Kiss. Some corporate research deal that the grad students are in on. It's liquid crystal info-storage." There's nothing necessarily wrong with this scene, but it does establish that Carey is presenting this school as a large research university, with a cybernetics lab, grad students, and huge corporate research grants. This is also one of those details that will probably become important in later issues.

Page 15: Lecturers
The group starts "playing some game where you have to invent sexually explicit nicknames for lecturers we all know." I think Mike Carey may be using the term "lecturers" more in the British sense here. The term is used in some American universities to refer to non-tenure track faculty, often part-time but also full-time, and usually only one step up the academic hierarchy from graduate students. However, it's more commonly used and broadly applied to academics in British universities. I'm not sure in this game that these students would be so selective about which group of faculty they were discussing.

Page 24: Paul Fucking Saknussen
Nothing wrong here--I just wanted to mention that I think "Paul Saknussen" is a great Scandinavian-sounding name, which fits perfectly in the Minnesota mileau of the story.

So, most of these comments only highlight that Mike Carey has taken some liberties with the academic setting in order to serve the needs of the plot and characters. And, I have to say, I was excited to get this comic when I read the solicitations that mentioned it takes place in a Minnesota university. Nonetheless, based on my experience as an academic, I was occasionally pulled out of the story when something came up that didn't quite fit that experience.

However, I do want 50 copies of this issue to hand out during the next sexual harassment seminar I have to go to--it beats the crap out of the boring pamphlets we normally get.


Chris Sims said...

There has been, as yet, no sexual harassment angle in All-New Atom.

Unless you count when Ryan Choi goes on a date with one of his coworkers, who strips naked, grows to a hundred feet tall and then eats him, which I just assumed was part of getting tenure.

Dr. K said...

Getting eaten by a 100-foot tall woman is an accurate metaphor for the tenure process.

Siskoid said...

I work at a university too and the Winter Semester very much starts around january 4th (courses start on the 7th this year), it ends early April, and exams wrap up end of April.

The "Spring and Summer Semesters" are each one month long, for crash courses.

Obviously, there'll be a difference between how Minessota and New Brunswick, Canada operate...

Jim Shelley said...

So...I quickly scanned this latest two posts and found myself going, "...What!? Did Gator go to college? I don't remember that in the movie."

Went back and reread everything a little more carefully, and was a little saddened that Faker wasn't actually a comic about Gator in college.

Now THAT is a comic Darwyn Cooke should pitch to DC.

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