Thursday, July 6, 2017

Alex Nall: Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours

Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours, by Alex Nall. Nall has written a number of comics about teaching that are interesting, but this is an interesting long-form book that he created via fundraiser. There are three narratives that are intertwined here. First is Nall's own narrative as a teacher who is struggling, with one belligerent student in particular being a relentless thorn in his side. Second is Nall's partner, who is also a teacher, struggling trying to teach languages to slightly older kids. The third narrative is a timeline of Fred "Mister" Rogers, the famous children's TV host known for his extraordinary gentleness. (There's a sub-narrative involving Nall talking to a teacher friend of his via computer). The comic is mostly about finding one's path and how to figure out if what you're doing at the moment is what's best for you. Nall struggles at his school with the belligerent kid, Kevin, and he regrets how he loses his temper with him even as Kevin antagonizes and even hits other kids. Nall takes solace in watching reruns of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and finding out more about his life, as Rogers took a long time to figure out his own path.

Nall goes into some detail about Rogers, noting how important it was for him to have a diverse cast and challenge gender roles--but only up to a point, as he didn't want a gay cast member to openly come out and even encouraged him to get married to a woman. Rogers was essentially picking his battles and openly said that he didn't think society is ready, but the cast member (Francois) noted that if he had allowed him to come out, it might have accelerated acceptance in society for an entire generation of children. Nall depicts Rogers as a complex but ultimately loving and accepting person who had a profound impact on not just his viewers, but everyone who worked for him. There's even an amusing sidebar where a young cameraman on his show named George Romero was trying to recruit one of the show's actresses for a certain zombie movie he was making.

Nall mostly sticks to a 2 x 3 grid here, abandoning it from time to time for a splash page for effect. His figurework is rough and cartoony, and there are times his use of color overwhelms individual panels. However, he's able to consistently get across the heart of his story, and the time fracturing of his narrative is effective in blending together several different emotional concerns. Sometimes in the end, Nall implies, someone needs a lucky break in times of difficulty, as he received and Rogers received many times in his career. Sometimes you need a single person to reach out and make what you're doing seem worthwhile, and that can make a tough job worth it. Nall also explicitly says that teaching is a rough road, and that there's nothing wrong with stepping away if it's not for you, as his partner decides to do. Perhaps if she had received the kind of support she needed, she might have stayed. Perhaps not. The point of the story, from Mister Roger's point of view, is that we all have our own paths and our own decisions to make, and we have a right to make them. The other main point of the narratives is that while anger is a natural reaction, the decisions we choose to make with regard to that anger are our own, and there is often an extraordinary opportunity available to turn it into something else.

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