Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ideas stolen from my brain

As you may know, I presented at the Comic Arts Conference in San Francisco in late February on the idea of truth in autobiographical comics. I started my discussion with a brief look at James Frey's "memoir" A Million Little Pieces and continued on to briefly mention, among other authors who deal with truth in fiction, Tim O'Brien. That all served as introduction to my discussion of one particular autobiographical comic, "Showing Helder" by Chester Brown. During my speech I made mention of other autobiographical works by Brown, such as I Never Liked You and The Playboy, as well as the autobio works of Brown's friends Joe Matt and Seth.

So today I got a copy of a new book I've been meaning to read for a while, This Book Contains Graphic Language: Comics as Literature by Rocco Versaci. Rocco Versaci is an English professor at Palomar College whose work I first became aware of via teachingcomics.org when I first proposed a comic book course in Olney several years ago. This book came out in December, and sometime between then and February I found a copy of it in Borders one day. I recognized the author's name and thought I should pick it up, but I didn't have the money at the moment. When I finally made the decision to buy it, in the hopes of reading it before my presentation, I went back to the store but the only copy they had was sold. I searched everywhere around the city but couldn't find another copy anywhere.

Recently when I placed an order on Amazon with some birthday money, I decided it would be a good time to pick up this book too. I ordered it, it came today, and I flipped through it quickly, planning to give it a proper read later.

As I flipped through, my eyes caught the words "Tim O'Brien." I stopped, went back and found the page, and read. It was a reference to his philosophy on truth in fiction as portrayed in the book The Things They Carried. I was aghast, so I turned to the front of that chapter. I discovered then the second chapter was called "Creating a 'Special Reality:' Comic Books vs. Memoir" and on the FIRST PAGE of that chapter Rocco Versaci is talking about... James Frey and A Million Little Pieces.

Versaci continues by addressing Chester Brown's use of literary techniques in some of his work on pages 39-43, particularly focusing on "Helder" and "Showing Helder" in pages 70-73. He also brings up Joe Matt on pages 64-66 and Seth on page 76.

I am really fucking glad that I didn't read this book before my presentation, because I HAD THESE IDEAS for years (and addressed some of them in the past when teaching "Showing Helder") before presenting on them, and if I HAD read this book, I would have felt like I needed to start my presentation over from scratch so as to avoid the implication of plagiarism. As it is, I feel rather foolish thinking that someone at that conference might end up reading this book and thinking I lifted my presentation from it, but there's nothing I can do about it now, as what's done is done.

I do think I'm going to email the organizer of the conference to point out the similarity to him, lest he think I'm a plagiarist. And of course I'm going to track down Rocco Versaci's email address too; the coincidence is too uncanny not to find him and point out to him.