Anyone Can Relate

In all honesty, my experience with comics is not as sophisticated as I would like it to be, which is why I think of myself as being placed in a “general knowledge of comics” category. Since this is the case, I wanted to discover something unique in the comic world, something that could breech my standard view of what a comic is. In researching various topics, I came across a rather intriguing article written by Sara Coelho titled “Piled Higher and Deeper: The Everyday Life of a Grad Student.”  In her article, Coelho discusses the creation of comic writer Jorge Cham’s comic strip website called Piled Higher and Deeper, or PHD for short. The simplicity of Cham’s onset of becoming a comic writer is what really made me appreciate his work. In her article, Coelho states that “a few weeks after he started a master’s program in mechanical engineering at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, the student newspaper The Stanford Daily put out a call for a new comic strip.” Cham and his friends ended up proposing a comic strip about the daily, anxiety-filled, lives of graduate students. The newspaper liked the idea and published the strip which then lead to the creation of Cham’s website in which his comic strip is displayed for free (Coelho, 2009).

The reason I enjoy Cham’s comics so much is because of the relatability that flows through each of his panels. As I have previously mentioned, my knowledge of comics is limited and when I think of the type of humor related to comics I tend to think of a type of slap-stick humor that is funny at face value. However, when I read Cham’s comics I laugh because I can relate to the struggle, the anxiety, and the breakdowns. Cham’s humor feels substantial in that he presents these stressful situations and turns them into a joke; the stressful situation in itself becomes the stress reliever when you see how ridiculous the situation actually is and allow yourself to laugh about it.

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At first glance, I thought Cham’s comic strip was too narrow-minded, almost insulting in that “only graduate students would be able to understand the humor.” Sort of like those buzzfeed websites with a list of jokes that “only nerdy people” would understand. However, this is not the case; Cham’s strip may focus on the daily lives of graduate students but the stressful situations he writes about are situations that anyone can relate to and laugh about. Cham’s strips make you think to yourself “I know exactly how that feels!” and makes you feel like these characters are a projection of your own struggles or that these characters are your friends that you can connect with. Cham’s comics are real, they are raw, and they are truthful, and that is what I enjoy about them so much.

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After discovering Cham I’ve come to enjoy the fact that there is so much possibility in comics. I have come to embrace the fact that there may not be an “I know everything about comics” group to be placed into because there is so much depth to the comic world and so much to learn about the genre. It was so fascinating exploring the world of a student comic writer; I never thought to look into comics written by students, but I’m glad I did. I think it is valuable to read comics that are written by younger writers because, at least with Cham, there is this grand sense of relatability that fills his comics because of his youth. I quite enjoyed the fact that Cham’s comics are based on graduate students because it shows that you don’t have to create a comic with strange characters, or superheros, or animals with the ability to speak, to make it humorous. Cham’s brother once said, “[I] always thought there should be [a comic strip] about grad students because that’s when the real pain beings” (Coehlo, 2009), and he was right because Cham’s comics are genuinely funny and enjoyable for anyone to read.

  2 comments for “Anyone Can Relate

  1. jperez
    September 7, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I too do not think that it is possible to know “everything about comics” as the graphic novel and comic genres are as diverse as any other artistic medium. The content of comic and graphic novels can cover the fantastical to the ordinary, and from slapstick humor to serious and solemn subject matter. In addition, the art is as varied as the artists who create it. The possibilities are endless with this genre, and that is one of the reasons why I am very excited about learning more about it. I also think that “Piled Higher and Deeper: The Everyday Life of Grad Student” is a perfect example of the diversity of comics. Unlike “Krazy Kat,” for example, “PHD” humorously depicts the anxieties of grad students, a very real and intense stress. And just as you argue in your post, this stress does not limit itself to grad students alone; in fact, most people can relate to the issues illustrated within the panels of PHD. This strip “Average Time Spent Composing One E-Mail” shows the over-analyzing that occurs when a person has to e-mail someone of authority, in this case, a student emailing his professor. However, this is something that anyone who has worked in a professional environment, or has ever been a college student who has had to e-mail a professor, has experienced. The only area of your argument that I do not agree with is that “at least with Cham, there is this grand sense of relatability that fills his comics because of his youth.” I am not sure that his age is a large reason why his comics are relatable. I say this because I am considerably older than you and I found his comics to be extremely relatable. The relatability of his comics rests in the feelings of anxiousness and stress that his characters experience; these feelings are universal.

    • Cass
      September 7, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      Thank you for posting! I enjoyed reading your response and I completely agree with you! I think I must have communicated my thoughts wrong when arguing that point you disagree with. I was trying to say that his idea for the comic strip came from the fact that he is a graduate student (an idea that correlates with his age) and so that motivation made him produce this wonderful strip that was seemingly just about grad students but is really filled with relatability because, as you stated, any one can relate to his presented situations, no matter their age. But I digress, I may just be rambling at this point in an attempt to clear up my confusing statement. Again, thank you for responding =]

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