Montana State University

Jasmine Snyder's fresh approach illustrates the art of research

May 28, 2009 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

Jasmine Snyder used a life-long interest in comic books and graphic novels to explain the complex issues surrounding the consumerism of her generation in a Montana State University research project. The sophomore from Bozeman was one of a growing number of humanities majors participating in MSU's Undergraduate Scholars Program and annual research fair. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
It was the rainy, chilly morning of the Montana State University Student Research Celebration, a presentation now so large that it is held in two sessions, and sophomore Jasmine Snyder was "freaking out."

Snyder, a studio arts major from Bozeman, was amid a small forest of scientific types crowded into the MSU Strand Union Ballrooms. Many were dressed in three-piece suits and standing before giant, meticulously prepared and laminated posters explaining their research projects.

"My thing was just so different," recalled Snyder. "And I would never wear a three-piece suit."

Indeed, Snyder's research project was different. One of the small but growing number of MSU humanities students exhibiting at the annual research fair, Snyder used comic book illustrations to explain her research that explored and explained the commercialism of the underground culture.

The thesis of Snyder's work is that young people who break away from the mainstream form their own standard culture. For example, when young people drift to alternative groups such as "emo" (short for emotional), Goths or punks, they link to a new set of standards for dress, vocabulary, interests and music. Corporate culture courts these groups, Snyder said. All of this was explained in six hand-drawn comic panels and an alternative term dictionary that Snyder authored.

"People (at the fair) came around and started talking to me about my work," Snyder said. In fact, often there were people in line waiting to talk to the young student who was perhaps the only one at the fair wearing a hand-knit beret and tall boots.

"It gave me confidence and it also gave me a new perspective," Snyder said. "I would definitely do (the research fair) again."

That Snyder held her own at the prestigious gathering of student researchers might have seemed unlikely even a few years ago. Snyder said she didn't fit into the high school mainstream and has been a non-traditional learner. While she was passionately interested in a variety of things -- art, comic books, alternative fashion, creative baking, music, science fiction, crafting innovative jewelry from found objects --school was not among those loves. At least, it wasn't until she transferred to Bozeman's Bridger Alternative School.

"(Bridger) was a great experience and a great decision for me," said Snyder, who said that at a regular high school she felt like she was a cog in a machine. "It's really about the teachers (at Bridger) who care about you and communicate with you. I tend to learn so much better when I can talk to my teachers."

Snyder was so successful that she graduated from high school a year early and moved to Olympia, Wash. She said she loved living in the young and liberal community and many of the characters in her drawings and stories are based on her friends from Olympia.

In addition, there was a large community interested in graphic novels and comic books and an annual comic festival in Olympia, which fueled her longtime interest in the format.

"I learned to draw when I was a kid up by copying scenes out of comic books and graphic novels," she said. "It's a really strong way to tell a story."

Snyder said that comic book and graphic novels are a dying art, even while many of them have made their way to the mainstream. For instance, many popular movies such as "Spiderman" and "X-Men" and television shows, such as "Heroes," and computer games are based in comic book and graphic novel culture.

The graphic novel particularly fits Snyder's talents and career interests, since she is interested in both writing and drawing. She said her stories, which she illustrates, often begin when she creates, or draws a character and then a story develops around the character.

"I used to get in trouble in middle school because I was always doodling," Snyder said. "But now I will create a character while I'm doodling while listening to something else."

While Snyder continues to want to write, inspired by the writer Glen Chamberlain, an MSU English instructor, she became immersed in scholarly pursuits by responding to a flyer about a 400-level self-study course taught by Heather Bentz, the assistant dean for the MSU College of Arts and Architecture. Bentz said Snyder showed her an essay that she had written for Chamberlain's class. "I could see her writing skills were strong and I asked her if she would like to do research.

"(Snyder) described her goal in regards to her education to be centered around enrolling in courses that she wants to learn about as opposed to following strict guidelines of a particular curriculum," Bentz said. "Throughout the course, she outperformed my expectations."

Snyder applied for and received funding from the MSU Undergraduate Scholars Program to work on the project, a help since she worked at two jobs during school.

"I accomplished something good, got credit for doing an USP and received the stipend ($750) that paid for my time. And, I had a finished product that I was proud of," Snyder said. "Over all, it was the kick in the butt I needed to do such a project and I'm glad I did it."

Snyder said the experience gave her impetus to work on her next goal -- an all-graphic novel.

"When people ask me what I want to do, I don't know what to say because there are so many things I want to do," said Snyder, who works at both the Community Food Co-Op and Cactus Records and sells innovative jewelry and accessories that she makes herself. "I do know that I don't want to limit myself."

To see Snyder's drawings, go to a slideshow:

Heather Bentz (406) 994-4405,