A Class on Comics

As soon as I saw “The Secret Language of Comics: Visual Thinking and Writing” on the course atlas during registration in the summer, I knew I wanted to be in it. Not only is the topic undoubtedly intriguing, but as someone who had not found English classes in high school particularly captivating, I was curious as to how this course would compare. Professor Morgan did not disappoint. He made this class fascinating, exciting, and always thought-provoking. I was pushed to be creative and tackle every assignment in an unconventional way. In doing so, I was able to accomplish all the learning targets defined at the beginning of the course. The learning targets weren’t designed just to help me do well in the course, but to also help me bring the skills I learn from this course into other classes and into the future.

 

This first learning outcome outlined in this course is to “Compose texts in multiple genres, using multiple modes (Written, Aural, Nonverbal, Digital)”. This learning target is most apparent in my Sunday Sketches. These sketches are weekly creative assignments meant to help us think outside of the box and express ideas in atypical ways. Over the course of the semester, I’ve completed eleven Sunday Sketches, with each sketch unique in its own form and style. The week 2 Sunday Sketch, “Visual Note Taking”, demonstrates the written mode of this outcome. My sketch, “Visual Notes of Accounting”, is essentially a drawing of what I learned in one accounting class. Not only was this sketch an intriguing assignment, it was also successful in helping me understand the material covered in class that day. I continued to use the visual note taking method throughout my accounting class whenever I came across material too difficult to understand from the book or lectures. Other notable Sunday Sketches include “Use Your Fingers”, in which I had to digitally combine two photos, and “Emergency Landing”, in which I had to create a 3-panel comic with a clear middle, beginning, and end.

IMG_2313                                  My visualization of one accounting class

Fork Fingers                                                                                        “Use Your Fingers” Sunday Sketch

While the first learning outcome focused on a creative aspect, the second outcome, “Summarize, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the ideas of others as you undertake scholarly inquiry in order produce your own arguments” take an analytical approach. This outcome is clearly demonstrated in my work “Spinning and Stitches”. In the assignment, I had to compare the graphic narratives of Spinning by Tillie Walden and Stitches by David Small through the lens of Hilary Chute’s Graphic Women introduction. Graphic Womenis a scholarly text that looks at and makes meaning of the role women play in graphic narratives today. Chute’s introduction is the first scholarly text that I’ve had to read and analyze. In my comparison, I state,

“The two graphic narratives handle the relationship between the child and present selves of the author differently. The idea of the author’s present self interacting with his or her child past is a unique ability in graphic narratives that Chute recognizes. She makes the claim, “…the comics form not only presents a child protagonist and an adult narrator but also gives voice simultaneously to both perspectives, even within the space of a single panel, layering temporalities and narrative positions” (Chute 5). However, there’s a distinguishable difference between Stitches and Spinningregarding the presence of the adult author.”

I find this assignment the most difficult due to the addition of Chute’s perspective. As seen in my essay, not only did I have to understand Chute’s arguments, but I also had to apply them to Stitches andSpinning. The complex language Chute uses makes her arguments more difficult to understand, so I had to slowly and carefully read through her introduction in order to pull apart and understand her claims. Additionally, even though I was able to understand some of Chute’s arguments, finding claims of hers that can be applied to Stitches and Spinning added another layer of difficulty to this assignment. Although this was my first time analyzing a scholarly text, I expect to work much more with scholarly text in the future, in and out of school. I currently plan on majoring in finance, and scholarly texts are frequent in the finance world, often being used to describe and predict the current and potential states of various companies and securities. In order to not only accurately read these statements, but possibly write them in the future, I must become familiar and comfortable with analyzing scholarly texts. Through this assignment, Chute’s introduction gave me the opportunity to analyze my first of many scholarly texts and will help me approach them in the future.

 

The third objective of this course is “Practice writing as a process, recursively implementing strategies of research, drafting, revision, editing, and reflection”. My literacy narrative accomplishes this objective. Depicting a significant moment that influenced my reading, the literacy narrative consisted of three main stages: writing an essay on the moment, turning the essay into a comic, then finally turning the comic back into a revised essay. Before I could write the first essay, I had to figure out what moment to write about. This proved more difficult than I expect, as I explained in my reflection, “Thinking of a specific moment or time that heavily influenced my reading and writing today was difficult. I repeatedly began to write about a specific moment only to quickly realize that I don’t remember much about that moment nor the longstanding effects of it”. Eventually I focused on the first time I strongly connected with a character in a book and wrote a short essay on the experience. However, as suggested by Professor Morgan, I needed to find a way to link my experience to a broader point so that my audience could take something away from it.

Before turning my essay completely into a comic, I created a storyboard that sketched out what moments in my essay I would depict and how I would depict them. Additionally, instead of ending the storyboard where my essay ended, I added a page about how my reading experience demonstrated the importance of reading and connecting with well-developed characters. After having my storyboard reviewed by classmates, I created a nicely drawn comic that tidied up the repetition and unnecessary words found in the storyboard.

Once I created the comic, I went back to my essay and revised it so that it was as effective as my comic in communicating my experience and demonstrating my point. In total, there were 4 creation and revision steps before I arrived at my final version of the essay.

IMG_2852                                                             First page of my comic revision

 

My visual analysis of Maus demonstrates the class’s fourth objective of “demonstrate visual thinking strategies to analyze and interpret visual information and to experiment, assemble, and arrange visual and written documents of their own”. The detail and thought Spiegelman puts in his graphic narrative Maus are fundamental to the depiction of his story. As I said in my reflection, “Spiegelman’s attention to detail in the illustrations as well as his fluidity and connection between panels in each page enable the reader to connect to the story in a far deeper way than the standalone text. Just through Artie’s size and eyebrows in the final page of book one, the reader is able to see the range of emotions Artie experiences when learning that Vladek threw away all of Anja’s memories”. When analyzing Maus, I traced over every detail in the two pages that I found most instrumental to my argument. By doing so, I was able to pick up on details that I had completely missed when reading through the comic originally. I was able to construct a better argument because of this close up reading technique.

 

The final objective outlined in this class is to “employ technology appropriately and engage responsibly in online spaces, be able to explain and practice good digital citizenship, and utilize the concepts of intellectual property (including copyright, fair use, and creative commons licensing)”. Creating a website and using it as the method for submitting assignments and displaying work is entirely new to me. Although I was hesitant about the idea when I was first informed that I had to create my own webpage, I have come to greatly appreciate it, not only because of its simplicity, but because it’s an outstanding archive of my work that I created and designed myself. I fulfilled the other half of this objective, utilizing the concepts of intellectual property, by only using images on Flickr that were posted under Public Domain Work and by crediting the photographer.

 

Each of the five objectives outlined by this course serve a unique purpose in helping me become a stronger writer. However, I still have much to work on. As pointed out by Professor Morgan, one area that needs improvement is my ability to create arguable claims. Often in my writing, instead of making a straight forward claim and arguing it, I write about observations that aren’t controversial, and therefore don’t need any argument. I do this in part because of the difficulty in creating a strong argument, and partially because of the lack of confidence I have in my writing. Nonetheless, my next writing goal is to make confident, well-constructed arguments, even if what I’m arguing happens to be wrong. Although it will take time and practice, the creative techniques learned through this class will help me accomplish this goal.