The Secret Language of Comics: Visual Thinking and Writing

A Recipe for…Disaster?

A diagram drawn by Dean

Having “interesting introduction” as the first layer of my sandwich is putting a whole lot of pressure on this first sentence. Oh well. Sometimes you’ve got to cook not by the book.

I made this diagram based off the National Archives Cocktail Construction Chart, and while I obviously don’t follow this chart to write all my posts, and as my introduction illustrates, I often don’t abide to all of its aspects, I thought this was a pithy way to present my general format. I guess the movie magic is broken now; maybe I’ll switch it up a bit and try something a bit unexpected and–

Alphabetic? Forget it!

I recently added an alphabetic version of my life stuff (which originally came with some, erm, “explosive” imagery). All in all, I think it’s not a bad piece of work, but it can’t hold much of a candle to those pictures. It’s made me realize the importance of visuals to get ideas across, especially on the internet. An eye-catching element is essential to most any post; it’s what grabs attention. Moreover, that quote — the one about a picture compared to a thousand words — well, I believe it is true. Words can’t draw conclusions as tightly and efficiently as a mournful stick-figure; pictures keep the punchline succinct and provide a cadence between paragraphs. I know that sounds pretentiously stupid, but I hope there’s some semblance of a point in that statement.

Going back to pure text walls just leaves me running into rambles, running into “walls,” so to speak. When you are required to add visual elements, you’re more able to see the bigger whole and where each of the pieces fit in that puzzle. Words run together and into themselves when they’re no organizational barriers to place in between. Looking back on my life stuff, I’ve come to see it as a set of “moments” around which words bridge the gaps; it’s something you can’t tell and can only show…

I don’t know. This whole process has been rather existential, and I feel I’m applying meaning to the mundane, creating analogies for inexplicable instances born out of happenstance. Aren’t we all born out of happenstance? Ain’t that existential? Is this not rambling?

Pictures, I think, helped make my story more positive. Something’s cathartic about placing a stick-figure where you want to be. But maybe I’m not actually there, on that road, walking towards Adulthood. I ought to be, or more importantly, I ought to know just where I am. I can’t help but feel I’m rewriting history with those pictures. But I know they’re honest; what you think and know are often two different things I’ve found.

If this reflection has proved anything, it’s this: words are murky muddle-uppers, and pictures are crisp, clean, and clear. There’s so much happening in an image, but there’s a certainty to ambivalence, that the associations and inferences are uncertain, and therefore — because they could mean most anything — more likely to be true. Words are ambivalent to, I guess, but it’s hard not to see them as certain when they’re dried upon a line or etched into your computer screen.

Socrates said it best: “I know that I know nothing.”

Here’s an emoticon, a mix between words and pictures: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It’s the best I’ve got at the moment, and I hope it speaks better than I.

Sock Vader vs. Bread Kenobi

“Your powers are wheat, old man.”

Yeah, I recreated what is one of my favorite scene in the Star Wars saga with a piece of bread and a sock. I know this duel gets knocked for its less than flashy action, but the quips and calm demeanor of Ben’s final moments are what sell it for me. And Luke’s ensuing “No!” and John Williams’ music are a cinematic embodiment of that Pacha meme.

Image from Star Wars (1977), via the website Nerdist

Above is the image I used for reference. May the force be with you.

When You Watch Too Many Experimental Films in One Week…

As far as true stories go, this one’s rather false. The specifics at least are rather contrived, but I guess “the essence” — if I can use that word without being branded pedantic and pretentious — is true … in a way. Also, I definitely bit off a bit more than I could chew with this project, and I was most definitely influenced by the plethora of experimental flicks I had to watch for my FILM 270 class this past week, so looking back on this crazy creation, I don’t know how proud I ought to be; probably a very minuscule amount, if any.

The story I chose to tell, that of a reader noticing the words on the page reflecting his life before his eyes, was chosen primarily from my want to experiment with the growing size of the panels that this project required. The increase in length from Panel 1 to Panel 2 (the visuals appear the same online, but each panel doubles in size as the comic goes along) reminded me of opening a book, and the following increase in height from Panel 2 to Panel 3 mirrored the act of looking up from said book. I tried to make the reflective nature more abstract and slightly more disturbing as the comic goes along, with the plot becoming uncomfortably illogical and peculiar as the panels grew. Furthermore, the final panel shows a mix between the once lower-words and upper images, as if the two sides finally had no choice but to come together as one. I know I have, to put it lightly, artistic limits when it comes to creating clear, complex visuals, so I tried to adapt by accompanying these images with reflective words and making the blurry uncertainty a goal. It kind of got a bit too crazy by the end, but I guess that’s what makes it “The Book of Life.”

Note: My name is most certainly not Albert Scott.

A Squeaky New Update

My About Me page just got a fresh new coat of paint, so I’d recommend heading on over there if you want to spot this squeaky swordsman among the colorful new collages.

A lovely mouse musketeer provided from

When reworking my literacy narrative, I wanted to create visuals which grabbed readers’ attentions by being bright, bold, and, if I may be so bold, bemusing. Yet there was one small obstacle in my way: the fact that I am not the best of drawers, and cannot convey with a mere pencil and paper my ludicrous ideas sprung from my peculiar imagination. As such, I intermixed my simple stick-figure sketches with several “comic collages,” which I created by throwing a bunch of free-to-use internet images together. Making a digital footprint requires both eye-catching spectacles and a unique identity, and hopefully my use of silly sketches and ridiculous photo-mashups provides an interesting means of telling my story.

An example of an “explosive” collage

While these collages may seem to be mostly haphazard mashes that took little thought towards staging and framing, I actually did a good bit of planning these out before sitting down at the computer to edit. For instance, all moments of me making positive progress towards my goal of enjoying some books show me moving visually from the left to the right. Meanwhile, whenever some trouble strikes and I lose some love for reading, the agent of detriment or I move right to left. Even though none of my images appear side by side one another, I still wanted the momentum of progress and regression to be consistent throughout the comic.

The old me was quite the harsh critic.

I kept a couple of the images that, when reviewed by my peers in class, garnered favorable reviews and were more easy to understand. One of those, the “Stream of Consciousness” sketch, was run through a photo-editor effect to give a dreamy, watery flow that fits with the subject. This wasn’t something I planned to do beforehand, but rather I stumbled across the effect while cropping it and decided it would serve my story well.

Jewel is indubitably the best character of As I Lay Dying. For all the Darl fans, I’m sorry.

One of the cool aspects of this whole “comic collage” method is how it forces you to be somewhat adaptable towards your original artistic vision. Multiple times throughout this narrative’s creation, I would search for images online to fulfill whatever ideas I had in my head only to find out that no such image exists (at least among those of the public domain). As such, I’d have to select one which, while not my first choice, would either work just as well or even better. For instance, that little clay mouse from earlier was stumbled upon when I couldn’t find a quality non-copyrighted image of the film adaptation of Despereaux, and quite frankly, the clay one is funnier to look at and much more adorable.


Putting these collages together are almost like assembling the pieces of a puzzle, trying to find the right images to work in each panel, a lengthy process in attempting to create the best version possible. Admittedly, it does take a good bit of time, and sometimes a simple drawing would suffice, but I’d like to think the clarity and color gained make it worth the struggle.

The struggle

All in all, I’m very pleased with my colorful comic collages, for they help my life stuff story come to life! And the pun in that previous sentence was most definitely intended.

A Long List of So Many Sources for My Comic Collages:

Tales of Desperaux

Editing was done using the PicsArt app and befunky photo editor.


To discover just how disco-groovy my week is, I decided to measure how often music is a part of my day-to-day life, and as it turns out, I was boppin’ a whole lot. Eighty-four percent of my week’s hours were spent grooving, which in a way makes sense, for I often use tunes to give myself that motivation to get stuff done.

I decided not to include my morning alarms as music, despite it consisting of a song, since I usually shut it off real quickly anyways. Also, I forgot to record my Wednesday, so I substituted a second Sunday to fill in that final seventh spot. How groovy is my Wednesday? We’ll never know.

Creating the graphic took a rather long time, and in hindsight, I probably should have just drawn it on a sheet of paper. I had to stack multiple images in order to show the full infographic because downloading it was locked behind a subscription fee for Although if you’d like to see the full infographic as one complete image, you can click here.

All in all, I think the Groove-o-Meter does a good job measuring my daily groove, and I am excited to listen to some more bops as soon as I’m done uploading this in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

Baked Goods

I am proud of this tale of one enraged customer, but I must admit that coming up with an idea for this quadriptych was a bit more challenging than my triptych. I think this pertains to how easily a triptych can set up a pattern-based subversion of expectations, and the quadriptych’s extra panel would mess up such a joke’s “flow.” Because of this four-panel-box requirement, I had to think a bit outside the box.

After much aimless contemplation, I finally decided on homonym miscommunication as the basis of my comic. Finding the images was not too challenging, but having to slowly zoom in just enough to reveal the “Now Serving Mousse” sign by the third panel presented a bit of difficulty, yet I prevailed after numerous screenshot-crop failures.

To differentiate between the two voices in the comic, I decided to use a bold, all-caps font and sharp-angled speech bubbles for the angry moose and a scratchy scrawl and rounded bubble for the waiter. I had the moose face outwards at the end to give a sense of closure to his movement (as opposed to facing into the comic), and I allowed for the “Mousse” part of the sign to peek out from under his antlers in case readers miss it in the third panel.

All in all, I’m happy with how my comic turned out and look forward to creating more.


A Sack-o-Stuff

Hey, look, it’s a bag of things! My bag of things, to be exact. And what exciting items do I carry on a daily basis?

A lovely spread of stuff, courtesy of Dean Criser
  1. Some headphones, in case there’s every an ambulation in need of a soundtrack
  2. Whatever literature which pertains to my current classes
  3. A powerful computer mostly used for word processing
  4. Some 5 Gum and Altoids, because one is for the long haul and the other for short study sessions, respectively
  5. A pen and highlighter I almost never use, because pencils are too convenient for my numerous mistakes
  6. And finally, two notebooks — for notes on books

Since I’d like to think of myself as a somewhat interesting individual, I pray that this bland assortment of sorts is not too representative of who I actually am. If textbooks weren’t so heavy, maybe I’d have the available back strength to carry around a few cool nick-nacks, but alas I can only muster the barest collection of academic necessities.

Despite this, the assignment as a whole was relatively easy, and I guess a little personality shines through in my headphones. I will admit, I was slightly saddened when I was forced to remove those beautiful Bose bass-masters for a mere few seconds when taking that photo; I was listening to a rather great song. I know they’re not necessary for classwork, but a few ounces are a small price to pay for salvation — and music.

Bone Appétit!

Long list of spooky sources for this comedic comic collage at the bottom of the post.

This triptych comic took quite a lengthy amount of time for me to create. I was able to formulate the base idea rather early on after only an hour or so of pondering as I went about my day, but finding the right images to modify and cropping each picture as needed took the bulk of my efforts. I was able to use the PicsArt app for the mot of my editing needs, but for some reason the cat image would not work with the cutting tool, so I fell back onto the always-reliable-but-rather-quite-tedious eraser. Having to meticulously drag my finger across my little iPhone screen with attempted precision produced many mishaps and “undo” taps, but I finally succeeded in erasing the previous framing on my feline friend.

This adorable four-legged fiend was the bane of my pointer finger’s existence. Source:

My goal was to create a comic which told a three-part story in one continuous space. The panels exist both simultaneously and episodically: an all-at-once perspective would show the three skeleton-animal interactions to be occurring concurrently in the same bar, yet each panel progresses from one to the next, giving a distinct 1-2-3 rhythm.

Reflecting on this comic, I rather like how the collage-combination turned out, and it brings me hope that I was able to create a comic whilst not being able to draw anything intelligible besides a stick figure!

A final look at this Frankenstein creation, accompanied by a that previously promised list: