The Secret Language of Comics: Visual Thinking and Writing

Reflection on Literary Narrative Part 3

Through turning my Literacy Narrative from an alphabetic text, into a comic, and back into an alphabetic text, I learned that much of the detail that I am tempted to include in my writing does not benefit the argument I’m making. When I first wrote my narrative, I added supplementary details and formatted it like a short story, but when I converted it into a comic I was forced to identify what were the most important parts. Furthermore, the process of creating a storyboard rough draft, then peer reviewing, and then making a final comic taught me the importance of viewing writing as a process. I was naturally very hung up on making every version of my narrative perfect, but I had to remind myself that every draft was simply an improvement on the previous and not to worry about achieving perfection. Turning my comic back into an alphabetic text helped me reflect on my strengths as a writer and taught me that I am most effective at writing when I employ visual thinking to sketch out an outline or storyboard for an assignment.

You can find my Literacy Narrative Part 3 here.

My Heroic Journey Through ENG 181

For the Assemblies assignment, I started by brainstorming potential ideas for what metaphor could represent my growth in English class this semester. I thought about how the point of the class was not only to analyze and write about comics but also to acquire techniques to use in our writing in the future. I reflected on how we began the course with some alphabetic texts which helped us prepare to read comics in a familiar medium. Then we launched into reading and analyzing comics, which was unfamiliar to me. Despite the course’s focus on comics, one of the main takeaways was to learn how to apply the strategies that cartoonists use in our other writing. For me, I learned through converting my Literacy Narrative first from alphabetic text to a comic, and then back to an alphabetic text, that I can better streamline my narrative if I sketch out a storyboard for it since it forces me to focus not on the details, but on the big picture. I plan on applying this technique in the future when I write essays, in order to make my writing as concise and clear as possible.

Are You Really Home Alone?

For this assignment I knew I wanted to do a holiday movie as soon as my roommate brought back a tree for our room so we could “feel the Christmas magic”. In order to decide on what to do, I googled “Christmas tree movies” and once this scene from Home Alone came up, I knew it was what I wanted to recreate. Logistically, the greatest struggle was finding somewhere where I could be on the other side of a “window” because there was no way to be on the other side of our dorm window. Working with my roommate, who is featured as Kevin in the picture, we brought the tree out into a study room where I would be able to peer through the study room door. One of the hardest parts of this process was having the different portions of the movie scene to scale, since our tree is much smaller than the one use in the film. We did our best to keep the wardrobes the same, but I did have to substitute a bucket hat for a beanie. I chose my roommate to be Kevin because of how she embodies child-like joy, especially around Christmas, so although her facial expression isn’t the same as Kevin’s I was happy how it turned out because it captured both her spirit and the general “Christmas magic” in the air that Home Alone portrays.

Image Source:

Sk:10 Love Story

I wasn’t sure what to write about for this project but I decided to write about how I fell in love with my boyfriend over the summer because it’s a pretty unconventional story that I felt could draw the reader in. The process involved thinking back to the week I was trying to encapsulate and trying to remember the details of how everything went down. Then I decided what I wanted to be the first panel that would make the reader want to open the folded paper. I knew what I wanted the next panel to be and what I wanted to end on so the rest of the process was just filling in the time between those panels to tell the story of how we fell in love. Because of the large size of many of the panels, I found that it was not hard to find enough space to fit all the details I wanted to. In fact I found that the fourth and fifth pages had almost too much space, and I wasn’t sure how to fill it all. The most important choice I made was that I didn’t stick to telling my story chronologically; instead I began with the “ending” and then flashed back to a few days before on the next page to start the narrative. I think this made the comic more exciting as the reader knows from the beginning that it’s a love story, but doesn’t know how it’s going to unfold.

Literacy Narrative Part 2 Reflection

The process of converting my alphabetic text to a comic and then revising my first draft with peer feedback increased my comfort with seeing writing as a process. Until I made my own comic, I never knew the many steps involved in putting together a narrative in comic form. Getting feedback on the first version of my comic was somewhat unsettling since I don’t know everyone in our class as well as I knew my pool of peer reviewers in high school, so I worried more about others’ judgment. Despite the discomfort, the peer reviews I received had perhaps the most influence on how I revised my comic. While I was initially unsure about the three by three, repetitive panels on my second page, the positive feedback I got made me confident in my decision to keep the same structure in my final draft. Moreover, reading through other students’ comics gave me lots of inspiration for how I could make my comic more visually interesting. In particular, Dean’s humor and use of abstract imagery completely broadened my idea of what could be in a comic. I emulated his abstract “road to adulthood” in one of my last illustrations where I depicted “measuring up to others” as a drawing of me standing next to an enlarge ruler. During the process of revising my comic is when I felt that my skills in visual thinking truly flourished because I let go of the confines of an alphabetic narrative that I was holding onto. By embracing comics’ ability to have panels arranged not just chronologically but also through space, I was able to access the full potential of telling a story in a comic form.

My initial impression was that by converting my alphabetic text to a comic, I lost a lot of the details. However, through the process of editing and arranging my comic in a more interesting way, I realized that the details were simply shown in different ways. Although I lost some of the descriptions of the setting and how I felt, I was able to capture the most important parts of the narrative through drawing. In fact, the process of adding in detail through imagery actually helped me cut out unnecessary elements because I realized that it wasn’t that important to give my reader some details like exactly what my Kindergarten classroom looked like. Rather, the details I incorporated focussed on my experience at that moment. On the bottom of my first page, I drew myself balancing on balls that represented the lower reading levels, in order to portray how unsteady my reading skills were as I reached for the advanced level Amelia Bedelia. Converting my narrative into a comic also allowed me to incorporate some humor into my comic, which I had attempted to do in my alphabetic text but struggled to achieve. Perhaps the more free-form medium made me more comfortable adding comedy, especially compared to a traditional alphabetic text in which I’ve been taught to always be serious. 

My greatest challenge during this project was completing the illustrations because I had specific visions of what I wanted my drawing to look like, but I lacked the skill necessary to execute it. I ended up spending way too much time drawing and redrawing certain panels in order to make the characters look better. When drawing my final draft, the first page was the greatest challenge for me because I spent hours trying to get it right, only to eventually realize that the skill level of my drawing was not what would determine the success of my comic. If I were to do this project again, I might consider only using stick figures, in order to force myself to focus less on the individual drawings of people and more on the pages as a whole.

You can see my final comic here, and the first draft of my comic here.

Feeling Fine with Less Screen Time

Question: Does the amount of time I spend on my phone affect my general mood at the end of the day?

In order to answer this question I used my tracked my screen time usage on my phone through the tool in settings and tweaked the data it output in order to make it more informative for me. For example, the program initially classified Youtube as entertainment, but I often use it for studying by watching how-to videos, so I made sure to correct for that in my data when I recorded it every night. Then, right before bed I recorded my overall mood, trying to look at the day and how I felt as a whole. While I recorded short phrases in my notebook every night such as “feeling content, had a decent day,” I found it easier to convey this information in my infographic as simply a smiling, straight, or frowning face.

When analyzing the data that I collected I noticed that total screen time didn’t directly predict my general mood that day. For example, the first Friday and Saturday in the infographic had a similar total screen time, yet on Friday I felt sad and on Saturday I felt happy. On closer analysis I noted that I had spent significantly less time on social media on Saturday than I did on Friday. After noticing this pattern I looked across all my data and noted that of the five days with my lowest screen time spent on social media, I recorded feeling happy for four of those days and feeling neutral for one of them. Furthermore, of the four days with my highest time spent on social media apps, I recorded feeling sad on three of the days and neutral on one of them. This trend leads me to conclude, as one might have already suspected, that extended usage of social media leads to a general decline in mood.

I was somewhat surprised that there was not also an overall correlation between screen time and mood, but when I think more about it, it makes sense that there is not because my phone can be used for both helpful and harmful purposes. One flaw in my infographic is that while I think dividing my mood into good, bad, or neutral helped simplify my conceptual data, it also ignored the nuance of emotional health. If I were to do this again I would also track my mood in a quantitative method such as how many times I felt sad or I laughed, so that I would have more concrete data to back up my assertions.

“Depend on you?”

For my human document I started by glancing over the page I had chosen and highlighting words that stood out using a colored pencil. I varied the color I used based on what emotions I felt the word elicited. Once I had a narrowed down set of words to work with, I went along boxing in the words I wanted to use in my poem, adding articles and punctuation when needed. As I went along, I used my pen to add illustrations that underlined the meaning of certain key words. I particularly like how I drew a silhouette of a man holding up the words “depend on,” and make his footing be on an unstable pile of bricks. I thought this signified the unreliability of the man in my poem. Last, I used white paint to cover the parts of the page that I didn’t want the audience to pay attention to, especially since some of the words I had originally highlighted but not used in my poem would have caused confusion. I enjoyed this project a lot because it gave me the opportunity to be really creative; however, I also found it very difficult and time consuming to choose the words to use in my poem, since so many were on the page for me to choose from.

Good Afternoon!

For this assignment I was inspired by an idea my roommate, Emily, gave me to make a comic about how I always sleep through my alarms and miss the whole day. At first I tried to used creative commons photos, but couldn’t find anything that fit exactly what I wanted, so I then resorted to drawing. I spent a lot of time on this assignment because of its artistic involvement. For portraying my inability to wake up in particular, I felt having four panels was useful because the repetition in the first three adds to the humor the fourth panel when I finally wake up. I found this process harder than the triptych because it was hard knowing how much action I needed to have in my panels. The main purpose of telling this narrative was for humor, although I do think it is informative about me since my chronic low blood pressure leads me to always sleep too long.

Tracing Pages Reflection

A preview of my essay’s argument:

“Comics allow an author to control the visual information drawn by the cartoonist to better convey characters’ motivations and focus, while panel layout and framing captures characters’ strained and startled feelings. By formulating their memoirs as a graphic novel, rather than an alphabetic text, Small and Walden successfully immerse the reader in the emotions and experiences of the protagonists, granting her a more authentic experience of the trauma in the narrative.”

The process of tracing a page from each of the books was a unique experience that allowed me to meditate on the visual techniques employed by the cartoonists before delving into annotating and analyzing the pages. During the annotation step, I found that rather than trying to come up with things to say, I was just writing down all the things I had noticed when I was tracing the pages. Thus the process of tracing pages helped my analysis come to me more naturally.

Since this was my first time writing an inductive essay, I struggled a lot with keeping track of the overall direction of my essay. Without an outline, I couldn’t tell when I was straying too far from my argument, which led to much more time spent editing later on in the writing process. The hardest step for me was combining my two topic sentences into a thesis, since in a typical essay I’ve written I begin with a general thesis and merely have to tweak it after solidifying my topic sentences.

This assignment gave me greater insight into the “secret language of comics” because it granted me the opportunity to conduct in depth analysis of the visual techniques and patterns cartoonists use to tell their narratives. Moreover, I got to consider the unique properties of comics that allow authors to most effectively capture their experience with trauma. I now have a more developed idea of how I might utilize the artistic resources of comics when I produce my own comic from my literacy narrative. An specific insight I gained into Stitches was that while I had previously known there were images in the background from another part of the story, I had no idea it was an entire trace of another page.

Click here to see my essay

Click here to see the assignment prompt

Com(packed) Essentials

Items Pictured Listed in Clockwise Order, Starting from the Bottom Corner

  • Fjäll Räven Kånken Backpack: a Swedish hiking brand that reminds me of my routes; I’ve been told by friends it’s proportionally much to small for me, and I don’t disagree, but it works for me
  • Macbook Air: a day-to-day essential
  • 2019 Planner: useful for organization, at least when I actually write stuff in it
  • Latin folder: holds my print outs and translations, which I’d be hopeless without
  • Spiral-bound Latin notebook: where I take my notes in class, when I’m not feeling lazy
  • “O Tempora O Mores” Latin Text with Commentary: I usually keep this with me so I can review passages if I ever have free time because it’s impossible to review too much for Latin
  • TI-84 Calculator: even though I have it with me, I usually just use the calculator on my computer
  • Muji Pencil Case, filled with Muji Pens & Pencils: from my favorite stationary store; writing with my preferred pen or pencil makes such a difference for me
  • NaCl Salt Pills: I take these for my low blood pressure and without them I’d sleep 18 hours a day
  • Burt’s Bees Lip Balm: I always need it when I don’t have any, so I just keep it with me
  • Pill-Shaped Pill Case: holds all my heart pills, which I have to take twice a day; every time I see it I smile because I like it so much
  • Hair Ties: always handy for when I forget to bring one to lab
  • ZipLock of Gauze Pads: needed after my sinus surgery
  • Medical Tape: for taping on the gauze
  • ENT Appointment Card: you’re probably sensing a medicinal theme here, and you’d be correct if you gathered that I was a rather sickly person
  • “K1N9DOM” Water bottle: a graduating gift from the junior class; I always carry it so I can stay hydrated to keep my blood pressure up without having to ever buy a plastic water bottle, the idea of which irks the environmentalist within me

On my first attempt of this assignment I actually laid out the items on a plain background, but when I realized I had forgotten to include my backpack and needed to redo it, I decided to try to be more creative in my artistic presentation by laying everything out on my geometrically patterned rug. I found that the image was most interesting when the grid was kept at a 45 degree angle from the sides of the image, instead of rotating it to make the grid lines parallel to the frame of the photo. When I look at the end result, I am surprised at what an accurate self-portrait it is, since it effectively captures a lot of my individual daily routines. As I discussed in my Avatar post (Sk1), chronic sickness has been a considerable influence in my life, so it seemed appropriate that my medicines and other illness-related items were prominent in the photo. Cataloguing the items in my bag was a writing assignment that I was unfamiliar with, since I typically think of writing assignments as taking paragraph form. Regardless of my past notions, I would consider this a writing assignment because when writing the descriptions of my items, I attempted to make the commentary humorous and utilized literary techniques to do so.