The Secret Language of Comics: Visual Thinking and Writing

Enjoy if You Try

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For any first-year writing course, critical thinking and reading is always the major element, the noodles in this Japanese ramen. It is the broth, the soul of ramen, that differentiates variations of ramen the most, just like the extensive use of visual thinking that makes this section of first-year writing special. Sliced meat is the most crucial topping. The protein and the broth reinforce each other’s taste, similar to what visual thinking and the writing process do. Other toppings, including the half egg, scallions, Nori, and Kamaboko, represent the skills and learning goals of the class in addition to those mentioned. They are great complements for students to succeed in this course.

Here is the delicious ramen. To have it, however, one will need the willingness to try, the chopsticks, to get the most from these interesting course content and assignments. I eventually found myself enjoying this course mainly because David had been preparing me both technically and mentally for unfamiliar tasks, giving me the tools to enjoy my ramen.


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Literacy Narrative: Project Reflection

The Literacy Narrative project is not a traditional writing project. The narrative essay was my first time to write about how I read and write, and making a comics version of it was the last thing I expected to encounter in a first-year writing class. Because of the interesting topic and unusual approaches to elaborate, this project helped me march towards the learning outcome of this class, most notably Rhetorical Composition, Critical Thinking, Writing as Process, and Visual Thinking. The individual conference with the professor and the peer review of the storyboard added a lot of valuable thoughts to my project.

“I see you structure it as an argumentative essay. There might be more work for you to turn this into a comic.”

For the first assignment of the semester, I was reluctant to take the risk of being creative, despite the brainstorming practice in advance. Having written down key reading and writing experiences, I debated about the way I should lay out my analysis. As an ESL student, I had only been trained systematically to write argumentative essays in English. Eventually, I chose the safest option. After reading others’ works and the individual conference, I realized that there are more acceptable ways and lots of flexibility in class to tell a story. I must consider the audience, purpose, constraints of each genre/style, and thus the trade-offs I have to make.

Nevertheless, my argumentative essay prompted me to think critically about my reading and writing habits and employing evidence to support my statements. From very detailed stories I brainstormed in class, I was able to identify the patterns and build up a strong logic chain. My language learning experience using visualization formed the basis of my reading habit using imagination when I was young, and I wrote by reversing my reading process. As I grow up and read more and more due to my introversion, I have the immersive reading and writing experience in which I can be in the protagonists’ shoes and communicate with them. Therefore, even without vivid and detailed stories in plain text, I encountered few obstacles when making the plot for my comic. My inventory of detailed stories from the brainstorming practice greatly contributed to the ease of the process.

“I think this essay could be more coherent. It could flow more smoothly.”

Annotation 2019-12-11 215655After a discussion with one writing tutor, I decided to employ the content focused structure for my essay as it directly corresponded to “the way I read” and “the way I write” in the prompt. However, as the professor said, the transition was not smooth if my writing was considered a story instead of merely an analysis. The problem of this structure became unresolvable when I was making my comic – there was no way to visualize a transition as abstract as a change in topics. As a result, I adopted the chronological structure with which the change in time and be easily implied by my stories. My peers who reviewed my storyboard agreed as well. When I went back to the text narrative and edited it accordingly, it also turned out to flow better. This reminded me of my other previous writings that might be too focused on the content to switch from one topic to another smoothly. In many cases, abrupt transitions may indicate problems in the logic chain or cause problems for the audience to understand. From this experience, visualization can be used to detect this kind of problems and offer potential solutions.

“Drawing is a thinking process.” This entire project consisting of alphabetic writing, comics, and reflections is very reflective and educative for me to understand my strengths and weakness in my reading and writing habits. Visual thinking, identified in my narrative essay as one of my key strengths, is more widely applicable and important than I thought. Many takeaways from this project will definitely help me succeed in many other different projects later in my life.


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Staying Away from the Fight


I got the inspiration from my favorite Finance Meme Instagram account and decided to use that topic for this Sunday Sketch assignment. The movie scene from the recent Star War: The Mandalorian depicted a bounty hunter and a protector in a fierce fight while the baby Yoda, the bounty target, stood aside watching them peacefully and sipping soup. The baby Yoda who might be the child of big Yoda, the late Jedi Master, went viral online and became a major meme material.

Sketch 11

The scene itself is not of much significance and easy to recreate. It is just because I really like the Star War series, and the memes are so funny that I decided to recreate it.


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Modern Solitude

Modern Solitude

Compared with “telling a true story”, I would change it to “telling a true moment” due to the limited space I have for this assignment. No matter it is a story or a moment, it has to be true and meaningful enough to record it as a short comic. But I do not live in a drama so I believe to find a meaningful moment should be easier. I looked for some strong and special feelings that I felt in the past moments.

The moment represented above was on my last birthday. It was the coldest day so far this year and I had been working on all kinds of assignments and staying up late for many days. I was tired, cold, and stressed, waiting for the last shuttle alone. After midnight, my family and friends were bombing my phone with their love and wishes, which created that interesting feeling at that moment. I knew I was being cared for and loved by many, and I felt touched and grateful. On the other hand, no one would know what I was experiencing, and I would not share it. I just felt like I should not. In that sense, I was isolated. My phone but not people was the closest to me, which is powerful but also has its own limitations.

There are not many words and it is just about the feeling. And I decide to call it the “Modern Solitude”.


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Reflection: Literacy Narrative Part 2

In essence, the comics version is not much different from the alphabetic version of my literacy narrative. The prompt for the alphabetic essay was to “analyze the key experiences that shaped the way you read and write”, which led to my analytical approach to writing an argumentative essay. Knowing that this comic would be based on the essay, I slightly changed the structure of my literacy narrative after the individual conference and made essay flow in a chronological order – how I read and then wrote in my childhood and how I read and then write as I grow up. This eventually became the overall structure of my four-page comic, and the passage of time works well for natural transitions. My analysis from the essay became a narrative voice keeping the development of my stories. Specific evidence such as personal anecdotes then became the visuals in the comic, supporting the narrative voice like it did in the essay.

However, the change in the medium did shift my focus when telling the stories because more visual thinking was involved:

First of all, now that evidence became visuals, I had to put greater emphasis on the details of the evidence, or I would have nothing to draw but plain sentences. On the first page, I had to think of the actual images on the books which reflected that “visuals and imagination are powerful tools for language learning, especially for Chinese.” And on the second page, I could not merely state that “I would first think of a scene as detailed as possible and turned it into words,” but came up with the actual scenes and words I would write down. Same for page four, I almost re-read Republic to find a suitable dialogue for this comic. It was a hard but meaningful process to consider how all elements could be represented visually.

After that, the decisions of whether individual elements should be demonstrated by the visuals or just stated as words in the boxes were even harder due to my limited artistic skills. For instance, the main scenes of the first page should be my mother teaching me how to read in Chinese in bed before sleep in my early years. Ideally, the passage of time could be implied by the changes in my appearance and size in different panels, but this would cost me a very long time to draw if I am actually able to do so. The main technique I employed on the first page was the choice of frame, making it hard for the same book to bore the audience. And the interactions between my mother and I were represented through words in the bubbles.

Last but not least, I found a lot of fun when thinking about the overall page designs after I had some ideas for the visuals. I utilized the “all-at-onceness” on page three by dividing a book into three panels, demonstrating the immersive experience when I read. The panel designs also have plenty of room for creativity. On page two, I broke the boundaries and directly used bubbles to replace normal panels, a piece of advice from the peer editing session, since the content is about imagination. I imitated the first comics I read in this class, “Adventures in Depression”, on page four to show myself and my thoughts at the same time in each panel. I did a small change by using a dashed line to show how I effectively broke the wall between reality and imagination through immersive reading.

One of the most meaningful things from this class so far is the “go-for-it” mentality towards drawing or other visual arts. Every time I posted an Instagram story after completing a page, I would receive messages doubting if I truly had not drawn anything after middle school. I am very glad that I pushed myself to draw something seriously for the “visual note taking” sketch, and the momentum has not declined. This mentality also helped me searching for other solutions when my ideas really exceed my limits. Photoshop and PowerPoint saved me a lot of troubles and time when I could not realize my ideas by my Apple Pencil.

So far, this assignment is the most time-consuming project this semester, but I really enjoy the process and would enjoy it more if I were to have more time available.

What am I busy with?


I developed this habit of listing pending matters at the beginning of this semester after a terrible week haunted by time conflicts. To avoid over-scheduling myself as well as procrastination, I write down my everyday work on a notebook for better time management. This sketch assignment makes me realize that the notebook can also be used to trace back my daily life and identify potential patterns. Although I do not put down everything in my life, items on the notebook are usually things that occupy most of my time when I am not in class. This graph represents data from Sep. 23rd to Nov. 10th.

My Sunday to Monday is mostly occupied by academics and less time is spent studying since Wednesday because I tend to finish assignments ahead of time so that I can enjoy the rest of my free time without thinking about dues. Most of my extracurricula are scheduled on Thursday night and Friday because I do not have classes on Friday. The drop between Friday and Saturday is easy to understand – Friday nights never end on Friday.

I have thought about showing the percentage of each category, but the different amounts of free time I have make it more reasonable to record the actual numbers. For instance, my Saturday always begins in the afternoon, and I have to wake up early for classes on Tuesday and Thursday. If I were to continue this record to assess my schedule, I would use total time spent in each category instead of the number of items, since time spent on each item may range from 30 minutes to 12 hours. Except for the fact that staying up late is unhealthy, I do not see the necessity to significantly change my typical weekly schedule.


Assignment Link:

For Her

Human Document

Not much planning involved before I decided the page and the words for my Human Document assignment. As a result, I was able to complete this in a relatively short time. I started off with a few interesting words and phrases and then selected the next ones that rhymed. I hope the text actually makes sense, but if not, at least it flows smoothly 🙂

Digitalizing the page before drawing saved me from a lot of trouble. It was easy to draw and make changes digitally. And there are plenty of tools on the iPad – all sizes and colors of pens and brushes  – to help me achieve different effects I desired.

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Recursion of My Life


The middle of a semester is always a struggle. One thing that I always do to comfort myself is to say that everything will be good as long as I survive this week. And I will say this every week during that period.

One day, there was this epiphany that I had been doing this not just every week, but every month, every year, and every stage of my life. Life is like climbing a mountain, and there will be small plains after steep ascents, but it will never be the top. It seems that I have been stuck in this recursion. Still, I keep climbing.


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Less Is More

My Bag

When I took things out of my bag, I was surprised by how under-utilized my backpack was. For all the classes, extra-curriculum, and daily life, a laptop, a tablet with an electronic pencil, a loose-leaf binder, stationery, a wallet, and a set of keys are enough. From this photograph, my self-portrait is a tech-savvy and open-minded person, embracing new technology and innovations. Getting rid of piles of books and paper, students from my generation that grow up with electronic devices tend to embrace the disruptive technological changes in our daily life. All my textbooks are stored in my laptop as pdf, and other reading materials are available through the online library. I take notes on my iPad, and the traditional loose-leaf binder is merely used to collect handouts and other hard copies. The wallet carries a little cash that serves only as emergency use. Credit cards still prevail, but online payments like Venmo and Apple Pay are changing the game. Overall, this image is very representative of me, as my budget is the only thing that will prevent me from upgrading the technology in my life. 

I believe that this kind of representation can be counted as a type of writing. First of all, like an author, I can choose what to be included in the photo. I have the power to lead my audience’s thoughts since they will not have information from other sources. Through adding and omitting information, it is feasible to create the representation that I want, just like shaping a character in writing. Nevertheless, the audience of this photograph will have their own interpretations of the items’ purposes. They cannot help but use their own experience with the specific item, like the laptop, to analyze the author’s use of that item. This kind of engagement is also similar to that of reading a text.

The Longest Distance

The Longest Distance vF.

The impact of smartphones and social media on interpersonal relationships has been a very popular topic in recent years. While some argue that technology facilitates communication over long distances, others point out that more and more people, especially those of our generation that have grown up with smartphones, are obsessed with social media and become unable to deal with face-to-face communications. Technology may hinder normal communications and create “the longest distance” between people.

The most difficult part is again the drawing process as I decided to push myself to practice drawing. No suitable pictures online made this process harder since I could not imitate others’ drawings. In addition to my iPad and Apple Pencil, I employed Photoshop and Powerpoint to edit my drawings and put them into panels. Overall, the creating process was fun if not that I had less time to spare for this assignment due to other midterms.


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