The British artist Tom Phillips is probably best known for a project that he began in 1966 and which he has continued ever since–he set himself the challenge to buy the first book he could find at a secondhand bookstore for threepence and to alter every page using drawing, painting, collage, and cut-up techniques to create an entirely new version.
He found W.H. Mallock’s A Human Document and combined the words in the title to create A Humument. Phillips not only created new art works from each of the 367 pages but has now completed five different editions of this altered book.
You can view pretty much the complete series of pages on Tom Phillips site here. You can choose pages, view the original and then view different versions of that page.
For this week’s assignment, I want you to create your own visual poem-thing. You can find your own page to alter if you’d like, but I’ll bring in an old used book that you can take pages from too. Think of it as sort of a collaboration between yourself and the book’s original author or think of it as a game where you get to create new text but within the strict confines of the text available on the page.
Obviously, Tom Phillips has been doing this for almost 50 years and I’m not expecting you to produce work that is as polished or complex as his – nor that is necessarily as visually compelling. And it will probably feel very strange to you as you begin, but just let yourself be playful and experiment with your task. You do not need to be a professional artist to make these pages, but you probably do need to be able to relax your desire to be in control of what you produce and you probably need to turn off the self-critical voice that will tell you that you’re doing it wrong.
Alter your page using whatever methods or tools you prefer, then scan the page in color at a high resolution as a JPG or PNG file and load it to your site. You might or might not include in your post the text of your altered page.
When Mason Currey wanted to understand how he could manage to produce more creative work despite the challenges of everyday life, he set about studying how a bunch of other famous creative people organized their daily lives and what routines they established for their own creative work with the assumption that there were valuable lessons there. Daily Rituals was the result of that research — and then a number of different people and organizations have set out to visualize the insights of that book so that we can see larger patterns in the midst of all this biographical information. Podio’s graphic, which is the feature image on this post, is one of those (check out their site for the interactive version)
For this sketch assignment, you will choose one concept in your life that you want to analyze, something that is not already easily and obviously measured, or doesn’t vary within the span of a day or a week (good categories: awesomeness, mindfulness, healthiness, creativity, productivity, and similar … bad categories: number of steps, hours of sleep, caloric intake, how good is my eyesight?). Decide on a set of about 5 categories that you can use to measure that concept in your life and track those categories for a week or more, then you will produce a visualization of the data that you have gathered and use that visualization to help you understand something about your own life that might not be obvious from your own day to day activities.
If you’re looking for suggestions about what to track, browsing the “quantified self” tag at Lifehacker might be worthwhile.
Once you’ve got categories, create a spreadsheet where you can track those categories throughout the day. Either take notes in a journal or on your phone and enter the results into your spreadsheet at set intervals, or make the spreadsheet in Google Drive and access it from your phone, or use the site Trackthisforme, or install a tracker app on your mobile device (I found some by searching for “quantified self” apps).
Whatever method you use, the key activity is to decide what you are going to pay attention to and then to create a system that is manageable for your life for the span of a week wherein you will quantify information about your self or your behavior.
For example, one step of this process might be to decide to measure how happy you are and to create a spreadsheet with a column for “Happy.” Then when you wake up in the morning, while you’re waiting for the coffee to brew, you’ll pull up the spreadsheet and enter a number between 1 and 10 indicating how happy you feel. You will continue adding rows at some set interval (every hour maybe). You will probably have some columns that are a little less subjective than “how happy do I feel right now?” (like “how many times did I talk in class today?” or “how much time did I spend studying?” “how many minutes have I spent looking at my phone in the last hour?”). You can decide how objective or subjective your categories are, but recognize that those decisions will impact the sorts of conclusions you draw from this process.
For now, you just need to decide what you will track and then to be as meticulous and careful as you can be about actually tracking this information either directly into a spreadsheet or in a format that can easily be transferred into a spreadsheet at the end of the week.
Visualizing that data
Now that you have gathered your data, it’s time to analyze it further and visualize it.
With the data set that you’ve gathered, which is just for a week or so and only with a handful of variables, you probably won’t need a computer or special tools to analyze it. However, you might find loading your data into a spreadsheet (like in Excel) if you haven’t already been keeping it in that format will help you a lot to analyze it and see patterns in the data.
Because this is an assignment about collecting data about your own life, there is room for you to decide how “scientific” you want to be with your project. Even if you have never used spreadsheets for much of anything, try to quantify your data as much as you can and make an effort to be detailed and accurate with your information, but that said the types of data you chose to collect and the category you’ve decided to study will have a huge impact on the type of analysis you undertake. It is okay for you to have some more subjective categories and it’s okay if your final analysis or visualization is somewhat subjective too.
There are numerous methods you can use to create your visualization — anything from paper and crayons/markers/pencils to sophisticated data visualization software like Tableau. MS Excel also has some pretty sophisticated charts that you can create from your data. And there are also lots of free online tools that you can use too — it’s admittedly been a year or more since I really surveyed the set of free tools available, but I’d probably still recommend Infogram if you want a free web-based infographic maker and aren’t sure where to start.
For help deciding what type of chart or graph might be most effective in visualizing your data, consult the Data Viz Catalogue (it might be most helpful for you to switch to the “sort by functions” view at the top of the page).
Hand-drawn charts and graphs are perfectly 100% acceptable, if that’s what you prefer. However, please do not spend lots of time carefully crafting hand-drawn charts and then snap a crappy picture of them on your cell phone to post to the web. There are lots of scanners available on campus that you can use to scan your chart into a high-quality JPG image — I’d suggest that you take a quick trip to the Media Lab on the 4th floor of the library and scan your drawings. That space is underutilized and an excellent resource that you should know about.
If you create your visualizations with an online tool, just make sure that you can export them as a JPG image, or that you can at least take a good screenshot of your work.
Publish your charts as a sketch post to your site. Identify what conceptual issue you were tracking or what question you wanted to answer (or begin to answer). Include 2 or 3 paragraphs explaining what conclusions you have drawn from the data that you collected. Were you able to answer the question you had posed for yourself? What sorts of judgement calls did you face while gathering the data? Why did you choose to visualize your data in the manner that you did? What do these visualizations say about your own life? If you were to continue this project into the future, would you go about it in pretty much the way you have done this week or would you do things differently now that you have looked at the data to this point? Have you found this to be a valuable tool for self analysis?
You’ve made a one-panel image with your avatar, combined two images with your combophotos, and made a traditional three-panel comic like those that used to dominate the Sunday funnies sections of newspapers. This week, I’d like you to make a 4-panel comic like the ones that are currently dominating web comics.
As Peter Rubin argues in Wired, “Four-panel strips have been a fixture since early 20th-century newspaper comics like Mutt and Jeff and the concomitant appearance of yonkoma (“four-cell”) manga in Japan. It’s the perfect three-act-structure: You start at one end, develop conflict in the middle two panels, and resolve with a punch line at the end. But thanks to a number of factors—not least of which is the rise of Instagram and Reddit—a gridded, two-by-two variant has come to dominate the internet.” Notice that the four-panel comic, Rubin claims, still has a three-act structure.
Then make your own four-panel square comic. Just like with your triptych, you should still focus on telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end and you are still free to use photographs or to draw in whatever style you’d like. Focus, again, on compact, playful storytelling.
You can combine the four images into a single one or you can publish them to your post as separate images. In order to create a square in the WordPress block structure, you’ll simply need to add 2 “columns” blocks to your post and then hover over the top of each column block to add an image.
Column blocks are found in the “Layouts” section of the block selector. They allow you to format your blog posts with columns, to which you can add images or paragraphs of text or embed other elements and so on.
Like with your triptych, add a paragraph of text reflecting on your quadriptych comic. Describe the composition process a little bit. What was challenging about this assignment? How is crafting this sort of comic strip different or similar to the triptych? How was it different to have the middle act stretch across two panels rather than one? Why did you tell the kind of story that you did?
For some unknown reason, the National Archives includes a document entitled Cocktail Construction Chart, which was created by the US Forest Service in 1974, showing recipes for a group of cocktails represented in the style of an architectural diagram.
For this week’s sketch, think about the work you’ve completed in this class and your own learning and thinking processes — then break all that down into component parts, represented in some sort of an architectural diagram like this one. I’m less interested in the quality of the drawing itself and more in your analytical ability to break down something complicated into a series of steps and to represent that as if in such a diagram.
Creating this diagram should be a key step towards completing your portfolio reflection letter (and I will encourage you to use the diagram as a key image in that letter). If you think about what you have learned this semester about yourself as a writer and reader, how can you represent that understanding as a single diagram, and how do the various pieces of writing you have done fit into that diagram to construct your vision?
The primary focus of this piece of our analytical work in the class is thinking and reading rhetorically across the multimodal texts we are reading this semester. This assignment is an exercise in close reading and explication in order to identify and analyze the rhetorical situations of these texts, in which you will look very carefully and precisely at 2 specific pages of your choice from the books we have read so far this semester, making notes about what you observe, and then you’ll present what you uncover in the process and draw some connections between what you see in those pages and the larger narratives presented.
Format: 2 traced pages with annotations, plus 500 to 750 words of analysis. Published to your site as a series of interlinked pages, plus a reflective post (more about this structure below).
Audience: You should assume an audience that has read Stitches and Spinning and thought about the texts, but who understands the books not quite as well as you do.
Tone: The style of your written reflection should be “academic casual.” I expect coherent, grammatically correct prose that communicates clearly and directly. Show yourself to be a thoughtful, engaged person who is interested in explaining your ideas without getting overly bogged down in formality or jargon.
You should use at least one quote from Hillary Chute’s essay “Comic for Grownups?” Make sure you “sandwhich” the quote with your own words — introducing and analyzing the quote. You will also need to provide an MLA citation for Chute’s essay. (More on quote sandwiches and source citation soon.)
You are not required or expected to use any other outside sources for this assignment; however you are allowed to do so, particularly any of the other texts from the class. Make certain that you cite any sources (and link to any texts that are online).
Title: Your essay must have an interesting title.
You will trace or otherwise re-draw two different pages for this project, one from Stitches and one from Spinning. (I’ll distribute tracing paper in class, but you can also do this tracing digitally if that works best for you.) A “page” means a single verso or recto page. You may do a two-page spread, but only if that spread forms a coherent unit, in which case a two-page spread will count as one “page” (and that will make this assignment more difficult for you, so consider carefully before you take it on).
The only significant criterion is that you should find the pages compelling. A page might be compelling to you because of one particular moment on it that really stands out or because of something odd or confusing or quirky that you want to spend more time thinking about. You might find yourself thinking about a larger theme of the text that you know you ultimately want to address and then looking for pages that will allow you to do so. Or you might find yourself thinking about interesting pages that somehow surprised or captivated you and choosing those pages without knowing ultimately exactly what themes they will lead you to address. Either approach is potentially fruitful.
(I recommend that you take notes for the analysis described later as you trace your pages, instead of waiting until you’ve finished. You will probably discover much during the actual process of tracing that you’ll want to talk about for the reflection.)
Pick a compelling page from Stiches and trace it or redraw it freehand. Your goal is not to create a look-alike reproduction of the original page but rather to distill the original page into a simplified line drawing. If there are caption bubbles or text boxes, you should trace their outline, but please do not copy the text within.
Once you have finished tracing, scan the page digitally and save the file as an image (jpg or png). Use an actual scanner (the best scanners for this purpose are located in the Media Lab space on the 4th floor of the library) not a simple cell phone photo.
Either print out the scanned image or make a photocopy of your trace page, so that you can draft the next step without worrying about destroying your first trace image.
Annotate the printout or photocopy of the traced page with “gutter text”—your own text, written into the gutters, margins, empty captions, and space around the margins of the pages (see instructions for annotating below).
When you are satisfied with the annotation on the traced page, scan that page and save the digital image at a high resolution (again, use an actual scanner).
For the second tracing select a page from Spinning that is also compelling.
As in the first tracing, distill the original page into a simplified line drawing.
After you have traced this page, repeat the rest of the steps above, this time annotating with an eye toward what makes this page different from your first selection.
Annotating the traced pages
Think of your gutter text as a dissection of the page, in which you highlight both the salient and the subtle characteristics of the page’s panels.
In this process, you might find yourself noticing some of the key terms of rhetorical situation — audience, genre, purpose, and design. You might notice various formal features of the drawing: color, saturation, shading, line styles, shapes and sizes, angles and placement, perspective and framing, layering and blocking. Or considering the relationship between the elements on the page: the transitions between panels, the interplay between words and images, the way time and motion are conveyed. As you annotate the page, focus on recognizing the choices Small and Walden make with regard to Scott McCloud’s framework of writing with clarity: choices of moment, frame, image, and flow (don’t worry about word just yet).
Remember, as Art Spiegelmann argues, that the unit of communication for comics is the page, moreso than the panel. Pay attention to the overall layout of the page: the use of gutters and margins, the arrangement of panels, the flow of narrative or imagery. How do all the various panels on the page work together to create a clear and coherent unit? What do you notice when you look at the page as a unit?
What elements of the “secret language of comics,” the “underlying formal elements that create the illusions,” do you see at work on these pages? Keep your eyes out for: spatially site-specific elements; the shaping of time by arranging it in panels; the weirdness of time on the page; experimentation with duration and motion; layering; economical and dense narrative; experimentation with directions of reading or nonlinear reading; the all-at-onceness or “symphonic effect” of comics; methods the authors use to slow down the reading process or to make the reading process more participatory; ways in which the authors put “productive pressure on what ‘normal reading’ is”; and ways in which these comics “champion the tug-of-war” between binaries like the vulgar and the genteel, word and image, youth and adult, slow and fast, reading and looking; what is pictured and what is left to the reader’s imagination (all of these quotes and terms are found in “Comics for Grown-Ups?“) Note that you should not, indeed cannot, consider all of these ideas as you trace your pages. Choose one or two of these that seem most applicable to your chosen pages.
You might not be able to fit all your notes actually on the page, in which case you can either write them on additional pages or type them up and add them onto the page when you upload your traced images. If you need additional space to include your notations like this, you should probably number them and add reference numbers on your traced image so your notes can point to specific spots on the page.
Once you have completed your annotations, publish 2 pages on your site, one for each annotated tracing page. Include a large version of your scanned traced page (or a smaller size image that links to the full sized image) and any additional notes.
Analyze your tracings
Now that you’ve spent some sustained time and effort looking very closely at these two pages, take a step back and go through your notes, think about what you have seen, and identify any patterns that come to your attention, especially with regard to those elements of the secret language of comics listed above.
Above all, you are engaging in a process of pattern recognition with your annotated pages: identify some pattern(s), ask yourself what you think it might mean, and then communicate your answer to that question as clearly as you can. Focus in on the two or three most interesting patterns you recognize.
Publish your analysis
Once you have annotated the pages and looked for these patterns, write a short essay (500-750 words) in which you compare the two pages and sketch out your most interesting observations about the two. Try to present your argument in a three-part structure. In the first section explain one similarity or difference you have seen in these two pages and why that pattern is interesting. Then in the next section present a different comparison of the two texts. Then in your final section, try to make some slightly larger claim about why these two texts are doing these things similarly or differently, what you think these patterns mean.
Each paragraph of your essay should be about both of your pages or both of the comics.
Do not write one paragraph about Stitches and then a paragraph about Spinning.
Do not write one paragraph about ways these two texts are similar and then another paragraph about ways in which they are different.
Try this for me: make the thesis of your essay the topic sentence of the final paragraph of your essay, instead of putting it at the beginning. In the best case scenario, your thesis will build on the two patterns you present in the previous sections and synthesize them into a new understanding of how the authors address their rhetorical situations.
Your thesis should definitely not be “Stitches and Spinning are similar but different.”
Make the two pages that contain your traced pages subpages for this essay and link to them someplace within the body of your essay.
Your essay should include at least one image, probably a few. Do not include the entire annotated page as an image in your essay; however you might crop your traced page to include specific details that you’re describing in the text and include that. You might also scan a particular part of the page you traced and put that scanned image into conversation with your traced image (in other words, you might choose to include one panel from Stitches alongside your traced and annotated version of that same panel). Or you might even scan a panel from a page you did not trace and compare it to a panel from your chosen page.
Choose a single moment from a movie or television episode and recreate that scene as closely as you can in a single photograph. Think about how you can creatively use wardrobe items or props that you already have at your disposal and the landscapes and building spaces available to you in order to create your scene. In fact, you might find that it’s best to begin by thinking about what you might be able to pull off and to work backward from there to choosing a scene.
By definition, you don’t have incredibly powerful movie cameras, cinematographers, a cast and crew, a prop and set design department, and CGI f/x staff for post production; therefore, you are never going to perfectly recreate any scene. However, with a little creativity you can still create a powerful version of a scene even without all that fancy paraphernalia, as in the version of Jurassic World at the top of this post and others seen here.
More than a decade ago, I recreated these scenes above as part of a larger photographic creative project. For my version of Lost in Translation, I rearranged the furniture in my bedroom and borrowed my wife’s bathrobe. I could never quite get the tilt of my head right. For my recreation of Albrecht Dürer’s Self Portrait of 1500, I couldn’t reproduce the proportions because I was required to make all my shots 4×3 landscape photos and my hair wasn’t long enough to quite pull off the portrait. But I bought a black plastic tablecloth for 99 cents for the background and made the sleeve decorations with crayons on paper. I used a fuzzy scarf and an old leather jacket for the clothes. Despite taking numerous shots and studying the painting very, very closely, I could never get my right hand into exactly the correct position.
Return to your alphabetic narrative and revise, taking into account the further thinking you did as you created your comic. You can (and probably should) really rethink, rearrange, and reenvision the literacy narrative — rather than merely replacing words with other words. You should have a much clearer sense of the ideas or tensions in your literacy narrative now, after having drafted an alphabetic narrative and then a comic narrative, so go back and write it as an essay.
Publish the new version of your literacy narrative as a page on your site. Then publish a reflective post that links to that page and answers the following questions:
How has the entire literacy narrative project helped you to meet the Learning Outcomes for this class?
How was it to return to the alphabetic literacy narrative after having created your comic? How did you think differently after having worked in the visual medium and now returning to a text narrative?
How do you see the story you are trying to tell in different terms now? Was your analytical thinking process any different?
Now that you’ve completed a draft of your alphabetic literacy narrative, gotten feedback from me, and perhaps read some of your peers’ narratives, it’s time for you to make your own comic narrative about your literacy. For your narrative to be a comic, it must include some words and some images. You are free to veer away from your alphabetic narrative in whatever ways you’d like (you are not bound by the draft you already published to your site), and in fact you will need to fundamentally rethink your narrative in at least some ways in order to make it work as a comic instead of just an alphabetic text. Ultimately, your goal is to both tell a nonfiction, autobiographical story about yourself as a writer/reader and to connect your own personal narrative to the experiences of other people as well — to convey what’s at stake in your narrative.
As you develop your comic, you should refer back to Scott McCloud’s Making Comics, which we read earlier in the semester, and especially the “Clarity” diagram. You will need to make choices about moment, frame, image, word, and flow as you draw your comics. You can experiment in order to develop the style that seems appropriate to the story and ideas that you are presenting — your goal is to create a clear narrative that makes your argument in a way that your readers can grasp, and that might entail playing with techniques that are new to you.
You can make your comics by hand or you can use digital methods.
You can incorporate photographs or other media if you’d like.
Turning your alphabetic literacy narrative into a comics comes in two steps:
Due: 10/31 (in class)
Length: 3-4 pages (ballpark)
In class on 10/31 we will workshop the drafts of your narratives, so come to class with a rough sketch of the complete story you are telling. It should actually be rough — stick figures are fine, as are notations that explain what you are aiming for if it doesn’t come through in the rough sketch. You need the storyboard to be just detailed enough that your peers can read it and understand the 5 choices you are making and see what you are doing in the story, so that they can give you productive feedback, but not so detailed that you will feel invested in the storyboard as if it is a final product and won’t make revisions based on that feedback.
You can bring in a hard copy of your storyboard or you can scan it and publish it to your site. (I will eventually ask you to publish the storyboard before you complete the final draft, so if you can go ahead and do that before class on 10/31, but it’s fine for that class if you bring a hard copy.)
Length: 3-4 pages (ballpark)
After you’ve gotten feedback on your storyboard, make a final version of your comic. If you have drawn it in an analog space, get a really nice scan of it (don’t just snap a picture with your cell phone) and upload that to your site. It can be published to a single page or across a few separate pages.
Once you have published the page, write and publish a reflection post that links to your comics page. (Reflection prompt to follow.)
We will complete a freewriting exercise in class on 9/3. Following up on that exercise, do some more freewriting in response to the following questions. Don’t worry too much about how the pieces will fit together or what it will all look like in a final essay. Just let your mind go to wherever it goes as you think about the questions. You should try to write for at least five minutes in response to each question. Use as much detail as you can — try to imagine as clearly as you can but don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or structure yet.
Please write about the key moment when, where, and how you first learned to read. What was learning to read like for you? What sorts of books did you read?
How did you feel about reading and writing as an adolescent — say, during middle and high school? What sorts of experiences did you have as a reader and writing in school?
What are your experiences with social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, or others? What do you remember about your first experiences with such sites? Do you text on a smartphone? What sorts of experiences have you had writing to/for people with those sorts of technologies?
What are some of the biggest struggles you have had as a reader and/or writer? What are some of your best moments as a writer?
Now that you’ve done some brainstorming, write an essay in which you analyze the key experiences that shaped the way you read and write.
Take a step back and reread the freewriting you did, looking for any interesting patterns that you surfaced about your history with reading and writing. You do not need to directly address the questions above or include points from the brainstorming you’ve done, but hopefully in the process of freewriting and thinking about those questions, you’ve recognized some issues or patterns that are interesting enough for you to analyze more carefully.
You’ll have opportunities for revision and later in the term I will ask you to remix the writing you’re doing here into a graphic narrative but for now just focus on drafting this essay.
Nuts and Bolts
Publish your narrative as a page (not a post) on your class website (make certain to add it to the menu, so we can all find it).
As with everything you publish for me this semester, you need more than just words for your narrative — you must have at least one image, video, or audio file with your narrative. You’ll need to provide a caption and give credit to the creator of the image (even if it’s your own). We’ll talk briefly in class on Thursday about Creative Commons and finding CC-licensed images with Flickr.
Once you have published the page, you need to also write a separate blog post. That post should link to the page you have published and reflect on the process of writing it.