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–


I underwent the same writing process for this assignment as I did for the previous assignments. The set of constraints allowed me to narrow down my options and focus on what I want to showcase. Arriving at my destination, I realize that my comic could potentially be more than what it currently is, but at the same time if I were to be given the freedom to construct my comic in my way than I wouldn’t be exactly sure in what I was trying to accomplish.

I chose my story to be a conversation I had with my friend, Cole, about the choice I made in wearing a Deadpool hoodie. We talked about how society impedes us with constrictions and that our choices shouldn’t be determined by society. It was slightly problematic excluding a few moments from the conversation I wanted to show on my 5-panel comic.

the link to the assignment can be found here.

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.


CS 170 – Intro to Computer Science. Expressing a dry subject in images was unconventional to me. I believe Computer Science and advanced coding concepts is substantially more complex to be able to be expressed in images. In my Sunday sketch, I decided to show the basic concept of the Java Virtual Machine.

I drew a computer with a large monitor begging to be fed with codes adding a comedic side to my sketch, but I did find it taxing, explaining visually further concepts of coding due to the level of complexity involved, though, learning visually did help me in understanding the basic concept of converting high-level languages to binary code. I found out that thinking visually helps in certain parts or subjects but not in problem solving or mathematical concepts. I found the process of constructing my own Sunday sketch difficult as, in my opinion, Comp Sci doesn’t mesh well with visual thinking even in graphics. 

The link to the assignment is here.


Funny and scary, intimidating yet goofy, clowns are something I hold mixed feelings about. I’ve always thought clowns to have a daunting vibe. Yes, they induce laughter, yes they personify buffoonery, but their large jumpsuits and big shoes make it hard for me to stay engaged in their performances. I only see big shoes and jumpsuits when I look at objects, particularly glasses. 

If I view my glasses vertically, the image of a clown with big boots always comes to mind. The lenses represent the boots and the sides represent a part of the jumpsuits. I darkly shaded the upper area around the lenses to make the boots distinct. I continued to make the lower part of the jumpsuit with the sides, deliberately making the legs longer and the upper body shorter to add a clumsy look (unnerving for me). A few stimulating shapes were added to the jumpsuit to not make it look bland. I purposely made the gloves with a mickey mouse style and decided to go with a Danny DeVito hairstyle, with an arrow stuck in his hair. A distinct face paint design was added that would make most people uncomfortable and possibly empathize with my opinions on clown appearances. The link to the assignment is here.

Tesla’s Thunderbirds

Batterybirds by Dean Criser

When replacing batteries earlier this morning, I had a spark of inspiration: electric jet planes. So after gathering up a few Duracells and one AmazonBasics, I sat down with some colored pencils and prepared to craft a masterpiece that fired on all cylinders.

Those cylinders, however, must have been feeling the groove of Marcia Griffiths, for they were electric sliding everywhere; I’d place one down with delicate precision, and then another would go for a party ride across the page! It took a long while, but when the stars and batteries aligned at last, I finally began to draw.

First came the flames of fiery yellows and reds, which were closely followed by the wings and cones of our soaring vessels. I know it doesn’t make sense that electric jets have exhaust, but since I myself was exhausted while drawing this, I’m going to chalk it up as a metaphorical discrepancy.

With the batteries in place on my pencil-scratched page, I took out my phone and lined up the shot, and to sum it up in two words, it’s electric!

Link to prompt: sk2

Sketch 3: Visual Note Taking

Due: 9/22
Tag: sk3


For your sketch assignment this week, I want you to create a set of visual notes for one day in one class (other than this one) that you are currently enrolled in. You do not need to take your visual notes in real time; in fact, I recommend that you don’t. I recommend that you go to your classes and take notes in whatever manner you normally do, then after class go through your notes and recreate them as visual notes.

Giulia Forsyth

Domain of One’s Own by Flickr user Giulia Forsyth

I’m a big fan of the work of Giulia Forsyth. She works in a teaching and learning center, where she helps professors and instructors be more innovative in their teaching practices, and she also works as a visual note-taker and facilitator, which means that she is sometimes employed to go to presentations and meetings and to doodle notes for the meeting.

Check out the four minute video below, where she gives a quick summary of how she began to take her doodling seriously and where it has led her.

On her Visual Practice page, Forsyth has lots of videos and images explaining how she approaches the task of producing drawings that help her and others to not just grab the information that’s been presented in a class or discussion, but to grapple with the material and better understand it. You can also see numerous examples on her Flickr page, especially her Visual Practice album.

Kenneth Robinson

As another example of visual note-taking, you might check out the video below from RSA Animates illustrating a lecture by Kenneth Robinson about educational philosophy. I suspect you’ll find the video much more powerful and engaging because of the illustration that goes along with it than you would if you were simply listening to the audio. What does this mean for your own practice?


For your sketch assignment this week, I want you to create a set of visual notes for one day in one class that you are currently enrolled in (probably not this one). You do not need to take your visual notes in real time; in fact, I recommend that you don’t. I recommend that you go to your classes and take notes in whatever manner you normally do, then after class go through your notes and recreate them as visual notes.

You do not need to draw your notes in a digital environment, either, though you are certainly free to do so. If you prefer to doodle with pen, pencil, or marker on paper then do that and once you’re done with your drawing, just scan the pages as JPG files so you can upload them to your site. If you have an iPad or other tablet or would like to draw on your laptop or desktop, then you might try apps like GoodNotes, ProcreateInkflow, or Adobe’s Sketchbook or search for other free/cheap drawing applicationsI am completely tool agnostic on this assignment, so make your drawings in whatever manner make sense to you.

Your visual notes do not need to be polished or beautiful or anywhere near as intricate as Forsyth’s. Do try to take this assignment as an opportunity to really engage differently with your material – don’t just make a series of doodles that follow the outline of the lecture or discussion in your notes but try to translate the concepts and information into a new, visual set of notes. You might think about creating flowcharts or diagrams, which are also visual devices.

Once you’ve got your notes, load them onto your course site as a sketch post. Embed the images from your notes into the post and as you do, take a few moments to reflect on the process and then write a paragraph or two about what you learned during the process of creating your visual notes. Did it help you to understand the course content any differently or better to create notes visually rather than just as text? Did you discover anything new about yourself or the way you think in the process? Did you find it enjoyable or find some aspect of it particularly interesting? Someplace in your reflective text, create a link back to this blog post assignment.