The Secret Language of Comics: Visual Thinking and Writing

Literacy Narrative Pt.2 Reflection

            Turning my literacy narrative into a three-page comic was difficult at first because I packed a lot of information into my formal essay of the literacy narrative. I had to choose which part of my narrative was worth converting into a short comic. My original literacy narrative detailed how I interacted with reading and writing both as a young child and throughout high school. I ended up choosing to make my comic about how reading shaped me throughout my childhood and through high school. I strayed from the original narrative by focusing more on the different novels and comics that shaped me as a child. I have Spiderman, Batman, The Three Musketeers, and even stories from the Bible and important tales that helped to shape my imagination as a kid. In the first part of my narrative, I just glaze over these books since I had a lot to cram into the paper, but I had more room to explore in the comic. In my opinion, it seems that the books have more emphasis when there is a picture to go along with the text. In my paper I could have gone on and on about the different ways the books helped me grow but having pictures of the different varieties of books along with text seems to have a stronger effect to me. 

            Changing my narrative comic form, I also added a bit of humor into the story. In the second panel I made a joke that I’ve been reading ever since I could remember and I drew a picture of myself in the womb with the text “Ok, maybe not that young”. I also think that the crouching Batman with a Batarang in his hand is a funny image as he breaks the frame. I felt that the original narrative just states a lot of facts while the comic gave me more freedom to change how the information was received. 

            I found that creating the comic was much harder than writing a paper. With a paper you can have an idea and write away and edit new ideas in as you go. However, when I was making my comic, I found that I needed to have a solid idea where the story would go so that I would not have to erase the sketches every time I thought of something new to add to the comic. I laid out a firm plan of what I wanted my drawings to be and added some of the accompanying text too.

Link to Literacy Narrative Part 2 is here

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.


Assignment Link:

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.


The literacy narrative comic assignment was significantly different than the previous assignments. This week’s assignment required meticulous planning and attention to detail. In the first literacy narrative assignment, I did not express properly what I wanted to communicate to the reader. In the first draft of the first literacy narrative assignment, I put more emphasis on my fascination with Game of Thrones than the general process of how I grew as a reader and a writer. I decided to take a different approach to this assignment and focus on the external forces that shaped the way I read and write. The most challenging aspect of constructing my literacy narrative comic was recognizing my rhetorical situation. The set of constraints imposed (a limited number of pages) forced me to omit numerous reading and writing experiences that had a significant impact. The peer-review process played a key role in how my comic was structured. My initial draft focused on my father’s influence on my reading. The plan was to limit the number of panels per page to four, but the feedback I got was to uniformly structure the story so that each moment got its fair share of the spotlight. I employed a visual thinking strategy employed by Drnaso in Sabrina, where close-ups on a screen or letter are utilized which brings out the illusion that the reader is (literally) seeing it from the character’s point of view. David Small, the author of Stitches, influenced the way I drew my father’s facial features and expressions.

I had a rough outline of the story I wanted to tell, but after progressing through a few panels I had a clearer and more specific idea that I wanted to portray on paper. Expressing moments visually allowed me to easily portray scenes I would not have been able to do in a traditional narrative essay. Writing for colleges was a traumatic experience and expressing that experience in the form of a comic allowed me to showcase the way I felt about the experience, how I experienced difficulties with writing, and the nightmares I had about the essays. The literacy narrative comic assignment has forced me to rethink the way I wrote my alphabetical literacy narrative and focus on the moments emphasized in the comic. 

I feel that if in an ideal situation the set of constraints were to be eliminated, the story would have had the chance of being developed organically and there would’ve been more insight into my relationship with my parents in terms of reading and the negative effect college essays had on my perception of writing. The end product would have been a comprehensive overview of my transformative experience as a reader and a writer.

The link to the assignment is here.

Image credits:

Caterpillars and Literature Reflection

For this weeks assignment I had a quite daunting task. I had to turn a written account of my reading and writing journey into a visual comic. At first I struggled with this because my writing narrative did not contain a main event. Instead it was just a sires of less significant small events. Before long I realized that the main idea of my narrative was the pattern, the pattern of liking literature to hating it to learning to love it again. This U-shaped paradigm was why my relationship to literature was so complicated.

So I came to the conclusion that I needed to find a way to visualize this complicated nature. First I played around with the ideas of putting all the positive memories on one side and all my negative memories on one side of the page. Upon further consideration I decided to depict my positive memories from my childhood first, then describe the negative experiences and finally end with illustrations of an improved relationship with literature. In order to highlight that the love of literature had not died completely, I placed the caterpillar among the grim boxes of negative experiences. Also, in the final positive experiences I removed the boxes and put the caterpillar in the actual scene to show that caterpillars, or a love of reading, had once again become a part of my life.

To view my literacy narrative comic, Caterpillars and Literature, click here.

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.

The Reflection of my Literacy Comic

Creating the Literacy Narrative Comic has been a very strenuous process for me. Making any kind of comic was something that I felt very intimidated by because it was such a new and unfamiliar medium for me. I believe the process of turning my narrative into this visual representation was extremely beneficial for my personal development, not only as a writer, but as a human being as well. This assignment really took me out of my comfort zone, but ultimately gave me a deeper understanding of literature in all types of mediums and made me proud of my accomplishment in such a novel field. 

Adding illustrations to my literacy narrative felt like it turned an essay about my literacy journey into a deeper and more interesting piece of work. Once the visual component was incorporated, reading my narrative became a more emotive experience for me. I was able to get a better understanding of the deeper feelings behind my journey into reading and writing and hopefully provide my audience with some emotional context through my drawings. During the peer editing workshop, one piece of feedback that I received was that they felt as if the facial expressions drawn provided them with the emotion of the panels without even reading the text. This was a great confirmation that my comic was on the right track to what I had been picturing in my head. It was my goal to create something that would hopefully depict the strong feelings in my story and what reading and writing truly meant to me. Ultimately, I believe I achieved these goals and created a comic that speaks louder than any essay of mine could’ve possibly done.

My original literacy narrative was much different than the story that my comic portrays now. When I first wrote my narrative it was difficult to think about all the internal reasons that I began to love reading and writing so I focused on some of the external factors that influenced my literacy journal. However, after a one on one conference that I had, I realized that it was important to dive deeper into the true story that I knew was hidden underneath. As this is a class that is rooted in trauma, I felt that I was only right to share some of mine through this comic. I wanted to make it very personal to me and provide my audience with a further understanding of who I am and what I have gone through in my life. While making my comic I spent a lot of time trying to create illustrations that were aesthetic and easy to understand. I’ve never been the best at drawing, but I tried really hard to display something that showed details and the emotion behind each of the characters. I decided not to write out my text, but to type it in instead in order to make the comic look more presentable and professional for my audience. Although this process has been slightly difficult for me both physically and emotionally, I feel very proud about the outcome and the work that I put in to make this comic the best that it could be. This assignment has definitely helped me grow and has showed me so much about the value of visual thinking as a whole.

A Reflection Upon Literacy Narrative Part 2: Making Comics

Even though the comic making process took up most of my free time of the week, I enjoyed it so much. At the beginning of the project, I was told that it could be a ton of work to convert my story board into a final version because I basically included all contents from my alphabetic version in my comic. However, since I’ve been trying to draw random comics from a young age, I found most of the process went through smoothly, and I ended up spent most of my time coloring and polishing my final piece instead of struggling about the overall structure. Similar to my alphabetic narrative, my comic is organized in a chronological order which reflects on my growth as a reader and writer from childhood to adolescence. In the original essay, I divided my narrative into three parts with different onomatopoeias as titles, each symbolizing a specific period of my reading and writing experiences. Transforming that into visual representation was, surprisingly, natural. For example, there is a paragraph in my essay describing how I climbed up and down the squeaky little ladder repeatedly to get the books off of the shelf. And in my comic, I actually managed to draw four parallel panels showing this “up-and-down” cycle in a row to better represent the idea of the repeating motion. I also added the onomatopoeias alongside the actions depicted (inspired by Stitches), which I was not able to do in alphabetic text, and it worked so well by making the figures seem to actually move within the panels.

The peer editing process we had last week was very helpful in terms of providing me with new insights into my work. In my original story board, I added the narrative text directly onto my images, which was not that visually aesthetic. I was then suggested to create a section for the texts on each panel (just like Spinning and Kindred do), and the comics turned out to be much clearer and organized. On the other hand, my peers seem to enjoy the way I incorporated sound into my narrative, so I knew I should probably emphasize the visual representation of sound in my final comic to make it enjoyable to read.

This assignment (although in the end it didn’t really seem like one but rather something that I would genuinely give all my efforts to make it better and better) really shows me how hard it is to make a comic, and thus I now view comics from an entirely different perspective than before since I know every visual element presented is a thought-through choice. To my biggest surprise, I found my way of recreating the alphabetic narrative through visual representation was, in fact, largely influenced by the comics I read before, as you can tell from this reflection how some of my choices are inspired by them. Again, the power of visuals I guess.

Trust the Process: A Reflection

My Literacy Narrative Comic naturally met the learning outcomes for this class. My narrative itself was about the writing process and the guidelines for the project allowed me to explore visual thinking and my digital identity. The least familiar aspect of this assignment was its medium. Though some assignments in high school required the use of drawings and pictures, none specifically required the description of an original narrative through comics. My comic narrative is about my discovery of the true messiness of the writing process and the benefit of asking for help. My first written narrative was about feeling gratified through teacher recognition. The process of writing the first draft and refocusing my story for the comic version after getting help is a direct example of the writing process that I discover in my comic. I was struggling to edit my written draft until I needed to focus on which elements I should portray in my comics. Once I had to visualize specific moments to draw, I was able to come up with a clearer story that responded to my professor’s original notes. 

I only had so much time to draw–an activity I enjoy– and so I decided to use stick figures, though I must admit my artistic ego took a hit. By saving time with stick figures, I was able to allot time towards experimenting with different framing ideas, something that my peers noticed and enjoyed. My comic as a whole is a diverse mixture of panel structures, wordy briefs, and out-of-the-box frames. Within each frame I mostly switched between focusing on either my face to show my emotions, or the back of my head to show what I was looking at. I made all of these decisions with the reader in mind because I felt that the mixture would allow for a captivating flow.  

Having my peers view a draft of my comic was both beneficial to my work and the class dynamic. It was nice to see everyone working together and accepting suggestions. Most of the comments on my peer editing form were about the transition between my second and third page. Some of the frames in the second page were cramped and then the theme of larger ideas on the third page was too abrupt a change from the small technical ideas in the second page. This was the major change I made in my final comic. Instead of only three pages, I know have four. I shifted some of the frames from the second page onto the third to give greater emphasis to each visual idea. My most creative edit was in the transition between the original frames from the second and third frames. I decided to use the drawing of my diary writing in the first page to foreshadow my use of diary writing in later panels to smooth transitions. Now, the “Personal Timeline” and “perfect essay formula” that were once out of place had a home within the writings of my diary. 

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.