Tracing my Reflection

Forming my analyze of the two traced pages that I had annotated was a difficult process to take on. As I attempted to dive deeper into the meaning of certain patterns, I struggled for a little with developing a proper thesis that expanded the ideas I was witnessing on the pages. However, after much contemplation and deeper research on the “secret language of comics” I began to see a clear purpose emerging from the patterns I saw in Stitches and Spinning. After much thought, I knew that the authors’ experimentation with duration and motion and the use of specific images on the pages all lead to an underlying message of the protagonists being controlled by the fear in their lives. Small expanded on the duration of a moment to emphasize the specific detail of the fetus in order to relate his growth to an unknown terror that was beginning to control his life. He used his images to highlight the elements and expressions that lead to this conclusion. In contrast, Walden demonstrated the layering of motion and use of void images to present the idea to the audience that she is merely going through the motions of figure skating because of the fear she has of a life without it.

The process of annotating my traced pages allowed me to obtain a better understanding of the details I was privy to and those that were intentionally left out. By annotating these works I could take a closer look at the meanings behind each frame, angle, and perspective that the authors were sharing with us through their drawings. Obtaining this deeper understanding made the inductive essay much more manageable to form. I changed my writing process by jumping straight into my observations and arguments while considering what these patterns were really hinting to in the back of my mind. It took me a pretty long time to write this three paragraphs because I continued to stop and take multiple steps back in order to recognize the bigger picture at hand.

Ultimately, this assignment definitely provided me with an understanding of comics that I had never gotten before. I can now confidently say that Stitches and Spinning are much clearer after writing my analyze and diving into the patterns used by these authors. My biggest insight from this project is the hidden layer of deep emotion that drives both narratives. It had been clear that the ideas in these books were much deeper than just the surface, but being able to recognize the patterns set in place to demonstrate the unspoken feelings of the characters was a very pleasing thing for me to discover. Both the assignment prompt and my analyze of the annotated pages can be useful for more insight into a more meaningful understanding of these comics.

Tracing Stitches and Spinning: Reflection

Once you have completed your Tracing project and published the pages to your site, you need to publish a reflection post as well. The post serves to turn the project in when it syndicates to the class site, and is also an opportunity for you to explain your process in the work you just completed.

Your reflection post should link to the main page for your project and also to the assignment prompt. Tell us in the post what the thesis of your essay is and give a one or two sentence preview of your argument.

You should also address the following questions:

  • Before writing your essay, you went through a pretty involved process of tracing and annotating two pages from the books. Briefly explain what that process was like for you — probably this was very different from most other writing you’ve done, so try to explain what was useful about the process for you. What productive thoughts or analysis occurred through the act of tracing and annotating?
  • For this assignment, I asked you to be very conscious of writing an inductive essay with your thesis at the end, which is probably a pretty foreign way to structure an essay for you. How did your writing process change to address this assignment?
  • This assignment is a close reading exercise focused on identifying aspects of the “secret language of comics,” the series of choices the authors make in crafting comics that probably pass by many readers with little or no conscious notice. Do you feel that this assignment helped you to get in on this secret language? Do you understand Stitches and Spinning better after having written this project? What’s the single biggest insight you gained about the two books during the process of tracing, annotating, and analyzing these pages (maybe something you “knew” on some level before you started but that you really get now, or maybe something you hadn’t really noticed until you worked on the project)?

Retracing My Steps (of Tracing)

Tasked with analyzing two pages from David Small’s “Stitches” and Tillie Walden’s “Spinning” and a deadline to boot, my most mournful reflection is that I incorrectly assessed the due date to be a whole 24 hours earlier than it was; as such, my loss of sleep is a slightly less-noble sacrifice than I previously assumed.

At first I thought I was going to have trouble meeting the minimum word-count, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually had more than enough sentences to supplement my essay. The issue I had came instead from cutting down and streamlining my muddle of wordy words to fit the word maximum. I will admit though that this problem is a decidedly more helpful “hindrance” than not having enough, for when you’re forced to trim the fat, what’s left is only grade-A meat (I hope!).

Tracing out the pages helped me realize a lot more about the techniques inside each page and appreciate the work a graphic novelist puts into planning and preparation for their final production. Moreover, the sheer multitude of possibilities one faces when plotting out a page is both astonishing and exciting, so I guess something should be said for the wonderment that comes from a blank sheet of paper. What an endless array of opportunities!

Analyzing the Tears

David Small and Tillie Walden’s memoirs reveal defining moments from their childhoods, such as their findings of emotional support and avenues of self-expression outside of the bounds of their families. Small’s “Stitches” contains a page of three panels showing his younger self hugging the leg of his psychologist for comfort. David’s parents were not prone to physically embracing their children, and as such, this moment presents a critical turning point for the young cancer survivor as he finally allows himself to cry over the situation his parents placed him in (for it was his father who gave him cancer, and both chose to hold off on their son’s surgery) as well as find a parental surrogate in the form of his psychologist. The zoom in over the three frames as well as the constancy of David’s image in the first two frames — which changes with a solitary teardrop in the third — ensure that readers take a notice of importance to this transformation, for this is the moment that begins Small’s eventual rise over the trauma of his childhood. Walden’s mother in “Spinning” also offers little to her daughter in the form of compassion when she finds out Tillie is homosexual, and as such the hug between Walden and her cello teacher, Victoria, is similarly critical; since the crux of Walden’s moment lies not in Tillie’s tears and expression of emotion (for young Tillie cries at multiple points, unlike David in his memoir), the framing of five panels keeps both Tillie and her teacher’s faces in view (though Walden’s is more clearly shown so readers see the emotion she is expressing to Victoria), as the object of this page is to demonstrate Tillie finding an individual she can connect with and be comforted by. The tears of the second and sixth panels are only shown in medium shots to grant importance to their embrace, which is shown initially in the first panel’s closeup.

Tracing from “Spinning” by Tillie Walden. The initial closeup of Tillie and Victoria’s embrace highlights the emotional support gained from their close relationship.

The overall contextual patterns of the two memoirs help illustrate why Small chose to use a large, two-thirds-of-a-page filling panel to illustrate his moment of expression as opposed to Walden’s decision to use six evenly-sized panels to portray hers. Small structured his memoir so that each “part” of the graphic novel (as divided and distinguished by “I was…” titles and full-page illustrations) has a clear critical point of his story he wishes to convey; for instance, the first “part” presents the aggressive forms of expression his family possesses in contrast to his expression through sickness. As such, Small presents a large closeup of David’s tear ⁠— which is then followed by multiple panels displaying a metaphorical rain representing his resulting outflow of expression and acceptance — to clearly communicate to readers the monumental turning point this moment entails. The “climax” of “Spinning” when Tillie decides to finally quit skating, is purposefully given a display lacking dramatization to correspond with her mother’s uncaring reception of the news. Hilary Chute declares in “Why Comics?” that “auteurist comics … offer the singular intimacy of one person’s vision of the world,” and Walden, in designing her memoir, showcases her own subjective reflection of events by presenting a tale with less clear story beats, which are in tune with young Tillie’s lack of certainty and indecision throughout the graphic novel. As such, her hug with Victoria is presented through evenly sized shots that aim at showing not a singular point of transformation, but rather her appreciation for a common (yet until then, not acquired) display of affection she yearned for, which, along with other moments, helped her grow and eventually decide to quit ice skating.

Tracing from “Stitches” by David Small. The single tear marks a critical moment upon which David begins to express himself in a healthy way and eventually break free from the cruelty he has faced in his childhood.

“Stitches” and “Spinning” portray moments of emotional expression and comforting embrace, and Small’s memoir emphasizes the prior while Walden’s, the later. There is an overarching theme of self-expression in Small’s story, with David’s progress largely marked by finding healthy means of working out and conveying how he feels despite losing his voice. Hence, Small creates frames that present closeups of David’s face, excluding that of his psychologist, so that readers may focus on the eventual tear which is critical to the main character’s arc and transition into obtaining positive gains. Along with agency, Tillie gains critical friends in “Spinning” which help comfort her and positively propel her forward. As such, Walden chooses to keep both Tillie and Victoria in frame throughout most of the page, as well sizing the panels so they represent a “regular” yet priceless moment of care which she longed for.


Chute, Hilary. Why Comics?: From Underground to Everywhere. Harper Collins, 2019

Small, David. Stitches: a Memoir. W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.

Walden, Tillie. Spinning. First Second, 2017.

Sketches of “Spinning”

When Tillie Walden, the author of memoir “Spinning,” comes out as homosexual to her friends and family, the young skater’s opening up is not met with much love and support from most, yet her cello teacher, Victoria, offers her acceptance in the following page which I’ve traced and analyzed.

Tracing of a Page from “Spinning” by Tillie Walden

The higher angle of the fourth panel draws our eyes up towards Victoria as Tillie would and the closeup shots of the first, second, and fifth panels maintain a close framing of Tillie’s grateful reaction to her teacher’s acceptance. Medium shots from the waist up (as seen in the fourth and sixth panels) pull back from the emotional intensity in time with the pull backs from embrace the two characters experience, yet the embrace and therefore “connection” between them is kept even in the final frame; Victoria is, and will, be there for Tillie.

Sketches of “Stitches”

I’ve traced out a page of David Small’s memoir “Stitches” for some thorough analysis and selected the scene in which David, with the help of Dr. Harold Davidson, begins to express himself and come to accept the cruel reality of his parents’ abuse.

Tracing of a Page from “Stitches” by David Small

The closeups of David’s face draw attention towards the change in the final frame of a solitary tear, which leads to a metaphorical downpour in the following pages (a transition which the unbounded final panel prepares for). The importance of this scene lies in Small’s transition into expressing his emotions in a healthier way, and as such, the White Rabbit (which represents Davidson, his psychologist), is out of frame for the whole page except for his pants leg which David cries into; the emotional transition Small wanted us to focus on was his own, so the framing ensures a focus on David in this moment.