The Secret Language of Comics: Visual Thinking and Writing

Wrapping up

I promised in class yesterday to put up a list of what you need to work on over the next couple of weeks:

  • Complete Literacy Narrative, Part 3 and publish as a new page on your site, along with a reflection post linking to it.
  • Complete your final Sunday Sketch assignment, which should help you to begin thinking about your final reflection letter.
  • By the time we meet next Tuesday (12/10) send me an email in which you identify one piece of writing you have completed this semester that you believe I should nominate for an Eagle Award, along with a paragraph explaining why it deserves this award/why you are proud of it.
  • Edit your website to have a static front page, with a good menu and clear access to all the work you’ve published this semester. Make the whole site feel like a coherent, finished website.
  • Publish your reflection letter to the front page of your site.

On Tuesday, we’ll put a bow on the class topic and discussions. I’ll answer any questions you have about the list above and we might talk a bit about the Assemblies sketches you put together. I’ll have a Google doc sign up sheet ready by then for you to sign up for final conferences with me, should you choose to have another one. And I’ll give you some time to fill out the end of semester course evaluation forms.

Week ahead: 13

13 11/19 Daytripper — Introduction by Craig Thompson, One: 32, Two: 21 (7-56) Halfa Kucha
11/21 Daytripper — Three: 28, Four: 41 (57-104) Halfa Kucha
11/24 Sketch 10: Tell a True Story

On Tuesday we’ll have presentations by:

  • Ore
  • Dean
  • Marlie
  • Bella
  • Sulaiman
  • Haider
  • Sawyer
  • Isabel

On Thursday we’ll have presentations by:

  • Ja’Mya
  • Terrence
  • Andres
  • Isaac
  • Joyce
  • Trinity
  • Andrew
  • Nick
  • Shivani
  • Teo
  • Lonnie

You should upload your presentation to the Box folder I shared with all of you, so we know that you’ll be able to access it when it’s time to present.

After presentations, we’ll spend the remaining time discussing Daytripper.

You can go ahead and sign up to meet with me just before or just after the Thanksgiving break to discuss your work so far in the class, including the Halfa Kucha presentations, using this form. If you sign up to meet with me on Monday after the break, please set a reminder for yourself so that you don’t forget after the break.

Week Aheads Ahead: 12-13

12 11/12 Sabrina — 101- 157 Literacy narrative, part 2
11/14 Sabrina — 158-204
11/17 No sketch due
13 11/19 Daytripper — Introduction by Craig Thompson, One: 32, Two: 21 (7-56) Halfa Kucha
11/21 Daytripper — Three: 28, Four: 41 (57-104)
11/24 Sketch 10: Tell a True Story

Over the weekend and this week, you should be finishing up your comic literacy narratives and putting together your Halfa Kucha presentations.


Note: I revised the schedule slightly to move sketch 10 back one week. There is no sketch due on 11/17, to allow you to focus on your presentations.

In class this week, I’ll hand out sheets of 11×17″ paper that you can fold into 5 “panels” for sketch 10. It’s also fine to do that sketch with 8.5×11″ paper, but with all the folding the larger sheets will likely work better — working with a standard 8.5×11″ page means that your first panel is only about 2″x3″ and that might be a challenge to draw on.

Looking ahead to the Thanksgiving break, you’ll be recreating a scene from a movie … just be sort of thinking about what you might be able to manage to do with that sketch.

Half Kucha

As you read for class this week you should be thinking about and preparing for your presentations. It’s probably a good idea to look back over your Tracing Pages essay as you do so. That assignment asked you to think about trauma and healing by zooming in very narrowly on two pages. This assignment is asking you to think about trauma and recovery from more of a middle distance — looking for patterns across two or three of the books we have read this semester.

In the assignment prompt, I ask you to think about those two quotes from Herman and also the Hillary Chute essay on “The Risk of Representation.” You might think about the quotes from that essay that we worked on as a class.

Some other key ideas you might consider:

  • the ways in which a comics artist “push on conceptions of the unrepresentable” and “assert the value of presence, however complex and contingent”;
  • the ways in which these authors “offer the work of retracing — materially reimagining trauma. They return to events to literally re-view them”;
  • the ways in which these narratives “are not only about events but also, explicitly, about how we frame them;
  • the ways in which an author “insists on the importance of innovative textual practice offered by the rich visual-verbal form of comics to be able to represent trauma productively and ethically”;
  • the idiom of witness: “a manner of testifying that sets a visual language in motion with and against the verbal in order to embody individual and collective experience, to put contingent selves and histories into form”;
  • the ways in which these authors “show us interpretation as a process of visualization”;
  • comics as a “possible metaphor for memory and recollection” in the way that comics “appear in fragments, just as  they do in actual recollection,” especially when you’re dealing with traumatic memory;
  • the ways in which these authors represent “an everyday reality,” especially for women and girls, “picturing what is often placed outside of public discourse”;
  • authors using the “inbuilt duality of the form — its word and image cross-discursivity — to stage dialogues among versions of the self, underscoring the importance of an ongoing, unclosed project of self-representation and self-narration”;
  • the ways in which comics represent time as space: “time is shaped spatially” on a page through panel size, shape, and placement, which interacts with pace and rhythm and allows for “palimpsesting past and present moments together” in order to show the past, present, and future all together simultaneously;
  • the similarities and differences between comics and film, and in particular for this assignment the ways in which comics might be better at representing trauma and healing because comics “cedes the pace of consumption to the reader, and begs rereadings through its spatial form,” thus “releasing its reader from the strictures of experiencing a work in a controlled time frame,” which can have a profound impact when dealing with the ethical implications of presenting traumatic narratives or disturbing images (for example, avoiding the problem of the camera lingering too long on an image of atrocity or “wash over it too casually”);
  • because of comics’ “rhythm of acquisition” they are “capable of taking up complex political and historical issues with an explicit, formal degree of self-awareness”;
  • the ways in which comics can feel diaristic: “there is an intimacy to reading handwritten marks on the printed page, an intimacy that works in tandem with the sometimes visceral effects of presenting ‘private’ images” (all quotes in this list from Chute, Hillary. “Introduction: Women, Comics, and the Risk of Representation.” Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics. New York: Columbia UP, 2010. 1-27.)

Obviously, you should not try to tackle all of these in your analysis. But you might read through that list and pay attention to one that intrigues you and/or helps you to understand something complex about the books we’ve read this semester, then try to lay out that understanding in your presentation.

Week Ahead: 9

9 10/22 Kindred — Introduction, Prologue, The River, The Fire (4-57)
10/24 Kindred — The Fall (58-99)
10/27 Sketch 8: Human Document

Note: I moved back the storyboard for the literacy narrative comic to next week.

Upcoming sketch assignments

I’ll bring pages for this week’s sketch assignment to class on Tuesday. If you miss class, make sure to ask me for a page or two to work from on Thursday.

Also, we’ll talk about sketch 9 a bit in class this week so that you can begin gathering data.



Week ahead: 5

5 9/24 Spinning — chapters 4-5 (115-82)
9/26 Scott McCloud Making Comics, chpt 1

Spinning — chapters 6-8 (183-318)

9/29 Sketch 4: Combophoto

Your Tracing Pages assignment is due on October 3, so you should be working on that as you finish reading Spinning.

I had planned to move the McCloud reading up to Tuesday, since the page count over the weekend was light, but I forgot to get this post up on Friday, and with you working on tracing pages over the weekend anyway, it’s probably perfectly fine that it stays on Thursday. Just be aware that it’s more reading for Thursday’s class and plan accordingly.

For your Sunday Sketch this week, you’ll need to combine two photos to make one. Once you have your idea and the images you’re going to combine the actual editing process shouldn’t be too terribly difficult, but take a moment now to look at the example combophotos so that you can begin brainstorming and keeping an eye out for some images you might want to play with.

Week ahead: 4

4 9/17 Hillary Chute, “Comics for Grown-Ups?” from Why Comics?: From Underground to Everywhere

Stitches — “I was fifteen” & “A few years ago I had the following dream. In the dream I was a boy of six again” (243-329)

9/19 Spinning — Prologue and chapters 1-3 (1-114)
9/22 Sketch 3: Visual Note Taking


This week, I’ll be meeting individually with each of you (remember to show up during the time you signed up for!!). I’ll give you feedback on your literacy narrative and we’ll touch base about the class more generally.


We’ll finish reading Stitches and discuss the ending. We’ll also spend a significant amount of time working through Hillary Chute’s argument in “Comics for Grown-Ups.” Chute is probably the most eminent scholar of comics working right now and this essay is a substantial theoretical text — so read it carefully and thoughtfully. The first half of the essay traces the broad outlines of a history of comics, but what’s going on in its second half Note that the title for this class shows up in the essay and expect for me to press you to unpack this “secret language of comics.”


We’ll begin to discuss Spinning, but that doesn’t mean that you can totally shut the book on Stitches. We’ll start discussion by comparing the two texts, visually and otherwise. As you read, be thinking about the similarities and differences between what Small and Walden are doing in these texts.


Week Ahead: 3

3 9/10 Sousanis, Nick. “The Importance of Seeing Double and Then Some” and “The Shape of Our Thoughts,” from Unflattening.

Stitches — rest of “I was six” and “I was eleven” (64-156)

9/12 Dan Roam, “First Draw a Circle, then Give it a Name” (chpt 3) from Draw to Win

Stitches — “I was fourteen” (157-242)

Literacy Narrative, part 1
9/15 Sketch 2: Sunday Sketches

Remember to post your avatar for sketch 1 over the weekend! My hope is that by Monday afternoon, all of your sites will be syndicating to Student Work page and all of your avatars are loaded onto the Student Sites page. If you still haven’t commented on the “Welcome” post with your WordPress address and replied to the student information form, let me know what help you need to get that accomplished.

I forgot to mention the additional readings for this week in class, but you should all be checking the schedule and or checking in with these week ahead posts.

These two chapters from Unflattening by Nick Sousanis will serve as one of the theoretical frameworks for our analyses of comics. Sousanis drew Unflattening as his dissertation for Teachers College at Columbia University — it was the first comics dissertation and has since been published by Harvard UP and has won a bunch of awards. Sousanis took a job at San Francisco State University a couple of years ago and is building a comics studies program there. His comic short story “A Life in Comics” is something of a literacy narrative about Karen Green, a librarian at Columbia University’s Butler Library, who is the first Curator for Comics and Cartoons there.

Be aware that this comic is probably a little more dense reading than you’re find Stitches to be, so give yourself a little time to work through those 20 pages carefully. I’ll start off our discussion of Sousanis by asking you to consider how effective Unflattening is as an academic, philosophical argument. (In week 4, we’ll read another theoretical framing text, but in the form of a more traditional essay by Hillary Chute and I’ll ask you to consider how the two pieces are similar and different.) How do the words and images in Unflattening interact together? Is it different than what happens in Stitches?

We’ll also spend some time discussing the end of David’s sixth year and his eleventh year in class on Tuesday.

On Thursday, you’ve got a very short reading from Dan Roam‘s book Draw to Win to go along with Stitches. Roam is a corporate trainer who publishes books and presents workshops on business communication and marketing, focusing on visual clarity for communicating complex information effectively. We’ll also be doing some drawing in class.

Your first major assignment is also due on Thursday. I’ll begin meeting with you individually to give you feedback on those drafts starting on Friday and stretching into the next week. I’ll have a Google doc published before class Thursday where you can sign up for a time slot (so if you haven’t given me a gmail address yet by responding to the information survey, please do so now so that I can give you access to the document!)

Week Ahead: 2

2 9/3 Andrea Lunsford, “Rhetorical Situations” and “Reading Rhetorically”from Everyone’s an Author

Allie Brosh, “Adventures in Depression, Part One” from Hyperbole and a Half.

Create WordPress site & read syllabus, comment on this post
9/5 Stitches — first 2/3rds of “I was six” (pages 8-63)
9/8 Sketch 1: Avatar

(Note: Most weeks, I’ll try to publish a post on Friday or over the weekend with a glimpse at what is coming up in the next week. Like I have done above, I’ll start with repeating the information on our official schedule for the next week, then like I do below, I’ll often write a little bit more detail about what we’ll focus on in class or what you need to be thinking about and preparing for.)

We had our first class meeting yesterday and you got an introduction to the class. Before we meet again on Tuesday, you should create your WordPress site and complete the other homework I gave you on Thursday.

In class on Tuesday, we will have four major tasks to complete:

  • further discuss the syllabus and expectations for this class (yours and mine) and answer any questions you might still have
  • discuss the terms laid out by Andrea Lunsford, especially focusing on the terms associated with “rhetorical situation,” which we’ll be relying on all semester
  • discuss “Adventures in Depression, Part One.” Think about the relationship between the words (both the blocks of text in between comic panels and the words within the panels) and the images. How would you describe the tone of her comic? What is Allie Brosh’s rhetorical situation? Try to identify the genre, audience, purpose, design, stance, and context. (The medium for “Adventures in Depression, Part One” is comics, webcomic more specifically, so don’t call the genre “comic.” We’ll eventually get to talk about medium versus genre further, and why comics is a medium not a genre.)
  • an in-class writing exercise designed to help you get started with thinking about your literacy narrative, which will be due in week 3

On Thursday, we’ll spend the bulk of our time discussing the opening section of Stitches. As you read those first 50ish pages I would like you to consider the following questions:

  • How does Small establish character and setting in the first handful of pages?
  • This chapter all takes place while David is 6 years old. What are the major subdivisions of the chapter though? You’ll probably decide that there are three (maybe four) major sections in these pages — what is the primary idea being conveyed by each section?
  • Pick the single page that you find the most compelling or interesting or that you think is the most important in today’s reading. Describe the page in a few sentences. Why is it interesting or important?

Also in class on Thursday, we’ll discus the first Sunday Sketch assignment, as you’ll be creating your square avatar images by Sunday and go over any initial questions you have about your WordPress sites.