Tracing Stitches and Fun Home

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.

Assignment Details

  • Due: 2/24
  • 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 Fun Home 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 either of the Hillary Chute essays we’ve read this semester (“Comic for Grownups?” or “The Risk of Representation”). Make sure you “sandwich” 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.

Close Observation

Choosing pages

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.

Tracing Pages

(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.)

First Tracing

  • 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). If possible, 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 but make do with whatever tools you actually have available to you.
  • 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).

Second Tracing

  • For the second tracing select a page from Fun Home 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 — audiencegenrepurpose, 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.

Abstraktes Bild (Nº 635)” by Gerhard Richter

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. Your thesis statement should be in ABT format (“____ and ____ but ____ therefore ____”), so 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 Fun Home 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.

Reflection Post

After that is all done and you’ve published your pages to the site, publish a reflection post that links to your analysis and to this assignment prompt. Here’s some further instructions for the reflection post.


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