The Secret Language of Comics

Down the stretch

I decided that we’ll just read a couple of excerpts from Joe Sacco’s Paying the Land:

Here’s the sign up sheet for your Halfa Kucha presentations next week:

Claim a spot.

If you’re already comfortable with Power Point there are instructions in the assignment sheet for how to autoadvance slides using that application. You might also consider creating a free account at and building your deck there. The biggest advantage for that is that you can easily embed your presentation into your site once it’s done (which is not so easy using Power Point).

To autoadvance in, just go to Presentation Settings in the sidebar, then choose “20 seconds” from the Auto-slide pull-down menu.

Kindred prewriting

  • Octavia Butler said in an interview about her writing “fiction writers can’t be too pedagogical or too polemical” so she pursues a route to her readers’ heads through their guts and nerves. How do you see her provoking emotional responses for you?
  • Kindred is a first-person slave narrative written in, and partially set in, late 20th century America. Why? How is this novel relevant now? What does she want her 21st century readers to think about and consider? If she only wanted us to think about the atrocities of slavery, then there would be no need to have her protagonist travel back and forth through time.

Week ahead: 8

8 3/1 Sabrina — 101- 157 Literacy Narrative, part 2
3/3 Sabrina –158-204
3/6 Data gathering for sketch 8

Last week of classes before spring break!

This week we’ll finish reading and discussing Sabrina. As I said in class yesterday, as you move into the second half of the book, pay attention to whether there are signs of healing in the book. We’ve spent a lot of time this semester talking about trauma and difficult moments, but where do we see growth and recovery as well? If you see signs of recovery in Sabrina, how do they compare with what you saw in Stiches and Fun Home?

If you haven’t already published your Tracing Pages assignment, please be sure to get in touch with me and let me know when to expect it. You should publish your literacy narrative comics this week too. Do glance ahead at the sketch 8 prompt so you can begin planning for it and start collecting data as soon as you get back from spring break.

Note that I have tried to front-load your work this semester as much as possible, which is why there’s this crunch before spring break. Once we get back from spring break, you’ll still have reading and sketches to do but only one more major project — your halfa kucha presentations in class — before we wrap up your portfolios for the semester.

Deductive -> Inductive Writing

A number of years ago, I assigned students at a class three hard-boiled detective short stories and assigned them to write a comparative essay in response. I no longer remember the exact prompt I gave those students, but they needed to compare the stories. The three stories are all set in Los Angeles: The Big Sleep is one of the originators of the genre, with a white male hardboiled detective in the 1930s; in “Murder is My Business” the protagonist is a lesbian detective in LA of the 1980s; and in Devil in a Blue Dress the protagonist detective is a black man in LA of the 1950s.

Below is a real essay a student wrote in response, which has some good observation in it but the five paragraph structure of the essay seriously undermines the author’s ability to make any kind of argument. Please read over the essay once before class on Thursday (it shouldn’t take more than 5 or 10 minutes). In class, we’ll spend about half the class looking at this example and go through an example process of revising the structure of this essay to be an inductive essay using an ABT thesis.


Week Ahead: 5

  2/6   Sketch 4: Combophoto
5 2/8 Fun Home — chpts 1 (Old Father, Old Artificer) and 2 (A Happy Death)  
  2/10 Fun Home — chpts 3 (That Old Catastrophe) & 4 (In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower)  
  2/13   Sketch 5: Triptych

For the sketch assignment this week, you simply need to combine two photos together to create a new thing. This is an exercise in inductive thinking, which we talked about when we discussed Randy Olson (thesis + antithesis = synthesis). There is no need for fancy photo editing. Simply crop two photos into rectangles and line them up with each other. The photo editing skills are *very* minimal. However, what this sketch really asks of you is to think visually and creatively. Give yourself some time to find photos that you can combine.

Here are two examples from students in past classes, in case the ones in the sketch assignment prompt seem too fancy to follow.

This week, we’ll dive into Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. Particularly for our first class discussion, pay attention to similarities and differences between this book and Stitches. Remember our discussion of how David Small introduced setting and characters? How does Bechdel do that? How would you describe the similarities and differences in the visual and narrative tones in the two books?

For the sketch assignment on 2/13, you’ll make a comic strip with a beginning, middle, and end. Have you noticed the pattern of progression of the sketch assignments from avatar to combophoto to triptych?

Note: I moved back the deadline for the literacy narrative part 2. But you should be working on your comics drafts!

Student Conferences

I promised on Tuesday that I would publish a sign up sheet for conferences. I’m sorry that I was slower than I said I would be but that list is not posted and ready for you to claim times to meet with me. There’s a Google doc called Conference Sign Up Form for ENGRD101 in the shared Google Drive folder for this class (same folder where the shared class notes are kept). I also posted the link to our Slack channel.

I’m not embedding the form here because the Zoom link for conferences is included at the top of the sheet and I want to avoid publishing that link publicly for security purposes. The Zoom link is also in our Slack channel.

I’ve listed basically every free half-hour in my schedule from tomorrow until Thursday 2/10. If none of the times listed works for you, then send me a message on Slack or email and we can schedule something individually, probably for the week after that but I’m really hoping that everyone can find something that works from the list provided.

Week Ahead: 4

1/30 Sketch 3: Visual Note Taking
4 2/1
  • Hillary Chute, “Comics for Grown-Ups” from Why Comics?: From Underground to Everywhere
  • Stitches — “I was fourteen” (157-242)
  • Scott McCloud Making Comics, chpt 1
  • 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)
2/6 Sketch 4: Combophoto

I hope that those of you who are traveling to return to campus are doing so safely and without too much tumult and stress. I look forward to seeing you all in person on Tuesday for our next class.

We’ll meet in the Callaway Building room S103 (here’s a link to that building on the official Emory map and here’s a link to that building on Google maps). Note that the Callaway Building is kind of confusing — it used to be two different buildings that were combined together and that history lives on in the room numbering. The S in the room number means it’s on the south side of the building so our classroom is in the section of the building that is located right along the quad, not on the side of the building that is closer to the Modern Languages building, Tarbutton Hall, and beyond those over to Woodruff gym (rooms on that side of the building are marked with N for north).

In the meantime, you should be creating your visual notes for sketch 3 this weekend. We’ll talk a bit about the upcoming combophoto assignment in class this week.

For Tuesday, you have a short chunk of Stitches to read. We’ll spend a lot of class on Tuesday discussing Hillary Chute’s chapter “Comics for Grown-Ups.” Chute is probably the foremost academic authority on comics these days — she’s the Distinguished Professor of English and Art + Design at Northeastern University in Boston and has published six volumes of criticism on comics as a medium. The first twenty pages of her article provide a very useful overview of the history of comics with lots of useful information in it. But in class on Tuesday, we’ll focus most of our attention on the last 10 pages of the essay, the section called “Reading Comics,” which provides us key terms and a theoretical framework for understanding how comics works and how to read and analyze them.

We’ll spend most of Thursday diving back into Stitches. Scott McCloud’s Making Comics should be really useful for you as you begin to think about revising your literacy narratives into comics literacy narratives. We’ll spend a bit of time talking about it, especially paying attention to the 5 aspects needed for clarity in your writing, but mostly I see that chapter as a resource for you as you go about designing your own comics that doesn’t really need to be unpacked in class discussion. If you have questions about the text, then please do raise them though.

Tennessee School Board Bans Maus

Conservative officials across the United States have been removing books by people of color and LGBTQI+ from curricula and school libraries at an alarming rate recently and now they have come for Maus by Art Spiegelmann, which we discussed on the first day of class this semester.

Here is a two-page comic that Art Spiegelmann drew for the New Yorker a couple of decades ago about his conversation with the renowned children’s book author Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are and countless other classic books)

From the New Yorker, September 27, 1997.

The executive editor at Dutton Books for Young Readers, Andrew Karre tweeted the comic above with the powerful statement, “Protection from history, protection from the other, protection from the intricacies of the spectrum of human identity—all of these ‘protections’ inevitably extract a toll on the protected and, most acutely, on those children cast outside the walls of the ‘quaint and succulent.'”

A note on Zoom etiquette and moving to in person

According to the current plans, during the week ahead we’ll be transitioning from Zoom services to meeting in person, starting with our class on February 1.

We’ll meet in the Callaway Building room S103 (here’s a link to that building on the official Emory map and here’s a link to that building on Google maps). Note that the Callaway Building is kind of confusing — it used to be two different buildings that were combined together and that history lives on in the room numbering. The S in the room number means it’s on the south side of the building so our classroom is in the section of the building that is located right along the quad, not on the side of the building that is closer to the Modern Languages building, Tarbutton Hall, and beyond those over to Woodruff gym (rooms on that side of the building are marked with N for north).

While we’re still on Zoom, let me remind you of this statement in the “Netiquette” section of our Policies page: “I’d like for you to keep your videocamera on when you can during class discussions, though I understand that there are plenty of reasons to mute your camera at times and you’re always authorized to make that decision when you need to.” You are empowered to make decisions about turning your videocamera off when we’re on Zoom, but I really appreciate if you’d default to keeping your camera on when you can — teaching to a room full of blank boxes is difficult and draining. I do strongly encourage you to load a photo to your Zoom profile (help on how to edit your Zoom profile), preferably a photo of you, but honestly any sort of photo that represents you in some way would be better than just a blank black box when you turn your camera off.