The Secret Language of Comics

Portfolio and Reflection Letter

Yousef Alqahtani’s Archive of ENGRD101 with Prof. David Morgen. Spring 2022.

Having grown up in Saudi Arabia, studying in a school where the final English test was rewriting and memorizing a few sentences-long “essay,” this class had been more challenging than I anticipated. Nonetheless, it is by far what most pushed me out of my comfort zone, improving my ability to think critically, analyze texts, and have a much clearer picture about writing generally and the art of comics more specifically. While I greatly struggled throughout the semester, I would go as far as to say that no class (not even STEM classes) enlightened me with a newer perspective than ENGRD101-24. By going over each learning outcome and analyzing the literacy narratives, I will attempt to show the improvement gained by utilizing this class and its assignments.  

 Rhetorical composition is where one understands the audience, the purpose, and the constraints of composing texts. It has mainly been understood through the process of creating Parents and Dysfunction text, where I tried to make an analysis and a comparison of Stitches and Fun Home. In the process, I utilized a page from each text to compare the text, the drawing, and the larger theme in the two books. I understood the audience, purpose, and constraints while writing and reviewing Parents and Dysfunction. This is due to my attempt to proofread every single idea I try to include by requesting help from a potential part of the audience (a peer of mine, for example), which was not the case earlier in my writing experience. For instance, in the text, I tried to raise that “I felt more emotions in Small’s choice of image” since David Small’s Stitches was more emotional to me. However, since I was unsure of the best way to put it, I felt the need to understand my audience thoroughly. I asked one of my peers to discuss this point, given that he is a part of the potential audience. Through the discussion, I understood the need to thoroughly illustrate my point, leading to a better piece of writing. The idea of understanding the audience is something that will go with me in any other writing assignment that I encounter in the future. 

 The best way to understand critical thinking and reading resulting in writing is by ethically adding someone else’s idea into one’s work. I attempted to utilize Hillary Chute’s essay in Parents and Dysfunction’s text. Given that the American concept of citation is different than where I came from (not necessarily in a negative way, just a difference), I found it hard at first to incorporate others’ ideas in an essay. Nevertheless, I cited a sentence from Hillary Chute’s Why Comics?: From Underground to Everywhere successfully. Although it sounds and looks simple for a native English speaker, learning a seemingly simple foreign concept of a foreign language was not as easy as it seemed to be for me. Regardless, formulating such an essay while also integrating another text eventually worked. 

 When it comes to writing as a process, the concept could be explained as critiquing one’s and others’ works, realizing that it takes time to make a text successfully. I would say that I understood this while working on the literacy narrative. While Literacy Narrative 1 had many issues, talking with Prof. Morgen and working with the writing center helped me overcome those issues, making my Literacy Narrative 3 a much better text. My main problem was jumping from one topic to the other throughout Literacy Narrative 1, which seems to result from some form of attention deficiency, though it could be unrelated. Since simply outlining before writing the essay did not work for me, I applied reverse outlining, which was recommended to me by Prof. Morgen. Reverse outlining is simply writing in my own way, leaving the essay for some time, coming back to review and make an outline, and then rewriting the paper. Through this method, I was able to write in a much more acceptable way than earlier. Consequently, writing as process was learned to an extent with which I am satisfied. 

  Visual thinking was to me one of the most challenging skills to acquire. Given that we read and analyzed plenty of texts, I naturally have improved my ability to analyze texts by myself. However, I still struggled to arrange my own pieces. While some of my peers have apparently found sketching/drawing assignments to be simple, I struggled in each and every one of them, as evident in my work since early in the semester. The main assignment through which visual thinking became better was Literacy Narrative 2, where I had to imagine how to incorporate the written literacy narrative into the drawing. I applied the method to combine the text by imagining the audience’s thoughts about a particular sentence. For instance, in the second panel of the first page, I decided to draw a mosque, relating it to my habit of memorizing the Quran daily as a child. Although I know this seems reasonably simple for many, I found it extremely difficult to think of what to draw. Luckily, this has been much improved since.

Literacy Narrtive 2’s Sketch of a mosque

 When it comes to digital citizenship/digital identity, this WordPress site will result from this learning outcome since WordPress reflects this learning outcome the most. Although I would describe myself as fairly literate in technology, dealing with WordPress was not straightforward. For example, when I had to add menus, I could not do so, and the option was not available. It took me months to figure out how to allow adding menus by finding a hidden Reddit post stating that some themes do not allow menus. However, I am now in a better position regarding sites such as WordPress and generally utilizing technology. My WordPress site would hopefully show such an improvement. 

I have gained significant improvement in writing and dealing with texts, all thanks to this class. Achieving the learning outcomes and the extent to which the literacy narratives have been effective in improving my writing ability are two accomplishments I am grateful for. Even though it was not an easy ride reaching this point, it is a ride that will forever be remembered as my cornerstone of improvement in writing.

Yousef’s Assemblies

Given that I am relatively literate when it comes to technology, acquiring digital citizenship and rhetorical composition was not that challenging to me. However, writing as process, visual thinking, and critical thinking were not as easily-achievable as I thought them to be. Luckily, through challenging myself in the dozens of assignments, I would say I have achieved them to an extent.

Literacy Narrative 3 Reflection

The project truly made me not just better in writing, but also in drawing, analyzing, and looking at materials differently. While definitely challenging sometimes, pushing myself more paid off at the end, especially when I see the outcome of my efforts.

Creating my comic and going back to write about the literacy narrative made me write my text differently. The text narrative became much easier to write about since the comic-creation guided me to specific aspects about my narrative that I want to be highlighted.

I would say my analytical thinking process was definitely different than however it was before. Drawing and creating the comic changed the way in which I think about the story to ways I did not expect. While I thought creating a comic would limit my story, it actually inspired me to focus on certain aspects, as I mentioned before


Literacy Narrative 3, Alqahtani’s

As a child, reading and memorizing Quran (the Islamic Holy Book) was the only book that I used to read and memorize on an almost-daily basis. Despite the encouragement and rewards given to me by teachers and my parents, I never considered reading and writing an enjoyable experience. However, comics growing up and Twitter as an adolescent changed the way I think about what to do for fun, significantly affecting where my free time is spent. Without them, I would have never been who I am today, and to which I dedicate this narrative.

  Someday as a third-grader, I went to the school’s field during a break, only to see that a mini-library was brought from Egypt (a country whose dialect is typically used for all Disney Arabic-dubbed movies and comics). I decided to get an Uncle Scrooge comic book for no apparent reason. Little did I know that this would turn into an addiction that would go on for over a decade. At the time, apart from TV movies and animations, my PlayStation 3 was my way to escape from reality. I used to spend hours that I remember having a headache once from playing too much of Modern Warfare 2 (a shooter game that most Saudi gamers have played). Unfortunately for me, consoles were not allowed on weekdays, so I had to play with my neighbors or do schoolwork in my free time. Nevertheless, Uncle Scrooge started a new chapter with me, making me look forward to coming back home so that I could read. The way in which comics affected me is hard to describe. It improved my willingness to read and enjoy every sense of reading that staying late at night is not to play videogames but to read. Reading, once feared and boring, became an enjoyable habit.

 In addition, my older brother was a significant influence growing up. My brother has had a successful career in blogging about soccer, widely known within Al-Hilal and Inter Milan Saudi fanbase when it comes to writing. Due to his popularity and influence, I became much more involved in soccer. At the time, I opened a Twitter account, dedicating it to writing about soccer solely to impress him. And to seem just like him, I acted and wrote like an adult. I did not expect much besides having a few followers when I started. Fortunately for me, my account grew more and more to be followed by hundreds, reaching a thousand followers within a year. Having this amount of followers was unusual in 2013 when bots were not as prominent as today. My brother, unfortunately, did not want me to be involved as he is, given the “uselessness” of being a sports junkie. I was not discouraged; I was encouraged when I saw that older fans were following me, and I kept tweeting regardless. Due to Twitter, tweeting became a habit, eventually falling in love with writing. Since Arabic Twitter is luckily not as informal as American/English Twitter, tweeting helped me formulate arguments and write well as a sixth-grader. Writing, following this, became a flow that cannot be quickly interrupted, all thanks to Twitter.

 In conclusion, reading and writing have always been dreadful to me, especially when I was addicted to video games. However, comics and Twitter are what made me who I am when it comes to my literacy. They changed how I interact, they changed how I read, and they changed how I write. Without comics, mainly Uncle Scrooge’s, and Twitter, I would have never been who I am today.

Alqahtani’s Literacy Narrative 2 Reflection

This was by far the most challenging assignment I have ever had. Not mathematics, not physics, not even any other STEM-related assignment has been more challenging to me than this particular assignment

Although I tried as early as possible to make it better-looking, I have always failed to do so. However, I compensated this by challenging myself even more to draw materials I have never drawn before: a computer, a phone, and a fairly-detailed mosque.

While painful to a horrible drawer such as myself, the challenge helped me in forcing myself to think beyond my limited imagination when it comes to drawing


Yousef’s Assemblies

Given that I am relatively literate when it comes to technology, acquiring digital citizenship and rhetorical composition was not that challenging to me. However, writing as process, visual thinking, and critical thinking were not as easily-achievable as I thought them to be. Luckily, through challenging myself in the dozens of assignments, I would say I have achieved them to an extent.

A Long Flight Mixtape

Given that music is not really something I regularly listen to, I found it difficult to make a playlist that connects to me. However, connecting to a specific scenario, a long flight, eased the process for me. I decided to make a playlist that reminds me of home, especially being thousands of miles away from home. In this playlist, I featured solely Saudi and Arab Gulf (mostly Riyadh-based) artists to remind me of where I came from. The featured image is set a few miles away from where I live, Riyadh’s Boulevard, locally known as the Times Square rip-off.

Yousef of Arabia

T.E. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Yousef (2022)

After days of thinking about a scene to recreate, I finally gave up and decided to recreate a scene that of a movie that I despise, Lawrence of Arabia, since it is what makes more sense to recreate. While I did not have everything to master the recreation, I did my best to imitate him, of which using a cake slicer instead of the traditional Khanjar Arabs were using to protect themselves.

Presentation’s Reflection

Given my lack of exposure to such presentations, it was hard for me to fully explain my ideas in the presentation. When it comes to what was different compared to writing an essay, I would say the limitation when it comes to time and facing the audience makes presenting a bit more harder. My process was obviously different since I have to adjust to the time and the style of the presentation, which is not the case with essays.

Being more detailed is what I got from others’ presentations. I did not think I would have been able to fully expand my argument within my timeframe, so I limited myself to what I mentioned. I believe that I learned a lot from the process, so while the presentation did not reflect my understanding of the material, I am still grateful for the way in which I learned from my peers.