The Secret Language of Comics

Week Ahead: 3

3 1/25 Literacy Narrative, part 1
1/27 No class: Return to campus.
1/30 Sketch 3: Visual Note Taking

On Tuesday, we’ll spend a bit of time discussing the Dan Roam reading, though I don’t think it really requires a lot of discussion. It is a really useful reading, though, on the power of visualization and what you can accomplish with relatively simple drawings. We’ll spend a bit of time at the beginning circling back to Nick Sousanis’s Unflattening, then we’ll dig into the assigned pages from Stitches.

You should publish your Literacy Narrative by Tuesday night. I’ll be reading them on Wednesday and Thursday and then I’ll ask you to begin signing up for individual conferences with me so that we can discuss your essays.

There’s no class on Thursday because you’ll be transitioning back to campus and preparing for face-to-face classes.

Week Ahead: 2

1/16 Sketch 1: Avatar
2 1/18
1/23 Sketch 2: Sunday Sketches

You should be publishing your avatar sketches to your sites tonight (Sunday night). As of midnight, it looks like 7 or 8 of you have published your avatars, so I’ve started to load those on the Student Sites page.

In class on Tuesday, we’ll discuss parts one and two of “Adventures in Depression.” I’ll ask you to apply the rhetorical situation terms we talked about on Thursday to the texts.

In class 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 introduction?
  • 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?

We’ll also look at two chapters from Unflattening by Nick Sousanis, who drew Unflattening as his dissertation for Teachers College at Columbia University — it was the first comics dissertation ever 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.

Unflattening will serve as one of the theoretical frameworks for our analyses of comics. Be aware that this comic is probably a little more dense reading than you’ll find Stitches to be, so give yourself a little extra 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. (Soon 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?

Your second sketch assignment is due on Sunday 1/23 — for this one you’ll need to use analog tools to draw your sketch because you’ll be incorporating a physical object into the sketch. It’s an exercise in simple  visual storytelling and lateral thinking, so have some fun with it. Please make sure to give your sketch a funny or clever title.

Also, you should be working on your literacy narrative, which will be due on Tuesday 1/25.

Kindred being adapted for television

After spring break, we’ll be reading the comics adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s novel Kindred. Just a few days ago, FX announced that they are moving forward with a TV adaptation of of the novel from Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (who adapted the comic The Watchmen for HBO), Darren Aronofsky, and Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields. The FX exec has such an odd quote praising this TV adaptation, given that it’s literally a story about time travel: “Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has done a phenomenal job of adapting ‘Kindred’ for FX and honoring the legacy and timeless value of Octavia Butler’s groundbreaking novel.” I wonder if whichever PR writer who wrote the press release has ever read the book.

Welcome to The Secret Language of Comics

I look forward to working with you this semester.

Your homework to complete before Thursday, January 13:

  • Read over this website very carefully as it constitutes the syllabus for this course. Note that the Syllabus page includes a number of subpages, covering such topics as: the course learning outcomes; the texts you need to buy; attendance, participation, and other policies; and how you will be graded. There is also a calendar of readings and assignments; and posts describing the three major assignments (literacy narrative in three parts, tracing pages, and halfa kucha) and minor assignments this semester.
  • Add this site to your bookmarks. Make certain that you can find your way back here, because you’ll be spending a lot of time visiting these pages over the course of this semester.
  • Join the class Slack Workspace. Slack is a collaboration and communication tool that our class uses to work together to share ideas, discuss readings, collaborate on projects, and engage with learning.
  • Sign up for a basic, free WordPress site. (See further information below about choosing a name for your site.) Do not pay anything for this site; choose the free version with an address ending in Make sure to hit the “Launch” button to publish your site to the web.
  • Leave a comment on this post asking a question about the syllabus. Put the URL for the WordPress site you created in the “website” line on the comment form. If you want to receive an email every time a new post goes up on this site, check the “Subscribe to site” box before you submit your comment. The first time you comment, it will not show up publicly until I’ve approved it.
  • Reply to the survey form at the bottom of this post, which both asks some basic information I’ll need in order to manage communications with you and also asks some questions that will help me get to know you a little bit better.
  • Read the following two texts: Andrea Lunsford, “Rhetorical Situations” and “Reading Rhetorically” from Everyone’s an Author and Allie Brosh, “Adventures in Depression, Part One” from Hyperbole and a Half. (Note that first link will take you to the PDF that I’ve uploaded to our electronic course reserves, so you will need to login with your Emory netid and password to access the document. The second link goes to Hyperbole and a Half on blogger. Allie Brosh has since published the story in her book, Hyperbole and a Half, which is excellent, but we can use this version on the web for this course.)

A little more on naming your WordPress site

You can choose a URL based on some version of your name (i.e., or if you’d like. Using a version of your name has the advantage that you will be building a digital identity on the web based on your name, which can be really helpful. On the other hand, it also means that this site that you’re building will likely come up near the top of web searches for your name, so consider whether that is something you would like.

If you don’t want to publish your coursework on a site with a version of your name, you can also use some sort of pseudonym for your domain name.

It is also perfectly acceptable for your domain name to be a short word or phrase that is easy to remember and spell, and which speaks to some interest of yours or an aspect of your character (for example: my friend Audrey Watters, a noted educational technology scholar and researcher publishes a site called or one of my favorite art and design blogs is called If you’re going to choose a title or phrase as your domain name, make sure you think about it very carefully so you don’t show up on one of those lists of the most unfortunate domain names ever, like the design firm called Speed of Art that ended up with a domain name that sounds like it’s about flatulence in a swimsuit. Note that in the case of your site, you’ll be publishing a page that’s a subdomain of, so if Audrey Watters were in this class her site might be called

Student Information Survey

[formidable id=2]

Header Image Credits

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Mariner Books, 2007. 52.

Walden, Tillie. Detail from "Ah yes, my ‘girl in foliage’ phase." Sketchbook.

Walden, Tillie. Detail from "Drawn in an airport a few years ago. I finished right as the plane was boarding, and after the plane took off I realized I had left my pencil case behind. I’m still upset about this." Sketchbook.

King, Tom and Mitch Gerads. Mister Miracle. USA: DC Comics, 2019. Detail from cover.

King, Tom and Mitch Gerads. Mister Miracle. USA: DC Comics, 2019. Detail from alternate cover.

Clawes, Daniel. The Death Ray. Drawn and Quarterly, 2011. Detail from page #?

Kobabe, Maia. "Growing Up Gender Queer."

Sacco, Joe. Paying the Land. Metropolitan Books, 2020. Detail from page #?

Chris Ware, Building Stories. New York: Pantheon, 2012.

I don't even know how to describe which page this image comes from, since Building Stories is a box full of booklets and pages and a fold-out board... it's the first half of the page from the middle of the booklet with the old woman dozing on the cover.

Chris Ware, Building Stories. New York: Pantheon, 2012.

The second half of the page from the above entry.