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 .wordpress.com. 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., janestudent.wordpress.com or johndoe.wordpress.com) 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 hackeducation.com or one of my favorite art and design blogs is called thisiscolossal.com). 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 WordPress.com, so if Audrey Watters were in this class her site might be called hackeducation.wordpress.com.

Student Information Survey

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    1. The sketch assignments provide opportunities for you to play with new methods and technologies. You can build confidence and add tools to your belt for future assignments.

  1. On the schedule page of this site, are the assignments under the “Writing due” section or the “assignments” section homework for the next class, or are they both supposed to be completed before the next class?

    1. The “assignments” column lists what you need to read and prep for class. So yes, complete those assignments before we meet on the day listed. The “writing due” lists work that you should complete and publish to your site. Unless otherwise noted, it’s just due sometime on the day listed.

    1. Sometimes I’ll require that you have an individual conference with me (in person or over Zoom). You can just sign up for an appointment with me whenever fits in your schedule using the link on the front page of the website.

  2. Do you have a favorite book out of the ones we will be reading this semester?
    Do you have any suggestions for comics that are not included in our syllabus?
    Do you have any suggestions for how to approach comics for a person who is not used to reading them?

    1. We’ll talk quite a bit about strategies for reading comics. Very few students in this class are used to reading comics already coming in, so don’t worry!

      I will definitely recommend some other comics over the course of the semester but if you have specific topics or interests, let’s talk. There are different things I love about each of the books we’ll read this semester.

  3. You stated, “These course assignments include a variety of formal and informal genres, all of them incorporating multiple modes of communication (Written, Aural, Nonverbal, Digital)”. What do you mean by aural and nonverbal?

    1. Aural means sounds that you can hear. You’ll at times present your arguments by speaking to the class (one formal presentation but lots of informal speaking). You’ll also have one sketch assignment where you tell a story with a music playlist, which is another kind of aural communication. The playlist is also a kind of nonverbal communication — some of the argument is compared by the lyrics, some by the sounds of the music, but also there is the ordering of the list and other cues that aren’t presented in words. For your “halfa kucha” presentations your body language, facial expressions, and tone will be part of how you convey your argument.

  4. Syllabus question: For the “visual thinking” section, I’m wondering how to make sure that a visual interpretation is valid and avoid overinterpretation. Are there any criteria to distinguish these two kinds of analysis?

    1. I don’t think visual interpretation is any safer or any more at risk of overinterpretation than any other kind of analysis. To engage in analysis means to always risk overinterpretation —- if you aren’t willing to risk the possibility of taking it too far then you’ll never go far enough. By comparing comics to poetry on the first day, part of what I want to establish is that these texts are overdetermined (the words are, but so are the images and the way each page is designed), so you can reasonably assume that anything you observe on the page is there intentionally and serves a purpose.

      All that said, we’ll talk a lot about the comics and we’ll read a bit of criticism and you’ll have opportunities to make smaller arguments before you make bigger ones. So hopefully you’ll get to practice finding ways to gauge the line between interpretation and overinterpretation for yourself over the course of the semester.

  5. I’m really looking forward to this class. Is there any ballpark estimate for how long we should dedicate to homework for this class a night on average?
    Thanks so much, Ethan

    1. The semiofficial formula that I have always heard is that you should spend two hours outside class for every hour in class. So for a three credit hour class, you should spend six hours per week outside class reading, writing, and studying. That’s why 12 credit hours is the minimum full time load (12 hours in class + 24 hours out of class = 36 hours per week, which would be the equivalent of a minimum full time load).

      Some weeks will be more intense than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever given so much work that six hours would be inadequate to complete it.

  6. I am not quite sure if the link will work. I also want to change my website name, and furthermore, was having trouble with the website WordPress.
    Other than that, I am excited for this class !

    1. Your link works fine. If you change the URL for the site, you’ll need to let me know manually (Slack or email is fine). Just changing the title of the site is extremely easy — change it as often as you like.

      What trouble did you have with WordPress?

  7. On another note, is there any comics you wished to include but didn’t make the final cut ?
    What are you most excited to cover this semester ?
    May you explain the curriculum and flow of the class ?

    1. There were many I wished to include, yes. Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, Tom King’s Mister Miracle are two I’ve taught before and was tempted to. New books that came out in the last year: The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Bechdel, Tunnels by Rutu Modan, Guy DeLisle’s Factory Summers, Will McPhail’s In.

  8. Would there be situations where my poor drawing skills can not fully express my intentions through my comics and eventually lead to a poor grade? Or is there a way where I can overcome my drawing skill issues?

    1. It is highly likely that every student in this class will face the situation where your skill, time, and resources can not meet your ambitions. That is a great way to learn, not a reason to get a poor grade.

      One reason you’ll write a reflection as part of each assignment is so you can explain what you were trying to do and how you would have done things differently if you had more skill, time, or other resources, so that I can give feedback based on your goals.

      We’ll talk more about grades soon.

    1. For the most part, I’m agnostic on digital versus analog. At some point your drawings need to become digital so they can be loaded onto your site, but you can hand draw something and then take a good photo of it, at least usually. I’ll mostly leave the decisions about how to complete the assignment up to you.

    1. You will have lots of freedom and multiple drafts — you’ll write it as a traditional essay first, then have an opportunity to revise that, then draft the comic and receive peer feedback on it, then you’ll create the finished comic. And you’ll have more opportunities to revise from there.

  9. For the drawing part, are we allowed to use iPad and Wacom drawing tablets? Also, are drawing with hands and making it as a pdf file allowed?

    1. Yes, I am almost entirely agnostic on what tools you use. I like the Procreate drawing application for the iPad, but there are plenty of different options.

    1. If there is a single theme that runs through the readings, it’s probably analysis of trauma and healing. But I’m curious what connections you make between the texts too.

  10. When drawing comics for this class, could we add texts right outside the panels while making it an integral part of the comic? How would we receive grades (Proficient/Excellent, etc.) for assignments? Thank you.

    1. Yes, you have broad leeway to decide how to incorporate text with the images in your comics. You’ve already seen with “Adventures in Depression” that not all comics have speech bubbles! You’ll receive feedback from me in different formats for different assignments, but usually in direct conversation with me.

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