The Secret Language of Comics

Tracing Pages Reflection

Creating trancing pages required much patience. Graphite tended to smear on pages and stain all other surfaces it had the misfortune of encountering. Despite the time-consuming tracing, the analysis itself was interesting to do. Ties between each page found in separate works were not an easy task, but how each element shaped that scene for the protagonist’s storyline was incredibly interesting to divulge in the analysis. The pages I decided to focus on were pages two hundred ninety-seven of “Stitches” by David Small and page seventy-six of “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel.

Page 79 of “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel
Page 297 of “Stitches” by Alison Bechdel

Reflection: Tracing Stitches and Fun Home

Tracing and analyzing Stitches and Fun Home (Similar Problem, Different Solutions) was the most challenging assignment so far.

As the instruction asked for elements that I have not quite thought of when reading, I had to briefly reread the book again. This time, I focused on the use of constituents that only comics have such as the panel and gutter. I think such perspective helped me understand and see the part of comics that I was missing.

Even after rereading it, I had a hard time planning the essay. It was extremely difficult to select a page from each book. I was strangely captured by the thought that I had to choose a single page that would somehow represent the whole book. I think I may have overthought here, which impacted the overall assignment afterward.

With doubt, I chose two pages and started to brainstorm in a planning document. In this process, I had to overturn my decision several times as I was not satisfied with where it was heading. In hindsight, I probably should have done with it. On my third attempt, I chose the current pages and started analyzing. As it was my third time tracing the pages, I had no left spaces on the tracing paper, and I had to use my iPad. By repetitively tracing, I noticed a few things like the use of lines. Some were rougher and some were smoother. Also, color-wise some looked like water paintings and they often crossed the panels and invaded gutters.

For analysis, I initially thought of ultimately linking my analysis with the quotes from Chute, and accordingly, I skimmed through her books again. However, at first, I was not able to find any groundbreaking rule that penetrates not only the selected pages but also the whole book and the literary world of comics. There was a moment where I tried applying the symphonic effect for layout or use of symbolism which I thought would give a pretty nice analysis and would be easy to be broadened and generalize in the conclusion. However, it did not fit with the reason I picked the current page. While I was in trouble, it suddenly reminded me of the gist of the instruction: understanding and applying, the name of our website, The Secret Language of Comics. After all, it surely was a secret.

After, rather than finding fancy terms or known effects of certain layouts, I analyzed the panel itself, one by one, which is quite opposite of the symphonic effect. I looked for the purpose of each panel and tried to understand the intention of the author. In such a way, I was able to find meaningful patterns.

The writing itself again was easier than the previous painful process. However, the conclusion where my thesis is in ABT format as the instructions was hard to write. It was very interesting but also hard at the same time to use ABT format thesis in the final paragraph. Also, besides the thesis statement being introduced at last, as it had to contain statements that embrace broader aspects of comics, I felt that the essay is broadening unlike other essays of mine.

In general, it was a useful time that developed a new perspective in seeing comics, but to be honest, it was also very difficult.

Tracing Pages Reflection

My thesis in my essay was that David Small and Alison Bechdel use repetitive images and choice of frame strategically to aid their storytelling, but while these tools allow Bechdel’s illustrations to better support her written narrative, they allow Small to let his illustrations stand alone, therefore making audience participation more straightforward in Stitches and broader in Fun Home. In my essay, I argue that Small and Bechdel utilized similar rhetorical devices in the creation of their respective pages, but because of the difference in their use of language, the results of these devices created very different experiences for the reader.

When completing the tracing pages assignment, the first steps of actually tracing and annotating the pages were very useful when completing my analysis. I usually don’t know where to begin or what to focus on when annotating documents, so I found your directions very helpful because I was able to systematically go through each rhetorical tool or method and determine where and how it was being used on my selected page. Something I did that really helped me to compare the two authors’ pages was including a list of what I thought the top three most important/relevant clarity terms were for each page. For Stitches specifically, the act of tracing the page made me really pay attention to David Small’s linework, which made me think about why he chose to include the details he did. 

The essay part of this assignment was really hard for me because I am not used to writing inductive essays. I had a lot of ideas from annotating the tracings, but the amount of evidence overwhelmed me because I couldn’t figure out how to neatly organize it all. I ended up typing out all of my annotations and sorting them into broad categories on a google document. From there I drafted an argument based on the patterns I saw and started to piece together my essay. I had to rewrite/rearrange my paragraphs a lot more often than I usually do when writing essays because I would forget to write them in an inductive format. Overall, the hardest part about this essay was coming up with an ABT thesis in the last paragraph. 

I think this assignment did help me understand the secret language of comics a lot better. After close reading the pages it became very obvious to me how conscious every decision is in the creation of a single page, not to mention a whole book. I definitely have a better understanding of the themes of both Stitches and Fun Home after completing this assignment. It was also very interesting to see how similar the comics are to each other. Individually, something about Fun Home that clicked for me while completing this assignment was that Alison Bechdel was comparing herself to her father throughout the comic. Also in Stitches, I noticed that facial expressions have a huge impact on the mood of Stitches.

Reflection: Tracing Pages

The process of tracing the two pages for Symbols: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN was demanding. It took a long time for me to decide what specific page I would like to trace and analyze. I also thought that the assignment would have been easier if I could refer to more than just a single page and explore it together. Especially for Stitches, which had many pages that symbolized David’s status, it made it hard for me to choose one. When I was tracing the selected pages and scanning them, I was not sure what the problem was, but it became blurry, which was a thing that I didn’t expect. I got to think about the secret language of comics, focus on the details of the authors, and analyze the purpose of using such drawings. I think it was the process of analyzing the page for a long time that allowed me to think about the secret language of the author naturally. It took some time for me to make my thesis statement in the ABT format, but it was interesting to write a thesis statement in the last paragraph. Also, during the process of tracing, annotating, and analyzing these pages, I learned that comics are not something just for kids and superheroes but can be profound as a book and be highly descriptive as a poem.

Reflection: Tracing Pages

The process of tracing and annotating allows me to dive into the images and recognize the details that got ignored when I was reading the comics at a normal pace. For instance, it allows me to realize the effort Bechdel put into depicting all the details of surroundings in her room: the clothes in the closet, the curtain beside the desk, or even the labels on the cupboard boxes, all of which contribute to enhance a sense of realism. The details also reflect lots of unobvious contrasts: like the different dressing styles of mother and daughter which are reflective of their diverging personalities. For Stitches, it made me notice that the author employed different shades of grey intentionally to emphasize his feelings of depression through the use of shadows on certain areas. Through shadows, he’s actually creating different lighting effects that help to establish the atmosphere.

Initially, I was struggling to organize my ideas into an ABT structure because all the patterns I was planning to analyze point to one general conclusion, so it may easily become an essay with three parallel body paragraphs. So I spent some time reorganizing my thoughts, trying to find if there exists a progressive argument that allows me to gradually dive deeper into my analysis instead of presenting a general rule in the opening paragraph and using all the other paragraphs to prove it. Eventually, I decided to have two body paragraphs, one on visuals and the other on texts, but I will save my concluding remarks to the end which enables me to gradually unfold my arguments.

The title of my essay is “the hidden storyteller”, which resonates well with the focus of the course “secret language of comics.” The process of slowing down and reading one page for several times significantly enhanced my understanding of the comics, and it was during the process of writing about them and comparing the two comics that I was able to notice the patterns I ignored. For instance, after I decided to focus on the representation of emotions in both comics, I began to notice the various ways employed by the two authors that are reflective of how they dealt with emotions. Especially for Fun Home, it was through comparing it with Stitches that I realized how emotionally detached it is. It feels like a documentary of the past, and the narrator is trying to explain it, interpret it, and reflect on it by analyzing herself. On the other hand, Stitches is sentimental, passionate, the emotions are powerful.

Reflection: Tracing Pages

My thesis was: Allison Bechdel and David Small analyze their parents’ life and visually portray their views of their parents but the reality of these situations is very unclear because it is all one perspective. Therefore, some stories are never fully understood, no matter how hard one digs and asks. No one can really understand another persons life without actually living it.

This assignment was pretty tough. I think that I made it hard on myself by choosing pages that were difficult to find similarities in. The tracing portion of this assignment was interesting because I did tend to think more about what is happening on the picture, relying more on what I saw rather than what I was being told. I was able to understand both texts better because of this. Coming up with an ABT thesis was a long process for me and the structure of the paper wasn’t relatively hard. I will say that it was rather confusing trying to combine everything and making it make sense.

I think that through this process I do understand the advantages of using a comic can have. I also began to see them as being more than just a superhero thing. Fun Home and Stitches were easier to understand the more I began to synthesize the pages. I realized that I was really only reading to know what they were talking about. I think that I began to see more of the resemblances and differences of these texts, such as how they both dealt with stubborn parents, death, and hardships of sexuality, but are very different people.