The Secret Language of Comics

Week Ahead: 12

12 4/13
  • Good Talk chpts 36-42 (pp 294-349)
Halfa Kucha, day 1
  • Mister Miracle
Halfa Kucha, day 2
4/18 Sketch 9: Recreate a movie scene

You do not have any sort of sketch assignment due this weekend (4/12) so you can focus on putting together your Halfa Kucha presentations.

On Tuesday we’ll start with the Halfa Kucha presentations, then we’ll finish our class period discussing the ending of Good Talk. On Thursday, we’ll finish the Halfa Kucha presentations and then begin discussing our final book, Mister Miracle.

Mister Miracle was created as a character by Jack Kirby — one of the most important early comics creators, he also co-created with Stan Lee Captain America, The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Thor, The Hulk, and Iron Man, amongst many others. Mister Miracle, a.k.a. Scott Free, was a B-list comic character in Kirby’s fairly well known Fourth World saga, a story that followed the exploits of the New Gods, who hailed from the technologically advanced planets of New Genesis and Apokolips. That series ran it’s course and, though some of its characters entered into the more maintstream comics pantheon, mostly it was forgotten about by any but pretty hardcore comics readers. Tom King and Mitch Gerads then dusted him off and made him relevant in this new series now, without changing the fundamental aspects of his character from the 70s.

You do not need to know anything about superhero comics or Jack Kirby to make sense of the comic. If you are confused at some point and think you need to know more about comics history to make sense of the story, don’t worry it’s just that the story is confusing.

Halfa Kucha Schedule


  • Hannah
  • Young
  • Ria
  • Summayah
  • Abby


  • Eric
  • Zach
  • Martin
  • Nathan
  • Thomas
  • Rizky
  • Destiny
  • Rachel
  • Priscila
  • Kai

Week Ahead: 10

3/28 Data gathering for sketch 8
10 3/30
  • Sabrina –158-204
  • Good Talk chpts 1-10 (pp 3-85)
Literacy Narrative, part 3

This weekend, you should finish tracking your data for sketch 8 and publish your charts as a sketch post to your site. Identify what conceptual issue you were tracking or what question you wanted to answer (or begin to answer). Include 2 or 3 paragraphs explaining what conclusions you have drawn from the data that you collected. I hope this has been a useful process for all of you!

This coming week, we’ll wrap up our reading of Sabrina and begin to read Good Talk by Mira Jacob. Good Talk has popped up on many best of lists last year in the aftermath of protests last summer and in the run up to the elections because of its place in the national conversation about race.

Extra Credit: Workshop with Wendy Xu (co-creator of “Mooncakes”)

Tesla Cariani, doctoral candidate in English at Emory, and her students in ENG389: Nonbinary Narratives in LGBTQ+ Comics and Graphic Novels have invited us to join a workshop with Wendy Xu on April 6th, 2021, at 2:40pm EDT. You’ll need to register at that link, but the event is free.

Wendy Xu is an award-nominated Brooklyn-based illustrator and comics artist with three upcoming graphic novels from Harper Collins.

She is the co-creator of Mooncakes, a young adult fantasy graphic novel published in 2019 from Lion Forge Comics/Oni Press. Part of it can be read on Her work has been featured on Catapult, Barnes & Noble Sci-fi/Fantasy Blog, and, among other places. You can find more art on her instagram: @artofwendyxu or on twitter: @angrygirLcomics.

I’ll offer extra credit to anyone who attends and writes a post on their site about their thoughts on the event.

Extra Credit: Maia Kobabe, Author of “Gender Queer: A Memoir”

Charis Books — the South’s oldest independent feminist bookstore, which is located here in Decatur — will be hosting a virtual event with Maia Kobabe on April 8 at 5:30pm (so, starting 5 minutes before our class ends that day) that I hope many of you will attend.

Maia Kobabe is a graduate of the first ever class in the MFA in Comics program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Eir first full length book, Gender Queer: A Memoir, came out from Lion Forge Comics/Oni Press in May 2019. Gender Queer was a winner of an Alex Award and Stonewall Book Award in 2020 and nominated for an Ignatz Award as well as the Best Graphic Novels for Teens List from YALSA in 2019.
During the event, Maia Kobabe will discuss the physical and emotional process of creating eir groundbreaking graphic memoir Gender Queer. Q&A to follow.
Tesla Cariani is teaching a class in the English department on LGBTQ+ graphic novels and she was able to sponsor this talk with a grant from Emory’s Center for Faculty Development and Excellence.
I will offer extra credit to anyone who attends and writes a post on their site about their thoughts on the event.

Deductive -> Inductive Writing

I got a couple inquiries asking about how to structure the inductive essay. Here’s a walkthrough of revising a deductive 5-paragraph essay into an inductive 3-part essay. Hopefully this helps!

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. 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.

Detective comparisons essay

Here’s a reverse outline of that essay:

  • Introduction
  • Description
    • Ways of describing Los Angeles
    • Ways of describing women
    • Ways of describing areas where they are (like specific rooms)
  • Mood
  • Attitudes toward women
  • Conclusion

We know that in the five paragraph essay the introduction and conclusion are redundant and don’t really do anything to move the argument of the essay forward — they are just introducing the topic and repeating that introduction, so you can get rid of those. Then looking at what remains, you might notice that you could easily rearrange these into two topics: ways of describing women and attitudes toward women seem to naturally go together, leaving descriptions of L.A., descriptions of specific locations, and mood (which seems to naturally fit with description of place) together. Let’s lay those out as a thesis and antithesis:


All three detective stories include a lot of description of settings, which sets a particular mood. The detectives are all on the lookout for clues and, even more importantly, they are also very aware of danger in their surroundings. The overwhelming amount of description in these stories helps the readers to be aware of just how observant the detectives are — these are heroic observers who are always on the alert and always in control of their surroundings.

Attitudes toward women

The women in these stories are “damsels in distress,” but they are also seductive, “sneaky,” and manipulative. The detectives cannot say no to these women, so they throw themselves into danger to protect them.

What you’ve got now are a thesis and an antithesis: in all three stories, the detectives are always in control and always on the lookout for danger … until a pretty woman in distress asks for help and then they all turn into blithering idiots who will do whatever they are told without concern for the danger. There are numerous syntheses that one might draw from these two ideas: perhaps you argue that these stories are misogynistic because they show women using sexuality to manipulate and deceive the heroes or you might argue that in these hard-boiled detective stories, that seem to be part of a very male-dominated genre that is all about the heroic exploits of the male protagonists, it’s actually the women who have the most agency and are most responsible for driving forward the plots of the stories.

The first sentence of the essay, which is the introductory sentence of the essay and establishes what texts you are analyzing and also serves as the topic sentence for part one of the essay might be something like: “In The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, “Murder is My Business” by Lynette Prucha, and Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley the narrator provides lots of detailed description throughout the narratives, in order to show that the protagonists, who are all hard-boiled detectives, are very aware of and in control of their surroundings at all times.” The rest of that section would then follow with evidence to expand upon and support that claim.

The first sentence of the second part of the essay, the topic sentence for part two, might be something like this: “However, in all three of these stories the protagonists who had seemed to be so in control of their situations, suddenly become easily manipulated into putting themselves at risk when they come into contact with a ‘damsel in distress.'” The rest of that section would then follow with evidence to expand upon and support that claim.

The first sentence of the final paragraph of the essay, which is the thesis statement for the entire essay, might be something like this: “This contradiction, where the protagonists appear to be alert and in control until a seductive woman asks them for help, shows that in these hard-boiled detective stories, that seem to be part of a very male-dominated genre that is all about the heroic exploits of the male protagonists, it’s actually the women who have the most agency and are most responsible for driving forward the plots of the stories.” The rest of this paragraph would expand on and support that claim.


Week Ahead: 7

3/7 Sketch 6: What’s in your bag?
7 3/9
  • Kindred — The Fight & The Storm (100-209)
  • Kindred — The Rope, Epilogue, About Octavia Butler & About the Adaptor and Artist (210-240)
Tracing Pages
3/14 Sketch 7: Quadriptych

This week we’ll finish reading Kindred and you’ll submit your essays comparing Stitches and Spinning. The Literacy Narrative comics were supposed to be due this week, but I agreed to give you extra time so you do not need to have them published until 3/18.


Week Ahead: 5

2/21 Sketch 4: Combophoto
5 2/23
  • Spinning — chapters 6-8 (183-318)
Literacy narrative comic storyboard (in class)
  • Spinning — chapters 9-10 & author’s note (319-94)
2/28 Sketch 5: Triptych

Remember that last week I had mixed information about which sketch to do so if you made a combophoto last week then this week you should make visual notes.

We will spend time in class on Tuesday giving each other peer feedback on the literacy narrative comic storyboard, which means before class that day you will need to get your storyboard posted on your sites. If you’re hand-drawing the comic then take photos of the pages and upload them. If you’re creating your comic digitally then export the draft as jpg files and upload them. The key thing for our peer editing time is that you should have a rough sketch of an entire comic such that your classmates can look at it and get a sense of the story you’re telling and how you’re planning to tell it. They’ll be able to tell you what they see you are doing, ask some questions, and make some suggestions for improving your comic.

As you’re making your comics remember that these are radical revisions of the alphabetic literacy narratives you wrote, so you can (and should!) rethink the earlier narrative to make it work in a more visual format. With some part of your mind as you do so, pay attention to what you change and why you think some elements work better in text versus in comics. I’m interested in you noticing what comics does better and what straight prose does better.

This week we’ll also finish reading Spinning, though we’ll continue to talk about it for awhile.

The Secret of Success in Creative Work

The Taste Gap

The videos below are two different versions of visualizing a quote from an interview with American public radio personality and host of the podcast This American Life, Ira Glass. David Shiyang Liu created a kinetic type representation of the quote about 9 years ago and it’s been viewed 1.5 million times since then. (Though to be fair, at least a hundred of those viewings are by me.) Daniel Sax was inspired by Liu’s video and decided to make his own version (below). It took about a year, with the help of a handful of other artists creating images.

The quote itself is inspiring, and it’s an important message for anyone who aspires to do creative work of any kind, I believe.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.


Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean? A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have. And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase — you gotta know it’s totally normal. And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while — it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?