Welcome to The Secret Language of Comics

Welcome to ENG181 (section 1), The Secret Language of Comics: Visual Thinking and Writing.

I look forward to working with you this semester.

Your homework to complete before Thursday, January 28:

  • 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 this survey form, 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; Tanine Allison, a professor of Media Studies here at Emory who just published her first book entitled Destructive Sublime: World War II in American Media, uses destructivesublime.com as her domain name; 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.


  1. In the course description, you mentioned the concepts of visual literacy and verbal literacy, both of which comics requires. However, if I am reading a book that only contains words and no images, but those words have caused images to form in my mind, could I also consider this a form of visual literacy, on the more imaginary side? In other words, could verbal literacy sometimes trigger visual literacy?

    1. I would agree that text also requires visual literacy —- when you read a traditional book, your eyes are not only parsing the words but are also observing the length of paragraphs or cues like headers or formatting (for example italicized text or the size of the margins). A poem looks certain way on the page, which is different from a novel. A legal document filed in court or a judge’s decision both have distinctive visual markers that identify them as such. A biology lab report looks it’s own way.

      So I agree that text is also visual, in ways that we often ignore, but comics does much more complex things with visual literacy. We’ll talk about your question a lot this semester!

    1. The nice thing about multiple texts in this class is that none of them are textbooks, so they’re all pretty inexpensive. I’m okay with you getting digital versions of the texts, except you might really need physical copies of Stitches and Spinning because you’ll have an assignment to trace pages from those two books.so if you get digital versions of those two, you’ll need to figure out a way to trace those from the digital source (which is certainly possible, especially if you have a tablet and a good drawing app like Procreate).

  2. I understand the grading contract system. However, I noticed the tab with grading explanations relative to letter grades. Does this mean we will get letter grades on our assignment in addition to proficient, excellent, and not proficient? In addition, will we have any idea what our grade is throughout the semester in terms of numerical value?

    1. The grading scale is really there for your final semester grade not for individual assignments. I’m required to include those grading scales on a syllabus, even though they aren’t especially helpful for this class.

      We’ll talk more about how grades work in this class, but the short answer is no you will not have a running numerical average measuring your progress in this class all semester. I don’t consider any of the work you do in this class “final” until the end of the semester when I’m grading it as part of your final portfolio. During the semester you’ll get feedback and you always have the opportunity to revise. If you do all the work and it’s proficient, then the lowest grade you can get in the class is a B.

    1. I’m generally agnostic on whether you use digital or analog methods and for all the sketch assignments you can choose whatever method works best for you. There will be a few times when I will ask you specifically to draw something on paper, but even in those circumstances I’m not going to absolutely mandate it — I have been doing a lot of drawing on my iPad with Procreate or with Goodnotes recently myself and am coming to prefer that over drawing with pencil and paper, so I am flexible. If you have questions about specific tools for specific assignments, I encourage you to ask.

  3. By creating a WordPress website and through this class, we are going to post certain assignments and learn how to develop our websites. After the conclusion of the class, could we basically wipe the website and start fresh for future use, non-school related.

    1. Yes, the website is yours to do with as you please. I will ask you to leave the site as it is through the summer because the Writing Program will do an assessment of the final portfolio reflection letter (we’ll talk more about how that will work later in the semester), but after a little while you can do with it whatever you’d like.

    1. I’d say Stitches and Spinning are the most important to have physical copies of because of the Tracing assignment. Unless you have a tablet or a Wacom tablet and can trace digitally.

      If the price isn’t much different, I’d say get physical copies generally. We are all spending too many hours staring at screens so reading a physical book should be nice.

    1. No, we are not playing games or making a podcast in this class. Sorry about that. The policies section started from the similar page for my fall class, which I updated but it looks like I missed a couple of spots that still referred to games and podcasts but I’ve fixed those. Thanks for catching them.

  4. What are some things that you are looking for and evaluating in the Sunday Sketches? Technique, composition and/or rationale perhaps? How closely are we expected to follow the conventions of the given assignment?

    1. The Sunday Sketches are low-stakes assignments meant more as writing exercises to develop skills and ways of thinking that build toward the major assignments. We’ll talk more about following conventions, but I try to make the assignments pretty open-ended and I definitely want you to make them your own and to be creative in the ways you approach them. The goal is to break conventions in ways that are productive — that show you to be interesting, rather than making it seem like you didn’t understand the assignment.

  5. When we are analyzing these comic books are we more focusing on our individual understanding and them coming to a group consensus about the visual and verbal literacy present. Also what if the visual and verbal literacy a comic provides presents two different pieces of information.

    1. Ultimately, what I’m most interested in is you developing your own understanding of the texts and being able to articulate that understanding in a way that is clear and convincing to others. We’ll talk about these texts together and we’ll employ a set of methods that we share in common in order to develop these understandings. I hope that makes sense. I think it will be more clear as we move forward through the semester.

      There certainly can be a kind of tension between the images and the text, and that’s an important thing to pay attention to. Comics are not illustrations. In other words, it’s not just text with drawings that represent what the words in the book describe (for example, in the illustrations that John Tenniel originally created for Alice in Wonderland). Therefore, the text and the images are presenting different pieces of information and it’s up to us as readers to make sense of all of that.

  6. Are we getting a letter grade AND P, BP, E grade? or Does P, BP, E grade changes to a letter grade at the end of the semester? Also, do we have any other materials that we need to prepare other than books?

    1. I consider all your work to be in draft until you submit your final portfolio and reflection letter, so I will give you plenty of feedback and let you know whether your work is Proficient, Excellent, or Below Proficient during the semester but I won’t give grades to individual assignments along the way.

      I’m not certain I understand the second part of your question. The materials, texts, services page includes a list of books you need, as well as additional services to sign up for, like our Slack channel and your WordPress site. Is that what you mean?

    1. Not exactly. I’ve generally found that the comics medium is new for most first-year students, so that’s not something I’ve incorporated into this class. I usually do ask students in my gaming classes to do something like that. Is that something you would really want to do? I’d be willing to adapt the assignments to open up that possibility.

    1. You’ll have larger assignments where you specifically need to analyze the texts you’ve read, though you’ll have some choice so you won’t necessarily have to write about each and every text we read. I reserve the right to assign reading quizzes if I get the sense that a large percentage of the class is not doing the reading, but it’s my preference that we not do so. I think the class discussions are in depth enough that it will be really difficult to participate and get much out of those discussions if you aren’t keeping up with the reading. There is more reading assigned in the first handful of weeks, as we establish theoretical frameworks, then less reading down the stretch as you work on more projects and as your other classes are probably ramping up, so I think it should be a manageable amount of work.

  7. I am a little confused on the grading for this course. First we get graded on the assignments individually, but that is not our final grade?/How will we be graded on these assignments since we are trying to avoid super structured writing?

    Also, your site is not yet fully published. You need to hit the “Launch” button to make the site public. Right now it just goes to a big blue screen that says “Coming Soon.”

    1. I don’t grade drafts of your writing — I will read them and give you feedback. If you have missed the mark on an assignment you will know and will have opportunities to revise. You’ll know then what you’ve done well, what you can improve, and hat you’re in good shape for the semester. We’ll talk about structure for your writing.

  8. Does the format or style of the website matter? Is there a particular template that will be best for this course?

    1. No, you can do whatever you want with the format of the website for now. At the end of the semester, I’ll ask you to pull the whole site together to make it a completed portfolio but in the meantime you are free to play with the design of your site as much or as little as you want. As long as I can get to the stuff you publish on the site, that’s all that matters now. Within the next few days, anytime you publish a post on your site it will automatically be imported to this site and will show up on the Student Posts page.

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