The Secret Language of Comics

Week Ahead: 3

3 2/9 Literacy Narrative, part 1
  • Hillary Chute, “Comics for Grown-Ups” from Why Comics?: From Underground to Everywhere
  • Stitches — “I was fifteen” & “A few years ago I had the following dream. In the dream I was a boy of six again” (243-329)
2/14 Sketch 3: Visual Note Taking

On Tuesday, you’ve got a very short reading from Dan Roam‘s book Draw to Win to go along with Stitches. (Note that I uploaded chapters 2 and 3 but you’re only required to read chapter 3.) Roam is a corporate trainer who publishes books and presents workshops on business communication and marketing, focusing on visual clarity for communicating complex information effectively. We’ll also be doing some drawing in class.

Your first major assignment is also due on Tuesday. I’ll begin meeting with you individually to give you feedback on those drafts starting later in the week and stretching into the next.

On Thursday, we’ll read the introductory chapter from Hillary Chute’s Why Comics?, which is a major work of comics criticism that came out a couple years ago. The first 20 pages of that article provide a history of the comics medium and a discussion of why the best term for them is comics, and why graphic novel isn’t especially useful. There is a lot of useful information in that first half of the chapter and it’s worth reading — but the really important part of the chapter, which I want you to spend most of your attention on, is the latter section under the heading “Reading Comics” (21-31). If you’re going to skip reading some of the chapter — which you shouldn’t but if you’re going to — skip the first half not the second half! Come to class with at least one or two questions you have about how to read comics effectively.

Week Ahead: 2

1/31  Sketch 1: Avatar
2 2/2
2/7 Sketch 2: Sunday Sketches

(Note: Most weeks, I’ll try to publish a post on Friday or over the weekend with a glimpse at what is coming up in the next week. Like I have done above, I’ll start with repeating the information on our official schedule for the next week, then like I do below, I’ll often write a little bit more detail about what we’ll focus on in class or what you need to be thinking about and preparing for.)

We had our first class meetings this week. You should have your WordPress sites set up by now, but if you are running into a roadblock with that, please let me know what sort of help you need. You’ll need the site up so that you can publish your first sketch assignment on Sunday.

In class on Tuesday, 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?

On Thursday, we’ll 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. His comic short story “A Life in Comics” is something of a literacy narrative about Karen Green, a librarian at Columbia University’s Butler Library, who is the first Curator for Comics and Cartoons 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?

We’ll also spend some time discussing the end of David’s sixth year and his eleventh year in that class.

And you should start brainstorming for your second sketch assignment, where you’ll be drawing and incorporating a 3d object into your piece.