Rhetorical Tropes and the Man of Steel: Morrison and Quitely’s All-Star Superman

So, anyone who knows me a bit, or has read back posts in this blog about my dissertation process, knows that I am a fan of Superman. I only really became a fan of Superman after I read Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly’s All-Star Superman.

Morrison’s depiction of Superman helped change my entire perspective on the man of steel and directly helped inspire my dissertation: American Arête: The Man of Steel as a Rhetorical Model.

What Morrison did was open my eyes to the deeper elements found within Superman, to the deeper, archetypal, and intangible but infinite potential of inspiration existed within the figure of Superman.

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So, coming at things from this new, enlightened angle, and digging deeper into the structure of comic books formatting – how it works to communicate with its audience – I eventually, figuring that my degree is in Rhetoric, came to a question (well, really many many questions).

The question was:

Can recognizing comic book superheroes as forms of visual stylistic figures and tropes add a greater rhetorical understanding of their potential to persuade an audience?

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To try and answer this, I started by falling back on what was my very first bridgehead between comic books/graphic novels and literary and rhetorical scholarship: Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.

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In this work, McCloud notes that comic books have the singular ability to act as “a form of amplification through simplification” (30).

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In other words, it can be asserted, if applied to comic book superheroes, that they have a built in use for tasks often performed by the simplest metaphors, analogies, or any form of figurative language. This of course is determined by the author and the message he or she wants to convey. Superheroes can then act as stand in’s for concepts and ideas and express them with new meaning or message, or even remind the audience of elements and ideas that are right in front of them.

Speaking of “right in front of them,” having returned to this text after years of studying rhetorical theory, this statement was like uncovering a hidden gym. It was, quite figuratively and almost literally a skandalon, or stumbling block. This “stumbling block” caused me to take notice of something, McCloud’s statement as quoted above, and see it differently even though I had “walked” past it time and time again.

What About the Rhetorical Side?

So, one might wonder at this point, “I see a lot of talk about superheroes, images, cartoons, and what not, but what about rhetoric?” Well, the answer for that can be found when one considers or asserts, as I am, that superheroes can and do function as a form of rhetorical (visual) style.

When discussing style, rhetorically, one can turn to the Rhetorica Ad Herennium, which discusses (as Cicero does also) three types of style. In particular, when dealing with comic book superheroes and their big, larger than life outfits and struggles one is most likely applying the use of grand or high style. The Rhetorica Ad Herennium defines grand style, when employed by an orator (or in our case a writer or artist) as seeking to use “the most ornate words that can be found for it, whether literal or figurative; if impressive thoughts are chose, such…are used in [the use of figures, such as] Amplification…” (248). This idea of “grand style” and its application gets leads one into an attempt to understand rhetorical figures, among them, and connecting back to what McCloud was asserting to a degree, the idea of amplification

Rhetorical figures, such as amplification, aim to help impress upon an audience the message of the speaker via language or some form of communication. Figures are themselves “tools” at the disposal of a rhetorician/writer/artist to enhance and/or project a message to an audience.

A Visual Turn

Now that I appear to have addressed the rhetorical aspects of style and figures a bit, one might still not see the connection. One could be justifiable in saying: “Okay, I see superheroes and comic books and I see rhetorical style and figures, but I don’t 100% see how they connect. I mean, you have McCloud mentioned here, but is that enough? Are these even the same?”

Again, this is not an unfair question. How and where can we find connection for the classical ideas and elements of rhetoric and the modern conception of graphic narratives? One place might be found is in the writings of the early common era writer and teacher of rhetoric Longinus.

Longinus, in his work On The Sublime (a work focused on good writing) notes that something that lends itself well to notions and “production of grandeur, magnificence [grand style?] and urgency…is visualization (phantasia)…what some people call image-production” (356).

Longinus was not specifically referencing the Grand style of rhetoric or the use of images as per say comic books, but the notions he expresses here do reflect well on the depiction or production of images as beneficial to one wishing to convey elements that would be found in a grand rhetorical style. More importantly, the creation of visualization or phantasia, “image-production,” is a crucial element in most “good” writing. It is also a crucial component of the ability found in graphic narratives to make clear and effective use of communication of ideas as well.

To take this further into a connection with graphic narratives and comic book superheroes, it might help to turn to one Douglas Wolk. In his book, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean, he relates, referring to the genre, that:

“Superhero comics are, by their nature, larger than life, and what’s useful and interesting about their characters is that they provide bold metaphors for discussing ideas and reifying abstractions into narrative fiction” (92).

Here is the formal explication of what I have already been asserting. More so, here is the tie in point. Superheroes, such as Superman, have evolved to become something more than the sum of their parts. They are archetypal elements that stand in for cultural touch points and ideas embedded and engrained into our society. It is through these superheroes that these cultural and societal tropes, norms, mores, etc. “take flight and expression.” Our culture is reaching a point of coming to terms and accepting this. As a rhetorician though, what I want to know, is really, how does it work?

The Power of Comic Books

In their work, The New Rhetoric, Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca mention that one of the most powerful, and overlooked, ways for a rhetorician/writer/artist to gain the attention of their audience in the conveyance of their message is through presence. Presence stems from the conscious choices someone makes on what to present to their audience. It is that “choice [that] endows these elements [whatever they have chosen to grant a face to] with a presence, which is an essential factor in argumentation and one that is far too much neglected in rationalistic conceptions of reasoning [perhaps because it] acts directly on our sensibility” (116). So, what the author wants the audience to see becomes part of a clear rhetorical choice based on what will garner the best reaction. It is noted that here and by many others, including Robert E. Tucker in his article “Figure, Ground and Presence” that the idea of presence is too abstract a concept for many who want to identify a more concrete term or trope. Tucker particularly states that the idea of presence has been much maligned and “Criticized as ‘ambiguous’ and ‘nothing more than a psychological concept’ …abandoned by rhetorical scholars” (396). However, the realization, however abstract or intuitive it may be, remains something of importance even if one wishes to ignore it. Its’ [presence’s] power to impact arguments and ideas remains. Simply because one cannot physically identify or pin it down does not discount something, like presence’s, value. Looking at images, for instance, which are able to randomly generate pathos on a viewer, sometimes in unintended ways, and yet their power is acknowledged.

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, in The New Rhetoric, conceive many elements of rhetorical argumentation that aid in promotion of presence. One such element is illustration. They state that

“Because an illustration seeks to increase presence by making an abstract rule [selfless hero] concrete by means of a particular case [Superman], there is a tendency to see an illustration as ‘a vivid picture of an abstract matter.’” (360). I have inserted the idea of Superman into this quotation because of just how well that superhero fits as a particular case.

Superman is a powerful image, a vivid image, brought to life on the pages of the medium of comic books. He is a metaphor. Comic books are themselves keen upon the use of metaphors in the visual sense.

In their Power of Comics, Randy Duncan and Michael Smith note: that “The most prevalent reductive device [remembering that comic books demand “economy] in comics is synecdoche [or the] using [of] a part to represent the whole or vice versa” (133). This statement in many ways plays on and expands what McCloud noted in this statement of “amplification through simplification.”

Page 96 of Vol. 2 of All-Star Superman provides, one of many but, the best opportunity to witness how the essence of Superman generates presence via the use of rhetorical figures in visual form as given by Duncan and Smith:

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This opening sequence, elongated panel, sets up the scene for the audience with a clear display of what McCloud refers to as Picture Specific. This means that the images do the major communicating of meaning. In this panel, of course absent of words, that is ALL one has is the images.

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The panel provides an opening context for what follows. In particular, this panel establishes for the audience that this young woman is not simply standing on the street corner, but obviously on a building of some height. One can, looking closely, gain a hint of the distress to be revealed by the young woman’s body language and what appears to be, in red, a cell phone falling from here hand.

Synecdoche

On the right hand side, running parallel, down the page, are 4 panels opposite this long opening panel.

The first two vertical sequential panels on the right-hand side of the page provide a good illustration of the rhetorical figure of synecdoche. This term comes from the Greek συνεκδοχή synekdoche , meaning “simultaneous understanding” or rather to understand or comprehend something as a whole by only a part. The Greek-English Lexicon highlights that this figure stands for “understanding one thing with another: hence in Rhet., synecdoche, an indirect mode of expression, when the whole is put for a part or vice versa, Quint.Inst.8.6.19, Aristid.Quint.2.9, Ps.-Plu.Vit.Hom.22.” (Liddell and Scott). In other words, this classical rhetorical figure is employed to show us “a part of something” that can be then inferred by the audience as a whole that the “part” represents or vice versa.

This plays out in the first panel shows a close up depiction of a young girl, apparently in distress. Though you have seen her whole body in the first, left hand panel, you can infer that her entire body has become clinched together in some anxiety before what very well be the prelude to a leap from this building by the way that her hands are clasped tightly and her eyes are shut, with her shoulder hunched up. Here the figure of synecdoche is working within another picture specific panel. There are no words. All information must be inferred via body language and previous knowledge stemming from the elongated panel to the left.

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One does not have to see the rest of her to infer the notion that she is in pain and distress, though the specific reason remains unknown. The next sequential panel below it again utilizes synecdoche, but this time with the focus being drawn to the chest emblem of Superman, his “S” and his most identifiable feature other than his cape.

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The “S” is partially obscured by the young girl’s head, but it is recognizable and along with his hand, placed upon her shoulder, as well as his calming words, one can immediately distinguish a change in the young girls entire mood and posture.

The scene in this panel would fall closely into what McCloud calls an Additive type of panel. Here, the use of words are implemented and imposed as a way of providing amplification and elaboration for the audience’s reception and interpretation of the image.

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The role of synecdoche between these two panels is, for the audience, a condition of understanding a larger concept communicated by the author. This concept centers upon the idea that no matter how bad life appears to be, it is never so bad as to end one’s life. One is never really alone. This is implied both in the words Superman, who in panels 2 and 3 (those right above), is not fully scene, but his presence is felt. His words, plus the placement of his hand upon the young girls shoulder represent a clear choice by the author to wish to convey a sense of hope and paternal encouragement both to the young woman and to those who are reading. Synecdoche, its application particularly here, serves to help reinforce a kind of guardian angel or supportive figure, a reassuring voice, for the audience to see.

This notion of protection and the communication are affirmed in the subsequent 2 panels that follow:

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This entire sequence contains a total of five panels on the page. One panel, the long opening on, allows for an initial set up of the scene for the audience. What Morrison and Quitely do with panels that follow is communicate a deeply imbedded aspect of Superman that is often overlooked: his ability to inspire us. They do this by flipping the standard trope of “how” Superman “saves the day.” Instead of waiting for her to jump, and Superman swooping in to save her, Morrison and Quitely have Superman save this young woman, who feels despair and unable to cope with the world, in a different fashion. Superman saves her by giving her part of his strength, his hope. Appearing behind her as she is getting ready to jump, Superman tells her that “Your doctor really did get held up Regan. It’s never as bad as it seems. You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me” at which point she hugs him (All-Star Superman vol. 2, 96). This one series of panels alone is a powerful and moving illustration of the strength that Superman has, not physically, but as a model and “hope” for humanity instead.

The economy of imagery here, for one this entire scene is depicted in one page and only five panels helps illustrate the encapsulation of Superman’s essence, his willingness to help others, selflessly by how he himself acts and acts towards others, generates a strong emotional appeals via the audience’s ability to both identify with the superhero and perhaps even the young girl too.

Metonymy

The second trope discussed by Duncan and Smith is metonymy. Metonymy, from the Greek μετωνυ^μ-ία , , (μετά, ὄνομα) means a “change of name: in Rhet., the use of one word for another, metonymy, Cic.Orat.27.93, Ps.-Plu.Vit.Hom. 23, Quint.8.6.23” (Liddell and Scott). Duncan and Smith define metonymy as “the use of an associated detail to represent the whole [and its most commonly] used in the depiction of part of a physical manifestation of an emotion” (134).

Returning to the page from All-Star Superman, there are two close-ups and one full away examination of emotions on display.

Starting again with the panels of the top right of the page, the first panel allows one to infer the depiction of intense pain

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Looking at McCloud’s charts of facial expressions, the image of the young girl’s face falls most closely to “pain empathy” made up of “disgust” and “sadness” (Making Comics 85). The emotions one can infer, also drawing on body language and the left-hand panel of her standing on a ledge leads one to a notion that she is in such emotional pain that she appears ready to take her own life.

The panel after it, with the emergence of Superman directly behind the young woman portrays an expression of surprise/astonishment/etc.

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This depiction immediately changes in the next vertically sequential panel where Superman arrives, with his hand on her shoulder. Her facial expression becomes one of mild surprise with aspects of revelation, perhaps from Superman’s words about the misunderstanding that lead her to feel she should take her own life.

Finally, in the third panel on the right hand side, Superman’s face is finally seen for the first time on the page as the image pulls away. One can slightly confer an expression of calming sympathy and reassurance on his face as it leads to the final panel and her embracing of him in a hug.

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Symbols and Sequence Metaphors

The third trope discussed is that of the sequence metaphor, and this is perhaps the most crucial combination of this particular page from All-Star Superman’s ability to help generate a deeper sense of meaning beyond what is simply depicted.

Duncan and Smith note that “Symbols are another means of economy of expression in comics [and these] can manifest as a sequence metaphor [or] two juxtaposed images that together create a meaning not present in either image alone” (The Power of Comics 134). There are several levels on which to look at this page of All-Star Superman as acting within the bounds of sequence metaphors.

The first comes by looking at this page in reference to the entire work of All-Star Superman and noting that of all the acts of heroism portrayed within, this particular and rather simple page is perhaps the most revealing. The revealing quality comes from the two panels found in the right hand side of the page, again. Focusing on specifically “two juxtaposed images” brings about an examination of impact Superman has as a symbol.

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From his absence in the first panel to his then appearance in the second, it is incredibly powerful to witness what Superman, as a symbol, has the ability to do in helping this young girl. What is even more telling is the fact that the essence of Superman has a twist here. Instead of “typically” performing the act of saving this girl after she has jumped, Superman’s essence shifts slightly to Morrison’s intention to have him act as a symbol of inspiration. His words are able to move this young girl, his hand on her shoulder gives her hope, and ultimately provides her with a chance to change her own life for the better by knowing that there is someone out there looking out for here.

CONCLUSION

Let’s return to the question at the beginning:

Can recognizing comic book superheroes as forms of visual stylistic figures and tropes add a greater rhetorical understanding of their potential to persuade an audience?

Like the graphic narrative itself, there is a visual ability and component within the superhero narrative to represent deeper, complex visual figures and tropes that can perform on an audience in a rhetorical fashion.

This is not to say that all comic book superheroes operate in a deep rhetorical fashion, but as a form of communication they can in fact all convey some form of persuasion. There is though an ability for superhero narratives to operate in a grand style of rhetorical persuasion and to make use of rhetorical tropes to communicate powerful messages.

Works Cited

Duncan, Randy and Matthew J. Smith. The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture.New York: Continuum, 2009. Print.

Liddell, H. G. and Robert Scott. English-Greek Lexicon. 9th Ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.Print. Perseus Digital Library. Tufts University. Web. 31 July 2015.

Longinus. On the Sublime. Trans. D. A. Russell. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd edition. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg.Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 346-358. Print.

McCloud, Scott. Making Comics Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. New York: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2006. Print.

—. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Print.

Morrison, Grant and Frank Quitely. All-Star Superman, Vol. 1 & 2. New York: DC Comics, 2007. Print.

Perelman, Chaim and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Tran. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P. 1969. Print.

Rhetorica ad Herennium. Trans. Harry Caplan. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd edition. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg.Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 243-282. Print.

Tucker, Robert E. “Figure, Ground and Presence: A Phenomenology of Meaning in Rhetoric.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 87.4 (2001): 396-414. Print.

Wolk, Douglas. Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean.Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2007. Print.

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Application Approach 3.1

Writing Workshop – Part 2

 

This is where students were asked to construct a rough version of their ARGUMENT section of their paper, the bulk of their paper in fact.

 

Students are provided again a general conception via an outline of the layout:

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Here, the application of “8-14 paragraphs [roughly]” is simply a stand-in to give students a way of somewhat measuring the process they are engaged in, based on the size of paragraphs.

 

The outline elements of this section focus in on the primary focus of asserting the position of one’s thesis while using evidence to support that.

 

Before class met one day, students were given a number of links to look over to help them further expound upon what they need to contemplate in this section, to establish their arguments:

 

  1. Using Research and Evidence

 

This followed a discussion of advice concerning types of research to look for and determining credibility of material

 

  1. Organizing Your Argument

 

This specifically made use of the Tomlin Method of presenting your Research, but as I am having students make use of the Classical Method, I made sure to encourage them to use the advice that applied and using it to help them expand upon the overall paper Outline given to them concerning their research paper.

 

An additional “Classical Model” handout was included among this information.

 

  1. Using Rhetorical Strategies for Persuasion

 

This page highlighted the rhetorical appeals of Logos, Ethos, and Pathos. In particular it presented students with refreshers in Deductive (as illustrated in Application Approach 3.0 with invested triangle) and Inductive Reasoning, Logical Fallacies to avoid, as well discussions about appropriate use of Ethos and Pathos in Research papers.

 

  1. Body Paragraphs

 

This page discussed a close examination of the paragraph form, mainly if students find themselves in any way struggling with that.

 

However, based on writing samples seen so far, that does not appear to be a problem.

 

All of these elements comprised direct links to OWL at Purdue pages. All of this material was discussed in class and gone over during a class meeting.

 

Students were set to task to begin working on creating their argument sections. They were provided with a version of the following diagram to help visually communicate some of the needed elements and expectations.

 

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In addition to the formatting of their arguments, students are engaged in compiling and “sifting” through sources as part of creation of an annotated bibliography. This was timed to help students in making sure that the sources they were choosing to use in their arguments were up to the kind of credibility (ethos) they wanted to convey.

 

Sadly, one of my students in this course was forced to drop out due to family issues, however, it was immensely gratifying to have her communicate to me that the course allowed here to gain knowledge and insights that would help her later on. It also, in particular, opened her eyes to the potential of comic books and graphic novels. That to me is a small victory and I’ll take it.

 

Application Approach 3.0

So, this week students are beginning what, normally in a 16-week course, represents my approach to the back half of the Composition 2 course – the Writing Workshop Phase.

 

Writing Workshop – Part 1

 

This begins with having students look at constructing and putting a MS Word document in proper MLA format. This may seem tedious, but it can prove necessary and helpful to help students out by making sure they clearly understand the basics of formatting (this can and often does go overlooked). So, we address this up front as our FIRST step.

 

Here is the first Outline Students are shown to help them visualize the layout:

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Once the general formatting, heading, and header is attended to, we move on to the process of creating a TITLE and then returning to our THESIS STATEMENT (already formulated) in preparation for creating our INTRODUCTION to our paper.

 

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The THESIS STATEMENT comes at the point of the tip, in this case, the bottom of the INTRODUCTION.

 

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With their THESIS STATEMENTS (now revised after instructor feedback), students were encouraged to construct an INTRODUCTION paragraph followed by a BACKGROUND grouping of paragraphs, or as Colbert and others refer to it as, a NARRATION section of the paper.

 

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This was ALL that was to be submitted before class met at the beginning of Week 3.

 

The material presented to me in Part 1 by my students has demonstrated the presence of strong writing that I look forward to seeing what it produces going forward. Conferencing with the students, most of the things needed attending to reflect some basic formatting issues only, no lack of content was present.

 

During the first classes of Week 3 students were given material to look over and to begin moving into their next part of the Writing Workshop Part 2.

Application Approach 2.2

Entering the final chapter, Chapter 9 of McCloud’s Understanding Comics represents the end of what I am calling the Theory Phase of my students’ introduction to the graphic novel and interpreting the graphic novel. They will be finishing up their Literary Analysis papers for submission. Starting in Week 3, the class will shift into a Writing Workshop Phase of putting together their actual Research Papers.

Students, to end their examination of McCloud were given one final PowerPoint lecture on Ch. 9 (images used presented below). They were asked to take notes as the lecture was presented. Afterwards, students were asked to present in a discussion their final thoughts on McCloud’s presented argument about visual potential of graphic narratives (chapter 9 is a very good compact, conclusion point where McCloud summarizes much of his argument). Students were also asked to give a preliminary reflection about the usefulness and potential of this text in aiding them as a resource and potential source material for their papers.

Student conclusions I will present at the end of this post, what follows next is an annotated version of the PowerPoint where I provide my own analysis of McCloud’s argument as presented in Chapter 9:

McCloud: Understanding Comics, Chapter 9

Instructor Annotation

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This is McCloud returning, in a more concise manner, to the questions he postulated in Chapter 1. Of course, he now provides a bit more of the opening of a complex answer: The Human Condition.

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Of course, what McCloud is identifying about human isolation (or as individuals) is what Kenneth Burke would refer to as identification. Burke specifically quips that “If men were not apart from one another, there would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim their unity” (Rhetoric of Motives 22). To see this in a different way, one identifies his or her self as an individual, but also as part of a group of friends, member of a community, citizen of a town, state, country, or even species. Burke refers to this as the hierarchy, or “move by a sense of order” (Language as Symbolic Action 15). All of these groupings progressively move upward, to larger groupings and represent points of larger identification that can offer a way of overcoming the previous “division” in the pursuit of a larger sense of “unity.”

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This “wall” that McCloud is referring to here is part of the consequence found in Burke’s noting of identification.

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McCloud’s argument for the seriousness of comics, particularly as a means of communication, as noted below here, is part of looking to find that element of unity noted by Burke, to try and “understand” comics is itself a seeking of that unity.

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One might argue when McCloud, above here, notes “communication is only effective when we understand the forms that communication can take” that he is pointing out the rhetorical implications of any form of communication. In this he is echoing almost every rhetorical theorist since the ancient Greeks to the modern day.

In particular, Aristotle wrote that rhetoric was itself “. . . defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (The Rhetoric 24).

Wayne C Booth, for a more modern spin, provides a direct link between McCloud’s assertions of “understanding” and rhetoric by defining rhetoric as “The whole range of arts not only of persuasion but also of producing or reducing misunderstanding” (The Rhetoric of Rhetoric 10).

Ultimately, though Burke asserts that if one is to view identification as a means to overcoming division and possible isolation, as McCloud is offering up here, one must account for what are the overarching elements and substances  share in creating unity via identification. This requires the introduction of identification’s partner element that Burke calls: consubstantiality. Burke states that one is

“consubstantial with [one’s] parents [but at the same time] apart from them. In this sense, there is nothing abstruse in the statement that the offspring both is and is not one with its parentage. Similarly, two persons may be identified in terms of some principle they share in common, “identification” that does not deny their distinctness” (21).

The sharing of a common “substance” or unifying agent, agency, purpose, scene, etc. is at work here. So, McCloud begins this attempt to discover the shared “substance” via a process:

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This approach might seem silly. However, our modern world today tends to embrace TWO common assumptions made about comic books. One, there is the traditional assumption that comic books are “kids stuff.” Two, the newer/modern assumption that comic books are simply about “superheroes,” as evident in the cultural zeitgeist and popularity of movie franchises involving Marvel and DC superheroes.

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McCloud, however, attempts to separate the content of comics from the medium/form of comics. This itself an often overlooked aspect. Content in comics can have a wide range of both genre and age level. Content can be superheroes, or horror, or kids comics. The medium/form of comics, what McCloud is more directly addressing in his text represents the form. The form and the ability of the form of comics has potential that far outstrips any limitation of content.

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This refers back to Ch. 1 in Understanding Comics where McCloud defined what comics are. His definition was very generalist, but as he explained, that was intentional. The more general and expansive the definition, the more room for inclusion was available.

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McCloud notes here the 1896 publication of “The Yellow Kid” which is held up as the first modern example of the comic. However, comics as a form or medium go much much further back and McCloud asserts this early on in Chapter 1.

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Topffer’s quotation highlights both the ability of comics as a medium or form while openly noting the traditional assumption often attached to it. Topffer in his mentioning of “the lower classes . . .” is making note of the fact that early comics were employed by newspaper syndicates to promote distribution among illiterate and non-English speaking immigrants in large cities such as New York.

What assumptions, the traditional assumption, created was a divide:

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As noted in the two images above, some cartoonists were allowed to be upheld with those of “high culture” and “literary merit,” while others were segregated to a “low culture” kind of Hell.

Burke’s idea, and one that McCloud appears to second, is that via identification and understanding of the shared substance of the form of comics, this divide can be overcome.

In the end though, the form is what is most important for McCloud. It is also a form of massive potential as he launches into:

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Growth and Variation –

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Aspirations…

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McCloud is aserting here the fact that comics have (and always did have) the potential to reach out, as a form and medium to the highest kinds of aspirations: Fine Art, Truth, Literature. Why not? Why can’t the form allow for the visual expression of deep ideas found within the human condition?

Well…

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Of course, this is a major problem, but not an insurmountable obstacle. Comics creators often times, and in a digital age almost anyone can, find the freedom to express their ideas.

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Of course, from personal experience, I believe in McCloud’s argument. Additionally, his text, Understanding Comics, helped open the eyes of many of my students as well.

RESPONSE AND REFLECTION on McCloud

Student Responses

As noted earlier, I specifically asked my students in the original lecture to take notes and be prepared to discuss afterwards their thoughts on McCloud’s text in its whole. All of them agreed that his work would be invaluable resource to them in their research papers.

When asked about the work itself, here are some of the things, summarized, what my students responded with:

The combination of images and words is crucial to help thinning the wall that separates communication. In fact, the book itself would not work without the use of both really. The combination of words and images helped produce a profound and deeper understanding.

It helped some students see comic books as truly an artistic field rather than one concerned solely with making money (I called it artistic over avaristic).

Many of them also expressed a deeper understanding of comic book form as a result of their reading.

They also enjoyed the way that McCloud not only told you about something but showed you as well (visual rhetoric). It also helped show the potential of comics beyond the newer/modern assumption that comic books are just about superheroes (thanks to the movie success) and simplistic (good guy vs. bad guy).

McCloud helped expand their perception and helped move beyond the one postulated by Tara Schultz in the recent controversy at Crafton Hills College that she expected to read “Batman and Robin.”

McCloud offered many a feeling that the comic book form and certain materials expressed in it could rise to the level of literature. This was particular for one student who felt a deep connection to a character in her graphic novel.

Finally, one student who had been a fan and studied art found that McCloud had something to teach her too. He pointed out for her a deeper meaning in how it all worked, it showed her and helped her see the depth in her graphic novel. She specifically made note of an image from her chosen graphic novel, Marvel Civil War by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven.

She pointed out this image:

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Here is Daredevil, being put in prison by Tony Stark (Iron Man) and she specifically pointed out an Additive combination at work. Without words, one simply has an image of Stark with a coin in hand, looking at it, and Daredevil turning his head to the side. With the words you have a mentioning of a reference to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus from the Bible with the “silver dollar” standing in for “thirty-one pieces of silver.” This gives an enhanced meaning to the images, where Daredevil is about to be imprisoned, and turns it into a image of guilt, anger, and betrayal.

My hope is that students take this high level of inspiration and carry it forward into their Literary Analysis and Research Papers.

WORKS CITED

Aristotle. The Rhetoric. Trans. W. Rhys Roberts. New York: The Modern Library, 1984. Print.

Booth, Wayne C. The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

—. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. Print.

Application Approach 2.1

As the students are now progressing deeper into the creation of their Literary Analysis papers, I found it incredibly fitting (since students already have access to materials about conducting textual analysis of works) that their reading of McCloud offers up McCloud’s own thoughts about ways to approach an understanding of the steps taken in the creation of work by any artist (writers included).

Students were shown a PowerPoint covering the same material found below.

McCloud starts off here by addressing the fact that up until this point he has been dealing with elements “unique” to comics.

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Of course, this issue of “comics as art” is still a question today. Even more important, one that some of my Composition 2 students are particularly tackling is the flip side of that coin: “can comics be literature.”

At the core of any art, and McCloud notes that this can be “comics . . . painting, writing, theatre, film . . .” there is always a “purpose.”

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McCloud moves forward here to presenting us with his path, consisting of 6 steps:

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STEP 1

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In the Composition 2 classroom where we are writing a Research Paper, “how” these steps function offer up not only a way to create comics, but as McCloud alludes to and clarifies later, but as a means for visualizing and approaching the writing process as well.

Step 1, then, represents the genesis point for students. Now, in the Composition classroom as I normally employ, students are given a fairly open range and latitude to select their purpose or idea to write upon. This is, of course, subject to guidance from me as their instructor. However, in the Graphic Novel Composition 2 classroom I am currently running with students, and as seen in Application Approach 1.0 posting,

I presented a somewhat arbitrary condition to their ideas and purpose via the selection of a Graphic Novel from a provided list and the choice between three possible thesis questions to generate their actual thesis statements.

STEP 2

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What jumped out as I was discussing this step with my students is the fact that, for the moment, this is a “locked in” or “predetermined” feature of my Composition classroom. However, on a side note, and as mentioned to be discussed further in my posting Looking to Re-Think How I Teach Composition, Part 1 about “re-defining” the use of course objectives, I want to find ways to allow students greater creative latitude in the process. More on that to come.
As for Step 2, this step is often the one students meet first in the process. This is where they are told on Day 1, “hey, you get to write a research paper for this class.”

STEP 3

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Like with Step 2, this is another example where the “Research Paper” assignment that I give students provides them with the genre they will work with. That genre comes with a style too, the academic style of writing. This style comes with formatting and a whole host of other guidelines and expectations.

STEP 4

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The Structure is something that, usually dictated by genre, is something that I often find myself taking time to explain to students.

One example comes from Composition 1 where I teach the genre of the Article Analysis. In this analysis, I make a point, often visually, of walking students through balancing of summary and analysis parts of the paper. I often, given the length, point out to students that I like to see 3 paragraphs of summary. This is then followed by 3 paragraphs of analysis (using the material from Norton’s Field Guide I have students use the investigation of purpose, audience, and stance to act as things to analyze).

Another, more pertinent to Composition 2, is my preference for the use of the Classical Argument Structure I ask my students to apply in their Research Papers. This again is a structure that presents some form of arbitrary formatting for the students to follow: Introduction, Background/Narration, Argument, Counter-Argument, Conclusion, and Works Cited. However, within sections of this structure I point out that there are still decisions by the students that need to be made: what to include, what to leave out, etc.

STEP 5

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This is the part where the student is, as I discuss it in application to writing, applying themselves and putting themselves to task in drafting and revising, and polishing, their paper. I point out that this is the step also where students not only have to figure out how the paper should come together, but also take time to revise, edit, and proof the paper. This is where they should attend also to MLA formatting as well.

STEP 6

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In particular with writing, this encompasses both elements of polishing for publication, as well as, as I put it to my students, checking and turning over time to crafting a good title. When we talk about initial contact between a paper and an audience, titles can provide the first point of entry for whether or not someone chooses to go further in the reading. This “exposure” can also branch out to include the introduction and thesis statement as well here.

Visually, McCloud sums this up with a representation of the steps as an “apple.”

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Now, taking this specifically from the writing process and moving it to the Literary Analysis assignment my students are engaged in with their graphic novels, I took a moment to illustrate not only how one uses the steps to form and create, but also to analyze as well.

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Arrow 1, moving outward, represents of course the general process. The specific process my students are using for the Literary Analysis is Arrow 2. I specifically mention that the analysis for them is about getting to and uncovering the purpose at the heart of their graphic novel. Along the way they should also take note of an specific use of the other steps that may or may not stand out as significant upon closer analysis. For instance, if any of them had chosen to pick some work of Alan Moore’s, such as Watchmen, I would have asserted to them the fact that Moore is one of those who makes use of ALL the steps in a significant fashion.

Moving beyond the steps, McCloud points out some examples of the ways that people come to comics and ways that the steps play out in that process.

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The notion here of someone going beyond exposure and deciding to apply skills to create comics of their own is something that I myself am beginning and working on. It is something I plan to share as part of my Adaptation Approach postings.

ARTIST 1, EXAMPLE 1

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ARTIST 2, EXAMPLE 2

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ARTIST 3, EXAMPLE 3

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ARTIST 4, EXAMPLE 4

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ARTIST 5, EXAMPLE 5

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ART for ART or ART with a PURPOSE

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Application Approach 2.0

Entering into Week 2 of my Composition 2 applying the use and having students argue for graphic novels, students are working on their Literary Analysis papers of their graphic novels. Many of them are choosing to approach the graphic novel as either Appropriate for the College Classroom or as Worthy to be a Work of Literature.

The Literary Analysis Paper is serving for them as a kind of “rough” Rough Draft of their ultimate research paper. The analysis will act as a kind a close reading of their graphic novel that should help solidify their thesis positions, provided background and research source material for their Research Paper, and spark ideas for elements to explore further for their research.

 

CLOSE ANALYSIS OF WORDS AND IMAGES

We began by reviewing Scott McCloud’s Ch. 6 of Understanding Comics. This chapter in particular is where McCloud discusses the different kinds of interrelationship that words and images can share.

Intro

Specifically, McCloud highlights SEVEN combinations:

  1. Word Specific
  2. Picture Specific
  3. Duo Specific
  4. Additive
  5. Parallel
  6. Montage
  7. Inter-Dependent

Part 1: What McCloud says

Word

Word Specific basically relies on the words to tell the narrative while imagery acts as a kind of ornamentation.

Picture

Picture Specific is the inverse of Word Specific. Here the use of words acts as ornamentation to the imagery or pictures that are conveying the actual narrative.

Duo

Duo-Specific acts as a situation where words and images are complimentary to one another in the fact that they basically convey “the same message.”

Additive

Additive is where the words serve as a means of amplifying or elaborating on the image that is communicating the narrative.

Parallel

Parallel demonstrates a situation where the words and images appear to be conveying “parallel” but separate narratives. This can be more easily identified or isolated often times when one is only shown a page or panel or two of a comic or graphic novel without knowing the entire context. It can also represent some esoteric storytelling too.

Montage

Montage is where the words and images are part of the same framework. This is where the words in particular become part of the actual image.

Inter-Dependent

Inter-Dependent is noted by McCloud to be the “most common” combination. This is where words and pictures/images convey different meanings separately but in combination convey a meaning that neither has without the other.

Part 2: Putting McCloud Into Practice

After we reviewed this section, I then presented my students with a completely random selection of images that I had put together from digital graphic novels that I own, mainly from the superhero genre, and asked the to look at each and using McCloud’s definitions, define which combination each image appeared to embody.

The images I showed the students were selected at random:

Images 1-3

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow by Alan Moore and Curt Swan

Images 4-5

Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Image 6

Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee

Images 7-9

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

Images 10-11

All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Image 12

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

Here is what the students came up for as a consensus as combinations after reading McCloud and examining the following image:

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This image after close examination of wordy introduction was ruled to represent a “Word Specific” combination because of the way that the imagery acts as a kind of ornamentation to the introduction to the story of Superman’s “death.”

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The image of Superman crying as Krypto stands by him is a “Duo-Specific” combination for the way what is said, briefly “He looked as if he’d been crying.” This could also be argued to be perhaps a “Picture Specific” combination as well.

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For this panel shot, I asked students to focus on the last 3 panels of the page. The first panel it was decided to be a “Duo-Specific” combination for the way that the words and images complimented one another

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The second panel provided an “Additive” combination. It was decided to be “Additive” rather than any other for the presence of the sign on the door helping establish the words as helping elaborate or amplify.Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 7.41.59 PM Finally, the third panel was ruled to be another example of “Duo-Specific,” where the words compliment and demonstrate exactly what the imagery is showing the audience.

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This example was quickly and clearly ruled to be an example of “Picture Specific” for the use of almost no dialogue or caption and the illustration driving the narrative.

 

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The image here, with its lack of context to the complete narrative, presented the students with an example of a “Parallel” combination. The words and images appear to be conveying separate meanings and ideas that are not complimentary or related unless further context of the narrative is known.

 

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Batman on the run from gunfire in a splash page by Jim Lee helps provide an illustration for the “Montage” combination. This is made possible by the placement of sound effects given off by the impact of the bullets hitting Batman’s cape and the ground, as well as the sound of helicopters. In particular, the entire wording is incorporated into the picture itself.

 

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Again, lacking the specific or larger follow-up context of the overall narrative, this image provides another example of “Parallel” combination. The words of the Biblical Book of Revelation are here juxtaposed with violent, dream-like imagery with no specific or obviously established connection.

 

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At first glance this image appears to be and can be argued to be like Image 7 and be an example of a “Parallel” combination. However, if one goes deeper and looks more closely, there is potentially a case that this image is perhaps an example of “Duo-Specific.” This case exists if one makes a case that the worded description of “seven angels,” “golden censer,” and “filled it [the censer] with fire” are correlated with the seven shadowy figures in the image, the torch as censer, and the fire burning in it.

 

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After close discussion it was decided that this image represented either an “Additive” but more likely a “Duo-Specific” combination example of words and images.

 

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This was another example where the first impulse of the students was to look at it as “Parallel” but more likely as “Duo-Specific” but upon close examination, particularly looking closely at the two middle panels on the page, the general consensus came out at “Additive” combination choice. Of course, since McCloud’s combinations apply to panels, it is in fact both in all likely-hood.

 

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This is perhaps one of my favorites, and I consider it incredibly powerful, image from any graphic novel. With the lack of words throughout, most of the panel is “Picture Specific” in its presentation of imagery. The two panels that do have words though serve up an “Additive” combination.

 

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A great deal of this panel puts into practice a combination of “Picture Specific” and “Montage” combinations. The use of words in this page and in the panels is spare at best and acts as ornamentation, while the visual use of laughter “Ha Ha Ha” worked into this scene definitely places a shared enface between words and images but with the words acting in onomatopoeia fashion as actually part of the overall image.

Of course, ultimately McCloud’s method is meant to be put into practice per panel and some of the approaches used in this study with students was on a larger scale, incorporating the whole page. This works for some of the chosen images, while others would clearly have more and varied application of word/image combinations.

Part 3: Conclusions and Observations

As noted earlier, students are in the process of conducting Literary Analysis of their chosen graphic novel. The purpose of this exercise with the students was introduce and expand upon their own perceptions and vocabulary (to aid in their analysis process) of the combination of visuals and words they are encountering in their readings.

It is worth noting that the students took to this assignment quite eagerly and were willing and able to make small scale arguments for different types of combinations being at work in the image shown them.

I was happy to see both the level of enthusiasm that the students applied, along with the way that many of them continually glanced at their copies of McCloud and fact checking their assertions. The interchange of ideas and material was enjoyable.

Application Approach 1.0

The Application Approach as I have named it centers upon:

 

  1. Directly teaching and using Graphic Narratives such as Graphic Novels in the Composition Classroom

As of Monday, July 12, I am currently teaching at Composition II class centered upon the rationale of having students approach a graphic novel, of their choosing (from a provided list), and argue an answer to one of three proposed questions:

  1. Should _________________ (insert graphic novel selection) be considered appropriate for use in the college classroom (pick a type of classroom)?

 

  1. Should _______________ _ (insert graphic novel selection) be considered worthy of someone wanting to read it? For what purpose might someone want to read it? Does it have merit?

 

  1. Should _________________ (insert graphic novel selection) be considered or adopted as a worthy piece of literature based on its literary merit (you argue for it), universal themes, and/or longevity potential?

The inspiration for this approach stems directly from a story about a young woman referring to the graphic novels used in her classroom at Crafton Hills College this past spring (2015) as “garbage” and “pornography.” In response to this event I wanted to address her “weak” arguments and attempt to pass the buck for her assumption that because the class was asked to read graphic novels that somehow it was a “blow off class.” I addressed this story in a previous blog post: “Looking to Re-Think How I Teach Composition, Part 2 – Specific Course Design.” What I decided to take away from this incident was to, as a Comp II instructor, have my students examine the merits and value of graphic novels and in the process engage in more nuanced, informed, and in-depth arguments on the matter. Basically, I took a story and ran with it with the aim of using it to generate better researched and thought out debate on the topic.

Over the first week of the course I have put in my students hands a copy of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to help formulate a theoretical background for the material in the course, along with links to how to read and why read graphic novels, and a list of potential graphic novels (running through different genres) that they will do preliminary research on and then select one to investigate for the course.

Over the course itself students will be asked to engage in primary, secondary, and tertiary research surrounding their graphic novel, as well as other elements of the question they strive to answer in their thesis statement.

Primarily students will be asked to do a Literary Analysis Paper on their graphic novel, submit an outline for their research paper, do an annotated bibliography of obtained research materials on their thesis, write an 8-10 page research paper on their selected graphic novel and thesis, and finally give a presentation of their research findings to the class.

As of the end of week 1, students have been exposed to and discussed the following:

Week 1, Day 1:

What is literature? Are graphic novels literature? What does one expect to encounter in a high education classroom? Are graphic novels appropriate for the college classroom?

The answers to these above questions produced a general consensus that literature was a primarily written form (not limited to novels but also found in screen plays and theatre play scripts) that express universal themes worthy of merit about the human condition. Graphic novels, in some cases might be considered to be literature depending on the merit of their stories. Higher education classroom is about encountering advanced learning that challenges one’s beliefs and knowledge. Finally, graphic novels can be applied to almost any kind of college classroom setting – they are adaptable.

Week 1, Day 2:

After having students select their graphic novel and begin obtaining it for the class, I walked students through a PowerPoint discussing key elements from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics Chapters 1-3. After the discussion and checking to make sure the students had all chosen a graphic novel, I posed he following request to them to post in a discussion forum:

In a few sentences, I would like you to jot down your initial thoughts and feelings about what you expect to encounter in reading and researching your graphic novel here at the outset.

 

My hope is to gage the student’s conceptions and perceptions of their chosen graphic novel at the outset where they have only done the bare minimum research on the work (only enough to decide which one to pick). The further hope is that this approach can be used to measure how exposure to the graphic narrative form changes or evolves the student’s perceptions over the course of their construction of the research paper.

Additionally, I asked students, after seeing the above questions from Day 1 again on their Research Paper Assignment sheet, to begin formulating a thesis statement for their paper. This was presented to them as a tentative research thesis statement because they could opt to change it after finishing the reading of their graphic novel in Week 2.

I gave them the following example, pulling from and using selection 1:

Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman is [chose to argue the affirmative] an appropriate text for use in the first-year composition II classroom because the richness of the storytelling makes it an excellent work for students to analyze, discuss, and conduct research over.

I specifically divided this up, this thesis, into TWO parts. In BLUE is represented the first part of the thesis, the opinion or “what” the paper is about. This is the initial answering the question, but alone it does not offer up anything more than the opinion of the author. So, I point out that my students, and its marked in RED, need part 2 of the thesis or the “reasons.” The reasons help provide the elements that the students will elaborate on in their paper to back up and assert their claim found in part 1.

Before they left on Day 2, they were charged with coming up with Part 1 of their thesis. Part 2 would be completed at the beginning of class on Day 3 in order to move forward into working on their introduction portion of their research paper.

Week 1, Day 3

 

Along with students we critiqued and tweeked their thesis statements. Many of them took, and I was impressed, the tougher road of arguing for their graphic novels to be considered works of literature than I expected.

Students were introduced to their Literary Analysis assignment for their graphic novel. This is being done in only a single draft form but as I set it up, it is designed to serve the students as a kind of foundational draft that they can build their large research paper off of. It is even more particularly easier for students who decided to argue for their graphic novels as works of literature.

Students, the small group of them, have also settled on the graphic novels they wanted to read and engage:

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan and Noah Stollman

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Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman and Chris Bachelo

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Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon

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Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson

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Mother, Come Home by Paul Hornschemeier

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Marvel: Civil War by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven

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I am very impressed by their selections and variety. Looking forward to seeing how this proceeds from here in Week 2.

To transition us into the Literary Analysis assignment, students were sent away from the class for the weekend charged with practicing this approach in short form by conducting a literary analysis of Chapter 2 of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. More to be seen where and how this turns out going forward.