Diving In To Examine the Potential Power of Images

FICTION SUITS

Grant Morrison, in describing, in a bit of existential retrospection, how people come to perceive or interact with the 2D world of superheroes and comic books from the “higher dimension” of the real world recounts how:

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby could send drawn versions of themselves into the created world of Fantastic Four, and those little drawings of Stan and Jack were like angels, UFOs, avatars from a higher universe, entering a world they’d made to interact with its inhabitants. They created, as I cam to call them, ‘fiction suits,’ like space suits for sending yourself into stories. (Supergods 226-7)

Let’s be honest…this sounds pretty freaking awesome. Morrison enacted a similar feat of sorts at the end of his run on Animal Man for DC Comics from 1988-90. The final story saw the character of Animal Man, who had already experienced (while on peyote) a breaking down of the 4th wall in his reality and realizing that he was a character of fiction, had the character arriving at Grant Morrison’s very door-step to confront his own creator. This meta-confrontation/discussion was the final issue of Morrison’s run and ended with the character of Animal Man receiving his life back, including his murdered family.

To step beyond Morrison’s “meta-narrative” a bit more, one can find a similar discussion perpetuated by Nick Sousanis. In his work Unflattening, describes the way humanity perceives things, in his opening, by recounting how:

…flatness permeates the landscape. This flatness is not literal… No. It cloaks its true nature under a hyper-real façade. This is a flatness of sight, a contraction of possibilities…where the inhabitants conform to what Marcuse called ‘a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior.’ Lacking ‘a critical dimension’ of potentialities to transcend their existing state, everything has its place. Here, even choices (of which there are seemingly many), are predefined. Forgotten is wonder of what might be. In this place, a single chorus… (Sousanis 5-7)

Sousanis’ Unflattening is a publication of his doctoral dissertation that is actually done in the form of a graphic novel. His statement appears in the vein of a warning about how human’s can and do limit ourselves in thought and ideas. This is something we need to break free. We have become the limited two-dimensional creations in how we think and the lack of any critical examination. We have forgotten Socrates and the need to examine life.

Of course, these are two different writers looking at similar material, but in two philosophically different ways. Morrison is looking towards a means of interacting with the comic book world by “entering it” on a hypothetical level. Sousanis on the other hand is speaking of an almost two-dimensional way that humanity, perhaps, has come to perceive the world around it.

Interestingly enough, one can argue that both are talking about the same thing. Morrison’s notion of the “fiction suits” is meant to express an idea of interaction and communication between the world of our reality and the world of the comic books and their characters. Sousanis speaks of the ways humanity is limiting its perceptions through a “flatness” or 2D method of thought. Both men are talking about perception; both men are talking about opening up the human capacity for expression, thought, and communication.

Its time we embrace more steadily the opening of the book on not only how we perceive the world, but also how we communicate in it. It’s not really a new idea. It’s just an old idea that needs revisiting, re-examination.

One approach already in existence is the one laid out by Scott McCloud in his work Understanding Comics.

“Amplification through simplification” is a key tenant of McCloud’s short hand for our cultural obsession with cartoons and the potential they have (30). He states that “When we abstract an image . . . we’re not so much eliminating details as we are focus on specific details by stripping down and image to its essential ‘meaning’” (30).

Later on McCloud points out that the simplification leads us, often in our younger years to identify with cartoons and their essential messages (36). He even illustrates this in the following image:

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He follows this up by expounding, “I doubt it! You would have been far too aware of the messenger to fully receive the message!” (37). What he is pointing out is that through the route of simplification, cartoons and comics are able to deliver messages visually in a way that amplifies the message without complicating it or letting the visuals get in the way.

APPLYING IT TO STUDENTS

So, what does any of this have to do with engaging students? Well, it goes back to what I called my idea for using images to engage students in the classroom: The Adaptation Approach. This approach centers upon:

Utilizing the creation of Graphic Narratives and other forms of Visual Rhetoric to communicate concepts, ideas, etc. found in the Composition classroom

 This approach has been something under thought and gradual process for several years now. Originally it was born out of a desire to convey or get across to my students the genres I was having them write about, in both Comp 1 and 2, out the St. Martin’s Guide to Writing during my PhD studies at TWU.

Initially I wanted to partner up with an artist, such as my friend Dave Andrews, but I dragged my feet on writing the scripts. The project eventually took a back burner to my dissertation.

However, I have now been looking to revive this project and apply my own artistic skills (dust them off from my high school days) and take it on both as an aid to students and as part of an overall visual rhetoric approach to the First Year Composition classroom that more or less defines part of my pedagogical identity.

Here are some sample images I am using, as well as an example of some of my creations:

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Me, Overwhelmed

 

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Me, as Jedi Master of Composition

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STAY TUNED to find out how this goes over when I apply it this Spring.

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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?

McCloud

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.

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 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.

Adaptation Approach 1.0

 

The Adaptation Approach as I have named it centers upon:

 

  1. Utilizing the creation of Graphic Narratives and other forms of Visual Rhetoric to communicate concepts, ideas, etc. found in the Composition classroom

 

This approach has been something under thought and gradual process for several years now. Originally it was born out of a desire to convey or get across to my students the genres I was having them write about, in both Comp 1 and 2, out the St. Martin’s Guide to Writing during my PhD studies at TWU.

 

Initially I wanted to partner up with an artist, such as my friend Dave Andrews, but I dragged my feet on writing the scripts. The project eventually took a back burner to my dissertation.

 

However, I have now been looking to revive this project and apply my own artistic skills (dust them off from my high school days) and take it on both as an aid to students and as part of an overall visual rhetoric approach to the First Year Composition classroom that more or less defines part of my pedagological identity.

 

So, to get started, I made myself a “big board” of ideas, concepts, and assignments I really felt should be illustrated in order to help assist my students.

 

Here is what I came up with, for a start:

 

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The left hand column covers material for my Comp 1 (1301) course while the right hand column covers information and material for my Comp 2 (1302) course. The material boxed at the bottom covers concepts and material relevant to BOTH courses.

 

Of course, this list is only a start.

 

Visually Re-think: The Graphic Narrative and the Research Based Composition Classroom

So, there are TWO ways I am using to approaching the idea of the Graphic Narrative (or as Scott McCloud might refer to it, Graphic Fiction) in the classroom:

 

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

 

  1. Utilizing the creation of Graphic Narratives and other forms of Visual Rhetoric to communicate concepts, ideas, etc. found in the Composition classroom

 

I am currently applying both of these approaches.

 

Interestingly I have come to realize that when examining both of these approaches, there appears to exist interlinked but distinct aspects. Approach 1 is perhaps the more surface level, generic (emerging) approach often used in the classroom. Approach 2 represents a more conceptual synthesis of the form, the Graphic Narratives, in applying them less as texts and artifacts to be explored, analyzed, and evaluated, and instead applying the form directly to the interpretation and synthesis of information for student consumption within the teaching process itself.

 

Both do share the fact that they are and represent an ongoing, evolution approach in the classroom instruction.

 

To help differentiate the fact that I plan to post and discuss both approaches I have given here (both are ongoing) at different points and at varying times, it probably behooves me to name these two approaches to help. So, I will call Approach 1, the direct use and discussion of graphic novels in the composition classroom The Application Approach. Approach 2 I will rename here, the one about applying graphic narratives as adaptation of genres, assignments, and concepts, and refer to it as The Adaptation Approach.