Modifying and Innovating: Using Critical Thinking and Comic Book Pages in Evaluations

One of the genres, one that I used to use a minor writing assignment to cover and to “contrast” against Essay 2: Article Analysis, is that of Evaluations.

EVALUATIONS

Now, one of the reasons I dropped this as a minor writing assignment in conjunction with the genre of Article Analysis was specifically because it appeared to leave students confused. One of the reasons I presented and used it originally was because the Article Analysis called for something of an evaluation in it and it helped, I thought, for students to understand how to evaluate. In addition, having both assignments helped set up a contrast in the difference between evaluating and analyzing an object or subject. However, I ended up finding out that most of my time was being taken up with students finding it difficult to wrap their heads around the genre completely, getting the two (Evaluations and Article Analysis) confused, and causing me a tone of frustration.

So, a change was needed.

To accomplish this I changed this from a minor writing assignment to an in-class lecture and group work project instead. This was to take some of the pressure off (and confusion hopefully), and also, because I still felt the students needed exposure to this genre (particularly in the upcoming work on Essay 2: Article Analysis).

STEP 1: In-Class Lecture

For this I simply looked over the chapter, Ch. 13 (3rd edition) that I primed the students to have read and come with questions and/or comments before the class met.

The PowerPoint of the Lecture covers the chapter and key features while making heavy use of the sample review (evaluation) provided in the text: Ali Heinekamp’s “Juno: Not Just Another Teen Movie.” We walk through the PowerPoint and as we hit the key features: Concise description of the subject, clearly defined criteria, a knowledgeable discussion of the subject, a balanced and fair assessment, and well-supported reasons. As we look at each feature we reference back and I ask the students to pull the support from the sample review, often posed as a question.

At the end of the article I discuss how I want to extend this discussion on evaluations by having the students engage in Group Work (Projects).

STEP 2: Group Work

ALL groups were given the following elements to divide up among their members:

Concise Description: Provide us with a 2-3 sentence summary of the scene depicted

Discussion of Subject: Discuss and apply criteria found in the question based on information given

Balanced and Fair Assessment: Assess your review and stance in answering the question

Well-Supported Reasons: Use evidence from comic page and description and discussion after to support your position.

For CLEAR CRITERIA, EACH group was then given and individual question they were to answer, pertaining to their specific image and text, and then use the reasoning for their ANSWER as a means to uncover their CRITERIA.

GROUP 1:

They were provided with the following image and text:

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Returning to the example of Superman saving the young girl on page 96 in All-Star Superman, the page opens with a long shot of a young woman on the edge of a building. The obvious implication presented visually here is that she is thinking of jumping to her death. There is no need for text here; the audience can clearly see and interpret the scene visually of a young girl in distress, with tears in her eyes. Rather than seeing Superman swoop in and save her after she jumps (a stereotypical and expected superhero trope) the audience witnesses something new and even more powerful. In a series of vertical panels (running parallel to the original long shot), Superman lands behind the young woman, puts his hand on her shoulder, and reassuringly tells her that her doctor really was “held up” and that “It’s never as bad as it seems . . . You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me” (All-Star Superman, Vol. 2 96). Superman is letting this girl, who obviously appears to suffer from some form of mental illness, that suicide is not the way out, she is stronger than her pain. Superman demonstrates his ability as a messenger of hope here. Superman not only models strength that can be seen by others, but he also attempts, as Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca note, “to incite to an action inspired by it” (The New Rhetoric 362). Superman could have saved the young woman after she jumped, while she was falling, and then imparted to her the lesson, like some father figure “wagging his finger” at her telling her “now don’t do that again” (also an argument of authority), but he does not. Instead, Superman provides a concrete demonstration of his own abstract principles of his excellence. In fact, he does more than model it; he shares it with someone, as an equal, rather than “lording it over” them in some form of superiority. Superman is indicating to the young woman, and to the audience, that he is like us. More so, he imparts his belief of the greatness and good we are capable of and expresses his wish, by his example, to help us see it for ourselves.

Then they were given the following question to answer to determine criteria:

Is this a good example or representation of “what” Superman is all about, his essence?

GROUP 2:

 They were provided with the following image and text:Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 1.00.32 PM

Superman was the hero of those who had been hit the worst by the Great Depression. This Superman was also “outside” the law, and this was evident from his very first story. In Action Comics #1, Superman made his first appearance, and it was a first appearance that was engaging, provocative, and ambiguous. The very cover of Action Comics #1 set the tone for the ambiguity of the story. The story within gave a brief, one page explanation of “where” Superman comes from and his powers, along with a scientific explanation of his powers, before launching right into what appears to be the middle of a narrative already in progress (Siegel and Shuster 4-5). With almost no real context or set up, the audience witnesses Superman leaping out of the sky with a woman under his arm. It’s not a woman he’s rescued from some nefarious crime, but, rather, someone who is perhaps a criminal. Over the next 3 pages, after Superman deposits the woman on the lawn, declaring as he dashes away, “Make yourself comfortable! I haven’t the time to attend to it” (6). This scene on page 3 is immediately followed by the depiction of Superman forcing his way into the governor’s mansion. Inside, he manhandles the butler, breaks down a steal door, harmlessly absorbs a point-blank gunshot, and provides evidence that saves a woman from being executed in the electric chair (5-7). Only four pages into the story, one can imagine some young kid being completely engrossed in what they have just read and viewed. Still, we (the audience) really are not one hundred percent sure who this “Superman” figure really is yet.

Then they were given the following question to answer to determine criteria:

How engaging or enticing might it be to read on in Action Comics #1 if all one has to go on is the cover?

GROUP 3:

They were provided with the following image and text:

5

Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery is one of those stories that just tends to “trip you out” if one is unprepared for reading it. Knowing something of Grant Morrison’s life and feelings about superheroes, one cannot escape the strange feeling that Flex Mentallo is part meta-narrative of Morrison’s own life (fictionalized) mixed in with wish fulfillment of superheroes being “real.” The scene above appears to represent something other than the normal version of “wish fulfillment” though. In the usual account or narrative, what is fictional and not real “appears” to become real in our world. This page from Flex Mentallo appears to demonstrate the exact opposite. Rather than becoming real from an incorporeal, fictional existence, the characters (superheroes?) slam into ground, one declaring as they do “It’s not death. Prepare to become fictional” as they appear to “die” in order to return to some kind of incorporeal, fictional state.

In “Comics You Should Own – Flex Mentallo” George Burgas exclaims: “This blending of fiction and reality allows Morrison to examine how we deal with fiction and imagination” (Burgas).

“This lack of imagination in the modern world is tied to maturity, as other Morrison projects are, but what he wants us to consider is that in growing up, we perhaps inhabit an entire different universe than the one in which we lived when we were young.”

Wallace Sage, a character in the narrative, who all of this occurring might very well be the product of his imagination makes the point of saying to some person on the phone: “‘They talk to you all the time when you’re little. They live in … I don’t know … it’s like a factory where ideas are made. They escaped from ‘the Absolute’ but the plan went wrong. Reality was flawed from the beginning. I mean, haven’t you ever felt like there’s something missing? They want to come back home. We can save the world if we can just … If I can just remember my magic word … What? No, the world doesn’t have to be the way it is. We can be them’” (Burgas).

Then they were given the following question to answer to determine criteria:

Working with the comments made by Sage (voicing Morrison himself), do you find this page of imagery above to be compelling or persuasive in any way?

GROUP 4:

They were provided with the following image and text:

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 1.03.20 PM

Batman: Year One still remains one of the very best ways of entering into the “Batman” universe. This is not to take away from Batman: Zero Year (crafted recently by Zack Snyder and Greg Capullo), but Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli story remains the cornerstone for how many people imagine the origins of Batman becoming Batman. In particular, there is this scene found in the first issue. This is where, after a night out fighting crime without a disguise, Bruce Wayne decides he needs to become something more. It is from this scene, depicted here for the first time in image form (previously only described in passing) that Bruce Wayne is seen coming to the realization that to strike fear into criminals, he must become something that preys upon their fears and “frightens” them. This comes on the heels of having gone out on his own that evening, in a mask, and almost being killed by both criminals and cops alike. Book Smugglers lays out the situation in summary stating:

“Bruce, stabbed and then shot in the back by some crooked cops manages to escape to his manor, and begs for inspiration on how to fight back against the injustices of Gotham, and how to strike fear into the hearts of those who would cause fear in others. And he sees it–a bat. It flies before Bruce, breaking through the glass window. And Bruce understands–he speaks, ‘Yes father. I will become the bat.'” (booksmugglers.com)

Becoming something “more than a man” appears to be required to actually make an impact.

Then they were given the following question to answer to determine criteria:

Is this a good depiction of Bruce Wayne’s decision to become Batman?

GROUP 5:

They were provided with the following image and text:

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 1.01.33 PM

A central element in Johns and Frank’s narrative is the visual homage and re-accentuation of Richard Donner’s vision of Superman in his films: Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980). In particular, Geoff Johns, who worked for Richard Donner before becoming a writer at DC, along with Gary Frank, craft their Superman in the likeness of Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman in the Donner films.

Superman holds Lois Lane above Metropolis, one can see an illustration of the principles of Greenblatt’s self-fashioning at work. Superman’s likeness, the drawing of that re-accentuation, serves as the identifying element for the audience. Looking more closely at Lois in this image, a division occurs. More important in this scene of Superman embracing Lois Lane is the expression found upon her face. The expression appears to be filled, in contrast to Superman’s calming face, with mixed emotions: anxiety, surprise, astonishment, and even a little fear. Considering that the third governing condition laid out by Greenblatt for self-fashioning notes that it “is achieved in relation to something perceived as alien, strange, or hostile,” one must consider that Superman’s appearance to Lois represents quite a shock (Renaissance Self-Fashioning 9). Superman comes off as definitely alien and strange by the manner of dress (his costume), but also through the display superhuman powers. The same knee-jerk reaction can be construed all the way back in Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1. Here, the cover of the issue provided no context for the perceived damage and chaos Superman inflicted by slamming a car into a boulder. One had to read the issue to uncover the context. For without it, one might easily misperceive Superman as a hostile threat or even a criminal. That same sense of ambiguity and tension emerges here via Lois’ response and expression.

Then they were given the following question to answer to determine criteria:

Knowing that the way Superman is depicted here is supposed to resemble the familiar version, the Christopher Reeve version, of Superman, how does Lois Lane’s reaction of shock, perhaps at flying, identify or connect with the audience, say if one were to find themselves all of sudden suspended in the air held up by a stranger in a colorful outfit?

Looking at the STEPS and the OUTCOMES:

STEPS:

Two Ways Divide the Work:

Depending on the group’s size, I aimed for members with between 4-5, how they distributed each key factor was determined. Groups of 4 allowed for each member to take a key feature, minus the CLEAR CRITERIA, that was the responsibility of everyone. Groups of 5 I simply designated that one member be placed in charge of recording the groups decisions and findings.

I find that Step 2 in this process was the one most interesting to see WHAT exactly the students were able to come up with.

The first piece of criteria, the Concise Description, was perhaps the easiest element for the group. This was a requirement that only asked students to come up with enough summarization in order to communicate the image and text to us in brief.

Each group was given the following additional guidelines with regards to their development and reaching of conclusions. I have relayed them here and added my own annotations:

1. Make sure you are ALL working from established and agreed upon key criteria for your evaluation. This should be derived from the question each group receives.

Students were specifically required to agree upon the criteria they were to use in the evaluation. This key criteria was to be agreed upon by everyone. Depending on group size, one person would be in charge of recording this or the whole group would record it as a whole. This is essential since, if, members of the group are to be able to work together and apart, depending on time demands.

2. In Discussion of Subject, this is where you should be using the key criteria to make an evaluation of the image (taking into account the context and explanation of back side of the page).

This was explained to students as where they were to talk about the way the criteria operated or worked within the subject, in this case their image and text.

3. With your Fair and Balanced Assessment, keep in mind that you want to clearly indicate that you are working from only the page and context provided. Tell this to your audience.

Students were asked to look at what works and does not work with the information they were given. Students are encouraged to look at it and criticize the image and text. In particular, students were prompted to acknowledge the limitations of the material at hand in their evaluation.

4. In your Well-Supported Reasons, make sure you make use of and pull from the actual material – the comic book page and discussion on the back side – to support your evaluation via the criteria.

Each group was reminded that their support and reasons were to come from the image and text provided to them. In particular, they should make use of a direct citation from the text or image as part of this step.

OUTCOMES:

The key element in all the outcomes, the key element at the heart of pushing this kind of assignment was to have students engage in critical thinking through mixed media presentations. Each group had access to comic book pages (all but one with text in it) and text that accompanied and contextualized the comic book page.

The focal point for this critical thinking centered round the CLEAR CRITERIA that is required by the evaluation, and to promote this students were forced to use the material given to them to ANSWER a question.

Each group had a different question. The group had to answer the question; in particular they had to decide on a shared answer. However, this did not give them their CRITERIA. To find that, they had to look at the reason WHY they chose the answer they chose and come up with their criteria there.

GROUP 1 was given Superman rescuing a girl on a rooftop and the question: Is this a good example or representation of “what” Superman is all about, his essence?

Group answers overwhelmingly asserted that the image and accompanying text did offer an expression of Superman’s essence because regardless he meets our expectations, just in a different way, but still meets or exceeds the expectations nonetheless. His essence is about saving people. That is still at work here. There is his symbolic nature on display here as well. One particular group opted to look at three pieces of criteria they saw as present in the page and context. These criteria upheld that “Superman had super-human abilities, had a larger than life figure, and that he was a good-hearted person. We believe that this comic strip of Superman saving this girl from falling to her death embodies all three of these ideals.” 

GROUP 2 was presented with the cover of Action Comics #1 and asked: How engaging or enticing might it be to read on in Action Comics #1 if all one has to go on is the cover?

It was compelling because of how it recreated for the young audience “a scene that contains destruction, chaos, explosions, and conflict in the book.” There was also the view that the story cover encapsulated the essence or general “feeling” of the story. It was also viewed as being compelling as well.

GROUP 3 was given the image a large aircraft slamming into a cityscape and given the question, intricately connected to the text also given: Working with the comments made by Sage (voicing Morrison himself), do you find this page of imagery above to be compelling or persuasive in any way?

One group made note that Flex Mentallo represented “a powerful representation of what meets the eye and what is underneath. This story compares and contrasts the idea society has of reality, and how it is perceived.” There is, and was noted by several groups, the idea of the twist at play in the scene depicted as well.

This one group who focused on the “compelling” aspect pointed out that Flex Mentallo page under evaluation was “compelling because it brings an unexpected twist from the common comic book hero tropes most people are familiar. In most superhero stories, the heroes themselves become who they are due to an incorporeal event. But this comic strip takes that into reverse, where the heroes in the plane are ‘real’ and will are breaking the fourth wall by acknowledging that they will become “incorporeal” ideas once the plane crashes into the building . . . With the unexpected twist in the dialogue, it subtlety encourages them to ponder what truly makes comic characters ‘real’ or ‘fictional’.”

One group also found that imagery itself was far more compelling then Sage’s words.

GROUP 4 was given a scene from Batman: Year One where Batman decides to become Batman after an encounter with a bat and is asked: Is this a good depiction of Bruce Wayne’s decision to become Batman?

Most of discussion around this depiction centered upon the place of how the “bat” played off against a lack of a larger context.

GROUP 5 is shown an image with NO words but with Superman and Lois Lane hovering above Metropolis and given the question: Knowing that the way Superman is depicted here is supposed to resemble the familiar version, the Christopher Reeve version, of Superman, how does Lois Lane’s reaction of shock, perhaps at flying, identify or connect with the audience, say if one were to find themselves all of sudden suspended in the air held up by a stranger in a colorful outfit?

One particular group focused in on Lois Lane’s body language as giving off a more classical and recognized version of Lois and her “crush” on Superman. Another group made note that Lois’s reaction is amplified by “the fact that the person who is holding you in mid-air is a complete stranger adds to the shock factor.”

CONCLUSION

Overall, most of the groups were able to understand and source out the required criteria using the question and applying critical reasoning to their own answer. Looking at the 5 examples I used, I can draw the conclusion that students appear to be most engaged and spirited when put up against imagery and material that acted in the most abstract manner – such as Group 3’s assigned image. This appears to have generated the most conversation and diversity of opinion overall (this was expected). Additionally, perhaps the most challenging one other than Group 3’s image and material was Group 5’s.

In general, I liked the way this assignment played out with the students. I think it challenged them and helped them better understand the elements and needs of evaluation that will be of direct use of them in Essay 2, the Article Analysis.

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Tackling the Literacy Narrative or Simply Getting Started

Depending upon whether or not you teach this genre, a lot of times it can serve as an introduction genre for Comp 1 students, perhaps some of this will be useful to you.

I find the Literacy Narrative to be challenging to students in the sense that they have to think and give careful focus to what the genre requires of them, while at the same time helping them take baby steps into the conventions and expectations of college writing.

LITERACY NARRATIVES

Now, I work out of the Norton’s Field Guide to Writing 3rd Edition when I teach this genre. Literacy Narratives, from my point of view, provide an excellent, no pressure way to have new students dip their toes into the waters of college writing. Not quite academic writing, yet, but I do ask students to begin working with MLA formatting, but again, I want students to get comfortable with writing, writing as a process, writing on deadlines, and performing peer reviews and receiving instructor feedback (what will happen for the rest of their papers).

Literacy Narratives, I find, often challenge students as much as they might appear to be “easy” assignments by instructors some times. Students often are forced to embark on mission(s) of exploration and excavation of their past experiences with reading and/or writing. To help students get started on this process I have taken what I used to treat as a first day icebreaker, “your feelings about writing,” into a informal first writing assignment: “Tell me how you feel about writing.”

I do this to see if I can, perhaps, help the students jog their memory and start thinking about “their current feelings” about the subject and this might lead them to something they can expand for Essay 1: The Literacy Narrative.

Models and Examples

The process I lead students through, to start off, by looking at, reading over, and discussing at least ONE example from the book of the Literacy Narrative. The Norton’s Field Guide usually provides several great examples, usually the first one is annotated, for the students to model off of and base their decisions for writing their own narratives.

Key Features

The key features, a common element of most genre writing, for Literacy Narratives calls for 1) a well-told story, 2) vivid detail, and 3) a indication of the narratives significance.

Guided Process

This usually leads us; next, into the process of writing and to the Guide to Writing… section that follows the examples (good for modeling). When I lead students into this wonderful section, I start by walking them through the ENTIRE process and as we do so, I note the THREE divisions of the process I want them to note, and as we proceed, note where we are: Pre-Writing/Pre-Drafting, Drafting, and Revision/Post-Drafting Stage.

I primarily focus this on the first essay, the Literacy Narrative, to help set up a standard for approach I want students to use ALL of their essays.

Pre-Drafting/Pre-Writing Stage:

 The Literacy Narrative begins this part by offering up suggestions to help students “Choosing a Topic.”

This is where I point out my reasoning for having students do that informal writing assignment: “Tell me how you feel about writing.” I want to, hopefully, jog a student a little and help them get into the process of self-discovery.

 “Considering the Rhetorical Situation”

This, like most other assignments, is something I select from and cover (discuss) in ALL assignment sheets with the students. I put them to primarily thinking about and focusing on THREE: Purpose, Audience, and Stance.

For this assignment, Purpose is already to a degree explained to them by me. I want to help expose them to college level writing, have them write about something from their own life.

Audience, with all other assignments in my class is set at the level of college-aged (approximately), mature, well-educated audience.

Stance, for this assignment, is entirely left to the student to depict their experience as it happened and how they feel now about it, looking back, it being reading and/or writing.

“Generating Ideas and Text”

To help students get started with this, particularly with coming up with their “hook” I offered them the visual example found in Alexis Bechdel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.

I am a big fan of Bechdel’s humor, intelligence, and honesty. I usually present students the example of her opening of Fun Home as a way of showing them a good opening aimed at hooking the reader and one that is at least focused on someone’s own (though constructed) memoir or personal narrative. The images I use are the first page and half of the opening of the graphic novel.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 11.39.49 AM

This opening page does a fantastic job of presenting the story’s beginning as one of innocence, of almost benign normalcy. That of course, helps make the remaining set up even more dramatic. There is of course a sense, spelled out by the author, of a slightly (appearing to be) distant relationship between father and daughter. However, the focus comes in on a typical parent to child game of playing “airplane.” At the bottom of the page, the author sets up this simple scenario by adding to it the title of “Icarian Games” to what father and daughter are engaged in in acrobatic terms.

Icarian is of course a reference to the myth of Icarus. This becomes more clear on the next page where the reader is assumed to be at least passingly familiar with the tale of Icarus and his father’s Daedalus’ escape via wings made by Daedalus had made.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 11.40.01 AM

So, why does Bechdel share this myth? In the story of Daedalus and Icarus, Icarus disregards his father’s warning and flies too high to the sun, the wax melts, and he plummets to his death in the sea. For Bechdel the story is one she sets up in order to juxtapose it with that of her father. Rather than being Daedalus, her father is the Icarus of the story. The “mythic relationship” is reversed and this is Bechdel’s “hook” to draw the audience in to “find out” what happened.

Neil Cohn: Rhetorical Implications and Visual Lexicon

For this post I want to take a step over, just a bit, and introduce a new theorist who’s work I am recently becoming acquainted with: Neil Cohn.

Up until this point I have made a lot, and I mean a lot, of heavy use of Scott McCloud. This in many ways has a lot to do with my own familiarity with him.

However, as I begin to expand my interests and investigations into Comic book narratives, theory, and particularly the cognitive responses of individuals to the visual forms of comic books and other graphic narratives, Cohn’s work began to really appeal to me.

INTRODUCTIONS

So, who is Neil Cohn?

Well, just for a start, he his currently a member of Department of Cognitive Science at the University of California, San Diego and the proprietor of the Visual Language Lab (www.visuallanguagelab.com). He “received his PhD in Psychology from Tufts University” where he worked “with Ray Jackendoff, Gina Kuperberg, and Phil Holcomb. He is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at UC San Diego” (visuallangauge.com). Neil Cohn is also the author of several books, Early Writings on Visual Language and The Visual Language of Comics: Introduction to the Structure and Cognition of Sequential Images. As well as the editor of: The Visual Narrative ReaderHe is also the author of many articles discussing the visual narrative and structure and its cognitive effect on its audience.

Now, what does Neil Cohn have to do with graphic narratives and comics?

Well, for that, I think I will let Neil “speak” for himself (well, visually speak in a way):

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 6.21.58 PM Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 6.22.08 PM Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 6.22.20 PM

The images above are screen captured from Cohn’s website’s homepage. I am, myself, very interested in the directions his line of research is going.

I guess a good place to start, for myself, as I found when I was exploring (as he says to “Please enjoy the site!”) would be with what I am most familiar with: comic books.

Now, to make sure this has some focus, I want to look closely at and relate how some of what Dr. Cohn has to offer feels applicable to research and things that I am investigating.

SOME SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS

Under the Research section of Neil Cohn’s website, there is a listing of types of research materials he has to offer. One of these is listed as “Introductory writings by Neil Cohn.” In this section, first up is a set of writings entitled “Comic Theory 101.” That is where I would like to engage and take a closer look.

“In Place of Another”

The first writing posted, chronologically (it appears as the last one) is entitled “In Place of Another.” This article opens up by discussing Scott McCloud’s work Understanding Comics and the concept of “closure” (“In Place of Another”). Now, where McCloud, as Cohn recounts, defined this concept as a process of “filling in,” done by the mind between comic book panels, Cohn has some points of disagreement with this definition. Cohn specifically notes that he has “argued that any linear panel-to-panel explanation of how people understand sequences of images has multiple problems . . . in this piece, [he aims] at one particular example of McCloud’s . . . to illuminate a broader phenomenon that occurs” (“In Place of Another”).

He focuses on this example, the one that McCloud uses:

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 6.59.01 PM

He then quotes from McCloud, on a subsequent few pages later, and specifically pulls the reader into the story being told by the two images above: one of murder. Here is the quotation:

“I may not have drawn the axe being raised, but I’m not the one who let it drop or decided how hard the blow, or who screamed, or why. That, dear reader, was your special crime, each of you committing it in your own style. All of you participated in the murder” (Understanding Comics 68).

Cohn points out his disagreement that what really transpired was a rhetorical move by McCloud that creates “ambiguity.” The audience is able to infer from what transpires and “understand that the murder occurs . . . But, that murder doesn’t creatively happen in our minds [as McCloud asserts] because of the space between the panels, it happens in our minds because McCloud chose not to show it in the panel directly” (“In Place of Another”). This is McCloud’s use of the rhetorical figure of metonymy.

Cohn points to the use of metonymy in the second panel of the illustration from McCloud seen above and he goes on to provide his own definition of it as well. Cohn sees “metonymy [as] creating the meaning for something by showing a related thing” and then proceeds to provide several examples “highlighted” in example sentences (“In Place of Another”).

One of the examples is: “The White House leaked a story to the Times” (“In Place of Another”). The actual White House did not leak a story, that title of the building is standing in for the people and administration currently residing there.

Cohn goes on to discuss metonymy more, relating how it “can take on various characteristics” of a whole and express them through parts or vice versa. As referenced from another post of my own, metonymy comes:

“from the Greek μετωνυ^μ-ία , (μετάὄνομα) means a ‘change of name: in Rhet., the use of one word for another, metonymyCic.Orat.27.93, Ps.-Plu.Vit.Hom. 23Quint.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).” (“Rhetorical Tropes and the Man of Steel”).

The quotation above provides both a formal (classical and oral/written) version of metonymy, as well as a definition more skewed towards the visual arts as well.

For Cohn, he notes that McCloud does make effective use of the figure of metonymy as seen in the example above. In particular, Cohn notes that “Metonymy can be used in all sorts ways, graphically [and in particular] It can provide a creative and evocative technique to graphic rhetoric, not to mention providing us with good food for thought” (“In Place of Another”).

Though Cohn appears to have a specific or certain complaint with McCloud’s example, he does appear to, in many ways, wish to explain how and what McCloud is doing (pulling back the curtain) to show the audience the rhetorical moves at play. These moves have traditionally applied to the realms of oral and written expression. Cohn’s aim appears to show how it can work in a graphic form. A form, in fact, perfectly suited for the use of metonymy in fact.

“Visual Poetry”

Another of Cohn’s articles in the “Comic Theory 101” vein that I want to examine is the second to last one in chronological order (second one listed on the website) entitled: “Visual Poetry”

Cohn states a question “if we would like to formalize certain tropes for visual language poetry, what structural features are available to us?” (“Visual Poetry”). He is referring a bit back to a visual poem he created in another Comic Theory 101 article. More importantly, Cohn notes that “In previous articles, I’ve mentioned that we can quantify types of panels by the amount of ‘entities’ in them — the ‘characters’ engaged in an action” and this is where this article attempts to go (“Visual Poetry”). Cohn lays out 5 types of panels to help “quantify” this idea of visual expression and structure.

Polymorphics

This is the highest level. It is the highest level because it “contain a full action, by repeating entities over and over again” (“Visual Poetry”).

Here is the example that Cohn uses to illustrate this idea:

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Here is another example, of sorts (uses a bit of multiple panels spread over a page that overlaps but one that does communicate full action), from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye run:

hawkeye_dog_graphic_h_15

Macros

Cohn points out that this kind of panel or scene “hold[s] a full scene, [but has] more than one “entity” in them (“Visual Poetry). Here is the example that Cohn himself presents:

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And though this a meme now that has been abused quiet a lot, I feel it also meets the criteria for a macro scene:

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Monos

This here is a scene that, as Cohn points out, “contain[s] only one entity (“Visual Poetry”). So, where a “macro” has a full scene with more than one figure, a “mono” contains only one “entity.” Here is the example that Cohn offers:

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Here is another example taken from the cover of Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man:

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Micros

This type here is one that “contain less than one entity – often through a ‘close-up’ shot” (“Visual Poetry”). Again, Cohn provides a specific close-up of someone’s mouth:

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Here is another example, again taken from Hawkeye (issue #14), again written by Matt Fraction, with artist Annie Wu this time on interior art. Here we are treated to a close up image of Kate Bishop’s face.

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Before moving on, I want to take a bit of account here of Cohn’s choice of terminology with Macro, Micro, and Mono.

Of course, looking at the three prefixes you have:

Macro – Large

Micro – Small

Mono – One or Singular

Now, Cohn uses Macro/Large to describe a whole scene with more than one entity in the scene. Micro is smaller and contains only one entity in it. Mono focuses on a close up element of “one” entity. It is an interesting choice of terminology. One can hopefully assume that Cohn is in particular, considering the other terms: Polymorphic and Amorphics, that Cohn’s primary focus in this terminology is the scene itself and not, in particular, the number of entities present in them.

Amorphics

This is an example where there is no entity present in any way in the scene. The scene could be seen as an empty street scene or city scape, most likely aimed at helping to set up an event or orientate the reader.

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City

Cohn notes that there is a form or order to “graph these descending panel quantities in what I call the ‘Lexical Representational Matrix’ or ‘LRM'”:

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The “Lexical Representational Matrix” (LRM) is something that Cohn defines in an article as being “Based on the amount of positively charged entities they depict” (“A Visual Lexicon”). In other words, what is represented in a panel or scene is defined by how many are depicted taking part in a positive action.

What Cohn aims to demonstrate in his article “Visual Poetry” is the ways that these different types of “levels” can in fact

“be utilized in the same manner of syllables; they allow for a quantity of “beats” depending on how much information they hold. Let’s pose a hypothetical poetic line: 

Polymorphic – Micro Refiner – Macro – Micro Refiner – Mono – Micro Refiner 

Here, the poetic aspect would come from traveling down the LRM, with an alternation of Micros between each panel. By “Refiner,” I indicate that the Micro plays a grammatical role of “zooming in” on an aspect of whatever panel it follows (see my [EDIT: book The Visual Language of Comics for further] discussion of this)” (“Visual Poetry”).

Cohn begins by presenting us with a visualization of “what a poetic line” (“Visual Poetry”) in this format or “fashion” might look like:

reducto_flat

Now, this appears very basic, linear. Cohn goes on to ideally point out that often times poetry aims to make use of aesthetic arrangements to help provoke or “invoke certain feelings” (“Visual Poetry”).

Cohn postulates, based on a narrowing approach, that perhaps the use of certain elements, such as “the Micro Refiners can overlap the panels they modify — except at the end, when the Micro is still a Refiner but represents the bottom of the LRM. Here, the variance of the layout is modified to emphasize a different part of the structure” (“Visual Poetry”)

reducto_diagrammed

Notice that there are two main aspects heightened by the layout. Along the vertical plane is the reduction of the major categories of the LRM. Meanwhile, along the diagonal we find a row of Micros with similar content, but highly refined viewpoints. This diagonal emphasizes the feeling of narrowing of information. Both of these lines converge upon the Amorphic panel – reducing substance and refining substance, both focused down to a releasing point of no active elements at all.

reducto_arrows

All together my example from above becomes:

reducto_full

Cohn postulates this “visual language” and its application here as a “reducto” form (“Visual Poetry”). His closing remarks focus on the idea that such terms and ideas might be applied to inspiring people to engage more in this kind of creation, this visual poetry.

Conclusions

For me, myself, I find the ideas being enhanced, challenged, and expanded by much of what Neil Cohn has to offer. He not only makes close note, along with McCloud, of the possibility of rhetorical figures to be found in analyzing visual narratives and graphics, but even more so he applies and helps create a language for engaging and viewing visual narratives in congress with traditional written narratives. This is a concept that helps bridge the caps for some students and provide myself with more windows to peer through.

Works Cited

Cohn, Neil. “Comics Theory 101: In Place of Another” Visual Language Lab. Web. 07 August 2015.

—. “Comics Theory 101: Visual Poetry.” Visual Language Lab. Web. 07 August 2015.

—. “A Visual Lexicon.” Psu.edu. Purdue U. Web. 09 Aug. 2015.

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

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 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.