Application Approach 2.0

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

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



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


Specifically, McCloud highlights SEVEN combinations:

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

Part 1: What McCloud says


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Part 2: Putting McCloud Into Practice

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

The images I showed the students were selected at random:

Images 1-3

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

Images 4-5

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

Image 6

Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee

Images 7-9

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

Images 10-11

All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Image 12

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

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



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



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



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

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 7.41.52 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 7.42.05 PM



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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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

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

Part 3: Conclusions and Observations

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

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

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

Journal Exercise: Prompts and Questions of Relevance

This exercise represents a speculation on the goals and pursuits of my Journal article that I am working on pertaining to superhero narrative and its rhetorical function. These exercises were aimed at addressing prompts and questions that could help formulate possible approaches to an outline for the article itself.


Exercise Involving Murray’s 10 Prompts:

1.     This work needed to be done because…

The use and application of comic books/graphic novels in the classroom represent a growing tool that aids students in engaging in reading. Literature, such as the samples found in the Graphic Cannon, point out the innovative ways that literature is being adapted into a hybrid visual form of text and images. Even more so, the stories of superheroes represent something far more: a narrative reflection of the human experience.

2.     Those who will benefit from this include…

Individuals and social groups, from students in the classrooms to academic scholars, need to recognize that the comic book medium and particularly superhero comic books have developed into a legitimate form of expressing the struggles, questions, and issues faced by society.

3.     What I did was…

Look at Grant Morrison’s novel Supergods where he lays out a justification for the power of superhero comics and narratives. I wanted to build upon was just how important these narratives are to persuading and persuasively engaging larger audiences.

4.     How I did that was…

I took Morrison’s rhetorical analysis from the beginning of his work of the birth of the Golden age and sought to blend his commentary with an application that enhanced the status of comic book superheroes to as on par with mythical narratives (and modern) of our culture.

5.     When I did that what happened was…

An opening up those superhero narratives can act as skandalon or stumbling blocks that can draw a reader into a closer contextual reading of what it is that superheroes are and do, besides being pure entertainment. The narratives here have evolved in a way that retains them as entertainment narratives but with a layering that provides for room to use such characters as models and anti-models for our own behavior in the world.

6.     I worked out what that meant by…

Reading the research already done around comic book icons like Superman and Batman, engaging them as rhetorical models/anti-models for what Western society would deem as appropriate behavior but also as challenging mores and norms in a progressive light. Superheroes can embody the very best of human inspiration; they can drive us to contemplation and push us into action as well.

7.     I did what I set out to do to the extent that…

My initial intention was to articulate or begin to articulate an argument I want to continue to expand upon and I have. This experience has forced me to open up and engage my topic from new angles, bringing in academic elements that I previously did not consider – ethical philosophy.

8.     The implications for research are…

I feel that this kind of recognition does serve to trip up what people assume and think about comic books. They are popular, but are they more than that? I believe they are a medium, like the art of rhetoric is, that serves to embrace all kinds of genres and ideas.

9.     The implications for practice are…

As for practice, I would hope that the ideas here might become a source and benefit for helping individuals and groups realize the persuasive power of comic books. Elements like this could one stand beside novels and works of literary fiction as mirrors upon the human condition – not all, but some.

10.  What still needs to be done is…

How to translate and create awareness about what comics and superheroes can show us remains a challenge. Finding out how to broaden this sensibility and importance would be paramount.

Exercise Involving Brown’s 8 Questions: (p. 129)

1.     Who are the intended readers? List three to five of them by name.


The audience most likely would be academics and comic book readers who are interested in deeper implications and rhetorical properties found in the symbolic characterizations of comic book superheroes.


2.     What did you do?


I started with Grant Morrison’s book, Supergods, a reflection paper on why one should want to study comic books, and a paper I wrote on applying Perelman’s New Rhetoric to Morrison’s All-Star Superman.


3.     Why did you do it?


It is becoming more and more, besides a popular phenomenon, to recognize the benefits that comic books have to communicating messages, ideas, and increasing comprehension. If the Odyssey and Iliad are literature, mythic stories, then why not comic books as well – American mythology


4.     What happened (when you did that)?


What was discovered was far more complex and interwoven then I had anticipated. The result being that I cast a wide net that now I have to parse down and sort through.


5.     What do the results mean in theory?


The theory here is opening up on wider ideas of just how the “medium” of superhero comics can be overlaid, interwoven and applied to all kinds of genres and other mediums and theories as well.


6.     What do the results mean in practice?


In practice, there exists a broadening field of application waiting to have the lens of superhero comic books both appropriate and be applied to. Superheroes are reappropriation of mythic stories construed in a new and quite American medium of comic books.


7.     What is the key benefit to readers?


Ideally this examination would serve to open up a realm of possibility that allows serious scholars and thinkers to take heed of what a superhero narrative can incorporate and contribute to larger academic discussions.


8.     What remains unresolved?


Just how much influence the superhero narrative can attain? Is it something that remains and will remain relevant in our society? What might be the utilitarian function such a narrative can provide us with.

Murray, Rowena. Writing for Academic Journals. New York: Open U P, 2009. Print.