EL 329 | Visual Narratives

(January 2016)

Visual Narratives is a course about what happens when people make visual images and design integral to the stories they tell. We’ll look at graphic novels and comics, including works by Lynda Barry (merging the art of the essay and the art of collage), Will Eisner (sometimes called the father of modern graphic novels), Joe Sacco (who renders his war-zone reporting in comic book form), and Brian Michael Bendis (creator of Jessica Jones and writer for many Marvel titles). We’ll wonder if these sorts of texts, in all their unusual shapes and sizes, will be the last vestige of print publishing in the age of the Kindle. We’ll consider how images—alone, juxtaposed, and in sequence—can be used to tell stories and send messages. We’ll explore (and develop) critical vocabulary helpful for talking about visual texts. We’ll also be thinking a  bit about transmedia storytelling—what happens when a story or set of characters jumps willy nilly from one medium to another (think The Matrix, a story told in feature-length movies, graphic vignettes, animated shorts, and video games). Along the way, you’ll try your hand at creating some visual narratives of your own (but artistic talent is not a requirement for the course—only the willingness to do some thoughtful play with storytelling images).

Assignments to Anticipate/Breakdown of Scores

---- The Schedule ----

Note that I may add or alter links for reading and viewing as we go. Also, note that while I do a lot of work to keep links and linked documents up to date, the Internet is full of tricks and inconsistencies. If needed/required links are broken or documents are not available when you try to get to them, it's your responsibility to let me know that the links aren't working or the documents have disappeared. Send me an email right away if you have trouble getting to any assigned online text or document.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't watched The Matrix, you should watch it before Week 2, so as to avoid spoilers.

Comic Life
Grab a 30-day free trial of Comic Life here. if you'd like. It can be useful for working on (and maybe for fully containing) your Visual Text project.

Day 1 (Week 1) (Tuesday, Jan. 5)

Due by 5:00, Weds. -- Contribute a critical definition to the course wiki.

Due by 5:00, Thurs. -- Single ¶ explanation of your "Visual Text" project idea.

Thursday Night: Required film screening, evening.

Due by Class Time, Mon. -- First three contributions to the course blog

Un-required Reading: General

"Not Funnies"

(Charles McGrath @NYT)

"Graphic Novels: A Visual Language"

(Artists @NYT)

(An Academic Journal for Comics)

The Comics Journal
(More Smart Writing on Comics)

Un-required Reading: History

Comics History, Based on McCloud

Menna's Tomb

The Bayeux Tapestry (C. 1066 CE)

Eight Deer Jaguar Claw (C. 11-1200 CE)

Medieval "Comics"

Punch (19th Century, England)

Modernist-Era Wordless Books

Censoring Comics

Consider: Underground Comix

Early "Graphic Novels" to Consider

  • Contract with God (Will Eisner)
    Dark Night Returns (Frank Miller)
    Watchmen (Moore/Gibbons)
    V for Vendetta (Alan Moore)
  • Maus (Art Spiegelman)

The Emergence of Comics Theory

  • Homework Reading (for Christmas Break, due at class time)
  • Kodak's Top Ten Hints for Photography
    Guidelines for Better Photographic Composition
    "Liar, Liar Pants on Fire" (Errol Morris)
  • Something to Do
  • Introduce yourself at the course blog. (This is not one of your three posts for the first week, but is a good way to begin things.)
  • In-Class Screening
  • "La Jetée" (Dir. Chris Marker, 1963)
  • In-Class Groups: Two Exercises
  • Shoot a series of images which can be rearranged to mean different things when viewed in different orders; make sure the images display a variety of angles, and be sure to use the rule of thirds more than once. Put those images into a PowerPoint (or Keynote) document, one image per slide, and create at least two different narratives by placing them in two different orders.
  • Choose one or two images for a second exercise. Use your slideware app again to add meaning to the image using words. Do a few variations (at least three, with no upper limit). For at least one, add meaning to the image by adding a caption. For at least one, add meaning by inserting words on top of the image strategically. Use no more than one clichéd "Internet meme" caption.  
  • Both your narratives and your "words-added" images should be turned in using one slideware (PowerPoint or whatever) file. If the school email server won't let you send it, use a service like Hightail or MailBigFile.

Day 2 (Week 1) (Wednesday, Jan. 6)

Due by 5:00, TODAY -- Contribute a critical definition to the course wiki.

Hey, have you contributed to the blog yet?

  • Read
  • Understanding Comics (Scott McCloud, 1993) , Chapters 1-6 ONLY
    (Apparently, it can be found online here.)
  • Do
  • By 5:00, Contribute a Definition to the Course Wiki
    (Update: Accepted as on-time until 5:00 Weds.)
  • In-Class Reading and Screening
  • "Sonic Medicine" (Scott Kolbo, 2012) (Handout)
    "Graphic Novels: A Visual Language" (Artists @NYT)
  • In-Class Groups
  • Create a photo story using each of McCloud's transitions + @ least three of the "9th Grade Modes" (discussed in class). As on Monday, assemble your story using slideware. Label each slide using the comments field, so that I can tell which transition you have in mind. Traditionally, these stories are often about something bad happening to someone, though you might choose to either honor or defy tradition on that count.

Day 3 (Week 1) (Thursday, Jan. 7)

Due by 5:00, TODAY -- Single ¶ explanation of your "Visual Text" project idea.


Day 4 (Week 1) (Friday, Jan. 9)

Hey, seriously: Have you contributed to the blog yet?

  • Read Ideas
  • "What Comics Are and What They Aren't" (Douglas Wolk, 3-28)
    "Imagetext, or, Why Art Spiegelman..." (Joseph Witek, online)
    "Töpffer in English" (Chris Ware, 222-27)
  • Read Comics
  • A Contract with God (Will Eisner, 1978)
  • From Best American Comics 2010
      "The Lagoon (Hiding...)" from The Lagoon (Lilli Carré)
       from The Alcoholic (Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel)
       from Asterios Polyp (David Mazzucchelli)
  • In Class Screening and Viewing
  • Short videos on image distances and angles (Dir. Dave Monahan).
    Take a look at Crumb's Genesis, Seth's Clyde Fans Book 1
  • In Class Work Time
  • Work time today will go to your group "Loaded Image" projects.

Day 5 (Start of Week 2) (Monday, Jan. 11)

Due by Class Time, TODAY -- Three contributions to the course blog.

Due by 5:00, Fri. -- Contribute a critical definition to the course wiki.

Thursday Night: Required film screening, evening.

Due by Class Time, next Mon. -- Three contributions to the course blog.

  • Read Ideas
  • "An Art of Tensions" (Charles Hatfield, 132-48)
  • Read a Visual Text
  • What It Is (Lynda Barry, 2008)
  • Examine/Peruse (In Class)
  • The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch
          (Wr. Neil Gaiman; Ill. Dave McKean, 1994)
    Lynda Barry's Marlys comics
  • In Class Screening and Viewing
  • Videos on shot types and implied proximity (Dir. Dave Monahan).
  • In Class Work Time
  • Be prepared to work on your Visual Text project.

Day 6 (Week 2) (Tuesday, Jan. 12)

Have you contributed to the blog yet this week?

  • Read Ideas
  • "How Comics Came to Be" (Robert C. Harvey, 25-45)
    "Auteurs...Art Comics...Ugly Drawings" (Douglas Wolk, 29-59) (SAVE for WEDNESDAY)
  • Read Comics, Watch Videos
  • Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Volume 1
    (Wr. Brian Michael Bendis; Art. Sara Pichelli, 2012)
  • Additional Amazing Spider-Man comics
    (Wr. Stan Lee; Art. Steve Ditko, 1962ff)
  • Video: "In Search of Steve Ditko"
  • Examine/Peruse (In Class)
  • The Sandman, Volume 1 (Wr. Neil Gaiman)
    The Spirit, Volume 10 (Wr. Will Eisner) 
  • In-Class Screening
  • History of editing in film (Parts 1 and 2) (Dir. Dave Monahan).

Day 7 (Week 2) (Wednesday, Jan. 13)

Go, Blog, Go!

  • Read Ideas
  • "...A Multiplicity of Visual Rhetorical Traditions" (Franny Howes, online)
    "Preface: A Manifesto Anyone?" (from Journalism) (Joe Sacco, xi-xiv)
    "Introduction" (from Safe Area Gorazde) (Christopher Hitchens, 2pp)
  • Read Comics
  • "The Fixer" (that story only) (Joe Sacco, 2003)
    "Fiction Versus Nonfiction" (Chris Ware) (Anthology)
  • Examine/Peruse (In Class)
  • The Arrival (Shaun Tan, 2007)
  • In Class
  • TBA

Day 8 (Week 2) (Thursday, Jan. 14)


  • Read Ideas
  • “The Construction of Space in Comics” (Pascal Lefevre, 157-62)
    "The Arrow and the Grid" (Joseph Witek,149-56)
    “Why Does Chris Ware Hate Fun?” (Douglas Wolk, 347-58)
    “Landsman of the Lost” (Michael Chabon, 133-40)
  • Read Comics (Anthology Selections)
  • "The Daily Grand Prix" and "Forbidden Rooms" (Ben Katchor)
    "Deep Space" (John Pham)
    from Acme Novelty Library #19 (Chris Ware, 2008)
    "Lobster Run" from Johnny Hiro (Fred Chao)
    + More Katchor from the Katchor Handout
  • In-Class
  • Ben Katchor video
  • Evening Film Screening!!
  • Scott Pilgrim (Dir. Edgar Wright, 2010)

Day 9 (Week 2) (Friday, Jan. 15)

Due by 5:00, TODAY -- Contribute a critical definition to the course wiki.

Group "Loaded Image" Projects" Due Tuesday in Class, w/Presentations

  • Read Ideas (It's Long!)
  • “Searching for the Origami Unicorn: The Matrix and Transmedia Storytelling” (Henry Jenkins, 95-134)
  • Brace For...
  • The geekiest day of class. Previous knowledge of Marvel, DC, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Matrix and other fictional storyworlds will be a plus.
  • In-Class Screening
  • Edgar Wright on Visual Comedy in Films
    Shorts from The Animatrix (Various Directors, 2003)
    (Most Likely: Beyond)
  • Think Ahead
  • Your "Loaded Image" group should be planning/scheduling so as to be ready to present next Tuesday, after the MLK day break.

Don't Come to Class Monday. It's MLK Day. And then:

Day 10 (Week 3) (Tuesday, Jan. 19)

Due by Class Time, TODAY -- Three contributions to the course blog.

Due by 5:00, Friday. -- Contribute a critical definition to the course wiki.

Due by Class Time, next Mon. -- Three contributions to the course blog. 

Every Day: Advance your Visual Text Project a little every single day.

Group "Loaded Image" Projects" Due Today in Class, w/Presentations

  • Again: No Class on Monday! MLK Day
  • Read Comics
  • Low Moon (Jason, 2007)
    George Sprott (Seth, 2007)
    Salamander Dream (Hope Larson, 2005)
  • In-Class Screening
  • Paperman (Disney Short)

Day 11 (Week 3) (Wednesday, January 20)

Day 12 (Week 3) (Thursday, Jan. 21)

Every Day: Make progress on your Visual Text Project

Day 13 (Week 3) (Friday, Jan. 22)

Every Day: Make progress on your Visual Text Project

Due by 5:00, TODAY -- Contribute a critical definition to the course wiki.

  • Read
  • Stitches (David Small, 2009)
  • In-Class
  • TBA

Day 14 (Start of Week 4) (Monday, January 25)

Due by Class Time, TODAY -- Three contributions to the course blog.

Days 15 and 16 (Tuesday and Wednesday, January 26-27)

Due TUESDAY at Classtime: Visual Text Project.

Due WEDNESDAY at 5:00 PM: Final Exam/Essays.

  • Tuesday: Work Time!
    + A Few Stray Comics and Ideas
    + Presentation of Your Visual Text Projects
  • Wednesday: Final Exam/Essays Due at 5 PM

Page Designed and Maintained by Fred Johnson.
EmailSimple Site MenuRecommend a Link?

This section of the page is a big mess...

For Further General Reading, Take a Look At...
The Best American Comics Series
Brunetti's Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories, Vols. 1-2
McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #13 (Ed. Chris Ware)
Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz (Ed. Chip Kidd)
A Comics Studies Reader (Ed. Jeet and Worcester)
Eisner, Will.  Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative.
Eisner, Will.  Comics and Sequential Art.

Other Books and Artists That Might Have Been Assigned for This Course Include...
B., David.  Epileptic.
Bechdel, Allison.  Fun Home.
Brown, Chester.  Louis Riel.
Burns, Charles.  Black Hole.  
Clowes, Daniel.  Ghost World.
Crumb. R.  
Deitch, Kim.
Folman, Ari.  Waltz with Bashir.  
Gaiman, Neil.  The Sandman.  
Los Bros Hernandez.  Love and Rockets.
Katchor, Ben.  Various.  
Jason.  Various.
Mazzucchelli, David.  Asterios Polyp.
Miller, Frank.  Sin City.
Miller, Frank.  Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
Moore, Alan.  Watchmen.
O'Malley, Bryan Lee.  Scott Pilgrim.  
Pekar, Harvey.  American Splendor.  
Satrapi, Marjane.  Persepolis.
Seth.  Clyde Fans.    
Small, David.  Stitches: A Memoir
Smith, Jeff.  Bone.  
Spiegelman, Art.  Maus.
Thompson, Craig.  Blankets.  
Ware, Chris.  Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth.

Second String

Marvel's Wizard of Oz

Link Dump (Pages I'm Exploring for the Next Iteration of This Course)
"Snow Fall" at the New York Times
Scott Kolbo's Video Projections
XKCD "Click and Drag"
12 Essential American Cartoons
Salon's Must-Read Graphic Novels
Neil Cohn on the Psychology of Comics Reading
Comic Book Resources
Peter Bagge's "Amtrak Sucks" (Reason, 12/2005) (Pronounced [Bag].)
"Poetry, Design, and Comics" (PDF, Carousel 19, 2006)
Scott McCloud on Motion GIFs ins Comics
"Manga Artist Yusuke Murata Creates the Most Innovative Comic..."
John Updike on Book Stores
"Scan This Book!" Kevin Kelly, New York Times
Peugot Parallax Graphic Novel
Soul Reaper Parallax Graphic Novel

"Happily Ever After" versus the Up married life scene
Imagine's Photo-Based Film Project
Wally Wood's 22
Self Publishing?