This site is an archive of the work that I completed as part of ENG101 Visual Writing and Thinking, taught by David Morgan at Emory University during spring semester 2018. The course page can be found here.
One of my favorite assignments given to us this semester turned out to not even be a writing assignment at all. The end product was a comic that told our personal story of coming to be the reader and writer we are today. The process started with us giving a written personal narrative of our literacy growing up. This was not particularly revolutionary for me, as I have a fairly unique background and have told people the story verbally quite a few times. It was interesting to experience this type of writing in contrast with formal essays that are usually assigned in english classes. The next step in our creative process was to draft a comic and get constructive criticism from our peers. After those steps, we eventually made a final comic.
Typically, when I write a paper, I tend to think in fairly discrete blocks of logic. If I can convince my reader of a certain set of ideas, then they will have no choice but to agree with my conclusion. However, in making a comic, I became very cognizant of flow. The panels can depict a certain gait or tempo, and if it changes too drastically, it can be disorienting for the reader. Varying the length of time between panels is analogous to jumps in logic. I realized that when I write essays, I don’t give very much mind to the flow of my paper–I solely payed attention to the validity of my argument. For a comic, you can add more panels so the jump from one panel to the next does not create confusion. In my writing, I have incorporated more sentences that connect each idea. I have found that my writing flows better as a result.
Another positive change in my writing because of this assignment was that I shifted my perspective I had for my reader. When I write a essay, it has served me well in the past to approach it as I would an argument with someone. This helps the way that I think in my essay and the ideas I come up with when the goal is to convince someone. With the Literacy Narrative, however, I felt as though I wasn’t trying to convince someone as much as I was trying to get them to understand. This realization has shifted my framework of how I think and deal with my reader through my writing. Before, I would be more likely to basically cover my bases, but shrug if I didn’t accommodate the reader, enough. Now, I take it more as my responsibility to make sure I am getting the reader to at least understand, even if they will not change their mind. However, I think the change in tone also helps a reader feel comfortable, and thus more likely to be convinced by my argument.
I also found myself following the advice commonly given to writers “show don’t tell.” The quote from my alphanumeric essay: “…I have done fairly well in school assignments, considering my lack of writing in my childhood” turned into the comic panel below.
The panel shows me doing well in school, while the quote I based it from gives no specifics and is telling the reader instead of showing. I found out very quickly that I had written a lot of things in my alphanumeric essay that I didn’t fit well into my comic. As a result, my comic had less raw content than the essay, but it was more engaged and focused.
The weekly sketches in this course were helpful in order to focus in on a specific skill. These assignments would typically center around interpreting or creating some sort of visual component. Our first assignment, Avatar, made each student distill down into simple form characteristics that were most integral to them and then turn those features into a visual representation. Practicing this type of thinking allowed me to pay more attention to choices that authors make concerning portrayal because I had encountered those same questions myself with this assignment. The assignment that followed Avatar was Visual Note Taking, which essentially asked us to perform the same steps as with Avatar, but instead of representing ourselves, we were to depict abstract concepts from notes taken from one of our classes. I chose my Computer Science course, which forced me to find the most important elements. This process of finding the most fundamental basis of something has helped improve the way I think about my ideas before I even sit down to write. Our third sketch, Sunday Sketches, forced me into a creative space that I had otherwise not really entered. Taking one object and placing it in a context where it resembles another object entirely helped me to abandon the way that I usually like to do things: ordered and logical. The assignment required a degree of wandering that I learned could be useful when making associations between ideas when writing. The next sketch, Human Document, had us compose work of our own by selecting words from a page torn out of a book. This was another assignment where I had to leave behind the linear method that I usually write with and mirrored the Sunday Sketches yet incorporated a writing element.
Our fifth sketch, Triptych, had us compose a three-panel comic. For me, this was my first taste of comic making. Because we were limited to only 3 panels, it again brought into focus for me the question of what were the absolute most important things to consider in order to get my point across. The sketch, What’s in Your Bag?, asked for the same distillation process of finding the significant parts of things that I have described for other sketches. The Tell a True Story sketch also contained the challenge of finding the least amount of information that would effectively get the point across. This sketch, more than any other, helped prepare me for my literacy narrative. The next two sketches dealt mostly with image manipulation: Combophoto and Recreate a Movie Scene. I felt that these sketches mostly helped me break through some creative barriers that I had. The last two sketches primarily pertained to visualizing data/concepts. Data Visualization from Everyday Life was helpful to do alongside the assignment Mapping Spinning. They both got me into the mindset of not only collecting data, but extrapolating meaning from that data. Lastly, while the Assemblies sketch asked more for a diagram of how this class is constructed, I gave a diagram of how the concepts flow from a primary source. That image can be seen at the top of this page. I greatly enjoyed the weekly sketches. I felt they gave a warm up session to a skill that would be used in the main assignment, while not overloading the student with work.
We began the class by reading Maus by Art Spiegelman. Most of the students in the class had no experience with graphic novels, but even if they had, the content of them typically didn’t address dark topics, unlike in Maus. At the conclusion of reading both volumes, we were given the assignment Tracing Maus. We were tasked with finding two pages and after tracing the pages into a separate paper, analyze each scene. This project greatly aided in my ability to notice artistic choices from the author. Noticing is the first step to learning, and I felt much more prepared to draft my own comic after analyzing the work of someone I admire, like Art Spiegelman.
We read Palestine by Joe Sacco followed by Pyongyang by Guy Delisle. While they contain many similarities, their visual styles are radically different from each other. In our comparison essay for Palestine and Pyongyang, it became our goal to write a compelling essay that found the nuances between the two graphic novels. This assignment felt most like a regular english assignment. While this type of writing hadn’t been the focus for most of the semester, I felt that I wrote a stronger essay than I would normally. Stepping away from writing and getting a fresh look at other methods of communication helped to give me context around my own conceptions concerning my own writing. With this view, I could then begin to fix some of the issues I saw. I discussed these issues above in talking about my the realizations I came to through the Literacy Narrative. Throughout this project, I also learned effective methods of providing sources in an online environment with respect to text sources as well as images.
Mapping Spinning accompanied our reading of the graphic novel Spinning by Tillie Walden. I felt this assignment helped me be a better reader rather than a better writer. However, I believe that being strong in one of those skills helps you be strong in the other. The goal of analyzing the text through a purely numbers based approach made me ask more interesting questions because I have typically never backed up a literary argument with pure numbers before. This was the last major assignment we did in class.
This brings me to the last bit of writing that I am doing for this course: what you are reading right now. I have attempted to systematically go through the assignments we have done and identify how they have made me a better writer and reader. I have certainly enjoyed this class, and look forward to opportunities to showcase the portfolio I have created.