Creating your own comic strip

This week you’ll be creating your own short (2-3 panel) comic strip. Check out the calendar for more details and options regarding online comics creators. I’m going to share a few examples of comics that I’ve made to help you get started.

Here are a couple I made a while back using Bitstrips:

And here’s one I drew by hand, in the style of xkcd:

drawn comic01032015

As these strips show, you don’t need a major event or story. All of these are based on true events in my life, but you can make something up if you want to. It doesn’t have to be personal.

There are some advantages and disadvantages for each style. Using a comic generator like Bitstrips can take more time because it requires a little bit of a learning curve as you figure out how to use the software. Also, there are some limitations regarding what you can do. On the other hand, the comics come out looking pretty cool, and I had a lot more fun doing it than I did drawing by hand. If you are a good artist, though, drawing might be more enjoyable for you.

Either way, I had to go through a process of thinking about what message I wanted to communicate and how I could communicate through visual medium. I had to think about what to include, and what to leave out. I had to think about what details would help create the story I wanted to tell.

So good luck and have fun!

Civil War Analysis Objectives

The wonderful thing about how the arguments are presented in Civil War is that it reflects the way that we most often encounter argument in our daily lives. While we occasionally may sit down and read (or write) an extended, well-reasoned, cohesive argument for one side of an issue, we are more likely to get pieces of an argument in short bursts from a variety of sources. Especially with the rise of the internet and social media, abbreviated arguments come at us in Tweets, Facebook status updates, blog posts, memes, political ads, sound bites, Vines, and a number of other ways. And while these pieces of argument typically lack the cohesive, thesis-driven argument we are so fond of in academe, there is always a central idea or two that control the how the arguments are formed and presented on any given side of an issue—even if it’s not always clearly expressed. Good critical thinkers are aware of the central ideas because it allows them to understand the unstated assumptions that underpin the arguments presented.

Let’s look at an example. Think about the debate surrounding abortion. I would be surprised if any of you have sat down and read or listened to a single, cohesive argument on one side or the other. I would be surprised also to discover that I have done that at some point in the past. But we can probably all recite the most common arguments on either side of the issue because we get them in little bits, here and there. And we even have an idea about the central arguments because of the terms associated with the two sides: pro-life and pro-choice. The central argument behind most arguments against abortion is that a fetus constitutes a life, and therefore abortion is essentially murder. The central argument behind most arguments for abortion is that women should have the right to choose what happens with their bodies. However, those central ideas usually go unstated in the little pieces of arguments we see and hear and read. As critical thinkers, our job is to consider how these little bursts of argument contribute to the larger argument at work.

That’s what we’re doing with the Civil War analysis. We’re looking at the bits and pieces of arguments made by various characters in a variety of ways and determining how they contribute to the larger argument for one side or the other. How do the little bits of arguments contribute to the overall argument and appeal to the audience? What kinds of evidence are used?

The main questions here are what is the argument and how is it made?

Remember that while you may choose to point out flaws in the argument, your objective is to analyze rather than argue for or against a side.

Here are the top three questions I advise you to consider as you revise your paper and give feedback to your classmates:

  1. Does this essay identify the main argument of one side of the issue? Is this stated as a thesis in the introduction? (Remember that one of the learning objectives for this paper is to think critically about a loose argument)
  2. Does this essay show how that argument is developed? (Learning objective: to analyze the details of how arguments are made)
  3. Does the essay include both textual and visual evidence? (Learning objective: to understand how the different modes used in these multimodal texts are used to develop an argument)

Think also about the quality of the composition–does the intro effectively catch the reader’s attention and communicate what the essay will focus on? Does the organization make sense? Can you follow the argument throughout the essay? Are ideas fully developed and supported with evidence from the text? Is the writing clear, interesting, and concise?

But as you think about those other things, remember the the three numbered questions above are the most important.

 

So how do I cite a comic book, anyway?

Problem: you need a works cited page for your visual analysis. For most of you, that will only include one citation–the comic book your image comes from. But how do you cite that? It’s not exactly like most forms of text you cite.

Solution: good news! Someone has done the work of figuring that out for you (it’s not me). There’s a great website called Comic Art in Scholarly Writing, and they’ve created a citation style guide just for you. Well, maybe not you specifically, but for all of those among us who need to know how to create an academic citation for a comic book. Go to their Citation Guide to see explanations and examples of how to do this.

Composition Plan

What if I told you there is a simple way to make your writing more efficient and more effective?

There’s no way around it–writing is hard. But there are strategies that can make it easier and faster, and making a composition plan is one of those strategies.

You’ve probably had to make a composition plan before, even if you didn’t know it. If you’ve ever made an outline, that’s a kind of plan. If you’ve ever used an idea map, that’s a sort of plan. The reason I’m using the term composition plan instead of outline or idea map is simple: I don’t really care what shape your plan takes. I want you to figure out for yourself what works for you.

Probably the single most important thing you can do for yourself is to think critically about your own writing process. What do you do when you write? What helps you? What slows you down? Think broadly–does it matter where you are when you write? Does it help to have music or total silence? Do you write in short bursts or with sustained attention? Understanding your own process can help you to use that process more effectively and make your writing more efficient.

Part of figuring out your process means figuring out how you get your ideas from your brilliant mind into a communicable form. Some people free-write, some people outline, some people idea-map, and some people do other things I haven’t thought of. But at some point, effective writers make a plan of some kind for how they are going to achieve their writing goal.

I want to encourage you to think of writing in terms of goals and strategies. It can help you to clarify for yourself what you are doing, and therefore make the task of writing both more efficient and more effective.

So how do you make a composition plan?

The plan you make will mostly be determined by you, but here are some general guidelines, with examples based on the Captain America panel we discussed in class today:

  • Write out your goal. Be specific. Think about the genre and rhetorical situation of your composition.

So, this paper is a visual analysis. It’s an academic essay, written to an audience of my peers. I have two goals. First, I want to explore a question through analysis. For my selected panel, I’m asking what the image says about patriotism, so my first goal is to explore that answer. My second goal is to persuade an audience of my peers that my panel sends the message that moral dissent is patriotic.

[Note: you might select your panel[s] or page by finding one you think is evocative and trying to figure out what it communicates. Alternatively, you might start with a concept or issue you want to explore and look for an image that communicates about it.]

  • Make a plan for how you are going to achieve your goal.

My first step is to explore my question and determine what topics will help my audience see what I see in the panel. Because I tend to be a graphic thinker, I usually like to make an idea map (like the one we made on the board in class today). That helps me to explore my thoughts about the image while also identifying topics I can use to structure my essay.

  • Part of your plan should include what kinds of evidence you will use to support your claim.

My idea map left me with three major topics: words, Captain America, and arrangement (which I was initially calling positioning). In the map I also began to marshal evidence from the image to support these categories. That’s what I’ll use as evidence.

  • And your plan should indicate some sense of how you will organize your ideas.

At some point, I need to determine how to organize my ideas in a way that will be most convincing for my audience. How can I present my ideas in a way that makes the most logical argument? For my image, it makes sense to me to write about the words first because that’s a pretty important part of my understanding of the image. Next I’ll write about Cap and his costume, and after that I’ll write about the arrangement of the panel. I usually prefer to have some organization in mind before I do much writing.

As I said previously, your plan can take whatever shape you want. The main thing I want to see is that you have identified a specific goal and made a specific plan for how you are going to achieve that goal.

 

Managing comments

Just a reminder that you can manually manage which comments are allowed on your blog. You don’t have to approve the comments I leave if you don’t want to, since I’ll be commenting in a grading capacity. However, you do have to approve the comments from your classmates so I can give them credit for their comments.

Here’s how to manage comments. In your WordPress dashboard, go to Settings in the left column. Then click on Discussion.

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From the Discussion page, scroll down until you see Before a comment appears. Deselect “comment author must have previously approved comments” and select “comment must be manually approved.”

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This will allow to you decide what comments you want to appear on your blog. You aren’t required to do this, but it’s an option for those of you who don’t want my comments appearing.

Civil War? So what is an “event” anyway?

This week we’re getting started with Marvel’s Civil War event. You’ll notice that some of the comics on the schedule have “Civil War” in the title, and others don’t, but beginning with The Amazing Spider-Man #531, all of the comics we’ll read are part of the same story arc. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the kind of weird world of comic book publishing, I’m going to clue you in on some of language used to describe comics series and stories.

Series: I talked about series some in the previous post, so I won’t dwell on it here. A series is like a magazine–it’s published once a month for a period of time. Usually, series focus on one character (like Captain America), a couple of characters (like Deadpool and Cable), or a group of characters (like The Avengers). Some series last for decades (broken up into different time periods on the digital pages). Others only last for a short time and are known as . . .

Limited Series: Limited series that are intentionally only produced for a short period of time. Sometimes limited series are used for a short-term team-up between two characters (Iron Man and Thor, for example) or two different series (like X-Men and The Fantastic Four). Other times limited series feature the core story of a much larger story arc. The Civil War and Civil War: Frontline comics we’ll be reading are both limited series created to support the larger event.

Event: This is the term used to refer to major crossover events that include most of the major regular series in the Marvel universe. In events, there is a core story told through a limited series, but the story arc is much larger and is developed through individual issues in regular series. Events are a standard feature of the Modern Age of comics. (What’s the Modern Age, you ask? Check out this site with information about the eras of mainstream comics.)

If you’re new to comics, this glossary of comic book terms might come in handy for more terms.


About Civil War. I picked this event for us to read for a couple of reasons. First, I like it. That’s a pretty good reason to choose something.

But it’s not just that I like it. It’s widely recognized as one of the most interesting story arcs in the Modern Age. It doesn’t really get any of the graphic novel love that The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen get (those are practically legitimate these days and are regularly taught in college classes). But I think that’s mostly because the event is so big that it can’t easily be collected into a print book like The Dark Knight Returns was.

You can get the limited run Civil War series as a graphic novel, but those seven issues tell such a small part of the story, and a lot of the really interesting stuff happens in other series. That’s why we’re reading comics digitally instead of graphic novels. Also, reading the event allows us to see a wide variety of artistic and writing styles, as each series has different writers and illustrators. A graphic novel with a single writer/artist only gives us one style to look at.

All of that aside, the main reason I chose this event is because as this storyline progresses, argument is as important to the story as action, maybe even more important. Since this class is, in part, about rhetoric and persuasion, this is ideal for us. In fact, your second major composition will be analyzing the arguments of this event (you can check out the assignment page here), so keep track of interesting arguments.

Since this event is so huge, we won’t be reading all of the issues associated with it. You can thank me for that later, or you can read all of the issues on your own–whichever suits your preference. I recommend reading them all if you like reading comics. These are some pretty good ones. I’ll be sending you pdf files of pages from some of the issues we don’t read so you’ll get most of the arguments. But if you want to get a sense of the story arc, I’m developing an issue guide, which you can find here.

Finding a needle in the vast haystack of Marvel Unlimited

411px-MarvelLogo.svgIn a previous post, I extolled some of the virtues of Marvel’s subscription-based digital archive, Marvel Unlimited. It’s a glorious collection of most of the comics Marvel has published in their 75+ year history–all available to comics readers at a pretty low price. It’s ideal for people who want to read a lot of comics (that’s me) without spending a lot of money (me again). And that also makes it ideal for our class. But I’ve already written about that.

The great thing about Marvel Unlimited is that there are so many comics available. But unfortunately that means that it can get tricky trying to find specific issues. Also, it’s not the easiest website to navigate. So I’m going to offer some advice about how to navigate the website. If you’re planning to use the [free] iPad or Android app, you can skip down to the bottom. I’ve got a section just for you.

Website Basics

  1. Go to Marvel.com and sign in.
  2. Click on Comics in the top menu bar.
  3. A secondary menu bar will appear. Here, hover over Browse and make a selection from the drop down menu. For now, you should probably select Series.
  4. Once the page loads, don’t be fooled into clicking on featured series (unless you are planning on reading some of those on your own). Scroll down to the Series Index and select the series from there. (See the section below on the wily nature of comics series.)
  5. On the page for the series you’ve selected, scroll down a very little bit until you see the options Sort & Filter. Next to that is a box beside Marvel Unlimited. Check that box so that you will only see the options available to you.
  6. Look for the issue you want. They may not be in order, and you may need to click Show More at the bottom to see more issues.
  7. Select your issue, and on the next page, click Read Now under the image of the issue.
  8. On the bottom right corner of the reader page, you have to option to make it full screen, and if you click on the icon that looks vaguely like a book, you can choose to view the issue one page at a time or two. Beyond that, the navigation should be fairly easy.

***You can also choose to add issues to your library to make it easier to get back to them, and I would recommend this since you will need to revisit some of the comics for assignments.

Here’s how: when you’re back at Step 7 above, look lower on the page to where it says Digital Issue. Under Marvel Unlimited, you have an option to Add to Library. Click on this, and the issue will be bookmarked for you. You can find My Library under the little person icon at the far right of the top menu bar. This is the same place where you log in. It will take you to a page with all of your saved titles.


 

Some things about comics series

If you are true-blue comics reader, this information may not be useful to you. If you’re new to reading comics, it might be really helpful.

Here’s the thing about comics series. There’s a lot of them. The big characters especially have a lot of series. Marvel tends to break it’s series up in time periods, so for Captain America, for example, there are seven different series titled Captain America, and more that are limited runs and team ups with titles like Captain America and the Falcon, or Captain America: Man out of Time.

So when you’re looking for a specific issue, it helps to know the series title and the year so that you can browse the correct series. I’ve given you that information in the syllabus.

For our readings for Tuesday, you’ll look for the first issue in the series Captain America Comics, published in 1941. The good news is that it’s the only series titled Captain America Comics. The bad news is that you’re going to have to scroll through a lot of other Captain America titles before you get it. It might help to keep an eye out for the publications dates. Remember, you’re looking for 1941. The next several issues are in different series, so look for them in the same way.


For App Users

Disclaimer: I’m working from the iPad app, so if you’re using the Android app, it could be slightly different.

  1. Login to the app.
  2. Locate the menu bar at the bottom and select Browse.
  3. Select browse by Series (for now. You’ll browse by Comic Events when we get to Civil War).
  4. Look for the series you want (see the above section on the wily nature of comics series), and select it.
  5. Select the issue you want to read (they may not be in order).
  6. Choose Read Now to read the comic. You should be able to work it out from here.

***Just like the website, you can select to Add to Library from the same dialogue box where you select to Read Now. This will save the issue into your library (accessible in the bottom menu bar), making it easy to find again to later. I recommend doing this, as you will need to return to some of the comics for assignments.

 

 

Welcome to the Wonderful World of WordPress

Wordpress_logo_8Okay, alliteration aside, WordPress is pretty great. It’s user-friendly, and it’s one of the most popular content management systems available–which is great for us because that means that you can find answers to almost any question about WordPress with a simple Google search. There are even blogs devoted to helping people learn to use WordPress (like this one or this one). Since this will be the first blogging experience for most of you, I think you will appreciate having so many tools available to you.

Another useful place to go for help is the Domain documentation pages. Emory’s Domain of One’s Own faculty and staff have worked to gather as much useful information as possible for us in these pages. In particular, you may find the page about WordPress very helpful now as you get started.

We’ll talk about using WordPress in class throughout the semester, and you’ll figure things out and build skills as you go.

For now, what’s most important is that you’ve got a blog set up and you know how to post. Basically, you go to your blog dashboard (which you get to by logging into your control panel from the Domain page and then clicking on your blog under “My Applications”). Then click on the link to your blog with the /wp-admin/ at the end of it. From there you can click on “Posts” in the left sidebar and then click “Add New.”

Easy peasy. You’ll want to give your post a title to indicate what it’s going to be about. And then you just type in your content. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can upload images or link out to other sites (I’ve done a lot of linking here).

Since writing blog posts is an entirely new genre for most of you, we’ll spend some time talking about it in class, and I’ll be offering my own tips and linking out to others here on the class blog.

And here’s the first tip:

When you’re writing your post, think about what you like when you read content on the interwebs. Remember how Understanding Rhetoric talks about audience expectations determining how we write? One way to help yourself think about your audience is to think about what you like. Do you like short paragraphs? Images? Links to more information?

Also, think about your own ethos. How do you want your readers to think of you? How will you use style and tone to help shape your readers’ perception? Keep in mind that ethos is about credibility, but closely related to that is character.

One more thing on ethos. Yes, you’re doing this blog for a college class, but that doesn’t mean that you should try to affect some overly formal and academic ethos. You don’t have to write in a formal manner to build your ethos. Remember how we talked in class today about how what makes a good ethos changes depending on the audience and the situation? That applies here. This isn’t the same situation as an academic paper, and so you should develop your ethos differently without sacrificing credibility.

If you want an example, check out this blog called Mind Hacks. It’s an academic blog on neuroscience and psychology written by a couple of PhDs who are experts in the field. The blog isn’t written like a scientific paper, but the writers are able to maintain their credibility.

Why comics? And why these comics?

I’m going to go out on a limb here: some of you signed up for this class because you love comic books or just think they’re kind of cool and that’s what we’ll be talking about in this class. Am I right? I’ll go out on another limb: some of you signed up for this class because it fit your schedule (don’t tell me if this is you). Am I right about that too? Regardless of which category you find yourself in, it’s possible that you’re wondering what comic books have to offer a college level composition class.

The answer is A LOT.

One thing they have to offer is multimodality. Today in class I talked some about multimodal composition, which is the term that people in biz (meaning composition experts) use to talk about texts to use more than one mode to communicate ideas. So, for example, if I type out a paper on Word and print it out, I’ve used one mode–written words–to communicate my ideas. On the other hand, if I take the same ideas and deliver a presentation accompanied by a Power Point or a Prezi, I’ve used more than one mode–words, sound, image–to communicate my thoughts. That’s mulitmodal composition.

Multimodal Spider Man

Also, incorporating this comic (which I made on Marvel’s website) makes this blog post multimodal.

Many composition experts argue that using comic books in the classroom can help students develop skills both for understanding multimodal texts on a deeper level and for creating their own multimodal texts. That’s what comics are doing for us in this course–they are a tool that we’ll use to develop composition and analytical skills.

Of course, there are a number of other multimodal texts we could study in place of comics that would have a similar function. Magazines, for example, also rely on multiple modes, as do advertisements. But let’s face it–comics are way more fun and life is short. That’s another thing comics offers to us–a way to study composition that can be fun.

Additionally, in spite of the common perception that comic books are simplistic, one-dimensional stories for children, they are often complex and sophisticated texts. The form has grown up over the years, and there’s no greater evidence of that than the graphic novel Maus winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Even superhero comics feature significant character and plot development, engaging political and social issues in interesting ways. In fact, it’s generally accepted that the average readers of mainstream comics are adults (here’s one source that supports this). This is the demographic publishers cater to, so they create texts that adults can appreciate and enjoy. I think you’ll find the comics we read to be entertaining, but also compelling and relevant.

That’s why comics. But why are we studying these particular comics? Well, there are a few reasons. First, we’re reading Marvel comics because that’s the superhero universe I like best. It really just comes down to personal preference–I generally prefer the characters and narratives Marvel produces. Second, because Marvel has an awesome online database, their comics are highly accessible for a low price. DC doesn’t have a comparable platform, and I don’t think there’s anything else like it. Simply put, Marvel provides the least expensive option for accessing the number of comics we’re going to read, and I always try to save my students money when I can.

I selected comics for the course to give us a range of styles to explore and consider. These selections are also rhetorically significant. They aren’t just narrative; they make arguments, persuade, appeal, provoke. Because of that, they exemplify some of the skills you’ll be developing for your own writing. We’re starting next Tuesday with some Captain America comics, partially because Cap’s my favorite and partially (more importantly) because Captain America comics have always tended to be more directly political than many other comics due to the nature of the character. We’ll then hit up a few more oldies before making our way to Civil War, an event that is widely considered to be one of the most significant comics narratives in the modern era. It’s a story arc in which argument is as important as (maybe more than) action, and it will serve our purposes well.