Composing Graphic Narratives

Spring 2009

Instructor: Jonathan Bass

Thursday 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM

The Owl communicates with his Owlos.
Composing Graphic Narratives

Final Notices

Alien watching another girl

"I noticed the Alien was watching another girl."

I'm uploading some residual items to Sakai: more of your Time Comics; a few odd comics we never got to but that should still be of some interest (like the one detailed above); the original context for the "Zero for you, young man" panel from week one; and a full version of the Codex (in two versions) that Rich directed me to.

The RAR format Codex images should retain more detail than the PDF, once you extract them (e.g., via an app like RAR Extract Frog) into separate files. Then you can use an image viewer like the CDisplay Comic Reader to view them with ease.

Final Project

Once again: Due dates and formats for the Final Project:

  1. One group member: 9 PM, Thursday, May 7 A high-quality PDF copy of the contents page and intro, and your individual story in the dropbox on Sakai.
  2. Each group member: 9 PM, Thursday, May 7 A high-quality PDF copy of your individual story in the dropbox on Sakai.
  3. One group member: 11 AM, Monday, May 11 A printed/photocopied/handmade version of the contents page and intro in my mailbox in Murray Hall or in my office, Loree 010.
  4. Each group member: 11 AM, Monday, May 11 A printed/photocopied/handmade version of your story/chapter in my mailbox in Murray Hall or in my office, Loree 010.

Note: You do not EACH have to submit the complete anthology.

Final Office Hour

Monday, May 11, 3.30-4.30 PM, in Loree 010. Stop by for final grades and comments. Otherwise send me an email clearly requesting that I send your grade by email.

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Week Fourteen

Thursday, Apr. 30

In class

Work Due

More work on the final project for in-class review.

Astonishing Things

Maira Kalman, May It Please the Court. Another, different example of a graphic narrative seeking to teach something (here: about the Supreme Court). Interesting flow of out-of-panel text, in-panel text, painted pictures, and photographs.

In case you missed this one (please, don't cry).

And there was something I wanted to say about this comic last week but didn't: Animator Tatsuyuki Tanaka's (non-animated) Fifth Dimension.

And: Comics at SVA . . .

Friday, May 1
/Fresh Meat/, SVA's In-house Comic Convention
6 - 8 pm
217 East 23 Street (SVA's Student Center "Monkeybar Lounge")

Tuesday, May 5
Illustration & Cartooning Open Studios
6 - 8 pm
380 Second Avenue, 7th floor

Presentations

Ilya and Sarah present on Edward Tufte and how (to what extent) his ideas about information aesthetics apply to comics in general and, perhaps, to the final project in particular.

Ian presents on Clowes's "Gynecology" and what Dan Raeburn has to say about it.

Time Comics

Comfortable and alert in our hovering Chrono-Chairs, we look at more of your time comics.

Chrono-Chair

Chrono-Chair
1983 model.

Final Project

In classs work and review.

Homework

Final Project

Complete Anthology project. Each group member must upload a PDF copy of his or her own section to Sakai and leave a printed copy for me in either (1) my mailbox in Murray Hall or (2) under my office door in Loree (room 010) by the due dates listed below.

The group will also need to upload one PDF of the contents/intro pages to Sakai and leave a one printed copy for me in either (1) my mailbox in Murray Hall or (2) under my office door in Loree (room 010) by the due dates listed below. As a group, make a plan for who will be responsible for doing this.

Due dates and formats for the Final Project:

  1. One group member: 9 PM, Thursday, May 7 A high-quality PDF copy of the contents page and intro, and your individual story in the dropbox on Sakai.
  2. Each group member: 9 PM, Thursday, May 7 A high-quality PDF copy of your individual story in the dropbox on Sakai.
  3. One group member: 11 AM, Monday, May 11 A printed/photocopied/handmade version of the contents page and intro in my mailbox in Murray Hall or in my office, Loree 010.
  4. Each group member: 11 AM, Monday, May 11 A printed/photocopied/handmade version of your story/chapter in my mailbox in Murray Hall or in my office, Loree 010.

Note: You do not EACH have to submit the complete anthology.

Final Office Hour

Monday, May 11, 3.30-4.30 PM. Loree 010. Stop by for final grades and comments. Otherwise send me an email clearly requesting that I send your grade by email.

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Week Thirteen

Thursday, Apr. 23

In class

Work Due

Preliminary work on the final project.

Astonishing Things

El Robocop

El Robocop infographic from the Flickr stream of Sergio M. Mahugo.

Moreover: Your Fight or Run and Time comics. Now on Sakai!

And: Animator Tatsuyuki Tanaka's (non-animated) Fifth Dimension (translation at Pink Tentacle).

Presentations

Maggie and Irena present on Chatman; Dave Y and Mark K present on Goodman ("Twisted Tales"); and Cory and Arpan present on Peeters ("Four Concerptions").

Still to present: Ilya, Sarah, Ian, and Ed.

Final Project

Another example of a hosted comic story: Puglyon's Crypt (1974), drawn by Ramona Fradon.

Homework

Reading

Technical, critical, theoretical
  • Edward Tufte, Envisioning Information (browse on Sakai).
  • Ehses, "Representing Macbeth" (on Sakai: Resources: Theory & Criticism)
Linked comics

Final Project

Sample pages in some state of quasi-completion. Revised story outline.

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Week Twelve

Thursday, Apr. 16

In class

Work Due

Time Comic. Bring printed version to class. Upload PDF version to Sakai drop box. Remember to FLATTEN Photoshop files before saving them as PDFs. (Or flatten them in the PDF-saving process, if you can.)

Even More Things to Astonish

The old April Fool's joke I was trying to describe two weeks ago: Google TiSP.

Chris Ware, Cinefamily cover (on film director Yasujiro Ozu).

Jim Shaw: The Temptation of Doubting Olsen (1990); The Girls in Billy's Class #1 (1986).

Presentations

Still to present:

  • Maggie,
  • Ilya,
  • Sarah,
  • Mark K,
  • Ian,
  • Arpan,
  • Irena,
  • Edward,
  • Cory,
  • David Y.

Final Project

You'll spend much of today's class planning and starting to draw/design the Final Project.

Three Informational Comics by Josh Neufeld

I've also linked these under the reading for next week but we'll preview them in class.

Comics and Diagrams

First let's glance previewingly at Edward Tufte on Links and Causal Arrows and Mapped Pictures/Annotated Images. (This is part of the reading for next week.)

Next some non-comics examples, one you might recall from last week:

Some comics examples:

More Examples for Discussion

More comics that are primarily informational, or that use information design, or that use graphic devices, symbolism, and notation with a non-comics informational provenance:

Homework

Reading

Technical, critical, theoretical
Linked comics
  • TBA

Final Project

A mix of things are due for the next class:

  • One-page story synopsis (printed), including introductory paragraph that explains relation of your story to the anthology's theme.
  • Panel-by-panel script (printed) or thumbnails (photocopy or printed scan) for at least first two pages of story.
  • Character designs for the anthology's host and for at least two main characters (human, animal, alien, supernatural, metaphysical, or inanimate). Bring in both drawn and scanned (600 ppi tiff) versions of your sketches/designs.
  • Ideas and designs for the 2-page collaborative table of contents and credits.
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Week Eleven

Thursday, Apr. 9

In class

Work Due

Further progress on Time Comic. Bring work and materials to work with in class.

Weekly Presentation

Will it happen? Find out!

Fight or Run: The In-Class Activity

This exercise is based (strongly) on Kevin Huizenga's idea and also on a related recommendation by Irena. Here are the instructions:

  1. Form groups of two (or three, if necessary).
  2. Working on paper, each member designs a distinctive character. Give the character a look, a shape, a size, a name, a personality, and some traits. The character may or may not have powers. But he, or she, or it should have some ability, talent, tool, weapon, spirit companion, or useful pet. Your character may also have peculiar weakness, shortcoming, neurosis, deformity, lack, gap, etc.

  3. Share your character (all the details) with your partner(s).
  4. Working on paper, make a Fight or Run comic of at least seven panels in which your character, by whatever means, defeats your partner's character (or, if you're in a group of three, your partners' characters). Your character wins either (1) by defeating the other character(s) in a violent or non-violent contest of some kind ("fight"), or (2) by definitively escaping the contest ("run"). The "fight" can take any form that the intersection of your character's abilities, the other character's abilities, and the environment allows. Ditto, the running away.
  5. When finished: share your work.
  6. For next week: scan and upload a PDF version of your Fight or Run comic to Sakai.

Final Project

Introducing the Final Project.

Time Comic Project

Final in-class open workshop for the Time Comic Project.

Homework

Reading

Technical, critical, theoretical
Comics in Brunetti
  • A second look at Collier's "Ethel Catherwood Story" (337)
  • And at Clowes, "Gynecology" (375)
  • And Dan Raeburn on Clowes (397)
Linked comics

Time Comic Project

Complete your comic for next week. Bring a printed copy to class. Upload a PDF scan (or digital original) to your Sakai drop box.

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Week Ten

Thursday, Apr. 2

In class

Work Due

Progress on Time Comic. Bring work and materials to work with in class.

More Things to Astonish

So does this mean I'm famous?

Marjane Satrapi wins the Alph'Art Prize at the 2001 Angoulême International Comics Festival. Cartoon originally published in the comics anthology Lapin.

Something else by Scott McCloud: Grimace Project (well, he helped).

Portfolio site of the illustrator Pierluigi Longo.

Tom Neely, Full of Pryde.

At last, some examples of Huizenga's Fight or Run:

More Presentations to Astonish

John and David give a team presentation on Abel & Madden, chapters 11.1 and 12.1, the sections on Panel Design and Creating a Sense of Placer (i.e., setting).

Another Book Review Comic

Alison Bechdel reviews Jane Vandenburgh's A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century (NY Times). Also: Bechdel discusses making the review.

Time Comics Project

Further work on this comic.

Time comic by Kevin Huizenga: Time Travelling.

Homework

Reading

Comics in Brunetti
  • A clinical piece by Daniel Clowes: "Gynecology" (375)
  • And Dan Raeburn on Clowes (397)
Linked comics

Time Comic Project

Update: As discussed in class, the due date for this project has been moved back by a week. The finished comic now is due April 16.

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Week Nine

Thursday, Mar. 26

In class

Work Due

(1) Zimmerli drawings, photos, notes, etc., based on at least two works on which to base panels in the Time Comic Project; (2) 1-2 page plot outline to turn in; (3) character and setting sketches to show.

Presentation

More on McCloud.

More on Layout and Narrative

Yes, more. We'll start with some examplese of pre-comics pictorial narrative, evolving into comics narrative. Then more examples of comics narrative.

Panels and Worlds

Abel & Madden have a fair amount to say on these subjects in this week's and next week's readings. We'll begin the discussion using examples from the Hernandez, Deitch, and Brown readings and from Hiaroaki Samura.

And of course: Wallace Wood's 22 Panels that Always Work!!.

Minor Genre: Book Review Comics

This was going to be an assignment, but I suspect we won't have the time.

More book summary than book review (but we should consider how the manner in which Gross summarizes [i.e., re-presents] Chandler's narrative makes his comic into a kind of evaluative commentary): Milt Gross's review of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep.

John Campbell's review of Brad Gooch's Biography of Flannery O'Connor (Stereotypist).

Jennifer Camper's review of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis 2 (scroll down for the review).And here is a review of Camper's review. Woo!

Homework

Reading

Technical, critical, theoretical
  • Abel & Madden, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, chap. 11 and 12.
  • McCloud, Understanding Comics, chapters 8 and 9.

Next week's presentation options (update): team presentation on Abel & Madden, chapters 11.1 and 12.1, the sections on Panel Design and Creating a Sense of Placer (i.e., setting).

Comics in Brunetti
  • . . .
Linked comics
  • More Shintaro Kago: Dance! Kremlin Palace!.
  • Farrel Dalrymple, "Fotogloctica" (on Sakai).
  • Kevin Huizenga, "Glenn Ganges" (on Sakai).

Time Narrative Comic

Continue working on this comic.

The final version of the Time Comic should be 5-8 pages. The majority of the pages should have at least 4-5 or more panels. If your pages are going to have fewer panels, aim for more pages and disucss your layout ideas with me.

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Week Eight

Thursday, Mar. 12

In class

Work Due

Exercises in Style. Upload a copy to Sakai. Bring a physical copy for the instructor (and, if you want, one for your group to look at). Also, make sure you have an electronic copy as well. Each group will combine its variants into a single file and upload the file to Scribd.

More Things to Astonish

The promised film version of McGuire's Here by Timothy Masick and William Traynor (1991).

Presentations to Astonish

A presentation on McCloud that will astonish.

Exercises in Style: Conclusion

Each group should combine its variants into a single PDF and upload the file to Scribd. Then we'll take a collective critical look at these.

Coloring Your Comics

Here are some tutorials for coloring comics using Photoshop.

Page Design

Page composition is cool. Let's look at some of the pre-history and evolution of (narrative) comics page composition.

Next, let's look at some recent examples and related material:

  • Comixpress, Technical Specs
  • GX Comics Templates
  • Zander Cannon, Tips and Tricks: Writing for Comics
  • Jack Kirby, Captain America vs Batroc the Leaper (3 x 3 action sequence)
  • Jack Kirby, Forever People (five panels in three tiers)
  • Jack Kirby, Devil Dinosaur (three panels in two tiers)
  • Jack Cole, Plastic Man (Plastic Man #7, Spring 1947). Cole balances a scene dominated by Dr Volt's thin blue outfit in the upper left against a second scene dominated by Woozy Wink's dotted, much fuller green outfit in lower right. Notice also how each of the two scenes has its own secondary or background activity: the cat and mouse drama above, the odd bespectacled figure (Plastic Man in disguise) below.
  • George Herriman, Krazy Kat (1922)
  • Chris Ware, Candide (book-cover design)
  • Cowboy Henk (foreign, very)
  • Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen (opening page)
  • Steranko, Nick Fury page
  • David B., Epileptic, page 163
  • David B., Epileptic, page 164
  • Eduardo Risso, page 100 Bullets. A page from the Counterfifth Detective sequence of the series; seven panels in three tiers narrating an event we never see, a devastating punch, and its aftermath.
  • John Porcellino, Armadillo Story
  • Takehiko Inoue, Vagabond, chapter 12, page 8. A page of impersonal narration and aspect-to-aspect transitions; note the bleeds on one side but not the other and the different thicknesses between the horizontal and vertical gutters; reads right to left, in the Japanese style; four panels in three tiers; compare with the second Kirby example above.

And: An example of adventurous page structure from the diary comics.

Time and Narrative in Comics

Time Narrative Comic Assignment

Tell a comics story in five or more pages using words, pictures, graphic devices, page design, etc. The majority of the pages should have four or more panels per page. No more than one page can be full-page splash.

  • Story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end that follow or modify in some clear way a basic narrative arc.
  • Story can be fiction or non-fiction, fantastic or realistic. It can be a genre story (crime, horror, weird romance, superhero, western, political thriller, etc.). The narrative can be fairly straightforward or it can verge on (but should not succumb to) the virtually nonsensical. Always, that is, maintain some clear degree narrative coherence.
  • The story should have at least three different characters and at least one instance of conflict that get resolved or at least promises to get resolved by the story's end.
  • The story should take place (develop, unfold) in at least five distinct moments or scenes. Three of these can be more or less consecutive or simultaneous (i.e., very near in time). The other two moments should be well in the past or well in the future of the main action.
  • Two panels of the comic should be based on pictorial images in the Zimmerli Museum. The panels do not have to reproduce the images but might borrow a detail, a character, a setting, a color scheme, or the composition. Cf. Manet's many appropriations of parts and wholes of earlier paintings in his own painted work (e.g., the Dejeuner sur l'herbe).

Work solo, collaboratively, or in a small group (each member responsible for five pages of story). As an alternative: you can develop a plot collaboratively in class, then each make (and modify) your own version of the story. In any case, discuss the project as a group before pursuing whichever approach you select.

We'll work on this comic for the next three weeks. The complete final version is due Aril 9th.

For the next class: (1) visit the Zimmerli and take notes, make sketches, photograph, etc. at least two images on which to base some panels; bring this work to class; (2) prepare and turn in a 1-2 page plot outline; (3) bring character and setting sketches to show.

If there's time today, we'll beginning to make character sketches for this project.

Homework

Reading

The reading for next week continues to look at questions of narrative. They also focus on time, particularly big shifts in time. And with these readings we return to questions of the grid and layout.

Technical, critical, theoretical
  • Abel & Madden, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, chap. 11.
  • McCloud, Understanding Comics, chapter 8
Comics in Brunetti
  • Kim Deitch story.
Linked comics
  • Another Kim Deitch Story (on Sakai)
  • Chester Brown, depressing excerpt from Louis Riel (on Sakai)
  • Richard McGuire, a later, remixed polychromatic version of Here (on Sakai)

The second Deitch and Brown comics present two very different narratives about execution (one criminal, one military).

Time Narraive Comic

Begin . . . Complete the prep work described under the project assignment above.

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Week Seven

Thursday, Mar. 5

In class

Work Due

Outline/Thumbnails for a Six-Page Story with a Narrative Arc (Transformed). Again: You're writing an outline for a 6-page story, not the full story itself. The outline does not itself need to be six pages. It could be one or two pages. Then you're making thumbnails for just the first 2-3 pages of the story.

Things to Astonish

Things to Do with a Nine Panel Grid: Creative Time Comics.

Tom Gauld is funny: Guardian Letter Cartoons (on Flickr).

Nate Piekos, Comics Grammar & Tradition (on Blambot).

Presentation

Another presention on McCloud. I believe Cecile and Jess on chapter 5.

Exercise: What's the Story?

Yes. What is the story being told by Dash Shaw's "Cartooning Symbolia"?.

Exercise: Exercises on Style

For this exercise, let us refer to the excerpt from Matt Madden's Exercises in Style on Sakai.

Homework

Reading

The reading for next week continues to look at questions of narrative. They also focus on time, particularly big shifts in time. And with these readings we return to questions of the grid and layout.

Technical, critical, theoretical
Comics in Brunetti
  • McGuire, "Here" (88)
  • Hernandez, "Flies on the Ceiling" (191)
  • Huizenga, "The Sunset" (283)
  • Crumb, "A Short History of America" (299)

See Derik A. Badman, One Page, a close reading of the first page of Jaime Hernandez's story.

Linked comics
  • Alan Moore and Rick Veitch, Greyshirt story: "How Things Work Out" (Tomorrow Stories #2, 1999). (Also under Resources on Sakai.)
  • Mike Mignola, Hellboy in "Doctor Carp's Experiment" (on Sakai)

For more interesting page and panel design, see Shintaro Kago's Abstraction.

Exercises in Style

Complete for next week. Upload a copy to Sakai. Bring a physical copy for the instructor (and, if you want, one for your group to look at). Also, make sure you have an electronic copy as well. Each group will combine its variants into a single file and upload the file to Scribd.

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Week Six

Thursday, Feb. 26

In class

Important Technical Stuff

Combining multiple files (e.g., pages) into a single, multi-paged document.

Saving work for editing vs. saving work for sharing.

Adding metadata to your files.

Narrative

From Chatman we get the distinction between story and (narrative) discourse, and from Goodman the related distinction between the order of the told and the order of the telling.

More about Narrative

As noted (briefly) last week: We can further analyze a narrative, graphic or otherwise, into three parts: story, plot, and narration. The Watchmen and David Collier readings should help us here.

Jessica Abel and Matt Madden's concept of the traditional narrative arc, which we'll get to next week, combines a certain variety of story with a certain form of plot.

Abel and Madden speak of "five essential ingredients":

  1. The protagonist
  2. The spark
  3. The escalation
  4. The climax
  5. The denouement

With the narrative arc firmly in mind, let's consider first Homer's Odyssey and then, more closely, Priddy's "Onion Jack."

Review of Your Diary Comics

The difference between chronicle and story.

Some things to look at in the diary comics.

Time Divisions: regular or variable, linear or non-linear.

Styles of narration:

  • POV narration (showing us what you see)
  • Third-person narration (showing us yourself)
  • Symbolic narration (using metonymy, metaphor, synechdoche, etc. to show us icons standing for what you see, what happens, what you do, think, etc.)
  • Inner/psychological narration (showing and/or telling us primarily what you think or feel)
  • Expressionistic narration (making how you show what you show of the narrative world register or reflect what you/the diarist feel[s])

Another interesting feature of the diary comics is the varying degrees of context offered for the details or events shown (via exposition in caption boxes, visual information in the panel, expository dialogue, or longer narrative sequences). Stories usually bring with them certain expectations for context. Context might not be given at once, it may be delayed, but the reader expects a good amount of context (though when, how, and how much will differ with genre and author). Diary comics, however, can give a lot of context or very little, almost none at all. This is one artistic power or appeal of the genre.

Narrative Arc TRANSFORMED Exercise

This is a collaborative exercise for the collaboratory:

  1. Choose a well-known film or tv series narrative (like the first Star Wars trilogy, i.e., Episodes 4-6) that follows the traditional narrative arc in a more or less linear, chronological way.
  2. Analyze the narrative arc into its main story elements (protagonist, spark, obstacles, etc.).
  3. Now retell the story. That is: change the order and form of the telling. Try to change the order (etc.) as much as possible while preserving (and continuing to convey) the same essential story information as the original.

Homework

Reading

Technical, critical, theoretical:

  • Abel & Madden, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, chap. 10.
  • Again: McCloud, Understanding Comics, chapters 5 & 6.
  • Pratt, "Narration in Comics" (on Sakai, in the Theory & Crititicism folder of the resources section).

Linked comics (and other reading):

  • Bernie Krigstein, "Master Race"
  • Shannon Gerrard, Unspent Love (at Top Shelf 2.0).
  • Toronto).
  • Matt Madden, excerpts from Exercises in Style (on Sakai)

Also, take another look at Dash Shaw's fascinating "Cartooning Symbolia", this time with the distinction between story and narrative discourse, between what is told and how it is told, in mind.

Thumbnails for a Six-Page Story with a Narrative Arc (Transformed)

Note: This description was slightly revised for clarity on Sunday, May 1.

See Abel & Madden, pages 136-37 for this assignment.

Actually, I'm changing this. Instead, adapt the plot structure of the transformed narrative from class into a new six-page story of your own.

Using the basic plot skeleton as a template make a new story, changing details (but not the general plot structure) as much as you like. Expand, compress, add or eliminate characters, change the setting, and so on. You may focus on a single episode from the larger narrative or try to present the complete narrative, but at a different scale. Essentiallly, you're not so much retelling the old story as making a new story, using the transformed plot structure from class as a constraint. Think of Star Wars, Hamlet, or the Maltese Falcon re-set or remixed in a high school.

Your characters may allude to characters in the original, as James Joyce's Leopold Bloom alludes to Homer's Odysseus; or even as Coppola's Major Kurtz in Apocalypse Now alludes to Joseph Conrad's in Heart of Darkness; but they should not be the same characters, in the same setting, or even have the same name.

Plan the story out, as Abel & Madden suggest on pages 136-37. Then start to make thumbnails of the first few pages. Note: Thumbnailing just the first two-to-three pages of the full story is sufficient (as long as you summarize the full six pages in writing first).

If you've missed today's class, either (1) get together with someone else who's missed the class and do the in-class exercise and then work from that; or (2) do it "ronin"-style (as Abel & Madden like to say) and then proceed. In either case, keep and submit a copy of the transformed film/tv/theater narrative along with your other work.

The purpose of the plot skeleton is to act as a creative constraint. But don't let it be TOO constraining. Loosen as needed. The real objective here is to generate a non-linear story outline, one where the order of the telling does not match the order of the told, and a few pages of initial thumbnails.

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Week Five

Thursday, Feb. 19

In class

A panel from Chantal Montpellier's 1996.

Presentation

Mark and Kristin will present on McCloud, chapter 4.

McCloud and Wolk

Some of Douglass Wolk's key terms and ideas:

  • "cartooning as interpretation" (121)
  • "cartoonist's line" as "signature" (123)
  • "legibility" (124) – very important
  • "two different kinds of information [on the page]" (126)
  • "change over time" (130) = "space in time" (125)
  • "pregnant moment" (131)

Wolk also argues that for many comics: "The cartoonist's image-world is a metaphorical representation of our own" (134). He unfolds two possibilities from this idea:

  1. "experiencing space-through-time in a way that's different form our personal perspective" (134) = representation of another, distinctive subjectivity; and
  2. "the concept of a literal separate reality that is also, in consequential ways, default reality" (134) = fantasy worlds, surreal worlds, metaphysical worlds,dream, worlds, alternate realities, etc.

When we take away narrative focus or fullness, when we slow down the narrative, or increase the space between the moments of crisis, e.g., in the pictureless comics or the diary comics, we get just "another world, which is this world" (literally or metaphorically).

Wolk's example from Seth's Clyde Fans.

Narrative

Last week, using your diary comics, we looked at how we can analyze a comics narrative into a sequence of different panel-to-panel transitions. We can further analyze a narrative, graphic or otherwise, into three parts: story narration, and plot.

Jessica Abel and Matt Madden's concept of the traditional narrative arc, which we'll get to next week, combines a certain variety of story with a certain form of plot.

An example of a very minimal narrative would be:

The debut comic strip by Yoshiharu Tsuge

Bizarre, the debut comic strip by Yoshiharu Tsuge, reprinted in Tsuge Yoshiharu Early Work Anthology, vol. 1, p. 9.

The standard four-panel plot structure of this strip is nicely analyzed in this Zippy strip:

Zippy

Zippy by Bill Griffith (source: Visual Linguist).

Some further examples with reference to both this week's Abel-Madden reading and the interview (or conversation) comic assignment:

In the first example: notice Segar's plot and narration decisions, the use of delay and shifts of focus in telling the story.

In the second and third examples, notice how inanimate/nonhuman objects move from being props to almost being third characters in the represented action.

In the last example, notice how Cole balances a scene dominated by Dr Volt's thin blue outfit in the upper left against a second scene dominated by Woozy Wink's dotted, much fuller green outfit in lower right. Notice also how each of the two scenes has its own secondary or background activity: the cat and mouse drama above, the odd bespectacled figure (Plastic Man in disguise) below.

Interview Comic Assignment

Begin this project.

Homework

Reading

Technical, critical, theoretical:

  • Abel & Madden, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, chap. 9 (Structuring the Story).
  • McCloud, Understanding Comics, chapters 5 & 6.
  • Seymour Chatman essay on narrative (via Sakai; Theory folder).
  • Benoit Peeters, "Four Conceptions of the Page", trans. Jesse Cohn (ImageText 3.3).

Comics in Brunetti:

  • TBA

Linked comics (and other reading):

Interview Comic/Comic Interview

Finish drawing your panels. Design and draw your title splash. Scan your work (if hand drawn). 600-800 dpi recommended for line art, smaller for color.Save each PANEL (not page) as a separate TIFF file.

Bring TWO (laser) printed copies of your work (one for me and one to pass around) and an electronic copy (e.g., on a flash drive) to class.

Again, you'll put the full comic together in class using Adobe InDesign or a similar program.

If you cannot make it to next week's class, do not leave your partner(s) in a bad spot. Send them digital copies of your panels via email so that they can finish their version of the comic in class. They'll then send you copies of their panels and you'll need to finish your own version independently. (Upload to our ScribdD.com group as soon as you can).

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Week Four

Thursday, Feb. 12

In class

Presentation

Rich and Larry will present on McCloud, chapter 3.

Continuing with McCloud and Transition

Panel composition, page composition, and panel-to-panel transition.

Example of an action-to-action panel transtion.

Example of an action-to-action panel transition.

Types of panel-to-panel transition:

Where do subjective and objective shifts backwards in time (perceived-to-remembered and present-to-past respectively) fit in to this breakdown?

Here is what is possibly an example of a symbolic transition (from Jack Kirby):

Possible example of a symbolic transition: what Prince Namor sees.

And here's a page of symbolic transitions from Eddie Campbell:

A exemplary page of symbolic transitions by Eddie Campbell.

Next: Follow the panel transitions in Cliff Sterrett's Polly and Her Pals (March 3, 1929).

And in one of the Wrong Planet narratives from our previous class.

With transition still in mind, let's take a look at Alex Toth's Case of the Curious Classic.

Diary Comics: Transition Analysis Exercise

Working in groups, read and re-read each other's diary comics. As you re-read, make a list of the panel transitions for at least the first twelve panels. If a panel transition doesn't seem to fit any of the standard types, make a note of this and try to determine the nature of this non-standard transition. Similarly, it the transition is ambiguous (belongs to two or more types) indicate this as well.

Compare your lists for each of the diary comics and, for each, settle on a definitive list. At the end of the activity, each group member should submit the definitive list for his or her comic with the comic itself.

Comic Jumble Exercise

Working in groups of three on the Mac grands, complete the jumble comics exercise described on pages 46-47 of the Abel & Madden textbook.

Here are the original instructions.

For this exercise we'll use the beautiful Sunday Comics Sections from the Times-Picayune, June 25, 1939 (via the hard work and kindness of ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive).

Work in Photoshop.

When you've finished, save your comic jumble twice: (1) as an editable PDF, Tiff, or PSD and (2) as a compressed PDF. Upload the second (compressed) version to our "402_spr09" group on Scribd.

This exercise should serve as a Photoshop warm-up.

Interview Comic Assignment

Working in groups of two or three, produce a reciprocal interview comic: i.e., one in which you interrogate each other on and discuss one, or a small range of related, topics.

Here is an example: Steve Murray and Chester Brown, "Brown Now".

As with this example, your comic must have some kind of plot, including at least one significant event. The event can come at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end (as in the Murray and Brown comic).

Also as with the Murray and Brown example, each participant will draw the panels in which he or she asks or answers a question.

Content-wise, then, this comic should do two things. First, it should present a reciprocal interview in which each participant learns something, in some detail, about the other participant(s). This can be biographical, philosophical, political, culinary, academic, sexual (with the appropriate care), aesthetic, athletic, martial, etc.

For instance, you might discuss drawing or comics, or something you both liked or disliked in your distant childhood.

Second, the comic should tell a minimal story, including at least one significant event (as in panels 8 & 9 of the Murray-Brown strip). The event can come at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. If it's at the beginning, your interview dialogue (or "trialogue") can develop in reaction to the event: "Did you see that?!" "Yeah!" "What did you think of it?" And so on.

Or the plot can take place in the background of your strip. You're there talking in the foreground, and some series of actions is taking place behind you or above or around you. Or, your discussion takes place in the background with the story taking place in the foreground. Something like Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

The story can even be a serious (or comical) CONTRAST = e.g., a traditional superhero team-up in which, while doing all sorts of life-saving and derring-do, you conduct a mostly serious conversation about something else, unconnected (or only metaphorical or metonymically connected to what you images show). Thus something like this:

Atom and Flash

but with interview dialogue instead of Bob Haney's classic silver-age dialogue.

Requirements

Each participant is responsible for (1) at least six panels and (2) a splash panel of at least one third of a page containing an image, the comic's title, and credits. In other words, you'll have multiple (at lewast 2) versions of the first page, one for each participant. Agree in advance on whether this will be a one-third, half, two-thirds, or full page splash (no OMAC style two-page splashes).

An example of a splash: Jack Kirby Splash.

(For more, see the examples listed in the section above.)

For this comic, you'll need to scan your work (if not drawn on a computer) and bring scanned versions of your work to the next class.

Color is optional, but never frowned upon. You may letter by hand or digitally (e.g., in Comic Life).

Each participant may represent him or herself realistically or symbolically. It's your avatar. (You may even change from panel, although this can be risky if it distracts from the other content.) The only real rule is that how you depict yourself does not interfere with the legibility of the comic.

Process

The process in sum:

  1. Form your pairs or triples
  2. Interview = generate story and draft of script
  3. Collaboratively thumbnail the comic
  4. Draw your panels and title splashes
  5. Scan drawings; save panels as TIFF files
  6. Combine panels, layout, etc.; add extra lettering, captions, effects, to maximize transitions, etc. in the next class

For advice on scanning drawings, see the PRINT section by Jordan Crane in A Guide to Reproduction (PDF).

Or find an online tutorial by searching for "scanning line art" in Google. Generally, if you're doing a straight line art scan, 600dpi-800dpi is good.

More Examples of Interview Comics

Three panels from a "conversation" between James Kochalka and Craig Thompson can be found in this interview with Chris Staros of Top Shelf.

Others:

  • Nick Bertozzi and Harvey Pekar, "Greetings from Ohio" (again, as interview example)
  • Crumb and Pekar, Lunch with Carmella (Brunetti 322).
  • Crumb and Pekar, Excerpt
  • Jay Lynch and Ed Piskor, Chester Gould (not really an interview with Gould, creator of Dick Tracy; more a memoir of strange encounter with him)

Another example: Mike Russell, Culture Pulp: Jeff Smith/Bone interview (I think).

(And while I'm at it, here is Mike Russell's brief history of super-heroes in film, an informational comic he made for the Oregonian in 2004.)

Also take a look at the excerpt from Art Spiegelman's Maus (Brunetti 149), in which Spiegelman interviews his father, a holocaust survivor.

Homework

Reading

Technical, critical, theoretical:

  • Abel & Madden, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, chapters 6 and 14.
  • McCloud, Understanding Comics, chapter 4.
  • Douglas Wolk, "Pictures, Words, and the Space between Them" (handout).
  • Nelson Goodman, "The Telling and the Told" "Twisted Tales" (on Sakai, under Resources, in the new Theory & Criticism folder).
  • Ron Rege Jr., Dave Choe, Brian Ralph, and Jordan Crane, A Guide to Reproduction (.pdf).

Comics in Brunetti:

  • David Collier, "Ethel Catherwood Story" (337)

Linked comics:

Transitions Assignment

Select a comics page or sequence of at least six panels that is either in Brunetti or available for reading online (you could put the page online yourself; however, this should not be a page of your own work).

Describe/list the transtions from panel to panel.

Next, using either a script or thumbnails with explanatory captions, develop three re-tellings of the original sequence using different transtion types to narrate the same events. As you do this, consider Goodman's short essay on the telling and the told and Wolk's analysis of the panel sequence by Seth.

You may add new captions (narration) to the retold sequence but NOT new dialogue.

Note that beyond the optional use of thumbnails, no redrawing of the sequence is required for this assignment.

Submit an e-copy of your work to Sakai and turn in a printed copy in class.

Interview (or Conversation) Comic

We'll start this collaborative assignment in the next class.

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Week Two

Thursday, Jan. 29

In class

Mo' Sho'

Illustration from a Shochan narrative.

Another dubious illustration of the little Shochan and his squirrel.

Scribd Sign-Up

If you haven't yet: Register for Scribd and send a request to join the "402_spr09" group.

Grading Criteria

Below are the general grading criteria for the composing graphic narratives course. Specific assignments might have some additional criteria.

  • Complexity: How much the work does, how much content and technique it, how many different pieces it brings together, given what it can. For instance, in the pictureless comic, all else being equal, a work varying the size of its panels would exhibit greater complexity than one that did not; and one that uses word balloons, sound effects, motion lines, and emanata would be more complex than one using only word balloons and sound effects. Paradoxically, making a comic very simple can be a sign of complexity, given that formal simplification is a possible technique.
  • Creativity: The degree to which the work does clever, surprising, adventurous things with the requirements of the assignment and the resources of comics and narrative.
  • Coherence: How well a narrative holds together as a complete whole.
  • Clarity: The clarity of panel content and transition. How easy or difficult is it for your reader to tell what is going on in a panel or to effect closure between series of panels. Clarity is a relative value. Some narratives exploit ambiguity or obscurity. Clarity becomes a problem when ambiguous or obscure narration is not a (clear) intention of the work.
  • Completeness: The degree to which your work satisfies the basic requirements of the assignment. (E.g., if the assignment specifies that your narrative take place in a cold climate, does it take place in one? If the assignment specifies no more than three characters in at least nine panels, do you have four characters? only six panels?)
  • Care (or Correctness): Correct spelling, submitting all your pages, having all the basic pieces in place (e.g., title).

Clarity/Legibility

Here we'll take a look at some examples to get a better sense of some aspects of what I mean by clarity or legibility. (These examples are not comprehensive.)

Example of deliberate illegibity in a comics panel.

Example of deliberate illegibility in a comics panel.

Here is anohter case to examine: Porch Days.

We'll also look at a third example via Scribd.

The Reading

Let's look at some examples from the reading for today. In particular, let's consider the form and function of the narrator or narrative voice in each of these.

Activity: The Wrong Planet

Today's first group activity is Pahl Hluchan's "Wrong Planet" activity, described in the Abel & Madden textbook on page 31.

Activity: Power of Captions

Our second group activity is an exercise suggested by Austin Kleon's "The Power of Captions: Words Added to Pictures". Following Kleon's analysis and examples, you'll work in groups to create different gags, stories, or messages from the same image.

Among other things, we'll use this caption-writing activity for some preliminary practice with Photoshop.

Working in groups of 3-4, complete the following series of steps.

  1. Find/produce a mix of wordless images. There should be at least six of these. Half need to be drawn (by you or found online) or clip art; half should be photographs.
  2. Save the images to the local desktop and open them in Photoshop.
  3. Move one table over clockwise.
  4. Select 3-4 images from the selection open in Photoshop. Choose at least one drawing or piece of clip art and one photograph.
  5. For each image, come up with two VERY different captions or labels that (optimally) change how we would see these images in two very different, even opposing ways. Use Kleon's blog article as a your paradigm.
  6. Duplicate the image as demonstrated by the instructor.
  7. Then use the Photoshop type tool to add your conflicting captions to each image-pair.
  8. Re-save the images, and upload them to one (or more) of your Scribd accounts. Then email the instructor links to these online versions.

Homework

Reading

Abel & Madden, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, chap. 4, on transitions and closure. Optional: chap. 5, on drawing/penciling.

McCloud, Understanding Comics, chapters 3 and 4.

In preparation for this week's comics-making homework, read the following comics in Brunetti (pages in parentheses):

  • James Kochalka, from Sketchbook Diaries (43-45)
  • Lynda Barry, Ernie Pook's Comeek (46-47)
  • John Porcellino, "The Bottle and Me" (269-70)
  • Gabrielle Bell, "Cecil and Jordan in New York" (279-82)
  • Some Harvey Pekar comics (322-28)

And some online comics:

Comic Diary Assignment

Working by hand or using a graphics program (or some combination of these), make ("keep") a diary comic for the next two weeks. Images can be drawn or collaged.

Your comic should cover at least eleven different days, using at least 24 panels, on at least four pages.

If nothing much happens over the next few days, then try to capture that uneventfulness. You may use one panel per event or devote several panels to recording/narrating a particular event. If your roommate says something funny, then that might be a good thing to include. If you see an interesting object on the street, draw it or take its picture and include that in/as a panel.

You might want to develop a simple constraint to help structure the diary: e.g., record whatever happens each day at 1pm and 7pm, even if it's the same thing three days in a row.

These panels can be humorous, meditative, exciting, calm, or action-packed. And the drawing/images can be as simple or complex, as cartoony or illustrative as you want or need them to be. Also, the style can vary with the content. Your aforementioned roommate can be represented abstractly or grotesquely while the object of your affection (human or non) can be represented in your best Alex Raymond illustrational style – or as an anthropomorphic animal.

In light of today's discussion: Pick and try to maintain a single narration technique throughout the (short) diary. For instance, will you use an avatar like Alison Bechdel or an external voice-over like Art Spiegelman? Will you be the focus of your diary, the main character of your daily story, or the detached, virtually invisible reporter of the world you inhabit (like Joe Sacco or Campbell Robertson)?

Try to use some of the basic comics conventions (motion lines, sound effects, thought balloons, expressive or irregular panel borders, etc.) that you began to experiment with in the pictureless comic.

Lay out your own pages or select and print panel-layout templates from a program like Comic Life or one of the online template suppliers.

Some comics for reference:

Your diary comic (printed or handmade) is due at the start of the next class (Feb. 12). You'll also need to upload a .pdf or .tiff version to Scribd and your Sakai dropbox.

Iconic/Realistic Assignment

In chapter two of Understanding Comics, McCloud describes the continuum of icons, from the more realistic to the more purely iconic. For this homework exercise, select eight different comics from the Brunetti anthology. On a sheet of white paper, do your best to copy a character face/head from each of these and order them in a line from most iconic to most realistic. Under each face/head record the name of the cartoonist you're copying and the page you're copying from.

Don't worry about making perfect or even very close copies. Just do your best and make sure your label each with its source.

Note: As an alternative to lining up your copied heads, your can number them from 1 to 8, with one being the most realistic and 8 the most iconic.

Presentation

Over the next few weeks, you'll present short (five-minute or so) summaries of the critical and theoretical readings, beginning with Understanding Comics, chap. 3, for the next class. Most of these will be in groups of two; a few might be in groups of three.

Summarize the theory or argument of the chapter, listing and defining any key words.

Find or create your own examples to illustrate the author's ideas (to supplement his or her own examples in the reading). Present these in Powerpoint or Keynote or via Acrobat or a graphics program (or if they're of your own creation, via Scribd).

Again: The first presentation group will prepare and present a five-minute summary of McCloud's Understanding Comics, chap. 3.

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Week One

Thursday, Jan. 22

In class

Introduction

Welcome to the first class of the semester.

These are the main books we'll be using:

  1. Jessica Abel, and Matt Madden. Drawing Words & Writing Pictures: Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels, and Beyond. New York: First Second, 2008.
  2. Scott McCloud. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperPerrenial, 1994.
  3. Ivan Brunetti, ed. Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories. New Havenk: Yale UP, 2006.

They'll be supplemented richly by a large number of online and scanned comics and a few handouts.

Three conceptions of comics we'll be working with:

  • Comics as information = approach comics in general as an evolving body of techniques for storing and communicating information, very often narrative information. For example:
  • Two panels from a Polly and Her Pals Sunday page.

    Two panels from a Polly and Her Pals Sunday page by Cliff Sterrett.

    Another example: Sarah McIntyre, "Dear David Lasky" (one that points to its informational character).

    Comics as Misinformation: History of the Heavy Metal Logo.

  • Comics (or cartooning) as interpretation, an idea put forward by Douglas Wolk in his book Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean, parts of which we'll be reading shortly. Wolk argues that comics don't simply reflect or record or report on the world in straightforward way, but "interpret" (or subjectively distort) the world in particular ways – through the style of the cartoonist (how the world is shown) as much as through the representational content (what parts or versions of the world are shown).
  • Comic as an art form (or place) in which anything can happen. This idea applies both to the content represented in a comic story or graphic narrative and to the form itself.
  • Here is an example of some things that can happen in (as) a graphic narrative: Untitled story by Yves Chaland.

After reviewing the syllabus, requirements, policies, etc., we'll examine some examples of comics.

Before and After Exercises

Description of exercise: In groups of four examine the linked examples. For each one, determine what happens before (what leads to) the image or depicted scene and what follows from it. In other words, construct a general story surrounding the image. Then, for each image, imagine a describe a panel preceding the image and another panel following it. What action is shown in the panel? What, if anything, is said?

For this activity, use these examples.

Comics Terminology

Review of some basic formal terminology used to talk about comics/graphic narrative.

Panel Lottery Activity

This is a variation of an activity designed by Abel and Madden, authors of Drawing Words.

For this activity, follow these instructions.

Homework

Reading

Abel & Madden, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, preface, introduction, and chapters 1 and 2. Read through the chapters but don't do the activities or homework assignments.

McCloud, Understanding Comics, skim chapter 1 for interest, read chapter 2 carefully.

Conrad Taylor, "But I Can't Draw!" (.pdf)

An assortment of short comics:

Look at the Sacco excerpt with the Pictureless Comic assignment in mind Notice how much work is being done by the non-figurative elements (panel shape, caption box angle and position, motion lines, emanata, music symbols, etc.).

In the Ware comic, somewhat by contrast, consider how the pictures, which do not fit cleanly or even logically with the words, nonetheless work to extend their meaning.

All five comics actively use narration, with a first-person narrator (or reporter) visually present, verbally self-referred to, or strongly implied. Consider the similarities and differences between them, and note the contrast with Mat Brinkman's wordless "Oaf" (Brunetti 73-76).

Bring the Brunetti anthology to the next class.

Pictureless Comic

Make a nine panel comic using any features of the form but NO pictures. That is: you can use word balloons, thought balloons, motion/speed lines, sound effects, fancy borders (including broken and overlapping borders), and emanata (see Drawing Words, pages 7-8). You can even use impact symbols (i.e., the jagged shapes used to indicate the fact and intensity of impact in fight scenes, accidents, etc.). But you can't use any pictures (no figures, no objects, no backgrounds).

Your comic should contain the following elements, which it needs to convey non-pictorially:

  • cold-climate setting
  • two human and one non-human (animal, plant, or alien) characters
  • one heavy object

Your comic should also do its best to include:

  • a piece of dialogue (or captioned exposition) used as both a question and an answer (i.e., in different panels).

Note that, despite the absence of figures and scenery, your comic does not have to be set in the dark, or a snow storm, or a blinding light, or represent the subjective experience of a blind narrator. That is: you do not need to explain (internally) the absence of the usual pictorial content. Although you may do so if you wish.

You can make the comic using pen and paper or a graphics program. While you might want to vary panel size, layout, or borders as part of your comic, here is a 9-panel grid (.pdf) to help you get started.

Here is an example of a short pictureless comic by Abel and Madden.

Some more examples courtesy of Derik Badman:

And a pictureless comic of a kind by the terrifici Eddie Campbell: Good Night Sweetheart (.jpg).

Your a physical copy of your pictureless comic (printed, photocopied, or handmade) is due at the start of the next class (Jan. 29). You should also upload an electronic copy (scanned if not originally digital) to to our "402_spr09" group on Scribd by the start of the next class; and also to the Sakai dropbox.

If scanning your work, 300px should be fine for color or grayscale; but use at least 600px for black-and-white (no grays) line art. Save the scan as a TIFF file and upload as such or as a PDF to Scribd and to the Sakai dropbox.

Note: When saving an image as a PDF (e.g., in Photoshop), select "high quality print" as your setting.

Scanners are available in all the campus computer labs as well as in Mason Gross.

Note: If you have trouble uploading to Sakai and/or Scribd, bring an electronic copy of your work to class (e.g., via flash drive or email) and we'll upload in class.

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