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This work was completed in ENG 181: The Secret Language of Comics, which I took in the Fall of 2019 during my Freshman year at Emory University.


Reflection Letter

Through taking ENG 181: The Secret Language of Comics, I not only became acquainted with the techniques and benefits of the comic form, but also learned to apply the most successful tactics of comic’s dual form to improve my alphabetic writing. When I was tasked with creating a diagram of my learning this semester, I decided to that my growth was best described by the Hero’s Journey. I first approached the Assemblies assignment by brainstorming potential ideas for what metaphor could represent my growth in English class this semester. I thought about how the point of the class was not only to analyze and write about comics but also to acquire techniques to use in our writing in the future. I recalled how we began the course with a few alphabetic texts which provided us with the necessary knowledge in a familiar medium for reading and analyzing comics. Then we crossed into the world of the unknown and launched into reading and analyzing comics, a medium which I was unfamiliar with.


Initially, I enrolled in the class because I saw it as an opportunity, or “call to adventure,”  to learn about an unfamiliar medium of narratives. The course’s initial readings gave me a foundation on the history of comics and the tools that cartoonists employ. In our first book, Stitches, I used my knowledge of the “5 Pillars of Comics” to look closely at how the author, David Small, used perspective, panel layout, and his characters’ expressions to successfully recount his childhood trauma. The first step of the Tracing Pages assignment, where I chose a page from Stitches and Spinning to focus in on further, helped develop my skills identifying literary tactics. By spending time carefully tracing every detail of each page, I gained insight into how to do detailed analysis of a comic. Annotating the page solidified these skills as I wrote down all the observations I had made. As we read more books, I became more acquainted with the process of recognizing literary strategies, and I eventually started noticing the strategies as I was reading without trying. By the time we read The Best We Could Do, I found myself immediately noticing the added emphasis that the panel framing created as I turned each page.

Once I had established fluency in the secret language of comics, I exercised my critical thinking skills to analyze how each technique contributed to a narrative’s success. I discussed one such instance in my Halfa Kucha presentation, “Internal Conflict of slide06Trauma,” where I discussed how the dual forms of visuals and text, which can be divided into dialogue, thought bubbles, and captions, capture the experience in the moment, and offer later reflection from the author. My presentation went on to show how each type of text served to create an authentic depiction of Dana’s trauma by highlighting her internal conflict.

As I gained familiarity with the tactics comics utilize, my visual thinking and creativity were tested every week by the Sunday Sketch assignments. The weekly assignments, which each included a reflection post, trained my digital citizenship and established my digital identity as I amassed a portfolio of work. Having to properly cite images every week forced me to practice good digital citizenship when utilizing intellectual property. The Sunday Sketch assignments, which grew in complexity over the course of the semester, showed me step by step, how to create a comic, beginning with the two-panel Combophoto, then escalating to the three-panel Triptych, followed by the four-panel Quadriptych, and the five-panel Tell a True Story. I am particularly proud of my Quadriptych, titled “Good Afternoon!” because not only did I emulate the cartoonists I had read by establishing and then breaking a visual pattern, but also I went outside my comfort zone by hand-drawing  the comic. I was pleased with the end result because it captured a relatable struggle that I face and infused it with humor that everyone could enjoy. 

I struggled with the second half of the Tracing Pages assignment because I had never written and inductive essay before. The conclusion posed the greatest challenge to me because while I could approach the body paragraphs as I would for a deductive analytical essay, I didn’t know what sort of analysis to include in my conclusion. I felt that I had included all my evidence-based analysis in my body two paragraphs and didn’t know how to synthesize the findings of my two body paragraphs into a conclusion that didn’t just repeat my topic sentences.  After going over my first draft of the assignment with Professor Morgen, I knew I needed to draw my two body paragraphs together in a new and deeper way; however, I still didn’t know how to go about achieving this. I went to the writing center, where I made a reverse outline of my essay in order to figure out what I was really arguing. Even after outlining my essay, I didn’t know how to tie my two points together. It was not until I rewrote the conclusion, focusing on how the tactics the authors employed made their books successful, that I realized what my broader argument was. Through ruminating on the purpose of the authors’ literary and visual techniques, I concluded that they were to engage readers with emotions of the narrative, allowing them to empathize with the protagonists. The “Both Small and Walden utilize comic’s hybrid form to achieve an authentic portrayal of trauma that both helps readers who identify with the protagonists process their own trauma and lends understanding to readers who couldn’t otherwise relate. The authors use choice of moment, framing, and the symphonic effect to help readers who have suffered similar trauma heal by presenting trauma as accurately as possible in a medium that grants the audience control over pacing….Through engaging with the audience on an emotional level, the books impart an understanding of the elusive feelings that result from trauma. Fostering empathy engages the reader in the narrative and imparts insight into the challenges victims of trauma face. Ultimately, comics are successful at capturing the complex experience of trauma when they use their dual form to make the protagonists’ emotions accessible to all readers.” The process of revising this assignment drove me to learn a new essay style for my rhetorical composition, which I can employ for future writing assignments.

The true test of my comic-composition skills was Part 2 of the Literacy Narrative, when I converted my alphabetic narrative into first a storyboard, and then a final comic. When creating my storyboard, I placed too much emphasis on perfecting the drawings on the first page I made that I left little time to complete my other two pages. The experience taught me the importance of viewing writing as a process, where every project consists of a series of drafts that improve off the previous one, but are never finished. Once I was able to view storyboarding as merely a starting point from which I could revise, I was able to finish the outline of my comic. In fact, once I received feedback from my peers, I was glad I hadn’t invested more time trying to make my drawings perfect, since my peers helped inspire me to change my comic in a plethora of ways. Even when it came to drawing out my final comic, I had to keep in mind that writing is an ongoing process and that no draft is ever fully complete, since I was hung up on making the perfect version of my comic.

Despite the course’s focus on comics, one of the main takeaways was to learn how to apply the strategies that cartoonists use in my other writing. I learned through converting my Literacy Narrative first from an alphabetic text to a comic, and then back to an alphabetic text, that I can better streamline my narrative if I first sketch out a storyboard. I initially approached the Literary Narrative in Part 1 of the assignment as though it were a short story, including descriptive details about the initial scene I brainstormed during the in-class activity. However, through reformulating my narrative as a comic, I realized that a lot of the details about the setting did not add to the story. Storyboards force me to focus not on the details, but on the big picture. I plan on applying this technique in the future when I write essays, in order to make my writing as concise and clear as possible. Ultimately, the part of this class that will stay with me the the most is the self-reflection I did throughout the course of the semester, which helped me identify my weaknesses as a writer and how to tackle them. 


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