A Picture Can Mean A Thousand Words. A Comic Strip Can Mean Millions.

Graphic novels & comic books are an interesting genre to explore. A lot of people (probably your parents) probably didn’t see flipping through these ‘picture’ books as ‘really reading’ like textbooks & literature, and that they perceived it as more of a past time than anything. You were having too much fun to really be reading & learning—but that is precisely the value of these graphic texts.

We learned a lot of morals and values through those super-hero comics, or Dr Seuss books, believe it or not. And as children with minimal attention span, being able to want to continue reading and not perceive it as the traditionally tedious ‘reading’ that we usually avoid is HUGE. Visually-saturated text masters the skill of grabbing your reader’s attention.

But with high reward comes high risk. Using visuals—especially if you choose to go completely wordless in your text—requires heavy perspective-taking and empathy-building with the reader to ensure that your metaphorical imagery conveys what you mean to convey. Here are some things to keep in mind as you lay out the story of your visually based adventure:

  • Shock your reader… occasionally. Experiment with using visually complex imagery that may challenge your reader’s predictability for what they expect you to do. Surreal and unreal art, when appropriate, can bring a lot of attention to the reader to an exaggerated feature in your imagery. Just make sure you don’t abuse this too much such that your reader is just left plain-out confused.
Source: http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large/1-montreux-jazz-festival-keith-haring-.jpg

It’s hard to not get drawn to Keith Haring’s exaggeration of this person’s elongated body. The simple depiction of an uncommon feature draws our attention.

  • Colours tell a story. Especially with black and white graphics, the colours you decide—from hue, brightness, and contrast—can invoke certain feelings and focus the reader’s attention on certain sections of the panel. Colours are a very subtle way to emphasise something with a low likelihood of confusing the reader.
  • Think outside the frame. Change up the spatial mode of the comic strip or organisation of your visuals. Add variance to the gutter (space between each frame) or the size, shape & organisation of the frames themselves. This is a great way to manipulate the reader’s perception of time on a still image (how long or short they read the panel).
Source: http://img09.deviantart.net/ec71/i/2012/289/e/7/unconventional_comic_pg__5_by_stargnome-d5i1wfn.jpg

One of the top image results for ‘unconventional comic’ in a popular search engine. Notice how panels bleed over each other, the dialogue that leaks outside the frames, the vertical organisation of the story progression, and the sizes & shapes of the frames.

  • Perspective-taking is #1. Because you won’t be as explicit in describing a character or setting, you need to empathise with whether a reader would be able to feel and imagine the same things you want them to through your more ambiguous representations.
  • Be very intentional. Like any text, take into close consideration what you are deciding and not deciding to include in your text. Unlike the traditional word-heavy text, though, you have a very small & limited number of panels to communicate your message versus a book’s tens-of-thousands of words. A reader is likely to spend half a minute just staring at one panel, trying to consume all the information, even.
  • Take advantage of visuals. You can now literally draw things of important value to a character or plot development without having to depend on slightly imperfect words. Focus on painting vivid panels, focus on drawing facial & gestural expressions to invoke feeling, etc. You can also better convey movement and action by drawing these in, making a still image come alive. Words should complement your visuals, not be your main focus.
Source: https://i2.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/newsfeed/001/204/462/8b6.jpg

This meme could be our metaphor for substituting heavy text with detailed imagery. Think of it like this: with less vivid visuals, the more you probably will have to explain via text what you want to convey, which just exacerbates the messiness of a panel and a potentially uninteresting paragraph to the reader.


The graphic & visual text genre is a massive genre with many underlying branches. Take a look at just a handful of the many graphics, including Keith Haring’s artistry to understand the importance of art form in graphics.

Keith Haring’s ‘Pop Shop Quad II’ (1988).

Source: www.haring.com/!/art-work/816#.W9OjNmhKiUk.

Consisting of a collection of four of Haring’s ‘Pop Shop II’ art pieces, this collection focuses on displaying an interesting level of surrealism in his art that is frequently seen in all his art pieces in different forms. Haring plays with the limitations of the human body by creating a four-legged figure, a hovering figure, an elongated & highly flexible figure, and two figures combining bodies together. By experimenting with the uncommon and unimaginable, Haring’s simplistic yet signature art styles draw the attention of many who are simply intrigued by this unusualness. The unsettling uncomfortableness with the unreal is visually attractive. Often times, these pieces also only include one figure (or one conjoined figure), showing that it is important to not create an information overload with too many moving parts in the visuals that may confuse the reader.

Keith Haring’s ‘Retrospect’ (1989).

Source: www.haring.com/!/art-work/822#.W9OiS2hKiUk.

This large collection of Haring’s works throughout his career as an artist displays the numerous techniques he uses to distinguish his artistry. He frequently includes straightforward pictures with a single anomaly to attract the viewer’s eyes (i.e. two figures in the portrait, except one of the figures is looped inside the other figure’s body that has a gaping hole in it). Haring’s simplistic yet bright colours also make the imagery easy to understand despite the surrealism, which is important when trying to ensure complex imagery is still easy to consume. Another interesting concept that Haring uses is his motion lines that help to show movement in the visual, such as a moving joint or limb. This is also highly significant for static imagery, since this allows us to convey moving parts to communicate a mini-story as the figure moves.

Frans Masereel’s 25 Images of a Man’s Passion (1918).

This popular wordless graphic novel exhibits the significance of choice in including certain imagery in each frame. For instance, some may include a highly simplistic illustration of only an individual supported by a black or white background, whereas others may include many individuals or objects in the portrait to explain relativeness or a de-focus on the subject and instead the environment & setting. With limited space to convey explicit detail and movement, attention is drawn to facial expressions and the gestural mode to show action. Black and white colours also allow Masereel to contrast the darkness versus light, which allow him to play with many emotions that this may connotate.

Frans Masereel’s The City (1972).

Similar to Masereel’s other pieces, he uses his black and white visuals to develop a story without linguistics. The City especially emphasises Masereel’s usage of intricate details and create a highly detailed environment for the reader to immerse themselves in. Instead of construing story and character information through many frames, Masereel creates complex visuals that allow the reader to get a highly detailed understanding of the context solely through one or two frames. This showcases the value of providing enough information, especially with a short comic strip, to quickly develop a meaningful plot without losing the reader’s interest.

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2000).

Persepolis is a graphic autobiography that describes a young child’s development to adulthood whilst in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The black-and-white visuals effectively complement the text to communicate a fluent narrative that allows the reader to directly engage in the text through visualization. The colour choices in which sections were either black or white help to communicate ‘dark’ and ‘light’ in terms of what could be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Satrapi’s mastery of colour draws focus and invokes feelings, crucial for any visually-heavy text. Additionally, the spatial organisation and size of the comic frames alter the reader’s sense of time in consuming the text and order (or lack of order) of reading it.





Good Blogging

Durer 1508 vs Drake 2014
Courtesy of http://b4-16.tumblr.com

Personally, I don’t religiously follow any blogs, but I definitely appreciate them, and I had fun looking for one that I thought was worthy enough for our class to follow. The blog I decided to choose for our class to take a closer look at is called, beforesixteenThe blog highlights weird similarities between hip hop artists and art created before the 16th century- because who wouldn’t automatically associate Kanye West with Henry VIII? I think the reason this blog is so good is because it’s so shocking. The juxtaposition of two things one would normally think are opposites, hip hop and old art, are shown to be shockingly similar in the pictures chosen on the blog. Because it’s so shocking, it’s not only surprising, but it’s also really funny. When things that aren’t often associated are put in conversation with each other, it’s usually comical. This is evident in all forms of humor throughout film and television, with examples like a grandma who break dances or a dog that walks on its hind legs like a human.

The audience of this blog is definitely targeted towards a younger demographic, but one that is mature enough to understand both where the old art is coming from and who the modern hip hop artists are. That being said, the blog is probably most relevant for young adults educated enough to understand the art of the 16th century, even if they’re not all that familiar with it, but also young enough to be up-to-date on Drake’s latest album artwork. If I had to define the genre of the blog, it would fall under visual art. There aren’t really any words in the posts, but the pictures completely speak for themselves. The only thing needed to explain the similarities between the 16th century art and the hip hop artists’ cover work is the juxtaposition of the two photos. If there was text, it might even take away from the simplicity of the images that are already speaking volumes.

understanding the process

At 2:33 am tonight, I had an epiphany whilst picking dried Elmer’s glue off my fingers. I finally understood the process.

I’m sitting looking down at my remediated assignment.

The initial idea was to take my repurposed essay and turn the concept into a magazine collage. Middle school was my collage-making peak and I missed the feeling of cutting ‘n’ pasting, forming new contexts around images, from snapshots that used to mean something else.

I entered my night of art with a few boxes and arrows, an outline of sorts of what I imagined for my large poster collage. As I flipped through the latest issues of GlamourWomen’s HealthCosmo, Lilith, and The New Yorker (my roommates’ interest spread as wide as the sea), I snapped out this photo, that string of words. I’d cut something out that I wasn’t sure would fit what I had in mind but that seemed somehow . . . right. I had a sense of trust in whatever was taking over me.

Next step was to dive in to the placement of images and words. After a period of shifting things around, I started to see what was forming, and it seemed like it was almost beyond my control. I didn’t think that what I had before me was what I had envisioned, yet it was working. Then I’d have a blank spot that needed to be filled and to remedy this I’d flip through a few pages of the closest publication. Aha, the words ‘where integrity is’ and those speech bubbles. Now this could be cool, I thought.

This felt similar to writing but stranger. As with a writing assignment, it helps to have an outline, to have a clear map of where you’re going. I know it makes for smoother writing, and with less hurdles to jump over in the middle. But that usually isn’t how I’ll approach an essay. Whether it’s for lack of time or trying, I don’t usually go at it with an outline. Writing for me is often about a word, phrase, thought, or experience that will inspire me– as happened tonight. I thought, this is something I need to write about, something I want to remember. So I jotted a few notes down on one of those inserts inside Glamour asking for a renewed subscription and rushed home before I lost the inspiration.

I realized though that with anything you need a backbone to stick with no matter what seemingly genius idea hits you. It may seem good to run with at the time, but any solid piece of writing, art, or music needs a foundation of integrity. I appreciated the process of creating tonight. Maybe I’m a visual learner, all I know is the process was clearer to me than with an essay. The proof laid right before my eyes.